gall and gumption

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Mysterious West

This ballerina is making an obscene Sicilian gesture because her pointe shoes are too big and she has to stand with her toes turned in on top of some flowers.


We went to Virginia to watch some parachute jumping. It was about a two-hour drive, and Sweetie has this conviction that as long as the car is moving she should be standing or sitting at attention in case her services are demanded. What that means is that long drives leave her very tired.

Monday, April 24, 2006


Finally went to see it last Thursday, it was really the most mentally taxing art I have ever looked at. There are 140 paintings. The watercolors were amazing. I've seen reproductions of them, and I've seen reproductions of watercolors where people have tried to imitate his "technique" but none of that prepares you for the watercolors in their actuality. Most of what they had on were landscapes, along with a couple of those bathers under the bridge. You could learn a lot from just hanging out in a room with them, really.

The same day I went to the Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, where the founder, David Driskell, was giving a talk. Driskell is a few years older than my father. His parents were sharecroppers. He sort of got into Howard University by showing up and just refusing to leave. Strange to think my father was at Howard at the same time -- what a universe of difference of experience! He gave a slide show that presented his earliest work through the stuff that he is doing now. He has been at this long enough to know that the idea about what you are doing is not what matters, it is that you endure at what you are doing, that you just keep going. So he didn't really comment on the variety of styles and subjects that he had moved through over a long career, you just had this sense of accumulation and movement. Which seems to me as it should be.

"Art," he said, "is a priestly calling." Made sense at the time, though I can't tell you why now.

Here's a phrase that he used that I liked: "...the spirit world and all that resides imaginatively on the side of the mind..."

The last slide he showed was of a tree in the garden of his house in Hyattsville (he is an incredible gardener and has this place in Maine -- oh me gawd). He had stuck different-colored glass bottles on the ends of some of the branches.

"This is the mysterious bottle tree that the neighbors ask me, 'What is it?' Sometimes I tell them it's a spirit tree, and then I don't have to worry about them any more."


Caroline is reading the Hilary Spurling biography, and I'm glad she sent me this. I'm reading Trollope, which means I don't have anything else to read that has really taken hold of me and got me in pursuit (like the Burke bio for instance) so it's good to be reminded of it. First the quote:

"What has been taken for boldness was no more than the fact that
anything else proved too difficult. Freedom is really the impossibility
of following the same road as everybody else: freedom means taking the
path your talents make you take."

Then Caroline's comment.

He was in Bouguereau's class when he started out in Paris! Of course
he couldn't be a mewling sycophant and just do copies of the drawings
of the master-- he liked working from life.


Bob sent me this.

“You can know the name of a bird in all the
languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely
nothing whatever about the bird ... So let's look at the bird and see what
it's doing-—that's what counts. I learned very early the difference
between knowing the name of something and knowing something."

"What is Science?", presented at the fifteenth annual meeting of the
National Science Teachers Association, 1966 in New York City, and printed
in The Physics Teacher Vol. 7, issue 6, 1968, pp. 313-320.

SKN Headline of the Week

Beware the door-to-door free breast exam guy.

Duly noted.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Sebastopol Meadowfoam 2006

Eric sent me a photo he took of the endangered plant Sebastopol meadowfoam (Limnanthes vinculans) growing on the Laguna Vista site in Sebastopol, this year.

A developer is trying to get approval for a 150-unit housing development on this site, which is basically the uplands of the Laguna de Santa Rosa. A large group of Sebastopol residents have been fighting this project for years, demanding that every step of the environmental review be done properly.

This species of meadowfoam only grows in the Santa Rosa Plain, which is -- at least west of Highway 101 -- basically a flood plain with a water channel winding through it from the southeast corner northwards to the Russian River. That channel (the Laguna) overflows its banks in the winter so that the lowlands around Sebastopol are like a lake. It's really beautiful, So as spring comes on this lake recedes and the mobile home park on the edge of town can open its lower campground which is basically underwater from November through June. Then the wildflowers come out, among them the meadowfoam. I had heard of Sebastopol meadowfoam at city council meetings though not in connection with this particular issue, the Laguna Vista project. But I had never seen any and didn't look it up. Then one spring day I was walking through Ragle Ranch Park and saw these flowers and knew that they had to be meadowfoam because what they look like is a great mass of foam hovering above the grass, at that point in the year when the grass is at its darkest and greenest, this brilliant white mass of small flowers. Stunning. They are one of those plants that are part of the weird water cycle of California -- they grow at the edge of vernal pools or on the slopes just above places where water collects, and after all the water is dried up, their brief blooming season is over and they put out their seed and die off completely. So for most of the year there is no visible evidence that this incredibly lovely plant is even in existence at all. Moreover, if there is a succession of dry years, the plant may not make any appearance until things improve.

