Saturday, November 11, 2017

Suicide prevention or detention? You tell me.

I'm working through an emergency call I participated in the other night that is kind of bothering me.

We got a call for a psych transport.  It seems that the patient was on the phone with her therapist and something she said (I don't know exactly what) alarmed the therapist, who called 911, who dispatched the rescue squad and the police.  There was some sort of concern that she was a suicide risk, and protocol dictates that suicide risks MUST be taken in for a psychiatric evaluation.  (I should note that there was an unrelated suicide in town the day before, so maybe everyone was a bit extra on edge.)

Long story short...this particular patient did not strike me as terribly suicidal (but I am not qualified to judge), and emphatically did NOT want to be evaluated.  However, under threat of arrest she allowed herself to be taken to the ER.  Which she wished to leave, immediately, because she felt she was fine, and she had committed no crime.  Except that once at the ER, they have to take a suicide risk seriously, and have to lock her up until they determine that she's actually not a suicide risk.  My discomfort comes from my participation in requiring her to follow this process, against her will.  I should also note that this patient was pretty close to my age, so perhaps the incident hits a little closer to home than I might like to think.

When we got to her home, the patient was sitting in a chair, part irate, part frustrated, part tearful, being lectured/cajoled by a state cop.  (I'm not sure why state cops were called in, instead of local...might be because there was a lot of other cop activity in town earlier...it was a crazy night.)  It transpired that the cop was calm but firm that if the patient did not get in the ambulance of her own accord, she would be taken in, in handcuffs.  She insisted that there was nothing wrong with her, she did not need to go to the Emergency Room, she did not wish to leave her home (and her dog), she was fine.  The cop was adamant about those handcuffs.  So she came with us.  She was clearly a bit alcohol-impaired, as she stumbled a lot getting out of the house.  However, her conversation was perfectly clear and coherent.  In the ambulance she claimed that she had only had 2 glasses of wine and nothing else, including no medications, which I don't know if I should believe, given her lack of coordination.  The whole time she was cogent and more or less cooperative with us, if a bit whiny (as I would probably have been in a similar situation). She was clearly not happy about being forced to go to the hospital.  She talked to her friend and her brother on the ride, and insisted that as soon as she got to the hospital she would be returning to her home.

I am very grateful for the presence of my crewmate.  He was kind but very firm in reiterating several times that (1) we were just the messengers and (2) she HAD to go to the ER.  I am not certain that I could have been so assured.  I tried to reassure her that we were there to support her and make sure that she is safe and well and that at the ER they would probably send her home immediately.

Upon arriving in the ER, our protocol is to (1) provide details about the patient to the intake nurse; (2) obtain a bed for the patient from the ER supervisory nurse; (3) accompany the patient to the bed and help them into it; and (4) officially transfer care by making a report on the patient to their assigned nurse. A patient is the rescue squad's responsibility until we complete step 4.

While we were waiting for step 1 (the intake nurse was MIA for a couple of minutes) the patient made motions to climb off the stretcher and leave the ER.  This made me nervous for several reasons, including (a) the stretcher hadn't been lowered, so that in her slightly inebriated state she might have fallen off and hurt herself, and (b) if she runs off without our check-in, it raises all sorts of questions, especially for a suicide risk.  So, again, with a little discomfort on my part, we talked to her and calmed her down and encouraged her to sit still and allow herself to get evaluated.  Another crew member got a wheelchair and we helped her into that, with the hopes that it would make her feel a little less like a seriously ill person.  The intake nurse tried to get her to sign the paperwork that gives consent for treatment (which of course she refused to sign), and tried to put the hospital bracelet on her, which at first she refused, but eventually allowed.  The ER staff, at this point, recognized that we had a serious "elopement risk" on our hands (yes, that is the technical term), and they whisked us into the psych wing of the ER (step 2 accelerated), to wait for steps 3 and 4.

The psych wing of the ER is a very special place.  Unlike the rest of the ER (where there's pretty free access to everything and patients and family wander at will), you can't get in there without a special badge.

You also can't get out without a special badge.

And there's no working patient bathroom in there.

You want to pee?  You WILL be accompanied by a security guard.

When we got her into her assigned room, the patient was, of course, still planning to make her exit.  She asked for water (which we are not allowed to provide) and a bathroom (see previous paragraph).  She got up and walked to the door of the psych wing.  Which, of course, didn't work for her.  I think that's when it really hit her.  At least that's when it truly hit me.

She asked me to be let out so she could go to the bathroom.  Presumably with the intention of sneaking out from there.  I could not have helped her with this, even if I felt it right to do so.  So a security guard was summoned. 

That was the last I saw of her. 

Even before we left her home, I was reflecting on how I would wish to be treated in a similar situation.  And throughout I felt obligated to do what I would not wish done to me.  I am reminded of the very short story by William Carlos Williams, The Use of Force (an excellent read if you haven't already).  I am very comfortable that IF she was actually a suicide risk, we did everything right and acted as compassionately and respectfully and helpfully as anyone could wish.  I would not want it on my conscience that I didn't bring someone in, who I could have, and then have that person end up committing suicide.  What I am NOT so comfortable about is whether our response was more helpful than harmful to a person who was NOT a suicide risk.  It felt to me like the standard definition of a tragedy:  everyone does what they are SUPPOSED to do, and yet we get a bad outcome.

I can easily see myself venting about a crappy day to someone.  Maybe that person hears something I did not intend.  Maybe that person doesn't know me so well.  Maybe that person is a little overly sensitive because they've experienced a suicide in their family.  Maybe that person is a mental health professional who has liability insurance to consider.  Maybe that person is a close friend who doesn't want to take ANY chances with my well-being.  But once they make that call, and the police get involved, I am essentially guilty of suicidal thoughts until proven innocent, and will suffer a corresponding loss of autonomy until I can clear myself.  Frankly, in the patient's position, I think I'd have been far more enraged and probably far more verbally abusive to anyone within earshot.

I have to wonder whether these kind of considerations deter a lot of people who might want and benefit from mental health treatment from getting it.  I suspect that people know that once you get flagged for mental health issues, you are at risk for having parts of your autonomy taken away in various low-risk situations, so why allow yourself to get flagged in the first place?   And wouldn't having part of your autonomy taken away further undermine your mental health, leading to a downward spiral?

I wish the best for this patient.  I fervently hope that she has no suicidal tendencies, and that this incident will be speedily forgotten, and that whatever bad day she was having that triggered these events will not repeat.  I hope that she will continue to receive whatever mental health services she needs, from a therapist who will be therapeutic for her.

And mostly I want to know better how to do right for patients in this sort of situation.  Which is probably impossible.  Without being able to look directly into another person's heart, I don't know that we can ever really know what is the best and safest course of action, even when we have the best intentions.  In the absence of perfect knowledge I believe we did the right thing.  I just wish I felt more convinced.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 books

As I did last year, and the previous few before that, I'm posting the books I read last year. More than a couple of doorstops in there.  And a lot of strange stories.  I think my best reads for the year were:  The Forsyte Saga, The Girl in the Garden, The Art Forger, Silver Linings Playbook, Lab Girl, and The Magician's Lie, and with Sidharta, Good Omens.


