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Resolution Review

I managed to spend an entire New Year celebration without even once thinking about making a personal resolution for 2006. And now that January days are skidding along, Iâ??m just now coming up with a resolution to discard any thoughts of unrealistic vows bound to be broken. My personal self-improvement program is a lifelong venture, a daily opportunity. Resolutions can be good, but sometimes grandiose, impracticable promises can lead to unwarranted guilt. And Iâ??d rather take small steps forward than be flung backwards.

So many of us are dissatisfied with the way we look, feel, deal with others, and the list goes on. By what standards are we grading ourselves? Whose values?

In a recent interview, Gloria Steinem, now a vibrant 71-year-old woman, was asked:

If she could go back and give young Gloria Steinem some advice, what would it be? "I would certainly have much more compassion for her than I did at the time," Ms. Steinem said. "You know, I wish our future selves could meet our past selves and say, 'It's OK, it's OK. Do what you want to do. That's the important thing.'" [â??Gloria Steinem, Power Geezerâ? by Sheelah Kolhatkar, New York Observer; posted January 11, 2006 on AlterNet]

We can learn from all kinds of experiences, as long as they donâ??t swallow us up first, I suppose.


Happy Holidays

As the year-end approaches, I kind of feel like Iâ??m rolling down a hill, gaining momentum along the way. So as not to hit a boulder while traveling at full speed, Iâ??m slowly putting on the brakes via a fun train trip to Montreal this last week of the year.

I toast those of you who do observe the holiday in some way or another, as well as those who donâ??t.

Have a merry time, and Iâ??ll see you in 2006.


Comings and Goings of Synchronicity

Back in July I experienced an interesting series of coincidences.

One Sunday, as we were departing from our lakefront park, a few companions and I ran into an acquaintance, a teacher, we hadnâ??t seen in several years. She was there with her mother and a couple neighbors. We chatted for a few minutes and went on our way.

I didnâ??t think much about it until the next Saturday when, upon entering a restaurant in a neighboring town, one of the same companions and I found ourselves holding the door open for the same teacher and her mother. Anyone with a camera would have caught the four of us agape with wide eyes. They were departing from a baby shower, which had been held for the pregnant daughter of a deceased friend of the teacher. The friend had been a very close one, and a bit teary-eyed, the teacher mentioned how special that event had been for her. Companion and I were attending a small wedding anniversary celebration. I joked about how weâ??d all be sure to see each other again soon, since hopefully good things happen in threes.

The next weekend, another chance meeting occurred at the entrance to Costco with the same mother and daughter. They were entering; we were leaving. There was lots of laughter. Number three. And Iâ??m not even superstitious.

Coincidence? Meaningful coincidence? Possibly. Or not.

Of course, as there always will be those who illogically would rush to find some hidden meaning, there likewise will be those rational skeptics who figure that the concept of synchronicity is only an expression of apophenia. Really? In every case?

And they know this,... how?


Piercing the Veil

Iâ??m seeing cobwebs. No, not in the hallowed halls of antikoan. Perhaps someone has been dusting in my absence.

The gossamer I view is a mass of floaters in my right eye. Hopefully some will subside in the next few weeks. Others might not settle for months or years. Within one week I have turned from someone who values clear vision (after correction for myopia) to one who values eyesight, period.

Early last week I began to notice floaters in my right eye. I had never had floaters before. Initially a nuisance, these black spidery lines trailing filmy matter began to multiply, and I began to be concerned. The ophthalmologist complimented what I thought at first must have sounded like neurotic complaints. I had a large retinal tear, which could have rapidly turned into a retinal detachment if I had waited too long. Thatâ??s the insidious nature of retinal tears. Pain was not a symptom, but early action was imperative to counteract possible loss of vision, partial or complete. Thank goodness I avoided any vision loss, peripheral or other.

So, for the past week after laser treatment, I managed to find not-too-active activities that involved no reading. Yes, per doctorâ??s orders, no reading for a week, an eternity.

I kept up with responsibilities as best I could. And I took time to leisurely stroll along the boardwalk down by the lake, allowing the rhythmic waves to lull me.

Books on tape came in handy. A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell was an old one I had grabbed at a used book fair a while back and hadnâ??t yet gotten around to listening to during driving trips. As the story unfolded, the psychological effects of illiteracy partially contributing to shaping the murdererâ??s character made me shiver as I retreated behind my cobwebs.

And now Iâ??m allowed to read, one eye clear as a bell, the other with a misty veil, for now. I havenâ??t decided which one more accurately reflects the world.


New Signature

As many of you know, escoles, the administrator of this site, disabled anonymous posting a couple months ago due to an onslaught of comment-spam that literally crashed the site. Only those who register as users can currently post. That has solved the spam problem. However, itâ??s been rather quiet around here since any registered users havenâ??t been writing comments to blog posts recently.

