Apr 14, 2010
Two Thoughts on Aging
Thank you to the many people who shared their concern and well-wishes about my aunt's hospitalization on Sunday night. Diagnosis: hairline fracture in the hip -- not enough for surgery, but enough for pain. After 48 hours she is back at her assisted living facility, which is good. And yet -- without giving too much detail -- her risk for more falls and worse injuries continues and will likely increase as she ages further unless something like a Miracle occurs.
Some years ago, I heard (on the radio? among friends?) that "we think we need money for our old age, but what we really need is security." Security can come in many forms: family, friends and community can be the critical things that keep us safe and warmly held, if we build the kind of family, friends and community that would commit to doing that. But these seem like harder things to build, and at the very least they require much more trust. So instead, we look to money or government, both of which might keep us safe, but have a harder time keeping us warm.
In How Good Do We Have to Be? Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote:
The fifth of the Ten Commandments bids us honor our parents "that your days may be long upon the earth." ." I am not sure that people who honor their parents live longer than people who don't. Maybe what the Bible is suggesting is that, if we fashion a society in which the elderly are cherished and taken seriously, we will be able to look forward to growing old ourselves instead of dreading it. We will not have to lie about our ages, dye our hair, visit the plastic surgeon, because growing old is an embarrassment. We will not shun the elderly for fear of becoming like them. We will revere them for the living lesson they represent.
More on this, perhaps, in another post. Meanwhile -- thank you all for any continued good wishes for my aunt and her care team, which includes my exceptional mother and father and many more folks who often try very hard.
Mar 22, 2010
Roy Blount, Jr. Understands Cats
I heard Roy recite this on the radio, and now I have the book. I Am the Cat, Don't Forget That: Feline Expressions. Poems by Roy Blount, Jr. Photographs by Valerie Shaff.
Dec 27, 2009
Care of the Soul (Thomas Moore) and Careers
In the soul, power doesn't work the same way as it does in the ego and will. When we want to accomplish something egotistical, we gather our strength, develop a strategy, and applying every effort... The power of the soul, in contrast... is natural, not manipulated, and stems from an unknown source. Our role with this kind of power is to be an attentive observer noticing how the soul wants to thrust itself into our life. It is also our task to find artful means of articulating and structuring that power, taking full responsibility for it, but trusting too that the soul has intentions and necessities that we may understand only partially.
Neither ego-centered will on the one hand nor pure passivity on the other serve the soul. Soul work requires both much reflection and also hard work.
Writers are taught to "write what you know about." The same advice applies to the quest for the power of the soul: be good at what you're good at. Many of us spend time and energy trying to be something that we are not. But this is a move against soul... for each individual the soul is highly idiosyncratic. Power begins in knowing this special soul, which may be entirely different from our fantasies about who we are or who we want to be.
A friend once introduced me to an audience I was about to lecture. "I'm going to tell you," he said to the group, "what Tom isn't. He isn't an artist, he isn't a scholar, he isn't a philosopher, he isn't..." I felt somewhat mortified hearing all these things I wasn't. At the time I was teaching at a university and was supposed to give the illusion at least that I was a scholar. Yet I knew I wasn't. My friend's unusual introduction was wise and absolutely correct. Maybe we could all use an emptying out of identity now and then. Considering who we are not, we may find the surprising revelation of who we are.
I knew a young man who wanted to be a writer. Something in him urged him to travel and to live the Bohemian life, but he looked around and saw all his peers going to school. So he decided to overrule his desire for travel and take some college courses. Not surprisingly, he flunked out, and then went on a long trip. It is easy to overlook the obvious, persistent indications of soul, in this case the fantasies and longings for travel, and instead try to manufacture power with demanding and expensive efforts.
In Transitions (which I've quoted elsewhere and will likely quote again), William Bridges introduces his Rule number one of transitions: "you find yourself coming back in new ways to old activities, when in transition." I first started reading Care of the Soul in 2001 while I was on vacation with relatives in Indonesia. Today I'm reading it again while on vacation with the same extended family, currently convened in Texas. Coincidentally (?) the copy of the book I'm reading was purchased in Indonesia, while the one I read there was purchased at home.
The passage I've quoted speaks of travel and writing, both of which may be apt, of course. But the greater reason for sharing it comes from the prior passage which means much to me right now as I think about redesigning my profession. For years I assumed that I was a business person who happened to know a lot about people. But this fall, some very important business partners have me thinking that I've had it backwards. I'm a people person who happens to know a lot about business. The difference is very big and now I get to see what it means. Wish me luck.
Nov 28, 2009
Ms. Manners and Seating Arrangements
I had a lovely Thanksgiving and hope you did, too. For the second year running, my parents and I were lucky to join their neighbors -- dear folk who also happen to use place cards. While I rarely feel that place cards are a necessity for modern entertaining, I do think they are often helpful.
So does Miss Manners -- or at least she did twenty-seven years ago when she published this:
Dear Miss Manners:
Last night we went to a dinner party at the home of some neighbors we've never visited before they have a big dining room, and it was all fixed up with candles and everything, so I asked the hostess where I should sit. She said, “Oh, just sit anywhere,“ and so I did. Then the host said, “No, I'm sitting there“ -- it was a sort of oval table, so I couldn't tell what was to be the head of it -- so I moved. I picked another place, but then we were told to get up to get our food from the buffet table, and somebody else sat down in that place. So then I took my plate and sat down again -- you notice that this is now the third time I've tried to sit down and have dinner -- and guess who comes and sits next to me? My wife. I know married couples aren't supposed to sit next to each other dinners, but I didn't know she'd been sitting there was now up to get her plate filled. I got fed up when the hostess saw where I was and said, “Oh, you two can’t can sit next to each other,“ and my wife sat there as if she wasn't ever going to move. But I still was nice, and I said, “Okay, where do you want me to sit? “ and the hostess said, “Oh, sit anywhere,“ and when I looked at her -- and this is now the third time she or her husband had made me move -- she said, “I mean anywhere else. “ So I took my plate and went and sat in the living room. Would you mind telling me what the hell “Sit anywhere“ means?
It means that the hostess has not taken the trouble to finish planning her dinner party. There is a mistaken notion that this omission is a sign of merry insouciance on the part of the hosts who would not dream of failing to orchestrate every other aspect of the party. If the hostess cannot carry the seating arrangement at her head so that she can give you a decent answer to your decent question of where you should sit, she ought to use place cards.
Miss Manners’ Guide To Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. Judith Martin. 1982.
1. I met my first etiquette book in 7th grade when I discovered Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette (~1957 edition) in the classroom closet of my Social Studies teacher, Mr. Robert W. Herbert. Looking back, I realize that Mr. Herbert was one of the most sophisticated teachers I had in Asheville. He'd traveled all around the world and knew his way around Amy Vanderbilt, Indian beggars (he taught me the word "baksheesh"), music, rock climbing and making your own scratch pads from scrap paper with a special kind of rubber cement. He knew I was smart but didn't mind making fun of me (in a nice way) when I acted dumb. Steve Richardson once noticed that I was the only kid in class who turned in an essay double-spaced and asked Mr. Herbert if that was what we were supposed to do. "Only if you have very little to say", he responded.
2. I have an awesome ex-girlfriend who really disliked Miss Manners. I think I understand where both women were coming from. And I'm glad to still like both women, though for different reasons.
3. Wow, I just realized that the Amy Vanderbilt book was more current (~21 years old) when I first read it than the Miss Manners book is now.
4. I would love to co-author a modern etiquette book for teenagers -- a text that focuses on consideration, empathy, kindness and harmony and how these things can help us quickly figure out a well-mannered response to most social encounters.
I'm not so interested (any more) on the proper way to eat potato chips and asparagus ("in the fingers") or to address heads of state (or household servants). But there are still many rules of etiquette worth teaching to young folk -- especially if we teach the whys behind the better rules. Feel free to bring this up if I ever do something rude in front of you or your kids.
Oct 06, 2009
If You Are Going Through Hell, Keep Going
If you are going through hell, keep going.
- Winston Churchill.
Rodney Atkins provides the country version of the Churchill quote. Like many country singers, Atkins uses some, um, "least common denominator" language to get his point across. And like many country songs, this one makes pretty decent sense.
*In case you're wondering what tax lawyers do, in addition to making movies like The Firm, here's something from the Missouri Bar Bulletin.
Published on: 1/1/2006 Stanley Weiner
The seeds of what would become Missouri's IOLTA program were planted in the early 1980s, when the Board of Governors of The Missouri Bar asked Kansas City attorney Stanley P. Weiner, a member of the firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, to chair a Special Task Force on Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts.
The Board charged the task force with looking into the feasibility of establishing an IOLTA program - a concept already operational in several states - in Missouri.
"I was appointed to chair the task force because IOLTA had a significant tax issue, and I'm a tax attorney," Weiner recently recalled with a laugh."The analogy that tax people use is that 'whoever owns the tree pays taxes on the fruit.' When clients have their money in a trust account with an attorney, they own the tree.Theoretically, they should pay income tax on the earnings in that trust account.That was the tax issue.