The meadowfoam plants I saw in Ragle Ranch Park were not, so far as I know, the Sebastopol meadowfoam but some other, non-endangered one. The Sebastopol one is federally listed. So last year Bob Evans, a Sebastopol resident, found a couple dozen specimens of the endangered meadowfoam, growing in two clumps in an area that had already been the subject of controversy. The developer's environmental consultant, in his review of the biological resources on the 21-acre site, had somehow overlooked an entire acre of jurisdictional wetlands, right within the footprint of the project (The lower half of the property, the part that is probably flooded after all the rains this spring, is to be a sort of park). "Jurisdictional wetlands" are wetlands that are sufficiently "wet" that they come under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers. Which means they have to approve whatever you do to them.

There's a long story about why this omission occurred and how it got sort of put right, and they were still fighting over it when I left Sebastopol, as the opponents of the project were trying at least to get the developer to stay out of the wetlands and he was insisting that he would not revise his project etc. One reason why he felt free to make this point was because of what happened with the meadowfoam.

Finding an endangered species on a property is a big headache for a developer. Well, I mean, if they want to look at it that way. The Endangered Species Act requires the developer to go through a whole fresh round of consultations with state and federal agencies -- maybe half a dozen in all, depending on the species. All this can take months. So if you look you will read stories about developers who somehow "accidentally" or "inadvertently" let endangered plants or habitats get bulldozed away. "I didn't know anything about it, it was Manual/my ex-wife with the bulldozer..." But developers (and right wing loonies) are also prone to the belief that environmentalists of a terroristic bent may want to plant endangered species on a site to prevent development and oh, I dunno, destroy the American way of life or something.

There has never been a proven instance of an environmentalist planting an endangered species somewhere. There has been wishful thinking. But not proven. One reason is simply the reason why endangered plants are endangered: if it were easy to cultivate or transplant them, well, maybe there would be a lot more of them. One agent from the California Department of Fish & Game told me that endangered plants had about an 80-90 percent failure rate at transplantation. This same agent, however, within days, went and inspected the plants at the Laguna Vista site and declared that they had been planted there. Fish and Game also advised the City of Sebastopol that since that plants had been transplanted, no further consultation would be needed and none would be needed for any subsequent generations of plants that appeared there since it was assumed that they were the results of this transplanted (not naturally occurring) population. The entire department then became incommunicado, and all calls were referred to a PR official in Sacramento who knew nothing. It was now a criminal investigation so they couldn't disclose anything.

Well, that's when the story went all over the state. And it was a story that I liked to consider my own. In fact, Barry, my editor, made a sign and put it up over my desk, "Meadowfoam Central" because I was pretty much all meadowfoam all the time for a while. This detail was mentioned in Legal Affairs magazine but not, alas, the name of the person sitting at the desk below the sign. It was really a fun story. And so these new plants at the Laguna Vista site remind me of where I was last year and of how much I enjoyed what I was doing.

This is so so so the simplified version of the story. But it's nearly two in the morning. And I have still my other journalism nostalgia story to tell which is even worse than this one as you will see.

Friday Dog Follies

You know, when you don't do a lot of blogging during the week and all of a sudden it's Friday pretty soon it starts to seem like all there is on this blog is pictures of the dog. Here's Sweetie on the sofa. She is mostly on the sofa. She conserves her energy for the exertions required in her studies of squirrelology.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Email from Tom: "the dog will not bite." So I followed the link which took me to a NPR piece about a new book on Rousseau. It sounds interesting, and the guys who wrote it sound interesting.

