Saturday, December 13, 2008

That time of year.

Yes, friends, it is that time of year when we all have too many things on our plate. How to deal? How about with this fun quiz?

Which creature of the night are you?
Your Result: Sorceror

Control is the name of your game. You are a studied tactician and scientist and you seek a kingdom where things make sense, damn the morals, even if you have to create it. You are cold, calm and calculating.

Cthulu Spawn
Which creature of the night are you?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Monday, December 08, 2008

Please believe me that I am falling apart.

I was looking back through posts from last winter, and I see that I was bothered then by many of the same things that are bothering me now—a bigger body than I’d like, a body that won’t cooperate with my desire and need to exercise, a body trying hard to recover from injury, a body that has asked me to slow the hell down so that it might try to heal. I see that my New Year's Resolutions from this past January even set more limited goals, exercise-wise, since I didn't want to go crazy with the expectations.

Last year I expected this, since I had just had surgery. I really thought that by this year I might not be feeling this way. I know that those kinds of thoughts do me in, those kinds of expectations, but they sneak their way in there before I realize it, and then I have to extricate them.

I am not complaining about my shoulder. In fact, I am trying hard not to complain. It is just that the left side of my body seems to be part of an organized revolution of some kind. Things started with that shoulder, of course. Then randomly one day, I had a blind spot in the center of my left field of vision—kind of like I had looked at a bright light, but it has never gone away. Then this summer while I was in London, my left hamstring got really tight, and no amount of stretching would help. (Mind you, this cannot be a sports injury, because all I was doing at that time was sitting in the British Library for hours on end, and walking to and from the British Library. Well, and Bollywood dancing, but I digress.) That hamstring pain came and went during the fall, but got worse in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, to the point where it even hurt to kick while I swam.

My coach, knowing how the pain started, suggested that I try a chiropractic adjustment. I went to see the chiropractor last week, and he asked, “Has your left shoulder always been lower than your right?” I said no, and told him the whole Shoulder Surgery Massacree, with four-part harmony, and he said, “Bless your heart,” southern U.S. code for “Your life sucks but I’d hate to say so.” He also suggested that until I see how these adjustments affect my spine, that I not do any strength training, though swimming would be fine.

Anyway, he has done some splendid crackly adjustments on my back, neck, and hips, trying to get things straightened out. But then on Wednesday of last week I went to the pool after seeing him, and as I was kicking—but not even particularly hard—I felt some kind of irksome but not particularly traumatic snap in my—you guessed it—left knee, which then got more and more painful. So after a ridiculously short swim, I got out, took a shower and went home, befuddled, and did a lot of icing.

I mean, exactly what kind of exercise can I do? Nothing that overtaxes my shoulder. Nothing that makes my hamstring or knee hurt. Nothing that might affect my spine.

That leaves . . . knitting.

Which I have been doing a lot of.

But it ain’t swimming. Or walking. Or rowing. Or cycling. Or lifting weights.

Have you tired yet of my now seemingly endless tales of exercise woes?

On Friday the PP noted that his mother and sister are getting themselves a Wii fit for Christmas, and he suggested we consider getting one. I told him maybe, but first let me put in a plea to Magpie, who is giving one away.

Will it change my life? I don’t know. I love games, and maybe having some little active games that we can play in the cold weather that still get the blood pumping would be fun. (Probably can’t knit while playing, though, without risking bodily harm to myself or the PP.) But hey—at this point I am willing to try anything!

Monday, November 24, 2008

In which I am a dumbass.

So I was working out with my trainer today, and she mentioned that there at the gym they are doing this Reindeer Olympics thing, where you put together a team to compete in an array of events, including push-ups, crunches, leg-presses, some running distances, etc. One of the events is 500 meters of rowing on the ergometer, and we got talking about that, and thinking about times, and talking about her time in the event (she was a rower in high school), and before you knew it I was wanting to see how fast I could do the 500 meters.

One minute and fifty point two seconds later, I had beaten her time from last week but I thought I might die. No really, I mean it. I walked a few laps, I got some water, but I could not stop breathing hard and tasting blood from my lungs. She reassured me that she had felt this bad when she did it, too, but she also felt horrible for letting me be, well, such a dumb-ass. Then I spent a little quality time in the ladies room feeling like I might throw up. Anyone with half a brain would not have thought, as I did, about what I could do back when I was in shape, but would rather have remembered how out of cardio shape I am. But no, I was READY! And foolish.

The good news is that erging feels like something I could do for a full-body workout that does not bother my shoulder and also does not strain my hamstring, which has been hurting lately.*

The bad news is that I still feel like coughing every time I inhale suddenly.

But the really good news? The first minute and a half or so of that rowing was the most fun I have had in about two years. Damn, but it felt good to race.

* Before you ask, "What did you do to your hamstring?" the answer is: nothing. It started hurting when I was in England this summer, and at that time all I was doing was walking and sitting.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Book Report: Warrior Girls.

Last weekend, the PP gave me my favorite birthday gift so far (even more than the yarn, in terms of enjoyment so far!), Michael Sokolove's Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women's Sports. Even though it is That Time of the Semester and I have been knitting up a storm, I have almost finished this book: I have about 50 pages to go, which means I am entering the Protective Phase of reading, where instead of racing along in a book I am enjoying, I slow down, so it does not end too soon.

But the fact that I have not finished it will not keep me from writing about it for you today. What? You never wrote a book report about a book you had not finished? I thought so.

Anyway, you might have come across this guy's writing in other places, such as the big NYTimes magazine article last May. I also heard him interviewed on a nationally syndicated public radio show called "51%," which focuses on women's issues.

His book focuses primarily on soccer to discuss (1) the fact that girls suffer more sports injuries--especially but not exclusively ACL tears--than boys and (2) what might be done to prevent these injuries, short of pulling girls out of sports.

I really appreciate that he makes a big point of noting how beneficial sports and physical activity are for girls. He emphasizes this point throughout the book, noting in numerous ways how essential Title IX has been. I suppose he does this in part to fend off critique from people who might accuse him of denigrating women in sport in suggesting that women's bodies work differently from men's. But mostly he says it because he believes it. He talks frequently of how important sport--swimming--has been for his own daughter, and he seems to make similar observations of other women and girls through his research. He writes at one point:
Girls, through sports, gain the joy of physicality and spirited play that has long been the staple of a boy's childhood. They get to compete in a wide range of sports through high school and college, no longer just field hockey and softball and a handful of others, and they play the games well--better, in fact, than the boys if the measure of quality is team play. Girls indulge in far less posturing than boys, less look-at-me chest beating, less taunting of opponents. Athletics help shape girls into women who are both competitive and collaborative, a formidable combination that most management experts now recognize as the best model of leadership. They take ownership of their own bodies. They go after what they want. Their strength gives them power.
He also writes about how women tend to describe their athletic performance differently. He tells the story of the "Battle of the Sexes" between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. He tells how King beat Riggs in straight sets, and then considers her response:
Depending on how you looked at it, either King affirmed some point about women's abilities in athletics or she avoided leaving a negative impact, which seemed to be her view. "I thought it would set us back fifty years if I didn't win that match," King said. "It would ruin the women's tour and affect all women's self-esteem."

Her reaction was telling. Female athletes, even mature, confident champions like King, rarely gloat in victory. They're just relieved they haven't let anyone down.
Much of the book is dedicated to case studies of high-performing athletic girls, pretty much all of them soccer players. He discusses how they pursue their sport during secondary school, looking not just at the characters of these young athletes but also at the sports culture surrounding them--a culture that through its urging to focus on one sport to the exclusion of other activities and its opening of more opportunities for competition than a body can really endure actually breaks their bodies down rather than making them stronger.

