Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

May the world be a kinder, more peaceful place in 2006.

Missed opportunity

I have never asked my grandmother these questions (and more), and now, as she's too feeble to carry on conversation, I can't:

1. Were you there when I was born? (Yes, I can ask my mother, but that will be my mother's version.)
2. When and why did you move back and forth between Illinois and Maryland? (I know why she moved to MD at one point in the 60's -- to get out of my uncle's way when he married, even though he would NEVER have asked her to do so; that's why she did it. I know why she moved back to IL for good -- to care for her aged mother. But she made this move numerous times. Why did she move the other times?)

3. Tell me about your lousy marriage. (She once told me she would, but she never did. I never pushed it because I didn't want to dredge up her painful memories. Now I think that was a mistake.)

Then there's a question she probably couldn't answer -- what took away your boldness? She was a girl who routinely rode a horse standing on its back. By the time I knew her (and she was only 40 when I was born), everything from physical items to social situations was an occasion for potential disaster: slamming car doors, negotiating stairs, taking on positions of responsibility, choosing to be educated.

I'm going to think about the questions I want to ask my mother, and this time I'll ask them and get my answers. I won't make the same mistake twice.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

More beauty: A really bad hair day

I was almost asleep last night when I remembered something my grandmother told me recently.

She had her hair cut a few weeks ago, and apparently the stylist was scissor-happy and snipped it very short, man-style, the shortest she could recall her hair ever being cut. She said everyone agreed that the haircut was drastic and not "her."

She's dying, she has a bad haircut, and she hasn't had the chance to grow her hair back.

Damn. A lousy hairdo for the rest of eternity.


I once read that every little girl thinks her mother is the most beautiful woman in the world. That may be a slight overstatement ... but I know I did. And I was right.

She still is beautiful; she's just a little older. So am I.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Never mind...

Although I haven't written about it here, I have discussed with friends the story that a student at UMass Dartmouth was visited by Federal agents following his checking out a copy of Mao's Little Red Book.

It turns out the kid lied.

The young man's professor

said the whole affair has had one bright point: The question of whether it is safe for students to do research has been answered.

"I can now tell my students that it is safe to do research without being monitored," he said. "With that hanging in the air like before, I couldn't say that to them."

Sounds a little non-sequitur-ish to me. The young man lied, but that doesn't mean the professor's students' library records aren't being monitored. I mean, really...

The bitter with the sweet

Christmas was a gentle day; even Tall Son, whose girlfriend recently broke his heart, seemed to find the day pleasant, even if he would rather have spent it with the woman who has sent him away. Far-Away Daughter -- still far away -- and her family were ill on Christmas Eve, but recovered by the big day, and she and her husband, Semi-Doc, had an exciting time with the kiddies and her inlaws. Marine Son and his wife, Indian Princess, drove down just for the day. We ate until it hurt, we opened gifts (a stunned Bitty received a new computer via gift cards and an IOU; we picked it up yesterday), and then overwhelmed me napped. While I was sleeping, Marine Son picked up his boy, First Grandson, and later in the day the three of them drove home. First Grandson is spending the week with his father and stepmother. A good time was had by all.

Before Marine Son and family went home, we called Grammie. Uncle G answered the phone. When I said I was glad he was still there so I'd get a chance to talk to him, he said softly, "Oh yes, we're all still here. We can't leave her alone any more." When I talked to Grammie she sounded weary (as she had the last time we'd spoken, on the 23rd), but she sounded cheerful. She catalogued all the people who had called her -- quite a long list since my mother alone has 10 children -- and when she was finished, she catalogued them at least two more times. Then I talked to Uncle D, who promised to call me privately later to tell me what was really going on.

My mother called me yesterday. Uncle D called her and asked her to pass the message on. Grammie must go to a nursing home. She has reached a point -- details not necessary -- that she needs someone nearby at all times, 24 hours a day. Uncle D and his saint of a wife, A, wanted to take her to their home, but she refused. So sometime -- very soon -- she will leave her home for good and pass into the care of strangers. I hope they will be kind strangers. Although there are so many nursing home nightmare stories, I've also heard that if relatives are involved, the patients get good care. My uncles will probably be there daily...and none of us expect her stay to be very long.

Death brings people together in all sorts of interesting ways. Because of Grammie's cancer, Marine Son and I went to see her in October, and in doing so, I reconnected with my uncles and Aunt P, and I met Uncle D's wife. I never got around to writing about that. Maybe I will someday; maybe what I'm saying now is all I need to say about it. Although I sent Christmas cards to them over the years, and when Grammie would be visiting any of us, she'd call the others and make us talk to one another (an awkward situation since we didn't know each other well enough to do much more than discuss the weather), I hadn't seen my uncles and Aunt P since I was a teenager. That was a very long time ago. So Grammie's illness has reconnected me with these relatives and made me a member of the family again.

I've also had long conversations with people whose loved ones have died like Grammie, not suddenly but due to lingering illness, and their stories are remarkably the same. One friend described it as the reverse of birth: the dying person acts much like the newborn, sleeping all the time, unable to converse coherently, dependent on others for food and basic hygiene.

I haven't called Grammie yet. I'm afraid I can't without crying. But I must before the end of the day.

This is life, though: great joy and love alongside deep sorrow. The secret of life, I suppose, is learning to deal with that juxtaposition.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy holiday!

May your December 25th be a day of laughter and togetherness and good food, whether you're celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwaanza, or just the opportunity to put your feet up!

Joy and love to all.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Meme of four

Taking up Waveflux's challenge, I hereby offer my answers to the following meme:

Four jobs you've had in your life: Tax preparer (H&R Block); general office schmuck (Social Security Administration and several other places); legal secretary; English instructor
Four movies you could watch over and over: A Christmas Story; Return to Me; About a Boy; Othello (Laurence Fishburne version)
Four places you've lived (as opposed to merely visited, as in two questions hence): Abingdon, Maryland; Patuxent River, Maryland; Rock Island, Illinois; Somewhere, Florida (good thing I only need to name four, because that’s it)
Four TV shows you love to watch: It depends on what you mean by four -- Lost (the only show I can’t bear to miss); NYPD Blue (have a thing for Sipowicz); all the Law & Orders, but especially SVU & CI; almost anything on HGTV.
Four places you've been on vacation: San Diego, CA; various relatives’ homes in Illinois; Washington, D.C.; Disney World
Four websites you visit daily: Waveflux, Salon, writing as jo(e), BitchPhD
Four of your favorite foods: Chicken chef salad from Steak ‘n Shake; salmon; Maryland-style steamed crabs; Maryland-style crabcakes
Four places you'd rather be: My daughter’s house; my sister’s house; my grandmother’s house; in bed, asleep

(Alanna, you have no blog, but feel free to do the meme in the comments! You, too, F!)

Merry Christmas please don't yell at me

Against my usually better judgment, I made a stop at Target today. I'm still beyond angry about its policy of allowing pharmacists to dispense prescriptions according to their personal belief systems. However, I needed speedy one-stop shopping, so I headed for Target. Two days before Christmas, pragmatism must take precedence over principles.

I checked out with a personable young woman of about 18. She was cheerful and efficient, and I was ready to leave in no time. As we concluded our transaction and she handed me my receipt, she wished me a Merry Christmas, but it sounded more like a question than a declarative sentence. Maybe I read too much into it, but I could have sworn that at that point, there was more than a hint of trepidation in her voice. I wondered if Target had instructed her to say goodbye with that phrase (versus the now-poisonous "Happy Holidays"). I wondered if she'd been suffering lectures in both directions: praise for using the "correct" phrase or disdain for her lack of sensitivity by not being all-inclusive. I thought about asking her about it, but that would get her into the kind of conversation that she just might be dreading.

Really, she was a kid making $6.50/hour. I'm sure all she wanted to do was put in her time and cash her paycheck.

So I said, "You, too," and I left.

Happy holidays, everyone.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Best Wishes for a Christmas of peace and joy and a New Year of triumph over terrorism

This barely requires comment by me.

Except I do wonder if the Bushes have theirs on display.

(The rest of the story...)

One more thing that's wrong with network news

White House Correspondent David Gregory of NBC News has been showing up to work in the past months, challenging both Scott McClellan and George Bush to account for themselves.


Following Scooter Libby's indictment,
[T]he president glowered at NBC News reporter David Gregory, when he shouted at Bush, "Are you embarrassed by these charges?" The president had to walk within a few feet of the correspondent to get to his helicopter on the South Lawn, and Bush stared hard at Gregory as he continued to shout questions.