* = Recommended
X = Stay Away
  • Finished off * The Forsyte Saga:  John Galsworthy - well...just because...I read it only about 2 years ago, but...it's SO well done.
  • Finished off The Daring Ladies of Lowell:  Kate Alcott - Meh - very disappointing.  Such a good premise (investigating the murder of a defenseless factory girl), with lots of room for depth...just not realized.
  • The Witches of Eastwick (audiobook):  John Updike
  • Bartleby the Scrivener (audiobook):  Herman Melville - I enjoyed this novella a lot.  I could tell you more about what I think of it, but I would prefer not to.  I enjoyed this annotated version, as well.  
  • The Price of Salt (audiobook) (Currently titled Carol, as in the recent film of the same name):  Patricia Highsmith - enjoyed it a lot.  It is amazing to me that such an open and matter-of-fact description of homosexuality could be published when it was (1952).  
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret (audiobook):  Brian Selznick - meh
  • The Secret Garden:  Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Wolf Hall (audiobook):  Hilary Mantel - a lot like a Philippa Gregory novel only better written, but I'm not sure I get why this is Booker Prize material.  Don't get me wrong...I love a good Tudor skullduggery story, and this one was very well done (I enjoyed it a lot), but...I guess I just expect something a little more unusual from a Booker
  • X Some Luck (audiobook):  Jane Smiley - major disappointment...I don't know what I'm missing, but I seriously don't get why this was a National Book Award winner.  I found the writing fairly awful, full of tell, full of summary, often precious, characters I couldn't care less about, no idea what their issues were, mostly external conflict or fairly pedestrian internal conflict, at best (e.g. annoying, embarrassing relatives, cheating on your perfect girlfriend with your deceased best friend's girlfriend, etc.), with nothing to learn from the resolution of those pedestrian internal conflicts short of "Suck it up" or "Everything's gonna be OK in the end.  Because it is."  From about disc 2, I was planning to abandon it, but I kept hoping that sometime soon the point was going to be revealed.  Foolish me.  Even places that ought to have been fraught with tension and self-reflection were passed over with ho-hum resignation. Farm boy's first kill in WWI?  No biggie.  Eloping with a stranger you met a couple of days ago?  See ya later, mom, gotta go!  I think a lot of reviewers have responded positively to the book because it portrays the troubles of an "ordinary" family.  For me, though, this misses the point.  It is the job of the writer to make "ordinary" troubles personal, special, and thereby elevate the ordinary to a greater significance, to inspire some urgency in the reader.  It is in this that I feel that Some Luck failed miserably.  I've really enjoyed other work by Jane Smiley (A Thousand Acres, Moo, The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton), so I was a little (OK, a lot) surprised to see this kind of stuff out of her.  Though, it's true I also kind of hated Duplicate Keys - don't remember it well enough to remember why.
  • * Elmer Gantry (audiobook):  Sinclair Lewis - While I love the theme of It Can't Happen Here more, I have to admit, I think Elmer Gantry is better written.
  • * The Guide:  RK Narayan - strange little story - I always love Narayan's writing
  • Northanger Abbey:  Jane Austen - every year's gotta have at least one
  • * Fuenteovejuna:  Lope de Vega - I read this years and years ago, I think for my 11th grade Spanish class or else for my college Theater History class, and loved it.  I still love it.  But I don't remember clueing in at that time that this was a sort of homage to Ferdinand and Isabella (in opposition to Alfonso of Portugal)
  • Three Soldiers (audiobook):  John Dos Passos - a little disappointing.  It may be an anti-war book, but it's no Johnny Got His Gun.  More about the petty humiliations of the military hierarchy than about the carnage and destruction.
  • Celestina:  Fernando de Rojas
  • Never Go Back (audiobook):  Lee Child
  • The Trickster of Seville:  Tirso de Molina  (Can you tell, yet, that I've got an anthology of Spanish Gold Age plays?)
  • * The Girl in the Garden (audiobook):  Kamala Nair
  • * Silver Linings Playbook (audiobook):  Matthew Quick
  • Tender Is the Night (audiobook):  F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Pilgrim's Progress (audiobook):  John Bunyan - because...well...I'd never read it...now I'm done, and don't have to any more.  I always knew that Little Women (which was one of my formative reads from childhood) made references to this one, but the extent of the connection became much clearer after I read this.
  • Ragtime:  E.L. Doctorow - there goes one of those strange stories
  • To a God Unknown (audiobook):  John Steinbeck - another very strange little story
  • * The Art Forger (audiobook):  B.A. Shapiro - such a great story.  Very interesting from a technical standpoint, but also a very compelling narrative.
  • Love and Freindship:  Jane Austen - because there's a new movie...haven't seen it, though.  Can't begin imagine what they could possibly put in it...the piece is so utterly silly...clearly something Austen cooked up on a dare or to make her siblings double over with laughter....how goofy can you go?  
  • * How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (audiobook):  Charles Yu - I enjoyed this a lot...thought provoking reflection on getting stuck in the past, couched as experimentation in time travel.  I think it needed a little more editing (a bit too much on the tell/summary end of things - gets a bit expository at places, but...well...I liked it anyway) - yet another strange one
  • Citizen Creek (audiobook):  Lalita Tademy - interesting historical story, gets a bit mawkish at times...a little disappointing.
  • * Lab Girl:  Hope Jahren - wonderful memoir of the life scientific.  Jahren is...how to characterize her?...a botanist?  a geologist? (you wouldn't think one would get confused about the boundary between those, now would you?  but that's who she is!)   She weaves a narrative that uses human experience to illuminate botany and botany to illuminate human experience and shows some of the truly crazy and/or beautiful things a passion for science can lead to
  • Straight Jacket and Tie:  Eugene Stein - I picked it up based on a reference to "the dark side of Planet Debbie" by David Brooks (regarding our...um...unfortunate...GOP primary process in this year's festivities)...when I looked at the reviews, it sounded hilarious.  It was OK...not fabulous, though I have to say, one thing I liked about it was how recognizable it was...apart from the bits about the green aliens and the young gay/bi man struggling with his identity, much was incredibly familiar.  Set in the Bronx and Upper West Side of NYC in a liberal Jewish family with mental health issues, and with a cube-worker office shtick, it could have been about my own friends and family.   And yet, very strange.
  • Hallucinations (audiobook):  Oliver Sacks - Liked it a lot, though not as much as some of his other work.  Very thought-provoking, as always, but with a bit of a shopping-list feel.  I prefer his other works that are in-depth pieces on specific individuals, like pieces in An Anthropologist On Mars.   
  • Persuasion:  Jane Austen - Because...well...I couldn't help myself.  Like I said.  Every year's got to have two and a half, at least.
  • * Caleb's Crossing (audiobook):  Geraldine Brooks - liked it a lot, though Jennifer Ehle's narration was a little disappointing...I mean...considering it is Jennifer Ehle.  Kind of surreal listening to her with a full-on American accent.
  • * Mike and Psmith:  P.G. Wodehouse  - my election night comforter - I don't get all the cricket references, but...it kind of doesn't matter
  •  * The Magician's Lie (audiobook):  Greer MacAllester - it is a testament to the quality of MacAllester's storytelling that I had to stop listening at a few points in the story and resume several days later (after several failed attempts at resuming) because I found some of the scenes so disturbing.
Started
  • It Can't Happen Here:  Sinclair Lewis - so prescient
  • Practical Magic (audiobook):  Alice Hoffman
  • The Well Ain't Dry Yet:  Belinda Anderson - Some lovely little stories here...I've enjoyed it a lot, but it may not be for everyone.  I particularly admire her portrayal of women from across a broad spectrum of age and class, giving them all distinct voices - still working on it
  • The Secret Adversary:  Agatha Christie - never read her before...she's been on my queue since this spring when I was treated to a performance of The Mousetrap, and the intro for the show mentioned that much of her work was intended to make some kind of social point.  I hadn't realized how much like Wodehouse she sounds - I'm still working on this one
And with Sidharta:
  • For the Win: Cory Doctorow - (continued) Annapurna loved this when she was about the same age...I read it a while ago and loved it. Figured Sidharta's about ready.  Fabulous intro to economics for the young adult crowd. But Sidharta lost steam and abandoned it about 2/3 through :-(
  • Candide:  Voltaire - ooohh!!! Burn!  He liked it a lot.
  • * Good Omens:  Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett - I read it previously and loved it.  He loved it, too.  Talk about strange.
  • Of Mice and Men:  John Steinbeck - he was very moved by this one
  • Animal Farm:  George Orwell - he enjoyed this one a lot; made a lot of connections to the World History class he took last year
  • What Do You Care What Other People Think?:  Richard Feynman (started - still working on it)
  • The Once and Future King:  T.H. White (started - still working on it)
  • As always, lots of Calvin and Hobbes, though rather diminshed from years past
  • A bunch of Peanuts books--Sidharta discovered Charlie Brown this year

