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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Here is a big reservoir just ten minutes from my house. This is regarded as a major "outdoors" site, but it's Mississippi style; there are no walking trails. You can't go swimming. You can boat, or you can sit at a picnic table on a concrete area and have a picnic. This is so Mississippi - nowhere to walk, but a beautiful drive-in picnic site...

And so many colorful costumes...

All these folks came out with banners with the names of their sponsors on them. Major sponsorship - and look at all the cowboy hats.

Here is another rodeo picture - things were very busy around the side of the arena.

This is a not-very-good picture of Miss Mississippi High School rodeo as she galloped around the rink - she was too fast for me!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Rodeo

I did in fact manage to get to the Mississippi high school rodeo
championships last week, and they were really great. When I got there,
the outgoing Rodeo Queen (elected by virtue of her beauty, academic
achievements, and horsemanship) was making her final gallop around the
ring. She was wearing lots of sequins and a big cowboy hat, but her
riding gear was sensible and not skimpy. Her hair was flying. I tried
to take a picture but what with the dark and the galloping, it didn't
turn out too great. Then the new Rodeo Queen took a lap. To "recognize
the culture of the very first Americans" they played a recording of
Amazing Grace sung in some Native American language (they didn't say
which one) and everyone sat there respectfully. Then they played the
anthem and of course we all stood up. The folks wearing cowboy hats
took them off. They talked about how America was great, and high
school rodeo was great.

The first event was bronco-riding, and only three guys competed. The
announcer was very supportive. Some guy got thrown in the first two
seconds, and he said, "now, this just doesn't do justice to this young
man's year, he's had a phenomenal year. This will be his last bronco
in high school - send him out of here with a big round of applause."
And everyone did. The next event was calf lassoing, which was all
girls. (Caring for young animals being a feminine skill?) They'd
launch this little calf out the gate, and it would scamper across the
arena. The girl would gallop along behind it and try to get her lasso
around its neck. This looked sort of awful, particularly when she'd
nab one and her horse would go one way and the calf the other. But the
calves didn't seem to mind very much, or maybe they were just too dumb
to remember from one moment to the other - after they got lassoed,
they'd just stand there calmly or wander across the rink until the
helper-cowboys hustled up to shoo them back into their stalls.

The even more pathetic looking event was the boy version of this. The
boy would lasso the calf at a gallop, hurl himself off his horse, run
up to the calf, shove his knee into it, pull up as many of its legs as
he could manage, which would tip it over onto its side. Then he would
tie all its legs together. The good kids (and remember, these boys are
18 at most) could do this in under ten seconds. This event looked even
more pitiful than the roping - sometimes the overexcited horse would
get antsy during the tying part and start dragging the tied up calf
around the arena. But again, the calves were just too dumb to inspire
much sympathy - they didn't hardly seem to notice what was going on,
and when they were untied, they'd trot right out of the arena. Maybe
they'd been practiced on a lot, and they just thought this was what
life was like. Sometimes you get hog tied and dragged around. But they
always let you up eventually and then you get some food!

Monday, June 27, 2005


Melina's Diary

We're really having a good time here. The intern crew has adopted the
classic feminine Southern greeting, which we use to startle and alarm
each other. We believe it may be a distant descendant of the rebel
yell. To do it right, as soon as you see someone you like, you have to
raise your eyebrows, bug your eyes out, open your mouth as wide as it
goes, and twiddle your fingers in the air while exclaiming shrilly,

"HAAAAAAAAAAAAAH Joel, how are yee-ew?"
"HAAAAAAAAAAAAAH Beth, Ah'm just great!"

Everyone is getting along great, although we had a little dust up last
night downtown, wherein Drunken Intern A slapped Drunken Intern B in
the face (affectionately, he claims), whereupon Drunken Intern B, who
is 6'3," punched Drunken Intern A, somewhat less affectionately, in
the eye. (This left a pink mark just north of his cheekbone but caused
no serious damage). Needless to say, this story got around the office
awfully quickly. Drunken Intern A got a talking-to this morning from
management, and Drunken Intern B is probably going to be getting one
as soon as he gets back into work on Monday. Management is not in
favor of interns punching each other. "I don't know why it has to be
such a big deal," Drunken Intern B told me indignantly the next day.
"I just turn into this big asshole when I'm drunk. Last year I punched
this guy in the eye and he had to get stitches."


P.S. To hear an actual rebel yell, get a load of this guy. 90 years old in the 1930s or something. Sounds like it only got more horrifying with age.


'Jaws on Wings' (Black Flies)

OK, we're finally off on our excursion, at (I hope) 9 am sharp. When I was a kid, my dad always expected NASA-type punctuality in departures while my mother was stomping around dilly-dallying (from his point of view), shouting about all the things she still had to do while he wondered aloud why she hadn't done them sooner. I'm a bit abashed to admit I am his replica in this matter.

The five wren eggs in the nail bucket on the back porch will have to be hatched, fed, and fledged without my supervision, and the tons of blueberries on our bushes will ripen and feed the wildlife without our getting a taste.

I can't wait to see what my daughter, Melina, has in store for you. She's promised to feed my blog faithfully every day.

Here's an article on one of the banes of the north country. I'll be back in late July.

Extracted from article by Rachel Zimmerman, the Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2005

They have been called "winged assassins," "kamikaze wretches" and "jaws on wings." Their bites can cause bloody welts, violent allergies, and fever with swollen lymph nodes, nausea and vomiting.

But in this Vermont village of about 400, black flies are a cause for celebration. Adamant's annual Black Fly Festival, held in early May in anticipation of the bugs' emergence, featured antenna-wearing children, a poet reading his verse about a "Taoist mountain recluse" smashing "the little black fly into the hairs on his dirty brown arm," and a "black-fly pie" baking contest. The winning entry had blood-red strawberry filling, a fly-mimicking sprinkling of chocolate chips, and pink sauce that looked like calamine lotion.

With dreaded regularity in northern New England, late spring brings out the biting black flies. Thirsty for blood to nurture their eggs, they puncture the skin with knife-like teeth, inject a substance that prevents clotting, and suck in so much plasma that they puff up like tiny balloons, their bellies turning red.

Naturalists suspect the black-fly problem is growing because the water is getting cleaner.

James West Davidson and John Rugge, in their 1975 book "The Complete Wilderness Paddler," described the black fly as "obsessive, perverted, suicidal, malicious, bloodlusty and inconsiderate of others." That's the kind of temperament that inspired Cindy Cook, who came up with the idea for the Adamant festival three years ago.

"I wanted to celebrate something so noxious," says Ms. Cook, a professional mediator.

South River, a town in Ontario, kicks off the tourist season each year with its annual Black Fly Hunt. It began this year on May 7, when a black-fly piñata was "beaten to death" by local children, according to Chris Hundley, the mayor.

Roy Warriner last weekend emerged as the 2005 Black Fly Hunt champion, repeating his 2004 victory, by collecting 3,213 flies, almost 500 more than last year. He uses himself as bait to attract his prey, then captures them in a net and collects them in little plastic bags as he works his small farm and sawmill, from dawn to dark. About 10,000 to 30,000 black flies perish each year in the contest.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Cell phone updates

Via Make Magazine, a new favorite blog, I see that now for $399 you can turn your cellphone into a rotary phone. The only problem I see is, it still could easily be lost. Why not just put a cord on it and plug it into the wall - then you'd always know where it is?

In the same vein ... in the old days, don't I recall, people used to wash mud off their cars? Now, according to Living on Earth interview, you can buy spray-on mud for your SUV, if you're embarrassed that you only drive it to the mall. Pure Shropshire mud.
It's flying off the shelves. ... I'm just shipping a load to Japan, we're opening up distributorships in Canada and in the U.S. I'm talking to people in Germany and Holland. The interest is phenomenal. We've had a hundred thousand hits on our web site.

Make also points out this article from Slate Magazine on How To Kill a Dead Zone - My quest for perfect cell-phone reception by Sam Schechner:
My cell phone and my apartment never got along. I missed calls. When calls did come through, it sounded like I was talking to a drowning robot. I wasn't about to pay one of those gigantic contract termination fees, so I did the only logical thing—I got a new apartment.

