Saturday, July 5, 2008

When Road Leads to Neverending Road

There's a line in Waiting for Godot, something to the effect that it is the worst thing to have thought, which would seem pretty stupid. And yet like much of Godot, though it be madness, yet there is a method in't. Witness what happens when instead of jumping on a bandwagon of whatever stripe, you find yourself actually trying to sort things out for yourself.

From the very beginning of the Bobama odyssey, I have been asking, "What, pray tell, is an organizer?" I mean what kind of occupation is that? As a title, it has no substance, an occupation built of air, shapeless, open to all sorts of construction. Then last week, I stumbled upon an article by Byron York in the National Review that took that very tack, namely, what is an organizer and what did Barack Obama do during his tenure as such.

A portion of the article is available on line, and the magazine is still available for a day or two. Aha, I thought upon reading, organizer is just another word for rabble-rouser, because going by the Saul Alinksky rule book, you have to convince people they are wronged, then cause all sorts of grief. Smugly, I thought, "I knew it."

But then I stumbled upon a link to an article/essay by Camille Paglia about Hillary on Penúltimos Días. Now I'm not going to cry crocodile tears for old Hil. If she were a true feminist, she would have given old Bill a good, swift kick in his ample posterior when she discovered he was doing some variation of the dirty with young Monica. She did not. So while I admire her single-mindedness, I cannot see her as the poster girl for feminism. Yet, I know full well that to many men, she is the prototypical emasculating woman. These last would vote for Kim Jong-Il before they would cast a vote in her direction.

It was not the article, then, that got to me, rather, it was the era. I used to love to inform my students that I attended Barnard and not Columbia because that worthy institution admitted men only. You see, I hit my teens during the "women's lib" movement. I benefited from their activism, dare I say "organizing." What was consciousness raising after all? So now, I had to alter my perspective somewhat.

As all roads seem to lead to Cuba lately, I began to realize something the opposition in Cuba has been saying. Just like downtrodden I begin to head toward battered, this near interminable post will never end then....Anyway, it occurs to me that, shockingly, people who have been beaten down might actually need to be informed of the same. I'm not sure what the mechanism is, whether you begin to lose the sense of entitlement as a human being, whether you think that the consumption of crumbs is your appointed lot in life, whatever.

In the end, then, one man or woman's organizer is an other's rabble-rouser. I promise to look into this one carefully. Meantime, "Let's go." (They stay seated.)

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Escapist Reader: Taking It Out On Trade

It's a funny thing, but the format of a book can tell you much about its contents, for instance, those trade paperbacks, you know, the ones that have exactly the same story as your regular joe paperback but cost twice as much. Of course, the kind of trade paperbacks to which I'm referring would not be caught dead in the form of one of those low brow less than tomes. No, these are stories that will never appear in any other form. They will follow the lives of ineloquent, white bread residents of the Midwest, or women with psychosocial "problems," or nonwhites in some distant country. One thing they all share is that nothing much seems to happen, or that by the time the one thing does happen the reader has ceased to care.

I blame Oprah for the rise of the trade paperback, although I do so with a heavy heart. Oprah has done a good thing with her book recommendations: rekindled the interest of many women in reading, stimulated a portion of the beleaguered publishing industry, and generally presented reading as a good thing in our increasingly non literate society. I used to read all of her selections until Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, circa nineteen ninety something, which was so depressing it crystallized for me what was wrong with them. The people were boring, and their lives were enough to send me reaching for the scotch that must be somewhere in the back of the junk closet. In the past few years, thankfully, she's turned to the classics so at least we can be depressed with more style. Here's a complete list of her book club titles.

Actually, I don't object to all of them, just the contemporary trade paperback titles. Have a gander at the summer reading list in her magazine here. Don't think I'll be picking up any of these babies anytime soon. Call me a Philistine, but I have my own theory of what a summer reading book should be. It should have a beginning, middle, and an end, even if the end is at the beginning. It should have interesting characters, not lumpen. Most importantly, something should happen. For sitting on a beach, nothing beats murder, mayhem, international espionage, even romance. What I don't want while on the sand is a book that forces me to think, that makes it a struggle to focus. Instead, engross me, make me care about your characters, carry me along with the strength of the writing, and stay away from the passive voice. Let me have a little vicarious thrill. There will be time enough for serious matter in the fall.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Barnyard Story

A friend sent me this one, and I just had to share. I wish I could give credit where it is due.


John the farmer was in the fertilized egg business. He had several hundred young layers (hens), called 'pullets', and ten roosters, whose job it was to fertilize the eggs.

The farmer kept records and any rooster that didn't perform went into the soup pot and was replaced. That took an awful lot of his time, so he bought a set of tiny bells and attached them to his roosters. Each bell had a different tone so John could tell from a distance, which rooster was performing. Now he could sit on the porch and fill out an efficiency report simply by listening to the bells.