"Because of the fact that the amounts of money that would be generated in terms of [interest] income to clients are so small, and because attorneys combine many of their trust account monies together, the result is that accounting for who has $2.14 of interest on the $1,000 they left in a trust account for two months is just too expensive.Up until IOLTA, these trust account funds were put in non-interest bearing accounts because attorneys could not keep the interest themselves - it wasn't their money and it was unethical," Weiner said.
"It was Florida that came up with the idea of changing it so that the income could be sent to IOLTA without accounting for the income as the client's," he added.The Florida program was also aided by a favorable Internal Revenue Service ruling stating that the interest generated by client funds held in an interest-earning trust account does not belong to the client.
At the request of the Board of Governors, Weiner traveled to Florida to further investigate the operation of that program.
Joining Weiner on the fact-finding mission was Richard F. Halliburton, executive director of Legal Aid of Western Missouri. ... Weiner and Halliburton, along with the other members of the task force, then prepared a recommendation for a voluntary IOLTA program. ... "When the Supreme Court adopted the Board of Governors' recommendation, Missouri became the 30th state to adopt IOLTA," Weiner said. ... "Glenn shared the Foundation's emphasis that a minimal staff was essential," Weiner added. ... "It's hard to believe that it has been 20 years."
Aug 27, 2009
The Spirituality of Imperfection: on forgivingFrom The Spirituality of Imperfection - Storytelling and the Journey to Wholeness (Kurtz and Ketcham, 1992):
Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk was asked by a disciple how one should pray for forgiveness. He told him to observe the behavior of a certain innkeeper before Yom Kippur.
The disciple took lodging at the inn and observed the proprietor for several days, but could see nothing relevant to his quest.
Then, on the night before Yom Kippur, he saw the innkeeper open two large ledgers. From the first book he read off a list of all the sins he had committed throughout the past year. When he was finished, he opened the second book and proceeded to recite all the bad things that had occurred to him during the past year.
When he had finished reading both books, he lifted his eyes to heaven and said, "Dear G-d, it is true I have sinned against You. But You have done many distressful things to me too.
"However, we are now beginning a new year. Let us wipe the slate clean. I will forgive You, and You forgive me."
"Forgiving" has been showing up on my radar with some frequency these days. Not as much as other themes, but sure enough plenty. I've had this wonderful book for a few years and am reading it more carefully right now in a time that (coincidentally?) is full of struggles for my extended family.
One of my closests friends holds a PhD in theology, and I've often joked that the PhD means that when she meets her maker, her list of complaints will be longer, more detailed, and better written than the lists presented by us regular folk.
The Spirituality of Imperfection suggests that God can forgive unconditionally, but that humans can't. In addition:
But forgiving is not the same thing as forgetting. "Letting go" of the past is not some kind of erasure; forgiveness is not an attempt to obliterate the past or wipe the slate clean. "The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive, but they do not forget," commented radical psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, echoing the nineteenth-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who phrased this core insight in another way: "To forgive and forget means to throw away dearly bought experience."
The Spirituality of Imperfection seems like an easy read at first. But then you notice little things like the above paragraph and its seeming contradiction with the prior story about "wiping the slate clean." In any case it's a worthy read. I recommend it to anyone -- whether or not you have a G-d in your world.
Aug 14, 2009
Paul Farmer and Tracy Kidder. Hope and Cynicism.
He turned and gazed out the window. A large sign was affixed to an airplane hangar across the tarmac. It read PATRIA ES HUMANIDAD. An internationalist assertion -- the only real nation is humanity.
"I think that's so lovely," Farmer said.
"I don't know," I said. "It seems like a slogan to me."
He looked away. "I guess you're right."
I felt as thought I'd punched him. Among a coward's weapons, cynicism is the nastiest of all. "No, it is lovely," I muttered. "If it's really meant."
-- Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains -- The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. 2003.
A question for you: whose voice do you hear when you're reading a book? Is it the voice of your high school English teacher, Ira Glass, Walter Cronkite? Oprah Winfrey, Lee Smith, Sarah Vowell? I sometimes have to push hard to get Dick Gordon out of my head. Fortunately for this book, you can learn the voices of Kidder and Farmer right here at Cambridge Reads.
Note 1: I read this book at a friend's place where I'm housesitting. She finished med school in 2005 and this book was inscribed, "You did it! And now for a little inspiration to chang the world -- rearrange the world!"
Note 2: Cambridge Community Television is not your average community television.
Jul 16, 2009
I can't recall his name, but we had a pleasant half-hour together last June -- hanging out in his open-air cabin alongside the Rio Cangrejal, just downhill from the Omega Jungle Lodge. The little pipe at left is his water supply. Don't ask me where it comes from. More about that afternoon, later.
These days I am of course thinking of my Honduran friends. Here are quotes from a couple of my Honduran friends (both of whom were born elsewhere but moved to Honduras as adults) who sent news within the ~72 hours after the change-of-power:
1. Incredible false reporting by CNN (Esp)! CNN (ESP) is using a voice tape of an imposter saying it is Zelaya. IT IS NOT ZELAYA, doesn't even sound like him. How irresponsible. They were using Hugo Chavez's Telesur feed in this pretend telephone interview. J says the imposter has a Ven. accent. Even I could tell it was NOT Mel Zelaya. CNN should be sanctioned before they start a war in Honduras.
2. Yay! Micheletti! Whew. As far as anyone here is concerned, this IS A GOOD THING. The entire world is mis-informed. YES, it is true that it is called a 'coup', however, there are few civilians opposed to it.Okay, NO ONE seems to be reporting things as they are... Just a few things: 1) How many 'coups' are taken over by someone from the same party 2) How many 'coups' actually had SO FEW DEATHS (yes, there is ONE now... a 19'year old, but what the %&* to you expect when there are thousands and thousands of people with opposing views, gathered together in one place with police/army with guns. AND IF THEY WERE OPEN FIRING on the crowd, I'd imagine their shot can't be that bad!!!!! 3) It's been HOW MANY DAYS SINCE THIS STARTED, AND HOW MANY DEATHS...? LITERALLY NONE 4) Whose plane did Mel try to come back on???? Chavez'. People wake up!!!!!!!! 5) HE BROKE THE CONSTITUTIONAL LAW. From my extremely knowledgeable head on politics (NOT), they are waiting for things to calm down before letting him back, and they probably won't do it if he's bringing Venezuelan backing with him..
Jun 25, 2009
Once is Luck. Hugh O'Neill on Confidence Levels
Once is luck.
Twice is coincidence.
Three times is a system.
UNC business professor Hugh O'Neill told me this in 1996. We were talking about confidence levels for a cause-and-effect business hypothesis. It also applies elsewhere.
Jun 01, 2009
Richard and Barry -- Each True to Himself
My friends Barry and Richard exchanged rings today. It was beautiful.
In the ceremony, nine friends read The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, and this stanza caught me hard:
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
I want to know if you can
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
I hope it means something to you as well.
May 17, 2009
Christian Laettner is a Jerk. It's Official - Grant Hill Said So.From a ~February Sports Illustrated interview:
Grant Hill: Laettner is a little bit of a jerk, and I mean that in the nicest way. He'd probably do it for free.
DP: Why was he such a jerk, even to his own teammates?
GH: Everything was a competition. He liked to get under people's skin. We had a great group of guys and we all liked each other, but Laettner was an ass. He would pick fights with guys, like a big bully. But it would carry over onto the court. And he was so good, so competitive.
DP: If I said you could have traded him for Larry Johnson...
GH: Never. I thoroughly enjoyed playing with Christian.
To my dying day, I will not understand how my Kentucky alumna mom was happy with the 1992 East Regional, even if she was a longtime Durham resident by then. (Said mom also has a photo with Grant Hill, bent over like a question mark to stay in the picture.) Also to my dying day, I will not understand why I continue to care.
See my favorite re-enactment here in "Lo-Def Productions Presents...Kentucky vs. Duke - Buzzer Beater": McKinney in Durham did the brilliant piece (with Christian's own "piece"). If you dig the advertising industry, check out this related writeup.
Here is my second-favorite re-enactment, with Chris Farley:
Image yoinked from ESPN, 2004.
May 12, 2009
"Why Do I Like Living in Durham?" -- A Durham Neighborhood College Joint
Click it! ------> Why Do I Like Living in Durham? <------
Why Do I Like Living in Durham? is a 9-1/2 minute audio piece by my pal Sarah Ovenall and her teammates Allison Moy, Barbara Lau, Ricardo Correa and Joyce Logan at the Durham Neighborhood College. Sarah pointed her microphone at me and it was fun.
To turn the tables, I emailed Sarah with some questions about the production. Read on for her fine responses about producing audio docs for the Durham Neighborhood College and for her WXDU show Divaville Lounge.
So, what's this Durham Neighborhood College thing?
