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Thursday, November 30, 2006

My two thanksgivings, part two.

My strategizing this year focused on one problem: how to have a nice Saturday Thanksgiving dinner for four and not be overwhelmed with leftovers when my kids were leaving the following day!

When I called Whole Foods to reserve a turkey for Friday pickup, I was reassured: "A number of our customers are having Saturday Thanksgivings." So is the world changing with all our broken homes...

Melina and I were delighted to find that, as we'd hoped, the Friday morning after Thanksgiving is an excellent time to visit Whole Foods, it was almost empty. I had a big fat gift card (because Bob and I play there every month) which made paying $2.99 per pound for our turkey breast less painful. We also bought 1.5 pounds of halibut (for Friday night dinner) for $26.78. After tossing a (very few) more treats into the cart, the total was almost $150.00.

Melina baked us two wonderful challahs (using our family recipe). We ate it for Shabbat dinner with raw sugar snap peas and halibut with lemon, pecan, and parsley sauce.

In order not to be left with two much pie, we employed strategy number one: we cooked our pumpkin and lemon meringue pies Friday and started eating them immediately.

Strategy number two: don't cook any foods that nobody needs to eat. I bought one sweet potato but the person who was going to eat it unexpectedly bailed, so I didn't cook it.

Note to self: an eight-pound organic turkey breast, stuffed, turned upside down (Melina noted: "Actually, that's right way up as far as the turkey was concerned"), loosely tented in foil, cooks in 2-1/2 hours at 350 degrees. If you don't eat the skin, you don't have to worry about what it looks like. I.e., no basting.

Mike the neuropsychiatrist-welder graciously accepted a last-minute invitation to come help us Hoover up the meal and was perfectly on time. We ate sumptuously, listening to Stan Freberg's "The United States of America," our holiday classic.

As we started working on the pie course, the doorbell rang. It was Menticia and her sisters and mom! They were selling jewelry out of a catalog to raise money for the cheerleading squad. I invited them in and all ate pie! An excellent strategy: have unexpected guests.

We had all been about to head into the living room for a brief concert by Mike, who is also my singing student, and who has been "hired" to sing an evening of rag-time songs in a month or so but who has never sung in front of anybody before. So Menticia, her sisters, her mom, Melina, and Zed sat and listened while I banged on the piano and exhorted and Mike sang. "What do I do with my hands?" he asked.

Then our unexpected guests left and we became, unexpectedly, a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting - Zed sang, and Melina sang and played the guitar, and then all four of us sang "Ain't We Got Fun?" and we really do got fun, and then we had to rush out the door cause I had a gig at the Celtic Cafe in Winston-Salem.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Homeowner Association: peace symbol is divisive. What happened to "peace on earth, good will towards man"?

Extracts from
Pro-Peace Symbol Forces Win Battle in Colorado Town
By Kirk Johnson for the New York Times, November 29, 2006

Last week, a couple were threatened with fines of $25 a day by their homeowners’ association unless they removed a four-foot wreath shaped like a peace symbol from the front of their house.

The fines have been dropped, and the three-member board of the association has resigned, according to an e-mail message sent to residents on Monday.

Two board members have disconnected their telephones, apparently to escape the waves of callers asking what the board could have been thinking, residents said. The third board member, with a working phone, did not return a call for comment.

In its original letter to the couple, Lisa Jensen and Bill Trimarco, the association said some neighbors had found the peace symbol politically "divisive."

A board member later told a newspaper that he thought the familiar circle with angled lines was also, perhaps, a sign of the devil.

Mr. Trimarco said he put up the wreath as a general symbol of peace on earth, not as a commentary on the Iraq war or another political statement.

In any case, there are now more peace symbols in Pagosa Springs, a town of 1,700 people 200 miles southwest of Denver, than probably ever in its history.

On Tuesday morning, 20 people marched through the center carrying peace signs and then stomped a giant peace sign in the snow perhaps 300 feet across on a soccer field, where it could be easily seen.

Town Manager Mark Garcia said Pagosa Springs was building its own peace wreath, too. Mr. Garcia said it would be finished by late Tuesday and installed on a bell tower in the center of town.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

My two thanksgivings, part one.

I went off with my Nittany apple pie (it was PERFECT) to an odd part of northeast Durham - I drove past miracle mile, past the dump and desolate urban woe, and turned onto a little street into a little driveway and then passed a big pond surrounded by trees to find Edward's house. It's one of the city's spectacularly overgrown forgotten corners.

My bandmate Bob, his work-mentor Edward, and a few other guys were standing in a clot next to the pond. Bob was holding up a very large large-mouth bass. His girlfriend Barb had come out of the house and as I parked was asking, "Is that thing alive?" Bob reassured her that it wasn't just as the fish opened and closed its mouth a few times. Barb evinced her dismay and Bob put the fish into a tub of water. He said he'd drop it into the deep fat fryer after the turkey was cooked.

Edward is a small, strong man with white hair and a big, nice wife who does massage and healing for people. He was an artist in Poland (he told me in his somewhat halting English: "Every day we had to look at nudes at the Academy, every day we had to draw or paint or sculpt the nude, after that I've never liked to see women with their clothes off, even my wives.") When Edward, after living among the artists and intellectuals in Poland, came to America, speaking not a word of English, he says he lived for a while under bridges as he tried to find a job.

Now he is a master craftsman; he and Bob do custom, high end work and have a long-term gig restoring the Tryon Palace, a very ritzy job.

