header

Looking for financial advice, life coaching or a new mantra? Good luck finding it elsewhere. Drinks Before Dinner is the one-stop shopper’s site for small talk. If you're a fiction reader, please visit my author website at www.bwknister.com



Thursday, August 19, 2010

WHEN BEING RIGHT IS NOT RIGHT ENOUGH

--Uh oh, you printed something off the Internet. Never a good sign.
--Just a little confessional. An interlude to share during drinks.
--Who’s the confessor?
--Our good friend Congressman Bob Inglis, Republican from South Carolina. But only for a few more weeks.
--Whoa, South Carolina. That requires wine, I’ll be right back.

--OK, what’s the latest from Bubba Bob Inglis?
--He’s had it, he’s kaput, out of a job. He lost the primary to a Tea Party type.
--What happened?
--He told his constituents to turn off Glenn Beck, and he failed to use the S word about Obama.
--The S word would be Socialist?
--Correct. When pushed to describe Obama as a socialist, Inglis waffled. All he’d say was that Obama, quote, “wants a very large government that I don’t think will work and that spends too much and it’s inefficient and it compromises freedom and it’s not the way we want to go.” It says his audiences paid no attention because they were just listening for the S word. When he didn’t use it, they looked disappointed.
--Wasn’t Inglis one of the super-Christians who tried to impeach Clinton?
--The same. One of the meanest of the mean. But now he feels contrite. Looking back as he cleans out his desk, he’s sorry.
--Really? He got religion?
--Yes, and he got it from Clinton, no less. Inglis says he heard Clinton say at some prayer breakfast that “the most violated commandment in Washington is ‘Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.’”
--Which is why he wouldn’t call Obama a socialist.
--Exactly.
--I don’t believe it.
--I do. He’s not going back to Congress. That means he’s free to be honest.
--I’m sorry, honey, I thought you knew this. Politicians from South Carolina are all vetted before running. The process is rigorous and wide-ranging. If the person wishing to run for office reveals a capacity for higher-order cognitive functions, he’s “de-selected.” That’s the term when you get dropped by the party. For obvious reasons, the vetting is done by people from out-of-state.
--OK, that makes sense. Because it says here Inglis knew an ill wind was blowing his way back in ’09. That means cognition was operating. It says he saw the ill wind at a GOP retreat. He made a presentation to the group, explaining how a poll had asked Americans to rate themselves in terms of conservatism. The scale was one to ten, one being Mao, ten being somewhere to the right of Louis Quatorz. The average was 5.6. Those polled thought House Republicans were about 6.5, and Democrats 4.3. This is good news, Inglis said. It means Republican House members are closer to the general public’s position than Democrats are. He told his audience it meant Republicans could keep to the right, “without driving off the road.” His audience greeted this with “stony faces.”
--Why?
--I guess they resented the implication that it was possible to drive your pickup too far to the right. He says the crowd made him think of the crowd getting ready to stone the sacrificial victim in Shirley Jackson’s story, “The Lottery.” The speaker who followed Inglis at the retreat said—let me find it—“On Bob’s ideological spectrum, I’m a 10.” For this the crowd went wild.
--And now Inglis feels bad about hounding Clinton.
--Yeah. I suppose it’s more of that bad-for-reelection brain activity and moral reflection. You know, the thing about bearing false witness. Inglis now regrets all the lies his Lottery crowd told about Whitewater. You remember Whitewater. And about all the innuendo regarding Vince Foster’s death. You remember Vince, I’m sure.
--Since his place at the public trough is now being filled with teabags, what do you think Inglis will do?
--Good question. My guess is, with all that cognition, there’s a think-tank in his future.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I SPY

As in spyware, malware, mal a la teteware.
The recent sweep that netted a posse of Soviet-era spies seems to have come up one short. That would be the viral mole who's holed up in my computer. When he is found and traded for a good hitter to fill a slot at the end of the Detroit Tigers batting order, Drinks Before Dinner will be back in business.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

RECIPROCITY



Barbara has the week off. If she didn't, she might caution against writing on something about which I know so little. But since that admonishment applies to almost everything in Drinks Before Dinner, onward and upward



























Glenn Beck:
“When I see a 9/11 victim family on television, or whatever, I’m just like, ‘Oh shut up.’ I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining.”

“The only [Katrina victims] we’re seeing on television are the scumbags.”

Michele Bachmann:
“I don’t know where we’re going to get all this money because we’re running out of rich people in this country.”

Rush Limbaugh:
“We’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the U.S. Income Tax.”

Ann Coulter:
“I don’t really like to think of it as a murder. It was terminating [Dr. George] Tiller in the 203rd trimester…. I am personally opposed to shooting abortionists, but I don’t want to impose my moral values on others.”

“There are a lot of bad Republicans. There are no good Democrats.”

Rand Paul:
(on BP) “Sometimes, accidents just happen.”

No to health care reform. No to financial reform. No to environmental legislation. No to temporarily suspending further drilling in the Gulf. No to extending unemployment benefits.

The quotes above from high-profile voices in the Republican Party, along with that party’s unwavering “no” votes in Congress during the last eighteen months cannot be faulted for inconsistency or uncertainty. The party and those voicing its point of view present a unified summary judgment on what makes human beings tick.

Whether it’s the professorial postures struck by Newt Gingrich, the philosophical cheerleading of Ayn Rand’s supporters, or the junkyard-dog approach to conducting the nation’s business perfected by a Mitch McConnell or Richard Shelby, Republicans see human nature in clear terms.

According to the right, human beings thrive when allowed to pursue their self-interest. Logically (goes the argument), entities created by human beings represent extensions of themselves. That is, corporations and profit-driven institutions equal manifestations of human will. Efforts—especially government efforts-- to regulate or control these acts of human will are at best the product of ignorance, at worst a perverse attempt to thwart the innate drive for self-expression and perfection. The quintessential act of this self-expression, and the most human of all focused activity is the business of making money.

Generally, this view takes its cue from Adam Smith's "invisible hand," matched with a nineteenth-century reading of Darwin. Proponents of Social Darwinism assert that natural selection applies not just to individuals, but to races, societies and nations. Remove all impediments to human will, and “successful” people will thrive, while others go to the wall, which is where nature intends for them to go. In concert with “the white man’s burden,” Social Darwinism served Colonialism well.

Such a view applies an early reading of Darwin to the human organism. It sees our species in terms of club-wielding Flintstones in competition for food and females, but this reading has since been rejected by rational people. Even without later refinements made to evolutionary theory, technology alone has rendered it obsolete: it ignores the functional equality of a small woman’s index finger compared to that of a sumo wrestler when pushing a button in, say, a nuclear missile silo.

In the Sixties, British biologist William Hamilton founded studies in animal behavior that later became widely known through E.O. Wilson’s book Sociobiology. In 1964, Hamilton put forth a hypothesis that came to be known as Hamilton’s rule. In the simplest terms, the rule says that we practice altruism (the devil itself to Ayn Rand’s disciples, and to most right wingers) to those whose survival is needed as insurance that our own genes will survive.

In short, you look after kinfolk who carry your genetic code, and you do it for reasons of self-interest. Are you your brother’s keeper? Should you lay down your life for your brother? In genetic terms, the answer is yes, but only for two brothers, or for four cousins, because they will carry forward your genes.

This “rule” has opened the door for further study that seeks to explain acts of generosity and kindness (and ultimately the origins of morality) in terms of evolution.

If all this means anything to you, you can see why any success in locating an evolutionary basis for things like social justice and generosity would cause most conservatives to go ballistic. Provide a verifiable, science-based justification for “doing good” in liberal terms, and the “up yours, Jack, I’ve got mine” philosophy has the rug pulled out from under it.

The champion of this effort is Robert Trivers, an eccentric genius whose early career included advanced study (and self-taught mastery) of multiple disciplines, dangerous breakdowns resulting from bi-polar disorder, radical politics, and much else. Out of this hodgepodge, Trivers finally focused on the knotty question of why it is that animals often come to the aid of others to whom they are not related, sometimes even to members of other species. He refers to it as “the evolution of reciprocal altruism.”

It’s one thing to save your brother from drowning, and thereby, “rescue” copies of your own genes for the future, but why jump in to save a stranger?