One of the great passages by Burke that is quoted in the O'Brien book is his assessment of Rousseau's character and the role his work played in the French Revolution. The Reflections caused a sensation, and after they came out Burke wrote his 1791 Letter to a Member of the National Assembly" which took up a couple of points the Reflections didn't quite get to. So the letter is like further thoughts. The passage on Rousseau is only part of the letter and is quite long itself, so here's just a small snip:

The assembly recommends to its youth a study of the bold experimenters in morality. Everybody knows that there is a great dispute amongst their leaders, which of them is the best resemblance of Rousseau. In truth, they all resemble him. His blood they transfuse into their minds and into their manners. Him they study; him they meditate; him they turn over in all the time they can spare from the laborious mischief of the day, or the debauches of the night. Rousseau is their canon of holy writ; in his life he is their canon of Polycletus; he is their standard figure of perfection. To this man and this writer, as a pattern to authors and to Frenchmen, the foundries of Paris are now running for statues, with the kettles of their poor and the bells of their churches. If an author had written like a great genius on geometry, though his practical and speculative morals were vicious in the extreme, it might appear, that in voting the statue, they honoured only the geometrician. But Rousseau is a moralist, or he is nothing. It is impossible, therefore, putting the circumstances together, to mistake their design in choosing the author with whom they have begun to recommend a course of studies.

Their great problem is to find a substitute for all the principles which hitherto have been employed to regulate the human will and action. They find dispositions in the mind of such force and quality as may fit men, far better than the old morality, for the purposes of such a state as theirs, and may go much further in supporting their power, and destroying their enemies. They have therefore chosen a selfish, flattering, seductive, ostentatious vice, in the place of plain duty. True the basis of the Christian system, humility, is the low, but deep and firm foundation of all real virtue. But this, as very painful in the practice, and little imposing in the appearance, they have totally discarded. Their object is to merge all natural and all social sentiment in inordinate vanity. In a small degree, and conversant in little things, vanity is of little moment. When full grown, it is the worst of vices, and the occasional mimic of them all. It makes the whole man false. It leaves nothing sincere or trustworthy about him. His best qualities are poisoned and perverted by it, and operate exactly as the worst. When your lords had many writers as immoral as the object of their statue (such as Voltaire and others) they chose Rousseau; because in him that peculiar vice, which they wished to erect into ruling virtue, was by far the most conspicuous.

We have had the great professor and founder of the philosophy of vanity in England. As I had good opportunities of knowing his proceedings almost from day to day, he left no doubt on my mind that he entertained no principle either to influence his heart, or to guide his understanding but vanity. With this vice he was possessed to a degree little short of madness. It is from the same deranged, eccentric vanity, that this, the insane Socrates of the National Assembly, was impelled to publish a mad confession of his mad faults, and to attempt a new sort of glory from bringing hardily to light the obscure and vulgar vices, which we know may sometimes be blended with eminent talents. He has not observed on the nature of vanity who does not know that it is omnivorous; that it has no choice in its food; that it is fond to talk even of its own faults and vices, as what will excite surprise and draw attention, and what will pass at worst for openness and candour.

It was this abuse and perversion, which vanity makes even of hypocrisy, that has driven Rousseau to record a life not so much as chequered, or spotted here and there, with virtues, or even distinguished by a single good action. It is such a life he chooses to offer to the attention of mankind. It is such a life that, with a wild defiance, he flings in the face of his Creator, whom he acknowledges only to brave. Your assembly, knowing how much more powerful example is found than precept, has chosen this man (by his own account without a single virtue) for a model. To him they erect their first statue. From him they commence their series of honours and distinctions.

Oh dear that still ended up being rather long.

Critics of Burke's style complain(ed) of its heaviness. But if you are moving big heavy things around you can't do it with light self-referential wit, you know. If you read a bit of it out loud you will notice how well it is written to be heard. He's working the resources of English poetry here.

The paragraphs that follow this one continue the critique of Rousseau and he's making a really important Burke point in them: one reason why he dislikes Rousseau so much is because the great believer in universal benevolence gave up all his children for adoption. I mean, like, he had a bunch of children and just -- gave them away one day. His account of his motives is an instance of that vanity. This would enrage someone like Burke, who was a man of intense family affections. He had one son whom he adored. Burke attacks the notion that any meaningful public benevolence could come from a man who so lacked ordinary and natural human affections. That he lays this to vanity is one of those great pieces of Burke insight that is almost prophetic.

The vanity of one foolish man accounts for so much of our current troubles.

