Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fuck, yeah, I'm proud I was a dyke!

Matt of Long Burn just sent me this link to find out what move rating your blog would get:
Blog Rating. (Thanks, pal!)
It rated my blog NC-17, based, it said, on the presence of the following words:

death (25 x)
dead (9x)
torture (4x)
fuck (4x)
kill (2x)
dyke (1x)

Really? Did I mention death 25 times?
Well, probably so: it has been a big theme in my life in my forties... personally and politically.

But I don't recall using the word "dyke" in the sexual-orientation sense since I was in my late-teen angry lesbian-feminist days when I thought that if women ran the world we wouldn't have nuclear war.

Remember, this was before Margaret Thatcher, and I had just crawled out of the swamp of high school, when, meaning no disrespect, relations between the sexes are not at their best. Or not for me anyway.

It's a good thing to be irrationally impassioned about stuff when you're 16, 17, 18... even if you're wrong, which you probably will be.
This is the time to write a lot of bad poetry (or good, if you can manage it) and embarrassing journal entries. (You can always later burn them later. I did.)
That way you've built up a good head of steam to plow on through the mediocrity of life, which sure piles up fast and thick.

Like Katherine Hepburn says in Holiday,
"We're all grand at seventeen; it's after that that the rot sets in."

I've wondered if I might like to work with teenagers, in fact, because I haven't outgrown my sympathy with the wildness, the pure flame, of that age. Well, some teenagers have that, anyway.

Teenagers, at their best, are like Jesus whipping the profiteers out of the Temple, you know--they are raging against the machine.
They haven't yet hung up the whip of moral outrage at hypocrisy, at selling your soul for a seat at the country club of social approval.

The thing is, at some point we've got to harness that wildness to a vehicle that'll do somebody some good. Otherwise you'll burn out or you'll kill (NC-17 word) yourself, like beautiful Kurt Cobain, poor guy. And he's one of the lucky ones--before he died, he DID leave something good and true. You don't want to gutter out your life in some stupid parking lot without at least having tried to do that.

Bruce Springsteen said that at some point after Born to Run he realized he'd put all those people in all those cars, and now he had to find somewhere for them to go.
So he brought them home, back to communities and friends and family, where their (our) wildness could fuel the plow of change.
But we've got to pull that plow, not just sit on the couch telling boring stories of glory days.

Now, about being a dyke, an Amazon, a woman-loving-woman.
It was the best, coolest choice I had at 16.

At midlife I am not a purist, and I've come to understand where men--and boys--are coming from. Some of my best friends (and former lovers) are men.
But in high school it was otherwise.
Choosing to be a lesbian gave me room to find out who I was. I needed a time when I wasn't feeling fucked to do that.

I don't think you get anywhere in the long run by practicing separatism of any sort.
But separatism for a person or a group who has felt powerless can give her (me, us) a chance to catch her breath, and that's a good thing. You regroup your scattered soul and you find like spirits.
Then you can get back in that car and drive into the fucking mess of being human, where you take out your Jesus whip and say NO! to nukes, to torture (any kind, anywhere, any time), to killing, to stupidity.
Yes indeed.

But it's not like being a dyke was just a political, psychological, and social choice. Of course not.
What can I say? Women are sexy.

As Bruce says, You make your choices and you pay the price.
And the price of love and the right to fuck whomever you want (consensually, of course) can sometimes be high.
But those fuckers who say you don't have the right to love whomever you love, and to marry them too, if you want? They can go fuck themselves.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Teen Spirit 4: Rumi

“Come, come again, whoever, whatever you may be, come.
Heathen, fire-worshipper, sinful of idolatry, come.
Come even if you broke your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is not a portal of despair and misery. Come.”
--Rumi, medieval Sufi (mystical Islamic) poet

“Come as you are.”
--Kurt Cobain

Teen Spirit Redux

Sal's comments on Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" were so illuminating, I am posting them here for y'all:
Sal writes:
As an intolerable musichead, I feel compelled to mention that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is a double entendre.
The concept a pool of feeling shared by all teens is definitely the primary meaning - as evidenced by the bassist's comment.
But Teen Spirit is also a brand of deodorant that aired its first TV ads (above, left) a few years before Nirvana hit the bigtime with this single.

Maybe everyone already knew that.

[Fresca comments: Yeah, sure. Except me, I guess.]

Also, have you seen the video for that song? It features the Cheerleaders of Anarchy, a concept that amuses me endlessly:
Teen Spirit.

My favorite part of the song is the most nonsensical, “A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, and a beetle.”
What are THOSE guys doing hanging out together in the chorus of this angry song?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Blog, blog, blahg

"Blog writing is id writing—grandiose, dreamy, private, free-associative, infantile, sexy, petty, dirty. Whether bloggers tell the truth or really are who they claim to be is another matter, but WTF. They are what they write. And you can't fake that."
--Sarah Boxer,
from her article "Blogs"
The New York Review of Books, February 14, 2008
(The NYROB must time travel, as we in this space/time continuum have not yet entered February 2008.)

Read the whole thing here:

I found it through the blog Momo, recommended by Thinkery.

As I am proving to myself today (3 posts-worth), blogging is also the best way to put off doing some work you reeeeeally don't want to do. In my case, getting back to trying to untangle the spirituality ms. I tell myself, at least if I'm blogging, my brain is engaged.
Or at least my id is.

Private Enterprise

Even the Economist is talking about Star Trek these days. This week's edition (Jan. 24th, 2008) features an article on commercial flights (left) into sub-orbital space. You can read it at
Starship Enterprise: The Next Generation

The company Virgin Galactic, part of the Virgin Group that owns Virgin Atlantic airline, hopes to offer space tourism flights by the end of the decade.
Tickets will cost about $200,000, which, considering, isn't all that much.
I'd buy one if I had a few extra hundred-thousand grand.

Mind Fucks

I've watched almost the entire first season of Star Trek TOS this month--mirabile dictu--but Netflix just sent me the mid-season episode "The Menagerie,"
and so I ended up watching it out of order, right after "This Side of Paradise."

Here's what I have to say about that:
I have HAD IT with Star Trek's use of mind fucks!

In "Paradise," a blond Earth woman makes sure plant spores fuck with Spock's mind so he'll have sex with her [signaled by his change of clothes in the scene after they kiss].
In "Menagerie," aliens fuck with Capt. Pike's mind to coerce him into having sex.

And there are several more episodes which rely on these mental-rape "solutions" to the question of How to Get a Date, including "Amok Time," "Plato's Children," and several more.