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015 Books

As I did last year, and the previous few before that, I'm posting the books I read last year.  More than a couple of doorstops in there. Couple of disappointments but mostly a reasonably good year.  I think the most enjoyable of the year were The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Water for Elephants and The Good Luck of Right Now.  

* = Recommended
X = Stay Away

  • A Game of Thrones (Audiobook):  George R.R. Martin - liked it better than I thought I would, based on the opening.  I have to give it to Martin, he does have a respectful treatment of women and children, making them active, complex, full human beings and key players in the machinations of court life, present in realistic numbers, rather than as mere tokens.  I hated the zombie-based plot line, and am not thrilled at the prospect of a dragon-based.plot line that is hinted at as a teaser for the next volume.  I recognize the need for a formidable external enemy that might serve to temporarily re-unite the warring families, but in my opinion, resorting to supernatural forces weakens, not strengthens a plot about very human rivalries.  I might or might not work myself up to reading the next volume.  If I do, it will probably be because of interest in Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow and possibly Arya and Bran Stark.  I don't really find any of the others very compelling.  I take a rather dim view, in general, of stories where characters are clearly on the side of "good" or "evil" and I find most of the characters in here a bit too cartoonish that way.  Tyrion and Jon have divided enough loyalties that my interest in them is piqued.  I may try to get the video of the series...I think my interest might be sustained a bit better in movie mode.
  • Emma:  Jane Austen - I enjoyed this more than I have in the past (Emma is not one of my favorite Austens.)  I found it a bit more forgivable, this time, though I continue to be disappointed with the overly elitist ending for poor Harriet.
  • Sense and Sensibility:  Jane Austen (most of it) - what can I say?  Comfort food.
  • Pygmalion:  George Bernard Shaw
  • The Yellow Wallpaper:  Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • Emergency Care and Transportation of the Sick and Injured, Tenth Edition (most of it):  American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
  • 1Q84 (Audiobook):  Haruki Murakami - kind of interesting.  Could have stood a bit of pruning, IMHO - a fair amount of redundancy and tell stuff.  And you kind of spoil the magical realism effect when your characters reflect on how weird things are getting for them.
  • Snuff (Audiobook):  Terry Pratchett.  Enjoyed it a lot.  Not quite * material.  I love Pratchett's theme of tolerance that wends its way throughout his work.
  • Mrs. Warren's Profession:  George Bernard Shaw
  • * The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Audiobook):  Michael Chabon - loved this. Started a little slow, but it really pulled me in.  I started it a bit reluctantly, not expecting to like it a lot, as I'm not much of a comic book enthusiast.
  • Possession (Audiobook):  A.S. Byatt - Enjoyed it a lot, but I won't put it as a *, as it may not be for everybody.  I have to be entertained by the digs at academe, which
    some of you may understand :-) 
  • The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (Audiobook): Charles Dickens - Liked it better when I read it years ago. A little disappointing this time round.
  • 100 Years of Solitude (Audiobook):  Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • * Water for Elephants (Audiobook):  Sara Gruen - really enjoyed it
  • * The White Tiger:  Aravind Adiga - you know I liked it because I actually read the whole thing on paper.  (This is my second read of it...it still holds up, even knowing the punchline.)
  • Ann Veronica (Audiobook):  H.G.Wells - big disappointment...I normally like HG Wells a LOT, but this one...sigh.  I kept waiting for him to get to the point, and then...he neatly missed it.   There was so much potential in the premise.
  • * The Good Luck of Right Now (Audiobook):  Matthew Quick - not the sort of book that you'd (I'd) expect me to like - full of spiritual themes.  But really the voice was so wonderful, characters so real, and the story and structure so good, that all-in-all it was one of the best reads I had this year.  Now I'll have to go read Silver Linings Playbook (I liked the movie a lot). The narrator of this one is a totally different voice/character than the protagonist of the Silver Linings Playbook movie, but I can see the connection in terms of the delicate and nuanced handling of emotionally damaged characters.
  • Death Comes to Pemberley:  PD James - kind of a serious disappointment.  The premise and the historical fiction aspect were interesting, but I found the writing distractingly bad.  I liked the movie/miniseries, though, which I saw before I read the book.  Kept waiting for the character motivations/plot twists of the movie to appear in the book, which they didn't.  I say good job to the screen writers - they added a depth to the work that was entirely missing in the text.
  • Oedipus Rex:  Sophocles
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime:  Mark Haddon - read it to discuss with Sidharta (who had strong negative reactions to it), as he was required to read it over the summer.  He found the narrator overly stereotyped and was confused/annoyed by the lack of consistency between  the narrator's behavior and his words (I had to remind him about unreliable narrators).  By a curious coincidence, it so happened that I was reading The Good Luck of Right Now at the same time, and while it isn't for the same audience, the narrators are very similar in some ways.  I liked The Good Luck of Right now much, much better.
  • The All Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion (Audiobook):  Fannie Flag - sweet, but kind of predictable.  Some interesting historical detail on the WASPs - WWII women's flying unit.
  • Reamde (Audiobook):  Neal Stephenson - the premise was so interesting (using gold farming to solve computationally difficult problems, and using this for economic benefit), but this was pretty much dropped in favor of more action, which was kind of disappointing to me
  • * Americanah (Audiobook):  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - lovely reading
  • Stones from the River (Audiobook):  Ursula Hegi - reading was a little annoying, interesting perspective on life in Germany from WWI on, including a feel for life in the days leading up to WWII and the holocaust, which felt eerily like modern US.
Started:
  • Camille:  Alexandre Dumas
  • Anna Karenina:  Leo Tolstoy - I loved it a lot when I was in grad school, rather less this time.  I'm just not finding much there in Anna.  I understand and sympathize with her inner conflict, but I don't find her an interesting enough person independent of her unpleasant social situation to warrant all this drama.  Kitty and Dolly seem to be deeper thinkers than she is.  I still love Levin, though I'm a little more irritated with his landowner perspective than I think I was the first time round.  But Tolstoy is still the Boss in my book for his creation of living, breathing, mixed up characters who change moods on a dime.
  • The Forsyte Saga:  John Galsworthy - well...just because...I read it only about 2 years ago, but...it's so well done...still working on it - I'm about 2/3 of the way through.
  • Rashi's Daughters - Book 1:  Joheved:  Maggie Anton - interesting premise, kind of annoying writing; some interesting historical details of life in Medieval France
  • The Daring Ladies of Lowell (Audiobook):  Kate Alcott - annoying reading and writing; trying to like it - it's got some interesting historical context of the life of mill workers in the 1830s, but there's a lot of stuff that feels tone-deaf about social mores in those times, not to mention annoyingly anachronistic turn of phrase.  Still working on it
  • Logicomix:  Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou - because who wouldn't like a graphic novel with the founders of computational logic, like Cantor, Russell, Godel, Hilbert, etc. as characters? 
  • Age of Reason:  Thomas Paine - reading with Annapurna - I just love it!  
And with Sidharta:
  • The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Willson:  Mark Twain (most of it...he finished it off, himself)
  • The Three Musketeers:  Alexandre Dumas - well, actually, not the version I'm linking to, but rather the Children's Illustrated Library edition I read as a kid...I think it's just a little too racy, and slightly misogynist for him in the original...as I found out to my shock a few years ago when I read the grownup version, myself.  
  • The Menaechmi:  Plautus - actually we read a much more modern translation than the one I'm linking to, which uses a much more modern voice.  I read this in college and loved it.  I figured it was just the right level of goofy slapstick that would appeal to Sidharta.  Next stop:  The Comedy of Errors :-)  Or maybe Lysistrata.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass:  Lewis Carroll - actually we read from The Annotated Alice that I bought for Kumar many years ago, which includes some very interesting text by Martin Gardner (most of which Sidharta wanted nothing to do with :-)
  • Watership Down:  Richard Adams (started) - I read this when I was a bit younger than Sidharta and loved, loved, loved it.
  • For the Win:  Cory Doctorow (started - still working on it) - Annapurna loved this when she was about the same age...I read it a while ago and loved it.  Figured Sidharta's about ready.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 books

