Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Great Britain Schools Its Wayward Child In the Ways of Empire

Now that it's becoming fairly clear that the Brits are leading us out of the finance mess (never, I mean never, elect a President who cannot manage the ownership of a baseball team), I found these contrasting stories quite telling:

The Right Thing (so far): "Simpson 'Expects Sack from BBC'"

The Wrong Thing: "Buckley's 'Sorry, Dad' Piece Leads to Exit"

The news about Buckley underlines the fact that it is increasingly impossible (if not already and actually impossible) for us as a nation to engage in political dialogue and dissent based on analysis of the issues at stake. Subscribers, outraged by Buckley's column, have apparently been cancelling subscriptions en masse, the NIMBY approach to the ideals behind the First Amendment. To be fair, Buckley offered to resign his column; it should be to the great shame of the National Review that they accepted his offer.

Funny that the BBC has taken the stance that the views of a respected journalist ought to be, you know, respected.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Old Bike

There it sits, the Schwinn that was my ride for years, not spared the indignity of being seen with flat tires, cracked sidewalls, and rust. Since this photo was taken, when I was going to list it for a dollar on Craig's List, I have pumped up the tires (the tubes, amazingly, are intact) and scrubbed some of the rust from the frame and parts, and hatched a much more foolhardy plan: perhaps I can turn it into an Xtracycle. As I noted in a rambling comment on Carbon Trace, the frame is a very sturdy one and the fact that I could not carry an Xtracycle up the three flights of stairs (see apartment building visible in the bike photo for the kind of stairs we're talking about) is no deterrent to this strange dream of keeping my longtime bike with me. Refurbishing, even without the Xtracycle free radical attachment, would be costly, which is why I bought a new bike instead in the first place. I don't need two bikes; I've got a rack and panniers on the new one, but still, the idea is taking on a life of its own. I keep the old tires full now, waiting.
That bike and I, we went places together.

Post Scriptum: Listening to a bit of Elvis Costello, as what could be more appropriate after McCain got his American History wrong ? So, here are the lyrics, by J.B. Lenoir, that Costello croons and rocks in the sadly apt "Eisenhower Blues." Music here.

Hey everybody, I was talkin' to you
I ain't tellin' you jivin', this is the natural truth
Mm mm mm, I got them Eisenhower blues
Thinkin' about me and you, what on earth are we gonna do?

My money's gone, my fun is gone
The way things look, how can I be here long?
Mm mm mm, I got them Eisenhower blues
Thinkin' about me and you, what on earth are we gonna do?

Taken all my money, to pay the tax
I'm only givin' you people, the natural facts
I only tellin' you people, my belief
Because I am headed straight, on relief
Mm mm mm, I got them Eisenhower blues
Thinkin' about me and you, what on earth are we gonna do?

Ain't go a dime, ain't even got a cent
I don't even have no money, to pay my rent
My baby needs some clothes, she needs some shoes
Peoples I don't know what, I'm gonna do
Mm mm mm, I got them Eisenhower blues
Thinkin' about me and you, what on earth are we gonna do?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I'm Back

Whew. That was close. I almost became a regular blogger back there in August. I've been so busy, happily so, adjusting to the new job and trying to get into a rhythm of biking to work. I seem to have had the opposite problem of John at Cycling in Wichita, who was having trouble with cooler temperatures; the heat was getting to me. No reason to sweat, the slow bike movement claims, unless, you know, your ride involves going uphill on the home commute and it's a humid 80+. So I waited. We also had some fierce weather, as in lightning almost every afternoon, but the idea of biking in remained a siren song. Now, I've had some beautiful mornings, and I'm fairly addicted to mornings in the high 60's-low 70's, the ride up past beautiful farmhouses and green lawns (I settled on a longer route than the one I filmed, to avoid the car-whizzing road on the most direct route). I'm out at about 6:45, and here is the thing I enjoy most amid the dewy fog rising off of the green all around me, the dark lifting to orange, and it's a funny and poignant sight all at once: high-schoolers waiting for their buses. I turn the bike out onto the street, and halfway up the block are a gaggle of children in uniform, mostly African-American, who by now are getting used to me, but for whom I provided quite a spectacle at first glance. Adults, of course, are so ridiculous. Giggles, "where she goin' ?"; "hey, it's bike lady." Up and over the hill, where the road opens to farms and houses set back behind trees, it's mostly white kids, two or lone standing at street signs, already dressed to perfection in the costume of their tribe. My favorite is two punk girls: the tunics, the tights, the leather boots, gelled hair, black eyeliner, lacquered lips and nails, who never fail to stare in open-mouthed wonder and disdain as I ride past. They look so awkward and assured all at once. I suppose the adjective is incongruous: me, with the cool of the air on my skin and the scent of morning making its way past my cappuccino fueled self, while they scan for the bus, anxious as if something might mar them before the yellow doors swing open and sweep them off to their world, backpacks and cellphones, lockers and rules, that beautiful and ruthless self-consciousness of teenagers, two of whom lean against the street post, snicker, and silently telegraph what the hell are you looking at ? But I see their eyes slide as the bike glides by, how freely it escapes the yellow behemoth coming up from behind as they await the hiss and the hot air of the unfolded doors and I ride on.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Pink Bike Lady

Many thoughts, no time. But did read a marvelous story, found via EcoVelo, of the pink bike lady. According to the comments section, not only has this woman travelled the world via her (heavy) bike, but she is a daily commuter as well. I just liked the story and the way the writer thinks she is a nut and then realizes that she is "serious." Still pondering that, and gender showing here, admit that I think of "serious" as a guy word, when used to indicate an intense and/or highly competent level of doing something.

Also found The Practical Pedal, a free print/online bike commuter magazine out of Bozman, MT. It doesn't look as if they put out a summer issue this year, but the blog is updated. Good stuff and a sense of humor. Alas, I've never been to Bozman, but had the pleasure of spending about six weeks living in Missoula one summer. I went all around that town on a bike found in a friend's garage. Good memories, there. Great town. There was a wonderful bookstore (I still have a bookmark from it) called Freddy's Feed and Read, gone now. Memo to self: find and scan in bookmark. I know where it is: in a copy of Janet Kauffman's Places in the World a Woman Can Walk, which I bought there. Now, where is the book ? It really is amazing that I can remember the places where I've purchased books: the town, the stores, the light, what the shelving looked like. Needless to say, BNB (Barnes & Noble, Borders) purchases all run together in the way airports do during a long trip. Rambling here, going to bed.

I need some serious sleep. And I'm serious about sleeping.
PS. For those of you who cannot stand the anticipation, I bought the silver teapot. It has arrived. Photo soon.

You Go, Girl

I was going to write a short sentence excusing myself from blogging these past few days due to sunshine, sushi, and Campari over ice. I came across this: "Armed 85 Year Old Woman Makes Intruder Call Cops". I grew up in a house where four rifles hung on a gun rack above the piano, where I learned to target shoot by the time I was five (a skill long gone, though the cute photo of me in my fluffy pink winter jacket holding the gun endures), yet I do not own a gun, think that too many people have too many guns and that said guns aren't meant for hunting, and yet... my first thought was approval and admiration. I don't know if I admire more the fact that she held the burglar at bay or that she had the guts to own a gun in the first place. They say you should never carry anything for protection that can be turned against you, but then, you can be strangled with a shoelace. Well done, Leda Smith. You go girl. Remember to reload.

