Monday, March 31, 2008

Excuse me, your foot is on my cord.

Packing up to leave the coffee shop where I was blogging last night, I practically had to crawl under a nearby table to unplug my laptop from the shared power strip. A family group was sitting at the table my cord ran under.

As I started to pull the cord back, I realized the elderly father of the family had his foot firmly on top of it.
Crouched next to him, I tapped his arm and said, "Excuse me, your foot is on my cord."

He looked baffled, but his grown daughter said, "Dad, Dad, you're stepping on her cord."

"Oh, I'm sorry," he said, and moved his foot.

"No, no, I'm sorry to bother you," I said, abashed to encounter an individual for whom this was not a normal social exchange. Not yet...

Then I went home and watched the movie Star Trek: First Contact. I'm not generally interested in stories from ST: The Next Generation (TNG), which this is, but the Borg in particular do intrigue me, and this movie features them.

"Borg" is short for "cyborg," which itself is short for "cybernetic organism," meaning a human with some machine parts (like the Six Million Dollar Man, if you remember him).

Star Trek's Borg are humanoids whose flesh not only has been partly replaced with machine parts but whose very genes have been altered.
With linked minds, they pursue one solitary goal: to become perfect through conquering and "assimilating" humanoid species and advanced technology throughout the universe.
Very scary.

First Contact came out in 1996, the year I got my first laptop computer.
Are we on the way to becoming cyborgs?
Maybe cyborgs, but not Borg.
The Borg don't say "excuse me" if you step on their cords.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Gnashing of Teeth

I got my teeth cleaned last week, and my regular dental hygienist, Pat, asked me how my teeth-guard is working for me. This is the same teeth-guard whose use I ranked #8 on my list of life goals, a couple weeks ago.

I told Pat that after I decided to make an effort to wear it more, I realized I don't need it anymore: I no longer wake up at night with my jaw clenched so tight I'm afraid I'll break my teeth.

"Maybe that's because you quit your job," Pat said. "Studies show that stress is a major factor in teeth grinding."

That makes perfect sense.
An article from the Middletown Bible Church notes that the New Testament uses the phrase "weeping [or wailing] and gnashing of teeth" seven times, and that the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament "says that the root of this term was used 'of the cry of pain of a stag mortally wounded by snake-bite.' "

This gnashing often takes place when one is "cast out into the outer darkness." I think I know the place.

But I didn't quit my geography work because it was stressful.
I quit because I was tired of writing within the lines, and I quit because I could.
The [relative] psychological well being I experience as an American citizen is one of the fruits of prosperity and privilege that I wish everyone could have. I remember a man from Ethiopia who told me that what he liked best about living in the states was that he wasn't afraid all the time.
What he liked least was how lonely it is here.

Sometimes things don't go from bad to worse...

Photo ^ from the Independent article Facing intimidation, still they queued all day long
"In spite of the obstacles being put in their way – and blatant attempts by Robert Mugabe to stuff the ballot boxes – the people of this devastated African country came in their millions to deliver their verdict on his 28-year rule."

In my geography work, Zimbabwe and Algeria were the countries I got to know and love the most, and I've been following Zimbabwe's elections (yesterday, Sat. 3/29/08) on "This Is Zimbabwe" (link on my blogroll) and the like.

Photo, right, of Zimbabweans checking results outside their polling place today, from BBC article "Delay adds to Zimbabwe fraud fears"

The verdict is still out.
Unofficial reports suggest opposition candidates to the dictator Mugabe and his party have won around the country.
Delay in the official reports, however, suggest that Mugabe and his Borg drones ("resistance is futile") will make sure it matters not a whit who actually won.

I am awed that an opposition party even exists in Zimbabwe, given the harsh measures the ruling party deals out. But bravery makes sense in a country where life expectancy averages 35 years and inflation rates stand at 100,000 percent.

In hopes, here's one of my favorite poems, by Welsh poet Sheena Pugh (b.1950):


Sometimes things don't go after all,
from bad to worse. Some years muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

Sometimes things don't go from bad to worse..
...but sometimes they do.

"A people sometimes will... elect an honest man...."
But that doesn't mean he'll get into office. (Even in the USA.) 
We shall see.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cultivation Time

This past week, I finished writing How to Make a Book, my rough guide to bookbinding. Explaining futzy directions turned out to be harder than I expected, but a person could conceivably bind a book following the set I wrote--with the aid of the photos.

