Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How to tell you're a lawyer....

In my last post, I said " I have to say I rather like the opinion, aside from its outcome." 

Um, yeah. 

South Florida does it again.

Let's hear it for environmental regulation.  Or not.   The Supreme Court has denied cert for Friends of the Everglades v. South Florida Water Management District.  

I ended up reading about this case, which I was unaware of since it happened across the country from me, because of the Supreme Court's refusal to hear it.  And I am appalled.   For once, I am not appalled at the Supreme Court.  And, as much as I hate to say it, I think the 11th Circuit reached the proper decision.  No, in this case I am really annoyed at the EPA.

The issue at hand in this case is whether water transfers -- moving water from one "navigable body of water" to another -- require permits under the Clean Water Act.  In this case, the transfer involved pumping water from the navigable (and very polluted) waters of Army Corps of Engineers drainage canals uphill through pumping stations to canals feeding into into the waters of Lake Okeechobee, which, in the natural order of things, would feed into the Everglades.  As it is now, the land south of the lake has been drained (starting in the 1930s), but attempts to restore the Everglades (an incredibly sensitive habitat) involve undoing at least some of that.

In prior decisions, courts had rejected the "unitary waters" theory, which argues essentially that all navigable waters are part of a whole, and so an entity did not need a permit under the Clean Water Act before the transfer of the pollutants.

So... the EPA, while the case was winding its way through the court system, adopted a regulation which specifically exempted water transfers from the permitting requirements.  Thanks, guys. And the 11th District, reluctantly but properly,* stated that this decided the case in favor of the Water Management District... and against the environment.  And the Miccosukee Tribe, which had argued that the pollution threatened their way of life.**

Lake Okeechobee is already polluted:  the levels of phosphorus in the lake are about four times the legal limit.  Allowing for the dumping of still more pollutants into it will just make things worse.

The real problem underlying all of this is nonpoint source (NPS) pollution.  In Florida (and California, as well), this often means agricultural runoff.  (In New York, it would be more likely municipal runoff.) It is noteworthy that one of parties in this suit (on the side of the Water District, of course) was the United States Sugar Corporation. The canals, which  drain farmland, were contaminated by pesticides and fertilizers.  Agricultural concerns have an interest in having the disposal of runoff be as easy as possible.

Just to clarify, since the runoff is not regulated when it flows into the canal, this decision means that the runoff is not regulated at any point between the field and the lake. Yes, this is a big loophole: but, as the judge noted in his opinion, an even bigger loophole is the Act's refusal to regulate NPS to begin with, and its specific exemption for agricultural runoff and discharges from the definition of "point sources."  As Judge Carnes said:

What this illustrates is that even when the preamble to legislation speaks single-mindedly and espouses lofty goals, the legislative process serves as a melting pot of competing interests and a face-off of battling factions. What emerges from the conflict to become the enactment is often less pure than the preamble promises. The provisions of legislation reflect compromises cobbled together by competing political forces and compromise is the enemy of single-mindedness.

This decision has the possibility of affecting far more than the state of Florida.  It essentially means any navigable water, no matter how pristine or environmentally sensitive, is potentially at risk, if it receives flows from any other navigable water with pollutants.

That's scary.  And all of this pushes the restoration of the 'Glades -- one of the lost or endangered natural wonders of North America -- further down the line.

And that's just sad.

* I have to say I rather like the opinion, aside from its outcome.  The opinion's author, Judge Edward Carnes, wrote an understandable opinion that was not unsympathetic to the plaintiffs.  He also quoted country singer John Anderson's ode to the lost Everglades, "Seminole Wind."  That's just cool.

** SFWMD  has tried to shaft the Miccosukee in regards to tribal remains, as well. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Good things come in threes.

I have now made more posts this year than any year since I started the blog, and I did not start until late April, and I still have a month to go.

I made a killer chocolate pie over the weekend, from a recipe I developed all by myself from scratch.  (It's a simple recipe, with only a few ingredients, but I still think it's cool that I took the initiative to try.)


The Fire Mountain Gems ad featuring the Christmas tree I made for their 2008 Beading Contest, originally used in the December issue of Beadwork magazine, has been reprinted on the back of Bead Unique. We are talking a full-page, full-color ad in a nationally distributed magazine.  Featuring my work. For the second time. Hot damn.  I just wish I could find some way to work it into my resume or my LinkedIn profile.
I'm sorry for my sporadic posting as of late.  It is likely to continue.  Jan (the laptop) died -- the Rocket Scientist spent about twelve hours over the weekend troubleshooting and replacing the hard drive (which means taking the darn thing completely apart -- great design there, Apple) not once but twice (the first drive turned out to be defective) and troubleshooting the battery.

Right now everything is flaky.  System Preferences won't open, mail won't work.  Even Bejeweled keeps dying.  I am hoping that cleaning everything out, reloading the operating system and doing a simple drag and drop rather than using the restore software will clear everything up, but the replacement disks for the operating system (which have mysteriously disappeared and which had to be reordered) won't be here for a few days.  And it will take me a full day to get all the files back on line.

