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Sunday, July 31, 2005

The worst recipe I have ever seen.

This made me laugh out loud. Courtesy of the New York Times from this very Sunday:

Recipe: Prosciutto-Wrapped Peaches

Published: July 27, 2005

Time: 10 minutes

4 ripe peaches
¼ pound prosciutto.

Halve and pit peaches. Cut halves lengthwise into thirds. You should have 24 wedges. Tear prosciutto into 24 pieces (lengthwise is best) and wrap each slice around a peach wedge.

I mean, I can't say I'm qualified to judge how peaches and prosciutto would taste together. But I feel they could have put a little more work into this recipe.


Two wusses and two small blackened corpses

Well, yesterday afternoon, after an epic voyage from Jackson Mississippi, Melina showed up. We immediately went next door to walk Loki the dog.

Then Melina started reading Rolling Stone while I went to refill the birds' sunflower seed feeder.

I've been keeping the motherlode of sunflower seeds in a Coleman ice chest on the back porch. It didn't look exactly like this one - it was hinged, the kind that you plug in and that's supposed to refrigerate your stuff but does so in such a wan, half-hearted and dilatory fashion that you eventually give up on it and donate it to the Goodwill.

Over time squirrels (or something) have been gnawing through the lid's insulation from the corner but, I thought, not making any more progress than that. I thought all the little chewed bits of insulation on the back porch were funny. I thought modern technology had triumphed.

Well, this time, when I opened the lid of the ice chest I saw, for a split second: two large furry BLACK oblongs inside, parallel to each other and to the walls of the cooler; a terrible smell slammed me so I reflexively slammed the lid shut, screaming myself hoarse, and ran into the house, the stench following closely behind, still screaming.

Our forensic diagnosis was that these black things had somehow pried up the big lid and gotten into the cooler and then while they pigged out on sunflower seeds the lid fell shut. They died - sophomoric irony alert! - suffocated in a mausoleum of luxury.

What were they? It has been suggested that they didn't, perhaps, used to be black. It also occurred to me that they may have been rats - bloated so hugely that they now had no features and just looked like huge round furry black lozenges.

While, traumatized by the miasma of decay, I narrated this disaster to her, Melina got a grip. She said firmly (she's such a take-charge type) that we could not leave things as they were.

So we got gardening gloves and, shuddering all the while, carried the closed chest out beyond the deer-fence and left it there. Then we both immediately took very hot showers.

She queried rhetorically: "Who could have dealt with this better? Who is less wussy than us?" She told me that when she went fishing with her Long-Island bred boyfriend and he, sort of by accident, caught a fish, he couldn't bear to take it off the hook.

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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Another food item we could do without

From Sigmund, Carl and Alfred's pizza expert Jayne G. Hurly:

"You need cheese stuffed into a pizza crust like you need reverse liposuction to force more fat under your skin."

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Heschel's "The Sabbath"

Earlier I planned to write about "The Sabbath" by Abraham Joshua Heschel, a book my rabbi gave me years ago.

For the observant, keeping the Sabbath can be a burden. There are countless prohibitions, some of which - like not pushing a stroller or a wheelchair outside the home - seem perverse. (Read here about how Los Angeles is being turned into one giant "home" via an eruv, a wall made of heavy fishing line, strung around 80 square miles.)

Reform Jews - and extremely reform Jews - have to decide how far to go in honoring the commandment to rest on the seventh day. Myself, I've been thinking about it for fifteen years.

Thinking, for instance, about staying off the computer on Saturday! Here's an article about whether it's ok to use a computer on Sabbath, but it's so complicated I don't understand the answer. I'm sure the answer is no. Yet here I am, blogging...

Anyway, for some inspiration, here's Heschel, who wrote in the days of "non-inclusive" language.

To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar ... a day on which we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle ...

The solution of mankind's most vexing problem will not be found in renouncing technical civilization, but in attaining some degree of independence from it.

In regard to external gifts, to outward possessions, there is only one proper attitude - to have them and to be able to do without them. ... Man's royal privilege to conquer nature is suspended on the seventh day.

Technical civilization is man's conquest of space. It is a triumph frequently achieved by sacrificing an essential ingredient of existence, namely, time. In technical civilization, we expend time to gain space. To enhance our power in the world of space is our main objective. Yet to have more does not mean to be more. The power we attain in the world of space terminates abruptly at the borderline of time. But time is the heart of existence.

To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time. There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.

Nothing is more useful than power, nothing more frightful. We have often suffered from degradation through power. There is happiness in the love of labor, there is misery in the love of gain. Many hearts and pitchers are broken at the fountain of profit. Selling himself into slavery to things, man becomes a utensil that is broken at the fountain.

He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life. He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man.

The words: "On the seventh day God finished His work" seem to be a puzzle. Is it not said: "He rested on the seventh day"? ... "What was created on the seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace and repose [menuha]."

It is the state wherein man lies still, wherein the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. It is the state in which there is no strife and no fighting, no fear and no distrust. The essence of good life is menuha.

All week we may ponder and worry whether we are rich or poor, whether we succeed or fail in our occupations; whether we accomplish or fall short of reaching our goals. But who could feel distressed when gazing at spectral glimpses of eternity, except to feel startled at the vanity of being so distressed?

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Friday, July 29, 2005

"Solar Grove" parking lot

This seems like a seriously excellent idea to me:
San Diego, California -- Kyocera today announced that it will hold a public dedication for its first-ever Solar Grove(TM); an array of 25 "solar trees"(TM) that converts a 186-vehicle parking lot into a 235-kilowatt solar electric generating system.
At the same time, the solar panels provide shade for the cars! In these dog days of summer, that seems very appealing. Somebody want to try this here in Chapel Hill? Of course, we have snow from time to time, which I guess is not a problem in San Diego...

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More on Luck

From an Episode of "Six Feet Under," second season.
"I just never thought of myself as lucky for having buried only one husband."

"Lucky, unlucky, I don't know. I'm unlucky I ran through three husbands, I'm lucky I got to retire early off the insurance, I'm unlucky my son set fire to the house, I'm lucky I never had a urinary tract infection. I don't even care if it works out fair in the end - I'm sure it doesn't - I still have to haul my own ass out of bed in the morning."
See Herodotus and Yankl on luck.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

How Bora Became a Biologist

At Science and Politics read how Bora became a biologist. The most interesting thing I've ever read there! A great lesson in finding - and living - Plan B, Plan C, Plan D...

An animal lover who grew up in Belgrade, "a grey city with three native species: pigeons, rats and cockroaches," Bora considered a future with the circus, the zoo, the pet industry... He worked at a racecourse ...
Why [didn't anybody tell] me then about some other alternatives?! How about nature photography? Or a career in science journalism, or becoming a science policy advisor to the President? Writing, editing and/or illustrating science textbooks? Writing popular science books? Those all look interesting to me today, but those never occured to me when I was younger. Today, I make a point of mentioning all of these choices whenever I talk about careers with students. And who knows, I may end up actually doing one of those things if I don't manage to get a decent job in the academia.
He went to Veterinary school and thought he would buy land and settle in with
a barn for my own horses, a few brood mares, perhaps some ponies for a riding school. I was even considering saving one of the local girls from patriarchy by asking her father for her hand, then introducing her to the beauties of gender equality. It could have been a good life. ... But then it became obvious that war was about to start. I sold my horse and saddle and bought a plane ticket to the USA ... I applied to Biology/Zoology departments ... And what next? I don't know.
Surf over and read the whole story! And then read more about career planning and the unlikelihood of living Plan A.

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Blueberries, Hot Sauce, Yoga, and deep-fat-fried Twinkies

Yesterday morning, blearily resenting the radio's prediction of 102 degrees, I left the house at 6:30, heading for a local blueberry patch.

See how the evil orange sun was coming up behind the field as I left my neighborhood.

