Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Question of the day

Me: I'm losing my mind.
Rocket Scientist: Where was it the last time you saw it?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I am, in the popular argot, a cheap drunk.  A Really. Cheap. Drunk.

At Wellesley, every year the juniors put on a show.  My freshman year, the Junior Show included the line "It takes more than two drinks to change a Wellesley woman's mind."

Not in my case.  All it takes is two drinks.  Unless...

One of those drinks is the "Corpse Reviver " at the British Banker's Club in Menlo Park, California. In that case, it only takes one.

I was at the BBC this evening meeting a friend of my housemate, the Resident Shrink. I was planning to order at the most two drinks.  The time before this, when I had gone out drinking, I had had two rum and cokes and had barely noticed them.  (Which could be why I lost the game of Trivial Pursuit that evening (lack of enough alcohol) but that's another story...)  So I figured I would be okay, right?

I ordered the Corpse Reviver because it looked interesting and had absinthe in it.  How can you resist a drink with absinthe in it?

I drank it down.  It was easy to drink, tasting faintly like lemon and licorice.  (I know that sounds like an awful combination, but work with me here.)  It was decent, but on the second round I ordered my standard Mai Tai.

I had taken barely a sip of Mai Tai when I knew I was in serious trouble.  As in, "I am slurring my words and I have only had one drink" trouble. I excused myself and headed to the bathroom, staggering a bit and definitely holding onto the rail on the way up the stairs.

But then, I had this Mai Tai.  What to do? I did what anyone half drunk would do.  I finished that one, too.  At this point, I was having trouble walking, period, let alone up or down the stairs.

The Rocket Scientist and the Resident Shrink showed up.  Fortunately, the restaurant where we were having dinner was within easy walking distance, and the Rocket Scientist held my arm the whole way.  I refused sangria, even though the sangria at Iberia Restaurant in Menlo Park is very good.  I settled for a coke.

I managed to make it through dinner. At the end, I succumbed to temptation and had a glass of sangria because, hey it was there and we needed to finish off the pitcher and the Rocket Scientist couldn't have any more because somebody had to drive us home and it sure as hell wasn't going to be me.

I have been assured that I was in fact charming and not at all embarrassing, which is good.  I am sitting here dreading what I will feel like in the morning.  All of which means...

Next time, avoid ordering any drinks with really scary names.
I visited my neurologist yesterday.  I have to be evaluated every six months for migraines and to make sure that my tremors are benign and that I do not in fact have Parkinson's.  They have been determined to be "essential tremors."

I asked my neurologist "What does that mean, 'essential'?"  He answered, "It means that essentially we have no idea what causes them."

Nothing like having doctors with a sense of humor.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Because planning for emergencies is so important

Quote of the day, from the Red Headed Menace. who is vegetarian: "the velociraptors should eat me, I'm grain-fed. I taste better."*

Yes, we were discussing what to do in case of velociraptor attack.  That's just the sort of family we are. Next up, how to prepare for the coming zombie apocalypse.

My kids are already thinking along those lines: last Christmas, the Red-Headed Menace asked for a laser. For his birthday this year, Railfan asked for a girlfriend and C-4, both of which are helpful in warding off brain-eating monsters.**

*He then remarked that "Actually, the velociraptors should eat vegans.  They're practically grass-fed."
**We had to sadly explain that the girlfriend was something he needed to take of himself, and as it would be illegal for us to own C-4 ourselves, buying it for him was pretty much a moot point.  Besides, we figured he would just use it to blow up his brother.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thoughts for Earth Day (most of them pretty obvious) ...

Believe it or not, I was a member of the Environmental Law Society at Stanford.  (More than that, I was managing editor of the Stanford Environmental Law Journal.*)

I was, in many ways, an odd duck to end up in the basement offices of ELS.  I had little interest in saving the wilderness or endangered species.  My dedication for natural resources law was, to say the least, not remotely awe-inspiring. Not that I am not glad that there are people who are devoted to those, mind you -- I think that is very worthwhile, nay vital.  It's just not my thing.