Edward's house is full of his paintings and sculptures, many of them made of gigantic found pieces of wood. Over the couch there is a sculpture mounted on the wall. It juts out about five feet - I certainly wouldn't sit under it! Somebody had to tell me: it's a gigantic breast. "Where's the other one?" I asked. Edward clenched his fists and turned, provocatively, sideways, indicating that the other breast is, naturally, behind the wall.

Before dinner I got a call from my poor daughter Melina. She was at her dad's house, alone, babysitting THEIR turkey - her little half-brother is sick and everybody else was at the hospital. We had a chat about "knowing when your turkey is cooked," a chat I reassured her we all have, every single year, because nobody is ever really sure.

Speaking of which, out on the porch a clot of guys were watching the boiling oil with macho interest. Bob would haul the turkey out of the oil on a stick and all would observe it and make sage comments. Then he'd lower it back into the sizzle. It was eventually ready.


The fish, however, received a last-minute pardon and was thrown back in the pond. Macho as he is, Bob didn't have the heart to gut it.

We had a delicious dinner and then Bob and I played tunes for a while (Bob sat under the gigantic breast, I guess he has confidence in Edward's ability to mount a massive pieces of wood securely to a wall). I went home and blogged "Mundo de Fieras" for my Caray! Caray! blog. So ended Thanksgiving number one.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving: saved by an apple

Thanksgiving is a hard time of year for divorced families, ask any of us. Last year it was "my turn" to have Melina and Zed, and a fine time we had - an excellent dinner followed by a most entertaining session of welding and, even more fun, the exploding of aluminum cans into fiery blobs with the oxyacetalyne torch.

So this year it is my ex's turn, and there is sickness over at his house, so things are stressful and I haven't seen much of my kids since their first sleep marathons...

And today started with a very sad conversation with a dear friend, I felt desolate, and the house was even emptier and quieter than usual after that...

Eventually it was time to start making a big pie to take to the Thanksgiving dinner I've been invited to (I'm the lonely stray they're taking in this year).

I started to cheer up when I got out the apple peeler - it's exactly like the ones the colonists used hundreds of years ago, only made of plastic. I used to hate peeling apples but I love this gizmo so much, every time I turned the crank I felt a little better.

My recipe suggested using two kinds of apples, so in addition to the usual Granny Smiths I'm trying some local Nittany apples. It's true, I generally grumble at the expense of our local yuppie-foodie-no-price-too-high Whole Foods Market, but when I took a bite of one of their Nittany apples, I smiled for the first time all day.

Perhaps half of this apple slipped into the cook as she chopped.

Then my brother in Los Angeles called to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving and tell me his dream is to get our families, and my other brother's family, together for Thanksgiving at least once more in our lifetimes. I have my doubts but it was great to hear from him.

So I took the label off that wonderful Nittany apple and I stuck it up on the post near the stove, to remind me that little things can turn your day around if you let them. Now the pie is baking and it smells wonderful.

I'm thankful I have someplace to go; I'm thankful that my kids did not get stuck in some crowded airport somewhere, but made it home safely, and that they slept happily under my roof; I'm thankful I'll see them tomorrow. And, of course, I'm thankful that I'm enjoying yet another day above ground.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What goes on out there? My children come home for Thanksgiving, but not in the same condition as when I lent them to the world in the first place.

I picked Zed up at the airport yesterday and brought him home around noon. I peered at him and said, "What you need is (1) some food and (2) a nap." "No, I'm not hungry, and I don't want to sleep. I've gotten onto an incorrectly nocturnal schedule - yesterday I took an 8-hour nap from 2 to 10 pm, and then I was up all night. So today, I have to stay awake all day."

I suggested food again, and he refused. Then he said, "I'll just lie down for a few minutes and maybe I'll be hungry." He slept for two hours - he was as white as a corpse, I guess all the blood in his body had been sucked to some deep place. It was a little scary.

So I woke him up and he ate two huge sandwiches, sitting on the couch wrapped up in the comforter I put over him. His cheeks got very rosy. Then he smiled and fell back onto the couch and slept another three hours.

What goes on out there in the world, that my son comes back to me in this condition?

He'd said, "Wake me up so we can make dinner together," so at 5:00 I woke him again and we made curried tofu with green beans and cauliflower (his choice). We ate his delicious food.

Then I had to go direct the Chorale, so I took him to his dad's house and went off into the hurling rain.

When I got back from work, there was a text from my daughter Melina: "Plane an hour late. I'll be sleeping at dad's." A few minutes later, another text: "Plan changed, I'll be at your place in twenty minutes."

So I see the headlights through the pounding, blowing rain, and Melina stumbles into the house with her gigantic suitcase - her coat is in her arms, wet, her clothes are wet, she's shaking and gibbering, she's white as a corpse.

She said, "I was going to sleep at dad's, but last time I snuck into my little brother's room at night [to sleep in the top bunk], he woke up and slipped out of the room and knocked on his parents' door and firmly said: "Daddy, I'm sure there's a monster in my room."

So I took Melina's wet coat out of her hand (she tends to clutch things very firmly when she's exhausted, so as not to lose them), put it down to dry (I could lie and say I hung it up, but I'm not that good a mother), hauled her huge suitcase upstairs and pulled her along behind. She staggered into her flannel pjs, brushed her teeth, and fell into bed - I put a huge down comforter on top of her other blankets and she disappeared into a fluffy beige cloud.

Why was she like this? I don't know yet, but she was mumbling something about an expensive space-age projector malfunctioning at work.

What goes on out there in the world, that my daughter comes back to me in this condition?

