Sunday, April 30, 2006

Thinking about my charitable giving

Here I go ... again!

Last year, I decided to do a little checking up on the charities to which I give. Just to be sure they aren't taking my money on a vacation to Aruba, or something. Invariably the CEO salaries are sky-high. I guess I have to put up with CEOs taking my money to Aruba, even at non-profits. Actually there's one exception: the CEO of Doctors Without Borders only rakes in $100,479. Now that, I can live with.

But it's not so easy to tell what's up. I found two charity ratings organizations and compared. One is Charity Navigator which has a number and star rating (4 stars is tops) and the other is American Institute of Philanthropy, which gives A thru F. AIP gives you a list of top-rated charities, but if you want to get the poop on anything other than these, you have to cough up some cash for their ratings book, which I'm just not going to do.

Here's my list of charities, followed by their ratings:
Charity : AIP rating : CharityNavigator rating
  1. Oxfam : B+ : 52 (3 stars)
  2. Doctors without Borders : A : 61 (4 stars)
  3. Amnesty International : "not top rated" : 35 (1 star)
  4. Disabled American Veterans : not rated (info not provided to AIP) : 69 (4 stars)
  5. World Wildlife Fund : not top rated : 48 (2 stars)
  6. NARAL : not rated (info not provided to AIP) : 40 (2 stars)
  7. Planned Parenthood : A : 68 (4 stars)
  8. UNCF : A : 55 (3 stars)
  9. NPR/CPTV (public radio/tv) : not listed : 60 (3 stars)
  10. Tibet House : not listed : not listed
  11. NY Times Neediest Cases Fund : not listed : not listed
  12. Kids with Cameras : not listed : not listed
  13. CFPA (Connecticut Forest and Park Association ) : not listed : not listed
The one thing that kind of shocked me, and made me reconsider, is Amnesty's poor rating. I'm still giving to them, but I may switch over to Human Rights Watch, which gets a much better rating. I've been a long-time supporter of Amnesty. It is an "inherited" charity; my mother gave to them, and participated in their letter-writing campaigns... plus they won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 ... so they must be good! Right??

So one of my problems in all this is - who is watching the watchers? How do I know that AIP and CharityNavigator are doing a good job? Can I really rely on their ratings? Sure I can read all the info about what they say they do... just like I can read all the info about what these charities say they do. Hmm.


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

Marsh marigold

Marsh marigold
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
I was standing on a log at the edge of a marsh sort of leaning out over it to get this photo. These are marsh marigolds. The flowers are yellow and about 1 to 2 inches in diameter. The leaves are spade-shaped.


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
I took a photo from right about here on April 2. Notice the difference in color that one month can do. Today there's a hazy green from all the budding leaves on the trees. Summer is coming soon!

View from Mica Ledges

This is about the same view that I snapped about a month ago. That huge lawn is all bright green now. I think it's actually farmland, not a lawn.
View from Mica Ledges
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

nice day!

I went for another nice hike today. It was so pleasant and warm, it felt like we were well into the hiking season instead of just starting it. More like June than April 30!

Saturday, April 29, 2006


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
I found huge patches of this plant, rue-anemone, on both sides of the trail for a stretch of perhaps five or ten meters.

It was weird. I was hiking back out when I noticed them. I had walked right past them on the way in without noticing them at all. In the words of the band Pixies, "Where is my mind?"

Wild red columbine (aquilegia canadensis)

Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
I had no idea columbine grew in Connecticut! This is wild red columbine aka rock bells aka aquilegia canadensis.

These plants were less than one foot tall, maybe 10 inches or so. The flowers were about 1-2 inches in length. There were just a few of these plants at one section of the trail.

I've never seen columbine in the wild before, so this was quite a treat!

The first time I heard about columbine, I was quite young - they are mentioned in "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett. When I saw the rather peculiar flowers in a Burpee catalog, I became a little bit obsessed with growing them. That didn't work out, oh well!

Pistapaug Pond through trees

Pistapaug Pond through trees
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
This is a look at Pistapaug Pond from off the Mattabesett trail. The trees are just starting to bud, turning a little green.