Until not too long ago, this blueberry patch was owned by John Troy, "The Wizard," inventor of popular hot sauces and creator of The Wizard's Cauldron.

The cauldron itself, a stainless steel state-of-the art beauty which could chug out multi-gallons of hot sauce in the wink of an eye, sat in a small factory facing Route 86 ten miles north of Hillsborough. Behind the factory, up a dirt road, were many rows of beautiful and robust blueberry bushes: a pick-your-own establishment.

Years before, however, when I first met John Troy, his "Wizard's Hot Stuff" was made deep in the woods up a road so rutted Bob Vasile and I weren't sure we could get our car to scrape its way through.

Troy lived at what the papers call (when talking about his origins) a "hippy commune" and he and his friends made the hot sauce by hand.

What were Bob and I doing, braving this rutted road and bumping our way back into the woods to park the car in a muddy clearing, haul out the guitar, bouzouki, and fiddle, and follow a path which wound through the woods and required us to cross a big stream on a bridge made of a very long log?

We, an Irish duo called the "Pratie Heads," had been hired to play for the Wizard's Celtic Halloween celebration, Samhain. (For more info on Samhain see Rowan Moonstone.)

So we played celtic music for these perhaps druidic or wiccan celebrations. I found them very exotic. For one thing, the people that came to celebrate did not come in cars. They just materialized, magically, out of the woods, from several different directions, with grubby naked children in tow. I don't know if they HAD cars. I suspect perhaps they had teepees. I'm not sure the kids went to school.

(I actually heard one of these kids whine: "Mommmm, the tempeh is all gone!")

For another thing, it was very dark back there in the woods except for the fires. The Wizard knew how to build a phenomenal bonfire.
Fire is a central element in all the Druidic celebrations. All hearthfires were put out and new fires lit from the great bonfires. In Scotland, men lit torches in the bonfires and circled their homes and lands with them to obtain protection for the coming year (more).
Years passed, the Pratie Heads broke up. It was maybe 1990 when the Wizard called again. At that time, I was playing with Stephen Smith, a pianist. (Stephen looked very square and had a day job at Qualex - but he had once played in a band that wore green satin Nehru jackets - and now, he plays in an Elvis Impersonator band! - so he can't be THAT square!) The Wizard asked that we play for Samhain.

This time, we were directed to the brand new factory on Route 86, and then up the little dirt road, way back behind the blueberry bushes.

The Wizard and his friends had grown up. Troy had begun marketing his hot sauce and salad dressing through Whole Foods and various multinational corporations.

He and his friends were all wearing clothes, in fact they were all wearing nice clothes. They were drinking cocktails (or something) and talking about their investments (or something). We played Celtic music. There was, once again, a phenomenal bonfire in the darkness. The flames and sparks licked up far higher than the trees. Yuppies and Big Magic.

Stephen and I were paid partly in money and partly in big boxes of salad dressing. Never before had I played for salad dressing, nor, it turns out, have I ever done so since that night.

Anyway, a year or two ago the Wizard moved his operation out of Orange County -- he had wanted to expand the factory, but the development rules were too strict, so he moved to Yanceyville, leaving the old building empty.

Enter Bo & Sita Lozoff. Bo is a master of unusual schemes involving meditation, prisoners, and music.

Bo once applied for a position as a prison guard at the federal prison in Butner. He didn't get the job, but sold the assistant warden on the idea of yoga-meditation classes in prisons. By 1973, Bo had launched the Prison-Ashram Project and since then his very successful fundraising has been done under the auspices of the Human Kindness Foundation.

When Bo heard the Wizard's Cauldron building was empty, he persuaded the Wizard to basically donate the building - and the blueberry bushes - to the Human Kindness Foundation. Bo paid off the remaining banknote with a small legacy of $50,000 left to him by TV's Fred Rogers, who had much admired his work.

Next: to figure out what to make in the factory. Several things were considered, including gourmet peanut butter.

In the end, "Carolina BioDiesel Inc." was born, at least on paper. Bo planned a refinery which would employ 17 parolees and produce 1 to 3 million gallons of biodiesel fuel a year. (At the time, managers of the N.C. State Fair said they would pay him to pick up gallons of yellow grease left over from the annual frying of thousands of funnel cakes, candy bars and Twinkies, but I don't think even the NC State Fair fries a million gallons' worth of twinkies per year, so there must have been more to the plan, but I don't know what it was.)

As of last year, Lozoff was fundraising; he figured $1 million would get the refinery off the ground. Where would/will the money come from? Well, blueberries for one, I guess.

But mainly, as quoted in many news articles, the plan was to raise the money via his CD, Bo Lozoff & Friends: Whatever it Takes.
"All we have to do is sell 100,000 albums," Lozoff says in the matter-of-fact voice of a madman whose schemes have always, inexplicably, succeeded. "Then we'd have $1 million." More.
All I can say is, is currently offline and, while there is a guy living in a trailer near the blueberries, the factory is still empty.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

"Blog Depression" from

Somebody sent me a link to the Blog Depression pamphlet. Here's a sample page (sorry, you'll have to click it for the larger, readable version):

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Seen at Sky Meadow

I'm going to keep posting pictures from my recent trip to Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine as part of the Village Harmony Travel Camp #2 (24 teenagers, 3 adults, hundreds and hundreds of hours of singing).

We spent our first week rehearsing about seven hours a day at "Sky Meadow" Buddhist retreat center in the Northeast Kingdom (almost all the way to Canada!).

Vermonters really don't like getting messed with so they vote down lots of things, including cellphone towers. Most of the state does not have coverage, therefore. There was only one place at our retreat center where one could get a cellphone signal. Climb the narrow path between the tiny pond and the dwarf's gazebo:

And enjoy the view while making your phone call. My cellphone got so hot, straining to pick up the signal, that it burned my ear, and the phone's display was permanently blackened. It also killed the battery. I'm going to have to get a new phone now...

The next two pictures are of Flagg Pond, down the road a bit:

I woke up at 5 every morning and walked to this pond, flapping my arms constantly to keep the mosquitoes away.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Girls in sarongs with chickens

This is my very favorite picture from my trip. Kate (right) keeps a pet chicken at home and asked her mom to put the chicken on the phone so she could coo to it over her cell phone (when we managed to find a signal). So she was quite delighted to find these chickens at one of our potlucks in Vermont. Ida evidently likes chickens quite a bit, too. They asked if we could take the chickens along in the bus.

Carnival of the Vanities #149

And here are the submissions for this week's Carnival of the Vanities. As regular readers know, I don't enjoy political blogging, but that's the majority of what was sent to me, so that's what you get. Needless to say I am not in alignment with many of the sentiments expressed. Some entries have been edited for brevity.

Question: Do YOU, personally, actually look at any of these entries? Or are these Carnivals like the poetry readings where everybody leaves after submitting their own poem? Please comment.

Steve Pavlina asks: What's the Deal With Fluoride? He's anti-fluoride.

Lumpy, at Lump on a Blog, issues an Open Challenge to the Detractors of Rep. Tom Tancredo

The Artist at The Art of the Blog submits Rhetoric Unbound - More Reps = Nazis BS: "Fisking some of the PlameGate rhetoric...."

Chris Jenkins at gives us Parody of Life: Redux

At The Nose On Your Face, Buckley Williams suggests The Claim Of French Ancestry Might Assure Judicial Confirmation For Roberts"

Free Money Finance says Stop Smoking, It's Killing the Nation's Finances: "An individual's finances aren't the only ones to suffer when he smokes. It also impacts the entire nation."

Dan Melson of Searchlight Crusade submits an article on Islam, Historical Christianity, and Reform

Brad Warbiany, The Unrepentant Individual, offers in Natural Rights doctrine - the missing piece "a discussion of private property rights as "natural rights", and why we should structure society to protect these rights."