If you know me, you know I was in heaven. Being allowed to mother my children is my very greatest pleasure.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

They're coming home...

... yes, Melina, I removed the tripwires (there is so much electronica connected to the back of my computer that various cords are often draped across her doorway) and I promise to have the mountain of stuff on your bed scraped flat by tonight...

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On Philosophers

I hate philosophy. Philosophers should be out mowing their lawns or doing something else that's useful.

A quote from Lucian, found at Laudator Temporis Acti:
If in the future I ever meet a philosopher while I am walking on the road, even by chance, I will turn round and get out of his way as if he were a mad dog.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Melina: On my way home

Ma always taught me to clean my room before I leave for a trip. So that's my project for tonight. I had a laundry emergency, which is to say I procrastinated doing my own laundry until it was too late, and I had to pay for my friendly local laundromat to do the laundry for me. I won't tell you how much it costs to get this done, but on the bright side, they fold each item of clothing into a perfect rectangle, and then compact the rectangles together into a perfect cube for you to carry home.

The young guys who work there are not necessarily so thrilled about the work, but they do take obvious pride in how perfect and compact they can make their laundry cubes. They have taken the process that you or I might call "putting the laundry into a plastic bag" and transformed it into something more like "manual shrinkwrapping." I sometimes see an older one inducting a younger one into the fine art - pointing out some errant sleeve or demonstrating his exact strategy for squishing the cube as tightly as possible.

Because when your clothes are folded very tiny, they fit better into your very tiny closet.



P.S. My dad is having Thanksgiving at the beach. It's going to be great, but I better not be the one riding three hours in the car with a raw turkey in my lap (though I'm sure the dog would be happy to volunteer for the job).

P.P.S. Mom, you took down those trip wires, right? You know the ones I'm talking about.

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My big job for the day...

... to excavate in my kids' rooms. They're coming home for Thanksgiving and would not be happy to see all the stuff I've piled on their beds while they've been away...

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Precipitous vs. precipitate.

My very first visit to Pam Nelson's Triangle Grammar Guide taught me something new this morning. I don't think I've ever even heard anybody use the word precipitate, have you?

Thursday, November 2, 2006
Fast or steep

A reader, Barbara McDonald, wrote a few days ago about the confusion of "precipitous" and "precipitate." Here is what she had to say:

I have many pet grammar and usage peeves, but one in particular is escalating out of sight... precipitously, one might say. Then, again, one could argue that this entire confusion has been precipitated by the media glomming on to fad words.

I have heard in recent months -- on NPR and elsewhere -- dozens of misuses of those two words: precipitous and precipitate. Usually the misuse happens when precipitously is used mistakenly for precipitately, perhaps because the latter is more difficult to pronounce.

Am I the only one who speaks back to the radio or TV, saying, "No, no, no. You don't mean steep; you mean with undue haste."

Barbara makes a wonderful point. Bryan A. Garner in his "Dictionary of Modern American Usage" explains the difference between the two words. Precipitate, meaning sudden or hasty, applies to actions, movements or demands. Precipitous, meaning steep like a precipice, applies to physical things, rarely to actions, "except when the metaphor of steepness is apt." So a "precipitous" decline would be a steep dropoff, and a "precipitate" decline would be a sudden drop. shows precipitation to have these definitions:
  • a casting down or falling headlong.
  • a hastening or hurrying in movement, procedure, or action.
  • sudden haste.
  • unwise or rash rapidity.
  • Meteorology.
    1. falling products of condensation in the atmosphere, as rain, snow, or hail.
    2. the amount of rain, snow, hail, etc., that has fallen at a given place within a given period, usually expressed in inches or centimeters of water.
  • Chemistry, Physics. the precipitating of a substance from a solution.
PERCIPITATION is not a word.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

A FireFox / Google conspiracy?

I'm used to thinking of both Firefox and Google as being the "good guys" but my credulity was shaken a bit today.

In the last few weeks Firefox has been crashing my desktop frequently; in response, Windows keeps smugly advising, "well this won't necessarily solve your problem, but you are advised to update your copy of Firefox."

I've gotten very leery of updates - so many of them seem to make things worse these days - but Firefox was freezing so much I thought I didn't have much to lose.

So I went to the Firefox site and discovered - well, unless there's a very crafty escape hatch - you can't download Firefox any more unless you ALSO install the Google toolbar!

I didn't ask for or want the Google toolbar, but I had already uninstalled my previous copy of Firefox so I gritted my teeth and said yes.

I downloaded the file and started to install. My Spybot program went crazy. This installation was demanding that many, many registry entries be changed.

It reminded me of when Zed put AOL on my computer and it was as hard to eradicate as twitch-grass - I finally got a special program which announced it had removed 213 (or so) AOL references from my registry.

So I panicked and cancelled the installation and removed the new Firefox from my machine. So I have nothing but Internet Explorer on my desktop now.

UPDATE: I've had to close comments on this post because for some reason it was attracting comment spam, sorry.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

What I've been doing lately.

Pratie Heads Rag Faire coverBob and I decided sort of casually to make a new cd, our first since 1988. We chose the music casually, and we ambled casually up to Satterwhite where a young engineer is renting part of the house Bob built and recorded with him. He isn't very experienced, but it's a comfortable place.

The studio is fit into the "mother-in-law apartment" Bob had built for his Finnish aunt Helve. She was in her late 80s and quite feisty. It turned out the country life held no charms for her after a lifetime in Las Vegas - I guess, like my friend Beth, she preferred concrete to trees and meadows - so she left Satterwhite and moved back to a city.