[I hereby apologize for the length of that last sentence, but it is my blog and I am leaving it there.]

Sokolove notes that many of these girls suffer one ACL tear after another, yet keep playing. Most ACL "repairs" are really replacements: the destroyed ligament is replaced with tissue from other tendons in the athlete's own body or from cadaverous ACL tissue. The injuries do not make these girls consider quitting their sport until there is no more tissue to use for replacements, until they have usually busted out both knees and usually more than once.

Sokolove devotes a good bit of attention to work that is being done to figure out why girls tear their ACLs at eight times the rate boys do, and why the activity that causes the tear is often so much less intense. Is it a question of how girls' bodies develop at puberty? Girls' wider Q-angles, the measurement of the line from knee to hip? The way they run? The way they land when they jump? The laxity in all their joints that is a side-effect of the need of female bodies to be able to adjust to carrying a baby to term? That athletic girls tend to work "through the pain" more often and longer in order to avoid being called cry-babies? Or some combination of all or many of these things?

The book is a great read, particularly if you are interested in sport culture, injuries, and what it means to grow up as a girl. (Who, me?)

There are a few things, though, that I wish he treated in greater detail. For instance, thinking back to that first paragraph I quoted above, about what girls gain from sports: if sports are so good for girls, and give them a way to negotiate a wider culture that seems constantly to argue that as a woman you never fully have ownership of your own body--or at least of the demands placed upon it--then what happens to injured girls (and women) when they suddenly lose the ability to claim their bodies through sport?

And this: One chapter opens with these two sentences that had me saying (but not quite in the spirit of Molly Bloom) YES YES YES: "A young woman who suffers a serious athletic injury respond in an intensely personal way and has a limited capacity for reflection or self-protection. She is in pain--physical as well as emotional, because she has lost the thing she loves--and her response is to rehab as quickly as possible and get back on the field."

And then that's it, and he is on to the rehabbing. But wait: what about the very important points that preceded the second dash. Is that all there is to say? No insight into ways that a young woman might learn or be taught to manage this pain and sense of loss? In a book devoted to considering how to protect our daughters from this epidemic, might some attention be devoted to helping them manage the illness once they have contracted it?

And finally, I wish there were room in here for thinking about other sports and other injuries. I know that soccer offers the most dramatic example, because so many girls play it these days and because the injury percentage is so extreme. But what about injuries in other sports? Sokolove frequently mentions his own daughter, a swimmer, and how she managed pretty well in her sport with the exception of "one major injury" that cost her a full season. I can well understand why he would not want to write his daughter's own story--or why she might not want him to--but as an injured swimmer I am starving for that story. And given that there must be other injured girls and women out there who have hurt themselves doing something that is not soccer, I am certain that I am not alone.

I suppose what I am really saying here is not that these are problems with Sokolove's book, which focuses on the dramatic examples in order to make people pay attention, but rather that I hope that Sokolove's book opens an avenue for further discussion of these issues.

But you already knew this.

From here via here:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Blogging against type?

No, I am not finally coming out with a diatribe against font and print. Rather, thanks to this link, I visited a site which claims to (with surprising speed!) be able to analyze the type of a person who keeps a particular blog. Here were my results:

The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type:
ESFP - The Performers

The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always in risk of exhausting themselves. The enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions.
The fact that this description really does not match me at all leaves me with a few alternatives:

1. The Typealyzer is absolute shite.

2. The me that writes this blog is not the dominant me. This is possible, since the blog is more about hobbies than work, more about free-time than driven time, more about mental meandering than getting things done, more about hanging out than dishing it out in meetings (where some of my colleagues have called me "fascistic"--unfairly, I would argue)--that kind of thing. I do tend to think that even in this blog I come across as more anti-social than this profile would suggest. . . .

Sorry to get all navel-gazing on you, but it is shocking to be so misunderstood.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The McCain campaign stole this song from Heart. We're stealing it back.


For once, the election interfered with my sleep in a GOOD way.

I admit it: I had a hard time staying awake through all the returns. So when I woke up and my friends told me that AP was calling Florida for Obama, and Virginia, and and and THE ELECTION? Well, I thought I might be dreaming. I rubbed my eyes a lot. John McCain's concession speech made me wonder if he had been body-unsnatched, as he sounded like the guy who I thought would be an OK president when he won the nomination, back before he chose Sarah Palin, and "suspended" his campaign and on and on.

When I was setting my alarm for the morning, I turned on the radio just in time to hear Barack Obama's acceptance speech--and cried. Can you believe this?

What a day this is. Everything looks different this morning.

Time for a new mix, and this one is about victory. Hot damn. But with a caveat: Track #18 hopes that voters in California, Arkansas, Florida, and Arizona won't always be haters.

I feel like taking all my clothes off, dancing to the Rite of Spring, and I wouldn't normally do this kind of thing. . . .

1. [the White House] by George Clinton
2. "Dancing in the Street" by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
3. "Finally" by Ce Ce Peniston
4. "I Feel Better Than James Brown" by Was (Not Was)
5. "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing" by the Pet Shop Boys
6. "New Feeling" by Talking Heads
7. "Funky Party Time" by the J.D.'s
8. "I'm So Happy (Tra-La-La-La-La-La)" by Lewis Lymon and the Teenchords
9. "Of Thee I Sing" by ??
10. "Living Well Is the Best Revenge" by R.E.M.
11. "IF you don't get it the first time, back up and try it again, Party" by Fred Wesley and the JBs
12. "Good Day, Sunshine" by the Beatles
13. "Good Times" by Chic
14. "Paragraph Persident" by Blackalicious, f. De La Soul
15. "Oh Yeah" by Yello
16. "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" by ZZ Topp
17. "If you want to sing out, sing out" by Cat Stevens
18. "Go West" by the Village People
19. "America the Beautiful" by Ray Charles

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Come on, come on down, Sweet Virginia.

Oh hell. I thought that once this day arrived, everything would be fine. But now I am here to tell you that the time I had counted down to has arrived, I have voted, and I am still nervous as hell, despite estaminet's brilliant Lolbama.

And do you feel scared? I do, but I won't stop and falter.

I have been reading stories about voting, and my gosh what a sucker for them I am. I love to read about the lines, the voters, the witticisms, the new voters, the old voters, the amazing feeling so many of us have had to be voting this year.

The poll tax and Jim Crow and greed have got to go.

But still: it is about three hours before polls start closing here in the east, and then another four hours before the west coast closes.

We are hoping, yes and we're praying. . . .

Is there seriously enough whiskey in this world to calm my nerves?

I feel so extraordinary
Something's got a hold on me
I get this feeling I'm in motion
A sudden sense of liberty

So I am doing what I do when I cannot do anything else.

One step closer to knowing. . . .

No, I mean besides playing Word Twist on facebook. I have made a mix:

1. a clip from Parliament
2. "This Time" by INXS
3. "Things Can Only Get Better" by Howard Jones
4. "House of Hope" by Toni Childs
5. "Getting Better" by the Beatles
6. "Something's Coming" by the original cast of West Side Story
7. "Don't Worry About the Government" by Talking Heads
8. "True Faith" by New Order
9. "A Change Is Gonna Come" by Billy Bragg
10. "Hope" by Fat Freddy's Drop
11. "Message to Society" by Wally Coco
12. "Freedom" by Jurassic Five
13. a clip from Laurie Anderson
14. "High Time for a Detour" by k. d. lang and the Reclines
15. "Freedom for My People" by U2
16. "People Get Ready" by Eva Cassidy
17. "Super Good" by Dynamite Singletary
18. "Think" by Aretha Franklin
19. "Sweet Virginia" by the Rolling Stones
20. "One Step Closer" by U2
21. "All You Fascists" by Billy Bragg and Wilco

NOTE: This is not a victory mix. This is a hope mix.