Shamalama of Common Folk Using Common Sense writes in The Dread Pirate Roberts: "The Liberal's last dying grasp on power in Washington D.C. is the United States Supreme Court, which they view as a lawmaking branch of government..."

In Trouble on the Tracks, Ironman of Political Calculations writes: "Amtrak has been highly subsidized for over 30 years - and yet, it's unable to operate profitably on any of its routes. ... some seriously radical restructuring might be in order."

From comes a complaint entitled Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 115 -- Ubiquitous Polling.

David St Lawrence at Ripples sent Follow your dreams, or else... saying "There is a downside to taking a safer, more conventional course through life. You may not gain the experience you need to handle unexpected changes."

Jack Cluth of The People's Republic of Seabrook sent The weekly meeting of the Union of Unemployed Copy Writers will now come to order.... saying "You just can't make this stuff up...."

coturnix of Science And Politics sent Nationalism Is Not Patriotism

Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah at Koranteng's Toli sent Bullet From A Gun, "a hip-hop photo essay in the vein of South London's vibe. Part II of the London's Got Soul Trilogy."

Brendan Loy at The Irish Trojan's Blog sent Never surrender, a "response to the appeasers and apologists, framed by Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed's comment that I would like to see the Islamic flag fly, not only over number 10 Downing Street, but over the whole world."

Adam Gurri at Sophistpundit sent Last Summer I wrote a book, saying: "Help out an aspiring writer!"

Ashish Hanwadikar at Ashish's Niti sent Bleeding hearts and unintended consequences, asking "Is there anything else that can be done to screw the people in the third-world countries? Is it possible?"

The Palmetto Pundit fumes in
It's Official: Pot Calls Kettle Black! saying "... Did I hear that right? John Kerry wants full disclosure?"

Two Dogs at Mean Ol' Meany sent Those Damn Great Democrats Part V - Barbara Mikulski

Chicken Little at Chicken Fried Life asks in In Vino Veritas: What if would happen if you received - and gave - totally honest answers to questions?

Mark Nicodemo writes This President Can Do Nothing Right

Ahistoricality submits Capsule Review: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince saying: "No spoilers. Just the facts."

The Right Place presents a satirical Top Secret Democrat Party Strategy Meeting - Exposed!. An excerpt:

BILL BURKETT: Yes, but this is different - very different! After exhaustive research, I have made absolutely certain that the printing style and materials used to create these documents were widely available at the time! They appear 100% genuine! Here, have a look... Burkett hands Senator Kennedy several pieces of paper.
TED KENNEDY: This will never work, you useless imbecile - these are all written in crayon!!!...

Mustang 23 at Assumption of Command says The Iraqis are Making Strides and "I like to make sure people know about it."

Andrew at Dodgeblogium submits Cry Freedom…never more poignant.

Harvey at Bad Example sends A list of interesting, yet completely useless - and probably untrue - information about the state of Delaware.

Steven Couch at BlueStateRed sent John Roberts Nominated to Supreme Court; West Wing Pump-Fakes Nation

Mr. Snitch says in a post on podcasts: "The video iPod is what everyone's expecting from Apple. But full-length movies and music videos aren't what will send sales of this device higher than all previous iPods."

Brian at Musings from Brian J. Noggle presents Historical Perspective: "The last time someone other than Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France..."

Eric Scheie at Classical Values sends My sweetest post yet!

Chuck Simmins at You Big Mouth, You! sends China: Kudlow Favors Central Planners?: "In a jaw dropping essay, Larry Kudlow of CNN infamy, suggests that currency reform belongs in the "to do" list of the West, and not China. In fact, he praises the stability of the yuan for the last decade."

Warren Meyer at Coyote Blog submits Post Title: Physics, Wealth Creation, and Zero Sum Economics: "One of the most dangerous and persistent ideas that drive bad policy is that wealth is somehow zero-sum. This is my refutation of zero-sum economics and wealth creation."

The Watcher of Weaselssends The Nuclear Option

Paul Noonan at The Electric Commentary sends, in a post on the Senate Hearings, "the answers that you (or John Roberts) should give should
you face Senate confirmation hearings."

The Big Picture Guy asks in On Q: "What does the head of R&D have in common with Picasso? Well, for one thing, they are both Q-bists. A post on getting old, on retirement and on right and wrong."

Wayne Hurlbert of Blog Business World submitted Trading spaces: Bartering for business

Perceptions of Israel was sent by Soccer Dad: "How best to make Israel's case to the world."

Greg at Generic Confusion sent Lessons from Family Guy: "The next time the death penalty is debated, I'll pull out this lesson from the cartoon Family Guy."

John Ray of Dissecting Leftism submitted Tuesday Roundup: "links to stories about selective immigration, a huge Greenie fraud, a gun club being sued for lead pollution ..."

From Drew Burchett at Conservative Friends: Staying The Course

From Josh Cohen at Multiple Mentality comes 72 Virgins: "about the concept of getting 72 virgins once you get to heaven."

From Neal Phenes at Et Tu Bloge, submitted "NYT Takes A Side On Unocal Deal- Not Free Trade" but did not include a permalink.

From Mark A. Rayner at The Skwib comes Alternative History Fridays: Impressing Stalin: "Imagining an alternate history of Truman, Stalin and the a-bomb."

Individ sent Natural Foods? Eat my Splenda.

Matt Barr, the New World Man, sends Government as reminder service, saying "New York City wants to track who's got diabetes. Maybe so other people won't catch it!"

DrTony submits Hi, my name is Fred: "I am one of a family of programmable nanobots. ..."

Gina Vescio of A Weight Lifted sent A Modest Proposal

Don Surber sent Amnesty International Denounces Terrorists: "The violence in Iraq has reached the point where liberal groups are demanding that the troops be withdrawn immediately -- the insurgent troops! ..."

And LASTLY, Rick Moran of the Rightwing Nuthouse sent History and Fantasy

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The "Only a Fool Fools With Sin" Laundromat in Bristol, Maine

We stopped at a hippy bakery in this town to get a (very expensive) birthday cake. I was, however, more drawn to this establishment on the other side of the street -- which was not the sunny side.

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The "How to Build Community" poster

I saw this on the wall at one of the many wonderful potluck dinners hosted for us on our travels through Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. You can buy the poster at Intentional Communities store. The list was created by "Syracuse Cultural Workers."

How to Build Community

Turn off your TV - Leave your house
Know your neighbors
Look up when you are walking
Greet people - Sit on your stoop
Plant flowers
Use your library - Play together
Buy from local merchants
Share what you have
Help a lost dog
Take children to the park
Garden together
Support neighborhood schools
Fix it even if you didn't break it
Have pot lucks - Honor elders
Pick up litter - Read stories aloud
Dance in the street
Talk to the mail carrier
Listen to the birds - Put up a swing
Help carry something heavy
Barter for your goods
Start a tradition - Ask a question
Hire young people for odd jobs
Organize a block party
Bake extra and share
Ask for help when you need it
Open your shades - Sing together
Share your skills
Take back the night
Turn up the music
Turn down the music
Listen before you react to anger
Mediate a conflict
Seek to understand
Learn from new and uncomfortable angles
Know that no one is silent though many are not heard
Work to change this

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Another reason for vigilance

Man survives collapse
Officials said nearby work knocked down a building's foundation
By Mike Argento for the York Daily Record, June 28, 2005

Angel Solis ... went to his apartment across the street to take a nap... and that's what he was doing -- sleeping ... when a loud bang woke him up.

The entire wall of his apartment - the rear of 520 S. George St. - had fallen off, and the floor was listing toward the gaping hole left behind.

"I just opened my eyes and grabbed on," Solis, 49, said. "It was instinct."

Workers for one of the contractors excavating the lot next door knocked down the foundation, which caused the wall of his apartment to collapse.