Same to this woman, 93, who actually fired at ---but missed--- a burglar in her house. In their infinite wisdom, the CA police will not charge the woman. Well...yeah.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Biking and What Matters

The post on AWBs (Academics Who Bike) has brought some new readers (hello there !) and some delightful conversation. I also must stop watching the Olympics and go to bed before two. So, I was visiting Post Secret while waiting through a boring stretch of volley ball, and came across this postcard, which I've appropriated (after properly referencing, you should kindly note).

My derrière is fine (I've been told), but a sentiment and a benefit not to be overlooked. And a new clue for how to spot an AWB on campus.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Stolen Manifesto

Found at Wheel Revolution. Evoked forgotten time when this was posted on my refrigerator. (Blogs are the new fridge doors ? In some cases, dear reader.) Some specifics are for men. Who cares ? Goes with the current career change/biking/meaning of life themes on my mind now. I love "Be joyful though you have considered all the facts."

The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

By Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Academics Who Bike

AWB's, we'll call them, because BA's or AB's (Biking Academics/ Academics Biking) takes away their Ph.D.'s. I wonder if this is a new phenomenon, or if academic types who already have blogs (and bikes) will be starting up new, subsidiary blogs to accommodate their interest in bike culture and bike commuting. (I should add that I mean "subsidiary" in the business sense, not in the sense of "less important.") On the few biking blogs that I read, Bike Commuters and Bike Portland, a large number of the bike commuters, as was humorously remarked on Bike Commuters, seem to be IT people, not a few of whom work at universities. So it is good to see some from the academic side with biking blogs: John, of Blog Meridian, who has been known to drop by these pages, now writes of Cycling in Wichita, and a Springfieldian (MO), has just launched Carbon Trace. You can see I have a really large sample here, but that is not going to stop me from announcing a new phenomenon (academics do not call it a "trend" unless they are statisticians), the blogs of academics who bike. Based upon my sample (cough), AWBs appear to have a strong desire to compartmentalize, hence a separate blog for this facet of their existence, yet express an equally or more powerful will to integrate the actual biking (but not the blog) into various facets of their lives, e.g. it's not '"about the bike;" it's about bike culture and environmental and social concerns, and about not getting squished. Well, okay, sometimes it is about the bike, but not in that spandexy sense. I can actually see the rationale behind the separate blogs, as this is something that has already been happening: each blog attracts its own community, so establishing a new blog allows one to make contact with and link up with those who have those same interests, or as Andrew Cline of Carbon Trace put it, he did not want to go "off topic" in his other blog, which is about his academic subject. Since my blog has no topic and my career is a secret, I have not branched off. So I have started a new section in the sidebar: academic bike blogs (ABBs ? No.). I expect that at least one of the subjects of this post will have suggestions as to how to enlarge the list. And then we shall study these creatures in their natural habitat.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"This Is Not 1968"

Fifty-four seconds in, this gets surreal. Does she hear herself ?

Choose one to complete Condi's thought process:
a) but if it's not your neighbor, it's okay. No contiguity, no problem.
b) sure, this happens in LebIsrealastine all the time, but they don't know where their borders are.
c) Iraq ? WMD. National Security. Oil. Not Czechoslovakia.
d) What thought process ?

Monday, August 04, 2008

Route to Work

All of those videos at Copehagenize.com, Amsterdamize, etc., have: a) made me wish I lived in the Pacific Northwest again; b) made me really think about the enormous difference between suburban cycling (where the best roads go nowhere) and the kind of city cycling in those videos, where it seems that real stores you need are actually in the town you live in and not on the periphery of it all. With that in mind, I rigged up my video camera to my handle bars and decided to let it roll while I rode my bicycle along my route to work. Since it was Sunday, I wasn't going to work, but I have been riding it every once and a while at different times of day to see how feasible it will be to bike commute a few days a week when my new job starts up. It was a beautiful evening here, no humidity, in the low 80's - high 70's; nice breeze. I am a complete neophyte biker-vlogger, hence my camera's riggings did not prevent the picture from bouncing more than it had to at times, and there is abrupt editing where the camera suddenly rose to the trees or dove to the pavement before I could steady it. The video ends at a stop sign at a stand of pine trees, beyond which lies my new and much happier career. I'd suggest you turn the sound up: the sound of cars whizzing by at speeds higher than marked contrasts with one beautiful and quieter segment of the trip where crickets can be heard in the background. The roads in this video are what would be called quite decent for cycling: there is a wide shoulder in most cases, though I aim the camera low at some points to show how sewer grates and other obstacles can cause one to swerve. If I am lucky enough to have readers from abroad, I should point out that none of these roads have signs or markings asking drivers to share the road with bicycles. A shoulder is not a lane, but a buffer between the car lanes and the land. Recently, drivers have started swerving onto shoulders without signalling in order to answer their cell phones, which they cannot use on the road unless they have bluetooth headsets and "hands free" operation. At one point, you can see a very long and beautiful sidewalk that runs parallel to the road, but not a single pedestrian is to be seen on it (or on my whole route). Enjoy--- and once again, apologies for the quality. I'll learn. Up too late again. Tea. Editing the [bleep] video.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sunday Afternoon Tea

Things with me for years have been falling apart. Some weeks ago, I quite comically (because this ended well), went straight through the bottom of my canvas deck chair while balancing my MacBook Pro and the morning's cappuccino. This morning, the second of the set made a funny ripping sound just in time for me to avoid a repeat. So I had to think... how long have I had these chairs, so reliable that I hadn't given a thought to their age ? Oh, since about 1991. Last night, I found more water than condensation would warrant in the burner well of the stove after I'd made my cup of tea. I confess, I knew that lime deposits from previous places had weakened the seal around the spout, though scrupulous I was about cleaning them off. The spout had not been thoroughly water tight for years. I love the shape of this particular kettle, seen at left in a photo whose angles perhaps best reflect my mental state when I really need a cup of tea. I intended to have this kettle until it became a burden for my next of kin, but it has now become unwaterworthy, so what to do ? Its shape and sheen has made it something of an objet d'art for the kitchen, a good thing since the kettle is never off the stove. While I may look into a possible repair, in truth, it suffered a few scratches from the last move, so replacement may be best. The pot is no longer made. I apparently just missed an auction on ebay (perhaps theirs was leaky, too ?), but after some sleuthing for another stainless steel option of suitable objet status, found instead a kettle of orange enamel and sufficiently swoopy modernist lines, above. I am very drawn to this euphoria-inducing shade of orange. Then I lost the link to where I'd found it, and having retraced my steps, also hit upon this stainless steel beauty with bakelite handles (left). I am taken with both. And that, for the moment, is that. I have not made a decision. Both are unavailable locally, so I will have to continue with a leaky kettle until I decide and the UPS truck arrives. I can manage, if I fill the kettle to below the spout line to boil, but pouring involves overflow. Yes, I have pots and a microwave, but afternoon tea around here is practically a ritual, and proper ritual instruments are de rigueur. I note that the spout of the stainless steel pot seems of a piece with the pot, whereas the retro orange one looks to have a soldered spout, which is the issue with the current pot. Well, out into the day to clear my head and do some grocery shopping. Maybe a bike ride once the afternoon heat lifts.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Of Books and Bloodsuckers

Being a night owl myself, it was only natural that I became the volunteer to ferry my niece across the sea of asphalt which is our state to a book party for the midnight (ahem, 12:01 am) release of Meyer's Breaking Dawn. I've not yet read the previous three books chronicling the ---chaste--- romantic entanglements of teen Bella, new to her school, with the also teenage vampire, Edward, aargh, never mind, just read this bit from Patty Campbell's summary of the first book, Twilight, on the Amazon.com website:

