Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Considering Roman Polanski...

Roman Polanski is in a Swiss jail, arrested for a brutal and heinous crime he committed 32 years ago. The woman he raped and brutalized when she was a child has forgiven him and says she does not wish to see him remain in jail. His friends in Hollywood are speaking out on his behalf. What's to be done?

First, let me say that I consider Polanski's film The Pianist one of the finest films ever made. And, while it is well known that I will take nearly any opportunity to post a photo of Adrien Brody on my blog, I cannot say often enough what a masterpiece I consider this movie to be. Polanski has made other excellent films but from my view The Pianist is his master work. Now, what's to be done with its maker?

Last night I was invited to dinner at the home of some new friends (and I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce my readers to Everyman's Blog) who are involved in a very ambitious and soon to be revealed online community. While we were talking the subject of movies came up and we got talking about a few Hollywoodites who are quite outspoken about their opinions on various subjects from politics to fashion. My personal perspective on this is that everyone has the right to have and to express an opinion and if other people want to listen to them that is also their right but I have little interest in the personal lives of these people and prefer to just focus on them doing their jobs. I expect actors to do a good job of acting. I expect directors to do a good job of directing, etc. etc. etc. In other words, don't confuse the magic with the magician. I recently watched Cadillac Records and thought that Jeffrey Wright's acting always leaves me breathless --- but that doesn't mean I'd take his advice on politics.

Which brings me to the question of genius versus atrocity. No matter how brilliant Polanski is he did an evil thing. And no matter how forgiving his victim is, he needs to make amends. The question is, what does that mean?

In a recent post about Senator Edward Kennedy I wrote, I believe the graces of atonement, forgiveness, and reparation are the most important values in any situation. No matter what the sin, no matter what the crime, no matter what the situation to atone, ask for forgiveness, and make reparation is the most decent and moral of human choices.

I still believe that. If Polanski's victim and the public don't want him jailed that is one thing but Polanski himself needs to atone. He needs to say that he is sorry and he needs to make reparation --- what form that would take, I can't say. But I'd far rather see him use his genius, and the millions of dollars it is capable of generating, to help girls who are sexually abused by grown men than see him wasting away in jail.

It remains to be seen how this will unfold but I am hopeful that Polanski will be as remorseful and dedicated to making amends as Senator Kennedy was. Bad things happen and people do really shameful, horrible things but atonement and reparation are, as always, the most moral of behaviors. I will keep a good thought that Polanski is brilliant enough to know that.

Thanks for reading. 

Monday, September 28, 2009

The End of Civilization As We Know It?

Over the weekend I was watching the news reports about the census worker who was murdered in Kentucky. According to the report, he was stripped, wrapped in duct tape, hung, with his ID taped to his head and the word “Fed” written in felt-tipped pen on his chest. Because I have been so concerned about the excessive hate-speech and fear-mongering that fills the airwaves and cyber-space these days, I have been waiting for something like this. Pols like Michelle Bachmann have been promoting fear and hatred around the 2010 Census for months now. Is it therefore shocking that something like this happened? Well, frankly, to me it is but not unexpected. I read that when Bachman was asked about it she refused to answer and just jumped in her limo and took off. No surprise there either.

Hate is ubiquitous, titillating, and seductive to a certain type of person and it seems there are more of those sorts of people all the time. It's hard to understand. Maybe because I am a product of the Sixties, I still think that protest --- an American tradition I support --- should be earnest, fact-based, idealistic, and peaceful. I finished reading Philip Berrigan's Prison Journals of a Priest Revolutionary last night, still thinking about that poor census worker, and I thought what a contrast. To the Philip Berrigan's of the world protest means self-sacrifice. He spent a total of 11 years of his life in jail in protest of injustice, how many of these hate-mongerers would do that to make a point? They'd murder a Geoge Tiller, or a Matthew Shepard, or a James Byrd or a William Sparkman but go to jail themselves as protest? Not a chance.

One of the things I find most disturbing about the current crop of haters is that they have co-opted religion in the process. Michelle Bachmann loves to present herself as a devout Christian and then uses her political bully-pulpit to promote the most un-Christian ideas imaginable. She's not alone. There are many alleged “Christians” who do this and have given Christianity a bad name in the process. No wonder there are so many people angry with religion and disgusted by Christianity these days. Atrocities in the name of religion have always been a part of human history but these days the naked flagrance of espousing Christianity to promote hate is so open and in-your-face it is shocking. Would Michelle Bachmann go to prison out of peaceful protest against the census? What do you think?

I've been reading the blog of author Frank Schaeffer who wrote the brilliant book, Crazy For God,about growing up in a fundamentalist family and is about to publish Patience with God, a book I am looking forward to reading. In the Prologue he writes, “The Religious Right has seduced millions of Americans with titillating hatred and lies: The earth was created in six days and is not warming; Obama is a secret Muslim (perhaps even the Antichrist!) ... Appeals to facts get nowhere with these folks because they don’t trust any sources but their own and listen only to what emanates from an alternative right-wing universe. Thus arguments become circular. The more impartial the source, the more suspect it becomes.”

