Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Shrove Tuesday

Some people celebrate Mardi Gras by getting drunk, high, naked, wild--going to New Orleans or Rio, doing things they will regret later, or things they won't remember later.

Methodists, as a group, don't do any of that. Our idea of a wild time is getting together in the fellowship hall for a pancake supper. Woo hoo. So I volunteered to help out, and, along with the other members of my Bible study group, served lots of pancakes and sausage and juice and coffee. I was home by 7:30, and I won't have a hangover tomorrow.

What can I say--I've never really craved life on the wild side.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Hi, Mom!

I recently signed up with SiteMeter, so now I can see how many (how few) people read my blog each day. It reminds me of when I was a kid and I used to dream of putting a message in a bottle and floating it off to a distant land. Now my dream has come true and I can send messages to the other side of the world, to people I don't know, it's really cool.

One of my regular readers will never be measured by SiteMeter--that's my mom, who reads an ink-on-paper version after my dad prints it out for her at the local library. After she read the Winnie the Pooh entry of a few days ago, she wrote me a letter and said it reminded her of one of her favorite "sad" poems, written by Eugene Field. She wrote it out for me, and here it is:

Little Boy Blue

The little toy dog is covered with dust,
But sturdy and staunch he stands
And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
And his musket moulds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new
And the soldier was passing fair,
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
Kissed them and put them there.

"Now, don't you go till I come," he said
"And don't you make any noise!"
And toddling off to his trundle-bed,
He dreamt of his pretty toys.
And as he was dreaming, an angel song
Awakened our Little Boy Blue--
Oh, the years are many, the years are long,
But the little toy friends are true!

Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand
Each in the same old place,
Awaiting the touch of a little hand,
The smile of a little face.
And they wonder, as waiting these long years through,
In the dust of that little chair,
What has become of our Little Boy Blue,
Since he kissed them and put them there.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Why Things Are: Achenbach's Final Answer

By way of introduction, I will say that I spent another day at the library researching ancient Key West history (relatively ancient: the Miami Herald online archive goes back to 1982 and that's good enough for my purposes). After a few hours of diligent on-task effort, my attention strayed a little bit. I did some Tropic browsing (that's the Herald's now-defunct, formerly fabulous Sunday magazine) and came up with this little gem, Joel Achenbach's final "Why Things Are" column. I lost track of Achenbach's career for a couple of years when he left Florida, but I have a vague impression that the "Why Things Are" column was reincarnated for a time in the Washington Post. I could be wrong, though--the online Post archives don't show it. At any rate, this was the swan song for "Why Things Are" in Tropic, and a case could be made that it was the beginning of the end for the magazine, too.

Date: February 4, 1996

Why are we here?

Is there a point to it? How did we get here and what are we supposed to do with ourselves? Why should we do anything? Why bother?These are some big questions, but we think we have a very good answer, bordering on the irrefutable. It may not be comprehensive, but it'll have to do, because this is our last column. At sundown we dynamite the Why bunker.

The key to the answer is: the Bering land bridge.

About 25,000 years ago, during one of the Ice Ages, sea levels dropped so dramatically that water receded from the Bering Strait. It became possible to walk from Siberia to Alaska.

And so people did. They walked to a new continent. For a while they were stymied in Alaska by a glacial ice wall, an impermeable barrier. They chilled out for about 10,000 years. Then the glaciers melted a little. Gaps appeared in the ice wall. The first Americans went south.

According to Bill Fitzhugh of the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, archaeologists have found tools in southernmost South America roughly as old as tools found in the Pacific Northwest. You know what that means: People rapidly explored and inhabited all of the Americas.

These Asian-American hunters went everywhere, over mountains and across deserts,
through the Isthmus of Panama, atop the Andes, down the Amazon, out to Caribbean islands -- a dramatic, but forgotten, Age of Discovery.

Why did they do it? If they were so antsy, why didn't they head south directly from Siberia and go some place warm, like Thailand?

The answer: There were animals here, and no people. The hunting was fabulous! No one told them to go away. It was doable, and so it was done. Life fills every environmental niche; humans can adapt to almost any landscape.