Meyer has achieved quite a feat by making this scenario completely human and believable. She begins with a familiar YA premise (the new kid in school), and lulls us into thinking this will be just another realistic young adult novel. Bella has come to the small town of Forks on the gloomy Olympic Peninsula to be with her father. At school, she wonders about a group of five remarkably beautiful teens, who sit together in the cafeteria but never eat. As she grows to know, and then love, Edward, she learns their secret. They are all rescued vampires, part of a family headed by saintly Carlisle, who has inspired them to renounce human prey. For Edward's sake they welcome Bella, but when a roving group of tracker vampires fixates on her, the family is drawn into a desperate pursuit to protect the fragile human in their midst. The precision and delicacy of Meyer's writing lifts this wonderful novel beyond the limitations of the horror genre to a place among the best of YA fiction. (Ages 12 and up)

I understand that a werewolf rival for Bella, Jacob, eventually crops up, offering her a chance for children and a more normal life (I am not making this up).
Yes, that "YA" is young adult, and yes, the 12 and up (to about eighteen) set of mostly teenage girls was eagerly in line for books, costume contests, trivia contests, etc., from about eight pm on. Some had on tee-shirts, proclaiming "Team Edward" or "Team Jacob," to declare which of Bella's suitors they thought should win out. Harry Potter fever had never quite grabbed my niece, though she reads everything in sight and by age thirteen can complain of "overplotted" novels while swatting at her cellphone, so this was the first "release party" we had been to. Another girl wore a tee on which she had inscribed, "Wizards are so '07," so some have moved on. The point of this post ? The point, dear reader, is that I am very tired. It was also wonderful to be around so much youth and energy. I loved the way they all found each other, met friends of friends and saved places in line for total strangers, admired each other's homemade costumes and buttons, and were just doubly energetic and doubly as patient as the adults around them. We were among the first ten of so in the door, and when we came out, those waiting on line cheered and whooped. My niece got in the car, I snapped on the reading light, she breathlessly read the first page to me (of the second chapter; the first was included at the end of the last book), opened her cellphone, sent a text with a photo of the book in her hands, called a friend and practically screamed "I AM HOLDING IT !" I dropped her off at one-ish, haven't had a text message all day. I assume she is finished by now, maybe finally asleep. A glimpse of only a small part of the readers in waiting is on the right.

While we were all happily seated, a man I'd guess to be in his fifties cycled up to this cycle-unfriendly strip mall to take advantage of the bookstore's extended hours, and parked his 27 speed (?) orange Raleigh right next to the concrete post I was using as a perch (not being a parent, I did not have the lawnchairs pictured above at ready in the trunk just-for-events-like-this). He left it unlocked and without a word to anyone, for long enough to make his way through the crowd to an iced coffee and a book, long enough for me to have taken this picture and put away my phone before he emerged, carrying said items. As he climbed back on, I uttered, in spite of myself, "You didn't even lock it." "What ?" he turned and asked. O, me and my mouthy brain, I thought, repeating what I'd said. "Oh," he assured, "I figured with all you nice folks out here it would be okay." Then he looked at me and the gaggles on the sidewalk filling out their trivia packets. "Well," he added, "You little vampires have a good night."

Friday, August 01, 2008

I Feel Better Now

I keep waiting for the NYTimes to tell me stop cribbing its photos, but hey, I must be doing them some kind of favor by picking up on their stories. As if in answer to my despair of July 31st. Now that's what I was talking about !

Late Night Note

It's morning, actually. Very close to the time that, in the old job, I'd be getting up. Profound psychological theories of subconscious revenge/compensation aside, as well as the fact that I am on a vacation of sorts, I must stop having a nice, sugary, stiff cup of tea at eleven. Eek.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Way The Future Used To Be

Last night, perhaps because I had watched this video of two people lucky enough to enjoy a summer ride in Amsterdam, chatting about the bike culture in that city and in Copenhagen, I wondered where the future had gone.
I still was mulling over thoughts I'd had since my previous post on the surveillance creeping into our lives (proudly Foucault-free, and that took work); that kind of Orwellian future is more than fulfilling its promise daily, but what about the other one ? No one would be hungry. People would be sheltered, the old cared for, our land used well. I suddenly pictured myself old and simultaneously felt time running out and against me. One day, we will, no doubt, have high speed trains carrying us throughout the country as a matter of course. Roads and paths and trails will make it possible for us to bike and walk and otherwise locomote around our towns and cities without having to start up the car each time. I felt a real sense of despair for this country, for possibilities lost, resources mispent, potential of what is still a young country unfulfilled and sidetracked. A few months ago, I was in line at the drug store when a quite elderly woman mentioned to the pharmacist that she was really debating continuing a medication or not, since the price kept going up (she did buy it). When I came up to the counter, the pharmacist admiringly mentioned that the woman was ninety-five years old. On principle, I thought, if you make it to ninety, you ought to get a break. You should get your medicine free, your property taxes abated. By eighty, you should be getting a pretty steep discount. Proper care and comfort at the end of life should be a given, not a privilege. The theme of this post, I suppose, is that it would really take very little for us to make life easier for each other, wouldn't it ? Alas, that future has not yet arrived, but in glimpses at life in one place or another, we see that it is possible now. Ever the optimist, if I make it to ninety or so, I fully intend to haul myself, my artificial hips, vat grown organs and longevity-enhanced cats onto those clean-running high velocity trains if I have to crawl off my Segwacycle.

Afterthoughts: I really debated posting this at all. I don't usually rant, and have done something akin to that in this post and the last. And I am fully aware of the intracies of argument and political theories that lie behind what I have casually presented here. It was the despair and the hope raised by the particulars that was the catalyst here (are you really telling me that we can't make a wide shoulder on every road built in America and mark it for non-car use: pedestrians, bikes, non/motorized wheelchairs, slow scooters, and, yes, Segways ? I mean, how hard could that really be ??). Okay. Enough. To bed. Il faut cultiver notre jardin. (Sorry.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In fact, we don't think choice is a good idea...

I think I'll go for a bike ride, let the wind blow through my hair, walk barefoot across the grass and watch the kids skateboarding in the local park, maybe then go home and have a nice onion bagel (not whole wheat or multi-grain)with Parkay on top. Ah, the crimes and misdemeanors that used to pass for normal life.
I remember telling some pre-teen cousins how great it is in the summer to ride down a country road at dusk, the cool from the trees brushing your skin and the breezes lifting the hair off your neck. At last, one of them ventured, meekly and disapprovingly, "that's before they had helmets, right ?" Now that it's tantamount to child abuse to let an unsunscreened child go barefoot anywhere, and skateboarding is forbidden anywhere in public except in special parks that look curiously like oversized dog runs, you'd think that we'd be catching on. Only a matter of time before we make children of ourselves. And children don't get choices; these are introduced gradually, usually per the just-enough-rope-to- (almost)-hang-yourself, until the increasingly delayed factor of personal responsibility makes adulthood a reality. And so, the way to limit real human freedom, to ultimately make people forget all about it while thinking they enjoy it every time they choose between twenty brands of canned peas or laptops, is first to reduce real human freedom to consumer choice, and then to take away that choice altogether. The reduction of RHF is at the moment heavily dependent on selling human beings the idea that being monitored is something that is done for you, not to you. Since this is what the current generation of parents ---and I mean that current generation in the news, you know my favorite paper----, "helicoptering," e-mailing summer camp because Susie didn't get her favorite juice, going to the dean over Timmy's first B+ since fifth grade, building game rooms at home so they don't go out (yes), calling their adult children's bosses on the phone (yes), considers healthy and necessary, it has been very easy to reverse engineer the process, and reduce them to a state they associate with safety, and worse, moral superiority. Or as one twenty-something, who is a thirty-something by now, put it to me during a discussion of privacy rights and data collection some years ago: "I don't worry about that stuff; I'm not doing anything wrong."

