Vicky Cristina Barcelona

An interesting Woody Allen film. I'm not sure why Penelope Cruz deserved an Oscar for her performance: she was far better in Volver. Still, this movie was well written with a clever set of twists. Javier Bardem looked good: certainly a far cry from his role in No Country for Old Men!

Battlestar Galactica ends

Well, one of the great TV series has ended. I watched the last episode on, since I don't have cable television. A satisfying ending, if a bit mysterious. I'm going to have to go back and slowly rewatch all 5 seasons someday: the writing was just incredible!


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Neat: it's a Java applet that generates a word picture from a web page/blog/RSS feed. Here's one for my blog.

The Last Days of Old Beijing

A colleague at work recommended this book, and it's definitely worth a read. The author, Michael Meyer, spent two years living in a Beijing hutong. The book is a historical record of a rapidly changing Beijing; it's a history of Beijing's changes over the centuries; it's a commentary on living in tightly knit communities; it's a nostalgic look at old ways of living. The sad part of the book is how it depicts the ways in communities are uprooted for the sake of progress; the uplifting part is the way in which the people in those communities survive and endure the changes.

One of the most interesting bits of commentary comes from a Chinese intellectual, Feng Jicai, who wants to preserve the old ways of living: "Average people, unlike intellectuals, have no interest in preserving traditional and immaterial heritage, because they do not understand the values of it." Possibly accurate, highly elitist, and it reflects the fact that poor people don't want to stay poor. The conflict inherent in that statement echoes the author's feelings about China.

This book's topic reminds me of another book I just finished, "Gang Leader for a Day". Both books are written by middle-class Americans who spend time in marginalized communities, and who illustrate how those communities are vibrant and full of life.

Battlestar Galactica

Vacation is a wonderful thing (especially since we don't have cable at home), as is Hulu. (Have you seen Alec Baldwin's ad for Hulu, which first showed during the Super Bowl? It is hilarious.) I've caught up on the last season of Battlestar Galactica this vacation: what amazing storytelling! I can't wait for tonight's episode.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

A beautiful film, but I suspect that the book is far better. I was impressed by the subject's tenaciousness in writing a book, despite his loss of almost all of his motor skills. The film puts me at a loss for words, which says something, I suppose.

Heimlich Maneuver

Well, I got to perform the Heimlich maneuver today in a restaurant. There was a commotion at a neighboring table, with someone yelling for a doctor. The victim was not able to speak or cough, and I asked the person holding him if he could do the Heimlich maneuver. He either didn't know or didn't understand my question, because he said "yes" and handed off the victim to me. So I gave him one instance of the maneuver, and he started to be able to talk. It worked!

Afterwards, I was shocked that no one at his table seemed to know the Heimlich; either that, or they were all panicking. Read up on your basic safety information...

Lord Jim

Peter O'Toole as an uptight British seaman. This movie feels very dated, given the cinematography, treatment of the "native" peoples, and the heavy makeup on O'Toole. Not a fantastic movie, but still enjoyable to watch.

Gang Leader For a Day

The author of "Gang Leader For a Day" first came to prominence in Freakonomics. This book describes how Sudhir Venkatesh spent his graduate-school career hanging out in a poor black community in Chicago: in particular, learning about the operations of a drug gang. It is an entertaining read, but ultimately not very illuminating.

The Rest is Noise

I've been reading this wonderful book for the last 2 months or so, and finally finished it on a plane to Florida. The liner notes describe it well: it is a history of the 20th century as seen through the lens of "classical" music. Alex Ross clearly has a deep knowledge of music (not just classical): I learned a lot about the interplay between jazz, classical music, and pop/rock. It was interesting to learn that the Who's song "Baba O'Riley" was titled after a minimalist composer, for example.

This was a beautiful, illuminating read; Ross deserved the MacArthur award that he received for writing it. If you like music, you should love this book.