The farmer's favorite rooster was "old" Butch, a very fine specimen he was, too. But on this particular morning John noticed "old" Butch's bell hadn't rung at all! John went to investigate. The other roosters were chasing pullets, bells-a-ringin g. The pullets, hearing the roosters coming, would run for cover.

But to Farmer John's amazement, "old" Butch had his bell in his beak, so it couldn't ring. He'd sneak up on a pullet, do his job and walk on to the next one. John was so proud of old Butch, he entered him in the Renfrew County Fair and he became an overnight sensation among the judges.

The result...The judges not only awarded "old Butch" the No Bell Piece Prize but they awarded him the Pulletsurprise as well.

Clearly "old Butch" was a politician in the making: who else but a politician could figure out how to win two of the most highly coveted awards on our planet by being the best at sneaking up on the populace and screwing them when they weren't paying attention.

Vote carefully this year...the bells are not always audible

Summer Rain

I'm driving home, stopped at a red light. A few minutes later, as I cross the intersection, I go from overcast brooding sky to torrential Florida rain. There is something wonderful in the moment, something intimate as the skies break all around me. And I realize I have been happy all day. It hits me that I am a lucky woman.

It's not my circumstances- they can be heartbreaking. It is that somewhere along the road, I've picked up the ability to enjoy the moment. To appreciate just moving and breathing, music in the background, as I go about my work day. To absorb the warmth and the sun, even when it is torrid, or accept the invitation to settle in when the tropical rains come. In short, to enjoy just being alive. Who could have it better?

Sometimes, when things are really tough and I'm feeling overwhelmed, I think of the Taoist story about Chef Ting. And I think to myself that I've had to live my life in the spaces between the joints, as if others had gotten much more. Camus' Meursault thinks he could get used to living in the trunk of a tree. I wouldn't go that far. But I do know that there is happiness to be found in the spaces between the life we thought we would lead and the one we have.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Not Always on a Sunday Round-Up

The rumors of his election demise may be greatly exaggerated. In this Wall Street Journal Article, John Fund offers McCain some advice, maintaining that McCain's loss is not a given and that some of the polls reflecting huge leads for BO are somewhat skewed by sampling.

A plague on both your houses! And from Variety, a piece on the expansion of the Olbermann/O'Reilly feud. Let's play a game and see if you can spot where the author's bias rears its sneaky head. There is one truth here, that MSNBC has damaged its news cred bigtime.

They weren't whistling "Dixie," that's for sure. Interesting discovery of Aztec "Death" whistle here. Sounds spooky, apparently. Who knew there was a new field, studying sound in Aztec culture.

Just when you think you have seen it all. In the "say, what?" department, you can now order your very own cute and cuddly Ebola... is it a Prion, or am I thinking of Mad Cow? Incidentally, you can get that, too, at Giant Microbe, the stuffed doll(?) that is.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Glimmers of a Silver Lining

The host of Squawk Box was scrounging for some good news this AM while making an appearance on Morning Joe. He started out speaking about inflation in Asia, added in fuel costs, and presented the notion that American companies were rethinking outsourcing, as in the jobs may come back. Got me to thinking.... Not to make light of the economic situation, but could there be positive aspects to a dismal situation?

Let's take his example, if inflation is pushing up Asian wages, and oil prices increasing transport costs, then producing in the USA becomes possibly more attractive. Heck, maybe the United States Army will actually purchase its berets from an American manufacturer.

And won't rising global inflation, particularly the increased cost of gasoline, help tamp down global demand and potentially loosen supply?

Could, potentially, these higher costs spur the development of alternative technologies to the point that they could eventually be more cost effective?

Haven't the increased prices at the pump already had an effect on driving habits? As we curtail the use of our cars, won't supplies be increased, thereby putting pressure on the price, and if nothing else won't reduced carbon emissions cheer up the "global warming" crowd?

Speaking of increased transport costs... horrible on the trucking industry, I know. But will they mean that the long, neglected railroads might get a bit of attention?

What about the housing debacle? Granted that it will be more difficult to get a mortgage and the job situation can be iffy, but will the declining home prices provide more first time home buyers, particularly the young, a shot at owning a home?

Although I foresee a great deal of pain, I am optimistic. Markets tend to right themselves over time; they are incredibly efficient in that way. And when this all plays out, we will have had a lesson in the risks inherent in our dependence on fossil fuels, and we will have progressed a bit in developing alternative fuel sources before falling costs lead us back to our old ways. And that's important, remember Hubbard's Pimple? We are ever closer to the day when oil prices will be dictated by geologic fact and not the vagaries of markets.