At a press conference, Gregory told McClellan point-blank that

his credibility "may very well be on trial with the American public" and ask[ed], "Don't you agree?"
Then there was this very recent gem of an exchange between Gregory and McClellan, in which Gregory accuses McClellan and the administration of being "hypocritical [and ...] inconsistent [...] ad nauseam":

Q Scott, the President told Brit Hume that he thought that Tom DeLay is not guilty, even though the prosecution is obviously ongoing. What does the President feel about Scooter Libby? Does he feel that Mr. Libby --

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. First of all, the President was asked a question and he responded to that question in the interview yesterday, and made very clear what his views were. We don't typically tend to get into discussing legal matters of that nature, but in this instance, the President chose to respond to it. Our policy regarding the Fitzgerald investigation and ongoing legal proceeding is well-known and it remains unchanged. And so I'm just not going to have anything further to say. But we've had a policy in place for a long time regarding the Fitzgerald investigation.

Q Why would that not apply to the same type of prosecution involving Congressman DeLay?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just told you we had a policy in place regarding this investigation, and you've heard me say before that we're not going to talk about it further while it's ongoing.

Q Well, if it's prejudging the Fitzgerald investigation, isn't it prejudging the Texas investigation with regard to Congressman DeLay?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think I've answered your question.

Q Can I follow up on that"? Is the President at all concerned that his opinion on this being expressed publicly could influence a potential jury pool, could influence public opinion on this in an improper way?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that in this instance he was just responding to a question that was asked about Congressman DeLay, about Leader DeLay, and in terms of the issue that Peter brings up, I think that we've had a policy in place, going back to 2003, and that's a White House policy.

Q But that policy has been based in part, in the leak investigation and other things, on the idea that it is simply wrong for a President to prejudge a criminal matter, particularly when it's under indictment or trial stage. Why would he --

MR. McCLELLAN: And that's one -- this is an ongoing investigation regarding possible administration officials. So I think there are some differences here.

Q There are lots of times when you don't comment on any sort of legal --

MR. McCLELLAN: There are also legal matters that we have commented on, as well. And certainly there are legal matters when it goes to Saddam Hussein.

Q So the President is inconsistent?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, David, we put a policy in place regarding this investigation --

Q But it's hypocritical. You have a policy for some investigations and not others, when it's a political ally who you need to get work done?

MR. McCLELLAN: Call it presidential prerogative; he responded to that question. But the White House established a policy --

Q Doesn't it raise questions about his credibility that he's going to weigh in on some matters and not others, and we're just supposed to sit back and wait for him to decide what he wants to comment on and influence?

MR. McCLELLAN: Congressman DeLay's matter is an ongoing legal proceeding --

Q As is the Fitzgerald investigation --

MR. McCLELLAN: The Fitzgerald investigation is --

Q -- As you've told us ad nauseam from the podium.

MR. McCLELLAN: It's an ongoing investigation, as well.

Q How can you not -- how can you say there's differences between the two, and we're supposed to buy that? There's no differences. The President decided to weigh in on one, and not the other.

MR. McCLELLAN: There are differences.

Q And the public is supposed to accept the fact that he's got no comment on the conduct of senior officials of the White House, but when it's a political ally over on the Hill who's got to help him get work done, then he's happy to try to influence that legal process.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, not at all. Not at all. You can get all dramatic about it, but you know what our policy is.
So how dismayed was I to click on the TV this morning and find Crusading Reporter David Gregory co-hosting the abomination that is Today's 3rd hour?? (He might have been there all morning, but these few minutes were all I saw.) Following a promo for the Brian Setzer Orchestra's performance tomorrow, the "gang" sang along with Setzer and prodded Gregory to awkwardly join along as they writhed to the music in white-folks-can't-dance mode (made all the more ironic by the fact that Al Roker was one of the writhers).

NBC: Don't squander credible reporters such as David Gregory on this kind of piffle. This nonsense makes Gregory look almost as non-credible as those fools he's done such a fine job of challenging in the recent past.

Sidebar: I only watch Today in drips and drops, but I've noticed that in the recent past, as part of Today's highly questionable attempts to boost ratings, Katie and Matt quietly disappear in the third hour, and we're treated to a heavy dose of the not-good-very-bad-quite-horrible posturing of Alexis Glick. (Now I feel a little badly about publicly bashing Glick. But only a little. She's probably a nice person personally, but as a "journalist," she's fawning and annoying. She asks dumb questions when she's not reading from a card, and her phony cheerleader demeanor drives me nuts. Somebody please find her a nice infomercial job somewhere, please, and get her off my TV in the morning.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Breaking News: United States Senate Grows Spine

Earlier today, I was dismayed as I listened to a news report about the filibuster intended to delay passage of the much-needed defense spending bill as a protest against the not-needed ANWR drilling provision that was added to the bill. That's all anyone thought would happen at that hour: that the filibuster offered a delay and that drilling in ANWR was inevitable. CNN reports:

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, who led the floor debate in opposition to the drilling provision, called it [adding the ANWR drilling to the defense bill] "legislative blackmail" and said Democrats agreed they "were not going to get jammed" by the tactic.
And she was right. Today Senate Republicans could not scare up enough support to override the filibuster and bring the bill to a vote.
Republican leaders could not break a Democratic filibuster threat over the drilling issue, falling three votes short of the 60 votes need to advance the defense spending bill to a final vote. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, left the bill in limbo as he, [Ted] Stevens and other GOP leaders gauged their next move.

The measure was widely expected to be withdrawn and reworked without the refuge language, although Stevens warned he was ready to stay until New Year's if necessary to fight for the drilling, a cause he has pursued for 25 of his 37 years in the Senate.
Puts me in mind of Inspector Javert...

New York State of Mind

One New Yorker discusses living with the transit strike.

So does another...

And me all warm in my Florida home (where it is currently 39 degrees, thank you), and enjoying my winter break. I almost feel guilty.

Paranoia'll Destroy Ya

Early March, 2003. At the anti-war protest, the one guy was clearly out of place, or so said My Friend. He was hyper-clean-cut, and while he was dressed in casual clothes like the other protestors, his tennies were unscuffed, his jeans appeared stiff and unfaded, his sweatshirt had none of the gentle pilling of washing. In short, he looked newly-minted. At least that was My Friend's take on him.

Clean-Cut Guy also had a fascination with photography, My Friend declared. Oddly, he didn't seem to be taking interesting group-protest shots; he was snapping individuals, so reported My Friend.

Any time the camera was pointed in his direction, My Friend turned his body away. "It's the government spying on protestors," My Friend told me.

With Friday's revelation that George Bush authorized domestic surveillance without the benefit of court order and his subsequent announcement that he'll continue to do so, My Friend no longer sounds so paranoid, does he?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Needed: an intervention

If I gain weight these holidays, it will be for one reason only:

Danish Butter Cookies

Someone please help me stop. Please.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Customer No-Service

In the computer age, when even a really young kid can successfully surf the net, Barnes & Noble maybe ought to rethink its customer service procedures in its brick & mortar stores.

I heard about a book on Diane Rehm's show yesterday and I knew immediately that it was the gift I wanted for my friend L. The problem is that I've been kind of overworked lately; to compensate, I went nowhere near a computer all of yesterday through about 6 p.m. today. So I walked into B&N unprepared. I couldn't remember the name of the book, but I knew it was sort of like The Republican Dictionary. I waited quite some time for one of the very busy customer service people to get off the phone. When one did and I got my turn, she couldn't find anything in the computer based on my vague recollection.

Naturally, as soon as I stepped away from the customer service booth, I remembered the name: The Dictionary of Republicanisms. Alas, it was too late. "My" customer service rep was leading a pair of young men somewhere, presumably toward their desired purchase, and the other rep was continuing the conversation that the poor young man had been having for at least 10 minutes with someone about Narnia books. And four people were waiting in line.

I went home.

I ordered the book from Amazon and am having it shipped straight to L. I'll give her a printout of the webpage in a card tomorrow.

My point is this: almost all of us know how to quickly find books on websites. Why not revamp the system and scatter terminals around the store that would allow customers access to the B&N webpage? Why not link the webpage to the store's inventory and let customers know if the book is in stock and what section they'll find it in? (Most computer/electronics stores let online customers know if their desired purchase is in stock in the local brick & mortar store.) Why is the store's inventory a closely-guarded secret?

I somehow suspect that this wouldn't put the service reps out of work; people will always have questions. But why not let customers find the answers we're capable of finding on our own?

Bitty returns with a self-assessment

Having been buried under a paper blob of student writing for what seems like months now, I hope to actually blog a thing or two in the coming weeks.

I started my blogging day with a visit to Waveflux's acre of cyberspace, where I discovered a link to a quiz that helped me feel secure in my femininity...and my masculinity.

Three questions into the quiz I could see where it was going, but what I found interesting was discovering where I stand I comparison to others who have taken the quiz. Even though I'm apparently a female female, I'm rather certain that twenty-five years ago when I was married and meek I'd have scored a negative 20 on the masculinity scale. I've come a long way, baby.

You scored 43 masculinity and 83 femininity!
You scored high on femininity and low on masculinity. You have a traditionally feminine personality.