For a while I thought I had lost everything, although I thought I had backed up recently.  (Turns out I had not backed up since 10/29.  Bad, bad me.)  I thought I had lost all my job search work, and more importantly, in terms of sunk time and irretrievable effort, the trivia book I had been working sporadically on since 2006.  (I have not done anything with it in at least a year, but I always knew it was there and have been thinking of getting back to working on it. Arguably, once I get the references in shape, I have enough material to actually produce a book, although I have less material than my goal, which was 1000 questions.  I have about 725.)  For a little while, I could not decide whether to throw up or cry.  Fortunately, I have been able to locate both the book and some of my resumes and cover letters.

So, I will have occasional access to other computers, and hopefully at least Firefox will run on this computer.  (Word also seems to run.  Hopefully it will keep doing so.) I never thought I'd say it, but thank God for Gmail.  But I am not holding my breath -- I expect Firefox to die any moment.

So, you'll see me when you see me.  I hope I can get to my post-in-progress, regarding the show Criminal Minds and the challenge to Prop 8 (for you lawyers out there, it's actually a post about standing in death penalty cases).  Not to mention my usual musings on the season.

I think I can get one more post out this evening. 

Take care, folks.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Oh, what the heck, while I'm at it...

This is my brownie recipe.  I know it by heart, but I know other people who have asked for it.

Pat's Damn Good Brownies

1 stick Crisco butter flavored shortening. You can use butter, but as far as I'm concerned the texture won't be right.  Edited to add: 1 stick of Crisco is one cup.  If you do decide to use butter, you will need TWO sticks.
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsps vanilla
3/4  good cocoa: I use Penzey's High Fat Natural Cocoa, but Ghiradelli works.  Best of all is Vahlrona or Scharffen-Berger, which I have been known to use for very special occasions.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup good chocolate chips (Ghiradelli or Guittard)

Preheat oven to 325. Melt shortening in large microwaveable bowl, add sugar.  Beat eggs in one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.  Stir in vanilla.  Stir in cocoa (I usually use about 3/4 cup + 1-2 tbs). Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt. Add chocolate chips.  Pour batter into 13 x 9 pan. Bake for oh, about 30 - 35 minutes (check to see if a knife come out clean, or with only a few fudgy crumbs on it). I generally start checking about 28 minutes, and check every 5 after that.

And if you are so inclined...

Easy Mint Icing

2 large bars Ghiradelli (or Lindt) mint chocolate (the solid ones, not the ones with the mint creamy filling)
Heavy whipping cream: 1 oz per 2 oz chocolate

Shave or food process chocolate bars into small pieces, place in glass or metal bowl.  Heat cream until just short of boiling.  Pour cream over chocolate, let sit a few minutes.  Stir thoroughly -- keep stirring until cream is totally incorporated and mixture starts to stiffen.  Let cool completely, spread over cooled brownies.

Recipe: Vegetarian Cornbread Stuffing/Dressing

This was developed over the years from a recipe my mother-in-law gave to my husband.  While this version is vegetarian (at least the part NOT used to stuff the turkey), it really is much better using chicken stock rather than vegetable stock. Note: while I love this stuff, it does essentially take two days to prepare.  It also makes a LOT of stuffing.

Day (or evening) 1:

2 red bell peppers
2 medium onions
4 stalks celery
1 stick butter
Double recipe cornbread (I use the recipe off of the Quaker Corn Meal Box -- it makes two nine inch rounds)
Twelve pieces bread (this year I used half sourdough and half standard buttermilk)
1/2 - 1 tsp kosher salt
2.5 tbs Bell's Poultry Seasoning
1/2 - 1 tsp ground chipotle pepper

Chop peppers, onions and celery in food processor.  Fine, but not too fine (definitely not pureed). Saute veggies in butter until soft.  Let cool completely, place in Ziploc and refrigerate until ready to use.

Toast bread in oven on low heat, until thoroughly dried.  Crumble dried toast and cornbread thoroughly (you can process them, but it make the final texture smooth -- some people are okay with this, others prefer more chunkiness) in a large bowl.  Add salt, poultry seasoning, and chipotle. Mix thoroughly.

Next morning:

Veggie mixture
Cornbread/bread mixture
1 stick butter
2 eggs, beaten thoroughly
3-5 small cans vegetable broth

Mix together veggies and crumb mixture.  Cut up butter into very small chunks, mix into crumb/veggie mixture.  Add eggs.  Add broth one can at a time until the proper consistency is met.  The dressing should be wet, but not dripping. (Minimum 3 cans.)

Use to stuff turkey.  Put excess in 13 x 9 pan, cook at 375 until brown on top, 35 - 40 minutes.