As I did last year, and the previous few before that, I'm posting the books I read this year.  

All in all, not a bad year.  I think my favorite reads were:  The Forsyte Saga; Running with Scissors; The Ocean at the End of the Lane; and I, Claudius.

It's been a year with a lot of historical fiction - not premeditated, just turned out that way.  And a lot of conspiracy theories (including the TV series of The Borgias and I, Claudius :-)).
And a few doorstops.


It's also been a year with a lot of stories with extremely irritating logical leaps.  Nothing bothers me so much, I think, as a story where characters jump to unfounded conclusions that are critical to to the plot.  It makes me want to put the book down.  Or scream at the author/editor, "Do your homework."  In some cases I've been able to resist the temptation to drop the book; in others...well...maybe not.  

* = Recommended
X = Stay Away
  • The Thief (Audiobook):  Fuminori Nakamura - interesting, but felt a little contrived.  There go some of those unfounded conclusions.
  • The Forsyte Saga:  John Galsworthy - I saw the lovely 2002 miniseries last year (or was it 2 years ago???), and decided to try reading it.  Interestingly, the series changed the structure a bit from the book, but was mostly pretty faithful.  I feel like they changed the end, though, at least the feeling at the end, which I found more edgy in the text version.  Liked it a lot, but I won't put it as a *, as I think it might be a bit much for most who have not seen the series and don't enjoy reading doorstops.  I think I would have gotten even more out of it if my knowledge of late 19th/early 20th Century British history were more extensive - I think the story is, among other things, intended as a commentary on Britain's role in a world where colonialism made less and less sense.  There's a bit of a 100 Years of Solitude feel, with all the repeated names :-)  Talk about doorstops.
  • The Geographer's Library (Audiobook):  Jon Fasman - Da Vinci Code lite, and making less sense, if you can believe that.  Interesting, but not fabulous.  I can't quite figure out why I was willing to finish this one, but couldn't bring myself to finish The Technologists.  Many of the same complaints apply to both.  Perhaps it was the clueless charm of the main main character (in contrast to the lack of personality of the too-many characters in The Technologists), and the visible, well-defined bad-guy (s?) (in contrast to what I presume was a bad guy who never actually appeared in the portion of the book I read, and whose motives were unspecified).  Lot of unfounded conclusions.  And in many places that it tries to be mysterious, it succeeds mainly in being confusing.
  • The Call of Cthulhu:  H.P. Lovecraft - I'd never read Lovecraft before.  Didn't do much for me.  Horror, schmorror.  I think maybe it was too much cast as hearsay to be really creepy.  You just can't get that direct access to the reader's limbic system when you're describing stuff that someone else witnessed.  Plus the leaps of logic various characters make just don't make sense.  I'd have dropped it if it weren't so short and it didn't have such a reputation.  I don't understand all the praise the story has gotten and the -sorry- Cthulhu cult it's given rise to. Give me Mary Shelley any day.  I kind of prefer the What if Dr. Seuss wrote The Call of Cthulhu? version.
  • Monkey Mind (Audiobook):  Daniel Smith - entertaining and somewhat comforting, but not terribly informative, memoir on the theme of anxiety
  • Five by Fitzgerald (Audiobook):  F. Scott Fitzgerald - I particularly liked "Bernice Bobs Her Hair".  Enjoyed Benjamin Button, but didn't quite get the point.
  • The Poisoner's Handbook (Audiobook):  Deborah Blum - I enjoyed it a lot, but it was a bit too rambly for me to * it.  I found the audio narrator a bit annoying, as well (though I've heard worse).
  • * Be Different (Audiobook):  John Elder Robison - lots of nice insights into living with Asperger's
  • The Autistic Brain:  Thinking Across the Spectrum (Audiobook):  Temple Grandin and Richard Panek - I'd put this as a *, but it's a bit uneven.  I think writers might do well to read it, or at least parts of it, as it has many interesting insights on sensory perception, which I suspect would be useful to think about whether or not you have a character on the autism spectrum.
  • * The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Audiobook):  Neil Gaiman - strange little book.  I'm not entirely sure who the intended audience is - it mostly reads like something for a tween, but it's got a little bit that might be a bit inappropro, as we say in my house, for the tween crowd.  Just a little. Mostly written from the point of view of a 7 year old boy.  Very creepy and intense at times.  Lovely sensory detail.  I definitely want a black kitten with a white splotch on one ear, now.  Lovely audio by Gaiman.
  • The Art Thief (Audiobook):  Noah Charney - entertaining, informative about art history and art theft (at least to someone like me who is not very informed about the art world).  Characters are a bit annoyingly cartoonish.  And I am so dissatisfied with the end that I am almost tempted to put this as an X, but after all, the story was fun and it piqued my curiosity about several famous paintings.  Talk about logical leaps!  The final resolution made no sense, in the context of the rest of the story and was way too convoluted - I think I still don't understand exactly what happened or if it could have happened that way.  It's like the author was trying to be really clever by giving a total surprise ending that turned the whole story into a farce.  I like a good farce, but then I want to know I'm reading one, all along.  I thought about picking up a paper copy, to go back and look and see if there were more clues and I just missed them, but I decided I just didn't care about the story enough to go through the effort.  That's a place I never want my readers to be. 
  • Running With Scissors (Audiobook):  Augusten Burroughs - narrated by Burroughs.  Thought I'd try this, having heard a bit about his life, after reading John Elder Robison's memoir (they are brothers).  I'd put this as a *, but it may not be for everyone.  I liked it a lot.  He does a great job of capturing the voice of himself as a kid, as contrasted with himself as an adolescent, as contrasted with himself as a young man.  He also does a great job at capturing the sort of surreal frame of mind that allows us to accept horrors we experience.  I definitely recommend this one for some of my friends who are working on memoir.
  • Persuasion:  Jane Austen - what year is complete without one of them?
  • Last of the Mohicans (Audiobook):  James Fenimore Cooper.  Less than superb narration, though I have to say that with its flowery language this must have been an extremely difficult book to narrate.  I like Cooper's attempts to capture the voice and language/imagery used by native Americans (I have no idea how authentic it is, though).  And I have to admire the fact that a white guy in his times was sympathetic enough to native Americans to invest the time to learn about them and the nuances of their politics, and was willing to portray (at least some of them) as good and honorable and intelligent, full human beings.  I found the text difficult to follow - not sure how much of this was due to trying to keep up with the audio vs my ignorance of history (or both) vs my ignorance of the politics between various native American nations. It was interesting, though.
  • The Last Runaway (Audiobook):  Tracy Chevalier - a little disappointing, though not as much as Burning Bright.  It felt a bit contrived and mawkish.  The protagonist, Honor Bright (I kid you not), a displaced British Quaker in antebellum rural Oberlin just gets too lucky all along.  Sure she faces difficulties, including the attentions of a drunken, horny bounty hunter of runaway slaves who loves her because she reminds him of his saintly deceased mother, and sure she makes difficult and dangerous choices (run away with the bounty hunter? (he's kinda cute) or stick with the nice husband with the annoying mother?), but she never really has to deal with the consequences of these choices because everybody just loves her and forgives her for pretty much every social transgression she commits.
  • The Bell Jar (Audiobook):  Sylvia Plath.  I was fascinated by this as a teenager (not sure why), so I thought I'd give it a try again.  As an adult, I appreciate it for its palpable portrayal of the logic of depression.  As a reader, you can see that the narrator's thought process is messed up, and yet everything makes perfect sense.  It was also interesting in a historic sense.  It was written only about 50 years ago, but our attitudes are so different nowadays, compared to the social norms portrayed in the story.  Everything from Freudian analysis (the narrator's poor mother was distraught at a psychiatrist asking about her child's toilet training - who'd ask that today?) to availability of birth control (she mentions that it was illegal for her to obtain it, as an unmarried woman) to homosexuality (which seems to be the main reason for institutionalization of a couple of her ward-mates).  Not to mention some of the other more obvious social shifts, such as the expectation of a woman's virginity at marriage. 