Iâ??ve been blogging over a year now, not every day, but at least on a fairly regular basis. Right now Iâ??m experiencing a busy time offline, but I still like to post when I can. I feel that even a little feedback is important to a blogger to get a feel for reader sentiment, offering similar or differing views on a given subject. I realize that many of you have no way to directly comment outside of posting as registered users. Therefore, Iâ??ve added a signature appearing at the end of my posts, which offers an e-mail address in case anyone wishes to contact me directly. (Letâ??s see if the automatic feature works. Otherwise, Iâ??ll type it manually.) I welcome comments on posts, and Iâ??ll even copy and paste the body of your e-mail message onto a blog comment for you, if you wish, with or without your preferred ID mentioned.

Now, itâ??s time to take a break. Iâ??m headed for a swim in the pool, the only outdoor activity Iâ??m interested in this evening, considering the sweltering heat outside.

UPDATE: Iâ??ve been informed by a reliable source that it is not a good idea to publish a clear-text email address on the web due to proliferation of e-mail harvester 'bots. So, until an encoded e-mail address can be used here, Iâ??ll be removing my signature at this time.


â??Support Our Troopsâ?

A friend of mine mentioned that during a conversation with a man he met at a recent social function, the topic of the Viet Nam War came up. This new acquaintance recalled that when he came home from Nam, he was surprised and dismayed to be met with slurs from people who were opposed not only to the war, but also apparently to men and women serving in Viet Nam. Thankfully, in his mind, people are doing a somewhat better job nowadays of separating the troops from the administrative decision makers, thereby offering support to Americans serving in Iraq, if not the war itself.

And thatâ??s a hard call because the Bush administration, while falling short in actual support, would use a slogan like â??support our troopsâ? to encourage approval for an unpopular war.

My friendâ??s son, Ben, was discharged in May after serving in Iraq since February, 2004. Ben is back with loved ones. Many are not. Many have died and will not come home to their families. Today, as I plant some spring flowers, I keep all of them in my heart, including those who have died in past wars, in spite of my genuine opposition to the present war in Iraq.


A Random Walk At Travel Writing

I attended the first session of a class in travel writing last night. As I got home, I started poring over my shelves to find examples of the genre. Some leapt out at me. So here's a random-walk, dartboard-at-the-page first quick pass. I sort them here from the most unequivocal examples, to examples I have to justify.

Unequivocal examples:

Lost In The Arctic (Lawrence Millman) [buy]
This is what i think of when I think of "travel writing." The articles are mostly short -- this was great bathroom reading -- and they often fall somewhere between "To Build A Fire" and a less-pejorative version of "Shooting An Elephant" in their focus on the fool-hardiness of a civilized western traveller in the wild. A lot of it is very funny; Millman is far more often a fool than the natives are, but he always strives to be gracious.
Waking Up In Iceland (Paul Sullivan) [buy]
All the travel literature I read before going to Iceland did less to prepare me for the place than this book did. I heard people speaking in their own voices; to be sure, it tells the story that Sullivan wants to tell, and I'm sure he idealizes the scene -- but from what I could see, not much.
Some Orwell selections, especially: "Shooting and Elephant", "Marrakech", and "Looking Back on the Spanish War" (both in A Collection of Essays by George Orwell [buy / Orwell])

I read all of these years ago; I remember that I picked up the book somewhere unexpected, like a Salvation Army or at some church book sale, and read nothing in it for a long time, carrying it from place to place. As I remember it, I then picked it up one day to read "Shooting an Elephant" on someone's recommendation, and then devoured the whole thing. He's an engaging essayist with a penetrating, if jaundiced view. Viz the opening to his essay on Kipling, when he observes that in definding Kipling against the charge of being a fascist, he writes that:

... [T. S. Eliot] falls into the opposite error of defending that which is indefensible. .... Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting. It is better to start by admitting that, and then to try to find out why it is that he survives while the refined people who have sniggered at him seem to wear so badly.

Which is to say, Eric Blair was a tough-minded "T", like me; an INTP, to be specific, or at least, that would be my guess. If he was going to understand the situation, it was important not to mystify it. This is perhaps why he got on so poorly with other socialists....


Democracy in America (Alexis de Tocqueville) [buy]
It's a traveller's tale, to be sure, but a highly conceptual one. Early ethnography, if you will. I've only ever skimmed it; I should really read it, someday, I suppose...


The Assembly Line (Robert Linhart) [buy]
Linhart "travels" from comfortable bohemian Marxism to the world of the (primarily) Algerian workers in a circa-1967 Citroen plant. This is real-world existentialism; it's a reminder that you don't really understand a place until you think you can't get out of it.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat (Oliver Sachs) [buy]
It struck me as I was shelf-reading that one of the main criteria that I use to identify something as "travel writing" is that it reads like a visit. And it struck me as my eye hit the spine of this book that Sachs writes like a visitor, to the worlds of his patients. It's like a travelogue into the world of neurological disorder.