I found out recently that there's another solution, a reception-boosting device called a cellular repeater. The name explains the simple concept: A large outdoor antenna tunes into the strongest cellular signal available and repeats it on a smaller antenna wired inside. Voila, you've got five bars.

... And what about the health consequences of putting a signal repeater in your bedroom? Several recent studies have shown no link between brain tumors and cell-phone use. But if you're really paranoid, you might be inclined to believe another recent study that found longtime cell-phone users in rural areas were more than three times more likely to get brain tumors than urban cell-phone toters. The researchers hypothesized that this higher cancer rate results from the extra juice that rural cell phones must transmit to reach distant cell towers.

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Vandana Shiva on poverty

Excerpted from an article by Vandana Shiva for ZNet, quoted in its entirety in Bill Totten's Weblog: How to End Poverty.

I think Shiva's ideas are extremely important, but it's also vital to remember that thousands of years of human misery have been caused by the human tendency to overpopulate. The consequence of too many people for any given ecosystem: the stripping of resources and a subsequent profound environmental degradation, and eventually, profound suffering.

It is useful to separate a cultural conception of simple, sustainable living as poverty from the material experience of poverty that is a result of dispossession and deprivation.

Sustenance economies, which satisfy basic needs through self-provisioning, are not poor in the sense of being deprived. Yet the ideology of development declares them so because they do not participate overwhelmingly in the market economy, and do not consume commodities produced for and distributed through the market even though they might be satisfying those needs through self-provisioning mechanisms.

The "poor are not poor because they are lazy or their governments are corrupt". They are poor because their wealth has been appropriated and wealth creating capacity destroyed.

The riches accumulated by Europe were based on riches appropriated from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Without the destruction of India's rich textile industry, without the take over of the spice trade, without the genocide of the native American tribes, without the Africa's slavery, the industrial revolution would not have led to new riches for Europe or the US.

What goes unperceived is the destruction in nature and in people's sustenance economy that growth creates.

Poverty, it is stated, causes environmental destruction. The disease is then offered as a cure: growth will solve the problems of poverty and environmental crisis it has given rise to in the first place.

The second myth that separates affluence from poverty is the assumption that if you produce what you consume, you do not produce.

Modern economies and concepts of development cover only a negligible part of the history of human interaction with nature. For centuries, principles of sustenance have given human societies the material basis of survival by deriving livelihoods directly from nature through self-provisioning mechanisms.

People do not die for lack of incomes. They die for lack of access to resources. ... people are poor if they have to buy their basic needs at high prices. Indian peasants who have been made poor and pushed into debt over the past decade to create markets for costly seeds and agrichemicals through economic globalisation are ending their lives in thousands.

This reminds me how struck I was to discover that at the dawn of genetic engineering, Monsanto was striving to develop, not a plant which had natural resistance to insects and diseases, but a plant which had resistance to PESTICIDES, so the farmer could use more [Monsanto] pesticides without killing the crop.

When seeds are patented and peasants will pay $1 trillion in royalties, they will be $1 trillion poorer. Patents on medicines increase costs of AIDS drugs from $200 to $20,000, and cancer drugs from $2,400 to $36,000 for a year's treatment. When water is privatized, and global corporations make $1 trillion from commodification of water, the poor are poorer by $1 trillion.

The poor are financing the rich. If we are serious about ending poverty, we have to be serious about ending the unjust and violent systems for wealth creation which create poverty by robbing the poor of their resources, livelihoods and incomes.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

We prepare for our trip to New England

Zed and I are soon to embark on our great Northern adventure. I'll be teaching with Larry Gordon and Brendan Taaffe at Village Harmony Travel Camp #2. Zed is getting an immersion indoctrination into (I hope) the joys of singing, after having been turned off vocal music seemingly forever seven years ago, by a choral director trained at an evil institute who forced him and his friends to learn dinky songs and make hand motions at the same time.

There is no entrance audition for the Village Harmony music camps. Larry Gordon and Patty Cuyler, who masterminded this together, figure any kid who thinks it would be fun to spend a week rehearsing seven hours a day, and then spend two weeks on the road doing twelve concerts in twelve days - well, that's their kind of kid.

Larry and Brendan are bringing Sacred Harp (shape note) music, Irish songs via "Voice Squad," Balkan songs and tunes, and the Victoria Missa Toni. I'm bringing Klezmer/Yiddish, Sephardic, and Mariachi!

Zed and I will leave home Monday morning and spend the night in Pennsylvania Dutch country visiting relatives. Tuesday morning we'll pick up another camper outside York Pennsylvania and then drive the rest of the way, to the "Northeast Kingdom" in Vermont, right up next to Quebec.

We'll spend two days with Brendan and Larry, evidently doing a lot of shopping - we'll be cooking together and I'm guessing 24 teenagers consume a lot of food. Then we'll go meet the incoming campers at the Buddhist retreat center (no shoes, no internet, no meat) where we'll spend our first week.

We'll sing and play all day. We'll stay up late singing and dancing. Then we'll spend two weeks in hippy busses, crashing with sympathetic fans along the way.

Does this sound like fun to you? Village Harmony runs music camps for adults, too. Some are in exotic locations like walled cities in France and the Republic of Georgia.

Currently I'm trying to figure out how to pack for this experience. One of Larry and Patty's travelling music hordes stayed with me once and when they left, there were quite a few things left behind. I wondered: if they're leaving things everywhere, what will they have left when they get home?

Scribblingwoman described a similar problem perfectly:
We were only gone two weeks but we stayed in six separate places, and from what I can tell we left at least one item in each of them. My favourite blue jacket, very smart and worker-like, I believe is at Lorna and Steve's, though they are now away so I can't be sure. Our cell phone is, we think, under Lauren's bed. Our blow-up mattress is at Peter's; we left it on purpose, sort of a host's gift, as one of his cats peed on it twice (or each of his cats peed on it once, we're not really sure) but we didn't mean to leave the electric pump as well. One of the JinkerBoy's sandals is somewhere in Ontario or Québec, but we couldn't begin to guess where.

We've been warned to pack light. I'm trying...

Here are some cool things I have procured in preparation for this grueling expedition:
  • Travel towels - they were kind of expensive but they're amazing and pack very small. Aquis microfiber waffle towel is absorbent and light and so is the one by Eagle Creek.

  • I experimented - I put them in the washing machine and then hung them up on the Lewis N. Clark clothesline which I bought at the same time. Miracle! Two wet towels did not make this suction-cup clothesline fall down, and they dried really fast! So I recommend the clothesline too (no clothespins needed, mostly). Except you need glass to hang it up on and I'm not sure glass will always be available...

  • I got a travel iron but I haven't tried it yet. Pulling crinkled skirts out of a duffel bag every night to go onstage? Must have an iron.

  • I got really lovely litte travel speakers - "SI-5 Silver/Graphite Portable Speakers" from Si-Technologies. We picked them up at Circuit City, I think. They're loud, they pack together in a space about the size of a cd case, they run on regular batteries or an adapter, and they work with my MuVo mp3 player so I'll be able to play musical examples for the kids.

I'm glad that during this period of utmost chaos, at least I won't have to worry about my pet blog, which I have fed every day since mid-January. (I have no idea if there will be internet access any time during this expedition - we will be living among the happy Luddites of New England.) As promised, my daughter Melina has been storing up posts and is going to start firing them off every day when I leave. Stay tuned!

