Friday, February 24, 2006

Friday poetry blogging...sort of

Last night I was listening to what we commonly know as The White Album.

Iraq, Iran, the Imperial Presidency, the trampling of women's rights up one side of this planet and down the other, Katrina, Darfur, roof collapses, abducted children, my grandmother is dead. George is, too.

I dare you to read this and not hear the song:

While My Guitar Gently Weeps
--George Harrison

I look at you all see the love there that's sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it need sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps

I don't know why nobody told you
how to unfold your love
I don't know how someone controlled you
they bought and sold you

I look at the world and I notice it's turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps

I don't know how you were diverted
you were perverted too
I don't know how you were inverted
no one alerted you

I look at you all see the love there that's sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at you all
Still my guitar gently weeps

Earliest memory

Today, Shakespeare's Sister's QOTD is: What is your earliest memory?

I thought I'd answer it here, too.

I lived with my grandmother, slept in the same room with her, in a crib, still, but that might have had more to do with my grandmother's abundant caution than my age; her bed was pushed up against my crib. I was old enough to climb in and out of the crib, on to her bed, and down to the floor.

I had been given a cookie to eat, a chocolate chip cookie. The chips formed a face, maybe accidentally?

I couldn't eat the had a face! It was a person!

I took the cookie to bed with me and cried myself to sleep.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


She slept through class. I would have awakened her, but we had an on-fire discussion going and I didn't want to break the momentum. Her "absence" was her loss.

She left her purse. (One other time she left her backpack but came back for that right away.)

She so far hasn't responded to the notes I left on the blackboard and the classroom door or the e-mail I sent her letting her know that I have it in my office.

She's going to force me to take the thing to the police station before I leave campus.


Does anyone besides me notice a resemblance between former FEMA head Michael Brown and soon-to-be former Harvard pres Larry Summers? Besides, of course, the famous-for-being-former part. Just askin'.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

This side of the looking glass

Researching something totally unrelated to Iraq, I checked into the homepage of the major newspaper of my childhood, the Baltimore Sun. A little link titled "Maryland's Fallen" caught my eye. (I can't directly link to it; you'll see why if you go to the site and click on it. I'm guessing it's always there, but might move from one day's layout to the next. Today it appeared under the lead story about the bombed golden-domed shrine.) (2-23 edit: this link will take you to the Sun's Iraq page, which leads to the "Maryland's Fallen" presentation.)

I clicked on it and began reading, looking.

A few moments in, I felt as if I had fallen out of the looking glass and back into reality, since my current hometown's newspaper would declare Cindy Sheehan Day before it would assemble a feature like this. Not overtly political, the Sun's tribute nevertheless reports the ugly truth in great detail: people, beloved people, die in the service of this enterprise.

This is not unlike the Nightline broadcast of a few years ago that featured the names and photos of the then-721 dead: respectful, somber...real.

Each of the (currently 39) soldiers receives a full profile, including photos and links to stories about him (in one case, her).

The most heartbreaking part is the "view by date" section which includes a timeline. Only three of the 39 died before "Bush declares end to major combat."

While the government sneaks the coffins in down the road in Dover, Delaware, the Sun reminds us that the dead are neither statistics, nor invisible. The dead are our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, friends.

They deserve, at minimum, the respect the Sun offers here.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Back but not talkative, that is.

Thanks to those of you who sent kind thoughts.

I'll get back on the horse soon, but not yet.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Au revoir

I'm off to Illinois for Grammie's funeral.

Take good care of the blogosphere in my absence.

Quick-draw Dick

My only comment on Dick Cheney's shooting of a hunting buddy:

Guns don't kill people. People kill people.

My Cynical Valentine

It's boom time for florists, chocolatiers, and...private detectives.

"Valentine's Day is the biggest day of the year for private investigators," Tony Delorenzo, of Private Detectives of America, a New Jersey-based company, told AFP.

"This year we're doing surveillance Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because if somebody has a lover it will be on one of those days to catch him."