So, I could not help but notice the pattern I've just outlined make itself so clearly obvious in this AP article over the weekend. Note the phrases in bold especially, then, gee, I don't know, go ride your bike on the sidewalk to your local cafe and have a nice, cool martini before your insurance company offers to put a probe in your liver. For a discount, of course...

Insurer offers discounts to drivers with monitors
July 28, 2008 4:15 PM EDT

TRENTON, N.J. - A high-tech monitoring device makes it possible to reduce insurance premiums for drivers who avoid jackrabbit starts and slam-on-the-brakes stops, an insurance company says.The catch? Bad drivers who take a chance on the program may wind up paying a surcharge instead.Auto insurer Progressive Corp. has begun offering its drivers the chance to cut their costs based on how they actually drive, not only on their age, credit score and number of tickets or accidents on their record.The monitoring device - sort of like a black box for cars - tells Progressive what time people drive, how many miles they've driven, how fast they accelerate and how often they hit the brakes. It does not track where people go.Under Progressive's program, customers can earn a first-term discount of up to 10 percent just for signing up. When they renew their policy, their rate could decrease by up to 60 percent based on their driving habits. But it could also increase by up to 9 percent.Richard Hutchinson, a Progressive general manager, said the program is designed for drivers who are consistent and safe."We want people to know that the program is not right for everyone," Hutchinson said."It's for people who drive at low-risk times of day and who keep alert for others on the road," he said. "They don't make fast lane changes or follow too closely behind other drivers so they don't have to overreact or slam on the brakes."

Progressive began the program in Alabama in late June. It's also been made available in Minnesota, Oregon and Michigan. A national rollout of the program will continue through 2009.It starts in New Jersey on Aug. 8. The company will be the first to offer such a program in the Garden State, whose motorists have the highest auto insurance rates in the nation at an average of $1,184 per vehicle.Other companies also recently began offering similar options.GMAC Insurance and OnStar vehicle services last year started a new program that allows motorists to earn an extra discount based on the miles they drive."The consumer is really being given an opportunity to potentially reduce their auto insurance premium in exchange for giving their auto insurer access to information that currently isn't available to them," said Michael Barry, a vice president at the Insurance Information Institute.The concept has been utilized elsewhere, too. After conducting a pilot scheme beginning in 2004, Norwich Union launched a pay-as-you-drive insurance program in 2006 in Great Britain.

Several insurers in recent years have offered monitoring of a particularly vulnerable population of drivers - teenagers. Under American Family Insurance Co.'s program, for example, a camera records audio and video images of the road and the teen driver when motion sensors detect swerving, hard braking, sudden acceleration or a collision.There's an extra benefit to monitored driving programs - they help cut traffic congestion and pollution, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. But Charles Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, told The Star Ledger of Newark for Monday's editions that the group has worries about privacy ."We see this as kind of a creeping abduction of people's data," he said. "Basically, once they collect that data, it belongs to the insurance company. That's a big problem."Progressive spokeswoman Tara Chiarell disagreed, saying the customer owns the data and Progressive doesn't sell it or share it. The company uses it only for claims purposes. She also said Progressive has never been subpoenaed by a court to submit pay-as-you-drive data.Customers can access their data on a secure, password-protected Web site, which allows them to get an up-to-date view of their driving habits and how those habits are affecting their rate, she said.AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman David Weinstein said if a link between electronic monitoring and accident probability becomes clear, they would like to see all drivers' insurance premiums based on that information, "not just select drivers who grant their permission."

The Word Field, Deconstructed

Courtesy of something called Wordle, the thoughts on this page reduced (?) to color and frequency (=size), courtesy of some semi-randomizing algorithm. Common words are removed.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Nor Yet Asleep With Our Lamp Unfurnished..."

Beth, the author of The Cassandra Pages (see sidebar), lost her father-in-law on Friday. He was ninety-nine years old, lucid until just about his very end. She has written of him often and well, the posts about him collected under the title of The Fig and the Orchid. A long and fascinating life, that, alas, proves once again how very short and precious life is indeed. No orchids, but almond blossoms here, as Beth spoke several times of how he longed for the green almonds of the land of his youth.

Image via Wikipedia Commons.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Having A Life is No Excuse

Welcome to any who have found their way here via John B's blog, Cycling in Wichita. I'm days late in getting to the welcome, so apologies if you've been circling in a holding pattern, waiting for a new post. Can anyone translate that sign in the last post ? (Those photos open up much larger in a new window, you know.) John B apparently has a life and three blogs: I merely have a life that, of late, has gone from tumbling from one cesspool of exhaustion to the next to one in which I have rested, deservedly, I hope and think, on some cushiony pockets of sloth. But he is right: I see bikes everywhere. Unless the NYTimes city blog (see previous post) is playing with my head, I really need to get out more, because I see bikes everywhere only in one place. Here is another vehicle one doesn't see often (or at all) in the wastelands between city and country.

Why, O why, I wonder, do we not build for to accomodate walkers, bikers, segways, wheelchairs, etc. Could it be that it suits the infrastructure that we keep off the streets ? I have a whole big post tangent to this topic coming up. Stay tuned. Am off to the bike shop for few things, then to the garden before it gets too hot to do anything.

One note to do with biking, and then another about something that is probably worthy of a separate post all together, but which I had best write down before I forget. First: my area has police on bikes. This is a surprise, since I have never seen them in my part of town before, but ran into them, almost literally, the other week while they paused on the road across from a small park/playground, of necessity standing on the small and rutted shoulder between curb and street. It was dark. Though it looked as if their bikes had lights mounted on the handle bars, they were not turned on. They were wearing no reflective clothing at all. I understand the need for stealth (if that's what it was about), but it was all I could do not to roll down the window and give them a lecture on how not to get killed. I felt about eighty, imagining in my head what I did not do, as I drove too close to, and then past, what I at first thought were tree branches moving in the wind (no, cops on bikes): "Sonny, a helmet won't help you if a car drives into you and across your midriff. Here, Sonny, I've got some reflective tape in the car. Let's at least get some around your wrists and ankles so that you can get home alive to your mother..." If I live so long and keep my brain to boot, it will be fun to do this when I'm old. At present, after almost circling back, I decided not to risk being harassed for the rest of my existence for telling representatives of the peace and safety realm what they surely already know.

Completely unrelated item: as many of you must also, I can see the names of a number of wireless networks in the area when I connect to my own (my computer shows anything within range, locked or not). Of late, a new one has appeared. Its name is "White Power." This disturbs me to no end. I wonder if: a) they are too stupid to know everyone can see it; b) perfectly aware that everyone in this diverse community, which includes a number of ethnic groups as well as nationalities, can see it, and they are offering up this ugliness to affront and to intimidate.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Hidden Bicycles

Okay, one not so hidden, and, as is evidenced from my last post, I've got biking on my mind lately (and happy for the company: thank you, John B., for your comment !). Both of these pictures come from today's NYTimes. The first, of the not-too-hidden-bicycle genre, is from the international section containing an article on the rise of the Dalit politician Kumari Mayawati, pictured on the posters shown in the market. At the center of these posters is a flag of a bicycle and a raised hand. Nothing to do with the story, I'm sure, but I'd like to know what's up with the bicycle. I can't read the script or the language, and would be grateful to know what it says.

