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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Ulysses for Dummies

Via Life in the Present:

Ulysses for Dummies
(I thought it was gonna be the one in the toga
but it's the other one).

For the impatient I have previously recommended:

And, synchronously, today Sigmund, Carl and Alfred have recommended (for those who do not have the patience for traditional psychotherapy):
Shrink in a box.

Got any more?

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My Pet Blog

So now you know how it was with my cats. Gerbil stories will wait for another day.

After Alex died I sometimes looked at the cement step he was buried under and contemplated my status as an incipient empty nester - if the creek don't rise, my son will go to college this fall and I'll be here alone. I thought, I could get another animal, but what if I were to start talking to a pet?

Since I already talk to myself sometimes, even in the grocery store, this seemed ikkily plausible.

I had promised my kids I would try not to become more eccentric than I am already. Therefore, instead of becoming a pet nut, I decided to get a blog.

Pratie Place is my pet blog. I feed it every day. I'm glad to see it in the morning and I prepare its breakfast every night.

Guess you could say I talk to my blog, but the nice thing is, unlike dogs and cats, my blog talks back, with the voices of real and interesting people who come to visit.

For a while, "traffic" and "links" were worrying me, but I've fixed this the same way I deal with too much world news: I don't look. I also went cold-turkey on BlogExplosion so I'd know any visitors were coming of their own free will.

Here is an earlier-millennium thought: Are we bloggers re-creating the Victorian custom of visiting? They got in their carriages (browsers), drove through the streets and stopped by the houses (blogs) of people who had stopped by their houses. They left their cards (comments) before they drove on. Later, presumably, the visitees would become the visitors.

For a long time I thought it might be fun to "write" but never felt I had anything of interest to say. Hence my Sonnet Service: a means to get paid for writing poetry without having to slog about with self-expression. It was expression-for-others, perfect for a lurker.

Then a few years ago I took a writing class from a depressed writer who had had a book published to tepid acclaim. She was bitter about the publishing world and the aggressive antics of her competitors, all jockeying for position, and thus convinced me - to give it up.

Wow, a class that persuades people to stop doing what they took the class to start doing! (For singing teachers who teach their students to hate singing, and cooking schools which teach their students to make inedible food, see Evil Institutes).

Discovering the blogging community provided an unexpected second chance. I'm glad you're here! Trying to think of something interesting every day is good for my brain and I hope I can stick with it. So far I haven't missed a day.

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Friday, April 29, 2005

Why I don't have a pet any more, part three

I'd had a roving bassplayer boyfriend for several years and in hopes of keeping him with me had built him a studio across the driveway. About a month before he moved in he said: "I do want a cat, but I won't look for one. The right cat will find me."

A week or two later we started seeing an extremely bony young white-and-orange cat roaming the neighborhood on long skinny legs. He thought he lived in the yellow house - we saw him taking small wriggly mouthfuls up that lawn - but we knew, though he didn't seem to, that the people who lived there had moved and the house was empty. Maybe they abandoned him intentionally, or maybe when the moving van came he was nowhere to be found.

A few days later this cat started hanging around my place. He ran after Digit (she of the matted grey fur and dull eyes) again and again, trying to chase her off. She outweighed him by a factor of three, but he outsmarted her by a great deal more.

He was cute, and crafty. He sat outside our glass doors grooming himself, showing off his fine feline features. I said I wouldn't feed him, but he was so skinny I couldn't resist. He soon was glossy. He had handsome orange eyes. He got my jokes.

Then I insisted I would never feed him in the house. But then, somehow, he was inside, chasing Digit from her chair and foodbowl.

The dilemma: he suddenly became old enough to spray, and he methodically sprayed everything in our vicinity. Every doorway, the trash cans, the mail box, every car that parked near the house. Over and over again. Everything stank. The only ways we could think of to stop this were (a) to kill him; or (b) to neuter him.

So it seemed this would be the bassplayer's cat, because once you've neutered a cat you're stuck with him. Surely, somehow, this had been the young cat's intention all along. The bassplayer named him Alex.

Right after Alex moved in he went to visit our next door neighbor and ate her kitten's food. He scratched that lady when she tried to stop him. So she sicced Animal Control on us. Animal Control wanted to take Alex off to quarantine (in case he had rabies) but I persuaded them our newly acquired half-feral cat would never be civilized if he spent ten days in a cage.

They let me keep him on house arrest, during which time he bounced off the walls at breakneck speed for hours every day.

Alex was the perfect cat. Not that he was perfect, but that he was, perfectly, all the things a cat should be. He played uproarious games of soccer up and down the hall. He was very smart and very selfish. He was sly. He magically transformed little birds into little piles of feathers.

He would often hide behind a tree when Melina was coming down the driveway. Then, dashing out from his hiding place, swatting her and making her scream, he would lope off in triumph, tail raised high like a monkey's.

He was an alpha male, even after his neutering, afraid of nothing. I even saw him leap up onto a deer and sink his claws into its haunches. What did he think, he was going to take it down?

He got in bad fights and, as he did not always win (some of these fights were with dogs, raccoons, and snakes), he was no stranger to the vet.

Unsurprisingly, when the bassplayer moved out after a few short months, I was stuck with the cat.

Supreme exasperation: I had just spent ten hours in the hospital with my son, who was recuperating (we hoped) from brain surgery. I drove home, weary to death, and found Alex lying in the driveway with a suppurating abscess from one of his fights.

I decided that letting him die while my son was in the hospital was not an option. What would Zed think when he got home? So after ten hours in the pediatric intensive care unit I had to bundle the damn cat into a box and take him to the vet!!

I sat in the vet's waiting room sobbing with fear and grief for my son and fury at this cat. Realizing the other people probably thought I was crying for poor little Fluffy made me even madder.

Alex cost me hundreds of dollars that time and it was the first time (but not the last) he would wear the little Elizabethan collar around his neck to keep him from biting at his wounds. He did not accept this indignity with grace.

He was finally, fatally, laid low by a urinary blockage, probably brought on by bad cat food. I paid $400 for a speculative and ultimately unsuccessful fix. The surgeon then said he could probably (but not surely) solve the problem with another ($800) operation.

I was in torment over this decision, and when I finally decided not to do the surgery, but to have Alex put to sleep instead, my misery made me decide, no more pets.

The problem is, they've figured out how to do just about everything for animals that they can do for people. You can get any kind of surgery (even plastic surgery), chemotherapy, anything. But a fundamental precept comes into play here: "Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should."

How much surgery is appropriate for an animal?

It seems I've internalized, to some extent, my father's pragmatic farmer's view of animals. His people would be utterly amused and astonished, as I am, to see
  • My friend Sharon feeding one of her dogs FOURTEEN pills every day and keeping a standing account with a doggie acupuncturist who makes house calls;

  • the pet psychologist who is making an excellent living ministering to pets and pet owners suffering from disfunctional relationships;

  • The $28,000 elevator pictured in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, installed in a home because a 13 year old dog was having trouble getting up the stairs;

  • People who leave their fortunes to their parakeets;

  • Surgery for fish. (Here's information about goldfish surgery at our own North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in Raleigh.)
I have to admit, I loved Alex. I still miss him. His insouciance gave great pleasure. But after he died, I was able to put up birdfeeders without feeling like his pimp.

I buried him under a decorative cement step where he used to lie in wait for his prey. He can watch his feathered friends till the trumpet sounds.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Big Biscuit and Baked Alaska

You know I like big foods; I blogged the Mammoth Cheese made for the 1893 World Expo (follow that link to see the last remaining piece of the Mammoth Cheese, on exhibit in Lanark, Canada). Then Melina turned me on to the Mammoth Cheese given to Thomas Jefferson in 1802 and the other large foods in the news at that time.

Readers have recently sent me two other links, proving that making big foods to prove a point (or not) continues into our very era:
  • Queensland chef bakes world's largest biscuit (April 2005).

    A Queensland chef has broken the record for baking the world's largest biscuit.

    The Anzac biscuit is 30 metres in length - beating the world biscuit record by more than five metres.