Trivers’ studies include not just math (he taught himself calculus at fourteen), biology and psychology, but also history and anthropology. From a growing body of data, what he has come to believe is that, in the primordial past, human evolution rewarded those who practiced kindness in tribal society by establishing a debt of gratitude. If I save you and yours, you are more likely, should the need arise, to save me and mine.
No doubt an Ayn Rander or a latter-day Newt Gingrich or a trickle-down economist like Arthur Laffer will dream up some way to finesse or dismiss this new perspective. Being generous and looking out for others besides those in one’s tiny corner of the gene pool is not compatible with their world view. But if Trivers’ ideas ever capture the popular imagination, “enlightened selfishness” is going to sound more like its true self: a hollow falsehood not even applicable in terms of self-interest.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

SPIES AND WHALES

--It’s a beautiful evening. Want to sit on the patio?
--You go ahead.
--What’s wrong?
--No, go on ahead, I’m fine. I just want to sit here.
--Come on, fess up. What’s wrong?
--“Fess up.” That’s an apt phrase. Eleven Russians were arrested for spying this week. The cold war ended twenty years ago, but they were ordered to maintain their deep-cover mole status anyway.
--I read about it. They were all posing as suburbanites.
--The FBI’s been tracking them for seven years. Seven years, Barbara.
--So what? You thought the Russkies just Fed-Xed all their spycams and shotgun mics back to Moscow? Their wigs and fake beards?
--Apparently, they never learned anything to pass along.
--Well, isn’t that a good thing?
--One of them tried to buy a cell phone. She gave her address as Fake Street. That’s how the crack FBI operatives nabbed her. The only reason the Bureau sprang into action is because one of the others bought a one-way ticket to Cyprus. You can’t invest seven years of taxpayers’ money on monitoring spies who haven’t done any actual spying without making an arrest.
--And this is why you won’t come outside to enjoy a nice summer evening in Michigan? What do I have to do, sweep the patio for bugs and cameras?
--What’s depressing is that “experts” think the spies were kept in place to the tune of millions of rubles just to uphold tradition.
--The spy tradition.
--Yes. Instead of change, tradition. And of course the logical extension is to conclude our own tradition also had to be maintained. Seven years of watching suburbanite spies who never gathered any info worth sending back. And the finance reform legislation has no teeth. Nothing will change in any significant way, so the tradition of Wall Street scams will continue. Just like the drill-baby-drill tradition in the Gulf.
--You really should come outside.
--I will. And after reading about spies, I made the mistake of turning on the TV. Just in time to see footage taken from a plane off the coast of Texas. The footage showed a pod of dolphins. Dead together in the dead sea. Their brains are as big as ours. They can recognize themselves in a mirror. They grasp abstractions. I couldn’t watch and turned it off.
--Then you came in here to be with your thoughts.
--Do you ever have a sense of an ending? Of things getting ready to be over?
--When I do, I go outside to watch evening light in the trees. I recommend it.
--You go on. I’ll be there soon.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

THE SPARTAN AND THE PRESIDENT: SECOND THOUGHTS











--Sweetheart, you’re talking to yourself again.
--I was dressing myself down. I was taking myself out to the woodshed.
--Please don’t tell me you forgot to turn off the coffee maker again. We don’t need any more caffeinated tar.
--Nope, on top of the coffee maker.
--But you needed dressing down. Discipline.
--That’s it, I lack discipline. Toughness and grit. Those are the qualities in short supply with me. But not with General Stanley McChrystal. I just read his discipline level allows him only one meal a day.
--Well, he’ll have lots more time for the gym now. Maybe he can add a snack.
--He will, that’s true. Although they run a pretty tight ship at these cable networks. I imagine he’ll be spending lots of time there soon.
--You see him doing color commentary on the war in Afghanistan?
--Almost certainly. After all, TV has welcomed back Elliot Spitzer. Notice how they’ve been rehabilitating him lately? He has his own show now. I see the same thing figuring for McChrystal.
--Ah well. Life goes on. But I don’t see how this calls for you to dress yourself down.
--I commented on a blogger’s posting yesterday. Mature Landscaping, very astute, very capable. She’d read the article in Rolling Stone that got the general fired. She thought the journalist Michael Hastings had no business publishing such a piece in wartime. And she thought McChrystal was wrong to talk to the guy.
--I can’t agree about not publishing. How about [Mayor Kwame] Kilpatrick? If the Free Press hadn’t published those text messages to his lover, he’d still be in office instead of prison.
--True. I was going to say that’s different because Kilpatrick’s a civilian, but it’s not. McChrystal’s most certainly a politician, too. That’s why I’ve been beating up on myself.
--I see there’s more. Let me get my coffee.

--OK. You needed to give yourself a good talking-to because you failed to realize McChrystal’s a politician.
--Exactly. In my comment to Mature Landscaping, I lamented the level of stupidity being demonstrated by our leaders. By Bush getting us into a pointless war in Iraq. By Governor Sanford from the great state of South Carolina imagining he could conceal a visit to his South American mistress by claiming he was going camping. By the CEO of BP making every possible public-relations mistake possible—and now by McChrystal being stupid enough to talk to a Rolling Stone journalist.
--You think he did it on purpose? To get himself cashiered?
--Thanks to Brian Dickerson’s column in today’s Free Press, yes I do. He set me straight. Whereas I thought it depressing as hell to see a four-star general being stupid, Dickerson sees a four-star general as someone who can’t get where he is without being night-and-day vigilant regarding the chain of command. This has to be true, don’t you think? Unless Old Boy ties and nepotism are rampant in the military, I think you have to assume people don’t achieve that level of professional success without being fine-tuned in political terms. Without always knowing who’s boss, and what needs to be said or left unsaid.
--My experience at the UAW pretty much fits with what you say.
--Mine as a professor as well. No one gets a promotion simply on the basis of scholarship, or good teaching. You can serve on all committees you like, but it's always important to keep happy those who make such decisions. Department chairs, deans, the provost. In other words, the chain of command.
--If I understand this, you now think McChrystal gamed the system. You think he played the journalist, and organized his inner circle to do the same. It was orchestrated.
--Thanks to Brian Dickerson, yes I do. “McChrystal spent five years as chief of the Pentagon’s elite secret operations unit.” And this guy spills his guts to a journalist from Rolling Stone inadvertently? In a moment of inattention? After dinner, I’ll be down in the basement with my flagellum, pounding some sense into me.
--Fine, but don’t forget tomorrow’s junk day, don’t hurt yourself. You need to get those barrels out for pickup.
--I’ll remember. Jokes aside, I am ashamed of myself for being so na├»ve.
--You know? In a way, it means you still have some little piece of idealism left. It didn’t automatically occur to you that deviousness and skullduggery was at work with the general.
--That’s true, but it’s no comfort. McChrystal is the one who designed the current counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. He seems to have arranged a leak last year that would make it much more difficult for Obama & Co to not raise troop levels and expand the war. Now, McChrystal must see his plan isn’t going to work. Time to bail. Time to offer ramrod-stiff “analysis” between commercials. And explain why someone else has failed in Afghanistan.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A DAY AT THE RACES


















In recent days, BP CEO Tony Hayward has taken what few rational Americans would begrudge him—a break back in England from the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Except Mr. Hayward has a gift for getting it wrong. He took his break in a way guaranteed to dig his Stateside public relations hole even deeper: racing his 52-foot yacht Bob. From the position of average Americans, the most telling feature of this latest gaffe, and others by BP’s Swedish board chairman, is simply this: it underscores that in the new millenium, class distinctions in the Old World remain firmly rooted. So much so as to blind corporate plutocrats to any idea of how their words and deeds are perceived by those who don't belong to their "set." If any of us thinks European society no longer maintains sharp divisions based on privilege, the toffs at BP have set us straight.

--Tony! My God, what a surprise.
--Trevor! When was it last, Ascot? Boxing Day? I hope not, I was rather in my cups, I should think.
--No, actually, it was the day you sacked me. Last year. We were reviewing those Deepwater Horizon schematics, remember?
--Ah. Well, given what’s happened lately, I suppose you feel vindicated. Even though, as you well know, I was never in the same room with those diagrams.
--No, of course not. And, yes, I confess there was a schadenfreude moment or two in the last couple months. Golden parachute or not, no one likes getting sacked. Makes for awkwrd moments at one’s club. But then I got to thinking of you over there on the other side of the pond, having to muck about that way—
--Hold on… Damned binoculars… Yes, that’s my boat. Bob seems to be doing rather well, don’t you think? Look at that. Carry on, Bob!
--Pretty audacious, coming home this way. But given what you’ve been through, I should think you’d be at the helm yourself, not watching from shore.
--Would it were possible, Trev. Home for just these few precious days to see my boy. Certainly we should be out there together.
--New spinnaker?
--Could be. One of the crew takes care of all that. God, it’s great being here, breathing English air.
--Still, old salt, it does seem a bit odd. Flying back just to watch your boat.
--It’s the digital age, isn’t it, Trev? Phones that takes pictures and all. Telecommunications satellites. A bit ironic, that. Chairman Svanberg was CEO of phone maker Ericsson before giving us the nod. No, let them take all the pictures they like. Let them make something out of my just standing here. Not even wearing a blazer, or holding a proper drink. Being at the helm, though, that would get them pulling out their Photoshop manuals, I can tell you. They’d have me and Junior sailing over a glossy sea of BP oil. Lighting cigars from a burnoff. Plastering JPMorgan Asset Management all over my new spinnaker. They hate investment banks, too, you know. It would be great fun for them to make something out of the race’s sponsor. Oh, they’d do a smashing job with that.
--I see what you mean. Even so, old man, a little respite. Some shore leave, if you will. The stench must be something awful.
--The oil, you mean. Only on outings with the press. But that aside, yes, it is a nasty business. Rotting vegetation and oil-covered shore birds. Creepy crawlies everywhere you turn. Absolutely permeates your clothes. I’ve thrown out four pair of new wellies just this past week.
--Yes, well, I’m sure it must be horrific. Actually, though, I was thinking more in shall we say human terms.
--Ahh.
--No, Tony. Thinking of you over there these past weeks, day after day having to look as though you’re taking such people seriously. Whatever resentment I might have felt when you sacked me for bringing up those safety issues—
--I hope you know I had no choice.
--Of course I do, it’s how the game is played. That’s why I lost all sense of resentment several weeks ago. Knowing what hell you must be going through. And then the way they savaged Chairman Svanberg for calling them just what they are, small people. My God, bait-shop owners and shrimp fishermen. If they aren’t small, what else do you call them? Mr. and Mrs. Everyman, I suppose.
--Yes, nothing but tabloid press over there. They are quite clever at turning one into the upper-class toad for speaking what’s obviously true. I give them that.
--Worse than wogs, I would think.
--Wogs, frogs. Worse than the whole lot. Wait, she’s at the turn… Spot on, my beautiful Bob! Good show.

