June 6, 2017

Sing, little birdie, tweet-tweet

So, yesterday evening, as Your Humble Blogger was listening to the ballgame and puttering around on the internet, Gentle Reader Gannet retweeted a comment about Arizona and confederate memorials:

Arizona’s history of course does not start with statehood in 1912 (or even with white settlement, if it comes to that) and its confederate history is actually quite interesting—well, if you are interested in the war, anyway. There was copper at stake, and the rebels took Tucson and the California Column marched down to take it back, and there was a skirmish at Picacho Pass which is not a Pokemonz thing at all but an actual real thing that had actual consequences back in the settled territory and is also the westernmost battle of the whole war. Well, and I think it was also the smallest “battle”, but still. And it all gets caught up in the Apache Wars, which obv also racism, and the raising of a Confederate Memorial across from the Capitol in Phoenix is about white supremacy, yes, but at least as much about supremacy over the Apache and the Mexicanos and the wide variety of local native folk as over the Africans. And at the same time, there are Confederate soldiers buried in Arizona, who were loved by their families and mourned.

So, yeah, Arizona’s (and New Mexico’s) confederate monuments were about the fucking war in a different way than the statues in Texas and Louisiana were about the fucking war, and they’re about racism in a different way than the monuments in Texas and Louisiana are about racism, but short answer: yeah, racism.

Now, as y’all noticed, I did give in to that temptation and well-actually up there, but that’s not really why I bothered writing up a post. No, what’s unusual is that YHB interacted with a total stranger on Twitter, which hardly ever happens. And this stranger @cxcope, who I know nothing whatsoever about, has something like twelve thousand followers. That seems like a lot. I have, let me see… thirty. Twenty-nine. Maybe twenty-eight by the time I post this. Call it thirty people following me, though, which I think is the most it has ever been, and which includes at least a few defunct or nonexistent people. This person has twelve thousand, which, I mean, that’s a lot of strangers that I just posted to without thinking about it.

And, there’s this twitter thing that happens sometimes: half-a-dozen people I don’t know retweeted my reply, and more than fifty strangers have ’liked’ it, and more than ten thousand people have seen it. Ten thousand people. Ten thousand people have seen something I wrote, and it was 140 characters of nonsense. That makes me deeply uncomfortable.

I think, at one point during the beginnings of this Tohu Bohu, I imagined that I would like a wide readership. I don’t know that I ever wanted ten thousand regular readers or imagined what that would be like, but a wide enough readership so that other bloggers who I found interesting would occasionally include me in their conversations, responding to my essays and such. I never applied myself to getting that readership, because I found the necessary work of commenting on the blogs of strangers unpleasant. At this point, I figure I have about twenty or so regular Gentle Readers of this Tohu Bohu. Amy, Chaos, Chris, Catherine, Dan P, irilyth, Jacob, Jed, Jim, Kendra, Fred, Michael, Melissa R, gannet, ruthling, Stephen, textjunkie and of course my Best Reader. I am aware of one other Gentle Reader who doesn’t comment, and assume there are a few more, which may bring the readership up to, oh, twenty-five? Call it thirty, the same as my Twitter following, and I think you’d be overestimating. And over half of y’all are old college buddies, and I love y’all dearly, and interacting with y’all is not like interacting with strangers over the internet. And half the rest were friends-of-old-college-buddies (or even old-college-buddies-of-old-college-buddies) and are now friends indeed, whether that began before or after YHB started blogging, lo these fourteen-and-a-half years ago.

Wow. It’ll be fifteen years of blogging this winter. More or less, if you count the months I barely poked my head in to delete comment spam. Still. That’s a lot. More than three thousand entries, anyway, tho’ 5/6 of those were in the first ten years. But in all that time, I have always been startled when I am reminded that I am interacting with strangers. Hello, Ronald Goetz! Glad to have you with us! Hope you stick around! I miss Duck and Dance (prone to laughter) and hapa and Matt and, um, I can’t remember who else used to hang around and chat with us. On the other hand, that thing when Lois McMaster Bujold came across the blog and I wound up arguing with strangers was incredibly stressful and unpleasant for me. No, I wouldn’t mind another twenty-five Gentle Readers and occasional commenters, but I don’t want a massive audience for my internet interactions.

I have mentioned, several times, the Famous Blogging Brothers Bernstein, who I have known as long as I have known anyone in the world, and who I think most of the two-dozen of you have met at least once. I forget that they are, at this point, actually Famous: @jbview has over ten thousand followers and @dbernstein has twenty-five thousand. I have been blogging longer than either of them (well, and I suppose neither of them actually blog these days; Jonathan writes columns and David does reporting and they of course they both tweet constantly) and it was very strange to see them over the years, putting in the necessary work and becoming the sort of blogger that I had imagined becoming. I mean, in their own ways and with their own expertise and topics of interest and skills, of course; I don’t mean to say I could have done that because I couldn’t have done specifically what they did, even if I could perhaps have done something similar. I did struggle with envy, the way I do with old friends who have Emmys or tenure or who get cast as Benedick, damn ’em. But in truth those are things I do not want. Well, except Benedick, obviously, but the other ones are not things I actually want, lives that I want to live. Not taking into account the whole life, the inconveniences as well as the benefits, and most of all the laborious, unpleasant or difficult work that these folk do.

And, in the case of the internet, I had decided years ago that I don’t want ten thousand readers. I don’t like interacting with strangers (outside of audiences, with a script, a director and weeks of rehearsal) even when they reactions are almost entirely positive. The thought of what can actually happen on-line when thousands of people notice a person terrifies me, even if it seems unlikely that I will bear the brunt of such an experience. I chose not to swim in those waters

And then—a slip and respond to a stranger with one goofy paralipsis, and ten thousand people see it. It’s a strange world we live in, Gentle Readers.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

Edited to add this Postscript: I must admit I found this amusing:

May 26, 2017

Keys and Cylinders

Well, here’s a totally random thing from my workday: one of my tasks is maintaining the lockers in the library that employs me. We have 28 of those quarter-deposit lockers, for temporary use, for shoving your stuff safely away while you go eat a meal or something. At the end of the semester, I have to go and clear ’em out, and then I discover the remnants of meals, or the entire worldly possessions of some poor homeless person, or discarded gym clothes. My very least favorite task in my whole job, actually, and not really because I almost always have to touch something I would rather not touch (which happens surprisingly often in library work) but because I have to make a judgment call about the appropriate use of our lockers, and sometimes have to decide whether to throw away old notebooks or something that I fear will be actually missed. Not that it has yet happened that someone has come for something I decided to discard, but the stress is there nonetheless.

The other part of locker maintenance is replacing lost keys. I don’t much like that part of the job either, to be honest. Some poor sap loses a key and I have to use my master key to take out the whole locking mechanism, knock out the cylinder and replace it with a new cylinder and matching key. I am not what you would call handy; my first attempt at this task, armed only with all of the appropriate tools and a several-page instruction chart with copious illustrations, probably took half-an-hour. These days it takes perhaps two minutes, so that part of the job has become less stressful, which is nice. I was even able at one point to fix (well, restore to working condition) the mechanism that had become jammed because instead of a quarter some eejit had stuffed in two dimes and a nickel. So that’s all right.

We can send back the old cylinders, the ones that the missing keys worked with, to the company we buy replacement sets from, but I tend to just shove ’em in a sack and forget about them, largely because I hate thinking about the whole task of locker maintenance, and also because sometimes the keys turn up and I figure I can put them back together and use them again just fine. And when a key does turn up, I have no idea which cylinder it works with, so I just shove it in a sack and forget about ’em. And nobody else really cares or notices, so after a few years there’s just this sack of cylinders and another smaller sack of keys, and we call all ignore them together.

This year, though, for the first time in my recollection, the lockers were almost all empty at the end of the year! There were only two lockers with anything in ’em at all: one had the same three binders that one guy has been using or pretending to use for years, and one had two hymnals and that’s it. Nothing disgusting or dangerous. I even opened the hymnals and they were actual hymnals—the pages hadn’t been cut out to make a space for a bomb or a nest of alien lice in formaldehyde or a syringe or anything. Just hymnals, and for all I know they had just been stashed there for a couple of hours while a choir boy went to class; I put them back and locked up the locker again and forgot about ’em.

But to celebrate that the academic year had ended without my having to do anything distasteful or indeed without my having to make any locker-related decisions of any kind, and also because I had to move all of the locker-related stuff from one place to another, I decided it was time to actually test the keys against the cylinders. So out they all came, together with some spare locker mechanisms because that’s how I know that they actually work together properly, and it turns out at this point I have ten keys and thirty cylinders. So that’s a lot of key testing all in one day. It seems I am not actually very good at time management.

In the end, though, I did find three sets of keys and cylinders that still work together! Huzzah! The next time we need a replacement, we can use one of those sets. And the remaining seven keys and twenty-seven cylinders, I threw in a sack and fully plan to forget about ’em.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

May 5, 2017

Games are about failure, eventually

I’ve been musing for a while about games and the habits and patterns of thought that they encourage—I believe that board games and card games and parlor games are terrific for those habits and patterns of thought. As the Youngest Member gets older and better at games, we have been playing more of them and more complex ones. Lately we’ve been playing a lot of Splendor and 6 Nimmt! and some One Deck Dungeon and some Careers and some Settlers of Catan and some other stuff.

But still, more of my time and more of my children’s time is spent playing on the computer than on the table top. It’s an easy and simple thing to pick up the laptop or tablet and play a game on the computer: you don’t need anyone else to be around and not busy, and you don’t need to play a whole game at once, and it tickles the lights and buzzes and clickety-click parts of the brain in a way that board games don’t.

And I was thinking… I mostly play Tetris, Twenty and 2048, in short bursts throughout the day. Terrific games, great time-killers and mood-eveners for me. And they are all designed to end with the player losing. The point of the game is to postpone losing as long as you can, but losing is inevitable. It’s the only end condition. You can’t win; you can only play for long enough to reach various goals. You can declare victory when you get to twenty twenties, or when you get to two-to-the-eighth, and if you have strength of will you can stop playing at that moment, but the game is designed to continue until failure.

This is fundamentally different from solitaire, where there is at least a chance to win, even if in many solitaire games you seldom do. A habit of mind based on playing that sort of game a lot might, perhaps, train a person not to expect success at long odds, but to be happy when it comes. And of course it’s different from a game where someone is bound to lose because there can be only one winner—most games are like that, and they may ingrain various habits of mind about competition, losing gracefully, winning gracefully, tactics v. strategy, and of course whatever the actual game involves, resource management or probability or hand-eye coordination or whatever. But what are the habits of mind that are ingrained, unconsciously, by playing games that you know will always end in failure?

When I was very small, there were no games that were designed to end in failure. That was a computer-game thing that came in when I was old enough to stand at a console. Asteroids and Space Invaders and Lunar Lander, Galaga and Missile Command and Centipede, you played for as long as you could on a quarter. That wasn’t every game at the time, any more than it is now, but the concept of the game that ends when your last ship crashes became a perfectly normal game at that point. When I was ten or so. Not earlier.

Well, is that true? Pinball ends in failure, and pinball has been around since 1950. I mean, with flippers, such that the point is to play as long as you can on a single ball. The pinball/pachinko concept is older than that, but was kinda like skeeball, in that the point was to garner a lot of points, not to keep playing. And of course the point of pinball is to get a high score, which is not failure, but then if you think about it, nobody ever just gets the high score and lets the ball go through the chute immediately after. Once you have a high score (if you do) you try to get more points, and then it’s just like Tetris, innit?

Similarly, I played catch with my brothers, counting up the number of successful toss-and-catch events, and that could only end in someone dropping the ball or Frisbee. Keeping a balloon in the air for as many taps as possible—however long it stayed up, it can end only in the balloon touching the ground. I don’t remember playing any other such games, although I could invent them. Sinking as many consecutive free-throws as possible; pitching cards into a hat; stacking building blocks as high as I can reach. Building a house of cards, I seem to recall, could end in success, when I decided the house was perfect, or maybe when I used the whole deck. I mean, eventually it falls, but I think I would at least sometimes build to my satisfaction and then knock the thing down on purpose. Maybe I’m misremembering, though.

Anyway, the less interesting question, to me at the moment at any rate, is whether the prevalence of play-until-failure games really does develop different habits of mind in the generation raised after 1980 or so. The more interesting question is whether there are play-until-failure games that predate pinball with flippers in 1950 or so, and how common they were for previous generations.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 19, 2017

An Idea, not really mine, but now it's on my mind

So, Your Humble Blogger was strolling in one of our fine local parks the other day, conversing with the Perfect Non-Reader and the Youngest Member, and the idea came up of having a game (for the tablet or phone) set in the park. And I pointed out that such a game would potentially be good advertising for the park, raising its profile and such. And the three of us brainstormed a huge and complicated game—or, rather, one of those games that contains minigames and quests and such, where the central “game” of (in our case) making a rose garden is more like a kind of fun way to keep score of all the rest of the things in the game package. There was a game called Snoopy’s Street Fair five or six years ago that did something of the kind, and I believe things in the game world have advanced somewhat since then… anyway, the general idea was that there would be various activities you could do in the game that would be associated with things that could be done in the park—simple things like dog-walking, tennis or baseball as well as complicated things like putting on concerts, running the café or planting the gardens. But you could tie it in with the actual park.

You could have real-world events at the park for which you could sign up and receive points (or seeds or petals or whatever players would trade for things they want in the game). Or the other way—you could do something in the game that would qualify you for a free ice-cream cone or discount on dahlias. You could have the palette of games change with the seasons (sledding in winter! raking in autumn! baseball in the summer! allergy attacks in the spring!) and you could have alerts or messages for various events in the park. One of my children suggested that people could upload pictures they took in the park, which could then be incorporated in the games.

And it seemed to us that it could go much bigger—you could, for instance, connect with a local business, arranging for them to sponsor a clean-up day in the park and having their logo or a banner on the log-in page for a fortnight. Or connect with the local high school team for a season, or a tournament. You could have, it was suggested, a mini-game where you weed the garden of an elderly neighbor, and when you completed your task, in addition to your in-game reward, the game could point you to upcoming volunteer opportunities. I suspect almost any local event could be connected to something the game, or a mini-game could be created for it. At the least, you could have a quick link from the gazebo where you start each day to a local calendar of news and events.

And it occurred to me to wonder—is nobody already doing this? I mean, I understand we’re talking about something ridiculously expensive, but (a) it might not look so expensive in the city budget, where millions of dollars are already being allocated for things, and (2) there are cities and towns and parks (or other similar local landmarks) that have the money for ridiculously expensive things. A Golden Gate Park game, or a Central Park game, or a Hyde Park game. Or, alternately, a UCBerkeley game, or a Carnegie-Mellon game, or a UW-Madison game. Colleges and Universities also have an interest in connecting people to the physical place and to each other, raising their profile and attempting different paths of communication.

I have wondered for some years why the institution that employs me hasn’t gamified the campus tour—has anybody else done that? Do other institutions at least have an app to go along with the campus tour, with video and audio and detailed information you can click through to? Because ours does not, and that seems like the sort of thing you could assign a 200-level class to code. Or, you know, maybe it isn’t, because I don’t actually know anything about coding or game design. But even if it’s hard and expensive, shouldn’t they be doing it anyway? Or shouldn’t someone be doing it anyway?

Of course, maybe someone is and I haven’t heard about it, because do not hear about those sorts of things. And maybe somebody is doing my great game-of-the-Park already, or an even better version of it, and I haven’t heard about it, because ditto. Or maybe there are very good reasons why it can’t be done or shouldn’t be done, and I don’t know enough to know them. It does seem to me, though, as if ten years ago the future was advergaming, and that pretty much meant that there were Coke logos on some minigolf layouts for a year and then nothing, right? But that future meant the sort of thing I’m thinking about for my city park system, and I kinda want that.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 24, 2017

No, no, no, no, no, don' wanna

So. Your Humble Blogger has not been posting regular rants about Our Only President and his pack of grifters, nor about the Other Party in our federal legislature and their stunning, implausible incompetence. In truth, I don’t have much to say. Picture me with that open-mouthed look of bewildered horror, occasionally gathering my chin up enough to sputter But—

When I do manage to half-formulate an idea of something to write about, I put a couple of sentences together and then have to go and take a walk. Or eat some chocolate.

So this is a note to more or less check in and let any of y’all Gentle Readers that might have been expecting me to write about today’s news or this week’s or any of the mishegoss going on right now that, well, no. It doesn’t seem that I am going to write about it.

Among other things, primarily my having no handle whatsoever on what the hell is going on in our government, there’s the fact that I don’t actually enjoy spitting vituperation about the Other Party. I do, honestly, believe that Conservatives are an important part of Democracy, and that a functioning Conservative Party is vital to our constitutional system. I don’t think it’s my job to provide one, and I don’t see how my talking about it would help anything, whether I take up a tone of reason or vent my righteous anger. There ain’t no Republicans reading this Tohu Bohu, nohow. Sigh.

So yesterday I was trying to write up some ideas I had about political resolve. Well, resolve generally, but specifically as it works in politics. The high regard in which we hold the resolute; the contempt for the flip-flopper. The Green Lantern theory of diplomacy, the Art of the Deal, the sense that the House Freedom Caucus seems to have or at least project that they believe that if they simply refuse to cave in Obamacare will be repealed. I wrote a few sentences and stopped. What’s the point? Yes, their authoritarian impulses led them to accept as their leader an incomprehensibly unqualified television star whose ignorant vacillations were only thinly masked by the bluster of resolution. Yes, Our Only President gave an rambling interview in which he claimed that when he said things that weren’t true, they later became true, and that therefore anything he said that seemed false just hadn’t come true yet.

It’s not that I don’t care any more, you know.

It’s that I care too much. It hurts to blog about the failure of our democracy, particularly when all Your Humble Blogger really has to offer is the usual combination of heavy humour, stretchy metaphor and occasional insight into rhetorical technique. Meanwhile, as a nation we’ve elected into the White House and majorities in our Legislatures a Party that wants to implement policies that I find appalling, disgusting and dangerous—and through incompetence and dysfunction, they are failing. I don’t want conservative policies to be implemented. But elections really ought to have policy consequences, and there is a terrible price to pay when they don’t. Of course, in this case there will be a terrible price to pay if they do—a literal price for a lot of people and a metaphorical price for a lot of others. You know, the ones who will die. I care too much about them to want stupid, impractical and mean-spirited bills to pass. I care too much about America to want the Other Party to fail like this.

What is the path from here to a working federal government? What are the steps along the way? At one point, a few years ago, I thought that one step, unfortunately for my preferred policy outcomes, was the Other Party gaining legislative majorities and the Presidency: having to govern, and paying the political penalty for failing to govern, would realign the incentives. That sure doesn’t look likely right now.

Look—let’s be clear: I was wrong about that, I was wrong about Donald Trump, I was wrong about how the whole damned government would respond to all of this. I’m scared as hell that the country won’t properly survive all this. Not just Our Only President, who is bad enough, but the utter failure of the rest of his Party to respond. And how should they respond? I have no fucking idea. Not how they are responding, that’s for damned sure, but given who votes for them and why, what should they do now? I have been wrong about so much; now I know only that I am baffled.

And for that matter, what should My Party do that moves us along that (I hope not completely imaginary) path from here to working democratic self-governance? Obstructing everything reinforces the new and terrible norm; co-operative compromise in fuckery and incompetence would be a disastrous betrayal.

And I surely don’t want to preach despair. Which I don’t really feel: there is hope in America, I do believe it. The resistance is a thing, which was not a thing before—it is in fact many things, which is even better than being a thing. Young Persons these days are (in my experience) broadminded and kind and aware of how they’re getting screwed and who is screwing them. Thirteen million peopled voted for a Democratic Socialist, and sixty-five million voted for a woman running on a progressive platform. Even some of y’all Gentle Readers have gone from being election-day citizens to year-round citizens, and maybe even some of y’all are finding that kind of active participation in self-government a good thing in your lives. That’s great! It may even be enough! I don’t know!

Well. That’s pretty close to a thousand words that pretty much demonstrates why I have not been writing about politics lately. I don’t know if I will be inspired to in the future; I have to balance how much it depresses me to try it with how much it depresses me not to try it. I find it easier, unsurprisingly I suppose, to write about books and Scripture and whatnot, so I think that’s what I’ll concentrate on for a while.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 8, 2017

International Women's Day

So, it’s International Women’s Day. I’m going to start this note by saying that it would probably be better for me to spend the day listening than speaking—there is no sense in which my take on International Women’s Day or the US Day without a Woman action is more important or relevant or insightful than those of the various women who are writing about it just fine, thanks. So.

Still, I want to support women and equality and International Women’s Day—I’m wearing red, although I wear red shirts often enough these days that I don’t know that anyone will read it as support—so here are a couple of thoughts. The point of the Day without a Woman action is, to my mind and (less irrelevantly) on the mission statement, to recogniz[e] the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system. With that in mind, and with the notion that the cost to many women of taking the day off is so substantial that they are working (paid and unpaid) whether they support the action or not, here are some of the ways in which women have added value to my particular socio-economic world today.

First of all, of course, my Best Reader did (by my count) four distinct household tasks before we left the house at 7:30 this morning. I could certainly have missed some; I usually do. She will do more before I get home. And then she is the primary earner for the household, so in that sense everything from the roof to the foundation, the heat and the electricity and the pantry full of food was value she added.

My children went to school this morning: my Perfect Non-Reader has two male teachers this semester (I think) but is mostly taught by women. The administration at her high school is entirely comprised of women, as far as I know: the Principal, the Vice-Principals, the office staff, the counselor, the nurse… at the Youngest Member’s school, things are much the same, although there is less administration, and if I remember correctly (I don’t) there is one male working in office support but only one male teacher in the whole pre-K-5 school. One of the female crossing guards was not there this morning, and was replaced, as occasionally happens, by a male police officer. The other female crossing guard we usually see was there, standing in the rain, and waved cheerfully at us as we went by, as she always does.

I made it to work today: there’s a shit-ton of invisible work that got me here, and I have no idea how much of that was done by women. The road crews and their dispatchers; whoever does and whoever schedules the maintenance of the traffic lights; even the woman who makes appointments at the car tune-up place helped, tho’ not today (so far).

At work: the 27 people employed at the library that employs me include 20 women and 7 men. Of the thirteen people in the building right now that I might conceivably have work-related interactions with, I am one of three men. I supervise 19 student workers, of whom four are male; the scheduled shifts for today are 7 female to 1 male.

Also at work, more generally: at the University level, the entire payroll department and the entire human resources department are staffed exclusively by women; those are both important to me. The person assigned to provide computer and network help to the library is a woman, although I believe she is out all this week. Women run the café across the way here and the campus store next door (where I often will purchase a snack in the afternoon) and make up the majority of the staff, perhaps two-thirds or more, although I don’t know everybody there and my count doesn’t include people who work behind the scenes. My contacts at the budget office, the financial aid office, the registrar and the bursar are all women, as well.

Not really a Digression: The Director of the Libraries is a woman, which is nice, but at the next level down, two of the three department managers are male, meaning that the top four in the hierarchy are split two-two while the rest of the staff is 18-5. I don’t know the numbers for the staff around here generally, but I think that’s probably fairly typical. The President of the University is a man, as is the incoming President who will take office this summer. The acting Provost is a man; two of the three Vice-Presidents are men; four of the seven colleges are led by male Deans at present and the Deans of Enrollment, Graduate Studies and University Programs are all men, as is the Director of Budgeting. And what’s amazing is that there has been progress during the last ten years: the three female Deans have all replaced male Deans during that time, and the two female V-Ps also replaced men holding more-or-less those positions. End not really a Digression.

To leave my workplace and gather some more added value: At Temple Beth Bolshoi, as I call it, where my children will be this afternoon, the Associate Rabbi is a woman, as is the Cantor, although the senior Rabbi and the two Rabbis Emeritus (Emeriti?) are men. There are women serving in all of the staff positions except custodial work: women run membership, the library, the education program and do all the paperwork. The President of the Congregation is a woman, too. Oh, and my P-NR teaches at the school where the YM is learning, so that’s added value, too.

My mother-in-law adds value—she is picking the YM up from school, overseeing homework and snack, and then taking him and his sister to Hebrew School. Amazing upaid labor, just part of the social structure.

Over the course of the day, I’ll be entertained by the bizarre and wonderful twitter feed of Ursula Vernon (@UrsulaV) and the theater writing of Lyn Gardner in the Guardian or Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s Yarn Harlot blog. I might read Sarah Kliff’s health-care reporting over at Vox or Adele Stan’s political commentary over at The American Prospect, or I might get a chance to read some Lois McMaster Bujold or Elizabeth Gaskell on my phone. In the evening, I expect I will listen to music, and although I have no idea what will come up on the old shuffle, it may include Imelda May or The Nields or perhaps the Baltimore Consort, whose members include Mary Anne Ballard and Mindy Rosenfeld, possibly with Custer LaRue on vocals. Or maybe watch an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, starring the late lamented Elisabeth Sladen. Or any of the thousands of other women writers, musicians, performers, actors, songwriters, journalists or filmmakers who make my life so much more pleasant.

Before I’m done, I’ll add—I have no idea, but statistically, it’s likely that the bulk of the labor done to make the clothes I wear, the sheets I sleep in, the satchel I carry my goods in, even the components of the computer I type this on, was all done by women. The work of getting the food to the grocery stores in purchasable form—not so much driving the trucks, although of course there are women doing that, too, but the processing in the food factories nobody wants to think about, as well as the places that put the spices into the little bottles and the places that fold the cartons and bag the lettuce and can the tomatoes. We don’t see any of that stuff, and I suspect that most of us in our culture tend to think of that kind of work (that is, factory work, repetitive and stressful, interacting with large and noisy machines) as men’s work, but I believe the bulk of it is done by women, here and around the world. Not that we see it.

