Sunday, May 28, 2006

Tropic Magazine

The Miami Herald used to have a Sunday magazine, like the New York Times has. The Herald's magazine was called Tropic. Tropic launched some illustrious careers and provided many happy hours of intellectual stimulation for south Florida readers. The Herald stopped publishing Tropic in 1998, and I miss it. I found out that I could get the articles in digital format from the Broward County Library, so I started spending time at the library going through the files. I enjoyed reading the stories and I kept thinking I'd like to share them with other people. I emailed some, and then I emailed some more, and eventually I had the idea to construct a website. That turned into a project that I worked on in my spare time for several months, and now the site is set up and on line, and this is its official opening.

My totally unofficial Tropic fansite:

I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, May 26, 2006

It's All Sausage

On my way to work two days ago I saw a freshly-killed possum on the side of the road. Yuck. Then I immediately passed a convenience store that was apparently selling breakfast; the smell of sausage and toast wafted out the door. It made me think about how seeing a dead animal makes me lose my appetite. But I eat dead animals almost every day. I thought, maybe it is because when you come upon a dead animal it's not a good idea to eat it--better to kill it yourself because then you know it's fresh. Okay, but seeing a live rabbit or deer or even a cow or chicken doesn't make my mouth water. Contrast that with the sight of a strawberry or a plum, or even a pecan or a peanut. I'm becoming convinced that my basic nature is vegetarian.

Now, I have to say my friend Setsuko has told me that when she goes to an aquarium the fish look yummy to her; she always thinks about eating them. But she doesn't feel that way about cows or chickens.

We use sausage as a metaphor for many things: you may enjoy the end result, but you don't want to know the details of how it was made. I see now that that applies to meat products of various kinds. To kill the animal, skin it, take out its intestines, cut it up and cook it is not at all an attractive prospect to me. I'm relatively certain that if I had to do that myself, I would be a vegetarian. As it is, I guess I'm just a species of hypocrite.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Artist Alice Comes Home

Today marks the start of the Off-Season for ReadThinkLive. The original motivation was that our daughter, who had been the recipient of my wisdom daily for eighteen years, finally escaped my immediate vicinity and went off to college. I figured I would miss reading her passages from whatever I ran across that I thought she needed to know, or sharing my thoughts with her or giving her lectures about morals and values or whatever. So the blog would be an outlet for me and also a way for her to tune in at her convenience and find out what Mom was thinking about on any given day.

But tonight Artist Alice is coming home for the summer. The phone has already begun to ring with eager suitors. I had forgotten about that ringing phone; it's been peaceful these last months.

So for the forseeable future, I'll post when I have some burning issue to rant over or when I've read something that inspires me, but not every day.

Now, I must go clean the living room.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 - 1940)

"Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald

Today I watched an old movie, The Last Time I Saw Paris, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson. It is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and it made me remember that Fitzgerald is the most romantic literary figure I know. Somehow, the image of the young, handsome writer struggling with his demons to write stories of love and tragedy and tragic love is burned into my brain. He is the writer as tortured artist, one of those "too sensitive for this world" types. I know Lord Byron is the poster child for that, but Byron isn't as vivid to me. Plus, Fitzgerald is so American. I need to read some of his short stories again.

"Poetry is either something that lives like fire inside you -- like music to the musician or Marxism to the Communist -- or else it is nothing, an empty, formalized bore around which pedants can endlessly drone their notes and explanations."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald

Friday, May 05, 2006

Crime and Punishment

In 1981, I was teaching fifth grade at a Navy base in Key West. The news of John Lennon's murder reached me early in the morning, and I arrived at work to find the other teachers discussing the event. I was sad about Lennon's death, and hopeful that I would find other people who were sharing my feelings. Instead, what I heard was anger, and people expressing their wish for the punishment of the murderer. The death penalty would be too good for him, someone said, and there was general agreement, as people expressed their opinions about how much punishment he deserved. I had been sad before, but hearing that conversation I was heart-broken. What kind of way was this to remember John, who had worked for peace and advocated love. It was a moment of supreme alienation for me.

Now Zacarias Moussaoui has been sentenced to life in a super-maximum security prison and Americans of all kinds are expressing their sense of satisfaction that he will be denied martyrdom and instead subjected to a lifetime of harsh conditions, isolation and sensory deprivation. I am disheartened by the sentiments expressed by the people I live and work among.