I voted.

It took me one hour and forty minutes to get through the line, but I voted. Sure, I live in a state where my vote likely won't make a difference, but I voted. In my precinct, there was a vast disenfranchisement campaign against people whose last names begin with L-Z, but I voted.

I figure the good turn-out--nay, the best turn-out I have ever seen in these parts by the longest of shots--is good news, because as I walked through my precinct to the polls, I saw this:

Notice that that last house is so excited about Obama that they have 2 signs!

As I was taking these pictures, a guy walking down the street started yelling at me: "Hey lady! Are you out taking pictures today?"

Me: "Yes!"

GWDTS: "Take a picture of me!"

Me: "Really I am taking pictures of Obama signs. Did you vote?"

GWDTS: "Yes!" [I think he may have been lying.]

Me: "I think he has a real shot at winning."

GWDTS: "Well, we sure need a change!" [I revise my opinion about whether he voted.]

We could not get a sign, but we did commission our nextdoor neighbors' kids to make us one:

There is one house in our neighborhood that has had a BARR/ROOT sign in their yard for a long time, but recently they added another:

Is this a house divided? A conflicted voter? Is someone settling?

Standing in line at the polls was kind of a party. Everybody was surprised to see lines this long, or at all, since that never happens here. Besides, something like 12% of the registered voters in SC had already voted. There were two lines, depending on whether your last name started with A-K or L-Z, and the latter was far longer--too bad for me, because I am not registered as "Isis." By coincidence, I arrived at the polls about 2 minutes after the PP, so we waited in line together. We saw at least a dozen of our neighbors. When I got to the line, a neighbor who is a part of the A-K elite was just realizing that he could leave our long line for the shorter line, and he finished voting about an hour before us, including the time he spent standing around and chatting afterwards with the likes of us. He claimed that the A-K people are smarter and actually control the world, or at least the election commission. I pointed out that some other friends of ours, who had voted earlier that morning, and are also a part of the A-K bloc, had found their line disproportionately long. So now we figure that the A-K people just tend to get up earlier.

There were signs everywhere about how you cannot wear political attire or carry political banners into the polling places, or attempt to influence people's votes there. The PP wondered whether, since trying to influence my vote would be futile, there might be an exception. I asked him to please note that the sign did not distinguish between futile or promising attempts.

There was no one on the ballot for Soil and Water Commissioner--yes, no one--so we had thought yesterday about writing in the PP so he could take the job. But then he realized that it might be a bigger job than he would want, so we decided to write in a neighbor who is also a water guy. I decided today that the PP would just be too good not to try to elect him. I guess we were inside the polling place (still waiting in the L-Z sign-in line) by the time he asked me who I was voting for and I told him him. He said no, I was supposed to vote for our neighbor, but I told him to back off since it was illegal for him to try to influence my vote inside the polling place.

I suppose given how long the wait was that it was no surprise how many cranky children there were inside the polling place. I came to suspect that the one screaming child was actually giving voice to all of our fatigue, frustration, and sore backs. But as this screaming child was wheeled out the door in its pram, the PP asked, "Why does that child hate freedom?"

There was a bit of a scare at one point because the polling place ran out of "I voted" stickers. We had already been waiting about an hour and twenty minutes by this point, so we really wanted our damn stickers, because why would you vote except to get a sticker? But luckily they found some more, so by the time I actually had voted, I got my little sticker.

I cannot even explain to you how much I love voting. There have certainly been other years in which I really really really wanted my guy to win, but man oh man THIS year I really want it. Like, a LOT. But it is not just that: I am a big sucker for democracy. I believe in giving a voice to everyone, whether they do the work to be informed or not. I love seeing people come out to vote. And this year, I loved seeing older and disabled voters still getting themselves to the polls to vote in this historic election. I got a chill when I cast my vote. And I am still proudly wearing my sticker.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Let me buy the next round (or why I am voting for Obama).

If you read Thomas Friedman in the NYT this morning, you know that, in keeping with the editorial principles of the paper, he is not offering an endorsement. Rather he lays out three things to look for in a candidate:

1. We need a president who can speak English and deconstruct and navigate complex issues so Americans can make informed choices.

2. We need a president who can energize, inspire and hold the country together during what will be a very stressful recovery.

3. We need a president who can rally the world to our side.

I agree with him, though I expect that the opinions page editors are probably savvy enough to read between the lines of his "non-endorsement."

But then he says something else: "Please do not vote for the candidate you most want to have a beer with (unless it’s to get stone cold drunk so you don’t have to think about this mess we’re in). Vote for the person you’d most like at your side when you ask your bank manager for an extension on your mortgage."

I started out agreeing with this too, but as I read it aloud to the PP, I changed my mind about the first sentence. The more I thought about it, the more I really, really, really wanted to sit down over pints with Barack Obama. After all, he is an incredibly smart man, and what is more fun than talking about complicated issues with intelligent people? Who really know their stuff? And are very articulate? Furthermore, I expect he'd have one of those wry senses of humor that recognizes what a remarkable mess we find ourselves in, but still retains a glimmer of optimism that there is a way out. And I imagine that talking college hoops with him would be a blast, even if he is not a Heels fan.

Which is to say that we love to imagine the entire electorate as uninformed, uneducated, and afraid of smart people. (Certainly this is not entirely wrong, or the Karl Roves and Sarah Palins of the world would not be so successful.) But if Thomas Jefferson is right that democracy needs an informed electorate, then can't those of us who are trying our darnedest have our little pub-crawling fantasies? In mine, Barack Obama blends into Ciaran Carson, the Belfast poet who I had drinks with this summer (I know--cool, isn't it?) and who, late in the evening, sang two traditional Irish ballads, silencing the pub. And also, Obama is no more able than I am to refuse the increasingly rhetorical arguments of my drinking mates, who have been known to claim, after several rounds of Midleton, that if we do not have one more 15-year-old Bushmills, then we will be undoing the hard work of the Protestant Reformation. And when people get going reciting poetry, Obama listens attentively, and applauds his compatriots, and then when it is his turn he lets loose with some Philip Larkin or Ai or Robert Hass or Lucille Clifton or Sherman Alexie. From time to time he checks the scores on the TVs in the bar, but not at the expense of the banter around him.

In other words, yes, I want the smartest people possible leading our country--regardless of whether I think they would be interesting to know personally. In this case, though, I am not sure these categories are mutually exclusive. And is it so much to ask that there be smart people around to talk to, hang out with, end sentences with prepositions about? I would hate to distract Obama from the issues of state by keeping him out late at the pubs, but from time to time, I would sure love to buy him a pint.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Last weekend was the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair, outside Asheville, NC. A friend and I braved the cold and damp (and raining--and guess which goddess forgot her raincoat. . .) to go.

You have never seen color and texture sensory overload like that of a giant livestock arena filled with yarn. And fleece for spinning. And spinning wheels. And books and needles. And knitted garments. And more and more and more yarn. Man.