Durham Neighborhood College is a ten week course about Durham government, jointly sponsored by the city and county. Each week representatives of different agencies come to the class and talk about what they do, where their funding comes from, how they make decisions, the problems they face, their upcoming goals, etc. I signed up because last year I did some political canvassing in neighborhoods I had never been to before, and often didn't even know were there. Cool neighborhoods where I met friendly, interesting people. It made me realize that despite living in Durham for 22 years, there's so much I don't know about it. I tend to stay in my own little area, go to the same places and see the same people. I wanted to learn more about Durham and the DNC seemed like a good place to start.
And why the audio documentary? And why "Why Do I Like Living in Durham?"
The class broke into 4 groups which each had to do a project on the topic of "perceptions of Durham." Our group was lucky to get the "pro" argument. It's a lot easier to do a happy project about positive perceptions!
The specific idea came from someone else in my group. She suggested we do a vox pop, short "man on the street" interviews with no names. (from the Latin vox populi, voice of the people). The original idea was that we use the information in the vox pop to decide what to do our project on. As we started collecting the interviews, we liked them so much that we decided to use the vox pop as the project itself.
The whole group collected the interviews, and then I edited it together into the finished piece. For the DNC presentation we added a slide show of drawings to go with the voices, drawn by a couple of kids we know.
Did the shape of the project change after you started recording? After you started editing?
I initially thought it should be much longer. My (music) radio show is 2 hours so I'm used to thinking in much larger blocks of time. Due to the prep time available & the number of interviews we had, the version we played for the DNC ended up being about 5 minutes long. Which turned out just right for holding people's attention during a class. Longer than that and people would have been fidgeting in their seats.
After the DNC project was over I collected additional interviews and put together a longer version for WXDU, with music to break it up. That version was about 9-1/2 minutes and I think it worked well for radio.
Your production is 9-1/2 minutes long. How much time did you spend planning/recording/editing?
I didn't do all the recordings, so I'm not sure how long that took. The ones I did sometimes had to be scheduled, and sometimes just happened off the cuff. For a couple of weeks I carried my recorder with me everywhere.
The editing took about 35-40 minutes for every minute of final audio. That's a bit long for me, because there were so many transitions. For a longer interview I usually plan to spend about 20 minutes editing for each minute of the finished piece.
How was it received?
The DNC class seemed to really enjoy it. It was a strange experience, to stand there watching people listen to audio I had produced. Very different from radio, where you have no contact with the audience. I used to overcome nervousness about being on the radio by telling myself no one was even listening. You can't do that when they're right in front of you!
Were there any things you hoped or expected to happen during the project? Any things you hoped or expected to hear?
I didn't have any specific expectations, except that I know some really interesting people and I knew they would say good things.
How did you choose your interviewees?
We tried to get people from a range of ages, races, income levels and experiences. We were hoping to widen the range of what people might say, and also to reflect the broad range of people who live in Durham. Two of the people in the vox pop were members of the project -- the man who mentions the Durham Bulls, and the woman who says "funkytown." I regret that I didn't get to record a child or an older person. It would have been really good to have those perspectives in the mix. I did talk to an elderly woman who had lived her whole life in Durham, and she said all kinds of interesting things, but she refused to be recorded. Alas!
Did you worry people might say certain things you didn't want to hear?
I was kind of worried that we'd end up with an undiverse group saying "I like diversity!" over and over, which could sound a little clueless. And a lot of people did mention diversity, but it wasn't the only thing that was said so I think it worked.
Oh yes, "diversity." How did/do you feel about the words "diversity" "funky" and "gritty"?
Well, some people were obviously looking for a euphemism for Durham's minority population. And some meant crime, which is a genuine issue in Durham, though outsiders perceive it as more of a problem than it actually is. I think people were trying to say that without coming right out and saying it.
But not everyone was euphemizing; I think some of them said "funky" and meant the fun culture in Durham, like the local music scene, or the people with homemade sculptures in their yards, things like that. There are pockets of cool weirdness all over Durham and I think that's a lot of what people were talking about.
Not everyone bothered with euphemisms: one white guy (who we didn't end up using) came right out and said "I like that black people live here"!
Did anything else in the recording make you cringe? Laugh?
The part that made me laugh, of course, was the young woman saying that Durham is not the armpit of the state! I had a hard time not busting out laughing during the interview when she said that.
The things that made me cringe weren't included in the final piece. Several people described their liking for Durham in terms of how much better it is than other nearby communities. Like the woman who said "It's not sterile," she actually said "It's not sterile like Chapel Hill." I don't agree with that, and besides, it's not necessary to trash other towns in order to make Durham sound good.
Also when people talked about diversity, sometimes they said cringe-inducing things. Like the guy who said he likes Durham because black people live here. Or another person said "I always wanted to visit Mexico, and now I don't have to because Mexico is moving here!" I'm pretty sure that person did not mean that the way it came out, so I edited it out.
What were you delighted to discover about the process, or the people, or Durham?
One surprise was that the two people who have traveled the most, both described Durham people as up-front and lacking pretense. It's not something I'd ever thought about, and it was nice to hear!
On the technical side, I hadn't done field recordings before so that was a good learning experience. It's very different from a long interview in a controlled environment.
Many folks want to try their hand at audio docs. Any advice?
Listen to programs that are doing what you want to do. Don't just listen to what they're saying, but how it sounds: how is it paced? how do they build tension? if there's narration, when does the narrator break in? if there's music, how do they use it? do they edit out all the "ums" or leave a few in? All of those decisions were made for a reason.
There's a website called Transom.org which is full of advice about audio documentary. The site is specifically aimed at breaking into public radio, but it's useful for anyone doing audio work.
And if you live near Durham, contact WXDU. They have a weekly half-hour documentary program called Durham Noise Network and they are very welcoming of new people.
Speaking of WXDU, tell me about your soundtrack...
The music was two different versions of the theme from the movie The Third Man. It's one of my all-time favorite movies, and if you haven't seen it, you really should! I used the original version which appeared in the movie, played on the zither by Anton Karas, and then a really fun version by the Skatalites.
The music almost made it too easy: it makes everything sound good.
You've done some solo documentary work, haven't you?
I do a show on WXDU about old music like Tin Pan Alley, pop and jazz from the 20s to the 60s. Occasionally I do interviews, and last year I did a series about WWII that I'm proud of: a man who was a child in England during the war, another who was a child in Sicily during the war, and a WWII veteran who served in the US Navy. It was really interesting to hear such different points of view. (the one from England also happens to be my dad.)
I'm working now on a series of interviews with older people who experienced that great music when it was new. So if you know any older folks with interesting musical experiences -- they danced to big bands in the 40s, they went to a famous nightspot to hear the music, they saw a great singer back in the day -- please put them in touch with me!
And where can we find Divaville?
My show is called Divaville Lounge, Sundays from 2-4pm. http://www.divavillelounge.org If you like old music, check it out!
Photo yoinked from Zazzle.com where you can buy the shirt and more.
Apr 27, 2009
The Omnivore Has Two Faces (and Two Lemmas)
"[H]owever we choose to feed ourselves, we eat by the grace of nature, not industry, and what we're eating is never anything more or less than the body of the world."
-- Michael Pollan, closing words from The Omnivore's Dilemma.
Did you know there were two covers?
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Apr 12, 2009
"Very Well then I Contradict Myself" - Whitman
The last two stanzas of Song of Myself contain the oft-quoted lines that embrace Whitman's self-contradiction. I appreciate them these days, even as I do not understand them:
The past and present wilt--I have fill'd them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.
Who has done his day's work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?
Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab
and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow'd wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
Bonus: Whitman & Quakers: Why Should You Care? by Su Penn
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Mar 08, 2009
Marcus Aurelius II - Does Axe Make Mouthwash?
Do unsavoury armpits and bad breath make you angry? What good will it do you given the mouth and armpits the man has got, that condition is bound to produce those odours. 'After all, though, the fellow is endowed with reason, and he is perfectly able to understand what is offensive if he gives any thought to it.' Well and good: but you yourself are also endowed with reason; so apply your reasonableness to move him to a like reasonableness; expound, admonish. If he pays attention, you will have worked a cure, and there will be no need for passion; leave that to actors and streetwalkers.
-- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Penguin Classics, translated by Maxwell Staniforth, 1964
For a less "organic" quote, check out this earlier Marcus Aurelius quote on Begin the Day.
And for a different mental image on how Marcus Aurelius might have inspired a mighty army, check out this Axe commercial. Bonus points for anyone who can make out the background music lyrics which might have been inspired by the Gladiator soundtrack.
Mar 07, 2009
Saul Alinsky on Means and Ends
"The practical revolutionary will understand Goethe's "conscience is the virtue of observers and not of agents of action"; in action, one does not always enjoy the luxury of a decision that is consistent with one's individual conscience and the good of mankind. The choice must always be for the latter. Action is for mass salvation and not for the individual's personal salvation. He who sacrifices the mass good for his personal conscience has a peculiar conception of "personal salvation"; he doesn't care enough for people to be "corrupted" for them.