Because I am a person of Faith and continue to believe in the principles, sacraments, and mysteries of the Catholic Church, even when I take issue with many of its policies, I am disgusted by the perverting of religion to promote hatred in absolute flagrant defiance of all that Jesus Christ taught. At the end of his book, Philip Berrigan has a chapter on how his Faith was effected by his years in prison. As we know, he eventually left the priesthood and married but he held fast to the sacramental grace of his Faith for the rest of his life.

Over the weekend a poll was posted on Facebook asking if people thought President Obama should be killed. How can a normal, decent person even look at something like that and not want to wretch, cry, scream? I don't have words to express my feelings about this. We are sick and out of control. May God help us but not the God that most of these people claim allegiance to. If God abandons us now, could anyone blame Him?

Thanks for reading.

UPDATE: The Political Carnival blog reports that this  poll was reported to the Secret Service. It appears to have been removed from Facebook.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Amazing Light from the Dark Ages

What an utterly extraordinary story! I can't get enough of it!!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh, What A Night....

Last night was one of those warm, beautiful end-of-summer evenings. Actually, I guess it really was because yesterday was the Autumnal Equinox. I went out to do a couple errands and, since it was warm and gorgeous, drove out around the back shore. I've always loved cruising round Gloucester after dark with the top down on a summer evening. Last night was perfectly lovely. The tide was way out and the waves were gentle. The lights out on Thacher Island sparkled. You couldn't ask for much more.

Since it was so perfect I decided to stop by a friend's house out on Eastern Point. He was sitting on his porch looking at the water and, when I got out of my car, he said, “Great, I'm glad you're here, I was wishing I had an excuse to have another drink.” He went inside and brought out a bucket of ice, another glass, some tonic and a couple limes and, of course, the gin. Perfect. It is interesting to note that he and I both lived in Houston for while though in different decades. Some time back, on a similar summer night, I had mentioned the annual Tossing of the First Lime Party I attended every year in Houston and, much to our surprise, he'd gone to them too. Not only did we live in the same town, we knew the same people and welcomed summer the same way --- even separated by a decade.

The Tossing of the First Lime was a hilarious ritual that involved the first night of summer, a bunch of people dressed in khakis and pith helmets, a cricket game or two, and lots and lots and lots of gin and tonics. The more G&Ts consumed, the worse the Brit accents became --- which is saying something because a good many of our friends were genuine Brits. My boyfriend at the time was born in Australia but attended school in England and switched back and forth between high Brit and low Aussie depending on his moods and how many G&Ts had gone by.

There were a lot of British pubs filled with a lot of British ex-pats back then. The Richmond Arms (good grief, I just looked at their web site and they still serve Scotch Eggs! I loved those things!) was right down the street from my house and the stories I could tell.... The Ginger Man, in the Village, was another great pub where a fair amount of drinking went on. (I can't believe both of those places are still there! It's been 22 years since I left Houston and they are both going strong and have web sites!) One night, when I was still dancing with the Sirrom troop, a bunch of us, still in costume, invaded the Ginger Man which, coincidentally, had a dart tournament going on. Let me tell you something, belly-dance costumes do not mix well with dart-throwing. Ouch.

But it was a beautiful night to spend sitting on a friend's porch drinking G&Ts, watching the boats coming and going from the harbor, and talking about the olden days. Neither of us can remember the name of the ice house in West U. where the book club used to meet but both of us remember the fun we had there. That was a local phenomenon for quite a few years, too. It was supposed to be a book discussion club that met every other Wednesday night in this ice house. Sometimes we actually did talk about the book but, more often than not, very few of the people had actually read the book and just came to socialize. Usually they had to throw us out.

Several times in the past I've written about my obsession with shoes and how I could probably write my autobiography just chronicling great shoes I've owned but I realize the same thing could be said of bars... Ah, well, I'm older now and don't worry about shoes so much. And bars are too noisy --- and locally too full of memories. But it was a perfect night and I'm glad I got to savor it with a friend ---- and a couple G&Ts. And Gloucester.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wait A Sec? Where'd September Go???

I love September however the same thing happens every year---it is over before I know it and I cannot figure out why. Partly, I think, it is because I just get lost in the beauty of the days and don't realize they are flying by. Work has been busy, thank heavens, and I've been reading a lot lately. All the books that I always stockpile for summer beach reading and then never get to read because I'm too busy to go to the beach have been claiming my attention. I've been trying to make sure I get an hour or so each day to go to a nearby “secret spot” and get lost in a book for awhile.

Behind my house is an old cemetery filled with trees and at this time of year the wind blows the branches around creating that leaf rustling sound. I love that even more than I love the sound of the ocean. When the birds are busy they add to the pleasantness.

I have a small room just off my kitchen overlooking the cemetery that I use as a sewing room. Sad to say that I often go for months without even going in to that room but this time of year that's where I want to be in the evening instead of at the computer working on a book or out and about. The last few evenings I've been sorting through my fabric stash which is always a pleasure and gives me so many ideas. Over the weekend I caught up on the mending that has languished all summer and last night I started new project.

A lot of women seem to have a love affair with fabric. It's hard to explain but I've known women who have never done a lick of sewing in their life who still have stashes of lengths of gorgeous fabric that they are saving for someday. For years I have made a habit of folding my fabric, cleaned when necessary, into 2 gallon zipper bags and writing on the outside what the fiber content is and how many yards I have of it. I'm sucker for silk and have 2 dozen bags of gorgeous lengths of silk that I intend to do something with one of these days.