    The Anzac biscuit has a story. Read the story here and if you want to make some smaller ones for your very own self (when Passover is over of course) the recipe is here.

    ... a team of cooks used a 90 litre mixing bowl ... They finished baking it 21 hours later...

    The biscuit is expected to feed around 6,000 people ... It will be sold off for gold coin donations over the Anzac weekend.

  • Oil-drilling protesters bring dessert (April 22, 2005)

    About 100 people rally Friday on Capitol Hill with a 900-pound baked Alaska to protest possible oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    "This is not going to last very long, just like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, if you drill up there."

    A dozen people walked the baked Alaska, weighing about 900 pounds, from a freezer truck and placed it on display. They carried the massive dessert on two large sheets of plywood and a set of 2-by-4 lumber.

    Pointing to the Capitol dome, John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA, said, "Our congressmen, who take an oath to serve the people up in that House, are serving the oil companies. They're not serving us. And we're going to serve them baked Alaska."

    "Don't bake Alaska" with oil drilling, said Yola Carlough, director of social mission at Ben & Jerry's.

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Why I don't have a pet any more, part two.

Digit. My daughter and her dad were taking joint Hebrew lessons. One day their teacher said she was making aliyah to Israel and would not be able to take her cat with her, so would we keep it? Emigrating to Israel sounded so noble. Melina's dad said yes.

As it turned out, the Hebrew teacher did not go to Israel, she just went to Maryland. But she didn't want the cat back. Maybe she just went to get away from her cat.

Digit was the stupidest cat I have ever known. Sweet and dull, she landed with a grunt when she left her chair (actually my chair, the cushion all covered with her awful matted grey hairs) to walk to her food bowl. Then she reversed the process. This is all she did, ever.

When she got her paw stuck in something (like the door weatherstripping), she couldn't ever figure out how to extricate it and would just stand there waiting pitifully for somebody to save her.
She was like those koala bears - so stupid they eat their way out to the tips of the eucalyptus branches and then can't figure out how to get back, so the park rangers have to go around plucking them off empty branches and putting them on branches that still have leaves. What? Are you telling me my aunt made up that story?
Let's talk about Digit's awful, long grey fur, which she shed constantly. This was her only hobby. Her fuzz rose in the air in huge fluffy tumbleweeds. It matted on every surface and found its way into every nostril. It was extruded from her body in massive quantities and detached itself and drifted off her onto the floor, 24 hours a day. It was up on the ceiling in clumps and singlets. It was circling the hot air vents.

We combed her frequently; the fuzz carded out of her pelt was so copious it appeared to be a raw material which should be utilized. We tried spinning yarn out of it, we tried making felt out of it, but everything we made was the color of a rat, and un-useful.

Slack off the cat-grooming for a couple days and Digit had intractable tangles. The tangles under her tail were brown, odorous, and hardened as she did not comprehend cat hygeine. Also, as mentioned before, she was intractably incontinent.

Digit wandered off into the woods one day and never came back. My son mourned her, as she was very sweet. She never asked for much, just my chair and a foodbowl.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

New Blog Carnival and Tarheel Tavern hosting

Well, due to a careless oversight I am hosting both the New Blog Carnival and the Tar Heel Tavern this week. Oops. Will it teach me? I don't think so.

TarHeel Tavern: submissions (by those who blog in, or about, North Carolina, but not neither) are due by 5 pm on Saturday, April 30. I will post the submissions on Sunday May 1. More info.

New Blog Carnival: submissions (from blogs less than three months old) are due here by 5 pm on Sunday, May 1. I will post the submissions on Monday, May 2. More info.

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That Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor

From the excellent Scribbling Woman comes this petition, - see the whole thing here, it's worth it! Here are a few scraps:

to their SEX from the Excessive
Use of that Drying, Enfeebling

London, Printed 1674.

... to our unspeakable Grief, we find of late a very sensible Decay of that true Old English Vigour; our Gallants being every way so Frenchified, that they are become meer Cock-sparrows ... Never did Men wear greater Breeches, or carry less in them of any Mettle whatsoever.

... and we have read, how a Prince of Spain was forced to make a Law, that Men should not Repeat the Grand Kindness to their Wives, above NINE times in a night: But Alas! Alas! Those forwards Days are gone, The dull Lubbers want a Spur now, rather than a Bridle: being so far from doing any works of Supererregation that we find them not capable of performing those Devoirs which their Duty, and our Expectations Exact.

The Occasion of which Insufferable Disaster, after a serious Enquiry, and Discussion of the Point by the Learned of the Faculty, we can Attribute to nothing more than the Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE, which Riffling Nature of her Choicest Treasures, and Drying up the Radical Moisture, has so Eunucht our Husbands, and Crippled our more kind Gallants, that they are become as Impotent, as Age, and as unfruitful as those Desarts whence that unhappy Berry is said to be brought.

For the continual sipping of this pittiful drink is enough to bewitch Men of two and twenty, and tie up the Codpice-point without a Charm. It renders them that use it as Lean as Famine, as Rivvel'd as Envy, or an old meager Hagg over-ridden by an Incubus.
I began to suspect this polemic was a piece of propaganda issued by a tavern owner fearful of losing his business to the Starbucks of his day:
Certainly our Coutrymens pallates are become as Fanatical as their Brains; how else is't possible they should Apostatize from the good old primitive way of Ale-drinking, to run a whoreing after such variety of distructive Foraign Liquors, to trifle away their time, scald their Chops, and spend their Money, all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking, nauseous Puddle-water
But then, the author lets loose with this:
The Coffee-house being in truth, only a Pimp to the Tavern, a relishing soop preparative to a fresh debauch: For when people have swill'd themselves with a morning draught ... after an hours impertinent Chat, begin to consider a Bottle of Claret would do excellent well before Dinner; wherupon to the Bush they all march together, till every one of them is as Drunk as a Drum, and then back again to the Coffe-house to drink themselves sober ... so that they must away to the next Red Lattice to quench them with a dozen or two of Ale; which at last growing nauseous, one of them begins to extol the blood of the Grape ... Saist thou so? cries another, Let's then go and replenish there, with our Earthen Vessels; So once more they troop to the Sack-shop till they are drunker than before; and then by a retrograde motion, stagger back to Soberize themselves with Coffee; Thus like Tennis Balls between two Rackets, the Fopps our Husbands are bandied to and fro all day between the Coffee-house and Tavern...

The floor is open for discussion.

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Carnival of Education #12 is up at The Education Wonks!

Why I don't have a pet any more, part one

Crabby. It had been in our pre-nup that I could have a cat, so I got one when we moved to Durham in 1981. My ex didn't want her, so he named her Crabby.

When she was young, she would fetch and retrieve an aluminum-foil ball over and over, as devotedly as a golden retriever. If you stopped playing, she would bat it coyly with her paw, to make it move just a little bit. Then she'd pick it up again and drop it on your foot.

My ex blamed all delays in finishing his thesis upon this retrieving cat and her appealing silver ball. "How could I write? Crabby was making me play."
Yidl was in our lives only long enough to warrant a parenthesis.

In a misguided moment of vindictiveness, after my ex bought a brand new Chevy Suburban without consulting me, in a fury, I went to the pound and got a second cat.

Yidl was cute, but after she suffered through a terrible fever she had some sort of mental break and never again wanted to be touched. My little daughter would sit with the cat in a shallow box on her lap looking at Yidl sadly while Yidl looked elsewhere. No petting allowed.

After Yidl started scratching Melina and peeing in the laundry baskets, I had to take her back to the pound. That was creepy.
After my ex- and I split up and I moved into this house, Crabby liked to sit on a high ledge overlooking the stairs. As she aged her balance deteriorated and she would fall like a stone from this high ledge to the stairs far below. Over and over. It seemed she'd break her back, but no, she just went back up there and fell again and again.

She became incontinent, which was doubly dreadful because our other cat Digit immediately took up the habit in sympathy. In the winter I hated to put them outside to prevent daily peeing and pooping on the carpets, but there are very few doors in my house, so the only place to confine them with the litter box was the very small downstairs bathroom. Which students and visitors use.