"The men who pile up the heaps of discussion and literature on the ethics of means and ends--which with rare exception is conspicuous for its sterility--rarely write about their own experiences in the perpetual struggle of life and change. They are strangers, moreover, to the burdens and problems of operational responsibility and the unceasing pressure for immediate decisions. They are passionately committed to a mystical objectivity where passions are suspect. They assume a nonexistent situation where men dispassionately and with reason draw and devise means and ends as if studying a navigational chart on land. They can be recognized by one of two verbal brands: "We agree with the ends but not the means," or "This is not the time." The means-and-end moralists or non-doers always wind up on their ends without any means."
-- Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals -- A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals
I'm a newcomer to Alinsky's work and am shocked that no one forced me to read this book before now. There's much in there to learn from and much to argue with.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, some right-side bloggers made a point of showing the Obamas' connection to Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation founded in 1940. Left-side bloggers said, yeah, but that's a good thing.
Locally, Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods) began forming as an IAF affiliate in 2000. On their Accomplishments page they "claim victory" for several accomplishments such as the City Council approving $300k in funding for after-school programs in 2003, and the City Council increasing Parks & Rec funding by $350k in 2004.
Recently, Durham CAN seems to have recently morphed into (or been enveloped by) Triangle CAN, according to this N&O article about director Ivan Parra, in which Parra comments on the difference between Durham County and Orange County:
“The culture of the towns is different,” Parra agrees when I ask him about Durham and the Chapel Hill/Orange County areas.
“The people in Durham act more out of impulse. The heart is at the center of everything they do,” he says. “In Orange County there’s so much education. People act out of intellect.”
I haven't found any links to a Triangle CAN website, but will be glad to hear from anyone with info or other commentary.
Mar 01, 2009
Perfect Mean Snowballs But No One To Throw Them At
There's perfect mean snowball snow outside right now -- a quarter-inch of grainy moist stuff that packs into a juicy ball. I whipped one at my car and it bounced off the windshield and into the woods, but not before making a nice "bomp!" sound* and kicking up a spray of white.
According to someone who likes Watterson* poetry enough to transcribe it, Calvin also likes this stuff:
Oh lovely snowball, packed with care,
smack a head that's unaware!
Then with freezing ice to spare,
melt and soak through underwear!
Fly straight and true, hit hard and square!
This, oh snowball, is my prayer.
Calvin speaks this, before throwing his snowball. His comment: "I only throw consecrated snowballs".
While searching for a snowball illustration I also ran into this primate with a mean looking wad (and a Shel Silverstein poem). Said primate then reminded me of this article:
"Bob, who’s owned wild animals all his life, admits Higgins has not always been a model pet. When Higgins was 3, he slept with the couple, often awakening Bob in the morning by climbing to the bedroom rafters and dropping onto Bob’s stomach. On one occasion, they got in a wrestling match, and Higgins put one of his “steel-like fingernails” through Bob’s scrotum.
...Bob has been bitten several times by Higgins, who now weighs 50 pounds and has large incisors. Once, when Bob was leading him from an outdoor enclosure back to his cage in the house, Higgins exploded and the two got into a battle so ferocious that despite the steel mesh glove Bob was wearing, he screamed for Carlie to get his .22 rifle and put a bullet in Higgins’s head. She got Higgins a slice of raisin bread instead, quickly defusing the fight. But Bob accepts it: a wild animal will never be domesticated, he says. Higgins now lives in a heated building on the property, which includes a 9-by-12-foot cage and a 30-by-12-foot outdoor exercise area with an 8-foot ceiling. One must pass through two locked doors to get inside Higgins’s cage. Even Bob doesn’t get in the cage with Higgins much anymore."
Holy f***. If Durham wants to add monkeys to the hen provision, I'm lobbying NO.
*two of those and I'd have the intro to Law & Order.
**as in Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin & Hobbes. Not to be confused with Sam Waterston who sometimes stars in Law & Order.
Feb 09, 2009
Bertrand Russell on the Certain and the Doubtful
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts. - Bertrand Russell
This topic has been on my mind for the last few years, particularly with regard to Quaker faith practices in comparison to others (particularly the Episcopalians, but maybe that's because I hang around with so many). One of my regular "waitamminit, Phil" moments comes when I definitively criticize others for being so g**damned certain.
Quaker Friends (and yes, that's a capital "F") encourage me to judge less. While I think I'm more than ready to judge people less, I really want to judge actions more. Lots more.
Gracias a enrevanche for the quote.
Jan 23, 2009
Thoreau on Time
Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.
-- Henry David Thoreau
Plato Not Prozac includes this quote at the beginning of its chapter "Midlife Without Crisis"
Jan 13, 2009
Trinity Millsaps Football ("now with 40% more 'holy crap'")
Many of you have already seen this fantastic final play in the October 2007 Trinity vs. Millsaps football game. What's new is that someone recently released video taken from the end zone.
In Trinity's Lateralpalooza rocks Division III and beyond, ESPN's Pat Forde covers the play and includes the original video. In Student Announcer Ensures Laterals Are Heard Round the World, the New York Times' Joe Lapointe has a very nice interview with the Trinity announcer, Jonny Wiener, who hadn't planned to be at the Millsaps-hosted game but managed to stop by on his way back from a student-journalism conference in DC. Appropriately, William Faulker also gets a quote.
\Incidentally, if TypePad makes one more frickin' "improvement" to their interface, I'm going to scream. I can't control the formatting to save my life.
Dec 16, 2008
Vartan Gregorian on Character In Difficult Times
Vartan Gregorian was one of my first grownup heroes. Born to modest means in Tabriz, Iran, he eventually moved to the United States, led the New York Public Library from misery back into light, and became president at Brown just in time for my senior year.
We met only once (and barely) but the myth surrounding him during my senior year strongly shaped my imagination of what an adult life could and ought be. Now and then I see his name in the news and I am reminded of his longlasting influence on my mindset. Who influenced his? Before all others, his grandmother.
In 2006, he shared with Stanford's graduating seniors a lesson she taught him:
I want to remind you that whether you like it or not, in order to survive and thrive, you will have to be lifelong students and lifetime learners. And yes, there are and always will be difficult times when you will think you have come to a dead end in your life or in your career, even an apparent point of no return, but let me tell you as one who has experienced those events once or twice, when that happens, think of what the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said when he spoke of the condition that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers gave birth to them, but that life obliges them to give birth to themselves over and over again. Time, experience, knowledge, education, love, one's values, all these can and do affect us and change us, and enable us to reinvent ourselves. I have invented myself many times and I'm sure you will do the same thing.
For me, Marquez's words have a particular resonance because they reinforce values that were taught to me by my maternal grandmother, whom your president mentioned. She raised me. My grandmother was an illiterate peasant, a poor one at that. I don't believe that she knew where Greece was, nor Rome, nor Stanford. She certainly did not know who Plutarch was, but even so she taught me the same lesson as Plutarch highlighted in his celebrated Lives almost 2,000 years ago, when he said, essentially, that character makes the man and woman. My grandmother was my first teacher. She instructed me in the moral lessons of life and the “right way,” through her sheer character, stoic tenacity, formidable dignity, individuality and utter integrity. She was for me the best example of what good character means. In spite of many adversities and tragedies, wartime ravages, poverty, deprivation and the deaths of her seven children, she never became cynical, never abandoned her values and never compromised her dignity. Indeed, it was from my grandmother that I learned that dignity is not negotiable. Your reputation is not for sale and must not be mortgaged as a down payment on your ambitions. It was my grandmother's living example that shaped the very foundation of my character. Between what I have learned from Plutarch and my grandmother—a combination of forces I would dare anybody to challenge!—I feel confident in telling you that in the coming years you will meet people who are more powerful than you, richer than you, smarter than you, even handsomer or more beautiful than you, but what will be your distinguishing mark will always be your character. And what will define your character? Your conduct, your ability to live by principles you believe in, even if that means fighting tenaciously for what is right over what you know to be wrong.
Nobody goes through life without encountering obstacles, disappointments, and problems. Nobody can keep from making mistakes or taking a wrong turn. Nobody can escape illness or avoid the specter of failure. Let me point out that coping with success is easy. How you deal with adversity, with failure, and with setbacks will reveal your true character. How nimble you are about getting back on your feet after some large or small disaster or defeat will help you to determine just how far those feet of yours will take you in the world.
As Gregorian states, himself, these are not new ideas. But when I hear them from someone admirable and living -- whose hand I have shaken, whose dandruff I've seen on the shoulders of his charcoal suit, and whom I have watched mincing his way down a sidewalk when his back was seized in chronic pain -- they stick a little harder.
