January 28, 2009
Which I probably won’t do. But still, it was a good book, and just by reading it so voraciously, I feel a bit smarter.
I bring this up because I came across an interesting quote. As I mentioned in the other post, the book was written in 2000, but Kaplan showed an uncanny ability to predict the changing fortunes of the parts of the world that he visited. Among these instances, I found the following quote from pages 266-267. Hot on the footsteps of the Russian invasion of Georgia, it seems all the more foreboding:
“From what I learned over the next two weeks, I was left with the queasy apprehension that was Vietnam was to the 1960s and 1970s, what Lebanon and Afghanistan were to the 1980s, and what the Balkans were to the 1990s, the Caspian region might be to the first decade of the new century: an explosive region that draws in the Great Powers.”
Obviously, in the time that’s passed since the book was published, the world has witnessed the September 11th attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and ethnic struggles throughout the world, particularly in Africa. Kaplan obviously couldn’t have known that these things would happen, but that still doesn’t discount the prescient statement above. It gave me pause, at least.
In any case, if you’re looking for an erudite examination of a volatile but very important region of the world—especially if you want it to read like a slightly adventurous travelogue written by a man with the combined outlook of a renowned geopolitical journalist and a Lonely Planet guide—then check out this book.
Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus
January 27, 2009
Man, I think Tuesdays are even worse than Mondays. Mondays hit you so hard you don't even feel it. But Tuesdays do the same, only they add on the realization that you have to put up with four more days of this crap.
I was going to put up another quote thing, but I think I'll do that tomorrow. Gotta get to the store to buy some bread before I get accosted by a drunken hick (the Palmares Festival is in full swing).
I'm not that into today...
P.S. - Happy Birthday, Angie!
January 26, 2009
One thing about
Here in Coast Tasty, “Summer” goes from approximately the end of December to some vague date in April or May. At that point, the rainy season (or “Winter”) kicks in. Still, there are quite a few nice days up through July and possibly even August, but around September, things start getting rainy, moldy, and altogether shitty right about then. There’s no real Fall, since different plants seem to lose leaves at different times, and those varying plant lifecycles also mean there’s no identifiable Spring.***
This actually is a very circuitous introduction to a movie review. You see, although it’s “Summer” here, it was actually more “wintery” this last weekend, with overcast skies and even a bit of drizzling rain yesterday. That meant that Angela and I had to scrap our plans of going to the pool and getting a sunburn, and instead we stayed at home and watched a movie called “The Fall.”
If you’ve seen the movie, maybe you can post a comment on what you thought about it. If you’ve not seen it, it’s sort of like “The Princess Bride,” if that movie had taken place in a hospital in the 1920s and Fred Savage’s grandpa had been suicidal. Also, this time around, instead of--well, Fred Savage--the protagonist is an adorable 5-year-old girl from Russia or Albania or some other place where people wore scarves. So I guess the two films are not exactly alike, but there are a surprising number of similarities between the two movies--all of which I’m sure more astute and nerdy bloggers have already commented upon.
Still, both contain an underlying theme of convalescence through fantasy storytelling, and that’s worth recognizing. In any case, I’m getting off topic here, and I basically wanted to bring up this discussion of “The Fall” based on my own thoughts and reactions to the movie. I think that no one can argue that “The Fall” is visually stunning. In fact, I had to watch the special features before I even believed that the places where the crew filmed were real. But what else does anyone know about this movie? What is your opinion? Maybe you’ve seen something that awakened a similar feeling in you—whether it be nostalgia, amazement, hate, or whatever. Anyhow, if anyone feels like sharing, please do.
***SEASONAL BONUS!***If you can explain the following conundrum to me, I will consider you a genius. OK, when I started teaching at my present job, I left one class to go teach another one every evening around 5:30. As I walked outside to my second classroom, I often was blessed with amazing views of the sunset. In a period starting in March and ending in July or so, I observed these daily sunsets. The physical point where the sun dipped below the horizon was gradually moving a little bit every day.
Now, it does that in
January 23, 2009
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran!