Does that seem comprehensive? It isn’t. Not even close. I’m not talking about either the direct effects (the institution that employs me could not survive without women paying tuition or funding grants) or the knock-on effects (how many—just to pick a single f’r’ex—of my favorite books, by men or women, would have been published if there weren’t a market of women readers) of women in the marketplace. And one of the things I have been trying to get at is how invisible (or just taken for granted) much of women’s labor is in our culture, and I am surely part of that, will-I nil-I.

Which is why I should probably shut up for a bit and go back to reading and listening.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 7, 2017

Thought for my Pennies

I don’t know why this came to mind today, but one of the most liberating moments of my middle age was the realization that I don’t have to give a shit about calculating tips in restaurants. At least, not at the restaurants I go to. I’m not sure when exactly it was, and it’s possible that I am forgetting a conversation that led to it, but at some point in my late thirties or early forties, I was doing arithmetic for a tip and judging the correct amount for service given, and then I just rounded up and added another dollar and realized that it made no difference to my budget.

I think of it as a fifty-dollar tab, but it was long enough ago that it was probably thirty-ish dollars, unless I suppose there were more than two of us. Anyway, if it was thirty, I might have been deciding between an 18% tip ($5.40) and a 20% tip ($6) and realized that it made no difference to me at all if I paid $35.40 or $36 or even $37 for dinner. It just wasn’t enough money for me to worry about—certainly not enough money to pay me for my time making judgments and doing arithmetic, and absolutely in no way enough money to hold over some sap of a waiter as a punishment or reward for correct service. At fifty dollars, the difference between 18% and 20% reaches a whole dollar. Adding another dollar on top of that isn’t going to make a difference in how often I can afford to go out to eat.

Now, a couple of things. First, sure, absolutely, the entire system of tips in restaurants is obviously terrible. It’s awful. It makes no sense. If you were inventing an economic system for a specfic world, there is no way you would ever invent one particular sub-industry in which once class of service workers is paid half-wages with the rest made up by voluntary-but-strongly-enforced-by-social-norms payment at the customer’s discretion. It’s bizarre. Of course, you couldn’t really imagine the economics of higher education, either, where much of the revenue comes from totally voluntary donations from former students. I dunno. Anyway, my discovery that I don’t have to be stressed about tipping doesn’t make me feel better about the system at all, only about my experience of it.

And second, of course, this is because in my middle-age I am lucky enough to be married to someone who makes a pretty good living, and I myself have a pretty reasonable job. We’re not poor, or struggling. We’re very nearly comfortable, by my standards. We can afford to eat at a restaurant when we feel like it, if not all the time. We can’t have all the imaginable luxuries, but we can choose a few. I’m aware that there are people for whom a couple of dollars is no negligible sum. That’s not something I have forgotten, even as I reach the point where it isn’t so, for me, anymore.

And really, that was why it was so liberating, I think. The knowledge that my money troubles (and they do exist) are in sufficiently large chunks that a few dollars here or there aren’t going to make any difference. Our family has graduated from taking care of the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves to penny wise, pound foolish. Or, rather, the reverse of that, I hope. We can be penny foolish, so long as we are pound wise. The mortgage is not put at risk by my being a good tipper. The budget for a second car is a question that will not be appreciably affected by whether I tip well or cheaply.

There are other aspects of this: realizing that a difference between the cheaper gas station on the left and the more expensive one on the right comes to less than fifty cents a tank. Noticing that making another stop to get the cheaper milk saves nor more than a few nickels. The savings between buying the cheap socks and the good socks is not, over the course of a year, more than about twenty-five dollars. And, of course, it goes the other way: bringing leftovers for lunch most days instead of buying really does save almost a hundred bucks a month. Buying a $2 cup of tea at the café when I want it is totally affordable—but going a couple of times a day would put a serious dent in the budget. There are restaurant choices that I cannot comfortably afford even if I tipped at 15%. One thing about being in comfortable circumstances, it seems to me, is that you have the capacity and the responsibility of figuring shit like that out: is delivery of a daily newspaper better thought of as a negligible fifty cents a day, or the whole annual $150 or so? If I decided to cut our expenses, should I stop eating potato chips? Or stop doing theater for a while? Would a raise of a dollar an hour be enough to start thinking about a trip to London next year, or should I get a Hulu subscription service so our family can watch a bunch of my old favorite TV shows together? Or maybe blow it all on a new iPhone?

Perhaps it should go without saying, but yeah, this is not how we think about healthcare.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

February 16, 2017

Day without Immigrants

Today is supposed to be a Day Without Immigrants; I don’t know if enough people participated to make it a Big Deal. I think this sort of thing makes a better thought experiment than an actual strike, but heck, try different things, right?

I have mentioned a couple of times that three of my grandparents were not just immigrants but illegal immigrants, smuggled across the border in violation of the law. My father’s parents were from Poland—his mother’s brothers were the first to come over, and sent for her, and then for the fellow she was sweet on from the Old Country. Illegals, all. Amnesty made them citizens, after the war. Not refugees, mind you. They were looking for the goldene medina, the golden land, in which they could make a living. Actually, my grandfather was just looking for my grandmother, to be honest—it was my father’s uncles who were ambitious. Grandpa was doing all right playing the violin in the resort towns, goes the story. Of course, if he hadn’t left the Old Country in 1929 or 30, he would have eventually been a refugee, if he lived. One of his sisters lived long enough to get to a DP camp after the war and then eventually to this country legally. Unless that part of the story isn’t true, of course.

My mother’s mother was born under the Tsar, and the tricky part for her (according to the version of the story I know) wasn’t getting smuggled in here but getting smuggled out of there. Actually, literally chased across the border by Cossacks. Illegal emigrant first, before becoming an illegal immigrant. Unless that part of the story isn’t true, of course.

My parents were anchor-babies, not Dreamers. Born in peacetime. Grew up speaking English. That part of the story, I’m pretty sure is true. College graduates, suburban house, liberal politics, four successful children.

Well, and here I am. Rock-ribbed American, salt of the earth and whatnot.

That’s my immigrant story.

What’s yours?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 15, 2017

Communication, abbreviation, consternation

OK, so I recently saw a tweet that was punctuated with a picture polished fingernails and I have no idea what that was supposed to convey. I was able to search on the internet for a sort of emoji translator—I still don’t really understand the nuance, but I have a verbal version (indicates nonchalance) that will more or less do.

But I’m wondering… Is this going to happen to me increasingly frequently as I get old? I don’t expect to share a whole lot of cultural references with Young Persons, but I am able, more or less, to figure out what bye, Felicia means in context. I expect there to be a lot of slang I don’t know (I need not be aware of the nuances of Becky as a disparagement, for instance) and I am often behindhand learning the nicknames by which celebrities are currently known, and so forth. There are catchphrases that I recognize as being catchphrases without knowing where they are from, but I often can tell what the mean, more or less, or why someone chose to repeat them at that moment.

At some point, probably soon, I will have drifted far enough away from the culture of Young Persons that even that will become tenuous guesswork. As I will presumably be interacting with fewer and fewer Young Persons, I may or may not notice—I will hang around with Old Folk and reference the Ice Capades and Rick Dees. All that seems to me perfectly normal; my parents, presumably, went through something similar in regards to things being gnarly.

What seems strange to me is, well, first of all that I am still seeing lots of things written by Young Persons who are punctuating their tweets with tiny pictures, and further to that that I want to still see lots of things written by Young Persons, particularly politico-social commentary. I mean, I haven’t really retreated into a bubble at all—at least on-line. The internet means that I am skimming from a bubbling cauldron of generational whatnottage, and while the few dozen people I actually follow on Twitter are mostly of an age with me, the stuff they pass along is a surprisingly wide net. Not politically wide, I mean, although I do see a few Conservatives who are actually Conservative and not wild-eyed rightist radicals, but demographically wide, which is a Good Thing for me and me perception of the universe, even if it makes me work harder to keep up.

And then also: it seems to me fundamentally different that the things I cannot understand are pictorial references, rather than verbal references. I’m not sure I can defend that—had the tweet in question been followed by the text [painting nails] I don’t think I would have understood it better. I suppose I have more difficulty picking up context clues with the tiny pictures, particularly in knowing what is being used as sarcasm-punctuation, or when the picture is essential to the point and when it is not. When a pundit re-tweets another publication’s headline and adds a thinking-face or a pair of eyeballs, that indicates disagreement with the tweeted article, right?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 14, 2016

Holly but not jolly?

A kind of random observation about the Season…

To me, the categories of religious Christmas decoration and secular winter decoration are not exactly defined. However, I do have strong feelings about where they belong—I do not want religious decorations in what I consider Public Spaces (also not entirely well-defined, but clearly including the Town Hall, the Public Libraries and the Public Schools) and I really like religious decorations in publicly-available Private Spaces (people’s windows and lawns, churches, cars, etc). I mean, people can also have secular decorations if they so desire. I just like to see the religious ones.

Religious decorations clearly include nativity scenes, angels (with or without trumpets) and advent wreaths (with candles). Secular decorations clearly include lights, candles, snowflakes, icicles, snowmen and stars. Also mittens and scarves, I suppose. There are things that I could argue about: candy canes and evergreen trees, holly and ivy, wreaths without candles, a fireplace log. I am not going to be offended by someone including those in a Public Space, but if you were putting together a secular winter display of some kind, you might want to leave them out. Santa Clause is clearly a religious figure (if there is a Santa, it’s a Christmas display, not a winter display) but are reindeer? I mean, the reason reindeer are in the Christmas display and caribou are not is because of the St. Nick connection, unquestionably, but like the evergreen tree or holly sprigs, reindeer are in the Christmas story because they are winter things, not vice versa. Gift-wrapped packages are a Christmas thing, of course, as secular as they are.

The library that employs me has what we might call mildly Christmassy decorations: no crèche or angels, but trees and Santa. The dominating themes are snow and light, sure, but there are enough things that are not associated with the non-Christmassy parts of the season to make me very slightly uneasy. The director added some Chanukah decorations, which of course have dreidels and menorahs. And to me, the image of the chanukiah, or menorah, is absolutely as religious as a nativity scene or three kings on camels. There doesn’t seem to me to be any question about it. And frankly, it makes me uncomfortable.

Now, as a private institution, they are certainly entitled to decorate however they want. And I understand the idea that if we have a tree we should have a menorah to indicate plurality of experience. I think we have had Kwanzaa candle sorts of decorations in the past as well, and those never made me uneasy. Of course, candles are (to me) an absolutely essential part of winter decoration, just because the days are so damn’ short. That is different from the menorah. And I don’t know what else we might have as a Chanukah decoration—plates of doughnuts and latkes? Chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil?

So, mostly I just wanted to ask if any of y’all also think of a menorah as being more like a crèche than a reindeer, in terms of public and private decoration for the Season. Or if you have any other feelings about seasonal decorations you want to discuss. Like that terrifying gingerbread man with his feet dissolving slowly in the cocoa. I’m ready.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 14, 2016

A conversation about trees

I came across a quote from poem by Bertolt Brecht called An die Nachgeborenen, often in English titled To Posterity. I liked the translation by Scott Horton called To Those Who Follow in Our Wake. Translation is hard—Nachgeborenen is more literally those who are born after. As Mr. Brecht was writing in 1939 from Denmark, having left Nazi Germany, I think it’s relevant that he is thinking of a time after. It’s a powerful poem, but I had just come across this one quote (after the original is not Mr. Horton's but my own attempt at translation):

Was sind das für Zeiten, wo
Ein Gespräch über Bäume fast ein Verbrechen ist
Weil es ein Schweigen über so viele Untaten einschließt!

What is with these times, when
a chat about trees is, almost, a crime
because it leaves so much injustice unsaid!

I’m not really satisfied with my translation, but then I wouldn’t be, would I? Anyway, the poem is complex and difficult, layering despair and hope, pride and shame. He does not know if he was right to stay when he stayed, or to flee when he fled. He talks about die Zeit, the time, when the streets become swamps. And he looks, finally, to those who are born after the time he is in, in a time when each person’s relationship to other people is that of helper, not (as is implied) betrayer, antagonist, murderer. He asks those people, the ones who are born after those times, not in them, to look past his own failings. Not just his, he asks for us, all the people of those times.

We are the ones who were born after.

I find myself, yes, looking at the people living in those times with something of the forbearance begged of me, like I have not before.

I had some good conversations over the weekend, not hopeful but not entirely despairing, and I find myself today wondering: at what point would I commit civil disobedience? When would I accept jail (and potentially beatings or worse) to add one small voice? I have children. I have a job, not that I like it much, but my family could not stay in our home or enjoy the comforts they do now if I were jailed for even a few months. I have already decided that the Dakota Pipeline business is not the point at which I sacrifice what I have. What will that point be? If, after some terrible attack on our citizens, our government does insist on a registry of people whose religion is deemed terrifying: is that the moment I will go and lie on the steps of the registry building until they jail me? Is the moment when leaders of the political opposition are jailed? Is the moment after we have reduced a foreign city to rubble, or do I wait for one of our own?

The truth is, I don’t know. I don’t. I hope it will never come to that—I want to emphasize that it is certainly possible it won’t! But for the first time in my life I feel I need to be prepared for it to reach a point where I will, afterward, regret not having abandoned my family, jailed for the cause of liberty and democracy. We are certainly on the verge of something; I don’t know what.

And yet, I cannot agree with Bertolt Brecht. It’s important to have conversations about trees. Here in Hartford, there is still the end of autumnal splendor. Reds and browns more than yellows, and many of the branches you see silhouetted against the sky are winter-bare. The windstorm on Friday knocked down a few branches and made a leaf shower, but it didn’t strip the trees altogether. My desk recently was shifted a foot or so forward, which had the incidental benefit of lining me up through a doorway with a window that looks out onto the quad. Where before I had to lean forward to glimpse the sunshine, now I just turn my head.

Some of you cannot, in times like these, talk about trees—or books or blocking or bass lines, feeling it is almost a crime to do so, because all the talk about those things we like silences those things we do not. We are, like the poet, looking for absolution for any moment spent appreciating beauty in the midst of ugliness, for any weaknesses in our defense of others, for any words that are not in protest against injustice. We are overwhelmed. So many of us. Overwhelmed. So many of us… we that haven’t (yet) been attacked or degraded, we that still enjoy the rights that we are already seeing dissolve and that we fear will disappear entirely, we that are aware that we have the choice of what to say and when. Overwhelmed. We want to talk about the trees, and we can’t. I’m going to try to do both, to write about justice and about trees. I hope you will also, Gentle Readers all, if you can and when you can.

I have to believe this: those who are born after (and there will be those who are born after) will be more inclined to indulgence if we share generously of our joys as we seek out ways to help each other. Perhaps I am not brave enough to go to jail soon enough; perhaps I am too base and too weak to be a helper of other people. I hope at the right moment we will all be strong enough together (we draw strength from each other in our weakness, don’t we?) but whether we are or not, I want to share in your joys as we share in our fears. Even in these times.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

October 13, 2016

Fasting, Vows, Failing, Vows

Yom Kippur is over, and I have eaten the traditional pizza. So that’s all right.

I was thinking to myself, on Wednesday afternoon, about why I fast on Yom Kippur. I don’t always fast, actually, and my observance changes quite a bit in other ways, year to year. Mostly, I attend services in the evening (the Kol Nidre service, about which more later) and the morning. I don’t generally attend the afternoon service or the last sunset service. In the afternoon, when I am not at services, I generally sit at home; sometimes I will read Jonah and/or the Avot, but sometimes I won’t. If there is housework to do, I won’t refrain from doing it because of the Yom. I listen to secular music, and might watch tv or play video games. Essentially, my observance of Yom Kippur is done by two o’clock or so, except that I stay hungry.

So why do I fast? Why not just draw a line under the day and have lunch?

Before I answer that, I should probably talk for a bit about my feelings around halakhic observance. I don’t keep the Law—I don’t keep kosher, I drive on Shabbat, I don’t wear a yarmulke. I tend to think that the Laws are not applicable, in any literal sense, to me or to most Jews today. I do light candles on Friday nights, I do pray using the traditional Hebrew prayers and songs, I do fast on Yom Kippur. I don’t feel that people who do keep kosher or wear fringes under their shirts are in any sense more Jewish than I am. I place a lot of importance on thinking about the laws and traditions, not to instinctively reject the authority of the past, but also not to do things that aren’t helpful. So on some level, I have decided that fasting is helpful. But I don’t know that I have ever really thought it out.

And it occurred to me, as I thought about how easy and harmless it would be to break the fast, that really I fast so that when I choose not to fix myself a small sandwich or heat up some noodles, I really make that choice. I don’t have to fast, but I fast to show myself that my will is strong enough to choose to fast.

At the beginning of the Day of Judgment, we sing (or listen to) the Kol Nidre, probably the most revered of all the prayers in the year’s liturgy. Only it isn’t a prayer at all, really. It’s a legal fiction, a bizarre denial of liability. Kol Nidre means all vows, and the text of the prayer (or “prayer”) simply says that all vows entered into over the next year are not to be held as binding. That those who are forsworn will not be bound by their oaths. There is no mention of the Divine; the statement of absolution is only implied to be a petition for Divine mercy. It’s a very, very odd thing to be the holiest of prayers. In the end, the answer is pretty much tautological: it’s holy because we hallow it; it carries such weight because we place that weight on it.

To me, Kol Nidre is about acknowledging how far I fall short of my goals. How every year I promise myself that I will improve, and every year I let myself down. On Yom Kippur I am given another chance to vanquish my pride and my indolence; on the next Yom Kippur I hope to be given another chance. I don’t expect that I will win, as those sorts of battles are never complete until finally lost; I hope to continue to try. That’s one of the beauties of Kol Nidre, I think, at least for me: it tells me that it knows that I will make those vows and break them, and the hope to keep trying.

In addition to my old, familiar, almost comforting foes of arrogance and sloth, I have been troubled in the last few years by gluttony. Gluttony of a particular kind, that is: I give in to the munchies. Potato chips and corn chips, particularly, have a kind of terrifying fascination for me, and I nearly every day get hold of a bag of chips and eat until the bag is empty. I have managed (with the assistance of my Best Reader) to at least limit the portions by having smaller bags. But I rarely resist the urge to eat them. And, you know, that’s OK—I’d probably be a bit healthier if I were to cut down on the salt, but it’s not at a dangerous level, and in truth I get a fair amount of enjoyment out of it. What’s really dangerous, though, isn’t eating chips when I want chips, but that feeling of being unable to stop.

Being hungry on Yom Kippur and not eating was a reminder to myself that these things are choices, that I am perfectly capable of resisting the lure of the munchies. If I can do without food or water (or even tea!) for twenty-four hours, I can do without salty treats for an evening. I’m not giving them up, mind you, but I can and hope to make better decisions about when and how much to eat.

And if I can do that, I can make other good decisions, too: about doing the housework, about listening more carefully, about admitting error, about putting other people’s important needs ahead of my minor comforts, about doing tasks rather than putting them off. Will I succeed in that? Only occasionally, but maybe more next year than last year. If I fail, if I’m forsworn yet again, I can keep trying. That’s my Yom Kippur lesson for this year, anyway.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

September 30, 2016

Thar she blows!

So. Here’s an odd little thing about my life in 2016, presented for your commentary and analysis.

Your Humble Blogger works, as has been mentioned more than once in this Tohu Bohu, at the circulation desk of an academic library. At our library, it’s also the desk for course reserves (for folk not in tune with current academic library use, that’s textbooks restricted to in-library use) and it’s the reserves that make up the bulk of our traffic. Well, reserves and devices; we have calculators and laptops and headphones and chargers and tablets that go out a dozen times a day or more. We do check out a few circulating books every day, but the bulk of the transactions are not that.

Anyway, for the course reserves, we shelve them by department and course, so the smoothest transaction might be a student saying Can I have the text for Bio 122, by Campbell, please? That gives me all the information I need to find the book. Well, in this case it really is all the information, because the text is called BIOLOGY: the subtitle of some irrelevant kind so by giving me the course code the student has also effectively given me the title as well.

Or she might ask Do you have Rereading America on reserve? Well, all of us at the desk know that’s for English 110, because it goes out twenty times a day and has for years. But one of our newer student workers might not know that, and would respond What course is it for? This will often stump the student. Eventually, the student might say I think it’s, a, you know, writing? Surprisingly, this is enough. Is the Organic Chemistry lab manual in? Since I know that Orgo is Chem 244 (or whatever) and that the lab manual is the spiral-bound one (so the title isn’t visible and therefore wouldn’t have been helpful) so that’s plenty of info for me. Do you have the Sociology book? not so much. Although, sometimes by the middle of the day I know what assignments are coming due, and can say Seeing Sociology or Juvenile Delinquency or whatever. It’s one of the things I like best about my job, the accumulation of experience that allows me to come up with the orange book or the media textbook. A surprising number of students do not, four weeks into a semester, know the number of their courses, or the titles of their textbooks, or the names of their instructors. Some seem surprised at the idea that they might want to have committed any of that to memory. This year there has been a huge increase in the number of students who present us with the image of the textbook on their phone—not reading the information off their screen but turning the screen toward us and saying this book. And it’s often helpful. I know where the aforementioned orange book is, the butterfly book, the book with the bridge, even the purple book. Even the purple book with the yellow spine, I know where it is, because I remember not being able to find its purpleness.

Digression: Do any of y’all happen to know—Organic Chemistry isn’t really being called O-Chem, is it? That’s just wrong. End Digression.

Here’s my problem, though: when I dive into the stacks after being given the vaguest information and emerge holding a textbook, I often ask the student: Is this the right book? But actually, in my heavily jocose manner, I actually most often say Is this the fellow? It has (belatedly) occurred to me that I ought not gender our textbooks exclusively male, but I have not come up with a female identifier that trips easily off my tongue.

Is this the gal?

Is this the lady?

Is this her?

I’m not saying that any of them are wrong, or wouldn’t convey meaning, just that they don’t seem natural when I say them. It reads to YHB as what it is, a clumsy attempt to deliberately cross-gender my language, meaning that it’s clear to the person I’m speaking to that I still think of books as male even though I am saying it the other way. The obvious answer is to stop anthropomorphizing books, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon, either. What do y’all think, Gentle Readers?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 23, 2016

Trans and Drag

Your Humble Blogger has been thinking quite a bit, these last few months, about gender issues and transfolk. Those issues have become part of the cultural conversation more often lately, or at least have become harder to ignore. And there’s just so much there, and I understand so little of it. In particular, I feel very lost around the issues of trans support, trans phobia and drag.

YHB is cis, born male, raised male in a culture that both prized and mocked macho masculinity, presents male, feels male. Is male, I would say. I have been accused of effeminacy, now and then, but in a way that made it clear that I was falling short of masculinity, not femininity, if you know what I mean. I have never been accused of being girlish (that I know of), just of being less masculine than some standard. This effeminacy is presumably comprised of some combination of my dandyism, myopia, bookishness, intellectualism, squeamishness, nonathleticism, political liberalism, a tendency to exaggeration, and perhaps a certain studiedness of gesture. Oh, and a fondness for brimmed hats. That’s part of my dandyism, as far as I’m concerned, although perhaps dandyism of a different kind would be more masculine. I also have a susceptibility to female charm that has a bizarre tinge of effeminacy; truly masculine men are of course heterosexual but being attracted to women is not very macho. Ah, well. My point in labelling traits is that those traits that I perceive as being markers of my effeminacy (for those who judge me effeminate) are a mix of traits I like about myself (the dandyism, intellectualism, liberalism, and the gestures I have studied) and those I don’t (my eyesight, mostly, and how awful I am at sports, and as well the squeamishness that I have exaggerated to myself so that I can enjoy the exaggeration more than I hate the thought of blood). I don’t want to be more masculine; I don’t want to be more feminine. And of course in my avuncular middle-age, I am more amused than appalled by the idea of being found wanting on some gender scale. I’m a cis male, and that’s pretty much the end of it.

I support trans folk—those who I have known before and after announcing transition seemed so much happier after that it would be insane not to work for a world in which such announcements were easier—but I am unable to imagine what it is like to be one. I have tried. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have an image of myself as female but be physically male. Or even be told that my gender is different from what I feel it to be. I certainly don’t deny the actual experiences of other people. I try to be sensitive to what would make life easier or more difficult for them, but I have no instincts at all. It can be disconcerting.

Particularly, for me, since I have for my adult life been enjoyed the existence of playful drag and general playing around with gender markers. I am in part writing this note because I recently rewatched Victor/Victoria, one of my favorite movies. For anyone who doesn’t know, the plot centers on a woman who pretends to be a female impersonator. She’s living as a man for work, not for personal fulfillment, and while she does have fun with it a bit, mostly she is a woman in male disguise, which is stressful but necessary. Her friend, played by the incomparable Robert Preston, is an effeminate gay man who is attracted to extremely manly gay men. It’s all set in the Paris demimonde and is generally both gay positive and sex positive, although it is less than kind to those men who choose to dress as women for pleasure, rather than business. Mr. Preston’s one drag scene is played as travesty, the middle-aged dumpy gravel-voiced male in a dress as inherently funny (in addition to Mr. Preston being funny doing it, that is). And while there is clear (to me) subtext of the film’s director enjoying the prurient hell out of filming his wife in drag, there is nothing in the movie itself that indicates that anyone is specifically enjoying the cross-dressing, on a prurient level or any other. And of course there is no hint of respect for (or acknowledgement of the existence of) transgender people.

