gall and gumption

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

buckner: To Whet Your Appetite

Here are a few spectacular pictures of Sardinia.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Quick! Think!

Wednesday is my last day at the Big Scientific Institution. Monday I start a new job at another outfit which I shall not name. I have two days off plus the weekend. Why did I not take more time off, I hear you wondering. Lots of reasons. They need not concern you. But anyway here are my two free days. And I figure I should do something nice with myself for one of them, maybe even two.

New York? Could do, but whenever I go to New York I run myself right into the ground and come back a shadow of my former self, trying to see everybody I want to see and get to the bookstores and Pearl Paint. I have considered taking the train up, hurrying across town to the Morgan Library which has a William Blake exhibition that I would like to see (I am told that the actual engravings are way more brilliant and detailed than they ever appear in reproduction), and then I would march myself back across town and get on a train to Washington and not even think about using my phone. But then you see I think "Oh I bet it's a short run from there to New York Central Art Supply, which is heaven for people who love paper." And then I see how easily I could succumb to the city's temptations.

Philadelphia? The Barnes Foundation. Here's my chance to go on a weekday. It would be easy to do if I drive but there's almost no point if I drive, because half the point of the whole thing is to take the train. Because as you know, just being on the train is like a vacation for me. But if I take the train then it has to get there in time for me to travel across Philadelphia (a city I do not know at all) to the Barnes place and it just seems like one of those things that I would likely screw up. Stay overnight? Where? See how complicated it gets?

The non-travel portion of my two days of wild abandoned freedom I would like to load Sweetie and some painting gear into the car and drive out to one of our old hiking places up the Potomac and paint there for a morning and then come home and do laundry and have a big fat nap. But it will probably end up being nothing but errands.

Baltimore? Not far enough.

Virginia? I have spent quite enough time in Virginia, thank you.

The beach? I am picturing myself shivering.

Yeah, I'm talking big. Laugh if you like. With luck I'll be able to make a real getaway in the spring or summer.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Latest Thing in MoBay

I learn from the Jamaica Gleaner that children are being recruited into the lottery scam in Jamaica. They call their US victims from their cell phones.

2008 was the peak year. For some reason it has been operating out of Western Jamaica, mainly Montego Bay, and during the last couple of years there were several killings that now appear to have been related to the considerable sums of money that were coming in. When I say several killings I mean a lot. This little outbreak in March, after law enforcement got things quieted down, killed more than a dozen people, just in Montego Bay, in a period of less than two weeks.

In 2008 the death toll from the scams was 219. Most of these killings occur in Montego Bay's poor inner city slum areas, and I suspect tourists don't even know such places exist. But the money from the lotto scam has funded an increase in firepower among the gangsters that operate in these places, with a corresponding increase in violence. I am sure that some of it has gone to "lifestyle-related expenditures" for local dons.

I don't know what ever became of this effort, though the violence in Montego Bay seems to have subsided a bit.

The school kids are encouraged to get into it because their parents are desperately hard up. The money helps them buy things like books and school uniforms. In some families the child is now the main breadwinner. The kids who are in high school are not the absolutely worst off, either. I mean, there are people who are poorer than they are. It would be hard to be a parent living in a slum in Montego Bay and not know just how deadly this business can be, and yet they allow the kids to participate.

When contacted on Friday, Colin Blair, director of communication in the education ministry, said the ministry was putting measures in place to deal with the problem without giving specifics.

However, up to press time, Blair had not indicated what, if anything, the ministry has done to tackle the problem.

I cannot imagine what they could possibly do. Give them a firm talking-to? US$30 million dollars flowed into those communities last year. Most of it probably went to the gangsters, but still. The arrival of such a sum in all of Jamaica would be a big deal, and it was just this one little section of one parish where most of it was headed.

You know, when I get some of those Nigerian emails, I am always struck by how amateurishly they are written or cut and pasted together. I wonder if it's because schoolchildren are running those as well.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


To disorder the moral sensibility, and to reap profit from ill-educated appetite, seems the major work of contemporary culture.

In my more paranoid moments I imagine that this work is a deliberate and systematic assault. But then I calm down and then I think it's probably more like South Sea bubbles or tulip mania or Dot Com Booms or the fabulous world of derivatives or the Tower of Babel. Eric Hoffer wrote that the dragon is a composite of all the things that humans have to fear from nature, while the Devil is made up of all the things humans have to fear from each other. The Devil has been with us a long time, and he keeps up with trends.