The book I made to illustrate the process turned out so very scruffy, since I used all found-materials, I decided to add a photo of a couple slicker looking books, just to show that the same steps can lead to different end results, depending on what materials you use (and how much care you take in measurements and the like).

I chose the two books above, which I made years ago, because their seed-packet covers are seasonal, now we have passed spring equinox. (Well, and also because I gave away or sold almost all the other books I made.)

Here in the northland, the ground is frozen and it's way too early to plant seeds, but today feels springy nonetheless.
Some signs of the season:
the ice-pack around my bike, which I left out last fall in hopes the weather would stay mild enough to bike (ha!), has thawed;
I saw my first robin of the year yesterday (about three weeks later than usual);
and the tap water has started to taste and smell slightly fishy, which it does when winter finally melts.

This morning, I also hauled out my art supplies to start a series of cards (left) I've long been meaning to make, using an old guide to color mixing I found years ago. The book's color names and descriptions read like poetry--even the lists of ingredients: "cobalt violet, emeraude green, touch of ivory black..."

Making simple cards like these is just a matter of tearing, layering, and pasting, maybe sewing a bit. It's a sign of how low I was for several years that I didn't do any of this. I actually bought Christmas cards to send. And it's a sign of how back-to-myself I am that it feels effortless again to make cards now.

Unlike my mother, many of my friends, and U.S. senator Thomas Eagleton, I've never experienced depression I couldn't identify as arising (or descending) from the events and situations of my life:
high school, working in a windowless cubicle, my mother's suicide, months at a time spent researching places like Sudan--all these have sent me spiraling into darkness, to different depths and for different lengths of time.

It's especially hard when dreadful stuff overlaps, which it does.
The combo of those last two (suicide and geography) put me into an emotional coma for about three years. I was so listless for so long, I started to think maybe this was my natural energy level.

Then, a couple years ago, I was coming home on the city bus one day and this sentence came to me, like a revelation:
"I want more life."

Since then, I've felt like Rip van Winkle, gradually reentering life again.
It's been weird.
I find myself doing things I used to do, like making art or laughing out loud, and I wonder, Where have I been for so long?

Watch Star Trek free online

Well, imagine that.
I just found out that CBS has made available for free all the episodes of the 1960s Star Trek: TOS (TOS = The Original Series). The icon at left is not live, but click here to watch: Star Trek.


The video-episodes play like youTube videos. You can select "full screen" and they fill up your computer screen. (Can you do this with youTube and I never noticed?) Note they start with an ad.

Probably just as well I didn't know this three months ago. Being forced to wait for Netflix to deliver Star Trek DVDs slowed my intake and probably saved me from total ST asphyxiation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Le blogosphère

Oh, nothing. I just wanted to say it in French.

Silly Monsters, I

Bink photographed this movie poster (right) on a wall in Monreale, Sicily, last spring. And went on to eat that plateful of baby squid I mentioned, despite what is obviously a warning about the Revenge of the Teeny Squids' Much Larger Relatives.

We humans never learn from our own tales: don't piss off Mother Nature.
But we make great movies about the results.

Silly Monsters, II: The Brother from Another Planet

Lately, I've been watching low-budget sci-fi movies. The other night I watched John Sayles's The Brother from Another Planet again, made for $400,000 in 1984. (That's 10 times more than Sayles had for his first feature, The Return of the Secaucus Seven, in 1979.)

I started this project because I'm interested in what the sci-fi lens shows about the cultures it comes from. Right? The way we imagine the future or other worlds says more about us than them.
I'm also finding these old, cheap-o movies much more fun to watch than modern movies with mega-budget CGI (computer generated images).

Sayles's Brother is spot-on social commentary on race and immigration in America. The Brother is a black humanoid who falls to Earth at Ellis Island and tries to assimilate in Harlem. Turns out he's an escaped slave, pursued by white-skinned Men in Black from his planet.

The plot remains topical almost twenty-five years later, as we Americans bash away about illegal aliens and appear to be "shocked, shocked" that racism should still rear its head in our presidential elections.

Brother is also one big, juicy testimony in favor of DIY (Do It Yourself).
In the director's commentary, Sayles describes the special effects, which were of the hide-a-lightbulb-in-your-hand kind. He says that not having much money can be frustrating, but it often forces you into better ideas.

For instance, to reflect that the Men in Black come from a planet with different gravity and thus move differently than Earthlings, the camera filmed the actors (Sayles and David Strathairn, left) walking and moving backwards. Played forward, their actions on the resulting film appear unidentifiably weird: what is it about these guys?

