Monday, December 31, 2012

It's 11:25 PM. Do you know where your enthusiasm is?

New Year's Eve. Midnight approaches.

I know where mine is.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Friday, December 21, 2012

In wartime

At this turn of every year, I wish, and probably most of us wish, for a world more at peace.

This year I'm disturbed by seeing my country at war with itself.  It's been divided for a long time, but now it looks to me more broken than ever.

Optimism does not come naturally to me.  I have to fight for it.  Yet I will try to hope that the ugliness of this past week will be the straw that breaks our stalemate's back and some good and sane changes can come about.

Peace to you all this Christmas and new year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An old album finally gets digitized!!

Finally, I can blog this album!

The Obernkirchen Children's Choir had one huge-selling record, "The Happy Wanderer," in the 1950's and was briefly a household name for that.  Their Christmas album appeared in 1966 as a gift to my parents by a close friend, and immediately locked in as THE sound of Christmas at our house.

For no particular reason, I've checked the internet periodically for any info or sign of revival of this album.  The original family copy is still around -- that's it, above -- but we wore it out so thoroughly that it sounds like it was used for First Base.  About 10 years ago, I found another vinyl copy on eBay and got it to burn my own CD's off of.

This year, way back in summer, I offhandedly typed "Obernkirchen" into a search and somebody somewhere has finally discovered it and made it available again!  You can get it on amazon.

No CD is available -- it is MP3 downloadable, only.

There are a few awesome things about the digital age.  Nobody has to invest in a lot of disc production and distribution to make something obscure available.

So now that it's there, I can recommend this album, if you want something slightly different.

But READ THIS FIRST : It is not flawless musicianship.  This is an album for people who love good amateur work and care more about joy than technique.

The story of the Choir is basically this :  After the devastation of World War Two,  social worker Edith Moeller and a fellow social worker were finding and caring for German war orphans and they badly needed money.  She made some of them into a choir and raised funds.

This is not the cherry-picked magnificent voices of the Vienna Boys' Choir, or other pro groups.  This is real, ordinary kids, and they work their butts off doing pretty amazing choral work, but they hit a clinker sometimes.  Not that often.  The fast songs work a little better than the slow ones, but still and all, these kids are singing their hearts out.

And they are singing each carol in its original language.  It's heavy on German carols for obvious reasons, but one of the most touching things about it is this choir that originated in war singing about something that transcends nations.  In French, Spanish, English.

They learned them all phonetically, and that shows, but has a particular beauty.  They've learned to pronounce the English "Go Tell it on the Mountain."  And the French "En Flambeau." (Jza-nette Ee-sabella in their German accents) and it's wonderful.

It's delightfully joyous and imperfect, and even though this album came enough later to feature a newer crop of kids than the original survivors of the war, Moeller is making a choir out of kids whose life events have landed them in her care.

Mostly the carols are familiar, a couple were not, to me as a kid, and aren't that common.

You can get it here at

And the other awesome thing about the digital age is that you can put the tracks you like on your playlist and skip the ones you don't. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

If Liberty can't bend, it breaks.

I'm unloading. I am feeling really really bad about the country right now.

So "This election was ugly and vicious and I'm glad it's over" has all been said already, everybody's sick of the subject, but too frikking bad.  Suk it up.

And if so many of us feel apart from the mud war, if the fringe on both sides did it and we Good Guys, liberal and conservative, looked on in disgust and often horror, then why are there so many casualties of the battle?

There's material for TWO posts in this.  (1) "We need to get along" and (2) "It's not settled, we still need to fight for our agenda." But this will only be the first one.

My mom had a lifelong best friend, and that friend has a daughter who's one of the kindest, most compassionate, and most astoundingly active conservative Christians I've ever met, in her advocacy for the poor and helpless, her willingness to listen and engage in that civil dialog we keep whinging about nobody doing.  Our mothers were very different and took delight in that, loved each other dearly, enjoyed their differences and stayed close for life.

Daughter Jane and I are politcally on different pages, but I'm not sure how different, since we're on similar spiritual pages.  Maybe we're an illustration of precisely HOW little correlation there can be between the two.

Or not.  I don't really know, because lefties have apparently been so vicious to her that she doesn't even want to talk about any of it.  She's retreated from any and all discussion of where we go from here and blah blah, tho she says it's a break while she recovers and processes what went on, including the end of friendships.  That means it wasn't just strangers who reamed her.

A break sounds healthy and like good self-care. 

But I'm more thinking a temporary break won't help me.  When I hate every side, life gets poisoned.

When I was young, elections were more abstract.  I cared about the issues, but ultimately, I never felt that the outcome was going to affect my daily life.  Many less privileged had BIG reasons not to feel so confident in the system and life's general stability, but I sure did.  I got my education handed to me, I used it responsibly enough to get decent grades and a career out of it, I knew my job and car payments and grocery shopping weren't gonna change a lot.  I had county health insurance, and once a year I'd fill out all the yellow forms and attach all the doctor's description-of-services things, and get a check back for 85% of everything I'd spent, and do some Christmas shopping.

Elections are not abstract anymore.  With a child who has a chronic illness, we will be very directly affected by the winning party.  Any attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care act would begin the end of our future.  Without the Act, our every resource would be gone in x-number of years, our budget would shrink to a very basic way of life, and we'd have nothing to leave behind.  It's that bad.

So elections mean a lot more to me.  As genuinely, personally, deeply worried as I would feel if the GOP had won, I understand that that's how genuinely, personally, deeply worried, many GOP supporters are now.

The divide is religion.  Even non-faith-based voters have to admit that the GOP fiscal plan would have gained a lot more voters without the social agenda.  And since that's a major dividing point in the US population, I can't think of a way for us to live and let live on it.

And if we can't, it really is all over.

And none of us can talk about it, either.  There's nothing to discuss.  You can't compromise on the uncompromisable.

There is no one I can talk to about this.  There is as great an impossibility of my compromising on it, as there is of a believer in Biblical inerrancy compromising on that.

So the problem, I think, is not based on the erosion of civility and the absence of central sources for information and news.  Those are huge, but I think they're a result, and the cause is that it took until now for the US to come up against a major uncompromisable divide.

Is there anywhere to go from here?  Theoretically it ought to be possible, since freedom for those who choose to live by fundamentalist doctrine should be as sacrosanct as freedom to reject it.

But social conservatives hold the astounding belief that freedom for all impinges on their own freedom.  Whether they're right or wrong, THAT is where the dividing line lies.  Neither of us can cross it.

I'm grateful to see our kid's medical care safe for 4 more years, but I see the nation with freedom-fatigue, and I feel this weird, slightly paranoid need to put myself and my loved ones in a blue area and give up on coexistence.

In the past, the US concept of Liberty let us be any faith, be atheist, live in hippie communes or Amish communities, or suburban neighborhoods.  We've tested it up to this current gay rights/evolution/abortion era and at the risk of  hyperbole, it looks to me like we've come to the breaking point.  Freedom advocates can't allow freedom of faith to someone as terrific as Jane, and fundamentalists can't let public institutions remain secular.  Like metal fatigue, our liberty has lost its ability to flex and it's going to snap.

The one thing I do know is that collateral damage is mounting on both sides.  Good people on both sides, people who never engaged in the vicious rhetoric, are being mown down with indiscriminate rhetorical fire by those across the aisle.

It'd be cool if those capable of talking it all out could just do it, set aside and marginalize the nutjobs.  But we can't.  A lot of us will retreat to writing about weather and hobbies and pets, and give up saying what we think, because the most respectful statement that the other side has a point about anything is likely to get us abused.  I've taken the coward's path myself, but that's another post.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

40 years of voting

My first election was in 1972.  As a fresh-out-of-the-pen 18-year-old voter, it was a Big Deal.  Today, therefore, marked my 40th voting anniversary.  It's still a Big Deal.