Crabby eventually just - stopped eating. When I picked up her ancient, gnarly, arthritic old body to take her to the vet, she was so light. She only weighed 3-1/2 pounds when she was put to sleep. The kids were there and my ex came too. We all cried.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

It's a little late for that now

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Lorax Hall of Shame Award: Apollonia gets a highway

Apollonia, near the shore of the Adriatic Sea in Albania, was a city-state founded by Greeks in 588 BCE; the city grew to 50,000 residents by the second century BCE and became a free Roman city after it sided with Julius Caesar during the war against Pompey. It was a cultural center of the arts until the 3rd century, when an earthquake rerouted a river and lead to its decline.

Austrians began excavations during W.W.I and the site has been worked sporadically since then, but much remains buried in the hill.

More than 40 years ago, an Albanian farmer's tractor uncovered figurines, dated to the 4th-2nd century BC, outside the walls of Apollonia. Older still are more than 400 chipped stone artifacts, some dating back to the Middle Paleolithic period (200,000 to 35,000 years ago), some made using a technique, called Levallois, generally associated with Neanderthals.

A large cemetery holds 400+ tumuli (burial mounds) and thousands of graves perhaps melding traditional Illyrian and Greek customs. Within the ruins of the ancient city, defensive walls, a theater, an obelisk, and temples have been found, as well as remains of a medieval Byzantine monastery. More recently a huge Greek temple has been unearthed outside the walls of the city-state.

The area is beloved by archeologists because it is undeveloped and hence undisturbed; in addition, the majority of farmers practice traditional forms of agriculture, which preserve topsoil and consequently, few archaeological sites have disappeared due to soil erosion.

Via Cronaca, Apollonia in Peril, from the Times of London, April 25, 2005

A new highway, intended to speed access to Albania's still pristine beaches, threatens to destroy important and unexplored parts of the Classical city of Apollonia, which lies near the country’s Adriatic coastline.

Jack Davis (team leader from the University of Cincinnati) says the highway would cause "irreparable harm" to "the antiquities of the urban center of Apollonia."

"The proposed line, it is fairly certain, passes directly through the waterside limits of the ancient city as well as one of its Roman cemeteries," says Professor Richard Hodges in Current World Archaeology.

Hodges, who has been working at Butrint (Albania’s most famed Classical site and one of its first archaeological parks), is concerned that the proposed road will prevent establishment of a similar park at Apollonia, even as Albania has begun to promote archaeo-tourism as a euro-earner.

The Lorax Hall of Shame Award is given today to the Albanian Ministry of Transport, for its plan to build a highway through the site, reducing its great scientific (and tourist-destination) value, in order to get tourists to nearby beaches more quickly. More and more

Other highway projects which have earned the Lorax Hall of Shame award can be seen in the right sidebar.

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Monday, April 25, 2005

Sharpen your axe, already!

If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.
~Abraham Lincoln

This gem from Jeannette, who also reminds us that Goethe said we ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.

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Our home-made matzoh

If you get tired of perfect square regulation matzot with holes in perfect parallel lines, you can make your own. It won't be so perfect but it will taste better. Of course, it's Reform Jew matzoh cause we have only one kitchen and we just use regular flour.

You can only spend 18 minutes on this so the trick is, make only a little bit at a time. The good news is, it's very easy. I make it a few times a day. It actually only takes about 10-12 minutes total. I just made it for Zed's breakfast, and it's done already.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

3/4 cup of flour
1/4 cup water (actually a little more)
salt to taste

Mix. Roll out very thin. Prick with fork lots of times. Bake on a nonstick cookie tin for two or three minutes. Eat with charoset (see yesterday's recipe).

Don't forget to turn the oven off.

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Best of Me Symphony #74 is up at The Owner's Manual.

The Last Ziegfeld Girl

Doris Eaton Travis, part of a show business family, began performing with her brothers and sisters at the age of 5.

In 1918 her sister Pearl was auditioning for the Ziegfeld Follies and Doris came to watch. "Can she dance?" Pearl was asked. '"Yes," my sister said, and that's how I got in the Follies.' Doris was 14 and had to lie about her age to get the job.

A hoofer (chorus dancer) at first, she was promoted to "special girl" and was onstage with Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor, W.C. Fields, Al Jolson, and Fannie Brice. In 1929, the song "Singin' in the Rain" was written for her.

During the Depression, Doris taught at Arthur Murray and then bought a franchise, eventually owning a chain of 18 Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Michigan, which she operated for 30 years. One of her pupils became her husband after a ten-year courtship.

She and her husband moved to Norman, Oklahoma in the 1970s and founded the 800-acre Travis Ranch for horse breeding and racing. Since her husband's death in 2000, the ranch has been home to pet horses and old horses put out to pasture. "I call it the Travis Ranch Nursing Home for Horses."

In 2003 she published a book, The Days We Danced, about her life in show business.

Travis enrolled in the University of Oklahoma in 1981 and graduated 11 years later with a Phi Beta Kappa in history, at the age of 88. Late last year she received an honorary doctorate from Oakland University.

Last week Doris, now 101 years old, tap-danced accompanied by a dozen male hoofers on the same stage where she began her career 87 years ago. It was her sixth year as part of "Equity Fights AIDS," an annual Broadway fund-raiser.

Her secret? She doesn't smoke or drink - but she dances. She says dance is the primary thing that keeps her going and she practices every day. "I have my little Victrola there and I play the records and I dance the foxtrot and the waltz and the rumba, swaying by myself." More here and here.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Tar Heel Tavern

This week's Tar Heel Tavern (#9) is being hosted at Lenslinger, a beautifully written blog which is also funny. Go have a look!

I'm hosting next week. If you blog in North Carolina or about North Carolina (but not neither), send me an entry by 5 pm next Saturday, April 30. See The TarHeel Tavern website for more details.

Our charoset recipe

This started in a Sephardic cookbook but has been streamlined over the years to just the stuff we like.

Equal parts dates and walnuts
orange sections (will be fed in one at a time)
dash of salt

Put dates, walnuts, cinnamon, and salt and a couple orange sections in the food processor. If you don't have a food processor, just forget it and eat somebody else's charoset. Turn it on and mush it up till it is like mortar. If it's too dry add more orange. I like a twist of lemon too but Zed says no.

Better the next day. Make a lot.

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Antarctic Update

Cold is no longer the major danger posed by Antarctica. Its waters may, reasonably soon, be found in the streets and living rooms of our coastal friends. Story released April 22: Antarctic glaciers show major melting:
A comprehensive survey of Antarctic glaciers shows the continent is melting more quickly than thought. ... "These glacier retreat patterns combined with dramatic ice shelf break-ups leave us in no doubt that the Antarctic Peninsula ice sheet is extremely sensitive to recent warming," said British glaciologist David Vaugan. ... Glacier retreat is important to the world's environment because it could allow more ice to drain further inland, contributing to a rise in sea levels.

Scott's Fatal Antarctic Expedition

In 2003 PBS aired the haunting Tragedy at the Pole; it featured research by Susan Solomon, whose book The Coldest March: Scott's Fatal Antarctic Expedition re-examines data from the trip. I want to do a Cliff Notes version for you.

The numerous near-fatal disasters on Scott's first trip to Antarctica didn't chasten him as he prepared for the second. 8,000 men volunteered to join him in the wildly popular trek which was supposed to "claim" the South Pole for England. (Here, a recent photo of his camp, which is still standing though in need of repair.)

Over the years, Scott has been portrayed as a bumbling captain whose poor leadership and inadequate preparation doomed his expedition and companions. Though she is sympathetic to his bad luck, Solomon writes: "He certainly made some mistakes." Scott himself wrote "I may as well confess at once that I had no predilection for Polar exploration."

The trip was disastrously delayed. Fearing the ponies would freeze, Scott delayed his start till November. Then, after a gale washed 10 tons of coal overboard and hurt the animals ("the dogs, made fast on deck, were washed to and fro, chained by the neck, and often submerged for a considerable time..."), the ship was frozen in the ice for three weeks during which supplies were consumed and winter was approaching.