We took a Fair Isle knitting class. I had never done that kind of color work before, where you work two (or more) different colors in one row of knitting. Which means that you have to figure out how to manage two different lines of yarn without tangling them together into a giant woolen mess. The principal technique for this is holding one color in one hand and one in the other. This meant that I learned to knit with my left hand, which felt very strange at first, but I did get comfortable. (And Mom: you are so right that left-handed knitting is faster, or would be for someone good at it.)

I have never taken a knitting class before, and it really was striking how much you can learn--and how quickly--from another person instead of a book. My friend learned, for instance, that she had been twisting her knit stitches all these years. Now that she knows how to knit without twisting, she can work much more quickly and her work tends to look more like the pattern--and her fabric is more stretchy.

Our class took place in pen #1, which we came to call the Fair Isle pen:

This is what we made:

Right now it is just a knitted tube, but once I finish it, it will be a headband. That requies sewing, though, which is not my favorite phase of any project.

There were an array of animals, too--alpacas, llamas, various breeds of sheep and goats. I did not get any alpaca photos, because their barn was a little dark for no-flash photography, but here are some llamas:

If you remember what alpacas look like, you might recognize a resemblance, but notice that these beasts are a bit larger and have very different ears.

There were a number of Jacob sheep (less blurry in real life--but notice the four horns):

as well as angora goats (source of mohair):

and more sheep:

Who could resist all that baaing?

I did come home with a bit of booty:

That is sport-weight wool on the left, spun and dyed by folks who raise Corriedales. It will be used in my next Fair Isle project. And on the right, hand-spun undyed Jacob wool. Ah, the possibilities!

Altogether quite the experience. I can hardly wait for next year.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Why modernism makes better citizens.

"Properly, we shd. read for power. Man reading shd. be man intensely alive. The book shd. be a ball of light in one's hand."

--Ezra Pound, Guide to Kulchur

"When you are at school and learn grammar grammar is very exciting. I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagraming sentences. I suppose other things may be more exciting to others when they are at school but to me undoubtedly when I was at school the really completely exciting thing was diagraming sentences and that has been to me ever since the one thing that has been complete exciting and completely completing. I like the feeling the everlasting feeling of sentences as they diagram themselves.
In that way one is completely possessing something and incidentally one's self."
--Gertrude Stein, "Poetry and Grammar"

“I know that John McCain will do that and I, as his vice president, families we are blessed with that vote of the American people and are elected to serve and are sworn in on January 20, that will be our top priority is to defend the American people.”
--Sarah Palin (via)
UPDATE: Here is the actual source of the image above.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Twisted Sister.

Because today (is it only Tuesday?) may be one of those days where you need to laugh as much as I do, I am passing along a tidbit from The Onion, sent to me by a dear friend who always comes through in such times as these.

Monday, September 29, 2008

When popular icons failed.

Ever have one of those days where, no matter how hard you try, it is just a little hard to concentrate? Where there is some nagging feeling back there in the background somewhere, and it just kind of interferes with everything? Where you think maybe you have suddenly developed hypertension? And you look around and wonder just how dramatically things could change--and how fast?

Yeah, me too.

So late this afternoon, when I could watch the Dow pretending it had an "n" affixed to the end of its name, I did what any person does when they are trying to hold onto their sanity.

I made a mix.

I sort of doubt I would get copies made in time for it to resonate for you the way it does for me (though I am happy to try if you like), so here it is:

"When popular icons failed (9/29/2008)"
1. Sting, "Jeremiah Blues, Pt. 2"
2. The Boomtown Rats, "Banana Republic"
3. R.E.M., "Houston"
4. Propellerheads f. Shirley Bassey, "History Repeating"
5. Blackalicious, "Sky Is Falling"
6. Billy Bragg & Wilco, "All You Fascists"
7. J.U.F., "Panic So Charming (What the Fuck Style)"
8. U2, "Bullet the Blue Sky"
9. They Might Be Giants, "Lie Still, Little Bottle"
10. Paul Simon, "Gumboots"
11. The Story, "When Two and Two Are Five"
12. Barenaked Ladies, "Who Needs Sleep?"
13. Midnight Oil, "When the Generals Talk"
14. Mr. Lif, "Home of the Brave"
15. Laurie Anderson, "Walking and Falling"
16. Ani DiFranco, "'Tis of Thee"
17. Judy Collins, "Brother Can You Spare a Dime"
18. Nick Lowe, "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass"
19. The Rolling Stones, "19th Nervous Breakdown"
20. Paul Simon, "American Tune"
21. Billy Bragg, "Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards"

(I apologize for the duplication of Paul Simon and Billy Bragg, but hey: it is my mix.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Domestic crisis update: Situation contained.

Yesterday magpie concluded: "At least your mouse is out of the house. But your cats are slackers."

Too true!

Or so I thought.

When I went to feed Sazha this morning, in the little room where she likes to nap and has recently been getting fed (I know, but when we made her eat downstairs, she hardly ate anything before Jacques Monod came to try to take her food, and as a result she was wasting away), I found a dead mouse.

I do not know if this is the same mouse from Wednesday (please--let it be true!), but given that JM never comes in that room, I have to conclude that the obliteration of this enemy combatant was Sazha's work.

Nice work, Sazha!

And here is why you should never get rid of your old vinyl. I covered the bugger with a plastic container, slid my copy of Zenyatta Mondatta underneath, and took the corpse to the disposal unit.

Case closed?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Domestic Crisis Update: Situation averted.

You will be relieved to know that although the rodent situation in my house had been nearing catastrophe, I am not suspending this blog, nor will I keep from teaching class today or (gods-willing) grading the papers I have on my desk.

I am sorry to report, however, that the support from Congress, I mean the cats, was not quite what I would have hoped for. Sure, Sazha did a great job of herding the mouse into my study, where it could disrupt my workday. Then Jacques Monod did manage to corner it behind the file cabinet for several hours. But when I tried to use a broom to flush the mouse out into her awaiting gray claw-adorned paws, she ran away and no amount of explanation on my part could convince her that I was not aiming the broom at her. Then, when she trapped the mouse between the screen door and wooden door to the front of the house, she just smelled it.

Frankly, I had expected better.

I mean, two weeks ago, when the PP and I took the cats in for their annual shots etc., Jacques Monod was a holy terror. It finally took three people--the PP plus two vets--to contain her so she could get those shots, and also they had wrapped her in a sheet and the PP was wearing one of those giant leather mittens that cats cannot bite through. When I told the PP about the rodent situation here at the house, he said, "Well, if JM can get involved, she'll get that mouse, and she'll murder it and eat its brains."

I am serious. That is what he said, and really: he is not a violent guy.

But what did she do? She smelled it.

So I had to get her out of the way, and then I managed to prop open the screen door and close the wooden door, thereby allowing the mouse to escape through this improvised airlock into the big world.

I know this is a temporary solution, and that it will likely be no time before the mouse comes back in the house, but there it is: my own private bailout.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It's working.

Remember what I said about "the Palin stammer"? I now have no doubt that this is the new Republican strategy.

This afternoon, taking a little break from work, I wandered over to and read this. I did not believe it. So I went to Andrew Sullivan's blog and read this and this. And then Talking Points Memo. And then even the Washington Post. But they all were saying the same thing--that McCain had declared on TV that he would suspend his campaign because of the economic crisis and that he believed that Friday's debate should be called off.

I walked around the house for a while, trying to ascertain for certain if I was not dreaming this.

I determined that I am, and that there was still a mouse behind my file cabinet.

I remembered that I had some laundry in the washing machine so I went towards the back of the house.