I hit my polling place twice.  When Larry and I voted this morning, I saw a neat-o parking spot labelled "Curbside Voting."

While my dad can walk, and drive, he has some joint and a lot of foot pain, and it takes some effort, and standing in line on a cold, rainy day wasn't an option.  He was planning to forgo voting, till I told him about the curbside service.  So, since they had also changed our polling place to one out in the boondocks,  I went back with him later in the day.

The poll worker came out with this cool little portable voting machine  - they bring it out to your car and hand it in to you through the window.  Totally awesome. 

I'm extolling my great civic virtue and voter-vigilance as a preface to explaining that I am all in.

It's been a good-ish but long day, the election and the nation worry me, and I cannot imagine anything worse than following the returns all evening.

I'm not baffled by the desire to watch it all, if people want to.  I can kind of understand wanting to.  I did it for years.  But I am QUITE baffled by the people who say that it's unpatriotic to not watch. I can't cite where I hear this.  I've heard it several times, it's kind of a "they say," but I gotta disagree.

What knowledge, what positive change, would happen if I kept up with the slow accumulation of electoral votes, that will not happen because I wait for the result?  Am I apathetic to want a quiet, de-stressing evening of a good book, and to find out tomorrow, either who won, or what Constitutional problems have been triggered?

Well, I can only say, I need a break. Tomorrow, we deal with whatever we've come up with.  Tonight, I'm dressing down, making a hot chocolate, and reading Life in a Noble Household, 1641-1700.  It traces the the Russell family in England and how they weathered (or failed to survive) the economy and politics of the era.  It's both fascinating, and a reminder that whenever we live, we can find ourselves in turbulent political times and we just, basically, deal with it!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Frankenstorm and Frankenthrow

I've spent the day watching a slow, drippy, blessedly boring rain and trying to finish my first big crochet project.  We're far enough south that the so-called "Frankenstorm" is very wimpy here, but I dearly hope all my northern friends and loved ones are ready.

I also hope that, like most impending disasters that I've prepared for in the past - such as the 3 hurricanes aiming for us in 2008, or the Y2K global crash - this turns out to be nothing.

The Frankenthrow is another matter.

I call it that because I did not crochet one huge piece.  I crocheted 63 squares, finished the last one yesterday, and now have to stitch them together, patchwork-style. It qualifies as a monster, big enough to be more like a twin bedspread.  I really did not intend that.  Let's call it an Opportunity For Growth.  I learned something about patterns and planning.

So it's at the assembly stage.  I'm starting with the center row, with its unique diamond-in-a-square design.  That light blue yarn forming the corners is only used in that one square.   That's because it comes from a special skein of yarn.

My maternal grandmother left a basket full of yarns, which came to me back in the 1980's, since the needlework thing skipped a generation.  My mother's aversion to needles and thread was kind of a family joke.

But I lacked the patience for it too, and gave away the yarn.  It's (almost) all gone.  URGH blast crap, what was I thinking?!

But it made sense at the time.  I'd started at least THREE afghans/throws, and found the process endlessly tedious, and abandoned them all.  I thought I'd never do it again - and I didn't, for most of 3 decades.

When I resumed, it was gonna be small projects or none.  But now I'm tired of making mufflers.  I decided to rethink the afghan idea.

Only, I need to adapt the project to my psychology.  I have to feel I've completed something.  I'm not good at deferred gratification, and especially when it's deferred by monotonous handwork.

 VoilĂ !  The answer!  Don't make one big square, make a bunch of little ones.  Say "Cool, I finished that!" 63 times.  Watch the pile grow.

 And incorporate into it just a little of the one skein of Gran's yarn that somehow escaped my purge.

Much smaller squares, and to be a much smaller throw

See that skein of blue, next to the little pile of squares that will start the next one?   This is all that's left of that big workbasketful.  It's 40-50 years old.  I don't even know what it's made of, but before I started, I crocheted a little piece with it, washed and machine dried it and it did not shrink, so I guess it must be synthetic.

I use only a little of it in each project.  A single square in this, a couple rows in that.  I put a row of it in a muffler I made for myself.

So in the last photo posed with Graymatter, you see the one patch of Gran's yarn that I'm using in the next throw.  The rest of the throw will be other colors.  Oh, and smaller.  A LOT smaller.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

None dare call it Heaven

Nothing illustrates religious division in this country better than all the anger that's falling on a neurosurgeon, who interprets the visions he had during a coma as a visit to the real and true Heaven.

And the pile-on he's getting makes me wish and, haha, pray that somebody in the rationalist community would suggest cutting him some slack. I'm here doing it, but I'm a known Buh-Liever and am therefore suspect as to my motives.

One post railed that he has no right to call himself a scientist after this.

Let's admit that he's declaring an unproven - probably unprovable - interpretation of an experience to have a final-answer meaning, and scientists aren't supposed to do that.  He's not being very scientific about his visions, and the question of whether that disables him as a scientist in any unrelated endeavor is open.  I'd argue that the near-death experience is uniquely overwhelming and is not a general science deal-breaker.  But I'm not a scientist.

Come hither...Ignore the frog...

Let's also admit that the images he experienced in his vision are inane in the extreme. A lovely woman guide in blue robes with flowing golden brown tresses?  It's tempting to say, "Oh, come on."  Do blonde hotties get all the jobs there, too?  Can I have a large, bossy cat guide me?

It's not like this is anything new.  Many other such experiences have been documented.  Our brains are built to have these events under certain circumstances.  They undoubtedly craft them out of images that our history and imagination (or lack of it) resonate to.

But that doesn't mean they're illusions.  They might not come from God but the neuroscience and the imagery are not proof that they don't either.  The occurrence of these experiences can't be pointed to as proof of anything except that we're human.

It means we evolved to have them.  Our chemistry either creates the experience...

...or is the wiring through which God connects with us.

Either way, the chemistry is part of what we have evolved to be, and its reality has to be accepted, no matter its first cause.

I know, yeah yeah. So do LSD trips, so do allergy attacks, so do a lot of perception-changers, all of which should be viewed objectively.

Here's the thing - the near-death experience, once we admit we're built to have it, evolved to be powerful at a level so deep, so central, that reaction can be full, unquestioning embrace of it.  If it were weak enough to allow the person having it to stand back, to say, "This is biochemicals," then it would not be what it is.  It evolved to declare itself absolute.

I keep referencing evolution, not to placate non-believers, but because it's real. Not that I know much more than high school taught me, and it's slightly crazy for a non-scientist to explain anything scientific.

But so much of any science vs. faith debate -- when they are about what ordinary people should be taught and should think -- depends on the understanding we non-scientists have; ordinary schleps like me who need a simple version, and who are in danger of embracing an inaccurate simple version because we haven't the training to comprehend the more accurate complex version.

I need to address it as an ordinary schlep, but I need to do it as a Believer one who is willing to take a scientific explanation as far as it can be taken, because faith is worthless if we're not willing to shine light into every dark corner.  It isn't faith if we've got anything to fear.   So.

It makes sense to me -- with that aforementioned limited knowledge -- that, in a social species with minds complex enough to need hope and wonder and reasons to stay brave against pain, the divine experiences of some members can benefit all, and that this need selects for such an experience, even though it often comes later in, or at the end of, life.

Acknowledging that the evolution of the human species can explain this brain chemistry doesn't answer the God question either yea or nay.  It's about the building's structure, not about what built it.
So, whatever the source, it's ridiculous to rage at the guy for seeing it as real and true.  It's like raging at someone for finding that salt tastes salty.

It.  Is.   How.  Our.  Bodies.  Are.  Built.  By God or by process, the building is what it is, regardless of the builder's moniker.

