Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thank you, Mrs. C.

I am writing a post about the literature that had a significant effect in creating who I am today.  And while writing it, I could not help but think of the woman who introduced me to some of the best of it:  my high school English teacher, Mrs. Cogar.  I wrote about her in my Live Journal in 2004, and decided to repost here what I had written then:

Yesterday, the Rocket Scientist and I and the kids went snow-tubing. It's a lot of fun -- you sit on an inner-tube like contraption which tows you to the top of the hill, and then you lie down on your stomach and slide down.

Once, when I was being towed on the lift up to the top of the hill, I looked over and saw two crows sitting in a bare-limbed tree. It was staggeringly beautiful -- two dark birds, the dark naked tree branches, surrounding by the swirling white flakes, against the white hill. And, all at once, I thought of Mrs. Cogar.

Mrs. Joanne Cogar was my high school English teacher. She walked into the first day of Advanced Composition 1 and said "All those rumors you hear about me are false. I never bite people, and even if I do, I start frothing at the mouth first, and you have a good head start on getting out the door." She did not suffer fools gladly, and was considered a holy terror by much of the student body. I adored her.

I treasured the B+ I got in her AP English class more than the As I received in History or Math. When we were told by the guidance counselor during class one day that the school board was considering making AP English independent study for second semester, available only to students who had an A in the class, I broke down and wept openly.*

She introduced me to Shakespeare and Faulkner and Eugene O'Neill and John Steinbeck. She opened up worlds to me that had I had never thought could exist. She made me understand how great literature could change lives. She taught me to read critically, but never to let that criticality get in the way of the joy of reading.

Just as importantly, she introduced me to Strunk and White, and made me see a well-crafted sentence as a thing of beauty. If I write at all well today, Mrs. Cogar is one of the biggest reasons. (If I write at all persuasively, I have various professors at Stanford Law School to thank.)

And I trusted her. She was the only teacher I told about the CAT scan that had been taken because my doctor thought the blackouts and spells of disorientation I was having could be caused by a brain tumor, like the brain tumor that had killed my older sister. She was the first person -- before my parents, even -- I went to when I received my college acceptance letters. When I told her that Cornell and Wellesley had accepted me, but that Princeton had not, her response was "Who do they think they are?" (My answer, if I recall correctly, was that they were Princeton and could refuse anyone they damn well chose.)

Being young and callow and stupid, I did not keep in touch. I have no idea where she is or even if she is alive.

But I thought of her on Friday, when I saw those two birds in that tree.

Among the poems we studied during the poetry unit in AP English was Robert Frost's "Dust of Snow". Being typical teenagers, we kept reading death imagery and angst into those few lines (after all, it had hemlock and crows -- how could that not be death symbolism?). Mrs. Cogar was nearly tearing her hair out -- "No! No! A hemlock tree has nothing to do with the hemlock that Socrates drank! You're overanalyzing, people!" -- trying to help us understand how the beauty of a black bird and a dark tree against white snow could make everything better.

We just couldn't get it. How could we? We were growing up in Florida. For most of us, snow was only something we had read about in a book somewhere. We had crows, but they tended to get overshadowed by great snowy egrets and blue herons. And let's face it, a crow perched in a pine tree against a background of kudzu just doesn't have the same overwhelming emotional appeal. And even though I saw snow in college -- a lot of it -- I was too busy being angsty and pretentious and all the other things that people who have more intelligence than common sense are prone to being to notice something as simply beautiful as birds in a tree.

But Friday, when my breath caught in my throat at the stark beauty of black birds silhouetted against swirling flakes of snow, I wished that somehow, somewhere, I could tell her:

Mrs. Cogar, I understand the poem now. And thank you.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I'm late for the train on this one, but...

I can't say that I blame the folks at NPR for firing Juan Williams.  But they should have fired him for having anything to do with Fox News to begin with.

Of course, that's just me.

As far as what Williams said to Bill O'Reilly, I am concerned that the people on my side of the fence are doing to Williams what the right did to Shirley Sherrod.

Language and opinion are funny things: the points that one thinks one is making -- by perhaps openly discussing one's prejudice -- and rebutting -- by perhaps objecting to similar statements being expressed by others -- can get lost in the shuffle of debate.  When I see the entire clip, I see a man who openly expresses bigotry, but then backpedals away from it, explaining that, whatever his discomfort he understands that the real problem is extremists.  I get that others see it differently -- I am still thinking about the points made by Andrew Sullivan and Ta-Nehisi Coates (whose writing I adore and whose views on most things I agree on).  I am trying to examine my own reactions to Juan Williams in light of what they wrote, and my interpretations of both the statements that got him fired and those he made later to O'Reilly.

There is a crucial difference between the Juan Williams statements and Shirley Sherrod's.  Sherrod's statements were made during a speech.  Speeches are crafted pieces of art: the speaker tells stories and can inject nuance and understanding.  Juan Williams' statements came within an unscripted exchange on a cable show.   More chaotic, less chance for nuance.  A world of difference; rhetorical context matters.

All this is really neither here nor there when it comes down to the fundamental issue: dishonesty.

The dishonesty for me comes in the editing of the clip as it first appeared on YouTube. If the entirety of the exchange is damning, then let it stand on its own. Editing it to showcase the most offensive part, while ignoring the sections where Williams stands up against the bigotry of O'Reilly is unfair not only to Williams but to viewers; the underlying message is that we cannot be trusted to understand what is taking place before us.  While I understand the assumption that this is true for most of the people who get all their information from Fox News, I resent being lumped in with them.  If you think it needs explanation as to why it is offensive in its entirety, by all means, explain.  Or don't: let people see for themselves.

I have often said that the First Amendment does not bring with it a right to any soapbox one wants to stand on.  NPR was certainly within its rights to fire Juan Williams for any reason it wanted to: his comments to O'Reilly, his continuing to appear on O'Reilly's show, budget cuts, the color of the tie he wore to work.  I am not shedding any tears over his departure -- I think any commentator who appears on Fox News has indelibly stained his credibility.