I got distracted by some salsa that I remembered I had made from late-season tomatoes.

I picked up my new knitting project and turned on CNN. I sat there for probably 30 minutes watching Wolf Blitzer, well, blitz and also listening to the reactions of various politicians and pundits. I waited for Obama to make his statement, thinking, "Please, Obama, do not be a dumbass."

I knitted.

I remembered about that wash I needed to put in the dryer.

I watched some more CNN and even some commercials, knitting.

Obama came on and was not a dumbass.

I thought about the wash again, but did not want to miss out on the Q&A.

Finally that bit was over, so I put the wash in the dryer, turned off the TV, and came back to my desk--about one hour later.

In short, the McCain campaign had sent me into an hour-long whole-body stammer, and this, friends, is their strategy--to be like a death ray, rendering oponents motionless, speechless, astonished.

Domestic crisis.

So: early this morning, about 4:30 or so, my dear cat Sazha jumped up in bed. How sweet, I thought, reaching over to pet her. She jumped around, attacked my hand, bounced a few more times and then jumped onto the floor, where she darted around like an insane kitty, zig-zagging, jumping, mewing, zig-zagging some more.

I turned on the light, but I could not figure out what was up.

So about an hour ago, I was working at my desk, when she came downstairs, mewing some more, but in a slightly different tone than she usually uses when she is just looking for attention. I looked over to see that she was tracking a gray mouse.

I immediately flipped out, of course, like any good American, and after a little more chasing she seemed to corner the mouse behind a bookshelf. I say seemed, because after a few minutes the mouse emerged from the other end of the bookcase, with the cat, like Wile E. Coyote, still staring diligently at the spot where she saw the mouse go in.

Meanwhile, I called my parents to update them on the situation that they did not know was occurring. In talking to them, I figured out that probably this latest rodent activity was related to the early-morning craziness on Sazha's part. "Was she bouncing on the bed?" my mother asked, and I said, "Yes, why?" and just as I said that I figured out why.

Here is some background that might help you deduce what I deduced. Back when I lived in Michigan, and Sazha was but a wee furry thing, she used to go out on the roof of the house we lived in. My apartment was essentially an attic apartment, and it had a window that opened up onto a flattish roof that we used (dangerously) as a sort of balcony. Sazha would go out there, and then explore the rest of the roof, and with the exception of one rather precipitous fall, she stayed up there. It was perfect; she could be outside, but without real danger from cars, etc.

So one night I had just gone to bed in my futon, which (since I was a poor graduate student) had no frame and so just lay on the floor. I was lying on my stomach and just dozing off when I vaguely heard Sazha come in and it felt like there was a bug on my back. I leapt up and flopped the covers over, and I was surprised to see what seemed to be a wet leaf lying on my bedroom floor. Perhaps by now you have already deduced that that was no leaf, it was a space station--I mean, a wounded baby bat. That my dear cat had laid on my back. In my bed. With the kind (and mocking) aid of my roommate, the bat was trapped and released outdoors (where it no doubt suffered a lingering death) and the window was shut and I worked for a while on bringing down my heart rate.

Back to this morning: I think that today may have become my second bedtime rodent encounter.

Meanwhile, the mouse seems now to be hiding behind my file cabinet, and Jacques Monod is on the scene.

Stay tuned. . . .

UPDATE: Correction: it turns out the mouse is brown.

Pay no attention to the dust bunnies also lurking behind my file cabinet

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


All you need to know about the buyout plan. (via)

"No relief for gas pains."

That was a recent headline in our local newspaper, for an article about local gas prices and shortages, courtesy of hurricane Ike. Now the Patient Partner walks around the house devising other political headlines that can sound like commentary on one's, uhm, bodily functioning. I will spare you the details.

I do not know how things are where you live, but every other gas station around here is out of gas, or has only diesel. I have been trying to hold off filling up until the prices come down some (they are still up around $4 per gallon at most stations), but now I am thinking that if the shortages are going to persist, that may not be possible.

But this is not really a post about the southeastern U.S. gas shortages. It is about running out of gas in the pool. Scott warned me last week to be careful not to overdo it, and my body seems to have been thinking the same thing. I am still so tired from last week's swimming, that it is pretty much impossible for me to overdo things this week. But I'm listening, so I have dialed things back a bit.

This morning's practice contained yet more skill work, which I am loving. First, we worked on freestyle hand placement--placing your hand and forearm as a sort of paddle, or (if you are a more efficient swimmer than I am) even an anchor, such that you can truly pull your body to your hand, rather than vice versa. (I am, I'm sorry to say, all about the vice versa.)

Then it was on to breaststroke kick, where I am still trying to undo years of practice kicking the wrong way--or at least, the old-school way. The right way means keeping as straight a line as possible from your core through your hip and down your thigh. The old style--what I learned to do as a kid--had you bend more at the hip, so that (sadly) your thigh would become a sort of block to real hydrodynamic efficiency. And this old kick style is even more problematic if you, like I, have big honking legs. Also, I am trying to learn to keep my kick narrower: coach says that the power gained by the big wide kick is effectively undone by the loss in streamlinability (your new word for the day).

But he also says that he can see real improvement in my swim mechanics already this season, and that I am moving more like a swimmer. That is nice to hear.

Warm-up: 1000 with long fins (300 s)
First skill set: 400 swim/kick: 4 x 100, first 50 = technique free, second 50 = choice kick (200s)
Second skill set: 400 swim/kick: 8 x 50, first 25 = technique breast, second 25 = choice kick (200s)
Main set: 800 kick/swim: 4 rounds of 4 x 50, 1st three = kick, last one = swim; odds = build, evens = fast (200s)
Cool-down: 200 with long fins
TOTAL: 2800 yards (900 swim)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dolphin + Freestyle modification.

Today was butterfly day, and since I cannot really swim fly yet (did I mention that I swam 2 separate 25s of it last Saturday? With long fins, but STILL.), I did a combination of dolphin kick and one-arm drill. My coach suggested really working to make each dolphin powerful--starting from the chest of course--instead of doing lots of little dolphins, which has been how I have typically done butterfly kick.

My coach will not even use the word "kick" for fly, because, he said, the stroke does not really have a true kick so much as a dolphin movement involving the whole body.

Working on the power of each dolphin made a huge difference, as I could really work on the power of the movement. Furthermore, I could use the 1-arm drilling to make sure that the rhythm of my kicking was pretty much the same as the kick rhythm when I actually swim. I mentioned earlier that my core strength is pretty low right now, so this was also a great drill for me in terms of rebuilding strength.

Also, my coach pointed out that in my freestyle, I tend to pull with force all the way through the pull phase, which leaves my arm and my shoulder tense at the beginning of the recovery phase, thereby putting unnecessary stress on the shoulder. Instead, he suggested that after my pull passes my waist, which is effectively the end of the power phase of the stroke, I release my elbow so that when the recovery begins, my shoulder is in a better position. I have not really got the hang of this yet--it is always difficult to integrate changes into a stroke--but I think I can really feel how this will be better for the shoulders.

I did not feel comfortable doing my 900 swim today, because I was feeling too much stress on my left shoulder.

Do I get extra points for doing 2600 yards of kick? I hope so, because I can hardly stand up.