But this man's experience seems to threaten a lot of people.

It's common enough to label non-believers who get angry or contemptuous about Believer claims, as feeling threatened.  I've run into a few who find it offensive to be told they're acting threatened, but they are.  Why else should anyone care what this man experienced or to what he attributes it?

But more important, why deny feeling threatened, since there's a very real basis for it?  The Visit To Heaven, at a few removes, is a threat to separation of church and state.  At least, it gets used by Believers to further a political agenda.

So.  I wish they'd just admit they feel threatened, O-freaking-kay?  Because that is not a statement that they're being irrational.  They're being quite rational, so let's just admit that too.

I'm not stupid.  The evangelical political right's issues -- abortion, gay orientation, evolution, Israel, SpongeBob -- might seem several steps removed from any issues about near-death experiences and the afterlife, but to deny that anything shoring up claims of God and afterlife strengthens the religious right is denial of reality.

That's the issue.  Increasing Rightwing political power.  The Right Wing has no right to use these accounts for recruitment by leapfrogging them over the whole vast body of faith to land them on Biblical Literalist Christianity, but they try to do exactly that.

If his experience could just be taken as his experience, without the ridiculous and absolutely untrue idea that it has to mean joining the AntiMuslim MegaTemple of Holy Lobbying, we could look at it on its own terms.

My mom was talking happily to people she'd lost, during her last hours.  My mom-in-law was seeing them for days, and this while fully awake and totally lucid in every other way, completely engaged and sharp in conversation with us, able to connect to things previously said and keep track of statements we'd made the day before.

What-the-bleep-ever caused this for both of them, I like.  It brought them peace and joy as they passed.  I can no more prove its source than anybody else can, and I'm more than ready for everybody to stop declaring that the other point of view is absolutely disproven.  If we could get past that insistence, we could all believe what makes sense to us without others fearing that we're trying to use it to force doctrinal compliance on them.

Any theory about these experiences is fully compatible with keeping doctrine out of civil law.


Bicycles for use by guests, Whistling Swan Inn by nickelshrink
Bicycles for use by guests, Whistling Swan Inn, a photo by nickelshrink on Flickr.
(a little too big for the blogger frame, but clicking it will take you to the flickr original)
We're just back from our first vacation since 2007. More to come, but here's a photo that I oddly love.

We stayed in a wonderful bed-and-breakfast where they've thought of everything, including bikes for the guests to use. I was standing inside, at the jar of homemade chocolate chip cookies, trying not to have another, and I looked out the window onto the side porch.

This sight called out to me - the bikes ready to fly off into the autumn sunlight and falling leaves. I wanted to capture it, and it was a rare case of my ipad's camera doing exactly that. This is what I saw, the light, the mood, everything! How often does that happen, especially with no cropping or enhancement?

We were away for 5 days, 2 for airports and only 3 to do anything with, but it was perfection and a break from cares that neither of us has had since 2008.

More pix coming.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Everything old is...still old, but spruced up!

They're new bikes.....!  Wait! No! They're old bikes, refurbished!
And nicely.  Not only does GS Bicycles sell swank new bikes for both athletes and comfort-riders, but they'll restore your old ones with quality parts.

I won't pretend that I didn't look on the new ones with a little lust in my heart.  To be more accurate, I lifted one of the new ones and its light weight sparked lust in my heart.  The Trek Larry uses is 18 years old, and my Schwinn is 15, both very well built, but not exactly Space Age high tech metals.  I figure I'll burn extra calories just propelling its poundage down the path.

It's OK. I love my old bike.  I loved it when I bought it, and its association with our much-missed NJ house adds to that.

And my cycling has been sporadic, so until I figure out whether I'll actually get serious about it, refurbishment made sense.

But man, the search goes on for a form of exercise that I don't loathe!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

[UPDATE] Old post cards, old books

In the process of looking through junk and/or consignment shops (and trying not to bring home dozens more blasted books), I sometimes run into bins full of old post cards.  Mostly, and especially if they're unsorted, I don't try to really systematically search them..... but once in awhile, like a couple days ago, it seems worthwhile to see what treasure is in there.

There's no particular reason why one appeals to me except that it's cool -- or, in this case,

....that it's strangely cool-looking and that I have actually heard of the place (thanks to my online acquaintance with ronniecat!).  I always wonder who took a trip and bought it in around 1910, and how the bleep the post card ended up in a basket in a shop in South Carolina.

UPDATE : Thanks to the aforementioned ronniecat, and a link in her comment, I found a beautiful video of this bay and why it's a natural wonder - click here for it!

Sometimes, a card is just beautiful :

I have no relationship with Rome, Georgia, but I love the old cars in this street scene:

Dante gets a glimpse of Major Babe, Beatrice:

There was a whole series from the Tower of London.  This is the one that first caught my eye.  I love the choice to photograph the Armoury through this stone entrance :

Lincoln's birthplace:

And this one just had the Awwwww! factor :

The time it took to go through the card basket kept me from getting into worse trouble buying dorky Cold War textbooks.  Like I did last time we went secondhand-shopping.

Man's Story: World History in Its Geographic Setting.  By T. Walter Wallbank.  Published by Scott, Foresman, 1961, and apparently the third edition.

They're cheap enough, since nobody on earth but me wants them, but they weigh a ton and take up an awful lot of space.

 And yet....somebody has to preserve this stuff!  It's part of our history!  Yeah, that's it.

Not to mention that it's full of little groaner cartoons in which a bespectacled character named "Hy Story'  (Get it?)  drops in on various eras and crassly disobeys the Temporal Prime Directive by being in and possibly messing up history:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A career for the introvert

Listed, ready to shelve so they can await buyers.  Downyflake finds the whole process rather boring.

Selling books is probably the most ridiculous job a person could have.  OK, one of the most ridiculous.  Well, pretty ridiculous.

Books are becoming a specialty item for a niche market.  Readers are still pretty abundant, for read-and-toss (which is also a great book type for digital reading) and for Fifty Shades of DaVinci or whatever.  But readers who want to collect them, or to pay postage for cheap copies, are getting fewer.

There's just one problem.  I love doing it.  I love books, but more than that, I love connecting readers with books by offering them something they love, or finding them a deal.  This is why the invention of online selling is as close to heaven as I can get on this earth.  I can match-make people with books they want, and still retain control over my interactions.

The fan of free enterprise who bought this never paid for it.  But we sell online!  We don't ship till we're paid!  Sale was cancelled and it's been relisted.

So, OK, online selling is what I love.  When somebody discovers our online store and buys a whole boxful, I'm not just a businessperson.  I don't just say commodity in, commodity out.  I picture the pleasure of the customer getting a box and opening it and finding it full of books.

You'd think I was a People Person or something.

I am emphatically not.  People stress me.  A real bookstore owner would, should, love jawing with customers and talking books and responding to requests.  I really prefer to just pick my own stock and let it sink or swim, so I'm not only not very People-y, I'm not very business-savvy either.

That's not me.  My ideal bookshop was going to be called Bad Attitude Books, and the philosophy was going to be; "If you want something, buy it, if not, go home."

Or maybe my own version of the "You break it, you've bought it" sign, which would read, "You talk me to death, you've bought it."

Really, put 4 bucks in the tip jar, and then yap away.  I'll apply the $4 to a purchase, but if you force me to act interested in Christian Amish romance novels  (It's a really big genre.  Seriously.), then buy nothing, I'll keep the dough as a listening fee.

See how awful I am?

Counter-leaners come in three types, and one is interesting and supportive of the store.  I'm cool with that.  The others are the dreary ones, and the ones who are out to distract us.  The best was the husband-and-wife shoplifting team.  He leaned on one elbow and yacked congenially while she pocketed paperbacks.  And little gift items.  More profit down the tubes to buy a video surveillance camera.