And, of course, I’m in a Shakespeare play that has fun with cross-dressing, again undertaken as disguise, not for pleasure. I don’t think it’s done in a way that is at all derogatory to trans men, but as I say, I seriously have no instincts on this issue. Our production of Twelfth Night, in common with many contemporary productions, plays with the idea that Olivia and Orsino are both specifically attracted to Viola-in-drag (Sebastian and Viola-in-women’s-clothes are both clearly second-best), but short shrift is given to Viola’s experience of passing. Vaddevah dat means.

Among my favorite musicals is La Cage Aux Folles; if I could sing, Alban/ZaZa would top my bucket list of roles to play. Alban lives as an effeminate male and sings about how much happier he is as ZaZa. It occurs to no-one in the show that he might do so permanently. In fact, his happiness as ZaZa is specifically (and powerfully) about illusion, not reality. Is this offensive to trans folk? To some? Certainly, if someone were to complain to me about erasure and disrespect, I would have no defense, other than how wonderful the part is.

I am a huge fan of Monty Python (as y’all know already) and while I don’t generally defend the indefensible gender politics, I do find the cross-dressing funny and not offensive, including when the whole joke is that it’s a man in women’s clothes (as in the judges’ chambers scene, for instance). Is this because I am insensitive, lacking those instincts? Or because it’s funny and offensive, and I give a break to stuff that I think is funny? Or is it because lack the instincts to recognize its offensiveness?

When we say (as we ought to) that the Stonewall protests were started by trans folk of color, is that describing people who wanted to live as women? Or cis men who enjoyed cross-dressing for a sexual thrill, but who preferred to dress as men (vaddevah dat means) for their day-to-day lives? I suspect there were some of each, but of course I have no idea. I understand that the trans women were systematically erased from history (even within the Community) and don’t want to be a party to that, of course, but neither do I want to misrepresent people as trans who were in drag. I no longer am even on the fringes of the Community, but in the 90s in Ess Eff, I knew folk who worked in suits and played in dresses; it’s certainly possible that some or most of them would have preferred to work in dresses, but I didn’t get that impression. I also knew, I think I recall, some women who butched up when they went out to clubs, although I didn’t so much see them do it.

Look, here’s the thing: I am secure in being a cis male, and I say secure to attempt to emphasize (even more than with italics) that my foundational understanding of myself and my place in that morass of cultural gender allows me the luxury of playing with it and around it. I can mince, now and then, if I want to; it doesn’t matter. I can flounce; it doesn’t affect anything. I have “done drag” a couple of times for fun; it was always obvious that I was doing it for fun. None of it made me any less of a man, or any more of a woman, for that matter. I like drag; I like messing with our cultural notions of gender in a playful way. None of that, to me, feels like it has anything to do with trans issues, as trans men are men and trans women are women.

And yet, I do know that drag-for-fun has contributed to the mockery and abuse faced by trans people. Gags about men in dresses are often aimed at trans people, and (I am told) can be hurtful to them and their experiences even when not aimed that way. Gags about women in men’s clothes as well, although those jokes are very different (this is a cultural truth, I’m afraid—I have been looking for the brilliant bit Al Franken did on SHE TV in 1993 (or so) which ended with him in jacket-and-tie and tutu-and-fishnets saying, to the best of my recollection: “A man dressed as a woman is funny; a woman dressed as a man just looks like a dyke.” Cultural truths are often both funny and not like that).

One thing really resonated with me in an Observer interview with Jack Monroe. She talks a bit about how, before she announced that she was in transition, she so strongly identified as a butch woman that she couldn’t wear dresses. “I’d try a dress on and I’d like how I looked in it and I’d feel sexy and I’d take it home and then I’d feel ashamed of that dress. I would shove it at the back of my wardrobe and never wear it.” Now that she describes herself publicly as non-binary transgender, she feels able at last to wear a dress when she wants to. That seemed very powerful and real to me for some reason. The closing-in of gender barriers. I would, ideally, like a world where people feel free to be butch when they feel like being butch and femme when they feel like being femme. I don’t think I would want to come to work in full drag, but under different circumstances there are days when I might choose to wear eye makeup and lipstick, or conceivably a wig to glam up. Probably not, for me personally; I glam up by wearing a patterned waistcoat and would much rather wear a gold watch chain than earrings (I am much, much too squeamish to have a piercing of any kind anyway). But the option would be nice.

Of course, what would be nice for me seems to be much more vital for others. Or some others. Of the few trans folk I have had much experience with before and after transition, one is now ultra-feminine (I would say) and I doubt ever wants to wear anything remotely butch again, while another seems to alternate femme and butch (or at least, grab-random-clothes-off-the-floor-and-go-out-barefaced, which always reads butch to me). I don’t know. I get confused about this stuff, as I say. For me, particularly as I was growing up in the 80s and as a youngish adult in the 90s, drag and theatrical cross-dressing were a liberation from the tyranny of gender. There was argument about it, of course—heck, Louis and Belize argue about it in Angels in America in a way Tony Kushner depicts (I think) as trite. But the argument about it didn’t (in my recollection) encompass what was helpful or hurtful to people whose histories were of gender transition. Some of the transphobia was connected to the previously-common and harmful notion that all same-sex attraction was connected to being wrongly sexed (I use a horrible term in an attempt to indicate the 60s and 70s mindset, if not their actual language) but of course some of it was just transphobia, informed by the general culture and heightened by the awful (but so human) tendency of an oppressed group to scorn some group even lower on the social scale.

Well. Anyway. I have been attempting to conclude this note with some clever or touching paragraph that would make it worth your reading this far down. I got nothing. Mostly I’m just noting that all of this stuff that I like, that I found at the time to be joyful and great-hearted, and that I still want to like, is perhaps in retrospect problematic—and more problematic is that I find I don’t know whether it’s all problematic or not. And of course while it is nobody’s responsibility to ease my mind on this topic or any other, there’s always the hope that if I make enough of a public idiot of myself that someone will school me and I will learn. It has happened before.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 16, 2016

First Seven Jobs

Your Humble Blogger missed the thing about First Seven Jobs when it was going around. Well, I heard about it and I saw a few people posting it, but I didn’t participate. So, here’s the annotated list, counting only the ones where I was paid by someone not related to me and in what as far as I can remember is the correct order:

  1. Teacher's assistant, Hebrew School: Boy, was I unsuited to that particular task. I may actually be misremembering; I think I was paid for this, but I may have volunteered. Similarly, I think I volunteered my one summer as a sort-of-counselor at a synagogue day camp, but I may have got some sort of compensation. Different synagogues, though; I'm sure that the summer one was before the split and the school one was after.
  2. Telesalesman: I got a job calling people in the early evenings and trying to sell them magazine subscriptions. I was terrible at it. They let me go after about four weeks, and then their paycheck bounced. A learning experience.
  3. Grocery bagger: This was at Gemco, which sold all kinds of things along with groceries. More of a Walmart-y kind of a place. The whole chain of stores was shut down a few months after I started there. Still, I got a little bit of money and a good deal of experience. Particularly shagging carts in the 110-degree heat… that was my first revelation that if someone had offered me five bucks to shag carts for an hour, I wouldn’t even have considered it, but that as part of my five-dollar-an-hour job, I seemed to be willing.
  4. Movie theater usher: An outstandingly terrible job, but only because the manager of the place was a horrible man. Well, and it’s never going to be a great and challenging job sweeping out the theaters and tearing tickets, but when we were sufficiently staffed, it wasn’t so bad. When the manager wasn’t there, anyway. I maybe lasted two months. When I quit, the assistant manager asked me to reconsider, but I had already signed up for the next one.
  5. Warehouse guy: This was the one I think of as my high school job, the one I held the longest. It was also the first job I got through a temp agency. It wasn’t really a warehouse job, properly speaking, although I’m not sure how else to describe it. Mostly we took a bunch of Hallowe’en supplies out of big boxes and put them into smaller boxes for shipping, building pallets and so forth. I also spent a lot of time on a line that took individual vinyl noses and teeth and whatnot and fixed them to cardboard backs with a plastic bubble: this sort of thing. I worked from something like 8pm to 4am, which considering the big metal building was ’cooled’ by those metal fans, was a hell of a lot better than the day shift. It was a good job for a college kid in the summer, although it was minimum wage and all.
  6. Busboy: In an Italian-but-not-pizza joint. Another good experience, and made a little better money than the warehouse, if I remember correctly. I learned about how (some) restaurants work, which information has often been of some comfort as I attempt to sympathize as a diner.
  7. Library clerk assistant: The timeline here is hinky, as I worked in the college library from my first year, and I think I still worked the warehouse job the first two summers, and the next summer was the busboy job. Anyway, I’m calling it my seventh job; it was the one I still had when I turned twenty-one.

I don’t think many of the students I supervise are on their fifth or sixth job by the time they get here. Maybe I was an outlier at Swat, as well. I didn’t, at the time, feel like an outlier amongst my high school friends, many of whom had worked at three or four different fast-food places, restaurants, or mall stores by the time they went off to college. We felt lucky if we could return to the same job two summers hand running, or if an after-school job could give us enough summer hours. We never thought of those jobs as counting, in some obscure way; they were just jobs. Gigs, in a different manner of speech, things we did for pay that had nothing to do with us or our lives. As it happens, my seventh job is similar to what I do now, but in between I worked as a database guy, in an accounting department, in membership for a nonprofit, and a bunch of other jobs that weren’t in the library field at all. That’s somewhat less normal; most of the people I know have had something somewhat closer to a career path. Still, it was a surprise to see real grown-up people listing seven jobs that included the current one (or close to it).

I will say, I have long thought that there’s an unhealthy cultural imperative that people should like their jobs. Most people presumably don’t. Go through a day and try to think, each time you encounter someone who is working, whether that person likes the job. The bus driver, or the construction worker you pass, or the landscaper working in someone’s yard; the guy at the bagel joint, or the HR person on the phone, or the supermarket stockboy, or your boss (if you have one) or your employee (if you have one). Keep a tally. It’s not easy to actually think about everyone you see that’s working, honestly, and I’m absolutely sure I have never managed it for a whole day. I’m a white-collar guy, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never had a job that the majority of my colleagues really liked —I don’t mean they’ve all been miserable pits of soul-sucking doom, but most people have been happier to go home than to get to work. The songwriter who started the meme (who I heard interviewed by Kai Ryssdal, whose seventh job evidently is hosting Marketplace) talked about our relationship with our jobs, and I think the thing I’m getting at, when I talk about the unhealthy cultural imperative, is that relationship: we think we need to be in a perfect relationship with our job, to meet the Perfect One for us, and really, it’s just a job. The First Seven Jobs meme might possibly complicate that discussion in a healthy way. A fellow can hope, anyway.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 14, 2016

Turn, turn, turnover, over, over

One of Your Humble Blogger’s co-workers has announced that she will be moving on to a new job elsewhere, and I thought Man, this place has a lot of turnover. And then I thought I wonder how it compares to other places. And after that, I thought I wonder how one measures that sort of thing. I looked on the internet and found a bunch of articles that all seem dim and useless; I suspect that I could use my library skills to find better ones, but I won’t. What I will do is ask my Gentle Readers what they think about it—what concerns you about turnover in a workplace? What should the Director of the Libraries be measuring? How do you think a good analysis would weight the various factors?

There are around 20 full-time employees in the library system, plus around six part-time permanent staff, plus another thirty student workers who aren’t really relevant to the question. There are currently three open positions—that is, two vacant at present and the third that made the announcement that began this post. Fifteen percent of the staff vacant is just crazy high, isn’t it? But maybe that’s a fluke. Twenty is such a small sample size that coincidence will play a big part. And this is three coming together over the summer that seem, on the face of it, pretty random: one was a retirement after many, many years in the same position; one was here just under two years and is leaving because of a spouse’s opportunity across the country; one was here two-and-a-half years and is leaving for a better position nearby.

And here’s the thing: the job that is vacant again after less than two years is designed as a starter job; it doesn’t require an advanced degree or a lot of work experience; they are likely to hire someone right out of the undergraduate program here, and that person will stay for two years or so and move on. You can argue whether that’s smart or not (well, no, I don’t really think you can argue that it’s smart in the long-term) but the turnover in the position is not a surprise. And the fellow who is retiring after many years was in a position where you want someone to stay for many years, but then he did; you do want eventual retirement, so that’s not really dire, either. I’m not saying it’s not a bad sign to lose three in a summer, just that it doesn’t necessarily imply a mass exodus.

So how do you measure? I mean, what are you comparing against? It seems to me, in a smallish place, that you want a combination of institutional memory and new blood. You want to have a bunch of people who are happy and stay for a long time, and you want to have some turnover so that things aren’t entirely calcified. You want some people who have been there for a medium-length time and look to become the people who have been there forever, because the people who have been there forever won’t be there forever. Average length of service doesn’t seem helpful. Neither, really, does the total turnover percentage over a length of time. I mean, both are informative; one hopes that both are being tracked, but I don’t think they tell you much about the health of a department.

Would you want to know what percentage of the staff have been there for ten years or more? That seems like one potentially useful piece of information. How many hires stay more than three years? That seems like another. They don’t seem to necessarily relate to each other, though. Maybe there’s a way to measure based on expectation, that is, if the expected tenure for someone in this sort of industry/position is n years, measure for each departure how that departing employee’s tenure matched to that, giving credit for those who stay longer that that time and demerit for those who don’t stay that long?

Or is there some optimum total years-of-service aggregate number for a twenty-person staff, perhaps by weighting the first three years as 1/3 value (or whatever) and the eleventh-through-twentieth at a year and a half? Such that the ideal twenty-person staff would have, oh, 250 year-service-points, and that when the number dips below 200 (or whatever) it’s a problem? I tend to assume that it’s impossible for to have a single useful score, but it there is one, it’s presumably a weighted formula along those lines, isn’t it? Such that if that number is in the danger zone, you need to look at why you aren’t keeping your people.

Of course, the manager of such a staff will always know more than a number could tell them—knows if there were a batch of bad hires that were pushed out and replaced with good ones, leaving an experience gap that is better than having a crappy staff. Or knows if there’s just a coincidence of some kind that doesn’t need to be addressed at all. Or if everyone is complaining about crappy pay all the time, and it’s just a terrible job market, such that the organization can retain good people up until the moment the job market picks up, at which time everyone will be gone. Or whatever. The problem is that the manager of such a staff, while knowing more than a number could tell them about their staff, will know less than the number could tell them about other staffs—which means that things that look like coincidences are in fact total outliers, and perhaps need to be looked in to on the chance that it isn’t so much a coincidence as nobody willing to admit why they are all looking for jobs elsewhere. Numbers are helpful for that, although in this case I have no idea which ones.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 14, 2016

It absolutely could be you

So, the Tonys happened, and the host, James Corden, opened with a very sweet and inspirational bit about fulfilling his childhood dream to be a star of musical theater.

Stop wondering if that could be you—it absolutely could be!

Inspiring stuff.

Of course, those twenty people—bless ’em!—were among the thousands and thousands of kids who once looked at the stage and wondered if that could be them up there. Which leaves… let me count… thousands of kids with a dream minus twenty nominees… that leaves thousands of kids who dreamed of being up there, and eventually stopped wondering if that could be them, because it couldn’t. Because no matter what there are going to be thousands of kids with dreams and twenty nominees. And yes, there will be another twenty nominees next year (although of those twenty, only 13 were up there as first-time nominees) but there will also be another twenty thousand kids who start to wonder if that could be them up there. And it could! It will! For twenty of them. For almost all of them, it couldn’t and it won’t.

Why am I saying these terrible things? Because I am a theater nerd, and I am incredibly happy, and I am playing Malvolio this summer, and I am not wondering if that could be me up there.

I think it’s great that we recognize some of the people who have done amazing work. I think the Tonys are fantastic. I think it’s beyond great that theater nerds are inspired by those twenty actors. And as for the diversity of the nominees and winners, I think it’s so far beyond fantastic that it becomes hard even to remember where fantastic was when we passed it. And I was moved to tears (OK, that’s easily done, but still, I just watched it again and wept again) by that scene where kids-with-a-dream transformed into adults-with-nominations. But I also wanted to reach through the internet and grab each one of those thousands of kids who are wondering if it realio trulio could be them up there and say It doesn’t need to be you up there; it could be you anywhere.

It could be you, in a community theater in suburban Connecticut, putting on a hell of a Shakespeare production for no pay and no glory and then shambling in to your day job the next morning. It could be you, in a storefront theater singing Reno Sweeney to twenty-five people, mostly relatives of your castmates. It could be you, in the parking lot behind the building, painting the fourteenth layer of paint on a flat that isn’t flat any more. It could be you, in a senior center rec room with a staged reading of your newest play. It could be you, climbing the ladder during intermission to refocus an elderly fresnel while the ticket-holders munch their M&Ms. It could be you, an amateur. And that could be awesome.

Is that a terrible thing to say? It probably is a terrible thing to say. But I was one of those kids who wondered if it could be me up there on Broadway, singing and dancing, playing Nathan Detroit and M. Alban and Professor Harold Hill. I don’t have that dream any more—not only because I can’t sing or dance, and not only because it turned out I would rather give up that dream than spend four hours a day practicing those things. Mostly that second one. But also because it turned out that there is a different dream, a dream that I can just do theater, wherever I am. That I can do a good job, and enjoy doing it, and then keep doing it. That I can be happy without being discovered, without being famous, without being nominated.

Now, I do know that kids aren’t going to be inspired by that dream, any more than they will hone their tennis skills because tennis is fun and they enjoy it and could enjoy decades of time playing tennis. They dream of Wimbledon, and that’s right. Theater nerds dream of Broadway; artists of the Louvre (or the Bienniale, I suppose); architects of a Taj. It’s a Good Thing to have those dreams, and after all, the Cynthia Erivos and the Lin-Manuel Mirandas do have to come from somewhere. I’m not really going to grab any kids by the lapels (which of course they would not have, because even theater nerds aren’t wearing anything with lapels) and shout at them not to dream of Broadway. No nine-year-old should dream of one day doing community theater with a bunch of great people for no tangible reward.

And yet… most nine-year-olds will not be up there on Broadway. Most nine-year-olds will never be President of the United States; most nine-year-olds will never bring down the President of the United States with a historic front-page article. Most nine-year-olds will never win the World Series. Most nine-year-olds will not ride the horse that wins the Kentucky Derby. Most nine-year-olds will get to Carnegie Hall only by taking 56th Street to 7th Avenue, no matter how much they practice. That will never change—that’s just math. There isn't a way to fix the world to make it not so. If you take everyone who has won an Oscar, a Grammy, a Pulitzer, a Templeton Prize, a MacArthur fellowship, an Olympic medal, a Nobel laurel, a Fields Medal, a Kyoto Prize, a Newberry Medal, a Eurovision contest, a Miss America tiara, Spiel des Jahres, a Sakharov Prize, a Tiptree—pick a hundred awards and another hundred more, and a generation worth of winners, and that’s a smaller percentage of the population than, oh, let's just say all those wonderful award winners could probably fit in Beaver Stadium.

It could be you, up there. But it probably won’t be.

And when it isn’t you, up there, you may think that it isn’t you anywhere. That you’re nowhere. And it would have been nice to have been told (tho’ I wouldn’t have believed it at the time) that it could be me anywhere. It can be you wherever you are.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 30, 2016

Dishes left on the Countertop of Life

Your Humble Blogger happened across an essay called She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink, which has been recently passed around by everyone and everyone else. I am linking to it, not because I agree with either the details, the hypergendered worldview or the main thrust, but because it inspired me to say a few things about, well, my own marriage, and my own thoughts about leaving dishes by the sink. I mean, it’s not about dishes, right? Gentle Readers of this Tohu Bohu probably don’t need his follow up essay to know that. His example of continuing to leave dirty dishes on the counter after his spouse repeatedly asked him to put them in the dishwasher speaks to myriad aspects of cohabitation. It’s not news to say that fights about the dishes are rarely about the dishes.

What I think the writer gets at, here and in the follow-up essays, but fails to articulate, is that individual acts happen in a context, and that context is what is important in a relationship. That context is the relationship, in a way that is helpful to think about. So: if a particular dish-by-the-sink incident is within the context of my partner does so much around the house, but I wish he didn’t do that one thing it is very different from my partner is the most selfish human being on the face of the earth, I have to do every fucking thing for him, he can’t even put the dish in the fucking dishwasher. Matt’s spouse was presumably thinking the latter. It’s not about the dishes on the counter as such, but I want to emphasize that each individual act of dishes-on-the-counter contributes to the entire context, which in turn is how that individual act is interpreted.

Sound complicated? Excellent! The world is complicated.

If you are minded to commercial metaphor, you can think of it as a bank of good will: our partners keep a running balance of good will, which we, with every action (and inaction) increase or decrease. However, the cost (or reward) for each action is multiplied by the amount in the account already, so a sweet and helpful gesture by a treasured spouse is counted very differently than that by a total dickweed, even if it’s just remembering to fill the car with gas. The irritations likewise. And of course the metaphor is completely wrongheaded because that balance is not computed but intuited, and may at any moment have as much to do with the spouse being hungry or tired or horny than with your recent direct actions. If your actual bank is like that, my advice is to withdraw. If your spouse is like that, my advice is not so, but far otherwise. If you don’t think your spouse is like that, then, well, you know him better than I do, but.

If you don’t think you are like that, you are wrong.

And the thing is—it’s not just marriages. It’s not just romances. It’s your relationships with your workers (calling in sick on Monday again) and your professors (no extension for this loser) and your kids (could you just once turn the light off when you leave the room) and that guy you buy coffee from every morning (oh, great this guy again). And everything you do feeds into that context and is interpreted within that context, and that constantly changing context is your relationship with everybody in the world. That context is the world, in lots of ways that are very helpful to think about. So, you know, be nice.

OK, fine, be nice. Wonderful insight, innit?

Here’s another: you can deliberately influence the context in which you hold other people. You can choose my partner does so much around the house, but I wish he didn’t do that one thing or my partner is the most selfish human being on the face of the earth, I have to do every fucking thing for him, he can’t even put the dish in the fucking dishwasher. I don’t want to overstate it, because the bit above where I talk about being hungry or horny is also true. But to a great extent, you can decide that you will rate any particular action as a Big Deal or Small Stuff, and that is easier to do if you consciously think about it in the context of how you choose to view your relationship with the person doing that thing. With luck, that’ll mean that when your spouse does something irritating (and we all do sometimes) you take a moment to appreciate just how much she (or he) does for you all the fucking time and then you pick up the dish and put it in the dishwasher yourself and forget all about it. Without luck, that’ll mean that you remember that your spouse really is the most selfish human being on the face of the planet, and hell, if that’s the case, you really ought to keep that context in mind when dealing with all these myriad microaggressions.

What I have found helps keep the good stuff in mind is saying it, out loud, as often as necessary. My Best Reader and I have the following conversation every week:

BR: Thank you for doing all that laundry.
YHB: Nah, it’s my job, I’m the laundry guy.

And I am the laundry guy and it is my job, and it is lovely that my Best Reader thanks me for doing it every week. It’s not just because it’s nice to be thanked for things, it’s because that verbal thanks tells me that the next time I leave a dish on the counter (or my own equivalent thereof) my Best Reader will likely put it in the context of he does help out a bit around the house and all, and he means well. And while I probably don’t thank my Best Reader every single time she cooks dinner, or every single time she does the grocery shopping, or every single time she picks me up from work, I try to make a habit of it, at the very least frequently enough to assure her that whatever irritating things she occasionally does (and we all do them, even my Best Reader) she can rest assured that I will think of it in the context of my goodness, the most irritating thing she does is occasionally leave the little empty sweetener packets on the table, that’s not bad. I use the example for rhetorical purposes only, by the way; I see no upside in disclosing details of how irritating we humans actually are to live with.

But while we are really irritating cohabitants, we humans also have this amazing ability to wrench our perspectives around, sometimes. Try it! And then put the damned dish in the dishwasher.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 5, 2016

An Odd Question

So. This is a math problem that I would once have been able to set up and possibly even solve, but at this point I can’t even figure out how to google the answer. So.

In rolling two dice (2D6) the long-run distribution is easy: for every thirty-six rolls, 2 and 12 come up essentially once each, 3 and 11 twice, 4 and 10 three times, 5 and 9 four times, 6 and 10 five, and the last six rolls come up showing 7. In the long run. More or less. You could graph it.

In the short term, of course, longer-odds outcomes will likely come up more often than shorter-odds outcomes. For instance, after one roll, the odds are very good indeed (five-to-one) that something that is not a seven will have come up more often than something that is a seven. After six rolls, the odds are (if I am getting this right, and perhaps I am not) even that you will have rolled a seven at all, which means that the odds are slightly better than even that you will have rolled some longer-odds number more often than a 7 (counting the outcomes where you roll, for instance, one 7 and two 6s in those six rolls.

Is that clear? For any given number, 7 will come up more frequently in the long term, but in the very short term (six rolls), the odds favor some number coming up more often than the 7. If you have ever rolled dice a bunch of times, this will be instinctive, I think; if not, grab a couple of dice or a dice-rolling app and try.

Now, let’s see if I can generalize while remaining clear: if you roll, say, a hundred times and graph the results, you’ll probably have something that more or less approximates the ziggurat shape the distribution would predict. Something like this:


But still there might be more, for instance, 8s than 7s:


Or even more 5s than 7s:


Because 100 rolls really is still a short run of rolls, innit? Let’s try 200:


Look! There are more sevens than anything else. Of course, there are just as many 5s as 6s. I’ll try again.


This time there were more 4s than 5s.


More 10s than 9s.