The Bering land bridge saga inspires us to come up with an initial, if superficial, summary of why we are here: Because we can be.

Then again, when you wake up in the morning, and are faced with another day, you don't say to yourself that you are going to fill some environmental niches. You seek something more. Your plans are grander.

We bet the first Americans felt the same way. Imagine the reaction of the first human to walk into Yosemite Valley, the first to hear the roar of Niagara Falls, the first to walk the beaches of Jamaica. They must have been awed.

Keep in mind that these hunters were, biologically, modern human beings. They had as much ability to feel wonder, reverence and fear as anyone today.

The Why staff likes to think that not so much has changed: that the world is still full of new terrain. Call us dreamers! But we think there are new Yosemites out there for all of us.

And this, we think, is ultimately why we are here: We are part of a journey. It's the journey of a single species with a weirdly large brain. (It's almost as strange as those tiny male suckerfish who disintegrate except for their testes. Remember that column?)
In a world thriving with creatures living off instinct, human beings are a bizarre and thrilling combination of intelligence and emotion. The human mind is surely one of the Seven Wonders of the Known Universe (along with the rings of Saturn, the Crab nebula, the supergiant star Betelgeuse, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, the Automatic Teller Machine and the ready-to-eat instant salad kit).

We are going to resist the temptation to get all weepy and blubbery and quivery-chinned about this being our last column, but we have to give thanks to our immediate (and we use this term ludicrously) supervisor, Gene Weingarten, who, though a madman, is one of the great unsung geniuses in American journalism; and to the countless people who have served nobly on the Why staff or as invaluable sources, including Mary Stapp (the Why goddess), Tom Shroder, Beth Barry, Doris Mansour, Elisabeth Donovan, Brian Dickerson, Pat Myers, Mary Hadar, Katherine Wanning, David Jackson, Dana Hull, Cristina Dragomirescu, Elizabeth Schandelmeier, Bebe Gribble, Jeanne Smith, Bob Park, LeRoy Doggett.

Most of all, thanks to our readers for asking great questions, catching our mistakes, making us think. Your curiosity created a market for our little column, with its mix of fact and humor and total nonsense. You made the world safe for the question Why.
Keep reminding yourself: Every time you read a book, or take a class, or write a poem, or watch a sunset, or teach something to a child . . . every time you love someone or find something beautiful . . . every time you advance, however incrementally, the cause of intelligent civilization . . . every time you pump a little warmth into this big, cold universe . . . you illustrate the real reason why we are here.

You solve the mystery. You don't need to ask anymore.

You know the answer.

Author: JOEL ACHENBACH Herald Columnist
Section: TROPIC
Page: 4
Copyright (c) 1996 The Miami Herald

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Seasonal Affective Disorder

I was planning to return to one of my recurring themes today, Self-Loathing, because I experienced it in waves all day. But thinking about that led me to contemplate depression (specifically, how it is less painful than garden-variety self-loathing), and that led me to Seasonal Affective Disorder, and I decided to go with that instead.

Here's my S.A.D. story.

When I was nineteen years old, I spent part of my winter break from college hiking in Shenandoah National Park. I took the bus from Boston to DC, then to Front Royal, Virginia. I backpacked from Front Royal to Waynesboro, basically the length of the park, on the Appalachian Trail. It was cold, and I didn't see many people. I was alone with my thoughts for hours, days, more than a week. I observed myself, how I thought and what my personality was like, with no people around to influence it. I started to notice a pattern, and it was like this: I'd be hiking along, and feeling gloomy and pessimistic. My inner voice would be saying, "This was a stupid idea. What was I thinking. This is boring. This is hard. It's cold. I don't have enough food. I'm tired." For a long time I would just be slogging and barely motivated to put one foot in front of another. And then ... ! ... The Sun Would Come Out. And I would instantly recover--my mood would swing dramatically and I would be happy, relieved, cheerful and optimistic--and I would realize that all the negativity was just a result of the lack of sunshine. A few hours later, it would happen again, and take me by surprise again. But eventually I started to understand it and when I would start feeling negative I would take note of the cloud cover and tell myself, it's okay, the sun will come out in a while and you'll feel better.