Friday, June 18, 2010

LEARN AND EARN + DENIABLE CREDIBILITY











--What are you reading?
--A Free Press story about Samantha Ivory, fifteen, of Detroit.
--Let me see. Nice picture. Samantha is hard at work at her computer.
--She’s going to Cass Tech.
--I know Cass, my dad went there. What’s this? The Freep for May 25. Today is June 18.
--So?
--Well, honey, we’ve talked about your memory “issue.” I don’t actually think there’s a problem, but seeing you reading a three-week-old paper…
--Leads you to conclude my issue has finally set sail for real.
--Not necessarily. I’m sure you have your reasons. The Freep’s not much of a paper anymore, and June 25 might have been a good issue. You could be saving good ones to reread on rainy days.
--Nice catch. If it will ease concerns about needing to tether me before letting me outside, please understand I set this aside to look at later. Intentionally, on purpose. I promise I am not reading a three-week-old paper for the second or third first time.
--Good. And what’s Samantha’s claim to fame… “Searching for a fix: should we pay kids to excel in school?” Oh boy. I bet that one pushed Professor Knister’s button.
--Only at first, when my blood pressure blew off the cuff. But then I became reflective. I thought about the world Republicans want us to live in. Government small enough to drown in a bathtub, pay-as-you-go budgets, Ayn Rand and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein as role models for our young people. You know, an “I’ll keep my guns, money and freedom, you keep the change” type world.
--And paying Samantha to do well in school will help bring us that world?
--Hard to say. But think about it. Quarters in our day, I suppose C-notes now, under the pillow for each tooth a child loses. Payment for something falling out of the mouth. Then money to cut the grass, cash on the barrelhead for each A grade, making the honor role, making first string at tackle. Getting accepted to State, being paroled.
--But this is different, don’t you think?
--That’s the question. Is it wrong for institutions to do what parents do when they reward their kids with money for succeeding? Samantha here says paying her would make her not only work harder, but want to go to school more often.
--More often. I would draw the line at paying someone to go to school.
--Still, you could call it the first condition of employment. Woody Allen says ninety percent of success is showing up. My university is about to make it a condition of employment for faculty to offer online courses.
--I don’t see the connection.
--It will mean showing up is no longer required. Students will be able to spend months at a time in their pajamas, just like Hugh Hefner. That will mean thousands of square feet of classroom space will be freed up for conversion to administrative offices.
--If that happens in high schools, I suppose we’ll pay students to log on.
--Sure, whenever they feel like it, or come to.
--The accounting might be tricky.
--Oh I don’t know. Somewhere, there’s a record of everything I ever did or failed to do on computers. But you’re right. The more clever students will find a way to automatically log on when they’re at the bar, or playing Wii. They’ll set it up so boilerplate responses to, say, Moby Dick will be sent to online chat sessions the prof is running.
--You have grown very cynical. I know you stayed up to watch C-span last night.
--I wanted to see whether our politicians would come up with any good material when questioning Tony Hayward.
--The BP guy.
--The one who wants his life back. The one whose board chairman promised to take care of all the small people.
--And?
--Nothing. Every politician played the sober Joe. Not a trace of wit in the room, just more boilerplate outrage and finger wagging.
--Well, what did you expect in the middle of the worst man-made ecological disaster ever in this country? No politician is going to make jokes about it.
--I know, but after two months, I expected more. I expected someone to make Tony squirm. Which after all this time would require blind-siding Tony. None of them did.
--I bet you wish Alan Grayson was on the panel.
--Oh yes. Would to God Congressman Grayson had been there. He’s my hero.
--So Hayward never lost his cool.
--Since nothing unexpected came his way, no. He lawyered up long ago, and with a Valium or two he was ready to go. According to ruddy-cheeked Tony, he is not a cement engineer or an oil rig engineer, nor does he have any other kind of technical expertise. He was never a party to any discussion or sign-off process involved in construction of the rig that blew up, about which he’s devastated, even though he was in the men’s room the whole time.
--How fortunate for him.
--I think so. Because, since he wasn't in on any discussion or “decision-making process,” he’s not culpable or even responsible. It means he has credible deniability on this or any other disaster that may occur on any of BP’s many oil rigs.
--That’s nice. I would think it won’t be long before old Tony gets his life back.
--Yes, and to help him enjoy it, how about a complimentary silk robe and PJs from Hef?

Friday, June 11, 2010

RETHINKING THE BABY SUBSTITUTE


















Today’s post focuses on dog fanciers and their object of interest. Or, from the FBI and the dog’s point of view, person of interest.

Often, dogs and cats are thought of as baby substitutes. Those of us suffering from one or more of the diagnosed disorders related to dog obsession would be more comfortable with children classed as puppy substitutes, but it’s best not to go there. Not if the writer wants to avoid harsh email from parents and grandparents.

What might serve everyone better is to dump the substitute idea and replace it with marriage. Or, in the case of those actually hitched, with extra-marital relations. If you own a dog or cat, you can ponder this idea in terms to your own experience. If not, please consider the writer a fairly reliable source.

Honest people know that the concept of 50/50 marriage is nonsense. It’s the sort of thing dreamed up by counselors, encouraging couples to believe that a few dozen more sessions will ultimately lead to a finely tuned, symmetrical equality. We know better. However, for those without human mates, dogs can serve very well in this regard. If you are a passive person, a carefully chosen dog will provide the sort of leadership and authority your style of neurosis calls for; if you are a take-charge type, the dog—properly trained—will serve in the role of docile, appreciative spouse, the kind traditionalists grow wistful thinking about. And none of this 50/50 business, either.

If you are already married, the Platonic ideal of equality has long ago been dismissed as so much hokum. The various grievances large and small that so often lead to waywardness, and ultimately to bitter sessions in a law office are known to you. If they aren’t, and if you are not among the handful of couples blessed by the gods, then you probably live a life of quiet desperation, keeping the lid on to avoid alimony and child support. Even so, you almost certainly hold out hope for some magic elixir, some incantation that will make the road smoother.

You hope, in fact, for a dog mistress/lover.

And here’s another plus: with dogs, there’s no need to sort out all the knotty “gender issues” that so often come into play these days regarding marriage. The life companion can be your sex or not, and there’s never any need to anguish over lifestyle options. Whether you are a hard-charging leader or fawning helpmeet, a dog can work either way.

So, employing the marriage/extra-marital concept, what can we say about the two couples pictured above? What’s your response to them? I am a dog person, and would be interested in what other dog nuts think. But people like us are pretty predictable in the unconditional nature of our love, so I am actually more interested in what less crazy persons have to offer.

To get the ball rolling, though, in my view the couple on the right appear pretty much to have agreed on an open marriage of equals. They are together but free to pursue separate interests outside their marriage. The young man is texting, or picking lint out of his navel, maybe even meditating. Possibly, something has made him remember his 401k, or the size of the monthly interest nut he carries on his credit card. Understandably, this has made him oblivious to all else, including his companion.

The dog? As with his spouse we can’t be sure, but it’s evident he is nicely composed, even though interested in something off to his right. Almost certainly it’s another dog, since this picture was taken at a Bark in the Park sponsored by the Humane Society of Naples, Florida. I like the casual naturalness of the dog’s shoulders better than I do the more defeated quality of the man’s. It suggests a tolerant, patient kind of companion, the sort that gives you your space, isn’t too needy, isn’t always dropping balls or food bowls at your feet, demanding to be let in the bathroom while you’re taking a shower, etc.

In the photo on the left, a woman is interacting with her companion in a very different way. Again the concept of marriage, a contract between two people who choose to be connected in legal and other ways should be applied. It isn’t true, of course: the dog is not allowed to agree to or cancel the deal, so think instead of the arranged marriages that are customary in much of the non-Western world.

The dog, a Yorkshire terrier, is not a male, so this too is a same-sex union, a common-law marriage involving a license, but fewer of the cumbersome legal issues that figure in human-to-human marriages.

However, this second duo cannot be called a union of equals. The dog is asserting her right to be “in your face” with her mistress (“mistress” in this instance being an obvious misnomer). Even so, the master/slave connection, usually thought of in terms of abusive men and denounced by feminists, is here being played out femo a femo. In her human marriage, the woman is in fact a strong, assertive person. With her dog lover, though, we see her happy to drop the burdens of command, free now to give herself over to the pleasures of being ruled.
I have more to say, but a person of interest has just entered my study. Seating herself before my desk, she begins working the magic of her one good eye. It’s noon, the eye says. Someone has to wear the watch in this family. Patiently she remains seated, displaying the quiet confidence of one who knows who will win, the one who always does, knowing it’s just a matter of seconds before this particular staff member gets up and follows her out the door.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN































Anyone not on life support will by now know what happened last Wednesday night at Comerica Park in Detroit. Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was denied a perfect game when veteran umpire Jim Joyce mistakenly called the twenty-seventh batter safe at first.

Understandably surprised, Galarraga did not need to be restrained by his teammates as we have come to expect in such moments, struggling with vein-popping rage to get his hands on the ump. Instead, the pitcher reacted with a bemused half smile as the crowd went crazy. After seeing the instant replay umpire Joyce, obviously tormented by his mistake, apologized to the pitcher. Later, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said simply, “I make mistakes, players make mistakes, umpires make mistakes.”

This would be a big enough story in any case, but it has gone viral or nova or whatever current jargon applies. It has captured people’s imaginations. The reason I think must be understood in terms of those pictured above, people who represent so many others, and institutions, with names like Madoff, Enron, Worldcom.