Delorenzo and several other sleuths contacted said that in the run-up to the February 14 holiday, they had been overwhelmed with appeals by men and women seeking to find out whether their partner was unfaithful.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

To everything there is a season

Grammie died Friday morning.

I have no adequate words of my own, so for now I'll borrow a few:

To everything there is a season
A time for every purpose under heaven
A time to be born, and a time to die...
A time to break down, and a time to build up
A time to weep, and a time to laugh
A time to mourn, and a time to dance...

That sums up where we are right now: sad, but joyful that we had her in our lives and that she's no longer suffering.

Proper elegy later, probably much later.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging -- Double Header Edition

When I was a child, the first poet whose name I knew was Carl Sandburg. In fact, I thought he was HUGELY famous, maybe the most famous poet ever.

Perspective is everything.

I was born in Chicago, spent my first years in Rock Island, and after I moved to Maryland, still returned almost every year of my childhood and hung out in towns and small villages near the (now known as) Quad Cities. Neponset, where my great-grandparents lived, is one of those villages. And Galesburg, one of those towns, is Pulitzer-prize winner Sandburg’s birthplace. When I was very young, I traveled many times past the house where he was born, and I took it as for granted as I now take the grocery stores on every other block. (Poet’s birthplace, yeah, yeah.) Sandburg was ubiquitous. Sandburg was the 1960’s small-town version of a rock star.

Even though he rarely shows up in the lit anthologies sent to me today by eager publishers, Sandburg apparently still holds a position in the marketplace. I thought I’d buy his Complete Poems, freshened up and reissued in 2003, but a used version on Amazon costs $25.08, almost as much as the brand-new price of $26.40.

Maybe next month.

We all know this poem; because it’s short, it’s the one we chose when the teacher said we had to memorize a poem:

--Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on

However, here’s the poem I showed up to post. Strong in imagery, “Pods” appears to be part of a larger work, Smoke and Steel. And it’s the only poem I know about Neponset, Illinois, a lovely village about the size of your backyard.

--Carl Sandburg

Pea pods cling to stems.
Neponset, the village,
Clings to the Burlington railway main line.
Terrible midnight limiteds roar through
Hauling sleepers to the Rockies and Sierras.
The earth is slightly shaken
And Neponset trembles slightly in its sleep.

(The train tracks are off in the distance, crossing the road where it seems to dip just beyond the trees. The house that was my great-grandparents' sits left of center.)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Oh, good grief

I've been asked by two students to fill out a form recommendation for an on-campus job. They're not directly in competition since dozens of positions are available.

Problem 1: if the student signs the form, he waives his right to read my recommendation later. If he doesn't sign it, he can read it later.

Student 1, about whom I have the least to say, doesn't want to sign the form, strongly suggesting that he intends to read it later.

I HATE form recommendations. When I write my own recommendation letters, I have control over the amount of information I give and the level of enthusiasm I show. With this form, I am required to rate the student (I'm paraphrasing) "top notch," "good enough," "eh," or "you've got to be kidding" in seven categories. Then I have to justify my answers.

Problem 2: I have to rate Student 1 in categories for which I have utterly no opinion, which is not an option. And apparently he's going to ask to read this later. By contrast, I've spent a lot of time with Student 2. I have a lot to say about him. And he doesn't care to read the recommendation later.

The moral of the story for students: get to know those who teach you and let them get to know you.

The moral of the story for Bitty: next time think it through before you agree to give a recommendation.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Soundtrack for Bizarro World

While researching music inspired by the Vietnam war, I discovered that Pat Boone recorded a pro-war song called "Wish You Were Here, Buddy" which

featured a soldier in Vietnam ridiculing war protesters and threatening to come looking for them after the war
I'm not having much luck finding that recording (darn!) but I'm persistent and will keep looking.

In the meantime, I've found the weirdest concept album since William Shatner's Transformed Man, which features the infamous "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds": Pat Boone's In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy. The sample clips are so freaky-deaky that I'm tempted to cough up the $6.00 plus shipping to get a used copy. It would be the perfect thing to listen to while reading up on, oh, say, Bush's budget.