It's a long drive up there, so we did a couple of overnights. I put my cot in the living room next to the wood stove and read some of Bob's junky books when we were done recording for the night.

Well, then we had to mix the stuff we recorded. A thousand questions: which mics are too loud, which are not loud enough, each track has to be EQ'd so it sounds right (it's better to solve this BEFORE you record, with good mic placement, but oh well), how will the tracks be panned (in stereo, we can make some sound like they're right in the middle and some, like they're off on one side or the other), what kind of reverb to use... usually the engineer is a big help, but this one said, "honestly, I s--k at mixing," and Bob is mostly concerned with whether he played every note perfectly (I think he played only two incorrect notes on the whole album) so I made most of the decisions.

Pratie Heads with rags and miter boxMeanwhile, back home, I was painting the album cover, and I'm a rotten painter, so that took a long time.

We set up a photo shoot with a table covered with "rags" (which included some of my favorite dresses and a lot of Zed's boxers, sorry Zed), and a saw in a miter box. My friend Paul shot the pictures, and this is the one we used on the back of the album.

Next, the rest of the graphics had to be prepared. In the olden days, I would do them myself in WordPerfect, and then have everything rendered as films and send the films off to the replicators. But now, it's all done electronically, and I don't have any of the programs that the replicators accept for uploads. Once again Paul came to the rescue, he had InDesign, but it's a hard program to use and it took us days to get everything right.

We got all the graphics files sent off to the replicators, and then our young engineer had a meltdown just as we were supposed to get our final mixes. The cd drive in his fancy Roland console died, and he had to haul his hard drive into town and perform some firewire procedure to make copies for me.

He brought the tracks to me finally, one track each on 18 cds, and I mastered them at home on SoundForge. SoundForge is an amazing program: things I can now do myself - sitting in my office - in the old days could not be done by anybody in the greatest studios in the world. Having all those tools leads one to obsession so I spent a whole day tweaking, then burning a test cd, then walking around the neighborhood listening to it, then coming back and tweaking some more and burning another cd and walking again.

Finally I just had to say: ENOUGH. So I packed it off to the replicators.

Then, I overhauled my websites and put together the "Pratie Heads Electronic Press Kit" - this is something I didn't know existed until a couple months ago, when somebody told us it was the now only acceptable way to throw your hat into their bookings ring. Making that work took lots of time.

Then I did one for Mappamundi, my world music band, too - it's not quite ready for prime time.

Then I had to clean up the house. Then we had another gig. Now it's now.

And that's why I haven't been blogging.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Walking is good for your brain.

Extracts from
How to Keep Your Aging Brain Fit: Aerobics
Forget Crossword Puzzles -- Study Says 3 Hours of Exercise a Week Can Bolster Memory, Intellect

By Sharon Begley for the Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2006

According to a new study, the brain's long, slow decline may not be inevitable. For the first time, scientists have found something that not only halts the brain shrinkage that starts in a person's 40s, especially in regions responsible for memory and higher cognition, but actually reverses it: aerobic exercise.

As little as three hours a week of brisk walking apparently increases blood flow to the brain and triggers biochemical changes that increase production of new brain neurons.

As brains age, normal wear and tear starting in middle age causes them to process information more slowly, which means it takes longer to make judgments and grasp complex information. Older brains also take longer to switch from one task to another and are less adept at "multitasking" (such as driving while simultaneously tuning the radio and checking the tailgater).

A number of earlier studies showed that elderly people who take up aerobic exercise show improved cognitive function after a few months... Their working memory is better, they are nimbler at switching between mental tasks, and they can screen out distractions better than people who did not get exercise training.

As little as three hours a week of aerobic exercise increased the brain's volume of gray matter (actual neurons) and white matter (connections between neurons) ... "after only three months ... the people who exercised had the brain volumes of people three years younger."

Studies in both people and animals have linked increases in brain volume (which occur with some drugs) to improvements in thinking, remembering, cognitive flexibility (thinking outside the box) and perseveration (not getting stuck on one thought).

Gray matter increased most in the frontal lobes, the seat of high-order thinking such as attention and memory. White matter increased most in the corpus callosum. This is the bundle of neurons that connects the right brain and the left, and whose deterioration with age is thought to be responsible for slower thinking. With better connections, the hemisphere that is carrying out some task can send signals to the other side to pipe down, making for better cognitive efficiency.

"This is the first time anyone has shown that exercise increases brain volume in the elderly," says Dr. Kramer. "It suggests that aerobic exercise can stave off neural decline, and even roll back some normal age-related deterioration of brain structure."

How might exercise work this magic? Studies in lab animals show that exercise raises blood levels of a molecule called IGF-1 (for insulin-like growth factor). Normally, IGF-1 does not cross the blood-brain barrier, explains Prof. Gage, but "with exercise it does." IGF-1 increases blood flow, which is good for brain neurons. Even more important, it induces neural stem cells to morph into actual neurons and other functional brain cells. The hippocampus, a structure that is crucial to forming new memories, is especially amenable to the benefits of IGF-1.

With more gray matter and white matter, "the brain is more interconnected, more plastic and more adaptive to change," Prof. Kramer says.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On Not Craving Stuff.

I've finally started to recuperate from my crazy few weeks, and hope to be blogging more regularly soon. In the mean time - more words of wisdom from my hero. My favorite part is the last line - I feel that exact phrase coming to my mind in a mall.