That's how I discovered that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or at least a version of it, a sensitivity to sunlight that affects my mood dramatically. It fully explained the clinical depression symptoms I experienced when I was living in Boston, which disappeared instantly and completely when I moved to south Florida.

I haven't done much research on it; apparently there are special lights you can buy, but from my observations of my own symptoms, sunshine is the best remedy and after that any bright light is good. If I had to have some kind of disorder, I'm glad it's one that can be treated without money or doctors or medicine!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Washington's Birthday

On two occasions my dad has given copies of a book to all three of his offspring. Once: The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, and the other time, George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation. These two books, taken to heart, can do a lot to help one live a decent life.

Washington's book is a list of 110 rules, beginning with
(1) Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present,
and ending with
(110) Labour to keep alive in your breast that little celestial fire called conscience.

Many of Washington's rules are just as relevant to the current day as they were in his. The ones that are not relevant serve to remind us of how much better the world is than it was 250 years ago. Many of the rules concern how to act toward your "superiors" or "inferiors." I take equality for granted and it's good to be reminded how lucky we are in that regard. We also forget about how much more uncomfortable life was in a time when it was a matter of etiquette to decide how to deal with the insect life inhabiting your person and clothing, or the problem of one fireplace serving as a source of warmth and a cooking stove (you want to put your feet near the fire because they are cold, but there's meat cooking for dinner and it's not polite to put your feet near it).

Happy Birthday to George Washington, the Father of our Country.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A.A. Milne

The House at Pooh Corner
by A. A. Milne

Chapter X
In which
Christopher Robin and Pooh
Come to an Enchanted Place,
and We Leave Them There

Christopher Robin was going away. Nobody knew why he was going; nobody knew where he was going; indeed, nobody even knew why he knew that Chrisopher Robin was going away. But somehow or other everybody in the Forest felt that it was happening at last. Even Smallest-of-All, a friend-and-relation of Rabbit's who thought he had once seen Christopher Robin's foot, but couldn't be sure because perhaps it as something else, even S.-of-A. told himself that Things were going to be Different...

This is my favorite Pooh story, and I can't read it without crying. It is the best account I have ever read of what it is like to come to the end of childhood. Milne has special material to work with, because of the sharp demarcation in Christopher Robin's life between being a pre-school child, having long hours of freedom in the outdoors, and going to school, particularly boarding school, where everything would be supervised and all activity would be purposeful. The magic of the Pooh stories is always that they are told by an adult who is looking at the world though the eyes of the child and his stuffed animals. Milne, in a way, is saying, childhood must end and that is sad--but at the same time the story itself is proof that the enchantment of those days does not have to be forgotten. And he's also showing that even if there is sadness in childhood's end, there is also joy in the adventure of life and growing up.

...Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was stil looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out "Pooh!"
"Yes?" said Pooh.
"when I'm --when----Pooh!"
"Yes, Christopher Robin?"
"I'm not going to do Nothing any more."
"Never again?"
"Well, not so much. They don't let you."
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.
"Yes, Christopher Robin?" said Pooh helpfully.
"Pooh, when I'm--you know--when I'm not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?"
"Just Me?"
"Yes, Pooh."
"Will you be here too?"
"Yes, Pooh, I will be, really. I promise I will be, Pooh."
"That's good," said Pooh.
"Pooh, promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not even when I'm a hundred."
Pooh thought for a little.
"How old shall I be then?"
Pooh nodded.
"I promise," he said.

Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh's paw.
"Pooh," said Christopher Robin earnestly, "if I--if I'm not quite----" he stopped and tried again--"Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won't you?"
"Understand what?"
"Oh, nothing." He laughed and jumped to his feet. "Come on!"
"Where?" said Pooh.
"Anywhere," said Christopher Robin.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Vonnegut and the Sermon on the Mount

Kurt Vonnegut does not define himself as a Christian. He is a self-professed "humanist." But he is an admirer of the Sermon on the Mount, and I'm going to let him have the podium this evening, in honor of yellojkt's comment about The Book of Revelation vs. the Beatitudes. Which is more relevant, more important, more likely to bring the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth? Here's Vonnegut:

I've said there are two radical ideas that have been introduced into human thought. One of them is that energy and matter are pretty much the same sort of stuff. That's Einstein. The other is that revenge is a bad idea. It's an enormously popular idea but, of course, Jesus came along with the radical idea of forgiveness. That was radical. If you're insulted, you have to square accounts. So this invention by Jesus is as radical as Einstein's.


Powers Hapgood was an official of the CIO. He was a typical Hoosier idealist. Socialism is idealistic. Think of Eugene Debs from Terre Haute. What Debs said echoes the Sermon on the Mount: "As long as there's a lower class I am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

Now why can't the religious right recognize that as a paraphrase of the Sermon on the Mount? Hapgood and Debs were both middle-class people who thought there could be more economic justice in this country. They wanted a better country, that's all. Hapgood's family owned a successful cannery in Indianapolis and Hapgood turned it over to the employees, who ruined it. He led the pickets against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. Hapgood is testifying in court in Indianapolis about some picket-line dust-up connected with the CIO and the judge stops everything. He says, "Mr. Hapgood, here you are, you're a graduate of Harvard and you own a successful business. Why would anyone with your advantages choose to live as you have?" Powers Hapgood actually became a coal miner for a while. His answer to the judge was great: "The Sermon on the Mount, sir."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Left Behind

The Left Behind series is a fictionalization of the end of the world, as conceived by Tim LaHaye, a non-denominational evangelical Christian, and written by Jerry Jenkins. The series is staggeringly popular among a certain type of Christian. I bought the first book in the series a couple of years ago, mainly because of a review I read on salon.com that charged LaHaye with antisemitism and other crimes related to the plot of the book. I wanted to read the source material to see for myself. I was thwarted by the low quality of the writing; I just have a very low tolerance for that. So I put it aside. My husband picked it up last week and started to read it. He doesn't have the same standards for prose; his favorite genre of book is the police procedural crime novel. He enjoyed the first Left Behind book, and is thinking of reading the second one now.

I have a lingering bad feeling about the series. My main source of discomfort at this point is the people who love it the most--the anti-intellectual contingent, the Bible-as-literal-truth crowd. As much as they claim to get their truth directly from the Bible, they are eager to read these novels instead: they are so much more accessible, written in simple prose that spells out in concrete examples exactly what will happen at the end of the world.

The books remind me of nothing so much as The DaVinci Code--a book I did manage to get through, and which made me very uneasy, because I knew as I read it that there would be thousands of people who took the fiction at face value as revelations of hidden truths. Left Behind is worse because it actually purports to be a revelation of truths.

Here's something in a similar vein, but more highbrow:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

--W.B. Yeats

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Ruins of California

I've been reading The Ruins of California, by Martha Sherrill. It's a story of growing up in California, with imperfect parents. It's particularly a portrait of a specific time, very striking to me because it was my time, too. The main character, Inez Ruin, has the same posters on her bedroom wall that I had--James Taylor from JT and Robert Redford from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And she pinpoints the moment when hiphugger jeans gave way to high-rise jeans and when hippy fashion was replaced with the preppie look. Inez is just a couple of years younger than I was at the same time--she is in high school during the time I was in college. But Sherrill does a great job of capturing the details that describe the cultural landscape.

Friday, February 17, 2006

"A Fool and His Money Are Soon Partying"

A Key West friend, Will Soto, is having a retirement party on April 1. Will is an entertainer and a political activist, quite well-known in busker circles ("busker: a street performer who works for donations") He even hosted the Key West Buskerfest, which had great potential but failed to evolve into a multi-million dollar annual event like Hemingway Days or Fantasy Fest or even the Key West Literary Festival (or the Powerboat Races or Old Island Days or Pirate Weekend, or...hmmm maybe there just wasn't room on the calendar for another festival).