Last night I took out a piece of pale violet tone-on-tone embossed velvet. It's a very pretty piece with a pattern of leaves in two slightly different shades. I decided it would make a great jacket with a shawl collar, deep cuffs, and big pockets. So I spent the evening drafting the pattern and cutting it out. I hope I find time to work on it for awhile tonight too.

What I need to do is make a huge purge of closets to make room for new stuff. The last year and a half has been a struggle but I'm starting to feel less wary of the world. For nearly a year I have had to push myself to do much socializing. So now, with these cool, breeze-filled evenings, and the pleasures of my sewing room calling to me, it might be a good time to make some new things for a new way of life.

Right after Mark died, I went through a period where I kept buying all these stones: aquamarine, labradorite, fire moonstone. My friend Terry, The Stone Lady, tells me they are feminine healing stones. I need to use them to make some jewelry to go with the new clothes. Things are getting more bearable and I can help the process by creating ---- creating a new way of being in the world. It's September and the time is right.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 21, 2009

You Can't Fix Stupid: The Hits Just Keep on Coming

By now we've gotten it that there are a lot of angry people out there taking to the streets in protest but the questions remain: 1.) what are they angry about? and 2.) who brought these people up???

Well, at least the guy in the middle gets it.....

I really hope this is supposed to be funny.....

Maybe she has something against gynecologists.....

Gotta wonder who he is talking to......

And..... well, I'd say this explains the whole story....

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Question of Evil

The mention of Timothy Dalton in a recent blog reminded me of a movie he was in which he played the part of Jesuit priest involved in an exorcism, Possesed. It is supposed to be based on the only fully-documented case of exorcism performed by the Catholic Church in the United States. I'm not sure where that leaves the cases reported by Malachai Martin but that's another story. In the movie Dalton plays Father William Bowdern, a former WWII soldier who is a volatile, passionate college professor and basketball coach who is also a Civil Rights activist and battling his own demons and alcoholism. Dalton is terrific in the role, fiery and very Shakespearian at times. But there is one moment, toward the end of the movie that sticks in my memory.

Throughout the film, while fulfilling his role as exorcist, he performs all the rituals of the Roman ritual for exorcism and deals with some very creepy stuff, not the least of which is the demon taunting him mercilessly about a personal failing that he feels deep shame and regret over and has kept secret all his life. If Malachai Martin is to be believed, that's what demons do --- exploit the weakness of the exorcist. Now, as we watch the film, we assume that the exorcist is fully engaged in driving out the demon. I mean, that's his job right? And yet the first several attempts fail. Then, in the final showdown (bearing in mind, of course, that this is afterall a movie), the demon pulls a stunt that scares the crap out of all of them --- the exorcist, the two priest assistants and the attending Alexian brothers. Father Bowdern backs away in terror, collapses screaming, and then, inexplicably, begins to laugh and says in total awe, “Son of a bitch, the m*th*rf*ck*r is for real.”

This sort of shocked me because up until that moment I hadn't realized Fr. Bowdern doubted the existence of the devil. But it stuck with me because it is something I've thought about a lot in my life --- is there really and truly a force that is pure evil? We all know that there are evil things in the world, that evil happens (I've written blogs about that before), that some people---whether through bad choices, psychosis, or brain abnormalities---do very evil things. But is there is a force, a power, that is active that is purely evil and committed to acting out when it can?

As readers of this blog know, I've been very concerned about much of the nastiness, and much of the violence, that we are seeing more and more of in the media. I watched Bill Moyers' excellent program on hate-talk recently and read a few of the books about hate-talk on the radio. For that reason I was deeply moved by Nancy Pelosi's heart-felt remarks about her fear of hate rhetoric potentially leading to violence. We know it can happen. It happened in California when Harvey Milk was gunned down and it happened recently when George Tiller was assassinated. We know it is real. And I have begun to wonder if there isn't an element of the demonic that is infecting these people we see screaming and carrying on and fomenting hatred. In Catholic lore it is believed that the Devil looks for people who are open to receiving his evil influence and he makes use of them. I've been thinking about that.

This shouldn't be about left vs. right, Repub vs. Dem, liberal vs. conservative --- this should be about good vs. evil. The other day I was with a group of women and the talk turned to the fired-up rhetoric and screaming at some of the recent demonstrations. One of the women, a beautiful, intelligent, well-mannered lady, responded by saying, “Well, the other side does it too!” I was so taken aback by that. Good behavior vs. awful behavior has nothing to do with “sides”, it has to do with personal integrity. All people of integrity, regardless of their affiliations, behave appropriately. It's as simple as that.

I think something awful is going to happen. And, when it does, maybe we will hold people accountable for incitement and the evil they have opened themselves to and inflicted on the country. It doesn't matter what principles they espouse, if they do evil, we all need to say that is unacceptable.

Like Fr. Bowdern, I've doubted the existence of a devil per se. But lately when I see the vitriol and the hatred and the careless disregard for basic civility, I, too, am inclined to respond, “Son of a bitch, the m*th*rf*ck*r is for real.”