ETA, 11/25/11: This Thanksgiving, I used 2 large onions, 3 peppers (2 red, 1 orange), made the veggies a little chunkier, increased the chipotle powder to 1.5 tsps. and added half again as much Bell's seasonings.  People loved it.

Eat for three days, along with leftover turkey and cranberry pineapple sauce.  Best thing to do?  Make sandwiches with stuffing spread on one side, turkey in the middle, and cranberry sauce on the other, preferably on sourdough bread.

Oh, the turkey?  Rub with Penzey's Bicentennial Rub.  Pat down with a stick of butter, softened, with more rub in it.  Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then drop temperature to 325.  Pull turkey briefly from oven, cover with cheesecloth saturated with olive oil, return to oven.  Cook for about ten minutes per pound, until turkey hits 165, basting every 20 - 30 minutes. Pull off cheesecloth when you estimate it's about  20 minutes until done, so the skin can brown.

Recipe: Cranberry & Pineapple Sauce, Key Lime Pie

Cranberry & Pineapple Sauce

I'm just putting this here so, no matter what happens, I'll have it available, since it is a recipe I developed this year.

1 cup pineapple juice
1/2 can chunk pineapple, drained and chopped -- where you get the pineapple juice from! (chopped chunk pineapple has more structure than crushed pineapple)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 package cranberries (I believe it was a pound, but can't remember: I think it was four cups)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
pine nuts or pomegranate seeds (optional)

Dissolve the sugars in the pineapple juice in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil, and add both types of cranberries.  Cook until the fresh cranberries have pretty much exploded. -- this will take probably 10 - 15 minutes. (I can't really explain it -- you have to see it.) Pull off heat, add pineapple, let cool completely.  Refrigerate overnight.  If desired, the next day just before serving stir in pine nuts or pomegranate seeds.

Key Lime Pie

This is pretty much Emeril Lagasse's recipe, except that Emeril makes his own pie shell, and places sour cream on top. And no ginger.

1 graham cracker pie crust
2 cans of sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs
1 cup Key lime juice (note: do NOT use regular lime juice, the pie will not be tart enough.  You can either juice Key limes -- annoying little buggers -- or buy Key lime juice (available in some supermarkets).)
1/4 cup crystallized (sugared) ginger, chopped fine

Bake graham cracker crust according to directions, let cool completely.  (Or not.  I use mine without cooking -- the Keebler elves tell me I can -- and the pie turns out fine.)

Preheat oven to 325.  Whisk together the eggs, lime juice, and condensed milk.  Pour into the pie shell, bake for 15 minutes.  Sprinkle chopped ginger on top.  Refrigerate for two hours, at least.

My family likes it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

By the way, in case anyone is interested, my blog cards and hat came in.  I like them.  Vistaprint left out the pen, but are shipping it separately after I complained to them.  I have been walking around wearing my new, "official," Wild Winds of Fortune hat, and loving it.

The uninevitability of desire

Glinda:  You can still be with the wizard, what you've worked and waited for, You can have all you've ever wanted....
Elphaba:  But I don't want it... No, I *can't* want it, any more...

In the car yesterday, I was listening to one of  my mix CDs, and the song "Defying Gravity" from the musical Wicked came on.  I  love this song, about freeing yourself to be who you are, and this small section is the part I find most intriguing.

We have a notion in society that desire -- for people, for things, for events -- simply exists.  We want what we want, and there is nothing we can do about that longing.  We can choose to "overcome" it, to suffer without the object of desire, but we still want them or it.

This passage suggests otherwise.  That people can recognize that one's desires are unwanted, unethical, immoral* or simply bad for one's peace of mind, and reject that longing.

Part of the societal belief about longing is part of what I think is a larger misunderstanding about the nature of feelings and thoughts.  (Mood, as part of a larger issue involving mental health, is a different issue.) How many times have you heard someone say "Your feelings are your feelings"?

Yes, "your feelings are your feelings" and other people should not try to change how you feel.  That is intrusive, demoralizing and infantilizing. It is an insult to your intelligence, and your sovereignty over yourself.

And those feelings have purposes.  They can be a spur to action, or a recognition of loss, allowing mourning and closure.  The anger engendered by hurt has on occasion transformed not only people, but the world.  I would not want to change that. And recognition of the pain caused by others is important.

But sometimes feelings simply get in the way of living a healthy life.  Or of acting in one's own best interests. And they can often be changed.  This is the basis of many recent developments in psychotherapy: both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy involve changing how you feel by changing how you think.

Elphaba seems to know this.  Wanting what she wants -- indeed, getting what she would be able to get -- would involve ignoring an important part of herself.  And she refuses to do that, refuses to even consider it.

The Rocket Scientist has pointed out the flip side to this.  Before she rejects her longing, Elphaba first admits that it exists.  Has to admit that it exists.  The flip side is people who never understand or admit their feelings to themselves, placing them at the mercy of things that they won't let themselves think about.  This is no more healthy than hanging on to feelings that have out lasted their useful purpose.