Extracts from Samuel Johnson's
The Adventurer, No. 119. TUESDAY, DECEMBER 25, 1753

When Socrates was asked, "which of mortal men was to be accounted nearest to the gods in happiness?" he answered, "that man who is in want of the fewest things."

In this answer, Socrates left it to be guessed by his auditors, whether, by the exemption from want which was to constitute happiness, he meant amplitude of possessions or contraction of desire.

These two states, however, though they resemble each other in their consequence, differ widely with respect to the facility with which they may be attained.

To make great acquisitions can happen to very few; and in the uncertainty of human affairs, to many it will be incident to labour without reward, and to lose what they already possess by endeavours to make it more: some will always want abilities, and others opportunities to accumulate wealth.

It is therefore happy, that nature has allowed us a more certain and easy road to plenty; every man may grow rich by contracting his wishes, and by quiet acquiescence in what has been given him, supply the absence of more.

Yet so far is almost every man from emulating the happiness of the gods, by any other means than grasping at their power, that it seems to be the great business of life to create wants as fast as they are satisfied.

... there is no man who does not, by the superaddition of unnatural cares, render himself still more dependent; who does not create an artificial poverty, and suffer himself to feel pain for the want of that, of which, when it is gained, he can have no enjoyment.

It must, indeed, be allowed, that as we lose part of our time because it steals away silent and invisible, and many an hour is passed before we recollect that it is passing; so unnatural desires insinuate themselves unobserved into the mind, and we do not perceive that they are gaining upon us, till the pain which they give us awakens us to notice.

Much of our time likewise is sacrificed to custom; we trifle, because we see others trifle; in the same manner we catch from example the contagion of desire; we see all about us busied in pursuit of imaginary good, and begin to bustle in the same chase, lest greater activity should triumph over us.

One man is beggaring his posterity to build a house, which when finished he never will inhabit; another is levelling mountains to open a prospect, which, when he has once enjoyed it, he can enjoy it no more; another is painting ceilings, carving wainscot, and filling his apartments with costly furniture, only that some neighbouring house may not be richer or finer than his own.

But there are yet minuter objects and more trifling anxieties. Men may be found, who are kept from sleep by the want of a shell particularly variegated! who are wasting their lives, in stratagems to obtain a book in a language which they do not understand; who pine with envy at the flowers of another man's parterre; who hover like vultures round the owner of a fossil, in hopes to plunder his cabinet at his death; and who would not much regret to see a street in flames, if a box of medals might be scattered in the tumult.

He that looks upon the business and bustle of the world, with the philosophy with which Socrates surveyed the fair at Athens, will turn away at last with his exclamation, "How many things are here which I do not want!"

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Getting drunk drivers off the road.

My stepbrother was killed by a drunk driver and his mother never recovered. A dear friend in Winston-Salem received a call one Thanksgiving afternoon that his son had been killed on the road minutes earlier by a drunk driver. This one really hits home for me.

Extracts from
Meet the nation’s biggest buzz-kill
Lynnwood, Wash., cop excels at spotting drivers under the influence

by John Larson for

Police Officer Mark Brinkman is an expert in spotting people driving under the influence. In fact, he's so good, while most police arrest 20 drunk drivers a year, a few years back he arrested 100. And then the next year he caught 200. He may be the best buzz-killer in the land.

"The rumor among the officers was that he would crack his window about an inch open, and he claimed that he could smell the drunk drivers driving past us," says former Junior Sheriff Josh Hines. "And a car would go past us and he would just whip a U-turn and nine times out of 10 it was a drunk driver."

Sixteen years ago Brinkman saw two teenagers run a stop sign, and he let it slide. Minutes later, on a rural road, the teenage driver — drunk — flipped the car, and soon the passenger lay dying in Brinkman's arms.

"So I went home that night with this girl's blood on my uniform, knowing later that had I stopped her, I would have arrested the driver for a DUI and that girl would have lived and graduated from high school and had a life," says Brinkman. "I don't know [if it's] so much as guilt. It's just the one thing in my 20 years of law enforcement that still sticks with me, something that is just kind of always there."

Up to 20,000 Americans die every year at the hands of drunk drivers, more than all crimes combined. That's a fact lost on most whom Brinkman books each night.

"The world will be a better place for eight hours with me in here, let me tell you," said one of Brinkman's suspects who recently spent some time in jail.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Samuel Johnson, early blogger

I've been so busy, the only time I've had to read lately was in the doctor's office. I had my palm pilot and entertained myself with Samuel Johnson, upon whom I have a tremendous crush. It's a good thing I'll never know if he was bald, fat, and/or smelly.

I'm reading his essays collected as The Adventurer and then The Idler. I guess these were published on a regular basis, kind of like a blog. His informal manner seems very modern to me.

Here's today's tidbit. I particularly liked the bit about "the hopes excited in the fury of the performance." This is, I think, what leads people to do hundreds of takes of their songs in the recording studio: in your head there's a mostly perfect performance, the very best performance you could ever imagine giving if you were just - a little more gifted, a little better rehearsed, than you actually are. There's always the hope that the NEXT take will come closer to the platonic ideal.

A good recording engineer knows when this is a futile pursuit and gently reminds you that, in fact, monkeys cannot type Shakespeare.

Extracts from
The Adventurer #138, March 2, 1754
by Samuel Johnson

If we apply to authors themselves for an account of their state, it will appear very little to deserve envy; for they have in all ages been addicted to complaint. The neglect of learning, the ingratitude of the present age, and the absurd preference by which ignorance and dulness often obtain favour and rewards, have been from age to age topicks of invective; and few have left their names to posterity, without some appeal to future candour from the perverseness and malice of their own times.