Now, I'm not sure how I came across this image, but I think it had something to do with looking at a map of Santiago's metro system, and one thing led to another, as is often the case. Suddenly I was looking at the Wikipedia page devoted to Tehran, and the pictures, especially the one above, really caught my eye. "Weird," I thought. "That's what I'd imagine some place like Salt Lake City would look like." But in fact, Salt Lake City looks like this:
So what's my point? That cities dominated by different branches of right-wing fundamentalist politics can deceive our stereotypes? Well, that's part of it. But I also think that there's something to be said about these stereotypes themselves. After all--be honest here--how many of you, if asked to form associations upon hearing the words "Tehran" or "Iran," would have come up with something positive? How many would have thought of Ahmadinejad, or terrorists, or Arabs, or dusty deserts? I, for one, probably would have.
Yet here we have a picture that shows us that despite our preconceived notions of our world, the home of our supposed enemy doesn't look that scary after all... in fact, it looks like a pretty nice place to go on a resort vacation and get in some quality time by the fireplace after a long day of skiing.
So, if anyone's headed to Iran any time soon for a bit of tourism, give me a call. I'll bring my curiosity, my camera and, of course, my snow boots.
PS: Interestingly enough, according to this site's Clustrmap, Sitzblog has even had one visitor from Iran! (Scroll down on the page that opens to see individual country statistics)
(Both pictures copyright-released and available on Wikimedia Commons)
January 22, 2009
Well, he was right. It's a great book. Robert D. Kaplan travels from Hungary to Turkmenistan via many other countries (most of which will cause you to continually flip back to the maps on the first few pages of the book). The book was written in 2000 about a trip he took in 1998, but it still seems current and exciting, somehow. The writing is vivid without being overly flowery, and the end result is that you find yourself beginning to care about countries like Bulgaria, which before would have barely caused a blip on your World Geography Radar.
Here' a typical excerpt, from page 76:
"American and Russian values in Eastern Europe were still at war: the humanism demonstrated by a homeless shelter for an abused minority and a university to foster tolerance pitted against the absolutism and thuggery of criminal oligarchies. Bulgaria was a poignant, if obscure, battleground in this struggle."
Maybe I'm just a geography nerd. After all, my students half-mocked, half-challenged me to name world capitals during English class (In hindsight, I'm starting to think that they didn't really care if I knew the capital of Somalia, and I suspect they were just trying to distract me). But geography nerd or not, there's surely something interesting in this book for anyone who's interested in post-Communism world politics, travelogues, or just plain good writing.
And in an interesting twist, when I arrived to work today after reading my book in the back seat of my carpool, I looked up and what should I see but a Lada Niva, Soviet automotive engineering at it's best! As I watched this rare Cold-War beauty chug and smoke off into the distance toward the freeway, I reluctantly closed my book, eager to begin another new chapter during my lunch break.
(Lada picture from Wikimedia Commons)
January 21, 2009
Frankly, I'm not sure if this is OK to do. I've tried doing a bit of internet research, and I can't figure out how much of a book or magazine I can excerpt and still be legit. If anyone knows, please feel free to tell me. And if you're Bill Bryson and you don't want me putting up so much of your book on my crappy site, feel free to tell me that, too.
In any case, today's excerpt is about Nebraska. Personally, I really can't say enough bad things about Nebraska. I know that this is a sticking point with some of my friends, since many of them have relatives who were unlucky enough to be left behind in Nebraska when their families migrated west towards a more promising future in Colorado. And I definitely hate Nebraska's football team. This is for two reasons: 1) I hate Nebraska and, 2) I hate football teams in general.
As an extra aside, this rabid dislike of Nebraska came to an interesting head when I went to the University of Colorado, because my university's team routinely played in games against Nebraska. But, you see, I also hated Colorado's team (see Reason 2 above). This meant that I had to strike a delicate balance and occasionally root for the home team, if only to blow those corn-husking bastards out of the water.
I've probably introduced this quote enough, so I'll let Bryson take over from here:
(From The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, page 207-208):
“I was headed for Nebraska. Now there’s a sentence you don’t want to have to say too often if you can possibly help it. Nebraska must be the most unexciting of all the states. Compared with it, Iowa is paradise. Iowa at least is fertile and green and has a hill. Nebraska is like a 75,000-square-mile bare patch. In the middle of the state is a river called the Platte, which at some times of the year is two or three miles wide. It looks impressive until you realize that it is only about four inches deep. You could cross it in a wheelchair. On a landscape without any contours of depressions to shape it, the Platte just lies there, like a drink spilled across a tabletop. It is the most exciting thing in the state.
