Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, Dear Readers.

I hope your Halloween’s are filled with happiness and spoooookiness. I celebrated my Halloween with the first session of my Storytime cycle, where I celebrated my Storytime Spooktacular with 6 adorable preschoolers. I was surprised at how quiet they were, even when I was trying to get them to yell “Trick or Treat!!!!” There were quite a few of our “regulars” there, and I think they were a little surprised to find some bald dude there instead of Ms. Pat, who is quite a different thing from some bald dude.

But whatever. I enjoyed it, they enjoyed it (I hope), and I gave them candy, so they shouldn’t complain a bit. And here are my Storytime books for the morning.

Halloween Storytime

1. Very Scary, by Tony Johnston
2. A Woggle of Witches, by Adrienne Adams
3. The Halloween House, by Erica Silverman, illustrated by Jon Agee (A four-star storybook, in my humble opinion)
4. In a Dark Dark Wood (with special pop-up ghost), by David A. Carter

Monday, October 30, 2006

"You're Death Incarnate. You Don't NEED to run."

It's not everyday you get to say that at work, but this evening I did. And the Li'l Reaper did, in fact, stop running in the library.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Halloween Party (AKA, I Give Love a Bad Name)

This last Saturday night, Katie and I attended a Quentin Tarantino themed Halloween party in Tega Cay, which is essentially Rock Hill, SC. The party, hosted by A.J. and Nicole Hazen, was fun. We were a little apprehensive about going because a) I worked all day and we had to drive over an hour to get there (and back), and b) we don’t really know A.J. and Nicole very well, and figured we’d know very few people in attendance. The Hazens are friends of OUR friends Adam and Sarah May, but we’ve always gotten along well with them and they’re nice folks, so we figured we would enjoy ourselves.

And we did. Didn’t know many of the people there, but enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. The house was sufficiently decorated in SPOOOOOKY objects, and the Tarantino theme was pretty fun (but surprisingly, no Tarantino movies were played over the course of the evening, though we did watch some crazy violent zombie video game being played).

So you may have read Waldie’s blog asking folks for costume ideas. Well, we did hit upon something, and I spent Friday afternoon constructing it. And it seemed to been a big hit. What was it?

Why, an overdosing heart and a syringe full of adrenaline from Pulp Fiction, of course!

Heart and Syringe

More shots of the party:

The Par-tay

Adam "Zed" and Sarah "The Bride" May

Our Host, A.J.
A.J. Hazen, our Host (sorry, but I got no pics pf Nicole!)

Be sure to to Waldie’s blog to see a quick video of some party-time fun.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Another Important Election

As the November 7th Congressional Elections loom before us, there is another election that bears watching. And actually, it’s a runoff.

Congo. Zaire. DCR. All these names refer to The Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country that is a microcosm of everything that can go wrong in a country. And it’s a mighty big microcosm, too, since it is the 2nd largest African country, next to Sudan. It’s history is full of some of the worst violence the continent has known.

Starting in the late 1800’s, King Leopold II of Belgium made it his mission to help free and emancipate the native Africans from the Arab slave trade. He convinced world leaders to support his goal and made the Congo (then known as the Congo Free State) essentially his own private property, largely in part because of his influential role in the Berlin Conference in 1884-5. He was well respected for his philanthropic goals. Unfortunately, this was all a terrible terrible lie, as Leopold’s involvement in the region ushered in the very worst of all the colonial exploitation in Africa.

Leopold II

The Congo made him and his cronies very very wealthy from the profits of rubber collected from the rainforests of the Congo, and he did this through an administration unmatched in it ruthlessness and violence towards the Africans. All those photos of people with their hands lopped off? That was the punishment for resistance. Need more motivation? Collect your daily rubber quota or we’ll lop off your little children’s hands, too.

Leopold's Victims

Millions are considered to have died due to the direct or indirect implications of this system. Luckily, Belgium and the rest of the world realized it had been duped, and Leopold’s personal reign came to an end. [To read an absolutely riveting account of this mess, please read King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild.]