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Our concert schedule: July 8-19

If you live in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, or the Acton area in Massachusetts, maybe you'd like to come hear one of our concerts. If so, please come say hi - I have never yet met a "blogging" friend in person!
  1. July 8 - Lancaster, NH
    Congregational Church (603) 788-2201

  2. July 9 - South paris, ME
    Congregational Church (207) 743-2437

  3. July 10 - Farmington, ME
    Nordica Hall (207) 778-4572

  4. July 11 - Camden, ME
    John St. Church (207) 236-0610

  5. July 12 - Dover, NH
    First Parish Church (603) 742-5664

  6. July 13 - Acton, MA, Prospect St
    Congregation Beth Elohim (978) 263-1120

  7. July 14 - Sanbornton, NH
    Congregational Church (603) 286-3520

  8. July 15 - Peacham, VT
    Joint concert with Session III
    Community Church (802) 592-6014

  9. July 16 - Middletown Springs, VT
    Solarfest (802) 235-2050

  10. July 17 - Shrewsbury, VT
    Community Church (802) 492-3655

  11. July 18 - Richmond, VT
    Round Church (802) 434 - 2716

  12. July 19 - East Barnard, VT
    East Barnard Church (802) 763-7058

Friday, June 24, 2005

Thoughts from the Wesleyan campus

Some quotes from Wesleyan professors, via the Daily Jolt:

"I DO know what the f* I'm talking about. I got a PhD."
-- John Finn, GOVT 203 Constitutional Law

"Don't put your hand there, you're not Michael Jackson."
-- Javanese Dance Teacher, while teaching students a new move

"We look back at the Puritans and say, 'How could they eat people?!' Well, they were very hungry."
-- Professor Kirk Davis Swinehart, HIST237: Early America

"'Oh, shit!' She banged the table twice, then again. 'Oh, shit,' she said, and banged it again. 'Shit! Shit!' Bang. Bang."
-- Professor Rose, ENGL206, on how not to write a fictional scene

"I'm sorry, I just spaced out while you were talking."
Professor Moon, GOVT 159: The Moral Basis of Politics, showing his students good listening skills

"I'm not saying this is the most scintillating class ever, but you need to come to class every day so you don't miss important information like where the class is going to be held."
-Sandy Becker, Chemistry 180: Writing About Science

"The Russians have a history of shooting themselves in the foot. If they were a centipede, they would shoot themselves a hundred times. Wow! I just thought of that!"
-Professor Pomper, Russian History 1881-present

"The whole earth is contaminated with life."
Professor Joop Varekamp, Earth and Environmental Sciences

"You know what you call two individuals who partake in sexual intercourse without proper contraceptive protection? PARENTS!"
-- Professor Laurel Appel, Biology

"We all decided the best thing to do with California would be to give it back to Spain."
-- guest lecturer in E&ES 197: Introduction to Environmental Science, discussing the California recall vote

"I don't think you understand. We don't reach utopia. We get old, we get decrepit, and then we die."
-- Professor Ethan Kleinberg, What's Right and What's Left (HIST289), on the future of Western Civilization

"I have a crush on pi."
-Professor Chan, prof of Mathematics

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From "I Used to Believe" ...

Fiona wrote:
I used to believe that getting grey hair was the warning that the lifetime's supply of hair in your head was running out. (A bit like a roll of tape in a cash register turns a different colour to let you know it's nearly all gone).

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

John Wesley Grim

This is a picture of my grandfather posing with some cows in York County, Pennsylvania. He actually wasn't big on cows. He was an inventor and a mechanic who farmed all his life without much pleasure. (Note cow's ear, left foreground.)

Here is my grandfather with his mother, Flaura Belle. You probably think her appearance belies her sweet name. However, her last name - Grim - is an aptronym. She had a hard life as a farmer's wife.

Now the cool thing about the story I'm sharing with you is that it was a collaborative effort between me and a man I met over the internet. We were both researching Flaura Belle's father.

This other researcher had Flaura's grandmother's beautiful baptismal certificate hanging on his wall and guess what, he lives only twenty miles from me! We got together and shared pictures and stories! Isn't the internet amazing?

Anyway, the man we were researching was Flaura Belle's father, this handsome dandy: John Wesley Grim. He was born in 1856 and died in 1930, having lived his whole life within a stone's throw of the Pennsylvania/Maryland border.

Wesley was a black sheep and the subject of many whispered family stories. He was a sometime horsetrader, perhaps not a particularly successful one - there are stories of his getting fleeced and bamboozled. He was, like his grandson, a reluctant farmer, but more often was a trader of miscellaneous goods. In his old age he was an odd-jobs man.

But he is mainly known among us as a man who loved the ladies. He had three wives and, according to older family members, numerous other, uh, sweethearts in addition. This is not common in Pennsylvania Dutch Lutheran farming communities.

Wesley's first wife was Martha V. Hare, and Flaura Belle was their first child. Martha died soon after the birth of her second child, William.

Wesley married again, almost immediately. His second wife, Leonora Hoge, like many stepmothers, did not want the older kids around; at the age of 12 my great-grandmother Flaura was "sent out" to live and work on a neighboring farm and never came home again. Nora had convinced Wesley they were "too poor to keep her" as my aunts put it.

After having four children, Nora died, and Wesley married yet again, at the age of 57, to this beautiful young Maggie V. Miller. Though their marriage certificate calls her white, our relatives insist variously that she was (a) a gypsy who smoked a clay pipe or (b) "colored" or (c) Native American. Make up your own mind.

Wesley outlived his third wife, too. He died at 74, still running a blacksmith shop behind the house he shared with his daughter and her family in Lineboro.

I have one more picture to share with you. This was probably one of John Wesley's, uh, sweethearts.

I've been interested in genealogy since Zed brought home a "family tree" assignment many years ago. My interest increased after I converted to Judaism (I guess I didn't want to "forget my roots" just because I had joined a new tribe) and again when my father died. I have learned so very many interesting things, not just about family but about research, and primary sources, and people; I have traveled to places I never would have seen otherwise and seen fascinating things.

Don't be put off by the petty self-aggrandizing and puffery of many of us amateur genealogists (they drive me absolutely batty but I remind myself that they are harmless). Reseaching your family's past is fun and worth doing.

Talk right away to the oldest relatives you know - while they still have their marbles - and you, too, may find a womanizing horse-trader in your past! You can always hope!

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

De-dusting Mongolia?

Excerpted from an interesting article by Dave Roberts in Grist Magazine on "the biggest ecological project the world has ever seen."

His article in turn is excerpted from New Scientist, a subscription only magazine.

Every spring, winds kick up and start blowing dust off the plains of Inner Mongolia and northwestern China. This is a natural event -- been going on for millions of years -- but overgrazing and deforestation have dramatically increased the amount of dust and the damage it does:

Dust storms cause destruction on the scale of a serious earthquake. They can kill people and livestock, destroy crops, and force whole communities to abandon their homes.

With dust-laden winds blowing at up to 100 kilometres per hour, people in large parts of China stay indoors with the windows firmly shut for weeks on end during spring.

In Korea and Japan, dust blown from China has closed airports, turned the rain brown and choked rivers and lakes with algal blooms. It has even found its way across the Pacific to hang as an orange haze over Colorado. China's dustbowl is becoming a global problem.

In the 70s the Chinese government planted thousands of trees to form a "great green wall" to stop the dust. It didn't really work, and in some cases did more harm than good.

They then tried relocating nomadic families with large herds of grazing goats or covering the ground with straw mats or chemical glues. These didn't really work either.

In 2003, an international plan was devised:

... the project team has identified four target areas in China, four in Mongolia and one straddling the border.

In each, measures will be tailored to the specific type of landscape. Dry grassland areas will be reseeded and fenced off, and fodder plantations will be planted to feed livestock that formerly grazed there.

In more mountainous regions, Chinese pine will be planted, and solar and wind energy will replace wood-burning as a source of energy.

To compensate for lost farmland, new, more environmentally-friendly industries are proposed, including dairy farming, growing ginseng, selling sustainably grown willow cane to the paper industry, and ecotourism. In the cross-border project, a high-tech nursery and training centre will support efforts to reinstate the grasslands, and a sustainable forest irrigated with waste water will provide a model for future shelter-belt efforts.

I'll be looking forward to hearing more about this.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

More from Seneca

From Fascinating History, whose previous post on Seneca I also enjoyed, these words by a Roman philosopher later forced to commit suicide by Nero:
"Why do we complain about nature? She has acted kindly: life is long if you know how to use it. But one man is gripped by insatiable greed, another by a laborious dedication to useless tasks ... Many are occupied by either pursuing other people's money or complaining about their own ... Some have no aims at all for their life's course, but death takes them unawares as they yawn languidly - so much so that I cannot doubt the truth of that oracular remark of the greatest of poets: 'It is a small part of life we really live.'...You are living as if destined to live forever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you
don't notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply.