Dismal mistakes (in hindsight):
  • An inexperienced agent chose the Manchurian ponies and they were inferior. Scott's only specification had been that they be white! Dogs would have been better but Scott didn't trust them after his earlier voyage (even though their troubles then had been caused by rotten and inadequate food).

  • The horse snowshoes were left behind. "It is pathetic to see the ponies floundering." They were soon useless and all that hadn't died of starvation or misadventure were killed and eaten.

  • The motor sledges were a flop. One sank through the ice to the bottom of the bay on its first day. The other two just stopped working in the cold.

  • They lost all their navigational books and devices one by one. It was hard, even with the equipment, to negotiate the icy, monotonous desert. The sun doesn't rise or set properly or in the proper places. Compasses just want to point downward.

  • A shortage of fuel caused by leaky oil cans could have been avoided had Scott, like Amundsen, reinforced the cans with extra soldering.

  • The reindeer skins for the sleeping bags were chosen carelessly. "The sleeping bags are moulting badly ... and the hairs get into every nook and cranny." This contributed to exhaustion and frostbite.

  • At the last minute Scott decided to take four men with him on the last leg, instead of three. Thereafter it took longer to cook, time that came out of the march or out of their sleep. The tent was too crowded and more breath made more ice. Incredibly, the fifth, whose skis had been left behind, had to slog 400 miles on foot while the others skiied.
I was amazed that after the animals had died or been sent back, Scott and his men continued on foot, hauling their provisions behind them. In contrast, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen began his trip almost two weeks earlier than Scott, from a camp 60 miles closer to the Pole. He traveled light and moved fast with a large dog-team, reaching the Pole on December 14. By March 14, when Scott's team was experiencing temperatures as low as 43 degrees below zero, Amundsen was already safe in Tasmania.

Reasons not to go to the South Pole:

Temperature: "The method used to put on a frozen boot was simply to warm it slowly with one's foot, taking care to balance the unfreezing of the article with avoiding frostbite." It could take hours and Scott described it as "a matter of excruciating agony."

Cherry-Garrard: "First thing on getting out of the sleeping-bags in the morning we stuffed our personal gear into the mouth of the bag before it could freeze: this made a plug which when removed formed a frozen hole for us to push into as a start in the evening." He noted his bag, which weighed 18 lbs dry, had gained 27 pounds of ice by the end of his journey. Solomon: "The explorers often started the morning with frozen feet, man-hauled two hundred pounds on the march for eight to twelve hours, and lay that night in an icy pool."

"The critical reserves of oil were not meant to be used for anything other than cooking. But as conditions grew desperately cold (-50 degrees) the men burned more in order to warm the air inside the frigid canvas tent." The lowest temperature they recorded (noon) was -77.

The decision to walk to the pole, pulling provisions on sledges, seems outrageous at any temperature. In super cold, the movement of the sledge doesn't melt the crystals. Another polar explorer described it this way:
You want to get two six-foot, fat men, put them in a bathtub with no legs and pull them for ... 1600 miles over sand dunes. There's no sliding.
They often made only five miles a day; food and fuel had been calculated for 15 mile days, and stashed at 15 mile intervals.

Frostbite: " an instant of poor judgement he took off his fur mitts so that he could better pull the sledges up the hilly grade onto the Barrier. Although he had thin inner gloves on under the mitts, all ten of his fingers were quickly frostbitten. They were covered in inch-long blisters within a few hours. The pus inside the blisters subsequently froze and his damaged fingers gave ... a great deal of pain ... Eventually he managed to defrost his solidly frozen blisters over the cooking stove during supper ... he felt great relief when the liquid ran out."

Scurvy: everybody feared it but nobody knew its cause. Limes had once prevented scurvy in the Navy but after a switch from fresh limes to lime juice processed in copper vats which leached out the vitamins, sailors died of scurvy again and limes were discredited. Some thought scurvy was caused by tainted tinned foods.

On Scott's expedition, fish and fresh meat (for instance, penguin) were the primary source of vitamin C, but far from the coast they were hard to come by. Scott: "the first sign is an inflamed, swollen condition of the gums ... spots appear on the legs and pain is felt in old wounds and bruises; later the legs and then the arms swell to a great size and become blackened behind the joints." One man lost his fingernails.

Snowblindness. Snow reflects sunlight and burns the cornea. Wilson: "my left eye got so intensely painful and watered so profusely that I could see nothing and could hardly stand the pain. I cocainized it repeatedly." He marched blindfolded, dreaming of England.

Dehydration. They were "losing moisture at a furious rate. Not only were they marching many miles per day dragging a heavy sledge behind them across an intractable surface, they were doing so at high elevation in the middle of the high, cold desert of Antarctica ... strenuous exercise can boost water needs to as much as two quarts per hour." They were surrounded by frozen water, of course, but as one polar explorer wrote: "the result of eating snow is death." They were dependent on their stoves to provide the water and because there was so little fuel, the ration (tea and pemmican stew) was about 2-1/2 quarts a day. Dehydration swells capillaries in brain and lungs and can progress to edema in the brain and related problems of blood clots and strokes - one of the men is now thought to have died this way.

Starvation. When computing calorie requirements Scott had not realized how much food is required by frozen men working so hard; they grew thin and weak, as the animals had before. I was angry with Scott when I read his comment: "My own weight ... fell so far short of the others that I felt I really did not deserve such a large food allowance, though I continued to take my full share."

Solomon: "Reliance on science is behind nearly all of the mistakes Scott made ... [he tended] to choose paths that ought to work, instead of those with large enough margins for error to ensure success under the worst cases rather than the likely ones. ... Scott said, 'we took risks, we know we took them.' I think what people don't realize when they read these tales of high adventure and exploration is that luck is always a key part of it. We tend too often to say that when somebody succeeds it's because of their talent and their brilliance alone, and if somebody fails it must be because they're ... stupid."

The team (here, at the pole) was terribly disappointed to find, when they reached the Pole, that Asmundsen had beaten them.

On the way back, one of the five was lost to mountain sickness. A second was incapacitated by frostbite and chose to die rather than hold back his friends. "It was blowing a blizzard. He said 'I am just going outside and may be some time.' ... we knew it was the act of a brave man ... we all hope to meet the end with a similar spirit, and assuredly the end is not far."

But when Scott himself got severe frostbite a few days later ("amputation is the least I can hope for now"), he did not graciously insist that his companions walk to the life-saving depot a short 11 miles away. Instead, he let them die with him. The three dying men spent their last days lying in their tent while a blizzard raged. In his last journal entry Scott wrote:
For my own sake I do not regret this journey ... We took risks, we knew we took them ... had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman.

The tent was, miraculously, found by a rescue party, even though only a few inches stuck out of the snow. Letters and belongings were retrieved but the three bodies were left there, wrapped in the tent, and a cairn was built over them.

OK, now that I've been through this for you, I have to say that the whole time I was reading this book, I was thinking: "Scott should have won a Darwin Award." And the rest of them. Didn't have the sense they were born with.

Also, did you notice that Amundsen, who managed to get to the Pole first and didn't kill his guys, gets far less press than Scott?

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Saturday, April 23, 2005

You are so beautiful and I am a fool

My son bought me a book of Billy Collins poetry and once in a while reads me some, which I usually love. Here is the first stanza of

by Billy Collins

You are so beautiful and I am a fool
to be in love with you
is a theme that keeps coming up
in songs and poems.
There seems to be no room for variation.
I have never heard anyone sing
I am so beautiful
and you are a fool to be in love with me,
even though this notion has surely
crossed the minds of women and men alike.
You are so beautiful, too bad you are a fool
is another one you don't hear.
Or, you are a fool to consider me beautiful.
That one you will never hear, guaranteed. more

At you'll find more Collins poem and you can sign up for his mailing list.

OK Here's another one...

Another reason why I don't keep a gun in the house

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

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Goldman Environmental Prize winners, 2005, part two

Even if nobody else is interested, I would like to give some attention to people who have risked their lives to save pieces of our planet. So here are the other three winners of the Richard and Rhoda Goldman awards 16 years. More here and here. See the first three 2005 recipients here.