I have, nevertheless, been often inclined to doubt, whether authors, however querulous, are in reality more miserable than their fellow mortals. The present life is to all a state of infelicity; every man, like an author, believes himself to merit more than he obtains, and solaces the present with the prospect of the future; others, indeed, suffer those disappointments in silence, of which the writer complains, to show how well he has learnt the art of lamentation.

To write is, indeed, no unpleasing employment, when one sentiment readily produces another, and both ideas and expressions present themselves at the first summons; but such happiness, the greatest genius does not always obtain; and common writers know it only to such a degree, as to credit its possibility. Composition is, for the most part, an effort of slow diligence and steady perseverance, to which the mind is dragged by necessity or resolution, and from which the attention is every moment starting to more delightful amusements.

When thoughts and words are collected and adjusted, and the whole composition at last concluded, it seldom gratifies the author, when he comes coolly and deliberately to review it, with the hopes which had been excited in the fury of the performance: novelty always captivates the mind; as our thoughts rise fresh upon us, we readily believe them just and original, which, when the pleasure of production is over, we find to be mean and common, or borrowed from the works of others, and supplied by memory rather than invention.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

In Which You Might Ask: Is Today Melina's Birthday?

And if you did, the answer would be, why, yes, it is. She is twenty-three.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

In Which Melina Overdoses on News

Last night the Urban Caballero hosted an election party. He printed up gigantic scoreboards where we could track all the Senate, House, and governorship races in play. Every time a new result was announced, the two party-goers who were actually paying attention would holler at him, and he would race over to the scoreboard and mark the result. (Frequently, we would holler something incorrect, and would get chastised.) His friends are a decidedly urban group of damas and caballeros, but many of them are still registered to vote in the important swing states where they grew up. So you'd think these people could make a serious impact on the outcomes of these close races. However, only two of them voted. (Melina, who missed the absentee deadline for her North Carolina ballot, was not one of these two). We were discussing that this was not a good state of affairs.

The Urban Caballero commented that he was distressed that he did not receive an "I voted" sticker when he voted. This led us into a discussion about voting incentives. Can you imagine what would happen if everyone who voted got a free candy bar or souvenir? Perhaps something similar to what can be found inside a Happy Meal or Kinder Egg. It would cost our country about ten cents per person, and I'm sure voting turnout would increase 10%, at least. People are pretty simple that way. If you vote in an election, you get a horrible middle-aged guy with bad hair who talks like he knows what you want. And within the next two years, you usually end up hating him. If you buy a Kinder Egg, by contrast, you get little bit of good chocolate and a really fun toy. Don't you think that would offset the pain of voting, just a little bit?


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Melinama usually eschews the news.

I've been trying to reduce my exposure to upsetting news I can do nothing about, but last week I slipped up and accidentally reviewed the headlines at Discovery News. Here are most of them.

U.S. Population to Hit 300 Million Tuesday

Seafood Benefits Outweigh Risks

A study concludes seafood's healthy fatty acids exceed risk of mercury exposure.

Crops at Risk as Birds and Bees Decline

Ozone Hole Size Sets Record

U.N.: Ocean 'Dead Zones' Growing

The number of ocean dead zones jumps 34 percent in just two years.

Iceland Kills Endangered Whale
Iceland kills a fin whale after breaking a moratorium on commercial whaling.

Obesity Linked to Mental Decline

China's Yellow River Turns Red
A Chinese river turns red after a mysterious discharge from a sewage pipe.

Coral Reefs Threatened by Warming
Global warming poses a threat to more than half the world's fragile reefs, say scientists.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Melinama - and Melina - visit Zed at Wesleyan; I report verbosely and with many run-on sentences

Sorry I've been incommunicado. The push to get "Rag Faire" finished left me jittery and exhausted, and then it was time to finish the album cover and then push off for Middletown, CT, where I am right now, visiting Zed, who's rounding the corner of first semester second year at Wesleyan.

I'm ecstatic to be holed up in my hotel room with internet access and an extra blanket. I've been so overstimulated lately, the best thing is to pull the sheet over my head as if I were a parrot in a cage. I also need to remember how to sleep at night.

The evening I got here, I was so exhausted I immediately locked the keys to my rental car in the ignition with the engine running. Luckily Campus Police sent a lovely redhead to help me out. He was cheerful even though he spends his whole day and night dealing with idiots. "You must be tired of spending all day and night with idiots," I said, and he tried to hide his smile as he said, dutifully, "Oh, no, ma'am." (Well he didn't say ma'am cause we're not in the south, but he could have.)

He had a few pounds of keys on his belt for getting kids back into their rooms when they lock themselves out. Melina later mused that she once had locked herself out wearing only a towel, and the Campus Policeman did not come swiftly, and when he arrived did not crack even a smile. I guess he sees lots of kids dressed only in towels.

Here at Wesleyan, the most expensive college in the universe, you'd think they'd be generous about these things, but they in fact charge a hefty fee for dorm lockouts. Zed's had a couple and they are going on his "stupid money" tab...

Things could be worse - Zed told us of a friend who had locked herself out ten times in one semester! So the eleventh time she asked the guy, "don't you have a Buy Ten Get One Free card?" and he cut her a break.

