Wednesday, November 30, 2005

SAD No More

Anybody around here suffer from SAD besides me? I used to love the onset of Winter with all the holidays and the brisk weather. Over the years, though, that changed. Slowly and imperceptibly, I began to dread the dark, short days. The plans I made would become simply that — plans without any final resolution. Winter became hibernation; no doubt my family thought me related to the bears…shall we say I was a tad grouchy?

Here’s an explanation of the problem:
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a depression that afflicts people primarily during the winter months, and is often referred to as seasonal depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder was discovered in the early eighties by the National Institute of Health. The NIH estimates that over 36 million Americans suffer depressive symptoms brought on by the winter months. Seasonal Affective Disorder causes you to feel down, gloomy, and lose energy. You may have difficulty concentrating and feeling alert, withdraw socially and have carbohydrate cravings. Seasonal Affective Disorder sufferers also experience sleep problems.

Seasonal Affective Disorder vs. Winter Blues

Although often confused with the ‘winter blues,’ Seasonal Affective Disorder and Winter Blues are not the same. Seasonal Affective Disorder is manifested by symptoms of clinical depression, with impaired social interaction and cognitive ability. On the other hand, Winter Blues is milder than SAD and is typified by the lack of energy and feeling sad or down. If you have the winter blues, you can still function. If you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, normal daily functions are difficult to perform. Although Seasonal Affective Disorder and Winter Blues differ in the degree of severity, the treatment is the same for both conditions.

What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Researchers agree that the lack of sunlight in the fall and winter causes the effects of seasonal depression. Without sunlight, the brain doesn't produce enough serotonin, which results in the symptoms of depression. The darker days also signal the brain to overproduce the hibernation hormone, melatonin. The symptoms diminish as the days get longer, although many Seasonal Affective Disorder sufferers note brief (1-2 week) periods of SAD-like symptoms in the summer.

This year I decided to change that. After a month of dilly-dallying, I sat down and ordered a sun box. One place has a circadian rhythm assessment. Hah. Mine is almost a flat line reading.

My circadian rhythm

According to your test results, you have Circadian Amplitude Disorder (CAD). CAD means your body clock may be producing lower amounts of the night/day hormones during the day. This can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), insomnia and other depressive mood disorders. If you have CAD, you may not have problems waking up or going to sleep, but the quality of the wakefulness and/or sleep is diminished. This means you'll probably have less energy during the day.

Duh. The suggested treatment time was 30 minutes at 8:00 am but when I finally got the device, it recommended starting with 15 minutes if you’re fair-skinned. Which I am — given my Celtic genes, the sun has never been my friend.

This light is bright. Whoo wee! But no UV rays so I don’t have to worry about that part. 10,000 Lux, whatever that means beyond bright as the dickens. The point is to have enough light reaching the retina, so while I may read, I have to glance up occasionally to let those rays bounce off my eyes. Hey, any excuse to sit down and read…
SunboxI got my light box at Apollo, though I’m sure any of the other places would do as well. Just google “light box” and you’ll be inundated.

So far, so good. I’ve quit crying in my beer, for one thing. They tell you to “avoid caffeine” which I figure means you shouldn’t look at the coffee while you’re drinking it. One thing is for sure: no sunbox is going to cure lack-of-coffee.

This is supposed to take a week or so to really set in. I’ll have to check with the Baron to see if he can tell.

To be continued…

Monday, November 28, 2005

Monday's Word(s): What You May Utter

Usually by this time I've stumbled across a new word or two to use for Monday's post. But this week no word appeared on the horizon, so I was going to fiddle with two words which have been going through my mind: imbroglio and brouhaha.

However, they will have to wait, as the word(s) just arrived on Gates of Vienna from Jason Pappas. Mr. Pappas says this about certain set phrases that are bandied about in the public square:

“FAR right” is, of course, a code phrase. Here’s a few more:

“Inclusion” (Keep in step and toe the party line!)
“Diversity” (only one way of thinking allowed)
“Affirmative action” (our kind of racism)
“Go it alone” (fight a war without France)
“Exceptionalist” (knows Western culture is better than a mud hut)
“Environmentally friendly” (a mud hut)
“Social justice” (antiquated phrase before animal rights and the environment but sounds good)
This is a fine list, but there must be many, many more and I'll bet some of your favorites are not included here, especially if you work in government or education (which have become more or less the same thing of late).

If you have special pet phrases (no slogans, please. "Bush lied, people died, brains fried" is rather old), please leave them in the comments.

My introduction to Words From the Left, designed by proto-Marxists, happened more than twenty years ago. It was then that I first saw the phrase "politically incorrect" on a button adorning Wally Ballou's shirt. It fascinated me. Since the occasion was a Hallowe'en party, I thought perhaps it was part of a costume. And, of course, he lived in the big city so he was up on such things. I, from the country, had no idea what his button meant. And even after he told me, I found the idea outlandish. Surely such a phenomenon couldn't last?

Unfortunately, W. B. was merely ahead of the times. But not by much.

Here, from Global Language Monitor are some of my favorites of their picks for 2005:

Thought Shower or Word Shower substituting for brainstorm so as not to offend those with brain disorders such as epilepsy.

Out of the Mainstream when used to describe the ideology of any political opponent: At one time slavery was in the mainstream, thinking the sun orbited the earth was in the mainstream, having your blood sucked out by leeches was in the mainstream. What's so great about being in the mainstream?

Deferred Success as a euphemism for the word fail. The Professional Association of Teachers in the UK considered a proposal to replace any notion of failure with deferred success in order to bolster students self-esteem.
I suppose the most egregious term is "militant" instead of "terrorist." But then the BBC hasn't been in the mainstream for a long, long time. Not my mainstream, anyway.

Have a go, the way, "mate" is now beyond the pale, too. Soon we will all be reduced to barking out the Indo-European roots of the words we were once allowed to say...oops. Indo-European is rather elitist, isn't it?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Encompassing Shame

The Compass of Shame
Donald Nathanson has thought much and written honestly and deeply about the most basic of human disconnection: shame, and its opposite affect, pride. Nathanson provides an elegant, simple sketch of the very limited moves we have while in the grip of shame. An environment of competence and confidence is expansive and can seem infinite sometimes. Shame on the other hand, constricts and binds anyone in its throes. The signals of shame are universal and appear in human affect very early. The child drops his head, avoids making eye contact, and becomes very still. Time itself stands still.

What is even more interesting about shame is that this affect acts as the interruption of more positive affects, curiosity and desire. When shame, which comes from the outside, inhibits the curiosity or desire of a small child, he becomes still and avoidant or moves away. Thus, the first steps in the dance of shame.