Radiation from Soviet nuclear testing - equal to the explosion of 20,000 Hiroshima bombs - has contaminated crops, land and livestock and caused severe health problems across the Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan currently houses 237 million tons of radioactive waste at more than 500 locations. In 2001, legislation was introduced to allow more nuclear waste to be imported into the area.

When news of the deal was leaked, Kaisha Atakhanova, a biologist specializing in the genetic effects of nuclear radiation, led a campaign to prevent the dumping.

She exposed the votes of the ministers and ultimately got them to declare they would not pursue the importation of nuclear waste. As a result, the nuclear waste legislation was stopped, and public awareness of nuclear contamination issues has been heightened.

Her Karaganda Ecological Center promotes grassroots democracy-building and environmental protection.


The rainforest of the Congo comprises about 50% of Africa's tropical moist forests and one-eighth of the world's tropical rainforest. The Okapi Reserve in the Ituri Forest covers more than three million acres and houses 13 primate species, elephants, and animals found nowhere else on Earth. It also is home to the Mbuti people, known as Pygmies.

In his youth Corneille Ewango helped his uncle, a poacher, by collecting elephant tusks. As he grew older, he embraced ecology and conservation.

Ewango protected the Okapi Faunal Reserve’s botany program through a decade of civil war. He led preservation efforts for the Reserve, its people, and its animals and plants. When most of the senior staff fled, Ewango stayed, aided by 30 junior staff and 1,500 local residents. He cataloged rare species and fought illegal land grabs targeting timber, gold, diamonds, and coltan, a mineral used in cellular phone technology.

Ewango hid the reserve's herbarium, computers, and research within the forest and hid there himself for three months when his life was endangered.

When the war ended in 2002, the reserve was intact. A number of poachers were arrested or exiled, and injunctions against mining within the reserve were created.


In 2000, the Rosia Montana government granted rights to a Canadian-based company - one with no previous mining experience - to build a gold and silver mine on top of the historic town.
Two thousand people would be forced to relocate, 900 homes would be torn down, ten ancient churches would be destroyed.

The company plans to use cyanide compounds to separate gold and silver from rock. Waste rock would form a dam across the Aries River valley, immersing a village. A cyanide storage pond holding tons of heavy metal waste would cover nearly 1,500 acres. The Aries River, the most important water resource for the 100,000 people in the region, would be irrevocably polluted.

Stephanie Roth, a former editor of The Ecologist, joined the anti-mining campaign after being involved in a successful grassroots movement to stop development of a “Dracula Theme Park” in Transylvania, a project that would have destroyed an ancient oak forest reserve next to a medieval citadel.

Despite death threats, she organized the first large-scale protests in Romania since 1989. She mobilized residents and created a coalition to fight the mining proposal.

As a result, the World Bank withdrew support for the mining project in 2002. In 2004 the project was found to be in clear breach of various EU directives, and Parliament "expressed its deep concern that the Rosia Montana mine development poses a serious environmental threat to the whole region"

The mine proposal is still very much alive and currently is undergoing an Environmental Impact Assessment.

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Friday, April 22, 2005

Why offer it for free when others are charging for it?

This irritating story from the Palm Beach Post was found via BoingBoing. I wish I could remember the things it's reminding me of. You know, I know you do: what are those other similarly irritating initiatives I'm trying to think of? Excerpts:

Feds' weather information could go dark
Robert P. King, Palm Beach Post, Thursday, April 21, 2005

Do you want a seven-day weather forecast for your ZIP code? Or hour-by-hour predictions of the temperature, wind speed, humidity and chance of rain? Or weather data beamed to your cellphone?

That information is available for free from the National Weather Service. But under a bill pending in the U.S. Senate, it might all disappear.

The bill ... would prohibit federal meteorologists from competing with companies such as AccuWeather and The Weather Channel, which offer their own forecasts through paid services and free ad-supported Web sites. ... critics say the bill's wording is so vague they can't tell exactly what it would ban.

"I believe I've paid for that data once. ... I don't want to have to pay for it again," said Scott Bradner, a technical consultant at Harvard University. He says that as he reads the bill, a vast amount of federal weather data would be forced offline.

[An opponent to the bill said:] "The weather service proved so instrumental and popular and helpful in the wake of the hurricanes. How can you make an argument that we should pull it off the Net now? ... What are you going to do, charge hurricane victims to go online, or give them a pop-up ad?"

"It is not an easy prospect for a business to attract advertisers, subscribers or investors when the government is providing similar products and services for free," Santorum [the bill's sponsor] said.

"If someone claims that our core mission is just warning the public of hazardous conditions, that's really impossible unless we forecast the weather all the time," [NOAA weather service's director of strategic planning] said. "You don't just plug in your clock when you want to know what time it is."

E-mails "hurt IQ more than pot"

A satisfying if obvious "World News" factoid from

E-mails "hurt IQ more than pot"

LONDON, England -- Workers distracted by phone calls, e-mails and text messages suffer a greater loss of IQ than a person smoking marijuana, a British study shows.

The constant interruptions reduce productivity and leave people feeling tired and lethargic, according to a survey carried out by TNS Research and commissioned by Hewlett Packard.

Spam, Tuna, and the Pope

My son just got spam from a guy named "Cancerous F. Jilin." Mr. Jilin wanted to share his success with women. Zed pointed out that in order for spam to get through Gmail's excellent filters, virtually every word must be spelled incorrectly. Since I, as a representative woman, would not go out with a guy who spells this badly, I say pass on clicking for more information.

Here is the can of tuna fish I opened this morning. Notice that it is less than half full (about 1/4" of loft when the water is squeezed out)? Yet, I suppose that's good in a way, since the mercury in tuna is toxic and therefore the less we eat the better. Why are they still selling it?

Is it just me or does the new pope look like a character out of the Lord of the Rings?

UPDATE! My dear daughter Melina points out that, once again, I am far behind. Here is the proof: Pope Sidious and this one is also excellent. (Mine is just from the cover of "Que Pasa.")

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Goldman Environmental Prize winners 2005, part one

Richard and Rhoda Goldman began issuing the $125,000 awards 16 years ago as a way to honor grass-roots environmental activists. Goldman feels the publicity generated by the awards gives recipients more leverage with government officials. More here and here. Here are the first three of the six recent awards; the other three, tomorrow.


The Olancho region includes mountaintop cloud forests, rare old-growth pine forests and lowland tropical rainforests, ecosystems critical to preventing erosion, protecting the region's water sources and reducing flooding in the region.

Unregulated logging has taken more than half of Olancho's 12 million acres of forest. Erosion is widespread, water levels are low and natural springs have dried up completely. One community dug 120 wells before hitting water.

Powerful landowners, logging companies, drug traffickers and informal crime bosses control the area. Community members opposed to logging have been threatened and murdered.

Father Jose Andres Tamayo Cortez directs the Environmental Movement of Olancho, a coalition of subsistence farmers and community and religious leaders defending the land against uncontrolled commercial logging. He has organized massive protests to pressure the government to curtail illegal logging and mining. He's had a bounty put on his life and been shot at several times.

In 2003, he led a campaign that stopped a major highway intended to increase access to forests for new sawmills. He then led the "March for Life," a 3,000-person, 120-mile, weeklong march to the nation's capital, bringing the environmental debate to the national stage and inspiring other rural communities to organize against illegal logging. One month later, the Honduran president agreed to meet with Tamayo.

In June 2004, more than 5,000 people joined a second "March for Life," drawing attention to alleged corruption in the government's National Forestry Agency. The March led to a government investigation, prompting the resignation of the agency's General Manager.


Once covered with lush tropical forest, Haiti today is massively deforested, with trees covering only two percent of the land. Floods and landslides, exacerbated by this deforestation, wash down Haiti's mountains and destroy everything in their path.

As the soil erodes, once-fertile land becomes barren, leading to food shortages. Desperate to earn a living, rural families cut the few remaining trees for charcoal, immediate needs being paramount.