I went for a nice hike today, 1.5 hours. The weather was sweet: a bit too cool and breezy when stopping for a break, but perfect for a steady pace.

Friday, April 28, 2006

TV Turnoff Week

It's TV turnoff week, and I am unabashedly not participating.

I don't get cable TV; I rely on an old fashioned and very long pair of rabbit-ear antennas. Since I live near a mid-sized urban area, I get a few channels with more or less snow: ABC (very clear), UPN (variable), and WB (quite fuzzy). (Alas, no PBS.)

Here is a list of the TV programs that I watch, currently:

  1. This Week with George Stephanopolous - my liberal-slanted news medium
  2. Desperate Housewives - bubblegum for the mind; sometimes I'll "watch" this while doing housechores
  3. Grey's Anatomy - ditto
  4. Girlfriends - a step above bubblegum
  5. Gilmore Girls - clever dialogue
  6. Lost - love the X-Files like plot
  7. Alias - love the kick-ass action; but it's going off the air, in any case

It goes without saying that I record these shows on my VCR and watch them afterwards, skipping over the commercials, as a general rule.

It's hard to keep a real interest in these shows, no matter how much I like them. They don't keep to any reasonable schedule; it may be three or more weeks of repeats or specials before a new episode airs. By the time the new episode is on, you've forgotten what was going on when the series left off.

Some people claim that they're not watching TV when they watch a DVD. I don't see the sense in that. I go through phases when I watch lots of DVDs, and I'm not going to fool myself into thinking that I'm not watching a lot of TV when I do that. Yes, I could probably develop an engine that runs on water in all that time that I waste in front of the tube. The world will have to wait.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A review of "Empire of the Wolves"

by Chris Nahon

Jean Reno plays a cop with questionable ethics in Empire of the Wolves, based on a novel by Jean-Christophe Grangé.

I found Grangé’s Les Rivières pourpres and Les Rivières pourpres II: Les anges de l’apocalypse both to be mesmerizingly gruesome and impossible to believe, yet I got completely sucked into both of them. Empire of the Wolves is in the same vein, but slightly more believable.

But I’ve already said too much. It’s Jean Reno! What more do you need? Go forth and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Filmed on location in NYC

It's always enjoyable to watch a movie taking place in NYC and see a familiar venue. Sometimes I think that I recognize a place, but I'm not completely sure. I recently found a great source for getting this info:
Sets in the City
Now I know for sure that the scene in Prime in Tompkins Square Park really was shot there, and I guess I was mistaken about the Japanese restaurant that I thought I recognized.

A review of "Prime (Widescreen Edition)"

by Ben Younger

Prime is a solid movie, a good bittersweet romantic comedy. It’s enough of a fantasy to suck you in, but real enough to make you feel for the characters.

My only objection was to the unbelievable unethical behavior of Lisa (Meryl Streep), a therapist, who is being seen by the main character, Rafi (Uma Thurman). It was played for comedic effect, but what she was doing was so wrong-wrong-wrong that it was unfunny (although I admit, some moments really were quite hilarious, despite that). Aside from that though, it’s a good movie. Fine performances by Streep and Thurman, and Bryan Greenberg too.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I'm sending out a little link love to Piaw Na. He and I have been shooting the breeze, electronically, for the past few days. It has been an enjoyable discussion, and I think we've about solved everything from social security to immigration reform by now ;-)

He's got a fun blog with a variety of posts covering everything from comics and books... and books... and books ... to bike riding and finance. If you like my blog you may enjoy his as well...

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Narcissus blossoms - not just for the vase

Posted by Picasa

This is a salad that I picked up at Thyme and Season yesterday. It's an organic mesclun salad with narcissus blossoms, produced by Two Guys from Woodbridge. The price is an appalling five dollars, so it's a luxury item that I won't buy often. Still, it was fantastically delicious and mouth-wateringly good - possibly the best damn salad I've had in my life. The leaves tasted as if they came straight out of a garden, which would explain the high price.