The story has quickly captured public interest because of something like a moral or spiritual thirst for subjects worthy of admiration. When the mayor of an on-the-ropes city like Detroit goes to prison for thumbing his nose at the law (Kwame Kilpatrick); when the company responsible for what may well prove to be the worst ecological disaster since Chernobyl has a CEO who can be trusted to be untrustworthy; when the last president and his principal political guide are now known to have betrayed the public trust in numerous ways, and when sports “heroes” turn out to have trashed their families, and the record books through doping, the effect on the collective consciousness of a people can’t be quantified, but is probably hard to exaggerate.

It’s a kind of old fighter’s punch-drunk daze, a society belted around by bad news, lies, deception and greed for so many months stretching into so many years that its members have almost forgotten what “class act” means. And then it happens in all its mythic glory on a Wednesday night in Detroit, when every principal to the story does what he should, immediately, and does it without lawyers or press agents or flack catchers at his elbow.

Armando Galarraga may ultimately come to thank his lucky stars for Jim Joyce’s blunder. As Jeff Kuehn writing in the Oakland (Michigan) Press says, “Galarraga has a place in history for as long as the game is played. No other pitcher will throw a 28-out perfect game. Dads will use this to tell their sons and daughters how to respond when things don’t go your way.”

So cup your hands around this little pilot light of things gone right, and hope it stays lit.




Wednesday, June 2, 2010

RETHINKING THE BABY SUBSTITUTE






















Today’s post focuses on dog fanciers and their object of interest. Or, from the FBI and the dog’s point of view, person of interest.

Often, dogs and cats are thought of as baby substitutes. Those of us suffering from one or more of the diagnosed disorders related to dog obsession would be more comfortable with children classed as puppy substitutes, but it’s best not to go there. Not if the writer wants to avoid harsh email from parents and grandparents.

What might serve everyone better is to dump the substitute idea and replace it with marriage. Or, in the case of those actually hitched, with extra-marital relations. If you own a dog or cat, you can ponder this idea in terms to your own experience. If not, please consider the writer a fairly reliable source.

Honest people know that the concept of 50/50 marriage is nonsense. It’s the sort of thing dreamed up by counselors, encouraging couples to believe that enough sessions will ultimately lead to a finely tuned, symmetrical equality. We know better. However, for those without human mates, dogs can serve very well in this regard. If you are essentially a passive person, a carefully chosen dog will provide the sort of leadership and authority your style of neurosis calls for; if you are a take-charge type, the dog—properly trained—can effectively serve in the role of a docile, appreciative spouse of the kind traditionalists grow wistful thinking about. And none of this 50/50 business, either.

If you are currently married, the Platonic ideal of equality has already been dismissed as so much hokum. The various grievances large and small that so often lead to waywardness, and ultimately to bitter sessions in a law office are known to you. If they aren’t, and if you are not among the handful of couples blessed by the gods, then you probably live a life of quiet desperation, keeping the lid on to avoid alimony and child support. Even so, you no doubt hold out hope for some magic elixir, some incantation that will make the road smoother.

You hope, in fact, for a dog mistress/lover.

And here’s another plus: with dogs, there’s no need to sort out all the knotty “gender issues” that so often come into play these days regarding marriage. The life companion can be your sex or not, and there’s never a need to anguish over lifestyle options. Take-charge prison guard or fawning helpmeet, a dog can work either way.

So, employing the marriage/extra-marital concept, what can we say about the two couples pictured above? What’s your response to them? I am a "dog person," and would be interested in what other dog nuts have to say. But people like us are pretty predictable in the unconditional nature of our love, so I am actually more interested in what less crazy persons have to say.

To get the ball rolling, though, in my view the couple on the left appear pretty much to have agreed on an open marriage of equals. They are together but free to pursue separate interests outside their marriage. The young man is texting, or picking lint out of his navel, maybe even meditating. Possibly something has made him remember his 401k, or the size of the monthly interest nut he carries on his credit card bill. Understandably, this has made him for the moment oblivious to all else, including his companion.

The dog? As with his spouse we can’t be sure, but it’s evident he is nicely composed, even though interested in something off to his right. Almost certainly it’s another dog, since this picture was taken at a Bark in the Park sponsored by the Humane Society of Naples, Florida. I like the casual naturalness of the dog’s shoulders better than I do the more defeated quality of the man’s. It suggests a tolerant, patient kind of companion, the sort that gives you your space, isn’t too needy, isn’t always dropping balls or food bowls at your feet, demanding to be let in the bathroom while you’re taking a shower, etc.

In the lower photo, a woman is interacting with her companion in a very different way. Again the concept of marriage, a contract between two people who choose to be connected in legal and other ways should be applied. It isn’t true, of course: the dog is not allowed to agree to or cancel the deal, so think instead of the arranged marriages that are customary in much of the non-Western world.

The dog, a Yorkshire terrier, is not a male, so this too is a same-sex union, a common-law marriage involving a license, but fewer of the cumbersome legal issues that figure in human-to-human marriages. And no need to travel out-of-state, either.

However, this second duo cannot be called a union of equals. The dog is asserting her right to be “in your face” with her mistress (“mistress” here obviously being a misnomer). Even so, the master/slave connection, usually thought of in terms of abusive men and denounced by feminists, is here being played out femo a femo. In fact, the woman is a strong, assertive person in her human marriage. Here, though, we see her happy to drop the burdens of maintaining domestic order, free now to give herself over to the pleasures of being ruled.

I have more to say on this, but a person of interest has just entered the room. Patiently seating herself before my desk as I type, she begins working the magic of her one good eye. Her calm demeanor comes from knowledge of who will win, the same one who always does, confident that it’s only a matter of seconds before this particular staff member will get up and follow her out the door.



























Monday, May 31, 2010

THE MAID AND THE PIT BULL


"From Napoleon to the present, French politicians of all leanings have invoked her memory” (Wikipedia).

The quote refers to Joan of Arc. Here, though, the image invoking her memory is not that of the Maid of Orleans, but of the Pit Bull of capitalism, Ayn Rand. Yes, that’s the same Rand Texas Congressman Ron Paul chose as the namesake for his son, the Kentucky ophthalmologist running for the U.S. Senate.

Since repeatedly confusing his area of medicine with podiatry by fitting his foot in his mouth (the better to say what he really thinks), Rand has taken to appearing in scrubs. Presumably, this authenticates his status as a healer, a man anxious to treat the nation’s ills.

So it makes sense to reflect on his namesake Ayn Rand, suited up in full armor on a poster at a Tea Party rally last month in Naples, Florida. Mounted on horseback as military leaders always are, Saint Ayn is carrying the colors into battle. This time, it’s not the Siege of Orleans in the fifteenth century, but the Thermopylae of twenty-first century America, the pitched battle between her loyal troops—the Pauls for instance-- and the dark forces who support laws protecting civil rights, oversight of business, programs like Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, the Interstate highway system, the Tennessee Valley Authority—or anything else that compromises the religion of laissez faire capitalism.

Whereas Saint Joan “asserted that she had visions from God that told her to recover her homeland from English domination late in the Hundred Years’ War” (Wikipedia again), Saint Ayn had Big Ideas. If not heaven-sent, they certainly summoned her to recruit followers for the purpose of recovering her adopted homeland from liberalism. Even though Rand was a lifelong atheist, she and all those in her camp lay claim to what can only be thought of as divine guidance. How else is it possible to make sense of such certainty in the need to protect the sanctity of the profit motive against oversight and regulation? How else is it possible to believe BP needs a champion?

Make no mistake: seeing economics in terms of laws as immutable as those governing nature is nothing more or less than religion. And the way to be true to the faith is to believe (if not to say) that God has blessed laissez faire capitalism, and that He insists on an ideological purity not seen since Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

That’s just about how far you have to go in order to fully grasp how people in our own time—not at the end of the Middle Ages—have turned themselves over to “visions” of the sort that lead to Rand Paul. In or out of scrubs, he needs to be understood not in terms of secular principles, but in those of medieval scholastic theology. That is, with notions having little to do with life here on twenty-first century Planet Earth.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

SCHADENFREUDE

I am grateful to the German language for a word—schadenfreude. It refers to the warm glow that honest people can’t deny feeling when someone they don’t like suffers in some way. It’s nothing to be proud of, this feeling, but it’s definitely there.