So, this is my question: It seems to me that for a reasonable number of dice rolls, the odds are in favor of some lower-odds result coming up more frequently than some higher-odds result. I could figure out the odds of more 10s than 9s, and more 4s than 5s, but I don’t know how to figure out the general odds of there being at least one instance of more x than y over n rolls, where the odds of x are longer than the odds of y. And what I’m really wondering is that—it feels to me as if it would be possible to look at that as a function of n, such that as n increases the odds (that is, the odds of at least one such low-odds incidence occurring) decrease, and that therefore there exists an n such that the odds are even, with lower n having greater odds and higher n shorter. I’d like to know how big that n is. But I could be wrong about there being such an n; my instincts for probability functions aren’t all that good.

There’s a lesson about the world in all this, that low-probability things happen all the time, and so forth. Mostly, though, it’s about actual dice: when you shoot craps or play Settlers of Catan or Monopoly or whatnot, don’t expect that over the course of the game there will necessarily be more 8s than 9s. The actual odds are that somebody will get screwed somehow.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

February 7, 2014

Snow Stats

So this is going to turn into a different note than it was when I started it. You see, at some point yesterday I looked at the snow totals for the season here in the Hartford Area, wondering if my sense that it was quite snowy this year was an accurate sense or whether it was unduly influence by this year being more recent than many previous years. As seen on xkcd, of course, only not so much the climate change aspect (because (a) I am already convinced, and (2) I understand that a snowy winter don’t mean shit for the models, and (iii) I have been following sports in Australia this past summer and understand that the planet is round and that the axis is tilted from the plane of revolution) as the perceptual whatnot aspect.


There it was, the report up to and including the Fourth of February, and the season’s snowfall total was 25.4 inches. The normal snowfall up to that point is 23.5 inches, so I said something quite like We’re only a couple of inches over normal this year. Correct! Not wrong! My previous non-statistical impression that it was a snowy year was called into question by the facts! Because, undeniably, we were only a couple of inches over a normal year, and what’s a couple of inches? One light snowstorm that wouldn’t close the schools, that’s all.

So, there I was, vague impressions corrected by facts. And then I started thinking: If normal snowfall over that period is 23.5 inches, and this year we had in the same period 25.4 inches, that’s an increase of—what—eight percent? That’s a lot, isn’t it? We were eight percent above normal snowfall! It’s a very snowy year! I was right the whole time! Snow had been falling at a much greater rate than in most years, just like I thought. Quite snowy this year is an excellent description of eight percent above normal. Facts! Statistics! So much better than subjective opinion, eh?

Hm, now. Which is it? A couple of inches, that is, nothing to write home about, or 8%, that is, a goodly chunk? I have no idea. I mean, I could find out, presumably, with access to what are very likely public data tables, whether 8% above normal puts a year into the top quintile (super snowy), the second quintile (quite snowy) or the middle quintile (meh). Or I could just look at the standard deviation and say ooh, outlier or enh, normalish. But without that? Averages have betrayed me once again.

The thing is, though, that there’s a different lesson to learn about measuring the year-to-date versus normal, which is that as I was looking it up, snow was falling, and not the 0.4 inches that is normal for the Fifth of February but 10.2 inches. So as of the end of that day, we are at 35.6 inches total as against the benchmark of 23.9 inches normal, or (rounding up to) an extra foot of snow. Or, if you prefer, almost half again the normal allotment; fifty percent above average! Wow! A very snowy winter indeed!

Or… if I was counting pre-hatch chickens on Wednesday morning, are the chickens coming home to roost now? If a normal year is around 40 inches of snow—is it? I’m having trouble finding the official data, but it looks like that’s about right. So we’re only at 35.6 inches. If we only get 4 more inches of snow before Spring, we’re under normal for the year. Is that likely? Well, it wouldn’t be a crazy outlier, having one more small snowstorm in February and two more in March, and only a dusting in April. It’s not unheard of. It wouldn’t even make the news, I think.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 14, 2013

Game Time Again

Since I got nothing today, how about another game of Fortunately/Unfortunately? For those who missed the last one, here’s how it works: The first sentence starts Once Upon a Time, and after that sentences alternate between beginning Unfortunately and Fortunately. The players try to make a story that makes some sort of sense, ideally coming to a satisfactory conclusion on the last Fortunately.

House Rules (same as last time):

  1. Players should not take two Us or two Fs in a row. If your last was a U, wait to chime in until we get to an F, and veesey versey.
  2. Players should not take two turns in a row, unless more than six hours have passed
  3. Players are strongly urged to give all characters names, if not in the sentence that introduces them, as quickly as practicable thereafter.
  4. Sentences may be as long as you like, but long sentences should maintain some vaguely grammatical construction, because that’s more entertaining to me.
  5. If two comments are posted more-or-less simultaneously, the faster typist’s sentence takes precedence in case of plot contradiction—but if it’s possible to include the content of both sentences in the story, that’s even better.

Ready, then?

Once Upon a Time, the Princess of Maydeleria disguised herself as a minstrel.

Your turn. Unfortunately …

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 3, 2013

Sorry, Nothing Happening Here

Still here. Quite busy.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 10, 2013

Good Morning, everybody!

Your Humble Blogger was musing on the differing attitudes toward this morning’s clock-meddling. My fondness for Daylight Saving is on record, but that seems to be a minority view amongst my friends and neighbors. Who, I suppose, want to get up and work out before work? I don’t really understand it, myself. Sunset at 6:52 tonight! Whoo-hoo! But there’s the bigger philosophical question of whether you feel robbed by the clock manipulation. I tend to see it as giving back the hour we got a few months ago.

But then, I was born in the summer. People born in the Daylight actually do get an hour free that first autumn of their lives. They give it back before the year is up, sure. But then they get another one! And they keep going like that, borrowing an hour from their future every fall and giving it back every spring.

Winter babies, though, lose the hour the first time they spring forward. And, yes, they get it back in the fall, but that just makes them even again, back where they started. As the summer children keep going ahead and then even, the winter children lose ground and catch up; they never quite match. When the summers get a free hour, the winters are just getting back to even. When the winters are having their hour stolen whilst they sleep, the summers are (reluctantly) returning their bonus. Year after year. Of course, the older folks of April and May may have been winters; the younger ones will be summers. This will be very confusing for those persons trying to determine whether to become optimists or pessimists; their hourglass is only half-full.

As I was musing, though, I remembered that I stayed on the Lord’s time until I was eighteen. Arizona folk respect the sun, but we don’t try to get more of it. I experienced the clock-meddling as something that other people did—a phone call to California would involve an hour difference in the winter but not the summer. An East Coast call would travel across three hours in the summer, but only two in the winter. I think I remember that this affected television schedules, but in those days the summer was all reruns anyway. No, my first extended experience of Daylight Saving was in the Pennsylvania autumn, which as it happens was my first extended experience of autumn, and my first real experience of the days getting significantly shorter. Perhaps, then, my pro-clock-meddling philosophy is more accurately attributed to… er… yeah.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

February 24, 2013

Ten Years On

Ten years ago today, my Gracious Host announced that YHB’s Tohu Bohu was open for business. OK, not business. I can’t say as I have ever figured out what it’s open for… well, and it’s been open for ten years, is what it’s been open for.

I was hoping to write a note today marking both ten years and three thousand posts. Sadly, I have only posted twice this week, so this is the 2996th post on this Tohu Bohu. That’s probably as good a comment on the State of the Blog at present as anything I could write.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 30, 2013

One Man in his Time

Well. I did the monologue I talked about a couple of weeks ago for an audition. The play is As You Like It; the part I particularly wanted was Jaques. That actually was important to the monologue because I particularly did not want to be cast as Touchstone. Touchstone is the professional fool in the play, and he is particularly dire. Shakespeare’s fools are generally unfunny, and Touchstone, in my opinion, is among the worst—he has a million lines, most of them with very heavy puns or paradoxes, and the rest with fart jokes. It’s odd, actually, for a sexy play like this one, that there seem to be fewer dick jokes and more fart jokes than in most of the canon. Anyway, I loathe Touchstone. But I adore Jaques.

Jaques is the other fool, the amateur fool. He’s an odd duck, and everybody thinks of him as an odd duck. I think he’s the only character of note that doesn’t get married at the end (except for the already-married people, parents and whatnot). He’s a foreigner, with a foreign name, and he’s clearly an outsider. People are fond of him—maybe more indulgent than fond—and he has to be likable, but it’s not clear that he is likeable. He is melancholy, and everybody including himself talks about him as being melancholy, but he also has strenuous enthusiasms and jokes incessantly. In other words, he’s a challenge.

And, speaking of challenges, he’s got this bit about the seven ages of man. It’s not Top Five Shakespeare Monologue for audience expectations, not any more, but it’s probably still top ten.

Anyway. The monologue went no better than OK. The director asked me to do it again without “acting”, very simply, and I did, and he seemed to like that. Then I got to read the Rosalind scene, and again he had us do it again “more simply”, actually putting us in chairs facing away from each other. And then, since I was still around, he had me read Silvius for a Phebe in III,v. That was clearly just to have somebody for a Phebe to read with, though. I left the night thinking that I had done fairly well, but not extremely well. It would depend on who else was auditioning. As it always does, of course.

Then there was a callback, and another callback. I think the first callback was for the young persons; I was at the second one, for the Dukes and Touchstones and so forth. There were five us fogeys looking for the various fogey parts. I think there was one other fellow who was focused on Jaques particularly, a much older (looking) man with a quiet voice but a nice line in melancholy—If the director wanted to emphasize the melancholy aspect, that would be a perfectly good way to go. The other three were pretty good as well, though, and I left that callback not having any idea at all who would be cast as what. In particular, of course, whether I would be cast at all, and if so, in what part.

And… I found myself, over the next couple of days, wanting to get cast as Jaques. Really, really wanting it. Eager to get to work on the part, dig in to the text, think about the various possibilities. In point of fact, I braved superstition and did some initial research, looking at Alan Rickman’s essay about the 1985 RSC production and getting my hands on the correct volume of the wonderful Cambridge University Press Shakespeare in Production series.

When the email came, this morning, with the cast list attached, my gut clenched. The document seemed to take forever to open. And forever to scroll down the page through the fourteen parts and people who were neither Jaques nor YHB. And on the fifteenth line, there are both.

So. For those Gentle Readers who will be or can be in the area in May, Your Humble Blogger will be playing Jaques in As You Like It. And I expect that between now and then I will be writing about the part, about the play, the text, the process, and all the that goes with it.

So we have that to look forward to.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 22, 2013

A Great Time to Be Alive

Yesterday, as I was browsing through the The King Center Archive, as I hope will be one of my MLK Day traditions, I came across an odd little note by Martin Luther King, Jr. called How My Theology Has Changed. It’s undated, but it begins “Ten years ago I was a senior in theological seminary”, which places it in 1960. It’s a lovely concept—It appears to be notes for an article—there’s a thirty-page handwritten draft called How My Mind Has Changed in the Last Decade, which I think is more or less the essay published as Pilgrimage to Nonviolence. The end of the short note that I began with, though, isn’t in the longer draft at all. Here’s my own transcription of the last item on the list:

I am happy to be alive during this period of history. With all of its tensions and uncertainties something profoundly meaningful is happening. Valleys of despair are gradually being exalted and mountains of injustice being made low. Yes, the glory of the Lord is being revealed. May we dare to believe that all flesh will see it together.

The beginning of the list, when he talks about the ten years since he left Crozer, is also absent from that longer piece draft:

Since that time many worldshaking developments have taken place—the emergence of many new nations as a result of the independence struggle, the momentous decisions of the US Supreme Court outlawing segregation, man dramatic exploration of outer space, the creation of more powerful nuclear weapons.

And here’s the closing of the published article, which is also new from the handwritten draft:

The past decade has been a most exciting one. In spite of the tensions and uncertainties of our age something profoundly meaningful has begun. Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away and new systems of justice and equality are being born. In a real sense ours is a great time in which to be alive. Therefore I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that we face a world crisis which often leaves us standing amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. Each can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark, confused world the spirit of God may yet reign supreme.

So. In 1960 or so, at any rate, when he was thirty, Dr. King thought it was a great time to be alive. The thought that sparked in me was—do I think it’s a great time to be alive? Do I think that something profoundly meaningful is happening?

And the answer is, no. I don’t.

That may be an artifact of age: I’m a long way past thirty. In fact, I was startled yesterday to suddenly realize that I am a good deal older now than Dr. King was at the time of his death; he was so, so, so young. Also, despite his more wide-ranging description in the notes, Dr. King’s focus on the situation of black Americans has something to do with it—many white Americans don’t, at this remove, think of the 1950s as a time of worldshaking developments and profound changes. My Best Reader pointed out that a leader for LGBT rights, born in 1982 and ruminating on the events of the last ten years, might well describe this as a great and lucky time to be alive. That’s possible.

And, of course, there’s this: Martin Luther King, Jr. was shaping his world. I am not. By 1961 he was head of the SCLC, and was important enough to be asked to contribute to a collection of essays by significant thinkers. If he was not yet the marble hero he became, he was already—at thirty!—nationally prominent and hugely influential. I suspect that such a man is always going to find himself in times of worldshaking developments, if only because he is a worldshaker himself. So the difference is not in the world but in the people.

Still. I think it’s a great time to be alive (and to be a fairly affluent American) just because of the creature comforts. I have air conditioning and sinus medicine; I have shoe inserts and mp3s; I have meat at the grocery store and water at the tap. I would not trade these decades of my life for those decades without penicillin and pinterest. But profound changes and worldshaking developments? I’m afraid my outlook there is grim.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 22, 2012

Good Stuff

So. It's Thanksgiving. Your Humble Blogger has had several conversations today about things for which thanks ought be given, and those are good conversations to have. Sometimes, though, those conversations degenerate into general lists of Good Things, which makes me cranky. This year, for some reason, I was thinking—what for the crankiness? Good Things are good! Why the hell not?

Here, then, is a list of some Good Things. It's a small list— I could probably (give the time and inclination) come up with a list a hundred times as long. Some of the stuff I have left off the list is every bit as good as the stuff on the list. The pie fight in The Great Race, for instance. Anyway, here's some Good Stuff.

Elvis Costello, corn chips, six-card lowball with a quarter option, pince-nez, broken consort music, Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, pizza, baseball, very long scarves, doo-wop, Ruth Brown, Mrs. Lea's Bible Stories, autumn leaves, vehicles on rails, carrying my sweetie's purse, Steven Sondheim, the L. Frank Baum Oz books, summer nights in the desert, music on shuffle, handwritten letters, Joe Posnanski, hot ham and cheese on a bagel, Dominion, shoes, the Beale Street Blues, Buster Posey, overstretched rhymes, the sound of the street after snowfall, antibiotics, Eye-rolling, Eileen Atkins, reading a Dick Francis novel in the bathtub, getting out my summer hat, the freezer, silliness, Rose Tyler, raisin bran, Careers (the 50s or the 70s version), thermal underwear, the Rock Steady beat, Yossarian, the first meeting of Eomer and Aragorn, overshoes, on-line archives, sudden affection, Kazuo Ishiguro, candied sweet potatoes, The Minister's Cat, work gloves, klezmer, Nancy Pelosi, finding a new book in a favorite series at the public library, the Fourth of July, email, dick jokes, Tom Stoppard, being read to, listening to a massive storm, physical therapy, camaraderie, Lauren Sklamberg, baby carrots, Word-O-Rama, corrective lenses, odd live covers on YouTube, Susie Bright, Rice-a-Roni (the San Francisco Treat), Guillotine, my new shirt with the blue stripes, terrible 80s pop, Alicia Svigals, getting the reference, the first day that it's still light when I get out of work, cheap long-distance, giving a copy of a favorite book, Ian McKellan, cider, Civ III, black socks (they never get dirty), the good tune to yismichu, Sol Lewitt, garden peas, Sorry (the game of sweet revenge), a good wide-brimmed hat, the big number at the Act One curtain, Hugh Laurie, stopping in the middle of reading a play to try out a line out loud, kite-flying weather, anti-depressants, patience, Psmith, funk, hearts, bowties, Swing, James Madison, flyleaf inscriptions, sunscreen, clickable concordances, tea.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 20, 2012

Actually Thankful

Thanksgiving week is one of the times when the director at my place of employment has everybody grab some cleaning supplies to make the place shine. And it occurred to me, as I was scrubbing coffee off the wall of one of the tutor rooms, that (1) they don’t pay me enough to do this, and (B) they pay me a lot more than they pay the cleaning staff.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

October 11, 2012

I Am Inhabited

I realized, after using the word crazy in my previous post, that it was World Mental Health Day. Which event may reveal me to be even more insensitive than I previously knew.

I have talked here, I think, about how I used to conceive of the human body as a machine. Specifically a car: you put in the right fuel, you take care of the various moving parts, and it goes and gets you where you want to go. Sometimes bits of it break and have to be fixed. If you smash it too badly, you can’t fix it. And all of that is true, more or less, but it turns out it’s not a terribly useful way to think about the human body. It also, by the way, leads to internalizing a mind/body split that I have come to find very unhelpful and inaccurate—the body is not a device for carrying some you around, but is at the least a part of who you are.

I went from the car concept to a chemical plant concept. While there still needs to be fuel in and waste out, and lots of infrastructure with moving parts that still can break, the important part, really, is getting the chemical balance right—the right balance of chemical intake produces the right chemicals, which are intake for the next chemical chain. Vitamins and sugars and proteins and whatnot are converted to sugars and blood and fat and muscle and whatnot, and the conversion process is calibrated differently for different people. So if you think about it as one of those puzzler videogames where you have to combine things to make the colors match up in order to level up, every time you play there’s a different mechanism for converting one color to another.

I came across something recently, though, that pointed out that a better metaphor is to think of the human body as an ecosystem. Well, as a rain forest. I am inhabited—we are all inhabited, science tells us, by organisms of a startling variety and quantity. These organisms interact with each other and with the infrastructure in unending combinations. They also interact with the organisms in other nearby ecosystems—every ecosystem contains smaller ones and is contained by larger ones, just a tree can be viewed as an ecosystem, a forest, a range of forests, a continent… the decimation of bats in one ecosystem is felt in the bug population of the ecosystem next door, and the butterflies in my belly cause your hair to fall out which increases my stress levels which interferes with my immune system which allows the reintroduction of wolves into my cerebrum.

Or something. Metaphors and analogies are just ways of thinking about things, you know, they aren’t intended to have one-to-one correspondence. The point is that everything is connected to everything, and that’s true of the inhabitants of your body and the inhabitants of other people’s (and animals’) bodies, as well as all the internal and external infrastructure.

And that, as least as I read it, we are starting to realize that mental health is not something distinct from physical health, that having a lousy digestion and having black depression are not as different as all that, and that having PTSD and having stomach cancer are not as different as all that. They’re not the same, you understand. They aren’t the same. But they aren’t as different as we all thought. They are all manifestations of fuckups in the system—and there are always fuckups in the system.

That, I think, is the lesson of the ecosystem metaphor—the system struggles to an equilibrium, and then something disruptive happens. A fire or a virus or a cancer or a glacier or a bad touch or a parasite or an epidemic or a car crash or insomnia or depression or arthritis or hunger. Something happens. And maybe nothing much happens, or maybe all hell breaks loose. And if all hell breaks loose, maybe there’s total breakdown and the system dies, or maybe a new equilibrium is reached. Until the next disruption.

The fact that everything is connected to everything means that it’s not possible to isolate the problem, that a butterfly in Shanghai can cause a proverbial in whatsit. It also means that there are potentially a million new equilibrium points, and a million paths to them. It’s a hopeful thing, to me. And a scary one, because many of those equilibrium points kinda suck. But a hopeful thing, too, innit?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 30, 2012


One of the themes of Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year, is t’shuvah. Literally, t’shuvah is returning—it is called repentance, sometimes, or restoration, perhaps, but the literal sense is returning.

We return, in our minds, to those things we were thinking about last year at this time. We promised to improve, to break our bad habits and form good ones, to make recompense for the harms we caused and to avoid making new ones. How did we do? How did I do? Where did I fall short? When I failed to keep a promise, should I make the same promise again? How can I keep it this time?

We return, in the rabbinic literature, to the Divine—when we fail to live up to our better selves, we alienate ourselves from the Divine. Now, as we pray, apologize to the Divine and to each other, and make recompense, we return to ourselves and to the Divine. We return, at least for a time, to those better selves that have been in the Divine keeping, waiting for us.

We return, in the body, to the synagogue. Some of us have been hanging around during the year—I was there last Saturday, and the Saturday before that—but whether we are returning after a fifty-one weeks or after a few hours, or even if we are turning to a new synagogue, we are back in front of the ark where we were last year.

We return, in the calendar, to autumn. Or spring, I suppose, if we are in the southern hemisphere. It’s the equinox, anyway. My experience of Rosh Hashanah, though, is of autumn, the trees beginning to turn, or at least (I grew up in the desert, you know) the nights and early mornings growing cool. Returning to school. Returning the sweaters to the closet and the swimsuits to the attic. Returning to shorter days, returning to longer nights.

And I intend to return to this Tohu Bohu. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 4, 2012

Trying to recapture a little of the glory

I’m just going to go ahead and tell this story, because there’s news about him, and it’s a blog. You know? I feel awkward about telling it, though, for reasons that will become clear shortly.

The year was 1991. The American Parliamentary Debate Association was going through the tail of a phase in which humor and improvisational technique was highly rewarded. In addition, we whiled away the time between rounds (whilst those who ran the tournament hand-tallied the results and chose pairings) by holding a competition in Public Speaking, which was neither more nor less than improvised stand-up comedy. There was a phase, somewhat later, when the ability to prepare cases (and respond to prepared cases), a wide knowledge base and logical clarity were the more valuable skills. And several phases, back and forth, I’m sure, over the years since then. At the time, though, we argued silly cases with utmost gravity, and serious cases with outrageous silliness, and deep philosophical cases with pop culture references, and debated pop culture itself, with both utmost gravity and outrageous silliness.

For those unfamiliar with APDA, teams are given a general resolution, and then the offense (or government) team has ten minutes to make a case from that resolution. The resolution could be something like Let your yea be yea and your nay, nay, and the case could be, oh, the US should withdraw from the UN. Or that steeplechase racing should be banned. There is (or was, at the time) a great deal of leeway. The more competitive, then, can come up with cases beforehand and adapt them to whatever resolutions they find. The Princeton team, particularly, was known for having a file of cases that they had already run in practice rounds several times. My alma mater, on the other hand, was known for coming up with a case in the ten minutes between the announcement of the resolution and the commencement of the round. Often terrible cases, but fresh ones. Instead of using our practice time to polish up cases to run in competition, we used that time running even more terrible cases that we knew we couldn’t possibly have run in competition. Often whilst balanced on a Bongo Board. We did share a few ideas (Draft the elderly! Eschew time travel! Abolish the penny! Shoot Orin Scrivello!) but we prided ourselves on never running a case more than once. My partner and I had to come up with the actual details of the case, the presentation of it, the analysis, all in ten minutes. That was what made it fun.

That is also, quite likely, why I didn’t win as many rounds as the Princeton folk. There’s nothing more depressing and embarrassing than reliving the sole time in my life that I achieved real (if small-scale) public success, like Bruce Springsteen’s speedballer, but they really were my Glory Days. I was never at the very top of the rankings, no, and I never won a tournament—or even made finals—or semi-finals—until my last tournament, but I took home a gavel nearly every weekend of 1990-1991. I was someone to be reckoned with. Those who drew my team would know that they would be arguing a new case, and a wide-open case, but possibly a bizarre and disorienting case. Particularly in that final year when I became enamored of the six-things-in-a-box style case, the canonical example of which is that you, the judge (or speaker) were given a choice of six objects to be stranded on a desert island with (a knife, a cookbook, a solar-powered radio, a sewing kit, a guitar or the Riverside Chaucer), our case being that you should choose—well, whichever one we picked to run on, and the opposition should pick a different one.

OK, one more bit of truly pathetic Glory-Days-ing: I did have one case prepared, and almost got to use it. It was a variation on the six-things-in-a-box case that I was becoming known for, setting the time-space parameters such that we would suppose the tournament had chosen to hold that round in a hot-air balloon high above the earth. Sadly, as the round begins, we discover that the balloon is leaking, and even after releasing the ballast, we will need to toss one of the five persons (the speaker and the four competitors) plunging to a hideous doom to save the lives of the remaining four. The case would propose that the leader of the opposition team should be sacrificed, with three independent levels of analysis. I swear I would have run that case had we lost the coin toss before the final round of Nationals, but instead Princeton ran that the US should intervene militarily to support the Kurds in Northern Iraq against Saddam Hussein. Ah, well.

We’re getting to the story I wanted to tell now. I promise.

Sometime in that Spring of 1991, I was in the finals of the Public Speaking competition for the tournament, and decided to break into song, as I did from time to time. These competitions, by the way, while technically extemporaneous, also provided the opportunity to work in prepared material. We had a couple of people who did stand-up gigs and could do a few minutes from that. I wasn’t disciplined enough to work out much material in advance, but I did some filking, the way you do, and had written a couple of verses of “You’re the Top” with various inside-APDA references, and was waiting for a chance to use it. I don’t remember exactly where I was when I did—I’m inclined to say Yale, which was late in the year, and a big tournament, and I seem to remember it was a big tournament late in the year. But it was more than twenty years ago, and frankly this whole story, like all stories of glorydays, should be assumed to be half true, half faulty memory, and half embellishment to make it a better story. And it’s a better story at Yale, I have to say, because the fellow this story is about won first speaker at Yale according to a website that is also half true, half memory and half embellishment.

See, this fellow I’m talking about was a tremendous competitor, a Princeton man (with all that entails), and in some ways the typical example of the Princeton debater. He was very smooth, very knowledgeable, and very practiced. He wanted to win, and although I must say he played fair (if I remember correctly, he used to say he would just as happily argue the other side of any case he ran, and sometimes ran the other side in another round later in the day) rounds with him were less light-hearted and fun than they might have been. And, probably simply by coincidence, I used to win rounds against him regularly. His case or mine, whoever I was partnered with (he and Dave Panton were partners all that year and the next; I never settled to a partner), even rounds my team ought to have lost turned out our way.