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Perfection (shaken, not stirred)

Recently I read an interview with some celebrity chef and he was asked what he would choose, if he was about to die, for his final meal. I'm sure the interviewer was prepared for some elaborate gustatory concoction but the guy replied, “A Porter House steak, grilled rare, and a martini.” Now this is a guy I could love. He explained that there are certain things in this world that are just so absolutely perfect that they cannot be improved upon. Well, isn't that the definition of perfect?

This made me smile especially because I am a great fan of the perfect martini. I don't want vodka in my martini and I don't even want any overly-refined gin. Beefeaters will do nicely, thank you. A couple olives are nice. Make sure the glass is nice and cold. I keep the gin in the freezer but still put it in a metal shaker with plenty of ice and shake the living daylights out of it. As for the vermouth, I believe Winston Churchill had the right idea: "Glance at the vermouth bottle briefly while pouring the juniper distillate freely." But, if you must, put a dash in the glass, swirl it around then discard the rest, add the olives and pour on that well-shaken, icy cold gin. The glass should frost up nicely.

And speaking of living daylights, on my birthday a couple months back (actually two months ago today), someone in an online forum asked me how I planned to celebrate my birthday. I mentioned the Perfect Martini solution to life's most vexing moments (at my age a birthday qualifies) and added that if anyone had Timothy Dalton's phone number would they please give him a ring and let him know there was enough for two. This set off a little flurry of excitement and a couple women responded saying they'd called him and he said to let me know he was on his way. Works for me. Well, since there are few things in life more nearly perfect than the above described martini or that gentleman's face, how could I be anything less than thrilled?

But it did get me thinking about what we call perfect. I am most definitely a no-lily-gilding sort of person. I want my lobster cooked and naked except for a light coat of sweet cream butter, and you'll never convince me that any culinary concoction of any sort is any better than home-made strawberry shortcake. In fact, there is very little in life much better than a home-made buttermilk biscuit, piping hot from the oven, spread with rapidly melting butter and a drizzle of wildflower honey.

Some years back I found the perfect tweed jacket. It was just gorgeous --- brown and gray wool tweed, lined with soft mauve silk, and three leather buttons. At the time I was in possession of two creamy silk shirts with mother of pearl buttons custom-made in Hong Kong for an old boyfriend when he was there. Actually, I didn't like the buttons they used and, when I stole the shirts, I spent a long time searching for 2 sets of exquisite MOP buttons to replace them. I wore those silk shirts under that tweed jacket with blue jeans and a pair of LL Bean deerskin moccasins for years. And every time I wore them I felt perfect. When the shirts finally wore out I cut the buttons off and still have them. I cried when I had to throw the jacket away. I bet I wore it for 20 years.

These days my wardrobe is a little more varied and I actually think about what I wear a lot less but there is still something delicious in having a few perfect things that you can count on. I had a meeting this morning and, since it is chilly here today, I wore a black cashmere turtleneck with pale gold linen trousers, and my beautiful black Italian leather sandals. Those sandals are going to be the next thing to make me cry when they bite the dust. But it is September and October, the most perfect of all months, is coming fast. My day is nearly over and there is a bottle of Beefeaters in the freezer. Maybe it's time to wrap this up and call it a day.

If anyone has Timothy Dalton's phone number, will you let him know it's time?

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Slate Made My Day Today

I love to complain about Dan Brown. Yes, there is a certain amount of envy that he has captured the public imagination and become a multi-gazillionare in the process but the public also loves reality TV, deep-fried Twinkies, and Susan Boyle. So, as his adoring fans wait breathlessly for his next over-wrought, painfully dialogued (is that a word? did he invent it?), fascinating-to-conspiracy-theorists novel, I was delighted to see Slate's contribution to the Brown Cult: The Interactive Dan Brown Sequel Generator
May you enjoy it as much as I did!

...and thank YOU, President Carter!

In 1981 I was living in Houston, Texas and had just started a job in the marketing department of a mid-sized firm that was a Houston institution. There were about 30 employees in the office I worked in. One of them was black. He was the guy who ran errands, did the heavy lifting, delivered what needed delivering and was the all-purpose handyman. He was a good looking guy, tall, and handsome, a few years older than I was at the time. I liked him immediately and, unfortunately as it turned out, I guess that showed.

One day when he was delivering something to my office I must have said something that was too friendly and he glanced around nervously and then said, “Miz Valentine, I know you're from up north and don't know how things are here but don't be too friendly to me. It'll just cause me trouble.” I was stunned but I also --- thank God --- knew what he meant. Later that day I had coffee with my one close friend in the office, a woman from Venezuela, and told her about it. She understood immediately. She had met a Houstonian guy in her hometown, married him, and moved but she said that she was only too aware of the kind of covert racism I was talking about.

Now, the interesting thing about this was that if I ever said anything about this to any of the other people in the office --- all good old Southern white folks --- they would have been shocked. They would have said that they loooooved this guy and thought of him as one of themselves and that they didn't have racist bone in their body. What they didn't see --- or couldn't see even if it was pointed out to them --- was that their racism was so ingrained, so much a part of their psyche that they could dismiss charges of being racist if they were ever leveled, cry foul in complete indignation, and stomp off in high dudgeon at being so misunderstood.

Last night I was reading Philip Berrigan's 1968 book, Prison Journals of a Priest Revolutionary. In the book he talks quite openly about the palpable undercurrent of resentment he was continually aware of among white prisoners for the black guards. Remember this was 1968. Father Berrigan had a nationwide reputation as a Civil Rights activist and the guards were extremely respectful of him but the current of tension that he describes reminded me of the current of tension that is so obvious during all these town halls and “tea party” demonstrations. Forty years and what has changed?