  • An Edgar Allen Poe collection (Audiobook):  Edgar Allen Poe - I've never really been much of a Poe fan, but these recordings made it palatable.  I enjoyed The Cask of Amontillado and The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether (though this latter was a bit predictable).  It occurred to me, as I was listening to the collection, that I couldn't think of any earlier literary examples of unreliable, mentally ill/wantonly evil narrators like those in Poe's stories.  Perhaps this is one of the things that makes Poe special.
  • Le Morte D'Arthur - Volume I:  Sir Thomas Malory - talk about doorstop...  I've kind of always hated the Arthur stories (except The Once and Future King, the first section of which I was asked to read in 6th grade, and enjoyed).  I still kind of hate them, they're so macho and meaningless, for the most part - guys whacking (and killing) each other just because.  But surprisingly, I was able to get through the whole of Volume I, though I was kicking myself for keeping up with it.  And by the time I got to the end, I was mad that it ended where it did...I wanna know what happens to Tristram and La Beale Isoud.  Oh, well...I guess I'll just have to start Volume II...sometime.
  • Pride and Prejudice:  Jane Austen - because...well...I finished Volume I of Le Morte D'Arthur, and was travelling and not really in a position to download something else...and it was on my Kindle, as well as my smartphone...and...well...do I really need an excuse for reading P&P again? 
  • The Noel Coward Collection (Audiobook):  Excellent performances of Blithe Spirit; Design for Living; Fallen Angels; Hay Fever; Present Laughter; and Private Lives. I enjoyed the wit and banter, and appreciated the willingness to address (1920's) taboo subjects, but found the plays fairly misogynistic.
  • I, Claudius (Audiobook):  Robert Graves - enjoyed it a lot...I tend to like these royal skullduggery stories, in case you hadn't guessed.  Get my conspiracy theories and history lesson in one tasty packet.  I would have found the audio narrator's didactic performance annoying for almost any other book, but I think it worked for Claudius' voice, who, at least according to Graves' text, was rather didactic, himself. 
  • The Hamlet (Audiobook):  William Faulkner - enjoyed it, but it was a strange kind of piece.  Kind of hard to follow (surprise, surprise!)  I listened to several parts several times over, and even went back to the text, and still wasn't sure what happened.  I hope to re-read it some day, but I'm not hopeful that I'll really figure out what was intended.  I'm not sure if the issue is that I'm not familiar with small town southern life of the 1930's or if it's just a Faulkner thing, or both.  I understand that it is considered good form for a writer to leave a lot to the reader to infer, so they feel clever, but I dunno...this one left a little too much for me to infer, and I just feel dumb :-) 
  • Claudius the God (Audiobook):  Robert Graves - I enjoyed I, Claudius so much (the book and the TV series) that I went on for the next volume.  
  • Northanger Abbey:  Jane Austen -- just because.  Catherine Morland still doesn't do much for me, though I don't find her as annoying as Fanny Price.  I am still trying to understand what makes the difference between these two and Austen's other heroines.  I think part of it comes down to their very ordinariness.  There's nothing wrong with ordinary, but an author needs to draw out the extraordinary in the every day.  Her other heroines, while being absolutely representative of their social class, and so, quite ordinary, nevertheless show intellectual superiority that allows them to reflect on their situations in ways that make them interesting.  I guess that I just don't see that in Catherine.  I suppose it's there for Fanny, but well...maybe it's a little too much.
  • Cloud Atlas (Audiobook):  David Mitchell.  Partially historic fiction, I guess.   Past and future.  Interesting, but I found it a bit annoying in places. I felt like some of the voices called too much attention to themselves, especially in the future settings.  
  • Salome:  Oscar Wilde - there gores more of that historical fiction
  • The Mill on the Floss (Audiobook):  George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) - Can't totally put my finger on why I really enjoyed it.  It was very predictable, heavy on the tell, heavy on the preachy, heavy on the melodrama, but still I really enjoyed it.  I think it's that the character of Maggie is drawn so nicely, especially as a child, and the conflicts between her inner and outer worlds seem so clear.  The only thing I didn't find sufficiently justified (and it was a serious distraction for me) was Maggie's obsession with Stephen.  It's easy to see what might have fascinated him about her, but I just didn't feel what she saw in him.  Which kind of ruined the tension for me.  It would have been so easy to give him a little extra depth, but it just wasn't there.  Oddly, the story is, in some ways, very parallel to the Forsyte Saga I started the year with (nice bookends for the year) but I found Irene's infatuation with Bosinney much more compelling and believable.
Started:
  • The Technologists (Audiobook):  Matthew Pearl - I tried to like this, really, I did. Cutthroat rivalry between stodgy old Harvard and the young, hungry MIT; fight to the death of science against head-in-the-sand tradition and entrenched interests; forward looking acceptance of women and lower class access to education vs snooty blue-blood privilege.  What could be bad?  I tried to like it, if for nothing else, for the sake of the young Ellen Swallow Richards, first woman at MIT, founding mother of AAUW, who is a character in the book.  But the prose and the narration were both really annoying, not to mention the highly implausible plot.  So, contrary to my usual MO, I decided to cut my losses early.  The straw that broke the camel's back was the review on the MIT website, which I initially assumed would be positive, simply for the book's plug of MIT.  Once I read the review, I decided that the misleading view on history the book provided would outweigh any benefits of reading it.  For Ellen Richards.  In fairness, though, I will not give it an X, as I think I only read about a quarter.
  • The Enemies of Women:  Vicente Blasco Ibanez - just wasn't interesting enough to keep going...it's hard to get really interested in a spoiled rich kid who hits hard times and is forced to live like a mid-level executive, rather than like a captain of the universe
  • The Stranger:  Albert Camus
  • The Call of the Wild:  Jack London
  • Josephus:  Leon Feuchtwanger - more on that ancient Roman history - still working on it
  • Game of Thrones (Audiobook):  George R.R.Martin - just started it as of the end of the year.  Not sure if I'm gonna be able to stick with it.  I kind of hate it, so far, and that's saying something for a person who loves stories of royal skullduggery.  I think I find the characters rather cartoonish.  Also rather too much tell - not much for me to think about, wonder about.  Give me Philippa Gregory or Robert Graves, any day.
And with Sidharta:
  • * Holes:  Louis Sachar
  • Lots of Calvin and Hobbes:  Bill Watterson
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas:  John Boyne - I didn't read the whole thing (he finished it himself - he told me the gist of the end, and it sounded extremely depressing, so I'm not motivated to finish it off.  I can't handle stories where bad stuff happens to kids.)  But it's got an excellent voice of a child.
  • * The Great Brain:  John D. Fitzgerald 
  • * More Adventures of the Great Brain:  John D. Fitzgerald - one of my childhood favorites 
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court:  Mark Twain - parts of it...he read parts on his own...he's turning out to be quite the Mark Twain enthusiast, isn't he :-)?  What exquisite taste!  I read this with him at the same time I was reading Le Morte D'Arthur (coincidence), and I appreciated it on a totally different level than I had when I read it earlier.  Twain's satire on the Malory work is very amusing...he has many of the same complaints that I do :-)
  • (started) The Little Prince:  Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • (started) Something New:  P.G. Wodehouse...I figured since he's such a Mark Twain fan, he'd enjoy Wodehouse, as well.  He hasn't bitten, so far.
  • * Haroun and the Sea of Stories:  Salman Rushdie - one of my all time favorite kid books (still working on it with him)
  • * WTF, Evolution?!:  A Theory of Unintelligible Design:  Mara Grunbaum - Hilarious compilation of all sorts of things Evolution has gotten wrong over the ages.  In case you didn't know it...Evolution is basically a sort of poor stoner shnook who's clearly in over his head.  You can see similar items on the WTF, Evolution?! tumblr.  I think my favorite is the carnivorous potatoes.
  • * Hyperbole and a Half:  Allie Brosh -- hilarious collection of essays/cartoons about bumbling through life.  With depression.  And insane dogs. And ridiculous, painful childhood memories.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Foresight