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 7% on masculinity

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 92% on femininity
Link: The Bem Sex Role Inventory Test written by weirdscience on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

Sunday, December 04, 2005

"It's hard to imagine it's 25 years"

Thursday, December 8, will mark the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. The AP is running a compelling article that recounts that night from the point of view of several witnesses to the evening's events. A sample:

Cullen [one of the police officers, upon his arrival at the scene] was struck by the lack of movement: the doorman, a building handyman and the killer, all standing as if frozen.

"Somebody just shot John Lennon!" the doorman finally shouted, pointing at Chapman.

"Where's Lennon?" Cullen asked. The rock star was crumpled inside a nearby vestibule, blood pouring from his chest. There were bullet holes in the glass; Cullen went to Lennon's side as Spiro [another policeman] cuffed the gunman.

Two other officers lugged Lennon's limp body to a waiting police car, which sped downtown to Roosevelt Hospital. The cuffed suspect directed Spiro to his copy of "The Catcher in the Rye," which was lying on the ground nearby with the inscription, "This is my statement." And then he spoke: "I acted alone," Chapman said.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Rush Hour at the Campus Snack Bar

The line was long.

When it was finally the Customer’s turn, she put down her coffee and Cheetos, and the cashier promptly advised her of her total: $2.18.

It was only then that she bent to the floor and began fumbling with a zipper on her wheeled backpack. Eventually, she pulled out a wallet and rezipped the backpack. Straightening up, she flipped through the wallet. Not finding what she was looking for, she flipped again. Finally, she pulled out a card.

The cashier slid the card through the reader. She slid it again. She slid it a third time. Frowning, she looked at it. “Ma’am,” she asked the Customer, who was neither a particularly young woman nor an old one, “do you have Blank Bucks on this card?”


“I’m sorry. You can only use this at (location 1) and (location 2) on campus unless you go to the food services office and put Blank Bucks on the card. ”

“Ok,” the Customer said. “I have another card.” She began flipping through the wallet. She flipped again. She flipped a third time. Finally, she pulled out a blue card with a Visa logo.

The cashier slid the card through the reader, and promptly handed the Customer her receipt. “Thank you,” the cashier said with a smile, and in the same moment began ringing up my Diet Pepsi and soup. “Three fifty-six,” she said.

I reached over the Customer to hand the cashier a ten-dollar bill while the Customer began fumbling with the wallet to put the two cards away. The cashier handed me change as the Customer zipped up her wallet. I picked up my things and walked around her. As I reached the door, I looked back. The cashier was handing change to the young man who had been behind me, and the Customer was bending toward her backpack to put the wallet away.

As far as I know, she might be there still.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Note to some of you

Remember when we were really, really little and we believed that if we closed our eyes, other people couldn't see us?

Some of you apparently still believe something very similar -- that if you aren't looking at us, we can't hear your incredibly loud and invasive cell phone conversation.

We can.

Cut it out.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

One reads books...

in order to gain the privilege of living more than one life. People who don't read are trapped in a mine shaft, even if they think the sun is shining.
Words of wisdom from Garrison Keillor.

Get Lost

I'm here to help with your Christmas shopping: ABC has a Lost store for the Lost fan on your Christmas list. (Shhh...don't tell my son M).

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Better even than two front teeth...

This comes to me from my friend F and frankly is the only thing either of us wants to find under our tree...

Monday, November 28, 2005

My life in one sentence

I just remembered that I bought a book on getting organized a few months ago, but I don't remember where I put it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Maybe Tony Blair HAS made himself useful

If the current stories circulating about Bush's plan to bomb Al-Jazeera prove to be true, including the part about Tony Blair's talking him out of it, perhaps we ought to start looking at Blair in a new light.

Maybe Blair isn't a total sellout. Maybe by embracing Bush's cause rather than opposing it, he's actually been working to mitigate the damage.

While the White House spins the story as lies, lies, and more lies, it's not hard to imagine a plan like this coming from an administration that has no use for dissenting opinions.

Maybe, too, we now understand why the New York Times let Judy Miller carry on as long as she did.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Just one question for now

My life is crowded with work and my blogging of late has been limited to peeking into others' blogs, but I have been mulling over one question for days now that simply must be asked.

In this incredibly technology-based world where we can, for instance, download Google Earth and practically see the individual shingles on our own roofs and where, on advanced sonograms, we can see the facial features of an unborn child (though those photos are rather creepy), why, why, why, why, why are surveillance photos and videos from stores, banks, hotel lobbies, etc. -- where capturing a reasonable likeness of a thief or murderer is, you know, kind of useful -- always so grainy and blurry that they are, essentially, useless?

What do you mean do I recognize the man in that photo? That's a man?

My life is an indie flick and I'm totally cool with that

The Movie Of Your Life Is An Indie Flick

You do things your own way - and it's made for colorful times.
Your life hasn't turned out how anyone expected, thank goodness!

Your best movie matches: Clerks, Garden State, Napoleon Dynamite

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Bitty's one-tree orange grove

Today we picked and ate three of the seventeen or so oranges on my tree. This is the first year that the tree, which cost $5 about 10 years ago, has produced more than two oranges. They were heavy with juice and had a subtle but sweet flavor: they were utterly perfect. My gardening secret?

I completely neglect the tree.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I am Schroeder

You are Schroeder!

Which Peanuts Character are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

But so are 21% of those who take the quiz. Can it be? Can there be so many people Just Like Me out there?

Who are you?

Coming attractions

I fear I'll never find the time to pay proper attention to this blog again!

Part of me would love to comment on all the political goings-on, although I also must acknowledge that there are abundant blogs doing a better job than I ever could. So I'm not missed.

Part of me also wants to discuss my recent trip to Illinois (with a few hours spent in Iowa, a few seconds of that devoted to my being face down in Iowa mud!). On the trip, I learned two seemingly contradictory things:

You can go home again. (I was born in Chicago, lived in Rock Island my first four years, and visited Illinois many summers during my childhood.)

People often say that we should travel to other countries because it allows us to see the world from a different perspective. I say spending a week in the rural midwest if you don't already live there just might accomplish the same goal. I frequently felt that I WAS in another country (not a feeling I had on my earlier trip to California, by the way), and I say that with love and a sense of wonder.
As I think about my little blog and my desire to attend to it (which I have no real time to do right now), I also recognize that the whole blogging thing is a tad narcissistic. At the same time, I love to read blogs because they provide me a peek into the lives and minds of others without the gatekeeping mechanism that formal publishing creates. So, I might be a narcissist, but I'm also adding to the collective voice on the web that says this is what it means to be an "ordinary" person.

Bitty's blog, to be continued...someday soon, I hope.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

ANTS 2!!!! : The Ants are Winning

But for a few stragglers, the ants seem to be gone from my closet. This would appear to be a victory, but now the question is: where did they go? My proud little moment of stirring them up may have served to make them move on to a place I'd even less like to encounter them.

If this is psychological warfare, the ants are winning.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Screwed on a bed

Yeah, you read that right.

Here's another example of the total lack of ethics in commerce today, in case you haven't seen enough.

Man buys mattress set, major label mattress set. It's a dog, however, a real piece o' junk, and he'd really like the company to honor its warranty.

His dealer took a look at the mattress but has yet to tell him if it is being honnored [sic] under its 10 year warranty.


[The buyer] says you need a magnifying glass to see what's covered and what's not covered because of the fine print.


One of the company owners promised to take a look at the mattress but said they were informed there's a stain and a stain may void the warranty.

Simmons' offices were closed on Friday, but their website states that if the product is stained or soiled, Simmons reserves the right to deny warranty coverage.

It's a well-known fact that stains damage the structural integrity of mattresses. Yeah, right.

Writing the "stain clause" into the warranty is dealing in bad faith, plain and simple. Show me a mattress of any age that isn't stained! Even if it's slept upon by the chastest of nuns, the drool and sweat factors alone are going to visit some itty bitty stain on the upholstery. By writing in the "stain clause," Simmons virtually guarantees never to have to make good on any warranty.

The customer is no longer right; instead, the corporate behemoths strive to avoid the logical and the moral.

That's just so wrong.


I'm a big believer in synchronicity, defined by Merriam Webster as:

the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality -- used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung
Numerous times I've had things come into my life just before or just as I need them, whether those things were ideas or objects or advice.

Over the weekend I was catching up on my blog reading, and found Waveflux's amusing and self-effacing tale of dealing with a home-improvement nightmare. Central to the horror was an infestation of carpenter ants and their eradication by a pest-control professional through the use of "some kind of dust" that the ants would walk through, leading to their deaths and those of their peers. I hazarded a guess that the dust might have been boric acid.


Late yesterday I filled up the bathroom closet with freshly laundered towels. This morning I reached into that same closet for the pink one on top ... and set into motion a hundred -- maybe more -- really pissed off ants that had been homesteading under the towel.

I really hate ants.