This morning I read that President Jimmy Carter blames racism for much of the animosity toward President Obama. I've been listening to people deny that for months --- just like the nice white folks in that job of mine denied they were racist --- but, boy oh boy, it's like an electric current that charges so much of what is going on these days. Nobody can tell me that after eight years of flagrant government corruption on a massive scale that garnered little more than a handful of outraged books, the last several months of lunatic raving about the “government” is anything but racist at its core.

Imagine this: our country is an absolute mess, we are trillions of dollars in debt, our financial institutions are collapsing, people are losing their life savings and dying because of screwed up healthcare, we are involved in 2 unwinnable wars, and the world has lost respect for us on a grand scale. Then along comes a man who is intelligent, temperate, dignified, respectful of others and a born orator and diplomat. Imagine this amazing man, despite almost constant opposition, is able to take this godawful mess and restore some semblance of order, reason and sense. And suppose that man is black...

While I was living in Texas I also had a very close girlfriend who was a gorgeous, intelligent, well-educated black woman. Being a product of the Civil Rights era I was always trying to be conscious of not making remarks that could be interpreted as racist and I sometimes apologized to her for making an awkward statement. One day she said, “I never take offense at things you say because I know you are aware of racism and you are trying. Most people pretend it doesn't exist so that excuses them from staying aware.” Amen to that, Vera.

If you need further proof.

Thank you, President Jimmy Carter, winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize. You told the truth.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Unbelievable..... or not....

This is making the email rounds --- please pass it on! Racism, sexism, and good old-fashioned ignorance all on very loud display!

Albert Einstein once said, "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe." Here's proof...


Be ashamed, be very ashamed....

The "Tea Party" held on Saturday was, in my opinion, a perfect example of what America is all about --- when people want to have their say, they do it. That is something we should all be proud of. But the way some of these people chose to express themselves is utterly disgraceful. People have a right to be angry. People have a right to speak out. But the anger and the speaking out needs to be put in the right place: greed and corruption on Wall Street and in the medical industry is a good place to start.

But looking at some of the signs held by some of these people is humiliating. The fact that some of these people are so stupid and so ill-bred that they would disgrace America with these shameful signs makes me deeply shamed of some of my fellow Americans. And the sad truth is, the people who carry signs like these are too stupid and crass to know how stupid and crass they are. Those of us who believe in protest but who also believe in ethics need to speak out. These people are a national disgrace and deserve to be shunned.

I am ashamed to live in the same country as these people and I hope, as people of conscience, you will join me in letting them know what a disgrace they are.
Postscript: A couple of readers have asked me what I think about the disgraceful Joe Wilson situation. I'm flattered that they care what I think. My position is that he disgraced himself in front of the world, he apologized, the President graciously accepted his apology, I am now ready for his 15 minutes of fame to be over. Thanks for asking.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A New Scarlet Letter

H.R. 3200: Sec 246 NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.
                                                        -from the health care proposal being prepared for submission to congress

Like much of America I watched the President's speech last night on health care reform and, like most of America, I was appalled by the disgraceful behavior of Congressman Joe Wilson who screamed out “You lie!” in the midst of the speech. Leaving side the fact that the President did not lie and that, in fact, the proposed reform specifically states in perfectly clear language that the proposed health care will NOT be available to those in this country illegally, his behavior showed utter and complete contempt and disregard for the Congress and all its members present and for the President of the United States. 

Being wrong is one thing but being rude and wrong is something anyone with any common sense would be ashamed of. Wilson did issue an apology and I am not one to hold people forever accountable for one mistake but I think there is a lesson to be learned here. A lot of people have lost all sense of basic human decency. The behavior in town hall meetings, the demonstrations, the screaming, name-calling, and insulting has gotten out of hand so I am proposing a means of dealing with it. I propose we revive the old New England custom of requiring people who behave in a disgraceful manner be required to wear a big red D (for Disgrace) pinned to their shirts for a period of time commensurate with their disgraceful outbursts.

I think this is a good idea because it leaves them free to carry on their daily lives but it also warns all who come in contact with them that this is a person with very bad manners and ill-breeding so give them a wide berth.

In the past few years I've come to the realization that there are any number of reasons that people behave in disgraceful, bullying manners. The most benign are probably acting out of genuine fear and paranoia as noted in an earlier blog. Some are endlessly confrontational and are always looking for a fight and some are just pathetic and get some kind of weird thrill out of annoying other people. They seem to take pride in that, oblivious to how ridiculous they are --- maybe we could give them big red J for jackass.

Bill Maher made a great observation, he always makes great observations, that these loons who sit around pounding out ridiculous but inflammatory messages on the internet should have their their computers taken away and go back where they belong: sitting on park benches screaming at pigeons.

So here is my proposal to Congressman Wilson, either use your privilege and your position to actively work for civility and respectful behavior among people on all levels and in all situations, or wear a big red D so that everyone can be forewarned that you are capable of disgraceful behavior and should be avoided by decent human beings.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Dinner with My Mom

Well, actually my mother died quite some time ago but this time of year I think of her especially because she absolutely loved it when the gardens started providing our evening meals. Nothing made her happier than a “garden dinner” --- everything from the garden but the condiments and her home-made bread.