Featured songs include:
"Enter Sandman"
"Stairway to Heaven"

Yes, that "Panama." That "Enter Sandman." That "Stairway to Heaven." That Pat Boone.

(Edited 2-12-06 to add photo of album and to correct link to album.)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Man-beast cloning update

I went looking for what exactly these man-animal clones are that have Mr. Bush's panties in a twist and found this thoughtful explanation by Dr. Myers of the University of Minnesota, Morris, of what scientists are up to (scroll way down when you get to his site):
Let's consider one recent example of such an experiment.

Down syndrome is a very common genetic disorder caused by the presence of an extra chromosome 21. That kind of genetic insult causes a constellation of problems: mild to moderate mental retardation, heart defects, and weakened immune systems, and various superficial abnormalities. It's also a viable defect, and produces walking, talking, interacting human beings who are loved by their friends and families, who would really like to be able to do something about those lifespan-reducing health problems. We would love to have an animal model of Down syndrome, so that, for example, we could figure out exactly what gene overdose is causing the immune system problems or the heart defects, and develop better treatments for them.

So what scientists have been doing is inserting human genes into mice, to produce similar genetic overdoses in their development. As I reported before, there have been partial insertions, but now a team of researchers has inserted a complete human chromosome 21 into mouse embryonic stem cells, and from those generated a line of aneuploid mice that have many of the symptoms of Down syndrome, including the heart defects. They also have problems in spatial learning and memory that have been traced back to defects in long-term potentiation in the central nervous system.

These mice are a tool to help us understand a debilitating human problem.

George W. Bush would like to make them illegal.
Dr. Myers explains it in close to layman's terms so that almost all of us can understand the procedure...and the humanitarian motives. Almost all of us.

Social Insecurity

In the shower (where we all entertain our deepest thoughts, yes?) I was thinking about my retirement, at least 17 years away. I'll be nearly 70, but that's the earliest I believe I can afford to walk away from gainful employment.

All this, of course, is predicated on my receiving something close to what Social Security is (not exactly) promising me. (Ever notice that disclaimer on our yearly statements that says, to paraphrase, here is what you can expect to have upon retirement...except that all the figures are subject to change?)

One thought leads to another, which leads to another, and I thought back to the brief days when I worked for the Social Security Administration, at HQ in Baltimore. I worked in a department whose exact name I no longer remember, but it handled foreign claims. My primary job was to type up the letters and memos dictated by the people who were handling review of such claims.

It was not infrequent that at issue was the conflicting claims of two "wives." Mario of Italy leaves his wife Isabella and kids at home and heads to the U.S. of A. to make money to support the family. Once in the U.S., Mario gets comfortable with his new American life, quits sending the money home, and never returns. In part (I presume) he is able to stay because he marries Polly of Poughkeepsie and perhaps even becomes a citizen. (How Mario gets away with the bigamy I do not know.)

Fast forward: Mario dies, and Polly, a stay-at-home woman who thought she was a wife, collects social security in good faith based on Mario's earnings. At some point, someone suggests to the abandoned Isabella, who was never divorced from Mario, that she might be able to collect social security based on Mario's earnings. Isabella files a claim, the SSA investigates, and then I get to type The Letter.

It's only one page long and terse. It briefly recaps the situation: Polly is not Mario's lawful wife; Isabella is. Polly has 30 days (not kidding) to refund to the Social Security Administration the benefits she has erroneously received. Please remit funds in the amount of $30,942.67 by... (This was the early 70's...imagine the numbers today.)

Thirty-five years later I still think about Mario and Isabella, but I especially think about Polly, elderly and destitute, and deeply in debt to her Uncle Sam.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Friday poetry blogging, just under the wire...

If I had to pick a favorite poem, this would make the short list, maybe because the sentiment in the poem is mine exactly...

---Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Cultural whiplash, part two, Or, I told you the day wasn't over...

So Cindy Sheehan is arrested for wearing a t-shirt in the Capitol building a half hour before Bush delivers the SotU speech that includes this line:
Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer, and so we will act boldly in freedom's cause.
He didn't mean freedom for you, Cindy. Now step this way, please.