Next up, from the City Room blog (but found in print in today's Metro section), is a picture of a mural, already literally whitewashed ---sometimes the metaphor is so literally true that it is painful--- because the rat signalled an anti-snitching campaign that the city has been trying to overcome. To the left of the rat, is, I believe, an abstract image of a cyclist, maybe a messenger, crouched low over the handlebars. My primitive photo editing did allow me to add a big yellow arrow pointing at what would be the cyclist's nose.
From there, you can see the shape of the helmet atop his head, and in the strong vertical line to the right, a strong, squared arch of the shoulders and jacket/messenger bag caught in motion, the legs and body folded over the frame of bike. Do you see it, too ? Alas, gone with the rat. Instead of painting over all of this art, couldn't our dear censors simply have found the artist and/or changed the caption of the noosed rodent's stop sign ? "Stop Poverty ?" "Stop Strangling Free Expression ?" Or with a few brush strokes, transformed the slipknot to a nice tie (rat race and all), and added a simple "Stop for Bicycles ?" I hate it when good art is wasted. Damn.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bespoke Money

Wow, it has been a long time. All unintentional, as almost every day I have thought of something to post, but then have fallen asleep or into a book as I have (now, finally), segued into a new phase of my life. I now have a very short commute (a little over nine miles, round trip), and last summer's purchase, the incredible gas-saving car. It is not a hybrid, but gets 38/40 easily. I could also, as it turns out, bike to work. So courtesy of Bike Commuter, I plugged the numbers into the mileage/carbon footprint/money to be saved calculator ----under commuter tools---- and assuming that I would be steady, but lazy (I picked 3 days a week for frequency), you'd think with the short commute and the wonder car I would not save much money, but, wow, was I wrong:
Your daily gas savings is $4.95 dollars and 22.85 lbs of CO2 will NOT be added to the atmosphere
Your weekly gas savings would be $14.85 dollars and 68.54 lbs of CO2 will NOT be added to the atmosphere
Your monthly gas savings would be $59.40 dollars and 274.15 lbs of CO2 will NOT be added to the atmosphere
Your yearly gas savings would be $772.20 dollars and 3,564.00 lbs of CO2 will NOT be added to the atmosphere
Sorry. I know that these numbers should be in green. Still, I am greedily impressed. If I add a fourth day, I would save over a thousand a year. A thousand. Now, this is important, because I took a pay cut for a happier life, and in the back of my mind, I've been scheming about how to make up the difference. My new and happier career will be rather all-consuming, so I've been looking at ways of simply cutting costs. Geez S, she cried, Holy Moly. This is really an almost painless way to do better. Now, don't get me wrong: I have a strong love and/or use for new electronics, sushi dinners and lunches, a good drink, dry cleaning, espresso. So I am not in a dire situation at all. Luckily, my question has been about how to maintain my current lifestyle without, if you follow me, cutting back on it. Here, I thought, is a perfect example of how "nickel and dime stuff" can turn quite substantial. It would mean, even with a short commute, that if you did not have a bike, it would pay for itself over the course of a year. So every time I bike to work round trip, I pay myself 4.95 into a special account (or whatever the daily rate is, per the calculator), and by the end of the year, I have quite a premium in addition to shapely calves. Nice.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


This morning, I looked at, or rather, actually saw, the towel rack in my bathroom, which contains no towels (they are flung over the shower rod), but, I am ashamed to confess, a week's worth of work clothes folded over the rack each afternoon and topped with a successive layer, Monday on the bottom, Friday on the top. The intent is to get them off as quickly as possible and hang them later after sorting what needs to be laundered. Alas, there is quite a bit of archeological psychology that could be done. At the very back (bottom), forlorn and askew, is a long gray skirt, one of my favorites, a piece of blended three season wool that usually never makes it back into the closet because it is often unearthed from where it rests to be worn again. Now hanging at a steep angle that clearly reveals its longtime placement on the rack, it hangs with its hem undone on one side, the threads still in place. It was unhemmed by a boot buckle. How long has it been there, I wondered. It has been, if the previous photo did not give this away, a period in my life where overwhelmed with uncertainty, responsibility, and fatigue, I have let things at home fall where they may. I only make way for myself in the moment: clear newspapers to read new ones, run the dishwasher to have dishes, sleep because I simply can't stay awake.
Downed hems are a giveaway: the surest sign of neglect of self ---not of appearance, that's been, for what is worth, kept up--- it has been the inner space that has been in disarray, favorite things, plants, pursuits, pushed aside for the "later" that feels as elusive as a gasp for air that is never quite deep enough. How long, I think I was asking myself as I gazed at the hanging hem, has it been since I could really breathe ? Years. And yet today, I can exhale. Several days ago, just in time for summer, came the news that the chance I had taken has paid off: I will be leaving behind the work I have referred to as "the option" and returning to the field (the life) I know and prefer. It is only on this blog, and to a few people close to me that I have been able to complain about being employed in a position I have not at all liked. Somewhere, sometime, I will write about the class difference, or maybe life experience difference, that fed into various responses to my dilemma. All I can say is that if you've had your dream job/profession, and you are forced to live outside of it without finding something of equal force, it is hard to be the person you were. I fought to get back, and when it seemed beyond reach, here it is: I am returned from exile, to different borders, but returned nonetheless.
The skirt is going to the tailor soon. It needs to be taken up.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Swamped Buddha as Rorschach