No we don't do special orders.  Nobody ever comes back for them.  Literally nobody.  We had a 100% forget-it rate on them.

No, I haven't read Lifetime TV-Type Plot of the Month Lady Novelist.  The whole "wasn't it great?" thing rarely happens between me and another reader because I read strangely.

That doesn't mean I read better stuff, just that I'm never in sync with other readers, good books or bad.  Surely everybody's read The Help!  I might get to it eventually.  I am an unrepentant lover of some of Dean Koontz's books, but tend to dislike the ones others love. I've never even read The Age of Innocence, but I did read The Children, which absolutely blew me away.  I think it gets wrongly classed with Edith Wharton's potboilers and is much finer.  In other words, I am a book person, but entirely the wrong book person for whatever topic others are on.

Excuse me, what were we talking about?  O yes, ways in which running a real store (which we did for a year in 2004-5) was taxing.

No, we can't "do better" on the @^%#ing price.  You enjoy wheeling and dealing, negotiating is a form of recreation for you?  Congrats.  I find that about as much fun as cutting my toenails.  Know what I enjoy?  Paying the @^%#ing  rent, that's what I enjoy.

So I stubbornly plug away at selling books online and try to believe it's what I'm meant to do;  that it's one of the ways in which I make a difference that I don't necessarily ever see or know about.

We do fantasize about opening a walk-in store again, in a place where it might be appreciated, but that, and the necessity of doing it on our own terms, are critical.  I want to own the building, and I want to welcome interesting people who actually support the business, and I want to be able to tell the tedious ones that lean on the counter extolling the virtues of O'Reilly's newest so-called history book, that it's junk.

Friday, August 24, 2012

I had to draw my own.

It's not that I've looked at every single cartoon about the "legitimate rape" thing.  Maybe somebody else has done it, and undoubtedly better. 

And having to choose between denial of science, and hideous lack of compassion is absurd, but still, the realistic scientific view that violent assault does not trigger some kind of mythical bodily defense against pregnancy, makes the absolutists' to-hell-with-you treatment of women who've been impregnated by assault much much nastier.  To me.  I wish I could draw.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Control Issues. [R] language warning

I've always lived by the idea that we have some control.  Maybe not as much as we want, maybe over surprising things and not always over what we want to have it over, but that applying some wisdom increased our ability to control outcomes. 

There's the Serenity Prayer:  serenity to accept what I can't change but courage to change what I can, with wisdom to know the difference.  Maybe I interpreted that the way I wanted to, more than the way it ought to be interpreted.   And there's the Gandhi quote I repeat over and over:

But life for a few years now has sent disquieting messages that nothing is certain; that being an emotionally well-centered adult requires acceptance of that, and ability to enjoy life anyway.

I sit here in a comfortable house some people would sell their souls for, and I want to flee, and then hate myself for my ingratitude, which is kind of a useless pattern unless I go deeper into why I'm so tense and unhappy.

But the reason is the pervasive uncertainty of it.  A parade of funerals.  Storm vulnerability.  Exposure of this formerly out-in-the-boonies little dirt road to the outside world.

I'm very grudgingly revisiting a book I bought a year ago and have avoided reading : Comfortable with Uncertainty.  The fact that I bought it long ago indicates I dimly realized I needed to deal with the issue, but that's as far as I got.

About once a year we see swaths of road-bank grass on either side of our house, and saplings just inside the woods, brown and wither in an obviously unnatural manner.

It also shows up all over the county, and there was no doubt that the county was poisoning the vegetation, for reasons unknown - I figured it was cheaper than mowing the shoulder.
It wasn't quite the reason, but I was close. The other day we caught the county employee spraying nauseatingly day-glow-purple-colored poison along the edge of our woods, and he insisted it was required to keep limbs from interfering with the power lines. Never mind that no limbs are anywhere near the lines.  The worst ice storm on earth wouldn't bring any of those limbs into contact with the lines.  Never mind sending a crew to cut limbs instead -- too expensive.  It's standard county policy; spray poison within X-distance of the lines. The groundwater or marsh runoff be damned.

Not a great photo - but last year's poisoning shows in the brown patch and dead saplings. THIS year's, sprayed the day before the photo, is just starting to yellow out - see  foreground, and background just behind the discarded drink cup.

The bypass highway is one block over from our street, and the traffic noise has always been there, but the neighborhood used to be left alone when it was not a destination to anywhere.  Then the bike bridge brought SUV after SUV of tourists, blocking the road (It's just dirt!  It can't be a road!), dumping trash.  Our neighborhood is theirs to do with as they please.

Take the green snake.

Here comes the bad language. And no, that "damned" in the paragraph a bit above was Jane Austen-esque compared to my feelings about some other things.

In the brush next to our driveway, there lived, past tense, a small green snake.  One morning about 3(?) weeks ago, I came out and it lay dead at the side of the dirt road, its head cleanly chopped off.  Not run over by a car, not attacked by an animal.  Neatly cut by a man-made implement, and left to rot in the sun.

Some total and complete fucked in the head tourist came into OUR neighborhood, decided to walk/jog/bike down our little country lane, did not approve of the little country wildlife on our little country lane, and had the arrogance to decide the snake was not entitled to live.

I understand snake fear.  I understand quick reaction that can't take time to look at head shape -- venomous snakes have distinctive heads -- and I'd have understood if this snake were at all sizable, or had any kind of scary markings.  Some harmless snakes look similar to venomous ones unless you know the markings.

But WHO on this godforsaken planet is LEFT that doesn't know small plain green snakes are harmless?  Who doesn't know that they eat little pests and certainly hurt nobody?  Jerknuts tourists from concrete jungles?

Am I supposed to feel sorry for the daily lives of those property-rights-challenged touristas, and not begrudge them this brief vacation in a place with country lanes whose wild residents are so unfamiliar?

I don't feel sorry for them and I do begrudge them.  They can go to goddam zoos, where the wildlife is protected from them behind walls, and they could realize it's, duh, not their neighborhood or their place to make any bloodydamn decisions here, and they could learn some basic kind of response to new experiences, like, say, leave it alone if it's not affecting your life or wellbeing.  There is no way that this Touron felt threatened or trapped.  The snake was not invading the moron's space.  There was plenty of space to avoid the snake, which lay at the SIDE of a wide road going in two directions.   Even massive ignorance doesn't make killing it, rather than dashing off, logical.

Why couldn't I have caught them at it?  I know, best I didn't.  It would have been unpleasant.

My reaction is awfully big, considering the fact that the species isn't in jeopardy and there are are plenty more little green snakes living large all around the area.  I feel like it's not just another wildlife anecdote, and it's not just another lamentation about how this quiet little street that used to be nowhere anybody would walk to, now is violated by trash and crass stupidity and now, thefts, over and over. 

Someone has broken into our basement again.  Our ground floor linen closet holds only some old bedspreads and a black-and-white screen gameboy.  They were terribly disappointed.  I'd like to disappoint them further with a cartilage-popping kick to the knee.

Someone else has stolen some small hockable items of cherished sentimental, more than monetary, value from inside the house.  Family obligations have sent us off on several short trips in the past few months, and we still think that the people to whom we needed to give access while we were gone would never do this.  We're saddened, angered and baffled because no answer makes sense, except that someone left the door unlocked, but it adds to the bafflement and the uncertainty.

Yeah, we're looking into ways to take back some control over this.  We can do more about the house than we can about the Nature Lovers. No locks will keep away the poison or the trash dumping or the wildlife abuse.

Eventually yall will realize that I am not being funny when I say I am not a nice person. I dream of painful justice.  I also feel like it's been a long time since I posted anything joyful or positive.  Anger is a natural response to most of this and I don't want to beat myself too badly about it, but I do feel spiritually off-kilter in my loathing for so many fellow human beings.