"...he says, 'When will vacation come?'. Everyone hustles his life
along and is troubled by a longing for the future and weariness of the present."
This reminds me of the poetry of Isaac Watts, which forms the lyrics of so many of the Sacred Harp hymns I love:
Death, like an overflowing stream,
Sweeps us away; our life's a dream,
An empty tale, a morning flower,
Cut down and withered in an hour.
How short and hasty is our life! How vast our souls' affairs!
Yet senseless mortals vainly strive to lavish out their years.
Our days run thoughtlessly along, without a moment's stay;
Just like a story or a song we pass our lives away.
Or finally, from another shape-note hymn, the words of Charles Wesley:
Lo! on a narrow neck of land, ’twixt two unbounded seas I stand
Yet how insensible...

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Monday, June 20, 2005

How to Dance Properly

Just go see it.

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Sunday fun

Yesterday was great. It started wonderfully well with my son Zed practically bouncing out of bed feeling zesty for the first time since his surgery.

He always has trouble deciding what to have for breakfast so, as usual, I had the combined fun and torture of watching him cycle back and forth between refrigerator and pantry, with lengthy meditations in front of the open freezer. He looks over and snaps: "stop WATCHING me!" I pretend to look the other way. He growls when he catches me watching again. I like this game. It's close to one we would play if one of us were in a high chair.

Then I walked Loki, my neighbor's gigantic chocolate lab, and for once he was not recalcitrant. He might even have been enthusiastic.

Then the elliptical trainer, set up in our little studio with a tv and Netflix DVDs to drive away the boredom. Was that a touch of drool on my chin as I gazed upon the perfect beauty of Tom Welling in "Smallville"? More proof I am becoming a lubricious old crone. "Somebody SAAAAVVVVVE me..."

(Part of the fun of watching Smallville is surfing over to later to read the recaps done by Omar G., who detests the show and most everybody in it except the extremely evil and cute Lionel Luthor. Here is Omar's recap for the episode I watched yesterday. Here is my earlier homage to Omar G., from my second week of blogging.)

Next, Zed was willing to sing with me in preparation for our expedition up north to Village Harmony Singing Camp (here's our concert schedule). He even liked it, which made my heart soar like an eagle...

Then Zed went off to his dad's house and I had fun dubbing songs from an old Macedonian LP for one of my students. This album has no title. It has no credits for the singers or musicians or songs. The front cover features photos of hideous cold-war area high-rise Bulgarian hotels arranged like the petals of a daisy; the back has extensive information (in Bulgarian) about the magnificence of industrial Bulgaria, black type on dark red backround.

Then I picked up my mentee and we spent the afternoon in a canoe on University Lake, since she so enjoyed the wafting last weekend.

When she's having a really good time, she asks every two minutes or so: "what time is it?" I used to think she was bored but now I know she is obsessively worrying about the fun minutes running out. So I keep saying, "there's tons more time."

We saw a big blue heron flap out of a shallow hidden place and, because the water is so high this year, we saw a lot of flooded bushes with pink flowers. The lake was peaceful and lovely. The paddling was easy until a wind came up.

The wind grew so strong that a small ten-year-old in the front of a canoe could not help me keep it facing in the right direction. In fact, despite our efforts the boat eventually swung a complete 180 degrees - so the simplest solution seemed to be to reverse directions on our seats and paddle the boat wrong way around for a while.

Along with asking what time it was, she kept asking if it were going to rain. "What do you think?" "Over there (points) it's going to rain; over here (points), sun." "Which are we going to get?" As perplexed as the weatherladies who prognosticate on tv and the economists who advise Alan Greenspan, but without their ability to equivocate, blather, and hedge, she is silent.

The eventual answer: after big wind -- rain.

Luckily, we had anticipated all possibilities. "Well, what if it DOES start to rain?" "Well, once we're wet it won't really matter, right?" "What if there's lightning and we're far from the dock?" "Then we can pull in on shore."

We triumphantly fought our way back to the dock, turned in our paddles, and went off to see the tortilla machine at the Armadillo Grill. I love that machine. We ate and then walked (in just a little rain) down towards Chapel Hill and there I spotted the paint-yer-own ceramic store (Paint the Earth) and it was open, so we went in and she painted a bear. And she finished three minutes before closing time! What luck! They'll fire it this week and we can pick it up next Sunday.

Then to the new satellite store of Mapleview Farms, best ice-cream in the area, for little sundaes. I don't like the day-glo maraschino cherries, so she ate hers and mine too.

On the way back to the car, talking about how nice it had been to spot that ceramics store and just instantly decide to go in, I got to yak a bit about "serendipity." She is patient with me and even a little interested in vocabulary.

It's been so long since I had a kid around who didn't already know what serendipity is! It's been so long since I watched a little head, bent happily over clay and paints, with a sober and absorbed expression, making hearts and shooting stars! I'm so glad I joined the mentor program.

At home, sunburned and a little sore - not because of paddling, but because Loki knocked me down hard that morning when he went from zero to sixty, suddenly, taking off after a cat - I marvelled at all the blessings that can be packed into one day.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Two quotes for the day

One from an ex's blog: "Raising teenagers is like nailing jello to a tree."

From Ed Gardner via Quotes of the Day: "Opera is when a guy gets stabbed in the back and, instead of bleeding, he sings."

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Great shoes in Tokyo

Forty pairs of shoes designed by 18 Israeli artists, industrial designers, and fashion designers. "The visitors are invited to add their shoes to the exhibition." Following which, I guess you get to go out shoe shopping. At Hanan Levin's growabrain is. Why just yesterday, among many other excellent things, Hanan directed us to:

1. Forty pairs of shoes designed by 18 Israeli artists, industrial designers, and fashion designers. At designboom. "The visitors are invited to add their shoes to the exhibition."

Following which, I guess you get to go out shoe shopping.

2. How to tie your tie properly. I'm sending this one to my son Zed post-haste - there's even a movie on tying the "Windsor."

A history of the Spirella Corset in England, with excellent pictures. I remember ladies like this, stiff as blocks of wood. Perhaps it would have been better if they had simply tried to lay off those plates of little cucumber and mayonnaise sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Wafting on the Eno with River Dave

I took my mentee "wafting" last weekend. If you can make it to Durham NC you can go too - look up Riverdave's website. He's been doing these trips, twice a day and once at night, most nice days, for sixteen years. What a career, eh?

First call and make a reservation. Then get yourself to West Point on the Eno, site of the wonderful Festival for the Eno, held over the Fourth of July weekend. It's a huge fundraiser for the park (with the proceeds they have been buying up riverfront acreage, even through the heart of Durham, for many years). I've enjoyed performing there, with various bands and friends, for decades - despite its generally being so hot it could melt the glue out of my fiddle.

River Dave will take all the would-be rafters up to this old barn, where he keeps his life preservers. You will all be stripped of your cellphones, which are blessedly forbidden on this expedition.

Then you'll get a "waft" (not a raft, but an inflated kayak) and a paddle - only one, because he says having two paddles in one waft leads to acrimony - and you'll walk past the mill. Flour is still ground here every week.

As River Dave explained, this section of the Eno is deep enough to waft on only because of the mill, which backs the water up and slows it down. Upstream of the mill, the Eno gets quick and shallow again - which he says is a healthier condition.

We all dragged our wafts above the millrace and put in. It was a perfect day. The water is slow and lazy so one person, with bare feet propped up on the sides of the waft, can propel the thing with no effort at all.

We passed these fisherman dudes on the way. They weren't working up much of a sweat either.

River Dave has a hypnotic way about him. Practically, because there is no serious mileage to this excursion, he wants to stretch it out for us. So there is NO HURRY. This is also in line with his philosophy, espoused frequently and hypnotically, that, in these souped-up times, we all move too fast, to the great detriment of our quality of life. (Those commas were added, as speed bumps, to slow you down.)

He directed us to a couple ironwood trees with their branches hanging low over the water. We all backed in under their generous shade and put languid hands on each others' wafts to link into one big floating marina and we 'rested' there (I was falling asleep, it was so peaceful) while he told us quiet, slow stories about the flora and fauna and river people and about the Eno itself, which once had 30 mills on its 32 miles.

At the farthest point of our journey, where the river began to be quick and full of grasses and rounded stones, we pulled our wafts up and waded upstream to what used to be the next millpond - and swam across to what might have been the old millrace there. This mill is long gone, but the swimming hole remains.