For heavens' sake, though, let's not become our enemies.  Acting unfairly indelibly stains our credibility, too.
"You should work as hard as you can -- whether you are paid for it or not -- at something worth doing." Sandra Day O'Connor.

Friday, October 22, 2010

More conversation

Me: "Do you know what a group of crows is called?" 
Echidna Boy: "Yes mom *eyeroll*, a murder.... There were a couple of murders of crows going after the geese." 
Me: "Does that make it a serial killer of crows?"


It is October now.

It has started raining here in Northern California, which means the hot days of fall are over, and we are entering into the "other season."  We here in the Bay Area really only have two seasons, wet and dry.  Although I hail from a city so sunny that one of the newspapers used to have a policy that if 24 hours passed with no sun shining on the corner outside their office the next day's paper was free, I am most decidedly a wet season person.

It is not that I love rain so much per se, for I don't.  It is simply that I love the fall and winter.

In the fall, school has started.  While October brings with it the stress of end-of-quarter grades and parent-teacher conferences, it also brings structure and familiarity. School has an established routine now, and everybody knows what is expected of them.  (Whether they follow through is another thing altogether.)

The bright, sunny, oppressive days of summer are over.  The clouds and the lowering darkness of the shortening days fold gently around me, comforting as a blanket.  The twilight comes hard upon the setting sun, and when the stars are out they are clear and beautiful.  When they are not, the clouds are like gray unspun wool, just out of reach.

There is Halloween*, a holiday which takes on much less significance now that I don't have to figure out how to make a mummy costume, or a devil, or whatever the latest video game hero wears.  I still have a shirt belonging to "Link" (from Legend of Zelda) costume.  I have no idea why I do not throw it away -- it does not fit anyone here any more.  Sentiment, perhaps.

It gets better.  The days get shorter until the solstice, and its surrounding holidays.  Holidays were probably meant originally to help those for whom the dark, long nights were a threat rather than a blessing. (Yes, I know Christmas has significant religious importance: but its date was tied to pagan celebrations to help ease the pain of conversion.)  But for me, they are lagniappe.  The joy is in the darkness itself. (Except for Christmas music.  Which my family has decreed I cannot play in their hearing until after Thanksgiving.)

I realize that I am odd; my friends are pulling out their light boxes to help them get through until the spring.  I understand that, I do; I wish I could have a dark box to help ease the brightness of summer.**

But for now, the darkness is returning, and I revel in it.

*Personally, I think the extent to which Halloween has been co-opted by adults looking for an excuse to have parties and drink too much is somewhat appalling.  Stick to St. Patrick's Day, and Valentine's Day, and leave Halloween for the kids.
**I tend to read in dim light too, my eyes can handle it.  Yet whenever I am in even a slightly public place, a kindly  intentioned person will turn a lamp on me and say "You need a reading light.  You're going to ruin your eyesight."  I have not yet snapped at anyone (I usually settle for waiting until they have left and turning the light off) but I've been tempted.

Collision Course, Revisited

In my first post on the subject of the case involving Fred Phelps, et al. currently before the Supreme Court, I stated that I could not figure out what way I wanted the Court to rule.  Upon further reflection, I think I clearly want them to rule in favor of  Phelps, as revolting as he and his followers are.

I am a firm believer that the First Amendment shields people and organizations from government action to curtail their speech. I just as firmly believe that the right to free speech does not carry with it the right to any soapbox you care to stand upon, or the right not to be confronted vociferously with people who disagree with you.  (I am all for boycotts of advertisers to Glenn Beck's show, for example, to try and get the man off the air.)

Time, place, and manner restrictions have always been acceptable.   I think that is both reasonable and just.  However, there are just as firmly established concepts concerning places that should be off-limits to restriction.  It has been twenty years since I studied this subject, but public spaces, which the Phelp's appeared to have been inhabiting, are among those.

It is clear from the record that the Phelps contingent obeyed all police instructions concerning where to stand.  In other words, they seem to have complied with the time and place restrictions already placed upon them.

Then, too, is the fact that the plaintiff in this case, the Marine's father, did not see the protesters at the funeral, but only on news coverage later.  To what extent is there, or should there be, a responsibility not to seek out, or to avoid, painful information?  Why could he not have simply not watched?

The issue of the website becomes trickier, and not just because of this case.  From what I could see of the record, the information on the site was scurrilous.  Should it rise to the level of libel?  This issue becomes even thornier when you consider that there have been cases of bloggers revealing extremely personal information on their sites about other people (addresses, workplaces, phone numbers) which have placed those people at risk for harassment at the least and violence in the worst case.  Where would a line be drawn?

As I said, I have not studied the constitutional issues for far too many years, and have not kept up with the legal status of blogs and other electronic means of communication (with the exception of the Internet Neutrality issues and workplace privacy issues).  I know I should, given how much electronic communication I do, but I haven't.  So my opinion on these matters may be worth squat.

And then there is the issue of private versus government action.  Ah, one might say, this is a individual suing to recover damages, not the government acting to curtail Phelps.  But private rights of action can only exist within the framework of a government.   Some branch of government, usually law enforcement or the judiciary, will be called upon to back up those rights.  The effect of such rights can be just as chilling to free speech as a the threat of arrest.

So I will continue to watch this case, hoping for a ruling in favor of the First Amendment.  And in the meantime continuing to rail against the Phelps and all their hateful ilk.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I have never read the work of  China MiĆ©ville.  I had heard of him -- I read a lot of blogs with a high concentration of SF/Fantasy fans.  I am not reading much of either genre these days (I'm probably missing a lot, I realize) as I tend to be a mystery reader.

However, his letter to Facebook, as reported in this blog post, makes me want to.

Gone to that great silicon pile in the sky....