So Will says he's starting his Farewell Tour, with Cher as his inspiration; in other words, he'll have his retirement party and go right on working.

I'm planning to drive to Key West and stay a couple of days. The better half has to work that weekend, but I have plenty of friends to visit on the island and the party will be a major event. The day after, I will try to spend some time with Will going over research I've been doing for the book he's writing about Key West and the Sunset Celebration--I've been helping him with facts and punctuation; he's supplying the imagination and imagery.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Boca Musings

On my lunchtime walk I go by this sign; it announces the entrance to a housing development. I'm sure you can't buy one of these "estates" for less than five million dollars, and they may be more than that--I have no way to know, really. I am struck by this sign, though. First of all, the artwork is really bad. It's better than I could do, but I've seen better work by tenth graders in the public school arts magnet program. The word that springs to mind is "cheesy." The fake Greek pillars, the foliage that is just a cloud of green to save the work of painting that area of the sign, the front of the mansion with the two cypress trees, reminiscent of the famous Munch "Scream."

But above all, the dishonesty of the depiction of this acreage surrounding an English country house. For your five million plus, what are you really going to get? You're lucky if there is 12 inches between your house and your neighbor's. Those houses are packed in like sardines. It never stops surprising me that people will buy property like this, instead of buying land.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

JAM & All Women's Group

I just returned from a three-hour discussion with a group of about forty women-- Jews, Muslims, Christians, and a few who are hard to categorize. For example, Susan was born into a Jewish family, but for the past eight years she has attended an African American Baptist church on Sunday, in addition to attending shul on Friday night. And on Wednesday afternoon she studies Hinduism. Kathy was born into a Quaker family, then married a Jew and converted to Judaism, and is now a widow who attends Jewish services and studies Buddhism.

We met at a mosque, and there were a good number of Muslim women there, representing lots of different countries--Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, Jordan--as well as one American-born convert to Islam. I may have been the only protestant there, but at least four Catholics were in attendance, and more than ten Jews, many of whom were born in the northeast U.S.

We covered a wide range in our discussions, from the cartoon controversy in Denmark to the holocaust deniers, to the allegation that the Jews killed Christ and the implication of the Pope in anti-semitism.

And a good time was had by all.

It is just great to mingle with women who care enough to come out on a weekday evening for the purpose of promoting peace through individual friendship and community-building.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Quoting Emerson

I'm consoling myself with R.W. Emerson this morning: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

Because I have posted every day since January 1, but last night I was too busy, and then too tired and too uninspired, so I didn't get anything online.

I could have done two entries today and dated one for yesterday, but I decided not to. I don't need to get obsessive about this cyberproject. On the contrary. It needs to fit into the spaces in my life, not displace any more important activities.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Take the Challenge

I was steered to this site by coolsiteoftheday.com, and I'm just lazy enough to use it for my Sunday night offering here at R/T/L. I scored 80%, which is high enough to make you have to try hard to beat it, but low enough that you shouldn't be discouraged from trying. Good luck!

"Senses Challenge"

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Lovely Fort Lauderdale Library

I spent the afternoon in the Fort Lauderdale library, doing some research that involved looking up articles that were published in the Keys section of the Miami Herald between 1982 and 1986. I started in the microfilm room but that went nowhere, and I wandered over to the reference desk to inquire. I was making friends with the reference librarian there, and he was explaining how to use the internet database to find, print and email articles, when one of his co-workers came up to him and said, "Do you want to go to lunch, I can take over here" (it was 12:20). So the first guy said, okay, and I made a joke about passing the baton, don't drop it, or something, and he said, maybe this could be an Olympic event and we were all impressed by our humor--the theme is very Pythonesque, actually, and does have some potential. At any rate, the new guy continued showing me how to look up the articles. Using the library computers, I was able to accomplish more in two hours than I would have been able to do in six months in the microfilm room. I really love the internet. And the Fort Lauderdale library is truly a wonderful environment.