I haven't seen a salad with narcissus blossoms in it since I was a child. I was visiting my aunt's house in the Boston area, and she had mixed up a homegrown salad with narcissus blossoms thrown in. I was appalled and horrified, and I don't recall being able to bring myself to try it. That was just plain weird. Thirty-odd years later, I am no longer appalled to find flowers in a salad. They look mighty pretty, and I was curious to see what they taste like. Hence they ended up on my plate. They're really very good, but the taste is hard to describe. Just a little bit peppery? In any case, delicious. I only drizzled a bit of olive oil on top of the salad before dining. It is a large salad, so I've got a little left over for today.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman's breeches
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
I just had to post this. Even though the flowers are a bit blurry, I love the glimpse of the trail and trees in the back. It's probably my favorite photo from the hike today.

Pool and waterfall at Sleeping Giant

This pool occurs where the stream widens out, closeby the trail. It was a beautiful day for a hike - just perfect!

Waterfall at Sleeping Giant

Falls at Sleeping Giant
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
It's springtime and the streams are flowing freely at Sleeping Giant. This is one nice little waterfall alongside the trail.

Purple trillium

Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
This is the purple trillium in its default pose; its head is bent over. You get a good view of the three-leaf configuration around the central stem leading up to the flower in this photo. Plus there's a better view of those cute little Dutchman's breeches hanging nearby!


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
I discovered this purple trillium, aka wake-robin or birthroot, in amongst the trout lilies and Dutchman's breeches. It's a larger plant, as you can see with my hand in the photo. But the flower was bent over pointing at the ground so I almost missed seeing it. I had to hold up the flower to take this photo.

Notice the Dutchman's breeches peeking through in the background.

Trout lily

Trout lily
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
Another view of a trout lily. This one's petals are curled back quite a bit.

Trout lily

Trout lily
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
Alongside all the Dutchman's breeches were blooming loads of trout lilies. I guess these two plants enjoy the same moist soil.

Trout lilies have yellow flowers and distinctive broad, flat green and dull-purple speckled leaves.

The plants are about the same size as Dutchman's breeches, perhaps 10 cm stalks, the flowers having petals about 2 cm in length. The petals may be stretched straight back, or may curl back quite a bit like an Easter lily.

The trout lily (Erythronium americanum & albidum) is also known as the dogtooth violet. It's a very pretty plant.

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman's breeches
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman's breeches
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
The other day I was hiking over at Sleeping Giant and discovered hundreds of clumps of Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). They were quite close to the parking area, near a stream. I was pretty excited. I'd seen pictures of these in a book when I was a kid, but I don't recall ever seeing them in the flesh.

I didn't have my camera with me then, so I came back today with my Nikon and took photos.

The stalks are about 10 to 20 cm in height; the flowers are white, about a cm or two long, with a bit of yellow stuff hanging off the bottom. And they do sort of look like breeches hanging on a wash line. The leaves are sort of feathery looking; you can see some good samples of the leaves in this photo.

It's a freakish but beautiful plant. Delightful!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Why I recommend "The Constant Gardener"

by Fernando Meirelles

This is a good suspense story; believable, and sad – even depressing. Worth watching, but do not expect to be uplifted. Extraordinary scenes filmed in Kibera.

flowering cherry

flowering cherry
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
Another shot of a tree at my apartment complex. Possibly it's a flowering cherry, maybe a Yoshino cherry?

flowering cherry

flowering cherry
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
Today was a beautiful day. This morning, as I was going down the driveway to head for work, the sky was blue and these flowering trees off the driveway were too beautiful to pass by. They are actually more pinkish or even lavender than they came out in this photo. I guess the blue of the sky washed that out. I think they are flowering cherry trees; maybe the Yoshino type.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

hike today

I went for a hike today. I started out on the Mattabesett (blue trail) and wound up in Rockland Preserve (orange, yellow, red trails). This was nice for a change.