Conversely, Stardust (2007) cost $70 million to make. It's a sweet movie, and I bet the CGI folks had a ball, but I don't thrill to its seamless presentation.
It's the cracks that make things interesting. Like the Grand Canyon, the rifts are the places we get to see into character or creation.

Watching the DVD's "Making of Stardust" special feature, it looked like a bore to act in too. The actors are mostly working on empty sets surrounded by green screen (the backdrop that gets filled in with special effects). Notwithstanding, see the movie for Robert De Niro's turn as a crossdressing pirate. Priceless.

Silly Monsters, III: Star Trek

Star Trek's Top Ten

I've been trying to write a Top Ten list of Star Trek episodes, you know, and getting pretty much nowhere. I've realized that while some episodes are way, way better--or worse--than others, the show's overall appeal doesn't break down like that. It's not the individual plots that makes this great myth, it's the underlying themes.

Instead of Top Ten episodes, a list of Top Ten Themes, and scenes illustrating them, is more fitting.

Some of them are "in universe" (i.e., they would be "real" to the characters themselves). Those would include themes of

And some of them come from the "real-life" perspective, i.e. the things the makers and the viewers bring to the show, including:
American/global politics of the 1960s (Cold War/Vietnam War)
Sixties social issues (racism, hippies, etc.)
Slash (fan re-interpretations along homoerotic lines)
Special Effects

(Some themes fall into both categories--friendship and physics, for instance.)

The themes surface willy-nilly, here and there, throughout the show's three years, even in the third and worst season.
You sometimes find the best illustrations of key themes in the worst stinkers of the episodes.

"And the Children Shall Lead" and Salvific Friendship

For example, the almost unwatchable "And the Children Shall Lead"--about some truly pukey children under sway of an evil lawyer, I mean alien (played by Melvin Belli, a real-life lawyer known for personal-injury lawsuits)--contains one of the best displays of how Spock and Kirk's friendship works, in one of the best of the "elevator moments" (below), those insightful scenes that occur in the privacy of the starship's elevator to the bridge. (That would be a list in itself, which doubtless someone has compiled.)

The nasty children try to take control of the bridge crew by making Kirk, Uhura, Sulu etc. experience their worst fears. Spock's deep practice of mind-control leaves him immune. (Which in itself is a theme of the show: the complex and contradictory nature of things. Spock's emotional repression is both a blessing and a curse.)

Anyway, the kids disable Kirk by making him think he is losing command. Seeing the captain frozen, Spock literally drags him off the bridge onto the elevator, where Shatner does some of his best worst acting (the man is a genius--we howl at his cheesiness and yet recognize ourselves in him at the same time).

Kirk is freaking out, thrashing around saying he is "alone, alone," which of course he is not. His Patroclus (right), Spock, is with him and restores him to sanity simply by saying his name, "Jim." (And there's another mythic theme: the power of knowing someone or some thing's true name.)

There's no way this episode makes the Top Ten Best list, or even the Top Ten Best of the Worst. There's nothing in it so bad it's good, unlike, say, in the delectably bad "Spock's Brain." But you can't fully grok Spock-and-Kirk without that scene in the elevator.

And the scene doesn't make sense without the rest of the episode, so there it is, the elements inextricably all mixed up, just like in love. As Molly Ivins said, you got to dance with them what brung you.

"Arena" and DIY

While "ATCSL" is a famously stupid episode with one noble scene, "Arena," in which Kirk fights the Gorn captain (left--sort of an erect Komodo dragon), is one long, excellent paeon of praise to the DIY philosophy, both in-universe and real-world.

For its consistency of theme and amusement value, I rank "Arena" among Star Trek's Best of the Best.

The in-universe DIY theme shows up because supposedly advanced aliens trap Kirk on a planet without any of his high-tech toys to face his merciless Gorn enemy.

The aliens tell Kirk that they will provide material he can use to kill the Gorn, and much of the plot revolves around our boy Jim figuring out what these materials might be, while he dances around in his signature bouncy style, from rock to rock, evading the killer lizard.

The materials turn out to be the elements of gunpowder--by the 23rd century, a truly outmoded technology, but one which Kirk recalls and uses to make a DIY rudimentary cannon. And then he knocks out but refuses to kill the enemy captain, thus demonstrating that humans are not such thoughtless brutes as the aliens had supposed.