Friday, February 10, 2006

How to be Alone

How to be Alone, by Jonathan Franzen, is currently at the top of my "favorite books" list, and has held that position since I read it, in the summer of 2004. I liked the book so much that I bought a spiral notebook, and began to re-read, copying down passages on the left side of the page and commenting on them on the right side. I didn't get past the first essay, but I still may go back and finish the project--I always enjoy the time I spend on it.

Here's the lead-up to the thesis of the book:

"I intend this book, in part, as a record of a movement away from an angry and frightened isolation toward an acceptance--even a celebration--of being a reader and a writer."

and here's the thesis itself:

"The local particulars of content matter less to me than the underlying investigation in all these essays: the problem of preserving individuality and complexity in a noisy and distracting mass culture: the question of how to be alone."

Franzen is a masterful writer, he turns a phrase with the best of them. I've read two of his novels and I think the essays are better than the novels. The novels tend to verge on the whimsical, the fantastic, the imaginary. The essays are firmly rooted in reality, and Franzen's reality is clear, if a little dark. He has a wonderful balance between vulnerability and clear-headed exposition.

This is the perfect book for people whose inner life (the "Read - Think") is more real to them than the outer life (the "Live"). The answer to "how to be alone" is, to me, to realize that we are participating in the culture with our reading and thinking. We are networking and creating culture, too. It's not a lonely life.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Helter Skelter

A friend at work asked me, "Did you see McCartney last night?"

I just shrugged and gave her a friendly look because I've told her a hundred times that I don't have television, but she always forgets.

Anyway, she said, he was on the Grammys last night and he really rocked. He sang "Helter Skelter."

Then we talked about that song--how all we know about it is that Charles Manson got messages from it and they named the Manson book and the Manson movie after it. I have heard the White Album, of course, but I don't own it and I don't know what the song is about.

So I pulled up the trusty Wikipedia site and learned that a "helter skelter" is a kind of slide found in children's playgrounds in England, a spiral slide in an enclosed space, very thrilling for children. Paul had vivid memories of his childhood and often used them in his writing.

It appears that Paul was being competitive with "Helter Skelter," trying to write a very loud and cacophonous piece that would simulate (or stimulate) a psychedelic state. Being the talented artist that he is, he succeeded in creating something that had a major impact on the contemporary music culture.

Unfortunately, it was hijacked by Manson. But the words of the song do not support any kind of evil interpretation.

Manson should have used "Sympathy for the Devil" as his theme song instead.

Here are the lyrics:

[Recorded by The Beatles - 1968]

Helter Skelter
by Lennon/McCartney

When I get to the bottom
I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
Till I get to the bottom and I see you again
Do you, don't you want me to love you
I'm coming down fast but I'm miles above you
Tell me, tell me, tell me
Come on tell me the answer
You may be a lover but you ain't no dancer
Helter skelter, helter skelter, helter skelter
Will you, won't you want me to make you
I'm coming down fast but don't let me break you
Tell me, tell me, tell me
You may be a lover but you ain't no dancer
Look out
Helter skelter, helter skelter, helter skelter
Look out, cause here she comes
When I get to the bottom
I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
And I get to the bottom and I see you again
Well do you, don't you want me to make you
Tell me, tell me, tell me
You may be a lover but you ain't no dancer
Look out
Helter skelter, helter skelter, helter skelter
Look out helter skelter
She's coming down fast
Yes she is
Yes she is.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Stevie Wonder

I just got Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life on remastered cd from Amazon, and I've been listening to it for the past four days. I had never owned it before but I listened to it a lot in college. "Sir Duke" was a popular party song in those days.

Whatever happened to Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder is evidence that it isn't inevitable. Wonder was a child prodigy who managed to grow up into a responsible adult. He is a gifted artist who keeps his message positive. His music is secular, but it has a real gospel soul. I'm feeling inspired by his Songs.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Achenblog Word Cloud

Thanks to yellojkt for the link to Snapshirts that enabled me to create this word cloud of Achenblog. The more I look at it, the more I like it. "One people," indeed.

