Thursday, December 27, 2007

mitt romney, or, when your speech writers are idiots and you don't know any better

I had thought that candidate Romney was merely a flip flopper to shame all flip floppers, but have discovered recently that he's got some pretty strange, and pretty scary, views on the role of government, the power of the executive branch, religion, and life in general.

In a Q&A sent to all the major presidential contenders and then published here in the Boston Globe last week, Romney had the following to say in response to a question concerning presidential powers and warrant-less surveillance: "Our most basic civil liberty is the right to be kept alive and the President should not hesitate to use every legal tool at his disposal to keep America safe."

Let me say that again, just slightly abridged. Our most basic civil liberty is to be kept alive. Liberty is to be kept alive. Not liberty includes the right to live, not liberty is life. We apparently, in Romney's world view, have the right to be kept alive. Something here just does not compute. Kept. Kept behind bars. Kept down. Kept in one's place. A kept woman. Kept alive. Possibly with a feeding tube.

This within a week or two of his so-called faith speech in which he claimed, apparently without irony, that "Americans do not respect believers of convenience." His speech writers might want to look into his track record on reproductive and gay rights, and the unmistakable shift in his so-called beliefs as governor of a blue state to his so-called beliefs as a presidential hopeful for the Republican nomination. Because he's right, and that makes it hard to respect him.

This also within a week or so of claiming, in that same speech, that "freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." Huh? The teenage girl in Canada who was recently beaten to death by her father for not wearing a hijab might not agree with this. And some of our great country's original founders would have cringed at this.

Romney, clearly a man with a vision.

Monday, December 24, 2007

snippets of a heathen pre-christmas

Here I am in Anacortes again, beloved rainy city (town) by the sea. We had sunshine today, for awhile, and walked around Washington Park. It was beautiful, and I failed to bring my camera.

I arrived here around 3:30pm on Thursday, after taking a cab to Rong Li's apartment at 5:30 that morning (New York time, that would be 2:30 west coast time), a car service with Rong Li, her husband, and a friend of theirs to JFK, a plane from JFK to Seattle, a big Airporter bus to Mount Vernon, and a mini Airporter bus first to the ferry terminal and then back to the Shell station downtown, where Mom & Paul picked me up.

Pretty much I've been drinking ever since. Today, my first 'dirty martini' ever. I'm not quite sure I can honestly say I like it, but I like the second half a whole lot more than the first.

Friday was a night out on the town, first at the Brown Lantern Tavern with Mom & Paul for an early dinner and a couple beers (I got carded. The guy couldn't believe I was 31. Later, step-brother Erik called and thought I was his 9-year-old niece. I guess this is good?), then at the Rock Fish Grill with Evan, Brent, Dave, and various other people I don't actually know, for a few more beers as well as some coconut shrimp, and later yet at Brent's newly acquired, completely empty (except for a bottle of wine and a pair of wine glasses) house.

I actually slept in until 9 Saturday morning. Nate arrived that night, with Uncle Jim & Aunt Sharon, who brought wine and other Trader Joe goodies. Nate and I gave them some Samuel Smith beers and a Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure. The drinking continued. Have I mentioned how much I love Christmas? Not to mention my crazy, wonderful extended family.

Last night it was white wine and fresh, local crab for dinner, and then on to the Edision pub in the middle of nowhere, as far as I can tell, for a few more beers and the phenomenal Spoonshine. Jake, one of the Spoonshine trio, came over to chat with Evan during the break and I, being so overwhelmed with their greatness, gushed, "You guys are awesome!" I was slightly mortified by this. Nathan claims it was cute. And I stand by my statement.

This afternoon the dirty martinis, and then it's on to Step Grandmother Paula's house for dinner, and then on to Brent's still-empty house (except for a growler of some local brew, apparently).

And here, in closing, I quote Nate the Great: "Piggle Wiggle is a cat." Indeed, she is. A cat. And quite a lovely one.

night drive, skagit valley





Wednesday, December 19, 2007

texas gets even weirder

As if it wasn't frightening enough that Christine Castillo Comer, the director of science for the Texas Education Agency, was forced to resign earlier this month for allegedly "bashing" people's faith (she forwarded an email announcement about an upcoming lecture advocating evolution - oh the horror!). Now, a Texas panel on higher education is recommending that the state allow the Institute for Creation Research to offer online master's degrees in science education.

In other news, Hilary's been feeling the heat from Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, and Co., the men out in force, cackling over a woman of a certain age's crows' feet and laugh lines. And of course our dear Maureen Dowd had to get in on it this morning too, snidely arguing that it's "pretty pathetic" that at this point in her career, Clinton continues to have to try to prove she's "warm-blooded." The thing about this is, I think it's pathetic too, but not exactly in the way Dowd means. It's pathetic that we judge a presidential candidate on being "warm-blooded" at all, and I think it's ridiculous that Clinton has to try to soften her image. I want a strategist in the White House, a tough-as-nails fighter who's endured as much as Clinton has and come out on the other side. Even if Hilary doesn't win the nomination or the presidency, this remains a ground-breaking moment in American history, a woman playing the political game, and playing it well, at this level. Yet it seems that, embarrassingly for the rest of us, her wrinkles and lack of an all-consuming desire to bake cookies continue to be a detriment to her campaign.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

naive melody

The Talking Head's This Must Be the Place is, I think, my favorite song of all time, ever. Saw this version today and it made me smile:




home is where i want to be
but i guess i'm already there
i come home, she lifted up her wings
guess that this must be the place
i can't tell one from another

did i find you or you find me?
there was a time before we were born
if someone asks, this is where i'll be
where i'll be

Monday, December 17, 2007

it's official

This morning, Governor Jon Corzine signed a law abolishing the death penalty, bringing the state of New Jersey into alignment with much of the developed world. According to Amnesty International, 133 countries world wide have done away with the death penalty. Also according to Amnesty International, the top five executioners are China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and the good old USA. Such impressive company we keep.