Which is why I ended the first verse with the line: I’m bound to lose/I’m Panton and Cruz/I’m slop/But if baby I’m the bottom, you’re the top!

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 16, 2012

Make the Man

Your Humble Blogger has been meaning to write about You Don’t Have to Be Pretty, an Erin McKean note I came across recently (don’t remember who linked to it) and which has been on my mind. For those of you who don’t know Ms. McKean (or know her work—I think there are Gentle Readers who know her socially, but that’s not relevant at the moment) among other things she has written a Dress a Day blog for years and years. She cares about how she looks, and how other people look. And she has to remind people that they don’t have to be pretty.

Probably all the Gentle Readers of this Tohu Bohu are aware, on some level at least, of what a no-win situation appearance is. You can conform to social expectations and suffer contempt for your conformity. You can withstand the pressure to conform and suffer ostracization for your strangeness. You can be attractive and suffer jealousy and objectification. You can be unattractive and suffer discrimination and rejection. It’s all bad.

On the other hand, while everyone is bound to lose, alas, in our screwed up world, everyone is not bound to lose all the time with everyone. We manage, somehow, despite everything. We like each other, somehow. We overcome, somehow, the terrible stupidity of our fashions. Or some of us do, or we do some of the time, with some people. We are insulted and made to feel inferior, it’s true—but we aren’t always insulting each other. Nobody escapes, but some of us survive, and in fact, many of us only suffer intermittently, at longer and longer intervals. Thank goodness.

This whole thing has been worrying at me, or I’ve been worrying at it, because (a) I’m a guy, and not addressed specifically by Ms. McKean’s excellent note; and (2) I’m a bit of a dandy, and put a good deal of effort into my clothes. So I get an odd sideways buffet from our culture’s focus on attractiveness and fashion.

For those Gentle Readers who don’t know me, I am usually dressed in either a grey suit or grey slacks and a waistcoat, with a dress shirt and a tie, most often a bow tie. When I’m outdoors, I wear a hat—a fedora for three seasons, and a straw hat in the summer. A few years ago, I phased out most of my white shirts in favor of dark-colored or vertically striped shirts; I have since acquired a couple of white shirts, for occasions and outfits that demand them, but mostly not. Here’s a reasonably representative sample:


I am, as you can imagine, often asked by people who don’t know me well, why do you dress like that, to which I usually respond I think it looks good on me. …and they all move away from me on the bench. But, in fact, I think this style looks good on me, or at least, looks better on me than another style would. And I care about that—I want to have a Look, and I want it to look good. I could wear khakis and t-shirts when I’m not at work, and khakis and not-quite-t-shirts when I am at work, but I don’t think men in general look good like that, and I’m quite sure I don’t. And I prefer to look good.

Do I think I have to be pretty? Do I think, in Ms. McKean’s words about the pressure on women, that I owe it to onlookers to maintain a certain standard of decorativeness? No. I don’t really think people care, and if anything, people are put off by my daily adherence to My Look. But I would rather look good than look lousy.

And, honestly, I think that people ought to prefer looking good to looking lousy. I don’t think that people owe decorativeness to me, personally, and if they want to look lousy, or if they don’t want to take extra time to dress, or if it’s more important to them to support some thing (a cause or an alma mater or an idea) with a t-shirt, I don’t resent it. It’s their choice, their haircuts and spectacles and tans and even their tattoos and piercings. I keep in mind that don’t know anything about the lives of the people I see at my place of employment or at my child’s school that might lead me to have a sensible opinion about what informs their choices. I know that some people think they look good when I think they look lousy, and that other people for whatever reason think their comfort and their look are incompatible and they must have, for whatever section of the day I see them, have chosen one over the other.

And yet. I think that a lot of people have let their satisficing down to a level between invisibility and not-looking-hideous. I find this saddening. I want to advise the college kids and young parents to spend just a little time finding a Look that is both comfortable and attractive, and then spend just a little time more time in dressing to make that look happen. It doesn’t have to be expensive (the Divine knows I spend next to nothing on my clothes) (well, other than my hats, and my summer hat this year was less than $20) and it certainly doesn’t have to be uncomfortable (I do not wear anything uncomfortable) and it doesn’t have to be fashionable. You don’t have to lose weight or work out. You don’t have to expose any bits of you that you would rather not expose. You can still look good.

And yet, you know, you don’t have to be pretty. I know, I know. Wanting to look good is part of the whole problem. And yet, wanting to look good is so obviously better than wanting to look lousy. I’m conflicted about this. I can’t think that most young people wearing t-shirts and jeans most of the time is solving anything, making anyone feel happier and better about themselves. At the same time, the pressure on people to be pretty (or handsome or stylish or fashionable or thin or tall or curvy or buff) is terrible.

I don’t have any answers. All I have, really, is my own experience: I dress up because I think I look better when I am dressed up, and it makes me happier to look good than to look lousy. That may apply to other people, too. You don’t have to be pretty—but you may find that effort put in to your style pays off in your happiness.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 10, 2012

Dream, dream dream dream, dree-ee-eam

I had the exam dream the other night.

You know the exam dream. You’re sitting to an exam, and realize that you haven’t studied, haven’t done the reading, haven’t been to class. It was a math class of some kind, and before I got the exam paper, I figured that I know some math, and maybe I could bullshit a bit and get a C- or a D+. I know this isn’t the usual emotional state for the exam dream, but I have to admit, with only a trifle of rue, that it was pretty much my emotional state for my actual exams in high school and college. I mean, I had generally been to class, and had often done the reading, but I didn’t study much in high school. Even in college, I didn’t study as much as anyone else. What I had learned, in my primary school years, was how to do well on exams without resorting to knowledge of the subject matter. That got me through high school, and while it didn’t work in college in so far as getting a C- or a D+ is working for that scheme, I found it worked well enough for me.

However, when (in my dream) I actually got a look at the exam, it turned out to be some sort of applied math—physics or something that required memorization of formulae and that sort of thing. In fact, the first problem involved figuring out the paths of cannonballs from their shadows on the ground during the rising part of the parabola; I could just about imagine how one would go about doing that but could not possibly have come up with an actual answer. And unlike the math tests on which I was able to bullshit a bit and get a C+, clearly the actual answer was what the grader would be looking for.

It was at this point in my dream that I said to myself Wait a minute—I didn’t go to any of the classes. What the hell am I taking the test for? And put the paper back down on the desk and made to get up and leave the classroom. That’s when I woke up.

I didn’t, in the dream, know that I was in the dream. I don’t know if I figured that I was just in the wrong room, taking the wrong test—if I hadn’t attended any of the classes, I clearly wasn’t enrolled in that class, and heck, it was applied math, so I clearly wouldn’t have signed up for it in the first place. Or maybe I just figured that if I had skipped all the classes, and clearly hadn’t learned the material, I wasn’t going get a passing grade anyway, so why waste my time taking the test? All I remember is my holding the test, making some sort of connection, and thinking what the hell and heading out.

Except, as I say, that’s when I woke up. And it took me a long, long time to go back to sleep. It’s the first time I’ve ever had the exam dream that I remember. And I did it wrong.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 7, 2012

Ouch. Also: Ow.

Your Humble Blogger has an arthritic knee. Chondromalacia, in fact. Whoo-hoo.

I am told that my splay-footed gait is a substantial factor in this—my feet tend to roll inward on the ankle, so to compensate my toes point outward, knocking my knees together at enough of an angle to take the patella off its normally even keel and scrape it along the cartilage. What’s left of the cartilage. Anyway, to reverse this, I will need to wear a thing in my shoe, which shouldn’t be a problem once I purchase the funny thing (perhaps tomorrow morning).

I also need to forget how to walk.

More accurately, I need to train my muscles to forget exactly how I used to walk in order to reset themselves to my new gait with a thing in my shoe. Muscles have very good memories. They are creatures of habit. Like people, actually. The first step in the whole no-longer-crying-in-pain process is to confuse the fuck out of my muscles by stretching them to hell and gone twice a day. Once the muscles are sufficiently confused, I will walk around with a thing in my shoe and my muscles will develop a new habit that won’t involve cartilage-scraping. Or that’s the idea, as presented to me by an attractive young physical therapist with a calming voice, who I trust with my muscles, if not my cockles. Ahem.

So. Forty-five minutes or so in the morning and another forty-five minutes or so in the evening of holding absurd and uncomfortable postures has been added to my daily maintenance. Now, I don’t do a lot of daily maintenance on the body, certainly compared with other people. I wash, I brush my teeth, sure. I brush my hair, mostly for cosmetic reasons as I keep it short enough these days that not brushing it for a day wouldn’t be a health hazard. Also my hair is short enough that the cosmetic hairbrushing takes less than half a minute, most days. I eat, although most of my eating time is probably not accurately described as body maintenance. Taken all together, the half-hour of daily stretches for my chondromalacia patella probably doubles my usual daily body-maintenance time.

I do not have a daily exercise regimen. I pretty much don’t ever exercise as body maintenance; any exercise I do is part of some other task, either amusing myself, moving myself from one place to another, or accomplishing something I want done for other reasons. It’s a moderate amount of exercise, taken all in all, most of it walking around the library that employs me, but it isn’t deliberate. Other people go to the gym three times a week, or jog in the morning, or otherwise spend some hours devoted to exercise. Some Gentle Readers have been doing stretches of this kind for years, just as a maintenance routine. Some have more elaborate systems of dental hygiene. Some prepare special foodstuffs as body maintenance aids, or have some cleansing ritual. Some do a sort of mental body maintenance (I know a woman who does crosswords defensively against the prospect of memory loss; she doesn’t enjoy them, but then she doesn’t enjoy her treadmill walking, either) or meditation or visualization intended as maintenance. I don’t.

I do believe that it’s reasonable to put some effort in to maintaining the physical plant. I reject the whole mind/body split thing, but if I can use it’s terms for a moment, I’ll say that I am on good terms with my body. I certainly accept that the limitations on my body are limitations on me—I can’t fly, and I can’t both drink caffeinated beverages in the evening and sleep at night. If I eat the wrong things, my digestion will be bad; if I sink to the bottom of the ocean, I’ll drown. Eventually, I will die. I accept those things. Many of them are easier to accept, I’m sure, because I am so physically average in so many ways. I’m of middling height, middling weight, middling looks. I can run, but not quickly; I can sing, but not on key; I can see, but with glasses.

This, though, this sudden requirement that I spend an hour and a half or more every day on body maintenance. I don’t know. I’m having trouble accepting it. It seems like such an unreasonable demand. I mean, I like to watch movies, but it wouldn’t occur to the movie-watching aspect of me to hold myself hostage, that if I don’t devote an hour and a half every day and watch a feature film that I will put myself through incapacitating pain. Frankly, I’m disinclined to negotiate under these conditions. On the other hand, my Best Outside Alternative is… excruciating pain? Surgery, followed by either more rehab or vastly reduced mobility, and more pain anyway? This knee has me over a barrel, doesn’t it?

And yet… I am wondering whether what is really going on is just an ordinary adjustment to my having had abnormally low levels of body-maintenance in my routine for so long. What about you, Gentle Readers? How much time (over a week or so) do you spend doing things you think of as body maintenance?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 11, 2012

The Kitniyot Problem

The kitniyot question, in a nutshell, is how to decide what foods are like other foods. Y’all know, I imagine, that Jews (those of us who keep Passover) give up bread, that is to say ordinary leavened bread, for the whole week. Technically, we give up chumetz, bread that is made with wheat, spelt, barley oats or rye. We also give up other foods made from those plants, which are considered to be chumetz, except for the unleavened matzah which is made under certain strict conditions. For a week, we don’t eat bread—we don’t eat sandwich bread or baguettes or rolls or pita or bruschetta or any of that stuff. The point being, more or less, to remind us that it’s Passover, that we were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt and the Divine brought us out with a strong hand, and an outstretched arm, and with signs and wonders. There was no time for our ancestors to bake bread, so we voluntarily give up bread for eight days to identify with them. Not that difficult, actually, and it does (in my experience) keep my mind focused on the holiday. I never get to the end of the day during Passover without being reminded that it is Passover.

Now comes the complicated part: you know how we don’t just give up bread-like-stuff, we give up everything that’s made with those five grains? Well, we also give up things that are made with things that are like those five grains. Which makes sense: if we give up wheat bread but eat corn bread all week, Passover is less present in our minds than if we give up corn bread, too. So there’s this category of kitniyot, things that are similar to chumetz, which we give up as well.

Digression: By we, here, I’m speaking about Ashkenazic Jews; Sephardic Jews have different customs. These customs (minhag) have something of the force of Law. That is, in the absence of any really good and persuasive reason to abandon a minhag, you are responsible for upholding it and passing it along to your children. As you would expect, the Rabbis have always been conservative in those choices. So it’s not like I can declare myself a Sephard for a week and eat rice. I mean, I can do that, but then I can just have a nice ham on rye, too. But the Sephardim can eat rice during Passover and still be keeping; and that I can’t do. Different people, different customs. It’s how it works.

So what is kitniyot? Rice, buckwheat, millet. Obvious. Also sesame seeds. Also beans, lentils, peas, soybeans, chickpeas, and other legumes. Why? Because those things are like the other things. The category is actually something close to edible seeds in pods (see this OU article), because in a general way, you can take those seeds and grind them like wheat and make a flour. On the other hand, we don’t count potato starch or nut flour as kitniyot, and it’s much more common to use those things for making biscuits than it is to use mustard seed or lentils. But that’s the tradition, and that’s how it goes.

There are arguments, within the tradition, of whether, having disallowed soy, for instance, it is permissible to use soybean oil to cook with, because after all, soybean oil isn’t much like anything you would do with the five grains. And what about high-fructose corn syrup? I was taught that it was no good for Passover, because it’s essentially corn—but then, it isn’t really much like chumetz, is it? Rabbis have different opinions about peanuts, and different opinions about peanut oil, of course. Caraway seeds are explicitly allowed, although one is supposed to examine them carefully to make sure there isn’t any chumetz mixed in with them. Lots of rules, lots of interpretations. There’s an annual six hundred page digest that includes a list of permissible brands of various things, and the Chicago Rabbinical Council has kindly indicated recommended spray deodorants. The OU and the CRC and other groups will happily guide you away from companies who don’t schmear them enough are insufficiently careful to keep flour dust out of their factories.

Which brings us to the other half of the kitniyot problem. Ashkenazi such as YHB who wish to keep kosher during Passover (but not for the other fifty-one weeks) are faced with a choice. We can assign the first half of the kitniyot problem to some Board of Kashrut somewhere and hope that (against all odds and evidence) they are not on the take, or we can use our own judgment. The second seems obvious, but in addition to the problem of individual judgments not adding up to a community tradition, there’s (for YHB, at least) the problem of trying to ascertain whether I think green peas should be OK for Passover because they honestly aren’t much like barley, or whether I think green peas should be OK for Passover because I like green peas. Is a bit of corn syrup sweetener enough to make my can of soda chumetz? The answer seems to depend on how thirsty I am, which is not quite rigorous.

And then—it’s obvious to me that toaster waffles are not OK for Passover. When I go to the store and see all the stuff that is obviously not OK for the purposes of keeping Passover in mind, and then have to decide if it’s OK to eat the ice cream, well, if I want to eat the ice cream, I’m going to eat it, even if it turns out that I accidentally got the kind that has corn syrup sweetener. Because: toaster waffles. Am I right? In fact, corn on the cob. Because: toaster waffles.

So. I can use my own judgment, which frankly is not to be trusted, because I am naturally biased in favor of the things I want. Or I can give the job of judgment to the authorities who frankly are not to be trusted either. And this is all up for grabs because of how difficult it is to tell if X is enough like Y.

Is this job enough like the way I want to spend my day? Is this manuscript enough like a book? Is this meal enough like nutrition? Is this house enough like a home? Is this haircut enough like handsome? Is this candidate enough like my ideal? Is this policy enough like justice? Do I make all these judgments myself, or do I let some authority make them for me?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 1, 2012

One, two, three, four, five senses working overtime

So. I’m driving along in my car, and it occurs to me that I have a lot of pairs of glasses with me. I have my sunglasses on, and my regular glasses are in my pocket, which is pretty typical for me when the sun is out. So that’s two. And I am, I admit, a trifle nearsighted, so I keep an emergency pair in the glove compartment, because if for some reason my glasses break while I am out, I will need them to drive home. This makes perfect sense, right? It’s not crazy at all to keep a spare pair of glasses in the glove compartment. Probably some of you Gentle Readers do that, don’t you? Don’t you?

And again: in case my glasses break when I’m at work, I keep an old pair in my satchel. I have had the experience of having my glasses break when I was at work, and my Best Reader had to come in and rescue me. I sat in the back of the office and kept very still until she arrived. Did I mention I am a trifle nearsighted? I could not have safely crossed the street, much less made the trip on the T. So I keep an old pair of glasses in my satchel, just in case. Which, I hardly need point out, is perfectly reasonable, and not crazy at all. It just happened that I was taking the car, and so had both pairs of emergency backup glasses, as well as my current specs and my shades.

And my pince-nez. Because, you see, if I’m going to be wearing pince-nez during the show, I need to wear them during rehearsal, so as to be used to them, which isn’t crazy at all or anything like it. Just taking the pince-nez to rehearsal, like I am taking the shoes I will be wearing, like the women are bringing their corsets and so on and so forth. Nothing at all unusual about that.

So the fact that I was driving around with five pairs of glasses wasn’t, you know, odd or anything, was it?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 21, 2012

It's good for you, eat it!

It occurred to me, as I was washing dishes this morning, that my children hardly ever see grown-ups eating food they don’t like. I wonder if that’s true for children, generally.

That is, if I have taken a bite of some vegetable matter that I find loathsome, and the eyes of the children are upon me, I don’t (after my mouth is empty) state that the taste was awful, but that it was high in potassium, and therefore I will have another helping please. In truth, Your Humble Blogger is hardly ever in that situation, because my Best Reader is a wonderful cook who is also accomodating to my somewhat idiosyncratic tastes; I eat my vegetables because they taste so good. But if they do not, my instinct is to pretend to the children: That’s not bad at all, I might say, perhaps a little salt.

The small ones, then, having come across some bit of something that might be nutritious but noxious to their juvenile taste, are told that it’s good for them, that they need to grow up big and strong, to encourage their teeth and bones, to blah blah blahdeblah blah, and that they can be excused after eating that much. And, to the credit of my particular offspring, they do—we have been very, very lucky in the food-pickiness category as compared to the wide range of kids. But the concept that humans eat things that aren’t tasty for health reasons is modeled to them only by other children.

We have made a deliberate effort to model chore-doing, and we don’t hide the fact that it chores are a pain in the proverbial. During the toddler years, it was much easier to do household chores when the children were asleep or otherwise occupied, but I took advice from some book or other which pointed out that then the children grow up thinking that dishes magically cleanse themselves, that laundry simply appears clean and folded and put into drawers, and that the crud on the floor dissolves into the air. Nor to we falsely sparkle and grin: our children know that pulling weeds makes our backs sore, that cleaning out the trap in the kitchen sink disgusts us, and that while laundry is not difficult or laborious, it is not fulfilling or inspiring, and I grow tired of it while there are still loads to go before I sleep. Our children know that we do things that need to be done, and often slack on those we can slack on, until we can’t slack on them any longer. It may be spinach, but we choke it down.

Actual spinach, on the other hand, my Best Reader finds tasty either boiled or raw, and I quite like fresh spinach from our garden and don’t mind small amounts of the bitter, slimy boiled stuff. Which, I should say, only winds up on my plate at someone else’s house, where the politeness factor kicks in. I am (I hope) good enough at being polite that my children aren’t seeing me as a model of choking down unpleasant food for a good reason—and, anyway, that’s a separate issue from the eat-it-and-be-healthy that is a big part of children’s meals.

In truth, I hardly ever eat anything I don’t like. I eat a lot of things I like, and a few things I don’t mind, and sometimes I eat things that I like but am bored with (particularly for lunch, if I am uninspired), but I hardly ever eat anything I don’t like. And my children are presumably aware of this, and are also aware that on occasion they are pressured to eat some things they don’t like. This isn’t fair to them, and if there’s one things children notice, it’s injustice against them.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 20, 2012

The Old Ways Pass

Your Humble Blogger has mentioned before how I have come to listen to music: a complicated system of ratings that allows me to randomly shuffle from thousands of songs I am not sick of. For the last seven or eight years, most of the time I am at home, this nearly-infinite playlist is on. Before that, of course, most of the music I listened to was in the form of an album of some kind. I had a few mix tapes, and a handful of CDs that collected different performers, but almost everything I listened to was forty-five minutes to an hour from one group of performers, in one musical style. I was born into the Age of the Album, and grew up in it, and that’s how I thought of music. Even the mix tapes were mostly ways for people to introduce me to new bands so that I could get hold of their albums, and then listen to the albums.

Of course, I was unusual, I am led to understand, because I never listened to commercial radio. Not by choice, anyway. Oh, that isn’t quite true—there was, oddly enough, a station in San Diego that I remember fondly from my childhood vacations, which introduced me to The Cramps. But I have always found radio commercials profoundly irritating—they don’t quite keep me from listening to baseball, but I do shut it off at times—and of course I never understood why I would listen to a song I didn’t like while waiting on the speculation that I might like the next one. I did do that sometimes for music videos, but then I was also less irritated by TV commercials as well, and in the heyday of the music video, I had cable and could waste a good part of a lousy three-minute song checking the other channels. Also, I was a teenager. Yich.

Where was I? Oh, yes—even in the Age of Albums, lots of people listened to a gallimaufry of music from different sources, on radio and in dance clubs, but I did not acquire the taste for it until sometime around 2000. What happened at that time (more or less, as I don’t really remember the years) is that I finally got tired of choosing CDs for the player, and as there was now the technology to play music continually, choosing only music I like, well, I adopted it. But I adopted it for home, when I was sitting at my desk by my computer; in the car, I still listened to CDs. Well, in 2000, I didn’t own a car, but I think I was listening to CDs on a Walkman-like device of some kind as I walked or rode the bus. I didn’t get a portable mp3 player until, I believe, 2005 or so.

I bring all of this up because I have finally, it seemed, got tired of listening to albums in the car. Our car stereo has no very easy injack for a mp3 player, and I find the player-to-radio adapters irritating, so I have continued to listen to CD albums in the car up until very recently, when to accompany my drives to and from rehearsal (and other places, although some of my driving is accompanied by WNPR, when they aren’t playing shows I dislike, such as three to four pm, repeated from nine to ten pm) I have put together a half-dozen mix CDs. I didn’t spend much time on them—I asked my player to cough up fifty or so good songs, and I threw twenty of them onto a playlist and burned it to CD, and then I did it again five more times, and will probably do a few more. Because it turns out that I really prefer the mixes to albums, even when they are good albums.

I find this change disconcerting, though. Not for practical purposes, as I know I can still choose to listen to a CD all the way though, if I get the hankering for a musical or a concept album. Just that the Age of the Album was my age, you know? And it’s over for me, now, too.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

February 24, 2012

Time, passing

Your Humble Blogger has been thinking about the passage of time.

Time passes. Listen! Time passes.

This Tohu Bohu is more or less nine years old; the best anniversary for the blog is probably February 24. Nine years is quite a while for a blog, I’m told, although of course I have been reading blogs that have been going on for longer than that. I’m still not sure what purpose it all serves, but it has gone on for nine years; I have been blogging for long enough to have written out my ambivalence over the then-upcoming invasion of Iraq.

Earlier in the week The Youngest Member marked his fifth birthday. It seems like a bigger deal than the fourth or sixth, but developmentally, it isn’t. Developmentally, this is the first birthday on which he remembers a previous birthday, but that’s about it. We still can’t leave him home alone.

On Wednesday, I figured out that the sweater I was wearing had been made twenty-five years previously, give or take a few weeks. It’s a mother-knitted sweater (the best kind), one of only two remaining in my active wardrobe. Well, three, but that’s counting one that was knitted for an elder brother. My two sweaters were ones I mostly designed (the grey one with the dark blue honeycomb pattern, and the garnet one with the white diamonds), and they are just about my favoritest garments ever. They have held up to twenty-five years of wear, more or less weekly wear during the appropriate months; the hand-me-down has been in the rotation for at least ten (tho’ I think it was not often worn before that). Our mother stopped knitting for our generation altogether when her first grandchild was born, eighteen years and thirteen days ago. That grandchild is waiting to hear from the colleges she has applied to.

Time passes. Listen! Time passes.

Jamie Moyer is in spring training camp; was pitching in the big leagues before this sweater was knitted. I could, I suppose, mark out the milestones of my adult life by the arc of his career. He was with the Cubs when I met my Best Reader; he was with the Cardinals when I graduated college; I think I saw him pitch for the Red Sox during our sojourn there; he was with Seattle when I got married; he moved to Philadelphia around when I moved to Connecticut. Pitchers and catchers—including Jamie Moyer—reported last week to Spring Training.

A couple of weeks ago, the State of Arizona celebrated its centennial. On February 14 of 1912, the Union admitted the last real state. I wrote something about it for the 75th anniversary, for my high school paper. A month before, I had attended a march to support a state holiday celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.; I may have been wearing that grey honeycombed sweater. Time passes. Two months after Statehood in Arizona, the Titanic sinks, and Downton Abbey starts. A couple of years later, my grandfather’s family flees Jaslow, finding refuge in Prague. He would have been around eight, I suppose, at that time; his great-grandson, who was named after him, turned five this week. As I said.