From the real-world perspective, this episode can be read as a cautionary tale: as humanity gets more and more powerful, we shouldn't forget the basics, both the physical how-to basics and the moral ones that save us from ourselves.

This episode is great, too, because its message is even more potent forty years later, in the 21st century, when so many of us (myself included) rely on technology we know squat about.

And Lordy, lordy, the pleasure we get out of the dimestore rubber-lizard costume is its own justification, isn't it? It's this sort of thing that encourages, enables, empowers legions of fans to say, "Let's make our own version in the garage."

This is one of the noble basics of being human, displayed by everyone from a contrary toddler to Our Favorite Captain: the willingness to be a fool by Doing It Ourselves.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Food from Another Place

Unexpected food was one of the delights of Sicily, where Bink and I spent ten days last Eastertime. We stayed in the hillside town above Palermo where my father's mother was born. Just looking at the food in the markets was a treat, or at least interesting. Outer-spacey food intrigues me, and I'm extra intrigued that my species figured out you even could eat some of it.

Like the piles of grey frothy sludge for sale in wooden trays at fish markets (I think it was some sort of pre- or neonatal sea life). Who figured out it was fit to eat?

Bink did eat a plateful of fried baby squid, each one's itty-bitty body, including its wavy little legs, no bigger than your pinky's fingernail. They were recognizably edible, but it was disquieting to watch several miniature bodies disappear in each forkful.

Prickly pear cactus was in season, and we avoided pulpy red patches, where people had stepped on its ripe fallen fruit.
I ate it in a restaurant as strawberry-like sauce drizzled over basil ice-cream. Basil ice-cream is as good as mint, and tart red pulp is nice on cool green.

The most Sicilian of foods is the artichoke. In Sicily, the local leathery thistles are not the neutered affairs we see in grocery stores in the USA. They are sold with their thorns intact, and I can tell you, they hurt if they stab you. They are like the maces medieval knights thwacked each other with.

Bink and I spent a morning wandering the vast outdoor market in Palermo, where you can buy everything from pirated CDs to slinky undies to bits of animals you didn't know were edible.

Toward lunchtime I bought two artichokes. A young aproned man hauled them out of a cauldron of boiling water, roiling with lemon halves, wrapped them in butcher paper, and charged 45 cents each.
(The year before, I'd paid $6 for an artichoke in a morally elevated joint in southern CA. But Palermo is the opposite of morally elevated.)

We sat on the dirty steps of a church and tried not to burn our fingers pulling the leaves off to get at the flesh. The stems are edible too, which is why I'm chewing on mine (above, left).

Every night when we came back to the hotel, I asked for the room key in Italian, though I don't speak the language. I always stumbled over the number: 211 "due centi un dici." (sp?) [spelled wrong--see Bink's funny note about counting in Italian, in the comments, below]
On night number six, I got the rhythm right, and the non-English-speaking night clerk, Roberto, who until then had been merely polite, was transformed. He announced that we were now amici del casa, or "friends of the house," and that he was therefore authorized to offer us a glass of grappa.

Grappa. The wavery scent of this clear liquid signals that it's something you probably shouldn't ingest. Since it's up to 80 percent alcohol, the scent is correct. But I enjoyed drinking grappa with Roberto. It tastes good, and it effectively dissolves language differences.
Nothing is alien when you get used to it.

Hamantashen Recipe

I am two days late posting this Hamantashen recipe for Purim, but you can make these filled cookies anytime.

Purim celebrates one of my favorite stories: Queen Esther bravely acknowledging to her Persian husband, King Xerxes, that she is Jewish, in order to save her people threatened by the king's evil adviser Haman.

There are many versions of three-cornered Hamantashen, which means "Haman's Hat." The dough is similar to the SOS cookies my Sicilian grandmother made. Mediterranean and Arab cooking gets all mixed up in that part of the world.

Traditional Hamantashen

3 eggs
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups flour

Prune, poppyseed, or apricot preserves are traditional fillings, that are easiest to buy prepared.
Or prepare:
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
1 dash cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
Stir in a saucepan over medium heat until sugar is melted.

1. Beat together the eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla, and almond extract.
2. Mix baking powder and flour separately. Add to egg mix gradually. If dough is too wet, add more flour.
3. Divide dough into quarters.
4. Roll dough as thin as you can, on a lightly floured surface.
5. Cut out 3-inch circles.
6. Place filling in center of each circle.
7. Fold three sides up to form a triangle, leaving some filling showing in the center.
8. Bake on cookie sheets in 350 degrees oven, for 15 - 17 minutes or until tops start to brown.