Nov 24, 2008
Silence and Posture -- Tamura
To me, a good Quaker meeting seems to be one in which deep silence continues at least for the first half hour because our minds are usually rough with the waves of thoughts and emotions and it will take some time for our minds to quiet down. Then some vocal ministry is given during the latter part of the worship. Otherwise most of the vocal ministry would come from the conscious, the surface layer of the psyche. It would be nothing but the product of reasoning and thinking, and the Quaker meeting would turn into a mere forum. In most of the Quaker meetings that I have attended, silence did not continue longer than fifteen minutes. It was sometimes broken in five minutes or so. Each time I wondered how they could calm their minds and get a divine message in such a short space of time. Some of my Quaker friends share my doubt and prefer completely silent worship.
pp. 13-14, A Zen Buddhist Encounter Quakerism, Teruyasu Tamura, Pendle Hill Pamphlet 302 (1992).
And on posture:
If there is any other thing that Zen can contribute to Quakerism, it is the idea of the oneness of body and mind. One of the most important discoveries of Oriental religions is that body and mind are so closely related with each other that we can control our mind to a great extend by controlling our body and breathing. The main point is to sit still with your backgbone straight. If we practice it constantly, we can control even the deepest layers of our psyche which would otherwise be out of reach of our conscious efforts...Yamada Roshi once commented on Rodin's famous bronze status called "A Thinking Man," saying, "If you sit in such a posture, nothing but pessimistic ideas will come up in your mind. To think rightly as well as to keep inner silence, you had better sit in a right posture."
I am finally returning some Pendle Hill pamphlets to the Durham Friends Meeting library. I've had them forever. Long enough to have forgotten that I quoted from this book last year, under the title The Buddha is a Sh**-Wiping Stick. I realized this only when I went Googling for an image related to Tamura (to include in this blogpost), and found a whole bunch of photos from my own blog. Sadly, the book seems out of stock/print at Pendle Hill, though you can find used copies on the internet. Or in the DFM library after Wednesday night.
Oct 09, 2008
Two Quotes on Talking with Enemies
If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.
-- Moshe Dayan
Whatever you think of Dayan's actions and policies, I hope you would agree with his statement here. But if you still doubt the sentiment because of the source, here is another:
It is easy enough to be friendly to one's friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.
-- Mahatma Gandhi
Sep 12, 2008
William Zinsser on Writing -- "It's One of the Hardest Things That People Do"
I'm interrupting an afternoon of tortured writing work to quote the great William Zinsser, whose book "On Writing Well" is now in its 9th or so edition:
Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this as a consolation in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it's because it is hard. It's one of the hardest things that people do.
This quote was in the introduction to some of this book's early editions, but it disappeared by somewhere around the 5th. Too bad, but at least I can share it with you here.
For the Archer Pelican I don't rewrite nearly as much as I might like to -- and of course that's OK. But sometimes I write for work and on those days I often dream that I were the kind of person who writes drafts quickly and without anguish, thereby leaving time to do the necessary (and very fulfilling) rewrites before the due date.
If wishes were hours, I'd have many of them. Back to work...
Aug 19, 2008
Pn. on H2O
Being in the water is what grounds me.
-- my friend Pn., at home in oceans and rivers.
Jul 31, 2008
A Pattern, Once Set, May Last for a Lifetime
A conversation between one of my Asian friends who had just moved from DC to Raleigh and her mother (who lives abroad):
Asked the mother, "But what are you doing for meals? Have you found a grocery?"
"Yes, we have many groceries here. And restaurants."
"But how are you going to manage everything? Who is taking care of the yard? And what if your car breaks down, do you know where to find a mechanic?"
"Really, I can handle it. Everything will be fine."
"Oh, you should have never gotten divorced! You should have stayed in DC with [husband]. Oh, I'm so worried that you won't be able to look out for yourself..."
"Mother, I am sixty years old!"
Jul 08, 2008
Vonnegut and Gas
[When Vonnegut tells his wife he's going out to buy an envelope] Oh, she says well, you're not a poor man. You know, why don't you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don't know. The moral of the story is, is we're here on Earth to fart around.* And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we're not supposed to dance at all anymore.
--- Interview by David Brancaccio, NOW (PBS) (7 October 2005)
*Last week I saw the "fart around" line in some magazine and wanted to quote it, but then I lost it. Dang. Then I found it online. Yay! I hope it's accurate. Of course Vonnegut has another more famous quote on why we're here: "A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved." I hope that's an accurate quote, too. I'm being lazy today about double checking.
Illustration: Vonnegut self-portrait plucked from PBS.
Jul 06, 2008
Viktor Frankl -- "What Life Expects from Us"
Optimism is based odds. Hope is based on principles.
I've been turning this idea over in my head for a few months,* occasionally revisiting the Cornel West / Peter Gomes blogpost that got me started on all this a couple of years ago.
Viktor Frankl has a related take. In my copy of Man's Search for Meaning, a previous owner wrote "HOPE" (all caps) in the margin next to these words:
The observations in this one case [Archer Pelican note: in which a man died shortly after his dream of liberation on March 30 did not come true], and the conclusion drawn from them are in accordance with something that was drawn to my attention by the chief doctor of our concentration camp. The death rate in the week between Christmas, 1944, and New Year's, 1945, increased in camp at beyond all previous experience. In his opinion, the explanation for this increase did not lie in the harder working conditions or the deterioration of our food supplies or a change of weather or new epidemics. It was the simply that the majority of the prisoners had lived in the naïve hope that they would be home again by Christmas. As the time to near as there was no encouraging news, the prisoners lost courage and disappointment overcame them. This had a dangerous influence on their powers of resistance and a great number of them died.
As we said before, any attempt to restore a man's inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal. Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how," could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygienic efforts regarding prisoners. Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why -- an aim -- for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a man rejected all encouraging arguments was, “I have nothing to expect from my life anymore." What sort of answer can one give to that?
What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life -- daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
-- Viktor E. Frankl, from the chapter “Experiences in a Concentration Camp” in Man's Search for Meaning (originally published in 1959, revised and updated in 1962 and 1984)
*You don't need to visit a poor country to find places where optimism would be misplaced. There's plenty in any US town and I see it often enough in Durham. Thus my never-ending appreciation for people who fight for causes that aren't easily (or likely) winnable.
You've all seen the bumper sticker, "If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention." There's much truth in that, but I don't think you can get much done if you're outraged all the time. At some point, I think, you have to settle into something closer to patient, hopeful work, accepting the joy (not the same as "happiness") when it comes. Speaking of Joy, some time ago I suggested this bumper sticker. I'm not sure it makes sense but/and I still like it. I wonder if a smiling Elie Wiesel would like it, too?
May 25, 2008
Antonio Banderas Can...
-- some comedian on a VH1 "hot people from the 90s" special.
He certainly is the heat, and I'll watch Desperado (or Four Rooms, or Once Upon a Time in Mexico, or the Zorro flix, or heck even Spy Kids pretty much any time) because he's so damned cool. But does anyone remember him for his role as the obsessive young gay murderer in Almodovar's La Ley Del Deseo?
La Ley is probably the first place that I saw Banderas. As I watched other Almodovar films later in life, I came to realize that (a) I respect Almodovar's work and (b) really, I just movies for entertainment. If I have to work at it, I'm not going to sit for it. My loss, of course. But it's nice to know.
Photo from random internets. I also have a hot former colleague who could have passed for Antonio's sister. I wonder if they've ever met?
May 24, 2008
Joe Queenan Again: With Mention of Dennis Hopper
Fik's comment in an older older chickenbutt post (the one about beer butt chicken) reminded me of this:
[Keanu] Reeves, who is generally generous toward other actors, is still especially impressed by Crispin Glover's performance in River's Edge, one regarded by many critics as the definition of "over the top." For those who have not seen the film, suffice it to say that River's Edge is the only motion picture in recent memory in which Dennis Hopper gives the second weirdest performance.
Photo yoinked from Top 25 Oscar Snubs by Ms. HodgePodge who apparently yoinked it from EW.
May 17, 2008
Harry Emerson Fosdick on Life and Mystery
I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind would comprehend it.
Quote via the .sig file of my Friends-schooled pal KrY who just turned 31! Fosdick was a Baptist minister whose writings wouldn't have seemed out of place among Quakers. More of his quotes here at Brainyquote.
Apr 28, 2008
New York City and Other Big Things
The City will test you. You can't live there without changing or adapting, and it's a bad idea to try to ignore its power. The City will mold you or else it will crush you.
-- Jesse W., paraphrased, from a chat at Pinky's this winter. I'm sorry I don't have an exact quote, because it was very nicely stated. I tried writing it down immediately but I didn't remember it and Jesse couldn't re-create it, either. Darn. But you get the idea. Jesse has been in New York City for a couple of years. He is thoughtful and good and will not be crushed.
photo yoinked from the BBC Blast - Art Showcase. Caption: Photo taken by Craig (age 15) from Wales. "I love American Culture, and New York represents this. I took a picture, and graphically enhanced it, to make it vibrant, and exciting."
Apr 22, 2008
William Least Heat Moon on Seeing in Travel
In one chapter of Blue Highways,* William Least Heat Moon picks up a hitch-hiker who persuades him to take a different route.