Who's writing these things?
They're the sort of sociopathic ideas awkward, tormented teenagers--like Charlie X (or a mind like Bobby Fischer's? may he r.i.p.)--would come up with.
The sort of mind that can figure out how to get to outer space but not how to get to first base.

I'm sick of them, but I admit that as a former teenager, I can kind of relate.
Plant spores and aliens forcing you to express or act on your secret desires seems like a way out of the social agony of dating or admiting to shameful emotions (as in--oh shoot--which episode is it when Spock regrets he never told his mother he loved her and admits that he's ashamed of his "feelings of friendship" for Kirk?).
I'm not responsible--a twinkie made me do it!

Worse yet is the use of force as a supposed political solution, which is also all too common in S-T.

Besides the plant rape in "This Side of Paradise," (it's even painful, remember?--Spock screams and falls to his knees),
the episode also features Kirk forcing an entire population to move planets because---get this---they are not productive enough.

I'm not kidding. These Earth colonists are--gasp--living like the Amish! What perverts.
Kirk makes a grand speech about how the colonists are not following man's manifest destiny to struggle to create.
(Like, even if true, that makes it OK to force them out of their homes, if they don't want to live this way?)

In fact, as so often when leaders get on a high moral horse, the problem is obviously economic: the colonists are not exploiting the land to feed the Federation.

Mind-fucking is not just bad writing (like time travel, it's almost always a cheat inept writers employ--it provides an easy way out of a plot problem or an easy way to artificially develop character or relationships);
it's evil:
In the same era S-T was producing this crap, the U.S. government was forcibly relocating Vietnamese villagers "for their own good,"
and its enemy, the Soviet government, was doing the same thing to increase wheat yields in the -stans and the like.

I wouldn't be quite so disgusted and distraught about this if it were all in the past. But our own continuing "solutions" to political systems we don't like is in the same vein.

Kirk says he can violate the Prime Directive not to interfere with other cultures in "Return of the Archons" because, he says, it only applies to healthy thriving cultures.
Seems like George W. and his ilk (Clinton, Putin, et al.) took a page right out of his book.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Right Stuff

Virgin Mary souvenir soap(left) from Ephesus, Turkey, where the BVM supposedly spent the rest of her life after her son's crucifixion. The label reads:
"This soap is produced from the olive trees in the district of Virgin Mary's House" and "Tura Turizm, Sea Tours." My father bought this for me during a Mediterranean cruise that stopped at Ephesus.

I had a deprived childhood: I was deprived of religious tchotchke.
Raised by secular humanist parents, I longed for trinkets and incantations.

The Catholic kids seemed to have the best stuff, like rosaries and genuflection.
No doubt this is one of the reasons that I became Catholic as an adult (besides that my father's Sicilian religious genes beat out my mother's Scottish ones). But I really would have made a terrific Hindu.

Folks like stuff with magic-like properties.
In "The Right Stuff," a movie about the Mercury 7 astronauts, the "right stuff" means having guts and nerve, but you also see that some of the men engage in little rituals.
Pilot Chuck Yeager always asks his friend for a stick of gum before he risks his life testing supersonic jets. The first man into space prays. John Glenn hums.

I decided to use my Ephesus soap, figuring it will eventually get rancid anyway. It smells nice, and I feel I am anointing myself with strengthening medicine.

And speaking of bravery and space, I've mentioned two Sigourney Weaver movies in this blog so far (Death and the Maiden and The Year of Living Dangerously), but her best role was as the space heroine in Alien.

I haven't seen that movie since it came out, but I thought of it the other day because it blows Star Trek's image of women out of the water.

Feminism has been so successful that most young people don't question that women can have the "right stuff" too. But I remember when it was otherwise.

Given what she went through, I think Mary must have been more like the heroine in "Alien" than the prissy Victorian girl of childhood holy cards, wonderful trinkets though they are.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Teen Spirit 1: Nirvana

Amy fortuitously e-mailed me about how annoyance sometimes intensifies or clarifies passion. You know you care about something if you get totally pissed off when someone disses it.

She was talking about bad boyfriends and people who think global warming is made up; but her point fit perfectly with my pain over the spirituality book [yesterday's post].

I don't know where I stand with religion anymore.
After years of study and practice, I've wondered if I was done with it, ready to put the whole thing on the shelf.
But I was so upset about the biased and ignorant book I was vetting, I was agitated all night long.
I see that I care too deeply about the topic to put it away.

I wrote back to Amy:

"I may not be a practicing, believing Christian anymore, but I do believe religion displays some of humanity's best qualities:
our idealism, our creativity as storytellers and artists, our sense of ourselves as a small piece of a larger puzzle...and our curiosity in where we fit in that puzzle.
It also displays our biggest challenges, as we recognize our human inability or unwillingness to live up to our ideals, to create a life or a community in which we can exercise our creativity and our curiosity."

So I've decided to write up some notes about what I might put in a book for young adults. It's too late to help the book, but I want to do it for myself, for fun and to clear my mind.

Here's what came to me first:
Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
Who knows what the song is about? but the title is great, and Nirvana bassist Novoselic said in 2000,"The song was a call to consciousness."

If it was, it was a muffled and confused call, but hey--perfect--that would have spoken to my my teenaged spirit.

I wasn't sure teens still know the song, but in November 2006 ABC News reported:
"'Smells Like Teen Spirit' remains MTV Europe's most played video and continues to strike a chord with angst-ridden teenagers everywhere."

So, if I was the author, I might start there.
And that could lead into Hinduism and then Buddhism, as we try to explain what "nirvana" is.

Teen Spirit 2: Bhagavad Gita

I. I'm Free
Nirvana means something like "liberation" in Sanskrit.

Any book on world spirituality really should include Bhagavad Gita ("Song of the Lord [Krishna]"), one of the world's great spiritual classics.
In it, Krishna instructs Prince Arjuna on the path of liberation (from bondage to desire and illusion).

Here's one of Krishna's basics:
"That one I love who is incapable of ill will, who is friendly and compassionate... who looks upon friend and foe with equal regard...." (12:13)

(Sound familiar? Several hundred years later, Jesus of Nazareth said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' [cf. Leviticus 19.18] But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." [Matthew 5:43-44])

Hinduism isn't really difficult to understand, as the author of the teen book claims. It's very simple, really.
Gandhi, when asked to summarize his life in 25 words, said he could do it in 3, and also summarized Hinduism:
"Renounce and enjoy."
He was quoting an Upanishad, one of the foundational texts of Hinduism.

One "renounces" desire because it clouds reality.

And one "enjoys," because, as the Who sings in "I'm Free":
"I'm free,
and freedom tastes of reality."

The lyrics continue:
"If I told you what it takes
To reach the highest high,
You'd laugh and say nothing's that simple."