You see dead animals on roads all the time, and I always hate it, but the death of that one little snake just tore it for me.  We feel we have so little control over our home and lives anymore, and it's just the precise illustration of that.

OK, so, Gandhi's quote.  It's about leaving results in other, or Other, hands, but not about saying we can't make a difference.  In our tiny little ways, we help the birds and the garden spiders and an occasional turtle or lizard, and we take some cans to the food bank, and maybe I only need to believe we have power to make an actual difference.  Unless we're given something else to do, these must be what we're meant to do.

And of course, somewhere inside, I have the fantasy that there's a Shangri-La we could get to where there are no natural threats like fires or storms, and no jerks, and I'll never get teed off again and can sit and sip tea in blissful serenity.  I know it's rot, but my knowledge is intellectual, not heartfelt.

I'm not sure I can let go of the need to have some power. The idea that I really have no control over anything disturbs me, so I'm sitting in a comfortable house with air conditioning and a refrigerator stocked with food, and swearing anyway, because I'm starting the grieving process for the idea of Control now.

I may be through the Denial phase but I'm probably gonna be stuck in Bargaining for awhile, mixed with Anger and gloom, before I get to acceptance.  I might not ever get there.  It's not lookin' good.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Princess for Jesus

In Biblically conservative Christian culture, I keep running into endless invocations of Princess-hood as a lure for self-esteem and confidence in young girls.  God knows (ha ha) when you're raising daughters and trying to sell them that "man is the head of woman" tradition, the bitter pill needs some kind of sugary coating.

Christian Living and Bible study books with this theme abound.  You are a Daughter of the King.  The King of Heaven. You are therefore a princess.  High ranking, important, wealthy.

The invocation of the wealth is not deceptive, since the authors and leaders make it quite clear that we're talking about the treasures of heaven, not the ephemeral gold and stores of earth.

But from that point on, the Christian Princess Culture is pulling a bait-and-switch.  It tells little girls their worth and excellence but does it to keep females in the subordinate position that so many New Testament passages pound into literalists who consider Paul and other letter writers to be channeling THE very Word of Very God.  Women are to be subject to men.

The misunderstanding held by little girls raised on the adventurous and romantic kid culture, which they're encouraged to act out with tulle and tiaras, is fully exploited with this Daughter Of The King bait. Girls think princesses have power along with that high rank.  That they have privilege and freedom.

In truth, ask any royal or aristocratic renaissance woman just how much power she had.

She was bought and sold.  She was lucky if she got an education, though the wealthiest did.  But she was a bargaining chip for property or political alliance.  She could not choose her husband or her way of life, and if she was to be "given" to the church, she could not marry or become a mother at all.

As recently as 1921, Princess Mary  (the only daughter of George V and Queen Mary) was forbidden to marry the man of her choice.  He was a duke not only of suitable rank, but of no family "difficulties" of suspect inheritable traits.   No, his only dealbreaking quality was that he was not rich enough -- quite rich but not rich enough -- and she was therefore forced to ally with the much wealthier family that was chosen for her.  It's said to have been a major row, after which she finally acquiesced and married the chosen Duke, who was an OK guy and a chance to get out of the house, and this was considered an admirable case of bowing to Duty. Today, the royal ranks would salivate over such a suitable choice as the forbidden duke.  But that was 1921. What princesses went through from time immemorial eroded only that gradually.

As recently as the 1950's, Princess Margaret had to give up the divorced man she loved, or give up her right and that of her children to a place in the succession. As recently as 1981, the pressure was still strong for any woman who married the Prince of Wales to give her virginity to him alone and never "know" another, a requirement that eliminated a couple of the PofW's serious girlfriends and had his parents pressuring him to ally with a 19-year-old.  The results were tragic.

But each was a small sign of progress, in that it was a stage in the slow erosion of using women as chattels.  By Princess Mary's time, she could at least marry an English aristocrat and was not used for political alliance with a foreign prince she'd never met.  By Princess Margaret's time, she could at least choose, even a commoner, if he met the slowly loosening list of requirements. 

In worldly life princesses have more freedom, but fundamentalist culture lures girls with the Princesshood they know from fairy tales, and then switches it for the retrograde form; the true state in which they are expected to live, serene in their certainty of a place in heaven, but expected to embrace rule by men in this life. In heaven there may be equality, but here, you are to follow, obey, submit, and consider it a privilege to do so for your King. Yes, fairy tales in both print and film are loaded with obedience by girls, but once you get your Handsome Prince, your days of serving, sweeping and being locked in towers without freedom to ride away are over.  Restraints will now come from noblesse oblige, not your gender, and your reward comes at your wedding, not at the end of life.

The base problem is a primitive concept that everything on earth is in a linear hierarchy;  that difference can't be equal.  Many smiling Christian conservatives have sincerely and reasonably told me that wifely submission is simple practicality:  "Somebody has to be the boss."

Another favorite is to point to the whole Ephesians 5 passage which certainly makes the role of a man more one of tremendous responsibility than of profligate privilege, and then to say "Hey, look at the demand made on husbands!  Who has the harder job?"  But it's quite clearly assigned to the gender considered more able to do it.  You can say, and you'd be right, that all Christians are called to a difficult and sacrificial life, but there's no escape from the message that males are made of better stuff.

Are we still hanging on to that swill?  We should so have outgrown that need to rank every single shred of Creation, especially when it concerns the human soul.  Isn't US politics alone proof of gender equality in susceptibility to the crassest forms of corruption?

A life well lived by anybody, Believer or Un-, is often about selflessness, and nothing about abandoning the whole genital basis for who bosses whom needs to lead to a self-centered existence.

Personally I'm not a believer in wifely submission, or in the necessity of obeying Paul of Tarsus in order to be a Christian.  I know that's a shock, since I hid it so well.  Maybe I should provide a little break, here, while you recover.

But I'm also not about telling anybody how they should live or what they should believe.  I don't have all, or even many, of life's answers.

My objection here is that this Christian Princess thing is not an honest way to teach the principles. Attracting girls with something they think is about happily-ever-after and freedom, when it's really about lifelong submission and obedience, crosses the line between correcting a misconception and exploiting it.

But further, "prince" and "princess" are about status in society.  They are about some people being higher and others lower. I don't think appealing to the natural craving kids have to be special and superior is the right message for teaching the Christian life.

Sure, you're teaching the Sunday School class that every single kid in it, as a child of the Heavenly King, is equally a prince or princess; smart, cute, dumpy or unpopular, rich or poor.  But a royalty metaphor carries the strong implication that there is an Us and a Them, and that We are superior in some hierarchy.  Royalty is above the common folk in social structure, which is the only context in which the labels have any meaning.

This is so not a right or accurate depiction of the concept of God's love for the humanity that we're claiming is all, every one, made in His image.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The stunning power of a lie

Not that I kept a neat desk...

This is the story of how my librarian career ended, so it has some library management explanations and might have a moderately high boredom factor.

It started with a crazy person. It often does.

By the time it finished, an army of participants had fought, had sat through meetings or had sent in a spy to report back, had conferred and mailed letters and been threatened and been forced to quit. That last one was me.

The library management stuff:  into the early 1990s, long after many libraries, and most with our high circulation, had computerized, we had a manual paper card system for tracking 10,000+ books per month.

We were a branch library. The main library had one full time and two part-time checker-in-ers for their circulation, while we had one. But our branch, in a high-demand fast-growing resort / retirement area, had a lot more checkouts. We always had stacks of books with lost cards. Computerized checkout/checkin virtually eliminates that problem, but old-time paper cards are a constant "can't check this in" nightmare.

Our lone circulation clerk, with more work than the 3 employees at Main Branch had, was overwhelmed.