The only problem was, I started out a tad late, around 4 pm. And I was completely lackadaisical in my perambulations. I feel pretty comfortable on these trails because I've been all up and through them before. Plus, getting lost on a Connecticut trail is practically an impossibity. Still, I almost managed to do it. I became a bit disoriented because work is being done in Rockland Preserve, and things are a bit different from last year - trails are being built out, new signage, and so on. Things just looked different. I looked at my watch at 6 pm and realized I was in danger of making it back to the car after sunset (if I could find my way back at all).

Fortunately, I had my compass, and that, together with my gut instinct, led me out of Rockland Preserve and back to the Mattabesett Trail. From there it was a quick 30 minutes back to the car via a shortcut. Whew! I was kind of stupid about things today and hadn't brought food, and I certainly didn't have enough water for the night, let alone the three hours I wound up being out.

It was a sultry day, way too warm for April. Fortunately, by around 6:30 the sun was setting and the air began to cool. That was probably the nicest part of the hike. Beautiful day. I wish I'd started out sooner.

On this sandy section of the trail can be seen the tread marks of bicycles, boot prints, and even some dog paw prints. Posted by Picasa

Trail in Rockland Preserve. If you look really carefully, you can see an orange blaze on a tree to the right side of the trail, in the distance.  Posted by Picasa

A review of "The Razor's Edge"

by W. Somerset Maugham

I finally finished this book last Saturday, two weeks after I started reading it. I was made curious to read this book after watching the 1984 movie, starring Bill Murray.

There are some crucial differences between the book and the movie. Just as an example, in the movie, it is Larry who presents the dying Elliott Templeton with a fake party invitation to ease him in his final moments. In the book, it is the first person narrator who does so. The narrator in the book is not present in the movie at all. The book concludes differently (and better).

It was worth watching the movie, but only if you read the book after. The movie gives you a taste of what you’ll find in the book.

The book is well-written, but odd. There are two stories here. One is a sort of parlor-room social drama. Lots of the “action” takes place while people are sitting around drinking tea, having parties, dining out. And this action is, more or less, a sardonic examination of the hypocritical and shallow behavior of the upper-class characters encountered by the narrator. Then there’s Larry’s story itself; his search for an ultimate truth and meaning in life. His story seems weirdly out of place when juxtaposed with the rest. This is not a criticism. I find it interesting, and I wonder if such other-worldly elements appear in anything else by W. Somerset Maugham. I’ve got to try some more of his stuff.

There's an interesting page by "the wanderling" over at angelfire, which makes the claim that "The Razor's Edge" is a true story. Now I know that Maugham begins the story by claiming that it is true, but novelists are known to do this, and I never believe it when I see it. This has got me curious; I've got to do some more digging on this as well.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A review of "Half Light"

Boring and obvious. If you’re looking for a more interesting, recent thriller, try The Forgotten with Julianne Moore.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A review of "Equilibrium"

by Kurt Wimmer

There are some good action sequences in the movie, but I found the premise uncompelling: to stop war, would it be worth eliminating human emotions? I suppose it could be phrased more generally as “would it be worth persecuting/killing a minority in order to eliminate war?” In the movie, it hardly seems like anyone is suffering due to the elimination of emotion. Almost by definition, no one could be, except for the few who refuse to dose themselves with the emotionally deadening medication. (Pets are an exception, apparently; they get slaughtered for having emotional content or emotional temptation or some such thing.)

The movie is inconsistent in keeping to the rather bizarre premise. Characters who are supposed to be dosing themselves frequently display emotion of one sort or another – big grins on the face of Taye Diggs, and Christian Bales’ boss slamming his fist down in anger, are among demonstrations of emotions that should never be seen in such a society.

It’s not really a bad movie, just a bit long. Probably worth watching just to get the concept of “gun katas.”

Sunday, April 02, 2006

View off the trail

View off the trail
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
This could be considered the official first hike of the season, although I've been hiking a few times since January 1. I went hiking for a little over an hour. It's a nice start and I'm looking forward to many more!

Nice day

Nice day
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.
It's a nice day for a hike. It has been warming up over the past few days, and today it was brilliant. The warmth is bringing out insect life. The trail was crowded with tiny fluttering moths.