II. Living Dangerously

If I were teaching a class or writing a book for teens (or anyone) on religion, I would make all these tie-ins to movies, films, politics, etc.
Everything connects.

Indonesian dictator Suharto died today, aged 86.
(These murderous bastards too often seem to have the physical constitutions of the Terminator, they just go on and on.)

The 1982 film "The Year of Living Dangerously" is a great introduction to Indonesian political history, about the near-coup in 1965 that set the stage for Suharto's 1970 rise to power.

A turning point for the main character, Australian journalist Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson), rests on a passage from the Bhagavad Gita:
"All is clouded by desire."

Teen Spirit 3: Hillel

Gandhi's three-word summation of his life, "Renounce and enjoy," reminds me of Rabbi (Teacher) Hillel (ca. 65 BCE-10 CE) who, when asked to summarize the Torah while standing on one foot, said:

"Love your neighbor as yourself [Leviticus 19:18]. That is the whole law--the rest is commentary. Go and study it."

I would definitely use that story to talk to teens about Jewish spirituality because it's so dear to think of great teachers standing on one foot, like an Edward Lear drawing (left)*.

It also flows into Christian spirituality, as another Jewish teacher, Jesus, whose life overlapped with Hillel's, also said that "Love your neighbor" is the keystone of religious law. {The parable of the Good Samaritan, John 10]

These teachings are simple enough to understand. The trick comes in the recommendation:
go and do this.

Do it?!
Now, there's the rub.

*Edward Lear images are copyright free. His illustration of parrot and parsnip pie and many others are available at

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Pain! Pain!

This is NOT a post about Star Trek (OK, turns out it is, kinda), but I must start with a scene from the S-T episode "Devil in the Dark" because it captures how I feel:

In this episode, which I watched last night, Spock mind-melds with a silicon- (not carbon-) based creature,
which looks remarkably like regurgitated pepperoni pizza,
fringed with carpet tassles.

Spock extends his hands toward the wounded creature and begins to moan loudly,
"Pain! Pain!" before stumbling backward in agony.
(Into Kirk's arms, but that's not part of my story.)

This is exactly how I feel having spent most of today vetting a manuscript about spirituality for teenagers.

When I read the author's contention that Christianity offered something new and wonderful to the world, but that Hinduism is very difficult to understand with all its "fantastic" gods I began to moan.

When he went on to say Shiva is a goddess (he is not), I doubled over.

You can recognize Hassidic Jews by their black clothes? The brain staggers.(What if you misidentified a beatnik?)

But when I got to Islam and it was all about suicide bombers, (this is supposed to be about spirituality, remember), then I truly got out of my chair and cried aloud, "Pain! Pain!"

If your average schmuck on the street said any of these things, I would only cringe slightly, but this is not only the work of a professional writer, it has passed through the hands of a professional editor...

...and come out looking like that silicon-based thing.
But without its inner beauty.

One of the things Spock is always reminding his doltish human colleagues of is that not all life in the universe looks like you.
Same as it ever was.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Introducing "Thinkery"

I just added a link to Sal's friend Krista's blog Thinkery.
Here's how Krista describers herself:
"Blogeur. Rhetorician. Writer. Cook. Long-distance driver. Ph.D. Candidate. Dissertator."

I enjoy the hit of Acadamese on offer, mingled with nonverbalisms, like photos of her reindeer socks.

Captain Kirk's Parted Lips

Shelley Winters (left) advised her roommate and sister-starlet Marilyn Monroe in the 1940s how to assume the cheesecake look: tilt your chin up, cast your eyes down, (or chin down, eyes up), and part your lips slightly.

The physical blind spot is on the retina (on the back of our eyeballs), where the optic nerve passes through. This spot lacks any light receptors necessary for vision. Because our brain fills in the missing image, we don't realize we're not seeing something.

Psychological blind spots are gaps in our mental vision we don't even know we have. Star Trek's view of women is a textbook case for demonstrating these, as Donald Rumsfeld called them, "unknown unknowns."

Star Trek set out to challenge social stereotypes, and they did pretty well for the time pushing the boundaries of race and nationality.

Kirk and Uhura's kiss, for instance, is the first interracial kiss on fiction TV, which counts even though aliens made them do it. Star Trek used a bunch of classic Grade-B-movie tricks like that, a la film director Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows," etc.), to fly under the censor's radar.

But the makers didn't question the stereotypes that fell in their own blind spots, and it seems the collective blind spot where women were concerned was enormous.

Long story short: look at those ridiculous uniforms the women crew of the Enterprise wear. Doesn't all that airtight polyester scream, "guaranteed yeast-infection"?

But, boy, does the show mess around with gender where men are concerned. It's a big part of the fun.

Let's start with those high-heeled boots the starship's men wear.
Anything that destabilizes the body and elevates the rump, like high heels do, accentuates vulnerability and sexual receptivity, which is traditionally what sexy clothes for women, not men, do.

OK, cowboys wear boots with high heels, but that's to hold their feet in the stirrups.
Star Trek boots look like a version of men's flamenco boots* (left).
Wikipedia comments that male dance shoes with Cuban heels are "not considered effeminate." Maybe not in Seville, but when you have to tell a North American audience that something is not effeminate...well, 'nuff said.

I got thinking about the S-T boots when Captain Kirk does not wear them in "Arena."
In that episode, he has to climb lots of rocks (real rocks! not those spray-painted styrofoam jobs), as he evades the enemy lizard captain.

I can imagine Mr. Shatner (or the insurers) insisting he not risk twisting his ankle in the usual boots. He wears instead what look like black leather high-top tennies.
So why are unsafe boots standard Starfleet issue, except that they are considered cute in the 23rd century?

And speaking of cute, the biggest gender-bender is the captain himself.
He's all manly and decisive, sure, but why does he wear eye liner? I don't know, but I like it--it makes him look pretty.

Spock wears blue eyeshadow, true, but he is never girly.

But girly? How 'bout the way Kirk sits in his captain's chair, legs crossed tight, thighs closed? Manly men in the 20th century were supposed to rest their ankles across their knees, thighs open.

Less obvious is one of the most feminine things Kirk does:
he parts his lips slightly, like Shelley Winters. The look is more about being kissed than kissing.

In fact, Shatner reminds me of Winters.
Don't think The Poseidon Adventure (or at Winters when she's young.

Both actors, when young, had a ripe, sexy fleshiness that promised an overblown-rose old age.
(The type for whom temptation came covered in whipped cream.)

There's a whole realm of Star Trek fandom--slash--that explores a relationship between Kirk and Spock as lovers.
That's not what I'm talking about here.