Jan* has died.  Or, at least the hard drive has.  Attempts to run Disk Repair resulted in a message that the disk was beyond repair. With the exceptions of iTunes, any software would crash within seconds of being opened.  (Hey, my computer knows what's important.) I am now operating from the external hard drive I had been using for backups, named Francisco.*  Yes, I name my computers.**

Being the good addict, I made sure that my stash was secure:  the first thing I did was copy over Bejeweled and made sure it could run off Francisco.  Only after that did I deal with less important matters, like copying over my Job Search folders with some job leads and the latest versions of my resume.

And Firefox.  The thought of coping without the 'net was making me panic. 

Because what could I stand on without a soapbox?

 * Jan is named for Johannes (Jan) Vermeer.  Francisco is after Goya.  I had contemplated naming Jan Vincent, but was talked out of it.  Maybe my next computer will be Leonardo, or Domenikos (Theotokopolous, better known as El Greco).  Or Artemisia (Gentilleschi). Or Edward (Hopper).  Or Eduard (Munch). Or Henri (Toulouse-Latrec). So many artists, so few computers.

**I also name my cars:  the minivan is Bruce, after the shark in Finding Nemo (which was in turn named after the fake shark used by Steven Spielberg in Jaws) and the Mustang is Vincent, after Van Gogh. (Early on its life, Vincent had a knack of dying without warning. "Let's name it Vincent," I told my husband. "After Vincent Price, since it's black and mysterious?" "No, after Van Gogh, since it keeps trying to kill itself.")  I am still pondering a name for the used green Mazda.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Give me a child...

The Jesuits were fond of saying "Give me a child until seven, and I will give you the man."

It don't know if they're right, but I think there was one man who may have believed that:  Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Suess.

There is an amazing amount of politics and "life lessons" hidden among the smart rhymes and strange artwork.  Geisel doesn't even try to hide most of it, although if you aren't paying attention it can slip right by you.

The Cat in the Hat is a story about living life to the fullest, as long as you clean up after yourself.  One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish is about all the marvelous things in the world.  Green Eggs and Ham is about trying new things because, you never know, you might like them after all.  (There is also an unfortunate lesson in there about nagging people until they do what you want, but nothing is perfect.)

There are the obviously political books.  Horton Hears a Who is about protecting those society doesn't care about, regardless of the consequences:  "A person's a person, no matter how small." The Sneetches is about how we aren't so different after all, and how we base our sense of superiority on irrelevant things. The Lorax is about environmentalism and industrialism and the necessity for protecting the world.  (This so upset logging interests that they wrote a competing book called The Truax.)

And then there is the Butter Battle Book.  It is a parable about the arms race, written during the Cold War.  Pretty heavy material for for a book to read to pre-schoolers, yet presented in a way that they can understand and digest.  Adults figured this out : there was a reason it was pulled from library book shelves during the Cold War.

Clearly, not all Dr. Seuss is so formative:  I don't think there is any real message to The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins or Fox in Sox.  Nor is Dr. Seuss the only children's writer to produce books with strong moral messages:  The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein immediately comes to mind.*

I read these books to my children.  I strongly suspect that they developed their views of the world based on them. (Except maybe Green Eggs and Ham.  In that case, the wrong message got through, the one about nagging.) I firmly believe this to be a good thing.

I'm not sure if other people's children were so affected.  I wish they were.  And I wish more adults would read and internalize Dr. Seuss's carefully crafted messages.

It would be a better world in the end.  And I think that was what Theodore Geisel may  have been working towards, after all.  At least I hope so.

*Although quite a number of Silverstein's poems are downright subversive towards adults, such as my favorite, "How Not To Have To Dry the Dishes."

I love John Scalzi.

The notion of privilege can be a difficult one to explain sometimes in terms that people can feel viscerally.  All too often, the discussion exists at a safe distance, at least on the part of those having the privilege.  (For those without whatever privilege it is, the discussion is all too real and all too close.)

John Scalzi has put into simple words that anyone can understand the feeling of what it is to be privileged.  As one who walks on both sides of that line, a lot of his words resonate with me, both as things I experience and things I really need to be mindful of.

There are a few I thought he might have added (one of which I left in his comments):

Today I don't have to worry about whether the person I'm interviewing with will toss my resume in the trash because I'm over fifty.

Today I don't have to worry about whether disclosing my disability to my boss, and my need for accommodations, will materially damage my work environment.

Another highly recommended piece by Scalzi:  On Being Poor.  He wrote this in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, hence the last line of the piece.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Here we go a-wandering ...

Adventure day!

I was ostensibly conducting research for a novel I may or may not be writing during NaNoWriMo.  The novel begins with the heroine standing on the shore at San Simeon state beach.  Since I could not actually remember what the beach at San Simeon looked like, it was of course necessary to take a road trip to see it.  And to relive the experience of driving Big Sur.

Not that I really need an excuse to drive Big Sur.  I just need an excuse to give everybody else, when they ask why I am spending an entire day driving Highway 1 to San Louis Obispo.

Actually, from the novel standpoint, it was a good thing I did.  The beach (which is not San Simeon State Beach, but W.R. Hearst Memorial State Beach) is not nearly as pretty as I remembered it.  It is in a cove, so it has small quiet waves, rather than big crashing dramatic ones.  It also has a pier, which I totally did not remember, as well as a couple of very nice cypress trees off to one side with very low hanging branches, which I have plans for, fictionally speaking.

Still, not so pretty.  Considering that the heroine ended up there by tossing a coin between San Simeon and Mendecino, maybe I should shift course and relocate her to the Sonoma Coast.  Which would mean a road trip north next weekend.  Hmmm. Something to ponder.  And a great excuse to drive Highway 1 north, at least as far as Mendecino.  Or at least a great excuse to tell everyone else as to why I simply have to drive up that way.