Curiosity or desire well up from the child as naturally as any other part of development -- i.e., reaching for an object, rolling over, pulling up, interacting with others in his environment. These movements, and the affects which accompany them, can be readily seen. Watch a toddler spy a cat lying in the corner. There you have the scenario of curiosity and desire, acted out as the child moves as directly as possible to this curious new object. What follows may nor may not be the inhibition of desire, depending on the temperament of the cat and the behavior of the caretaker if the child runs afoul of the cat. A caretaker who soothes, who verbally takes the side of the child, prevents shame from arising in the child -- though not regret or anger at the untamed object of his desire, the ruffled cat, now a distant object out of reach.

Shame engenders in all of us an attempt to flee the unbearable. As Neo-neocon puts it:

...For vast numbers of people, shame is experienced as a narcissistic wound that is unacceptable and almost literally unbearable. In such cases, a person cannot stand feeling shame and is driven to great anger at the source of the shame and must remove it: either in actuality, by doing away with the person or a substitute; or by an intense explosion of rage expressed verbally.
This is spot on. Shame is unbearable. As Nathanson diagrams it, the person shamed has four options. In the north quadrant is the picture I painted of the small child with neck turned, head down, and gaze averted. He has withdrawn from the unbearable for the moment and will stay that way until his natural curiosity and desire kick in and he finds a new object.

In the east quadrant shame becomes acted out in attacking the self. One is self-deprecating, ironic, detached from the real emotion. In its extremes shame on this point of the compass leads to pathological self-injury, common in adolescent girls.

The southern quadrant is where you'll find the alcoholics and drug abusers. They have learned the very efficient release from shame which alcohol or drugs can provide. Until they can find a healthy substitute for facing and dissipating the "unbearable" then the wound cannot heal and they are stuck here, in the quadrant of avoidance.

Violence towards others takes up the western quadrant. Here, rather than attack the self, or hide from the world, the "cure" is to attack the eyes of the world that can see its shame and humiliation. It is this quadrant I often consider when I hear about another bomb going off, another group of innocents sacrificed on the altar of the shame of a whole culture. The attack-other mode of shame is the most difficult to approach, for here the wound feels most public and is so easily broken open.

The person or group who finds a way to drain the festering wound of humiliation that is the pain of the Middle East will be as important to our history as those who found insulin, penicillin, or vaccines. This has begun in Iraq, but the thought that they might escape while everyone else still lies in the sand is more than some can bear.

Mr. Zarqawi is the essence of shame. If you have any doubt, look at what he did to his fellow Jordanians, and what they, in their shame at his murderous betrayal of his countrymen, felt impelled to do to him. As I said, shame is the ultimate disconnection from one's fellows.

Whether Islam itself is a religion of shame is open to debate, though it would appear so. It relies on external behavior and rituals performed with absolute correctness. It has spent thousands of years spinning out more and more rules. Islamic culture is defensive, superior (attack other), requires that its women cover themselves completely (avoidance), and lives life based on an easily aroused shame/honor dichotomy (the movements across the compass from attack self to attack other). The constant calls to jihad are nothing more than a denial of shame through thrill-seeking.

The following is a poem from Donald Nathanson's book. It perfectly describes the hell of shame in its many manifestations:


This is the shame of the woman whose hand hides
her smile because her teeth are so bad, not the grand
self-hate that leads some to razors or pills
or swan dives off beautiful bridges however
tragic that is. This is the shame of seeing yourself,
of being ashamed of where you live and what
your father's paycheck lets you eat and wear.
This is the shame of the fat and the bald,
the unbearable blush of acne, the shame of having
no lunch money and pretending you're not hungry.
This is the shame of concealed sickness--diseases
too expensive to afford that offer only their cold
one-way ticket out. This is the shame of being ashamed,
the self-disgust of the cheap wine drunk, the lassitude
that makes junk accumulate, the shame that tells
you there is another way to live but you are
too dumb to find it. This is the real shame, the damned
shame, the crying shame, the shame that's criminal,
the shame of knowing words like "glory" are not
in your vocabulary though they litter the Bibles
you're still paying for. This is the shame of not
knowing how to read and pretending you do.
This is the shame that makes you afraid to leave your house,
the shame of food stamps at the supermarket when
the clerk shows impatience as you fumble with the change.
This is the shame of dirty underwear, the shame
of pretending your father works in an office
as God intended all men to do. This is the shame
of asking friends to let you off in front of the one
nice house in the neighborhood and waiting
in the shadows until they drive away before walking
to the gloom of your house. This is the shame
at the end of the mania for owning things, the shame
of no heat in winter, the shame of eating cat food,
the unholy shame of dreaming of a new house and car
and the shame of knowing how cheap such dreams are.
—Vern Rustala
A commenter on Neo-neocon's post wondered at those people whose children misbehave at school, and when called upon by the school authorities act as though it is an attack upon themselves. In their eyes, it probably is.

This "attack other" mode regarding the behavior of our children arises from the general cultural condemnation of families whose children misbehave. How often have you seen people stare angrily and judgmentally at some hassled parent who has lost control of a tired and over-wrought child in a grocery store at supper time? That parent is feeling unadulterated shame at his or her inability to "control" his child. No one ever tells them to leave the cart, take the kid for an ice cream cone and leave it for another time. Just once, I wish someone had the nerve to walk over to the scene and offer to help.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Duke's Street

Dog Street, Williamsburg
This is a view of the shops on the Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg the day after Thanksgiving. Until I took this picture I never knew the correct name for this thoroughfare. Having hung around with William and Mary graduates, and having always heard it called Dog St., I simply presumed that was the correct name for it. If I thought about it at all, I presumed it was a dog-leg road of some sort, taking a short cut. But no, it's real, true name is Duke of Gloucester, not "Dog" Street, as I'd always heard it said.

Now having the full name in my possession it looks rather more grand than it did when it was merely Dog St.

We spent Thanksgiving here; ate at a huge and groaning buffet. My favorite part was the no-turkey. Having never been able to abide that bird, I happily picked up some oysters Rockefeller, and mussels, and roast beef and ham and tiny popovers in place of Yorkshire pudding. The woman serving the ham offered me a piece of crackling. It was the best part of the meal.

And there was stuffing/dressing, of course. I always liked what was in the bird, just not the carcass. A boy of about fourteen was next to me, helping himself to the stuffing. On his plate there were two piece of pie and he slopped a layer of sage stuffing over both of them. It made me wonder if he was simply preparing himself fro college food.

There were lots of fruits and vegetables, but those were my second course, after the meats. And finally, bread pudding for dessert. Something I never eat since no one likes it but me...the Baron had miniature éclairs.

Since we were late leaving our reservations couldn't be honored so we ate in the grill rather than the main dining room. It was quiet and cozy and you couldn't hear the mob in the room next to us. The advantages which accrue to being late...sometimes.