Kirk and Spock make goo-goo eyes at each other, and they're obviously crazy about each other. But whether or not they fuck doesn't really matter; it's beside the point. Gender and eroticism are not the same as sex.

No, I just think that by the 23rd century, men get to wear high heels and eye-liner, sit like sissies, and make pouty, kissy faces at other guys if they want--and also beat the hell out of giant killer reptiles. Who they go to bed with is a separate matter.

That's a future I'd sign up for. But not if women are still wearing pantyhose to work.

[Update] I'm glad I hadn't read Mark Simpson's hilarious article "Captain Kirk's Bulging Trousers" before I wrote this, because I wouldn't have bothered, when someone else had summed up Kirk as, among other things, a "rug-wearing bisexual WASP jock captain."
But he missed the Shelley Winters connection, and I still think that's worth pointing out.

*August 16, 2010: I posted "Tight Trousers and High Heels", about the evolution of the Star Trek high-heeled men's boot.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What Used to Worry Us

I've been cleaning up my messy book- shelves slowly over the past week.
Or, rather, I've been spending a lot of time going through piles of papers and objects, including these pins, from my past, while playing old Star Trek episodes on my laptop in the background.

I imagine people have written Ph.D.s about what the original Star Trek said about American political philosophies during the Cold War.

Watching the show makes me realize that I have lived long enough to see a huge change in the politics of fear.

I was a teenager in the 1970s, when I first encountered ST in syndication on our b&w TV. At that time, my friends and I were afraid of nuclear destruction.

Star Trek and my generation happened at a time when the perceived enemy was Big and Obvious: the USSR --or the Klingons.

We set up Neutral Zones and our clean-cut leaders, like the Iowan Capt. Kirk, kept saying "We come in peace," all the while pumping up our photon torpedos.

Star Trek tried to imagine a different world, socially.
But politically they were pretty entrenched in the military model.
Sometimes the show lets you know that its makers are aware of its limitations.
In "Arena," for instance,--the episode where Kirk is supposed to battle an actor in a lizard suit to the death--fey aliens interfere and tell Kirk his species is savagely primitive.

(That episode in particular provides the attentive viewer with clues, with subversive keys, to decode or unlock Star Trek's otherwise generally imperialistic tone.)

In college in 1978, I joined anti-nuke marches and Peace Camps at nuclear sites. I wore the pins pictured here when I worked at the Student Union on the UW-Madison campus in 1980.

I don't save many things and I'm not sure why I saved these. I guess it was enough that they were small and they took a serious issue humorously, which I appreciate.

Now they are history.

It's mind bending to watch the show now that we are not afraid of one big enemy nation with one giant weapon but of small groups of people with box cutters...

One thing hasn't changed--we still have blustering leaders who insist we and our arsenal come in peace.

Democracy, Death and the Maiden

As you know, Minnesota caucuses take place on Tuesday, February 5, 2008, at 7 p.m.

Since I've never participated before, I needed help even finding where mine will be held. If you need help, too,
click here:
Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party
or Minnesota Republican Party.
(Independents and Greens, etc., have their own caucuses too.)

I'm joining in for my first time, and I've been of two minds about it.
Some people tell me caucuses are fun, and some tell me they are the most dreadfully boring things ever. I expect I will be in the latter category.

Any holdout temptation to stay home crumbled today when I heard that MdT's father told him that what this country needs is a "benign dictator."
"This country" being our own--and his--USA.

I hear the same sort of blithe, toss-off, "What this country needs..." prescriptions for violence from romantics on the left too.
We talk this way, I suspect, because we don't know what dictatorship or revolution is really like.

I recommend Death and the Maiden (1994) as a primer for how dictators "suppress the opposition" (such a benign term) and what this does to individuals.

I'd first heard about this film by director Roman Polanski when I researched Chile. It's based on a play by Chilean Ariel Dorfman, who went into hiding after the military ousted President Salvador Allende on 9/11 (1973).

Sigourney Weaver plays a woman in Chile who was tortured under the "benign" dictator Pinochet, head of the army.

(Some people said he wasn't all that bad when he died last year. How bad do you have to be before you're not in the "benign" category anymore?)

Fifteen years later, after the fall of the dictatorship, a man (Ben Kingsley) gives this woman's husband a ride home when his car breaks down.
When he comes in for a drink, the woman recognizes him, by his voice and his smell, as the doctor who tortured her while she was blindfolded, setting the stage for a psychological and political ..."meditation" is too benign a term.

[Note: there aren't any graphic visual flashbacks.]

I don't know about you, but when I hear about dreadful things happening to hundreds or thousands, much less millions, of people, my mind and emotions kind of blank out at the enormity.
A movie like this, about two people caught up, face to face, in political violence, makes what's at stake really real to me.
And one of it's themes is how civilized people give in to the thrill of violence--how quickly we will sign up for violent "solutions."

There're plenty worse things than being bored by democratic processes.

P.S. "Death and the Maiden" is part of Franz Schubert's String Quartet in D minor, which the doctor played while he tormented the charges he was supposed to be helping.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

One Good Thing?

I end up at my local post office a lot, and going there is frequently a bloggable outing.

Serving a neighborhood with a lots of new Americans (immigrants), the p.o. sees plenty of confusion--once I saw a man place the items he wanted mailed on the counter--no box, no nothing. But both the patrons and the workers display some of the most gentle, patient behavior I've ever witnessed, and in that case the postal worker sold the man a box and showed him how to prepare a package for mailing.

The only time I saw a PO worker lose it was when an African man cut himself on the serrated edge of the tape dispenser this worker had lent him.

The worker is a really nice older guy who wears a frog sticker on his name tag and who greets people in many of the languages of the neighborhood. But he's a little odd-- I'd wondered before if he is a Vietnam vet with just a teeny potential to go postal.

Anyway, he freaked out, saying loudly, " You got BLOOD on my tape!" and making a big deal about putting on rubber gloves.
He kept going on about it until his colleague at the next window turned to him and said, "Do you think you could make this man feel any worse?"

But generally people are all very good natured.
It's hard to know, of course, but I wonder if the people from East Africa, Mexico, Vietnam, and elsewhwere are used to sharing resources and don't get riled about it.

(In contrast, at another P.O. by the university, once a man in a long line at Christmastime started complaining loudly about how this inefficiency would not be tolerated in GERMANY!)

Today I was pleased when I got my favorite worker, Doug. I chose the new Gerald Ford stamps because I had just read a bio of him--or part of it.
(I kept falling asleep over it.)

I commented to Doug, "Ford looks pretty good in retrospect, doesn't he?"

"He didn't do anything," Doug said. "Nothing happened."