--Are you happy to be back in Michigan?
--Very.
--Happy to be teaching again this summer?
--Almost very.
--Anyway, you look pleased with yourself. What are you so jovial about?
--A mental image. I see Ayn Rand’s namesake down in Kentucky.
--Really? Seeing Rand Paul should produce something very different in you. Say, a Tourette moment.
--Oh, I’m sure a Tourette moment can’t be far away, but just now I’m enjoying the mental picture.
--Do you know who Paul looks like to me? Bill Hailey, of Bill Hailey and the Comets. Remember him? Rand Paul has the same hilarious hairstyle.
--I’m trying to avoid ad hominem arguments. You have your Rand Paul, I have mine. I see him wearing one of those headlamp reflector things. Ophthalmologists used to wear them. He’s an eye doctor, you know. I remember an old guy fitting me for glasses when I was a boy. He wore one of those.
--But that’s not all you’re seeing.
--No. Dr. Rand Paul has the reflector thing on so he can provide free eye exams on the campaign trail. As his spiritual guide Ayn Rand teaches us--that font of all intellectual wisdom regarding human nature--there can be no institutional, tax-supported charity. It corrupts society and prevents the best people from realizing their full potential.
--Uh huh. Which you don’t want in an A-plus, quality-type country, right?
--Right as rain, Barbara. That’s exactly what you don’t want. Because, then everything just goes to hell in a hand basket. No Medicaid or Medicare allowed, either. No welfare or unemployment benefits. Only private, freely chosen acts of generosity are acceptable.
--So that’s why Dr. Paul is giving eye exams gratis.
--Exactly. That’s just what Dr. Paul is doing with his reflector, stopping here and there along the campaign trail to examine voters’ eyes. For free. It’s a freely chosen, completely generous act on his part.
--No quid pro quo? No pledge promising to vote for him? Because if there is, Dr. Paul’s not so generous.
--I don’t know about any pledge. In my mind’s eye, I don’t see anyone signing anything. No insurance forms, or co-pay agreements.
--OK then, it’s free.
--But even if they sign a pledge, it’s still a completely legitimate transaction between buyer and seller. No government meddling figures.
--Good, I’m glad. We have enough of that.
--Enough? Barbara, you haven’t been listening to Dr. Rand, or his dad Ron. It’s not that we have enough government. We have way, way too much. The only thing you need government for is to build missile silos in the Dakotas, and run army training camps. Although it’s probably better to outsource the training camps to Blackwater. That would make for more freedom.
--In your mind’s eye, is Dr. Rand wearing a white lab coat so everyone knows he’s a healer?
--He is. But there’s a small problem with the coat. It’s too long. Walking and talking as he goes, he’s kicking the hem, telling people along the street about how wrong the Civil Rights Act is. How it prevents employers from flipping the bird at minorities. Which is every employers’ right, or should be. And would be, if Dr. Rand were running things. Which he hopes to do. So he’s in his too-long lab coat, walking and telling folks this crazy Civil Rights thing isn’t something he can really accept, stopping to check another pair of eyes before moving on.
--He trips and falls, screwing up his Bill Hailey haircut.
--No, but Dr. Paul does keep forgetting to watch where he’s stepping. And a nasty thing keeps happening each time he moves on, still talking before reaching the next voter patient.
--I think I know the nasty thing. But I have a question. If Dr. Paul performs eye surgery, doesn’t he have to do it in a hospital? Aren’t hospitals dependent on government money? Don’t some of his patients get Medicare or Medicaid? Or does he insist they all pay him in millet or lamb chops?
-- Not a problem. Just shove the gurney under a freeway underpass, clear out the homeless living there, and start cutting. Oh, and now Dr. Paul is voicing support for British Petroleum’s right to not be controlled or restricted in its efforts to find a cork big enough to stop that thing in the Gulf. Because when you get down to it, it’s not really anyone’s fault, is it? Sometimes plain old nasty accidents just happen. Know what I mean?
--Is a Tourette moment in the works? Let me know, I’ll go do some gardening.
--Not yet, the mental image is still working for me. See, Dr. Rand is still at it, walking, and talking about something else government should never meddle with. Uh oh, there he’s gone and done it again—stepped in another large mound of dog poo. He’s kicking it all over his overlong lab coat, fouling his nice oxfords. Shoes suited to a man in business for himself, like Dr. Paul. And I have to assume he learned medicine on his own, because a man with his principles would never attend a medical school supported by federal and state tax money.
--It couldn’t be easy, home-schooling someone in ophthalmology.
--No, it wasn’t. But how else could his family remain true to their libertarian ideals? And I mean Dr. Rand’s shoes would be right for a doctor, if they weren’t now covered with crap. Those dogs had to be Dalmatians or bigger.
--I thought it was going to be horse dung.
--That would make sense in Kentucky, but it's dogs. And it’s odd. Even with free eye exams, most of the people along the campaign trail still don’t seem to be noticing the crap on Rand’s lab coat. Or his shoes. They’re too busy hanging on his every word.

Friday, April 30, 2010

PREPARE FOR LIFT-OFF

It’s time to go, time for the dark side of the moon. That would be the days spent in our van, on the Interstate between Florida and Michigan. Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio—here we come.

Please understand: “dark side of the moon” is not meant to suggest some unflattering opinion of these states. It just indicates that, like astronauts facing the dark side in actual terms, we will be cut off, a human caesura in the space-time continuum, floating in relative silence as we watch what lies outside our porthole. With the added bonus of not needing to read or write anything.

But first, some house-cleaning.

--I almost peed in my pants.
--Sorry.
--No, it’s all right. But when it happens, there’s no preparation, no intro for what’s about to happen. All at once comes this chesty, Robert Goulet-John Raitt broadway voice belting out something. I dropped my toothbrush.
--I’m sorry. I knew what was happening when I heard the choking sounds. You really do get hysterical, you collapse.
--What can I say? I’m brushing my teeth, I hear something, stop. You do it all the time, say something to me while I’m shaving or taking a leak. The noise makes it impossible to hear.
--That’s only when I don’t know you’re in there.
--Yes, well, given the state of my prostate you pretty much know where to find me.
--It’s the way this house is shaped. I can’t hear anything happening in front.
--Brushing my teeth, then I hear Robert Goulet and in the next second understand what’s going on.
--You should be used to it by now.
--No, Barbara. Being married to someone who mimics perfectly the instruments and singing voices of famous performers is not something a person gets used to. All at once Michael Crawford is belting out show stoppers from Phantom. In my own house. I’m facing the mirror, brushing my teeth, listening and looking at a case of rabies.
--I was Swiffering.
--You have to tell me what the song was.
--Oh, just something about “Here I am, Swiffering dog hair, life’s a gift, life’s a barrel o’ monkeys.” Something like that.
--You just make it up? I thought they were actual songs.
--They can be. But certain domestic tasks demand their own lyrics.
--The last time it happened, I almost fell in the tub. You were doing a trombone solo, “Strike up the Band.” Tommy Dorsey, Kay Winding, I… well, never mind. I should keep an expectorant bowl handy.
--You said the soup tureen I bought at the thrift shop was actually a chamber pot. You could use that.
--I’ll keep it under the towel rack.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE" (THANK YOU JEAN PAUL SARTRE)

If something like this never happened to you, good.

Barbara calls our cul de sac in Naples The Dead Zone. That’s because, with two notable exceptions our neighbors are either out of town most of the time, or families have inherited the property and are trying to sell it, or the residents are in town, but only so to speak. Or, they have finally succumbed to the facts of life, and are set up for the last lap of their run in the very posh assisted-living operation waiting patiently at one end of our development.

Such an atmosphere can be depressing, but for us it also has an important upside. We like our privacy, our peace and quiet, and we have had both since moving in. Then the villa two doors away sold. I introduced myself to the wife one afternoon. With flame-red hair and blazing porcelain caps, she came off as bouncy and appealing. New blood, I thought. Much needed here in The Dead Zone.

And then the New Blood spread its wings. Or so I thought.


--The new people.
--Which ones?
--On the other side of the Duffys. I just don’t get it. They’re all of them sitting together on the same pool deck. They can’t be more than a few feet apart, but they’re screaming. Barking at each other. Howling.
--Oh, come on. You always exaggerate.
--Please come outside, just for a minute. I need you to hear it.

--God.
--I’m exaggerating?
--Listen to them.
--There are two privacy walls between us and them. I count two men, two women.
--It’s like… Is it cultural? Maybe they’re all deaf.
--No, I think you were right the first time. They’re from New Jersey. Italians. Are all of us, from wherever we hail from, complete stereotypes? Am I George Babbitt or Don Knotts, whoever represents the slow-witted bumblers from the prairie? Are you and I the whitebread, plain vanilla Smiths from Plainville? I can’t believe it, but maybe so. Maybe everyone from California is fruit-and-nuts crazy, looking shellacked from cosmetic surgery, mainlining bean curd and herbal tea like the -----s. Or southerners being southern, the west Texans in their hats and boots, all sucking on longnecks. The barber next to the guy who strings tennis racquets, he’s from Texas. All day, he’s standing up cutting hair in snakeskin cowboy boots. Can you imagine how uncomfortable that must be? No matter. He may be reduced to cutting hair here in Naples, but he’s a Texan. All day, cutting in his boots. And he never takes his cowboy hat off.
--Listen—My God, that’s really awful. It’s like they’re on something.
--Gin would be my guess. I confess it can make even Whitebread Barry pretty jovial.
--But not a banshee, not a crazy person. Listen… Both the men and the women. Is it some kind of competition? It really sounds to me as though they’re seeing who can shout the loudest… No, I’m sorry, nothing in this life can be that funny.
--Thank you for coming out to hear it.
--What can we do?
--Not much. People that oblivious to their new neighbors are obviously not going to know what you’re talking about if you speak to them. They’d just be insulted. Besides, what are you going to say? “Excuse me, I know you’re Italian, and from New Jersey, and I’m sure it’s sometimes necessary to speak up if you’re going to be heard in a large family, but you’re making me and my wife crazy.” No, there’s no point in talking to them.
--You’re right, of course. You can’t tell adults… Jesus, listen to that—you can’t tell senior citizens they sound worse than a pool full of grandchildren.
--We’ll have to do research. We’ll log their comings and goings, keep track of when they’re on the lanai.
--What if they live on theirs the way we do?
--Don’t say that.
--Weather permitting, we’re out here every night. We have happy hour, we eat here, read in the evening. God.
--Yes, it’s possible the quality of life just took a serious hit. We’ll have to wait and see before calling our own Jersey boys.
--You mean Tony, Christopher, Paulie Walnuts and so forth.
--Damn. What was one thing just an hour ago now appears to be something altogether different. And far worse. And do you know what? They’ll probably turn out to likable, friendly. Even neighborly. But who cares? An affable hyena is still a hyena.

POSTSCRIPT: Yes, we went to Threat Level Red pretty fast, and not without reason. But it turned out I was wrong about the new neighbor from Jersey, and Barbara right about deafness. Hugely relieved, we realized the following day that the banshee effect had come from guests visiting at a different house. One occupied by a man so deaf he can’t hear himself. Or can, but only after listening to what he’s saying three or more times.