We picked Melina up in New Haven yesterday after her gig with Bosilek Bulgarian Folk Dance Ensemble at the NOMAD folk festival. The folkies (some of whom I remembered from the 1970s when I, too, sang Bulgarian music at NOMAD) are aging - the dancing is slowing down and the knees are wrapped, and you will recall my thought about we hippy folksingers and folkdancers slipping off into the West like the Elvish folk, and we will say no more about that. But Melina looked more than adorable in her Bulgarian garb of many colors, and there was a cute tapan player, and the dancers swished across the floor very quietly in their soft leather shoes (which reminded me of the Stan Freberg routine wherein the Native Americans - in the course of trying to sell Manhattan to Peter Stuyvesant - tap-dance in moccasins) and then the set was over and she got back into her NYC clothes - what a pity that the young urban girl these days must wear black when she looks so fetching in multi-colored Bulgarian garb - and her current urban caballero, who had taken a train and a taxi to come to the show too (it was far from his usual experiences but perhaps he will get the hang of appreciating a young urban girl, in multi-colored Bulgarian garb, singing ecstatically dissonant music very loudly), suggested we all walk down to Yale in search of the burrito guy who has been doling out excellent burritos since time immemorial (that means three years or so) ..

... and on the way towards burritos Melina was complaining that her grandparents and brother walk too slowly, so I started walking very very slowly, and she started to grow very very agitated at the pace, and then the urban caballero, who takes acting classes and hence practices this kind of thing, started walking even more slowly, and it was very impressive, except he could only keep it up for about fifteen or twenty seconds, because he, too, is a Type A multitasker, and sweat started to pop out on his brow due to the nanoseconds being squandered by our langorous pace...

... but despite our slow-pokiness we eventually did reach York Street and we choked down huge burritos and then we said goodbye to the urban caballero and drove back up here to Middletown, where we discussed the proper location for Melina's birthday dinner...

Zed wanted Vegan but I put my foot down, if I was going to pay a lot for dinner it was not going to be soybeans and barley no matter how artfully prepared, so he said, "Well there are a zillion Thai restaurants, we could try one of those," and I queried incredulously, "A zillion?" and Zed said, "Well, two," and so we went to one of those zillion Thai restaurants and it was very good...

That was yesterday. Today, since it's almost Melina's birthday, we made a pineapple upside-down cake in the kitchen at Zed's house. He lives in the Bayit, the Jewish house, and even though nobody in the joint is actually devoutly kosher, they, out of principle, run a sort-of kosher kitchen. That is to say, there are red dots on the meat flatware and blue dots on the dairy flatware, and two different drainers, and there are meat tablecloths and dairy tablecloths, however things get a bit jumbled together, and then there's the general sanitation level, which is to say, it's not your grandmother's kosher kitchen, which is to say, we saw a huge pot with cold, greasy water in it and Matter floating on top and the water was murky so we couldn't see what was in the bottom, and Ben said, "Oh, Avi koshered that pot, but he didn't wash it," and so we will say no more about that...

The pineapple upside-down cake was pretty good, and we carried it up to Ezra's room which smells like, well, the inhabitants are young men who don't do their laundry so very often, so we will say no more about that either, and we sat on the floor and cued up the Birthday Song by John McCutcheon on the computer, and we sang and danced expressively while sitting and eating cake, and that was more than satisfactory.

And then Melina, who really must work on her intensifyingly Type A behavior, started to get antsy because we had been doing only one thing at a time for, really, hours on end, and so I had to take her to the train so she could get back to Manhattan and multi-tasking.

One more day of adventure and Tuesday I'll fly home.

Respectfully submitted -

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Melina: Close Encounters

So this guy Ted Haggard, who just resigned in response to allegations that he bought meth from and had sex with a male prostitute --- I was on the phone with this guy's assistant yesterday, two hours before the news broke, trying to find out something about Christian camps for work (eh, it wasn't *so* related, but it sounded interesting).

And the assistant sounded really weird and quiet. And I thought he was just socially awkward, or because I was Jewish, but now I'm thinking it's more likely that he sounded weird because HE JUST FOUND OUT HIS BOSS WHO RUNS A 14,000 MEMBER EVANGELICAL CHURCH HAD BEEN TAKING DRUGS AND HAVING SEX WITH A MALE PROSTITUTE.

Take a look at this guy. Honestly, doesn't this just *look* like someone on drugs?

Apparently, when "Pastor Ted" first set up shop in Colorado Springs, he'd go hang around, all Jesus-like, with the "sinners." These naturally included some drug dealers and some patrons of gay bars.

Looks like maybe he was hoping for something other than to save them.

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Spike Jones went to the opera ...

Well, Melina, representing the down-home point of view - here is a Spike Jones take on a couple guys from the country who find themselves at an opera by accident. I'm thinking about trying to convince Bob we could learn this song ...

Pal-Yat-Chee (Pagliacci)

When we wuz in the city we wuz wond'rin' where to go.
A sign spelled out Pal-Yat-Chee up in lights above a show.
We thought 'twould be a Western till the stage lit up with lights,
An' ninety seven people sung without a horse in sight.
We couldn't understand 'em 'cause they spoke a foreign tongue,
But we can give you some i-dee of what we think they sung:

Ridi, Pagliaccio, Sul tuo amore'in fronto

All at once there's a fat guy in a clown suit.
Ain't Haller-ween, that's for shore.
Then this here feller, this Punchy Neller,
Begins to beller -- Like we all was deef:

Ha ha ha ha ha!

That was Pal-Yat-Chee! an' he sung:

Invest in a tuba an' somthin' or other 'bout Cuba
He sung about a lady who weighed two hundred and eighty.
When she takes a powder he just starts chirpin' louder
And he don't do a gol-durn thing 'cept to stand up there an' sing.