I think it has always been hard to sort out our moral priorities. When I was working at the Horrible Corporate Job (HCJ) the two directors of my department were these two older women who ran it as a sort of "mother-hen" operation. The women outnumbered men by that critical amount that encourages the propagation of the "mother-hen" culture. If you were "good" you got praised and if you were "bad" you were made to feel vaguely disgraced and unworthy. That is, we weren't just doing a job, we were all "friends"; the most favored "chicks" were those who habitually let it be known how they were martyring themselves for love of the job. You were less good if you did not show that you were eager to please, and you were bad if you showed that you were displeased at the casual abuse of your free time. The "good" chicks got praised and fussed over and went back to their cubicles feeling virtuous and loved. If I had gotten over the "PhD thing" and wanted these two dreadful women directors to love me, I suppose I would have been going along peep peep behind all that cluck cluck. But there are bigger things in life than being sure that everyone finds you lovable, and again, this is, for me, a matter of dignity. I make a sort of calculation: "What have you done for me lately?" What would two dishonest, manipulative, incompetent, frightened women give me in exchange for me giving my countenance to this loathsome caricature of human relations? Interesting conversation? The means to buy my own Caribbean island? The shining light of their moral insights? And yet that one of them who said, "This is corporate, if you don't like it you can leave," sincerely thought of herself as my friend. And in the spirit of friendship I said in reply, "I can respect that people might have to submit to these conditions out of necessity but I hope I never live long enough to hear myself say that to anybody. I hope I never get to the point where I'm carrying such a thing around in my head." No one who asks me to make such a bad bargain can be a friend. This made her cry, but I doubt that I'd make many people cry if I spoke to them like that. She was one of those people that cries easily.

One of the things I learned from my friend Jamie Astaphan the evil steroid drug doctor was that when you trade your truth away to get along with people they never give you full value. I mean, when they demand that of you as a condition for the offering of mere decency, you do not win. You give them a dollar of self-respect and they give you back 43 cents and a bottle cap and think they have been recklessly generous.

Therefore I have been constrained to think about what I must be willing to live without, and what I can't live without. I think I've chosen the way with the hard landings; I had a famous academic once yell at me that I was practically committing theft in acting as though I could study literature in the way I chose rather than obediently following the leadership of theorists such as himself. He had worked very hard to get to the point where he could have opinions that people listened to: who was I to have opinions of my own? That I should think myself so entitled was a gaucherie. He made this little speech in a room full of people, and apparently my contempt for what he said was so visible on my face that it set him off again. He kept demanding to know why I was looking at him like that.

We are all so tempted and challenged. That's why so much literature treats the subject of temptation and corruption. And then there's that whole other thing of recognizing reality, of getting ourselves out of the suburbia of our minds so that we can recognize what is happening and call it by its proper name, "to praise what deserves praise and sow blame for wrong-doers." This is very hard. You have to understand what deserves praise and be able to recognize wrong-doers. And then there's that other thing: doth her great actions spell,
By what was done and wrought
In season, and so brought
To light : her measures are, how well
Each syllabe answer'd, and was form'd, how faire ;
These make the lines of life, and that's her aire.

Same old stuff, you see. The Ancient is the Modern. Jonson put a lot of work into it. Is it any harder now? I don't know. Probably best to keep the r-word to ourselves.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Fire Up the Wrecking Ball, Mary P!

My plan for world domination has just taken another step toward completion.

You don't know what I'm talking about, do you? Well, that's all right.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What Not to Say

If you happen to be one of the people on my reference list DO NOT tell any prospective employers the following:

About that time when I was 8 and ate hot dogs for lunch at Aunty Fay's house and then got sick and it got all over the toilet seat.

About that time I put birdseed in this guy's underpants while he was actually wearing them.

About my weakness for cheesy How-to art books. Well, what? You have the food channel, this is what I have.

About that time when I was walking to the transit center in Germantown one afternoon to catch the bus to the Metro and I stepped on something sort of spongy and it turned out to be one end of a pair of pantyhose that I had forgotten to remove from inside my jeans the night before, so then I stopped, reached down, grabbed it, and sort of hauled and wrestled it out from underneath and it sort of came out with a sproing! and flew past my head and I caught it and then that's when I noticed I was standing in front of the window of the Chick Fil-A. There will be no need to mention that at all.

You can also skip mentioning that I am not completely at my ease in high heels.

I have ceased to eat raw onions or any relatives of raw onions, so you can leave out all that ancient history.

I haven't been on a date in five years so I think my taste in boyfriends is sort of moot at this point, though I'd prefer that you not bring up my not having been on a date in five years. OK there was one little datelet but it was just a workday lunch and it was perfectly polite, platonic, and sentimental. But don't bring that up either.

On the subject of my recent cravings for the music of my teenage years (that big orchestra-heavy soul music of the mid 1970s and also the odd things like the Carpenters) I enjoin a tactful silence. In fact don't even talk to me about it, much less to anybody else.

Monday, October 05, 2009


My email to Da Gator bounced. However, I am hoping that if I keep listening to this station at work while I'm editing articles about asphalt, I'll hear that song again.

Update: I did talk to da Gator. He told me the song was called "Red Negligee" but he couldn't find the name of the artist. I found out the name of the artist, Katie Webster. However, the song "Red Negligee" is not the song I heard, though the voice sounds the same, and it is the same kind of thing, one of those leisurely talky songs where the singer doesn't even really sing at all. What I heard is a whole other song featuring negligee. I'm hoping it was by Katie Webster, even though I can't find it on any of her albums that I tracked down. So I shall be following up the matter with Da Gator or one of his assistants to see if I can clear it up. Katie Webster's other songs rock too, though.