1100 warm-up: 600 with long fins, 500 with no fins (200 swim)
800 skill set focused on dolphining: 8x100, 50 dolphin + 50 something else (kick)
1200 main set: 6 rounds of 100 IM + 100 FR, where second and fourth 25 of each is swim; for each 100 by round: 25 fast/75 easy // 50 fast/50 easy // 75 fast/25 easy; after four rounds I cut out the swimming and did all kick (400 swim)
200 cool-down: with long fins, alternating 25 kick/25 swim (100 swim)
TOTAL: 3300 yards (700 swim)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Omnivores' 100.

At a wine dinner here this weekend, during the third course, I was eating a very tasty bagna cauda, and I suddenly remembered: Estaminet tagged me to do the VGT Omnivore's 100!

Which works like this:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.

Here are my findings: (74 of 100)
1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros (I don't really like eggs.)
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding (Mmmm, yes! And had it again this summer!)
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries (with estaminet!)
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (one of my great errrors)
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (not in the bowl)
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (though typically I have my cigars with single malt)
37. Clotted cream tea (more summer nostalgia)
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (oy)
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal (see above, re: learning from one’s mistakes)
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (AND!)
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict (see above re I don't like eggs)
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake (I have HAD IT with the motherf-- no wait.)

So how's about you? Try it--you'll like it!

Tea tea tea, all I want is tea.

Being in England and Ireland this summer, I got in the habit of drinking tea rather than coffee, because while the cheap coffee there is dreck, cheap tea is just fine.

Before long, I realized that in drinking tea, I did not get jittery and anxious the way I do when I have coffee. And tea did not bother my stomach at all. And I could even drink it late in the afternoon without it hindering my sleep.

I still like coffee, but mostly, even now that I am back, I keep drinking tea, because it seems to make me feel, well, better.

Today I read this. Granted, the research is funded by the Tea Council (do you think they are hiring?), but still.

Check out this kick set.

I am now one day into my second consecutive week of swimming.

I felt a little discomfort in my shoulder this morning, so I backed off my planned set: initially I tried to swim but with short fins instead of no fins, but that was only good for so far, so then I stopped the swim. Last week I was able to swim 900 yards per practice without discomfort, but I expect this is residual fatigue by this week.

But I did do a most righteous kick set that I highly recommend. It's a total of 1200 yards (or meters, if you do it in such a pool) and it goes like this. 25 fast kick, 50 easy kick, 50 fast kick, 50 easy kick, 75 fast kick, 50 easy kick, and so on, up to 200 fast kick, 50 easy kick. It is one of those sets where about half-way through you think maybe your legs are going to burn off, but then they go numb, and you can really crank.

WORKOUT (9/15)
800 Warm-up (including 200 swim with long fins)
600 IM Swim set (8 x 75 IM order, with short fins, substituting free for fly and also after a while substituting back for breast)
1200 kick (no fins), as described above)
200 easy
TOTAL: 2800 (including 800 y of swim)

Friday, September 12, 2008

September 1, 1939.

Yesterday I was slated to teach a poem and an essay by W. H. Auden. At the last moment, I decided that since it was the anniversary that it was, I might rather have my class discuss "September 1, 1939" than the poem that I had put on the syllabus.

I was thinking about how this poem, which Auden wrote about the invasion of the Poland and the beginning of World War II, had been widely read, recited, reprinted, circulated, and ruminated over in the days after September 11, 2001, and how readers then found that its thinking about what that day in 1939 meant applied also to their own thinking about what this new attack was, and how we would try to understand it.

My students, mind you, and like many people, have a difficult time imagining what the start of the war might have felt like, since they (and we) know so much now about other things going on Germany besides simple (?) imperial ambitions. But now that we are some seven years out from 9/11, I think we, too, have that strange ability to look back at an earlier moment, which was in a way the beginning of something, and reflect on our thoughts at the time.

Auden came to distrust the poem, and he kept it out of collections of his work because he feared that maybe his own response was too self-satisfied. In one republishing of the poem, he changed the line "We must love one another or die" to "We must love one another and die." Despite his disappointment in the poem, it seems to me to be a poem that demands we think harder about what we are doing, about the world we are making. Now, in this political season, that is a message we cannot hear frequently enough. (Though I wonder: is everyone really listening? No, I don't really wonder. It's more that I do not want to accept the answer.)

So, with apologies to Wystan, I reprint his poem here:

"September 1, 1939"

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.


I have started working with a personal trainer.

I resisted this approach for a long time, for a number of reasons. First, I figured that I know something about fitness and I should not have to pay someone to tell me to do sit-ups. Second, I come from strong, penny-pinching yankee stock, and I hate spending money on anything (except yarn). Third, I figured I was already working with a swim coach, and so really, how much athletic staff did I need in my life?

But then I saw how after her races in Beijing, Dara Torres had, like, six people massaging her and stretching her and OMG is that what I have been missing?

No, seriously: this summer I realized that the left side of my upper body is still rather atrophied after all my shoulder hoo-ha, and if I did not get serious about bringing it back RIGHT, I would probably never be able to swim well and consistently.

Also, I came to terms with the fact that I am a slack-ass about strength training.

So this morning I had my first session with K., and I am optimistic. She seemed smart, knowledgeable, articulate. She gave me good exercises to do on the first day. She did not overdo it. She treated me like an athlete.

But painful confession time: not only has my shoulder suffered from the last 1.75 years of erratic training, but I. HAVE. NO. CORE. STRENGTH. Yow. Crunches that would have been no big deal several years ago HURT ME. And I know from back when I was in shape how important core strength is to swimming.

Verdict: if I do not get serious about core strength-training, my poor shoulder will no doubt pay the price.

So here we go.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

South Carolina IS SO so gay.

Readers who were along for the ride back in July might be interested to know that South Carolina Governor (and man not really of my people) Mark Sanford is to be honored with the "so gay" award at South Carolina Pride this month. (via)

Congratulations, Governor Sanford!

The Palin stammer.

Something I started noticing shortly after the announcement that Sarah Palin would be John McCain's running mate, was that this news was capable to reducing some of the most articulate people I know to blathering strings of absolute incomprehensibility.

Example: a couple weeks ago, during the Republican convention, I was sitting in my office, waiting for a colleague to come by so we could go to lunch. As I waited, I was trolling around on various blogs, and I came across "Sarah Palin's Blog" (not real, of course). When my colleague arrived, I said, "Have you seen this?" and his response was something to the effect of, "I don't--it's just--what about--how did--have you--is she--" He went on for about 20 seconds, but I think the gist of it was, "I don't know where to start."

Over the next couple of days, as I talked politics with other smart, liberal people, I kept noticing the same thing happening: one after the other, they were rendered effectively speechless.

Yesterday, another colleague sent me a link to this tape of Matt Damon, and although he holds it together better than most people I have seen, he still feels the effects of the firepower of her fully armed and operational stammer-station:

I am starting to think this was part of the idea, on the Republicans' part.

Monday, September 01, 2008


It seems that the press will have a hard time, this election cycle, comparing the Democratic and Republican conventions, since the Republican campaign will be at least somewhat disrupted by Gustav. Some will say that the two conventions should not be compared, while others will be itching to do so.

My suggestion: the conventions should be judged as Olympic diving was this Olympics. There should be a difficulty score for each convention. Judges then award an execution score, on a ten-point scale. The highest and the lowest of the judges' scores are tossed out and the remaining five scores are totaled. These scores are then multiplied by 3, divided by 5, and multiplied again by the degree of difficulty of the dive.