One would think that it would have to get better. Skip ahead to 1960. Belgium follows the tide of independence sweeping across Africa and grants the Congo its independence. Elections are held, and Patrice Lumumba is elected prime Minister. Unfortunately, Lumumba couldn’t get the aid he wanted from the USA and began talking with the USSR in hopes of getting some assistance for his fledgling nation. Since there was a Cold War on, this didn’t sit well with the US, and with CIA assistance, one of Lumumba’s men led a coup which resulted in Lumumba’s execution within weeks of his election. The guilty party, Mobutu Sese Seko, relinquished power only to lead another coup and take control of the nation in 1965. He would later rename it Zaire and rule the nation with an iron fist. [To read a good first hand account of Mobutu’s rise and fall from power, read In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, by Michela Wrong. Also, read Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible, set during the Congolese independence struggle.]


So what’s the significance of this in regards to the upcoming elections on October 29th? Well, this is the first election held since the election of Lumumba in 1961. Mobutu, with the help of his friends in the USA, clung to power for the next 32 years until he was ousted in 1997 by rebels led by Laurent Kabila and backed by Ugandan and Rwandan troops. [While Zaire remained one of the world’s poorest nations, what were Mobutu’s estimated personal assets at his death in 1997? No one knows for sure, as the man was adept at hiding his money. However, all estimates point to at least several billion dollars.] After Kabila took control, unfortunately these armed groups then turned on each other and have been in a guerilla / civil / proxy war with each other ever since. According to a June 2006 article in Time magazine, this has been the world’s“deadliest war,” killing 4 million people since 1998.

This run-off on October 29th ( the follow-up to July elections) will determine the first democratically elected president in 40 years. The election is between the current president, Joseph Kabila, the son of Laurent Kabila, and Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former rebel leader. There have been clashes between the supporters of these two men since a run-off was announced. Will this election help usher in some semblance of peace? We can pray that it will, but history doesn’t shine so optimistically on this struggling nation.

More links:




Wikipedia entry on the DCR

Friday, October 27, 2006

Pop Quiz

Sorry for the lack of posting. Been very very busy lately. I’ll try to get a bit more up in the next day or so. But until then, here’s some educational games for you to play, ‘cause learnin’ is good for ya:

United States Map Quiz

African Countries Quiz

World Geography Super Quiz

For all sorts of other quizzes, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Right Attitude to Rain (2006)

Right Attitude To Rain

Alexander McCall Smith has a new book out. Seriously, the man needs to take a breather. There’s just no way my reading can keep up with his output. I was under the false presumption that I would soon to be able to claim to have read his entire catalog (though not only is he a book-writing machine, but I realized that I was nowhere close to actually having read everything he has written) That being said, I’ll never be wanting when it comes to his books, and as per usual, this newest one was really good.

The Right Attitude For Rain is an Isabel Dalhousie novel, and I must say that though the Botswana series is still my favorite for obvious reasons, I think Isabel may be my favorite of his characters. She is the most fleshed out, real character he has writes, and this is by virtue of the character being a philosopher. Isabel ponders life and mulls over situations in a very human way, and I think this lends a very realistic vibe to the novels. This book deals with an unhappy American couple and the possibility of Jamie becoming more than just a friend…I seriously recommend this series. They’re good, easy reads. Light enough if you want something simple, but with enough meat to allow you to chew on some of the ides for a while if you want something a little deeper.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fruit Salad Yummy Yummy

Keeping with the YouTube video clips, here's one via Matt Cazessus. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Dear Readers. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Rize + Two More Films


Rize (2005) This critically heralded film is my top recommendation right now. What a fascinating film! The documentary (filmed by David LaChapelle, not to be confused with Dave Chappelle) focuses on the rise of “Clowning” and “Crumping,” two related dance styles that have taken hold in Los Angeles. The styles are chaotic, intense, and often violent looking, but they serve as a positive alternative to gangs and violence for the people who participate in the movement. Watch the following clip of “Crumping” to get the full picture of this style [Be forewarned: the only YouTube clip I could find has French over-dubbing, so you can’t understand the speakers in the clip- unless you know French, of course (I’m looking at YOU, Hazel.)]

And to exemplify the maxim “Truth is stranger than fiction,” please watch the following clip of “Clowning.”

Absolutely crazy. The dancing footage is great, but it’s the personal stories of the dancers that really drives this film. These people are fighting the odds and trying to make something positive from the bleak circumstances in which they find themselves. Please take the time to check this one out if you have the chance.


Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998) This is an example of the benefits of working in a library. I happened across this little film when a patron returned it while I was working the desk. The story follows a small child as he attempts to help his village escape the clutches of an evil sorceress. It is very much a folk-tale that assumes you’re willing to jump right into the story: “There was once an African village where a brilliant and clever child was born who could talk and who wanted to help save the village from a sorceress.” You just accept the set-up and run with it.

The music is by Youssou N’Dour and the animation is very good. It does a good job of creating an “fairy-tale Africa.” I was surprised at the amount of breasts and genitals that were shown (though in no way was this crude). The female characters wore no shirts and were drawn to represent all sorts of shapes and sizes of women. Kirikou himself is nude the whole film, and all the children innocently wear no cloths (which makes me think of a funny instance in REAL-world Africa where Katie looked out of the window of our train to see a group of naked boys around a water hole laughing and doing a little dance that let them “wave” at the passing train without using their hands, if you get my drift.) It’s a good little film (70 minutes) if you get the chance to see it.

Six Degrees of Separation (1993) Citing the theory that everyone on the planet is separated by no more than 6 people (the term is derived primarily from Milgram’s “small world theory” , which is also the source of “The Kevin Bacon Game”), this film was surprisingly thought-provoking. I’ve heard of this film for a decade but had never seen it before. I assumed it would be a “comedy of errors” type of movie, and it was funny, but it gets more and more serious as it progresses. I felt that the film was a little choppy, bouncing back and forth between past and present (which I assume is because if its origin as a stage play), but the acting was very good. Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing give solid performances, but kudos to Will Smith. This was one of the first films that he was in, and what a departure from his role as Fresh Prince. Check this one out as well, but be aware that there is a fair amount of strong language and sexual situations.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Liberation Theology

Liberation image

In Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, Paul Farmer keeps referencing Liberation Theology as one of his inspirations. I had heard of the movement, but I really knew nothing about it other than it primarily cropped up in Latin America. Intrigued, I checked out the book Liberation Theology by Phillip Berryman to learn a little more about it. Written in 1987, the book is unabashedly in support of the cause. Berryman was an active proponent in the movement and was, in fact, with Oscar Romero the night before his assassination.

For a brief overview, I’ll let Wikipedia speak for me:

In essence, liberation theology explores the relationship between Christian, specifically Roman Catholic, theology and political activism, particularly in areas of social justice, poverty and human rights. The main methodological innovation of liberation theology is to do theology (i.e. speak of God) from the viewpoint of the economically poor and oppressed of the human community. According to Jon Sobrino, S.J., the poor are a privileged channel of God's grace. According to Phillip Berryman, liberation theology is "an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor's suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor".

Liberation theology focuses on Jesus Christ as not only Savior but also as Liberator of the Oppressed. Emphasis is placed on those parts of the Bible where Jesus' mission is described in terms of liberation and as a bringer of justice. Matthew 26:51-52 [1] notwithstanding, this is interpreted as a call to arms to carry out this mission of justice -- literally by some. A number of liberation theologians, though not all, also add certain Marxist concepts such as the doctrine of perpetual class struggle.

The root of the movement sprang forth primarily from an increasingly radicalized group of Roman Catholic Priests who were dismayed at the poverty and human rights abuses they witnessed daily due to the corrupt political regimes of their respective countries. Taking their cue from Vatican II’s emphasis on inclusion and the “opening up” of the liturgy to the masses, these priests felt that the next step was to become politically active on behalf of the poor. This was ostensibly a non-violent movement, though there was a minority of priests and theologians that believed that to truly liberate the poor from their oppressors, Christians should take up arms and overthrow corrupt governments.

Enter the Vatican: Though the movement came about through predominately Catholic circles, the Vatican officially did not approve of this movement because of it’s focus on purely earthly matters as well as what were at times strong Marxist undercurrents. The official document outlining the Church’s stance on the movement was Instruction on Certain Aspects of “Theology of Liberation,” (1984) written by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now, of course, Pope Benedict XVI. Berryman’s book contains a rebuttal to this document. Both have valid points.