"Exactly," I said.

"Bush... now he's done a lot."

I couldn't tell how he meant that, so I diplomatically said, "He sure has! For better or for worse..."

Doug replied he was glad I had put it like that, that people often get out of control raging about how much they hate Bush. "Bush isn't all bad."

I was about to launch into a psychoanalytical interpretation of why people rage at government employees,
but figured I'd better keep it short since there were about ten people in line behind me.
Instead I offered a variation on Spock's speech from "The Enemy Within" about how we all have our good and bad sides.

Doug said, "We could talk a lot more about this. But not here."

Hmmm. Like where?

I'm not sure, but I don't think I could say anymore about that because I can't think of one good thing W. has done as president.
Surely there's something?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Entering Aquarius

< Globular Cluster M72 (NGC 6981), class IX, in the constellation of Aquarius. Discovered in 1780 by Pierre Méchain. Photo by Scott Schell, from the Hawaiian Astronomical Society.

This is a photo of a "Messier Object," which does not mean it is more of a mess than other objects but that French astronomer and comet hunter Charles Messier (1730-1817), who worked with Méchain, included it in his famous catalog of Deep Sky Objects as "Messier 72."

"Deep Sky Objects"...
Isn't that a cool term?

Evocative names like this plus my love of Star Trek led me to think about studying astronomy in college. Until I sat in on an intro class and saw in 1 minute that it was all math and no mythology.
My gifts in math are limited by my number of fingers (and toes, in a pinch).
I got a BA in Religious Studies instead, which only included Latin grammar, no counting at all.

In astrological terms, we are now entering the sign of Aquarius, when our Sun appears to move through that constellation.

The signs of the zodiac are divided into the four elements: water, earth, air, and fire.
Aquarius, though pictured as a water bearer, is an air sign.
My sign, Pisces, is a water sign.

I've been close to a couple Aquarians who indeed added fizz to my water, like carbonization;
like bubbles in champagne;
like light moving through dark liquid deep space.

Approaching Full Wolf Moon

An enhanced photo taken using two NSF telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory. The Moon is superimposed on a separate image of the sky. Photo from among the many beautiful ones at
Full Moon Fever.

The Algonquin peoples, who lived from New England west to Lake Superior, named each month by its full moon.
Tomorrow morning, Tuesday, Jan. 22, we enter the month of the Wolf Moon, at 7:35 a.m. CST.

Its name comes from the wolf packs howling hungrily outside villages, in the lean and cold midwinter.

Here is a list of the Algonquin full moon names, and their dates and times for 2008:
Full Moon Names 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Don't You Wish You Were Here?

This is a bandicoot, per Barrett's request. It looks like a coat of its furs would keep you warm on a day like today.

I had as much as I could stand of trying to organize my messy bookshelves and gave it up to walk out to this coffee shop. It's cold but it isn't that bad if you wear lots of layers and keep moving.

The severe cold is even kind of helps one understand why Scandinavians feel like morally superior ants to the warm-weather grasshoppers who never had to work hard inventing Polar Fleece [TM].

Once I got here, I read the local Severe Weather Advisory:



Friday, January 18, 2008

Mammal of the Day: Tapir

I often assume that people are familiar with our planet's most amusing mammals, such as lemurs and wombats, and I am often wrong.

Yesterday at lunch, Liz told me she was going on vacation to Guatemala and asked if I knew anything about the country.

With admirable middle-aged self-restraint, I stopped myself from launching into a political diatribe.
Instead I sat quietly for a moment trying to think of something not related to American imperialism to say about Central America, where of course people go about their own lives without ranting about Ronald Reagan.

(I have been trying to follow the advice of American Buddhist Pema Chodron: she teaches the practice of not clenching up when we encounter something that jars us, but letting there be space around it.)

And I was rewarded.
The happiest of answers came to me:
Tapirs live there!

Liz didn't know what tapirs are.
I thought this was bizarre, but since then I've quizzed a couple other people who didn't know either. One of them said, "tape ears?" so Liz's not alone.

In fact, Stefan Seitz notes in his funny (but serious) paper In the Name of the Tapir that he recorded at least 2,000 misidentifications of the tapir by zoo-goers.
The top guess was anteater. Some Germans guessed coati, but only because the German name for coati means "nose bear."

Scientists tell us that tapirs are most closely related to horses and rhinos, who also have split hooves.
(So they aren't kosher, though people in South America and South Asia where tapirs live aren't generally concerned with this and eat them anyway.)

Personally I'm sure the tapir's closest relative is found in Edward Gorey's little book The Doubtful Guest (1957): the dear creature who appeared one Victorian day and has "shown no intention of going away."
Tapirs, however, alas, are on the endangered species list.

(Female Malayan tapir, above right, at the Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, Washington, USA, photo by Sasha Kopf, from Wikipedia "Tapir" entry.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

An Albus Quickie

"Of course it is happening inside your head Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"
--Albus Dumbledore

(Thanks for that, Patti!)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Spock, ש (Shin), and Shekhinah

Star Trek lovers know that Leonard Nimoy based the Vulcan salute on the hand posture ancient Jewish priests used to approximate the shape of the Hebrew letter ש (shin).

When I studied the Hebrew language briefly, the candle-flame shape of shin shimmered amidst its blocky neighbors and caught my attention. I looked more closely into its spiritual and mystical meanings, which are many.

(I have studied and practiced Catholicism fairly deeply. I have only brushed the surface of Judaism.)

ש is a super letter.
It signifies the divine, being the first letter in Shaddai, one of the names of God.

Shin also kicks off "shalom" (peace)and "Shekhinah," the living presence of God in creation (sort of like the Holy Spirit in Catholicism).
Some say Shekinah, a feminine word, is the female face of God (like the Christian Sophia, Greek for wisdom).

ש also appears on tefillin.
Tefillin, or phylacteries, are little black leather boxes that house Biblical verses handwritten on parchment.
The boxes are "laid," one on the head and one on an arm, with black leather straps, according to Jewish law that literally follows the Torah command:

Deuteronomy 6.5:
"And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.

6.8 Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a frontlet between your eyes."
(Hebrew: וּקְשַׁרְתָּם לְאוֹת, עַל-יָדֶךָ; וְהָיוּ לְטֹטָפֹת, בֵּין עֵינֶיך)

A shin for G-d is embossed on the head-tefillin box.
In some branches of Judaism, the arm box's strap is wrapped three times around the hand to form a ש across the back of the hand.

Orthodox Jewish males begin to don tefillin as a religious duty at bar mitzah age.