Then he left us to float back to our starting point at our own speed. My mentee enjoyed paddling us in circles which was ok until I got a little queasy. Then she paddled us backwards most of the rest of the way. What an innovator.

What a great trip. (By the way, if you click on these pictures, they open bigger.)

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Friday, June 17, 2005

We Have Our Heads in the Sand

From today:

Growing deserts 'a global problem'

Millions of people could lose their homes and livelihoods as the world's deserts expand because of climate change and unsustainable human activities, an environmental report warned on Friday.

The report, part of a series examining the state of the world's biological resources, was released on the eve of "World Day to Combat Desertifcation," which marks the 11th anniversary of a UN agreement to tackle spreading deserts.

"Desertification has emerged as a global problem affecting everyone," said author Adeel. "There are serious gaps in our understanding of how big deserts are, and how they are growing."

Drylands, which range from "dry sub-humid" to "hyper-arid" regions, make up more than 40 percent of the world's land surface and are home to two billion people. The largest area stretches from Saharan Africa across the Middle East and Central Asia into parts of China.

Most of Australia is also classified as drylands, along with much of the western U.S., parts of southern Africa, and patches of desert in South America.

The report said that that up to 20 percent of those areas had already suffered some loss of plant life or economic use as a consequence of desertification.

It said that global warming was likely to exacerbate the problem, causing more droughts, heat waves and floods.

But human factors have also played their part, with over-grazing, over-farming, misuse of irrigation and the unsustainable demands of a growing population all contributing to environmental degradation.

Adeel warned that some of the world's poorest populations were likely to be among the worst affected, with large swathes of Central Asia and the areas to the north and south of the Sahara in danger of becoming unsuitable for farming.

Desertification has also been linked to health problems caused by dust storms, poverty and a drop in farm production, with infant mortality in drylands double the rate elsewhere in developing nations.

But the problem causes dangerous changes to the environment on a global scale, the report warned, with dust storms in the Gobi and Sahara deserts blamed for respiratory problems in North America and damage to coral reefs in the Caribbean. Scientists estimate that a billion tons of dust from the Sahara are lifted into the atmosphere each year.

While very difficult to reverse, the report said that specific local strategies should be employed to tackle spreading deserts. Alternative livelihoods such as ecotourism and fish farming could provide an alternative to intensive crop farming, while better management of crops and irrigation and the adoption of alternative energy sources such as solar power would all contribute to environmental sustainability.

The first Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report, released in March, warned that approximately 60 percent of the ecosystem supporting life on Earth was being degraded or used unsustainably and that the consequences of degradation could grow significantly worse in the next half century.

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Should you bob your hair?

Michele asks in Is Long Hair Sexy?: "Do you think there really is a certain age when long hair is not appropriate?"

Used to be, every grown woman had long hair.

My Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother wore her gray hair, almost a yard long, in two braids wrapped around her head and fixed with old-fashioned hairpins.

Used to be, it was wild young women who cut their hair, often to the disapproval of their elders.

Blind Alfred Reed wrote and recorded the following song, "Why Do You Bob Your Hair, Girls?", in 1927. It was such a smash hit he followed it up with "Why Do You Bob Your Hair, Girls? No. 2" in 1929.

You can download a midi or print out the sheet music for this song at Digital Tradition.

I would like to point out the imaginative (or, rather, regional) rhyming of "sin" with "men."

As a modern woman, I am surprised by Blind Alfred's contention that God cares about our hairdos. It smacks of micro-management.

Why do you bob your hair, girls?

Why do you bob your hair, girls?
You're doing mighty wrong.
God gave it for a glory
And you should wear it long!
You spoil your lovely hair, girls,
To keep yourself in style;
Before you bob your hair, girls,
Just stop and think a while.

Why do you bob your hair, girls?
It is an awful shame
To rob the head God gave you
And bear the flapper's name.
You're taking off your covering,
It is an awful sin;
Don't never bob your hair, girls,
Short hair belongs to men.

Why do you bob your hair, girls?
It does not look so nice;
It's just to be in fashion,
lt's not the Lord's advice.
And every time you bob it
You're breaking God's command
You cannot bob your hair, girls
And reach the Glory land.

Why do you bob your hair, girls?
It's not the thing to do;
Just wear it, always wear it,
And to your Lord be true.
And when before the judgment
You meet your Lord up there,
He'll say, "Well done! For one thing,
You never bobbed your hair!"

Postscript: when my grandfather died, within weeks my grandmother had cut her hair and gotten a blue rinse and a perm. She then abandoned her cotton dresses and calico aprons and replaced them with polyester pantsuits and then she got in an airplane for the first time and flew to Hawaii for a vacation with her youngest daughter. And then she sold the farm and moved into a little house in a raw new development.

Very un-nostalgically she exulted: "it's so easy to keep clean."

Is this what Blind Alfred was warning against?

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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Bands in matching outfits

There's more where this one came from.

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Yank Tanks

Yesterday Zed and I watched Yank Tanks, a documentary by David Schendel, Blue Collar Films. "We believe in hand-made miracles" proclaims his lovely animated logo.

When Fidel Castro turned to Communism in 1961 and the Cuban embargo began, there were 150,000 American cars on the island. In the 50s Cuba had imported more Cadillacs, Buicks, and DeSotos than any other nation; in 1958 Havana had more Cadillacs per capita than any city in the world.

"Forty years later, most of them are still on the road." To the Cubans, only a car from 1935 or earlier is a "classic." Models from the 50s and 60s - they're just cars.

"They come in here with plants growing in them, but when they leave nobody recognizes them." Make magazine: "The Yank Tank hackers are the curators of the largest, living automobile museum in the world."

The cars are gorgeous, painted in bold primary colors with any paint that comes to hand - "You use whatever. ... You can have green, blue, red, white, any color you want." The cars are air-conditioned with small portable fans mounted near the steering wheels.

The film-makers go in search of the best mechanics in Havana, and find them on every block. "Every Cuban is a mechanic"
  • Eugenio O'Hallorans (the fifth Cuban generation of an Irish family), 77, makes chrome parts by hand, one by one, for any car. He designs them from photographs or partial rusted models, cuts them by hand, forms and bends them in machines he invented and built himself. "I have made everything in my life - when something ends I make something else."

    The client has to gather the metal. All concur: "That's the owner's problem - he has to find it, buy it, bring it here." People with similar cars stop in the middle of the street to discuss their mutual inventories of spare parts. You can get metal on the streets. "Everything is from the streets, they don't sell it in a shop." Any piece of rusted metal, of any size, is a treasure and an immediately useful raw material.

    When there is no metal, work stops till more "pieces" can be found.

  • Arquimides - "now that I'm retired, instead of being lazy at home I repair cars. I don't need a shop - I work at people's homes ... we never give up." He is called an "Iron Doctor" and shows off a pickup truck he carved from a station wagon, with a decorative wrought-iron railing around the top.

  • Billin manufactures a motorcycle for anyone who brings him a bicycle and a chainsaw motor - and who has the money. He also has a car made entirely by hand with a hand-chiseled copper plate to prove it ("hecho en casa"). "The back is a Morris, the body is a Bantan, the console is a piece of wood carved by hand." One day a man "came by pretending to know cars," looked at the label on the front, and said: "Liquid, that's a great car." Billin had taken the label off a blender.

    He describes one of his brainstorms, a car that uses ordinary fuel on the highway and in town switches to electricity (made by a heat-sucking thermocoupler). He figures it would have very good gas mileage.

  • Chino runs a private auto business and the interviewer pretends to be perplexed. "We've understood that in Cuba there are no private companies - aren't you owned by the government?" "No, no, but if someone from the government comes with a car problem, I have to fix it. That's how it is. I don't have problems with the government ... it's worked for me." Government officials, though they don't pay for their jobs, come in with somewhat more raw materials than necessary. The surplus is immediately flipped into other jobs and everybody wins.

  • One mechanic shows how chain link fences are dismantled and used to weld the scrap metal together.

  • Augustin has a glass shop - he makes new windshields from shards of old ones in his handmade molds and melts them in a handmade kiln.

  • In one (entirely hand-designed and hand-built) shop, the most precious possession is an original owner's manual, with measurements of parts and chassis. "I keep this book in the house - it is in perfect condition - I wash my hands before I read it - it is sacred."