Unlike his father, the younger Bush was visibly comfortable in the business of creating fabulous fiction. We know that Scott Sforza, a former ABC producer, "embedded" himself on that carrier days before the President hit the deck. Along with Bob DeServi, a former NBC cameraman and lighting specialist, and Greg Jenkins, a former Fox News television producer, he planned out every detail of the President's landing, as Bumiller put it, "even down to the members of the Lincoln crew arrayed in coordinated shirt colors over Mr. Bush's right shoulder and the ‘Mission Accomplished' banner placed to perfectly capture the president and the celebratory two words in a single shot. The speech was specifically timed for what image makers call ‘magic hour light,' which cast a golden glow on Mr. Bush."

The same Puritans who get on the barricades in the Culture War and denounce, in the name of morality, what they choose to call self-indulgent individualism, those same people cheered this bogus theater of truly titanic vanity -- lives, truth, national credibility, national security, civil liberties, the unimaginable sums of money, all gobbled up by it without a thought -- like a bunch of TV Reverends who can't stop blowing the old people's donations on lap dancers.

Suddenly this man is not a public employee any more. He's Big Man. This formula of "liberty" runs on a parallel track to the theory -- which I've never understood the appeal of -- that if Donald Trump has lots and lots of money, it might happen to me some day too. If the president has lots and lots of liberty by depriving me of my little, somehow one day I might get to be like him and have lots more liberty than anybody else. This is the theory under which he operates, the one that maintains that the president is above the law. This is as extreme, narrow, stupid and selfish a theory of liberty as you could ever hope to find anywhere. And yet many people will tolerate it in him because they want it for themselves. Just as they do with Donald Trump's money. When they get money and power they want to have it on the same terms.

Eat your vegetables and you may grow up to do anything you want. But you'd better keep buying those lottery tickets, just as a fallback plan.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Reading Roundup aka Random Firing

Bob B. recommends McGahern's memoir, which has a lovely title.

I have just finished reading Conor Cruise O'Brien's biography of Edmund Burke, The Great Melody. It is a thematic political biography of Burke, and while that sounds boring it isn't. If you were half inclined to like Burke before this book will take you the rest of the way. I put him in my own weird personal Pantheon now, and I do confess that I don't think he would like to find himself near neighbors with Talleyrand, who is my other favorite statesman, perhaps because he is so the perfect opposite of Burke that he is the paramount example of what you could do in the other line.

Burke was a politician of conscience his entire life, and the O'Brien book makes that movingly clear. He left his mark on four great political matters of the day, any one of which would have made the reputation of any other man: Ireland, India, the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. He was driven. On India, the American colonies and the French Revolution the positions he took were politically unpopular -- much of his work was holding the opposition party together and keeping it at doing the job of an opposition; but when it really came to the crunch in these things he found himself isolated, the way you are isolated when you go on and on about something a bit too long for everybody's taste. But the reason Burke went on and on and on was that he could see so far ahead. There is a sense in which he failed, in that most of the time nobody followed his advice. But he lived long enough to see himself proved right every single time. And, in the way that people can know, he knew that he knew.

There are people who are interesting because they see beyond. Sophocles, the playwright, loves those people. Like Oedipus and Antigone. They seem so extreme to everybody else, but it's that they see further. They don't define the world in terms of their own interests. It's as if the gods are more immanent with them and they get exasperated, they won't lighten up. Of course, they can't lighten up, they can't be like other people, they can't see less than they see. They have the authority of their own acutely, painfully perceived experience and whatever self-knowledge and understanding comes with it. And as tragic as it may be, there is nothing to trade it for.

Burke is one of those people who couldn't help seeing beyond. In him it was, among other things, an ablity to read political conditions with such scope and subtlety that he really seemed like a prophet. Plus he had this gift of oratory and this driven, moral passion. His speeches are splendid and O'Brien quotes all the important stuff in the book.

I think Talleyrand saw beyond also, but I think he not only saw it, he went there and came back and figured out a way to capitalize on it. He saw the destruction of legitimacy in France. He was part of the party that helped to bring it about, even though he was from one of the oldest families in the country, with a lineage as distinguished as the Bourbons. When the Revolution turned on him, he went to England where he lived a rather uncomfortable life -- not only was he an emigre, he was regarded with deep suspicion by the English. So he went to America, and having no money, became a real estate agent. Then one day he went back to France and made himself useful to Napoleon by pretty much bringing back the image, if not the reality, of legitimacy, to support Napoleon's dictatorship. He was as shrewd and far-seeing a statesman as Burke, he was in on all the big divisions of the spoils in Europe, the signing of treaties and the redrawing of borders, all without a trace of sentiment or even much apparent feeling, and yet he was so effective. He was a survivor, he was a man whom nobody could intimidate. He was like someone who you couldn't frighten with hell because he had checked it out quite calmly already. A lot of English people thought he was the Devil. As far as English fears and phobias went, he hit every hot button. He was a former Catholic bishop who became a revolutionary and then he backed Napoleon and he was French, French as French could be, and for the 40 years of political mess after the Revolution this weird inscrutable artificial being who didn't even put his own stockings on just kept resurfacing and resurfacing and each time he resurfaced he got a little lot richer. And then, just to totally crown it all, he was the father of the painter Eugene Delacroix, as in Madame Delacroix had an affair with him. I LOVE THIS.