I'm not sure these are the carpenter kind since several of them bit me and I just don't remember the carpenters being that aggressive. Maybe they are and we've just never had this kind of run-in before. Several more ants managed to jump on me and I was still frantically brushing off their biting little selves when I got to the kitchen. I still had phantom ants crawling all over me fifteen minutes later.

What to do?

I could have sprayed them, but that would have just stained and smelled up my towels and my bathroom and would have disbursed their angry little selves all over the bathroom where I still had to take a shower. Then I remembered Waveflux's "some kind of dust" and poured a generous helping of boric acid into a little glass dish. Synchronicity. I set it out on the shelf next to the towels and then showered.

Just before I left for the day, I reached inside the closet one more time, grabbed the edge of the pink towel, shook it like a wet dog, and as the ants went flying, I took off a-runnin'.

I hope the ants enjoy their dish full of poison. I hope it works.

To be continued.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Traffic paralyzed; 26 cattle die after truck turns over on I-74

Carnage and misery everywhere...!

I've returned from my trip, at least as far as my office. I hope to make it to my actual home within a few hours.

Yesterday my son and I traveled from my grandmother's home in western Illinois to my son's home in eastern South Carolina, more or less straight through.

It's the less part that I must share with you, dear reader.

We were making pretty good time when, outside Cincinnati, traffic suddenly crawled to a near-stop. We all hate when that happens, don't we? After a half hour or so of inching forward, the line of traffic gave up the pretense and we all just stopped. Once it became clear that forward movement wasn't going to resume any time soon, my son decided to get out of the car and ask the trucker next to us what was going on, since of course truckers always know what's happening on the road.

A few minutes later, my son returned and turned off the engine.

"It's going to be a while," he said. "A cattle truck overturned and they're busy shooting cattle up there."

A tractor-trailer carrying cattle rolled over early Wednesday morning, turning Interstate 74 into a cattle range and delaying the morning commutes of tens of thousands of motorists, some for hours.

The single-truck accident left 26 cattle dead, shut Interstate 74 and a 2½-mile section of Interstate 275 for more than 10 hours and caused gridlock on local roads throughout western Hamilton County.

Officials closed the two highways because they worried the 13 surviving cattle were spooked and could dart in and out of traffic.

(Video here.)
Sheriff deputies and volunteers -- some on horseback -- rounded up five but resorted to shooting the others when they could not capture them after hours of trying.

Most of the animals had been rounded up in the morning but got away.
We were lucky enough to reach our exit before we reached the intersection where, indeed, amateurs were trying to herd cattle on the interstate and were, indeed, shooting cattle.

It was still a bad day for the thirteen cattle who survived the accident; they continued their the slaughterhouse.

We, on the other hand, made it home just fine.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Blindsided (ok, one more post)

I really am outta here in a few minutes.

I was mulling over how uninformed most of the country is. Many people don't watch news because they don't care, don't have time, etc. There is lots of info on the internet, but again, for many, "current events" is a big ho-hum or at least not something they take time to be on top of. I'm willing to bet that many, many people know nothing about Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation, etc.

How shocked are they going to be when (presumably) top White House officials are indicted? They'll be blindsided, for sure.

I don't feel any particular glee about the fact that tons of doody are about to hit the fan. I'm scared to death of what happens next...although I've also been scared to death of what's come before this.

Our country has been in trouble for a long time. Some people are only just about to find out how much trouble. And many, of course, aren't going to believe it.

God help us all.

I'm outta here

Bitty's Back Porch is going on hiatus for a little over a week while I go to visit my grandmother.

I won't even be near a computer; can you imagine? People still live that way!

Have a splendid week.

A very happy non-anniversary to me!

Had I remained married, today would be my 34th anniversary. (Odd; I could have sworn I was only 34 years can this be?)

Nothing ugly intended, but gee whiz I'm really glad that I'm NOT celebrating that anniversary today! How different my life would be, and I'd rather have it the way it is.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Two obituaries

Since everyone else is talking about this, I will be brief.

CNN reports that by its reckoning, we've passed the 2000 mark on deaths due to the Iraqi exercise. We all must go sometime, but odds are this unlucky 2000th person was someone who had barely begun to live, who hadn't even begun to figure out what mark he or she might make on the world. (Granted, there are those, including perhaps the deceased, who would say that the military service was that mark. I, with military family members, would not disagree and am not disparaging this person's sacrifice. But what more might he or she have done?)

Conversely, the soft-spoken Rosa Parks has also died, but at age 92, after literally changing the world for the better.

I leave you to mull over the possibilities of what might have been for the absent 2000.

Cyber security hell: not a place for the flip-flopper

I am not a person who deals in absolutes. I don't look at the world in terms of black and white, and I certainly don't see it in terms of absolute favorites. Not since I was eleven have I had, for instance, "a" favorite color. Call me wishy-washy if you must, label me flip-flopper, but my answer to that kind of question is, it depends.

Do you want me to wear that color or paint it on my bedroom wall?

Am I going to drive it around or see it in a flower?

Is it my most-preferred shade of sunset or the color I love best in babies' eyes?
Imagine my horror, then, when my banking institution changed its system so that when I logged in today, I was forced -- forced! -- not only to answer one such silly "favorites" question (for security purposes), but three.

First, I had my choice of declaring either my favorite restaurant, band, movie, or song. Uh-oh. In trouble already. Restaurant, for instance? For sit-down or carry out? For cheap eats or splurging? For dining alone or with others?

And because I had to pick three questions (and answers) out of twelve, I had to deal with this agony twelve times over!

In the end, I made these horrific decisions in order to look at my money:

my favorite restaurant
my favorite drink
my favorite (dear God!) person
There are no definitive answers to ANY of these questions, especially the last one. And even though I chose X as my favorite person -- for banking purposes only! -- I still love the rest of you.

Random Act of Kindness...I hope

There's a snack bar of sorts in the building where I work, and on my way there recently, I noticed some mail on the ground next to an overflowing trash can. The mail was stamped but not postmarked.

When I came out, the mail was still there on the ground, so I picked it up. One item was a postcard written in French. (C'est vrai!) The other was clearly a greeting card, kind of fat as if perhaps it contained some photos or a long letter, and it had a local return address with a young woman's name.

Right near the trash can is a I mailed them.

I figure one of three things was going on:

1. She decided not to mail the items and threw them away, in which case I did her a disservice. (But if that were the case, wouldn't she have made darn sure the mail hit the trash can?)

2. It was a decency test: put some mail on the ground and see if people ignore it or deal with it, in which case I guess I passed. (Nah, too 5 o'clock newsy.)

3. More likely (I hope), the mail fell out of her purse or backpack, in which case I did her a favor.

If the #3 scenario were mine and I'd dropped some mail, I hope someone would pick up the cards and mail them.

Monday, October 24, 2005

This week's saddest secret

For more, visit PostSecret.

Life imitates art

...or something like that.

The NYT reports that the White House

found time to add another item to its agenda - stopping The Onion, the satirical newspaper, from using the presidential seal.

The newspaper regularly produces a parody of President Bush's weekly radio address on its Web site (, where it has a picture of President Bush and the official insignia.

"It has come to my attention that The Onion is using the presidential seal on its Web site," Grant M. Dixton, associate counsel to the president, wrote to The Onion on Sept. 28. [...] Citing the United States Code, Mr. Dixton wrote that the seal "is not to be used in connection with commercial ventures or products in any way that suggests presidential support or endorsement." Exceptions may be made, he noted, but The Onion had never applied for such an exception.

The Onion was amused. "I'm surprised the president deems it wise to spend taxpayer money for his lawyer to write letters to The Onion," Scott Dikkers, editor in chief, wrote to Mr. Dixton. He suggested the money be used instead for tax breaks for satirists.

More formally, The Onion's lawyers responded that the paper's readers - it prints about 500,000 copies weekly, and three million people read it online - are well aware that The Onion is a joke.

"It is inconceivable that anyone would think that, by using the seal, The Onion intends to 'convey... sponsorship or approval' by the president," wrote Rochelle H. Klaskin, the paper's lawyer, who went on to note that a headline in the current issue made the point: "Bush to Appoint Someone to Be in Charge of Country."

Moreover, she wrote, The Onion and its Web site are free, so the seal is not being used for commercial purposes. That said, The Onion asked that its letter be considered a formal application to use the seal.

No answer yet. But Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said that "you can't pick and choose where you want to enforce the rules surrounding the use of official government insignia, whether it's for humor or fraud."

O.K. But just between us, Mr. Duffy, how did they find out about it?

"Despite the seriousness of the Bush White House, more than one Bush staffer reads The Onion and enjoys it thoroughly," he said. "We do have a sense of humor, believe it or not."
Can't wait to see what The Onion does with this one.

Jill Explains It All

If you're a legal nerd or just like to know the facts, Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast kindly offers the statute under consideration in the Fitzgerald probe of the Valerie Plame leak and has gone so far as to highlight relevant language.