Over the weekend I fixed one of her favorite meals two nights in a row because it was just that good. Roasted corn-on-the-cob with butter and lots and lots of pepper, fresh still-warm-from-the-sun tomatoes sliced up, and cucumber salad. Cucumber salad is easy. Slice up 2 or 3 garden cukes and a couple of little white onions, sprinkle them with fresh dill weed and chopped chives. Mix together white vinegar, a little EVOO, and a spoonful of sugar (I use stevia). Pour over the cukes and let it sit for an hour before serving. Yum.

In my mother's house that was a near perfect dinner. Sometimes there were hamburgs or fresh-caught trout or wall-eye, if anybody in the family had been out fishing. Oh, and don't forget the iced tea! Mom was an iced tea fanatic --- I've carried on the tradition.

A variation on that substituted yellow wax beans simmered in milk for the corn. She'd clean the beans, simmer them in a pan of milk then add butter and, of course, lots of pepper. She was a big believer in lots of pepper. She had this enormous frying pan with a copper bottom that got quite the workout at this time of year. She'd take a head of cabbage from the garden, chop it into bite-sized pieces and sauté it in oil and butter until it was just tender. This takes a lot of attention because it must not scorch or burn. Oh, and lots of black pepper.

She'd slice up the green tomatoes into thick slices, dredge them in flour and sauté them, too, along with zucchini squash. Mom probably had more recipes for zucchini than anyone in the world. She always used to say that the only time she needed to lock her car when she went downtown was in September because, if she didn't, she'd come out of the store to find the back seat full of zucchini.

My Uncle Tommy had a big garden, too. Since he and Aunt Mary Rita couldn't use all their veggies he had a good way of getting rid of them. They lived just a half block from downtown and there was lots of foot traffic on their street. So, when he had extra produce, he'd put it in cardboard box and set it on the front steps with a sign “Free Garden Vegetables, Help Yourself”. He claimed the only time the box wasn't emptied was when he put zucchini out.

So, it's Mom's favorite time of year. Of course, this season also has an accompanying curse --- what Gram Werner called the “green apple cakewalk”, stock up on Charmin and don't stray far from home. With all this great garden-fresh produce, it's worth it.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 07, 2009

“This Country Is Nuts”

        I have been thinking about and trying to understand some of the more extreme examples of insanity in this country these days --- people abusing a wheel-chair bound woman and mocking a Holocaust survivor in a town hall, having crybaby fits over the President encouraging children to stay in school, hysterics over Bill Maher's comment that anything could happen in this stupid country, Glenn Beck --- anything having to do with Glenn Beck --- when I came across the following:
The whole atmosphere is crazy marked by an air of absurdity and 
moral void, even where conscience and morality is invoked. 
This country is nuts.
       Excellent observation considering it was written in 1965 by the Trappist mystic Thomas Merton in a letter to his friend Daniel Berrigan, S.J. Forty-five years and the only thing that has changed is that now the media does a better job of flogging the insanity and stupidity to death.
       I have been reading Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Life and Times of Daniel and Philip Berrigan, probably because Prince of Peace started me thinking about them again. The novel was most assuredly based on their lives combining the two priests into one. It's a terrific read if that period of history interests you and it serves as a potent reminder that insanity has always been a part of politics. There are some great photos in the book, too; Daniel Berrigan with Abby Hoffman, and my favorite taken at a Poets for Peace Rally in which the Vietnamese poet Thich Nhat Hahn and the French poet Anaïs Nin stand on either side of the Jesuit poet Berrigan.
         Reading the book I was reminded of Richard Hofstadter's essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics which was published in Harper's Magazine in 1964, a time when the Berrigans were just hitting their stride as revolutionaries. I went looking for it online and was happy to find the essay in full --- reading it again after all these years was like time travel, it is as relevant today as it was then. Basically, Hofstadter says, there is a certain person who lives in a continual state of paranoia. They are afraid and it is a very easy thing for those wishing to stir things up to exploit their paranoia. They fan the flames of fear by concocting conspiracies that prey on the deepest fears and ingrained paranoia of those folks whipping them into hysterical frenzies of projection. Over the history of the United States the fears have shifted: Masons, Catholics, communists, Jews, socialists, they could probably convince some of these people that Muppets are taking over. But the technique is always the same --- be afraid, be very afraid, they are coming to take your country away! And the paranoid go nuts. Now they are aided by the internet with its message boards, discussion groups, blogs, etc. to spread the fear faster and wider.
       The other thing that strikes me as I read about the Berrigans is Philip Berrigan's endless commitment to the fight for Civil Rights. He was the first Catholic priest sentenced to prison for social activism and his special commitment was seeking social justice for African-Americans. This is something that concerns me these days because under many of the rants against our President is thinly veiled but very obvious racism. It's sickening. I see it especially among the “birthers”. “Why doesn't he just produce his birth certificate?” they scream but would they ask that of a white President? Have they ever? I don't blame the President for ignoring them --- to do otherwise would just dignify their nasty attempts to “keep that (you know the word) in his place”.
       Daniel Berrigan is still a Jesuit priest and poet living in New York City. Philip left the priesthood but remained an activist to the end of his life in 2002. This was the last thing he wrote shortly before his death:
A Time for Prayer
By Philip Berrigan
"But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret." Mt. 6:16