In other news, an interesting (yet simple enough for us lay people) take on the recent doings concerning federal sentencing in our judicial system.

And last but not least, the House of Representatives declared Christmas and Christians to be important last week. Really! Check out House Resolution 847 and try not to choke on your drink of choice. Now, I love Christmas. I love candy canes and sparkly lights and silver bells and Santa Claus and giving and getting gifties just as much as the next person. But seriously, don't these people have more important things to waste (I mean spend) their time on? Like the cost of a war, maybe, and the ever increasing national debt, or extreme weather, or teen pregnancy, or something?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

quote of the day

"My faith is my life -- it defines me. My faith doesn't influence my decisions, it drives them ... I don't separate my faith from my personal and professional lives."
-GOP candidate Mike Huckabee (A brief aside on Huckabee's issues: Why would someone so focused on the Sanctity of Life make it a point, in his notes on the 2nd Amendment, to explain that he never supported the ban on assault weapons? Even weirder, he seems to be advocating the potential use of assault weapons against our own government. And even creepier, he wears as a badge of honor the fact that he is the first governor ever to have a concealed weapon license. I find myself wondering what Jesus would do. Carry an assault weapon and reject all policies that promote or tolerate amnesty? Somehow I don't think so.)

I don't think this is what Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had in mind when they wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom back in 1779, so I'd like to conclude this bit with a better quote:

"We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

Also in the news recently:

Crisis of Faith, an excellent editorial on Romney's faith speech

Boy Scouts Lose Philadelphia Lease in Gay-Rights Fight (damn straight! no pun intended)

The Episcopal split here in the good old U.S. of A. continues, with yet another diocese deciding that disliking homosexuals outweighs human rights, preferring to align itself with the infamous gay-baiting Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola rather than with the U.S. church. Oh wait, I stand corrected. This particular diocese has not gone over to Akinola because of the gays. Instead it's joined a conservative South American denomination because it disapproves of Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori. Not only is she relatively liberal, but this California diocese is one of the last to refuse to ordain women at all, let alone allow a woman to head the entire U.S. Episcopal denomination.

Monday, December 10, 2007

on the couch

I've actually, strangely, been lying on the couch in Sarah's office these last few weeks, 3:30 to 4:15, or a little later, on Monday afternoons. I've been lying there, legs crossed primly at the ankles, hands folded on abdomen, staring, mostly, at the two black and white photographs hanging on the wall at the end of the couch, just a couple feet above my clunky black boots. One, the one on top, of rocks, huge boulders scattered, shattered, near the ocean. The other, just below, a close-up of water, perhaps even of that same ocean, surfaces rippling in shadow and light. This is the one that I often find myself staring at, in those spaces between one thought and the next, when I am not making light of something and craning over my shoulder to see if Sarah is smiling, between convoluted overthinking and semi-logical extrapolations, in those rare moments when I can just let my self breathe.

I am discovering that I really like this breathing thing.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

peanut stew with rice

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 head garlic, minced
fresh ginger, minced (about 2 tablespoons, maybe)
2 medium sweet potatoes, diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup peanuts, crushed with mortar & pestle
1 box chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup peanut butter (preferably natural, just peanuts)
1 bunch scallions
1 lime

Cook the onions and red pepper flakes in half the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally. I used my 5-quart orange Creuset, pretty much the best soup pot on the entire planet. Add the garlic and ginger after 5 minutes or so, and also the potatoes, red bell pepper, and peanuts. (Please note, I am very fond of ginger -- you might want to start with less and add more). Add more butter if things begin to stick to the bottom of the pot. Continue to cook for awhile longer, maybe 10 minutes, just until the potatoes start to soften a bit. Add the box of chicken broth, remove from heat, and blend briefly with a stick blender just to thicken the broth, but keeping the soup pretty chunky. Put back on the burner, add the tomatoes (with juice) and the peanut butter. I ended up adding another couple cups of water and a boullion cube, and some ground cayenne pepper and black pepper, and then I just let it simmer for 1/2 an hour or so. Towards the end I added the juice from one lime, and chopped up the scallions to serve over the top.

I served this over jasmine rice:

Bring 1 cup water, 1/2 cup white wine to a boil, along with 1 tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt. Stir in one cup rice, lower heat, and let simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let rest for another 10 minutes.

This was delicious last night, when first eaten with Marianne (and with the apple cranberry sauce with vanilla ice cream for dessert!), but I think I'm looking forward just as much to enjoying the leftovers tonight.

apple cranberry sauce

1 bag of cranberries
5 apples
juice of a lime
1 cup apple cider
cinnamon
brown sugar
candied ginger
honey
nutmeg
allspice
ground cloves
cayenne pepper (really!)
caramel sauce

This has become one of my favorite things to make, served warm over vanilla ice cream. Rinse the cranberries, pick out the bad ones, and dump in a 3-quart pot over low heat. Core and chop the apples (very coarsely, into biggish chunks), peel if you want to but it's not necessary. I usually use an assortment of apples and peel the granny smiths but leave the red-skinned ones alone, just because I think the granny smith peels are tougher and not as nice to eat. Sprinkle some lime juice over the apples at first just to keep them from browning. Pour the apple cider in, cover, and leave alone for awhile, still over very low heat. I've also used hard apple cider, water, and apple juice at various times. Oh, and also mango juice. Anything works, really, but I like plain old cider the best.