I have to respect Elphaba.  I have to respect letting go not just of what you want, but your desire for what you want.  Even if you can get it.

*This is clear in the context of the play.
On a whim, I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 at 12:03 am last night.  It was  not the smartest decision I have ever made, since I needed to be at the job center at 7:00 am to sign up for a PowerPoint class.  I am not twenty any more, or thirty -- the Rocket Scientist and I were the oldest people there by probably a decade.  Sane people our age were home asleep.

That said, I am not going to review the movie, since most of you have not seen it yet, if you're going to, other than to say I liked it, it suffered from the same defect as the book, there is a very lovely added scene not in the book, and lastly...

They sure find a lot of occasions to show Daniel Radcliffe without his shirt on.

Edited to add:  In retrospect maybe it was only three or four scenes.  But it seems like more, especially given... oh, wait, I can't tell  you that.  Also, I don't recall them ever showing him shirtless in any of the other movies -- clearly, Radcliffe doing Equus on stage has had some effect on how people view him.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I need to hunt down  Railfan's hockey skates.  Fortunately, I already know where Echidna Boy's figure skates are.  Unfortunately, ever since I broke my ankle in college (a long and embarrassing story, there) I can't skate. This is a problem...


My college-sophomore eldest son friended me on FaceBook this weekend.

I expect the ice sheet coming up from Hell to hit here any moment.

Wait, was that a pig I just saw flying by?

I'm doing something right.

Last weekend a local college had a program of various classes for junior and high school students.  Railfan (aka middle son) took a fascinating class on the impact of Japanese culture on gaming, which after we talked about it, I wished I could have taken.

Echidna Boy took three classes: one on using your Macintosh productively,* one on the cosmology of black holes, and one on the sociology of sex, dating and marriage. (The last two reserved for high school students.)

We had a fascinating discussion after the last one. (As opposed to the cosmology course, where I could only decipher about half of what he was enthusiastically talking about.) During our discussion, he turned to the issue of "types."

"I figured out I have a type of girl I'm attracted to, Mom," he said.  "My favorite type of girl is very smart, athletic, and thinks for herself."

Whoa... no pretty? no popular? no sweet?  His type of girl is smart?  athletic?  independent-minded?


I have trained this kid well.**

* Since he was later that evening trying to access root on the iMac to get "superuser" powers, he didn't really learn much he didn't already know.
** Okay, I would have been slightly more happy if he had said "creative" rather than athletic, but that's only because athletic people intimidate me.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Musical Cars.

Most great works of art have a theme which holds them together.  This one doesn't.  Harry Chapin, "30,000 Pounds of Bananas"

I have written a fair amount about music, what I listen to, what I think.  I guess you could say it is an important subject for me, albeit from the perspective of a middle-aged white woman who tends to be set in her ways.  In fact, this entire post may be completely redundant.  So feel free to skip this.

Libra: A big promotion is just around the corner for someone much more talented that you; Laughter is the very best medicine, remember that when your appendix bursts next week, Weird Al Yankovic, "Your Horoscope for Today"

Music is an important consideration in my choice of vehicles. I have been known to decide which car to drive based on which of our older cars has a functioning stereo at the time.  (The green Mazda, which is my preferred vehicle, has a flaky MP3 player, which is very good when it functions, but has an annoying tendency to short out when you're miles away from home.  Then again, the car has over 200,000 miles on it.)  You know how some people smoke when they drive?  I have to sing along with the stereo. 

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary; When troubles come and my heart burdened be; Then, I am still and wait here in the silence, Until you come and sit awhile with me.
Josh Groban, "You Raise Me Up."

Singing makes driving easier, even possible on some days.  I hate driving people in my car I am not related to because then I can't sing. (I never feel compelled to sing in other people's cars, unless they are singing.) It just doesn't feel right. It raises my stress level.  If I'm sleepy, driving without music makes me even more so. 

Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care?  "Will I", from  Rent.

I like having a variety of music in the car.  I know that I have little hip-hop and no rap, and I save instrumental music for times when I'm not driving. I have not found much rap or hip-hop I like, anyway, which may be a cultural and generational thing as much as anything else. 

So I own not a notion, I escape and ape content; I don't own emotion, I rent... "What You Own," from Rent.

But many other genres are fair game: country, rock, pop, gospel, folk, Broadway. (Speaking of gospel, let me just say right now, that if there is a heaven, and if I get there someday, I fully expect God to look and sound like Aretha Franklin.) 

It's astounding, time is fleeting, madness takes its toll, "The Time Warp," from The Rocky Horror Picture Show

With the MP3 player in the Mazda, I am not limited to 22 songs -- I can put four times that many on a CD to play.  So I tend to pick a much more varied selection of songs.  Which is great, sort of. 