Time passes!

The crocus blossom I saw yesterday, by the sheltered corner of the house, was buried overnight by the wet snow.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 20, 2011

Chappy Chanukah!

Well, and Your Humble Blogger has been out of town for several days, happily interacting with many people in (as the kids say) real life, and hasn’t had much internettage. And now the sun is going down on the first night of Hanukkah, and I haven’t wished all of you a happy joyous Hanukkah.

I have been so busy, in fact, that I am going to ask y’all Gentle Readers for help rather than doing the research about this question that has been bugging me all day.

You know how Kermit the Frog is an entertainer who plays, among other characters, Kermit the Frog—similar to Gracie Allen or Jerry Seinfeld playing versions of themselves in their television shows. Right? So, here’s my question: was Kermit actually a newsman who went into the entertainment wing of the business, or was he just playing a reporter for all those years?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 25, 2011

Grfts for GMNG

It’s the beginning of gift-shopping season here in the US, which is a Bad Thing of course, but there it is: it’s the beginning of gift-shopping season. So I think I should post my Philosophy of Gift Giving, for your amusement and argumentation and whatnot, in part because I am having a lovely quiet day today and have time to write it up, and in part because I think it’s a Good Thing to think about gifts rather than just purchasing them without doing the thinking part.

So. Let us for the sake of convenience and clarity call the first person Mookie and the second Sasha. Mookie is preparing to give a gift to Sasha; it may be Sasha’s birthday, or it may be some other gift-giving occasion for either. Mookie and Sasha are close, and they like to make each other happy, which is why Mookie is giving Sasha a present. They may be lovers or relatives or friends or business partners, but the relationship is close enough that Mookie is giving Sasha a gift, not out of a sense of obligation and cultural norms, but because he likes Sasha. This is the reason for gift-giving.

The first thing is to list the criteria for a truly great gift, which are four:

  1. Something that Sasha would never buy for himself, but would like to have. Sasha might think it’s too frivolous, or a tad too expensive for what it is, or never have heard of it, or anything, but for ti to be a truly great gift, it can’t be something that Sasha might have bought the week before or the week after and been happy about it.
  2. Something that nobody else would give to Sasha. Sasha gets a lot of great stuff, but only Mookie would think to get him that one thing.
  3. Something that Mookie wouldn’t give to anybody but Sasha. Maybe because it wouldn’t be funny, or because it would be awkward, or because Mookie’s the only one who knows Sasha has always wanted one.
  4. Whenever Sasha uses the gift, he thinks about Mookie, and Mookie giving it to him. Or if it’s a decorative thing, whenever Sasha sees it. Or if it’s an event, whenever he remembers it. Or whenever he wears it, or reads it, or feeds it.

Now, it’s rare that you can get achieve all four, and even rarer that you can achieve all four for anybody but a spouse. The fabulous scarf I knitted for my Best Reader is as good a gift as I have ever given, and in part that’s because I hadn’t at the time made very many fabulous scarves, so it was particularly rare. Giving her another fabulous scarf this year would be a good gift, but not a great gift. The posters my Best Reader made for me with collages of album covers are truly great gift, as were the tickets to Richard III back in 1992. A few others, here and there. A gift that achieves two or three of the criteria is a very good gift indeed. A gift that achieves one of them is probably pretty good, too. Any hand-made gift, of course, achieves Criterion 2, and if it’s nice enough to keep around, probably Criterion 4 as well. And it’s easier to satisfy Criterion 3 with a gift that is made yourself or commissioned. I think a mass-produced gift can be truly great, if it’s the right thing, although honestly I can’t come up with an example, unless tickets to a show count.

What do y’all think? Have you ever given a truly great gift? Or been given one? Do you have similar criteria, or totally different? Are the four criteria useful in choosing a pretty-good gift, or do I need an entirely different set for the less-inspired gifts that I will be giving as well?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 11, 2011

I've got a little list, except I don't anymore

Your Humble Blogger would like any ideas y’all have for replacing the Google Reader Notes feature that is no longer available. I didn’t use the thing the way Google wanted me to, so I suppose I can’t blame them for not continuing to support my off-label use of their system. Still, I need something new, and maybe y’all use something for a similar purpose.

It’s like this: The Google Reader allowed me to make a note of a page I was on, typing a short note and adding the entry to a list of links/notes. It was for sharing the links and notes with my Google Buddies, but I could (and did) uncheck the box for sharing and simply have a private list, which I could access from my Google Reader page. Mostly, I used the list for news stories and blog entries that I thought I might want to write about here in this Tohu Bohu. Many of them I simply deleted on a second look, deciding that there wasn’t anything in there that inspired me to blog, but sometimes I actually found a way to write about the thing after it had percolated for a while on that list. Also, if I came across a reference to a book I wanted to read, I put it into that list; I could pull up the citation when I was at work and either get or request the thing.

So. What I want is a way to keep lists of web sites, ideally with the ability to make a short note for myself indicating why I wanted to keep the site for. This may sound like a job for Bookmarks (or favorites or whatever terminology a browser uses), and in fact it is, only I specifically want to be able to access the list from different computers. I don’t, however, want to synchronize all my bookmarks—when I’m at work, I want my work bookmarks, and when I’m at home, I want my home bookmarks, and when I’m on the road, I want my road bookmarks, but I also want a list that I can get to from all those locations.

I don’t want to share the list with anybody (sorry, y’all, but the ones I actually have something to say about make it into this Tohu Bohu); I would on the whole prefer that the list not be part of a social networking site, even with tools for making a private list. I am probably not going to sign up for a new social networking site even if it has the tools I want. I would be willing to add on a Firefox widget, but I’m not going to change browsers (or operating systems) for this, and I find the page for figuring out which Firefox extensions and add-ons to use unhelpful in the extreme.

I could write the URLs on my forearm.

This seems like one of those things that would be very easy to create, but that there wouldn’t really be a reason to bother creating it and disseminating it. It made a nice addition to an aggregator—now that I think about it, I would almost certainly be willing to change to a different aggregator, if it’s a good one. Any recommendations?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 2, 2011


Sorry about the blog hiatus, but Your Humble Blogger is without power (or heat or hot water) at home. I am getting on-line for about half-an-hour a day, and I'm afraid I'm not using it on blogging. Nor am I using valuable computer battery time on writing blog notes, as we are using the laptop for DVD-watching during our slumber parties.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. Your safety is our number one concern.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

October 25, 2011

Please Stand By

Your Humble Blogger begs your indulgence; there are technical problems with this blog. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Mostly, it doesn’t, lately. So if you have been getting a 503 error or otherwise can’t get to this page, please let me know by email (y’all know my email, right? My nom de net at the domain the blog is on? Or, in a worst-case scenario where that thing bounces, at gmail?) or commenting here, if you can load the page to comment. My advice is to use the RSS feed, which seems to be working fine, as does the lj version, but if you can’t get in here, you can’t comment, so that stinks. Again, feel free to email me your comment and I will try to get it onto the site for the rest of Gentle Readers to read if they have the comment feed on their aggregators. Whee!

I don’t have the tech mojo to fix this thing, and my Gracious Host is doing his level best, but, y’know, he has other demands on his time and this seems to be complicated and not quick to fix. Le sigh.

Anyway, Your Humble Blogger is going to try to keep blogging through this, and post the things when I get a chance. Please be patient, and please don’t give up on me. Sooner or later, I’m bound to post something interesting, just by accident.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

September 24, 2011

Somewhat social, not very networky

Your Humble Blogger has been meaning to write a note about Facebook and Google Plus, and I suppose the latest FB foofaraw is as good a place as any to start. FB, as you may know if you are on it, has changed its news feed as part of a bigger change in the way it wants people to use the software. A lot of people hate the change, including, natch, Your Humble Blogger. Not that any of us liked FB’s interface before, because it stinks on ice, but we had grown accustomed to it, perhaps had put in some effort to customize it to our own preferences (as much as we could), and now—BAM!—it’s all screwed up again.

The thing is this—people don’t like Facebook. We like interacting with our friends and our friends, our old high school classmates and cousins and so on and so forth, but we don’t like the Facebook itself. Maybe some people do, but it seems to me that most of us don’t. This isn’t terribly surprising, as most of us don’t like much of our software. I don’t like my word processor. It works, and that’s good, but I don’t look forward to using it. I don’t like livejournal; people did seem to like it for a while, and perhaps a lot of people who use the site more than I do still like it a bunch, but I have the impression that the bloom has gone off the proverbial. I have the sense that people like Twitter, that they enjoy the whole interface (however they are using it) and like to be on it; I’m not on twitter at this time, so I don’t know. I know that a lot of people like Pandora, that using Pandora is pleasant or fun in addition to listening to the music. I like Google Reader, which I use as my aggregator. I like YouTube, actually, now that I think about it. Facebook? People don’t like Facebook.

Of course, I don’t like Google Plus, either. This was made worse by the fact that Google Plus doesn’t like me—or, rather, they don’t want people using pseudonyms on Google Plus. As Your Humble Blogger is pseudonymous, one of those people who has been using the same nom de net for years in a variety of places, this makes Google Plus seem very unwelcoming, which affects how I think of their set-up. Not that they have actually kicked me out—but I am lying low over there, and have transferred my Google Reader and Calendar to my proper name account, for fear of losing them altogether. If any of y’all are at all interested in the whole nym fight, which is actually quite interesting, there are plenty of places to read about it from people who are more interesting and have more at stake than YHB, but here I’ll just state that it got me off on the wrong foot as far as liking the thing.

Not that Google or Facebook need me or anybody else to like their product. They just need us to use it. If Microsoft proved anything, it proved that people will use products they don’t like using. They might be the right products to use, even if they aren’t likeable. So I suppose the question is what product to I use? What do I want from a social network?

The first thing about social networks, of course, is the desire not to be Left Out, that when something interesting happens, we will be in on it. And, in fact, they are terribly useful for that; I have found out about events and performances, personal milestones, sales, and all sorts of things ranging from the tiniest trivia to sparks to Act Now. My initial foray into Facebook was because an old high school friend of mine died, and I didn’t hear about it for a month or so; I guess am unlikely to miss such a death or a birth or a marriage again for a while. So that’s all right.

Other than that, I suppose what I really want from a social network is for my clever, witty friends to amuse me constantly. My preference is for them (y’all being a good subset of them) to do it at greater length, on their own blogs or on mine. Google Plus seemed to be set up for multiple paragraph notes and comments interspersed with the one-liners, but I’m not seeing a great deal of that—of course, I’m not seeing a great deal of anything, because most of my clever, witty friends either aren’t on Google Plus or aren’t posting things to amuse me (because I am Outside the Circle—the Circle metaphor really, really isn’t working for me over there) with four or so friends posting every day (some multiple times) and another two or three posting on occasion. That’s not going to keep me amused, particularly if the notes are brief enough to be the soul of wit.

People talk about the death of blogging, you know. Not just about this Tohu Bohu and how rarely I post these days, but that in general people no longer want to have their own blogs to write posts about the things that interest them, when they can participate in a greater stream of a social network. Unfortunately, social networks are mostly terrible blogging platforms (I suppose LJ/dream is an exception, there—LJ seemed to do the social networking thing and (to a lesser extent) the blogging platform thing very early and very well, and had almost no influence on the social network craze) (except on dreamwidth and similar sites, I suppose, which themselves aren’t very influential on the craze). One reason why Twitter’s success followed Facebook’s, I think, is because after a few months of writing and reading the brief status updates that are that site’s stock in trade, the switch to an absolute character limit is easy. I miss long posts, I miss rambling posts, I miss being amused and provoked by my friends. Sigh. Not that I really think blogging is dead, or close to it—many GRs and other friends have journals or blogs, and update them more often than I update this Tohu Bohu. But still.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

September 21, 2011

List of the Day (yesterday, of course)

Your Humble Blogger hasn’t given up the Tohu Bohu. I’m still posting; I’m just not actually posting anything. I opened a word processor the other day to write this I’m still here post and didn’t get anything typed at all. Not that I’m horribly busy—I am quite busy, but not to the point of panic. I’m afraid this Tohu Bohu has taken a bit of a lower priority than some of the other stuff, on the assumption that it’ll still be here.

Don’t be fooled, though, into thinking that I’m posting again just because I am actually posting something. I am just popping my head in to comment that the main thing I learned from this list of teams with three good young pitchers is that there aren’t enough major leaguers called Hooks.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

September 11, 2011

September 11th, and every other day

[I feel very strongly that people should take some time today and wrestle with (and celebrate) this thing that Dashiell Hammett wrote, even as we, in this country and elsewhere, are quite rightly focusing on that moment when the beams fell. -V.]

Spade sat down in the armchair beside the table and without any preliminary, without an introductory remark of any sort, began to tell the girl about a thing that had happened some years before in the Northwest. He talked in a steady matter-of-fact voice that was devoid of emphasis or pauses, though now and then he repeated a sentence slightly rearranged, as if it were important that each detail be related exactly as it had happened.

At the beginning Brigid O’Shaughnessy listened with only partial attentiveness, obviously more surprised by his telling the story than interested in it, her curiosity more engaged with his purpose in telling the story than with the story he told; but presently, as the story went on, it caught her more and more fully and she became still and receptive.

A man named Flitcraft had left his real-estate-office, in Tacoma, to go to luncheon one day and had never returned. He did not keep an engagement to play golf after four that afternoon, though he had taken the initiative in making the engagement less than half an hour before he went out to luncheon. His wife and children never saw him again. His wife and he were supposed to be on the best of terms. He had two children, boys, one five and the other three. He owned his house in a Tacoma suburb, a new Packard, and the rest of the appurtenances of successful American living.

Flitcraft had inherited seventy thousand dollars from his father, and, with his success in real estate, was worth something in the neighborhood of two hundred thousand dollars at the time he vanished. His affairs were in order, though there were enough loose ends to indicate that he had not been setting them in order preparatory to vanishing. A deal that would have brought him an attractive profit, for instance, was to have been concluded the day after the one on which he disappeared. There was nothing to suggest that he had more than fifty or sixty dollars in his immediate possession at the time of his going. His habits for months past could be accounted for too thoroughly to justify any suspicion of secret vices, or even of another woman in his life, though either was barely possible.

“He went like that,” Spade said, “like a fist when you open your hand.”

When he had reached this point in his story the telephone-bell rang.

“Hello,” Spade said into the instrument. “Mr. Cairo? …This is Spade. Can you come up to my place—Post Street—now? … Yes, I think it is.” He looked at the girl, pursed his lips, and then said rapidly: “Miss O’Shaughnessy is here and wants to see you.”

Brigid O’Shaugnessy frowned and stirred in her chair, but did not say anything.

Spade put the telephone down and told her: “He’ll be up in a few minutes. Well, that was in 1922. In 1927 I was with one of the big detective agencies in Seattle. Mrs. Flitcraft came in and told us somebody had seen a man in Spokane who looked a lot like her husband. I went over there. It was Flitcraft, all right. He had been living in Spokane for a couple of years as Charles—that was his first name—Pierce. He had a automobile-business that was netting him twenty or twenty-five thousand a year, a wife, a baby son, owned his home in a Spokane suburb, and usually got away to play golf after four in the afternoon during the season.”

Spade had not been told very definitely what to do when he found Flitcraft. They talked in Spade’s room at the Davenport. Flitcraft had no feeling of guilt. He had left his first family well provided for, and what he had done seemed to him perfectly reasonable. The only thing that bothered him was a doubt that he could make that reasonableness clear to Spade. He had never told anybody his story before, and thus had not had to attempt to make its reasonableness explicit. He tried now.

“I got it all right,” Spade told Brigid O’Shaughnessy, “but Mrs. Flitcraft never did. She thought it was silly. Maybe it was. Anyway it came out all right. She didn’t want any scandal, and, after the trick he had played on her—the way she looked at it—she didn’t want him. So they were divorced on the quiet and everything was swell all around.

“Here’s what happened to him. Going to lunch he passed an office-building that was being put up—just the skeleton. A beam or something fell eight or ten stories down and smacked the sidewalk alongside him. It brushed pretty close to him, but didn’t touch him, though a piece of the sidewalk was chipped off and flew up and hit his cheek. It only took a piece of skin off, but he still had the scar when I saw him. He rubbed it with his finger—well, affectionately—when he told me about it. He was scared stiff of course, he said, but he was more shocked than really frightened. He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works.”

Flitcraft had been a good citizen and a good husband and father, not by any outer compulsion, but simply because he was a man most comfortable in step with his surroundings. He had been raised that way. The people he knew were like that. The life he knew was a clean orderly sane responsible affair. Now a falling beam had shown him that life was fundamentally none of these things. He, the good citizen-husband-father, could be wiped out between office and restaurant by the accident of a falling beam. He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them.

It was not, primarily, the injustice of it that disturbed him: he accepted that after the first shock. What disturbed him was the discovery that in sensibly ordering his affairs he had got out of step, and not in step, with life. He said he knew before he had gone twenty feet from the fallen beam that he would never know peace until he had adjusted himself to this new glimpse of life. By the time he had eaten his luncheon he had found his means of adjustment. Life could be ended for him at random by a falling beam: he would change his life at random by simply going away. He loved his family, he said, as much as he supposed was usual, but he knew he was leaving them adequately provided for, and his love for them was not of the sort that would make absence painful.

“He went to Seattle that afternoon,” Spade said, “and from there by boat to San Francisco. For a couple of years he wandered around and then drifted back to the Northwest, and settled in Spokane and got married. His second wife didn’t look like the first, but they were more alike than they were different. You know, the kind of women that play fair games of golf and bridge and like new salad-recipes. He wasn’t sorry for what he had done. It seemed reasonable enough to him. I don’t think he even knew he had settled back naturally in the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that’s the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.”

[From The Maltese Falcon, of course.]

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 1, 2011

If the year were a pizza

OK, a quick Yorkshire Day question for Gentle Readers—which eighth of the year is your favorite? Let’s number them:

  1. Winter Solstice-Groundhog Day. Xmas and New Year’s. Snow, ice, sledding, that sort of thing.
  2. Groundhog Day-Vernal Equinox. A miserable month of dreary, grey foulness, but followed by the first intimations of Spring!
  3. Vernal Equinox-May Day. Opening Day, and Spring in all its glory, depending of course on where you live.
  4. May Day-Midsummer. Verdant summer, the end of the school year, and the really long days.
  5. Midsummer-Lammas. True-summer, with really long days, hot weather, grilling and no school. Also, mosquitoes.
  6. Lammas-Autumnal Equinox. Dog days. The start of school. More mosquitoes.
  7. Autumnal Equinox-Hallowe’en. The High Holidays (usually), and then Crisp Autumn days and the leaves turning.
  8. Hallowe’en-Winter Solstice. Thanksgiving and the dying year. The Holiday Season, with lights and songs and such.

Well, and of course this depends on location (Gentle Readers from the Southern Hemisphere are welcome to comment about how this looks from there) and climate and so on. I’d like a Top Three from each as is willing to comment; I suspect that there will be some very popular ones and some with no supporters, but perhaps I’m wrong.

As for me, my favorite slice would be the third one, with seven placing close, and four to show. Love that Spring.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 16, 2011


Gentle Readers of this Tohu Bohu have now made six thousand comments. Well, and that’s including my own, more than a thousand of those. 1,180 if a simple search is correct. Not that I shouldn’t count my own with y’all’s, as we are in this thing together, whatever it is.

This Tohu Bohu has been around for just a smidgeon over three thousand days, so that’s close to two comments a day for more than eight years. Some years more than others, of course. I don’t have numbers for this, but I do feel that I am writing more posts that spark no response at all, and fewer that are sparking real conversations, but there have been quite a few good threads in the last two years (since we hit the 5K mark). There was one about Robert Elsmere, and one about the way I delivered the line The house used to look so big, and one about Board Games. And Carols and Lessons and Lessons and Carols as well. The thread about Who Wrote Shakespeare was interesting as well, and featured people just showing up out of the blue, which is both fun and a trifle disorienting.

The most fun for me was the Botticelli game; I just realized that I didn’t actually state that the B I was thinking of was Princess Buttercup from The Princess Bride. The way to up those comment counts here is to get a game going—so many of y’all are Games Players. I recently came across a thing I wrote twenty years ago where I mentioned that I judge people mostly by how they play games (I think this may have been in reference to a Gentle Reader who I met at the time), and while I no longer really get the opportunity as a grupp to play parlor games with people shortly after making their acquaintance, it remains largely true that I don’t consider myself really close to anyone I don’t enjoy playing games with. Are there other games that work on blogs? The Fortunately/Unfortunately thread was fun, but couldn’t really sustain itself as a game, I suppose. The last Encore game was a disaster, and my recent attempt at lyrics fun didn’t really work. There are certainly a lot of problems for blog games, but we should be able to come up with something.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 14, 2011

Schoolhouse Rock in the back seat

So. Your Humble Blogger has been opposed to the idea of kids watching videos in cars. Not just opposed, actually contemptuous, if you want the truth. Cars with DVD players! The heck? And yet, I cannot at this point come up with any actual arguments against it. It still seems wrong, but I can’t seem to create a logical case for it.

I should say—My Perfect Non-Reader suffers from carsickness when she reads, and although the Youngest Member does not (yet), neither is he currently reading books long enough to while away a long car ride. We do listen to stories, on occasion, and music of course, and we play The Minister’s Cat and I’m going on a picnic and I Love My Love with an A, and we have been known to have a sing-song (tho’ The Youngest Member objects strenuously to sing-songs, alas), but there are times when the car rides are dull nonetheless.

Most of our car trips are under fifteen minutes; we probably have two or four trips a month that are more than an hour long, and probably two or maybe four a year that are more than three hours long. I’m counting round-trips as two, of course, and often those two trips are in a single day—a trip of ninety minutes in the morning and a return in the evening, for instance, or sometimes a very long trip and then return four or five days later. I often experience those trips as being continuations of a single interrupted drive, so that by the middle of the return trip I am out of ideas for amusing myself and the others. There is grumpiness. It isn’t pretty.

So why not television? I mean, when the choice, for all practical purposes, is staring out the window, is there some downside to having the children look through a window at a narrative rather than a landscape? Yes, I do think that the habit of watching screens is not a good one—and the Divine knows how thoroughly Your Humble Blogger has chained himself to that habit—but I’m not sure that the habit of watching out the window is a better one. And on a longish ride (say, over ninety minutes) I don’t know that the use of electrons would really replace much in the way of conversation and game-playing. It might well be that the use of electrons for sixty minutes would refresh the car’s prisoners to the point where conversation and game-playing could be entertainment and not chore.

And yet. I have not yet resorted to the DVD player when I am in the car. Airplane trips, yes. For some reason, perhaps because the airline provides movies for grupps, the use of a DVD player to while away the children’s time on an airplane does not seem so wrong to me. Now that I think about it, though, I am not sure I have resorted to a DVD player on the plane for either child once books were an option. But then, we haven’t taken The Youngest Member on a plane since that particular switch got flipped, and even My Perfect Non-Reader has had only three such trips that I can remember.

I have begun urging my Best Reader to consider the DVD as a possibility for those rides where she is the Only Parent in the Vehicle. She is reluctant. I think I would be, too. But I’m not sure I can defend that reluctance. Can you?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 20, 2011

Wires! Who connects things with wires?

Your Humble Blogger underwent a cardiac stress test this morning—don’t be alarmed, studies show I have a heart—and was struck by the peculiar sense of old-sf in the room.

I mean, there I was, hooked up by eight tiny wires to a machine the size of a football that was in turn hooked up by one thick wire to a machine the size of the Narnia wardrobe. This machine has a screen on which green lines glowed against a black background; it emits unidentifiable beeps at unpredictable intervals, and it prints off a stack of continuous perforated printer via what certainly appears to be a dot matrix printer (albeit a good one). This machine is connected to the treadmill, which is a treadmill: conveyor belt at the bottom, handle at one end, and some sort of system for inclining the belt while making a whining noise. And there is Your Humble Blogger on the treadmill, wires dangling from my chest.

Every now and then, the doctor took my blood pressure, using a cuff that inflated with a squeeze bulb, and listened to my pulse through a stethoscope of particularly timeless design. He wore a white coat over a shirt-and-tie; I wore chinos and oxfords, and had my shirt-and-tie in a satchel that could fairly be described as an attaché case. Against one wall was one of those medical scales that measures pounds and inches, using small counterweights and a sliding aluminum bar. There was a telephone; the receiver was attached to the transmitter by a coiling wire.

The aesthetic of the machines was highly reminiscent of the PET computer on which I learned Basic in or around 1979. Much of the experience seemed to smack of science fiction written or filmed within a few years of that time. People hooked up to machines! Machines that beep! And read their internal organs! Conveyor belts! Molded plastic! Eyeglasses! Beep!

If, right now, you were to write or film a scene where a fellow’s heart was being tested for possible pathology, you wouldn’t include any of that crap. Certainly he wouldn’t have wires stuck to him. He would be in a chamber of some kind, possibly submersed in gelatinous liquid; the doctor would operate the machinery from another room, possibly from another building or halfway across the world. There would be a lot of glass, and multicolored readouts with rapidly scrolling text (or text-like things), and a computerized voice giving instructions. Also, the stimulus part would be in automatic feedback with the readout part without people leaning over and pressing a sequence of buttons.

Oh, and things would go horribly awry, with shattering glass and dramatic lighting and viscera. I’m glad that didn’t happen.

Anyway, I had a couple of thoughts as I was walking on the treadmill. First of all, there is this idea that pops up now and then about medical costs, that it would be nice to be able to pay 1950s prices for 1950s medicine. I suspect that this is 1970s medicine, and that the insurers are paying more or less 1970s prices for it, and that is all Good Enough. I would guess that somewhere there is a much fancier, much more expensive, much more twenty-first century version that is reserved for people who are already identified as having cardiac pathology of some kind or another. This version is for people like me, who are just checking to make sure that they are, in fact, as OK as it seems they are. So that’s all right.

