Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Bookstack Runneth Over

I'm currently reading Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf. The story still stands the test of time. On the nightstand I have my recently purchased copy of The Essential Catholic Survival Guide by the Catholic Answers staff, along with Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, 1776 by David McCullough, my Bible, my Year with John Paul II, and One for the Money, a "Stephanie Plum" detective novel.

Next to the bed, in a whimsical book bag from Barnes & Noble that I just couldn't resist, are several craft books to inspire me as I enter my card-making mania.

Along the wall next to my dresser are more books, mostly purchased from used book sales. They are an eclectic lot because I never know what I might feel like reading next.

So what book did I pull out for my "before bedtime" reading pleasure?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Yes, I'm re-reading it. I read it in such a rush before I left for Japan that I feel I didn't do it justice. I have to be careful, though--I tend to get sucked into it and time magically disappears.

(Am I the only one who is actually looking forward to when my favorite TV shows go into re-runs so I can read more?)

I've Got To Have This!

Mythbusters is a family favorite. It's the perfect combination of explosives, geekness, destruction, surprise, and science/engineering.

The other day, Kari (the lone female) was wearing a T-Shirt that said: GEEK. Only it was in Greek letters: G-Epsilon-Epsilon-Kappa.

Okay, I know G does not equal Gamma, which looks like an upside down L. And, yes, Epsilon is really S. But it makes a cool looking E--just look at the Sum Function button on an Excel spreadsheet.

Still, I thought it was clever. I wonder where she got it?

A Political Education

The other day I was reading yet another article about the demise of the family dinner around the table. This author claimed that discussions around the family table often provided a chance for the parents to pass on their political philosophies and values as well as honing the debating skills of the children.

Well... maybe. Sometimes, though, I think that the "family dinner table" has taken on the mythic aura of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Still, I feel badly because my family doesn't gather around the table each night. We do gather around the coffee table, usually with a program on we all enjoy (Mythbusters, anyone?) and talk about our day during the commercials. I had high hopes of having regular dinners, maybe on Sunday, with friends and family gathered 'round. I should have known myself better--I missed out on the "Martha Stewart" gene.

However, I have discovered that we have an alternative "roundtable": the family car. Five days a week, for about 20 minutes or so, DS#2, DD#2, and I are sequestered in our 1990 Corolla station wagon. A local classical music station plays in the background. We talk about many things, big and small, because we know we have a captive audience. Occasionally, the news report on the radio provides a jumping off point for discussion.

On Monday, the radio briefly mentioned a U.N. Special Report that stated "poorer" countries were going to need $85 billion dollars over the next several decades to combat the effects of Global Warming. This money should come from the "rich" nations, with the U.S. specifically contributing about $40 billion to this fund.

"What?!" I shouted at the radio.

DS#2, who was in an early-morning stupor, said, "What's wrong?"

I told him. And then I explained why I thought the U.N. was way out of line. First off, the only money the U.S. Government has comes from taxes paid by its citizens--governments, in and of themselves, do not "have" money. Secondly, most poor nations are that way because of their corrupt government officials, not because they lack in natural or human resources. (Mexico is an example of this.) Therefore, I do not want my money going to prop up corrupt regimes in foreign countries so the dictators and tyrants can build vast "Monuments to Me" instead of helping their countrymen. I used Saddam Hussein and the Oil for Food scandal, where millions of dollars intended to feed poor Iraqis instead went into building yet another palace for Saddam. And somehow, it was all the fault of the U.S.

Yesterday, DD#2 mentioned they were watching Supersize Me during P.E. class (they're currently doing a unit on Health).

"Is your teacher going to show the film about the woman who also ate at McDonald's for a month and lost weight?" I asked.

So we had a lively discussion about what the purpose of the film Supersize Me was. Was it blaming McDonald's for offering super-sizes? Was it showing the results of poor food choices and lack of exercise (the kids' opinion)? I mentioned that McDonald's had decided to drop super-sized portions because of the bad publicity from the film. The kids thought that was a good result. I pointed out that this limited their choices as consumers. Shouldn't they be able to make the decision to supersize their meal? Perhaps there was a reason they needed a supersized drink or fries (DD#2 said, "Like sharing," which is common among teens with limited cash). Would a film that showed the consequences of good choices at McDonald's and an exercise program be more effective?