Agronomist Chavannes Jean-Baptiste Jean-Baptiste founded the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) in 1973; with his help 200,000 subsistence farmers have planted more than 20 million fruit and forest trees to help stabilize denuded soil and provide more food sources.

Jean-Baptiste and his colleagues teach sustainable agriculture and anti-erosion techniques (drip irrigation systems, natural fertilizers and pesticides, erosion-prevention structures) in a land that is literally washing away due to extreme deforestation.

Some say crop yields improved using these methods have decreased Haiti's dependence on imported food, reduced malnutrition rates in children, protected vital water supplies and helped decrease overall poverty levels.

Mr. Jean-Baptiste has survived at least three shooting attempts on his life. Death threats forced him into exile from 1993 to 1994.

Critics say planting trees is pointless given that so many will be cut down for fuel; Chavannes hopes to promote alternative fuel sources, teaching the construction of solar-powered battery chargers and establishing small manufacturing facilities for solar products.


Isidro Baldenegro Lopez is a subsistence farmer and community leader among Mexico’s indigenous Tarahumara people. They live in the Sierra Madre Mountains, one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.

When the Spanish invaded Mexico in search of precious metals, natives hid in remote mountain valleys. Today, loggers and ranchers seeking lumber and land at any cost have forced many to flee. 99 percent of the region's old-growth forests have been logged.

The area is controlled by crime bosses who launder drug money through logging and ranching operations. The government generally ignores the violence. After Baldenegro's father, leader of earlier logging protests, was assassinated in 1986, Baldenegro took up the work of defending old growth forests.

In 1993, Baldenegro developed a non-violent grassroots resistance movement. In 2002, he organized non-violent sit-ins and marches, prompting the government to temporarily suspend logging in the area.

The following year he mobilized a massive human blockade of women whose husbands had been murdered, resulting in a special court order outlawing logging in the area. He was then arrested and jailed. He was released 15 months later.

Baldenegro’s work has led to new logging bans throughout the Sierra Madre region. He established an environmental justice organization, which currently has cases pending in the federal courts.

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Cats, aloof?

From ZeNeece's World...

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Wasps, termites, and turkeys

In 1719 a French scientist, Rene Antoine Ferchault de Reaumur, was taking a walk in the woods. Later he observed: "The American wasps make a very fine paper ... they extract the fiber of common wood and teach us that one can make paper from fibers of plants without using rags or linen."

The 18th century was in fact running out of rags and linen, the only known paper making materials.

Still, it wasn't until 1850 that another scientist acted on Reaumur's observation: a German, Friedrich Keller, did find a way to make paper from wood, though the paper was not very good. In 1852 Hugh Burgess managed to duplicate wasps' digestion of cellulose using chemicals, and a series of improvements through the next twenty years ended in the paper we use today.

Mummy Paper
In 1855, the London Times offered a 1000 pound prize for a new paper-making material. Many ideas were suggested. One of the oddest was Mummy Paper. Egyptomania was on the rise and some theorized that the linen used to wrap mummies could be recycled as paper. There are some unverified accounts that mummy paper was actually made in some places (more).

Now, as Ira Flatow pointed out on Day to Day, a scientist has again turned to the bugs, this time to solve our energy problem.

Nobel laureate Steven Chu feels the seven billion dollars the US has put into ethanol subsidies has been wasted. First, there is the embarrassing arithmetic: creating ethanol uses more (fossil fuel) energy than can be extracted from the finished product. Second, because the process isn’t carbon-neutral, "from the point of view of the environment it would be better if we just burnt oil."

Instead, Chu has been investigating the way termites digest wood into ethanol, a useable fuel. The termites' process does not contribute to global warming because a bacterial parasite in termite guts processes cellulose without releasing extra carbon.

My first vision was of huge vats, teeming with termites snapping like eensy weensy piranhas at branches and rotten logs tossed to them by chortling lab techs. I bet a fair number of other things would get lobbed in there, too. Disappointingly, Chu is instead trying to discover a way to duplicate the process in a lab.

This new flurry of news releases reminded me of my ecstatic reaction to an article in Discover Magazine in 2003 (I think) about a company that was turning turkey guts into diesel fuel. Then I never heard any more about it. Here is a link to the 2003 story in the National Geographic.

So if you're still interested, here is a 2005 follow-up. Excerpts:
Changing World Technologies has developed a working system to convert turkey guts and scraps into fuel oil. But CWT's tribulations show how hard it is for even the most innovative green company to compete in the energy business

The company says its process works on tires, various hazardous wastes, and plastic as well as heavy metals.

The key question is whether the end products are pure enough and cheap enough to compete with other biofuels and petroleum. Until recently it seemed that turkey fuel would score big on both counts.

Expecting U.S. authorities to ban the feeding of animal offal to livestock—a practice linked to mad cow disease—CWT and ConAgra formed a joint venture that built a $30 million plant in Carthage, Mo. The venture assumed that nearby turkey processors would provide lots of free turkey waste.

It turns out that feeding animals to animals remains standard practice ... so instead of being free, turkey leftovers cost $30 to $40 a ton, a hefty expense considering that one ton of turkey yields just two barrels of oil.

And turkey fuel has so far been excluded from biofuel tax breaks. In October, Congress passed a bill that gave biodiesel, which is also derived from biological material, such as soybean oil and animal fat, but has a different chemical composition, a tax incentive that translates into a $1-a-gallon break on production costs.

As a result of those two setbacks, CWT's production costs have doubled ... CWT is staying afloat, thanks to a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. But the company's next operation is likely to be in Europe, where food processors will pay to have CWT dispose of animal offal and where most governments offer tax incentives to biofuel producers.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

South Park Disneyland reflection

Via Scribbling Woman, a site where you can make some of these for your very own self: South Park Studio.

I have chosen to compose a figure based on a remembrance of my mood on a dismal day at Disneyland.

More about gravy

I have a fondness for found art (see 100 things about other people). Here are some of the references to gravy that Google found for me after I wrote that post about having enough ...

"Get outta that bed, and wash yo’ face and hands." Beyond that basic act, everything else is gravy.

I won't be sick! Everything else is gravy.

Says the 29-year-old tattooed Ms. Naked, "When your folks are proud of you for what you did, everything else is gravy!"

After resurrection, everything else is gravy.

Remember, food, warmth and shelter. Everything else is gravy. You do need to keep things in perspective

In short, if it has a good beat and you can dance to it, everything else is gravy.

After you make your nut, everything else is gravy, to the tune of five percent. You don't make your nut, you're gone.

Just being able to get up every day and look at Rob and Justice, that's everything. Everything else is gravy.

I just love the fact that every Tuesday I get a new list of movies to add to my queue. Everything else is gravy.

Excerpts from Monday Moron's piece called Everything Else Is Gravy:

I believe it is time I paid a bit of gratitude and offer an homage to the little things that we often overlook. See if any of these apply to you as well.

Firstly, I am thankful for potentially perilous circumstances which never materialized into horrible tragedy in my life over the years. There are several which come to mind:
  • The time I recklessly microwaved popcorn with the wrong side of the bag facing up (wow, that might have been armageddon).
  • The time I unwittingly slandered Captain Kirk for having unprotected, intergalactic sex as I rode the elevator at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas during a "Star Trek" convention.
  • The time I bought a parachute from a newly-hired salesman who said he was "reasonably certain" that his instructions for triggering the rip cord were accurate.

Secondly, I am thankful for the advances in technology, humanity, industry and nutrition over the years I have graced this earth. There are so many worth mentioning, however, I have comprised an abbreviated list for your consideration:
  • The progression from "Heidi," to "Flashdance," to "Showgirls," to "Paris Hilton Goes to Hollywood."
  • The progression from five, to 10, to 20, to 40 milligrams that Paxil offers its consumers.

Thirdly, I am thankful for the progress my children have made in the area of maturity. Gone are the days in which they were gullible enough to believe there was actually an alligator petting zoo at the local amusement park.