Herewith, some notes from today's journey:

Rats, getting a late start.  That means I'd better not drive 1 south from Santa Cruz to Monterey.   Oh, well, I can do that at a later time, and it is not nearly as critical as driving 1 south from Monterey.

Dear KFC:  That thing with the two pieces of chicken, bacon, and cheese?  Not bad.  But it's NOT A SANDWICH.  It has no bread.  No bread, ergo no sandwich.  Got it? If you can't hold it and play whist at the same time (you can't - you'd get grease on the cards), it doesn't count.

Dear lady in the pale blue late-model Toyota:  If you cannot both drive and look at the scenery, use the vista points.  If you are not looking at the scenery, but are white-knuckling this stretch because you cannot handle driving both hills and curves -- and drop-offs with no rails -- use the turnouts so those of us that actually can drive this are not stuck behind you.  Going 30 mph on piece of highway marked 50 creates a lot of very irate drivers in your wake.  Including me.  Which is totally harshing my squee and making me cranky, when I had been hoping to enjoy this. Oh, and if the turn says suggested 30?  You do not have to slow down to 15. Or if you do, you should be letting someone else drive.

Actually, driving this is so much better than being a passenger, because you are watching the road (and occasionally the distant waves) and not looking over to your right thinking "That's a looooooong way down there."

Dear guy in the white pickup truck: Not you, too?  See advice to the lady above.  And I thought that, having managed to pass you once, I would have gotten far enough ahead of you that I could stop at the state park to use the restrooms.  I was wrong, but a person's gotta do what a person's gotta do.  So here I am, stuck behind you again.

Dear lady in the maroon minivan, and guy driving the camper:  You use turnouts.  You win your good citizen points for the day.

Oooooooohhhhhh! Condor! Condor! Has to be. The wingspan is too massive, the wingspan/body/head ratios -- it can only be a condor.  I've seen one once before on this stretch, and I love watching them.  I just wish I had been near a vista point so I could have stopped.

The sky is cloudy, and the clouds lie close to the road.  On the one hand, that is making the ocean less striking than usual, on the other hand, it is making the trees in the ravines on the eastward side of the highway look mysterious and wonderful.  "The woods are lovely, dark and deep..."

Just as I came down from Big Sur -- just above Cambria --- the clouds lifted so that the ocean turned its normal deep Pacific blue, from the slates and silvers it had been earlier.  I could feel every muscle in my body joyfully relax.

All these people looking at the elephant seals.  I guess I can understand that, if they've never seen elephant seals before, but really, they're just smelly, noisy brown blobs lying on the beach.  They do absolutely nothing for me.

The zebras, on the other hand..... Zebras.  Lots of zebras.  Baby zebras.  Oh, William Randolph Hearst, you may have had more money than sense (you certainly had more money than taste), but the zebras you imported are just so way beyond cool.

I did the obligatory stop at the Castle Visitor Center.  The night tour was sold out (just as well, the place does have a strange fascination for me).  I nonetheless paid my eight bucks and caught the last showing of "Hearst Castle: Building the Dream."  I am a sucker for all things Imax, even forty-minute love-letters to megalomaniacs. Which it was, considering that they basically stated that WRH was a co-architect of the place with Julia Morgan. And they ignored the seamier parts of the man's life (such as the actress he left his wife for).

Speaking of Morgan, I've seen other pieces of her work, and she really is a better architect than this.  The conflict between the various influences at the Castle is simply jarring, and her other work is so much more coherent.  I do love both the indoor and outdoor pools, though, even if the rest of the place makes me want to scream a little bit. 

Ahhh.. time to go.  It actually is a good thing that I got such a late start, otherwise that last line on the highway sign in SLO -- "Los Angeles   200 miles" -- would be oh so tempting....

Let's see... I know people in Pasadena, and G & D live in Riverside, and even if that didn't pan out I could always crash in my car.  I know! I could drive "Route 66" backwards! San Bernadino.... Barstow.... Kingman... don't forget Winona!.... Flagstaff, Arizona...  I could be in Flagstaff tomorrow evening.  Oh, Sarah.....

But no.  It's late.  Too late to head further south, and besides, I am needed elsewhere tomorrow.

As the man said, "I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep."

Jan may be dying....

Jan (my computer) may be dying.  He's crashing every five minutes, from an "unresolved kernel trap."  I do not know what that is and the people in my house who do are not currently home.  We will see.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tonight, after the 100,000th time seeing an ad for paper towels, I came close to losing it.

See, in each of those ads, whatever the brand, you see kids, or even worse, a dad, making big messes, that Mom then cleans up, using the brand of towel being pitched.  A smiling Mom.  Who looks as though she had nothing better to do than clean up the salsa that Dad and son spilled playing counter hockey with a condiment bowl.

Sorry, but any child over the age of six should be handed the roll of towels and told, "Gee, it's a shame you spilled that.  Let me know when you're done cleaning it up."

And that is especially true of children in their mid-thirties.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tackling stereotypes

My father, who died in 1996, was a football player.  He played for Georgia Tech, and had half a season with da Bears before he blew out his knee.  He loved the game.

He had three daughters and two sons. His sons have no interest in football.  At all. Or at least they did not have the last time I talked to them about the sport. Oh, my older brother watches it because he hangs out with my eldest sister and...

The three daughters? Football fanatics.  Both college football (Mississippi State and LSU for my sisters, Georgia Tech and Stanford for me) and pro football (The Saints for them (although I have a strong fondness for the guys from N'Awlins as well) and the Buccaneers and Dolphins for me).  Fans who can scream "It's a blitz!  Watch out!" at the television and know what we're talking about. Visiting around Christmas last year when the Bucs played the Saints* was exhilarating, and we all managed to talk to each other afterward. (My mother, bless her heart, learned to watch (and like) football in large part to be able to share it with my Dad, and is a die-hard Buccaneers fan.)