I was passionate (and stilll am, all these many years later, although my environmental interests have broadened, pretty much due to my involvement with ELS) about historic and architectural preservation.**  I was living and working in Atlanta in the early eighties, a time when, according to the papers,  there were arguments about saving Margaret Mitchell's house*** which centered primarily on whether the house was sound enough structurally to be worth saving, but where many people thought it would be okay to run the Jimmy Carter Presidential Parkway through the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, which was crucial in the struggle for civil rights.  Or where an architecturally important building could be demolished to make way for a MARTA station, although they were careful to save the facade statues, isolated and removed from their original setting for the enjoyment of riders.

So what's so different about the the desire to protect nature and the desire to protect historic sites? In many cases, the tactics are similar, and in some cases the ends coincide (in the case of Native American sites that are also environmentally sensitive, for example).  I think the underlying question is one of emphasis.

Historic preservation is about people.  Saving places that tie people to their past, to  their sense of who they are, as individuals and as a culture or society, is paramount.****  It is about not forgetting, the good or the bad.  It is about remembering the heritage which we justly take pride in, and the past which we would rather forget but which is dangerous for us to do so.

Environmentalism, in the larger sense, is not necessarily about people.  For many environmentalists it is, but I also know environmentalists who view humans as a blight upon the planet, who tend to be disdainful or dimissive of those who stand in their way.  One friend -- and she was a friend, in spite of our differences -- once described herself unapologetically as an "environmental Nazi."  She had no problem with whatever regulatory and legal tactics were necessary to protect resources, wilderness and wildlife.  People were in many ways an impediment, and dangerous to the earth.

It comes down, to me, a question of "Why save the planet?"  .

One can say that the planet needs to be saved for its own sake.  That wilderness and resources and endangered species provide their own justification, and need none from us.

But for me, we need to save the planet because there are people living on it. Yes, you need to save the whole planet -- not just the parts where there are people living -- because it is a complex system and it is impossible to say what will matter in the future.  And far too many environmental decisions made by individuals, governments and societies are disastrous for people in both the short term and in the long run.

I also believe that people need wilderness, need the idea of wilderness.   We have to have whales, regardless of any practical use they may have, because we are creatures with a capacity for wonder and curiosity, and we require objects for that wonder.  If you doubt the need for whales, go on a whale-watching trip with a group of elementary school kids to see just how vital they are.

All of this influences how you see the struggle, and what problems you become interested in.  Given the choice, I would  much rather focus on the short-sighted repeal of the Williamson Act, and what this means for municipalities and farmers, than on saving the Amazon rainforest.  Again, it's not that I do not view this as important, but that I can only retain focus on a limited set of problems at one time.  Water resource issues, and the tension between agricultural use and municipal use, interest me more than the problems with traffic congestion (and its attendant air-quality concerns) in Yosemite. The former is much more central to how people live their lives on a daily basis.

The lead singer of Great Big Sea, Alan Doyle, once caustically commented on celebrities who went out to the ice to protest the baby seal hunt.  Where were they the rest of the year, he asked, when people were trying to feed their families and get by without having to leave where they have lived for generations?  Whatever you think of the seal fur trade, he has a very good point. Telling people that they are evil for killing fur seals, or for logging in endangered species (such as spotted owl) habitat, may well get the response "Screw you, I need to feed my kids."

All of which means you have to enlist individuals in the fight.  Give people living in the rainforest incentive to save it themselves (which has happened in a lot of areas) and you will be more effective than imposing outside regulation.  Giving farmers financial incentives to conserve through water marketing is going to work better in the long run than imposing quotas on water use. Outside regulation is only needed to keep the all-too-powerful forces of the (alleged) free-market system from overpowering people acting in the best interests of themselves and their families. Or where the problems -- such as air and water pollution -- are larger than can be addressed locally.  Or where what is threatened is one of those areas we need for the health of the people living on the planet even though no people currently live there.  (E.g., the Everglades) .

This is a change for me from twenty years ago when I was in law school. I no longer see regulation (as very important as that may be) as always the best way to solve environmental problems.  Outside regulation is a fragile reed:  that which is given under an environmentally sensitive administration can be taken away by one who is held captive by industrial interests. 

And maybe I have come to have more understanding of, and sympathy for, people who really are just trying to get by. Because they live on this planet, too.