So, getting back to Star Trek.
In the thrall of my recently discovered love for Capt. Kirk, I made the mistake (mild) of googling William Shatner.
I should know better.
It's rare that a creator of a character, book, painting, etc. that you love is anywhere near as fabulous as their creation, and Bill Shatner is no Capt. Kirk. (Meaning no disrespect.)

Nonetheless I pressed on and googled Leonard Nimoy.
What a surprise! The man is kinda fascinating.
Among his interesting work is a book of his B&W photographs called Shekhina [one possible transliteration of the Hebrew].
The book's stunning cover photograph depicts a naked woman wearing a Jewish prayer shawl. The black leather straps of a tefillin bind her arm.

I gather Nimoy's images offend some of his fellow Jews.
To me, they are a welcome expansion of the limited conceptions of God in our culture.

They remind me of a B&W photo I had up on my wall for a long time. It showed a nude woman, performance artist Diamonda Galas, as Christ crucified. It remains one of the most powerful images I have ever seen of the crucifixion.

St. Anselm defined God as "that than which no greater can be conceived."
In other words, if we can think of it, name it, picture it, that ain't it.

If we want to go where we haven't gone before, we need help stretching what we can even conceive of.
Images such as Nimoy's are all about that.

Nimoy's work can be seen on his official photography site:
Nimoy's Shekhina

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Freaky FBI

Turns out maybe I was doing something "wrong" in photographing the bridge construction site.

I just heard that the FBI tracked down a friend of a friend who had been shooting pix at the river. They told this person not to photograph refineries, power lines, or anything that might be a terrorist target.

The MN Dept. of Transportation must be exempt from this restriction. It tells us all about the bridge construction at:
MN DOT Bridge Project

Nevertheless, if the FBI's Men in Black ring my doorbell, I'm definitely sending Kirk, not me, to answer the door.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Channeling Capt. Kirk

"I'm from Iowa, I only work in outer space."
--Captain James T. Kirk, "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home"

I wish I had been bold when the construction worker challenged me at the bridge site (River, IV).
But I was unprepared and I acted like a ninny Woody-Allenesque character.
I should have acted like Captain Kirk.

I've been watching the first season (1966) of Star Trek on DVD.
When I was a teenager, I was enamored of Mr. Spock, a half-Vulcan struggling to repress his unwelcome human emotions.
This looked like a great plan for surviving high school. I embraced it, with negligible results. (He didn't succeed all that well either, which was part of his attraction.)

Watching the shows for the first time some thirty years later, I laugh to think I ever identified with the cool and remote Spock. I am much more like Capt. Kirk, embarrassing as that is to admit, given that he is a big lummocks who emotes all over the place. But he is never embarrassed by his omnivorous appetites or too timid to do something, even if it's the wrong thing. Or the ridiculous one.

I've spent too much time trying to channel Spock. It's time to claim my inner Captain Kirk.
If I'd been tapped into that gutsy and hammy side of myself, when the guy in the truck asked, "Can I help you?" even though he obviously didn't really mean it, I would have said yes!
Maybe he would have given me a tour of the site or answered some more interesting questions. OTOH, he quite likely had been sent by the bad Klingon Empire...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Some Thoughts on the Weight of Grievous Responsibilities

I was thinking why I was impressed by the bridge inspector feeling sick after the bridge collapsed. Why should that impress me? It should be the normal reaction.

I'm afraid that after almost five years of war, I've gotten used to public figures who don't seem to care when people die because of their decisions.

Have you looked at the series of photos of Abraham Lincoln taken over the span of his presidency by Mathew Brady and other photographers? They show that during the Civil War, the man--a real warmonger--got more and more haggard, until grief and responsibility ravaged his face.
Which is how it should be, surely.

How can one send people to fight, kill, and die, even for the best reasons, and still look like a boy golf caddy?


So, um, speaking of grievous responsibilities, in my quest to be a good citizen, I am going to attend my precinct caucuses for the first time ever this year. I grew up in Wisconsin, which holds primaries, which are much easier to participate in.
Caucuses are a direct form of democracy: you gotta show up at a meeting. Groan. I love the idea of democracy but I don't like meetings. Democracy is definitely work. It's about time I start doing it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Down by the River, I

At a Solstice gathering in December, I sat next to a bridge inspector who told me his views on our bridge collapsing into the Mississippi River this past August 1. [See Part V]

The memory of his disturbing story plus my new camera inspired me to try my hand at a photo essay. This afternoon, I went down to the river to scout around the disaster site, where I'd yet to go.

Along the river walkway, I took this photo of myself reflected in a mirrored box sculpture, a few blocks from where the bridge used to be.

You can see the Stone Arch Bridge in the background. Built in 1882-1883, it is still in use, but only for pedestrian traffic. It was never engineered to bear 140,000 cars and trucks a day.
Neither was the 35W bridge, completed in 1967, but that's what it was bearing.

Down by the River, II

At this point, signs and chain-link fencing barred me from walking any further along the river path. It was a little spooky, almost deserted, with no pedestrians and little traffic, just the hum of nearby industrial plants.
I cut over to a side road and went up into the top deck of a parking ramp, so I could get closer to the construction site, where workers started building a new bridge in mid-December.

I felt daring, like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind snooping around a secret government installation.
Except this isn't secret: it's a public works project paid for by our taxes. But our government seems different, more secretive and suspicious, post-9/11.

Down by the River, III

This is the edge of the parking lot's top tier, but trees blocked the view of the construction scene below. Footprints in the snow told me that other people had come here to look, too. In the middle of the afternoon, it was desolate.

At places where you could get close enough for a clear view through the chain-link fencing, walls of boards or sheets of canvas obscured your view.

Since the view below was blocked, I took this picture of a crane against the sky:

Down by the River, IV

A staircase in the parking ramp led to a gravel road into this construction site. Behind the wooden fence on the left, the land drops off into the river.

I took this photo standing next to an open chain-link gate, with signs forbidding entry.

As I stood there wondering if I dared sneak up to the wooden fence, a heavy, white pickup truck approached from behind.
Instead of driving on through, it stopped right next to me.
I turned and gave the driver, in a day-glo vest and hard hat, a small wave.

Unsmiling, he leaned across the front seat and opened the passenger-side door.
"Can I help you?" he said, in a suspicious tone.

"Oh, no, no. I'm just looking," I said in full-on chirpy mode but feeling rather rattled. Was I doing something wrong?
"It's so sad..."
This guy wasn't biting, so I went on, "Are you building a new bridge?"


"That's great. So that's actually going ahead?" (It had been a long process.)

An unemotional "Yes."

"When will it be done?"

The man hesitated before answering. "December 24."