When we listen to Pal-Yat-Chee we get itchy an' scratchy.
This shore is top corn so we go and buy some popcorn.
We hate to go back but we can't git our dough back.
There ain't no use complainin' 'cause outside it's a-rainin'.

Seven hours later we're still in the dern theater,
Takin' turns at nappin', a-waitin' for somethin' to happen.
Pal-Yat-Chee he ain't hurryin' but the folks on stage are flurryin'
And it sounds like Kat-chee-tur-ry-in's Sabre Dance.

When ol' Pal-Yat-Chee finds the guy he's seekin'
Cheek-to-cheekin' with his wife he grabs a knife
And stabs the louse who stole his spouse
An' then he stabs the lady and himself.
Ain't very sanitary.

They all collapse but ol' Pal-Yat-Chee sets up
Then he gets up, sings "I'm dyin',
I am dyin', I am dyin'."We start cryin'
'Cause to tell the truth we're dyin' too.

As the footlights fade out we see Pal-Yat-Chee laid out
But the dagger never caused it. Pal-Yat-Chee was plumb exhausted.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Melina Takes In Some Culture, Does Not Spit On Walls

I'm a little bit dazed this week from a culture trifecta: I went to the Metropolitan Opera with our new character El Caballero on Monday, to the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade on Tuesday, and then to the musical Grey Gardens on Broadway on Wednesday.

There were certain similarities between the Opera and the Halloween Parade. Both were gigantic undertakings, involving a lot of loud music and astonishing numbers of people in costume traveling in more or less the same direction. The funny thing about the Halloween parade was that as weird as it was, it wasn't *that* much weirder than walking down the street on a normal evening around here. It was unclear why some people were onlookers and others were in the parade - while there were a few organized groups, there were a lot of just people in your standard costumes (superman, George Bush, killer E-Coli Spinach) walking down sixth avenue. It really seemed very normal. The opera, by contrast, was so impossibly elaborate and complex that although it was a stage production, it read like a movie or a TV show. Most "normal" theater is far more sparing in design, so it was hard to remember that the opera involved actual humans doing the things that usually take an army of computers to invent.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Melinama gets up early to go to Traffic Court in Hillsborough North Carolina

Eighteen years ago I got a ticket for speeding on Weaver Dairy Road. It's a nice wide road, no obstacles, few traffic lights, a 35 mph speed limit, and (I learned back then) a lot of traffic cops hiding behind bushes.

Since then I have always been cautious on Weaver Dairy Road, but a few weeks back I tried Weaver Dairy Road extension, which is like the old part of the road except broader, bigger, no lights at all, and completely deserted. "Excellent road!" I thought until the cop turned his lights on and I suddenly realized this long, broad, excellent road had a TWENTY-FIVE MPH speed limit and was a total speed trap.

So my court date was this morning. I was pretty nervous about it and didn't even know where traffic court was, so I left the house early and got there an hour and a half before the court opened. There were already about sixty people ahead of me in line. It's a good thing it was a pretty day. I got out my Yiddish homework and worked while eavesdropping on indignant Americans, young and old, every race, telling each other they did not deserve their tickets. "Baloney," I think to myself, "each of us deserves the pink slip clutched in hand plus hundreds more." Then I heard them tell each other - indignantly - what a waste of their time it was to stand in this line, and that they had more important things to do, and then some blamed the car companies: "They shouldn't make cars that go so fast."

After a while the doors opened and we started flowing in. I have to say, it was kind of fun, because first, I like eavesdropping on indignant Americans, and second, every single soul working at District Court was kind, friendly, and efficient. One guy was going through the line dismissing charges right and left (unfortunately, not for my offense!) and letting the people go home.

My friend Judy had told me to ask for a "Prayer for Judgment Continued." If you have a clean record, they let you go with just court costs and nothing goes on your record. But it's not a Get Out Of Jail Free card, because if you get knicked again within three years, you get nailed for both tickets and more penalties too.

The judge came in a little late, we who had been sent upstairs to court were sitting in the pews, many still chatting quietly about the injustice of it all.

She called us up three by three and was quite lenient. Each person took about 10 seconds of her time (or less), except one kid who had given a false name to the officer who stopped him. That kid is in trouble.

I got my seven seconds, sat on a bench for a while, was ushered to a line at the cashier, paid out $110 cash - among people who were milling around muttering indignantly because Orange County will not accept their personal checks. It said so right on the ticket, dummies.

Some wanted to argue that THEY were special cases.

It amazes me that people think they might be special cases.

So all in all, it was expensive but fun. I should not have lost sleep over it.

As I left the building, relieved though poorer, I was astonished to see about six hundred people standing in this fat line which snaked down the hill, through a big parking lot, and took a right turn by another building and out to a sidewalk. Somebody said there were 1500 people to be processed this morning.

I saw one of my ex-students in line - she was there as witness for her companion, who was (they say) "Not Guilty." Hmm. How long were you in that line, my friend?

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This is the kind of thing my daughter Melina doesn't get to see because she lives the ritzy Manhattan life.

Seen on the wall in the convenience store Bob and I stop at on our way out to Satterwhite because he likes to get one of their greasy egg and sausage biscuits (I virtuously abstain).

So I asked, "Why would anybody want to spit on your walls?" and the cashier just laughed and didn't answer me.

Bob later explained: if you're chewing tobacco, and you need to sit on the toilet and you forgot to bring your spitting cup, well naturally that's what the wall is for.

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