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While riding the bus home the other day, I heard a student talking about her plans to study abroad in India. Judging solely by the high timbre of her voice and her valley girl inflection, my first thought was, “Oh, that one will have an interesting time of it.” I’m sure she imagines India as a very “ethnic” experience, full of bright colors, spicy food, and picturesquely poor people.

Of course I am stereotyping in the worst way, but I think it’s safe to say that most people cannot comprehend the reality of India before they travel there. (Having traveled there for six months when I was all of two years old, I can hardly be considered an expert on the subject myself.) And for a young girl in college, well, let’s just say that I know it would’ve been a shock to me. I could barely handle living in France for three months.

My second thought was that if she wants to experience a shockingly different reality, she doesn’t have to go all the way to India. There are places in California and all over the country that are just as far removed from living in Santa Cruz, places that need smart, idealistic kids to visit and learn about their world. It’s kind of like adopting kids from exotic countries when there are thousands of children right here who need good homes — the motivation is good, but you just don’t need to look that far.

I discovered this fact anew yesterday afternoon. Along with some coworkers, I traveled up to Oakland to visit a program that assists foster kids to transition out of the system when they reach eighteen. I left my office in the redwoods, drove for an hour and a half, and emerged from the company car into an entirely different world. As the crow flies, we were less than twenty miles away from the affluent suburb where my in-laws live. In reality, the two could not be more different.

These kids (adults, really, two having only just turned eighteen a few days before) have been through more kinds of hell than most people would ever want to imagine. You don’t need to hear their stories to know that fact. Their eyes bear witness to the life they’ve lived, as do their faces, which in a few cases bore deep scars.

At first, all I could see were our differences. From the moment we walked in to the tightly-run ship of this organization, I was transported back to being a gangly, overweight teenager, unsure of what to say or where to put my hands. I was an outsider, my clothes too professional and my wedding ring too prominent, all screaming that I was different from the proud, defiant children all around me. My hereditary privilege suddenly became a burden, a physical and emotional boundary between us, when all I wanted was for them to like me.

Then we started talking. I’m not sure if it was a testament to the institution where we met or to the kids themselves, but they were incredibly candid, self-confident, and totally willing to open up to a spoiled white girl like myself.

Once we got to talking, it turned out that we did have something vital in common: our relentless drive to learn. By some roll of the dice, I was lucky enough to get parents that prioritized education, who did everything within their power to get me as far as I could go — and then some. From them I gained an innate love of knowledge, and the pursuit of it has been my guiding light throughout most of my life.

These kids may have walked a very different path from me, but they have ended up in more or less the same place. Sure, they’ve been through some tough times, but now they are going to college, dammit, and nothing is going to stop them. Too many things have already gotten in the way of a good life, and they are determined to minimize the remaining obstacles by getting a college education.

So our differences melted away in the shared language of our dreams, and I saw in them the next generation of dedicated doctors, artists, athletes, and social workers. Quite simply, these kids are amazing, and I would have never met them if I didn’t venture outside of my happy little suburban life for a while.

What’s more, I didn’t have to go all the way to India to have a life-changing experience — all I had to do was drive to Oakland.


I’ll take a break from working tonight to share a wonderful thing that my coworker shared with me today:

These guys put huge stereo systems on their bikes. It’s simply awesome. Check it out.

OK so forget about “Sunday Morning” – Sputnik Mania was linked on Instapundit this morning!!!! OMG. This really is my proudest moment of all. The website for a movie that I personally worked on will crash as a result of the tons of traffic that Instapundit links inevitably bring. Even though there is no mention of me or the work I did anywhere on the website or the movie, I could not be happier. Yippee!

Perhaps this poem by Robert Frost can inform my actions and reactions in my current situation, at least optimistically anyway. (Thanks to Rachel at A Historian’s Craft for this one.)


When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud
And goes down burning into the gulf below,
No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud
At what has happened. Birds, at least must know
It is the change to darkness in the sky.
Murmuring something quiet in her breast,
One bird begins to close a faded eye;
Or overtaken too far from his nest,
Hurrying low above the grove, some waif
Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.
At most he thinks or twitters softly, ‘Safe!
Now let the night be dark for all of me.
Let the night be too dark for me to see
Into the future. Let what will be, be.’

Every so often, you see a horror movie that is just so well done it makes you want to crap your pants and cry like a little girl. We watched one of those this weekend, starting on Friday night. It was so scary we had to turn it off and finish it last night, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to sleep a wink.

Said movie is Darkness, starring Anna Paquin and Lena Olin and a whole bunch of other people I didn’t know but recognized. The director is Spanish, and more importantly, Catalan (apparently they’ve been doing some interesting things in Catalan cinema, or so one of the reviews on IMDb tells me).

Now, the premise is one that is fundamentally scary to just about everyone, no matter what their age or nationality. Anything that plays on one’s childhood fear of the dark is guaranteed to be frightening, especially when seen in a dark movie theater, or worse, the dark recesses of one’s living room.