She looked at me absently and said, "Hmmm," her curiosity easily satisfied. "If you took me on to Green Bay you could get the ferry across Lake Michigan. You wouldn't have to drive through Chicago. Please?"
I agreed to it although now I would be across Wisconsin without really seeing Wisconsin. Later, as we drove along state 29 through the moraine country of dairy farms and fine old barns, across the Embarrass River, it occurred to me that I had seen something of Wisconsin. What I hadn't seen was the Wisconsin of my blue highway preconceptions. Little is so satisfying to the traveler as realizing he missed seeing what he assumed to be in a place before he went.
*apparently my favorite book. See another quote here at the Archer Pelican. See interviews with William Least Heat Moon here from Powell's and here from Salon. I'm planning a long US road trip in July and August, and might do some pre-trip reading here at BlueHighways.org.
Mar 23, 2008
Anything Can Happen is the first memoir of George and Helen Waite Papashvily. George emigrated from the Republic of Georgia to the United States in the late 20s, and the book tells of his first decades here. It's one of my favorite books. Here is an Easter excerpt:
Next morning, in honor of the Day, all us foreigners have habit to kiss each other and say, "Christos Voskrecé."
"Looks so nice," Miss Betty says, she's giving childrens their breakfast, "What does it mean?"
"Means Christ rose. You supposed to answer, 'Voistinu Voskrecé.' I do believe that He rose! Like Americans say, 'Happy Easter.'"
"But so much better," Miss Betty said, "Christ rose. I like it. Sounds so sweet and serious for Easter morning. Christ rose."
"Christ rose!" Besso came in the kitchen and kissed everybody.
"I believe -- how you say -- I believe He rose?" Miss Betty told him, "But I thought you was an atheist, Besso?"
"Certainly I am. we take for example story of Adam and Eva -----"
"I know," Miss Betty said. "You explained me that yesterday. But why you say, Christ rose?"
"Why? After all," Besso looked hurt, "just because person is atheist -- Christos Voskrecé, Piotr. Challico --" He kissed them on both cheeks as they came through the door. -- "Because person is atheist he doesn't need to have bad manners."
Feb 10, 2008
Will Tomorrow Be a Better Day? Once More on Optimism vs. Hope
One lucky piece of my life: I've always lived in cities (and usually in a country) that believed "next year will be better than this year." Asheville, Durham, Providence (and a few months in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and even Raleigh): all these places, whenever I was there, had reason to believe that their circumstances -- on the whole -- were on an upward trend.
Traveling elsewhere and among travelers, I don't always see this. Two weeks ago I was talking with some Italians who were thoroughly despondent about their country's situation. The Prodi government was disintegrating. And in the opinion of my new friends, all options for the future were as bad or worse. ("All the lawmakers are old and stuck! But not old enough to die. And until they die, there will be none of the changes that our country needs.")
Here in Mérida, Mexico, one of my local friends spent an hour telling me about Mexican and local politics. In particular, he told me about the southern part of town -- which he warned me not to visit under any circumstance. Crime. Poverty. No opportunity. Ugly like a scene from Escape From New York.
I asked about the kids who lived there, "Do they have schools? Do they have a chance at a different future?" "Only with a miracle," he said.
So. Hope, then. Not optimism, at least not as defined by the Rev. Peter Gomes. Here is a Gomes quote (that I just rediscovered in one my comments on a related blog quoting Cornel West):
"So, the struggle is very real, which means that patience is the most important witness -- which is the third thing. Patience is the most important witness. How does the old hymn go?
Not to the strong goes the battle,
Nor to the swift goes the race;
But to the true and the faithful,
Victory is promised through grace."
Does that mean that I'm optimistic? No. I am not optimistic; and no Presbyterian I know is ever optimistic. We live in a fallen world ruled by totally depraved people who do not understand the sovereignty of God.
I am not optimistic, but I am hopeful. What is the difference? Optimism cannot stand the bright heat of the noonday reality: mere optimism wilts and has no inner resources with which to combat the seeming hosts of evil all around it. Optimism fades very quickly; but the hopeful are the ones who, in spite of the circumstances, in spite of apparent reality, in spite of the moment, understand that hope endures all things and ultimately carries all before it in God's time. When we had Nelson Mandela at Harvard last fall, somebody asked him whether in prison he had been optimistic that this day would ever come. He said, "I never was optimistic, but I never lost hope."
Unfortunately I cannot find the original source for this quote. If you happen to know it, please let me know.
Celestún and National Personalities in Jokeland
Do you know what flamingos sound like? No, not like the theme to Miami Vice. More like Canadian geese.
Yesterday was birding mania at Reserva de la Biosfera Celestún -- flamingos, cormorants, sea ducks, pelicans, Mexican eagles, and many more I don't know. Too bad I didn't have Stew the birder* along for the three-hour boat tour of the coastline and estuary.
But I still managed to enjoy myself -->
Fellow tourists: a family from St. Paul, MN; Katya and Jacek from Poland (but currently living in Hamburg) and Rocio from D.F. (aka "Mexico City"). Wilberth, our Yucatecan captain and guide, spoke no English. So Rocio and I did most of the interpreting while Wilberth told us about area's biology and geography. Rocio had the Spanish and a good bit of English. I had some Spanish, all the English, and some biology and earth science -- useful for discssions about saltwater invasion, mineral uptake, water coloring from mangroves, etc.
Now, for more jokes about national personalities:
Heaven and Hell
In Heaven: the Italians greet you, the French feed you, the policemen are British, and the Germans run the trains. In Hell: the French greet you, the British feed you, the policemen are German, and the Italians run the trains.**
Speakers of the World
What do you call a person who speaks three languages?
What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
What do you call a person who speaks one language?
-- [see footnote***]
*who might have visited here in the 90s.
**Suzanne Gilman -- one of my typesetting teammates at the Brown Daily Herald -- told me this joke in 1987 when I didn't know enough to get it. I had to write it down so I could remember. No longer.
- When I rushed into the bus station at 8:03 a.m., the ticket agent said I had just missed the 8 a.m. to Celestún. I was so sad to have missed joining Jacek, Katya, and Rocio for our planned outing. But when I walked into the waiting area -- miracle of wonders -- Jacek was waving at me from the gate. "Hurry!". Man, his face was a beautiful sight.
- How would you feel about assembling a semi-random group of strangers to attempt negotiating our prices with a wide variety of boatmen? When you don't know everybody's price and time sensitivities? When you hadn't much sleep the night before? Rocio rocks. She did all this for us. And we had a really good time.
- BTW -- if you are not the Negotiator, life is easier if you can let go of your desires for any specific outcome. Just let her do her job, and everybody has fun, and nobody gets shot. Although I wasn't our negotiator, I did get to play Treasurer. That job usually means that I end up paying extra to cover world's shortchangers of the world. But on this rare occasion, everybody handed me more money than they were supposed to. Yay for Wilberth who got a good tip. Even after our early disagreements in which money was handed from us to him, then back to us after a second disagreement on price, then back to him after Rocio made the peace at $90 for the whole boat for 3 hours.
- I love all boats. Even boats without lifejackets.
- After the tour -- marinated salad of mixed seafood. Very happy mouth.
Feb 08, 2008
"Aw, man. You got no class."
So to continue the theme of Mexicans and Chinese: Does anyone remember the Cheech & Chong quote (maybe from the Yellow Album?) where one of them (Cheech, I think) is talking about the philosophy of marijuana while Chong is smoking a joint? The gist of Cheech's speech is, "The nice thing about weed is that everybody shares." But after Chong finishes off the joint all by himself, Cheech says sadly, "Aw, man. You got no class."
I mention this because somebody in my open-windows apartment complex has been smoking la cucaracha on and off for the last two hours. But has anyone been knocking on doors with an offer to share? Somebody around here is like school in the summertime: no class :-)
Also coming in through the windows: the yowls of multiple cats in heat. We don't hear that much in the US suburbs, where most all the cats are spayed. It's a wild sound -- something new to me. In fact, I wouldn't have even recognized it if K hadn't told me when she heard it over the phone. (I had been assuming it was an exorcism.) Hey waitaminnit -- do you think it's the cats who are smoking the weed?
Oh and speaking of cats: last night, some new friends and I were talking with Aki*, Japanese guy who's lived his last 20 years in the US. He adopted a neighbor's outdoor cat and built it a home to stay warm in the Arizona mountain winters. Aki told us "I really enjoyed building the cat house." Then we had to explain why we were snickering.
Twenty years in the US and he hadn't heard that word before? But I'm not too surprised. Aki is a clean living sort except for his cigarette habit. "You know why I smoke? I don't drink, I don't do drugs, I don't eat meat. I don't watch TV. I don't have a girlfriend. If I didn't smoke, my life would really suck!" Every day, Aki walks 15 to 20 miles. He's built long and thin. Kind of like a cigarette.
*yes, same name as the Mexican grocery store.