Stir occasionally so that all the fruit gets simmered in the cider, and start adding your spices to taste. Since I've been using this as a dessert, I've been kind of heavy-handed with the sugar and caramel sauce, but hold back and it could be breakfast instead. I made up a batch of this last week to bring to Nick & Sarah's post-Thanksgiving turkey dinner party, and was scrounging through the cupboard for something else, though I wasn't sure what exactly I was looking for. I found the remnants of a jar of honeyed ginger that I'd brought back from New Zealand last year, and added that. Delicious! So this time I chopped up a few tablespoons of crystallized ginger and added that along with some honey, and it was pretty much just as good.

I made this at Arielle's house a few months ago, sans cranberries, and she very strictly instructed me to not add any cloves, due, I believe, to an unfortunate incident in high school involving too much alcohol and a clove cigarette. I laughed, given that we were cooking in her kitchen, and so presumably, also given her rather strong distaste for cloves, there were none around to be added. She laughed too. And seemed to like the sauce.

One last reason to love this stuff (as if there needed to be another): it smells really, really good, and you can cover it up and cook it pretty much all day long if you want to.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

confession

I've lost my hat. My favorite hat, the prettiest, sweetest, best loved hat in this entire big cruel world. Cindy made for me this hat last winter, beautifully burgundy and sparkly but not garishly so. I left it behind on the bus the other day, 7:45am and not quite awake yet, spacing out to the Oliver Mtukudzi tune seeping from my headpones. It was cold that morning, and I was nearly in tears by the time I stumbled my way in to the library, both from frustration with myself for losing my hat and from the biting wind on my poor, exposed, naked ears. Erica, later that afternoon, reminded me of the MTA Lost & Found, looked up the number for me, called them. Turns out that particular office closes at noon most days. She emailed the phone number to me, with strict instructions to call first thing the next morning. I called first thing the next morning. Again and again. Turns out on that day they didn't open until noon. I called the next morning. Again and again. Never got anything but a busy signal. Complained to Manley. He said, "What, you thought that number actually goes somewhere?"

I've been putting off and putting off telling Cindy that I've lost the hat. Elizabeth very kindly loaned me her hat to wear on my way home from work that night. I dug out my ratty old green hat from the back of the closet, and have been wearing that all week. The green one is fine. It's warm. But it's not my Cindy hat. Elizabeth has been encouraging me to confess.

"Just tell her," she's been saying, "She'll find out eventually, you have to tell her! Maybe she'll make you another one."

"But she's got a baby now, and a husband, and a house! I can't believe I lost it!" I've been whining.

And then, revelation.

I was complaining to Nate and Jill over margaritas last night about the loss of my beloved hat and Nate turned to me and said, "Em. I work with the MTA. Send me a picture. I'll get your hat back."


I'm not entirely convinced that he'll be able to retrieve my hat. Given how truly lovely and wonderful it is, I can only imagine that someone had a very lucky day after I got off that darned bus. But I am stealing a picture of it from Rabid Knitter (who, by the way, is blogging again!) and will dutifully send it on to Nathan, fingers crossed, in the hopes that soon the hat will again be mine.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

mid-week news roundup

First, there was that great little article yesterday in Salon about the soon-to-be-released film The Golden Compass, and from a Catholic's perspective, no less.

Here, finally, is an argument supporting global warming that perhaps even the Bushes can understand, being all about the bottom line.

Poor Larry Craig just can't seem to get a break, at least as far as the Idaho Statesman is concerned.

Christine Castillo Comer, the director of science for the Texas Education Agency, was forced to resign recently because she didn't remain neutral enough on evolution. I kid you not. Her crime? Forwarding an email about a lecture being given by a philosophy professor who was an expert witness in the Kitzvmiller vs. Dover Area School District case a few years ago, and who had testified against intelligent design.

I'm sure most people were as relieved as I was yesterday to see that Iran in fact does not have a nuclear weapons strategy at the moment, at least according to the most recent National Intelligence Estimate, which says in part, "Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously."

You'd think that, given the no nukes thing, maybe Bush & Co. would ratchet down their scary WWIII rhetoric. But no. Bush, as we all know by now, is not a man at ease with new ideas. As he so eloquently explained yesterday morning at a press conference, "And so I view this report as a warning signal that they had the [nuclear weapons] program. They halted the program. And the reason why it’s a warning signal is that they could restart it.”


So let me get this straight. Bush has been claiming that the Iranians have nuclear weapons, or are on the verge of having nuclear weapons, and are thus dangerous. Turns out, they not only do not have nuclear weapons, but they haven't really been trying to get them since late 2003, perhaps in response to our invasion of Iraq. But nothing has changed, because Iran could still, some day in the future, again try to get nuclear weapons.

And also, a warning signal, kind of by definition, happens before the thing itself. That's what a warning is. That's even often what a signal is. So this new report cannot be a warning signal that Iran had, in the past, a nuclear weapons program. That's just dumb.

What was it that Stephen Colbert said at the White House Press Dinner a few years back?

"The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will."

All righty then.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

unmitigated violence

We all know violence. We read the headlines, or watch the news, or just go to the movies or play video games. We are, after all, sentient beings, and cannot be unaware of the prevalence of violence in our culture and our lives. But we, for the most part, know it in the abstract. We keep it at a distance. This is how we survive. We thrust it as far away from ourselves as possible, out of our particular framework, and insist on imagining that certain things do not happen in our country, our city, our neighborhood, our circle of friends and family.

Two men died on Sunday, just two days ago. Two particular men among hundreds, thousands. I should specify that two men were killed, gunned down; we are not talking here about heart attacks, or cancer, or car accidents, or even suicide.

I did not know either of them, and yet, even second hand, even just in the details, if not the personal knowing, it is difficult to keep these particular acts of violence abstract. It is difficult to hold on to the idea that this cannot possibly happen to me, or to people dear to me.

The first, a Brooklyn man, someone's brother and son, was shot late Saturday night on the sidewalk outside Radio Perfecto, a restaurant and bar on Amsterdam Avenue between 118th and 119th streets, here in New York. This is half a block away from my quiet, insulated, basement library.