The other thing is a horrible surmise that maybe in eighty years or so there will be conventions devoted to the cheap-plastic-punk aesthetic, much the same steampunk for us. People encasing whatever truly futuristic devices they will have in the grey-green grimy plastic that indicated Computer at the time. Wearing striped neckties with checked jackets and sansabelt slacks. Eyeglasses with rims made out of black plastic that is supposed to look like horn. Rotary telephones and bench seats. Ferns.

We’ll all be dead then, of course, from the cardiopathology these machines will not pick up. Thank goodness.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

May 7, 2011

Game Time

Since I got nothing today, how about a little game of Fortunately/Unfortunately? Here’s how it works: The first sentence starts Once Upon a Time, and after that sentences alternate between beginning Unfortunately and Fortunately. The players try to make a story that makes some sort of sense, ideally coming to a satisfactory conclusion on the last Fortunately.

My house rule for a, y’know, house is strict adherence to turn order with an odd number of players. I have never played on-line Fortunately/Unfortunately before, so I’m just guessing what would be good House Rules. Let’s go with:

  1. Players should not take two Us or two Fs in a row. If your last was a U, wait to chime in until we get to an F, and veesey versey.
  2. Players should not take two turns in a row, unless more than six hours have passed
  3. Players are strongly urged to give all characters names, if not in the sentence that introduces them, as quickly as practicable thereafter.
  4. Sentences may be as long as you like, but long sentences should maintain some vaguely grammatical construction, because that’s more entertaining to me.
  5. If two comments are posted more-or-less simultaneously, the faster typist’s sentence takes precedence in case of plot contradiction—but if it’s possible to include the content of both sentences in the story, that’s even better.

Ready, then?

Once Upon a Time, in a castle on a hill, Queen Isobel was sad because her three daughters, Leah, Maria and Natalia, could not sleep.

Your turn. Unfortunately …

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

May 6, 2011

Say Hey

Willie Mays saved my life.

This is not actually true, but it’s truer than you might think. Back in high school, I had recovered from my suicidal tendencies enough to function, attend school and, y’know, not kill myself, but I was still wallowing in misery and woe. This was probably simple teenage angst to some extent, of course, which doesn’t mean it didn’t suck. But some of it was that I was still walking around suicidal, indifferent to my failure to either die or live. You know. Depressed.

And my Dad took me out of school one February day to go to an Old Timer’s Game.

Now, I grew up in the desert; we didn’t have Major League Baseball back then. We had a Pacific Coast League, the triple-A farm team of our beloved San Francisco Giants, the Phoenix Giants they were called in those days. The town had only a tenuous connection to the big-league club, with not enough fans to make it worthwhile for a local station to broadcast the games (I grew up listening to Vin Scully and the Hated Team, because that’s what was on the radio, although we could sometimes, at night, in the right weather, catch Lon Simmons or Al Michaels for a few innings. It wasn’t a Giants town, though—it was that other team’s town, as much as it was anything, but baseball ran a distant third to basketball and football (tho’ again no team locally in those days; locals seemed to mostly root for Dallas). Spring Training was in town, of course (as were the Cubs and a few others, not so many as there are now), which generated some interest, and the parent club did on occasion attempt to stir up some sort of interest, either in them or in the AAA club. This Old-Timer’s Game must have been one of those.

I have a few distinct memories. It was a beautiful day, clear and sunny and warm without being oppressively hot—the sort of day that explains why people all over the Midwest spend thousands of dollars to be in the Valley of the Sun during February—and we were sitting, as we usually did, along the third base side. Juan Marichal did his famous high kick, obviously more in fun than to get more power driving the pitch. Willie McCovey stretched out to take a throw at first. And Willie Mays (who was allowed to participate for the first time after Peter Ueberroth lifted the ban) drew a bead on a fly ball, held out his glove like a basket, and let the ball fall in.

Baseball fans have more reason than anybody to keep in mind that our memories betray us constantly. We remember very clearly a favorite player’s at-bat against, say, Steve Bedrosian in a Braves uniform, and it turns out that Bedrock had already gone to the Phillies by that time, so maybe it wasn’t him, or it was the Phillies, or it was some other player batting. Gabe Schechter has written very movingly about being the guy at the Hall of Fame that people called to ask what day such-and-such an event took place, when it never did. Last Week Mike Krukow got the details wrong talking about his own MLB debut. And Joe Posnansky writes in a magnificent essay called Willie Mays turns 80 years old today about a famous moment that he can’t find any actual record of in the box scores. So really, I am not making the claim that any of this actually happened the way I thought it did.

But in my memory, that moment when I saw Willie Mays make a basket catch—that’s the moment when I decided I wanted to live.

Willie Mays turns 80 years old today.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

May 5, 2011


So. There’s Your Humble Blogger, gardening. Or more accurately, there I am pulling weeds, because that’s my chosen task in the yard: I pull weeds, I work the mower now and then, and I tell my Best Reader how great everything looks and/or tastes. I grew up in the desert, you know.

Anyway, there I am, pulling weeds, and while of course most of what I am pulling is dandelion, I am also pulling lots of little seedlings from the neighboring trees. The next door house, particularly, sheds thousands of those little propellers, and some of them work their way into our fertile soil, and either I catch them as tiny beanlike sprouts or as six-inch high mini-trees. And I pull them, because I do not want any more trees in the yard, either in the garden boxes where it’s really more a matter of priorities, nor yet in the little yard itself, where space and sunshine are at a premium. And I don’t want to be raking up more of those propellers in thirty years, although I have to admit that’s not really a likelihood anyway.

What I’m getting at, though, is that this tree has managed, through the miracle of Naytchah, to propogate itself. There’s the tree over there, and here’s this seedling over here. And if I didn’t do anything about it, there would be a tree over here, likely enough, and that tree would probably last the rest of my life and more. This isn’t a mayfly I am squashing, this is a massive, decades-long project of forestation and reproduction. This is the Big Dig. And then—yank!—gone. And then—yank!—another one gone. In the heap with the dandelions and the grass cuttings, probably to go into the compost because I can’t be bothered to sort.

I don’t mean that I feel guilty or remorseful about pulling the little fuckers. I am part of the Circle of Life, the great system by which we keep the propellers from taking over the worlds and murdering us in our beds (I’m assuming they will very quickly learn to walk, like the triffids, but that given how far the little fuckers have already traveled, I wouldn’t put it past them), and although I am not unduly proud of my achievements in that regard, I am not ashamed, either. I just think there’s something frightfully piquant about something that has the potential to be bigger, live longer, and generate more descendants than slight-figured nearsighted not-quite-five-foot-eight me being yanked out of the ground and tossed in the heap by my somewhat trembly hand.

Do y’all ever think about stuff like that? Is it just because I didn’t have my headphones in?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

May 4, 2011

The Death

I have been thinking about the way we killed Osama bin Laden.

When I say we, I mean we nationally, of course. Nothing I personally did had any effect on that, unless my votes and the margin of victory provided for my Party had some sort of effect, which, frankly, I can’t imagine. What could Senator Blumenthal have had to do with this raid? Anyway, despite my not being personally involved, I am nationally responsible, as are most if not all of the Gentle Readers of this Tohu Bohu, so it bears thinking about.

First of all, of course, I have no sympathy for the dead man or for those who mourn him, frankly. Just no emotional pull there, I’m afraid. He mad possible a lot of bad, bad things, and his supporters supported those things, and if they are grieving at this time, and I’m sure they are, it doesn’t make me sad in the slightest.

I’m not sure I have any emotional response to the killing at all, really. Which seems odd. I’m not elated, I don’t feel closure or triumph or relief. Well, to some extent relief, I suppose, although mostly (if I’m interpreting my own feelings correctly, which is always chancy) relief that the story is over—not relief at the end of danger but relief at the end of the irritation that we are still hunting for him and not finding him.

I think that sense that the story has changed is the big positive, here. For a long time, the story has been that Osama bin Laden murdered three thousand Americans and escaped. America for all its might and its spy satellites and its enhanced interrogation techniques could not find Public Enemy Number One. Now the story is that when America bends its will, we can be delayed but never stopped.

This is nonsense too, of course. We haven’t found Whitey Bulger. We haven’t even found Victor Manuel Gerena, a Machetero involved in the White Eagle robbery (which I have never heard of, despite living not far from its location), and he has been a fugitive for twenty-seven years—and is a member of an accredited terrorist organization that (a) has a history of murdering American servicemen and civilians, and (2) seems it ought to have extremely limited resources for hiding fugitives. We are stopped fairly frequently, and could well have been stopped by the old lunatic just clutching his chest and keeling over six years ago. Still, it’s a good story this way.

And I can’t help contrasting this to Saddam Hussein—when our boys caught Saddam Hussein, he was evidently hiding out in a bunker without running water, he had been totally cut off and such loyalists as remained were of no help to him nor he to them. Now, it was always possible that he would return a few years later and form the spearhead for a revolt of ex-Baathists, so it’s clearly a Good Thing that he was caught, but it wasn’t in any way a blow to the operation of the resistance.

Osama bin Laden, on the other hand, was living in a house he had built for his comfort and security in a major urban area. Although he evidently didn’t have phone and internet access, he clearly wasn’t lacking for communication channels (as evidence the “courier” we hear so much about). And I’ve never been very clear about the extent to which the fellow was some sort of operational chief anyway. Clearly he was the head fund-raiser and was a sort of inspirational figure for recruitment and for goals and means, though, and I can’t imagine that he had much difficulty acting in that capacity from his suburban safe house. To the extent that Al Quaida was ever a substantial threat to the US, it was evidently still a threat, still with substantial resources and communication capabilities. Saddam Hussein in a gilded palace with an army at his command was a potent force; Saddam in a hidey-hole with a pistol was not. Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad was a potent force, it seems to me.

And here’s where I find myself bewildered and perplexed: up until the news of his death, I assumed that Osama bin Laden was no longer a potent force. I actually would have given something like twelve-to-seven against his being alive. In my imagination, if Osama bin Laden were alive at all, he was in a situation not unlike Saddam Hussein’s when we caught him: cut off, uncomfortable, degraded. This appears not to have been true in the slightest. Presumably this was well-known amongst his supporters. That must have been very good for him and for fund-raising and recruitment for anti-American terrorism generally, and it’s a relief to know that we put an end to it, even if I didn’t have anything to be relieved from, not having known it until it was over.

I am rambling. The thing is, I don’t really have anything other than rambling. I am concerned that my country appears to be involved in assassination, but then I’m not sure it is assassination, properly speaking, and to the extent that war seems to be only sort-of a metaphor for what was going on then a military assault on the leadership is not altogether an assassination. On the other hand, does this set a precedent? That would be extremely troubling. On the other other hand, that precedent has already been set, and it doesn’t shock me that a Most Wanted was killed rather than captured—Mr. Gerena’s buddy from the White Eagle robbery, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, went down pretty much the same way, and he was an United States citizen on American soil. And we have been sending drones to blow up buildings in civilian neighborhoods to reach "high value" targets for years in this war-like-thing. So if the death doesn’t bother me as a death, and it doesn’t worry me as a precedent, why does it niggle at me? I think it must be that stuff I was rambling about. Or perhaps it’s just that after spending almost twenty years living with a boogey-man, even if it was somebody else’s boogey-man for the most part, it leaves a hole when he goes?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 8, 2011

Please Wait

Just when Your Humble Blogger was thinking that it was possibly in the cards for this Tohu Bohu to come back to some sort of life, the main computer for the household went kablooey. This is a time-consuming and frustrating process, and leaves YHB in no good mood for blogging, alas.

I have, after only a few hours of work, moved from getting a completely black screen to getting a black screen with a white cursor arrow to getting a black screen with a white cursor arrow and the words Gateway: Please Wait. So that’s progress. I have also moved from the mindset where I am unsuccessfully attempting to avoid reinstalling the operating system to the mindset where I am unsuccessfully reinstalling the operating system. It’s too bad, but I will lose very little that isn’t saved elsewhere. There’s a lot that will need to be reinstalled, which will be a tedious task, and will probably also leave me in no mood for typing at the keyboard. Of course, I’m still a step or five away from doing that reinstall, but I am at least somewhat confident that I will be able to eventually get the thing running.

So. This computer catastrophe has reminded me how astonishingly computery my household is. On the one hand, we are computery because a tremendous percentage of my leisure time is spent on the computer, reading and blogging and playing and watching and listening. On the other hand, we are computery because we have, four computers in the household. I don’t mean four things-that-have-computers-in-them; I have no idea how to begin counting that (the sandwich press! the thermostat! the poetaster! wait, the what?). I mean that I have a netbook in addition to the main computer, and my Best Reader has a laptop that goes back and forth with her from home to office, and there’s the main computer that is refusing to boot up, and then there’s the old cruddy computer that isn’t attached to anything at the moment but as of the last time we needed it booted up just fine. When one computer is on the fritz, the others can pick up the slack.

It was a few years ago, actually, that I first discovered how much easier it is to fix one computer if you have another computer next to it, also attached to the internet, ideally with the same operating system (not so in this case, alas). I find it hard to believe I ever got a computer up and running in the one-machine days. As frustrating and hair-tearing a time-sink as this is shaping up to be, I have that reminder of my good fortune. So that’s all right.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 3, 2011

Who am I now?

Your Humble Blogger has been out of commission for a few days. Nothing too tragic; a minor (outpatient) surgical procedure that left me uninterested in blogging for a few days. Or much of anything else, really.

So. You know what bothers me? How easy it is to not read the New York Times. I mean, I still read the occasional article, and I am considering, in theory, paying for the subscription—they run an operation that is both very expensive and very important, and while I don’t have a lot of spare money lying around, neither am I so poor that the New York Times should consider me a charity case and allow me free access. Plus, you know, there are other ways to read the paper; on the days I am in the office, there’s a good old fashioned paper copy sitting right there at the counter. And I probably have access to the full website through the university, although I haven’t checked that (probably I should, as it is bound to come up). Still, mostly over the last week or so I have simply looked at the headlines and figured that, meh, I could live without reading that one. And that one. And that other one.

Now, to be fair, part of that is that their sports reporting doesn’t suit my needs, and during the last week or so, I have wanted to read sports reporting more than anything else. It’s the beginning of the baseball season, at last, and besides that there was the incredible drama of the Cricket World Cup. And as I was on the Guarniad anyway for their Cricket coverage, why not just read their news as well? It’s not exactly the same, but for world coverage it’s nearly as good (only nearly, to be frank, because I prefer the NYT’s focus on how-does-this-affect-the-US, which the Guarniad understandably eschews) and I have gone right off most of the NYT political reporting. Alas, I’m getting London theater news instead of New York, but since I ain’t seeing anything in either location, it turns out to be a loss I can bear.

In fact, it turns out I can live fairly comfortably without the NYT altogether. That’s a problem. It’s a problem, in part, because I don’t read the news in order to be comfortable, so I shouldn’t let myself lapse into comfort. But it’s more of a problem because I want to be a reader of the New York Times. You know, seven years ago I wrote a note about an article which quoted a conversation from late 2002 that referenced an idea of the people who read the New York Times and the people who don’t. And at that time, I mean in late 2004, I said that the stereotype of the Times-reader was breaking up, that I still held such a stereotype, but I didn’t know how long it would continue. I think it has continued. I think there is still a cultural touchstone there; the Times reader, and I still think of myself as being that sort of person. Now I am on the edge of not being a Times reader anymore.

But if I don’t read the Times, who am I? I am already bringing up children in a house without a newspaper (the Courant not being worth the proverbial its website is printed on), which is utterly incomprehensible to me. But they hear news in the car (the local NPR affiliate) and they hear my Best Reader and I talking about the news—my Perfect Non-Reader will, I think, stay unfamiliar with what newspaper writing is like for a while longer than I did, but won’t be much more ignorant of the world. But I don’t think she will grow up to think of herself as a reader of the New York Times. The question is, will she think of her father as one?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 27, 2011


YHB is in a particularly foul mood this morning. I would appreciate any Gentle Reader who feels like chiming in with a joke, a bit of good news, or a link to something on the internet that is likely to cheer me up. No cute animals, please; I know where to find those.

I imagine those persons in my household in real life would be even more appreciative, should Your Humble Blogger’s cloud be lifted.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

ETA: It looks like the server is as cranky as YHB; please send cheering emails, instead.

March 16, 2011

Sorry, nothing happening here

Your Humble Blogger really is aware of the world smashing into pieces. I suspect I could make this Tohu Bohu of interest again by commenting on the tininess of the pieces, or by choosing somebody to blame, or just expressing my shock and horror. Lots of things that I care deeply about—collective bargaining rights, the ability to someday visit the Holy Land, a working federal government, food that doesn’t contain radioactive particulates, public radio—are teetering on the precipice of, um, well, a precipice. The steep kind of precipice. Like at the end of The Italian Job, right? With the bus and the gold? Well I, to switch film references, am v-v-very interested to see w-w-what’s going to happen next.

On the other hand, I’m not terribly interested in writing about it all. I don’t have any particularly interesting take on any of it. In fact, I am already spending too much of my time for my own personal happiness reading about the destruction of the world I hold dear; if I were to spend additional time writing about it, I would be less happy than I am. Better (for me) to hold off some time for sinking into escapism, or to enjoy the idiot crocus. Crocus. Are there stupider life forms? I mean, seriously: Hey, guys, I bet it’s Spring already! Is it Spring? I sure hope so! What’s this white stuff? I could write about the crocus. I mean, seriously, here’s the world, going to utter shit in a mag-lev train, and there’s the crocus all purple and yellow and dumber than, er, dumber than a, dumber than…

Did I mention I haven’t been sleeping well? I’m not at my most articulate these days, and I’m busier than a one-legged goat roper at the county fair, so my level of similitic achievement is as low as a toad.

All of which is to say a couple of things: (A) if any Gentle Reader wants to take over this Tohu Bohu for an entry in order to spark a conversation about some aspect of the recent excitement, go for it, please. And (2) I am going to continue with the Sixteen Lines until I’m done, and then I hope I will write another couple of posts about the Play, and then be done with theater notes for a while and write about something else. Oh, and (iii) sorry this Tohu Bohu has been so quiet and dull lately. Better things are on their way.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

February 28, 2011

Suddenly here, now gone!

Your Humble Blogger clicked the Next bookmark on my toolbar last night, and instead of going to the next item on my Google Reader list, my browser went to a page that said my account had been disabled. Actually, it went to a help page titled I’m getting a message that says ‘Sorry, your account has been disabled.’; I didn’t get the message. I’m not sure if I have been apologized to, or for what. I sent a message of inquiry using their form, but I haven’t heard back.

This morning, of course, the news is that perhaps a couple of hundred thousand accounts were disrupted by some sort of Google event. The news is about their email service, though, and I don’t have a gmail address; I just use the Reader, the Calendar and the Docs (and some other minor apps). The Reader is just an aggregator, and so if all the info is lost, all I have really lost is the list of feeds I subscribe to, which presumably I know and can reconstruct. Except, alas, that a bunch of the feeds are essentially defunct, but may at any time roar to life; the great thing about an aggregator, as far as I’m concerned, is that if a blog or site goes dormant, you will be alerted if it shudders toward wakefulness without any extra effort on your part. Subscribing to sites that update every day is nice, but just going to the site once a day would do the same thing without much extra effort. The sites that update only rarely are the ones I will have the most difficulty remembering, though, and adding to whatever aggregator I choose.

The Calendar, though, had become Your Humble Blogger’s preferred method of remembering tasks, and also (crucially) a tool for communication with my Best Reader when one or the other of us has a logistical issue of some kind. Between the two of us, we had entered quite a lot of stuff for the next month (a tricky month for logistics and tactics), and my half of it may well be permanently gone. Alas. Back to the dry-erase markers.

As for the googledocs, I was keeping my list of Books Read in 2011 there, which was clearly a mistake. Or, at least, it was a mistake not to back it up to some drive I have somewhat more control over. I had decided to keep it up in the cloud under the assumption that (a) I will not consistently remember to add to the list whilst at home, and (2) I will eventually lose my thumb drive. In fact, I need to get used to doubling the cloud and the thumb drive. I am… fairly good about backing up the contents of my main hard drive at home (to another hard drive at home, which isn’t really best practice, I know), but I am lax about backing up the portable/invisible stuff.

Well. The reason I am bothering telling you so is not to give needless and inexpert advice. I wanted to convey the oddly emotional responses to the disabling of my Google account. Because while I was aware (and, I think, said to my Best Reader before turning in) that it could well be a mistake at their site, I still reacted strongly and emotionally.

First, of course, was simple bewildered denial. Surely if I log in again, or log in at a different computer, or reboot something, it will all go back to how it was before. This works often enough to be a valuable instinct, but it didn’t work here.

Then there was the terribly guilty feeling that I may have inadvertently violated the Terms of Service. Now, those terms clearly state that Google can just shut me off without proving or even suggesting fault, it wasn’t really rational to concern myself with it, but I did find myself going over everything I have linked to my Google account, and what could possibly have been in violation. Did I leave a comment somewhere that was much more obnoxious than I thought? But I almost never comment with my Google log-in. When I used the Notes in Google Reader, did I both forget to mark the note as private and somehow type something unforgivably vile? Did I post something to my Calendar that seemed innocuous to me but was capable of other interpretations? No, I don’t type pick up kids at schoolyard, I type Perfect Non-Reader at School. What else could I have done wrong?

The other fear, of course, is that Somebody has Hacked In to my account and committed unspeakably foul violations in my name. This could happen, of course, only… wouldn’t I have heard about it? Googling doesn’t reveal any new hideousness, but perhaps it’s all via email, and I’m going to be arrested for mail fraud. Or someone with a similar name has done some actual violence in the real world, and everyone will think it’s me. The emotion here,by the way, was not so my much anger at the unknown and putative violator, but anxiety lest the consequences visit themselves upon me.

No, the anger was at Google, and manifested itself specifically in fierce frustration at the lack of communication. Why won’t they send me an email? Why didn’t they alert me? Can’t they give me a chance to explain?

This anger is justifiable; Google really ought to have done a better job of letting us know what’s up. I eventually went to the Help Forum and read:

Over night we temporarily disabled access to some Gmail accounts due to a service disruption. The disables are in place to stop the account from changing whilst we make the necessary repairs.

Access to your accounts will be restored shortly. Whilst an account is disabled:

  • You will be unable to sign in to any Google service.
  • Mail sent to the account will bounce.
  • Hosted content you own like blogs, sites, shared items in Google Reader and so on will be unavailable.

The message you see on sign-in may refer to you to Google terms of service, but this is a generic and incorrect message. You have not violated the terms of service and we’ll restore your account access as soon as we can.

You can get the latest information on this service disruption here:

Google engineering teams are working around the clock to solve this problem. We fully understand the importance of your email and how disruptive this type of outage can be. The latest updates will be posted to the apps status dashboard linked to above.

Alas, the Apps Status Dashboard of which they speak so feelingly tells me that the only App with any issue is Mail, and that Calendar and Documents have no issues whatsowever (and Reader is not listed). So that’s not very reassuring to me, since I have no issue with Mail, and do lack access to the other apps. Still. The note does seem to hold out hope that in the fulness of time access to my account will be reenabled and that all will be unchanged from yesterday afternoon, when we were young. It’s probably false hope, but it’s hope.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 28, 2011

A Play

Your Humble Blogger has been pseudonymous on the Internet for years and years, now. Actually, I’m only pseudo-pseudonymous—I would guess that 80% of Gentle Readers at this Tohu Bohu know my real name, and the rest could easily find it if they bothered themselves for some reason. It would not be difficult to take the stuff I am on about and put it into a search engine and come up with my name, my employer, my address, a satellite photo of my house and its valuation, pictures of my wife and kids, and probably my Social Security Number as well. Which is fine. I never intended my pseudonymity to completely insulate me from myself. My intention was, primarily, to prevent any potential employers from starting with my resume and coming up with this blog in ten seconds of research. Which may or may not still be true; if I were stalking myself I would find this Tohu Bohu pretty darned quickly. But it would be easy enough for somebody who was working with me or somebody who was considering working with me to go blithely on her merry way without being presented with my views of the politico-rhetorical landscape.

With this divide in mind, I don’t necessarily want people who are looking, f’r’ex, for information about a punk production of Richard III to wind up here rather than at the official page for the show. Not that it would be too terribly confusing, but it would be confusing enough. I don’t think of myself as using this blog specifically as a publicity vehicle (although, of course, y’all should come see me in shows, and y’all did come to R3 in tremendously flattering numbers) (and although when the show does have a blog as a publicity vehicle, I have cross-posted from here to there as seemed appropriate) (I’ve forgotten where I was before the first parenthetical remark) (Oh yes, this Tohu Bohu and its connection to my so-called proverbial), but I do find it interesting to write about the process.