Some of you might remember a phase of my life when I was handing out Delacroix's journals in that lovely compact Phaidon selection, translated by Lucy Norton, I was handing them out like Gideon Bibles. This was before I knew who Delacroix's father was. And I liked that same cool quality in Delacroix's writings too.

Complete opposite of Burke but I like both of them. I shouldn't but I do.

I'm halfway through Middlemarch, which seems even better than the last time I read it, funnier and smarter.

And I finished a book called Among the Mansions of Eden by a journalist named Weddle who lives in Malibu. I can see that it would be tempting to write a book like this. It's quite tame by the standards of the "Stars in Grotesque Gilded Cages/Ooh! Bizarrro Murders" genre. This one gave me the persistent feeling that the eccentric lives that I was reading about were quite normal and the writer was the one who was a kook. I think this is because, well, what sort of person wants to draw a moral from the life of Herbalife founder Mark Hughes? What sort of news is it, really, for this journalist to come back and tell us that opulence doesn't make people happy? So the people who are unhappy in their wretched excess just seem more like us but not in any sort of revelatory way, "Milton Berle was human too!" But more like, "Yeah. So?" I suppose you can keep repackaging these bits of celebrity lore (Buster Keaton's bustup, the Manson killings) and wrapping them, in this instance, into the book's real estate history, but at some point it must be acknowledged that this amounts to putting out the same product with one hand while waggling your finger about it with the other.

So why did I read it? Because I have no taste, as you know. Also I like reading stories about real estate because land is one of those subjects about which people go really really crazy. And I wanted to have a look at a loosely organized nonfiction book, just to assure myself of how badly it could be done and yet still drag a a reader along. I am satisfied.

Caroline is starting the Hilary Spurling's two-volume Life of Matisse.

Also there's an autobiography out by a very famous screenwriter -- one who specializes in the sort of movies that Bruce Willis acts in. I want to read it because the guy sounds like such a miserable, ferocious bastard. So I'll have to remember his name and find the book again. The evils of procrastination!

And Tom sent me a link about Rousseau's dog which I am afraid to open, for fear it might have some dreadful bit of information that will keep me up nights.

And no, this is not an ad for Amazon.

Muriel Spark1914-2006


Friday, April 14, 2006

The Mysterious West

This sticker is actually from the West, not from China. Which strictly speaking is a violation of the rules for this particular feature -- oh! and so early too. This is an American-made product, from "Home Dawgs" in California. But I got it from a machine in a dollar store in Gaithersburg which surely counts for something. Actually my cousin's daughter got it for me, because the first time I tried I got a pit bull. My cousin's daughter is 10 and said she always has good luck with these machines. So she tried and got the one I wanted.

But there is more to it even than that. I have been trying to get a copy of this sticker for a year. How? You ask. Well, the taco place next to the newspaper office where I used to work in Sonoma County had one of these machines. But the one section that didn't work was the one with this sticker, or at least one very like it, featuring a lovable gangster chihuahua. I kept going back, it stayed broken, no one could explain why it was never fixed, I checked out the machines if there happened to be any in the Mexican groceries I went to, none of them had the Chihuahua, though there was plenty of other strange stuff.

He is not an anatomically correct Chihuahua. I'm not sure that's a load-bearing back leg you can see there.

But that's not necessarily bad. Caroline and I have been discussing this guy. I met a woman at the Sunday morning life drawing who insisted that I should look at his site. "He paints like Michelangelo," she said. Caroline summed it up rather succinctly in an email with the phrase "pointless accuracy."

When I popped back to this site to check the URL what it made me think of was not Michelangelo but Rubens. I mean, if you could imagine Rubens without any subject matter. And maybe if I hadn't looked at this other guy I wouldn't have been curious to know why the thought "Rubens without subject matter" occurred to me, and I wouldn't have looked at an image of the Descent From the Cross and realized how huge Rubens's subject matter is.