The other, a graduate student at the University of Alaska, in Anchorage, was shot in his car, in his driveway just outside his home, early Sunday morning. He was the friend of a friend of mine, Maia, of Own the Sidewalk, whom I often mention here.

I remember last winter, when I was beginning to be social again after Chris had left for good and Nate had moved in with Shanna, Mom would sometimes worry aloud about me going home by myself, late at night. I would worry sometimes, too. I was afraid, sometimes, of the idea that there was no one to notice if I made it home or not. But there are only so many preventative measures that we can take, so much care we can handle, before becoming overwhelmed by the possibility of harm. At a certain point we must believe that we are safe, if only to go on functioning in a world where we are not.

Maia, in the midst of her grief, has a handle on this notion in a way that I can only imagine. I hope she will again truly feel this some day as much as she can so beautifully write about it now:

Every once in a while I am reminded that it takes a tremendous amount of faith to live in this world. For some people it's faith in God - but you also have to have faith in humanity. You have to believe that most people aren't going to hurt you, that the kind of person who would murder a man who worked with the mentally ill and wrote incredible stories, or the kind of person who would shoot a woman in the back, also for no apparent reason, or who would murder a child or hijack a plane, is not the norm. You have to believe when you walk out your front door in the morning that most of the people you're going to encounter are going to want the same thing you want: to walk back into their own homes at the end of the day, safe and whole and happy. Classmate Jason had that faith. He must have, to have sought out the kind of work he did - with developmentally disabled adults, with deeply disturbed children - and to write the way he wrote.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

candy

I read Candy, by Luke Davies, back in my brief tenure working for not much more than minimum wage at the University of Pennsylvania Bookstore. We saw a lot of books come and go, we shelved and arranged and looked up and ordered from our little information kiosk in the middle of this vast store. We all kept a couple books tucked away, hidden, so that we could sneakily read them on our lunch breaks instead of buying them, despite our 35% employee discount. This was one of those.

It really wasn't very good.

I rented the movie this weekend anyway, partly because of Heath Ledger, partly because I have an inexplicable soft spot for junkie pop culture. I think I'm the only person in the world to have both read and watched Permanent Midnight. And like Permanent Midnight before it, Candy in film form caught something that the book was sorely lacking. I found it captivating, and endlessly human, in its predictable druggy way. And I often find myself amazed at the breadth of Ledger's performances (Brokeback Mountain, Monster's Ball, this) when for some reason I've never wanted to like him much. Abbie Cornish, in the title role, has a delicate, yet iron-laced, beauty that seems perfect for the character. And then there's this weird poem bit at the film's center, silly and yet somehow I found myself close to tears watching it. Turns out there's a kind of video of it in the DVD extras, and online.

But it's gotten late, at least for this gyrl, and time for bed.

first snow, 12.2.07, 7:30am



Saturday, December 01, 2007

superhero





musical snapshot

I listened to Radiohead's Kid A somewhat obsessively during the summer of 2001, and recently pulled it out again, and Idioteque still gets to me almost as much as it did back then.

Somehow during the five years that I spent with Chris, a lot of my music didn't get played much. I liked most of his music, and perhaps cared less than him about what we listened to, and the stuff of mine that he loved, Mike Doughty and Beth Orton and Mirah and the rest, became somehow his, in a weird way. He never quite got my more angry / depressive / raucous music, my beloved PJ Harvey's Yuri G,Tool's H, Underworld's Dirty Epic, Tricky's Hell is Around the Corner, the Cure's Jumpin' Someone Else's Train. And I didn't trust my tastes enough to force the issue. But it's been fun, rediscovering some of this music that I loved so much back in college, even in high school. Nate came over for dinner one Sunday evening a couple weeks ago and the poor boy was forced to listen to the newly unearthed Pre-Millennium Tensions not once, but twice. His patience, at least for his adoring sister, seems to know no bounds.

Friday, November 30, 2007

in the news

I always knew there was a reason to not use cellphones.

Also, an article by Columbia's own Ray Fisman (I think...) explains why Hillary's screwed even if she does win next November.

Two more reasons to cry over religion:
Boy who refused treatment on religious grounds dies
Calls in Sudan for teacher's execution

I was going to include here a Pope quote explaining that atheism "has led to some of the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" in human history, but then I actually went and read this article about it, and it sounds worse taken out of context. I still find it pretty remarkable, though, that people would argue that atheism, despite the Stalins of the world, is more cruel than religion. I mean, we've got people all gung-ho about comparing Ahmadinejad (a devout Muslim) to Hitler (raised a Catholic, later used Christian arguments to justify his rabid anti-Semitism), and then we've got the Pope, leader of the church of the Crusades and the Inquisition, saying that lack of religion is the root of all evil.

So here, instead is my quote of the day, Bush waxing poetic about his role in the Mid-East peace talks taking place this week in Maryland:

"I work the phones, I listen, I encourage, I have meetings. I do a lot of things."

After all, he is the great decider.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

on daemons

Thanks to Andy, I've now got my very own daemon (take a gander, just to the right there.) His name, apparently, is Achaean. Daemons, if you don't know, are the animals that each human has in the world of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, of which The Golden Compass is the first of three volumes and soon to be a movie. Our daemon is the embodiment of our soul, but also our best friend and dearest, most trusted, companion.

Read this trilogy now, before the first movie comes out. You won't regret it. Well, unless you agree with the following enlightening review from clearly an avid fan on Amazon:

"DUSTURBING.NOT for children. books two and three are blatant anti-christian works that will truly disturb the age group these books are intended for. as an adult reader, there are also subtle disturbing hints of inappropriate relationships between adults/children in the text. i do not know if a child would pick up on this, but an experienced reader will surely infer these things. before buying read page 320 of book 3. sick."