"The very rich are enormously resentful of bad weather"
The folks here seemed pretty patient -- even the hot dog guy whose cart you can see in the distance. Still, I had to think of a favorite passage from The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, by Roald Dahl:
One summer weekend, Henry drove down from London to Guildford to stay with Sir William Wyndham. The house was magnificent, and so were the grounds, but when Henry arrived that Saturday afternoon, it was already pelting with rain. Tennis was out, croquet was out. So was swimming in Sir William's outdoor pool. The host and his guests sat glumly in the drawing room, staring at the rain splashing against the windows. The very rich are enormously resentful of bad weather. It is the one discomfort that their money cannot do anything about.
As the story continues, Henry finds himself stuck in Sir William's library where he finds a slim book that teaches him how to develop the extrasensory powers of a yogi.
I love this story along with five of the six* that appear as a collection in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar -- And Six More. I think you might enjoy reading it. You might even develop the extrasensory powers of a yogi.
*The sixth is much too sad and violent for me.
Feb 04, 2008
Martina's Moods in Mexico
Someone at the hostel asked me, "Do you know where Martina is from?"
So of course all things are relative, but let me tell you, Martina can be dour. She's from Germany, about which she has mixed feelings. When she's home she spends a lot Cuban and Dominican men who she can dance with.
Yesterday we were walking past some bands at Carnaval (which she constantly mocked throughout the two-hour parade we had just watched), "Well, four more weeks of this. Then back to Germany. No more happiness. No more smiling."
Smiling? That expression on her face has been "smiling"?! Dang, I'd hate to wonder what she's like at home.
But in any case, she was talking with one of our Mexican friends who wants to move to the US because there are more opportunities. Said Martina,
"Don't be like everybody in America and Germany and other places like that -- all confused. They have too many choices and they don't know what the f*** to do. Here, people are HAPPY."
The grass is always greener...
Dec 23, 2007
420 on I-40?!
Saw this on Craigslist rideshare and had to click. "Rest in" peace, more like it.
Carrboro to rdu 420 friendly
Reply to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: 2007-12-20, 1:02PM EST
Looking for a ride to the airport on dec 23rd flight is at 2:30. smoke on the way or pay gas money.
Nov 21, 2007
Alain on America
"That's the beauty of America. You can be anything you want here. If you're 29 but want to be 12, goddammit, do it. The streets are paved with gold. I like the US but you've got some seriously messed up people here."
-- Alain is French. And expressive.
"It went beyond my low expectations."
-- Alain on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Alain is French. And a movie reviewer.
Image yoinked from the BBC
Nov 12, 2007
"Every Day I Learn Something New -- That I Should Have Known Already"
"Every day I learn something new -- that I should have known already."
-- David "Beardman" Zimmerman, ca. 1990.
Now and then I notice I don't know something you'd think I'd have learned by now.
I don't mean the big stuff, like "how can I quit looking for other people's approval" or "when will I realize that watching TV will not get my work done faster."* Instead, I'm talking about all the simple, mostly factual stuff you'd think someone would learn in the process of earning degrees in engineering and business, or even just the process of hanging around for forty years. Things like:
- Those utility lines hanging across the street... are those power lines or telephone lines?
- How much of our federal budget do we spend on the military? And how big is our federal budget, anyway?
- When my automatic transmission car is idling while I have the brakes on, how come the engine doesn't stall?
- Why are the words reflected in a mirror reversed, but we're not standing on our heads?
- Why were scores so low in NCAA basketball games back in the 50s when Dean Smith was still a player... did they only score one point per basket back then?
What don't you know?
*Yeah, you'd think that someone who's forty might have learned those by now ;-)
Nov 03, 2007
Joe Queenan, Part II
Some years ago when I was still often late for weddings, my friend Catherine gave me a copy of Joe Queenan's If You're Talking to Me, Your Career Must be in Trouble. In case you didn't know, Queenan snarks about the entertainment world:
One of the oddities about pop stars who try their hands at films is that the very worst rock stars often make the very best movie stars. Cher has always been a pathetic excuse for a rocker, an Ethel Merman in fishnet tights, who has attempted to compensate for her borderline vocal skills with sheer brass and bluster. The result? Twenty years of songs that sound like Journey outtakes.
...Despite this, Cher has developed into a very fine actress who turned in exemplary work in everything from The Witches of Eastwick to Suspect to Silkwood, and who has also performed creditably in several lackluster, generally overpraised films whose titles begin with M: (Mermaids, Mask, and Moonstruck). In fact, it is by no means inconceivable that Cher could one day make more movies than Elvis Presley. But that would still leave the King's record intact, because anyone can make thirty-one good movies that make money, but the King got away with making thirty-one bad movies that made money. Elvis got away with making thirty-one atrocious movies that made money. Thus, Cher's entry in the Guinness Book of World Records would still read:
Most Good Movies by a Really Bad Rock Star.... 400
while Elvis's entry would read:
Most Bad Movies by a Really Great Rock Star.... 31.
Elvis still wins in a walk.
Not to kill the fun by analyzing it, but what I admire about Queenan (and my best friend Dave, and many other people who elicit odd noises from my nose -- noises that are to be understood as laughter and not sinus difficulty) is their ability to amuse via reference to inducted patterns.* I once read that humor comes from seeing the similar in things that are different, and seeing the difference in things that are similar.**
...Tom Waits and Lyle Lovett we are not going to mention here, even though Lovett was amusing in The Player,and Waits has been passable in numerous films, because Waits is basically a cabaret artist and thus belongs in an essay speculating who might appear in as many bad movies as Liza Minnelli, and Lovett is basically a country-and-western singer and thus belongs in an essay speculating who might appear in as many bad movies as Roy Rogers.
...Still, if the staggering cinematic records set by Elvis Presley are ever to be erased, the new name in the record book will probably not be Madonna, but her fellow midwesterner, Prince... Launching his career with the sexist, juvenile, moronic Purple Rain in 1984, Prince has since made the sexist, moronic, juvenile Under the Cherry Moon, and Graffiti Bridge, which is really little more than a sexist, moronic, juvenile sequel to Purple Rain. Too short to rock and roll but too young to die, Prince makes movies so artfully unintelligent that they make Elvis's work look like John Gielgud's.
Moreover, there are a number of haunting parallels between the lives of the King and the Prince. Both men suffered from early musical burnout, producing their best work when they were very young. Both men wear tight pants. Both men have weird facial hair. And both men are identified with second-echelon cities that begin with the letter M. Ooo-ee-oh.
Queenan wrote this essay a few years ago. Since then, Prince seems to have dropped out of the movie business, so I guess the King is safe for now. But Prince deserves a Hollywood quote before we go: after being called a film-making failure after the box office failure of one of his (moronic, juvenile, sexist) movies, he said something like, "I just had a really good time on $X million of someone else's money. Who are you calling a failure?" And there we go again: another media star whose skills I can envy.
*damn, I did kill the fun.
** how's that for some slant-parallelism? Damn, I killed it again.
*** Safe, too, from Queen who never made any movies, either unless you're counting Flash Gordon. Oh damn, killed three times.
Unrelated: Catherine gave me the book while she was working for Queenan's publisher, Hyperion Press. Disney owned Hyperion Press and she said the staff called the place "Mauschwitz." I thought of this later when I read Inside the Mouse, published by some friends who worked the Duke University Press. Me. My friends. The Mouse. Pattern or just rodent coincidence?
Nov 01, 2007
Corner of Church and Cesar Chavez (formerly Army)
"A gentleman is a man who can play the accordion but doesn't"
-- Anonymous, quoted in Forbes Magazine's Thoughts on the Business of Life
Under the tree in San Francisco's Noe Valley, Dec 2005. Photo by Dave, from his apartment window.
Oct 23, 2007
"If It's Yellow, Let It Mellow..." - Water Conservation at Halloween
If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down.
-- water conservation slogan that I first heard in the mid-80s.
Live it for Halloween:
Toilet costume photo from JokesUnlimited.com, which will sell you that Halloween costume or many others.
Oct 13, 2007
Humanities Egghead Test by Laura Cubbison
Barry's latest post reminded me of the Humanities Egghead Test which I remember laughing at in the mid-90s after receiving it once or twice by email.
Imagine my surprise that something I remembered as brilliant and interesting in the early days of the internet was UNFINDABLE (by me) on the web (search terms: humanities egghead "allegory of the cave" 1 12 books black coffee shop glasses). Fortunately, I thought to look in the Newsgroups and was rewarded not only with the test, but also with what appears to be its original 19 September 1994 posting by author Laura Cubbison (then a grad student, now teaching at Radford University).
I give you the whole thing, below. And I hope that my little effort will get the Humanities Egghead Test back in action and web-findable as it always should have been.
After T-bone posted the scientific nerd test, I started thinking about a test
for eggheads (humanities geeks). Some of the questions on his test work for
eggheads too, so I kept them in. I wrote most of the questions myself, and
T-bone contributed a few more. Once I finished it, I figured up my score as 55.