I am sitting on my porch with my legs stretched out in front of me into the sun, listening to an album by Lucy Kaplansky. I have a headache making its way around my eyeballs in spite of the previously mentioned Saturday breakfast of cappuccinos and Excedrin. The opening song, "Tides," is very powerful, or perhaps it only echoes the thoughts that have preoccupied me of late. I thought long and hard about actually reporting the song I was listening to when I began this entry because of the potential for misunderstanding the coincidence (and it is) for a pun in bad taste with the photo also posted here, which is, of course, an AP photo from Rangoon. These past weeks have seen earth come to life this spring in such violent ways: Burma, the earthquakes in China, the tornadoes ripping through the midwest. And here, I won't keep you in suspense for your Rorschach: what do you see in the photo ? Ruin or something spared from it ? Rain, flood, and temple roof all around it, the Buddha, still upright and apparently unharmed, seems to offer its gaze of calm to the landscape. Perhaps my interpretation originates in some deeply founded psychological premise I have about life. Perhaps it is how things look at the moment. I have, after all and somewhat inadvertently, done something that has left the outcome of my circumstances precipitous (that is, dangerously balanced between one extreme and another). No bodhisattva, I am unfortunately at one with the forces that threaten to both rend and repair my life, by which I mean the life I lead, and not, thankfully, my physical self. I have never been one to toss it all for something else if there is to be a gap between the former and the latter. It has been convenient, though, to construct a narrative that might sound that way, say, to an interviewer, to explain certain sudden movements. In other words, I can construct a narrative of myself that makes me seem like a risk-taker. Not an overly bold one, mind you, but one enough to: a) be apparently convincing and moderately impressive; b) make me wonder if it might not be the true way to see things.
On the other hand, when I did these things I never except for once consciously described it to myself as risk-taking behavior (unless one counts my profession in general, which, trust me, is not usually described in this way). No, I thought, and do predominantly think, of the things I did as being compelled by circumstance. Not that I did not have choices within those circumstances, but the circumstances themselves were not what I would have liked or made. Attribution theory has its limits. So here I am (not). I wonder if, as we approach or enter into middle age, that a biological craving for security begins to make its way into our consciousnesses, much as the urge to leave home and get out on one's own predominates in one's teens and twenties. Perhaps it is simply the calculus of age and time: at forty and beyond, there are only so many fresh starts and do-overs left. That sense of the infinite possibilities of lives that could be led has diminished somewhat. But certainly not courage ? People who know me well, those onto whom no narrative of my life need be foisted, have often called me strong. Perhaps the circumstances that have made me so or seem so (my first thought is often what choice did I have) are akin to the overtraining of an athlete: now, as I await the outcome of certain possibilities, a phone call or an e-mail sets off in me a feeling I never really had before: a weakness in my chest (not the rapid heartbeats many talk about, but a feeling as if my heart has suspended its work for a minute or so), weakness of the limbs, a quick-gripping, all encompassing sweep of fear. Knowing that there is action that can be taken always makes me feel better in any circumstances, so it has been a strange time of generating even more possibilities "just in case," pondering, with seriousness and a profound sense of the finite, the possible lives that still may be left to led. While I pursue them, I have realized that I begin to ponder how logistics for taking care of what I now hold dear (people, pets, precious things) would make possibility x or y or z hard/less appealing/impossible/tough. Talking yourself out of it, in layman's terms, but so far, I have not., at least, completely. I was reading the blog of a young diplomat (here), who at one point says that he felt that when something wasn't going his way, he would only have to wait it out, and eventually, the tide would change. Of course, from what I read of the blog, this sentiment is not coming from someone who simply lets circumstances roll by or over him. But it gave me pause: I have no such confidence in tides, so to speak, or to put it more plainly, I have no faith in a predictable rhythm of fortune, or, as I said many entries ago, that we get what we deserve. Earthquakes, tidal waves, tornadoes as proof. Randomness is a bitch. I must admit my hand in creating my current condition. I set this in motion and now am left to wonder if I will get through what I have wrought. It is a strange time: the sun is out, the music plays, my refrigerator runs and is well stocked. I eat and am warm at night and in comfort under the sun. The cats play and sleep under the covers. Worry, not tragedy, consumes me. For that, there should be some candle to light, some small flower of thanks to place in front of what is unmoored.

For those who would like, here are the lyrics to "The Tide," but you need the voice behind them for the full effect. I can't say I identify with the little girl the narrator was, but the first two stanzas with their chorus are another story as are the last:

There are demons in the water
There are devils in the sea
There are dangers in the current
When the tide goes out of me

I could drink you under the table
I could drink you out of town
I could drink you off the planet
Drink myself into the ground


And I have nothing for you tonight
I have nothing for you tonight
I have nothing for you tonight
I have nothing for you

I was made to be a good girl
Carried buckets made of stone
Full of envy, full of sorrow
On a tightrope all alone

And all the time I was on fire
I burned with every stride
And now I see this anger
Is the horse I choose to ride

Now you say you want something nice from me
Well if you find it, take it, it's on me
In the meantime don't bother me
The tide has washed the nice from me


In the nothing are the voices
And the pictures of my life
In the nothing of the sky
Is an ocean made of light

In the nothing of my silence
Is a sad-eyed little girl
On a tightrope she is singing
As she passes through this world


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Alas for Joe Sorry

Just a short post tonight. No update on the "alms" except to say that its possibility is still afoot. No, this is to report that the blog I praised so highly several posts ago, Home for Tea, has gone dark: after getting a thank you for mentioning it from its pseudonymous author, I visited it several days later to find that it was open to "invited readers only." I was not among the invited, and there seemed to be no way to contact the author to ask for an invite. I have occasionally tried again, to be greeted with the same message. This evening, I found "this blog has been eliminated." I can only hope that the author has perhaps decided to write for print publication and is working away at the manuscript now. Darn: it was so well-written and funny. Where are you Joe Sorry ? I look forward to the novel one day.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

An Alms for What Was Seemingly Lost

"I seem to see a road; I seem to be on a road, walking. I seem to walk on a blacktop road that runs over a hill. The hill creates itself, a powerful suggestion. It creates itself, thickening with apparently solid earth and waving plants, with houses and browsing cattle, unrolling wherever my eyes go..." Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

Something has happened this week where in my own life the hill seemingly creating itself has, for a moment, offered itself as a lush and fertile landscape, alive to the wayfarer. It was good to feel that again, even though it unrolled only in glimpses and what may come of it is not clear.

I remember the mornings
the gray dewy quiet
the smell of the grass and the trees’ bark
the silence on the paths
coffee and the Paradox
of why I am not there.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

It's Here !

I am actually blogging from my XO. It came in a plain brown box that had the OLPC logo on the side, left on my porch by FedEx. Up and running in ten minutes after opening the box and inserting the battery. The keyboard is as tiny as advertised but I have thin fingers. it found an open wi-fi connection easily (mine is WPA and it can't handle that yet.) More as I progress...

Photo posted a bit later from my usual machine.

Update 22 March: I discovered that I have the latest build of the machine, so it handles WPA easily: all I had to do was to type the password for my Airport network (no manual hexadecimal conversion of it necessary), and I was on my own network. Nice.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


An evening update on something I've been waiting for: my XO laptop from One Laptop Per Child. The organization encountered some setbacks after I'd ordered/contributed (see here). Early donors who expected to receive their laptops by Christmas did not all get them on time. As a last minute donor, I had nothing to complain about, and still have not lost faith in the idea behind the program. I can be woefully under aware of how inhumane large corporations can be: while Negroponte never intended to make a profit, other companies were happy to begin creating versions of low cost laptops once they realized that developing nations impoverished countries were actually interested in OLPC's vision. I could ramble on about that aspect, but you've probably read it: suddenly, Intel, for example ---with other hyenas not far behind--- is pushing inexpensive Windows driven machines, the better, they argue to prepare children for the operating system of the first world (no metaphors there, right ?). XO is Linux based, its software open-sourced, and the whole project sustained by volunteers who have contributed an amazing amount of know how and ingenuity. Negroponte was formerly associated with MIT and OLPC has, I should clearly note, people on salary, but the difference in models of humanity is striking: OLPC has tried to operate on a model of cooperation, a philosophy that even seems to be embedded in the ways the laptop allows users to link and communicate, whereas, well, whereas the now profferred alternatives do not model this sort of thing. Tonight, for the first time when I had typed my reference number into FedEx tracking, I found that my XO is due to arrive early next week. Apparently it has really shipped ! I look forward to receiving it, playing with it, telling you all about it. I wish there were a way that OLPC could have matched the laptop that went to a child to the donor: I've no wish to violate anyone's privacy, but since I understand that the laptops went out to the children some time ago, I wonder about the child who received "mine." How's it going out there, whoever you are ? I wonder what world it has opened up, what questions you have, if it has changed what you can learn, if you're having fun ?


Amazing how one can get caught up in appearances. The wide blank left margin of my blog had really begun to annoy me, so I converted it to something called "stretch." And it has. Much indecision over how large the font for the actual posts should be, and no idea as to how to make the right margin justified. I've read through all the "help," but cannot seem to effect this change. Any advice and comments welcome. Note how skillfully I've avoided cleaning up the run-on sentences in the last post.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mid Evening Cup of Tea & ...

