Friday, March 20, 2009

White House greenhouse

Michelle Obama puts a vegetable garden in the White House lawn. At 1,100 square feet, it's a lot bigger than anything I could handle, but apparently she'll have help.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sorry, I can't shut up about Seattle P-I

I guess it's a delayed reaction to the transition at the Cap Times. But I'm in good company.

Seattle P-I lists its own death

Thanks to Seattle's The Stranger for posting a picture of the print version of the listing on its blog.

I guess whoever puts together the death listings for the newspaper - I'm sorry, news product - wasn't buying this stuff about Seattle P-I continuing its life, just in another format. It is a little difficult to keep living when you suddenly lose 87 percent of your body.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Yup, there go the journalists

At The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Managers said the site will have an editorial staff of 20, down from more than 150." Also,
The site won't have specific reporters, editors or producers -- all staff are expected to write, edit, take photos, shoot video and produce multimedia, according to a statement from Michelle Nicolosi, who will lead the site as executive producer.
Wait a minute, sounds like my job. Hired as a writer and copyeditor, but generally not allowed to write or copyedit. Stuck doing video production all day, which I've never had much desire to do and for which I never received training. As a result, videos really not that good, but boy I've gotten fast at producing them. Want to hire me, Michelle Nicolosi?

Goodbye, Seattle P-I

The Seattle Post Intelligencer ceases print publication tomorrow. The blame for its demise, I think, can be found in the last word of the third paragraph:
The company, however, said it will maintain seattlepi.com, making it the nation's largest daily newspaper to shift to an entirely digital news product. [emphasis added]

If the fourth estate is to be maintained, we need to stop thinking of the newspaper as a "product." ("Product," for those who haven't heard, is capitalist shorthand for any means to the end of making money.) As long as we view the conveyance of news as a "product" that the investor can interchange with any other "product" to make money – preferably bigger and bigger stacks of money – we run the risk of having no news at all.

People don't expect public broadcasting, Boys & Girls Clubs, or schools to make money. (Wait, forget I said schools. Let's recast that to to "Sane people don't expect ...") Can we build news organizations along similar lines?

As the article continues, it gets worse:

[Steven Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers] continued: "The Web is first and foremost a community platform, so we'll be featuring new columns from prominent Seattle residents; more than 150 reader blogs, community databases and photo galleries. We'll also be linking to the great work of other Web sites and blogs in the community."

In other words, the Web site will be chock-full of content for which Hearst Newspapers pays absolutely no money.

The article doesn't talk about layoffs, but we can infer that they're planned, despite the printing costs that Hearst will be saving when it ceases print publication. Seattle P-I editor and publisher Roger Oglesby told staff this morning:
This is a hard day for all of us. We were fortunate to be part of a great newspaper with a great tradition, and we've been blessed to be part of a wonderful group of talented people. We all hate to see that end. [emphasis added]

Guess it's just as well I didn't go to J school for that master's.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sadness, anger, rage, despair (it's much better than you think)

Thanks to the time change and a migraine that had necessitated afternoon caffeine consumption, I had trouble falling asleep on Sunday night. I was also fretting about work, and how dreadful my job is, and wondering the likelihood of finding something that would both help me live and contribute to my reasons for living. I thought about how I used to try to start my day with a positive thought, but it didn’t really work for me in the long run, instead leading to dissatisfaction and frustration. Someone wiser than me may, one day, reveal to me that I was going about it the wrong way; certainly, fools will try to convince me of the same.

I have found that a certain level of discontent is more likely to lead to my happiness than a concerted effort at acceptance of life on life’s terms. I think this is one of those ironies that Zen teachers love. Allowing myself to be reasonably discontent is more accepting of reality than trying to become accepting of reality and, thus, content with it.

I wouldn’t feel right without a little discontent. The world is full of unfair things, like lupus, character assassination, war and genocide. I feel more balanced when I don’t only focus on the things that make me happy.

I was thinking about this Sunday night and I began to brainstorm about starting a blog called … Well, I won’t tell you the name now, since I still might start it, and I don’t want some Web crawler to snatch the name. But the basic gist was a sort of anger-positive daily meditation for those who find more fulfillment in discontent than in contentedness.

This idea gave me a good amount of hope and I fell asleep. The next morning, I told myself that I needed to finish another Web site I’m working on before I’m allowed to start the new project, and this would have proven great inspiration for me to finish that other Web site, had not life – or death, more precisely – intervened.

As I was walking out of the office today, it occurred to me that I haven’t experienced a moment of anger since Tuesday morning, when it hit me what might be happening with Elizabeth.

There was a time when I would have thought that this was a lesson from God to stop being angry, ever, and I would have pledged myself to become a different person, one who focused only on gifts like sunshine and crocuses and ignored gifts like poison ivy and news about financial embezzlement.