"Is it OK that I'm looking around?" I asked, a little paranoid. Was I asking state secrets? (No.) Surely this was all public knowledge? (Yes, entirely.)

"Yeah..." he said. "But you don't want to go any further."

"Oh, no, no, I don't want to do that," I said. "Thanks a lot!"

OK," he said, and closed his door and drove slowly past, the truck's tires crunching on the gritty muddy road.

I left right away.
I'm telling you, intimidation works.
I just don't understand why it felt so threatening. Is this all fallout from 9/11? We don't trust each other?

Down by the River, V

This is what the bridge inspector told me as we ate potato pancakes with applesauce by candlelight on Solstice, December 21, 2007:

After he heard the bridge collapsed, he said,
"I felt like vomiting for two days."

[Note: I absolutely clearly remember him saying that. Unless it's in quotes, the rest of this is paraphrased, but I won't give you any made up numbers or anything I'm not sure of. He didn't say anything that wasn't already known before the bridge fell, anyway.]

He'd known for twenty years that maintenance for the city's bridges wasn't sufficient.

The bridge was built as part of a massive national project begun under Eisenhower to expand America's transportation infrastructure.

When you build a bridge, he told me, you have choices about how strong you make it, and it costs more to make it stronger. At the time the bridge was built, it needed to carry xxx thousand (I forget the number he said) vehicles a day. They made it strong enough to carry X-times more than that, knowing traffic would increase.

But because so many roads and bridges were being built, they didn't spend the money to make it strong enough to carry 140,000 vehicles a day, which is what it was carrying in 2007.

And since the Reagan era, the government hadn't allotted enough money to do routine maintenance such as repainting the steel to protect it against elements such as pigeon shit and road salt.
Mixed with melting snow and rain, those and other agents corrode steel.

"So, you weren't surprised when the bridge collapsed," I said.

"No!" he said. "I was surprised! I mean, this isn't some Third World country."

I was baffled. "What do you mean?" I asked. "It sounds to me like it was physics. Physics is the same everywhere."

He agreed, yes, it was physics.

When he left that night, I shook his hand good-bye. I liked him and I felt sorry that he felt so bad, so I said, "It wasn't your fault. You did what you could."

He gave me a slightly withering look and said, "Yeah, right, I feel so much better now."

I respect that. Here's a man honorable enough to feel sick about a shared failure of responsibility that killed thirteen people.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Sal's Boots

I just had lunch with Sally, author of this blog:
Already Pretty

She not only showed me the html to make a live link (for some reason blogger does not display on my computer all the options that show on other computers*), but she hopped up onto a low concrete wall so I could photograph her gorgeous boots against the backdrop of prarie grass in winter. Oh so aesthetic.

(If you are attuned to such things, you can see it's warm today. About 38 degrees--practically a heat wave--hence the wet concrete.)

With my new camera, I may become a pest to my friends as I take photos of various bits of their lives...
I'm still getting headaches trying to figure out iPhoto though.
Let me know if you can or cannot see certain images, OK?

*Well, shoot. Sally recommend I download Firefox and use that instead of Safari, which she says is notoriously buggy.
And bingo: blogger now displays all the handy-dandy little doohickeys so I can bold, italicize, link, etc. without writing html! You are a goddess, Sally, and not just 'cause of your boots!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Self Portrait: Bookshelf

Bookshelves say a world about a person, and I always love to poke around in other people's, so I offer mine for inspection.
I sold, gave, or threw away almost all my books the summer of 2004, and my main bookshelf filled up with other things. The round table in front of the bookshelf serves as my desk. You see I am a messy writer.

As you probably know, but I just figured out, if you click on this picture, you can see an enlarged image. This the first time I have loaded pix from my new, first ever, digital camera, which my father gave me for Christmas.
A new addiction looms...

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Movie Review: Winter Soldier

Marine Scott Camil, image from

Winter Soldier
A film by the Winterfilm Collective, 1971, undistributed in the United States until 2005
DVD, Milliarium ZERO, 2006

[Note: I wrote this review at 4 a.m. this morning, unable to sleep after watching this movie I contend is "dull."]

"These are the time that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
--Thomas Paine, winter 1776. Opening lines of Winter Soldier

It is notoriously difficult to make a film about horror that is not titillating.
Horror films play on the power of danger and death to snap awake our animal senses—I think of the hunters and the hunted on the savanna––and sell the pleasure of feeling afraid in safety.

Films that want to convey the degradation not the pleasure of horror have a hard time doing so without calling up a whiff of attendant lust. A rare scene of sexual degradation that manages to convey repulsion without that whiff of eroticism is in The Lives of Others, when a slug of an East German state official coerces an actress into letting him fuck her in the back of his chauffeur-driven car. The woman’s total passivity in the face of what is essentially rape works like playing dead if a bear attacks is supposed to work: it neutralizes the fear/aggression response, even the muted voyeuristic one. Remaining passive while being attacked is pretty hard to pull off in life and it’s hard to pull off the equivalent in film too.

One of the most disturbing, morally challenging, and exciting films I’ve ever seen is Apocalypse Now (1978). The seductiveness of horror is consciously one of its central themes. It drives the narrative: as the protagonist Capt. Willard travels upriver in Vietnam during the war, deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness, he is drawn toward the sucking thrill of power exercised without restraints. Finally he arrives at Col. Kurtz, whom he has been sent to “terminate with extreme prejudice.” Willard recognizes in Kurtz the logical conclusion of our attraction to horror––becoming horror ourselves––and he recognizes himself. Director Francis Ford Coppola imbues the culminating ritualistic slaughter with ballet-like power and grace.

The film is rife with the visual and aural eroticism of violence. In a famous scene, American gunners come riding in out of the skies on the swelling strains of Wagner pumping out their helicopters’ open doors to spew the villages below in a triumphal release of pent up fire.
It’s impossible even to write about this thoroughly satisfying scene without getting charged up by the descriptive words’ kinetic energy.

I've heard Apocalypse Now called Aphrodisiac Now, but that is not to take away from its power and its truthfulness. On the contrary. A vet friend told me that he considers it the best, most truthful film he has seen to this day about what it felt like to be in that particular insanity.

The film’s pornography is a barrier, however, a contraceptive. The film stirs and even satisfies the libido, but I, the viewer, know full well that I face no risk of anything as pedestrian as pregnancy. I remain at a remove. Yes, the ugly, brutal, shocking images still disturb me to the point of sleeplessness. They were effective in making me, at seventeen, question my moral virginity. I am also aware that I am being, even against my wishes, entertained.

Tonight I saw a different kind of film: one that is disturbing, challenging, insightful…and dull.