We must have different editions of this book, because page 320 in my version is actually quite beautiful. Lyra, our heroine, has traveled all the way to the land of the dead in an effort to find a dear friend. She discovers a hole between that dreary, horrid world and another, and discovers also that all the millions of ghosts doomed to 'living' in the land of the dead for all eternity can fling themselves through this gash in the fabric between worlds, joining forces with those who are fighting against evil, and 'dying' in the process.

No one spoke. Those who had seen how daemons dissolved were remembering it, and those who hadn't were imagining it, and no one spoke until a young woman came forward. She had died as a martyr centuries before. She looked around and said to the other ghosts:

"When we were alive, they told us that when we died we'd go to Heaven. And they said that Heaven was a place of joy and glory and we would spend eternity in the company of saints and angels praising the Almighty, in a state of bliss. That's what they said. And that's what led some of us to give our lives, and others to spend years in solitary prayer, while all the joy of life was going to waste around us and we never knew.

"Because the land of the dead isn't a place of reward or a place of punishment. It's a place of nothing. The good come here as well as the wicked, and all of us languish in this gloom forever, with no hope of freedom, or joy, or sleep, or rest, or peace.

"But now this child has come offering us a way out and I'm going to follow her. Even if it means oblivion, friends, I'll welcome it, because it won't be nothing. We'll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass, and a million leaves; we'll be falling in the raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze; we'll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world, which is our true home and always was.

"So I urge you: come with the child out to the sky!"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

politics, or, things not to think about when you can't sleep at night

This time, we'll start with the least offensive and work our way up from there.

Another quiz! Test your grasp on the ridiculousness of the political field in 2008.

Romney explains that appointing a Muslim Cabinet member would not be justified because there aren't that many Muslims in America. Really. I hadn't realized that appointments to the Cabinet were based at all on population quotas, but I guess I stand corrected, at least according to one of the Republican front-runners. Scary thought. And a stupid thought, considering that if you accept this quota idea to determine government, there certainly aren't nearly enough Mormons in the country to justify a Mormon president.

Last, the transcript of Maher Arar's testimony to the United States House of Representatives last month describing his rendition to Syria by the U.S. government while trying to return to his home country of Canada. This makes for truly sickening reading. The Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit on Arar's behalf against Attorney General (at the time) John Ashcroft and other government officials. Read more on Arar vs. Ashcroft here.

Also through the CCR, send Bush a copy of the Constitution as a gentle reminder of what he swore to uphold.

Monday, November 26, 2007

only in america

The new 2008 Hummer 3 Alpha gets a review in the Times.

A psychiatrist comes down hard on himself for temporarily selling his soul to the drug industry.

Christmas idea for the bookworms.

Christmas idea for the kiddlywinks. (At least if I were a millionaire.)

Sunday morning in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin saw a riot break out at a Kmart over store credit cards. Seriously.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

the horror the horror

I am watching Jesus Camp this evening, and needed to take a break to get my thoughts together. It ranks right up there with some of the scariest things I've ever seen, and I still have half an hour more to go before the end. It's almost unbearable, and difficult to believe that people like this exist in the same nation as my beloved New York City. Exhorting children at the Kids on Fire Summer School and Ministry in Devil's Lake (really!), North Dakota to be willing to die in the name of Jesus seems not so far removed from brainwashing teenagers in Saudi Arabia into sacrificing their lives in the name of Allah.

"The Devil goes after the young. That's why we're trying to help you. We're trying to warn you. And while I'm on the subject, let me say something about Harry Potter. Warlocks are enemies of God! And I don't care what kind of hero they are, they're an enemy of God. And had it been in the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death!"
-Becky Fischer, pastor, Kids in Ministry International

Oh, and also, they pray for the devil to not mess with the microphones during worship meetings. Really.

So I had to go look up some MC Solaar videos on YouTube, just to recover from the scary evangelical stuff.











Also, here's Bill Maher & Co. on Jesus Camp.

And Australia's take on the horror show that is the Westboro Baptist Church.

And in honor of the WBC and the Bush-loving folk of Jesus Camp, an oldie but a goodie.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

gail collins' presidential shopping list

Gail Collins, a relatively recent addition to the New York Times Op-Ed pages, is collecting a series of qualities she has deemed desirable, or undesirable, as the case may be, in our next president. A wish list or check list, if you will.

First on the list, loyalty. As in too much loyalty can be a really bad thing.

Second, exercise. As in, do you really want a world leader who gets more excited about his exercise bike than anything else?

I actually really like this Gail Collins woman. She has an interesting take on the political landscape without being overly derogatory a la Maureen Dowd and without taking herself too seriously, a la all the rest.

And that right there is something to be thankful about.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

levine

Ricky
(Philip Levine, 7 Years From Somewhere, 1979)

I go into the backyard
and arrange some twigs
and a few flowers. I go alone
and speak to you as I never could
when you lived, when you
smiled back at me shyly.
Now I can talk to you as I talked
to a star when I was a boy,
expecting no answer, as I talked
to my father who had become
the wind, particles of rain
and fire, these few twigs
and flowers that have no name.

Last night they said a rosary
and my boys went, awkward
in slacks and sport shirts,
and later sitting under the hidden
stars they were attacked and beaten.
You are dead. It is 105,
the young and the old burn
in the fields, and though they cry
enough the sun hangs on
bloodying the dust above the aisles
of cotton and grape.

This morning they will say a mass
and then the mile-long line of cars.
Teddy and John, their faces swollen,
and four others will let you
slowly down into the fresh earth
where you go on. Scared now,
they will understand some of it.
Not the mass or the rosary
or the funeral, but the rage.
Not you falling through the dark
moving underwater like a flower
no one could find until
it was too late and you had gone out,
your breath passing through dark water
never to return to the young man,
pigeon-breasted, who rode
his brother's Harley up the driveway.