“When I was growing up, I used to wonder how Nebraska came to be lived in. I mean to say, the original settlers, creaking across America in their covered wagons, had to have passed through Iowa, which is green and fertile and has, as I say, a hill, but stopped short of Colorado, which is green and fertile and has a mountain range, and settled instead for a place that is flat and brown and full of stubble and prairie dogs. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? Do you know what the original settlers made their houses of? Dried mud. And do you know what happened to all those mud houses when the rainy season came every year? That’s correct, they slid straight into the Platte River.
“For a long time I couldn’t decide whether the original settlers in Nebraska were insane or just stupid, and then I saw a stadium full of University of Nebraska football fans in action on a Saturday and realized that they must have been both. I may be a decade or so out of touch here but when I left America, the University of Nebraska didn’t so much play football as in engage in weekly ritual slaughters. They were always racking up scores of 58-3 against hapless opponents. Most schools, when they get a decent lead, will send in a squad of skinny freshmen in unsoiled uniforms to let them run around a bit and get dirty and, above all, to give the losers a sporting chance to make the score respectable. It’s called fair play.
“Not Nebraska. The University of Nebraska would send in flamethrowers if it were allowed. Watching Nebraska play football every week was like watching hyenas tearing open a gazelle. It was unseemly. It was unsporting. And of course the fans could never get enough of it. To sit among them with the score 66-0 and watch them bray for more blood is a distinctly unnerving experience, particularly when you consider that a lot of these people must work at the Strategic Air Command in Omaha. If Iowa State ever upset Nebraska, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they nuked Ames.”
January 20, 2009
OK, now that you've had a look, think about it for a minute.
Brad loaned me Bryson's book, and even then it was 10 years old. Neither those 10 years, nor the 10 more that have passed since I first read this book, have diminished its entertainment value in any way. In the book Bryson basically drives around the US in a shitty Corvair, and snarkiness (and excellent writing) ensue. I can thoroughly recommend this book or any other one by Bryson, to anyone who enjoys humorous non-fiction writing. I'll put up a quote about Columbus today, and tomorrow I'll put up the aforementioned Nebraska-slamming excerpt. Hope you enjoy:
“It was the Columbus Day weekend and the roads were busy.
January 19, 2009
-Rob Gordon, High Fidelity
Still, being in Costa Rica isn't too conducive to such conversations. Movies and music are popular here, but they don't seem to carry nearly as much importance as they do in the U.S. (which probably goes a long way towards explaining Reggaeton music). And books? Well, people just don't seem to read here.
Also, my wife Angela is slowly getting into these types of things, but growing up on a coffee farm around here seems to equate to infrequent visits to the movie theaters, to say the least. When I first asked her what music she liked, her list was two groups long: Bon Jovi and Savage Garden. In the meantime, we've gotten to the point where we can discuss movies we've seen together recently, but she still doesn't have an entire quarter-century of pop culture references under her belt.
So, in an attempt to have at least a one-way "conversation," I came up with the idea of "Sitzmedia." I'm still developing it, but I'm thinking it can be a place where I can talk with you--or even with myself, if need be--about what I've been reading, listening to, and watching. I was originally just going to put up some quotes from books and samples from songs, but I'm thinking this could be a lot more interesting, depending on how I/we do it.
If you read something under a Sitzmedia heading, I would certainly encourage you to leave a comment, and maybe this can develop into something cool. If it does, I may be able to make a different blog out of this. Or, if it sucks and it bombs, I'll just scrap it.
Those are my thoughts for now...
By the way, I think I'll include some sort of links to the movies, books, and music, either like in the quotation above, or the link below. That's the idea, so hopefully something interesting comes of it!
January 13, 2009
For example, Angela once yelled at me for taking off my shoes and socks, and then putting my bare feet on the tile. Also, it's been claimed that a woman cannot open a refrigerator for the last three months of her pregnancy, especially not if she was just near a stove. Or was it the three months after the pregnancy?
Oh well, bottom line is, Angela was a good sport, and she even suggested we take this picture to show to her family back home.
The people at the pharmacy said it was the strangest instructions they'd seen. Anyhow, let's hope they work, and if you come visit Coast Tasty, be sure to apply a thick, protective coat of Lamisil underneath your sunblock!