I actually wrote this before the coffee house sketch on MST3K, but I did add
two questions inspired by the sketch.
For each of the following questions which you answer 'yes,'
add one point to your score. Your total at the end is your
percentage of eggheadedness
1)Have you ever gone to a coffee house?
2)Have you ever talked about being and nothingness?
3)Have you ever been to a Pinter play?
4)Do you know who Pinter is?
5)Have you ever done #2 continuously for more than four hours?
6)At a coffee house?
7)Do you wear glasses?
8)Are your glasses shaped like John Lennon's?
9)Is your vision worse than 20/40?
10)Worse than 20/80?
11)Are you legally blind?
12)Have you ever taught freshmen?
13)Have you ever answered a question in lecture after a moment of silence?
14)Have you ever corrected a professor?
15)Have you ever refused to answer a hypothetical question?
16)Have you ever had to sit in a circle in a classroom?
17)Do you save your lecture notes in file folders?
18)Do you never sell back your textbooks?
19)Do you own a black turtleneck shirt?
20)Have you ever used a microfilm reader?
21)Have you ever used a microfiche reader?
22)Have you ever used gopher to retrieve James Joyce's _Ulysses_ for a research
23)Is your weight less than your IQ?
24)Have you ever done #2 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the same
25)Have you ever done #2 past 4 a.m.?
26)Have you ever done #2 with someone of the opposite sex?
27)Have you ever done #2 for money?
28)Do you have own a copy of Thomas Pynchon's _Gravity's Rainbow_?
29)Have you read _Gravity's Rainbow_?
30)Did you understand _Gravity's Rainbow_?
31)Without Cliff's Notes?
32)Do you have a copy of the Riverside Shakespeare?
33)Do you have straight hair of all one length?
34)Does it fall in your face?
35)Do you admit to being a white male oppressor?
36)Do you express your rage against white male oppressors?
37)Can you define deconstructionism?
38)Do you know the Allegory of the Cave?
39)Do you know the words that follow "To be or not to be"?
40)Do you have them on a t-shirt?
41)Have you ever quoted Nietzsche?
42)Do you know who wrote _Waiting for Godot_?
43)Have you seen _Waiting for Godot_ in the theater?
44)Do you own more than $500 in books?
45)More than $1000?
46)More than $2500?
47)Do you stack your books in the corner of the room?
48)Have you ever seen a Merchant/Ivory film?
49)After you read the book?
50)Did you cry?
51)Did you fail the math portion of the GRE?
52)Have you ever done homework on a Friday night?
53)Have you ever pulled an all-nighter?
54)Have you ever written a short story?
55)Have you ever written poetry?
56)Done #55 in the last three months?
57)Done #55 in the last three weeks?
58)Have you ever memorized a poem?
59)Are your pants rolled up because they're too long?
60)Do you wear sandals?
61)Have you read _The Canterbury Tales_?
62)In middle English?
63)Have you ever attended a Shakespeare in the Park production?
64)Have you ever seen a Shakespeare play in a theater?
65)Have you ever entered a writing contest?
66)Did you win?
67)Can you identify Jacques Derrida?
68)Have you ever read anything by Derrida?
69)By Michel Foucault?
70)Have you ever used a colon in the title of a research paper?
71)Have you ever applied literary criticism to a television show?
72)Have you ever used inter-library loan?
73)Have you ever had to justify your field of study to your parents?
74)Have you ever used the word "hermeneutics" in a conversation?
75)Do you view participation in extracurricular activities as a violation of
76)Do you dress exactly like your non-conformist friends?
77)Do you know more than 1 modern language?
78)More than 2?
79)Do you know an ancient language no longer spoken?
80)Have you ever made a literary joke?
81)Did no one get it?
82)Have you ever attended a conference?
83)Did you read a paper?
84)Did you attend all the presentations?
85)Did you ask a question?
86)Have you ever used the word "verisimilitude"?
87)Can you count in Roman numerals?
88)Have you ever had a book review published?
89)In a newspaper?
90)Have you ever MSTed a textbook?
91)Have you ever attended a RenFest?
92)Do you pronounce "Sorbonne" like an American or a Frenchman?
93)Have you ever bought bottled water?
94)Have you ever drunk Perrier?
95)Is Guinness Stout the only beer you drink?
96)Did you major in philosophy or literature?
97)Have you ever read Beowulf?
98)In Old English?
99) Have you ever bought Let's Go Europe?
100)Do you apologize for the existence of Western Civilization?
I hope you enjoy. (Oh, and 42, by the way.)
Sep 29, 2007
Andrew Delbanco and Derek Bok on the Purposes of College
Should the mission of college go beyond imparting skills and handing out a useful credential? In his 2003 book, “Universities in the Marketplace,” Derek Bok, the former Harvard president, made the shocking observation that “faculties currently display scant interest in preparing undergraduates to be democratic citizens, a task once regarded as the principal purpose of a liberal education and one urgently needed at this moment in the United States.” Bok was right on both counts — the neglect and the urgency — but he relegated his statement to a footnote. It should have been a headline.
-- Andrew Delbanco, Academic Business, New York Times, 30 September 2007
Sep 27, 2007
Portrait of the Consultant as a Young Man (with undiagnosed ADD)
In the mid-80s when I was in high school (a decade before my attention deficit disorder diagnosis), there were already clear signs that I would be a frustrated adult -- full of talent, and fully challenged at putting those talents to use. Check out these three quarterly reports from October 1984:
Calculus: Phil is an enthusiastic member of this class. He participates freely in class discussion and has many good ideas. It is enjoyable to have him in class but also a frustration. For although he seems to understand new concepts when presented, he doesn't appear to spend time studying so that these ideas and skills become part of his general knowledge. Until he can discipline himself to do the hard work involved in the education process, he will not be recognized as the talented special person he wants to be. There will be times in Phil's life when this will have a lasting impact on what he can achieve. [Emphasis added]
British Literature: Phil's work is always imaginative and usually insightful. His quiz scores suggest that he might prepare his assignments a little more carefully. Attention to detail is sometimes tedious but always necessary in both analytical and creative writing and thinking.
Philosophy: Phil's quite good performance in both class discussions and written assignments was marred only by his failure to hand in the mid-term exam on time.
So what's changed since then? Many things, thank goodness. Early in my engineering career, my bosses smacked me a few times for sloppy work and poor detail management, so I got serious about improving. Along the way, I actually came to enjoy doing careful work (at least sometimes) for two different reasons.
First, I came to realize how useful and important and rare it was to be a professional who did careful, thorough work. By doing better work, I made myself much more valuable. And by being more valuable, I got to do more interesting work.
Second, I got a lot of satisfaction from learning to do something well that I used to do poorly. Up until then, most of my "wins" came from doing things that came easily. Succeeding at something through hard work and persistence was a new and in some ways deeper pleasure.
These days, colleagues and clients often say they're impressed by how I do things with more care and thoroughness than most professionals they work with. They appreciate how I sweat the details. This is praise I appreciate -- when I hear it, I know I'm making a difference. Sure, many consultants are much more competent and pains-taking than I, but they live in a different world with different kinds of megadollar clients. In my world, I'm happy that I can work with clients and colleagues whose talents and efforts are complementary to my own. No heroes. Just people who like putting their strengths together.
Of course this isn't to say that I've conquered all the problems that my teachers spotted in 12th grade. In particularly, I'm still persistently late: I miss deadlines, I'm late for appointments, and for some damned reason I'm still surprised half of the times when it happens. I'm working on that, though. Working on it.
By the way, if I haven't mentioned it to you: check out my new site, the ADDexecutive: Business Strategy and Management for Executives with Attention Deficit Disorder. It's still in live beta, but worth a look for smart grownups with the ADD bug.
Report card illustration from the Discovery Channel's Educator Resources.
Sep 25, 2007
James Blood Ulmer
-- James Blood Ulmer
Pic (and much more) -- the James Blood Ulmer page at Hyena Records
Sep 19, 2007
"Ruined by Reading"
Barry C. wrote a blog on What Single Book is the Best Introduction to Your Field...for Lay People which inspired Chap to mention "my Shelf of Shame (the books I bought but haven't yet read)" which reminded me that I wanted to share this quote with you:
Rarely does the daily paper move me to re-examine my life. But a recent New York Times piece quoted a Chinese scholar whose "belief in Buddhism...has curbed his appetite for books." Mr. Cha says, "To read more is a handicap. It is better to keep your own mind free and to not let the thinking of others interfere with your own free thinking." I clipped his statement and placed it on the bedside table, next to a pile of books I was reading or planned to read or thought I ought to read. The clipping is about two square inches and almost weightless, the pile of books some nine inches high, weighing a few pounds. Yet they face each other in perfect balance. I am the scale on which they rest.
Lying in the shadow of the books, I brood on my reading habit. What is it all about? What am I doing it for? And the classic addict's question, What is it doing for me?
--Lynn Schwartz, Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books