I used to think anger was a problem, because I seemed to be angry all the time and it interfered with my life. I talked with a therapist about this – the only therapist I have ever liked because he never once evinced a nurse-like sympathy for my pain or pressured me to discuss sadness – and two things became obvious. First, that my problem wasn’t anger; it was rage. Second, that I preferred rage to despair, which seemed to be my only other option at the time, and I was hoping that rage would displace despair. But what I said to him was, “If I stay angry enough, I won’t fall into sadness.”

It appears that the opposite is true, too – that if I’m sad enough, I’ll forget to get angry. If ever there was a sure sign of mourning, it’s when a career malcontent goes an entire day without making a snarky remark about her perceived political opponents, religious detractors, intellectual inferiors, or her less-preferred economic and social systems.

So I won’t be starting my malcontent’s daily meditation blog today.

This is not one of those ill-considered resolutions that one makes upon the death of a loved one to view life in a whole new way, to be positive and to love on everyone for the loved one’s sake. I am making no resolutions to try to love life like her or to become a Trappist monk, even though we’ve both admired the lifestyle. I am just, for right now, too sad to be dissatisfied.

Elizabeth was far more patient than me and, while people often boggled her as much as they did me, she was better at reserving judgment. As my first and long-time spiritual companion, she introduced me to the idea of “that of God in everyone,” and I think she was better at seeing it than I am – though I have gotten better at it over the years.

Patient or not, she definitely enjoyed my cynicism (as long as it was reasonable) and got laughs out of my snarkiness (as long as it wasn’t demeaning). I guess that’s part of seeing that of God in everyone: accepting that some of us express our love for life and humanity in contrary ways.

So I won’t feel any guilt when my vitriol begins its daily exercise again. Instead I will think of it as a little and paramount gift, one that Elizabeth’s companionship on my spiritual journey helped me to appreciate.

More thanks to Elizabeth

Elizabeth posted this story to Facebook a few months ago. I share it because it says what I always mean to say; but I say it with anger, and this does not.

Sufi Tale: The Baby Elephant

Once upon a time there was a baby elephant who heard someone say: "Look, there is a mouse." The person who said it was looking at a mouse-- but the elephant thought that he was referring to him.

Now, there were very few mice in that country, and in any case they tended to stay in their holes, and their voices were not very loud. But the baby elephant thundered around, ecstatic at his discovery, "I am a mouse!"

He said it so loudly and so often, and to so many people that-- believe it or not-- there is now an entire country where almost everyone believes that elephants, and particularly baby elephants, are mice.

It is true that from time to time mice have tried to remonstrate with those who hold the majority belief: but they have always been put to flight.

And if anyone ever wants to reopen the question of mice and elephants in those parts, he had better have a good reason, strong nerves and an effective means of putting his case.

From "Wisdom of the Idiots" by Idries Shah

"From whom is any cyclist in his right mind going to accept a lift?"

A fellow cyclist pointed me to this 1955 film by British Railways about London cyclists railroading to Rugby to continue their Sunday cycling tour. I love it. A hundred miles on those behemoths and they don't even look like they break a sweat. Equally endearing is the horror expressed at the thought of putting a bicycle in a car. If only the same horror were so pervasive today.



My new motto: "A cycling tour without a map is like new potatoes without mint."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In memorium: Elizabeth Lyzenga Waterman August 7, 1974 - March 10, 2009

My friend and freshwomyn-year roommate Elizabeth died last night after a long and wretched illness. Here is an insufficient tribute to her.

Because I was a wannabe polyglot with a voracious appetite for learning how to say stupid and useless things in many languages, she taught me this song one evening when we were walking back to our dorm:



(Today is the first time I saw the video, and ain't it weird.)

Here's the words, if you'd like to learn it. I only ever clinched the first verse, but I sing it to this day when I want to annoy myself, annoy others, or entertain myself when I am experiencing the temperament of a 5-year-old child, which is often.
Qui a eu cette idée folle
Un jour d'inventer l'école ?
Qui a eu cette idée folle
Un jour d'inventer l'école ?
C'est ce sacré Charlemagne
Sacré Charlemagne
De nous laisser dans la vie
Que les dimanches, les jeudis
De nous laisser dans la vie
Que les dimanches, les jeudis
C'est ce sacré Charlemagne
Sacré Charlemagne

Ce fils de Pépin le Bref
Nous donne beaucoup d'ennuis
Et nous avons cent griefs
Contre, contre, contre lui

Qui a eu cette idée folle
Un jour d'inventer l'école ?
Qui a eu cette idée folle
Un jour d'inventer l'école ?
C'est ce sacré Charlemagne
Sacré Charlemagne