Caroline asks:

What did you say to the lady who told you about the Michelangelo guy?
Can you be truthful to people like that? I'm always wondering if I go
too far when I open up around people. I think I have this look of
innocence or benevolence-- something benign-- and then these horrible
jokes come out of my mouth and I make people uncomfortable.. That
hasn't quite happened yet.

I have developed a certain ability for kicking a small-talky conversation that is entirely without substance back and forth with total strangers. You do meet people who find it simply inconceivable that you could disagree with their views, or hold entirely different views based on a whole universe of other basic assumptions, I mean epistemological assumptions. The odd thing is that when I think of the people I have known who have been most like this, they have tended to be Roman Catholic and they have tended to be slightly crazy. Boring crazy. I've known sane Catholics who don't have this tendency. But with the ones who do exhibit it, I do not argue, with them or any other form of crazy people.

My grandmother taught me a useful thing: how to quietly observe people. Sooner or later, wherever you are, someone is bound to do something you can laugh about on the way home.

So I use my little cultivated ability to say absolutely nothing, just polite and genial noncommittal fribbles. So I do not say to this woman all that I think of her painter friend. I tell her as much of the truth as I can, but I am not obligated in any way to give her my whole mind about it. If, for example, I used Caroline's phrase "pointless accuracy" in conversation with this woman, she'd go ape shit. She wouldn't see it. She wouldn't see, for example, why I think that "Li'l Vato" has more (or more interesting) subject matter. And because her guy's technical ability is so evident I'd find myself having to explain that no, I'm not churlish, no, I'm not a completely ignorant judge of the technical matters involved, no, I'm not crazy or weird or perverse. And so I'd be called out to defend my views in a trivial and basically one-sided transaction.
This I will not do, as it is undignified. And also pointless. Moreover, I also feel that I didn't start this conversation; we have to be slightly better friends before I start defending my ideas to you.

Caroline has started going to life drawing herself. She notices, with discomfort, that the conversations are dinky and provincial. As I imagine they very likely are. Shawn used to say that he would go to an adult ed-type life drawing workshop only if a policeman with a gun was ordering him to go. And I could see why, but I don't know why none of this bothers me very much. There has so far been only one group that hugely bothered me, that was a group out in Sonoma County. There was the nice group and then there was the old group of troopers who had been doing it together a long time. Each evening that I drew with the old troopers, I found myself loathing them all a little more.

One night one of the members gave a talk on modernism. I guess they did this from time to time. I listened very politely and realized that he didn't know anything about it. But he knew more than most of the people in the room, who, by the way, all affected a sort of "modern" style of drawing or slopping paint on with sticks or doing cunning things with pastel that required taking your shoes off... And it all sort of looked alike, more or less. Not exactly but there was a group mind, definitely. I was not interested in becoming a member of this group mind, as far as drawing went. Anyway, I realized that the last thing that would have ever occurred to anybody was that the mostly quiet black woman who had started showing up could have talked circles around them on this very subject. And I chose to leave it that way. I think, once, at drinks afterwards, I let some knowledge of something slip, some enthusiasm slipped out over some subject not on the unspoken agenda, and was met with a sort of stunned silence.

So as time went by I had less and less to say to anybody there. And I only went because drawing and painting were the sanity of my solitary life. I mean, I had my friends, but on Wednesday and Thursday nights I went out to draw, and on the weekends as often as I could I painted and for those periods of time was completely in the moment. No worries at all. Then one night the same guy who had spoken about modernism came over and asked me how he could help me with my drawing. "What are you trying to achieve?' Jeeeesus Jenny!

I think I stopped going to that group shortly after that. It was hard to give up a night of drawing, But even I have my limits.

Anyway the real reason I got this sticker is because of Caroline. She knows why.

Friday Dog Follies

Sweetie spends a lot of her apartment time in some variant of this position.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Gossip and Extortion

Don't know if you caught the story about the Page Six writer for the New York Post who got caught extorting money from some New York billionaire. (Here it is in Editor & Publisher. You can find it in the LA Times too but I won't link to them since they hired that pinhead Jonah Goldberg. I'm watching Keith Olbermann interview some totally amoral guy from the Hollywood Reporter. And I don't mean amoral in a good way.