The building looked like a dollhouse ... you could see Solis' furniture - at least the furniture that hadn't fallen out - in the rooms. The roof was caved in. His bed was perched on the ledge that was once the side of the building.

"Last week ... they were banging away at the foundation, and I went out there and said, 'What the hell's going on here?' I told the guy to be careful; my house was falling apart."

"They didn't pay any attention... They said it was normal."

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Common Industrial Chemicals In Tiny Doses Raise Health Issue

Excerpted from today's Wall Street Journal:
Levels of Risk
Common Industrial Chemicals In Tiny Doses Raise Health Issue
Advanced Tests Often Detect Subtle Biological Effects; Are Standards Too Lax?
By Peter Waldman

For years, scientists have struggled to explain rising rates of some cancers and childhood brain disorders. Something about modern living has driven a steady rise of certain maladies, from breast and prostate cancer to autism and learning disabilities.

One suspect now is drawing intense scrutiny: the prevalence in the environment of certain industrial chemicals at extremely low levels. A growing body of animal research suggests to some scientists that even minute traces of some chemicals, always assumed to be biologically insignificant, can affect such processes as gene activation and the brain development of newborns.

An especially striking finding: It appears that some substances may have effects at the very lowest exposures that are absent at higher levels.

... What if it turned out some common substances have essentially no safe exposure levels at all? That was ultimately what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded about lead after studying its effects on children for decades. Indications some other chemicals may have no safe limits have led regulators in Europe and Japan to bar the use of certain compounds in toys and in objects used to serve food.

Using advanced lab techniques, scientists have found that with some chemicals, traces as minute as mere parts per trillion have biological effects. That's one-millionth of the smallest traces even measurable three decades ago, when many of today's environmental laws were written. With some of these chemicals, such trace levels exist in the blood and urine of the general population.

Some chemical traces appear to have greater effects in combination than singly, another challenge to traditional toxicology, which tests things individually.

For their part, companies and industry groups have attacked low-dose research as alarmist and are challenging the findings with scientific studies of their own.

With so much still unknown, regulators are proceeding on different tracks in different countries. Japan's government designates about 70 chemicals as potential "endocrine disruptors" -- substances that may, at tiny doses, interfere with hormonal signals that regulate human organ development, metabolism and other functions. ... The Japanese government also has banned certain phthalates in food handlers' gloves and containers, after detecting them in food.

The European Union has banned some kinds of phthalates in cosmetics and toys, and it is considering a ban on nearly all phthalates in household goods and medical devices.

The White House plays down the issue, saying the low-dose hypothesis is unproved. But many federal scientists and regulators at the EPA and Health and Human Services Department are forging ahead with new methods for assessing possible low-dose dangers.

Earliest Concerns

Dr. Colborn and colleagues popularized low-dose concerns in a series of conferences, articles and a best-selling 1996 book called "Our Stolen Future."

In 2000, a separate EPA-organized panel, after reviewing 49 studies, said some hormonally active chemicals affect animals at doses as low as the "background levels" to which the general human population is subject.

The panel said the health implications weren't clear but urged the EPA to revisit its regulatory procedures to make sure such chemicals are tested in animals at appropriately small doses.

The EPA hesitated. It responded in 2002 that "until there is an improved scientific understanding of the low-dose hypothesis, EPA believes that it would be premature to require routine testing of substances for low-dose effects."

Less Is More

... some hormonally active chemicals seem to have more effects at extremely low exposures than at higher ones. ... researchers have found chemicals that have hormonal effects on lab animals and on human cells in much tinier amounts than their standard no-observable-effect levels. And with some of these chemicals, as the tiny doses given to animals are increased, the effects recede. Then, at much higher levels, broad systemic impacts appear, such as reduced body weight.

An example is bisphenol A, or BPA, the ingredient in polycarbonate baby bottles and food-can linings. It evidently is widespread in the environment. In the U.S., the CDC has found traces of it in 95% of urine samples tested. In Japan, researchers have detected BPA in fetal amniotic fluid and the umbilical cords of newborns.

Studying BPA in rats in 1988, the EPA concluded the lowest exposure with an "observed adverse effect" was 50 milligrams a day per kilogram of body weight ... the agency set a daily safe limit for humans of 0.05 milligrams of BPA per kilogram of body weight.

Since then, however, academic scientists in several countries have done more than 90 studies that have found BPA effects on animals and human cell cultures from exposures well below this level.

The EPA used a relatively crude measure of the chemical's effects: changes in rodents' body weights. The new studies looked at subtler, hormone-related effects. Some studies found changes in rodents' reproductive organs and brains at doses as low as 0.002 milligram per kilogram of body weight per day. That is just one-25,000th the dose that the EPA said was the lowest exposure having an observable adverse effect.

Disrupting Hormones

Seeking to explain this pattern, scientists cite the endocrine system's exquisite sensitivity. Animals and humans secrete infinitesimal amounts of various hormones, such as estrogen, that trigger responses when they occupy special receptors on the cells of various organs. BPA is among numerous chemicals that can mimic estrogen by occupying cells' estrogen receptors. When they do this at critical phases of development, the chemicals can trigger unnatural biological responses, such as brain and reproductive abnormalities.

At higher doses, however, BPA and other endocrine disruptors -- instead of triggering the unnatural responses -- appear to overwhelm the receptors. That explains, scientists say, why some chemicals seem to have more potent hormonal effects at very low doses than at higher ones.

Chemicals in Combination

Environmental chemicals don't exist in isolation. People are exposed to many different ones in trace amounts. So scientists at the University of London checked a mixture. They tested the hormonal strength of a blend of 11 common chemicals that can mimic estrogen.

Alone, each was very weak. But when scientists mixed low doses of all 11 in a solution with natural estrogen -- thus simulating the chemical cocktail that's inside the human body today -- they found the hormonal strength of natural estrogen was doubled. Such an effect inside the body could disrupt hormonal action.

"In isolation ... the concentrations found in wildlife and human tissues will always be small" wrote the scientists, ... but because such compounds are so widespread in the environment, the researchers concluded, the cumulative effect on the human endocrine system is "likely to be very large."

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It's Never Like This Here

BadAunt's complaints about the heat in Japan remind me unhappily of how much time we spent sweating in New England. The little churches where we performed every night were not air-conditioned and after taking on heat all day resembled hell much more than heaven. We had the choice of singing in attic-like conditions or opening the doors and being devoured, along with our audiences, by mosquitos.

Nothing in northern New England is air-conditioned. This is, no doubt, on the theory that since it HARDLY EVER is very hot there, the expense of air-conditioners is not justified. So during the hot days, which actually come EVERY year (and surprise and annoy the residents EVERY time), everybody just sweats all day and all night.

We have the complementary problem here - it does, in fact, snow or ice here in North Carolina EVERY winter. EVERY time, the city councils are taken by surprise and guess what, they don't know how to deal with it and haven't got enough snow plows (because it HARDLY EVER happens), so the kids get a snow day when there's an inch of snow - or, as last winter, get stranded overnight in their schools for 1/4 inch of ice on the roads.

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From the street fair in Norway, Maine

Our unplanned trip to Norway proved one of my favorite afternoons in Maine. I got a book, "Practicing History," by Barbara Tuchman, from the library book sale for a quarter (there was a half-off sale). I met the historian whose book I blogged earlier.

The thrift store was excellent.

Then I had a good sandwich, and then a funny discussion with the lady occupying the bathroom at the sandwich shop as I stood outside the door waiting. The bathroom walls did not reach all the way to the ceiling so it was easy for us to talk. She, the bathroom occupier, had suffered an unpleasant run-in with a previous waiting woman and was pleased by my patience. It was nice to run up karmic points simply by not shouting and rattling the doorknob.