This loss of choice, this acquiescence to the idea that "The Government Knows Best" is almost as worrisome as the threat of Islamic radicals who want to establish a global caliphate. In fact, the two are linked: if we cede our judgement to The Authorities, then how can we fight an Authoritarian Regime? How can we recognize an Authoritarian Regime? (And, no, I'm not talking about President Bush and V.P. Cheney.)

My generation used to have a slogan: Question Authority. I wish more of us would--and expand that to question all Authority, right, left, and center.

The bonus to these car trips is that Hubs brings the kids home. So they get 20 minutes with Dad in the evening. His favorite topics of conversation are School and Scouts, although he listens to talk radio.

Forty minutes of undiluted time with a parent, five days a week. Maybe we don't really need a "dinner table" after all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Oh What A Beautiful Morning!

I'm not a fan of winter. However, the upside to getting up in the dark is the magnificent sunrises I share with my children every morning. Today's was especially spectacular: red clouds fading to the gold of the sunrise. And off to the side, a surprise--a rainbow, even though it wasn't raining. There must have been a lot of moisture in the clouds.

Too bad the woman in the BMW SUV behind me was in too much of hurry to enjoy it. After all, she had to get to where she was going thirty seconds faster than she would if she had stayed behind me.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In Thanksgiving for Family

DS#1 came up for the weekend from college and DD#1 didn't have to work, so we were all together for Thanksgiving. I watched as the old family dynamic, especially among the siblings, quickly reasserted itself. DS#1 did notice that DD#2 seems to have blossomed since she entered high school, partly because she's only got one sibling--DS#2--to be compared with instead of three.

Sibling dynamics was a theme that kept coming up over and over this weekend.

We celebrated at Bro & SIL #2's, and most of the family was there. Politics barely came up. I did get the impression that Hillary might not have quite the support of the base as the polls indicate, although her nomination seems to be a foregone conclusion. (Which means voting in the primary is especially important!)

We spoke about schools, jobs, what happened to the Cal Bears. We drew names for Christmas, both siblings and cousins. Nieces and nephews were forced to hug and kiss their grandmothers and their aunts and uncles, because that's what we had to do when we were little.

And we marveled how well we all got along; how much we actually enjoy being together. Even our children seem to enjoy each other's company.

I tried not to be "Big Sister," especially since SIL#2, the hostess, is also the oldest sister in her family. I don't know how well I succeeded!

On Friday we drove up to visit Hubs' parents.

I'm always shocked to see how frail they've become, how Alzheimer's is slowly eating away at my FIL's memory. We were a fresh set of ears for his stories and a sounding board for both my MIL and Hubs Sis#2. She is the only one who lives in the area, so the bulk of taking care of the parents falls to her.

Hubs asked if he and the boys could set up Christmas lights, but they didn't want the fuss or bother. DD#2 and I made dinner: ham, sweet potatoes, salad, pumpkin pie. DD#2 also looked through the family albums, noticing that there were far more pictures of her oldest brother than of her. My MIL kept looking at DS#2 and wondering why she didn't know him as well as she knows DS#1. They retired and moved 300 miles away about the time DS#2 was born, so they only saw him when we were up there on vacation.

It's obvious to us all that my FIL will have to go to assisted living at some point, sooner rather than later. So will my MIL, although she is fighting that. She claims not to "need" it, but she has medical issues and is physically fragile. My SIL has health issues of her own. Hubs and I are not in a position to move closer--our jobs, our friends, our children's lives are firmly rooted and we don't particularly want to uproot.

Everyone has an opinion about what should be done. Some are more practical than others. I wonder what's in store for Hubs and I.

Hubs is the only boy and the baby of the family and has the only grandchildren. He is used to saying whatever outrageous thing comes to mind and getting away with it. His Sis#2 resents that some--after all, she is taking on the responsibility of caring for their parents. She feels unappreciated.