  • My 10-year-old recently told me that I could no longer look at her Britney Spears magazines because Britney Spears sets a bad example for impressionable minds like mine.
  • My nine-year-old recently explained that she was ceasing to read "Harry Potter" books since I had informed her that many Potter fans were reading to the extent that they were getting headaches and stiff necks as a result. I promptly explained to her that 10 pages per day would do no more harm than spending that time dressing the dog in her old over-alls.

My goal (and I think all of ours) is to see that ourselves and our firefighters get home to their loved ones at the end of each and every shift. Everything else is gravy.

The fact is, when two people love each other, that IS a family. Everything else is gravy.

There is still good music to be made with good friends. And when you have that, everything else is gravy.

My basics are BBEdit, an SSH client, a decent browser, a good e-mail client. Everything else is gravy.

The must-sees are Palmyra, Petra and the Dead Sea, everything else is gravy, really.

As long as I am fed, watered, have a place to sleep, something to drive to work, a job, ain’t sick, have my bills paid, and, a little whisky in the cabinet, everything else is gravy…

Again though, my contract only requires the recovery of Rhonda, Quickclaw and the diamond. Everything else is gravy.

Proper compromise on both sides is necessary. Grand standing is cowardice. Everything else is gravy.

The rock-bottom minimum is to say one “prayer,” namely, Ashrei, before the Matbeah shel Tefillah, then pray the entire Matbeah shel Tefillah, then recite one prayer, preferably Aleinu, thereafter. Everything else is gravy.

A universal remote control's primary job is to control all of your gear. Everything else is gravy.

Then, there are the times when a long conversation with a good friend is the most important thing in the world. There are too few moments like that in a lifetime, where you can talk and laugh and be happy for free. I've finally gotten old enough to come to grips with my own mortality, and realize that my time on this earth, despite my youthful wishes, is finite. To waste those moments when they come along would be just plain stupid. You only get so many of them. ... Everything else is gravy.

OSU to beat Mich, everything else is gravy.

But again: Hermione, fist, Draco, boom. Everything else is gravy.

Pieces get knocked off the board; change the rules up and add more. As long as you're still standing then everything else is gravy.

All I ask of a fridge is that it cools my stuff and it does that well. Everything else is gravy.

Happiness is in the friends you have and in doing what you like. Everything else is gravy.

They were coming for the combat, pure and simple, and the combat is where Bloodsport succeeds. Everything else is gravy.

Here's my definition of a successful wedding: at the end of it, the bride and groom are a) married to one another and b) uninjured. Everything else is gravy.

If it behaves itself in javascript and can handle the java plugin everything else is gravy.

When I sit down to mix I don't care how long it took to add all the parts; I turn on the drums and the voice. Then I find out if it needs the bass and go from there. The least amount of things you can do with a song and still get the song across is the secret. Everything else is gravy and - goddamn - I don't like gravy on the steak and the salad. ... if you can get away without it, forget it.

We do the best we can. Everything else is gravy.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Tenemos papa!

Miguel has transcribed a Monty Python Pope routine. Here is just a sample, go see the rest at his site...
Ximinez:NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise... surprise and fear... fear and surprise.... Our two weapons are fear and surprise... and ruthless efficiency.... Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency... and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Our four... no... Amongst our weapons... Amongst our weaponry... are such elements as fear, surprise... I'll come in again.

(Exit and exeunt)
Chapman:I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.


(The cardinals burst in)
Ximinez:NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms - Oh damn! (To Cardinal Biggles) I can't say it - you'll have to say it.
Ximinez:You'll have to say the bit about 'Our chief weapons are...'
Biggles:(rather horrified): I couldn't do that...


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Hello, wonderful people who comment on my blog:

I have never been sure of the protocol. Am I supposed to comment back to you in my own comments? Or should I hunt you down at your own sites and comment back there?

I don't ignore your comments. I dote upon them, I beam with happiness that you take the time. Kenju, Miguel, Mirty, Badaunt, EdWonk, Kimberly, Cheryl, Prochein Amy, Craig, AJ, SigmundCarlandAlfred, Michele, Lynn, Victorio, Terrilynn, Scribblingwoman, Girl on the Escape, Pearl, Natalie, Jude, Coturnix, Square1, Isabella, and of course Anonymous, and everybody else who has stopped by and left a thought:

Thank you.

Thoughts on "enough"

I'm home from New Haven content, replete, thankful, grateful, sentimental, satisfied. The trip was so great that, as I admired the sunrise yesterday en route to Hartford, I was thinking as I often do these days: "I've gotten enough in this life. If I don't get more, it's ok."

Only partially as a joke, I used to determine the point in a vacation or a project when the quantity of fun had justified the expenses, or when there had been enough sunny days at the beach that if it rained the rest of the time, it would be ok. "From this point on, I'm in the black." Isn't this also known as, "everything else is gravy?"

I just googled "everything else is gravy" and this lovely page on kids and money popped up:, from a seminar called "How to Gimme-Proof Your Kids." I'm going back to that site after I post this!

Update: References to other things people find gravy superfluous to can be found here...

That's not to say there won't be things I hanker for, or that I won't still suffer kiasu from time to time. But I'm able to remember, these days, that of the good things people can hope to experience, I've experienced a great many.

I've loved, and been loved, and laughed a lot, I've had miraculous successes. I've gotten grouchy teenagers to sing loud Croatian music with enthusiasm! I've taught life-long non-singers to sing!

I've raised two wonderful children who love music and have my sense of humor and make me choke with laughter. I've seen whales do tricks in the ocean and I've seen a snapping turtle, truly and really as tall as the hem of my shorts, walk majestically across the road while ignoring completely the two church ladies who were whacking at it with rolled up newspapers.

I built a brick patio with my own hands, after getting to show the guy who shoveled sand for me how to use a Spanish/English dictionary. (He then sat on the porch and read it, completely absorbed, through his whole lunch hour.)

I've cried for joy almost as often as I've cried out of sorrow.

When I was little I used to cry at night because I was so afraid of dying. My mom said: "you're upset because you haven't gotten to do enough things yet. When you're old you'll have done a lot of things and it won't seem so terrible." That was one of the smartest things she ever said.

And now, I've outlived her (she died at 50 of booze and cigarettes), and so I was able to go see Melina conduct a huge choir of women singing like lusty angels; smoothly organize our huge sing-and-schmooze weekend; send all those women home, from the youngest to the oldest, happy and thinking deep thoughts! All the while smoothing her boyfriend's ruffled feathers and letting her mom crash on her floor!

The other side of this coin is accepting misfortune. In some ways, it's easier. When a beach sheriff busted me for speeding a few years ago, I thought: since I've been speeding for years, this ticket, amortized, is actually quite reasonable.

And even when eight trees fell on my house in Hurricane Fran and smashed the roof to pieces, I thought: well, this is the first time ANY trees have fallen on my house, so as a lifetime supply, I suppose eight trees is not such an excessive number. (If another hurricane dumps another eight trees on me, that's a different story.)

Current challenges: to enjoy non-repeatable moments without being paralyzed by pre-need nostalgia. To enjoy something without eulogizing it. To welcome people into my life, enjoy them for whatever time there is, and then say goodbye with generosity and without pain, grateful for the happy moments and not being regretful if there aren't more. Down with kiasu.

I'm nowhere near done with this topic...

PS: when I haltingly described this philosophy to a friend a few years ago, she said it was such a bummer and a downer she didn't ever want to hear any such thing ever again. That still surprises me. What do you think?

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Monday, April 18, 2005

People having no fun at Disneyworld

I'm about to leave for the airport to go home after one of the most wonderful visits I've ever had with Melina. But here is a memory of a less pleasant family outing, brought back to me by these pictures...

BoingBoing pointed to a spectacular photo set of people having no fun at Disneyworld. It brought back a nightmarish memory...

My brother lives in Los Angeles and feels obliged to take all visitors to Disney at least once, whether they want to go or not. My ex-, my daughter and I went with him, his treat.

The ride down to Anaheim was hot and trafficky. I felt sort of sick by the time we got to the endless vastness of the parking lot. We trekked across the concrete. Melina was already whining to beat the band before we got to the ticket line.

My brother paid huge amounts of money for us to go in. We stood in long lines. The food was expensive and bad. Melina cried when the furry creatures with huge heads came near, she feared and loathed them.