[diagram from Judaism 101, which is also where the link to Purim will take you]

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I Believe in Lima Beans

Last night, Easter Vigil, I went out for a glass of wine with a couple friends.
I mentioned that it was the tenth anniversary of my baptism into the Catholic faith, and I was wondering if I wanted to go to Easter Mass, even though I usually don't go to church anymore.

"I don't like Easter," Scott said. "I'm not into the dead Jesus."

"He's not dead anymore on Easter," I said. "That's the point."

"I never really got that," Scott said. "I mean, I like Christmas--I get the baby born in the stable. But Easter... I don't relate to that."

"Well," I said, "it's like spring. People who live with four seasons, like we do, should really get it. Everything is dead and then it comes back to life."

"So Jesus is like a lima bean?" Scott said. "Putting out a shoot after being in the frozen ground all winter?"

"That's good!" I said. "Jesus the Lima Bean."

A bit of an oversimplification of Easter, but about as good a definition of "God" as I've heard:
the force that wakes up lima beans in the spring.

[image of sprouting lima bean from Multitasking Mama]

Arthur C. Clarke

Speaking of sci-fi as social commentary, Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey died this past March 19.
Forty-one years ago, in 1967, he said:
"As our own species is in the process of proving, one cannot have superior science and inferior morals. The combination is unstable and self-destroying."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Stay Awake!

Now that I have finished watching 1960's Star Trek, I've moved on to science fiction movies known for their social commentary, such as the original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers--a classic of Cold War paranoia. The plot involves a handful of people trying to escape seed pods from outer space that duplicate humans exactly, leaving them soulless and stripped of all emotions. It remains a super flick.

Even better, and more applicable to our times, is the 1978 remake, starring Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams (left). In the remake, the threat is not so much an outside alien force as one's own society, as represented in part by pop-psychology, which tries to subdue emotional distress so humans can function in a crazy society.
(The scary pop-psychologist, who is pretty much the same before and after he is turned into a zombie pod-person, is played by Leonard Nimoy.)

Both movies emphasize the necessity of staying awake, as the pods suck people's life force from them while they sleep.
It struck me that this is the same advice the Buddha and Jesus also give:
Stay Awake!

Here's dialogue from all three sources.

Stay Awake, I

"Elizabeth, wake up! They get you when you sleep!"

"Oh, Matthew, I can't go on! I wanna go to sleep. I can't stay awake any more."

"You have to. You have to stay awake."

--Dialogue from The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Stay Awake, II

Buddha literally means "awakened one."

Here's a story from the Dhammapada; What the Buddha Taught:

Some pilgrims met the Buddha on the road soon after his enlightenment. They were so struck by the way the Buddha radiated peace and beauty that one of the seekers asked the Buddha if he was a cosmic being or a god.
The Buddha said he was not.
"Well, then, are you some kind of magician?"
Again the Buddha said, "No."
"Are you a saint or a prophet?"
"Well, my friend" the seeker insisted, "then what are you?"
The Buddha replied, "I'm just like you, but I am awake."

[This is not from Diana Winston's Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens, which I haven't read; but it got good reviews & I like the cover.]

Stay Awake, III

"Be on guard, keep awake.
For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning-- lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.
And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake."
--Jesus, Matthew 13:33 - 37

As Jesus and his disciples enter the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, on the night before his death, Jesus tells them:

"My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch [stay awake] with me." (Matthew 26:38)

But the disciples can't do it.
"When [Jesus] rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow." (Luke 22:45)

I like how the story doesn't condemn the disciples--they're just human, like us, weighed down with sorrow. In the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, too, no one has any ill intent--even the space pods are just trying to survive.

These stories all teach that good intentions aren't enough--we have to practice being alert to the things that suck out our humanity.
What are those things now?

[Painting "Christ on the Mount of Olives" by Caravaggio, 1604]

Global Voices

"Be obscure. Write about stories that other people don’t write about. Write about brilliant people who aren’t well known to the web. And if you’re having problems getting people to pay attention to your stories on Somalia, it never hurts to put in the names of obscure starlets who’ve taken their clothes off for photo shoots."

--Ethan Zuckerman, from his post about what leads readers to a blog: Give the People What They Want (?)

And what do I want from my news source? Mostly I want it to be smart and personable (i.e. not in zombie-voice), but, given my current financial situation, I also prefer it to be free.