I'm the in-law. I'm the neutral sounding board. I don't have to make any of the decisions.

We only spent about 24 hours there. The younger children have commitments and DS#1 has another 300 mile drive back to college in Central California. He's taking the truck because the semester will be done in two weeks. I'm not really thrilled about it because I worry that when he becomes bored, he'll jump in the truck and take off somewhere, looking for distraction, instead of studying. However, Hubs thought it was okay and DS#1 pointed out that he can't afford to buy gas. I reluctantly agreed. But I see a trip to the Central Coast early next year. Or springing for a train ticket.

And so another thread of memory is woven into the tapestry of life...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Other San Francisco

San Francisco is known for doing some oddball stuff, especially politically. The fact that Speaker Nancy Pelosi comes from San Francisco doesn't always help or that Mayor Gavin Newsom seems to be more interested in pandering to the latest special interest group than in governing wisely or well. Still, I read people's reactions, especially in the conservative blogs, and I marvel at their descriptions of The City. They often bear no resemblance to what I see and experience every day.

When I arrive at the Embarcadero BART station every morning, I'm greeted with music--good music. The genre varies every day: mariachi, steel drum, saxophone, clarinet, banjo, mandolin, Peruvian pipes. Occasionally, a string quartet is there, playing classical music. At street level, there's a flower stand in the shape of a trolley car. The homeless guy--one of the regulars--smiles at me if he's aware enough, gently shaking his empty paper coffee cup. I can see the Bay down the street.

Last Friday, Hubs and two of the kids joined me after work for the lighting of the Embarcadero Center and the Christmas tree (and, yes, they call it a "Christmas" tree--not a "holiday" tree) in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency. There were performances, including the High School Jazz Honor Band and the Pacific Mozart Choir (who sang Christmas carols, a Capella), and an ice show. The owner of the management group for the Center presented a check to the guests of honor--the Marine Corps, for their fund to help wounded marines readjust to civilian life. No one booed. No one spit. There was lots of applause and cheers.

And then there was fireworks.

Most of the streets I walk every day do not smell like piss and a fairly free of trash. The homeless I pass do not harass me. Most say "hello" and "God bless," especially if I look them in the eye and smile.

The German restaurant near work has Friday evening polka nights. This is so popular, there's a cover charge. Up the street, the pub owners are Cal alumni, so the "Straw Hat" band (a subset of the full Cal Band) comes to perform before major football and basketball games. The Italian cafe features a tenor and a soprano singing arias during lunch hour.

On nice days working folk and families with kids--or nannies with kids--sit by the Bay, eating lunch, watching the boats and the seagulls. There's a sign announcing a new passenger terminal to be built, but the Port can't until they figure out to do with Red's Java House, a beat up burger-and-beer joint, reminiscent of the blue-collar roots of the waterfront. The Hills Brothers Coffee warehouse and roaster is now a plaza with offices and restaurants, but the statue of the Arab in turban and robes, drinking a cup of coffee is still on display. The plaza is also home to a day care center. And the Embarcadero YMCA, dedicated to sailors and Marines, runs day camps during summer and school vacation.

And besides the cable cars, there are the historic street cars, from cities all over the world: Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, New Orleans (yes, the streetcar is named "Desire"), Osaka, Milan, Stockholm. They travel up and down Market Street on to Fisherman's Wharf and are a better bargain, at $1.50/adults, $0.50 for children and seniors, than the cable cars ($5.00).

There are the "dark" areas, especially around City Hall and the UN Plaza. The homeless, the down-and-outers are more edgy. There are also more police on foot or on bikes, especially during the holiday season. I am more alert here, more aware of my surroundings. The most difficult part is explaining to my children why: why these people might be here, why they might chose to live this way, why they might have to live this way.

Physically, San Francisco is small, so only a few blocks separate "safe" from "not-so-safe," "gay" from "straight," "financial" from "shopping," ocean from bay. It's a City and a County, with the Mayor elected at-large and the Supervisors elected by district, so there is constant tension between what is good for the City as a whole versus the special interests/needs of the districts. (When the Supervisors were also elected "at large" the politics were not quite so off-the-rails.)