Monday, February 06, 2006

I Wish I Still Had Them

Back in about 1984, as I was moving from a small apartment to an even smaller one in Key West, and vinyl records were already on the way out, and my stereo wasn't working very well, I sold all my records at a yard sale. Many of the good ones have been replaced over the years on cassette and then on cd. But there are three record albums that have turned out to be irreplaceable and/or untranslatable, and if I had them today, they would be among my treasured possessions.

I. Monty Python, Matching Tie and Handkerchief
The marketing concept here was that you would get a free record if you bought the tie and handkerchief, but it was a blatant rip-off since the merchandise was just a cardboard cutout, very sleazy, ha ha. The record itself apparently had two "B" sides, visually identical, so you couldn't tell until it started playing which side you were listening to. Then of course if you turned it over you would be listening to the other side. But after listening to one side and then the other a few times, or possibly even the second time, you would suddenly realize you were listening to something you hadn't heard before. The record actually had three sides. One side was double-grooved. The cleverness of that was just a bonus, since the contents of the record was extremely funny. I have it on cd now, but it is Not the Same.

II. Jimmy Thudpucker's Greatest Hits
Jimmy Thudpucker is a Doonesbury character, kind of a satire of a Jackson Browne type California folk-rock singer/songwriter. I bought the album because I have always been a Doonesbury fan, not expecting much in the way of musical quality. I was surprised to find that the songs were very good, and it became one of my favorite records. I guess it is a rare collector's item today. Wish I still had it.

III. Tim Weisburg, Hurtwood Edge
Tim Weisburg's instrument is the electric flute. His music is a sort of jazz that flirts with easy listening, but, in my opinion, never crosses that line. He's had some success--I saw him on the Tonight Show more than once, in the late 70's, and he made an album with Dan Fogelberg in 1976 called Twin Sons of Different Mothers, followed up about 20 years later with one called No Resemblance Whatsoever. Hurtwood Edge is out of print and was probably never recorded on cd, but I can still hear the melodies in my head, at least parts of them. What I can't remember, is lost forever.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Super Bowl Sunday

Gosh, I would watch the Super Bowl, but...

--I've got to read this book, Wicked, because I've got three other books on my list that I need to get to next
--I have to write my blog
--I have to do laundry
--Got to wash my hair tonight
--Don't have television
--Don't like commercials
--Don't know anything about professional football
--Don't like the Rolling Stones
--It's All-Beatles Weekend on my oldies station (Now playing: "Penny Lane")
--Can't help thinking football encourages violence
--I'm sick of the commercialization of entertainment
--I'll probably be in bed by 8:45
--I do not care who wins

...but otherwise, I would be watching the Super Bowl right now.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


I watched Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room today, and I am just about paralyzed with disgust.

A portrait of a true Free Market Economy at work. Libertarians and Republicans, I guess they see what happened and say, yeah? what's wrong with that? Who got hurt, only the people who weren't smart enough or aggressive enough to protect themselves. It's their own fault.

My tipping point in the movie was when Enron bought power plants in California and then called them and told them to shut down operations for a few hours to drive the prices up so they could make more money. That is so easy to understand, not complicated at all. They didn't have to be so smart to figure that out, they just had to be ruthless, and think of it as nothing but a game that uses money to keep score.

The film included a clip of Ronald Reagan saying, "government won't solve our problems. Government is the problem." And with the kind of laissez-faire economic policy he was advocating, I just about have to agree with him. But good government can solve problems. Otherwise, we might as well all be libertarians. We'll stock up on food and amunition and just try to survive long enough to breed so that our genes will be part of the future gene pool--is that all life is about?

I have never believed in a kind of intelligence that is asocial, or anti-social. Even though I'm kind of a loner myself, I've always been able to apply my intelligence to interpersonal situations. The portrait of the eccentric genius who can't function in society, I don't recognize that person as being truly intelligent. Talented, okay, maybe. But a truly intelligent person is capable of appreciating the effect his actions have on other people. Extreme intelligence, I believe, is best exemplified by someone like Mahatma Gandhi. He understood the human world that he lived in, and was able to act to make it better.