My subscription to the Economist runs out next month, and their price just jumped. Since I'm trying to extend my "sabbatical," and since I don't avidly read every issue anymore, (I've lost some of my delight in its tone and come to anticipate their pov), I've decided not to renew.

I can read much of it for free online.
Most importantly, I can read its fantastic obituaries.
They often cover lesser-known deaths, skipping the thoroughly gone-over Bill Buckley, for instance, but noting, "The Creature from the Black Lagoon [right], otherwise known as Ben Chapman, died on February 21st."

(I'm also letting the New Yorker lapse, not to save money, but because its elitism has been getting up my nose lately. That magazine is like a snotty but highly intelligent friend, however--I always go back to it eventually.)

I've found a new (to me) source for world news: Global Voices

I found it through My Heart's in Accra, "Ethan Zuckerman's musings on Africa, international development and hacking the media."

Here's some of what Global Voices says about itself:

Our international team of volunteer authors, regional blogger-editors and translators are your guides to the global blogosphere.

These amazing people are bloggers who live in various countries around the world.
We have invited them as contributors or hired them as editors because they understand the context and relevance of information, views, and analysis being posted every day from their countries and regions on blogs, podcasts, photo sharing sites, videoblogs - and other kinds of online citizen media.
They are helping us to make sense of it all, and to highlight things that bloggers are saying which mainstream media may not be reporting.

Global Voices is a non-profit global citizens’ media project founded at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a research think-tank focused on the Internet’s impact on society. (Ethan Zuckerman is part of the project--that's the link.)

[Badges are from Global Voices site.]

Friday, March 21, 2008

First Spring Morning

Grumble. It's in the high 20s and snowing on this Good Friday morning. I have to finish proofreading a pile of garbled footnotes before my dentist appointment later. But, hey, my $6.99 Easter lily is starting to bloom!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Entering Aries, the Sign of the Red Race Car

Celestial map of the constellation Aries, © 2003 Torsten Bronger.
(There are no Messier Objects and few Deep Sky Objects in Aries, of the sort I published for Aquarius and Pisces.)

Here's everything you need to know about Aries, the ram:
Captain Kirk is one.

Yes, coincidentally our rammy friend will be born on the same day as William Shatner, March 22. (BTW, it's not too late to sign the collective card for Mr. Shatner: Happy Birthday, Bill!). Of course you can't send Kirk a card because he won't be born for a couple hundred years yet.

Aries starts on spring equinox. As the first sign of the zodiac, it kicks off the the whole shebang. Its sign is a ram; and its ruler is Mars, the god of war, the lover of Venus--and a zippy hot red race-car of a planet.

Aries' energy is young, brash, quick, and passionate. Arians boldy go where no man has gone before; or, some might say, they foolishly rush in where angels fear to tread. They make great leaders (if they can control their temper) and lovers but maybe not such great followers or spouses. They like things that blow up with lots of sparks. *
You might guess Aries is a fire sign, and you'd be right.

And Aries is a "cardinal" sign. Boy is it ever.
The cardinal signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn), like fire, are all about taking action and taking charge. (George W. is a Cancer.)

Like every sign, Aries has its yin/yang, and Arians come in every intensity from a kitchen match to a forest fire, from newborn lambs to battering rams.

My favorite illustration of a rammy Aries is from an old friend whose sister was one. When they were little, this sister used to pound on my friend's bedroom door in a rage when my friend didn't want to play, hollering, "Come out and play with me or I'll beat you up!!!" My friend, a peace-seeking Libra, would usually give in. The sister then immediately forgave all.

Every sign, even the most fixed (Taurus), is changeable. Even battering ram Aries may channel their impetuousness and adventurous spirits in directions that don't injure anyone. Such as commanding a starship.

P.S. Leonard Nimoy is also an Aries, but Mr. Spock most definitely is not. I would guess that if Spock was born on Earth, he'd be a Gemini.

P.P.S. I don't have a single Aries birthday noted on my calendar, so I asked Heidi, the barista here at Bob's Java Hut, who I happen to know is an Aries, to read this post and comment. She said it felt right to her and, further, was one of the nicest things she's ever read about her sign.

See, there are certain signs that people tend to view negatively, and Aries is one of them. Maybe some Arians are overly aggressive, and as I said, I don't have any close friends born under the sign, but I wouldn't want to live without them. What would life be without Capt. Kirk?