That will do for now, I suppose.

A Newer Worldview: Cultural Creative

We havenâ??t had a quiz posted in a while around here, so yâ??all have Steeph to thank (or blame) for steering me to one designed to evaluate your worldview.

I surprised myself, and even though I took the test twice and did get a slight variation the second time, the highest percentage both times ended up in the â??Cultural Creativeâ? category.

What on earth are Cultural Creatives?

You scored as Cultural Creative. Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

Cultural Creative
















What is Your World View? (corrected...again)
created with

Googling led me to another questionnaire, plus an interesting interview.

Not so sure about this...


Evil Temptations

I was so enjoying my Chinese dinner a few nights ago. Then I opened my fortune cookie: â??Guard yourself against evil temptationsâ? was my â??fortune.â?


And this restaurant wants customers coming back? I mean, donâ??t we presently have enough fear mongering in this country without the need to exacerbate acid reflux via words of warning against iniquity during an otherwise enjoyable retreat in a quiet restaurant?

Whether or not betting is considered â??evil,â? Iâ??ve never even considered playing those â??lucky numbersâ? found on scraps of paper inside fortune cookies. However, it seems that laying a bet on the lottery using numbers found in fortune cookies proved to be a lucky choice for 110 players recently in the Powerball lottery.

Mae West once said, â??I generally avoid temptation unless I canâ??t resist it.â? Makes me take stock of what I would consider an irresistible temptation, let alone an evil one.


The Banks of the Grand River

Warm spring weather has finally arrived, and today I got a proper airing alongside the Grand River at Michigan State University. I spent the afternoon watching a high school match race, catching up on news with friends, and partaking of a wonderful outdoor brunch in honor of Motherâ??s Day. No fancy dress, tablecloths, or proper dinner etiquette required. I enjoyed digging my toes in the grass while basking in the sunshine, immersing myself in the rhythm of oars and the laughter of friends.

All in all, it was a fine day.


"glory road"

[Originally composed sometime in the winter or early spring of 1986, in the depth of the Reagan era, and then substantially edited 1/8/96. At the time, I hoped it wouldn't apply again in my lifetime; now it's even more apropros than when I first wrote it, almost 20 years ago...]

When I was young, I would swear I had a mother
Who was flesh and blood and real to me
But she is gone, and now I see
What was once my mother has been turned to an abstraction
Something to die for, to set us on the glory road


Lost Mysteries

Sometimes I miss not knowing things.

I'm not talking about the big mysterious things. There are a few of those I'd rather not know, but that's a different issue. This is little, simple stuff, for which we can now easily find an authoritative (if not necessarily correct) reference on the web.

For example: When I was a kid, I was always seeing movies without knowing anything about them. I might recognize a face ("Hey, there's that guy from that thing!") or a voice or a walk, or even a style. But I saw a lot of cool movies as a kid that I couldn't have told you anythng about aside from the plot or the setting.

I remember one time as a kid, coming home from school at noon (it was the last week of the school year); I think I must have been in junior high. The local PBS affiliate was showing afternoon movies that week, so I switched it on to see what was there. It was old -- in black and white, and in Japanese, and as I turned it on it was mostly a motley bunch of people having an oblique conversation while they waited out a rainstorm in a busted-up building. But I stuck with it, and soon it got more interesting: The conversation was about a murder case, and one by one they worked through five different versions of the event. In one, a noble-born husband dies by a fierce bandit's sword, while defending his wife's honor as she cowers in the shadow; in another, the wife tempts the bandit, and the husband must be goaded into fighting; and so on, with each version glorifying or justifying its teller. In a fifth and final version, from a surprising source, all parties come off petty, venal, and weak-willed.

I never knew the name of the picture or anything about it when I was watching. But it stuck with me for years. Probably a week didn't pass that I didn't think about that ugly fifth version, thick with fear and utterly lacking in grace for anyone. Until one night in college, I went to the regular screening session for my Japanese cinema class. That night I saw a film called Rashômon.

These days, there wouldn't be a mystery. I'd just look it up on IMDB or post a question to Ask Metafilter. It's all easy, now. We go, we get our answer -- we don't spend time chewing on the memory of some mysterious film or book or song, reworking it in our memories until we make it into something that speaks to us.

My brother Glen once told me about a film he'd seen as a kid. It was an old film -- black and white. About a rich old man who dies alone and friendless after uttering the mysterious phrase "Rosebud!" -- which turns out to refer to an old sled. He'd thought about that movie a lot, over the years, but had never been able to remember the name of it, or who starred, or who directed.

I thought about it for a moment, and took a guess: "Sounds like Citizen Kane." (I'd never actually seen Citizen Kane at that point, mind you.)

He shook his head resolutely, as I recall. "No, that's definitely not it."