Even looking at a ride which goes around, even looking in the opposite direction from a ride which goes around, makes me want to vomit. I also detest treacle, which is present in abundance in Disney locations.

So I was already thinking to myself, "I don't care how many hundreds of dollars my brother spent to get us in here, I would pay $200 cash if I could be out of here RIGHT THIS MINUTE." And we were broke in those days, so that was a lot of money.

Then, we all went on a decorous ride in boats which went up into a dark indoor space. And then, with a grinding noise, all the boats stopped.

Disembodied voices said firmly to us, "this is just a minor problem. stay in your little cars" (well, I don't remember the exact words, it was about 19 years ago).

After a minute, and a second repetition of this command, I got up out of the little car with Hannah and we found our way out in the dark. We walked around in the sunshine (oh, and I forgot, it was cold that day and we were all freezing) and then sat on a bench for about half an hour until my brother, who to my astonishment proved to be a law-abiding citizen, re-appeared in his little car. He was cross with me for having disobeyed the voices.

I felt I had learned something important about myself. I hadn't even considered obeying those voices. Scofflaw doesn't begin to describe it.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Watson Salt Works

If you have Quaker ancestors, you can find microfilms of their meetings, from the 17th century on, at Haverford and Swarthmore Colleges. As I mentioned before, the meeting notes are full of entertainingly shrewish complaints about major and minor infractions.

In the run-up to the Revolutionary War it was a particularly heinous crime to sneak off and train with the militia. Many young Quaker men wanted to shoot the British as much as the other boys did. They tried to cover their tracks but the old biddies found out and busted them and then complained about them at the Monthly Meetings and got the infractions written up so I can read them hundreds of years later.

I discovered one of my ancestor's methods of helping out in the History of Bucks County:
"During the Revolution John Watson removed to Shrewsbury, and engaged in the manufacture of salt on the Jersey coast, where Point Pleasant is now located. He sold the product to the continental army, and thus incurred the special enmity of the British, who destroyed his residence and plant, thereby ruining him financially."
Then John got in trouble with the Kingwood Meeting (November 1779):
"The meeting is informed John Watson has remov'd without Certificate and since Marry'd contrary to the rules of our discipline."
The 18-year-old bride, Mary Jackson, member of a different congregation, got in trouble too and had to apologize:
"To the Monthly Meeting of Friends held in Shrewsbury the 3d day 4th month 1780. Dear Friends, I have to Confess I have been married contrary to the good order Established amongst Friends, and without consent or knowledge of my parents, for which offences I am Sorry and desire friends to continue me under their care, hoping for time to come shall give them no more trouble - Mary Watson"
You actually don't have to go to Pennsylvania to read these microfilms; most of them can be rented for $3.50 each at the Family History Centers run by the Mormons all over the country.

If you go to your local Mormon "Family Stake," you will see that in the process of accumulating all this information, the Mormons have converted all the dead people everywhere. Quakers, Baptists, Jews, no matter - they have all been posthumously converted to Mormonism. Strange, but true.

Right now the Jews and the Mormons are having one of their periodic discussions about these involuntary conversions - but they aren't getting anywhere.

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Saturday, April 16, 2005

After the rehearsals

New Haven is great. If I say "it's as beautiful as I always remember" most people who've seen it will be astonished, since it has the reputation of being a scungey place. Truly, though, I love the color and shapes of the stones in the buildings here. I like the way the light hits the sidewalk. It was the first thing I loved about Yale and probably the reason I decided it was the place for me.

It's been fun, the last four years while Melina has been here, having an excuse to revisit old haunts, like Naples (where the tables have an inch of sticky wax on them from generations of pizza and beer) and the gargoyled library.

Hannah lives in Lutheran House, a strange choice for a Jewish girl It's extremely quiet and its other denizens are lugubrious Lutherans. One cooks very odorous fish.

The Slavic Chorus reunion is being the best one ever. We had two long and loud and riotous rehearsals today, to our own great satisfaction. We will raise the roof tomorrow.

Somebody is doing a documentary and got us all in line according to the years we sang. My old singing buddies comprised the "old end," and then the newest one (a freshman who joined only a couple months ago) was all the way around the circle and next to us crones-in-the-making.

Then we could look around the circle and see our lives. Clockwise from that freshman girl were sophomores, juniors, then seniors who are just landing jobs for next year, then the new grads who have "stepped off the edge of the cliff" as the undergrads put it, and farther clockwise they are accumulating careers, husbands, children... that youngest freshman Slav is the daughter of a Slav - her mom was beaming at her across the circle just as I beam at Melina, who as the current conductor is cheerfully and smoothly dealing with everything that comes her way, from previous conductors (who in their day, of course, had the last say about everything) telling her she's doing things wrong, to a woman who bustled up to complain that she's losing her voice from too much singing, to people who have forgotten their embroidered blouses or need childcare or some other reasonable or eccentric thing.

Tomorrow night this will all be over and we will be collecting and throwing away dirty plates and napkins from the reception and picking up all the stuff women have left behind in their panic to catch their planes back to their real worlds. I'll be enjoying that Cinderella moment with Melina and then it's back to my own real world Monday morning.

The Royal Non-Hawaiian Band

Hawaii Says Aloha To Longtime Leader Of Honolulu's Band
Mr. Mahi Was the Last Native In the Musical Troupe
By Kara Scannell, The Wall Street Journal March 10, 2005 (excerpted)

For 169 years, the government here has fielded a band to help keep alive the rich culture embodied in Hawaiian music. And the taxpayer-financed troupe was long dominated by native Hawaiians.

But late last year, Honolulu's new mayor ousted the 34-member municipal band's only remaining full-time ethnic Hawaiian -- the bandmaster, Aaron Mahi. His removal, after he had wielded the baton for 23 years, has turned into a fierce fight in the long-simmering struggle to preserve Hawaii's native Polynesian identity.

Fans of his from Germany, Iowa, Montana and California have weighed in, as has jazz great Dave Brubeck, who called the move drastic and publicly pleaded for an encore for Mr. Mahi.

A city councilwoman introduced a bill to require future bandmasters to be familiar with Hawaiian language and culture.

"Native Hawaiians look to the Royal Hawaiian Band as truly part of their Hawaiian culture -- it's an institution," says Vicky Takamine, a native and Hawaiian dance teacher at the University of Hawaii.

Native Hawaiians have been fighting for their culture since the 1970s in response to an influx of Asian immigrants and U.S. mainlanders. State lawmakers are lobbying for a federal bill to grant native Hawaiians the same protected status as American Indians. Three different groups advocate declaring independence from the U.S.

The band was formed in 1836 by King Kamehameha III, about a decade after he assumed the throne at the age of 11, to entertain visiting European rulers with the sounds of flute, clarinets, drums and brass instruments.

For a time, the band was all Hawaiian, including, at one point, 26 reform-school boys. Yet almost from its inception, it was subject to outside influences. Its second bandmaster was an escaped mainland slave, and only a few of its 18 other leaders have been natives.

In 1872, King Kamehameha V ... asked the Kaiser of Prussia to send a teacher to bring discipline to the group. Henry Berger, a Prussian military-band leader, went on to lead the group for 43 years and now, oddly, is considered the father of Hawaiian music, a hybrid of indigenous native melodies and German marches.

Over time, the band has included fewer and fewer native Hawaiians, but it has long had at least one...

[The band members had a lot of complaints about Mr. Mahi, for instance, he made them perform in the hot sun without hats.] His critics also complained that while the band knew more than 200 songs, he usually had it play the same few.

The band's frustration boiled over late last year. Two band-union stewards asked Honolulu's newly elected mayor, Mufi Hannemann, to oust Mr. Mahi. ... A petition supporting the move was signed by 25 of the band's 34 musicians.

"It's now the Royal non-Hawaiian Band," laments Don McDiarmid Jr., founder of Hula records, a distributor of the band's music ...

Perhaps the problem isn't really Mr. Mahi - it's that there are not enough Hawaiian musicians in the band. It would be interesting to know why.

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