At night I could hear the blood in my veins , Black and whispering as the rain,  Bruce Springsteen, "The Streets of Philadelphia"

I do not have a rational, musical reason for the selection of songs I put on any given CD (except for my Great Big Sea mixes) -- they can run the gamut of styles and subject matter.  I do sometimes make mixes with songs with all the same tempos, but that is the exception rather than the rule. The other members of my family hate this, because I have a whole lot of CDs in the car labeled with the date and n of n, and they have no clue what's on them.  Neither do I, for that matter, but I don't care.  I do occasionally do a theme mix: "Numbers," Geography" and my favorite, "Occupationally Speaking." 

But that's just a lot of water, underneath a bridge I burned; and there's no use in backtracking around corners I have turned, Trisha Yearwood, "The Song Remembers When"

I sort my mixes either through iTunes shuffle or alphabetically by title (either forward or back), which serves much the same function.  This presents a bit of a problem: listening to the songs fully requires a certain level of emotional and cognitive shape-shifting.  Because my  music will veer from topic to topic, often eliciting the comment "Umm, interesting segue there, Mom," the change in mood can be extreme.  You think it is a jump from Weird Al to Josh Groban, or even worse, from "Time Warp" to "Streets of Philadelphia" ? On "Occupationally Speaking," I had a segue from "Prince of Darkness" by the Indigo Girls to "Dentist!" from Little Shop of Horrors.  The emotional transition was severe enough I usually would skip one song or the other, depending upon what mood I was in that day. 

I'll eat when I get hungry and I'll drink when I get dry; Get drunk whenever I'm ready, get sober by and by, Great Big Sea, "River Driver"

I'm not sure what the answer is to this, or even if I need an answer to this.  If nothing else, I could turn my iTunes over to the Not-So-Little-Drummer-Boy, who is very good at  mixing music, and once he stopped laughing, let him create my mixes. 

Is it too much to demand, I want a full house and a rock-and-roll band?  Pens that don't run out of ink, cool quiet and time to think? Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Passionate Kisses"

I'm having a hard time ending this post.  Most posts have a theme which holds them together.  This one doesn't.  Other than if you see me tooling down the street, singing, and my mood seems to shift, it's not that I'm crazy, just that alphabetical imperative and its resulting change of song have hit hard.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Just where is Margaritaville?

Last Christmas, the Not-So-Little-Drummer Boy was home from college for Christmas.  We were talking about his classes, especially a class in Afro-Caribbean music.    "I can never listen to Jimmy Buffett again," he declared.  "He just appropriated everything from Caribbean cultures."  I agreed at the time, but now, I'm pretty sure he's wrong.

I love Jimmy Buffett.  I am the first to admit he is not the best songwriter or singer in the world.  Some of his lyrics grate painfully.  His voice, although animated and amusing, is average.

But he resonates, in large part because I understand the world which he is coming from.

Yes, there are some songs that clearly and unabashedly rip off Caribbean rhythms and nuances: "Volcano" and "Great Heart" (from Hot Water), come to mind, as does "One Particular Harbor."   But most of his music doesn't.  First of all, most of it is straight ahead pop-rock.  (Closer to country, really: his duet with Alan Jackson on "It's Five O'clock Somewhere" is really very similar to most of his other music.)  Unless you want to define the addition of steel drums to a rock song as being culturally appropriative, or referring to pot as "ganja" as being disrespectful of Jamaicans, or the references to tropical subject matter objectionable, the argument doesn't hold up.  (By the way, I have heard pot referred to as "ganja" since before I heard Jimmy Buffett.  I have also heard of it referred to as "square grouper," but that's another story.)  Yes, you can pick and choose to find songs he's done which seem more objectionable than others, but to toss out a man's entire oeuvre because of a few songs seems overkill.

Coastal Florida is a melting pot of cultures.  (I have recently thought of it as being a cross between Southern California and Georgia, with Caribbean influences thrown in.)  It has its own rhythms, its own feel.  Jimmy Buffett has captured some of that: the seniors at my high school had lyrics from "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes" painted near the lockers for a reason. His music does not sound strange or foreign to me; it sounds like home.

Buffett is not Paul Simon going to  South Africa for Graceland.  He is not walking into a culture he has never experienced and lifting music wholesale from a world he has no stake in. Buffett has been part of the South Florida landscape since the seventies. You think Florida has no tropical or Caribbean overtones? You have clearly never been to Key West. Or Miami.  Or even Tampa. And it always looks south for its inspiration.

Actually, I think a more interesting discussion would be the extent to which Buffett has possibly appropriated Cajun culture for songs such as "I Will Play for Gumbo." 

Rock music has always taken from many cultures.  If Jimmy Buffett allegedly appropriating Caribbean music is objectionable, what does that say about the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin channeling black American bluesmen? Or the myriad white performers who have written or performed reggae songs? Why is one acceptable and the other not?

For that matter, why does music differ from food in this regard?  Bobby Flay, born in Brooklyn, is a master of Southwestern cuisine. Nobody bats an eye. Which is, perhaps, the way it should be: the world is a varied place, and incorporating what we find to make new and interesting things does not strike me in and of itself as being bad.*

*That said, I think it is true that there is far too little understanding or awareness of Caribbean music in general (especially if you remove reggae from the mix), but I chalk that up more to typical American myopia than to being Jimmy Buffet's fault.