Wet grass sticks to my feet, bright
marigold and daisy burst in the new day.
The bees move at the clumps
of clover, the carrots --
almost as tall as I --
have flowered, pale lacework.
Hard dark buds
of next year's oranges, new green
of slick leaves, yellow grass
tall and blowing by the fence. The grapes
are slow, climbing the arbor,
but some day there will be shade
here where the morning sun whitens
everything and punishes my eyes.

Your people worked
for some small piece of earth,
for a home, adding a room
a boy might want. Butchie said
you could have the Harley
if only you would come back,
anything that was his.

A dog barks down the block
and it is another day. I hear
the soft call of the dove,
screech of mockingbird and jay.
A small dog picks up the tune,
and then tow-weet tow-weet
of hidden birds, and two finches
darting over the low trees --
there is no end.

What can I say to this mound
of twigs and dry flowers, what
can I say now that I would speak
to you? Ask the wind, ask
the absence or the rose burned
at the edges and still blood red.
And the answer is you
falling through black water
into the stillness that fathers
the moon, the bees ramming into
the soft cups, the eucalyptus
swaying like grass under water.

My John told me your cousin
punched holes in the wall
the night you died and was afraid
to be left alone. Your brother
walks staring at the earth.
I am afraid of water.

And the earth goes on
in blinding sunlight.
I hold your image
a moment, the long
Indian face
the brown almond eyes
your dark skin full
and glowing as you grew
into the hard body
of a young man.
And now it is bird screech
and a tree rat suddenly
parting the tall grass
by the fence, lumbering
off, and in the distance
the crashing of the waves
against some shore
maybe only in memory.

We lived by the sea.
My boys wrote
postcards and missed you
and your brother. I slept
and wakened to the sea,
I remember in my dreams
water pounded the windows
and walls, it seeped
through everything
and like your spirit,
like your breath,
nothing could contain it.

pre-thanksgiving roundup

Let's start with the bad, so at least things will get better.

We all know the military is hard up for cash, but
this is ridiculous. Apparently the government is asking soldiers to return part of their signing bonuses if they haven't completed their full tour of duty. The reason they haven't completed their full tour of duty? Missing legs, arms, eyes, and other miscellaneous serious bodily injuries due to . . . serving in the military.

Saudi Arabia once again is proving its commitment to human rights this week (and yes, this is meant facetiously) by condemning a kidnapping/rape victim to 6 months in prison and 200 lashes for the crime of going out in public with a man not related to her.

New Jersey continues on its wobbly way to outlawing the death penalty.

Our dearly beloved president continues to talk like a bumbling idiot, or maybe an intoxicated frat boy.

Lauren has commissioned me to make a shawl for her mother's next birthday, and we spent a lovely half-hour this past Saturday picking out yarn for said shawl. Two sumptuous skeins of Great Adirondack Sirino in Maple Leaf, to be delivered to my apartment. I can't wait until they arrive and I can get started on this project!

I'm not quite sure how I'm feeling about Thanksgiving tomorrow. I've spent the last five Thanksgivings with various permutations of Chris's family, usually at his parents' beautiful apartment on Riverside Drive overlooking the Hudson River. And I miss them. A lot. His parents, I mean, much more so than him at this point. But instead I'll be heading upstate to spend the day with my beloved Arielle, and various permutations of her family, and I'm looking forward to this immensely. Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, perhaps in part due to my fondness for sweet potatoes and pumpkin, but more due to my love for family and friends and warmth and wine and food and feeding these family and friends and etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. My contribution to the festivities? A New Zealand pinot noir, a Washington gewurztraminer, roasted rosemary cashews, and black-bottomed cupcakes. And just 'cause I love Ari so very, very much, season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Speaking of family, thank you cousin Eric for your very kind comments the other day! I'm glad and flattered that you read this stuff.

Lastly, Bookstore Patti was kind enough to email me about an upcoming event celebrating Philip Levine's 80th birthday. Philip Levine is one of my favorite poets, and I just might have to go home tonight and dig out something of his to post here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

odds & ends VII

My for all intents and purposes brother-in-law, Alec, makes television commercials. Pretty hilarious commercials, actually, at least the couple that I've seen. This is more of a spoof.

New Jersey moves ever closer to
banning capital punishment.

I was watching Jerry Maguire on TNT the other day, I am embarrassed to say, and found myself thinking maybe football isn't so bad after all. And then I saw this article. New Jersey, you've still got a long way to go.

Ghosts in the machine. I found this article about a rogue cell phone really upsetting, in a creepy, haunted kind of way.

If you Google budweiser customer guess who's blog you'll find? I'm not quite sure how I feel about this.

A book came out recently called
My Last Supper, and is a rather indulgent look at what some of the world's top chefs would want to eat their last night on earth. This kind of grossed me out, though I'm not quite sure why. I'd be interested to know what these chef's favorite foods are, maybe, but the idea of putting together a book around the notion that this is the last meal seems callous to me. This is probably because I've been thinking about the death penalty lately, and remembering an hour or so a few years back that I spent in a Barnes & Noble pouring over Last Suppers. When a book like this can exist in the world, a book like My Last Supper seems almost offensive. But there I go over-thinking things again.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

maureen does it again

I've said this before and I'll say it again. I really can't stand Maureen Dowd. Today, in the context of the bitch-slapping that Clinton handed down to the boys in Vegas last week, Dowd can't help but sexualize the whole thing. Once again she emasculates the boys (Obambi, Breck Girl) and turns a powerful, intelligent woman into a dominatrix, relying on sex, not intellect, to tame the menfolk. What greater purpose does it serve to dish up Clinton in black leather, whip in hand, or to further infantalize Obama by explaining that his wife is a master of the "conjugal putdown"?