One thing I noticed, which pleased me: the number of black families that were in attendance as guests. When I first started visiting Williamsburg twenty five years ago, I was struck by the fact that the only black people I saw were in some kind of hotel service uniform, even on the campus of The College. It was an un-nerving throwback and I'm glad to say that it is a scene which appears to have passed. There were white servers and black ones -- the maitre d' was black, our waiter was white --but there were black guests in abundance. About time, y'all!

The next day, the day of the picture, it was cold and windy. Not as bad as some Thanksgivings when we've had snow, but cold for Williamsburg. The wind pushed the shoppers into the stores and the sidewalk sales moved inside, too. It took the Baron's Boy fifteen minutes to get the lattes upstairs at Barnes and Noble. By the time he came down, I was already tired of standing in line to buy a book.

A first for me: I left B&N with only latte. We went to meet the Boy's boss at the Scotland shop and bought the Baron a winter tweed jacket while we were there. Good thing, too, as I noticed the camel's hair jacket he'd worn the night before was literally threadbare in spots. Men...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving Quiz

Wilstar Thanksgiving Quiz
Test Your Knowledge of Thanksgiving

Here’s a fun quiz on the history of Thanksgiving for kids. When they get underfoot, open up this site and put ’em to work. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Wednesday Night, the Eve of Thanksgiving

All over the country right now, people — women, mostly — are putting the prepared stuffing in the refrigerator next to the cleaned bird, checking the menu, stacking the good plates and silver on the buffet, getting out the candles and the goofy homemade Thanksgiving decorations from years ago.

Children are tired and underfoot. Someone has left fingerprints in the pumpkin pie and there are at least two pecans pried from the top of that pie. The apple rum cake is up out of reach.

All over the country, people — men, mostly — are counting the chairs against the expected number of guests, following “honey do” orders hauling the extra card tables out of the attic, and keeping one eye on the tube.

I’m not doing any of that this year. Instead, we’re going to Williamsburg to eat Thanksgiving dinner prepared by others who have to work on the holiday (bless them), and then I’m going to swim in the pool and — uh oh — watch television before turning in for the night. If it’s not raining, perhaps we’ll take a walk down Dog Street. A short walk, and a slow one, since my knee is rather game by now.

Back here it may snow, but any trace will be gone by the time we return on Friday.

All of which will be a nice break before surgery early next week. Today, I went in to sign the papers saying I understood the nature of the torture they propose for my knee, had blood drawn and an EKG to prove I will likely survive anesthesia, and then went to the Rehab Room to be taught how to go up and down the stairs with a walker — just the front and back steps of the house — without falling. I also made sure to get a prescription for pain medication, thank you. Stoicism is for those who don’t know any better.

When we came home, I noticed a few sad figs hanging on the branches of the bare tree. I never went back to get any more after I fell off the ladder. Which is not to say I am cured. Just wait till next September.

Thanksgivings Past echo now. The children laughing, eating the dressing before it was cooked (who knew from salmonella then?), running up and down the stairs in high glee. The trip to the ER the time I tried to slice the peel from a chestnut…they don’t taste that good, thanks just the same. I’d show you the scar but it’s lost among all the other cooking mutilations my hands have endured since I cleaned and roasted my first quail at the age of twelve.

Mother brought them home one year. Some hunter had given them to her and she came into the house holding them at arms’ length and telling me to open the trash can…but I didn’t. I grabbed them, looked at their glossy feathers, and thought, “so this is how people had to do it once…”

Fortunately, I had Louis de Gouy’s Gold Cookbook. If you can read, you can cook…those little birds were delicious, but I didn’t know singed feathers could smell so bad…nor what a long kitchen journey I had begun.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Two From The Maverick Philosopher

Tuesday's schedule has been changed from science to books. I know little of the former and way too much about the latter, which allows me to be insufferable -- a condition painless for me, but not necessarily for thou...

Today's book changed before I could get this post finished so I shall have to save what I'd planned for next Tuesday instead. Which is just as well since I'll be in surgery and The Baron will have to plug the post into the blogger wall for me anyway.

So today's book comes from a brief post by The Maverick Philosopher, who lives in the desert -- having wisely escaped academia -- and whose motto, "Omnia mea mecum porto," is spare and very monkish. Which I think he was in a former life...a monk, I mean. Perhaps Saint Anthony of the Desert? In this incarnation, he is William Vallicella. Or perhaps one ought to say "in this intarnation"?

Here is the entire post, with a picture of Mr Lewis in addition:

How to Avoid God
C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis, "The Seeing Eye" in Christian Reflections (Eeerdmans, 1967), pp. 168-167:

Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you'd be safer to stick to the papers. You'll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal.
There may be some similarities between Mr. Lewis and Mr. Vallicella, though I cannot picture the former being willing to immerse himself in some of the analytic philosophers for too very long, and the latter will never write any Narnia sequels.

Nonetheless, they both have a sense of the proper. To show you what I mean, here is the Maverick Philosopher's following post, which could probably have been echoed by Mr. Lewis:

Idiotic Marginalia From Marginal Idiots

Have you noticed that the same people who are morally obtuse enough to underline and annotate library books tend to be the same people who are too intellectually obtuse to make good comments? If they are going to deface public property, they should at least have the decency to stun us with the brilliance of their commentary, the magnificence of their marginalia, the glory of their glosses. I don't believe I have ever read a good marginalium in a library book.
That is certainly The Baron's opinion also. Sometimes, though, they amuse me, though not always. For instance, there is a woman (it must be a woman. A pruny one) in Li'l Kumquat who borrows Robert Parker detective stories and proceeds to correct the grammar and style rules to her liking. All through the new books are these small, lightly penciled-in corrections. Every single page. If I ever find her -- and I assure you I will know her immediately -- I am going to stick a pencil in her eye. Lightly.

However, in defense of the marginalia offenders, I present this compassionate poem by Billy Collins:


Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have manage to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

-- Billy Collins
A marvelous poet. If you like Wallace Stevens, find Collins' "Monday Morning." You will never be the same.

Which, of course, is the point of philosophy, poetry, humor and sex.

In case you didn't know.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Monday's Word: Volume 3, Senatitis

James Lileks refers to the affliction of those who inhabit the U.S. Senate as “Senatitis.”

Any medical term with “-itis” on the end of it means an inflammation of some sort. Thus we all have tonsils, appendixes (or appendices, if you’re a pedant), etc., and can come down with infections of these organs, resulting in tonsillitis, appendicitis, and so on. Such infections result in overt signs and symptoms. When the discomfort becomes too much we haul ourselves off to the doctor or the Emergency Room (depending on how long we tried to tough it out first) to have the problem remedied with medication or surgery.