When I was about six my goal in life was to be a linebacker for the Bears. I gave it up once it was explained that this was not, in fact, a viable career path for a girl.**

And as for the next generation... my sons have about the same amount on interest in football as their uncles.  Two of them came in last Saturday in the midst of a tense Stanford - USC game to tell me to stop yelling at the television set.  As if that was likely to happen.

And my nieces?  Yes, another set of women who can - and do - comment "screen pass!" or who groan when the other team runs back the kickoff to our team's twelve-yard line. All of whom absolutely adored the onside kick the Saints carried off to perfection to start the second half of the last Super Bowl.

Funny thing, though.  You would think, looking how football is marketed, that women such as me and my sisters do not exist.  We are completely invisible. The ads during the games rarely or never show women as active participants -- even when the game in question is touch football -- or interested and knowledgeable observers.  Women are window dressing, designed to sell beer or cars or flat-screen mega-tv sets.  Or we are shown as complainers, whining about how the game is cutting into our time watching the latest rom-com on Showtime.***

It's enough to drive one batty.  It makes me angry that there is a whole demographic out there -- of which I am a part -- which for all intents and purposes is treated as freaks by advertising agencies. And the explanation which seems to make the most sense, at least to most people, that women have never played football, applies equally well to a great many men who watch the game religiously. 

It is getting better in one respect, though.  There are now women sportscasters, women who show depth and intelligence about the sport, even though none of them had the good fortune to play it.  There are enough of them now (i.e., more than one) so as to be relatively unremarkable.

Who knows? Maybe the next generation -- my sons' and my neices' daughters -- will be taken seriously as the serious football fans we are.

*The Bucs won.  Hee hee hee.
**Of course, about that time I decided that my other favorite team was the Rams, because they had such cool-looking helmets. My father seemed okay with this, saying who I rooted for for whatever reasons was my business, as long as I pulled for them through thick and thin. He had little patience with fair-weather fans.  This attitude has seen me through countless seasons with the Bucs, Saints, Rays, and Mets.
***Baseball has similar problems, but not, it seems to me, to the same extent as football.  Somewhere it must have occurred to someone on Madison Avenue that hey! there really are female baseball fans.

Good News and Bad News

Good News: I seem to be getting over whatever it was I had.  No fever, only minimal sore throat.  I was out and about today, going to a DOR jobs workshop and to the library.

Bad News: The Rangers beat the Rays to knock them out of the postseason.  And I didn't even get to see any of it.

I don't know who to pull for from here on out.  The Rangers, I guess, since the only other option would be the Yankees, which is totally unthinkable.  On the other side, perhaps the Phillies -- although they have already won the Series once this decade.  But rooting for the Giants....

Ah, well.  There is college football (Stanford beat USC in an absolutely amazing game on Saturday) and pro football.

It could all be worse, I suppose; I could be a Cubs fan.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I need a fairy jobmother.*

I hate job searching.

I suspect -- correction, I know -- I am not alone in this.

There are a lot of things I hate about it, other than the sense of failure and rejection that keeps hitting me over time.  I hate trying to sell myself -- I'm very bad at that.  (The Rocket Scientist gets frustrated because he says I routinely underestimate my abilities. By a lot.)  I hate networking: I am introverted by nature, but more than that, I am really terrible at talking to people about career matters.

Most of all, I hate the recurring question:  just what do you want to do when you grow up?

"Beats the hell out of me" is, frankly speaking, a totally inadequate answer. And more to the point, it is a dishonest answer.  I do know what I want, I just don't know how to get there.

I want to write.  Every single vocational assessment I have taken over the past oh, so many years has come up with "Writer" at the top of the list.  Followed by the vocational counselor saying "Umm, I don't really think that that is a viable career path...."

I am a good writer.  I am an interesting writer.  I have been told this again and again, and more to the point (and unlike many of the other things I have been told over time about myself) I happen to believe it to be true.**

The best job I ever had, in terms of the nature of the work, hands down, was a spell when I wrote trivia questions for (Sorry, guys at the Census Bureau: I love y'all to bits, but the work left a great deal to be desired. You win the "best work environment" award, which is like Miss Congeniality, only better.) I researched odd things.  I wrote - and I had to write clearly and concisely, which made my writing better. My only frustration was the questions that got kicked back:  any world in which "Who was the last of the Stuart monarchs?" is considered too obscure but "Who was Jennifer Aniston's godfather?" is not is a world with serious educational issues.***

The reason I loved law school is that I had to write a great deal about interesting subject matter. (You get the best cases in law school.) I was able to bring my ability to a new venue (and somehow managed not to be infected with lawyerly writing -- although I can do that on occasion if necessary).  One of the reasons I hated practicing is that the subject matter was a great deal less interesting, and the writing I do best was not called for.  (There is also a certain level of moral elasticity needed to be a good lawyer, with which I had a lot of trouble.) While I recognize that this is probably as much an artifact of the field of law I chose to practice as anything else (I really should have become a criminal lawyer), a great deal of it was just the nature of the legal beast.

So, what should I do? I write.  I write here.  I write on my (probably-never-to-be-published) book.  I have to write to be whole.  The long periods I have not written have been stretches where I was most certainly less than all together.

So the question then becomes: what do I do that will challenge me, keep from going crazy, pay me a decent wage, and still leave me time to write?

And that's the question to which "Beats the hell out of me" is a truthful answer.

*At the time I wrote this post, I was unaware that there is, in fact, a new show called "Fairy Jobmother."  It looks dreadful.
**A strong tendency towards run-on sentences nothwithstanding.
***In the odd chance you actually care, the answers are Queen Anne and Telly Savalas.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Just shoot me. Please. It would be a change, at least.

Temp just hit over 100 for the seventh day in a row.  The sore throat is omnipresent.  It is known not to be strep, or Epstein-Barr, and the mumps titer has not come back yet.  Whatever it is, it's not terribly contagious: nobody else in the house has come down with it. Even Echidna Boy, who gets sick if you look at him wrong.