Table Talk

Diana Abu Jaber said something on ATC this evening [RealAudio] that struck a chord with me:

"I think that we always carry around these crystallized nuggets of memory, these moments in our lives, and for me the food memories were so imbued with meaning and emotion, that I was able to kind of move from one to the next, and as I wrote the story they would take on the details and the textures of my own memories, and weave themselves into stories."

Looking back I can't say we had all that much good food as a kid, but I remember the food, nonetheless. And we did have food that I loved. Porcupine meatballs, salsbury steak, stew with dumplings, Frito™ pie ... and stuff that I disliked, like the wax beans and green beans with new potatoes, or beet-tops, swimming in their own cooking water. All stuff that you might find in some white-bread cookbook. I'd never cook any of those things, now, but at the time, it was what I knew.

We always ate dinner together, even as the families of many of my friends seldom did. It required significant special despensation to be separated from the family at dinner. Dad sat at one end, Mom at the other, my brothers on one side and my sister and I on the other. In the summer, there was produce from our gardens: those green and wax beans and beet tops, broccoli (nope), chard or beet greens (yup), and later in the summer, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers (yes!). Before my elder siblings started drifting off to college, the plate of tomatoes and cucumbers would always come to me last, to ensure that other people would get a chance to have some.

But it was Saturday breakfast that I remember fondly. Breakfast at home with the family gathered was a much less formal affair. Some Friday nights, especially when Glen or Steve were home to visit, my sister Cheri's family would sleep over. On the Saturday mornings after, Dad would usually make pancakes, cinnamon pinwheels, waffles, or a big skillet full of huevos rancheros -- that is, scrambled eggs with bell peppers and ham, with the dry pan scrapings set aside for Cheri. (This was the pre-salsa era, after all.)

Pancakes would come off the griddle in waves. There were never enough for everyone at once, so we ate in shifts, loitering around the room afterward to stay in the conversation. Dad's pancakes were seldom predictable, but (almost) always good: They might include anything he felt a need to use up (like over-ripe bananas or wilted apples), or anything that struck his imagination (pecans, frozen blueberries, All Bran™). Once he added a half cup of Masa Harina; the result was only slightly less dense than a tortilla. Another time, he pulled a near-empty bag of oat flour from the cabinet that had a mis-printed label. A spot of ink on the "O" in "oat" made it look like "Bat Flour"; that gag grew gray hair and used a cane before we let it rest.

It was over breakfast that we could discuss politics or religion, even going as far afield as homosexuality on a couple of occasions. The conversation was most free when my brother Glen was there, and when I was young enough to let the need to define myself trump avoiding conflict. Now, I'm intellectully alone when I visit my parents', or my sister's. Even when Glen's there, it's not the same; we both know that it's not worth the trouble to express ourselves too freely. We've settled in our ways, now; the old jousting isn't fun anymore, the stakes on the other side of the table seem higher. Or maybe it's just a measure of how far I've grown from them.

I remember Diana Abu Jaber, though I never knew her well; she taught a creative writing section I took at Binghamton in the spring of 1984, during my first higher-academic lifetime. I'd been acquainted with her younger sisters from my dorm: One smart and haunted, the other sweet and reserved. But what I knew of the three of them still doesn't align with the things I've heard or read Diana say about her childhood. There's just no connect. What I know now, on "background", is less than I knew then, with no background. Then, I knew people; now, I know stories.

And that's what I should expect. I've just told a story about my own youth; but it really conceals as much as it reveals, truth or not. Diana said in her interview, "I have a real novelist's perspective, I think, and that means that you never, never sacrifice a great story just to tell the truth. You have to let the richness and the beauty of the story manifest itself first." But being a novelist only teaches her how to do it well. We all edit our history, whether for our own consumption or that of others. Some of us know the difference. If it matters.


Televised Dying

During the last few weeks the media have provided us not only notices of death, but also coverage of the lingering and often painful process of dying. Whereas some found the popeâ??s last days meaningful, there were those who likewise found the highly politicized debacle surrounding Terri Schiavoâ??s final days to be excruciating.

Today I read about Brian Dickersonâ??s mom in the Detroit Free Press and how she reacted to the Schiavo deathwatch.

My mother is not a demonstrative person, but I noticed that each time the dated but ubiquitous hospice bed footage appeared on the screen, she would snap her head away as if she'd been slapped. "I understand that somebody made that videotape available to the media," she said. "But why do they have to broadcast it?"

It wasn't the brain-damaged Schiavo's face she was seeing, of course, but the nightmarish vision of her own daughter's or son's. Or her own.

To my mother, the hospice room video was worse than pornographic; it was, simply, none of our business.

Last night I heard the husky voice of Peter Jennings on TV as he relayed information about his lung cancer and impending chemotherapy. No, Peter Jennings is not on his deathbed, but hearing his voice elicited a vivid recollection of my own fatherâ??s gravelly voice about ten years ago as he was in the process of dying from lung cancer. I, like Brian Dickersonâ??s mom, had a very personal, visceral reaction.