I actually went past this elderly country band (check out the two seated members - when I this old am, I hope I this well play) inside the "Weary Club" and tried to figure out why it was called the Weary Club and who Mellie Dunham was and why there was a photo exhibit about him, but I was unsuccessful. However, I just found this web page which provides a clear explanation.

Then I met these two examples of Norway fauna.

Please note the sign above the heads of the loiterers below. They laughed in a properly cheerful and indifferent manner when I pointed it out to them. People in Maine have been disregarding foolish rules since the 17th century and show no signs of changing their ways.

This sign shows the proximity of Norway, Maine to other towns in Maine: Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Peru, Mexico, and China.

Best of Me Symphony is up; Carnival of the Vanities coming here!

Newest Best of Me is up.

I've had a horrifically large number of submissions to the Carnival of the Vanities, which will be posted here Wednesday morning. Cut-off for submissions is 6 pm tomorrow night.

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

My terrible, horrible dinner.

So i just couldnt decide what to do for dinner. I was alone in the house. i had half an onion in the fridge, so i sauteed it, figuring it was a good start for whatever. then i also defrosted two chicken breasts, figuring they were a good start too. only, i defrosted them in their plastic bag in warm water on the stove, which seemed like a good idea, except that the plastic bag totally leaked, so the chicken was floating in the bag in evil salmonella-flavored water which had thus contaminated the entire pot with evil salmonella water. so then i cooked the chicken. then I wanted to make rice-a-roni to go with the chicken, but it needed a can of tomatoes and I didnt' have any. then i remembered i had grits and i had once had fried grits in a restaurant once and it was awesome, and what else did I have to do tonight? nothing.

so i looked up a fried grits recipe on it needed bread crumbs. i had old bread so i started crumbling that up (chicken and onions cooking all the while) and then the recipe said that the grits needed to be chilled after i had cooked them so i put them in the freezer. then I looked at the rice-a-roni, realized I couldnt use the chicken water (now boiling) even to make tomato-free rice-a-roni with, because it was contaminated, and it would require 25 minutes of cooking besides, and it would still suck without the tomatoes, so I put away the rice-a-roni. also, the bread wasn't crumbling right because it was still too fresh, and I realized I would have to bake the stupid bread crumbs to dry them out.

then i said this is ridiculous, put the chicken in a bowl and the onions in a bowl and put them both in the fridge, took the grits out of the freezer, re-microwaved them with some cheese and ate the grits. and that was my dinner. so do you think I have too much time on my hands? my mother used to call this "summer brain" and demand that I go on a walk and write a journal entry. It was 99 degrees today and heat index of 106 so I skipped the walk. But here's the journal entry.


The Ultimate Test

I read in Grist:

Gaylord Nelson, co-founder of Earth Day, former state senator, governor, and U.S. senator from Wisconsin, and recipient of a 1995 Presidential Medal of Freedom for his environmental work, died on Sunday at the age of 89. His own words are a fitting epitaph:

The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.

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On Gossip

From Fascinating History, Marcus Aurelius on gossip:

"Do not waste what remains of your life in speculating about your neighbours, unless with a view to some mutual benefit. To wonder what so-and-so is doing and why, or what he is saying, or thinking, or scheming...means a loss of opportunity for some other task."

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Sky Meadow

After Larry and I spent about $900 on groceries, we went to Sky Meadow Retreat in Greensboro Bend, Vermont to get ready for the arrival of the kids, who arrived from all over New England. One just dropped in from hiking the Long Trail. One straggled in from Chicago. They packed themselves into the dorm rooms and we got to work.

Every day, regardless of the time the kids had gone to bed, breakfast (cooked by kids) was at 7:45, band rehearsal at 8:30 or so, English country dancing and contradancing at 9 (sometimes I played for them and sometimes I danced), then rehearsal, lunch, rehearsal, dinner, and rehearsal.

When we were not rehearsing there was whooping and hollering, more singing, more dancing, crocheting, swimming, frisbee, and searching for a cellphone signal as prime diversions.

It's a huge barn, with dance floor/rehearsal space; dining room; kitchen; lounging space; two bathrooms and three or four dormitory rooms on the first floor, two dorm rooms and a bathroom in the basement, a private apartment (where I stayed), a workshop, and storage space in what used to be the hay loft.

There are two little houses, in the meadow, where Brendan and Larry stayed, two teepees and miscellaneous gazebos, and houses for the three people who live at Sky Meadow all year.

The pictures below were taken from the windows of my little retreat-within-a-retreat...

Youth and Old Age

This came from Laudator Temporis Acti.

Youth and Old Age (Archibald MacLeish)

At twenty, stooping round about,
I thought the world a miserable place,
Truth a trick, faith in doubt,
Little beauty, less grace.

Now at sixty what I see,
Although the world is worse by far,
Stops my heart in ecstasy.
God, the wonders that there are!

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Mementos from Plainfield, Vermont

Larry's first singing group, I think, was the "Word of Mouth Chorus." They did a wonderful shape-note (Sacred Harp) album for Nonesuch Records, now available on cd, called Rivers of Delight. Sacred-Harp music has gotten more attention since the movie "Cold Mountain" - in fact when a group of us shape-note singers were sent to a bluegrass festival in Ulster, our sets were mobbed by Cold Mountain fans - but it was very obscure up north back then. Anyway, Word of Mouth was very involved with the Bread and Puppet Circus. Just inside the front door of Larry's home is this poster.

The manifesto was printed by the Bread and Puppet Circus people, who made many wonderful woodcuts, some featuring Mr. Death (below).

You can read an excellent article on the history of this dramatic and political arts organization and their "Domestic Resurrection Circus" here.

We saw puppets rather like these at SolarFest, hugely tall and narrow sorrowing parents carrying slender paper bag babies.

Here are other mementos spotted in Plainfield:

and, finally, a more practical notice posted near a sink:

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State Slogans

A few of the less mean ones from

Arizona: But It's A Dry Heat
Hawaii: Haka Tiki Mou Sha'ami Leeki Toru (Death To Mainland Scum, But Leave Your Money)
Idaho: More Than Just Potatoes. Well Okay, Not Really, But The Potatoes Sure Are Real Good
Indiana: 2 Billion Years Tidal Wave Free
Iowa: We Do Amazing Things With Corn
Kansas: First Of The Rectangle States
Maryland: If You Can Dream It, We Can Tax It
Michigan: First Line Of Defense From The Canadians
Minnesota: 10,000 Lakes And 10,000,000,000,000 Mosquitoes
New Hampshire: Go Away And Leave Us Alone
North Carolina: Tobacco Is A Vegetable
Oklahoma: Like The Play, Only No Singing
South Dakota: Closer Than North Dakota

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Things That Only Happen In Movies

From Nostalgia Central:

1. It is always possible to find a parking spot directly outside or opposite the building you are visiting.

2. When paying for a taxi, don't look at your wallet as you take out a note. Just grab one out at random and hand it over. It will always be the exact fare.

3. Television news bulletins usually contain a story that affects you personally at the precise moment it's aired.

4. Creepy music (or satanic chanting) coming from a graveyard should always be closely investigated.

5. Any lock can be picked with a credit card or paperclip in seconds. UNLESS it's the door to a burning building with a child inside.

6. If you decide to start dancing in the street, everyone you bump into will know all the steps.

7. All bombs are fitted with electronic timing devices with large red digital displays so you know exactly when they are going to explode.

8. Should you wish to pass yourself off as a German officer, it will not be necessary to learn to speak German. Simply speaking English with a German accent will do. Similarly, when they are alone, all German soldiers prefer to speak English to each other.

10. The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window of any building in Paris.

13. If staying in a haunted house, women should investigate any strange noises wearing their most revealing underwear.

15. All grocery shopping involves the purchase of French loaves which will be placed in open brown paper bags (Caveat: when said bags break, only fruit will spill out).