I am so freaking tired of all of this.

Time to hunt down something soft to eat and go watch Mythbusters and nap.  My brain is fried.

Well, that's better

 The Rays have just announced a lottery for single post-season tickets for ALCS and/or World Series tickets at Tropicana Field.  Unfortunately, the way they've been playing against the Rangers, it may be a case of too little, too late.

Update:  Well, on the other hand, the Rays beat Texas today to tie the series and send it back to St. Pete. (Note to media: The Rays do not play in Tampa.)

Happy Binary Day

Today is Binary Day: 10.10.10.  Hurrah!  As the guys at ThinkGeek point out, "There are only 10 types of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who don't."

It gets better, though.

101010, when converted from binary to decimal, is.....


A perfect day.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Just heard on Animal Planet...

"[My dog] is like a boyfriend and a child, all wrapped up in a package that won't talk back to you."

I love Fred Clark

Fred Clark writes one of my favorite blogs, Slacktivist.  He is interested in the intersection between religion -- and faith -- and politics, economics, and everything else.  Although he has a number of religious posts, he also has many that deal simply with issues of social justice. A self-proclaimed "liberal evangelical," he attracts people of all religious persuasions (including agnostics and atheists) to his comment threads, which have some of the highest signal to noise ratios around (probably only exceeded by Making Light).

But, mainly, one of the reasons I love Fred is sentences like this:

But this triumphalism also doesn't seem to offer much of a reward even in the next life. It's not anticipating the glory of heaven, merely the bitter pleasure of seeing others get their comeuppance. It's a vision of heaven as a place of eternal schadenfreude.

When you're forced to describe heaven using untranslatable German words, then something has gone very wrong with your spiritual weltanschauung.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Philosophy 101


Me: First: don't shout.  Secondly: Read Descartes.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Collision Course.

With a few exceptions, I do not believe in human monsters.  I hesitate to use the word evil when referring to a human being.  (A human being's actions are another thing entirely:  it is quite possible for otherwise decent people to commit atrocities under the right -- or wrong -- circumstances.)  Although I will occasionally tell someone to "go to hell," I don't mean it, nor do I claim to have any knowledge of whom will be allowed to enter heaven in the hereafter.  Eternal punishment and reward are God's doing, not mine; I am not God, and it is blasphemy to assume otherwise.

Nonetheless, I believe Fred Phelps to be evil.

When they picket funerals of service men, he and his followers at the Westboro Baptist "Church" (the quotation marks are deliberate on my part) inflict grievous emotional harm upon people when they are at their most vulnerable: when they are mourning the loss of loved one.  In their demonstrations at the sights of other tragedies (such as at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California, following the suicide of four students), they show a disregard for human suffering that is monstrous in its scope.  Their heretofore successful strategy of provoking people to attack them, and suing for damages, is abhorrent.  They warp and twist beyond all recognition the God of the Old Testament and the New, creating a picture of a hateful, vengeful diety.  They have the unmitigated gall to call themselves Christians when their behavior is an affront to every word Jesus spoke.

They are currently parties in a case presently before the Supreme Court, involving a lawsuit for damages from the family of a dead soldier whose funeral they picketed.  And -- deep breath -- I cannot tell which side I want the Court to come down on.

The emotional side says this is a no-brainer.  It was a funeral of a soldier, after all, a private event, and the families had a right to bury their kin in peace. Phelps and his followers had no right to be there, perhaps, and allowing the family to sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress is only just.

 The facts in the case were largely undisputed, according to the appeals court:  that the protesters complied with all police instructions about how far they could stand from the funeral.  It was also established at trial that the father did not see the signs until he saw television coverage afterwards.  The attacks on the dead Marine continued on the Westboro Church site.

In its questions to the lawyers at oral arguments, the court seemed far more favorable to lawyers for  the family of the dead Marine than the lawyers for the hate-mongers.

And yet... I am very nervous about creating lines which limit what people may or may not say in public.  I am worried about stifling what may be legitimate free speech. 

For me, it is a case where deeply held beliefs about the inviolability of the First Amendment ran smack into abhorrence at the grief caused by Fred Phelps and Co. and sorrow that families of servicemen who gave their lives in service to their  country have to experience this additional pain.

There have been many times in this country when those who spoke the truth were vilified and subjected to legislation which curtailed what they could say and to whom.  The women's suffrage and the civil rights movements of the 1960s immediately come to mind.  Which is not in any way to compare those righteous causes with the excrement that the Westboro Baptists produce, simply to observe that we need to be extemely careful what precedents are set here.

I will be following this case with a great deal of interest.  I have an odd feeling that, whatever way the Court decides, I will be both satisfied and displeased at the result.

Odds 'n' Ends

 My doctor is 95% certain I have strep throat. (Still waiting for culture results.) Damn.  I should only be contagious for another 24 hours, and the fever has abated, but I still feel awful. I have not had strep in years, I have no idea where I got it, and I just hope I didn't give it to anyone in the past week.  Note to self:  next time you might not want to wait a day to contact your doctor when your temp does not go below 102.5 in 12 hours, in spite of pumping yourself with Tylenol and/or Nyquil. And hitting an impervious to drugs 103 with a very sore neck is definitely a bad sign.

The small bright side in all of this is I can eat as much Ben and Jerry's as I want (which is not really all that much -- I lose my appetite when I run a fever) and not feel guilty about it, and the Rocket Scientist brought me red beans and rice from a local Cajun restaurant last night.  He also reported that a) the food is relatively cheap, b) they have a bar where I could possibly just sit and drink cokes and c) they have a big screen television where they will be showing the baseball playoffs.