Peter Jennings mentioned that he had a lot to learn from the millions of Americans already living with cancer. Living, not dying. Maybe Americans can learn from him, too. Will he encourage others to quit smoking?

Iâ??d also like to think that our country might choose to take a positive turn in the Terri Shiavo case and make possible a legacy of helping to bring greater public awareness to an underlying issue of eating disorders. It would be a shame if the memory of Terriâ??s life and death were to be subjugated in a televised political tug-of-war.


Poliomyelitis, Then and Now

April 12, 1955, was a remarkable day. An announcement made at 10am at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor literally changed the world, when Dr. Thomas Francis, Jr., announced that the new Salk polio vaccine was â??safe, effective, and potent.â?

So ended the largest field trial in the history of medicine, and so began the worldwide eradication of the dreaded disease of poliomyelitis.

On April 12, 2005, there will be a 50th anniversary celebration of this announcement at the University of Michigan.

I remember a boy I met when I was young, a boy with a leg brace. His name was Gregory, as I recall, and Gregory was cute and lively and loved to dance, leg brace and all. He thankfully was not confined to a wheelchair or iron lung.

Years later at a Michigan football game, memory of Gregory dancing made me smile when I heard Dr. Jonas Salkâ??s name mentioned during a halftime show about medical discoveries. My reverie was broken when an inebriated fellow a few rows behind me, who possibly was bored with the somewhat solemn tribute, decided to stand up and yell, â??Three cheers for the Pill!â? Ah yes, the wonders of modern medicine.

Tonight, remembering this drunk has a sobering effect on me as I think about how many of us take modern vaccines for granted, even though diseases like poliomyelitis continue to plague many third world countries. Mark Wilson, director of the Global Health Program in the U-M School of Public Health, has made some astute observations.

â??There has to be a serious commitment on the part of developed countries to put resources into that part of the world,â? Wilson said. The dollar figures involved are miniscule compared to some of our other spending priorities, and â??itâ??s in our interest, for global political stability. These bugs donâ??t respect borders.â?


Neo-cons and Old-fashioned Nastiness

Arab bashing reached a new low in Washington last week when Ann Coulter, a loudmouthed, mean-spirited, pro-Bush columnist, decided to defend the White House press pass controversy over faux-reporter James Guckert (a.k.a. Jeff Gannon) by writing in her syndicated column: â??Press passes canâ??t be that hard to come by if the White House allows that old Arab Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the president.â?

Thomas, whose Hearst column is distributed by King Features Syndicate, is of Lebanese descent. The former United Press International reporter has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, and has covered every president since John F. Kennedy. She was the first female president of the White House Correspondents Association.

Even her syndicators realized the gaffe. [â??Arab Bashing Reaches Low With Thomas Slurâ? by Barbara Ferguson, Arab News, 2 March 2005]

Words cannot describe my feelings of disgust for ignorance in this world.

I know a close relative of Helen Thomas. Time for me to make a phone call to see how this relative, my friend, is doing...



On New Yearâ??s Eve after a lively matinee performance of Mama Mia! in Toronto, a cast member announced to the audience that the actors would forgo signing autographs and instead hold buckets in the lobby, welcoming donations to aid the tsunami relief effort. After dropping money into a pail, I proceeded to walk outside, feeling the slight chill of the evening wind. I wondered whether the homeless man I had passed on the way to the theatre from my hotel would find relief huddled in the sleeping bag he had prepared for the night.

The previous day a man on Yonge Street was ready to save passersby with his exhortations of Jesusâ??s love. Up and down the street were advertisements of after-Christmas sales. Upon returning home, I came across a Christmas Wishlist from a blogger in Iraq:

I have to make this fast.

No electricity for three days in a row (well, unless you count that glorious hour we got 3 days ago...). Generators on gasoline are hardly working at all. Generators on diesel fuel aren't faring much better- most will only work for 3 or 4 straight hours then they have to be turned off to rest.

Ok- what is the typical Iraqi Christmas wishlist (I won't list 'peace', 'security' and 'freedom' - Christmas miracles are exclusive to Charles Dickens), let's see:

1. 20 liters of gasoline
2. A cylinder of gas for cooking
3. Kerosene for the heaters
4. Those expensive blast-proof windows
5. Landmine detectors
6. Running water
7. Thuraya satellite phones (the mobile phone services are really, really bad of late)
8. Portable diesel generators (for the whole family to enjoy!)
9. Coleman rechargeable flashlight with extra batteries (you can never go wrong with a fancy flashlight)
10. Scented candles (it shows you care- but you're also practical)

When Santa delivers please make sure he is wearing a bullet-proof vest and helmet. He should also politely ring the doorbell or knock, as a more subtle entry might bring him face to face with an AK-47. With the current fuel shortage, reindeer and a sleigh are highly practical- but Rudolph should be left behind as the flashing red nose might create a bomb scare (we're all a little jumpy lately).