As for Berryman, I think he is right to say that you can look at political / economic situation through the lens of Marxism without being a Marxist. Just because Karl Marx is quoted doesn’t mean the one who spoke it is Communist. [In Fact, Marx is considered one of the founding fathers of Sociology, so the “conflict theory” approach is indeed based on Marxist ideas and is VERY useful in examining the real world.] As for the Vatican’s issues with the movement, I think they also had a strong point in that if you believe that revolution is the only way to go, you are just entering into the cycle of violence without addressing and fixing the broken foundations (and spirituality) of the society in question.

I’ll end it here, as these issues are deep, cover decades of theological thought, and I can quickly get beyond my personal understanding of the topic. But this is interesting stuff that still has an impact today. Some relevant links if you are interested in reading more about this idea:

”Liberation Theology,” Wikipedia entry, with many external links included

Instruction on Certain Aspects of “Theology of Liberation,” (1984)


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Common Mistake

Originally uploaded by baldman76.
This man has evidently mistaken this beluga whale for a large piece of white chocolate.

Monday, October 09, 2006


One of the more interesting things that I have the opportunity to do at my job at the Cooper Branch of the Richland County Public Library is to lead Storytimes for children. They take Storytimes very seriously at the RCPL, and before I was allowed to do one, I had to go to a 3 hour training AND lead a group under the observation of the head Librarian for the Children’s Room at the Main Library downtown. I have been officially given the “OK” and may now be unleashed upon the children to warp their little minds.

Well, tonight my coworker Pat had a sore throat. She was scheduled to lead the “Bedtime Storytime” (in which children wear their pajamas and bring their blankets and stuffed animals with them. And yes, it’s that adorable.) With her being sick, I agreed to lead the group tonight. It was great. We had a good crowd: 11 or 12 kids and a good number of moms, dads, and grandparents to boot. In between each book I read, I lead the kids in the singing a song (If You’re Happy and You Know It…etc).

I really enjoy the experience and hope to get to do more soon. I think when the new year comes, I’ll lead one of the Storytime cycles, which lasts a month or two. Here are the five books I chose for this week’s Storytime, which are also pictured below:

StoryTime Books 10-9-06

1) I Took My Frog to the Library, by Eric A. Kimmel.
2) To Bathe a Boa, by C. Imbior Kudrna
3) The Cat Barked? by Lydia Monk
4) Duck on a Bike, by David Shannon (This book is awesome.)
5) How Do Dinosaurs Good Night? By Jane Yolen (ALSO Awesome.)

I Now Have a Bike / I am a Wuss

This last Tuesday, with a little assistance from our buddy Ann, Katie and I got bikes (as seen on K’s blog). And let me tell you I got the best Huffy bike that $80 can buy (and I say that with both sarcasm and honesty). I’m not expecting too much from this bike. I just wanted to get something simple to roll around on and get a little exercise.

I’ve never been very good on a bike. I didn’t learn to ride one until I was probably 10 years old or something like that, I was never that good on it, and I got my driver’s license when I turned 15. Goodbye bicycle, hello cruisin’ with Homeskillet and Billy. So bike riding was never that big a deal with me.

They say you never forget how to ride a bike, right? Well, for years it seemed that I was the exception to this rule. Since childhood, anytime I would attempt to ride a bike I could barely stay upright, falling over and barely able to roll forward. One terrible instance in Cape May involved me struggling along until I just slammed into the side of a parked minivan. Sad but True. So it became accepted wisdom that “Chris can’t ride a bike.” Which would make sense, because

a) It involves balance.
b) It involves physical exertion.

However, the last few weeks have revealed something quite interesting: During a visit from Ann W. and her new roommate Christina, who had ridden their bikes over to our place, I jumped on one of their bikes and lo and behold, I actually could ride a bike. Evidently, I had only been riding bikes with thin little tires, but on a simple bike with two-inch wide tires, I was OK. It was much like when everyone assumed my sister Erica was a terrible driver until we realized she just had a really shitty car. VINDICATION!

So now to the wuss part. We rode the other day and it was fun, but we rode again this morning and HOLY CRAP RIDING A BIKE IS HARD. I mean, I had to walk the bike up a hill that had, MAYBE, a 5-degree incline! Terrible. I was sweating and panting and wobbling and struggling to keep up. I assumed that I always had muscles in my legs, but I may have been mistaken, evidently. I know/hope it will get easier as I ride more, but I just hope it doesn’t take long until I am no longer stumbling in the front door and scrambling for my inhaler after 30 minutes of light riding. Oi!