Speaking of baseball, the latest attempt by teams to extort money infuriates me.  The Braves, Rays, and Giants -- the only three teams in the playoffs that anyone in this house cares about (the Giants only because they are playing the Braves) -- have all pulled their tickets from their websites.  The way to purchase playoff tickets is to pay a nonrefundable deposit on season tickets for next season.  Right.  Like the Braves' fan in the house is going to pay a deposit on season tickets for a team he actively despises.  We had been planning to splurge and get one ticket for a game during the division series -- that's not going to happen.  Likewise, were the Rays to end up in the World Series against the Giants, we were going to buy one WS ticket for the Rays' fan in the house.  Likewise, she has no intention of ever even considering buying season tickets for the Giants --- she probably dislikes them even more than he does.

Of course, given the Rays 4-0 loss to the Rangers yesterday, that latter scenario may well be moot.

Although I still feel awful, my head has cleared enough today that I did an online skills evaluation provided by the NOVA Connect Center.  I still cannot get the MS Word and Excel evaluations to run, in spite of the nice young man at the job center insisting that they should run on my Mac.  They won't run, dude. Unfortunately, I cannot go tell you this in person, yet.

So, last week I did an InDesign CS3 assessment, and a Legal Assistant Assessment, and today I did a Paralegal Skills assessment. I got 50% on the InDesign assessment, which sounds awful, until you realize that I used the program for all of about four months eighteen months ago, and the global average on the test was 51%.  I am pretty certain I could pick it up quite easily.

As far as the Legal Assistant Skills, I got an 80% (global average was 70%).  In the Paralegal Skills, I got 88% (the global average was 70%) which put me in the 90th percentile.  It's been twenty years since I looked at this stuff, and I still did well.  So, if I had to, legal-related jobs are a possibility. (I would have to renew my bar membership -- including paying back bar dues -- in order to actually practice law, which I am pretty sure I am no longer competent to do.  I wouldn't hire me to represent me, that's for sure.)

I am waiting until my head clears a little more to do the "Persuasive Writing" evaluation. 

I wish there were some way to forward these results to perspective employers and say see?  See how smart I am?

While sick I have been spending time on Facebook (along with watching old movies), and have run across a number of links I just love:  Indiana Jones loses his bid for tenureJohn Scalzi (the science fiction writer) takes down Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and, finally, an important scientific paper.  The Scalzi piece has me thinking about writing something about what literature informed my political views, but I haven't crystallized my thoughts yet.

Today, I will do job-search related work, and nap a lot. 

So, what's up in your world?

Monday, October 04, 2010

We write letters...

October 4, 2010

Allan H. (Bud) Selig, Commissioner
Address: 245 Park Avenue, 31st Floor
New York, NY  10167

Dear Commissioner Selig:

For decades before I was born, baseball has been “America’s Pastime.” I have been a baseball fan for many of my forty-nine years.  I have been a Tampa Bay Rays fan since before the franchise actually started playing baseball.

I was delighted that my beloved Rays won the AL East.  I was looking forward to watching them beat the Rangers.  Imagine my dismay when I discovered that all the postseason games were to be held on TBS, a channel that my cable provider  (Comcast) refuses to provide in their digital economy service. 

We are in the middle of a recession.  I am myself out of work.  The only reason that we have any cable at all is because it is the only way to get broadcast channels such as ABC and CBS, etc. with any real sort of clarity.  We have had to cut back and economize, with the result that we now need to purchase the most basic package Comcast has to offer.  As a result, we are frozen out of watching all of the postseason play before the World Series. 

So many of us struggle with finances these days.  Eighty dollars a month (which is what the lowest cable package ComCast offers which has TBS on it) is a problem.  And my family is weathering this economic storm better than many – we are not in danger of losing our home, and we have food to eat.

Across the country, average everyday people support baseball in a whole myriad of ways.  And now they are being rewarded by being deprived of seeing the most important month of games in the baseball year.  So much for baseball being “America’s Pastime.”

It is too late for this year.  Please make changes next year and thereafter so postseason games can be available to everyone, and not place fans at the mercy of cable providers. 

Please put the good of the game – and loyalty to its fans – above mercenary considerations.  Thank you.



Sunday, October 03, 2010

I've been meaning to write something every day.  Unfortunately, I tend to have a habit of not posting in a week, then posting six items in one day.  Sorry.

Today, I am trying to figure out what to write about.  Of course, since I have been writing a lot this week, I could just take a break, but that would lack discipline (a particular failing of mine). 

Any suggestions?


Rays win the AL East! Rays win the AL East!  Damn Yankees go down

This is not to say that the Rays won't tank in the first round of the playoffs, but it's still nice.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Ellen Degeneres has come out with an important video about a tragedy affecting our society, specifically our youth, especially youth who identify (or who are believed by their peers) to be gay.

This is an important issue.  Bullying of all kinds goes on, and to a great deal is excused as being just a part of teenage life, but that aimed towards gay youth tends to be the nastiest.


It occurred to me this morning that my post on Terry Pratchett and identity was incomplete: I didn't even touch on Angua (rejection of identity by nature), Cheery (rejection of other people's demands for how you self-identity), William de Worde* (the flip side of Jeremy and Lobsang -- rejection of identity by family), Sam Vimes later on in the series (the clash between public identity and personal identity) and most of all Vetinari (whose identity is the most intriguing. Who is he?).

Don't worry, I'm not going to inflict a detailed explanation on all of you. : )

*I always assumed that "William de Worde" was a completely made up name, ironically reflecting his position as a publisher. I was delighted to find out that there was a Wynkyn de Worde who was an important figure in the history of printing. Among other things he introduced the use of italics into English printing, for which I am very grateful.  Terry Pratchett is simply brilliant.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Bearing Arms

I thought of appending this to my previous post, but decided it deserved it's own:

The College-Of-Arms in England has issued Sir Terry Pratchett a coat of arms. It includes an ankh, a knight's helmet, and an owl (in the Discworld books, one of the heraldic animals of Ankh-Morpork). The motto is "Noli Timere Messorum," which means ...