But Senatitis is different. This apt term for the disorder welling up from the Well of the Senate Chamber is a special case. It’s not contagious, nor is it — under normal circumstances — heritable. However, if you carry the senatus mutation on your electoral gene, it becomes activated once the oath of office is administered. From then on, you will exhibit some version of this condition. Depending on your characterological traits previous to taking your oath of office, you may or may not succumb to the worst effects.

The first thing the practiced diagnostician notices about Senatitis is an inflamed ego. Another symptom is the tendency to speak boiler plate, even in the men’s room. The flight from reality differs in velocity depending on how long an individual member of this ‘club’ has been in office, but at its extremes you find Senators naming office buildings after themselves or proposing pork riders to bills already so laden with fat that they’re about to die from obesity.

In the first case, we have Senators Tom Harkin and Arlen Specter, who have proposed legislation which would rename Buildings 19 and 21 at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in their honor. No memorials for these august deliberators — they grab the goodies while they’re still among us. Thus, Headquarters for CDC will be called “The Arlen Specter Headquarters” while Harkins has to settle for the Thomas R. Harkin Global Center” since he is merely the ranking member of the Senate subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education while ol’ Arlen is the Chairman. Rank hath its privileges, don’t you know. Of course, there is supposed to be a rule against this kind of narcissistic self-appointment while one is still in office, but another sign of Senatitis is the tendency to honor rules more in the breach than in their observance.

The most infamous pork rider of this Congressional season arose in the House, via Alaska’s Representative Young. This is the uproarious and now-defeated Bridge to Nowhere, the pork butt of political pundits for some weeks. And sure it was defeated, but guess what? Alaska gets to keep the money. This is because the Senator from Alaska, Ted “Big Spender” Stevens, threw a tantrum on the Senate floor, threatening to resign and “be taken out on a stretcher.” Too bad for the commonweal: his colleagues acceded to his tantrum and Alaska gets to keep the money for other pork transportation projects.

Thus, you witness clear regressive traits in those who suffer from Senatitis: when frustrated, they resort to the emotional repertoire of the average four-year old: breath-holding and threats to run away from home.

There are myriad symptoms to Senatitis: everything from a personality disorder to clinical insanity. Their latest tantrum edict to the White House and Pentagon that members of the Executive Branch appear before their august selves and explain when the cut-and-run, or so-called “exit strategy” will begin in Iraq is an example of the latter. Or perhaps, as Mark Steyn suggests, alternatively, it is merely “gross irresponsibility.” With the level of maturity in the Senate, perhaps this order is simply one more example of irresponsible stupidity, but he’s being charitable. Given the consequences of senatitis being inflicted on the struggle in Iraq, clinical insanity, reduced intelligence, and repeated attacks of grandiosity may well result in a hemorrhage in the Middle East.

Senatitis sufferers are all addicted to pompous circumstance. Surrounded by the obsequious, the self-servers, and the eternal lobbyists, they have long since succumbed to a belief in their own publicity. John Stossel reported this exchange with an infamous and major sufferer of terminal Senatitis:

When the Democrats held power, I confronted Sen. Robert Byrd about wasting our money on "Robert Byrd Highway"-type projects in West Virginia.

His answer was as arrogant as he was: "I would think that the national media could rise above the temptation of being clever, decrepitarian critics who twaddlize, just as what you're doing right here."

"Twaddlizing?" I asked.

"Trivializing serious matters," he explained.

I persisted, "Is there no limit? Are you not at all embarrassed about how much you got?"

Byrd glared at me in silence, and finally demanded, angrily, "Are you embarrassed when you think you're working for the good of the country? Does that embarrass you?"
Grandiosity? Narcissism? Terminal Senatitis? Pompous old windbag? Right you are.

Stossel reports another conversation, this time with Walter Williams, in which the economist explains the difference between a thief and a politician: when a thief takes your money, he doesn’t demand that you thank him.

But Lileks said it best when he explained why so few senators ever inhabit the White House (though Lord knows, it’s not for lack of trying):
Perhaps there's a reason not many senators make the leap to the presidency. As we're constantly reminded, that august body is collegial, respectful, suffused with history and utterly besotted with self-importance. That leads to Senatitis, a disease in which otherwise rational men believe that the rest of the country doesn't see through equivocating bloviation in a second. There is no cure.
Maybe we could send them all to some kind of colony, and find a new Saint Damien to take care of them until the CDC comes up with a vaccine. These folks are a much closer and more present danger to our well-being than any old avian flu ever will be.

Cross-posted at Gates of Vienna

Sunday, November 20, 2005

We Live Under a Vast Canopy...

Sundays have a wide subject field: saints, sinners, gratitude, favorite hymns, the sacred and the secular, particularly where they intertwine.

This Sunday is the last one before Advent begins. The very last Sunday in the a long, long cycle of Pentecost. So the harvest is over, and comes Thanksgiving and Advent.

When I was a little kid — yeah, that long ago — I loved Advent. It was the great season of preparation, the expectation for things unseen. Parents speaking in pig Latin about Christmas plans, learning new hymns for the Big Day ( or Big Night, when we got old enough for the Midnight Mass choir). My favorite hymn in English was “Oh, Holy Night,” mainly because Sister Marie Therese wanted us to belt out the line FALL ON YOUR KNEES. When I asked her about it a few months ago, she admitted it was intended to wake up those who’d had a few before Mass and were nodding in the pews. We got those spines stiffened after just a few choruses. I loved it.

My very favorite hymn, Christmas or no, was a hymn written in the 9th century and supposedly composed into plain chant by Thomas Aquinas. At least that’s what I remember of its origins. I suppose there are other versions out there, claiming different authorship.

Veni, veni, Emmanuel
captivum solve Israel,
qui gemit in exsilio,
privatus Dei Filio.

Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.

Veni, O Sapientia,
quae hic disponis omnia,
veni, viam prudentiae
ut doceas et gloriae.

Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.

Veni, veni, Adonai,
qui populo in Sinai
legem dedisti vertice
in maiestate gloriae.

Since I love this hymn so much, it was the first one I had The Boy learn to play for church. For one thing, it was easy to learn. For another, it was his mother’s favorite.

“Oh, Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel” is the memories of Christmas past, the glory of the millennia.

Or, as someone said, "we live under a vast canopy, woven by the ages."

Friday, November 18, 2005

Lose One Worry, Find Another

Is A Worry Worrying You?On my Watcher's Rounds the other day, I stopped by to read Varifrank's nominated post. He's always a pleasure to read, an excellent essayist with an easy, fluid style.

The choice this week was the J. Patrick Buchanan Library of Failed Ideas. Varifrank's compilation of all the predicted disasters that didn't happen -- from the takeover of America by the Japanese to the coming Ice Age/Global Warming -- was amusing in its details of all the things that kept people awake at night and never happened.