Just in case you were wondering what all the fuss was about.

The Bush Quiz

Offered by The New Yorker, go see how up-to-date you are on All Things Bush.

Sample questions:

1. Who is Ben Marble?

(a) The Pentagon official who said that George W. Bush’s staged videoconference with U.S. troops in Iraq made him “livid.”

(b) The Texas liquor-authority agent who arrested George W. Bush’s intoxicated nephew John for resisting arrest.

(c) The former White House speechwriter who said that Harriet Miers, the Supreme Court nominee, told him that George W. Bush was the most brilliant man she’d ever met.

(d) The Gulfport, Mississippi, onlooker who twice interrupted Dick Cheney’s conversation with reporters to tell Cheney, “Go fuck yourself.”

2. True or false: During Sky News Ireland’s coverage of George W. Bush’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina, the network paraphrased his comments with the caption “BUSH: ONE OF THE WORST DISASTERS TO HIT THE U.S.”

(I know those first two, and I'll bet you do, too, but my Bush proficiency dwindles somewhat after that. Still, 17 out of 20 isn't bad.)

Answer key is provided. Good luck!

Patrick "Eliot Ness" Fitzgerald

In profiling the special prosecutor, Reuters declares Patrick Fitzgerald

has a reputation as an incorruptible prosecutor in the mold of Chicago crime-fighter Eliot Ness, who took on Al Capone's criminal empire.
I find that a very satisfying analogy. (Fitzgerald is to Ness as Bush Administration is to ....)

He even looks a little like Robert Stack...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Five and a half hours at Firestone

Yesterday I went to Firestone to get a pair of front tires. Of course they found another problem, which led to ordering of parts, which led to much waiting. Five and a half hours' worth, to be precise. Everyone initially in the waiting area left and many came and went during my time there. But griping about that is not the purpose of this post.

I took some work with me, but not 5-1/2 hours' worth, so after a while, I had to look around for other forms of amusement. Here are my observations, for what they're worth.

1. Firestone included a Bible on its reading table. First time I'd ever seen that. Although no one opened it (in fact, people repeately moved it out of the way to get to newspapers and magazines), by hour four I was considering finding some religion.

2. I'm a "Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications" addict. (These include all the many specialized decorating/gardening/remodeling mags published periodically--some quarterly, some only yearly.) I can't bring myself to throw any of these lovely, high-quality magazines away and they're taking up a LOT of room at my house. So I decided a few months ago to stop buying them, except for Decorating, unless an article or cover photo was absolutely irresistible. So far, so good. As I thumbed through through Firestone's collection of the Mama Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, I was surprised to discover its lousy paper quality. It's printed on something not too many shades better than newsprint. Huh.

3. I learned a few surprising things about halitosis from BH&G, and it turns out I've been doing some things right. Tea contains something that tends to kill mouth bacteria, so it's a good bad breath preventative. (How about that, Alanna?) Ditto yogurt. There was a third thing, too, although I forget what it was. But I'm doing that, too. Just call me Sweet Mouth.

4. Trapped in a small place with only one unisex bathroom, I had little choice but to use the facilities provided. Lo and behold, I once again came along behind a victim of Can't Flush Syndrome. This one was male, judging by the position of the toilet seat. So not only did I have to flush his business away, I had to adjust that public toilet seat. Yes, a large wad of toilet paper was involved.

5. Among the hours (five and a half, remember) of CNN that I watched or half-watched was a hour-long show (apparently a rebroadcast) entitled CNN Presents: Voices from the Homefront. In it, John King explored a variety of attitudes about Iraq among "regular" people, many of whom have military ties: parents of the dead, parents of those currently serving, retired military. In its exploration of opinions both pro- and anti-war, the hour seemed quite -- ahem -- fair and balanced. Two things in particular stood out:

A. During that hour, three of us "waiters" watched the show from beginning to end (and a few watched some and then wandered off) and not a one made a single comment during the hour. Considering what a highly-charged issue this is, and considering what a red county I live in, I expected some noise. But no. (Earlier in the day, a group of men were blaming the Katrina victims for their predicament. Some of the "evidence" presented was the corruption of Louisiana's governor, an interesting accusation since the gentleman repeatedly referred to said corrupt governor as "he," a pronoun not usually used to describe Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco.)

B. Probably the real reason I'm writing this post is that in the broadcast, a retired Marine officer said: "Talk to the sergeants. I've talked to them. Talk to the majors, the lieutenant colonels, colonels. They'll tell you then, and they'll tell you now, they need more forces on the ground [...] Particularly among those who are familiar with war, there is a real, almost a loathing of the secretary of defense for the way he's prosecuted this war." (The transcript on Lexis-Nexis, from which I took this, "identifies" the speaker as "unidentified male" [as many interviewees are identified in this transcript], but I'm fairly certain these are the words of retired Marine Colonel Jim Van Riper.) I bring this up because in the early days of this blog, in comments to my post "Fight fair, children," I was taken to task for saying, "I'm [...]fairly certain that the President of the United States uses the death of 1800-plus soldiers to push his political agenda (e.g., 'We have to honor the sacrifices of the fallen by completing the mission...'), one that for absolute certain endangers our understaffed, underequipped soldiers." My commenter replied, " Our units are not 'undermanned'. That is liberal opinion, not the military's assessment." At the time I got into that little shoving match, I knew my comment was based on something beyond "liberal opinion," although at the time I was not inclined to go looking for proof. Perhaps Col. Van Riper doesn't have sufficient credibility to convince conservatives, but I, who have very close military relatives, am inclined to believe the man.

That was the heart of my Saturday. I hope yours was more fun!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Watch This Space

Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post reports that Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Special Counsel with the Dept. of Justice, currently investigating the Plame outing, has opened a website.

As Froomkin notes, "It's certainly not the action of an office about to fold up its tents and go home."

Could get interesting.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

My Name is George

NBC's new comedy My Name is Earl operates on the premise that

Earl [...]has taken one too many wrong turns on the highway of life. However, a twist of fate turns his life into a tailspin of life-renewing events. Earl wins a small lottery, and, after an epiphany, he is determined to transform his good fortune into a life-changing event as he sets out to right all the wrongs from his past.
Before Earl can begin his journey, his inevitable attraction to misfortune surfaces once again. Seconds after winning the lottery, he is hit by a car and while unconscious; the winning lottery ticket blows away. While in the hospital, Earl watches "Last Call with Carson Daly" where Carson says that his success is a direct result of doing good things for other people. It is at that moment Earl discovers karma- and in hope of a better life, he sets out to correct every bad thing he's ever done.

Earl has a very long list of misdeeds -- 250 or so --and one by one, he's trying to make amends to each of the people he's hurt. As he feels his way through his new life philosophy, he and his dim-bulb brother learn firsthand that good deeds bring rewards; bad deeds just bring more misery.

Earl's mantra: Do good things and good things happen to ya; do bad things an' they'll come back to haunt ya. I'm talkin' about karma.

Some prominent Republicans just might want to take note.

Music to an English teacher's ears

Pretty, articulate, smart student: I really liked that Tim O'Brien story ("On the Rainy River") that we read yesterday, so I went to the library and checked out two of his books.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

You say it's your birthday....! It's my birthday, too, yeah!

Today is my birthday.

These days it takes me by surprise. I only remembered a few days ago that it was almost that time, which means more than anything time to renew the car tag and (this year) the driver's license.

When I was a kid, it was for me, like probably all of you, a big deal to have a birthday. However, I came from a rather underprivileged family, so birthday gift dreams often tended to be just that, dreams. Still, a kid always hopes. (And I am the oldest of ten; five of us have birthdays on the 13th, 15th, 17th, and 19th of October. Even in our destitute family, on the 19th my siblings were likely to say, "cake again?") As a teen and young adult, I rather expected a little something from friends and then-husband. And usually there was a little something.

But as time passed, gifts were rare, and the only card I knew for sure I'd get was from my grandmother (who in the past few years has resorted to calls like everyone else, and that's ok). Birthdays had become rather passé for me.

I'm not sure why I was surprised, but I received a number of lovely things today.

My ten-year-old grandson A called and sang "Happy Birthday." Every word of it, with "cha-cha-cha" at the end of each line. (Thank you, A.)

My mother called. This is rare for reasons I won't go into here, but it has nothing to do with disinterest on either of our parts. (Thank you, Mom.)

My wonderful friend S gave me a pure silk handsewn scarf from China, which she visited recently. The feel of the scarf defines luxury, and the colors are divine: blues and lavenders with a touch of citron. I love scarves and own several, but I am ten thumbs when it comes to tying them. I must Google scarf-tying, and immediately. (Thank you, S.)