"Don't Fear the Reaper."

Identifying Identity.

Two of my favorite authors are Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  I know of people who think of them as, not interchangeable, but linked, primarily because of the absolutely wonderful Good Omens.

I read them for different reasons. Neil Gaiman I read for his words -- smoky or brilliant, or enveloping like burgundy velvet.  (I knew I was in love when I read "Richard knocked back the green liquid, which tasted of thyme and peppermint and winter mornings" in Neverwhere.) Who can see such wild and wonderful worlds as that found in Neverwhere, or characters as deep and interesting as in American Gods. Who can show us the the other side of what we know, as the in short story "Snow, Glass, Apples."

His words, above all, are pretty, often jewel-like.

Terry Pratchett, on the other hand, I read for ideas. Not that he can't knock back a good phrase himself: from Reaper Man comes "Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it."  But his books, clothed as they are in the comic relief of the Discworld denizens, often have at their core profound reflections upon the world.

I have not read all of the Discworld books; for one thing, I have tended to concentrate on those revolving around the City Watch and Sam Vimes. (Sam Vimes may be my favorite character in literature, after Elizabeth Bennett.) Those I have read, I have tended to reread and re-reread, and each time I am struck by how deep they go, while on the surface appearing to be light and frothy.

And a central issue that arises again and again is of identity.  Who are we, exactly? Are we who others define us to be?  Are we who we appear on the outside? What about those other selves, those other parts of self?

[Cut for spoilers.]

One of those days...

Four hours sleep. Breakfast, but no lunch.

On days like this I start obsessing about things; my mind has a mind of its own, it seems.  Today, as it often is, it is focused on my  mistakes.

On the slights I have committed, on the casual woundings and unintended thoughtlessness I have inflicted on people.  Of sins of omission.  Of the words "Thank you" and "I love you" and "Can I help?" left unspoken, sometimes through timidity but more often through carelessness.

I find it easy to forgive others; forgiving myself is a much harder proposition.

I would say "you know who you are" to all the people whom I have failed to remind of their importance in my life, but you can't know, can you?

The song remembers when ... and whom.

You may have noticed that I will sometimes (these days, rather frequently) write about music. I write about music, or use song lyrics to speak for me.

My music takes a lot of personas:  there are songs that I simply like (and some that seem to like me -- they show up a lot on my iTunes when I hit shuffle).  There are songs that carry profound intrinsic meaning.

There is the very small subset of music that, if it came to a choice between never hearing it again or remaining celibate the rest of my life, I'd have to think long and hard about which path to take -- and on some days, I'd be more than willing to give up the sex. (To wit: Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," Dave Brubeck's "Take Five,"  Aaron Copeland's "Rodeo" and  "Appalachian Spring," and "Asking Us to Dance" by Kathy Mattea.  Oddly enough, there is a piece of a song that probably also fits in this classification: on the Beatles' Abbey Road, the bridge between "Polythene Pam" and "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.")

And then there are memory songs.  The soundtracks which reflect so much of my life.

Memory of places.  Memory of people.  Memory of feelings.

"Mambo No. 5" is the back roads of Normandy, where I first heard it. The album Graceland is southern Nevada, where I and the other person who was driving West with me had a fight and let the tape roll over three times while not speaking to each other. "Hotel California" is not merely California, but the border between California and Arizona -- which I was weeping over when the song came on the radio, because I never wanted to return to the state.  ("You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave...." ) Jimmy Buffet's "Boat Drinks" is Wellesley, Massachusetts in February. For self-explanatory reasons, if you've ever heard the song.

"The Sound of Music" is my father.  As is the Marine Hymn.  Sarah Mclachlan's cover of "The Rainbow Connection" is my friend Sarah; Eddie From Ohio's "Number Six Driver," my friend Cathy.  "Rocky Raccoon" is my older brother.  A lot of people who stay in my life for any length of time (although not everyone), and even some who pass through quickly if they have been memorable or important enough, end up with songs attached to them in my mind.

There are the lullabies, "Sweet Baby James" and "Baby Mine" (from Dumbo) and "Deliver Us" (from the Prince of Egypt).  Lullabies that in their own odd way ended up being reflected in the souls to which they were sung -- restless, sweet, and dramatic.*

There are the songs that describe me to me: "The Moon & St. Christopher" by Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Travelin' Thru" by Dolly Parton, the Byrds' "My Back Pages," among others.  There are the songs I wish I could sing to other people, and the songs I wish others would sing to me (chief among them being "Bridge Over Troubled Water.")

There are songs that, no matter how happy or beautiful, are for their own reasons difficult to hear, like picking a scab off a wound that has long been closed: Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl"; "For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her," by Simon and Garfunkel. Which does not keep me from listening to them, because they are beautiful and were once important to me, but there are days when I cannot bear to, when I deselect their boxes from my playlists.

I often wonder how weird I am, whether other people have this almost obsessive need to create soundtracks for all the parts of their lives. Not that it matters, much: I don't think I can stop doing this even if I wanted to.

How about you?  How does your music resonate to your life?

*A tiny part of me is insanely happy that Sweet Baby James has gone off to the wilds of Western Massachusetts, and will  end up, if not already, quite familiar with the "turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston" being covered in snow.

On this day...

October 1st is a significant day for me. Three organizations that have had profound impacts on my life celebrate anniversaries:

On October 1, 1891, Stanford University opened its doors to students. Go Cardinal!

On October 1, 1958, NASA became operational (after being created by an act of Congress on July 29 of the same year). Happy Birthday -- it's been fun being (indirectly) associated with you the last, oh, twenty-three years.

And finally, on October 1, 1971...

Disney World opened.*

*Believe me, growing up within easy driving distance of the House that Mickey Built can have lasting effects; when one of the questions of the day your senior year becomes "You wanna cut school and go to Disney World?" it sort of warps a person.