San Francisco is not quite Sodom or Gomorrah. It is an example of the "Balkanizing" effect that special interest politics has on a city--or a state or a country--and how common sense is often the victim

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Movie Review: Beowulf

I enjoyed 300 and even Troy. I was looking forward to seeing Beowulf, to enjoy another epic story, filled with outrageous heroes and fantastic monsters. I read an excerpt of the poem when I was in high school, which was a long time ago. I read The Song of Roland about the same time and the two were muddled in my mind. This summer I bought Seamus Heaney's translation this summer and was looking forward to reading it.

So I was really looking forward to seeing this movie, especially when DD#2 said that she could get extra credit in English for watching Beowulf and then comparing it with The Odyssey, which she is reading.

I was really disappointed.

First off, I found the computer animated human characters extremely off-putting. We saw the movie on a regular screen, not 3-D, so I don't know if that makes any difference. But the synchronization of their mouths with the dialogue was off and their movements were strange--not quite smooth.

And then there are the accents. Here is a story about Danes and Geats and Thanes and everyone speaks with a well-modulated British accent, except for the serving girls. They speak with a brogue. Robin Wright Penn is the voice, and the body model, for the queen. Her accent isn't bad, but weren't there any British actresses available? Angelina Jolie looks great with an airbrushed body in gold leaf, but I'm not sure what her accent was supposed to be. In fact, according to the credits, there was another actress involved. I guess they were going for the "dragon lady" effect--Angelina's character was rather reptilian.

But the tragedy of this movie is that it didn't engage me. I didn't care about Beowulf or Hrothgar or the queen. I didn't care about Grendel or his mother. The effects were amazing, especially the dragon. But emotionally, the movie had no impact, no resonance. While it was clear that Beowulf was attracted to Hrothgar's young queen and she to him, there was little to explain what happened between the time of Beowulf's encounter with Grendel's mother and his encounter with the dragon. They profess their love for each other--but what happened?

Update: DS#1 is home for Thanksgiving. We were talking about this movie, which he thought was great. Turns out, he saw it in 3-D and it's apparently "awesome." Then, too, he was probably watching for the effects while I was watching for the story. That might also be the difference between seeing this movie in 2-D versus 3-D. However, I'm not spending the money to find out.

Also, Cliff Notes Online had an article about the themes in Beowulf, the original poem. Robert Zemekis (and screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Robert Avary) should have checked the site out.

On the March Hare scale: 2 out of 5 Golden Tickets

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Book Review: An Acceptable Time

This book, by Madeleine L'Engle, is another story involving the Murry family. The protagonist is Polly O'Keefe, oldest daughter of Meg Murry and Calvin O'Keefe. Polly has found her educational options limited in the area where her family lives and has come to stay with, and be tutored by, her grandparents. Since her grandfather is an eminent physicist and her grandmother a Nobel-winning biologist, they are able to provide her with all the mental stimulus she needs.

Their neighbors are Dr. Louise Colubra, a local pediatrician, and her brother, a retired bishop who has traveled the world as a missionary. There is also a young man named Zachary, whom Polly met overseas. Zachary has a heart condition and has been told that he does not have much time left. But he is trying to live a normal life. The Bishop has some interesting ideas about God and heaven and angels.

Polly is just trying to deal with it all when she sees two young men and a young woman dressed rather oddly.

Turns out the circles of time between the present and 3,000 years ago are overlapping and drawing Polly, the Bishop, and Zachary in. Polly's grandparents and Dr. Louise are worried, but ultimately there is nothing they can do. Polly is a healer and is connected to the inhabitants of that long-ago time. She must bring peace between the People of the Wind and the People Across the Lake. And can Zach's heart be repaired by these long-ago healers, which modern medical science cannot do?

Ms. L'Engle does not try to explain how the time portals are crossed and opened to each other and she (and the Bishop) get a little New Age-y in her descriptions of how the "lines of love" connect everything and everyone. And the healer/shaman part is also a little odd (they can heal a heart but not a badly cut finger?). In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, one of the important characters is an Indian whose ancestors have come across the ocean from Wales, and that story is mentioned here. Two of the main characters are actually druids.