I just wanted to point out that such arrangements were common in New York in the pre-Civil War era. Charles Dickens observed it and wrote about it in Martin Chuzzlewit. It was one of many practices that disgusted him about the U.S.

`You haven't got another boy to spare, p'raps, cap'en?' said the colonel, in a tone almost amounting to severity.

`I guess there air a dozen if you want 'em, colonel,' said the captain.

`One moderate big 'un could convey a dozen champagne, perhaps,' observed the colonel, musing, `to my office. You said a spanking run, I think?'

`Well, so I did,' was the reply.

`It's very nigh, you know,' observed the colonel. `I'm glad it was a spanking run, cap'en. Don't mind about quarts if you're short of 'em. The boy can as well bring four-and-twenty pints, and travel twice as once.--A first-rate spanker, cap'en, was it? Yes?'

`A most e -- tarnal spanker,' said the skipper.

`I admire at your good fortun, cap'en. You might loan me a corkscrew at the same time, and half-a-dozen glasses if you liked. However bad the elements combine against my country's noble packetship, the Screw, sir,' said the colonel, turning to Martin, and drawing a flourish on the surface of the deck with his cane, `her passage either way is almost certain to eventuate a spanker!'

The captain, who had the Sewer below at that moment, lunching expensively in one cabin, while the amiable Stabber was drinking himself into a state of blind madness in another, took a cordial leave of his friend the colonel, and hurried away to dispatch the champagne: well knowing (as it afterwards appeared) that if he failed to conciliate the editor of the Rowdy Journal, that potentate would denounce him and his ship in large capitals before he was a day older; and would probably assault the memory of his mother also, who had not been dead more than twenty years.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Mysterious West

You can open him up and take out his organs.

Every shopping center here has a Dollar Store. I go into them to bewilder myself. Cheap Chinese stores, like the ones they have in Chinatowns in San Francisco and New York, used to have all these things I liked -- bamboo steamers, lovely blue and white dishes, these black hardbound journals that I was for a long time addicted to writing in, pencil cases, lacquered chopsticks. Now they cater to some notion of Western taste that doesn't flatter us at all, I'm afraid. I suppose Japanese people watching the Mikado must have been puzzled and appalled, back in the day, as I am now by the things I find in Dollar Stores.

Casual Friday

Bit of dogblogging. It may become a regular feature, if I get any encouragement at all.

This is Misha, the big fat idiot. My father just went out to the store and this is what she does when he goes out, stare mournfully out the window. If she didn't fling herself about the car and bark at every pedestrian in sight she could have gone with him. Her response to everything is totally over the top. She hurls her not inconsiderable weight at you when you get home, when it's time for food she goes thundering into the kitchen, she stares at you expectantly and baldly, she galumps about the apartment at all hours and shrieks when we arrive at the park even though she only wants to walk 100 yards.

Everything is exaggerated with her except when she has a secret.

When she has a secret she is very very very quiet. Her main secret is the mysterious rite in the bathroom involving the sacrifice of shredded tissues and a libation from the ever renewing fountain of slurpiness. "She knows perfectly well when she's doing wrong," says my father.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Toilet Worship

As St. Augustine would say, there is no reason to think that God is any less present in a toilet than anywhere else -- your pocket, your pinky toe, another galaxy that we don't even know about.

1) The Dada show is on at the National Gallery in Washington. Roy at Alicublog links to some bint who finds it scandalous -- what are we at now? 90 years later?

It reminds me of a phrase that used to be commonly said about contemporary Saudi Arabia: "Hurtling from the 13th century into the 14th."

Fresh from having read this comment on the threat that Dada poses to our Way of Life,,

Nothing quite matches the hilarity of one of [National Review Online}'s professional anaesthetes calling anyone else "propagandists," but that Duchamp's urinal is the wellspring of her rage is also very rich.

2) I drop in at the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat which was, I think, the first place to report the theft, from a driveway in the city of Sonoma, of Jerry Garcia's salmon-colored toilet.

3) Also the day before, the results of a new medical study were released that found that prayer does not actually save the lives of sick people. I was particularly struck by this quotation, which I got from driftglass but which can be found lots of places.

The largest study yet on the therapeutic power of prayer by strangers has found that it provided no benefit to the recovery of patients who had undergone cardiac bypass surgery.

In an unexpected twist, patients who knew prayers were being said for them had more complications after surgery than those who did not know, researchers reported Thursday.