What a gift to be able to maintain a wry sense of humor in such a grim situation. I recalled the wonderful meals and warm hotel room I had experienced in Toronto. Wondering whether I needed an umbrella for excursions from the hotel seemed so trivial in comparison to the reality of floods and/or lack of running water for many people around our world.

I lit a scented candle, not so much because Iâ??m practical, but because it was a reminder of people about whom I care, even though weâ??ve never met.


Living More Musically

Yesterday I read a story by Max Blumenthal (AlterNet) about Judith Reisman and her Kinsey obsession. As I worked my way through the article, I began to get a familiar sick feeling that occurs whenever I read about insidious influencing of people on Capitol Hill. Even brief mention of Gary DeMar, sent a chill down my spine.

Today I read more news, important, distressing news, information I should have, even though sad or upsetting. We live in a messy world. Yet, my days are filled with good things, too. I decided to find some good news. Other people must have some good things going on that arenâ??t fake good things. And I was pleased to discover some websites devoted to reporting good news in our world.

I shall make an attempt to find more balance in my news consumption.

In the end we shall have had enough of cynicism, and scepticism and humbug and we shall want to live -- more musically. How will this come about, and what will we discover? It would be nice to be able to prophesy, but it is even better to be forewarned, instead of seeing absolutely nothing in the future other than the disasters that are bound to strike the modern world and civilization like so many thunderbolts, through revolution, or war, or the bankruptcy of worm-eaten states. [Letter 542, Arles, 24 September 1888, by Vincent van Gogh]


Post-Thanksgiving Thoughts

Maureen Dowd gives us a glimpse of her Thanksgiving in todayâ??s The New York Times:

I've been surprised, out on the road, how often I get asked about my family. They're beyond red - more like crimson. My sister flew to West Virginia in October to work a phone bank for W.

People often wonder what our Thanksgiving is like.

It's lovely - if you enjoy hearing about how brilliant Ann Coulter is, how misguided The New York Times's editorial page is, and how valiant the president is as he tries to stop America's slide into paganism.

My family Thanksgiving was devoid of politics. Nada. This was probably a carryover from our childhood when my dear Dad, a gastroenterologist who saw more than his share of ulcers, forbade discussions of religion or politics at the dinner table. This Thanksgiving I got caught up on my niecesâ?? and nephewsâ?? lives, their ambitions, their infectious optimism. Why sully the atmosphere by drawing lines between liberals and conservatives in the crowd? The football game provided enough opportunity for any of those with personal angst to vent their feelings at the television, while others tried to snooze or instead opt for a nice, brisk walk after dinner.

Itâ??s not that I donâ??t enjoy a good, rousing political or religious discussion, but truly, Thanksgiving Day is not the time I care to go down that road. Quite frankly, if I were sent a "crimson" e-mail from a sibling such as the one Ms. Dowd received from her brother, I might be tempted to avoid a Thanksgiving gathering altogether. Antacids might not do the trick. A turkey leg in hand, however, ...


Blogging Review

I happened upon a couple recent blog surveys during a search under a seemingly unrelated topic. I found these interesting reading, whether or not providing definitive, overall truths.

MIT PhD candidate Fernanda Viégas writes:

Formerly viewed as a marginal activity restricted to the technically savvy, blogging is slowly becoming more of a mainstream phenomenon on the Internet. Thanks to much media hype and some high profile blog sites, these online journals have captured the publicâ??s imagination. As novice authors plunge into the thrilling world of blog publishing, they soon realize that publicly writing about oneâ??s life and interests is not as simple as it might seem at first. As they become prolific writers, more bloggers find themselves having to deal with issues of privacy and liability. Accounts of bloggers either hurting friendsâ?? feelings or losing jobs because of materials published on their sites are becoming more frequent.

Writing publicly about oneâ??s life certainly is not simple for me. There are people in my personal life who deserve their privacy. And I was aware of that from the get-go when I tried my hand at posting after my application for an account at this site was cordially accepted by escoles.

The study also shows that bloggers usually have some idea of their â??coreâ? audience (readers who post comments on the site) without really knowing who the rest of their readers are â?? in many cases, this latter group makes up the majority of their readers.

I can relate to that. In my case â??coreâ? audience might be quite small. Only two identifiable people have ever commented on my posts, and I know of only a possible few more who might be reading at least occasionally. I am unaware of the precise makeup of the rest of the visitors to this site who might read my blog, although there might be pings from search engine users among other passersby.

The Perseus blog survey touched on the number of blogs that have been abandoned. Their survey only covered hosted blogs.

This analysis does not cover nonhosted blogs - blogs that individuals maintain on their own servers using their own tools. Such blogs require more work to set up and will be characteristically different than those blogs created using hosting services.