  • Ito makes brake pads. "My work is hand-made - it is artisanal." He sifts asbestos, appallingly, with his bare hands, adds phenolic resin and graphite powder, compresses the mixture in a mold, glues it to the brakes, and bakes it in an oven. His mixture fills dents - "the brakes have been used so much they are deformed - this covers irregularities."

  • One car is rigged to run on propane. Another has what appears to be a plastic milk jug as a gas tank. Another, the Chevy Volga, has an ancient Soviet engine melded into it. "We blend parts - if real parts were available, we'd be bored." Of a car with Russian, Chinese, and American parts, Zed marvels: "what a great product of the cold war."
Maintenance of cars this old is a never-ending struggle, and keeping them on the road includes the struggle to pay for fuel - at the time the movie was made, gas was $4 a gallon in Cuba, while average income was $10 per month.

Richard von Busack:
Folk art often emerges straight out of poverty. What makes director David Schendel's documentary Yank Tanks one of the most easily recommended films at the upcoming Cinequest (Feb. 21-March 3) is that it doesn't strictly swoon over the poor life. Schendel observes something beautiful that happens despite poverty, not because of it.

The Cubans in Yank Tanks have taken metal offal and turned it into poetry ... Schendel and his interpreter/interviewer, Javier Bajana, justly celebrate the ingenuity that's kept Yankee cars--1950s bulgemobiles, long extinct in the land of their birth--on the road in Havana.

These cars--sleek Hudsons, imposing Buicks and enormous Ike-era Cadillacs--are memorials to a time when Cuba's rich were importing American luxury cars by the score, right before the fall of the Batista regime. These jalopies, ancient and corroded by the salt air, are renovated and kept alive despite the U.S. trade embargo. They're doctored by shade-tree mechanics whose deftness includes creating spare parts out of jury-rigged kilns and the kind of low-tech equipment you'd find in a rural high school's metal shop.

Illa has had his sumptuous golden 1950 Cadillac for 42 years. "Everyone in Cuba knows me and my car." He knows his car as well as he knows his own nose, he says, and he's taken the chassis out and repaired it himself, twice. He, an old man, has two incredible babes in his car, such is the magnetism of his ride. Or maybe they are his grand-daughters.

It's obvious these cars are ardently adored. "It's better to lend the woman than the car." "This is my other woman." "It is love, it is longing." When the filmmakers ask the question: "would you pick your wife or your car?" a sheepish laugh is the usual answer. "It's a difficult question." "My car! You can find another woman later." "Both have thirty years with me - it is an equally balanced love."

Being a pessimist, I've thought that what Cuba has lived with these many decades may be part of our own futures. The defiant glee Cubans bring to their challenges fills me with hope; I can only pray we aren't too fat and lazy by then to search for the ingenuity within us that sustains the Cubans every day.

"It is a difficult reality, but what happens here is that people always manage to get what they need. ... The Cuban invents a lot. If you don't invent, you don't have anything ... we have been living for 40, 42 years in the "Time of Invention."

"My 1950 refrigerator still works perfectly. For other countries, that's not normal. Forty years of embargo teaches us to make miracles! Here the most stupid mechanic is an engineer. ... We've learned how to do something good. Cuba cannot be sunk."

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Zed's Birthday Carrot Cake

This is a half recipe. It is not low-fat. I make it in a 7" springform pan. Zed said it was perfect.

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 ts cinnamon
1/4 ts cloves
1/4 ts salt
1 cup flour
3/4 ts baking soda
3/4 ts baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 cups grated carrots

Beat sugar and eggs till light-colored. Add oil and beat some more. Add everything else and stir thoroughly. Cook at 350 degrees for at least 45 minutes (this makes a tall cake, in your oven it may take a bit longer). Let it cool and then ice it.

Icing: beat 4 ounces neufchatel (or cream) cheese, 4 tablespoons butter, 1 ts vanilla, 1-3/4 cup of confectioners sugar.

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Zed turns 18

Today is Zed's birthday. Birthdays are special for everybody, but for a kid who's survived brain cancer - it's almost the fifth anniversary of his diagnosis two weeks after his thirteenth birthday - there's even more reason for joyous celebration.

And definitely a prayer giving thanks that we lived to see this day.

I've been asking Zed for weeks what he wanted - a party? What would he like for a present? He wasn't really able to think of anything. One consequence of what he's been through: his appetites are muted. He doesn't have acquisitive glee, he doesn't chow down with the gusto one expects from a teenager. In fact, sometimes he has to be reminded to eat. It's not as extreme as it was a year or two ago, when I worried that he had only one foot in this world. But it still seems unnatural that I can offer him his favorite ice cream and receive a kindly "no thanks."

He did ask me, though, to bake him a birthday carrot cake. I made it last night so it could "mature" and we just had some for breakfast (recipe to follow). That was a lot of candles!

Then, as every year since he was born, and before that with Melina, I put on John McCutcheon's "Birthday Song" from the album Howjadoo. I just discovered you can download it legally for free at ... Go ahead and download it. Now play it, even if it isn't your birthday. It is customary to dance and sing along.

The Best Commencement Address

Excerpts from the wonderful Commencement Address given June 3 at Zed's school by Doug Marlette, the Pulitzer Prize winning father of the comic strip "Kudzu," whose son was also graduating.
Congratulations, class of 2005, the greatest graduating class in the history of the school. If you’ve grown up here in the Triangle this may be the first southern accent you’ve heard, so I will try to speak clearly and distinctly and remove all tobacco products from my mouth.

It is an honor to talk to a graduating class where practically everybody makes straight A’s. Everybody excels. Everybody is sensitive, supportive, diverse and multicultural. I’ve seen your college applications and all of you have a 4. 5 grade-point-average, you’ve worked with the needy and the homeless, with Aids babies in sub-Saharan Africa, you’ve unlocked the secrets of the human genome, and in your spare time you cobble your own shoes. Upon graduation many of you will be canonized. Others will simply be assumed bodily into heaven. I salute you.

... I was a loser in high school. With grades, with girls, with sports. I did not excel. I stayed home and drew. Mad Magazine was my inspiration. I once concocted a parody of the popular Batman TV show called "Ratman," which featured several of my teachers at school. My friends laughed at "Ratman" but one said scornfully, "You spent your weekend doing this?"

Yes, I was a geek, a dweeb, a dork, a tool. I still am, but for a cartoonist that’s a job description.

So though I tip my mortarboard to all you high school winners – the sharp, the slick, the self-possessed, the well-spoken ... – I’m directing these remarks to the potted plants and human wallpaper of the student body as well, the ones who don’t stand out, who feel like extras in a movie about somebody else’s life.

And I’m here to tell all my fellow dweebs and losers that your day will come. High school is not the final word on you. ... There is hope.

A few years ago I was at a dinner in New York with a bunch of people who were getting something called the Golden Plate, an achievement award for doing well in their fields. Some were celebrities -- Barbara Walters, Calvin Klein, Colin Powell -- others were less well-known, but had done things like discover the planet Pluto. Oprah emceed. I was the least famous person there.

The idea was to get a bunch of "achievers" together and bring in four hundred high school National Merit Finalists from around the country for three days of schmoozing with the accomplished. The idea, I suppose, was that achievement was contagious, like pink eye.

... at breakfast I was discussing the event with a Nobel Prize-winning physicist from Stanford who had discovered the sub-atomic particles called quarks. ... The Nobel Laureate asked me, "Would you have been invited to something like this when you were in high school?" I laughed and said, "No, I wasn’t a very good student." He shook his head and said, "I didn’t even finish high school. ... I had to get my high school equivalency later." Then, looking around us, he said, "I wonder how many of the others invited here were National Merit Scholars in high school."

What he was hinting at was the puzzle of human personality, the mystery of success, late-blooming talent and confidence, the ineffable qualities of character, drive and ambition, qualities that are often key components of achievement and are sometimes even galvanized by those early high school humiliations.

In the spirit of keeping things in perspective, remember, it was Harvard grads, the best and the brightest, who got us into Vietnam. It was a Duke Law graduate -- Richard Nixon -- who obstructed justice, ignored subpoenas and was forced to resign the presidency. It was a graduate of Georgetown, Yale, and Oxford, a Rhodes Scholar – Bill Clinton -- who disgraced the office of the presidency, lied under oath, and taught a generation how to parse the meaning of is. Enron execs were, as the book title puts it, The Smartest Guys in the Room.