Monday, April 26, 2010

"FIRST, LET'S HANG ALL THE TEACHERS"

Ever since the debacle that was the 2000 election—you know, the one that saw Al Gore defeated by hanging chads and five members of the Supreme Court--Florida has been an especially newsworthy state. Tea Partiers are much in evidence, and have had a lot to do with forcing Republican governor Charlie Crist to consider running for the Senate as a Moderate. That’s because he’s not “pure” enough for conservatives.

The strongest evidence that Crist is not fit came last week when he vetoed a bill to eliminate teacher tenure, and tie teacher pay to student test scores. Right wingers love this sort of thing: it’s driven by their favorite Platonic ideal--free markets. I had to write about it. NOTE: Golden Apples are awarded in Naples, Florida to top-rated teachers.

------------------------------------------------------------


In chapter four of The Dilbert Principle, “Great Lies of Management,” author/cartoonist Scott Adams examines the thirteen bogus assertions relied on most often by managers. Number one is “Employees are our most valuable asset.” Number two is “I have an open-door policy,” and three is “You could earn more money under the new plan.”

The cartoon sequence to illustrate Number 3 presents the Dilbert regulars being informed about the new plan by their pointy-haired boss: “From now on,” he says, “twenty percent of your pay will depend on the company meeting its sales targets. In effect, we’ll cut your pay and tell you it’s your own darn fault.” Dilbert has a question: “Will the sales target be based on a complex formula and involve numbers that can’t be accurately measured?” The pointy-haired boss yells, “You broke the code!”

If all this suggests the current assault on teachers and public education in Florida, that’s what is intended. Conservatives bent on pursuing an ideological mission—“market capitalism everywhere, all the time!”—claim they need to punish teachers as a group in order to rid the system of those who are incompetent. But the underlying goal is actually something else.

The conservative vision calls for implementation of a pure business model, in which students are customers, schools are businesses, and teachers are employees subject to a variation on the pointy-haired boss’s “new plan.” That plan calls for the elimination of teacher tenure (“No business gives anyone guarantees”), and the linkage of pay to student test scores (Dilbert’s “complex formula” involving hard-to-measure quantitative data). In other words, there is to be no job security, and no pay raises based on either seniority or academic credentials.

If you don’t know what’s wrong with this new “plan,” here it is: given the low opinion our society has of teachers, what on earth is going to provide the motive for any sane young man or woman to pursue a career in primary or secondary education without these inducements? In a time of social dissonance and change, multi-cultural complexity and violence, again, why would anyone freely choose to teach?

Whether you like it or not, Norman Rockwell’s America cannot figure any longer, not even as the cozy myth of a happy past that never was. The reality in schools is much more demanding. And here’s another simple truth: our society pays lip service, and lip service only to primary and secondary education as a profession. Yes, it is viewed as a decent job, with good benefits and a retirement package, but it is not respected as a career on a par with law, accounting, medicine, etc. If this weren’t so, the current attacks would not be taking place.

Nor does the field of teaching operate in a way likely to induce bright young people to be interested. Contrary to the broken-record critiques of those attacking public education, these operational problems are not principally the fault of unions or tenure or the small percentage of ineffectual teachers the system protects along with everyone else. It has to do with the College of Education in every large state university in the country. Here is where social change is leading to more and more hours of instruction being devoted to diversity training, learning technology and other areas unrelated to academics. Here is where you find departments made up of faculty whose discipline is how to teach, not what to teach.

It is easy to criticize colleges of education, but hard to offer meaningful suggestions for change. One thing is certain: the many hours devoted to “instruction on instruction” make the process of educating future teachers much less effective.

What can be done? One thing is to concentrate on identifying those people who, in the face of all impediments, still demonstrate a true gift for teaching. Once those with the special attributes that lead to actual learning are known, a better way becomes possible.

What is it? Instead of leaving great teachers no other path to advancement but to once again enact the Peter Principle by becoming school administrators, these best-of-breed in the classroom should be lavished with serious money and perks to STAY teachers. They should be rewarded for continuing to serve as examples of how it’s done for everyone else, and they should be used accordingly in their schools. Over time, they are the ones who can provide a true resource for their colleagues.

Again: “teacher education” needs to give more emphasis to academic disciplines—math, chem, literature, history. In other words, it should probably take as long and be as tough to become a teacher as it is to become a lawyer—but only if we’re willing to make it worth the hard work. Do you know how many hours in an academic discipline are actually required of future teachers? Have you ever heard stories of teachers who teach the textbook, and are just one chapter ahead of their students? The reason is the high number of contact hours in their programs that must be devoted to Education courses.

If you don’t know what teachers are taught, or how the good ones habitually leave what they do well to become administrators, and if you’re among those beating the drum to end tenure and tie teacher pay to easily manipulated tests--shame on you. Find out a thing or two about what is expected of young people who major in Education instead of math, English, history, etc.

And after you find this out, ask yourself the following: in a community that masks an underlying disregard for teachers with Golden Apple awards, then reveals its true feelings with hostility and ideologically charged politics, why would anyone in his or her right mind still want to be a teacher? You might safely argue that under such conditions, choosing to apply to Ed school is in itself reason enough for being rejected.

Friday, April 23, 2010

BOTTOM FEEDERS

Blogging affords excellent opportunities for garrulous senior citizens to hone their typing skills. As a newly retired person, I honed mine in pre-blogging days by writing letters to the editor of the Naples (Florida) Daily News. Reading the feverish rants of right-wingers did it to me. People for instance who denounced talk of global warming, then pointed to heavy snow in northern states to support their position. Reading such “thoughts” day after day, I lost patience and sent off responses.

But I came to see the futility in this: the mad hatters on the right were impervious to factual arguments (it snows when the temperature rises, you dunce you). So, I turned to other topics. Most recently, The Daily News published a letter of mine calling for a more dog-friendly policy in Naples. I argued that since the real work of dogs in our time is to serve as companions—mental-health care givers—it made sense for dog owners to be allowed to share public places with their leashed pets.

Like other papers, the Daily News provides an outlet, through a website, for its more disturbed readers. Those whose inflamed rhetoric is unsuitable for a family paper are free to post their fulminations online. My lobbying for a more lenient attitude toward dogs led to a blizzard of lectures on the staggering effects of such a proposed change in policy. The world would be brought screaming and gagging to its collective knees, children’s bodies would be stacked up like cordwood by helpless public health employees, a dark cloud of disease and pestilence would descend, etc.

My wife Barbara is too level-headed to read such things, so that evening I told her about the hour I’d spent that morning in the cyberspace black hole of the Comment section.

--After all this time, after all the composting I’ve seen going on in the paper’s op/ed page, I still couldn’t believe it.
--The comments.
--It’s still troubling to think about. There are people, Barbara--people who walk among us—who write separate comments on all or most of the published letters. Daily.
--As John McEnroe might say, “You cannot be serious.”
--I am serious. Comment after comment, by the same persons, using their anonymous “handles.” Think about it. The paper arrives, say, at five or five-thirty in the morning. It has to be that early, it’s always on the driveway when I take Chelsea for her walk. That means the bottom feeders are up even earlier.
--Why?
--There’s no other way to explain how quickly they get to work. They have to have the paper in order to read the published letters. Then they start pumping out comments.
--What on earth possessed you to look at them?
--Guilty as charged. “Possessed” is the operative word. I never do it unless one of my letters is published. I knew there’d be some kind of reaction. You can’t advocate in favor of liberalizing anything in this town without blowback.
--It’s sad.
--Sad, or mad?
--Both, but mostly sad. I can see them getting up and dressing, brushing their teeth, drinking coffee. Turning on the computer and limbering up their fingers, then going out for the paper. Coming back, closing the door and plopping down, throwing aside every section except the op/ed pages.
--Yes, I think that’s how it must be.
--You know, I bet ________ spends hours doing that.
--No. Surely not.
--I bet he does. Every morning. With the TV on the whole time.
--Soap operas, you mean.
--He says they’re just white noise, he’s only half aware of what’s on. As you say, he’s too busy getting the work out.
--I hope not. I hope you’re wrong.
--Except I’m sure his comments are readable and informative.
--Still, I hate to think of it. I’ve been there. In the belly of the beast. A chilling experience. Compulsion is not a pretty thing to see.
--When they were getting ready to move, I remember ______ insisting their next house had to have wings. To isolate him. He’s a little deaf and plays his soaps loud. It was making her crazy.
--My uncle was career Army. A colonel. One of his later postings was to Governor’s Island in New York. I remember my aunt telling me he used to drive home for lunch, in order to watch either “The Guiding Light” or “All My Children.” He’d watched this particular soap for over twenty years. When he was later posted to Korea, he went alone. He made my aunt back in the States send him plot summaries every week. Summaries of all the cases of amnesia, infidelity, concealed births.
--But you liked him.
--Very much. He was an odd duck, but I did like him. In the end, it’s the eccentrics who make life interesting. He and my aunt picnicked with friends on Siesta Key. Every week, or every other. He took black-and-white photos of these gatherings. He made his own photo albums, using stiff, gray cardboard. After he died, I went down to see my aunt. I remember leafing through some of the albums. There were the photos of the picnic group. Over and over, posed the same way each week, it seemed. You won’t believe it, but I’m sure I saw footprints in one shot, in the sand. When I looked at the snapshot for the next picnic, the prints were still there. There was something pure about his obsession, his craving for order and control. I’m pretty sure he also kept quantitative records of what his grapefruit and orange trees produced.
--Well, they were certainly good to us when we went to see them.
--They were. Generous and welcoming to a fault. We all have our little nooks and crannies, don’t we?
--Very true. Hardly open to question with us.