Nonetheless, it does lead me to reflect on why people blog in the first place. Naturally there are many different reasons. In my case, I am finding this medium stimulating. It makes me think things through a bit more than if I were writing in a nonpublic forum; however, feedback, including occasional healthy criticism, is important, too. And as that diminishes, I wonder if a public site is necessary when I could be writing with an even more personal focus, not worrying about privacy issues, in a nonpublic journal.

At this point, Iâ??ll probably continue to blog here, at least occasionally, as long as that is acceptable to the site owner. If even a one-time hit from a search engine provides a helpful link for a student, or some rambling of mine strikes a chord with someone, that makes it all worthwhile.



Itâ??s funny how the mind works. Yesterday I tried a small piece of a loaf cake that didnâ??t appeal to my taste. Too much flour, I thought. At that point I recalled an incident from my youth. It was not a trip down memory lane to an idyllic event in the past (hey, Iâ??m not that old yet). Actually, I rarely think about my childhood.

The taste of the flour, however, triggered a memory. I was about seven or eight years old. I had stayed after school for a meeting with my Brownie Girl Scout troop. The holiday break was approaching, and we had brought baked goodies from home for a special treat. My motherâ??s cookies were a hit. Regardless, I particularly was eyeing the box of my friendâ??s momâ??s cookies, which were beautifully iced and decorated and individually wrapped. That made them very special, more special than cookies just heaped on a plate.

I eagerly unwrapped one and took a bite. Ugh. Hard as rock. But, I didnâ??t make a face. I didnâ??t want to offend my friend. One of our Brownie troop leaders wasnâ??t so silent. She just had to remark how stiff the cookies were and how they were made with too much flour. Didnâ??t the girlâ??s mother sift the flour first? â??You girls donâ??t have to eat these cookies,â?? she snapped. I was mortified. I was taught to show respect to adults, especially adults in supervisory positions. So, I remained quiet. My friend was quiet, too.

I had been invited over to my friendâ??s house to play for a while after the meeting before dinner. I donâ??t remember what we talked about on the way home from school, but I do recollect my friendâ??s words upon entering her house. Her mother was still busily finishing up the marathon holiday cookie baking. Her husband had just arrived home from work, too, and she was flirting with him, seductively licking icing from a wooden spoon. She turned toward us as we came into the kitchen. I recall her warm smile and the flour on her apron. I thanked her for the beautiful cookies. Yeh. Maybe too much brownnosing even for a Brownie.

My friend glared at me and then blurted out in tears, mournfully, â??Mother, they didnâ??t like your cookies. They were too hard.â?

â??Oh,â? her mom responded. And, then, graciously, without missing a beat, â??Iâ??m very sorry. That was a new recipe. Iâ??ll use a better one next time. I didnâ??t mean to disappoint you.â?

She gave her daughter a hug, floured apron and all.

Compassion, plus recognizing and admitting mistakes, were not traits I would always see in adults, as the years passed.

I respected that mother. I didnâ??t have to only show respect for her status.


Firefox is now at 1.0. Hoo-ray.

For all my protestations, I did switch. There were plugins I wanted to use, that just weren't available for Mozilla. I'm still not quite used to looking under "Tools" for my program preferences (a very Microsoftian shift, I must say), and I can't get the tabbed browsing behavior to match the cleaner and more intuitive tabbed browsing experience in Mozilla. And I miss the memory-resident feature that lets Mozilla pop up near-instantaneously whenever I click the dinosaur-head.

But I did switch, and I have been using Firefox consistently throughout the last few weeks. I only switched to Mozilla when I needed to troubleshoot problems for others, or set it up on other people's PCs. At the end of this time, I still advocate Mozilla over Firefox for casual users: It remains more solid, more bug-free, and more polished at the presentation and installer level. It's what I set Mom & Dad up with on their PCs.

My opinion of Firefox hasn't really changed. I still think it's the kewl kidz browser, and it looks and feels like it -- which is to say, stuff often doesn't work right, or plain doesn't work -- it crashes frequently and churns at unexpected times -- and many things still show distinct signs of the developer's ego-centric contempt for objective evaluations of usability. But it's still the train that's going forward; if that's where I want to go, that's the train I get on.

LATER: Most Firefox plugins are now invalid! Mirabile dictu! And more remarkably yet, there's no way to tell (at release plus several days as I write this) which extensions are compatible with 1.0. So the process of trying to produce a browser for mass-public-consumption has taught the Firefox team exactly nothing! Why am I not surprised....

On the plus side, some things (like the Extensions dialog) are no longer cruelly slow. And the installer seems to work rather well under Linux.

Wisdom Departed

Today I had the lower right third molar, the last of my wisdom teeth, removed.