There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," T. S. Eliot

I was looking at my hands lately.  They are not particularly interesting hands, neither large nor small. They have a small scars on them, cuts and burns, the evidence of clumsiness with knives and toaster ovens.  There is a spider-web shaped one on my left hand, but where it came from I don't know; the large red scar on my right, the result of trying to fit a 25 lb turkey in an oven more fitting for a 15 lb bird and getting my hand pinned to the side for my efforts, is mostly faded into nonexistence.

They have done a lot of things, these hands.

They have cast fishing line with my father  and skipped stones with my sons.

They have held crying babies, and changed countless diapers. They have stroked hair and held hands and wiped away tears. They have tied baby shoes and baseball cleats and figure skates.

They have opened books, for myself, for my children, for other people's children. They have patted the bunny.

They have signed countless papers: checks and mortgages and student loans and time sheets and IEPs, with a signature that with each passing year gets slightly more expansive, more defiantly extravagant.

They have written thousands of words, letters (far too few) and papers and, on a few occasions, diary entries.  They have, under pressure, scrambled to complete finals and the Bar exam, stopping only so I could try to rub away the cramping.

They have flown over keyboards, racing to keep pace with the information from my eyes.  They have sat, frozen, on the keys as my brain struggled to produce the right words.

They have dug in the dirt and planted; they have pruned and watered.  Ten years ago -- long enough that I cannot remember how to do it -- they wired light switches and cable jacks.  They have painted walls.

They have touched the stone walls of castles in Scotland, and held a baby sea turtle in Georgia.

They have created: baby blankets and bracelets.  They have drawn and painted. They have made Halloween costumes and Advent wreaths; and helped other hands make collages of buttons and a model of the Santa Barbara mission in Styrofoam and salt clay.  They can wield a knitting needle (not very well), wire cutters, and a charcoal pencil.  They have cooked: Thanksgiving dinners, Easter hams, a chocolate cake for a friend's ordination.  Brownies for coworkers, key lime pie for friends.

T. S. Eliot notwithstanding, they have not, as of yet, murdered.

What of your hands?  What do they say about you?

Are they slender and delicate?  Broad and strong? Are the nails cut precisely, or bitten ragged, or painted in wild colors? Do the fingers taper neatly? Or are they blunt and thick? Are they sure-fingered and nimble, or are they sometimes clumsy? Are they smooth and soft, or covered in scars and callouses?

What have they done? Where have they gone? Have they rappelled up a mountain, or photographed a polar bear?  Played a piano or a guitar? Made sand castles or snowballs? Held a bat, thrown a ball, reached for a finish line? Helped those who had fallen?  Given a pat on the back in appreciation or rested on a shoulder in encouragement? Stroked a lover's cheek or a child's head?

Have they built a house? A dream? A life? A world?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Dear Keith...

I love you man.  I think you've gotten a bit too strident over the past five years or so, but then doing what you do every night, having to face what's going on in this country, would make anyone foam at the mouth a bit. Still, I agree with you on most things.


Your employer had a policy.  Right or wrong, it doesn't matter.  Fair or not, it doesn't matter.  Whether other alleged "news" organizations were doing other things, it doesn't matter. 

Your employer had a policy, of which you were presumably aware, and you chose to flout that policy.

Of course they were going to suspend you.  I would have too, even if I were sympathetic to the causes to which you donated, which I am.

Sorry, but you had this one coming.


I decided not to do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) after all, my extensive research *cough* drive down to San Simeon *cough* notwithstanding.  I really need to spend the time job hunting, and besides, further contemplation convinced me that it would not be possible to write this novel at all convincingly -- or even at all, really -- unless I did extensive research that involved driving from the Bay Area to Ocean City, Maryland by way of Chicago. (Don't ask.)

I may someday, however,  "So don't ask where I'm going / just listen when I'm gone / And far away you'll hear me singing / Softly to the dawn..."*

It's just as well that I didn't do NaNoWriMo -- I have no laptop.  I am sitting uncomfortably writing at the desktop Mac we have on our counter, which requires me to perch uncomfortably on a bar stool to reach the required height.  (The kids do just fine with this which is why it hasn't  been moved somewhere lower.)

 This is also why I have not written anything here in several days -- freaking laptop computer won't boot off  of anything.  And while it is possible to post short FaceBook updates standing up, standing is not conducive to composing longer pieces, especially anything that requires a) thought or b) revisions. I have a piece I am dying to write about Jimmy Buffett and cultural appropriation but which is going to have to wait until I have a more comfortable computing environment.  Retrieving my resume is going to be a joy all its own.  Sheesh.