My most wonderful-est friend E, who may well read this before I get a thank-you out to her, wrapped up a new bio of Eudora Welty in floral paper, a bio I didn't even know existed. She couldn't have made a better choice (and she probably knows it). (Thank you, E.) I am a Welty groupie. (My favorite Welty story is "Livvie," if you'd like to know.) I visited Jackson, MS three weeks after Miss Welty died. We found her home easily thanks to the fact that the Clarion-Ledger printed her address in a tribute story; we sat nervous and awestruck in the street outside her home for about 10 minutes. A black cat ambled across the front lawn and disappeared behind the trash cans neatly lined up next to the house. Mail peeked out from an overstuffed mailbox. Signs of life as usual, but the infamous resident of the legendary home was gone. (This photo is not Welty's house, goodness, no, but is a photo taken by Welty of a bottle tree like that described in "Livvie.")

Finally, a student gave me two cupcakes. I didn't advertise the day (as I'm doing here), but he mentioned that his b-day is soon, and I fessed up to mine, which later resulted in cupcakes at a particularly hungry moment in my day. (Thank you, J.)

There may well be other things at home, if I ever get there.

It's not original, but this is just to say that the best gifts are the love of family and friends, as symbolized by these lovely tokens, and I am surprised and pleased and humbled and thankful.

Stay away from crack, and other complaints

Once upon a time, it was construction workers and especially plumbers who were the -- ahem -- butt of the jokes. Hard workin' guy with a heavy tool belt leans over to do his job and it's moon over Miami time, baby.

Today, it's a fashion statement.

I spend my days on a college campus and can testify that when young women in those low, low, low ridin' jeans sit down, the natural by product is a full moon. (Sometimes those moons are alarmingly full.)

Can they not feel the breeze kissing their delicate cheeks?

I'm not sure which is more distressing: the vertical and horizontal elastic bands of the thong that playfully peeks over the waistband or the absence of the bands.

When students rearrange their chairs for group work, heterosexual me is treated to an unwelcome chorus line of cheeks. I can only imagine what this floor show does to the libidos of the straight males and lesbians in the room.

Really, ladies, the old joke holds true for you, too: Just say no to crack.

On a disturbingly related note, I have just one question for those of you who use public restrooms, but are apparently in a big ol' hurry: just exactly how hard is it for you to flush a toilet?

That's all for now. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

William Shakespeare and the Cosmic Gravy Train

More Google poetry (see post immediately below, which frankly is the better poem)...

Patterns works really well. Not all poems are that satisfying, but this one married a strong title with just the right form, the pantoum. I was never that hot at Magnetic Poetry, but I might have a talent for this.

Bitty presents her latest creation, with the help of Google Poetry (interesting that Karl Rove, completely unbidden, appears in this one, too):

William Shakespeare and the Cosmic Gravy Train
Compiled 10/19/2005 12:05:48 AM GMT

If Only a couple of well-known names pop up:
Distressed Jeans 30.8.05 31 Next up for the budding actress:
Its own justification - it is not a gravy-train, -
Hand came from William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. - Kali

Distressed Jeans 30.8.05 31 Next up for the budding actress:
Island Rail Road · He Who HesitatesHamstrung!
Hand came from William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. - Kali
Riding the Gravy Train, What Karl Rove

Island Rail Road · He Who HesitatesHamstrung!
Wimsatt D-Stroy - Who was he?;Ham
Riding the Gravy Train, What Karl Rove
- Little Rule Britannia made a gallant appearance

Wimsatt D-Stroy - Who was he?;Ham
The chain that can be yanked is not the cosmic chain.
- Little Rule Britannia made a gallant appearance
Appears there, rigid in facial - RTF

The chain that can be yanked is not the cosmic chain.
06:21 PM The Smiths: "Shakespeare's Sister"
Appears there, rigid in facial - RTF
bush puts iraq up for sale us firms hog gravy train

06:21 PM The Smiths: "Shakespeare's Sister"
Artist William Kentridge’s work makes Little plastic ninjas
bush puts iraq up for sale us firms hog gravy train
Shakespeare Handbook · Leslie Esdaile - Sister

Artist William Kentridge’s work makes Little plastic ninjas
Cabot Niccolo "Prince" Machiavelli
Shakespeare Handbook · Leslie Esdaile - Sister
Beardless, appears there, rigid in facial

Cabot Niccolo "Prince" Machiavelli
Seen Gainsborough and the grass. - Similar to Homer,
Beardless, appears there, rigid in facial
That for most on the train, the show

Seen Gainsborough and the grass. - Similar to Homer,
To readers of women’s In the January 1996 issue
That for most on the train, the show
Sucker - III The Secret of a Train All this talk of a railway

To readers of women’s In the January 1996 issue
RICHTER, CONRAD. - (advances with a tilted dish of
Sucker - III The Secret of a Train All this talk of a railway
Janet’s nipple Several big publishers have

RICHTER, CONRAD. - (advances with a tilted dish of
Fall.98 Bard of Avon : The Story
Janet’s nipple Several big publishers have
Ashland The cosmic light show finds her curious and indifferent

Fall.98 Bard of Avon : The Story
Its own justification - it is not a gravy-train, -
Ashland The cosmic light show finds her curious and indifferent
If Only a couple of well-known names pop up:

Karl Rove Gives Me the Shivers

(Edited October 19)

I'm always up for a little internet fun, and what could be more fun for an English geek than the ultimate in "found" poetry, that which is written by the internet?

Follow the link to have your own fun.

My first attempt at Google poetry was titled "Karl Rove Gives Me the Shivers," and I swear it was a bloody work of art. Since the 'net changes constantly, however, I re"wrote" the poem today and found it had both a more satisfying beginning AND ending, so here's "Karl Rove Gives Me the Shivers," part deux:

Karl Rove Gives Me the Shivers
Compiled 10/20/2005 3:24:09 AM GMT

And, just as Karl Rove
was engineering the
scuttling of Trent Lott and the
Eewwww - gives
me the
shivers. And what Melanie reported above - no wonder ...
The Rove
defense evolves. Yesterday his attorney told CNN that "Karl has truthfully
told ... Their arrogance still gives
me the
shivers when I think of it. ...
... attacking WH spokesman Scott McClellan over the
Karl Rove
fiasco. ... It gives
me the
shivers. And I just realized something as I typed in the
title. ...
It's clear you've become too dependent on me, and it's time you started thinking
... Karl Rove
gives a reporter a lead on a CIA operative who works on WMDs, ...
If Newsweek's report is accurate, Karl Rove
is more morally repugnant and ...
Gives me
the shivers. Like a potato bug, Rall will crawl back beneath a rock ...
*Karl Rove, Grover Norquist and Tom DeLay. *Military strongmen from Latin American
... Newt Gingrich still gives
me the
shivers Jerry Farwell.. eewww ...
Because I live in this very safe, predictable life style, it gives
me the
freedom to
... It’s the
kind of thought that would give Karl Rove
the shivers. ...
... Texas Rangers, Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Hillary Clinton, National Guard, ...
I tell you, it gave me
the shivers. Then, when I thought it couldn't get ...
Man, thinking of that mushroom cloud gives
me shivers. ... When Bush's evil
wizard, Karl Rove, wants to leak that John Kerry might have had an affair and ...
Time Magazine is reporting that Karl Rove
has a plan in place for if he is actually
... A scenario that gives
me a great deal of hope for the
future. ...

Saying hello to my own blog

Life has just been tough lately. I've been experiencing the wisdom behind the cliche too busy to breathe, having caught myself holding my breath several times lately. This is never a good sign.

To the friends who check in here occasionally: hello, friends! I still love you and will try to write or call soon.

To the rest of you: hello as well!

And to my blog: sorry I've been neglecting you. I'll try to do better in the future.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

What are you reading THIS blog for? All the fun is over at Shakespeare's Sister (Brush With Fame Edition)

Andy Warhol once wrote: In the future everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.

That still may be, but a corollary to the maxim is that everyone will manage to cross paths with several famous people. It's a decent get-to-know you game; I have yet to have the conversation with someone and not get a fairly cool response.

They're playing that game over at Shakespeare's Sister. Go read. Go get involved. Or give Bitty an exclusive and post your encounters here.

Here's the expanded version of my response.

If we're talking about people I've crossed paths with long enough to snag an autograph, that list includes Susan Faludi (yes, my copy of Backlash is autographed), Bela Fleck, and (nobody cares but me, maybe, but he wrote my favorite non-fiction book, China: Alive in the Bitter Sea, also now autographed), Fox Butterfield.

If we're talking about airport sightings, I was in line with Kasey Kasem (he didn't say any bad words) and stood around waiting with Leslie Nielsen (yes, for an Airplane!; too funny!)

However, my best "famous person" encounters are political.

I shook Bill Clinton's hand when he was campaigning in 1992. (At that time, I wasn't worrying about where that hand might have been...) I have pictures that I took of the man my own self. The Secret Service, by the way, is fascinating to watch up close.