I know that Obama, Edwards, and Clinton all have their faults and shortcomings, but I honestly believe, however stupidly optimistic this may be, that one of them will be the president-elect come this time next year. Or perhaps one of the so-called second-tier Democrats still in the race. But either way, I'm pretty sure that Dowd doesn't want McCain or Giuliani in office any more than the rest of us diehard liberal New Yorkers, what good does it do to discuss politics in this way? Argue policy all you want, argue ethics, argue economics, argue something, anything, real. But why, oh why, write "Mistress Hillary started disciplining her fellow senator last winter." It just makes me cringe.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

how times change

“These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”

This on the packaging of the first two seasons of Sesame Street, recently released on DVD.

Huh. And here I thought we'd all turned out okay.

On another note, I was up too late last night watching Daily Show clips. Not having Comedy Central and kind of being oblivious to the fact that a lot of this stuff is on line these days, I just discovered this yesterday while reading about the writers' strike. That Jon Stewart, man, he's awfully clever.

Friday, November 16, 2007

obituaries, boxes, cat beds

I was perusing the New York Times yesterday afternoon, as is my habit, and saw Jerry Feldman's obituary, and felt for a moment as if all the air had been sucked out of my office. I barely knew the man but he was, back in the late '60s, my father's adviser and mentor at Berkeley. But then my father reluctantly left his graduate work to go off and be in the Navy for a few years and, afterwards, found it impossible to make the transition from boot camp and aircraft carriers and Guantanamo Bay back to the insulated ivory tower of academia. He fled California with my mom and hunkered down at the lake cabin in Idaho for a year, a year that would give rise to many of my favorite childhood stories -- the flooding lake and ensuing evacuation up to the Snyders' cabin, the car that had driven off the road into the lake, the mom-made crocheted potholders sold in the local grocery store, the idea of Dad doing construction work when he wasn't being all academic, Sue McBoyle's flaming marshmallow that nearly set him afire.

Jerry Feldman encouraged Dad to return to school, to move to Germany with the family in tow for a year's worth of research that would complete his dissertation and culminate, finally in a PhD from Berkeley and a tenured professorship at Barnard College and Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

For some inexplicable or at least unknown reason, years ago, decades ago now, Dad moved a box to his Barnard office, up on the 4th floor of Lehman Hall. A cardboard box, plain white, unmarked. Somehow, after his death way back in 1993, this plain, unmarked cardboard box stayed in the office despite there being a new inhabitant. Professor Sloan very kindly stored this box the entire time I was at Barnard, but then finally, and ever so gently, suggested that perhaps I take it off his hands before I graduated.

My buddy Allison and I lugged the thing back to my dorm where I spent the next several days frustratingly mesmerized. Full to the brim with papers and notes, exams, syllabi and notebooks, almost everything handwritten indecipherable to me. (Word had it that a student once was busted at the Barnard Registrar's office for forging Professor McNeil's signature on something -- all because the registrar could read it.)

This box has been with me ever since, from dorm to dorm, from Morningside Heights to the Upper West Side to Philadelphia to Brooklyn, briefly to Queens, eventually to Washington Heights, where it has slowly, these past eight years, migrated north along Fort Washington Avenue to its current resting place at the back of my pantry closet. It is now oddly collapsed, concave rather than flat on top, roughly in the shape of a large cat. Nova has been fond of this box ever since I brought her home from the ASPCA back in March of 2000. She likes the places where it dwells: in the backs of closets, under beds, hidden away in the dark, protected from wandering hands and feet and loud noises and unwelcome guests.

Somewhere in the midst of all the indecipherable papers in this box, there is a typed letter. I have not read this letter since graduating from Barnard, but it was, to me, a beautiful and moving letter. It was the letter that my father wrote to the history department at Berkeley asking to be able to continue his work there. It was a letter that expressed his disappointment in a world capable of inflicting such damage as the Vietnam War, a letter that expressed his fears that he should not go into teaching, that he had no wisdom or understanding or knowledge to impart to anyone. In the end, it was a letter explaining that his time away from academia, in Idaho with my mother, had given him new balance, new confidence, and that he was ready. Ready to return to Berkeley, ready to pursue his research, ready to inhabit, again, a role in the lives of those around him.

Other than my mother, it was Jerry Feldman who most encouraged and influenced my father in his search for new-found peace and confidence, and who continued to offer encouragement and friendship throughout his academic career.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

tancredo again

Tom Tancredo's vitriolic rhetoric seems to have no bounds, as evidenced by his new TV spot currently running in Iowa. In comparison, it kinda makes LBJ look like one of those dirty hippies.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

quote of the day and other things to be annoyed about

I use the term "annoyed" loosely here, in that these are also actually kind of entertaining.

First, the White House was recently ordered by a Federal judge to save all of its
emails. Apparently the White House was fighting tooth and nail to be able to delete various communications. Scary that our government "of the people, by the people, for the people" has fallen to this level of secrecy.

Second, Joseph Stiglitz, economist extraordinaire, takes on Bush and his abysmal economic record in next month's Vanity Fair, of all places. We're not talking a gentle critique here, either. "In breathtaking disregard for the most basic rules of fiscal propriety, the administration continued to cut taxes even as it undertook expensive new spending programs and embarked on a financially ruinous 'war of choice' in Iraq."