Actually, that phrase, "the smartest guy in the room" is one of my favorites, although I don't often say it out loud. I think about it, though: In any room, there is bound to be one person who is the smartest one there. And by my definition, that person always knows who he is. There are probably several others who believe they are the smartest, as well. But they are wrong, and just don't know it. There's a lot to think about in that situation. Potential for irony abounds.

Bottom line: those Enron guys, they were not so smart as they thought.

Friday, February 03, 2006

My Favorite Pet

When I was very young my family had a German shepherd, Rena. Rena was kind of mean, at least that's how it seemed to me, but in hindsight maybe she was just rowdy and I was very small at the time. She did chase and nip me. Nevertheless, I was sad to leave her behind when we moved to another town, when I was five. The new house had no fence, so we couldn't take her with us. She was given away to the proverbial "place in the country, with lots of room to run around." Not my favorite all-time pet.

At the new house, we had a mixed breed terrier, Peanuts. He was a good dog, no trouble at all, liked to lie under the coffee table. When he wanted to go out, we let him out, and when he felt like coming back, he would whine at the door and we would let him in. Best thing about Peanuts was, early summer mornings when I went for my nature walks, he always wanted to go too. In some ways, he was my favorite, but he wasn't my dog, he was a family dog.

I've never had another dog--now they are too much work. We've had cats. None of the cats is qualified to be my favorite pet. We've had fish. Eh. I had a snake once, when I was about 10, but that was just an adventure, and it was way more trouble than it was worth.

My favorite pet was Hammie the Hamster. Hammie was easy to take care of--we could leave him alone for a long weekend by getting the right kind of food and water dispensers. Just clean out the cage once a week or so. He was obviously warm-blooded, unlike the fish or the snake. Hammie was cute and kind of cuddly. He didn't mind being picked up and petted, but he wasn't pining for company if we left him alone for days at a time. He didn't make any noise at all, unless his exercise wheel got squeaky, and then we did hear that all night, every night, but I didn't mind it--in a way it was inspiring. How am I going to complain about getting up for my morning jog, when Hammie's been on the treadmill all night.

Overall, I'd say a hamster is my ideal pet. And the very best thing about them is that the typical hamster lifespan is about two years. So just about the time I started to get tired of cleaning the cage: sayonara, Hammie, R.I.P.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Less Than Three

This is a nerd joke. It will make my daughter laugh. She likes to laugh at my nerdiness. I don't mind, because we both know she has inherited a lot from me and she can't deny it.

I admire people who are naturally funny, or who are willing to put in the effort to be humorous. Those people make a real contribution to the world by increasing the amount of laughter and smiles.

I'm not naturally funny, and I'm usually not willing to try. But I do see the humor in everyday situations, and sometimes I'm able to point it out when other people have missed it. My specialty is knowing how to make a particular person laugh. The secret is in referring back to a previous remark or situation. That's partly what makes it easy to make my husband or my daughter laugh, because I know what they are thinking most of the time, and I remember so many things they have said or done.

My daughter likes to communicate through "instant messages." She is very conscientious about using correct punctuation and spelling, and almost never says ROTFL or IMHO. But she does use one shortcut a lot. Instead of "love" or even "heart" she types "<3". So the joke is, whenever I'm seeing her off at the airport or she's leaving with friends for a night out, I will say "less than three! less than three!"

I warned you.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Groundhog Day Eve

Almost everything I know about Groundhog Day, I learned from watching the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. I really like that movie, and as I watched it the first time I kept thinking, "I like this movie, but I don't know anybody I would recommend it to." The kind of person who, like me, prefers to sit in on a rehearsal than to see the finished show, who likes to watch dancers work on one move over and over with someone helping them become a little closer to perfection each time, who would rather attend batting practice than watch a baseball game--that's who really enjoys Groundhog Day. It's a glimpse of the creative process. It's funny, too.

So tomorrow is Groundhog Day, and here in South Florida the sun is bound to be shining. The Florida version of a groundhog may be something like an iguana; when it sees its shadow and returns to its burrow or tree or whatever, we'll have six more weeks of winter and we'll be glad of it. It's summer that's the endurance contest here. Winter is Easy Street.

Happy Groundhog Day!