Wisdom teeth are third molars. Normally people have three permanent molars that develop in each quadrant of the mouth; upper, lower, right and left. The first molars usually grow into the mouth at around six years of age. The second molars grow in at around age 12. The third molars usually will try to grow in at around age 18 to 20 years. Since that is considered to be the age when people become wiser, third molars gained the nickname, "wisdom teeth." Actually, they are no different than any other tooth except that they are the last teeth to erupt, or grow into the mouth. They are just as useful as any other tooth if they grow in properly, have a proper bite relationship, and have healthy gum tissue around them. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. [â??What Are Wisdom Teeth?â? (Academy of General Dentistry)]

Iâ??m not sure if there is such an animal as a wise teenager, but if so, I must have been precocious because all four of my wisdom teeth grew in â??properlyâ? during high school well before my eighteenth birthday and remained so for many years until it was necessary to yank them out for various reasons. I just needed some local anesthetic, not sedation, thankfully.

While there is no way to verify this theory, some dentists speculate that wisdom teeth are a vestige from the days when our ancestors literally bit off more than they could chew on a daily basis. [â??Why do we have wisdom teeth?â? (Ask Yahoo!)]

Even though we moderns likely wouldnâ??t be subject to the extremely coarse diet of our ancestors, I might have my motherâ??s occasional (not daily) extremely well-done roast beef, served to me as a child, to thank for helping to retain the mark of my ancestors. And when Thanksgiving rolls around, there is the wonderful satisfaction of ripping the meat off the baked turkey neck with bare teeth (envision eating scene from Tom Jones, well, minus Albert Finney).

Of course there is always going to be the self-important creation scientist who will claim that wisdom teeth are not â??useless evolutionary left-overs,â? but rather are â??valuable gifts from the Creator and should not be removed if healthy.â? If there were indeed a Creator of Outmoded Design who made these third molars for a function that is no longer needed, why shouldnâ??t they be removed? They most likely will be later, as mine were, after spending time and money filling these back teeth prone to decay over time. I donâ??t live in the wild away from dentists, where my teeth would be more likely to decay or be knocked out, hence requiring extra spare teeth.

Forget the jello. Pass the drumstick,... well, after several days when Iâ??m healed.


A Piece of My Heart

Tonight I ventured from my comfortable home to join other people, among them teenagers, in a comfy high school auditorium, where we were taken back to a time in history that was uncomfortably â??Nam. Watching the powerful play, A Piece of My Heart, I was struck by the mature performances of students grasping the inner emotions of six women experiencing the hell of war. The mesmerized audience was silent throughout the entire play until the end when they roused themselves for a standing ovation.

From what trough of experience did these young, high school actresses reach in order to deliver such a performance? I suppose itâ??s nearly impossible for most teenagers to remain sheltered with the avalanche of Internet information at their fingertips, some of that being myriad reminders of a war in which we are currently engaged.

I long for a simpler world. I long for peace and tolerance. Yes, I periodically slip and indulge my idealistic nature.


Hope revisited

Today I need to remind myself that yesterday I wrote a post about faith in people and hope in general. Emotions are intense right now in our nation, and that is to be expected. Our country has become very polarized, and I donâ??t see that changing very quickly with a majority Republican US Congress, plus a far-right-wing, neo-conservative oligarchy in control of US Supreme Court appointments. Extreme ideologies beg extreme reactions.

I have faith that the Democrats wonâ??t become doormats. John Kerry has conceded the election, but make no mistake that the Democratic party among others wonâ??t regroup, offer a united front in four years and make their voices and votes heard in the interim. Iâ??m not a fortuneteller, but I fear, as a close friend stated, â??institutionalization of the Imperial Presidency, replacing the Republican Presidency.â? We must strive to retain the efficacy of our system of checks and balances.

Political ideologies come and go because their practical application is never perfect in our imperfect world. Idealistically, Iâ??m a passerby on this earth, but my earthly roots are here in the United States. I donâ??t give up easily. I donâ??t look for perfection, but Iâ??ll keep trying for even a shabby semblance of a tolerant world. And I retain faith and hope in people I connect with on an individual basis, to somehow in some cases circumvent the pitfalls of ignorant group mentality.

Amidst the pain, I need to keep my actions sensible and loving. Iâ??m human, and Iâ??ll continue to veer off the path occasionally, but hopefully not permanently if my actions are informed by a vision transcended, encompassing all. Iâ??m a practical idealist. So, sue me. ;-)


Thought for the Moment

To a Friend whose Work has come to Nothing

NOW all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honour bred, with one
Who, were it proved he lies,
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbours' eyes?
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.

W.B. Yeats

[courtesy madamjujujive at MeFi]

Mobilizing "The Base"

Thought for the moment, from from LanguageLog:

An unpleasant chill down the spine as I read the editors' piece "The Choice" in The New Yorker (November 1 edition, p. 37) this morning. It mentions that the Bush regime calls its staunch conservative Christian support community "the base". And they add in a parenthesis: "(in English, not Arabic)".

Translating "the base" into Arabic gives us, of course, al qa'eda. I think I might have been happier if they hadn't pointed out that parallelism.



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