17. If you are heavily outnumbered in a fight involving martial arts, your opponents will wait patiently to attack you one by one by dancing around you in a threatening manner until you have defeated their predecessor.

19. Guns are like disposable razors. If you run out of bullets, just throw the gun away. you will always find another one.

21. Cars will explode instantly when struck by a single bullet.

25. You will survive any battle in any war UNLESS you show someone a picture of your sweetheart back home.

27. A single match is usually sufficient to light up a room the size of a football stadium.

30. When you turn out the light to go to bed, everything in you room will still be visible, just slightly bluish.

32. Rather than wasting bullets, megalomaniacs prefer to kill their enemies with complicated devices incorporating fuses, pulleys, deadly gases, lasers and man-eating sharks.

33. All beds have special L-shaped sheets that reach to armpit level on a woman but only up to the waist of the man lying beside her.

34. Anyone can land a 747 as long as there is someone in the control tower to talk you down.

35. During all police investigations it will be necessary to visit a strip club at least once.

37. Most musical instruments (especially wind instruments and accordions) can be played without moving your fingers.

On the way to Vermont we saw...

This truck, which says (in case you can't read it): Rendering Division. MOPAC. TECHNICAL ANIMAL FAT NOT INTENDED FOR HUMAN FOOD. What is technical animal fat?

It made us shiver, particularly because just moments before we had passed the "Resurrection Cemetery" which was very frightening. When people have been buried I want them to stay buried.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

More sayings from Norway, Maine

Here's a picture of Peter Lenz, historian of Norway, Maine, and his sales table. Here are a few more of his sayings...

strayaway folks
Up in my neck of the woods there's as many strayaway folks as there are middlin' do-as-yer-told ones.
those following a different way, usually in solitude; loners; out of place people

a worn item or person, or something misshapen, toppling, past its use

doesn't know beans with his head in the barrel
This guy is so stupid he don't know beans with his head in the barrel.

your geese are all swans
touted up, puffed out, boasted to be more than is warranted

I wouldn't go near those people or have anything at all to do with their supposed campaign, for if ever there was vampyrachy in this state, this is it!
group or clique of "parasitic bloodsucking politicians," a term going back at least as far as the 1820s

don't go all around your elbow to get to your thumb
stop being so stubbornly awkward and do it the right way

If he had a little more sense he'd be half-witted

How long will you be a prinkin'? Come down here and let's be leaving now!
primping, obsessive grooming, self-beautifying

brick in the hat
He's been out all night and I'm afraid he's got a brick in his hat!
intoxicated, can't walk steadily>

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Sayings from Norway Maine

I met historian Peter A. Lenz at a street festival in Norway Maine and bought his book entitled "The Best of Lost & Forgotten Maine & New England Folk & Leterary Sayings, Expressions, & Terms." Here are some excerpts.

to Deacon
I want you to be sure to deacon them berries: you put the largest on top like we do with the apples...
an expression denoting cheating and packaging greed

Indignation Meeting
We're holdin' an indignation meetin' over at the courthouse this evenin' so to loudly object to lettin' them slavecathers in here to recapture their prey.
an old term for a protest rally of some sort

If they hadn't raised all that splorum at meetin' we'd a been spared some little misery.
a splurging; a great fuss or noise on slight occasion and with little effect

It was heart-wrenching to see what a sog had come over her of late.
depression, lethargy

Loaves and Fishes
I tell you I'll find some way to stop all the loaves and fishes goin' on in this town!
with an ironic twist, this expression denotes the spoils, graft, bribes, favors, payola, and the like, of politicians

Smelling Committee
this unlikely term denotes those appointed to conduct an unpopular investigation

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Pub Quiz

A triumphant return to Pub Quiz tonight - the trivia game downtown where my office's team was knocked out of the standings after placing first, third, first, third over the past four weeks. Tonight - we had our revenge. Categories usually include things like movie quotes, who sings that song, "Istanbul or Constantinople" (i.e. after or before 1930), bras (e.g. how many times does the average woman change bra sizes in her life?) the team is very serious. i am the only girl which makes me sad. I try to make up for my incompetence with movie quotes with extra knowledge about history and bra sizes. at least one fully-grown person in our office (non-intern) used to play but he got so competitive about it that he decided he had to stop. next week is the "birthday of pub quiz" - each participant puts 4 dollars in the pot isntead of two, so the winnng team can actually walk out with more than 100 dollars. It's going to be fierce.

Transcribed a great interview today by an old Jewish guy who was in the air force during WWII and was stationed in the Philippines. He grew up in the Jewish Children's home in New Orleans (an orphanage), which was so great and nice a place and the Southern Jews contributed so much to it, and its school attracted such great teachers, that the richest and most uppity of New Orleans families began to clamored to send their kids to school with the orphans. (They also had world-class athletic coaching and doctor-ing; this old guy told the interviewer that he had braces as a child -- in the 1920s!) The orphans also developed friendships and connections with New Orleans' most prominent Jews while they were there, and many were thus able to get good jobs even at the worst point of the Depression by calling on the goodwill of this caring Jewish community.

The orphan's home has since closed, but the school, Isadore Newman, lives on and is even today probably one of the top five private schools in the South although Jews are certainly no longer the majority there!


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Brief report from Marshfield, Vermont

This morning, after an early visit to a dangerous gorge (about which more later) in Richmond VT we have arrived back at Larry's house in Marshfield and after eating tremendous amounts of bread, cheese, hummus, and kefir, we are sitting around in our befuddled state of exhaustion (exacerbated by the humidity). Tonight is our last concert, and we'll be heading home.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Brief report from Shrewsbury Vermont

Tonight will be our penultimate performance, in the "Round Church" in Richmond Vermont. I am torn between exhaustion (yearning to be back in my quiet clean predictable life) and nostalgia (because this has been a fantastic experience and it is unlike anything else).

We went to feed the horses this morning. Shrewsbury is a town full of narrow dirt roads (beautifully maintained) lined with ancient maples. Were they all planted at the same time? They are not looking so hot. They may not see too many more decades.

We hauled the most appalling collection of moist objects out of the bus last night. Too many swimming trips with no opportunity for anything to dry. We are cultivating Legionnaire's disease right here in our means of transportation. People refused to claim these items so we packed them back in a huge black plastic bag and hauled them back on the bus. I don't want to be around when this bag gets opened the next (hopefully last) time.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

the jazz dancer natalie wood won the pageant. she is cute. i find this an acceptable result.

Now there is a cameo from Miss Actually Miss Mississippi 2005. She can sing AND play the piano at the same time! It's not bad! May she be an inspiration.

Now there are some really excellent hip-hop dancers sort of interspersed with the Mississippi outstanding teens. This has drastically improved the caliber of the dancing.

Miss Mississippi teen

The Miss Mississippi teen pageant is on tonight. Right now all the contestants are doing a hip-hop inspired dance dressed in baggy shorts of shades of yellow, green, orange, and pink, and shirts and baseball caps the same. Their song is "working at the carwash" . All the ten semifinalsits are just walking slowly across the stage to show off their "physical fitness" in the "activewear" competition. This is modest tank tops and shorts or skirts that are relatively modest. They are doing this while everyone else does dance moves in the background. YOu can see the contestants here

They have also done a dance to a remix of "If I was a rich girl" by Gwen Stefani. Their talents were mostly wan ballet or shockingly off-key singing. There was one monologue one girl wrote - I think she was pretending she was a Confederate nurse. She dressed in long dress and an apron with decorative fake bloodstains on it. She used a very soft tragic voice and pretended she was reaching out to dying Confederate soldiers. Still this is better than the anemic ballet. I wish that more of them chose to showcase talents other than singing - but I guess it doesn't look as cute if you are hunched over a piano in the judges' opinions.

Now all the car-washers are washing a little tractor driven by a five year old boy in a baseball cap. it's all very remarkable. I will let you know who is winning.