       I've been reading an excellent book on Gandhi, compiled by John Dear, S.J.. Gandhi himself prayed two hours every day, and he concluded that prayer was nourishment for the soul, even as food was for the body, that prayer engendered the essentials of faith and humility, and that prayer, sincerely done, was more valuable than any action.
The following occur to me as worthwhile subjects of prayer.
- that we disarm our hearts and our society
- that the Holy Spirit subvert, stalemate, and expose preparation for the invasion of Iraq
- that God intervene in the ecological crisis as Lord of Creation, because we refuse to change our abuse of the earth
- that Americans begin to understand and resist the three-pronged aims for the Bush Administration: the trashing of civil liberties, perpetual war, and world domination
- that the swindle of "foreknowledge" by the Bushites of 9/11 be fully disclosed
- that the "crime" of 57 years of nuclearism, and its consequent wasting of our lives and planet be revealed
- that Americans grasp that war is our #1 business; that we are violent, killer people, and that we know virtually little of the nonviolence of Jesus and the Gospel
- that the scourges of abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty be ended
- that the U.S. withdraw all economic and military aid from Israel
- that the global war against children be lifted
- that the rich west contribute medication and food to the global victims of HIV-AIDS
- that each of us become people of fidelity, nonviolence, and justice

Amen indeed. I wish he had lived to see President Obama in the White House. He would have been so gratified.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Personally, I'm Thrilled.

Sorting through the mail that gets dumped on the dining room table every week, I came across one of my favorite things, an envelope with a happy yellow and gray logo and a window showing that there is a check inside. A check from the printer/distributor of my books for the books sold. “Publisher's Compensation” they call it. It always makes me happy when those checks show up because it means one very special thing to me: I am getting paid to be a writer. Hooray!

The whole writing/publishing thing has become very different in the past decade thanks mostly to digital technology and the internet. For most of publishing history an aspiring writer had to depend on finding a publisher if they ever wanted to see their books in print. Then digital technology made self-publishing/small press publishing possible which was not necessarily a good thing because the stigma of self-publishing was problematic but even that has begun to change. More and more publishing companies of all sizes are looking to the small, independent and/or self published books to see what the next hit is going to be. Sure, they still invest in established writers but for new writers, beginning writers who have made a solid commitment to quality and excellence, the playing field is very. Very different.

When I published My Last Romance in 2006 I did so really as a test. I never expected it to be a big seller, I just wanted to test the waters with something I was not emotionally attached to and see how the market worked. It was a good experiment, I learned a lot and the book sold a couple hundred copies. Even now, when it would have been long ago remaindered by a publishing house, it still sells an occasional copy and, while I'll never be able to reap more than the price of an occasional martini from its sales, I enjoy those martinis when I get them.

By 2007 things had picked up for independent publishers a bit and my publishing company, Parlez-Moi Press, released, The Old Mermaid's Tale, a book I had a lot more emotional attachment to. Sales have been slow but they have also been steady and that is when I started getting the occasional check from Lightning Source for books sold through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. The checks were modest but I used them for treats --- jewelry, yarn and fabric, even paid the occasional bill. It made me so happy to be able to say that it was my writing, my WRITING, that was responsible for that.

Then in February I published The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties: Shawls, Cocoons, & Wraps and my writer's life suddenly got very gratifying. The knitting book sold very well and, much to my delight, it stimulated the sales of the other books, too. By April the revenue from writing was more than just fun money. In fact, while business became more challenging through the peak months of this wretched recession, the books made up the difference and then some. How exciting is that?

Naturally sales fall off over time but those checks have started being a regular supplement to my income each month and it makes me very, very happy. Each time I see one in the mail I realize that I'm writer! I'm a writer!!!

The Mermaid Shawl still hovers around in the top ten bestselling lace books on Amazon and yesterday I saw that four copies of The Old Mermaid's Tale sold. These may be modest accomplishments and heaven knows I don't do the level of marketing that I should but .... well, hell .... I write books that people buy and read!!!

Excuse me while I revel in that thought --- I can pay a couple bills today and have money left over for several martinis. Personally, I'm thrilled.

Thanks for reading!!!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Coincidence? Cabling Without Needle

I'm feeling poorly today --- woke up with head, stomach, etc. weirdness, so decided to just lay low and do nothing. My hand is somewhat better so I have been playing around with some nice, soft alpaca/cashmere yarn and my beloved Bryspun needles, plotting a new project. I am beginning to suspect that yarns with low elastacity, like rayon and some cottons, are part of my problem when it comes to hand injuries.

Anyway, this yarn is very soft, very pliable and a breathtaking shade of soft French blue. The stitch I am contemplating involves some cabling, along with some lace. I was experimenting with cabling without a cable needle when what should show up in my email but this. Coincidence? You decide....

Cabling without a Needle (Plus a free pattern!)