Let's say you're going to do a dive--I mean "speech"--on the 45th anniversary of some big thing, and then you do up your platform to sort of resemble the site where that other thing happened. Also, you decide to perform in front of 80,000+ people in a giant stadium, eliciting mutterings of "Paris Hilton" and "Leni Riefenstahl" from critics. If you tank, say, kicking up a lot of splash on your entry, you still get some points for trying something complicated. But if you ace it, then your score is out of the park.

Other factors affecting difficulty might be:
* choosing a running mate that sends the political world into a tailspin of amazement and last-minute research;

* having to contend with a major hurricane that reminds voters of how very competent your party has been in the last 8 years on so many matters;

* losing some of your convention speakers, because they decide they might need to run the government this time (I would contend, however, that this actually LOWERS your difficulty rating);

* etc.

This sort of scoring system should allow political analysts to stop feeling bad about assessing the successes and failures of the two conventions.

Meanwhile, Gustav, please go easy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And in weather news. . . .

So when we got up this morning, after the tea and coffee were made, the PP said, "I want to know what happened with the tornadoes." So I went outside and got the paper, brought it in, and as I was pulling it out of its plastic baggy he said, "So does it say, 'Tornadoes slam Upstate'?"
I kind of looked at him, because what it said was TORNADOES SLAM UPSTATE.*
Note this part in particular:

Trained weather spotters reported the first tornado on the ground in Clemson at 2:54 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. The tornado "came across the stadium and the intramural field and took out a couple of light poles and then blew over trees in front of the ESSO Club moving into town," said Marvin Carmichael, Clemson’s director of Financial Aid. Tornado sirens at Clemson University were activated and the CU Safe Alert text-messaging system warned people to seek shelter, said Clemson spokeswoman Robin Denny.
I would not want to disagree with Robin Denny, who makes it all sound so smooth, but I need to add a couple of amendments.

You see, this CU Safe Alert system has had some issues. For a while, they had it set so that the sirens went every time there was lightning "in the area." Last spring break, when I was at the beach, I got a series of 10 text messages telling me to seek shelter from Clemson lightning.

And let me describe the siren: it is a regulation siren that goes for a while, leaving you to wonder what the disaster is. (This is a siren that was put in place after the VA Tech shootings.) Then a scary recorded voice identifies the disaster and uniformly advises everyone to "seek shelter immediately." That voice, however, is not at the same volume as the siren, which means that in (say) a classroom, you can hear the siren, but not the explanation.

I note this because, in fact, I was teaching at 2:54 p.m., when the storm and sirens came. We were (surprise) discussing a poem when the sirens went, and I realized to my dismay that I had no idea what to do. My first thought:

+ Is this yet another lightning warning, so we should do nothing?

Then when a student checked for a text message and learned of the tornado warning, I thought:

+ Does the university have a plan for serious weather that I did not know about?

+ Should we use the stairs to go downstairs (my classroom was on the fourth of four floors)--stairs that are outdoors and exposed to those same elements from which we were supposed to be seeking shelter?

+ Should we line up in the hallways with our heads between our knees, or should we seek shelter under our desks, like if there was nuclear fallout on the way?

+ Will something horrible befall my students if I make the wrong choice?

Looking around to see what other classes on the hall were doing and seeing that they were continuing, I decided to go ahead with class, but I could see the anxiety on my students' faces and frankly the discussion sucked.

Afterwards, I learned that most of my colleagues who were not in class at the time were huddled in the office of the person with the best view of the tornado as it ripped across the stadium and the intramural fields, checking out the view. At some point, it apparently occurred to them that perhaps the 8th floor of an 8-story building--and by a window--might not be the place to be, so everyone took the double-helix stairs down to the basement.

And after that, I learned about the damage on campus and in the neighborhoods around campus.

But me and my students, we were still talking about Yeats.

Back in my office, I saw the "all clear" signal, which had come through at about 3:10. So I went ahead and convened my 3:30 class. During that class my students were seriously spooked, since they (unlike my first class) knew that there had been a tornado, and were on the lookout for more. "That tree is horizontal," one of them said at one point, looking out the window. "There is debris flying in a circle." It was also raining and windy as all get out, and I figured the likelihood of another tornado was small, so we kept going.

But after that class, I went back to my office to find another "all clear" signal given at 4:10. There had been no additional siren, no additional text messages warning of danger. So were we not really all clear at 3:10? Had the system malfunctioned?

This morning in my inbox was a message received at 7:49 p.m. but date-stamped at 3:50 p.m., reading, "Tornado Warning: Seek shelter and tune to local media for information." That would explain the 4:10 "all clear"--but why had this message not come through at the time?

Frustrating. And a little scary. I suppose they are working the kinks out, but I hope someone is paying attention.

* You are going to have to trust me on that one, because the online headline does not match the print headline.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Linguistic query.

So yesterday, as I was sitting through a seemingly interminable meeting at work, someone said: "Well, we would deal with that, but the entire Blahbidiblah Committee is pregnant."

This comment through everyone off for a while, because although a couple of people in our department have recently had babies, it is not obvious that others are pregnant. I just thought that maybe I had missed the exciting summer developments, being out of the country. But it turns out others were as confused as I, and the whole discussion jumped its tracks as we all tried to remember who exactly is on the Blahbidiblah Committee and then ascertain whether (through medical miracle or not) they are pregnant.

It turns out that what the commenter meant was that "the whole" (i.e. a couple members of) the Blahbidiblah Committee are on maternity leave, having recently had babies.

Which, at long last, leads me to my question: Do we have a good concise adjective to describe someone who recently gave birth? I briefly considered "postgnant," but the "stgn" consonant cluster is uncomfortable in English.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Greetings from somewhere over the Atlantic.

I forget who it was who described jet-lag this way: as if your soul is lagging behind you, unable to keep up with your jetliner, hoping someday to meet up again with your body. By that math, my soul is probably somewhere over Greenland, at best.

So it is 4 a.m. EDT, and I am feeling like it is time to get up and have breakfast. Even the melatonin I took before bed is not counter-acting this.

And have I mentioned it is a little warmer here in South Carolina than it was in Sligo, where I spent the last two weeks?

Nevertheless, it is great to be home--to have slept (if not long enough) in my own bed, to have spent a quiet evening in with the PP and our darling (if adorned with teeth and claws) cats, to have feasted on tomatoes and basil from our garden, to have watched some Olympics on a big flat-screen TV I had forgotten we had bought, to have begun the process of unpacking.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Notes on the rapture.

One thing I cannot get used to here is that the driver's seat is on the right of a car. I am down with traffic coming on the left side of a road (the "LOOK RIGHT" markings painted on the pavement at crosswalks help), and perhaps if I were spending any time in cars myself, I'd get used to the seat positions, too. But as it is, I look into the window of an oncoming car, and the person in the lefthand seat is turned around getting something from the backseat, and I almost scream, "Look out! Look out! Look out!" before I remember the real deal.

This is especially frustrating in moments like the other morning, when, crossing in a crosswalk and with a walk signal, I was nearly run down by a taxi trying to catch the yellow light. (He had missed by a long shot.) I tried to glare at him, but what seemed to be the driver's seat was empty, and I thought, "Well no wonder: the rapture has come at last, and half the cars are now without drivers."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I take that back.

About ten days ago, I was suggesting that the new-fangled modern exhibitions cannot match the sites themselves. To some extent, I still believe that, but yesterday I saw an exhibition that complicated my earlier thoughts.

This is the Yeats exhibition at the National Library of Ireland. You can visit an online version of the show here, and it is worth doing, whether you can get to the actual show or not.