Polly and Zach mention events and people that must have happened in an earlier book--but, for the life of me, I can't figure out which one (or ones) it might be. But Ms. L'Engle writes as though the reader will just know. Or maybe she doesn't care. The first time that happened, I thought I'd missed something and went back to check. When I realized that it wasn't me after all, I continued on, but was still vaguely annoyed.

There are several more books, but the sequence, if there is one, isn't clear. So I'm moving on...

On the March Hare scale: 2.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

Friday, November 16, 2007

Scared Safe

DS#2 is at that age--he's eligible to get his license. So, as part of the preparation for that momentous event, he and I went to a "Drive Smart, Stay Safe" driving class given by the California Highway Patrol through the local adult school.

Two officers gave the class, dressed in uniform. I noticed a bit of black peeping out under the "v" of the female officer's uniform shirt, but over her white cotton t-shirt. Then it dawned on me: she was wearing a bullet-proof vest. The male officer's vest didn't show, but I could see the outline under his shirt as well.

Both were carrying guns, as well as their radios, handcuffs, keys, spray, and whatever else was on their utility belts. In fact, the belt looked like it weighed more than the female officer did.

Two fully-armed, fully-prepared officers in a classroom of middle-class students and their parents on a Wednesday night in suburbia, just blocks from a plaza containing several high-end stores. It seemed incongruous.

The class was designed to convince the teens that they are not invincible when they get behind a wheel of a car. I'm not sure it worked for them. The mothers in the class, including yours truly, were ready to tell our kids that maybe driving isn't such a good idea after all. Not that any child of mine make the same errors in judgment that cost the teens in the video their lives, but there are other people out there who would. And who would endanger my kid.

The video/DVD the officers showed were scenes from real accidents. The people lying with their bodies at impossible angles were not dummies. The blood on the windshields was not dyed sugar syrup. This was not ER or CSI. These people were really, truly dead. Their parents, their brothers and sisters, their friends, were really left behind to deal with the mess. I had to keep reminding myself and DS#2 of that, otherwise the scenes would be too easy to dismiss.

After the video, the officers talked about what causes most accidents and what violations they give the most tickets for. They talked about how they don't need a warrant to search your car or even a reason to pull you over--they can do a "vehicle inspection." And, come the holiday season, all 25 law-enforcement agencies throughout the Bay Area will be working to keep unsafe drivers off the road.

The male officer had a local example as part of his presentation. He talked about how the mother of the girl who was killed arrived at the scene and screamed and screamed. The officers at the scene couldn't sleep at night because every time they closed their eyes, they heard that scream.

The officers talked about what happens in a crash, about the physical impact to the car and to your internal organs as they slam into your skeleton or the steering wheel. About seat belts. About why drivers under 18 are given provisional licenses and can't have passengers in the car (and soon they won't be able to use gadgets like cell phones, even in hands-free mode).

They discussed the fatal results of showing off, of peer pressure, and road rage. They talked about how important it is that parents model good driving skills. They urged us to have a plan of action when our kids find themselves in a situation where they shouldn't be driving--the maximum blood alcohol level for anyone under 21 is zero. They asked how many of us would pick up our kids if they had been drinking at a party. We all raised our hands. They asked how many of us would be pissed off. I raised my hand. But I'd rather be pissed off at my kid and have him alive than pissed off and grieved that he was dead.

The next step is driving lessons for DS#2. And, of course, he has plans once he gets his license. I just hope he remembers some of what he saw...

Pet Peeves--Commuter Edition

People who sit on the aisle on BART or the bus and leave the window seat free. And won't move over when others (like me!) want to sit down.

I understand if they have a large package or a suitcase they are keeping in the aisle or if they are getting off at the next stop. However, if they're not--why should I have to crawl over them (and their laptops) just to get a seat? I have a briefcase and a purse, too, just like they do.

And if they don't want me to bump their laptop while I'm climbing over them on a moving train to get to the empty seat, either close the laptop or move over! How hard is this to figure out?