When he grew up in the '70's the end of things are we knew them was a general part of the culture's early warning system. When I grew up, we hid under the desks to practice for the imminent nuclear explosion. All amusing now, but it wasn't then.

The post got me to thinking...when did the awfulizing start? Has it always been in the nature of things that groups, out of a need for security, focus on the next possible bad thing coming down the pike? Does the media simply amplify what has always gone on, even back to the days of sitting 'round the night fire listening for strange sounds in the dark?

So I commented to Varifrank (this is somewhat amended, since I realized I was going on way too long and leaving the Land of Comments for the Land of Posts so I'd better cut the verbiage adn head back here to finish my thoughts):

Maybe it's since the rise of the media or perhaps it pre-exists even that. The awfulizing that goes on has made me quit listening, reading, or otherwise participating in what I call the "Henny-Penny-the-Sky-Is-Falling" song and dance.

Though I am one of those afraid of the avian flu. Not afraid in the sense that I think about it much, but afraid in that I've made plans if it becomes a problem. Neither vaccine seems to work very well. But I live in the country and unless this stuff just mutates its little head off, it's not a problem because I don't do crowds. OTOH, I'll store some food and we have a well so I'm set. But I really think it's another SARS...

The only reason this particular one is my weak point is that my grandmother and some family died in the 1918 flu, which utterly smashed my family down through four's still reverberating. And some scientists are saying there are similarities here. We'll see.

I got curious about that one, though -- the effects of the Spanish flu back when it happened. When I looked for information on the sequelae, the after effects on our culture, I was surprised at how little information there was. It was as though until recently (the last ten years or so) it got buried as part of our history, even though 625,000 people died in the US in just six weeks. Some say 12 million died world-wide, some say 50, and others claim we'll never know. Whatever -- the fact that we just kind of picked up and went on without examining what that cost, well, it struck me as bizarre. Of course it happened right at the end of WWI, so maybe the "Roaring" '20's were some kind of rebound for all that loss.

I loved all the things Varifrank cited though. I never go near that stuff. I figure I have enough to worry about in my garden...gardeners awfulize there: what the tomato worms are doing, and look at those damn Japanese beetles, and what is that mold on the lilacs, and look at the black spot on the roses, would you look at that?

That's how we gardeners channel the Big Fear. If you're not a gardener, where do you focus it? IMHO, it's our way of fending off The Real Big One -- i.e., the fact that we're mortal and don't have any control over that fact.

Someone told me once that we all have a little black bag and we use it to carry around our worries. There are usually about five or six at any given time. If one worry resolves or becomes irrelevant, then we just add another so that we always have about the same number.

So what's in your bag, hmmm? Tell me one of yours, I'll tell you one of mine. Or we can share ones we used to have, the things we dropped before adding something else. "Coming of age" stories are full of those. That's why we like them: we can identify with the worries we grew out of and survived.

And it's okay to smile at our younger selves as long as we don't make fun of those coming along, carrying the same little group of fears we had...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Thursday's Mess of Pottage, Then Pears

I've often wondered what that tasted like. I'll bet it was simply lentils with goat curd or a similar dish. I've often wondered, too, how hard salt was to come by. Lentils aren't all that great to begin with. Lacking salt, they would've been...a mess of pottage. So the writers and scribes and redactors were right after all. It's not much to sell your birthright for.

I have given up on legumes pretty much. Ever since I discovered that I'm really a Neanderthal and need lots of meat, some veggies and fruit and not much in the way of grains, legumes, or root veggies, what comes into my house is very different than the way I ate in my childhood.

In both cases, I was doing the shopping. I've been the kitchen navvie since I was ten or so. As a result I could cook in my sleep. And have.

When you've been cooking for so many years that it is simply what you do, like walking, or getting up in the morning, you devise ways to make it more interesting. That doesn't mean making it easier -- been there, done that. It got boring. And for a long time I ate frugally because we had to. But that makes Neanderthals fat. Then, when we had more money, I ate too high off the food chain and it felt decadent and not right somehow. Yeah, the starving children in Somalia and all that. Or simply that there are better ways to spend money than on food.

Making it easier means some planning ahead, some flexibility when things are on sale, and some attention to the seasons. I like to eat pears in season and then not see them for a long time. Fresh peaches in February are...well, maybe the farmers in Australia need the money.

Around here for a time in the Fall, we have Albemarle pippins. These apples are so good that Queen Victoria used to order crates of them. They keep very well, but they are hard to come by so they're quickly gone. I didn't get any this year, because I can't travel with my wrecked meniscus. I couldn't even go to get the Albemarle pippin slip that I'd planned to put out in the garden now that I have mercilessly slain the cedars that were carrying cedar apple rust.

Maybe in the Spring...God willing and the Creek don't rise, as they say around here. I used to think that meant creek as in overflowing stream (of which we have many in the Spring as the snow melt comes down from the Blue Mountains) but an old timer said it meant "God willing and the Creek Indians don't rise." Which puts a whole new color on that expression.

Wood pearsThe lovely wood pears finally ripened. We had a long, long period without frost --it's just about to come to an end -- so they had lots of time on the tree. Wood pears are very high and you have to… eek!… climb ladders to get them. The Baron hauled our ladder down the drive way and climbed high to knock them to the ground. By now the surrounding trees have mostly shed their leaves (though the wood pear leaves are still quite green, even now) so they made soft landings for much of the fruit.
Driveway in the autumn
The ones whose skins were damaged I made into stewed pears for chutney. The rest were left to ripen, which they did almost before I knew it. Now they're in the fruit bin, sweet and tasting like Autumn should. They tell my mouth a sweet good morning in the dulcet tones of a French maiden...

When they are gone, I will call Harry and David's for the Royal Rivieras. They will be divine, but not nearly as golden and liquidy wine as humble wood pears.

Still, much better than a mess of pottage.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Wednesday is Here

Here being where we live. The foothills of the Blue Ridge, more or less. Where nothing much goes on if you're not looking. I shall probably have to change the name of Wednesday's subject so as to widen the theme. I know what I mean, but in my head (not to mention my heart) "here" varies.

Last Friday was Veteran's Day and we celebrate veterans here, not just on November 11th but at Christmas and on the Fourth of July. This year was more festive than usual, what with the Blue Star memorial being unveiled on Route 60, and the reception at the Arts Council later. Our congressman, Virgil Goode, was there (I missed the speech since I was elsewhere having an MRI done. But we did arrive in time for the food and the fun).

The Honorable Goode told us about the two immigration bills working their way through the bowels of the House. We'll be posting about one of them on Gates of Vienna shortly.

What do you do when you miss the outdoor speeches in the cold? We took pictures, ate fruit and cheese, and schmoozed with those who came in to warm up.