My current project in Kathleen's Knit-a-Long—the Central Park Hoodie—is a cable pattern, and I'm saving tons of time doing the cables without a needle. In the fall 2009 issue of Interweave Knits there's a Beyond the Basics lesson on this technique, and I thought I'd present it here, too. I don't recommend this method for use with slippery yarn or with big cable crossings (crossing more than four or five stitches over each other), but for most of your cabling needs, it's magic!
Step 1
On a cable crossing row, work to just before the full cable group. With the yarn in back, slip all the stitches from the group purlwise to the right-hand needle to loosen them.

Step 2
For a cable crossing right (standard instructions: hold the cable needle to the back of the work), bring the left-hand needle to the front of the work and insert it into the fronts of all stitches that need to be held (Figure 1). For a cable crossing left (standard instructions: hold the cable needle to the front of the work), bring the left-hand needle to the back of the work and insert it into the backs of all stitches that need to be held (Figure 2).

Cabling without a needle  Cabling without a needle

Cabling without a needleStep 3
Between the left thumb and forefinger, pinch the base of the slipped stitches firmly. Pull the right-hand needle completely free of all the slipped stitches (Figure 3; half will be on the left-hand needle; half will be free for a moment) and maintaining front/back position as established, quickly reinsert it into the free stitches. Make sure all the stitches are seated correctly on the needle; if they’re held firmly, the stitches won’t have twisted or moved at all during the time that they were dropped.

Cabling without a needleStep 4
Slip stitches on the right-hand needle back to the left-hand needle. The stitches are now out of order and will be crossed when they’re worked (Figure 4). Work as directed.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Mary Doria Russell's Children of God

I wrote last week about re-reading Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, one of the most luminous, unforgettable books I've ever read. When I finished it the first time I was so devastated by the end that I couldn't read the sequel, Children of God, but this time I decided to give it a try and I'm glad it did. It is extraordinary. It didn't have the impact that The Sparrow had but that, of course, is because I now knew about Rakhat and it's astonishing citizens. However, it does such an admirable job of completing the story that there were times when I literally put the book down and said, “Oh, my God, I don't believe this.” ..... “God” being the operative word....

Russell does a wonderful job in the first couple chapters of the book in refreshing the reader's memory. Our hero, Emilio Sandoz, is a broken man and, because I was totally in love with him in the first book, it was painful to find him still so crushed but, with the support of Fr. Candotti and Brother Behr --- and in a tough-love kind of way, the Jesuit Father General Guiliani, characters from the first book, plus some new characters (not the least of which is a guinea pig named Elizabeth) --- he begins to heal and find joy... and love. Then --- POW! He gets clobbered again.

I'll admit I got a little restless through some of the longer chapters about life on Rakhat in the aftermath of the first expedition. I missed some of the old characters, of course, especially D.W. But I knew he couldn't be in this one due to his untimely demise in The Sparrow. But there were some new Earth characters introduced including three more Jesuit priests, Daniel Iron Horse, Sean Fein (an Irish-Jewish priest!), and the absolutely mesmerizing Joseba Urizarbarrena, a Basque ecologist, that I just wanted to know more about. The Lakota Fr. Iron Horse (" braids, no shades, ace"), especially, as the leader of the second expedition, deserved more character development, I thought, because his decisions and manner of executing them were so critical to the story. But there was a lot of material to cover in 436 pages.

I won't go in to detail but one of the things that we learn is that no matter what we think is the truth, we are almost always in for a surprise. Yes, Emilio was utterly devastated by what happened to him but when we discover why, and especially the misunderstandings that lead to the why, it is crushing --- the intentions behind it were completely the opposite of what it seems. And, ultimately, we and Emilio Sandoz are faced with the difficult-to-accept truth: God's ways are not our ways. The moral of the story might well be: God is a Big Picture Guy, deal with it.

It was also interesting to be reading this book between watching the many tributes to Senator Ted Kennedy following his recent death --- tributes and virulent criticisms from some. The big question that both The Sparrow and Children of God asks is, “What is the nature of redemption? Are there offenses so great that they cannot be redeemed, even if not forgiven?” In the end even though Emilio may never forgive what he believes God did to him, he is faced again and again with the redemptive beauty that his unique and exceptional character inspired in the citizens of Rakhat --- and on Earth, too. For me, one of the most gorgeous moments was when he learns that the beautiful, lush gardens that are now all over the planet are not called gardens by the people of Rakhat, but rather “robichaux” in honor of Fr. Marc Robichaux, the botanist who was Emilio's final companion on the first expedition. Emilio Sandoz is an outstanding character --- he suffers much but then, at least in Catholic tradition, our heroes tend to do that. Early in the book, when one of the other priests tries to comfort Emilio by comparing his suffering to that of Jesus, Emilio tartly replies, “Yeah, well, he only had to endure it for three hours.” Whew.

One of the allures of Emilio is his amazing sense of humor and there is an excellent moment toward the end of the book that I loved. Upon his return to Earth many years later, he is being debriefed by a Father Patras who, we learn, wrote his doctoral thesis on Emilio. At the end of the debriefing Fr. Patras tells Emilio that the Jesuit Mother General is waiting now to speak with him. Emilio, flabbergasted, replies, “Mother General?? You're joking!” Patras admits that he is. Emilio asks him how long he has been waiting to use that joke and Patras replies, “Fifteen years.” The Jesuits might be progressive enough to shoot scientists into space, discover new planets, and embrace new life-forms but a Mother General? Perish the thought.

Well done, Ms. Russell, very, very well done.

Thanks for reading.