Add to that premise excellent acting by young Anna and the rest of the cast (especially the dad – just looking at him creeped me out), a few unexpected plot turns, and a decidedly twisted and un-American definition of horror… well, you got yourself a damn scary movie.

In fact, I always find that the Europeans know how to make better horror movies than we do – witness the more recent Pan’s Labyrinth, also by a Spanish director, which was without a doubt one of the most terrifying movies I have ever seen. Literally, I thought I was going to crawl out of my skin to help the little girl get away from the one-eyed child-eating monster. Oh man, my heart rate just jumped even writing about it.

The thing that made this a truly well-crafted movie was that nothing actually happened for the longest time. The fear and suspense was entirely in your own head, and even though you know full well that you’re just freaking yourself out, you still can’t help crapping your pants.

Apparently a lot of other people disagreed with me though, which I discovered upon reading the reviews on IMDb. (That’s how scary it was, I had to grab my computer and pretend to be looking it up in order to distract myself! Yeah, I’m a horror movie wimp, I admit. Even Blair Witch was scary to me.) They said it was too much like other movies, mostly The Shining.

OK, fair enough. Mainly though, I think that people didn’t like it because they’re just plain dumb. Most of the questions were regarding the end, which I won’t ruin except to say that it was a totally evil twist of fate, but one that happened so quickly it could easily be confused. And confusing it was, apparently, because most of the commentators straight up did not understand what happened. Oy.

Thus, by definition, we have a very (perhaps too!) smart, well-acted, surprising and unpredictable movie, one which takes a universal childhood fear and just runs with it. Wow. I’m still scared now, and it’s bright daylight out. Good one!

A post re: living mummification over at Ann Althouse (thanks as always to Instapundit). During this process, a certain group of monks effectively mummified themselves while still living by first starving and dessicating themselves for 1000 days each, then being buried alive. Cheerful. On the plus side, after their death they get to be worshiped as a living god. Hmm….

Of course the article itself is pretty gnarly, but the last sentence makes it all worth it:

How much religion does it take to want to starve yourself in the hope of being worshiped as a living god? Perhaps none.

(And yes, both of those words are separate links.) As I said… ooh snap. Good one, Ann.

I found this to be incredible (from the June 25 print edition of the US News & World Report, read while on the exercise bike at my parents’ the other day):

The problem: too many people and not enough different names. As a result, China may soon try to reduce name confusion in a country where most of the 1.3 billion people share just 100 family surnames. For instance, 93 million Chinese have the surname Wang, the most common, and 92 million have the surname Li. A newborn can take the surname of either the father or mother, but now officials are considering also permitting a combined surname, such as Wangli or Liwang. (Emphasis added.)

93 million? Good God. Truly amazing.

Looks like this week has been spent in a rant against pop culture. Well, OK then, I’m just gonna run with it. Because really, who can resist a war between the iPhone and Paris Hilton??? (Thanks yet again, oh pundit of Insta-wisdom!)

An interesting twist on gender stereotypes about sex… that would be the act, not the gender. (Caution – not suitable for those under 18. Or my mother.)

I found this article today, which happened to be linked from another one about sex toys going green (i.e. environmentally-friendly, not the actual color). A couple of researchers at Emory University did a study wherein they showed a group of men and women various still photos of couples having sex. They then outfitted their subjects with an eye-tracking device to determine exactly where they were looking on the photos, and for how long.

The results? Somewhat unexpected, at least in my mind: the men stared at the women’s faces for longer, whereas the women quickly moved on to the more, um, relevant parts.

(The worst part is, women on birth control were “interested in the overall view of the photos and ‘background’ items like jewelry,” whereas women not on the pill were “more interested in areas normally covered by clothing.” Dangit! Jewelry??? That really does say something about what the Pill does to one’s sex drive. Sad, really.)

But I digress. In this culture obsessed with women’s bodies, it is sadly surprising that the men actually focus on a woman’s face when it comes down to the actual deed. The researchers’ theory is that men have to rely on facial cues to tell when a woman is aroused, whereas with men it’s a lot more, well, obvious. Fair enough. However, I think this theory somewhat sanitizes a rather touching fact about men’s seeming preoccupation with sex and the female body. In the end, evolution seems to have rewarded those men who pay attention to their partner’s face during intercourse. I find this quite sweet, in a way.

As for the women, well… no explanation is given for their preoccupation with the actual nuts and bolts of the issue (pun very much intended). Just goes to show that we are actually the horny beasts around here – unless, that is, you happen to be on the Pill. Then you’re much more concerned with the aesthetics of the situation. Go figure.

Equally as genius as the other day’s airborne witticisms…

This guy decided to rig his cat’s collar with a tiny camera to see where Mr. Lee (the cat) goes during his daytime wanderings. Some of the photos are really quite good – as the author points out, good use of perspective and lighting.

I love the internet.

“Treat history as a springboard, not as an anchor.”

- General John G. Medaris

When I Wrote It

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