The Friends of the Library was a big and active organization and they provided volunteer help with check-ins, among many other things. If problem check-ins had not piled up relentlessly, maybe this controversy would never have happened, but evil will find a crack to come through, so I’m not so sure.

For purposes of the post, I’ll call our lone circulation clerk Martha.

Meanwhile back at the management level, the boss decided to operate with flex time. For clerical tasks, you could come in early, or in off-hours, and leave early, or take those hours at a long lunch. Everybody had to take a turn running the checkout, or reference question, desks, but as long as you were present for any such scheduled time, your back-room clerical work could be done on flex time, if you put in your allotted hours.

That’s the setup. Martha worked like a rescue dog. She would start working at 7AM, and leave to pick the kids up or keep medical appointments. So did clerical workers at the main branch. Everybody liked it. It was a way to manage job and family.

One volunteer, call her Leona, decided she hated -- and I don’t use that word casually -- Martha. Out of the blue, and I suspect a brain tumor or other perception skewer, she developed a hatred and paranoia of Martha that was pretty amazing to watch.

The power of lies comes not from liars, but from good people. The ones who really can’t believe people make up such things. They’re not so naive that they deny exaggeration happens, and they understand that data can be incomplete and misinterpreted. But they just do not believe that such a big hate campaign could be based on nothing at all. They’re too nice. They don’t understand how evil people think.

The rumors started. Martha wasn’t putting in her hours, Ruth would not discipline her for it. Leona spread this falsehood through the ranks of the Friends of the Library, and from there to most of the community. It went like a wildfire.

I, being Ruth and the Branch manager, explained that Martha was putting in not only all her hours but more, and that flex time meant that it was not always obvious to volunteers when she’d worked.

One day when Leona was coming in to volunteer, Martha said to me, “I know she thinks I don’t do my job. I’ll be working out there where she can see me.”

This worried me. I in turn kept an eye on both of them for the entire shift. To my relief, everyone performed blamelessly and no altercations occurred. The shift ended, Leona went home.

2 days later, Leona came to me with fire in her eyes. Maybe I wasn’t willing to supervise Martha, said Leona, but SHE had worked alongside Martha the other day and Martha had slacked off and jabbered with another clerk, and if I did not do something, Leona was gonna bloody well go to the Library Board about it.

Not only was it completely fabricated -- Martha had worked steadily -- but the other clerk she was accused of jabbering with had not even been at work that day.

I was not dumb enough to think getting rid of Leona would stop the destruction.  It was, I knew, likely to enrage her further, but one thing it would do was to confine her lies to previous events, and not to give her any chance to claim she’d gathered more fake data.

I also wasn’t dumb enough to fight insanity with logic, so I didn’t accuse her of lying. I said it made no sense for her to keep spending time in a situation that made her so unhappy, and maybe she’d rather stop volunteering. She left. Some people drink. I ate two chocolate bars. I knew it wasn’t over.

Over and over, other volunteers came to me with their “concerns.” I wrote letters. I explained in person. Once in awhile the listener would say, "Oh!  I didn't know it worked like that."   But sending out that little truth seemed to have no power over the sending-out of the lie.  It was spitting against the wind.

The nice ones just could not believe that rumors so pervasive and rampant had no basis. "Where there’s smoke, there’s fire."

If I could accomplish one damnblasted thing in my life, it would be to vanquish that moronic and baseless little saying from the culture forever.

It is an analogy that is not an analogy.

It’s a statement about the physics of fire that has no application, none, to human interactions. Hate can say anything and its pronouncements become Truth.

I went to my boss with two possible solutions.

"There’s no documentation of the hours employees put in," I told her. "I can’t prove on paper that Martha put in all the hours she claims. Maybe we just need to end flex time altogether and have everybody come in 9-6."

 “Oh no, we all like flex time, it’s a good thing for everybody.”

I was inclined to agree. "Well, OK," I said, "we could allow flex time AND satisfy critics, if we put in a time clock."

She winced and said, “Oh, I hate to give up our honor system.”

Me: "There’s bad feeling and accusations here, and I’m willing to do any solution."

Her:  “Let me think about this and see if I can come up with any ideas.”

On the viciousness went.   Finally Leona convinced the Friends of the Library President to hold a meeting with our local Library Board of Trustees member (the county board over the libraries), and all the volunteers -- a big group, including not only volunteers who worked on site, but others who ran the Friends book sale and did other things.

The Friends Prez sent us all letters, time and place to be our library meeting room, that we’d meet and talk out the issues and a county board member would hear it all.

The group filled our meeting room.

Unknown to this Friends President, her Secretary-Treasurer -- buddy of Leona -- sent out another letter to the members promising them that I, the branch manager who they were complaining about, would NOT be present. She guaranteed it.

The Friends President did not know the Secretary had assumed this illegal authority. I showed up at the meeting and met an outraged half-dozen out of the hundred or so -- Leona and her posse -- who said that if I was going to be there, they’d walk out.

The trustee told me to leave instead.  My spy (not everybody was against me, Martha or the truth)  told me the attacks against Martha were vicious, and I was blamed for allowing her to slack off.  Nothing I didn't know.

In a phone call a few days later, the Trustee urged me to begin compiling a disciplinary file on Martha, to the end of firing her if the god damnable Public demanded it. He acknowledged that she didn't deserve it.  Three reports had to be in the file before termination could be done.

I protested. He said, “Are you willing to face the fact that this could come down to your job or hers?”

To make a long story short, my boss (undoubtedly pressed by that same Trustee) took disciplinary action against me, by officially reporting....

....that SHE had told ME to end flex time and put every employee on the same 9-6 schedule, and that I had refused.

The good news, after I ended a 14-year relationship with this boss and this library system, is that Martha, excellent employee that she was, and a high-school educated mother of 3, survived this and kept her county job with good benefits.  Going every day to a place where people are reviling you behind your back and where volunteers are coming in with a serene countenance, while they might -- or hey, might not -- be telling their friends on the golf course what a piece of crap you are, is sheer unadulterated hell, but she had a family to support.

The other kind of good news was that we had another Trustee who took me to lunch and asked me not to quit.  Maybe she couldn't hold back the tide that had brought us to that point, but maybe she should have done bloody more before it came to that.  I liked her, but working with my boss had become impossible.  My marriage had just tanked and I had a chance to go someplace new.

My point is here in a letter to the Entire World:

If you do nothing else to change your life, demand real evidence to make judgements.

End any false idea you might still have that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” and that rumor surely has some basis.  Claims of evidence, and claims of eyewitnessing, are not evidence.  They can be completely made up.  Demand something solid.

Learn that the “common wisdom” and the “everybody knows” gossip can be, not just exaggerated .... not just misinterpreted...not just incomplete --- but baseless. Altogether, completely baseless.  Learn that lies are a powerful propaganda weapon.  Make no judgements without some hard evidence.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Heroes, villains, and celebrity divorces

Our Top Story Tonight - In a world of pain, loss and hardship for millions of struggling everyday people, we're obsessed with Tom and Katie.

Only my take on that is, possibly, not what you think.

While we're all going "With all the vital news going on, WHO the Bleep CARES?" I'm sort of honor-bound to talk about my lengthy adolescent concern with celebrity love affairs.  Some people never do it.  Others outgrow it by the end of high school, like you're spozed to. Some of us have to let it go.

It's probably a useful phase of teenage development, letting us process "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?" at a safe distance, by vesting emotionally in somebody else's life and thinking about what we'd do differently, while avoiding personal risk of that broken heart.

Many people -- I'm not allowed to say "most," but there sure are an awful lot of us -- stay in that stage of emotional development for way too long.  Only it's no longer to learn our hearts at a safe distance, but to avoid learning.  That we make flat cardboard Heroes and Villains out of them is a clue.