Speaking of this blog, I was retrieving my email in a very silly mood this morning, when I got an email offer from Vistaprint for 250 "premium business cards" for $1.99.  Now, I already am awash in business cards:  I have my personal ones which I am supposed to use for networking (hah!) but which are not terribly business-like (pretty, and reflecting my own aesthetic sensibilities, but too colorful to be business like), I have ones from two years ago when I was actually making jewelry enough to sell (pmgDesigns) and some my husband made for me years ago, when I complained that all those contests for free breakfasts in restaurants required you to drop in a business card and I didn't have any.  He put the url of this blog on them, but also put an email address I now normally only use for business email, and not the one associated with the blog.

So... I bought business cards, with a picture of windmills on them, "Wild Winds of Fortune," the url, and our unofficial slogan: "Tilting at Windmills Since 2006." I also bought a single pen (free!) and a cap (free!) with the design, blog name, slogan, and url. It was a moment of insanity, but a cheap one -- less than ten dollars including shipping.  What I am going to do with blog cards rather escapes me just at the moment.  Anybody want some?  I'll let you know when they come in.  The hat and the pen, however, I am excited about.

My housemate claims that this is simply a way of me affirming my commitment to writing here.  Nah, I just wanted to have cool looking cards. And a way cool cap.

As I said, I will be posting from odd places,** so don't expect a lot until I get a new laptop or at least a desktop with a chair I can feel comfortable in.  I'll check in when I can.

*"Corner of the Sky" from Pippin
**As opposed to my normal posting places: Starbucks, Red Rock Cafe, the public library...

Friday, November 05, 2010

Except for a red, white and blue bracelet I had made for myself for the last day of work (Census? Red, white and blue? Get it? Okay, so it's not that funny), I had not designed any significant jewelry for a  long time until last weekend.  There were a lot of reasons for this, among them a recurrence of tremor that makes it difficult to thread small beads.  (I have not made any baby Elvises  for a long time for that reason.)

I'm not sure about my design skills anymore, but I think these may have come out okay.  They are both short -- longer than choker length but not by a whole lot.  The one on the left is Swarovski crystal in Siam (a deep red), peach colored freshwater pearls, white cloisonné, small gold-filled spacer beads and a handmade gold-filled wire clasp.

The one on the right is primarily hematite (which is a metallic silver gray) with leopardskin jasper, black onyx, mauve freshwater pearl and black cloisonné accents.  The spacer beads are sterling silver, and the clasp is hand-made from 18 gauge sterling silver wire. I'm thinking this one may be a bit busy.

Just a list of unrelated things...

Cornflower blue.
Lapis lazuli.
The Hermitage.
George Gershwin.
Aaron Copeland.
"Rhapsody in Blue."
"Take Five."
"Appalachian Spring."
"The Kitchen Maid."
"A View of Toledo."
Harry Potter.
The British Museum.
The Musee d'Orsay.
Big Sur.
The ocean -- any ocean.
Great Big Sea.
"Walk on the Moon" and "Helmethead."
Jimmy Buffet.
Key West.
St. Croix.
Really good rum.
Really good Riojas.
Paul Simon.
"Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" and "The Road Less Traveled."
"somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond all experience."
Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Criminal Minds.
Master and Commander.
Pride & Prejudice.(The book, and the BBC miniseries.)
Good people.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

In the souls of the people...

I am not sure, but I wonder how rare it is to be able to identify a single book -- no, a single chapter -- as being formative in developing what one believes about the world.  I have heard libertarians talk about Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in that vein, and I have also heard some people talk about the works of Robert Heinlein like that, especially Stranger in a Strange Land, but outside these few, I think most people's influences are not so neatly identified.

For me, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath was that book.  It is  not the best writing Steinbeck ever did (that honor goes to Of Mice and Men) -- it is too polemical, too pat in some ways. But I found it, correction, I still find it moving and influential.

For those not familiar with the book it can seem somewhat long and daunting.  (I notice a distressing trend in my kid's high schools to read relatively short books, such as To Kill a Mockingbird.  Not that To Kill a Mockingbird is not influential and important in its own right: my youngest is talking about it being a major influence on how he thinks.)  It tells two narratives: the tale of the Joads, a family misplaced from their Oklahoma roots, and the story of what happened to all of the migrant workers who came to California during the Depression.

It helps a little to understand the context with which I approached the book.  I was a teenage Roman Catholic at the time.  While in political terms these days Catholicism is know primarily for its opposition to abortion and gay rights, it had at that time a deep commitment to social justice, and to teaching care of others.  (I happen to think this very Christian of them, and wish some fundamentalist churches would do likewise.) By coincidence, shortly before reading The Grapes of Wrath, my church youth group had visited a migrant labor camp with gifts of clothing for the workers.  I had seen what their lives were like, and was appalled and angry.

It was in this frame of mind that I began reading the novel. The lives it described meshed with those I had seen of the workers in the migrant camp.  It resonated.