The exhibition features an array of W. B. Yeats's printed books, manuscripts, typescripts, and photographs. When you enter, there is a small room made of screens, where an audio track plays recordings of his poems, read by the likes of Seamus Heaney and Sinead O'Connor while slides of the text and accompanying images grace the screens. There are four films about Yeats's life and work, featuring images of Ireland, his notebooks, and commentary from notable scholars. There are well-presented cases of copies of his books, manuscripts of his poems and letters, pages from his occult notebooks, photographs of his family. There is a giant-sized replica of The Tower, perhaps his most important book, that you can walk inside of. In there you find a sort of family tree for the poems, tracing them from manuscript to periodical publication to other books where they were published and finally to The Tower--and of course all these stages are represented by reproductions of the artifacts in question.

It really is a marvel, an example of how multi-modal presentation can be put to excellent use.

And although it has been up for a couple of years, it got an ebullient mention in this weekend's NYTimes.

So I revise what I said before. Done well, these exhibitions do not take away from "the things themselves," but give you a new excitement about what you are seeing.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Does it get better than this?

Right now, I am sitting on a bench, looking out at the college park here at Trinity College in Dublin. If I had not consulted my map, I would have called it the cricket pitch, because it is right next to the rugby pitch, and most days there are cricket games in process here. Just now, one has wrapped up, and the players are changing into drier clothes and making their way to the pub that is the top floor of the next-door pavilion--they call the pub "the Pav"--and where there is an array of outdoor tables for taking your pint.

It turns out Joyce was right, and the cricket bats really do say, "pock, pock." I am always struck by those moments, where I find that something I am seeing or experiencing for the first time really does look or sound just like it does in some work of art. (I felt this way when I first got to Hong Kong, and I found that the mountains there do look like the Chinese ink paintings--and so different from the mountains I had seen in North America.)

Earlier this morning, I had my head immersed in typescripts, trying to figure out at what stage various textual changes were made. It is like detective work, in a way, with some of the glamor and all of the drudgery. But also the moments of "AHA!" which I live for.

But not right now. Right now I am enjoying the sun on my face. And I am enjoying enjoying the sun on my face, because in South Carolina in July, there would be few things I would enjoy less. But here? The last days have been cloudy and rainy, but today there is suddenly blue, up there, in the sky. The wind is blowing, the air is cool, and despite wearing a couple of layers, I am happy for the warmth from the sky. Out in the park there is a young couple running barefoot in the grass, laughing hysterically at something, and also a woman in a bright white skirt walking with her toddler, and a little ways away, people lying on the grass, perhaps feeling the same way I do about the sun.

So what could be better?

Now that I think of it? If I were over at the Pav, with a pint in my hand. So on that note, . . . .

Saturday, July 12, 2008

South Carolina is not really all that gay.

You know that Geico commercial where the caveman is riding on the moving walkway in the airport, and he passes a poster that says, "So easy, even a caveman could do it," and he kind of does a double-take, and then turns around and, seeming to do a sort of moonwalk, stands there gaping at the poster?

Well, that was me on the escalator in the Leicester Square tube station today. The poster I saw read, "South Carolina is so gay!"

At first I wondered if I read it right, which, it turns out, I did. It was part of a larger advertising campaign to draw gay tourists to American destinations. There were four or five posters in all, including adverts for Boston, Atlanta, New Orleans, and . . . South Carolina.

I kept wondering, How do they figure? Gay in the sense of extremely homophobic? In the sense that non-discrimation on the basis of sexual orientation only became prohibited by the university's policy in the last couple of years? In the sense that the so-called preservation of marriage amendment passed with flying (but sadly so unflamboyant) colors? In the sense that a guy who punched a gay man outside a bar--because he was gay--and killed him got off with a short sentence? Yes, that gay.

Luckily the series of posters repeated, and it was a long escalator, so I got to look at it again, and I saw mention of gay beaches. Really? Where????

It was all incredibly bewildering.

I was torn. Was this:
a) a sign that things are turning around in my adopted home?
b) a joke?
c) a mistake?
d) none of the above?

So I got home from my day's outing to find an e-mail from a friend, wondering whether I had seen these "South Carolina is so gay" posters while I was at Pride last weekend. And then, when I spoke to the PP this afternoon, he said, "I have huge news," and then went on to tell me that this story was all over the newspaper.

He was right.

And I was not the only one who thought it was a joke, but unlike me, State Sen. David Thomas (Greenville, R) did not think it was very funny, because "From my own perspective, it's bad for the state to make such statements about the state, to assert that South Carolina has gay beaches." Well, in a way I agree with him, because arriving at an SC beach and expecting it to be even gay-friendly would be at the very least disappointing. He called the ads "simply improper." I'd call them "simply inaccurate."
Now, it turns out, the person who approved funding for the campaign has resigned--surely not under duress!

But really, when I think of the ad again, I would not say South Carolina is so not gay. No: many parts of South Carolina are very gay--like little (largely hidden) outposts in a great sea of traditional family values.

Sigh. I suppose by now I should be getting used to being embarrassed by my state, but I just cannot come to like it.

Is this a sign of advancing age?

I was initially going to post this as an update to my post about the British Library, but then it sort of ballooned into its own issue.

UPDATE: Contrary to what I said, the old Round Reading is no longer a museum to itself. I went to pay hommage to it the other day, only to find the door to the Reading Room closed and guarded, with a sign about how it is closed while they install an exhibition. Closed? Now, or at least recently and in just a week or two, it houses blockbuster exhibitions, such as the upcoming Hadrian show, which I will barely miss. However strange it was to go into that room just to see it, without a reader's ticket in my hand, I want it back in its old form! I have been told it will be, after this series of shows about emperors--so where are they storing all the desks?

Anyway, there are activities for children in the Great Court around what had been the Reading Room. Why go see the mummies when you can play with plastic tubing?

I am seeing, though, that this is a larger tendency in museums, seeming to reply to the question: How can we get people interested in our boring old stuff? The answer, typically, is to construct multi-modal shows telling the history of something or another, but without using actual artifacts. Instead, there might be reconstructions of the way rooms worked, complete with "authentic" recreated smells and sounds. Or they might involve flashy films with music of the time rendered techno.

For instance, at Hampton Court Palace, there is the "Young Henry" exhibition, which uses a repeated series of three simple wooden thrones to represent the interactions, roles, and power plays of Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, and Katherine of Aragon. There are a few authentic paintings on the walls, but the real attention falls on the three thrones, each representing one of the three players, that appear in each room of the exhibition. Their positions and their carvings (which give in a sentence or so the person's situation at that moment) shifts, and they are always set on a carpet with a brief motto for the period in question. Somewhere in every room is an audio track, filling in more detail. As the Palace advertises it, "Historic paintings from the Royal Collection, together with audio-visual and hands-on displays, will help you explore and discover a very different King Henry VIII."

Harrumph. Do you really explore and discover when all you're doing is reading brief synopses of historical moments? Are we all so simple that the only way we can follow palace intrigue is through the shifting of chairs, like chess pieces?

And does anyone going through the show really look at the paintings? And it is a shame, too, because some of them are extremely precious and/or give clear views of the situation--from the perspective of the historical moment itself!

But to look at a painting requires more focus than the play of moving chairs.

Which takes me back to the initial question that I imagine curators asking, How can we get people interested in our boring old stuff?

The answer, sadly, seems to be: don't make them pay attention to our stuff, despite its great historical, artistic, etc. value. Instead, give them new stuff to be distracted by, so that paying the price of admission does not require them to look at the old stuff.

Distracted from distraction by distraction, or so someone said.