* ["Ingenuity" poster above from a range of funny Star Trek Inspirational Posters]

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

sign a birthday card for Bill

Ava left a comment saying she has set up a group birthday card to send to Bill Shatner, who will be 77 on Saturday.

Click here to sign it:
Happy Birthday, Bill!

Aw, go on. Bill would do it for you.

P.S. This week I am busy constructing my blog How to Make a Book: Guerrilla Bookmaking; Or, How to Bind a Book When the Lights Go Out, with Stuff You Can Scrounge, so visit me there, if you like.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

creative commons/Trekless

Photo courtesy of TCM Hitchhiker on Flickr, with comment: "I could never kill my man William Shatner, but I found this shirt too hilarious not to purchase...."*

(Have you noticed I haven't mentioned Star Trek: TOS for days and days? That's because I'm in mourning, having watched the last episode about a week ago. When I recover somewhat, I will at least compile my Ten Best/Ten Best Worst Episodes list.)

Hitchhiker's photos come with a handy-dandy license/code from creative commons, which is a free site where bloggers/photographers can get a code to put on their site saying if others can use their stuff, and under what conditions, e.g. must attribute source, cannot charge for it, etc.
(Thanks, Krista, for pointing this out to me.)

*(Um, just in case...let me add, this is a take off on the "Kill Bill" movies.)

spring chicken

I took this photo of hen & chick in fresh spring snow, walking to the coffee shop this morning.

How to Make a Book (my new blog)

I was going to publish all the instructions for Guerrilla Bookmaking: How to Make a Book With Stuff You Already Have on this blog, but I realized that would create continuity problems as well as clogging up Gugeo.
So I started a new blog:
How to Make a Book: Guerrilla Bookmaking.

This is the first set of instructions, in case you're curious:

I handwrote the steps of binding a book, in keeping with the "at the kitchen table" feel of the project, but I will also type out instructions, below the photos--and I'll amplify the steps--so you can print them out.
Keep a copy at hand, and refer to the photos as you teach yourself to make a book.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Anti-War Rally, March 15, 2008, II

The kid who made this sign gets my vote for Best Idea Ever.

The marchers stream into Loring Park, on a not-very-nice Saturday afternoon.

Stef!!! We used to run into each other at anti-nuke marches in this same park twenty years ago.
After five years of war, I sense the public is tired of the topic. A lot of the participants today seem like Old Lefties and Church folk, who tend to be in it for the long haul. And young people, who are just getting started!

One of my favorite institutions in town: Cops on Bikes.

I started out up on the bridge, connecting Loring Park to the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden, so I could get a good view. I learned this trick in 1977, from Sara Hummel: Always walk at the front of the march, she said, so at the end you can turn around and have the pleasure of seeing everyone else arrive. Like Emma Goldman, Sara also always carried something to read.

Anti-War Rally, March 15, 2008, II

On the bridge, families of vets.

Coffin top: baby boots to soldier boots.

"Who Would Jesus Waterboard?"

"Post-partum Nurse for Peace"

In the park. People were dancing and jumping to drummers, center.

Anti-War Demonstration, March 15, 2008, III

Calling for war-crime trials at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. There were a lot of dogs present. One woman told me her dog was a member of Poodles for Peace. (Why didn't I take their photo?)

On the bridge, above the speakers.

Sami Rasouli speaking. This lovely Iraqi man lived in Minneapolis for 25 years and ran Sinbad restaurant in my neighborhood. He returned home to Najaf after the fall of Saddam to try to work for peace and to rebuild his country. He brought fliers asking local people to contact their City Council members, asking them to work one-on-one with local people in Najaf.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, when crowds cheered Jesus as he entered Jerusalem for Passover. These church people were passing out palm fronds. This ties in with my idea that church people don't expect quick results--and tend not to be surprised when people cheer one day and jeer the next. That's the Basilica's dome in the background. (If I have a church, that's the one.)

Many peace-and-justice types favor clothing in purples and blue-greens. These good people are squishing the air out of the inflatable Earth ball, so they can take it back home. Until next time.

Friday, March 14, 2008

5YTM March: Saturday, 3/15

Photo (left) of demonstrators in Paris, 1-13-07, from AAW (Americans Against the War), France. The sign is a pun: bouche ["boosh"] is French for "mouth":
"Shut Guantanamo! Shut your mouth/Bush!"

March 19, 2008, is the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. "Five Years Too Many" demonstrations are planned around the country--and around the world.

This Saturday, the 15th, in Minneapolis: gather in the Uptown at Hennepin Ave. and Lagoon (by the public library) at 1 p.m. March to Loring Park at 1:30.