A brief report from Tinmouth, Vermont

Hi friends,

I guess because Melina my dear daughter has a cold she's having trouble keeping up with the blog. I'm stealing a minute here on my host's computer. He is the keeper of Tinmouth's Civil War past, and is tracking down all the men from Tinmouth (a town of 600 people then, and 600 people now) who served in the Civil War. It's not as easy as you might think. There was a quota which each town had to meet, and if they failed to meet it, a draft had to be set in place. Tinmouth had one draft, and didn't care for that, so they started offering a healthy bounty to men from other places who would come enlist here.

We sang at Solarfest yesterday. After our set we went to a local pond, owned by genial and open-minded people, where the kids instantly stripped, almost the whole two dozen of them, and proceeded to set up a game where some of the boys, striped with blue mud in some tribal fashion, pelted naked girls who were sitting on a floating raft with bits of this mud. The girls then wrote epithets on each others' backs and presented their backs to the pelting boys. This was an enjoyable and primal scene.

Until later,

Friday, July 15, 2005

A brief report from Sanbornton, New Hampshire

I stayed last night at what appears to be the headquarters of the Sant Bani School on Ashram Road. Our concert last night was at the Congregational Church, one of about four buildings (the others being the library, post office, and police department) that constitute Sanbornton. Two of our kids live in this town: the first is a fourteen year old boy, George, who is a born roadie. He doesn't say much, but he carries a knife, sharpies, duct tape, and virtually anything else you might need. He can fix anything, makes sure equipment is where it needs to be (without being asked), finds things other people have lost. He has been sucked into the orbit of a somewhat older girl who outweighs him substantially and has the same, uh, assets as Marilyn Monroe (or at least, she wields them that way) and the same breathy girlish voice. I have seen Robert Crumb cartoons that look like this twosome.

It's fairly exhausting to be escorting 24 teenagers through New England. I find myself on a campaign to get them to notice we are performing in churches - mostly those wonderful tiny antique churches which still appear over every hill and around every curve in the road - and therefore, to wear shirts (boys) and skirts which cover the pubic region (girls). I can't say I've been very successful. But they are making a glorious noise! They sing beautifully and with a huge enthusiasm, so it's hard to get too cross with them.

After tonight, we'll have four more days and four more concerts. Then we'll drag our dirty clothes and wet towels off the bus and head for home. I've taken a lot of pictures and will have many stories for you!

Until then, my daughter Melina will carry on here. She just reported that some of her entries were showing up in Google at the top of the list and so she has removed them in the interest of prudence. They will reappear, I hope, when her stint in Mississippi is over. She can't be too careful, you know!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

some temple photos...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Baby names

This is one of the more entertaining websites I've seen recently. The government has been nice enough to keep track of all the names people have given their babies in - basically - for the last 100 years. Isn't America great?

Go through the decades, and watch how Mary, for decades, is twice as common as the next most common girl's name - and then how it is suddenly overtaken by names like Lisa. Notice how the 90s-trendy names like Ashley and Jessica get replaced by the old-fashioned, old-is-new-again, Emma, Emily, and Hannah. Marvel at the imaginative spellings of common names. What do you think will be the next names to come back in style?


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Another day another journey

The synagogue matriarchs I met on my trip today were extremely exhausting. I dare not provide details for fear a google search might come back to haunt me. To their credit, they had lots of good archives and lots of stories to tell. However, given a finite number of hours, you start thinking that since you are taking notes as fast as you can, maybe you would like to take a rain check on the stories of their ancestors (and their in-laws' ancestores, and their rabbi's ancestors...). Sigh.

I was watching TV this evening and a cockroach walked up the wall onto the ceiling and then fell from the ceiling to the floor basically between me and the TV. OOh, it's raining roaches! it was so exciting.


Monday, July 11, 2005

How to finesse piracy reports on what is being called the "ransom" model of publishing, an ingenious end-run around piracy issues
Last year, board-game designers Greg Stolze and Daniel Solis decided to create a title called Meatbot Massacre -- a tongue-in-cheek, dice-rolling bit of tactical play.

Since the board-game industry has notoriously tiny profit margins, they realized that they could make a lot more money -- and produce a much less expensive game -- by distributing it online as a downloadable PDF instead of trying to go the traditional route, publishing it in a box to sell at stores.

The problem was piracy. If you publish your game as a PDF, it's really easy for people to simply pass it around without paying you a dime. What to do?

Re-engineer the entire concept of publication, that's what! Last December, Stolze and Holis invented what they call "the ransom model". It works like this: They described the basic gist of the game on their web site, and set a ransom of $600 for it.

If they received $600 in donations by September 2005, they would finish creating the game -- and then release it on their site, for anyone to download for free. (If they didn't get the full $600 in time, they would donate whatever money they'd received to a homeless shelter.)

As they explained, the ransom model is a win-win for lots of reasons:

"First off, it makes piracy a non-issue: As soon as the property is available to anyone, it's free for everyone.

Secondly, it keeps the prices reasonable for the buyer, by definition. From where I sit, there is no conceivable way anyone can feel ripped off with this setup, since no one is being asked to front more than they're comfortable spending."

And it worked. In only four months, Stoltze and Solid got the full $600 they asked for, and now anyone can freely download the game from their site.

It's a fascinating concept, and reminds me of how publishing used to work back in the 19th and early 20th century. Many small presses used a subscription model: They'd announce a new book and ask for pre-paid orders. That way, they knew precisely how big (or small) their print run would be; presumably, they could also simply cancel the whole affair if they didn't get enough interest.

It's interesting to speculate on whether other forms of piracy-prone entertainment -- such as music or small, indie video-games -- could also use the ransom model.

Obviously, it would only work if the artist already had a decent following, because you need people who are sufficiently devoted to you to put money up front. One example might be my friend Chris Allbritton, who spent a year blogging at Back To, and then announced that he wanted to finance an independent reporting trip the country: His fan base donated him $13,000 for the trip.

Stolze and Solis posted a timeline of how their donations came in, and noted that their biggest surge occurred right after they posted some samples of the colored artwork from the game in progress.

Their advice to anyone using the ransom model is to "update your preview materials on a regular basis", since it helps show people just how cool the final work will be. One could imagine that technique working neatly with an album: The artist could post some snippets, rough cuts, or individual tracks as they work towards the final song.

Regardless of whether the ransom concept would work for other media, the really cool thing here is that when these guys were faced with the prospect of piracy, they didn't respond by suing their fans or imposing unworkable digital-rights solutions. They simply set about creating a new business model.

That's worth remembering the next time that music, movie and TV executives tell us that downloading is going to kill them. If their business models are failing, why aren't they innovating new ones too?
The model of publishing he mentioned as being popular in the "early 20th century" was still being used by Time, Life Inc. in the 60s and maybe 70s. I know because my aunt worked on these projects.

They would dream up a topic - work up a four-page glossy spread on it - and send it out as if the book were already written. They would see how many orders they got for it, and they would then have the book written for them if there were enough orders.

It is, of course, annoying to think about the gloating freeloaders, but as the authors say, nobody loses. If the idea of freeloaders annoys you, then don't pay and see if others will pick up the slack. Then YOU can be the freeloader.

What do you think?

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Saturday, July 09, 2005

My new favorite thing to watch

The cheetah cubs at the National Zoo were born in April, and I think their mommy is starting to get a little tired of them, especially when they sit on her head and try to paw her in the eye.