I speak of myself, here, and well into my middle age.  Relationships confounded me, the best evidence being that I even entered into my first marriage to a badly damaged manchild.

At the time, I was a big fan of Christian singer Amy Grant.  Grant wrote about life's hard stuff back before there was hard stuff in Christian music.  She was still young and wholesome and Perfect Role Model For Young Women blahblahblah, when she gained mainstream music fame with a song ("Find a Way") that said

   I know this life is a strange thing.
   I can't answer all the why's.
   Tragedy always finds me
   taken again by surprise.
   I could stand here an angry young woman
   taking all the pain to heart...

The same album had lyrics that said "I need you stayin' here so we can work it out," and "They're gonna hit you from all sides, better make up your mind who to, who not to listen to" (that one written by her then-husband, troubled but talented songwriter Gary Chapman).

And then she divorced.  It was time to outgrow my personal-stake-in-celebrities, not by relabeling her The Bad One, but by accepting that everybody has strengths and weaknesses.

If you don't hang around any Born Again media, you have no. freakin.  clue.  what a blowup this was, or how jawdroppingly long the vitriol continued; it went on for over a decade.   Major Whore of Babylon accusations.  Her ex remarried first, the kids are grown, her kid with her new husband is 10 years old, and still, her shattered life of 1999 has some people seething, after Eddie and Valerie, Meg and Dennis, and other collapses of longlasting relationships get shrugged off by the general public.

Next example, and I'll explain why it's similar, is Aniston.

Nothing is weirder than the tabloid-intensity of Jennifer Aniston's celebrity.  She has talent, and has made some good project choices and handled them well.  But her media following, years after The Split, makes me think it has more to do with the fact the she's never remarried.

Brad and Jen were a particularly touching couple for a reason that tells you a lot about our craving to put stars on pedestals.  Neither had been married before, which isn't unheard of but is kind of rare, and let fans believe in that Great Big Commitment hugeness.

Should we admire Jen for not revving up a typical Hollywood  multi-spouse carousel?  Or is she playing the bleep out of it, doing Debbie Reynolds without the diaper pin?

I don't know, but she has been stalled as The Wronged Wife for a petrifyingly long time.  Grant, on the other hand, did remarry, and reaction to her was vicious.

What do Grant and Aniston have in common?  Not a lot personally, but that's why they demonstrate so well the A and B sides of the celebrity romance coin.  They both fall outside the pattern, but that's what reveals the pattern.

Here is how The Public wants it to happen:


innocent           guilty    
remarried          alone      
innocent    |        guilty    
       alone           remarried       


We want the parties to fit neatly into little boxes labeled Innocent and Guilty.

THEN the innocent party needs to find happiness - after a proper interval, to prove his/her serious commitment to the original marriage - so the collective psyche can believe in hope and reward for goodness.  And the (presumed) guilty party should remain single till some vaguely defined time when we're satisfied that he/she has paid the dues.

Both women have crossed their lines on the grid.  Jen, innocent party, remains in "ex" mode, past the time-to-heal date.  Grant, labeled "guilty", refused to remain in "ex" mode and moved on long before that magical indefinable date on which she would have been thought entitled.

Again, I took this mindset with me into the 1990's, so don't go thinking that I'm claiming superiority to The Public.  This stuff has power, and not just over the chronically stupid.

Just as Grant and Aniston tell us something about the roles The Public wants, Cruise and Holmes tell us how much reality we're willing to throw out, to shoehorn it into that Guilt / Innocence grid.

He is despised, she is labelled a Feminist Heroine.

The roles seem extreme, but it's more than that.  They go against the usual Guilt / Innocence pattern.  Roles are not being assigned by the usual "Adandon-er, Abandon-ee" criteria.  It's not just about smirking over the kharma - that he blindsided Nicole, so now it's his turn.  Katie would never be crowned this level of Heroine based just on that.

That he has, thus far, been a gentleman about this;  that he was stunned, after her faking it with him days before;  that he clearly genuinely loves his daughter and in fact all his kids -- not seeing much denial of any of that, and still, none of it seems to gain him a shred of good will.  One article today likened Katie to poor cult-abused Rosemary in Rosemary's Baby, and attitude toward Tom seems to make him a Hubbardist version of woman-repressing Henry the Eighth.  In fact, worse.  Nasty though Great Harry was, people believe in his genuine love for Jane Seymour, and nobody's even granting that to Tom and the mother of his third child, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

It's as though they couldn't possibly be two people who honestly tried and who managed their choices badly, or who might have actually wanted a successful family but came to major spiritual differences they can't reconcile.

Its isn't two people, it's a religious battle between rigid concepts of Good and Evil:  she's The Little Christian Girl -- Catholicism is no Fundamentalist ideal but it's in the ballpark -- Who Kneecapped Scientology.  Because the religion is despised, there's a twisted idea that its adherent deserves whatever pain is inflicted on him.  They're calling it a feminist coronation, but actually it's her perceived religious triumph people are saluting.  The couple has admirably and quietly worked out the settlement, but we're still ranting because it's about Faith itself.

What we really need is to grow up.  It's hard to do.  Especially as an adult, it's hard to detach from the celebrity love drama and stop having a personal stake in it.  I speak from experience.  But if we have to have a personal stake, making it a religious stake is both simpleminded and a disservice to the couple and their child. They are human beings, rich as hell, but not metaphors for cut-and-dried concepts of faith.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

How not to be patriotic

I mean.... No.  Just, no.

The source :
At newsstands everywhere.
Right now.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Me and silver

Losing my mom 2 years ago had a component that's probably universal.  Regrets.  They're a stupid way to live, considering that linear time is going to keep marching forward, but maybe it's inevitable that I not only miss some of the things we shared but badly miss some of the things we could have shared but didn't.

For every special occasion, Mom and Dad's wedding silverware came out of the hutch, got polished up and got placed at the dining room table.  And with the approach of every special occasion, I made sure my mother knew how much I despised the silver, the polishing, and the formality, and would never, ever have such things as part of my life.

Kid, teenager, Young Woman, endlessly I hauled out the same snide comments about the silverware and she'd smile and preempt my beaten-to-death joke :  "Yes, yes, I know, when I'm gone you're going to melt it all down into ingots and sell it."

No, she didn't smile because she knew I'd come around.  She smiled because she never took material things all that seriously.  She mentioned my distaste for the silverware to a friend just a few years ago.  She really thought I hated it, and there's a good reason she thought so.

I thought I hated it, too.

And maybe she and I share responsibility for our complete lack of understanding about the silverware and why I claimed not to want it.  With some communication we might have uncovered the real problem.

Because what I actually hated was silver polish.

It seems unfair to name the brand.  It was a good product, it was all there was back in The Day, and it did the job.  Nobody had invented anything better, or at least nothing else was commonly publicized. The brand is still around and I think they solved the stench problem awhile back, so it no longer needs to be dissed.

But back then, W------ Silver Polish had a nasty, sour smell.  And taste.  As the pre-holiday polishing job got underway, it formed a nauseating little atmosphere of sulphurous sourness in the kitchen, where she polished the utensils, and maybe it was my imagination, but I could taste the stuff on my dinner fork, a sour-ish encore to every bite of turkey or rice.

I doubt if anybody liked the smell, but it may be that I'm just built to react strongly to it.  The smell gave me the kind of headache that in turn causes queasiness.  However mild both sensations were -- and they were.  I ate and socialized normally through the meal -- still, it took a form of Formal Dinner self-control for me to sit and eat with the smell clinging even so gently to the whole table spread.

To her end, she thought I hated this silver that she cherished.  For so long, I thought I did too.