And then I hit the twenty-fifth chapter. It was a denunciation of the profit system, of the way economic disaster destroys everyone in its wake. Of how property is more important than people's lives. Steinbeck was, no doubt, a socialist, and it shows through every sentence in this chapter.

One would think that the farmers would be the villains in this scenario, but they are not.  They are caught up in the trap as much as the workers: the prices they are offered for the fruit is so low that they cannot afford to pick it:

The little farmers watched debt creep up on them like the tide. They sprayed the trees and sold no crop, they pruned and grafted and could not pick the crop. And the men of knowledge have worked, have considered, and the fruit is rotting on the ground, and the decaying mash in the wine vats is poisoning the air. And taste the wine—no grape flavor at all,  just sulfur and tannic acid and alcohol.
This little orchard will be a part of a great holding next year, for the debt will have
choked the owner.
And the result of this systemic failure is tragic:
There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates—died of malnutrition---because the food must rot, must be forced to rot.
I have lived a great deal since I first read this book.  Going to law school has taught me that there are many answers to the question of hunger and despair, not all of which I agree or believe will work or will result in any change.  It taught me that there are no right answers, and most of the time we are groping in the dark for solutions.

Law school taught me that we have a difficult time with the answers; The Grapes of Wrath showed me how important it is to ask the questions.
A few posts ago, I wrote about the subversive nature of Dr. Seuss.  I mentioned that I felt it had shaped my children's view of the world for the better.  But what of me? What books did I read?

In my earlier reading days, there were the Little House books.  Like the Harry Potter series, these books start out simple with Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie and get more complicated and dark: The Long Winter and These Happy Golden YearsThe Long Winter presents a stark picture of just how dangerous life on the edge of civilization can be, and even in These Happy Golden Years the heroine boards in a household where the adults are clearly dysfunctional.  The messages all these books carry is that life is hard, often unfair (how fair was it that Mary became blind?), but in the end rewarding. and that the most important thing is taking care of each other.

There was From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the best book I know of about adventure and caring deeply about something.  And art.  I would not go as far as to say that my love of art was created by this book, but a desire to run away and live in a museum was.  I have yet to fulfill that ambition.

I read every book about horses I could read.  I adored the Walter Farley Black Stallion books. I still love horses.  (You guys need to watch the Breeder's Cup this year; it will probably be the fabulous Zenyatta's last race.)

There was every book written by Louisa May Alcott.  There is a tendency I think to sometimes view these as reinforcing gender stereotypes, which to some extent they do, but they also create interesting, fully-dimensional, strong female characters who are not victims of their circumstances (Beth in Little Women notwithstanding).

There were the fantasies: Tolkien, with his messages about how the most insignificant seeming can be the most important; Lewis's Narnia, with its Christian allegories about the nobility of sacrifice and responsibility (it is from Narnia that I developed the notion of only telling one's own story); Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy, which was  my favorite, with its stories of how the search for meaning takes you far and wide until, inevitably, you end up finding meaning in yourself and your actions.

I read mysteries -- Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, Ellery Queen -- which, besides the wonderful exercise of a good puzzle, also gave the misleading impression that all problems can be solved if you think hard enough.  The resolution might be painful, even tragic, but there is always a resolution. 

When I got to high school, I read  a lot of classic and modern literature. I went on a bender where I read every single Eugene O'Neill play.  I read Catcher in the Rye.  (Holden Caulfield is the single most annoying character in all literature, followed closely by Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights.)   Shakespeare, Bronte (both Emily and Charlotte), Kozinski, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Huxley.  An amazing amount of poetry: Frost, Dickinson (whom I did not care for), Browning (both Robert and Elizabeth Barrett), Eliot, to name just a very few.

Somehow, through all of that, I developed a political and aesthetic personality: progressive, poetic (even if my own actual attempts at poetry are pretty pathetic) and deeply committed to the idea of justice and care for human beings and suspicious of society's attempts to control them (thank you, Aldous Huxley!).  (I was never exposed to Ayn Rand, or I might have turned out very differently.)

All of these were important to me, but the most important, I think, deserves its own post.

My current favorite advertisement...

.... is for Farm Rich snacks.

The video shows various shots of kids of various ages doing the sort of things kids do -- including a toddler throwing a watch in the toilet.  The voice-over says "When they were babies, my kids were so sweet, I wanted to eat them up.  Some days, I wish I had."

A perfect summation of motherhood.
Congratulations to the Giants, and to all my friends who are Giants fans.

I want next year's World Series to be the Cubs versus the Indians.

 I am more than ready to talk about football. Considering that the 49ers are at the bottom of the NFC West (although the Raiders are at .500), I may be alone around here in wanting to do so.  (Hey, my team's at 5-2 and leading their division.  Hee hee hee.)  Stanford is 7-1 (curse you Oregon!) and second in the Pac-10.  So it is shaping up to be a rather nice season, both pro and college.

Speaking of football, last night I saw an ad for football apparel actually cut to fit women.  Apparently the NFL has finally realized, hey, we do have some female fans out here after all...