My best encounter, however, wasn't as close but the image will be with me forever. When I was in 6th grade, I went on a bus patrol trip to DC. This would have been spring of '65. We went to Arlington National Cemetery to see JFK's grave, and of course at that time the man had not been dead much more than a year. The crowds (us) were kept on sidewalks with ropes along the sides to keep us on the paths and off the grass. There were several other unoccupied sidewalks leading to the grave. Suddenly the crowd started buzzing and pointing. Bobby and Ethel Kennedy and all the many little Kennedys were walking up one of the sidewalks. Bobby and the boys were dressed in matching dark suits. Ethel and the girls were dressed in matching lime green sleeveless shifts (a term probably not used much any more, but the dresses still exist).

Since I was a punk kid, I didn't have a camera. Kids didn't have those kinds of things back in the 60s. It doesn't matter. The image is seared in my brain and is all the more poignant since of course Bobby himself was in the grave just a few years later.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Why the American press has no Carole Colemans

In 2004, the Columbia Journalism Review assessed the state of the interview and found it, well, wanting. In her aptly titled article, "Answer the &$%#* Question!," author Trudy Lieberman asserts that those people from whom journalists might attempt to elicit real information have all been media-trained to avoid questions they don't like and steer the interview to the topics they do want to discuss. Lieberman says,

When interviewees twist an interview to fit their agenda, they are in effect warning the questioner what to avoid and signaling how they want to structure the questions.
Lieberman charges that American journalists play the game along with the media-savvy interviewees when they fail to ask the hard questions or follow up the lame, off-topic answers they receive. Late in the article, Lieberman concludes:

[I]n my examination of some fifty news transcripts, sharp questioning is unusual, raising the larger question of what the audience takes away when journalism appears to be little more than disguised public relations. Does the audience see through the culture of caution and obfuscation that permeates the news business? When TV guests practice question evasion, does the audience think twice about their credibility? Does the public see through polished answers and the platitudinous comments? Does it ask where the real meat and potatoes are?

Such questions bring up others: What are journalists for? Are they to analyze and interpret the news and arbitrate conflicting opinion for the public, or are they to act as mere carriers of other people’s messages?
Last year, Carole Coleman, an Irish "pit bull" with a gentle brogue, interviewed George Bush (an interview not aired in the US as far as I can tell) -- and for real, something he's not used to. In doing so, she reminded us that not all journalists are "mere carriers." At least some non-American journalists still remember how it used to be done.

Read Lieberman's article and the categories of media obfuscation that interviewees deploy, then compare them to the Coleman/Bush interview. Repeatedly we see Bush hard at work "taking control," "dodging the question," "telling a story," "spreading the word," "answering the easy parts," and "pitching platitudes." Only he doesn't exactly succeed because Coleman persistently interrupts him, reiterates her questions, and follows up. For this, many critics (read the comments) and the Bushies themselves deem her rude.

Here resides an excerpt from Coleman's upcoming book in which she recounts the hard-hitting interview that made Bush squirm and smirk and stutter and led to this post-interview exchange between Coleman and a White House press secretary (MC):

“You were given an opportunity to interview the leader of the free world and you blew it,” she began.

I was beginning to feel as if I might be dreaming. I had naively believed the American president was referred to as the “leader of the free world” only in an unofficial tongue-in-cheek sort of way by outsiders, and not among his closest staff.

“You were more vicious than any of the White House press corps or even some of them up on Capitol Hill . . .The president leads the interview,” she said.

“I don’t agree,” I replied, my initial worry now turning to frustration. “It’s the journalist’s job to lead the interview.”

It was suggested that perhaps I could edit the tapes to take out the interruptions, but I made it clear that this would not be possible.

As the conversation progressed, I learnt that I might find it difficult to secure further co-operation from the White House. [...]

Clearly the White House had thought they would be dealing with an Irish “colleen” bowled over by the opportunity to interview the Bushes. If anyone there had done their research on RTE’s interviewing techniques, they might have known better.

MC also indicated that she would be contacting the Irish Embassy in Washington — in other words, an official complaint from Washington to Dublin.

I don’t know how we are going to repair this relationship but have a safe trip back to Ireland,” MC concluded.
A request for real answers = international crisis? Fortunately the White House whining amounted to just that, whining.

Carole Coleman is my new hero. Lately SOME members of the US press have been following her lead, but more need to continuously (not just occasionally) ask hardball questions as did Coleman -- and more importantly, perhaps, press for real answers, as did Coleman. Trudy Lieberman's concerns about audience perception are unfortunately valid, as we daily suffer the ugly results of having a misled, misinformed public.

(To give proper credit, the information on the Coleman saga comes to me from The Green Knight, through Shakespeare's Sister. At The Green Knight's site is a link that'll take you to see the video of the interview, although, sadly, not of the post-interview smarminess that Coleman describes. Seeing that would have been downright fun.)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Justice Bitty

Other than George Bush himself, we thought we’d seen the ultimate example of the Peter Principle in action with Horse Commissioner/FEMA head Mike Brown…until we were presented with Harriet Miers’ nomination to the Supreme Court. Bush insists that Ms. Miers is the “most qualified” person for the job despite her relatively thin resumé. One must wonder what, exactly, the qualifications are.

If Miers isn’t confirmed or if a third opening appears on the court, I’d like to offer myself for the position since I too have a comparably thin legal resumé. I too have no judicial experience. I too have served as a secretary.* I too have legal experience: twelve years of writing legal documents for my attorney boss. (And you thought attorneys wrote them themselves! Suckers!)

Except for the facts that I have no deep, personal bond with George Bush and don’t consider him to be one of the most intelligent men ever, I appear to be fully qualified for SCOTUS. Pick me! Pick me!

*"As Bush's staff secretary, she was known to correct spelling, grammar and even punctuation errors in memos to the president. But she has no judicial experience and not much appellate experience."

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

My son is a SUPER kid!

We used to have some fridge magnets given to my kids by their father's then-girlfriend. When the kids grew up, I threw the magnets away (sorry, A!), but I kept them as long as I did because of the message:

M is a SUPER kid!

E is a SUPER kid!

A is a SUPER kid!

You want to keep those kind of affirmations around for your kids, no?

I'm wondering if Nicolas Cage's mommy bought one of those magnets for him. He certainly seems to have internalized the message and wants to pass it on to his own offspring. MSN gossip reports that Cage and his barely-out-of-braces wife have named their new son...Kal-el.

Now don't you want to rethink those unkind thoughts you had about Apple?

Looking out for my money -- and yours

A rant and then a warning...

First, I literally can't spend my money fast enough.

I headed out to buy groceries and gas, a depressing task in itself, and I ran into a minor glitch at the Hess station, where I was trying to buy my $2.91 gas. The touch pad wasn't responding to my attempts to use my debit card, so I went inside to pay. For reasons that made little sense, I couldn't. The cashier said that he couldn't run the pump from inside the store (???????) and I needed to move to another pump. Well, all the pumps were occupied, and as it was, I had waited in line to get my crack at THAT one. Since I was out and about and burning precious fossil fuel, I decided to continue up the road, get my gas at the Gate, and run a quick errand. There's another Hess station almost directly across the road from the one I was leaving, and as I passed it, I checked the price: $2.91.

In the olden days of -- oh, say -- June, gas prices were predictable. Hess and Gate always ran the same prices, the Shell was five cents more. No more.

At Shell, the gas was $2.99, eight cents more. At Gate, $2.98, seven cents more. I kept on to my errand destination and decided to hit Hess #2 on the way back.

No more than 20 minutes later, errand complete, I had looped around and was headed back in the general direction of home and toward the other Hess station.

In those 20 minutes, the price went up three cents.

This seems patently unfair, and I've heard this griped about elsewhere. The gas underground is bought and paid for. It would seem fair to raise the price on the next delivery, or even at the end/beginning of the sales day, but in almost mid-pump?

I bought it anyway because, of course, I have no choice.

Later, as I passed the first station I'd visited, a fella was outside raising the price on its sign to $2.94 as well.

End of rant.

Secondly, a little sticker at the first gas station reminded of something I just recently learned. I pass it on to you in case there are no little stickers at your gas station.

If you use your debit card at a pump that does not require a PIN, the station regularly will block out an amount -- often $50 or $75 -- on your card.

That amount doesn't “un-block” as you drive away. Instead, the hold remains until that evening, and sometimes for up to several days, until the station does a “batch” transaction, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
This freeze on our bank accounts can lead to unpleasantries, most especially BOUNCED CHECKS since who among us has an extra seventy-five bucks chilling in our accounts?

The solution seems to be to know your gas stations well and know which ones allow you the debit (using the PIN) option. Not all do. Then, remember to USE the debit option. Otherwise, use cash or be prepared to have your 75 bucks frozen for several days.

Monday, October 03, 2005

What the heck is going on?

Today's news:

Student one's father has had a serious accident; it may prove fatal.

Student two's father may have cancer. Test results pending.

Student three's father has cancer. Maybe curable; maybe not.