Veterans Day ReceptionThis is our oldest veteran, but I didn't get his name. I will have to ask Martha, who knows every nook and cranny of the county, and is sure to know his name, his kin and what church he goes to. And how he got his medal.

He was at the other end of the hall (as you can see in the second picture). This means he was not near the food -- it is my philosophy to begin any function by standing near the food -- so by that by the time we got to him he was ready to leave.

I think that's a purple heart he's wearing, but I'm not sure. The camera failed to catch his nice smile.

I will admit it: the second picture was taken for no other reason than that I thought they made a handsome couple. The Morrises.ReceptionHer name is Dottie, I do remember that because we talked for awhile before I realized they were together. As you can see from this, and from the following picture, he cuts a dashing figure.

You will notice also that there are paintings hanging on the walls. These are the Baron's landscapes and they hang here every year in November. It used to be when he was a full-time artist that by November his painting season was done. It was getting too cold to sit outside, mise en scene, so he would have a show the last week in October and the paintings would hang through November. But then The Boy had college to go to and so the Baron, being a good dad, went back to work in techno-land. Still, come November, the paintings hang, like the leaves in Shakespeare's "bare, ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang."

I miss, oh I do miss the smell of summer turpentine.

The last picture is for Martha. She is the engine that makes the Arts Center go, from the gift shop to the musicales, to the tearoom to the balloon concession -- Martha makes it shine. Reception This time, she had been there the week before overseeing the painting of the walls, then re-hanging the Baron's paintings in time for the reception, and then going off to work for eight hours at the Medical Center. The woman with her back to the camera, Denise, did yeoman’s work at the food table. Later we talked about her adolescent daughter and how she worries about getting her through this age alive and not pregnant. Single parenthood is soooo hard. I think she's doing a good job, though. Her child loped around the room, awkward and out of place with all these fogies, but she smiled. And the only metal on her face were her braces. Denise will do fine.

Later, the Baron came up and said "I heard you talking to that woman about her dream. What was that about?" But it wasn't really about anything. It's just what came up. With guys, other topics come up. I'll bet we wouldn't want to know what they were, either.

Which reminds me of a joke one of our commenters sent me the other day. It's old, but worth repeating, just for the sake of clarifying the vive la difference thingy:

His and Her Diaries


Saturday night I thought he was acting weird. We had made plans to meet at a bar to have a drink. I was shopping with my friends all day long, so I thought he was upset at the fact that I was a bit late, but he made no comment. Conversation wasn't flowing so I suggested that we go somewhere quiet so we could talk. He agreed but he kept quiet and absent. I asked him what was wrong; he said nothing. I asked him if it was my fault that he was upset. He said it had nothing to do with me and not to worry.

On the way home I told him that I loved him, he simply smiled and kept driving. I can't explain his behavior; I don't know why he didn't say I love you too.

When we got home I felt as if I had lost him, as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. He just sat there and watched TV He seemed distant and absent.

Finally, I decided to go to bed. About 10 minutes later he came to bed, and to my surprise he responded to my caress and we made love, but I still felt that he was distracted and his thoughts were somewhere else.

He fell asleep and I cried. I don't know what to do. I'm almost sure that his thoughts are with someone else. My life is a disaster.


Today the Red Sox lost, but at least I got laid.
Thanks, Buddy. I always liked that joke. Dave Barry has a longer version of it somewhere, but this is a nice one, too.

Maybe when we're down that way again, we'll get a picture of the Blue Star memorial. It looks right nice, as they say around here, and you can see it from the road as you drive by.

UPDATE: Gryffilion sent the URL for the original narrative by Dave Barry:

The Story of Roger and Elaine
Let's say a guy named Roger is attracted to a woman named Elaine. He asks her out to a movie; she accepts; they have a pretty good time. A few nights later he asks her out to dinner, and again they enjoy themselves.

They continue to see each other regularly, and after a while neither one of them is seeing anybody else.

And then, one evening when they're driving home, a thought occurs to Elaine, and, without really thinking, she says it aloud: ''Do you realize that, as of tonight, we've been seeing each other for exactly six months?''

And then there is silence in the car. To Elaine, it seems like a very loud silence. She thinks to herself: Geez, I wonder if it bothers him that I said that. Maybe he's been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe he thinks I'm trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn't want, or isn't sure of.

And Roger is thinking: Gosh. Six months.

And Elaine is thinking: But, hey, I'm not so sure I want this kind of relationship, either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space, so I'd have time to think about whether I really want us to keep going the way we are, moving steadily toward . . . I mean, where are we going? Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy? Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this person?

And Roger is thinking: . . . so that means it was . . . let's see... February when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the dealer's, which means . . . lemme check the odometer . . . Whoa! I am way overdue for an oil change here.
But the suffering isn't even half over at this point. Go see the whole misery at the link above.

I love funny stories about the differences between men and women. I don't like the anti-men putdowns, though. Some women need to learn that the wide use of Viagara is just maybe an indication of their diminishing allure as fishwives.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Rearranging the Schedule: Tuesday Is For Science

Tuesday is for science. Hah.

Which is to laugh. The Baron suggested it since my other topics are so…so Dymphna. I think he thinks I ought to expand my horizons. I do, too, but you have to be able to see the damn horizon, don’t you?

A doctor once asked the Baron’s Boy if he was majoring in chemistry in order to study medicine. The Boy was horrified. “Lord, no. I hate blood. I just want to blow things up.” I don’t think he had bombs in mind so much as great, colorful explosions. Which is probably the result of too many Mid-Summer Eve parties where the pyrotechnics were quite spectacular. Generous friends would travel to another state and buy incredilbe fireworks. They had names like Chinese food — “A Thousand Blossoms,” or some such name. I always expected the sheriff to come and tell us to quiet down, but they never did. Some of those colors rose so high I'm sure they could see them for some distance. Maybe that kept people from complaining?

For me, I loved the pinwheels, the scars of which are still on the mimosa tree fifteen years later, long after we moved the fireworks to another part of the yard where it was more open. The longer we live here, the more the forest encroaches on the yard...

I wonder what insurance rates you pay if you own a fireworks company? I wonder if you can even get insurance? Are all the companies located in China? According to one fellow, the fireworks companies in the US are for the most part privately owned, family businesses. Hmm...sounds like a way to lose a family to me. But then I'm not a guy and if there is one field that appears to be largely guy-driven, it's pyrotechnics.

There's a Journal of Pyrotechnics but it only comes out twice a year, at $25.00 a copy. Obviously not for the dilettante. Just glancing at it, the origin may be the UK. Who'd have thought Britain for fireworks? A lot of heat under that cool English veneer?