[Late comment in place of some edits. Run-on sentences here, and a few things I will fix next pm. Please endure until then]

Usually the paper, some work if I'm unlucky, a check of blogs. I've added to my sidebar People Reading, where the author photographs and interviews, each day, at least one person she has come across in public who is reading a book. It helps, of course, that the blog comes out of San Francisco, where one may walk, take public transportation, and thus actually encounter people who are not running in and out of their cars amid miasmic strip malls. I've also begun to follow a blog I call by its fictional author's name, Joe Sorry, but whose title is really Home for Tea. It's a novel, really, to come into being through the daily entries of one thirteen year old British boy, the aptly designated Joe Sorry, whose social invisibility at school is only minor compared to a Mom who sometimes stays away nights and who often drinks too much, the vanished Dad, all, it is implied, brought about by the death of his sister the year before. The blog is touching and funny all at once: forbidden pets because of his mother's alleged allergies, Joe has recently made his own "ant box" to keep in his bedroom. So far, so good: no escapees.
Both of these are daily blogs, something I never intended mine to be (though I wish I could post more often than I do), and this had led me to think of how much I do appreciate what many of us now call our "daily reads," those blogs we check in with each day and in which we expect to find new writing. Perhaps daily reads, or blogs in general are a new (?) form of serialization; certainly, reading Joe Sorry has brought to mind Dickens, not because of style, content, or geographic origin, but because Dickens' "novels" were first published in installments. Reflecting on this (and on the deeper and more academically astute a piece I would be writing were I not trying to get my thoughts written before complete exhaustion erases them completely) brought me to another pastime I've indulged in of late, and that is a series on HBO called "In Treatment," where every night a new installment of a therapist's session with a patient occurs (all fictional), and over the course of the sessions between the therapist , Paul, and his patients, and Paul with the therapist he is seeing, a complex narrative emerges from this kaleidoscopic montage that tells the story of Paul's shaky marriage in the throes of his erotic counter-transference with a seductive and vulnerable patient and the stories of the lives of several other patients, whose issues ---naturally--- arouse the vulnerabilities in Paul's psyche. And one can see plainly, thanks to the beautiful acting of Gabriel Byrne , his struggle to harness them for therapeutic work rather than fall prey to them.
By way of writing this I am revisiting my surprise that I am enjoying this show at all. A friend had praised it, saying how difficult it was to "watch people in so much pain because they cannot communicate." How, I thought, could that description possibly recommend it ? Why would I subject myself to other people's pain night after night ? Yet I confess that I have sat through many an episode of Law and Order without that question coming to mind. And for that matter, King Lear, Greek tragedy, etc. The whole idea (therapy sessions) seemed quite dull. However, I looked it up and decided to watch an episode for the sheer pleasure of watching Diane Wiest, who plays Paul's therapist. Soon, since HBO repeats everything incessantly, I found myself catching up on the stories of all of the characters, enjoying how cleverly the whole storyline(s) had been put together. And so, again, my theme: beyond the mere "series" as one says of television shows, the "serial." And I'm thinking about this, and my pleasure in Joe Sorry and the sessions that come as regularly as appointments: how both, in a way, reflect that dynamic of pleasure that is found, as those who think about the workings of therapy have written, in the discontinuous narrative whose premise is that there will be place and space to continue it, the anticipation of where it will pick up. In one of Paul's sessions with Gina (Diane Wiest), she assures him that no matter what he tells her, she will not abandon him. There is something in that statement that the diegesis of the series reflects. In the episode it is a stark and powerful moment (the acting is superb). I do not mean to imply that there is a compact between the reader/viewer and the serial that is unique here, and I'm quite aware of the theories that would make narrative one animal and describe the pleasures of all narratives as, in part, what I describe here. Shall we say I am simply intrigued at the moment, by the configuration this pleasure can be found in, as a literary anthropological question, what possibilities these "daily reads" offer us, and why they might be emerging in the way that they are now. Some of this very muddy. Feel free to comment. I will write back as time permits. I didn't have the nerve to title this post "Mid Evening Cup of Tea and Serial." But there, I've done it in the end.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Lonely Bench

It has snowed of late, and one day not too long ago, I had the chance to take a morning walk in fresh and hushed snow, no animals moving that I could hear, only the occasional far away snap of a twig that might have signaled an overbalance of snow, a bird, or both. I walked a long way without thinking about it, enjoying for once the state of being only in the present, wholly intent on the keenness of the air and the stillness shared by myself and the landscape. Finally, I walked out along a road that slowly converges with a road running somewhat parallel to it: the narrow end of a pie slice, so to speak.
There is, before the slice gets really thin, a group of apartments set back in the woods; I could smell woodsmoke from fireplaces, and saw a few children with sleds and their improvised stand-ins dash across the road to a field containing a fairly mountainous and now generously snowy dirt mound. There was a small playground, enclosed by a wire fence. When I had reached almost the narrowest point, where I planned to turn back, I glanced into trees, and then I saw it: a lone bench amid the trees, facing, at some distance and no relation, the wire fence shielding the playground. Lonely bench, I called it. I wondered how it had come to pass that this bench, apparently still sturdy and gathering snow, had come to be out in the slip of woods alone. What had been here, once ? The road I had been walking on had, at this end, clearly once been split into undeveloped land, to make an offramp for the busier road in the distance. What had it been a part of, once ? Though I call it lonely, the bench seemed peaceful, as if gathering onto itself the calm of the falling snow, resting, sheltered by the shoots and saplings and boughs like those it had been born from. I have been that way before and not noticed it. In the snow, it seemed to reassert its form, its singular presence calling its offering to the passerby: lonely ? bench. Sit with me.

Postscript: The image needs to be viewed full size for best effect. Clicking on it should open it in a new window.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Now I Want A Braun T3 Pocket Radio

Gizmodo had this interesting comparison between Braun products designed in the '60's by Dieter Rams and designs of Apple products today. Uncanny. The originals are quite attractive. Martha Stewart has never suggested collecting these. Sure beats ironware ! Confession: Not that I have ever collected a thing her magazine suggests. But I do collect various household objects, functional ones, such as mid-century pottery. I admit, the Rams objects evoke a fond aesthetic response. We may have had some of these things when I was a child.

PS. Head pounding and it is not a weekend. No such thing as a migraineur's (is there such a thing as a migraineuse ?) high tea, apparently. Even two rounds of a very brisk English Breakfast blend along with the green bottle's offering have not made, if you will excuse this, any headway.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Migraineur's Breakfast

It must say something when I look at this photo and think delicious. A typical weekend breakfast, this. Saturday, head pounding upon awakening, a fix in every sense from the cappuccino machine and the lovely green bottle. Much stress lately; enough that I am also reacting to foods that normally don't bother me. I am allergic to only one thing (crab), yet today, two bites of a strawberry shortcake at the office started my lips swelling and me running for the Benadryl. I wonder if increased levels of cortisol up the ante when it comes to allergic reactions ? Benadryl made me very sleepy by the time I got home, so napped am now up too late with less done than should be. I am not used to being allergic to things. The budding morning migraines are another matter: I munch on Excedrin ---it works faster--- without a thought, best with coffee. More anon. Have been aghast that I've posted nothing in so long. Many thoughts on the morning drive, lost to the days that have followed.