So much for avoiding reality.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Maybe reality isn't all it's cracked up to be

I've been engaged in a lot of reflection over the last few days, and I'm thinking that Bushco might actually be on to something.

Reality stinks; fantasy is much more fun.

I'm thinking that for the near future, I'd rather live by the "if-I-say-it's-so-it-is-so" credo.


This is a world in which the evil and selfish get their just punishment, just as the good and compassionate get rewarded.

This is a world in which people use their brains to figure out the difference. In fact, this is a world in which people use their brains regularly, all in the service of good.

This is a world in which the spirit and message of the ten commandments mean something. That is, "the ten commandments" are not a symbol of rigidity and intolerance but instead some rather fine words of wisdom.

This is a world in which "worth" and "money" have no direct connection. That is, a person does not have "worth" simply by virtue (pun intended) of having money.

This is a world in which no one suffers just because he or she was born with the "wrong" kind of body and/or in the "wrong" part of the world.

This is a world in which none of the personal and work-related issues I've discussed below exist.

I may or may not blog much over the next few weeks. To blog, for me anyway, means to face reality. And I'm not much into that right now.


Monday, September 26, 2005

The culture of death

I've been telling colleagues and students about my grandmother's terminal illness, not to garner sympathy, but for pragmatic reasons. I need to find someone to cover my classes for a week so I can visit her, and I need simply to explain my sudden, seemingly random bouts of teariness.

Oh man.

As I said in my earlier post, I've been almost weirdly untouched by death. A very few friends and dear but not intimate family members; sweet though remote great-grandparents; a baby sister who had barely begun life. No one truly, truly close until now. Because I teach very young adults, no semester (indeed, almost no month) goes by without someone's grandparents, and sadly even parents, dying. Some of this falls into the joke category. There are those students whose grandparents routinely die when papers and projects are due. But most of it is genuine. I've seen real pain and confusion on these students' faces, in their eyes, in their words. I've even cried with them. I've offered sympathy and an ear for mourning friends. Still, I've only experienced this as an outsider. Until now.

Now I, too, am a member of the culture of death.

The death or impending death of a loved one is new territory and difficult to navigate. The maps seem to be disjointed and printed in Russian. How am I supposed to feel? How am I supposed to act? The two conversations I've had with Grammie since I heard the news have been weirdly full of laughter and optimism. For instance, it's damned funny that her step-great-granddaughter B (who never visits) has been by the apartment like the vulture she is to sniff around at the spoils of death. Grammie was so alarmed by B's coveting of a particular figurine that she insisted she get "later" that after B left, Grammie promptly wrapped it up and gave it to V, another great-granddaughter. B's tasteless behavior is occasion for a good belly laugh; Grammie's checkmate is even funnier. My son M and I are going to travel to see her in a few weeks (God, please let her still be ok in a few weeks), and she was thrilled by the news; it gives her something to look forward to.

Grammie doesn't want to die. And I am utterly unable to imagine the world without her any more than I can imagine the world suddenly without gravity.

Now students are not telling me stories of the parents and grandparents who just died or are dying and whose deaths are interfering with their schoolwork; they're coming to me in droves telling me about the parents and grandparents who died a few months ago. They're still mourning, but they're also joyful over the parts that were blessings: the swift deaths with no suffering; the situations like mine where there was still precious time to say and do things that ought to be said and done. These people know what I don't fully, yet: what the road ahead looks like and how it feels to travel it. Today I have shared a half a river of tears with people I only slightly know; I would never have considered doing this last week.

However, now, like it or not, I too am a member of the culture of death.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

23:5 revisited -- Dulce et Decorum Est

Via Shakespeare's Sister, this meme is making the rounds. I probably wouldn't have participated if I weren't pleased with what I came up with.

In my own 23:5, I was writing a follow-up to my post on Cindy Sheehan, and I was discussing the last line (and point) of Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce et Decorum Est."

My 23:5 is: "The final line of the poem is roughly translated as 'it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country.'"

Ironic when Owen wrote it, ironic when I discussed it, and still ironic today.

To participate:

1. Go into your archive.
2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

I Am the Boogey Man

Contrary to what it often seems that conservatives believe, academics who are liberal do not hold secret meetings in the deep woods where we sacrifice unborn babies and burn effigies of George Bush. We do not hypnotize the precious offspring of conservative mommies and daddies into turning their backs on Guns, God, and Old Glory. Here's what I and those of my colleagues I know best do do: we challenge our students to think.

To think.

To reason.

To back up their opinions with evidence.

To examine their beliefs, be they religious, political, cultural, or even culinary, and NOT in the service of signing up for the liberal cause -- or any other cause -- but in the service of creating a generation capable of thinking their way out of the proverbial brown paper bag. If, after rigorous examination, they want to be conservatives, more power to them. They will have come to that conclusion honestly and rationally.

When liberals aren't pushing the radical, soul-destroying agenda of thinking, we're also championing the radical, soul-destroying agenda of empathy. You know, Golden Rule, do-unto-others. That agenda.

I'm here to tell you that a lot of college freshmen are dittoheads. I don't mean just Rush Limbaugh dittoheads, but a rainbow of dittoheads. Bless their hearts, many of them, too many of them, only have opinions because someone told them what opinions to have. Some of these opinions come from moms and dads -- of all political stripes. Many of these opinions come from peers. (You know, those primary sources for sex and drug info for the young.) Other opinions come from Cosmo Girl (or whatever the mag du jour is), MTV, or The OC. (My favorite dittoheaded opinion: oral sex is not sex. Conservatives, of course, blame this dunderheaded point of view on Bill Clinton's influence, but conservative and non-conservative youth en masse seem to believe this non sequitur. When I took a poll one day, I could only find 5 or 6 students out of fifty who believed otherwise. I haven't had the heart to ask again.)

Apparently, however, the greatest threat to the youth of America is liberals. Liberals, those people who would ask young people to think before they form an opinion, those people whose prime directive is Jesus' admonition that we love our neighbors. In order to counteract the disastrous effect of liberals on the youth of America, a self-described "Security Mom for Bush" has written the conservative antidote to liberal rationality and empathy: Help! Mom! There are Liberals under my Bed!.

Amazon offers the publisher-blurb, which reads as follows.

Book Description
This full-color illustrated book is a fun way for parents to teach young children the valuable lessons of conservatism. Written in simple text, readers can follow along with Tommy and Lou as they open a lemonade stand to earn money for a swing set. But when liberals start demanding that Tommy and Lou pay half their money in taxes, take down their picture of Jesus, and serve broccoli with every glass of lemonade, the young brothers experience the downside to living in Liberaland.

From the Publisher
Would you let your child read blatantly liberal stories with titles such as "King & King," "No, George, No," or "It's Just a Plant"?
Unless you live in Haight-Ashbury or write for the New York Times, probably not. But with the nation’s libraries and classrooms filled with overtly liberal children’s books advocating everything from gay marriage to marijuana use, kids everywhere are being deluged with left-wing propaganda.

"Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed" is the book conservative parents have been seeking. This illustrated book — the first in the "Help! Mom!" series from Kids Ahead — is perfect for parents who seek to share their traditional values with their children, as well as adults who wish to give a humorous gift to a friend.

Hailed as "the answer to a baseball mom's prayers" by talk radio host Melanie Morgan, "Liberals Under My Bed" has already been the subject of coverage in The Wall Street Journal and Harper’s magazine. Written by a self-proclaimed "Security Mom for Bush" and featuring hilarious full-color illustrations by a Reuben Award winning artist, it is certain to be one of the most talked about children's books of the year.
I've tried to add the photo of the cover to this post, but I've been unsuccessful. Follow the link and get an eyeful. The frightening monsters who aggressively protrude from beneath the poor child's bed bear an uncanny resemblance to Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy.

And plot and message aside, it's that cover symbolism -- liberals as literal boogey men -- that is the most shocking. This is NOT a parody. This is a child's book intended for kids aged 4 to 8. This is a child's book intended to frighten children. This is a child's book intended to frighten children about me.

As if my job isn't already challenging. (I'm not complaining; I love my students. That's why this upsets me so.)

Ten years from now I'll face down the initial readers of this book (which has not yet officially been released but is moving on Amazon like free beer -- #18 at this writing). They won't know why, but if as mom and dad sent them on their way to college, they admonished little Preston and Crystal not to trust me because the odds are good I'm a liberal (as I suspect already happens), they'll be predisposed to buy this argument. They won't know why...but as they lie down at night, they won't be able to sleep because they'll have a vague fear. Of me.

(Postscript: if liberals write a book countering this one -- as I sadly suspect will happen -- the thing will write itself. I invite readers to offer plotlines and characters. For instance, how about the bad day little Andre has when the hurricane comes to his home in Louisiana but President Bluster's sidekick Mr. Brownie doesn't send the helicopters to rescue little Andre from his rooftop?)