Well, perhaps the Baron's Boy will sink his teeth into this one. On the other hand, if I don't order it, maybe he'll just use his chemistry major to be a vintner. Though I suppose those vats can blow up, too.

Damn, why did I ever let him have that Periodic Table when he was nine? I thought he just liked the colorful boxes.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Monday's Word: Volume 2, Opsimath

An opsimath is one who learns late in life. In other words, everybody. Otherwise, why would Shaw have said that youth is wasted on the young?

It's a nice rolling kind of word. As though one tumbled into the classroom a little late, a little out of breath, orotund and with grey wisps flying in the breeze made by one's tardy opsimath.

Yes, that's the spirit. Arrive late, but arrive. Learn, and learn some more. In the end, learning is the only solace for the inevitable slings and arrows. Especially the arrows. You learn to take them out, you learn to make your own poultices, and you pick up whatever it was you were doing when so rudely interrupted by the zing of that fletched wood with the nasty steel tip. That's why all the herbalists tend to be old ladies...

Carry on, opsimath. Or consider the alternative.

Then carry on.

Surely goodness and mercy shall catch up with me eventually in the final days of my life,
And I will dwell, if not in the house, at least in the neighborhood of God somewhere.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

String Beans for Sister Fabian

James Lileks mentioned en passant that he sets aside particular days of the week for different subjects. I don't remember what he listed; it was awhile ago. But the idea stuck. I thought of his categories: probably one is "Cute Things Gnat Does/Says" and another might be: "Things That Bring Out the Curmudgeon in Me." They sound like him, don't they? And there's that obsession he has for matchbooks. Somehow I doubt he ever smoked. I pick up a matchbook and breathe a sigh of relief. I really don't need the stupid things anymore. He picks up a matchbook and it makes him nostalgic. Chacun à son goût, eh what?

Anyway, I remember thinking what a good idea that was! Now, no blank computer screen and blank mind -- just a matter of coming up with a subject a day. Unfortunately, I came up with lebenty-leven subjects so I may be awhile sorting them down into just seven. All three regular readers here may or may not notice the morph of my subject days. It's not on their A list, though, so I'm safe.

Today started to be about recipes and then I decided that was too confining. Writing about food is much more fun. It may be more fun than actually eating it, but for damn sure it's more fun than cleaning up after dinner.

Dinner for me used to be supper. It happened every single blessed day at 6:00 p.m. To this day, fifty years after leaving Saint Mary's Orphanage at 1211 Ocean St., it still seems to me that this is the proper time to eat, even though I'm not usually hungry then. I've forgotten some of the days' menus, though I do recall Thursday was liver...which fortunately, I liked. On Sundays we had green beans, which I loathed then. They were canned, which were not like Momma made, and they were slimy. Never mind, all two hundred and fifty pounds of Sister Fabian stood there rolling her eyes until all the slime was gone. Now I love green beans.

I found out last month that Sister Fabian continued to struggle with that two hundred and fifty pounds long after I left her sight. They even sent her to have a gastric by-pass, hoping it would help. But it didn't. Essentially she died of her obesity: a brilliant mathematician with a rebellious body. Sister Fabian, if you can hear me, when we were on the playground, I’m sorry my elbows were so sharp when I used to lean on your knees and ask questions. That’s what I remember: you rolling your eyes as I gagged those canned green beans and saying “Child, you have such sharp elbows. Don’t lean so hard..”

My second-youngest grandson is obese. The first time his mom went into the hospital, he ballooned. When she died, he became even heavier. I feel such sadness for him. When Shelagh died I offered to bring him to the doctor and pay for any special foods or counseling. No go. For those of you inclined to prayer, send a few for this little boy who hates how he looks and has to endure a lot of teasing.

Green Beans for Sister Fabian:

1 lb fresh green beans or Italian pole beans (the latter should be small and not left on the vine too long), left whole (just chop off stem ends)
a tomato, diced
a clove of garlic, thinly sliced
2 scallions, shredded
2 sprigs sage
¼ package of artificial sweetener
salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil spray

After you have heated it a bit, lightly spray a saucepan with oil.
Sauté thinly sliced garlic and shredded scallion for a few minutes until wilted.
Add tomato and sage. Stir until softened.
Add green beans, a little water, and seasonings.
Cover and cook on low until green beans are done to your liking.
Remove the sage if you must, or chop into the mix.
Serve at room temperature.
If you must, drizzle a bit of olive oil over all..
Sister Fabian, if it’s not too much trouble, please keep an eye on my grandson. He could use someone to watch over him. And you’ll know his own particular Purgatory...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Tuesday is Prayer Day: To Odin and For Moe

Yesterday, in Volume One of Monday's Words Day, the subject was poshlost. At least it was eventually the subject. I am known for my ability to amble to the point.

But poshlost is a good word, indeed. It is Russian and was used in its context yesterday in a quote from Nabokov. Then, as words are wont to do, it popped up again that very evening. I had occasion to use a descriptive word for some of the headlines re: the French conflagration. I couldn't think of a one word explanation off hand -- which may be a sure sign of impending dementia or just that a foreign expression may better serve. This is especially the case if you are forced to use a whole long explanation where, if you had it, just one word would do.

For example, I am fond of the French word engagement because it seems to have tones and connotations of intensity that our very same word doesn't have. Thus, one has to say engagement when necessary and just let people think you're a living example of poshlost when you do it. C'est la vie, non?

Scrounging through my prayer list for today's subject post, I hadn't found anything suitable. And then I noticed Good and Happy on my site meter and reminded myself I'd wanted to blogroll her slipped through the synapses last time. Traipsing over there, what do I see, but...a prayer! And not just any prayer, either. A prayer which uses poshlost, would you believe it?

A European Prayer for the Paradigm

Please, Odin, we pray, let it be that the classic Marxist interpretation is applicable in these riot events just over the Alsace. We want to see social unrest whose causes can be fought with more money, more programs, more efficient campaigns of poshlost and policy. However -- and here our Prussian accuracy and rigor blessedly kick in -- this must be precisely demonstrated.

In order to exclude unpleasant surprises.
Good and Happy cites Die Zeit, via MaxedOutMama. The latter has only the original German, which I cannot read. I'm sure the former does, too, which makes it even less useful for we who are uni-lingual. Teach 'em all Amuricun, I always say...well, not really. I mean what's the point of saying something so provincial, so poshlust, when everyone is already busy learning American English. Even the English.

But is that lovely little satire German to the toes or what? And socialist, to boot.

My granddaughter is learning prayers at the little Jewish pre-school she goes to. She likes the ones she's learned and will recite them at odd times. The other day, she was saying one while her dad helped her wash her hands. Intrigued, he asked her about prayers, and about God. Geneva promptly told him there were two gods. When he demurred and said there was only one, Geneva looked at him with pity: "Daddy, it's all just make-believe."