Third, and perhaps an indirect effect of the dissatisfaction caused by the first and the second, Americans Announce They're Dropping Out of Presidential Race

Fourth, I'm really beginning to not like J.K. Rowling. Last summer she threw a hissy fit because the New York Times reviewed her book before its release date, thus apparently ruining the lives of millions of the world's children. Then she saw fit to out Dumbledore. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that Dumbledore's gay. But I also find it kind of sad that the most powerful gay man in literature has been celibate for the vast majority of his life, ever since his first lover went over to the dark side. And now, she's just being petty. Not to mention frighteningly controlling in her idea of what creativity means, and how people enjoy and share it. I had a Narnia encyclopedia-type compendium as a child, and I can't quite picture C.S. Lewis gnashing his teeth in frustration at the idea of children enjoying it along with the Chronicles themselves. So what's Rowling's problem, exactly, with the Harry Potter Lexicon? I mean, other than that this guy has way too much time on his hands.

And last but not least, Representative Tancredo's wife had to get in on the presidential race recently. When asked what her key issues might be as First Lady, she explained that she feels "very strongly that child safety, whether it be physical safety in the school or protection from other predators such as those on the Internet, are vital to the well-being of our children."

Let me write that one more time, with just a little editing. Child safety are vital to the well-being of our children.

Indeed.

This coming from the wife of the man who thinks we should threaten to preemptively blow up Mecca and Medina because, you know, all Muslims are dangerous Muslims. This is one couple we certainly do not want occupying the White House come January of 2009.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

decadence run amok

For the man who has everything, what's next? A private $300 million jumbo deluxe airplane, that's what.

When I first saw this headline, I thought it was Prince, as in Purple Rain Prince, not Saudi oil baron Prince. I was relieved to see that it was not, and that I was wrong. Purple Rain Prince is surely decadent in his way, but not in a "You could single-handedly end the world's poverty in one fell swoop, but no, you go and buy a plane with a built-in movie theater" kind of way. This guy has shares in everything from Citigroup to Apple to PepsiCola, to the tune of a total worth of about $20 billion (and he's only the 13th richest person in the world, the poor dear). Makes me feel guilty about owning an iPod, damn it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

quote of the day, or, yet another reason to mock idaho politics

"Divorce is just terrible. It's one of Satan's best tools to kill America."

-State Representative Dick Harwood, of St. Maries, Idaho, speaking as a member of the new Idaho House of Representatives' Family Task Force charged with saving the Idaho family from modern-day corruptive decline.

Please note that one of the Task Force's key findings is that families are always better off if the wife stays at home to raise the children, and that such things as "early childhood education, day care, and Head Start may hurt families by keeping mothers away from the home."

Please also note that Idaho's minimum wage is $5.85 per hour, on par with the Federal minimum wage. I can only imagine that even in the relatively cheap state of Idaho, it is difficult to support a family with a one-income salary of $5.85 an hour. Neighbor Oregon's minimum wage is $7.80 per hour. Neighbor Montana's minimum wage is $6.15 per hour. Neighbor Nevada's minimum wage is $6.33 per hour. Neighbor Washington's minimum wage is a whopping $7.93 per hour. Neighbor Utah, alas, is stuck in the doldrums of minimum wage laws along with Idaho, also at a mere $5.85 per hour. And neighbor Wyoming, home of our compassionately conservative VP, has a state minimum wage set at an abysmal $5.15 per hour. Luckily for Wyomingites, the Federal rate outweighs the state in this case, thus perhaps preventing thousands of Wyomingites from migrating to the more compassionate Idaho, or perhaps even further west, to the veritably wealthy state of Washington.

Friday, November 09, 2007

clarence thomas again & other news

Interesting article the other day on a case argued before the Supreme Court about age discrimination in the work place and the guidelines instated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Of the oral arguments, the author writes, "The commission came in for harsh criticism from both ends of the bench for failing to give clear advice about legal requirements. Only Justice Clarence Thomas, who spent eight years as head of the commission, said nothing. As the other justices puzzled over regulations adopted during his tenure there, he leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling."

On a much more pleasing note, the great state of New Jersey is poised to become the first state in the union to abolish the death penalty outright, at least since the Supreme Court reinstated it way back in 1976.

And on a rather sad and pathetic note, Bush the First apparently got a wee bit upset recently about the bashing his little boy is getting in the media these days.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

quote of the day

"You can't be the president and the head of the military at the same time."

President of the United States and Commander in Chief of the United States military, the one, the only, George W. Bush, explaining the message he so emphatically gave to Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf

Now, a pet peeve of mine, linguistically speaking at least, is the fact that Americans don't generally use "one," as in, "One can't be the president and the head of the military at the same time." This is what Bush intended, or at least I assume this is what he intended - that no one can simultaneously lead the nation and the military. Which is clearly and blatantly inaccurate. So in this case, perhaps the "you" was in fact intentional, and Bush was trying to say, "You, Musharraf, cannot be the president and the head of the military at the same time." Except this also is clearly wrong, since he in fact IS the president and head of the military. So basically any way you slice & dice this little malapropism, it's still just wrong.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

tuesdy night roundup

Follow up to an earlier mention of Sharon Keller.

For all you die hard Joss Whedon fans out there, a new reason to rejoice (and eventually mourn).

There was an excellent article in today's New York Times about an abortion provider and her motivation for continuing to provide this ever- increasingly hard-to-come-by procedure in an ever-increasingly hostile environment.

Having recently watched the entirety of Freaks & Geeks, I have decided that I love Seth Rogen, here bantering in lovely stoner fashion with Judd Apatow. And for the record, I sometimes do read the New York Times Magazine, but somehow missed this particular article to which they are referring.

If I ever have kids, and some day I'd like to, I'd be very, very sad indeed were they not able to bring peanut butter & jam sandwiches to school, and yet, apparently, due to a very disturbing increase in severe food allergies, the schools of the future may become peanut-free zones.

And lastly, a film I've wanted to see for, oh, a year or so now was finally released here in New York a little while back and is apparently already only showing in one last lone theatre. Ahh, Wristcutters, how grateful you make me feel for Netflix.