[If you happen to be in London, gather at Trafalgar Square at noon on Saturday.
Paris? Join a candlelight march:
le mercredi 19 mars 2008 de 18h à 20h à La Fontaine St. Michel Metro/RER : St. Michel.]

It probably won't make a bit of difference, but you never know.
As my father always says, "If you don't ask, the answer is no."

When the war first started, Jenise and I went around our neighborhood getting signatures on a petition asking the City Council to pass a resolution saying our city didn't support the war.
One cool, bitter young man came to the door and kind of sneered at our naivete.
"What's the point?" he asked.
I told him the point was that if the world blew up anyway, he would have the final satisfaction of knowing that he, at least, had spoken against it.
He signed.

Along those lines, I was inspired by Mark Simpson's lastest post, "Larry Craig Found Not Guilty!", commenting on the 3/8 Pioneer Press news story that "a jury Friday acquitted a Minneapolis man arrested in the same airport bathroom sex-sting operation that snared U.S. Sen. Larry Craig." The man was one of only two out of forty-one men who contested the sting.
Simpson points out that entrapments like Craig's count on the victims "not daring to contest and go to trial."

As John Adams says, Let us dare...

Live Stream for Winter Soldier: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations

Check out the live stream of the Winter Soldier hearings, today until 9 pm EDT and Saturday (3/15) from 9 am - 9 pm EDT. Click here (, Iraq Vets Against the War). And/or, Democracy Now on the Iraq/Afghanistan Winter Soldier Hearings.

W. buys a kid a laptop.

I first read about the one laptop per child project ( in the Economist, and then saw a guy in the library demonstrating one of the sturdy little laptops (right) designed for kids in poor countries.

I decided that when I get my "recession rebate" or whatever this tax-return money George W. & Co. are sending Americans is called, I'm going to buy a kid a laptop. They cost $200.
Like Marjane Satrapi (author of Persepolis), I may not believe in much, but I believe in education.

From the OLPC site:
“This is not just a matter of giving a laptop to each child, as if bestowing on them some magical charm. The magic lies within—within each child, within each scientist-, scholar-, or just-plain-citizen-in-the-making. This initiative is meant to bring it forth into the light of day.”—Kofi Annan (who went to college here in the Twin Cities)

“I want to thank you people because you had given us the laptop and I love it so much. It's very good. Because you can see lots of things.” --a real kid

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sweet and Bitter

This is what I had for lunch: onion, green apple, and cabbage sauteed in olive oil, with coriander, turmeric, black pepper, and salt. On the back burner, a chopped-up Yukon gold potato is boiling, to be added at the end. I also had some dal, leftover from some my neighbors gave me.

Turmeric--the spice that gives curry its distinctive yellow color--is one of my favorite spices. It is almost unbearably bitter--you have to balance it with sweet spices, such as coriander and cinnamon. It helps to add some fruit, too, such as apples or raisins, when you cook with it. A little bitterness goes a long way: use sparingly!

Blue-Sky Holiday

I'm working at home, for once, where I don't have Internet, because it distracts me too much. When I took a break for lunch, I laughed to see what a jumble my table is. You can click on the photo to see better what all's in there.

I only turned on my laptop this morning in order to listen to Daniel Powter's "Bad Day" while I worked, over and over again. Now I am taking a break and sitting on my outdoor landing, where I can pick up (steal? is it stealing?) a neighbor's wifi, with the song still playing.
It's definitely a "blue-sky holiday" kind of day that Powter sings about. It's sunny and about 50 degrees. (Last week we had below zero windchills.) I have on a heavy sweater, but in the sun, I'm only a little chilly.

But, then, my entire life has been a blue-sky holiday in recent months, as I finally shake off the last of the zombiedom that came upon me after my mother's suicide (Dec. 2002).
This extrememly upbeat pop song sums up many of those "bad" days--years, even.
Here are some of the lyrics (not necessarily in order):

You had a bad day,
You're taking one down;
You sing a sad song just to turn it around,
You stand in the line just to hit a new low,
You're faking a smile with your coffee to go...

Sometimes the system goes on the blink,
and the whole thing turns out wrong.
You need a blue-sky holiday...

Sometimes pop songs get it just right. My temperament is so naturally cheerful that many people have told me I seemed "fine" over the past five years. I was fine enough; but quite a lot of the time, I was on automatic pilot.

OK, back to work.