POSTSCRIPT: Wrong again. The Naples Daily News posts letters online the night before they appear in the paper’s print addition. That way, Those Who Walk Among Us are able to work all night. Shudder.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

MORE MUSIC: JOHNNY, WE HARDLY KNEW YE

More and more often, the hectoring, demanding voices that deliver the evening news turn us off. Wolf Blitzer was once a fairly responsible on-air journalist. Now he’s a ringmaster, a carnival barker. The same holds true for the crew on MSNBC. Chris, Keith and Rachel—there’s plenty of talent to go around, but deploying it night after night in a ceaseless news cycle turns everything into white noise. As for Fox, the only reason to watch Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly is to prep yourself for a colonoscopy.

So, before and during dinner Barbara and I often put on some music. One night, we were listening to tunes Johnny Mathis had recorded over fifty years ago. The quality of his voice and the orchestrations were remarkable to us, a comfort that brought solace. We needed some, after news of a horrible natural disaster (the earthquake in Haiti), and two that were man-made: a male pinup elected to the U.S. Senate, and a stake driven by the five conservative members of the Supreme Court through the heart of honest elections, when they turned the election process into a strictly retail transaction.

--Listen to him. So beautiful. I bet you hate it.
--I don’t. Mathis is pitch-perfect. A great pop singer. He started out wanting to be a jazz singer, but came to see there was no money in it.
--As a girl, I just loved him.
--Did you have a poodle skirt?
--A poodle skirt, circle pins. Penny loafers.
--Just like Olivia Newton John in “Grease.” Before she undergoes her transformation.
--We all loved Johnny Mathis. My friends and I listened to early rock. We thought of Johnny’s music as older, more sophisticated. By the end of high school we were all addicted.
--If you think about it, it’s a sad story.
--How so?
--I mean Johnny Mathis and private life. Everybody these days knows he’s gay. And plays a lot of golf. I read somewhere he’s a scratch player, or better. He’s gay, and a great golfer. These days, those two details are about equally weighted for most people. Back in the Fifties and Sixties, you stayed in the closet if you wanted a career in show business.
--That’s true. Remember Rock Hudson? Here was this masculine icon, still trying at the very end of his life to convince people the illness he was dying of wasn’t AIDS.
--Exactly. Mathis singing all those love songs to teenage girls, and also being listened to by a coterie of male friends, waiting for the next double entendre.
--On the other hand, it might be a kind of payback for his gay friends. Knowing “Chances are” is really about Johnny and his boyfriend.
--Could be. But I think it must have been mostly humiliating for him. Always perceived by his adoring fans as something he wasn’t. Maybe channeling the anger explains how he became a golfer good enough to play with the pros.
--I see what you mean. He could never have come out back then. After he did, how could he go on stage in his tux, in front of thousands of girls in poodle skirts and penny loafers?
--It’s a day for finding something to feel good about, don’t you think? Well, we have an African American president, and almost had a woman.
--And the next Johnny Mathis won’t have to live a lie.
--No he won't. At least not that one.

Monday, April 19, 2010

POP CULTURE: THE LIMITS OF GREATNESS

Barbara enjoys popular music more than I do (I prefer keyboard jazz), but we have both remained fans of the great names from our younger days--The Beatles, Stones, Carly Simon and others. Especially we share a love of Ray Charles. How is it possible to listen to, say, “Georgia” or “Hit the Road, Jack,” and not be moved or made to smile?

Getting old with music and musicians makes these associations all the more affecting. Over drinks, we recently listened to a CD of duets Charles recorded before his death, “Genius Loves Company,” released in 2004. As always, the music touched us. But whereas some artists’ voices age wonderfully, taking on rich, new qualities, others don't. It can be painful when favorite singers at the end of their careers test your loyalty. And make you think about your own future.

--It’s really a great album, don’t you think?
--Yes, I do. Very good. Now this is who?
--Diana Krall
--They must’ve been fighting each other to be paired up with him. I mean their agents.
--They had to know he didn’t have much longer. Who in the business wouldn’t want to sing a duet with Ray Charles?
--I’d sure like to.
--That’s right, I forgot. As a movie extra you’re part of the show business community.
--When Jamie Fox played him, I bet he would’ve wanted me in a crowd scene.
--Well, honey, I don’t think there were all that many parts for your character type. What did you call it?
--Grandma geezer roles.
--I don’t think there were so many of those. Twenty, even ten years ago, with some makeup you could’ve been in long shots of white bobby soxers going nuts in the early part of Ray’s career. Otherwise, mostly the female roles went to black actresses playing women Ray banged on the road.
--I guess.
--Now that’s just awful. Listen to that… I know he has tax problems, but all the same.
--Yes, it’s awful. It does not sound like “a very good year.”
--Even with swelling strings and heavy use of timpani.
--God, such a long career. You’d think his pride wouldn’t let him do it.
--Well, the tax man came to Willie, and the tax man said, “Mister Nelson, to stay out of the slam you need to make several more million than you’re making now.”
--So he got the Genius Loves Company gig.
--God, “When I was seventeen”-- When he was seventeen, that’s when Willie started growing his outlaw braids.
--He got his first pirate bandana back then, too.
--“When I was twenty-one”—here’s Ray. Oh God, no, Ray, don’t… He’s still great on the higher registers, but on this...
--I love him forever, but that’s not good. God, he sounds like it’s time for his meds and the lunch tray.
--OK, here’s Willie again… Yes, blue-blooded girls of independent means. Judging from his voice, I think Willie these days would mostly like the girls of independent means to give him a pint or two of blood, not a nooner. “Here, darlin’, as long as you’re up, wyan’t you take an’ empty this here drool cup for me?”
--That’s not funny.
--I’m sorry. I just think the recording tarnishes his reputation.
--Don’t ferget them revanooers.
--I know. But Willie should’ve done the time instead.

Friday, April 16, 2010

HEROES IN WORD AND DEED

The Masters is over, but the most recent controversy surrounding Tiger Woods is not. This one has to do with a stark black-and-white Nike ad, in which the voice of Woods’ deceased father Earl demands to know of his son whether he’s learned anything lately. The commercial ends with Woods, somber-faced and saying nothing, still squarely centered on the viewer’s TV screen.

Although the ad’s been called weird and creepy, it’s also been described as one more from Nike that does what good ads should, gain attention and create a buzz. Either way, it provokes questions.

The first has to do with exploiting a dead father’s voice to help shore up a son’s shaken reputation and lucrative contract with Nike. Is this OK? On one hand, nobody made a fuss when Natalie Cole sang duets with her long-gone father. That, too, had to do with a child’s career being enhanced or promoted by using a dead parent’s voice. On the other hand something tells us a mute Tiger being admonished by his recently deceased dad in a TV ad just isn’t the same thing.

Now listen to this:

“I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived.”

“Sonny Liston is nothing. The man can’t talk. The man can’t fight. The man needs talking lesson. The man needs boxing lessons. And since he’s gonna fight me, he needs falling lessons.”

Now Clay swings with a right
What a beautiful swing
And the punch raises the bear
Clear out of the ring
Liston’s still rising
And the ref wears a frown
For he can’t start counting
Till Sonny comes down”

“Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it, and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name, and I insist people use it when they speak to me and of me.”

Not since Muhammad Ali has an American athlete been a world figure instead of just one more national celebrity. Until Tiger Woods. That’s why it makes sense to think about them together. Both are physically beautiful, both “black,” although not very in terms of graphic reality; and both are astonishing athletes. One comes from nowhere onto the world stage. The other comes from the middle class, and, until he drops out, Stanford University.

It takes courage to say what’s on your mind. Can anyone remember anything Tiger Woods has ever said? What’s far more likely is that we’ll remember his father—his master’s voice—addressing from the grave a mute, managed, handled, coached and prompted son.

The politicians, actors and athletes we not only admire but come to love are the ones whose impact extends beyond technical mastery. This has applied all along, from Odysseus to Martin Luther King up to the present day. We are grateful to such people, love them and make them into heroes because they give us something to take away besides instant replays.