So I'm reading The Forsyte Saga just now.  Lovely little piece.  But that's not what I want to talk about.

In a single paragraph, Galsworthy uses both the word Bismillah and Nirvana. And Jumping Jesus.

For Jolly was forming himself unconsciously on a set whose motto was:
'We defy you to bore us. Life isn't half long enough, and we're going to talk faster and more crisply, do more and know more, and dwell less on any subject than you can possibly imagine. We are "the best"—made of wire and whipcord.' And Val was unconsciously forming himself on a set whose motto was: 'We defy you to interest or excite us. We have had every sensation, or if we haven't, we pretend we have. We are so exhausted with living that no hours are too small for us. We will lose our shirts with equanimity. We have flown fast and are past everything. All is cigarette smoke. Bismillah!' Competitive spirit, bone-deep in the English, was obliging those two young Forsytes to have ideals; and at the close of a century ideals are mixed. The aristocracy had already in the main adopted the 'jumping-Jesus' principle; though here and there one like Crum—who was an 'honourable'—stood starkly languid for that gambler's Nirvana which had been the summum bonum of the old 'dandies' and of 'the mashers' in the eighties. And round Crum were still gathered a forlorn hope of blue-bloods with a plutocratic following.
I had always assumed that Bismillah in the English-speaking public consciousness was a by-product of Bohemian Rhapsody and Freddy Mercury's Indian background (though I admit I don't know if the concept of Bismillah is relevant to Parsis).  And Nirvana...well...I guess I'd assumed it had made its way into the modern English speaking world via the Hare Krishna folks in the 60s.  Seems like, at least among the educated, they were out there a bit earlier.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 books

As I did last year, and the previous few before that, I'm posting the books I read this year.  Lot of good stuff this year, as well as a few fairly awful phone books that I can't quite explain why I felt compelled to plow through.