January 12, 2009
In case you keep track of these kind of things--and who doesn't?--I just updated the Construction Sblog with some new pictures of the house, including the beauty above.
"More! More!! More!!!" you say?
Well then, look no further than the Construction Sblog. Enjoy.
January 10, 2009
Take Paul Sitzman. He just bought 8 books on the aStore, thereby helping his older brother! He's subsequently become healthy, wealthy, wise, and handsome beyond his wildest dreams!
Now compare Paul Sitzman--the spitting image of a cheerful, all-American boy--and compare him to the people who didn't buy books using my amazon.com aStore. Ewww. We're talking Losers. Creeps. Dictators. Perverts. Veneral Disease Sufferers. Al Qaeda. Reggaeton Singers. Prostitutes. Greedy Wall Street Villains.
Do you really want to be part of that latter group?
Didn't think so.
So, if you need some textbooks for the upcoming semester, please check out the aStore first, and I'll be forever grateful if you do so.
Can you really afford not to?
January 9, 2009
The only other earthquake I'd ever felt was the second time I ever went to Angela's house. When I felt the walls shake a bit on that occasion--since I'm a Colorado boy--I assumed the most logical conclusion: the washing machine must be off balance on the spin cycle.
Well, evidently someone was spinning a huge-ass load of clothes yesterday, cause everything shook quite a lot. I was at the bank during my lunch hour, since my debit card had been mysteriously deactivated. When the room started bouncing around, I looked up and saw a huge, dripping Air-Conditioning unit above my head and thought, "This doesn't look good." I didn't know what to do, however. Was I supposed to stay put? To run? To stand in a door frame? To stand in the middle of the room? Do you die if you're inside or outside during an earthquake? For a moment, I even had a mental message flash in my head that said, "Find a doorframe or, barring that, a basement, a bathtub, or a ditch." But wait, wasn't that what to do when there's a tornado? Man, natural disasters are confusing.
Everyone else in the bank was running toward the door, so I followed them. I at least seemed to remember that you're supposed to be calm in a disaster, so I was walking, but not too slowly, lest I be the only dumbass caught inside. I can't imagine the shame of knowing that my cause of death was getting crushed by an A/C unit at a mall.
So, I went outside with everyone else until the rumbling and shaking stopped about a minute later. I didn't know what to do, but since a few people were headed back into the mall, I did, too. After all, I had taken a number, and I wasn't about to lose my place in line.
After about another 40 minutes of waiting, I finally talked to a teller and got my debit card reactivated. I was headed back to work on foot, and I figured I'd take a shortcut through a department store. But the department store was closed with a big, fat chain on the glass door handles. In fact, all the other stores were closed, too. As I went outside, I noticed a ton of people milling about. Could the four of us that went back into the bank have been the only idiots around?
As I walked back to the commercial park where I work, the DHL building's employees were outside, enjoying a nice smoke in the sun. And so were all the employees of all the other businesses in the park, including the call center where I work. Crap! I had wasted my whole lunch hour at the bank, only to find out that I was missing the opportunity to Hang Around Outside! For an office employee, that's like getting strep throat on a snow day!
So, for the next couple of hours--until I left work at 4, actually--people were kept outside while engineers inspected the buildings. There were minor damages, mostly involving ceiling tiles and other random crap falling, so we were pretty lucky. In many other parts of the country there were injuries, destroyed roads and houses, and even 15 or so deaths, mostly by landslides.
This is a weird post anyhow, so I'm not quite sure how to end it. I guess, let's just hope the next one is small, and that everyone stays safe.
Until then, hold on.
January 5, 2009
Also, I would post my own top 10 of 2008 list, but I'm almost sure the only music I listened to in 2008 that was actually from 2008 was Guns N' Roses' new album. It was a slow year for me, music-wise. So, I'll let Paul take it away.
Good work, brother-man.
Things have been very busy lately, but our whirlwind trip of my patria--or whatever--is nearly over, and soon enough I'll have some more pictures ready to put up.
But for now, "Tired of Predator Rap" will have to suffice.
(The picture is an older one I took before we left Costa Rica--see, I still haven't even had time to look at my US pictures yet--showing our niece Mariela holding our cat, Coochie Flies; his name alone is worth a post/explanation. Anyhow, it's kinda hilarious. Plus, Mariela is watching our cat right now, so I hope they're both doing well!)