*One of the more thankless things I have ever done.  That I got through the year without strangling anyone -- including myself -- never ceases to amaze me.  One contributor in particular... never mind.  I'm pretty sure I did not do a good -- or even an adequate -- job.  I like to think of it as a clear example of the Peter Principle in operation.

**The difference between the two (although they are sometimes used interchangeably) is that a building can be historically important and completely nondescript:  the elementary schools at the heart of Brown v. Board of Education, are historically important, but pretty unimpressive to look at.  On the other hand, both Fallingwater and the Robie House, residential structures from two different points in Frank Lloyd Wright's career, are aesthetically pleasing and architecturally important, but aside from that have very little historic significance. 

***Don't get me started on Gone With the Wind.  Any book which glorifies the slave-holding culture of the antebellum South is a very bad thing in my estimation.

****Saving not-so-historic places, because people have attachments to them, matters too. See my rant about Kelo v. City of  New London.

Monday, April 18, 2011

As a result of Jan finally having completely bit the dust, I have no access to my music.  Damn.

So I have been listening to a lot of Pandora, especially on the Droid.  The Mazda's sound system has likewise gone the way of the dodo, so it is a convenient way to listen to music while driving (absolutely necessary for me).

I keep hearing new music I love, and music I used to listen to that I forgot how much I love.  One of my channels is "Mary Chapin Carpenter Radio",  so I find myself listening to a lot of women songwriters in country and folk genres.

So far I have found one song I love love love that I had never heard before: "Let the Wind Chase You," by Trisha Yearwood, which led me via YouTube to Sally Barris's original.*  And I have rediscovered a song I adored when I went through my country music phase about eight years ago: the cover of Nanci Griffith's "Outbound Plane" by Suzy Bogguss.**

It's wonderful.  I can hardly wait until I get Jan's replacement (probably a month or so down the road, tentatively named either Eduoard (Manet), Claude (Monet), Chuck (Close) or Marc (Chagall)) so I can buy them for my iTunes.

*The best song I have ever heard for people suffering from unrequited love.  Even better than Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me."  Not that I have any experience with this.  Not, not at all.

**Yes, I know.  Griffith's voice is rawer, and a lot of people like that, in the same way that a lot of people (myself included) prefer John Hiatt's version of "Drive South" over of Bogguss's.  But I just love Suzy's voice.

What a long, strange trip it's been....

I turned fifty yesterday.

That number feels odd.  Unlike forty, where I relished the idea that I did not have to worry about whether people liked me or not anymore, fifty is disturbing.  I am not sure what its significance is, other than people seem to feel that it is significant.

The Red Headed Menace tells me that my life is half over; he seems to believe I will live to be a hundred.  Lovely child.

I know better.  Part of the reason fifty feels so unsettling is that, without being overly melodramatic, there were times when it was a question as to whether I would live to see forty.  It's a full decade past that, and I'm not sure what to do with myself.

There is the "WTF have I done with my life?", usual for birthdays and New Year's Eve. And the answer is, as always, elusive.  I have made my peace, I think, with the fact that I am not going to be anyone whose name the world at large will ever hear.  I am not going to change the world:  the best that I will be able to do is to enable others to do so.  Since I believe firmly that no one does anything on their own, that we are all connected, I recognize that in itself to be an important task.  Still, given the tools that I was blessed to have, in education and ability, it feels like I have wasted far more opportunities than any one person should have the right to.

There is a different sadness this year.  For various reasons in my personal life, I have become acutely aware of all the people that I have lost track of.  I think of them often; I wonder where they are and how they are doing.  And I wonder if I will find the strength to find them and apologize for ever having let them go.

Maybe that's the task for my next half-century.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Not dead yet...

I am still alive. Really. I am not spending all my time playing Angry Birds, either. 

I am writing.  What I am writing -  and thinking through in preparation - for writing is very personal, and not really for public consumption.

There is a possibility of me having writing published. Not a lot, and it is by no means a sure thing, so I don't want to talk about it, yet. But I am excited.

Life is.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

I have drunk the Kool-Aid*

I am typing this from my new Droid phone.*

*And just how annoyed do you think the makers of Kool-Ade get about this saying? In Jonestown, Jim Jones used Flavor-Ade. At least "going postal" refers to an actual incident involving a disgruntled fired postal worker.