Possibly she suspected that my dislike had eased some when she gave me this pitcher about 10 years ago.  I've positioned it so you can see one of its dents, center-bottom.  There are more dents, and lots of scratches.  It's silver plate, and she kind of waved it off, saying, "Would you like that?  Now, it's not any good, but you're welcome to it."  And I responded with a happy "Yes!"  Plate needs care too and so, by my taking something silver when she offered it, I hope she knew I would at least treat her flatware with respect.

But I doubt she knew it would ever be real love, and it is.  The pieces are beautiful, and she loved it, and for her sake and its own, I love it too. I probably would have loved it long ago if i'd known that my problem was NOT that silver was an inherently sour and nauseating metal, but that W------ Silver Polish was making it act on me like kryptonite.

She'd undoubtedly get a big kick out of seeing me spot this little tray in a thrift shop and actually want it. This too is plated and came cheap, but I loved the shape and the clean, classic design, and finding my initial on it closed the deal for 10 bucks.

Spending the present regretting the past simply piles up more lost minutes squandered, but still, sometimes, I wish....

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In which we discover that we're supposed to clean our birdfeeders

I don't just mean knock out the old crud, or even hose the feeder out periodically.

I mean, really clean them. With a 1/9 bleach-to-water ratio : one part bleach, to 9 parts water.
Every month.

Is this one of those things that everybody knows about except me?  I expect not.  So here's what we learned today, and if my readers decide to clean their feeders, even at somewhat less frequent intervals, it's bound to be beneficial.

Today we stopped at our storage unit and a little finch was standing there in the drive.  The car driving by didn't inspire him to fly away, so as Larry went to check the unit, I said I'd walk back down the alley and check on the bird.

I made Bird a little nervous but no matter how close I got, he didn't bolt, which worried me.  Then I noticed his eye.  I carefully picked him up and he stood calmly on my palm, then transferred himself to my index finger and perched.  Now I could see both eyes, badly infected.  He couldn't see at all, and had gotten trapped here in this tunnel of steel buildings and concrete.

I walked back down to the car  -- most of the way down that concrete drive you see behind me -- with the bird perched tamely on my finger.  And we tried to decide what to do.  The bird got tired of all this and flew away, but in blind random spirals, and landed on the other side of the building where he hopped in desperate circles until we picked him up again, and drove him a couple miles down to the local vet that specializes in wild rescues.  As Downy's friend Mojo would say, they are Sooperheroes.

It is utterly cool to have no Boss docking us for getting back late from break time.  Tourist season is on in full and Larry had a tedious driving job while I sat with my fingers forming a little cage to keep the little guy from taking off inside the car.

Back home, Larry did the research.  This bird had conjunctivitis.

There are undoubtedly many places they can contract this disease, but one source of it is unclean bird feeders, which can harbor the bacteria.  As we'd just seen, an otherwise healthy bird can die without the use of its sight.

It had never occurred to us to actually bleach-out the feeders, ever, much less every month.

What we're thinking about doing is getting a second feeder for each station, so we can switch them out without leaving the station unsupplied for a couple days.

We've even found that they take awhile to accept a new feeder placed in the same spot as one it replaced, and, though I'm guessing, I figured the new store smell had to weather off.   So even at one-tenth strength, wild birds might reject the bleach smell and it probably needs to be thoroughly soaked away after the germs have been soaked away.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Graduation Speech. Yeah, that one.

The topic is "You're not special."

Like thirty million other bloggers, I'm sure I have something Special to say about it.  Jumping on the sound-byte of the minute bandwagon.  Blast it, I just did that and here I am doing it again.

The speech.  Here it is.  12 minutes-plus on yahoo video, just so you know.

I can agree with so much of what he said, and still think he said nothing new or important.  Is he terribly innovative for finger-pointing at a society in which every participant gets a trophy and every student gets a "Great Kid!" bumper sticker at McDonald's even if he/she didn't qualify for his school's actual Student of the Month, which started the whole sticker mess?

Not really.  True, he pulls out the wit and a little bit of the insight.  And true, he says in the middle of the speech that "Everybody's special so nobody is" and then redeems that at the end with "[Recognize that] you're not special, because everybody is" which is more like my philosophy.

He's OK at seeing that the patient is sick, but not very good at diagnosing the problem and therefore even worse at offering a cure.  These kids do indeed need to find a different source of inner fulfillment, and learn that it really is more important to see the world than to have the world see you.  He says some good stuff.   The self-esteem-movement generation might have a harder time shifting to a deeper focus than will later generations, who will be raised with what we've learned from the trophies-for-all silliness.

(The first of which is that the kids know exactly how meaningless something everybody gets is.  So it's not like getting it actually strokes their egos much. Does anybody think most kids can't figure out when adults are being patronizing?)

I'm more inclined to critique the whole phenomenon of contempt for a product -- that product being the kids raised in the self-esteem bubble --  that we've worked so bloody hard to create.

I too hate the attitudes he complains about:  the entitlement, the carefully created (BY parents, teachers and product-pushers)  attitude that kids have to do and work for and achieve nothing and should have accolades anyway;

that a kid needs to never, ever, feel less-than, even when s/he absolutely has done less than another kid;

that hurt feelings, when the other kid gets a ribbon or an honor, are actually harmful to any child who didn't earn one herself.  Not an impetus to try harder, set goals, blahblah, but a psychic wound at a deep level that risks making her just crawl under the bed and suck her thumb till she's thirty.

The over-use of awards and honors comes from a fundamental misunderstanding about self-worth.  Very few people have been taught the difference between "what I do" and "who I am."  Very few people realize that the embarrassment or grieving experienced by a kid who lost the trophy is NOT causing a lack of self-worth.  It is, and should be, a cause of feeling that s/he didn't try hard enough, didn't learn the task well enough, or in some cases is not really talented enough to get as far in the field as another kid.  If he hasn't been raised to have true self-worth, then sure, losing an honor will pluck that string, but losing is the pick, not the string.

Accepting that the other kid who's a champion swimmer is just built better for swimming doesn't blast a child's sense of self to smithereens.  Those tears are gutwrenching to watch, but are just part of learning who he really is and growing into his individual powers.

The trick is to know, and then to teach the child, that "You're not as good a swimmer" and "You're not a good enough person" are two radically different things. It's about something you do, not about who you are.  It's the same knowledge that needs to be applied to mistakes and even to deliberate naughtiness.  "You did something wrong."  Not "You are bad."

What this has to do with the speech is that:

(1)  If this diploma is actually another meaningless thing that everybody gets, then he's indicting the school a whole lot more than he's indicting the kids who navigated a system they didn't create.

If the school is a reputable one, then I suspect this graduation is a real achievement.  Likening these graduates to those of violent, deteriorating schools from which students graduate barely able to spell is probably plain inaccurate, and those gold tassels for higher achievement mean something, too.  He makes much of numbers, but numbers shouldn't alone devalue effort.  The definition of ordinary can change.  Up or down.

(2)  The importance of instilling good self-esteem is not fundamentally wrong.  It just needs to be done with the aforementioned knowledge of what true self-worth really is, and that hurt feelings and disappointment do not necessarily indicate damaged self-worth. Sometimes they're a lesson to try harder and sometimes they're a lesson to try something else. Feeling the discomfort of contrast is a crucial part of learning.

(3)  The kids didn't make the bad award rules or riot and throw Molotov cocktails demanding trophies and stickers.  They took the direction, and the stickers, that they were given.  To show contempt for them, after this ignorant system processed them into the Everybody's Special corral, is ridiculous.

"You're special!"
"I am?  All I did was show up."
"That's special!  You're special!"
"Cool! I'm special!"
"No, you're a little slacker nothing."

is Theatre of the Absurd.  Hello, grownups?  Who made the rules?

And you did it with good intentions.
And in ignorance.
Now do it better.