But unlike Muhammad Ali or Yogi Berra to name just two, it doesn’t seem likely we’ll ever get from Woods what all true heroes give us: both the genius of the body, and striking, ultimately unforgettable words that live well beyond careers or lives. He might have been able to do it, but probably won’t. Tiger Woods is just too valuable a “brand,” a commodity. And he doesn’t seem to have the courage to speak for himself.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: GROWING OLD WITH JESSE

--How do they do it?
--Do what?
--Get Jesse Jackson so fast.
--You mean this thing with the governor of Virginia.
--The governor, the tea partiers smearing Obama. Any race-related breaking news story. Within hours--no, within seconds Jesse’s in a network or cable news studio.
--Providing grave-faced observations.
--For years. Decades. I’ve grown old with Jesse.
--We all have. First the Civil Rights Movement, then globe-trotting to trouble spots. Running for president
--That’s our Jesse.
--He’s no fool, though.
--He most certainly isn’t. I haven’t really heard much of what he says for the last ten or fifteen years. Because he’s a rerun for me now, and I tune out. But the very fact he’s still in there punching, still on every TV news operation’s Rolodex is a testament to longevity.
--It’s really true. You have to be built to last to be on after all these years. Even after you’re overheard saying you’d like to cut off the future president’s balls. Even after that, they’re still setting a place at the table for old Jesse.
--And his son’s in office now, isn’t he? In Congress?
--That he is. Illinois’ second congressional district. Think how ready he must be for the cameras. How groomed for office and TV as Jesse’s son.
--There’s also the Reverend Al Sharpton.
--Yep, Al and Jesse often figure together. They’re a tag team, taking on the softball questions served up by the talking heads.
--Do you think they’re given a free pass?
--Long ago, maybe, not any more. And Sharpton’s gotten much better over time. Certainly since he cut his hair. But he’s no fool, either. I actually listen to Sharpton sometimes. He’s unflappable, never gets blustery.
--I have a theory. About how they get to them so fast. Remember the maps they used to have in schools? The roll-down kind?
--You mean before Mapquest and global positioning.
--No, in school, in the classroom.
--Oh, those. Sure. “Here’s Borneo, boys and girls, and right over here is Chile.”
--They were like oversized window blinds. So what I think is, Jesse never really has to leave home. They give him roll-down blowups of all the network and cable news studios. When a call comes through, he just pulls down the appropriate background, stands or sits in front of it, gets his wife to work the camera, and starts talking. How cool is that?
--It makes a great deal of sense. This business of breaking stories and 24/7 news cycles, how else are you going to manage?
--Way back when, I remember there were crazies who insisted something similar was really behind the moon landings.
--Ah yes. I think there was supposed to be a moon studio somewhere in Philadelphia. The whole moon business was actually a hoax. I used to wonder if Nixon and Kissinger really existed. They seemed so improbable to me, I wondered if they weren’t fictional.
--Today, it could happen. A computer-generated Commander-in-Chief.
--You know, it would probably make sense. Especially in terms of terrorist threats. You could still have an actual president somewhere, but the one we’d see most of the time would be a hologram.
--I think perhaps we’ve taken this line of thinking far enough.
--OK. Besides, it’s time for Wolf.

Monday, April 12, 2010

WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM FOR CONFEDERATE HISTORY MONTH

There’s no point in repeating what’s been said about how half the population of his state—that is, the 500,000 slaves who lived in Virginia at the time of the Civil War--somehow slipped Governor Bob McDonnell’s mind when he proclaimed April Confederate History Month.

And it shouldn’t need to be said that informing people about Confederate history is a good thing, or that using a state’s history to promote tourism is a legitimate role for a governor.

But something does need to be added: no politician of high rank, certainly not the governor of one of the fifty states, is ever solely or even principally responsible for what he does or says. What this means is that we must assume the 500,000 slaves either slipped the minds of all those who make up McDonnell’s circle of advisors and handlers, or it registered with them, but got shelved. Those are the only two ways their boss could have been allowed to blunder the way he did.

Think about it: think about all the meetings and chalk talks, all the brain-storming sessions that must have followed the first Eureka! moment when someone decided it would be great to have a month set aside to remember and examine what took place in Virginia during the nation’s most tempestuous period. How many people were involved in arranging for photo ops, interviews, publications, reenactments and videos for this initiative? Imagine the clever, ambitious men and women hastening through the State Capitol and the Governor’s mansion, earning their keep by focusing on some aspect of this major, month-long project.

In other words, McDonnell’s “oversight” means something more than just another instance of a politician fitting his well-heeled foot into his mouth and, days later when the outcry has grown deafening, deciding to take it out so he can eat humble pie and apologize.

It means those responsible for the machinery of Republican politics in Virginia—at least those who answer to or for the governor—are unwilling or unable to incorporate the central fact in the greatest of our national disasters into their thinking and planning. Either those 500,000 slaves came up in meetings and were judged to be an avoidable embarrassment, or they never appeared on anyone’s radar.

It’s hard to take in. But when Virginia journalist Steve Tuttle tells us that when he was a schoolboy, schools were still teaching students to refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression, it all becomes easier to understand. What Tuttle calls “the fetishization of the old Confederacy and all its supposed glory” for school children makes it more possible to see how keeping the fetishists happy is the politically sensitive issue for the governor and those around him, not the matter of slavery.

That is, until everyone who isn’t still obsessed with the glory days of the Old South realizes what’s missing from the gov’s proclamation.

Friday, April 9, 2010

OF BIRTHDAY CAKES AND PEEPS: ANOTHER ADDRESS TO CROSS OFF YOUR LIST

In a few weeks, Barbara and I will leave Florida and return to Michigan. There, a really daunting task awaits us: trying to sell a tatty old four-bedroom colonial full of charm but with few other inducements. That is, inducements to buy, which assumes there are people still alive who can qualify for a mortgage. If the whole country is punch drunk from the collapse in real estate, the Detroit area is down for the count.

Perhaps as a way of persuading ourselves there's hope, late last fall we started looking at apartments. If nothing else, we thought this process would get us started imagining ourselves in different digs, digs demanding a huge, sudden leap in the level of rigor and self-discipline we bring—OK, fail to bring--to the world of stuff.


--Thanks for baking me a cake.
--Well, it’s your birthday.
--Thank you for making me a real homemade cake.
--So to speak. A real mix made at home, anyway.
--You know, you’ve never said a word about those apartments we looked at.
--Which ones? The ones in Bloomfield?
--Not a word, nary a peep.
--I never told you whether or not I want to live at the end of the world?
--Not a peep.
--You like that word, don’t you? Well, my silence should be peep enough. Except you always complain about my not peeping. That I’m too quiet.
--Not always. But it’s true you hold your peep most of the time. Think of all the things you don’t talk about. Bungee jumping is one. Parasailing. I don’t think you ever peeped about those.
--Here, then, is my official peep or tweet on those apartments. They’re too far off the map. It’s nowhere near all the things we like. Plus, I didn’t like that talk about occasionally, possibly having a water problem in the basement. That’s where we’d store all our junk, in those big closets. “People usually put down pallets,” she said. Imagine all our stuff down there getting moldy.
--Come on. You make it sound like a swamp. I didn’t see any water damage.
--Uh huh. I’m sure that’s what you were looking for.
--It didn’t smell musty, did it?
--How would you know?
--I have a sinus problem, a handicap. You shouldn’t be critical.
--Trust me, it smelled musty. So “no” is the last word and final peep from me on living over a swamp.
--They were huge apartments, though.
--Of course they were huge. There’s nothing to see or do outside, so they have to give you lots of space to wander around in. Where you can rest up when you aren’t bailing out the basement.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

THE NEXT GENERATION

For what seems all too few spring breaks, we have enjoyed the company of two of our grandchildren here in Florida. But time is the evil genius that brings adolescence, and we have reluctantly waved goodbye for a few years, as they extend their range to places like New York City.

But we’re resourceful. For four days, we had company, friends from Florida’s Panhandle. Like us, they have grandchildren, and we arranged for them to bring theirs, so we could have our own spring break from ourselves.

There were three, all different, all high energy. It was great fun, not only having them under but also raising our roof. When at last our revels ended, they didn’t want to leave. When you’re old, that’s one of the better compliments you can be paid: a little girl you met three days ago plops down next to you and asks if she can stay.


--The peace that passeth all understanding.
--I feel stunned. Do you feel stunned?
--I feel exhausted.
--The house seems so big to me. Empty. No one’s here now, not even us. All that’s left is appliances turning on and off.
--Ray Bradbury wrote a story about it, I forget the name. Sprinkler heads popping up and shutting down, little mechanical “mice” scurrying around, cleaning and dusting the house. All the people had died in some disastrous way never explained.
--One minute you’re hoping for it to be over, the next you feel bereft. Abandoned.
--One thing’s certain. I now have the most thorough understanding possible of what the term “sensory overload” means.
--It used to be that way with our own. Remember?
--I remember nothing. Just now, I’m an empty vessel.
--At some point, you said we should create a new natural law, the Rule of Seventy-two.
--You mean with Rose and Wagner.
--You said anything over seventy-two hours was pushing the cardiovascular envelope in a dangerous way.
--This was ninety-six hours. I’ve been pleasantly catatonic for about the last eighteen.
--You were great yesterday in the swimming pool.
--Going for broke, I know. When you’re pushing seventy, it’s really good for morale to be able to throw somebody around. It makes you feel powerful. All you have to do is be sure the person is four or five.
--You loved it, I could tell.
--It’s the animal high spirits. The inventions. They really were great at making up games. Give them something as simple as an empty plastic nut jar from Costco, and they turned it into a physics experiment. How much water can the jar hold and still float?
--And those bubble wands they waved around. I couldn’t stop watching_______. Four years old and already absolutely a person. An individual. Did you see her face when bubbles landed on the pool and floated?
--I told her they were riding the waves. She liked the idea. She got down and slapped the water, watching them “widing the waves.” A little sponge for words and games.
--She liked a lot of things. But she really let you know when she didn’t. She knew how to get her way. If her grandma didn’t cooperate, that little girl knew how to use her voice.
--Those postcards I had made up with the cover of my book. She came in the study, sat on the couch behind me. I was typing, she didn’t say anything. Then she spotted a stack of the cards on the bookcase. “Can I have this, Uncle Baywy?” When I turned she was holding one up. I told her of course she could have it. After a minute she asked if she could have another. I said yes, still typing e-mail or something. “Uncle Baywy, can I have another?” It was a big stack of cards and I saw this was likely to go on indefinitely. So I told her no, she had one for each hand, which was the right number. This seemed to make sense to her, and I went back to typing. “Hey, look--” When I looked, she held up the cards. “See? I can hold both in one hand. So can I have another?”
--Yes, one smart little girl.
--And as you say, now it’s too quiet.
--Don’t get carried away. Yesterday, I saw a tick developing at the corner of your eye.
--And that’s true too.
Share your links easily.