Swamp and Delta

Friday, July 08, 2005

delta safari

I have been traveling for work, too. The most notable trip I took last week was a day excursion to two dying synagogues in western-ish Mississippi. Our mission was mostly recon --- the Institute wants to keep tabs on these guys and help them out what they need and so possibly be in a position to administer their estates when they die, so to speak. The first synagogue was on the western edge of what they call the heartland area. The town where it is located is another one of those bizarrely dessicated Mississippi towns. Downtown looks a little bit like a Hollywood movie set from the 50s that has been sitting on a back lot since, well, the 50s, so all the plywood and the paint has started to peel. There's a big town hall with a clock, stores of a kind that nobody really wants in any other part of the country (general stores; soda fountains). Nobody wanted them in this town either - they weren't in good shape. These stores alternated with abandoned storefronts. Our host in this town was the local Jewish guy who was in his 70s and still running the store that his grandfather opened in about 1903. ("Longest continuously operating family-owned business in town"). His store was a descendant of the typical Jewish dry goods store of the early part of the 20th century. Now he pretty much sells clothes and shoes. Big signs saying everything is on sale, half price. There is a bullet hole in the door of his store. A few townspeople were browsing when we came by, but otherwise a typically deserted looking area.

This is one of the strangest things about Mississippi to me -- it always seems like there are many fewer people there than there ought to be, considering the number of stores and the sprawl of tiny settlements. "Where IS everybody?" my Long Island-bred companion asked after a weekend down here visiting. (Two million people live on Long Island. Three million people live in Mississippi). Here is one theory I have developed: Have you ever read or heard of the "Left Behind" books? From my understanding, this is an insanely popular series (yes, in this country, but no, not that anybody I know has read them) about the apocalypse, set in modern (i.e. godless) America --- and its central assumption is that all the really GOOD people (i.e. the good Christians) have been taken away to heaven, leaving all of the world's agnostics and shlumps here to try to figure out what's going on (and presumably, after enough sequels they will figure out how to get to heaven). Anyway, I think this is what may have happened in Mississippi. The apocalypse has already occurred. But of course the staff of the institute, being mostly Jews, didn't get any place. THe people you actually meet in Mississippi today are all of us jerks who didn't have the credentials to get into heaven and were "Left Behind". Jackson being a Baptist, God-fearing city, 60% of its population is probably watching us from above and laughing (or probably praying, I guess. If you figure out what we're supposed to be doing down here to get out of limbo, let me know.


The dry goods store owner left his son in charge of the store, and drove us over to the temple. It's a lovely little building, on the one-room-schoolhouse model, about a block and a half from the central square. The dry goods store owner proudly pointed out the tasteful little Star of David on the front, way up high. Until only a few years ago, he said, both the town's Baptist churches had had big Stars of David in stained glass on their facades, but not the temple! He was happy to say they had corrected this problem.

There are fewer than ten people who worship at this synagogue, none of them young. They get a traveling rabbi once a month. They do not know what they are going to do when they can't run it anymore. We took lots of pictures.

To get to the second synagogue we had to drive another 45 minutes further west. After about fifteen, we rounded one final turn in the road, passed over one final ridge, and suddenly, quietly, gently we slipped into the Delta.

You would think the Mississippi Delta would be at the sea coast, like the Nile delta. In fact, the Mississippi Delta is purely a phenomenon of the Mississippi river -- the utterly flat, fertile floodplain that has been fed and shaped for millennia by the river when it overflows its banks. The Delta is one of the most productive agriculture regions in the country. The topsoil is hundreds of feet deep, and it can support year after year of cotton agriculture (cotton being a crop that is very demanding of nutrients).

I had never been to the Midwest, so I was not prepared for what it would be like to drive through so much land that is so flat. The cotton is still green this time of year so it is quite lovely. But as you drive, you get the feeling that time is standing still. It's hard to stay awake. You feel like you can't possibly be driving more than 30 miles an hour. As usual, the land looks deserted. There are no highways through the Delta; there's nowhere you would need to go, and if you did, nobody is going to be spending any of the taxpayers' money to help you get there quickly. Every once in a while, you drive past catfish farms - places where instead of flat, square green fields there are flat, square brown-green ponds. Some are in operation - you can tell because you can see the water. Others - of course - are abandoned, and are being slowly covered over by spring-green muck. But are there still catfish there? monstrous, three-foot catfish? and if so, what are they eating?

can you tell catfish bother me a little bit?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

New Orleans, II

The strange thing about New Orleans is that it has about ten times its fair share of the part of the city you would usually call "the old pretty part." It became a tourist town very early so there are endless miles of lovely suburbs downtown, Classical-revival and what-have-you, and Mardi Gras beads hang on the huge live oaks and telephone lines all year round. However the flip side to this is that there is no area of downtown that is completely safe. Prosperous ancient neighborhoods border on, and overlap with, very dangerous ancient neighborhoods. Everyone's all mixed up together. Gentrification ebbs and flows, but all those Classical-revivals, you'd better believe they have a zillion locks and bars on all their downstairs windows. My friend told me about a couple, friends of her parents, who were thinking very seriously about buying a house in the back of the French Quarter - the pretty area, but a neighborhood that was still questionable. They found a house and were about to close, when the wife decided that, just to be sure she felt safe in the neighborhood, she would go take a walk by herself at 10:30 at night. She was mugged and badly beaten. They did not buy the house.

We had lunch at Mother's, a famous soul-food-po-boy-whatever restaurant downtown. Big piles of meat, bread, goo. Goo is so tasty! There was a huge line but it moved quickly, controlled by about 10 waiters and waitresses with highly developed chest voices and senses of their own importance. While we were waiting some guys tried to cut up to the front of the line to ask about it or how long the wait was or whether they could maybe just skip the line I guess. The waiter at the door, who was acting as a bouncer, said "Son -- if you see a line at a restaurant, get in it and don't ask questions. If you don't see a line, you shouldn't eat there." Anyway I ate a very large amount of meat and we will say no more about that.

That evening we went to Preservation Hall, this ancient and only partially preserved building devoted to housing live old-fashioned jazz bands. We got to sit right at their feet which was fun, both because of the music and also because we could eavesdrop on whatever these old dudes were mumbling to each other between songs. They would argue about the key. They would berate each other for interrupting the solos of others ("Get out of there! they would say.). TO make a little extra money, these guys work on the request system -- you ask them for a song, you pay them ten dollars and they play it. However they did not really want to play any song that any tourist wanted them to play -- if the average tourist had heard of it, they were sick of it. One guy timidly went up to the front and paid them a full ten dollars to play "Stormy Weather," (after they had asked for requests a good many times.) The band leader, in complete view of the entire audience rolled his eyes as he gestured at the pianist to start it up, as if saying, "you won't catch *me* starting THAT old stinker."

We found some bands playing for free that we liked much better, and wandered down Bourbon street, the infamous party zone, where my tiny, mild-mannered Jewish friend floated along through the drunken debauchery, wild bachelorettes, underaged spring break typoes, old alcoholics, panhandlers and street shysters with total calm and this little smile on her face. I learned something about this girl that day -- as quiet and polite as she is, she loves Bourbon street! It's like her favorite thing ever!

The next day we drove down to Baritaria, which is a big chunk of the swamp south of town (home of Jean Laffite!) We saw some gators and some turtles and a grasshopper half the size of your fist (not including legs!) It's called the Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper (lubber because it does not fly, it is a 'land-lubber' kind of thing). Totally disgusting but at least it can't fly all up in your face or anything. It can only waddle. We had a long conversation with the park ranger about the difference between the croak a frog makes and the croak a baby alligator makes. A frog croak is actually deeper. But either can be hidden in the leaves a foot from your feet and you'd never know. It's amazing how much life was hiding in that muck. If you looked at anything for long enough, it would start to move. We counted five snakes and wondered if they were (dangerous, scary) cottonmouths or (harmless, adorable, yucky bug eating) water snakes of other kinds. Apparently the coloring is all the same, and varies unpredictably, but in general, poisonous snakes have very wide jaws that they keep the poison in. Whereas other kinds of snakes have narrow heads, and cute round pupils, poisonous snakes generally have evil-looking diamond pupils. It's very thoughtful of them to make that distinction for us.