A recent New Yorker cartoon shows a bum seated on an orange crate with a sign that says, "Blew off my SAT prep class."

Yes, it’s a bottom-line world out there, boys and girls. Everything -- including education -- has been commodified. Consequently, we think everything worth knowing is test-able, quantifiable, and measurable.

You’ve grown up in a time when performance is everything ... Performance Anxiety is marketed to you in discreet and insidious ways. ... Binge drinking, eating disorders and college suicides are all perfection diseases, ways of acting out the impossibility of perfection. Ease up on yourselves. Have some compassion for yourself as well as for others. There’s no such thing as perfection, and life is not a race.

... Read. Reading is active. TV, movies and video are passive. Reading engages your imagination. Video substitutes for your imagination. Reading takes you into life, while television distracts you from life.

Recognize political correctness for what it is: a bureaucratic substitute for thinking. It evolved out of a righteous impulse to rectify historic wrongs -- racism, sexism, various forms of bigotry -- but it has morphed into a Stalinist means of suppressing free speech. ... It is modern-day Phariseeism. Jesus had a colorful phrase for Pharisees, the so-called "experts" of his time: "hypocrites," "brood of vipers." He considered virtue a private matter and said, "take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them . . . do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the streets, that they may have glory of men."

Be suspicious of experts. ... trust your own experience and instincts over the experts. When my high school guidance counselor called me in for my one and only college counseling session – this was before college admission was a growth industry – he asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I told him I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t know what that meant exactly. Art, where I come from, was black velvet Elvises, poker playing dogs, and popsicle stick birdhouses. Culture was something you scraped off the cow’s tongue to check for hoof-and-mouth disease. All I knew was that I wanted to draw pictures for a living. The counselor looked stricken. "Douglas, believe me, when you get to college, artists are a dime a dozen." Then, looking at my grades, he said, "Why don’t you use your math skills and drafting ability and study architecture?"

I realize now that no responsible high school guidance counselor would ever in good conscience tell some kid, "Sure, go ahead, be an artist, move to New York, live in an attic and starve." Fortunately, I knew enough to ignore the experts, but I want you to know that manners do matter. So I did nod politely, and said "Yessir," as I left the guidance counselor’s office.

So whether you wind up blazing your own trail, or stumbling blindly down it as I did, have high standards. Strive for excellence. But don’t condemn yourself when you fall short.

Be competitive, but remember, envy is not competition. The word "competition" derives from the Latin con, which means "with" and petere, which means "to strive." Competition – to strive together. Competitors are in secret alliance, not to do each other in, but to bring out the best in each other.

Above all, remember: You are not your resume. External measures won’t repair you. Money won’t fix you. Applause, celebrity, no number of victories will do it. The only honor that counts is that which you earn and that which you bestow. Honor yourself.

And despite all I’ve said about the authorities, honor your parents. You will eventually realize that there are no grownups. We are all children in various stages of growing up. ... a pretty good definition of maturity is knowing how immature you are. A pretty good definition of sanity is knowing how crazy you are. A pretty good definition of wisdom is knowing how foolish you are.

Have fun, don’t worry, be happy, pick up your towels off the floor, and don’t call directory assistance for numbers you can look up yourself. Congratulations, Class of 2005!

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005


From ZeNeece's World...

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One of the Ten Most Harmful Books

Via the marvellous Isabella at Magnificent Octopus, a link to the commentary on the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries" as chosen by Human Events, The National Conservative Weekly. I don't have a link to the original list. says:
Only one of the books on the list -- Adolph Hitler's Mein Kampf -- has a direct body count attached to it, but even with millions left dead in its wake, the academics who devised the list still deemed it only the second most harmful book of the past 200 years. It was beaten out by Marx and Engels' The Communist Manifesto, which suggests that, given the choice, conservatives would prefer to face the gas chamber than pay workers a fair wage.

The rest of the list can be evenly divided into pinko handbooks (Quotations from Chairman Mao; Das Kapital; General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money), feminist/sex ed. texts (The Kinsey Report, The Feminine Mystique) and books that suggest God may just be an imaginary dude with a big beard (Democracy and Education, The Course of Positive Philosophy, Beyond Good and Evil).
The post has a casual tone which is sort of infectious. But, while in our era Communism may seem broken and anachronistic, it's ignorant or disingenuous to discount the harm caused in earlier times by "pinkos." Authors often do not foresee the uses to which their words will be bent. The Manifesto was brandished by generations of leaders who in its name unleashed a nightmare of vicious murders - even of hundreds of thousands of those workers whose nobility it limned - and widespread starvation and destruction of livelihoods and cultures. Perhaps the person mocking its inclusion is too young to remember. proposed its own alternate set of harmful books including:
The Pet Goat, Siegfried Engelmann and Elaine Bruner: This heartwarming story of a boy and his goat is so insidiously mesmerizing that it kept George W. Bush transfixed for a full seven minutes after learning that the first plane had hit the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
I've been staring out the window trying to figure out what a list of Ten Most Harmful Books to me would contain. At this moment, the only one that comes to mind is Jane Smiley's The Greenlanders, because I found that book so demoralizing and inexorably pessimistic that after I read it I thought it was pointless to go on and found even taking a shower to be barely worth the effort.

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Childhood meme

Oh dear. I've been seeing this one and fearing it might come this way. But out of gratitude to faithful comment-leaver Kenju, who has tagged me with the childhood meme, I will comply at least partially. As for Part B, which seems like a chain letter or Ponzi scheme - well, see Kenju's post for the explanation and pretend I tagged you if you want to do it.

Five things you miss from childhood...

1. Feeling it was perfectly OK to spend an entire afternoon reading out on the roof. Or writing a book and then binding it. Or making an apple strudel or learning how to write runes, or studying Finnish from a textbook I bought at the library discard sale (why did they have that book in the first place?). Nowadays, if I were to indulge myself that way, an evil voice in my head would ask: "are you being productive?" Jeez, who cares??

2. Soaking up the doting of my favorite aunt, my mother's twin sister, who thought I was the cat's pajamas and said so, often. In our house praise was generally absent - my Pennsylvania Dutch father believed it would spoil and corrupt us. My mother thought I was a scary, selfish, evil child. So my aunt's love was the most important thing in the world to me, and was perhaps the only thing that kept me out of the loony bin! I posted a little about the house she built at Buxton, next to the Hatteras lighthouse, across from the Coast Guard outpost which has now been abandoned, here.

3. Lounging in the tv room with my brothers, in my PJs, every Sunday night, enjoying our Sunday night dinner of "eggshakes" (raw egg, milk, ice cream, sometimes a banana, nobody worried about salmonella in those days) and popcorn, watching "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" on tv, though it was in black and white at our house because my dad didn't want to shell out for a color tv.

4. Sitting in the "way back" of a station wagon speeding down the road with the tailgate down, dangling my legs over the edge and watching our previous locations shrink and disappear behind us.

My dad would not allow this but my friends' parents did. Hard to believe, isn't it?

Even when I was in my pre-teens, watching scenery and pedestrians hurtle backwards made me mourn the many things we lose every day and never get back.

Even then, I realized I was abnormally elegiac and that I didn't seem to appreciate things fully until I could see that they were ending or that I was losing them.

The first time I heard The Incredible String Band sing "This Moment," I had an epiphany. And don't talk to me about Worst songs of the 70s because I LOVED The Incredible String Band. I thought I would blind you with one of their album covers. I hope it doesn't give you a migraine.

From "This Moment"

This moment is different from any before it
this moment is different it's now
And if I don't kiss you
That kiss is untasted
I'll never get it back

But why should I want to?
I'll be in the next moment...

I began making an effort to enjoy what I have - at "this moment" - instead of mourning what is lost. I'm still trying.

To flog the station-wagon analogy, now that I'm 51 there's an awful lot more road behind me. But since I'm still healthy - and can still dig deep holes and walk a long, long way - I try to keep looking to the road ahead.

Looking back is sad, and this meme isn't helping, so I'm going to stop here with number four. Please leave me a sweet childhood memory in the comments - I'd rather read one of yours than remember my own.