The complications were minor, and doctors surmised that they could have been caused by the increased stress on patients worried that their conditions were so bad they needed prayers.

Father Dean Marek, a Catholic priest who was involved in the research, said he wasn't surprised by the results.

"I am always a little leery about intercessory prayer," said Marek, director of chaplain services at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "What we have in mind for someone else may not be what they have in mind for themselves…. It is clearly manipulative of divine action and personal choice."[Emphasis mine - kp]

I feel that these three things are somehow all related. In the spiritual realm. In a good way.

John McGahern 1934-2006

And to think he never got the Booker Prize. That tells you something about the Booker Prize. Well, he's taken his place among the immortals.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Every Part of the Buffalo

Oh don't get carried away applauding. I still don't have a job but at least I got out of the house and took a long editing test. The fact that I "edit" for a living does make the typos here even more of an embarrassment, I won't deny it when you look me straight in the face like that. The editing tests required two trips to Virginia, a long commute each way. But I think I did OK on teh [just kidding! just kidding!] tests and it was actually pretty there, right on the river and it was spring.

On another fine spring day this week I ran around on some errands with my cousin. We haven't spent a lot of time together, but we are definitely family and we find each other hilarious, so it's quality time. The result is that I've had more laughs than I've had for a few weeks.

My mother, still thinking of the particularly rough week I had last week and my generally demoralized state (cabin fever, broke, the whole guilt/rage thing that happens when you live with a parent etc.) sent me this note:

The next time you are afflicted with thoughts of low
self esteem or self worth or whatever the term is, try
this: Recall all the good things you have done for
others, dogs, cats, earthworms, people, not fighting
with your pa despite extreme provocation and so forth.
Work backwards from the moment. Remember this.

I started watching a natural world tv programme last
week but turned it off after about 10 minutes. If you
thought life as an emperor penguin was bad, how about
this there are about 3 million bats living in a cave
in Borneo or somewhere, and the guano is about 100
metres high. In this mountain of bat shit, live about
30 million cockroaches, who dine on it. Sorry...

Yeah good deeds yadda yadda whatever then I notice that I'm trying to picture in my mind what all that bat guano looks like. I'm supposed to remember my good deeds to earthworms (which consist of mostly trying not to step on them but that's more for my sake than theirs). But I keep thinking about my mother encountering this information about bat guano and cockroaches. And then I remember this story she told me about when she was in high school. She doesn't talk about the past much because she is more of an In the Now kind of person. Anyway when she was in high school -- a girls' school in Kingston, Jamaica, her class was reading the Canterbury Tales. The Miller's Tale was included but in a very bowdlerized edition. "Well, of course Patsy and I were dying to know what had been cut out." So they, being clever and resourceful, went to the library and got hold of an uncensored copy of the Miller's Tale and read "...and it was this thing about one fellow farting in the other man's face and we were shocked! 'What? Oh! Disgusting!'"

But when I got home from these excursions the dogs were a bit desperate. No, on Thursday they were beyond desperate. Now, I was not gone for more than six hours and had taken them on a long walk before. But nevertheless there were seven patches of poop and a big puddle of pee to be cleaned up. Sweetie had diarrhea so her propensity to go under my father's desk is a bit problematic -- the stuff ends up all over the computer cables.

So after my long day and taking them out, before I could do anything else I had to clean all this up. It was a huge mess, especially under the desk and all over the cables, and she narrowly missed a little shelf of books sitting on the floor. (She also chewed a corner of my copy of The Golden Notebook -- an excellent literary choice, Sweetie.)

Last night I was spared. I took them out for their favorite local walk along the Lake of Fug and the Squirrely Woods. And wrote to my mother reporting on encouraging developments. And of course the seven piles of dog crap. Because if I don't whine I'm not sure she'll know it's me. Now, I'm not sure my mother ever gets demoralized, or is ever afflicted with self-doubt. Like if we're driving somewhere and we get lost it's my fault. But that's OK because I have enough for both of us.

She replied that I will be rewarded for my services to dogs. And concluded with:

Remember you've done a lot of good things, and be glad
you do not live in a cave in Borneo.

This reminds me of how you always hear (and I don't doubt it) that Native Americans had a use for every part of the buffalo. My mother practices more and more a similar wise economy with the weirder materials of experience. She probably hit the remote right after the words "30 million cockroaches." But she carried away the moral, and look, it turned out to be useful.