I might add that her father seemed both horrified and secretly pleased. He's a complex one, that boy.

And finally, since I am sad and it's my blog, a prayer for cats. Our dear, dumb and slow Moe (definitely he moved slo mo)was killed the other night by a dog. We think it was a dog since he had no marks on him, as he would have had it been a fox. He was the Boy's beloved kitty and I can't figure out who I'm sadder for, Moe or my son. Moe's death breaks a little thread of the connection between the Boy and his original home. It is necessary for the threads to dissolve so he can go out into the world, but these small disconnects break the heart, too.

Here, from Belief Net, is my amended burial prayer for our black and white lug:

Eternal Spirit, we bring you our grief in the loss of Moe, and ask for courage to bear it. We bring our gratitude for having found him that icy night, and for the few years we shared with him. Moe gave us freely of his love; now we must commit our sweet companion into your hands. Give us eyes to see how your love embraces all creatures and every living thing speaks to us of your love. Amen.
Goodbye, Sweet Moesley. Wherever you are, may it be eternal summer and slow moving butterflies.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Monday’s Word: Volume One Poshlost

Etymology is fun…what I understand of it anyway. By the time the Baron is pronouncing the Indo-European root for something, or telling why a word isn’t Indo-European at all, I am usually by far behind, still back on the first left turn into some old Germanic root.

But today, the word is merely foreign -- Russian -- and since the Cyrillic alphabet is even more foreign (to me), you get only the English approximation. Probably not the full nuance of the word in its original context either, but that’s okay because this word has possibilities for dropping into a conversation in which you are trying to describe something that is both wrong and bogus.

Our example comes from the Autumn, 2005 edition of City Journal. In a small essay, Stefan Kramer explains Governor Pataki’s decision to cancel the plans for an International Freedom Center proposed for the Ground Zero Memorial. Those words -- “International Freedom” blink like a neon warning sign: anti-American agit-prop coming up, anti-American agit-prop straight ahead. Step right up and find out why you're no better than any hate-crazed beheader of infidels...right this way...

But, lo! This piece of politically correct excrescence will not be foisted upon the Ground Zero Memorial after all. Visitors who come to pay their respects to those who died on September 11, 2001 will not be blind-sided by an exhibit dedicated to the proposition that we are no better than the terrorists butchers who brought down those buildings, who crashed into the Pentagon, who might have hit the Capitol had the passengers on Flight 93 not been alerted to the reality of the terrorists’ mission.

Thanks to Governor Pataki, that piece of moral equivalence has been brought down in a cloud of whining board members. And thanks are due also to the efforts of the sister of one of the pilots lost that day, the firefighters and police of New York City, and people like you and me who said “No!.” So George Soros will have to look elsewhere to sow his seeds of hatred and discord. They won’t be permitted to flower at Ground Zero.

The word to describe Mr. Soros’ efforts, and the plans of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation was given to us by Vladimir Nabokov. In the post-World War II period, when the mandarins began to claim that the Germans’ guilt was ours as well, Mr. Nabokov said the Russian version of H. L. Mencken’s favorite dismissal of pseudo-intellectual nonsense: “bunkum.”

Nabokov’s Russian counterpart was poshlost. Since we can figure out from glasnost, which means (more or less) “openness” that the “ost” part of this word is meant to connote the essence of something, it only remains to figure out what “poshl” might be. has as good a definition as any, though if you google the word, you’ll find a wealth of information (17,900 hits), including the fact that there is a Looks intriguing even if it is out of date. Still worth going to for his collection of Easter poetry.

Here, then, is Answer’s definition, which it lists as “obscure.” Obviously, they don’t read Nabokov:
[Russian] /POSH lust/ a well-rounded, untranslatable whole made up of banality, vulgarity and sham; it applies not only to obvious trash (verbal and animate), but also to spurious beauty, spurious importance, spurious cleverness.
Well, if that word doesn’t describe old man Soros’ plans, what does? Yes, indeed, folks…introducing Poshlost Soros, Esq., man of the world and bon vivant. Has a certain ring to it, no?

Poshlost Soros….

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


I avoid Beltway Business. For the most part its meaningless dithering. Posturing by egomaniacs and people who have confused being in Washington with having a meaningful life.

Take the recent Supreme Court brouhaha. How come any sane person believed that song and dance? Why was all that energy diverted into something that was never gonna happen?

The first time I read the CV for President Bush's choice for Supreme Court nominee it was obvious he was fooling with us. Not nice at all. I signed the "Stop Harriet" petition and never looked at another story about her. What was there to know except it was all play-acting?

Harriet Meirs was a sacrifice fly. How come nobody is talking about that? How come everyone treated her "nomination" as real? How come they continue to do so? Like we avoided a near-disaster, right? Sure we did.

Hah. Ol' Harriet made the rounds in a Rovian mystery cycle play. She played the game until it was time to pop the ball up into the lights and retire the side so the real nominee could come forward. So she made nice about not being able to betray executive secrets and the President did his manager's kabuki dance and we all moved on.

Thank God. That was truly and excruciatingly boring. Back when Cindy Sheehan was 24/7, I avoided Cindy Sheehan stories because they were intitially painful and eventually embarrassing. A parade of the insane. When 24/7 indignation about Harriet Meirs's revved up, I wondered if I'd be able to stay awake through this sideshow. How long would it take them to get to the real deal? I knew there was going to be one eventually, I just had no idea who.

So what did her time at bat accomplish? Well, it sure galvanized the base didn't it? George W got the message: people are paying attention. So he paid attention back and gave them what he'd planned to give them anyway: a decent nomination. So now they like him again. And by nominating Harriet, he got his licks in for the evangelical base, too. And Laura could give us the party line about "needing to have a woman on the Supreme Court." Everybody's happy and now Harriet can go back to obscurity as the White House Counsel. Or whatever.

Meanwhile, the Dems are looking longingly backwards at Ms. Meirs. They could have had a field day bashing her for weeks. And then they'd have passed her and she would have "grown in office" -- i.e., moved left. Heck, she was already pretty left if you believe that a person puts their money where their mouth is. That girl gave lots of moolah to the Dems and to abortion pro-choice groups.

Supreme Court nominations are simply operas without the music. And the Greek chorus from the Left doesn't count as singing. Not unless you think discordant wailing about the-end-of-the-country-as-we-know-it sounds musical.

And just wait till we get to the verse about "oh, no! Not another Catholic on the Court!" Believe me, you'll be sick of that lyric by the time the party ends...which I hear is around Ground Hog Day. Tell me, can you really put up with this until Februrary?

If we learned nothing else we did find out that Harriet was a shill, that Rove remains his Machiavellian self, and that life moves on.