Update: Thanks to people who have left me nice memories in the comments. And, here is a take on this meme that actually CHEERED me up instead of depressing me so go enjoy it at Vile File.

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Tar Heel Tavern #16 is up, and Peacocks in Amagasaki

Tar Heel Tavern #16 is up at Waterfall's "A Sort of Notebook," and here are a couple of souvenirs ...

Lenslinger at Viewfinder Blues in "Everything Must Go" writes:
When a landmark shuts down, I show up. A dreaded specter through the showroom glass, my lenslinging silhouette strikes fear in the heart of broken retailers far and wide. Okay that’s pouring it on a little thick, but when you’ve documented the death of the American Dream as many times as I have, you do start to feel like the Grim Reaper.

Technically, Blumenthal’s isn‘t closing. But they are moving, to an unremarkable location in outer Urban Sprawl, leaving behind the empty husk of a dying downtown landmark...
If you've ever seen the wonderful coffeetable book called Shalom Y'all you've read about the tiny Jewish communities across the south that grew up around businesses like this one. They have been dying away since the encroachments of mega-business, and also because it's simply too hard to maintain a tiny Jewish community - once you can't get a minyan together, it's just about all over...

Ron at 2sides2ron blogged sadly about Clear-cutting our Landscapes, telling us:
A couple of mornings ago, I awoke and let the dogs out for their morning constitutional. I immediately heard an unfamiliar sound, one that should strike terror in every creature on this earth. It was being emitted by the ever more refined and fast moving machinery that clear-cuts our landscapes for the building of new communities. I didn’t know this at the time, but had an inkling that the clearing of the hill behind my house had begun.

I drove over to the site of the clearing to find that the machinery had already managed to wipe clean the earth from the street to a point about 400 feet back and the width of three-to-four average middle-class homes...
For the last quarter century I've been lucky enough to live in a neighborhood across the street from a big beautiful farm field. After droughts killed the corn crop several years in a row, they cut hay in a desultory fashion over there, but the land must be worth an unimaginable fortune in today's Triangle. For a quarter century I've been expecting the bulldozers. I'm so grateful that the family has held off, long enough that my kids grew up with this beautiful vista.

I love the TarHeel Tavern. Thanks, Waterfall!

Now, in a galaxy far away, I direct you to the pictures on badaunt's blog "present simple" taken on a recent bike ride: Peacocks in Amagasaki. I was particularly taken by the fact that in this part of town there is no sidewalk whatsoever - "You can see how dangerous it is to step outside your front door in some of these houses. The door fronts right onto the street. You have to peek out first to make sure a car isn't passing." When I used to bike everywhere, I got used to being "doored" by drivers who jumped out of their cars without looking, but the idea of being "doored" by somebody leaving the house amazes me.

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Pickles and Peanuts

Melina's diary

The first few days here in Jackson have been eventful. We have had lots of orienting-type activities. They got off to an excellent start Wednesday night, when my boss in the history department took all of the interns, the fellows, and the Institute's president to what he thought would be a fun, campy 70's movie, called "Revenge of the Cheerleaders." Well. It turned out to be one of THOSE seventies movies. The cheerleaders were naked before the end of the opening credits, and within another 10 minutes, so were their boyfriends (at the ice-cream store) and their down-the-street rivals (in the gym). We all just sat there, not particularly offended but sort of wondering if we were getting hazed, until my boss couldn't take it anymore and hustled us out of there, embarassed beyond embarassed.

Our office is very informal in other ways as well. The president's daughter keeps wandering in ("Daddy!" she hollers) as do his two parents who can't be a day under 80 but still happily drive around, harass their son, introduce themselves to interns and try to persuade people to come out to the lake with them and go fishing. The president himself is an almost unflappable micro-manager, who likes to tell the same shaggy dog stories over and over again to see if he can get you to flip out. His charisma and dedication, and in fact this same ability to retell the same stories again and again (for potential donors or potential employees), are what has allowed him to build the entire institute from scratch. His personal magnetism is phenomenal. The entire institute revolves around him like he was his own gravity-producing body; like he was the sun.

The second day, we went on a tour of downtown Jackson and were forced to eat boiled peanuts as sort of a local experience. Not my thing but some folks liked them. The vendor stuffed a quart-size plastic bag totally full of them and then put the whole mess in a paper bag where we threw the gooey shards of shell. Obviously, this broke within five minutes and grody peanuts started rolling all over the Institute's van. One of the other interns, unwisely, ate a pickle that this same guy sold him (out of a huge jar that had been sitting in the sun all afternoon) and threw up for the entire afternoon. But the peanuts seemed to be okay.

The pickle/peanut vendor was a riot, actually. We told him the name of the institute that we worked for, which identified us as Jews. "Ohh!" he exclaimed. "Y'all are so funny. Do you ever watch that Seinfeld? I think he's just so funny. Do y'all know any of them Seinfeld jokes?" He gave us free strawberry smoothie samples but we could not come up with any good Jew jokes for him.

Downtown Jackson is bizarre. It's totally gutted, sprawling; there are a few big banks and corporation headquarters, but no people walking around outside, nowhere to eat, no shops. It's that typical situation where everything has left. Even desegregation itself has contributed to this - areas that until 40 years ago were compact, thriving African-American business and culture and music districts are now
ghostly, burned-out, abandoned buildings for block after block -- as upwardly mobile people, both black and white, have deserted the city for the suburbs and outlying neighborhoods. The mayor's office has finally realized that this is totally unacceptable and is trying to revive the area (or as my guide more cynically put it, "convince white people that it's safe to be downtown at night.") As a result, the worst and most bombed out of these streets (albeit the most "historic") has just received a new gorgeous cobblestone paving job, and supposedly the mayor has contracted with some businesses to give it a go down there. But nothing is there yet but the paving. It's both hopeful and creepy to see drive down the blocks and blocks of chi-chi terra-cotta streets, with 40-year-old dead hulks of restaurants and
blues clubs on each side.

I tried to go out today and get a tour book but (apparently for the second time that week) a construction worker had driven a bulldozer right into a power line and the power at the bookstore was off (fire trucks everywhere). They said to try again this afternoon. I also stumbled across the state high school rodeo championships being held at the state fair grounds this evening, which I am definitely planning to go back and see. There were all these 10 year olds practicing their lassos when I went by and a pen of goats off to the side. I even stopped by the farmers market and I got about 10 cucumbers for a dollar.

For your education, here is from the "Jackson Survival Guide, 2005" the historian wrote up for us:
"So you've moved to Jackson, Mississippi. I'm sure your friends and parents are amazed and maybe a little scared. Maybe you are too. But have no fear, Jackson is a fascinating and increasingly vibrant place. All that Jackson needs is more people like yourself. So as a Jackson resident, let me thank you for your presence.

"A few things to note about the culture here: it's very Christian and very polite. Most everyone goes to church on Sunday morning (and Wednesday evenings for some reason). If you go to one of the few restaurants that are open on Sundays, you will feel like a pagan in your shorts and t-shirts. Everyone else will be in their church
clothes. People may ask you, "what church do you go to." I always say 'Beth Israel,' which is an entirely acceptable answer....

"Total strangers will talk to you in public here. After a while, you'll be doing it too. I know this may take some of you cynical Yankees aback, but it really is one of the best things about the South. People are VERY polite. I probably say "thank you so very much" at least twice a day... Sure, there is a fake element to this. (I think it was Hodding Carter who said, 'people in Mississippi are friendly, until they try to kill you!") But it does create a friendly feel to the city.

"Food: What can you eat here? Regarding food, the southern motto seems to be, "we'll fry anything." From the obvious chicken and catfish, to the not so obvious pickles, green tomatoes, and even (God help us) Twinkies, southerners love to dip food into burning hot vats of oil. Much of it is quite good, if not quite good for you. Another peculiarly southern foodway is reverence for the pig. Pork is king. Barbeque is pork here. They'll put pork in most anything. 'Vegetables' often have pork in them. If you're at a restaurant ordering southern-style vegetables, you may want to ask if they are cooked with pork. (You might also want to go for the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. It's up to you.") Eating out in Jackson, you can begin to understand the difficulties our ancestors had keeping kosher in the South. It's still hard...."

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