Winter Soldier is an adrenaline flatline. The film records the testimony of U.S. soldiers who committed war crimes in Vietnam. The "Winter Soldier Investigation" hearings were voluntarily held in early 1971 by the veterans themselves, who said that atrocities committed against civilians, such as at My Lai, were SOP (standard operating procedure). More than 125 of these young men gathered at the behest of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) to put on record and to tell the public of the internationally illegal actions they had committed or witnessed in the war (which would continue for four more years).

Panels of vets are seated at long tables on a dais, facing an audience of journalists and other interested civilians. One after another, with little emotion, the men speak about how they tortured, raped, destroyed homes, mass murdered men, women, and children. They say they were brutally trained to kill. They say they wanted to be men. They say they were so frightened they didn’t care who they killed. They say they were bored out of their skulls. They say all this, these guys, for the most part not terribly articulately––these aren't college boys––in a conference room at a Howard Johnson’s motel in Detroit.

A documentary-making collective filmed the proceedings along with some interviews on donated black and white film stock that had passed its due date. The sometimes rough quality adds to viewer’s awareness that this is a film, a document, not a pretense of reality. No music, no Jimi Hendrix, and no dulcet toned voice-over intrudes on what we see and hear.

When I say the footage of talking heads is dull, I’m not saying it’s not horrifying. It is. I fast-forwarded through certain speeches so I wouldn’t have to finish hearing the details, for instance, of how some soldiers skinned a Vietnamese woman like a rabbit. But it doesn't offer a sick little thrill, it doesn't titillate, not even under the table, in some way I might be ashamed to admit. Because these men, they weren’t entertainers. Their faces… well, their very lack of emotion or their struggle not to show emotion or the occasional flash of an emotion inappropriate to civilized society, such as childish pride, as they talk about what men do at war conveys simply what war does to men. It’s not a movie I ever want to watch again, the way I watch “Apocalypse Now” every so often.
But you should see it.

Winter Soldier's lack of erotic charge leaves its stories imaginable, normal. The vets, too, are obviously normal guys. In this normalcy is the true horror, the banality that Hannah Arendt realized at the Nuremberg trials fuels evil.

Apocalypse Now is art. It is one of the greats. Winter Soldier is not—it’s a scrap of film off the junk heap of history. It is, however, oddly more devastating and by far a more effective antiwar film. We may recognize ourselves in extremis, our powerful, dangerous, edgy selves, in Kurtz or Willard. But we recognize our everyday selves, our normal, unentertaining, unsexy selves in these vets, these poor schumcks who went off to be Achilles and ended up in an abattoir.

"I just wanted you to know about it," one of the young men says.
His and his compatriots bravery in serving their country by speaking out deserves our love and thanks––then and now, in this time that once again tries our souls.

Friday, January 4, 2008

In Antarctica

Here's my father in Antarctica, December 2007, a few weeks before his 77th birthday.


"If you want to believe that you and your family came from apes, that's fine. I'll accept that. I just don't happen to think that I did."
--Mike Huckabee, winner of the Republican Iowa caucuses, elaborating on his view of evolution, May 8, 2007

I knew I'd need a weeble.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Weeble

I have a new totem animal:
the Weeble.

Remember Weebles?
"Weebles wobble but they don't fall down"?
They are those optimistic plastic toys whose weighted bottoms ensure that they always pop back up when you push them over.

Not really an animal, I know, but nonetheless I choose the indefatigable weeble as my Spirit Guide this year.
Looks like we might get pushed over a lot.

A New View

"When you write a history paper, ask yourself,
'What did these people think they were doing?' "

--advice from a history professor

God help me, I have subscribed to Bill Buckley's National Review.

What happened was, in my pursuit of education about public life (journalism & politics, I mean, not Brittney, Inc.) in America,
I decided to take up Gary's recommendation to read a wide range of periodicals, from the Nation to the National Review.

I've always been primarily a book reader. The only magazines that excited me were Ranger Rick, when I was nine and, more recently, The Economist. So I'm starting almost from scratch.
Luckily, the public library bookstore sells donated recent magazines for 25 cents. Before Christmas, I bought a pile and I've been reading my way through these:

Harvard Divinity Review
New Republic
American Scholar
(gift subscription from Barrett)

I was pleased to see that I've been paying more attention to public discourse in America than I thought:
most of the articles cover topics I'm familiar with, in voices I'm used to.

Then I picked up the National Review and... wow! Who are these people?
Buckley's column made me laugh out loud at one thing and then get really steamed at another.
As I read the magazine further, I didn't know where I was or what was coming at me.

That's the one I subscribed to.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year Resolution No. 1

My favorite present this Christmas season is the Associated Press Stylebook. It’s as much fun as Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, if you like that sort of thing.
Which I do.

Life coach and author Martha Beck points out that we best remember things that connect with what we love, and for many of us, that means stories that catch our imagination rather than rules.
(Some people remember things like bus schedules better, but they are in the minority.)

Beck was a “good girl” who worked hard in high school at her science classes, but at midlife she can’t remember any of the higher math.
She does remember, however, all sorts of details from the first Star Wars movie, which she saw once, and only once, in high school. She even remembers the names of the robots.

Me too! R2D2 and C3PO, though I couldn’t name any elements of the periodical table, other than the ones in common use, like O. (Except now that means “Oprah.”)

Same with language:
I don’t remember all the parts of speech, for instance, despite Miss Dahl’s authoritarian efforts in 10th grade English.

I’m an intuitive grammarian rather than a memorizer of rules, but gaining understanding of the inner workings of language is a kick.
It’s the understanding I like—it’s the story part.

But sometimes you just have to buckle down and learn some rules that make no particular sense. My New Year resolution of 2007 was to learn to spell “buoy,” which turns out to be spelled a way I had never guessed.

This year I decided the time has come to figure out the irregular ”lie/lay” thing.

(The words that describe the thing George W. & Co. does is easy, and I think we all know them:
lie, lied, lying.)

Here goes (in my own words, based on the AP):

“Lay/laid/laying/laid” is the action chickens do (if they are alive):
Today, the chicken squawks as she lays an egg.
Yesterday, the chicken squawked as she laid an egg.

The participles are:
The chicken is laying an egg.
In the past, the chicken often has laid an egg.

“Lie/lay/lain/lying” describes a passive position chickens might be found in (though probably only if they are dead):
Today, the chicken lies headless on the kitchen table.
Yesterday, the chicken lay on the dirt, having died a natural death from old age, so we needn’t feel bad about eating her.

Participles of “lie”:
The chicken is lying dead on the ground.
In the past, the chicken not often has lain on the ground of her own volition.

Nothing for it but to memorize it.