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Communicating With Adult Children

The complaint was a familiar one: "Mommy, I'm sick." The delivery method was different--DS#1 sent me an IM.

I did what any good mother would do when her child is sick and is 300 miles south. No, not jump in the car and tear down Highway 101. I IM'd him back: "Go to the Student Health Clinic."

DS#1 and I communicate at least once a week. Since he pays his own cell phone bill, he usually sends me an IM while I'm at work. It's a little bit awkward, since I can type faster than he can and I sometimes have to actually do the job I'm paid to do. But we generally catch up on what's going on. Like his plans for Thanksgiving. Or how his classes are going.

DD#1 still lives at home, but between work, school, and her social schedule, I rarely see her. Our usual mode of communication is text messaging via cell phone, since she seems to ignore her voice mails. I was floored when I came home on Monday and she was cooking dinner.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"Cooking dinner," she answered. She knew what my real question was; she chose to ignore it.

But I did get to see her latest piercing: a bar that transects the top of her ear.

"Why did you do that?"

"I've always wanted an industrial piercing and I knew you'd have a fit if I had my tongue pierced."

Damn straight, I would. Four years and $$$ worth of orthodontia and oral surgery endangered by a fad.

I admit that I just don't understand the point of the bar. Earrings are pretty. A steel bar is... well, a steel bar. However, she paid for it--and I was shocked at how much she spent. But, it's her money.

The younger two still depend on Hubs and I to drive them, so our communication is much more straightforward and person-to-person. I kind of miss that with the older two, although I will admit IMs are a much quieter way to argue!

Hyperbole--Or What Would Pols Do Without It?

A week ago Wednesday, I received an unusual phone call from a former colleague who lives in New Jersey:

"There's a rumor going around one of our ships hit your bridge. Do me a favor and look out your window."

Since the headquarters for Gap, Inc., blocks most of my view of the Bay and the Bay Bridge, I went to the website for the San Francisco Chronicle. The first thing I saw was the port side of a ship with "HANJIN" written in large white letters. The bow was caved in.

"Wow," I replied. "So, you're working for Hanjin now?"

Had I arrived at work 30 minutes later, I would have seen the ship hit the bridge. But I arrived at work early and had no idea what was happening just a mile (or less) away.

My first reaction was that the pilot and the captain will both lose their licenses. My second thought was what was Hanjin, which is a Korean shipping line, doing with a vessel named Cosco Busan, since Cosco is the national shipping line of China (China Ocean Shipping Co.)? Was the master Korean with a Chinese crew? Or a different nationality? (The last shipping company I worked for leased their ships from a Japanese company. The ships were registered in Micronesia, the captains were Japanese, and the crews were Filipino. English was their common language.)

It didn't take long for the politicians to start shouting. Threats of lawsuits filled the air even as the Chronicle tried to untangle the web of ownership and responsibility. Shouts of the need to improve pilot training filled the air, at least until it came to light that this particular pilot has worked the Bay for over 25 years. Shutting down the Bay on foggy days was strongly suggested--until someone pointed out how common foggy days are around here. Pols who never cared about the maritime industry and who have no clue about how it works--or how vital it is to the local economy--are suddenly experts. And they have to see what the damage is, which involves riding in a Coast Guard helicopter around the Bay to look at... well, there's not a whole lot to see from above because this is not crude oil. It's bunker fuel. It's light and floats close to the surface. It's difficult to photograph unless it's clumped on the beach or smeared on a bird.

And, of course, we have to blame the Coast Guard for their lack of response, even though they were on-scene in a matter of minutes (the Coast Guard base is just on the other side of the island the Bay Bridge is connected to). Forget that it was, indeed, a very foggy day with poor visibility. Forget that their first concern was to get the ship back to port and then to assess the damage. Forget that they were putting booms out. None of that matters because someone forgot to call the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland right away.

Yeah--the same mayors who are so hospitable to the military. Although the Coast Guard is now under Homeland Security (they were under Treasury).