Monday, January 14, 2008

An Outlier's Field Day

I started to write this in the comment section to my last post, in response to John B and Steve, and then I realized I was saying what I said I'd say later, so I turned it into a post that is still very much off the top of my head, but nonetheless:

What I'm struck by in this primary season so far are the number of outliers who keep surprising the media, and better, take turns moving from outlier to within the field of norms, i.e. Huckabee, Ron Paul, Romney (seems staid and "norm"al, til the Mormon factor gets in there), Barak, Hillary (I'm tired of calling Obama by his last name and Hillary by her first. I get not overusing "Clinton," but there is more to it than that). You can offer up the "people want change and what looks like change" argument for all of these, but when you look at the field of candidates, it seems that only Giuliani, McCain, and Edwards are holding down the center of the field (as norms, not as centrists). And McCain has his outlier moments, for sure. Joyfully, the center candidates do not seem to appeal to the majority of people, and with the usual consolidating mechanisms split (evangelicals, Republicans) or holding their breath (Dems), people seem to be considering choices they may have found unacceptable or unimaginable before. So:

Thanks, both of you, for your comments. I have more to say on the Hillary/Obama issue, particularly on what John B is calling the "claims on our collective guilt," as I have seen a lot of that surface, but perhaps, at least among whites, as an occasion for self congratulation. And, before I go on at all, I am not implying that I mean you, John B. I have a hypothesis that the mainstream (i.e. still quite white) media got swept up in predicting Obama a sure thing by a wide margin in NH is because the Iowa result gave white people a chance to congratulate themselves for not being racist. For the under fifty set, the idea of Obama in this light alone is apparently exhilarating. For the record, I am white and under fifty, too. I had seen the Steinam piece, and, in passing, I thought, "yup, women of any color got the vote after black men, and we should think about that." I had also seen, in the same issue or a day earlier (?) an article mentioning Myra Dinnerstein, a professor emerita of Women's Studies (73; for Hillary) and her daughter, Julie ("39"; for Obama). This article was supposed to be all about how feminism's moment is past (or "post") and the generation gap. Dinnerstein's daughter said of voting for Hillary that “The idea of a woman being president just does not seem to be as powerful or as revolutionary to me as it does to feminists of my mother’s generation,” and that is the quote I've been chewing on, because (a) it saddens me (again) that voting for a woman does not seem "powerful" --- I'm certain she means as a symbol, but her word choice is telling, and to me, not much older than she, revelatory of a certain naïveté among women, and (b) because making a "revolutionary" choice is still not the same thing as voting for the the person per se, hominem ipsum/ipsam. When I said "we are not going back," I meant it both as you construe it, though the whole term "post feminist" gives me pause: it was more of a refusal to be shoved back into the positions or paradigms offered by earlier stances now broadly termed "identity politics," and, of course, I meant in the strongest terms that "Iron My Shirt" is over. I mean, Baby, iron your own shirt. The misogyny of that slogan/demand is striking, the youth of the men holding those signs was striking, as is the permissibility of lashing out at Hillary Clinton by employing the terms and strategies of identity politics, i.e. that Hillary won NH because of a "sympathy vote" from women, which one would surmise is not the same thing as men and women using their minds to choose who would be the best candidate. The Times and now some other news stories are hot on which is more taboo: to be misogynist (but they don't use that word: they say sexism, which has less bite) or racist, and I think that is a very dark undercurrent in all of this: the positive energy from some quarters seems to derive from self congratulation, whereas the undertow asks how subtle or not should one's hatred and fear of one symbol or another of real change be. To my mind, for some, "moving on" to the feel-good choice of Obama is one strategy for avoiding one's subconscious (or internalized) racism and misogyny. Being liberal, in the sense of being truly free of social baggage while not abandoning one's history, is, or should be, a Herculean, not a Protean, task.
In that sense, it was interesting in this morning's Times to read that the youth of the Christian right (perhaps we are better off to speak of Evangelicals 35-40 and under ?) are also caught up in this task, preferring Huckabee, whom the traditional evangelical establishment has kept at a distance. There is a split, there, too, that the Times at least for now wants to limn by generational lines, yet, they report, while Huckabee seems too liberal (in the traditional sense of that word), the under 40's are turning to him because he seems more centrist and sensible. I am paraphrasing, and have not reread the article, which I read at five am this morning. So please read and draw your own conclusions. In a recent issue of Harper's, the Index gave the statistic that the portion of US citizens who have lived half or over half of their lives under a president named Bush or Clinton is 1/4. Can this be correct ? If so, I can see why Hillary Rodham Clinton, would not appear or appeal as much more than a symbol of the status quo or a nostalgia for the Clinton years (Clinton le mari, that is). From John B's writings, I trust that he has thought it through, and though I will be voting for Rodham-Clinton, I respect that John's choice has come from a hard won place in his head and heart. Maybe the most radical or revolutionary thing about this election will be that voters will no longer be so predictable, that people will stop talking about electability and get back to talking about electing, and/or liberal and conservative will redefine themselves as practices and not platforms.

I am very fatigued, dear reader(s), so this is not as polished as I would like, but I did want to post something.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Will someone please explain to me...

...why anyone is surprised that Hillary won New Hampshire ? "Shocking Win" ? Au contraire. Perhaps the press did not count on the backlash, not confined to gender, catalyzed by writing her off, calling her a cry-baby, grinning all too openly about the iron my shirt signs. Why did we not have headlines of the sort that greeted Obama's Iowa victory ? Rodham-Clinton's win is just as "historic," just as much a break through moment for the nation. We as a people should be celebrating that our nation has finally set in motion the possibility that a black man or a white woman has a real chance to be president. What Hillary accomplished no woman has ever accomplished before. I felt the gap between myself and Chelsea, the first daughter in history to stand next to her MOTHER as she celebrated winning a presidential primary. What a different world will be hers in her middle age (I hope)! I was young when reporters followed Geraldine Ferraro around the supermarket to see if she used bargain coupons. I remember. And we are not going back.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

At The Pivoting of the Years

Happy New Year, All. Two brief items before bed. First, the Koontz has been good reading so far: one of the characters turns out to be a mobster-turned-monk whose conversion was occasioned by reading Kate DiCamillo stories. Title and author are not mentioned, but the references to the stories about the "china rabbit" and the "mouse who rescued a princess" are clear enough. The mobster monk, Knuckles (yes, there is a lot of, er, transparency here) finds his lost vision of himself by rereading and rereading what would be The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane until he understands why it makes him sad. I was much taken with this. Then the ghost of Elvis showed up. Unnecessary, in my view, but I'm hanging in. The story carries one on, as mysteries tend to do.

Second, after much wavering, and, if one cares to note, no shoe-buying, I ordered (or should I say donated ?) an XO laptop, which some of you may recognize as the device offered by the One Laptop Per Child initiative. OLPC Link HERE. In brief, because there is much more to say that I cannot articulate tonight, the OLPC is Nicholas Negroponte's dream of supplying children in extremely impoverished parts of the world with laptops and internet connections to the rest of the world. He does not deny that these children and their peoples need food, clothing, medicines, and shelter; his idea of the laptops is, essentially, that they open up a world of possibilities before unknown. And, of course, this requires an infrastructure of servers, electricity, etc, so this is exciting and daunting. Yet a friend of my mother's remembers Roosevelt's rural electricity project, electric light and the radio finally coming to his farmhouse in the thirties. The idea of "donating" is a program called "give one, get one," i.e. one buys two, and one goes to you and the other to a child. There is also the offer of free TMobile hotspot for a year for "donors." I must say I felt more like a purchaser. I confess: I wanted one of these cool, ultra connected touchscreens, linux driven, python preloaded, solar chargeable, (I believe I shall have to buy the charger separately if they make it available to the public) machines. The website states that they will send the XO for "the child in your life." I am the child in my life; I lean toward geekitude. And we circle back to Brother Odd and his mobster monk friend: Knuckles found his childhood self in storybooks. We will have to see what the XO holds for me.

Fireworks outside. Let us hope 2008 brings peace to the world and to all of us. Goodnight.