From my viewpoint, the supermax prison concept might be justifiable if the total population was around 100. The 100 most dangerous criminals alive at any given moment. The unibomber, Charles Manson, people like that. But it's nothing like that. Prison construction and administration is a growth industry, and the United States has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world. The supermax prisons are home for thousands of individuals, and many of them are not serving life sentences. That means that one day they will be out in society. The brutal conditions of solitary confinement do not produce people who can successfully rejoin the world and cope with the requirements of civilization.

I would like to see Americans let go of the idea of punishment. To lose one's freedom is punishment enough; it should be viewed as a necessary evil. We need a return to the concept of rehabilitation, education, and training for useful jobs. We need to find a way to allow inmates to remain connected to the social fabric, their families and communities. Humans are social animals. In isolation, we can never be fully human. We require communication, interaction with other people. Maybe what has gone wrong is that Americans have convinced themselves that inmates are not, in fact, people.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Big Read

In conjunction with the National Endowment for the Arts, some local educational and literary organizations are sponsoring this community event: The Big Read. The idea is to choose one book for "everybody" to read and discuss.

This is a national program, and the NEA selected four books for the local committees to decide among. Florida's selection is Farenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury.

Ray Bradbury was one of my favorite authors when I was young. His books, especially Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and The Illustrated Man provide some of my most vivid reading memories. For example, in Dandelion Wine, there's a scene in which three children encounter an elderly woman. She buys them ice cream, they sit on her porch, and during the course of conversation she tries to convince them that she was once young. They find the idea ludicrous. When I read the book, I was the age of those children, and the idea was as new to me as it was to them. I remain loyal to authors who introduce entirely new ideas to me.

I put Bradbury on my list of authors that everyone should read before they get too old--for most people who read, I'd say by age 25 you are likely to be too worldly, too jaded to be able to appreciate the work. I know I am. The books are almost irritating to me now--I tried to read Farenheit 451 last year when my daughter was reading it for English class, and I didn't get through it.

Other authors who share space on the read-'em-while-you're-young list include Taylor Caldwell, Ayn Rand, Howard Fast and C.S. Lewis. There are, on the other hand, some authors of "children's books" whose work I would recommend to anyone of any age. That list includes E.B. White, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and A.A. Milne.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Internet quizzes can be fun, but this is a seriously useful site, where you fill out a questionnaire about your characteristics and lifestyle and it tells you your "real age"--a backwards way of saying, your life expectancy.

What is most useful is that it is totally specific about what answers caused the number to go up or down, so you can adjust your lifestyle to see what effect that has on your "real age." I get the email newsletters--they are tailored to my specific profile, and they have been quite useful. I know enquiring minds want to know, so I'll report: my chronological age is 48.2; my "real age" is 43.2. I have healthy habits and good genes, but I could improve by eating more vegetables and whole grains. If I also started eating soy products regularly, I might live forever. Tofu burgers! I don't think I'm quite ready for that.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn

A young colleague from work gave me this book with a strong recommendation. The full title is Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit. A blurb on the cover quotes Jim Britell of the Whole Earth Review: "From now on I will divide the books I have read into two categories--the ones I read before Ishmael and those read after."

A telepathic gorilla is the main character. Our narrator is a young, self-styled "seeker." The book is an exposition of a philosophy that is offered as an antidote to the destructive worldview currently prevailing.

"You hear this fifty times a day. You can turn on the radio or the television and hear it every hour. Man is conquering the deserts, man is conquering the oceans, man is conquering the atom, man is conquering the elements, man is conquering outer space...and given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now." (p.73, p.84)

There were no brand new ideas in the book for me, but it helped me organize some of the ideas I got from East of Eden. The content is more important than the style, but it is well-organized and engaging.

If you are interested in a quick philosophical novel about ecology, you could do worse.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Communism and Christianity

Happy May Day!

Of course, May Day is a traditional spring festival in England, and probably other places too. But it is also International Labor Day, a day to celebrate working people and support them in their attempts to improve their working conditions, everyplace except the United States of America. The U.S. has its own special Labor Day, in September, to differentiate ourselves from the Godless Communists. I say, the cold war is over now, and we should rejoin the international community and celebrate Labor Day the same day as everybody else. Then we could use September for another birthday holiday--well, Eugene Debs's birthday is November 5, maybe that's close enough.

I didn't have time to think about this blog today because I went straight from work to my Bible study group. I could think a long time and not come up with anything as good as this, from Paul's letter to the Hebrews, chapter 13, verse 1-3, labeled in the New International Bible as "Concluding Exhortations:"

Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

...Grace be with you all.