* = Recommended
X = Stay Away

  • Please Look After Mom (Audiobook):  Kyungsook Shin - This one was very interesting, structurally, if a bit melodramatic and... ummm... yearning for a return to... well... the closest character to "Mom" that I can think of is O-Lan from The Good Earth.  Kind of Harriet Lerner meets Pearl Buck in Korea.
  • Best of Jack London Short Stories (Audiobook):  Jack London - What can I say?  It's Jack London. Each story has a different reader, and the quality varies considerably.  I enjoyed many of them
  • Sense and Sensibility:  Jane Austen
  • *The Prisoner of Heaven (Audiobook):  Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • Several short stories by Saki
  • * The Hunger Games:  Suzanne Collins - started it with Sidharta who quickly got bored (I don't know why - I think he just went in prejudiced against it)
  • X Freedom (Audiobook):  Jonathan Franzen - Oy...Really???  Another one of those "Why didn't I just give up at page 75, as I wanted to, rather than wade through the other 500 pages?"   So much tell.  So much summary.  So few interesting people.  (Not that he doesn't tell us how interesting they are.  To each other.)  Lots of melodrama.  Lots of exposition on the politics of ecological conservation that would make a perfectly pleasing essay but draggy fiction.  I seriously don't understand all the positive reviews it got - is this a case of I'm dumb, or the reviewer has no clothes?  I'll accept either answer, so long as you explain it to me.
  • * Broken Ballots:  Will Your Vote Count:  Douglas W. Jones and Barbara Simons (My review here)
  • The Phantom of the Opera:  Gaston Leroux -- Fluff, but I enjoyed it a lot  Ah, yes, we must needs pity the Opera Ghost.
  • * A Kiss Before Dying (Audiobook):  Ira Levin
  • * The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Audiobook):  Rebecca Skloot - fascinating history of one of the most ubiquitous tools in modern biology, the HeLa cell, originated from Henrietta Lacks' tumor, circa 1950.  Skloot weaves the story of Henrietta and her family with the history of tissue culture and the breathtaking discoveries that have been enabled by these "immortal" cells, while raising many profound and intertwined ethical questions about the use and economics of human tissue, access to medical care and informed consent
  • Of Human Bondage (Audiobook):  W. Somerset Maugham - I can't totally put my finger on why I liked this one and hated Freedom.  
  • * The Emperor of All Maladies (Audiobook):  Siddhartha Mukherjee - some interesting underscoring of themes from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but more sciency and less human-interesty.  Lot of good history of science and illustration of the culture of scientific investigation.
  • The Trial (Audiobook):  Franz Kafka - gosh, how much it sounded like things that are reported in the news
  • The Jungle (Audiobook):  Upton Sinclair
  • * Death of a Salesman:  Arthur Miller - surprisingly, I'd never read this before.  Very strange little piece, with very interesting technique in portraying simultaneous internal and external dialogue of a single character, without the use of monologue.
  • Romancing Miss Bronte (Audiobook):  Juliet Gael - I'd like to put this as an X...the writing is fairly annoying, but the story is somewhat interesting.
  • Camilla:  Fanny Burney - I liked Cecilia a lot, but I think you could safely skip Camilla.  While the plots of both are driven by social conventions of that period and their heroines' internal conflicts are not very relevant to a modern audience, somehow I felt it less in Cecilia.  Camilla felt much more contrived and repetitive - same three or four gags repeated over and over.  Evelina falls somewhere in the middle for me - also irrelevant and contrived, but more natural (and shorter) than Camilla.
  • Lolita (Audiobook):  Vladimir Nabokov - narrated by Jeremy Irons...oh, what a narration!
  • Carrie (Audiobook):  Stephen King - disappointing narration by Sissy Spacek
  • Scat:  Carl Hiassen - not with Sidharta, but inspired by Sidharta - as always with Hiassen, a sweet book about nutty characters motivated by environmental issues, appropriate for the PG-13 crowd.
  • Lady Windermere's Fan:  Oscar Wilde
  • A Woman of No Importance:  Oscar Wilde - Silly Oscar!  Thinking Americans are so sensible and meritocratic!
  • The Pickwick Papers(Audiobook):  Charles Dickens - I started reading this a number of years ago and found it rather insufferable - decided to try again.  I think I'd still think it was fairly insufferable if it weren't for the excellent narration.  So obsessed with sex, for a Victorian novel :-)
  • And this year I'm going to claim the equivalent of at least one novel in the form of short stories and excerpts of works by members of my very talented writing group and Sharpening the Quill writers' workshop.  I'm sure it's been at least 150-200K words.
Started
  • The Teaching Company's course Peloponnesian War (Audiobook):  Kenneth Harl
  • Catching Fire:  Suzanne Collins
  • * Remix:  Lawrence Lessig - interesting book...just suffered from being a paper copy
  • House of the Spirits:  Isabel Allende - physical copy got taken away from me in the middle, by Annapurna, who was reading it for school
  • The Autobiography of Mark Twain - Volume 1 (Audiobook): Mark Twain - I had to drop off after about disk 7 (of about 20)...apparently one of Mark Twain's reservations about writing an autobiography was that he was afraid he wouldn't be able to bring himself to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. "Any journal that is intended for publication – even in 100 years' time – is probably in some way compromised. The only person I can think of who got close to an unexpurgated truth is Samuel Pepys, and that's because his diaries were never meant to be read." Well...all I can say is...he was right, at least in his own case. The bits I read were pretty self-aggrandizing, veiled in a false modesty. Also, it seems that Twain made many attempts at autobiography, which the editors have tried to compile in a single authoritative collection, liberally doused with their commentary. The end result, in my opinion, is a choppy, unreadable mish-mosh that is more like a PhD thesis than autobiography. It's got a lot of Twain's entertaining writing, but it's no Huck Finn. And it bothers me that I can't even tell if I actually got to "the" autobiography, or if everything I was listening to was introductory/related text. I think I didn't get to the main corpus, but I can't be sure.
  • Shirley:  Charlotte Bronte - still working on it - it's no Jane Eyre, but there's some interesting historical context
  • The Reason I Jump:  Naoki Higashida/translation by David Mitchell of Cloud Atlas fame - sweet book by a 13 year old autistic boy, explaining his thought process, and a plea for patience and understanding
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau:  H.G. Wells - read this mostly at the gym :-)  Gonna have to read it with Sidharta, next :-D
  • The Angel's Game (audiobook):  Carlos Ruiz Zafon - I think this is going to be a *:  lovely writing, metafiction, tormented author as protagonist - what could be bad?  It came before The Prisoner of Heaven, but it doesn't seem to matter that I read them out of order, though I am having some maddening moments trying to remember details from the other one.
And with Sidharta:
  • The Pinhoe Egg:  Diana Wynne Jones (started)
  • The Pilgrims of Rayne (Book 8 of the Bobby Pendragon series):  D.J. Machale (Parts - he read a bunch of it himself and then got Bobby Pendragoned out, I think)
  • Lots of Calvin & Hobbes (no year would be complete without this)
  • Some Grimm's Fairy Tales
  • Flush:  Carl Hiassen (part - he finished it himself)
  • Hoot:  Carl Hiassen (part - he finished it himself)
  • Biography of a Grizzly:  Ernest Seton-Thompson
  • Things Not Seen:  Andrew Clements (started...he got bored...I don't know why...seems like a great story)
  • The Prince and the Pauper:  Mark Twain - I was very surprised he allowed us to finish this one, but he really seemed to enjoy it.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:  Lewis Caroll (started)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:  Mark Twain (Can't believe we got through this, but he loved it.  What can I say? He's a man of good literary taste.)
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer:  Mark Twain (started - still working on it.)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