Participe passé
4 et 4 font 8
Leçon de français
De mathématiques
Que de, que de, travail, travail
Sacré sacré sacré sacré sacré Charlemagne

Il aurait dû caresser
Longtemps sa barbe fleurie
Il aurait dû caresser
Longtemps sa barbe fleurie
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne
Sacré Charlemagne
Au lieu de nous ennuyer
Avec la géographie
Au lieu de nous ennuyer
Avec la géographie
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne
Sacré Charlemagne

Il n'avait qu'à s'occuper
De batailles et de chasse
Nous n'serions pas obligés
D'aller chaque jour en classe
Il faut apprendre à compter
Et faire des tas de dictées
Il faut apprendre à compter
Et faire des tas de dictées
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne
Sacré Charlemagne

Participe passé
Participe passé
4 et 4 font 8
4 et 4 font 8
Leçon de français
Leçon de français
De mathématiques
De mathématiques
Que de, que de, travail, travail
Sacré sacré sacré sacré sacré Charlemagne

Car sans lui dans notre vie
Il n'y aurait que des jeudis
Car sans lui dans notre vie
Il n'y aurait que des jeudis
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne
Oh oh sacré Charlemagne…

The first verse means:
Who had this stupid idea one day to invent school?
Who had this stupid idea one day to invent school?
It was bloody Charlemagne.
Bloody Charlemagne!

"Sacré" literally means "sacred," but can be used as a mild expletive, the way that "holy" is sometimes used in English. But although one might say "Holy crap!" or "Holy donuts!," I've never heard anyone say anything that would lead me to believe that "Holy Charlemagne" would be a fair translation.

"Bloody" may not be quite right, either, since no one says it in the United States and, in the United Kingdom, I understand that it's too foul to include in a children's song. But that's what Eliz and I settled upon, so that's what I'll stick with.

Monday, March 9, 2009

That's so kiapita

I realize I'm not in the target demographic for these public service announcements, but they're freakin' hilarious.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cool, improperly named rats

I guess my mind has become an interesting place to dwell again, because I can't seem to stop blogging today. I ran across this article in the archives of The New York Times today. It's about Gambian pouched rats being trained to detect landmines. Although they are huge by rodent standards (up to 9 pounds, the size of a miniature dachsund), they are small enough that they don't set off the landmines. And they're more focused than dogs, so they do a better job than landmine-detecting dachsunds, which would get bored and start digging up the landmines, which would be an altogether bad scene.

They are supercute, but should not be used to detect landmines in Florida, where they're an invasive species. You can go here to learn more about the hero rats.

I got to the Gambian rats while looking up info about banana rats, which are also not really rats, but a variety of rodent that lives in Cuba. They are also pretty cute.

Bryn Mawr alumna in the news

Somehow I don't think this notable Mawrter will make it into the newsletter for prospective students.

The Condition

I recently finished reading The Condition by Jennifer Haigh, which I had picked up off the community bookshelf in the Amtrak station in Denver just after Christmas. I don't know if the book itself was pretentious, or just the picture of Ms. Haigh on the back jacket flap. That could have colored the whole reading.

Perhaps the problem lies with me, who doesn't have a lot of innate sympathy for the struggles of people who own vacation homes on New England beaches and can afford to spend their entire summers there. Not that I can't develop sympathy for them; I just don't naturally think, "Wow, those people must have a hard life."

It doesn't help that Haigh made the central character of the book -- the one around whom the entire plot twists -- the least sympathetic. One wonders if this was a natural aspect of the character's personality, as Haigh suggested, or whether it was Haigh's inability to fully sympathize with someone who is a statistical anomaly.

Just so you're not completely in the dark and wondering, you can read a preview of the book here, or I can explain to you that the central character has a genetic aberration known as Turner's syndrome, in which a woman has only one complete X chromosome. (She may have a second, incomplete X chromosome, but this isn't necessarily the case.) Everyone in her family treats her as if she's from another planet, and Haigh does, too.

I cared so little about the character Haigh painted that the only real reason I got through the book was that the train I was on between Denver and Chicago had an ice-storm-induced eight-hour delay. By the time I got off the train, I was far enough into it that I thought I should finish it. A completionist, I suppose.

I read most of the rest during a night of insomnia. But I found myself skipping chapters to find out whether her brother would get back with his boyfriend, and then I stopped a few chapters short of the end when I knew the answer. Once that was known, I felt no concern for the fate of the other characters. Their stories had stopped being compelling -- well, those that ever had been.

I went back and read the skipped parts and the last chapter last week when I had to stay up late drinking a gallon of horrible-tasting liquid in preparation for a colonoscopy. Everything that happened in those chapters is exactly what one would have expected, which is either to Haigh's credit for creating consistent characters, or to her detriment for creating a story that lacks dramatic tension. Book groups: Discuss!