Disclaimer: I have a personal fondness for the Coast Guard. Several friends joined; for years they hosted the Ancient Mariner Regatta for the Sea Scouts on Coast Guard Island; they do vital work keeping the Bay safe and inspecting commercial craft like ferry boats and fishing boats; they do search and rescue; they have the unpleasant task of retrieving the bodies of jumpers from the Golden Gate Bridge. Like most branches of the service, they are underfunded. With the closure of most of the military bases in the Bay Area (the Presidio, Treasure Island, Alameda Naval Air Station, Hunter's Point and Mare Island Naval Shipyards, and Hamilton Air Force Base), Coast Guard families don't have the option of military housing.

I don't take kindly to ungrateful pols dissing this particular branch of the service, especially when those same pols have not supported them.

The most outlandish hyperbole, however, had to be from the Port Director of San Francisco who claimed this was the "worst government response since Katrina."


As far as I know, no one has died. There hasn't been a widespread breakdown of services and communication. Yes, marine life has been impacted, boating is being discouraged (to prevent the "tracking" of bunker fuel to unaffected areas and to minimize clean-up cost claims), and commercial fishing has been shut down. The fisherman and the oyster farms are going to be hardest hit financially. But Katrina-type damage? Let's be real, here.

And, by the way, the SF Fire Department has two fire boats right in line-of-sight of the accident. Didn't they notice what was going on? Don't they communicate with the Coast Guard? Couldn't they pick up the radio and find out what was going on?

The seagulls, however, could care less. I'm not sure about the sea lions--I'll have to walk down to Pier 39 and check.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Book Review: Many Waters

It's difficult to say if this is the fourth book in Madeleine L'Engle's series that began with A Wrinkle In Time. Meg and Charles Wallace Murry are only mentioned in passing, but play no relevant roles in Many Waters. Instead, the twins, Sandy and Dennys, are the heroes.

In search of Dutch cocoa, the twins venture into their parents' lab which is just off the kitchen. Inside, besides beef stew bubbling over a Bunsen burner, they find their dad's "not-quite-ordinary-looking computer." (Note: this book was published in 1986. It was the dawn of the personal computer.) The keyboard has a lot of Greek symbols over it. Using the English standard keys, Dennys types in "Take me somewhere warm." Sandy adds "And sparsely populated."

The boys get their wish--in spades. Turns out their father, an astrophysicist, has been playing around with tesseracts, the places where space and time intersect and bend. Sandy and Dennys find themselves somewhere warm and sparsely populated: in the middle of a desert, alone.

They are rescued by Japheth, his minature mammoth, and a couple of unicorns who "are and then they are not." The boys suffer heatstroke and are taken care of by Japheth's family, including his father, Noah, and his brothers, Shem and Ham. Eventually, the boys realize where they are and, most importantly, when they are.

But unicorns, Biblical characters, and mini-mammoths are not enough. There are also seraphim and nephilim. It's not explicitly stated that these are angels, but there are references to "talking with El" and choosing to be on Earth versus forced to remain on Earth. The twelve seraphim and the twelve nephilim inhabit ordinary animals--pelicans, scarabs, roaches, rats, crocodiles--when not in their true, winged form. Both groups are convinced that it was not an accident that the twins ended up in this time and place. Neither group--nor the twins--knows why.

There is a struggle between the seraphim and the nephilim over the humans. And the names of Sandy and Dennys do not appear in the Bible. The twins are also moving towards adulthood and find themselves falling in love with one of Noah's daughters, who is also not mentioned by name. Does she survive the coming Flood? Do they?

And what does each twin learn about himself? For most of their lives, they've been the "normal" ones in their family. Here they are not. And they begin to discover that maybe they've got special gifts as well.

I found I was more intrigued by this book than by the Wrinkle in Time trilogy, although I figured out where they were several chapters before the twins did. I know of seraphim, but I've never heard of nephilim--I'll have to go look them up. Mrs. L'Engle does a nice job of mixing in the Bible story of the Flood and perhaps that will drive some readers into reading the story for themselves.

On the March Hare scale: 3.5 out of 4 Golden Bookmarks