When I'm right, I'm right

The punchline of a shaggy dog story that tormented my childhood was "Patience, jackass, patience." Words I continue to aspire to live by.

As I predicted (alas, over a month ago...I have been very negligent lately), NSA has, indeed, been collecting credit card data, through a program called...wait for it..."Follow the Money" capturing data in a system called "Tracfin". It was just a matter of time and patience until such a system was uncovered.

According to one presentation, the NSA sought to access Visa transactions for customers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In a statement, Visa said it was not aware of unauthorized access to its network.....The NSA's Tracfin data also contained information from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT. SWIFT, a cooperative owned by around 8,000 financial institutions, runs a messaging service that enables worldwide financial transactions between banks.
This one was so bad that even GCHQ balked:
Snowden also revealed documents from GCHQ that showed that the UK intelligence agency had misgivings about the NSA’s Follow the Money program. The GCHQ questioned the legality of monitoring bulk data of personal financial information that didn’t necessarily pertain to national security risks.
Apparently "Der Spiegel reported that SWIFT was a target of spying by the NSA's "tailored access operations" division" The tailored access operations division, as I understand it, is responsible for the "good" kind of surveillance - more technically challenging, more labor intensive, more expensive, and therefore much more targeted at individuals we actually have some reason for suspecting. I predict that there will be further revelations of systems bulk collecting credit card data, outside of the scope of TAO.

I will continue to hope for vindication in my earlier prediction that Snowden will produce evidence of misuse of collected information to the detriment of American security.  So far, the speculateddocumented and derided misuse has been limited to...um...horny agents.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

More hypotheses about Snowden's information

Well, so far, my last prediction about where the Snowden leaks might lead hasn't come to pass.  But undaunted, I forge ahead with new predictions.

So far, the information that's been released only relates to phone and internet traffic data.  That's all very well and good for the NSA, but I am astounded that as yet there has been no talk of credit card information. I cannot imagine that purchases by targeted individuals would not be of interest.  In a certain sense, the purchases themselves are metadata (where, when, how much spent, etc.)  I also imagine the "content" would be of interest, as well -- what is the target purchasing?  Fertilizer?  Pressure cookers?  One way plane tickets?  Contributions to political candidates?  And it's not like that information isn't available -- all those marketing analytics spyware thingies and databases are already out there, and the NSA would just have to make some secret deal with those companies (nah!) to access that sort of data.  But we haven't heard about it, so far.  I have to assume (a) that Glenn Greewald just hasn't released those documents yet or (b) Snowden was only supporting telecom-based systems, and there are different staff who support the credit card data systems used by NSA.

I predict we will eventually hear about the NSA groping masses of credit card data.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ice cream maker recipes

Last year, Sidharta talked me into getting an ice cream maker.  We had some good success, but didn't really push the envelope.  This year we took it up a notch.

We've had fantastic success, so far, with Raspberry Sorbet, Peach Sorbet and Papaya Ice Cream.  If you have an ice cream maker...you can try the below.  If you don't:  get one!  It's pretty cheap, and there's just no comparison.  The annoying part is finding space in the freezer for the bowl.

Black Raspberry Sorbet - I was stupid enough not to write the recipe down, but I got it off the internet, so I trust to finding it again.  It's mostly a question of finding the right ratio of raspberries to sugar and water.  And removing the seeds (a major pain, but worth it).  I don't think I put anything else in, though I thought about some cardamom.  It goes wonderfully with a little chocolate ice cream.

Peach Sorbet - my own recipe:
- 10 smallish-medium peaches - very ripe, on the verge of overripe
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 3/4 cup simple syrup (made from equal parts sugar and water)
- juice from 1/2 lime
- strawberry chunks (optional)

I made the simple syrup by using 3/4 cup sugar and 3/4 cup water and boiling with the cinnamon stick.  I used 3/4 cup of the resulting syrup.

I peeled the peaches, chopped them to remove the pits and threw them in the blender to puree them.  Then threw in the syrup and lime juice and blended some more.  This batter should probably be chilled (but I don't remember if I did or not).

Then into the ice cream maker.  When it's done you can throw in some pieces of strawberry for texture.  I threw them in  the ice cream maker when it wasn't quite done, and the strawberries got slightly mashed into the sorbet.

I don't know exactly how much this produced but probably around 3 cups.

Papaya Ice Cream - my own recipe (warning, hi fat special):
I decided I wanted papaya ice cream while I was out shopping for fruits and vegetables and saw some nice papayas.  So I bought a papaya and some cream, but had no idea of what was needed.  When I got home I searched the internet for recipes and found surprisingly few, so I made it up.

- Papaya - 2 cups of puree - I don't know how to tell you how much to buy - I bought one of the large Mexican papayas that was probably about 2 pounds and used maybe about 1/3 of it.  I know I used 2 cups of puree
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened finely grated coconut
- zest of about 1/2 lime
- 2 cups heavy cream
- chocolate chips (optional)

I pureed the papaya first, and then added the sugar and coconut and lime in the blender and then added the cream. And blended until it was nice and even.  Again, it should probably be chilled, but I didn't.  Straight into the ice cream maker.  It makes a lovely color.

Again...not sure how much this made, especially after extensive sampling, but I'll guess around 3  or 4 cups.

I threw some chocolate chips into part of the ice cream, and kept some without.  I like it both ways, though you can never really taste chocolate chips well in ice cream.

I think a bit of cardamom would be nice here, too, instead of chocolate chips.  I didn't try it.  And I saw some recipes on the internet that involved use of a can of coconut milk which I didn't have, but they sounded nice.