So. I put it to y’all, Gentle Readers. Would it be terribly annoying and fey to pseudonymously talk about my next show without mentioning its title? It’s an adaptation of a famous novel, arguably the Great American novel (I use arguably here in the Alex Beam sense of course); if y’all haven’t actually read it or seen a film of it (with Demi Moore, Gary Oldman and Robert Duvall—or with Meg Foster, or with Colleen Moore, or with Lillian Gish, or with Sybil Thorndike, or with Mary Martin) you probably still know the basic idea. A woman in 1650s Boston bears a child that is not her husband’s; the child’s father is a secret until one day

I’m not altogether sure why I am so hesitant to write about it under it’s proper name. The adaptation is new, and GRs are unlikely to have read or seen it, or in fact to have access to it if they want to. Unless you can come to Greater Hartford between March 9 and March 20, that is.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 15, 2011

An Audition Monologue, digression

Well, and Your Humble Blogger just discovered that the community theater where last YHB trod the proverbial is doing The Importance of Being Earnest in the Spring; the auditions for that are this weekend as well. This presents me with a dilemma. I would (I estimate) be quite likely to be cast in Earnest as either of the manservants or, possibly, as the Reverend Canon Chasuble, D.D.; I am alas, too old to play Jack, and far too old to play Algernon. Now, Merriman and Lane have some good bits, and of course Chasuble is terrific, but they are small parts, and it would mean a good deal of night driving on February roads. On the other hand, it’s a fun, fun show. And the group is a good group putting on good shows, for the most part, and I am hoping to be in Rough Crossing there in the late Spring when the weather is better. Auditioning for smaller roles in Earnest may be in the way of paying dues, hoping for one of the juicy parts later. Or it could just be hogging the stage; I don’t know.

On the other hand, the audition I have been preparing for is for a paying part that is within walking distance of my home. The show is more ambitious, more serious, more difficult… less fun, probably, but likely more satisfying. The parts I am trying out for are also small parts, but in a show where the leads are Equity, so I am curious about it. Of course, it is much less likely that I will get cast in the thing at all, because the caliber of auditioners is presumably higher. And I have auditioned for this group twice already without being cast. So there’s that.

I could audition for both of them, of course, but I suspect from the timing of things that Earnest will be settling its cast list by Wednesday or Thursday, and there’s no need for the other one to settle until later in the week. If it were the other way around—the less likely one going first, so that after they rejected me I could accept the more likely—I would just audition for both and enjoy the auditions. Probably. I really am worried about driving home after a snowstorm, though.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 3, 2011

It's a New Year for Tohu Bohu

Your Humble Blogger commands the attention of all Gentle Readers: Things are going to be different around here!

For instance this [picks up salt shaker] will now be… here! [places salt shaker on other side of pepper shaker]

Yes, well. There will be a couple of changes to the way YHB handles this Tohu Bohu. I had kind of a rotten blogyear in 2010, as it happens, to the point where I was seriously considering packing it in. I decided to keep blogging, but some of the things that made blogging a chore, rather than a hobby, will be cut down in 2011.

I will no longer blog every book I read. I will still attempt to note down all the books I read, off-blog, and at the end of the year, I will attempt to write my Year in Books, just the way I am planning to write my Year in Books 2011 (probably not until next week, though). And I will still post the occasional Book Report, I’m sure, just as I did before I started blogging each book whether I had anything to say about it or not. My plan now is to only blog a book if I want to. So. Fewer Book Report posts in 2011. As there have been something like 750 of them in the last seven years, something more than three out of every ten posts in those years, it’s possible that there will be many fewer posts on this Tohu Bohu overall. But I am hoping that if I don’t have a list of a dozen books waiting for me to blog them, I will be more likely to (a) write an essay with some sort of substance or at least entertainment, and (2) write an essay at all.

Second, I am no longer going to look carefully at the comment spam. If the software says it’s spam, I will delete it. Up to 2011, I put a good deal of effort into trying not to delete any comments that might be real. It has grown, over time, the way it tends to do. My Gracious Host has put a more aggressive spam-killer into operation, which is nice, and now I have only a few that ask for my specific attention, whilst hundreds fall into the oubliette. It would take an hour a day or more to convince myself that there were no false positives, and that would be an hour (spread out in five minute chunks) that I would find deeply unpleasant, as I have still been unable to inure myself to the process. So I’m not going to do it anymore.

That probably won’t affect Gentle Readers at all. If you are commenting on any post in the last two weeks or so, I should see it and publish it. It’s unlikely that any of y’all will suddenly feel the urge to go back and comment on an old post, but if you do, it’s possible that I will see it and publish it, because my system knows you and likes you. It’s also possible that my spam-killer will eat it as a false positive. So, a warning: if you are commenting on an old post, please send me email letting me know, and I’ll try to save your post.

For anyone new to this Tohu Bohu—well, it’s unlikely you will happen to come across this post first, isn’t it? Well, and if you do: feel free to send an email and let me know that you are here and commenting, and I will see that your comments get published. I hope. And if you get frustrated and leave our Tohu Bohu never to darken our pixels again, well, I will be sad (although I won’t know it), but I have to think it would be worse to have a cranky blogger reluctant even to open the management page of the blog than to have a Potentially Gentle Reader turned away from a (moderately) happy blogger with a blog that contains more than gripes.

I think those are the main areas in which I am planning to change the way I do things. If y’all have any advice, or requests, or commissions, or warnings, please let me know.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 27, 2010

A Thought for the Day!

Your Humble Blogger would just like to point out that the following applications are blocked from my Facebook newsfeed:

@Hearts, @Hugs, @Kisses, @Smiles, 21 questions, AppBank, Badges, Baking Life, Bejeweled Blitz, Birth Personality, Buzzeo App Creator - make your own app, Cafe Life, Café World, Causes, Collect Hearts, Color and Your Sexuality Quiz, Cow Clicker, Discover the hidden of your name, Family Feud, Farkle 2, FarmVille, Fish World, Flowers for Moms, Fly the American Flag, Foursquare, Friend of the Day!, Friendly Hearts, FrontierVille, Games, Gift Creator, Gowalla, Happy Aquarium, Happy Island, Hidden Secrets of your Name?, Horoscopes, Hugged, iHearts, Island Paradise, Karma, Kingdoms of Camelot, Kissbox, Mafia Wars Game, Magical Name Acronym Generator!, Middle Kingdom, MindJolt Games, Movies, My Year In Photos, My Year In Status, Myers-Briggs® Type Tips, PetVille, Pieces of Flair, Playing With Your Names, Quiz Monster, Quiz Planet, Quiz Whiz, Quizazz, QuizBone, School of Wizardry, Show Some Love!, Smiles, Snake, Social City, Super Farkle, SuperPoke! Pets, Texas HoldEm Poker, Tiki Resort, Top Words 2010, Travel Balloon, Treasure Isle, Vampire Wars, What Does Your Birth Date Mean?, What Your Birth Month Says About You, Working Style, World War, Your angel and devil friends today, Your Latin Name and Its Meanings, Your Luck [daily], Your Name Numerology, and YoVille.

I think that's eighty of them. Just to be clear, these are the ones that I have clicked (twice) to tell FB that I don't want any status updates generated by those applications to appear on my newsfeed.

Which means that anybody who is in that group of Facebook friends may feel free to use those applications and allow them to generate status updates: you won't be bothering me. However, should you start to use an application that is not on the above list, please consider setting the application permissions to prevent generated status updates.

Alternately, if you are using any of the above applications to generate status updates that you want YHB (or anyone else) to read, then you're doing it wrong.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 24, 2010

On the road again

OK, here’s the sitch. Your Humble Blogger is going to be on the road from today (the 24th, in case the scheduling doohickey doesn’t work) until New Year’s Day. I hope to have scheduled a note every day just to keep this Tohu Bohu alive, and to get the Book Reports taken care of. However, I will not be able to do much spam-killing during this week, and the comment spam has been all exponential and whatnot.

About which, I am sorry. My Gracious Host had shut off comments for a while, which I am loathe to do. On the other hand, those of you that have the Tohu Bohu comment feed on an aggregator may want to shut that down for a week.

And if y’all just want to come back in the New Year, after I have had a chance to clean this place up a little bit, that is reasonable as well. Hail the new, ye lads and lasses, and stay warm.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 17, 2010

Handwork for 2010


Your Humble Blogger was on about handwork recently, and I thought I would share with y’all the results of all that work.

These are bookmarks, if it isn’t obvious, and it probably isn’t. They aren’t terribly difficult, but they look quite nice (if I say so myself); lacework of that kind is remarkable for the ratio of ease to perceived difficulty. Actually, I have found that in knitting the difficult things are not particularly attractive, while the decorative things that appear difficult (cables, color changes, patterns of holes) are not particularly difficult at all. Of course, the most difficult is just doing the stuff. The discipline to complete a large project is usually beyond me, but that doesn’t show in the end. But shaping things properly, getting seams right, maintaining gauge over a large item, those things don’t really show, unless the person wears the thing for a while. Which, you know, bookmarks. Not so much.

The whole idea of knitting bookmarks as gifts, if you’ll indulge me for a bit here, came from the need to give something to my co-workers at this time of year, and my reluctance to give food. I had thought, as a part-timer, that I might escape the whole gift-giving craziness, but the first year I was the recipient of a dozen or so little kindnesses, mostly candy or cookies. Actually, there are about twenty of us in the University libraries, counting all the full-timers and such of the part-timers as have hours that overlap with mine. Once we start in on exchanging baked goods and chocolates, that’s a lot of sweets. Now, I like sweets, but still. Too many for me to eat, and too many to share with my family, particularly because they, too, are getting sweet gifts from various people.

So. I didn’t want to add to the sugar frenzy, and I do like the idea of small handmade gifts, even if they are useless. So comes November 2009, I am attempting to come up with a giftie of some kind, and my Best Reader suggests bookmarks, what with it being a library and all. An excellent idea, but then, she does tend to have good ideas. Her specific idea (which was specifically good) was to make bookmarks out of ribbon or similar cloth, with a charm or some quirky decoration. We browsed the craft store, and I was irritated by how little I liked my options, and how much I would have to spend to get anything that I wouldn’t be irritated by. Finally I threw my hands up and declared that I would knit the damned bookmarks myself.

Well. It was clear I wasn’t going to be able to do that within a month. I am not a good knitter, but I am slow. So my Best Reader, who was making sweets anyway for other gifties, made extra for me to exchange last year, and mighty tasty they were, too. If any of y’all have the chance for her chocolate truffles, do not miss the opportunity.

But—having taken up the challenge of knitting bookmarks, I reasoned to myself that if I started right away, I could easily get them done by the next seasonal gift exchange, and in fact do so mostly by knitting whilst watching movies, overseeing my children at play, or whilst passenger in a long car ride. And so it was, although by easily get them done read running in the ends on the last one on the Sixteenth of December. Which doesn’t sound bad at all, but remember that I work in an institution of higher education; once the exam period is over, we scatter to the four corners of the earth. By distributing my bookmarks today, I missed only three of my co-workers; waiting until Tuesday next would have tripled the absences. And also remember that after I finished running in the ends, I had to bathe the damned things, block them, let them dry, starch them, iron them, and then starch them and iron them again in hope they will hold something of their shape. Being bookmarks, a certain stiffness would have been nice; I settled for a limp suggestion of rectangularity. I am told that the answer is to soak them in white glue and let it dry to stiff transparency. I couldn’t bear the thought of it.

Anyway, that’s the saga. They actually came out rather well, I thought. If I hadn’t run late, I might have made another to keep, although I can’t imagine wanting to use one as a bookmark. I don’t really expect anybody to use any of them as bookmarks, honestly. We work in a library; we mark our places with scraps of paper.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 14, 2010

Seeking the more perfect choice

OK, an ethical question of sorts for y’all.

I have a friend who has a disabled placard for her car; she can walk, but her joints are bad and painful, and she has chosen to minimize her walking. I have borrowed the car for the day, as I do fairly frequently. Of course, I don’t park in the spaces reserved for handicapped people, because I can walk just fine. Usually when I am borrowing the car, she is babysitting the Youngest Member, so I just park in our driveway.

Tonight, we are meeting in a public place, that is, a place with a parking lot and handicapped spaces. When she drives there, she parks in the handicapped area; the person giving her a ride will probably drop her at the door. I could, legally and legitimately, park her car in the handicapped space, and when we come out to the car, there it is. I could also, legally and legitimately, park her car in the other end of the lot, and then when we come out to the car, I could go and get it and bring it around to the door. It would be a little awkward, and might well involve blocking a bit of traffic while we are switching drivers, but still, very doable.

On the other hand, easier for me to just stash the car in the handicapped space.

What do you think? Is there a general principle involved? Or does it all depend on the weather?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 9, 2010

Your Opinion

OK, quick question for Gentle Readers:

The sun has gone down, here in the Nexus of Nutmeg, and that means that Chanukah is ovah.

Now, my employer has decked our hall with boughs of pine, and cones, and ribbons, and bells, and stocking hung by the elevator shaft with care. Oh, and nutcrackers. But also with mylar dreidels and cardboard menorahs. And lights and snowmen and poinsettias and Snoopy in a Santa hat. You know. It’s festive.

As I mentioned before, Chanukah is over. Done. Forty-four candles burnt to nothing; no candles left. Tonight I will pack up the dreidels and the Woolworth’s Menorah and all the Chanukah books and crafts, and I won’t bring them out until next December. Should I suggest taking down the Chanukah decorations at my place of employment as well?

Look, everybody knows that the decorations are up as a sop to multiculturalism, so that we won’t look like we’ve forgotten that there are Jews around, even in December. We put them up when we put up the rest of the winter decorations. And most of the other decorations are winter decorations, rather than explicitly Christmas decorations; sure there’s a tree and the stockings, but the snowmen and poinsettias and snowflakes are pretty much just wintery. On the other hand, they will all come down on January Third, or at any rate sometime that first week in January rather than hanging around until February or March. So nobody is fooled.

And on one level, when I see a Winter Festivity display that still has the mylar dreidels two full weeks after Chanukah is over, I don’t feel at all that my feelings as a Jew have been taken into account. I mean, at that point they might as well just put up Purim scrolls and masks, right? The message is we don’t really know anything about Chanukah, but we’ve heard it’s the Jewish Christmas. So my inclination is to take ‘em down tonight, or over the weekend at the latest.

On the other hand, it is extra work and annoyance for those of us who do the putting up and taking down of seasonal decorations. And, at our house, we do leave our magnificent glass-and-bronze Menorah out all year round as an awbjay. It’s not like there’s something distasteful or disrespectful about a mylar dreidel on Asara B’Tevet. And next year Chanukah won’t be over until sundown on December 28th. But in 2013, Chanukah will be over for three week when they finally box up the dreidels, unless something is done to change the way we do things. Which, again, wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

So, here’s the question: For GRs who are Jewish, how do you feel about the cardboard menorahs on the post-Chanukah pre-Christmas stretch? For GRs who aren’t, how would you feel about the yidn taking their mylar dreidles and going home on the tenth?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 25, 2010

What are we thankful for?

Your Humble Blogger is thankful for a lot of stuff.

…I guess that’s about it.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 22, 2010

Work it, work it, work it!

Your Humble Blogger spent a year as a classroom parent in a Waldorf-y School, and took to heart the rule that a grupp, when passively overseeing (that is, not in charge but there when necessary) his child playing in a group setting, must be engaged in handwork of some kind. For me, this is knitting; I am not terribly good at sewing, so if I took mending in to such a setting, I would have to focus on it to the point where I wouldn’t really be there for the kids. Also, not a whittler. There are those who might think that whittling would not be a good activity for a parent in a room of two-, three- and four-year-olds, but those people have not been indoctrinated into the particular mind-control scam that is a Waldorf School, and also may not have attempted to control such a group without making it clear that you have a sharp knife and know how to use it.

Digression: Every time I refer to the Waldorf School as a creepy mind-control scam, I feel obliged in fairness to point out that the Montessori School is a creepy mind-control scam, as are our public schools (both whole language and phonics), and home-schooling is perhaps the creepiest mind-control scam of all. Not to put too fine a point on it, education is a creepy mind-control scam, and could be a lot worse than getting kids to play with driftwood and rocks. End Digression.

So, now that the Youngest Member is three-and-a-half, he is attending group activities of one kind and another two or three times a week. And I bring my knitting. And I am the only one to bring hand work. No sewing, no mending, no crocheting or quilting or beadwork or cross-stitch or scrimshaw or naalbinding or passementerie. No, the other parents watch their kids and chat with idle hands, which of course are the devil’s proverbial.

Now, YHB isn’t writing this to condemn these parents, or to gripe about the decline of western whatsit—I mean, of course I am to some extent just venting. But I am wondering if it’s just that YHB fell under the control of the creepy mind-control scam when I was at a vulnerable point in my parenting career. Or if it’s that my own mother was always knitting, and never went anywhere without something to work on. But I have a sense that people do still knit and sew and so on. I mean, surely every household has a pile of mending. Is it considered terribly rude to bring a shirt to the library’s playtime and sew the buttons back on? I know nobody needs to hem handkerchiefs any more (thank goodness), and on the whole I think it’s a Good Thing that Young Ladies no longer are expected to be constantly embroidering tacky decorations on everything in sight. But still. People do handwork, right?

And, of course, being usually the only male parent in the room as well as the only parent doing handwork (even the historically and intrinsically masculine art of knitting), I feel particularly conspicuous. Which is all right, I am used to feeling conspicuous. I quite like it. And I can feel virtuously conspicuous when pre-schoolers peer at me industriously knitting away. If I am not actually a good role model, at least I am widening the experience base to the eventual betterment of these kids. And I should add: I have never heard a negative comment about my knitting in these kinds of situations. I’m not saying people don’t mock me, but they don’t do so in my hearing, and probably not in the hearing of the children, who are small pitchers with big ears. So that’s all right.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 13, 2010

Shabbos not so much Frivolity: Shvaygn=Toyt

Your Humble Blogger was trying to come up with a bit of Shabbos Frivolity for this Tohu Bohu, and went on a bit of a web wander, ending in a very strange conceptual place. So I’ll try to retrace my steps a bit.

First of all, my Gracious Host linked to an It Gets Better video from The Gay and Lesbian Yeshiva Day School Alumni Association. It’s a good video, although I was disappointed (for myself) that they didn’t talk about the choice of being frum and gay; with the fellows addressing the camera directly, it isn’t even clear whether they are wearing yarmulkes or not. Still, that’s my curiosity, about observance and traditionalism and the Law and so on, and the ways people find to live with those decisions.

Still, that’s my own interest, and not the interest of the people making the video. And, going back to an earlier note about the project, there’s another layer to the question of the purpose of the video. And really, when you think about it, one tremendous element of the whole thing is simply that Silence = Death. Not, at the moment, because of AIDS, but because of, well, because silence really is equal to death, in lots of ways, over lots of issues.

Y’all may know that the first Klezmatics album was called Shvaygn=Toyt, back in 1988, when being out meant something different for Lorin Sklamberg and Alicia Svigals than it does for a lot of young musicians today. In 1996, the Village Voice could quote the great Paul Morrissett asking How come nobody wants to talk to the only heterosexual Quaker in the band?; the military was not allowed to ask recruits if they were homosexual, and Ellen was just about close to being sort of out of the closet, kinda. But in 1988? Who was out? Ian McKellen wasn’t out yet.

But, of course, the idea of coming out, of being out, was a big part of the Silence=Death project and of ACT UP generally. In 1988, ACT UP held a Kiss In, more than one, actually, but there was one famous one which brought a good chunk of the city to a halt. That’s the incident behind “The Kiss”, which is one of my favorite Klezmatics tunes. So I was poking around the web looking for the footage of that music over the footage of the Kiss In, which I remembered seeing back in the early nineties somewhere. I couldn’t find it for ever so long; it turns out to be part of the documentary Fast Trip, Long Drop. You can watch the whole hour-long film here; the footage I was looking for runs from 6:19 to 7:14, more or less. There’s a lot of pretty rough stuff in the rest of the movie; I can’t say I had forgotten what the late eighties were like, but I don’t feel those memories really strongly anymore, either, most of the time.

But I was talking about my web wander, and the thing is that in looking for that footage, I came across something entirely different that uses a Klezmatics tune that (on the brilliant Jews with Horns album) shares a track with “The Kiss”. This video is a fundraiser for the Forest Hills Jewish Centre in Toronto. Specifically, they are raising money for a new building, which will replicate (in its façade, anyway) the Great Synagogue of Jaslo.

My people are from Jaslo, as it happens. My Dad’s parents were born in Jaslo and brought up in Jaslo, fled from Jaslo during the War and then returned to Jaslo after before fleeing again for good in 1930 or so. It’s possible that one of my great-grandfathers is in one of those photos in the beginning of the video. Probably not; my father’s father’s father was a modern who shaved his chin and cheeks; I believe that his father was somehow involved with the Alliance Israelite Universelle and the Baron Hirsch schools. But it’s possible, particularly as there is little evidence for any of the Old Country stories in our family. There isn’t even much evidence that they were in Jaslo; their names don’t turn up on the rolls, which (given how the record-keeping was) doesn’t prove they weren’t there, but certainly doesn’t prove they were. And, alas, their names do not show up in the memorial books; we don’t have any idea at all what happened after the day my only surviving great-aunt left town. Which is a story in itself.

But I don’t know whether my great-grandfather wound up in a death camp or was killed on the streets (as most were). I don’t know if he managed to get away and survive for a time. I don’t know if any of his other children died there in Jaslo, or in Belzec or some other camp, or in Przemysl or one of the other ghettos (where some few hundred of the Jews of Jaslo were shipped), or in the woods of Warzyce, or in some peasant’s barn, or where. It’s all gone, all that family history. And the generation before, and the generation before that? Gone, gone. My grandparents were lucky, not refugees but relatively safely and serenely smuggled in across the ocean and all the borders. Still: they didn’t bring with them all the family history, the heirlooms, the books, the records. Why would they? Jaslo wasn’t going anywhere. Except, of course, it was: the Nazis were unable to sufficiently Germanify it, and pretty much destroyed the whole town in 1944.

The Great Synagogue had been down for some years, of course. There are some photographs (here and here), and now this FHJC is planning to rebuild it on Spadina Road. Now, Your Humble Blogger has been known to mock façadism. And the whole project is, to my mind, quite questionable. If I were part of that community, would I prefer to have my new center be a replica of an old building in another country, even taking into account the connections my current community has with the old one?

But today, having come across the thing by accident, not looking for Jaslo but for ACT UP, what comes across is another way in which Shvaygn=Toyt, and this project as an attempt to speak into that silence. It can’t resurrect the town. It can’t give back my family history, which is silent and dead. But it can raise a defiant finger in refusing to admit defeat. It will be defeated, ultimately, by death and silence, as everything is. But it can rage against it, can fight it. It can act up.

The connection between a bunch of angry gay troublemakers in Greenwich in 1988 and the multi-million dollar Toronto architectural project may not really be there, except today in my web wander. That connection exists only in my head. And, maybe, in yours, if you have read this far without rejecting it altogether. Max and Gianna Glassman might reject it, Larry Kramer might reject it, Lorin Sklamberg might reject it, and the guys in that video (remember the video?) might reject their connection with it, too. All totally within reason to do so. But there is still a connection, and that connection is this: Silence=Death.

And if there will still be death, and still be silence—then what? Does that mean that it does not, in fact, get better? No, it just means that it gets better at the same time that it gets worse; both are always true. Fighting for either side is ultimately doomed. But… not fighting is ultimately doomed, also. And fighters against silence and death have at least the knowledge that their (inevitable) victories are better than their (inevitable) defeats; those who stay silent lose both ways.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 11, 2010

Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar

My Perfect Non-Reader asked to have her tzedakah money in quarters.

Temple Beth Bolshoi’s Hebrew School collects cash money from each kid each session, to be counted up, and at the end of the year given to some worthy cause. The Hebrew word tzedakah means charity (but also righteousness and justice; I prefer to think of it as justice money, myself), and they are attempting to inculcate the charitable habit in these kids. This is a Good Thing, as force of habit is just about the strongest force there is. So twice a week, I put my hand in my pocket and come up with a dollar, which I give to my daughter, which she gives to her teacher. And then a couple of weeks ago, she asked if she could have quarters instead of a bill.

My Best Reader and I were, naturally I think, curious about this, but my Perfect Non-Reader clearly did not want to tell us what was going on, and we shrugged and complied. And again the next time, and then the next. My initial fear was that she was spending the money at the vending machine instead of donating it, but (a) I don’t really think my daughter would do that, particularly when she denied it when I asked her outright, and (2) I realized that was twentieth-century thinking, and that the vending machines must certainly take dollar bills these days. Finally I managed to winkle out of her the reason, which I found very interesting.

It seems that her teacher this year rewards the class with a tasty treat on those days when every student brings tzedakah money, and the class has responded by sharing out quarters, so that some part of the donation can come from the name of any student who has forgotten. That way, everybody gets a cookie, and all the money still goes where it is supposed to go. I don’t know who came up with this plan, but it seems to be working so far.

I’m afraid I approved the plan, after it was explained to me. It isn’t exactly honest, and the Divine knows the Perfect Non-Reader is not deprived of the occasional cookie, but on the other hand, it shows (to me) a certain admirable impulse, a communal identity, and a rather charming guile. And it’s not far from being a perfect response to their incentives. At some point, I will need to have a conversation with her about free riding, and perhaps introduce her to some game theory. On the other hand, since (a) she is getting the cookie she wants, without added cost to her or loss to the ultimate charity, and (2) both she and her father are sufficiently disorganized and foggy-headed to make it likely my Perfect Non-Reader will have her full share of receiving, rather than giving, the odd quarters, those conversations may not convince her to change her behavior. Perhaps I should restrict myself to making sure she doesn’t deceive her teacher about what’s going on—and perhaps, now that I think about it, I will give her a dollar out of my pocket and allow her to supplement with quarters out of her piggy bank, if necessary to get treats.

Mostly, I wish I knew whether my daughter participates in this harmless ruse out of her own free will, or whether she is bowing to pie pressure. I doubt she knows herself, though, so I suppose I must just resign myself to speculation.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 8, 2010

Comments are up; play is resumed; jacks or better to open.

My Gracious Host has fixed this Tohu Bohu using baling wire, duct tape, and I believe some lubricant jelly. I try not to know the details. Anyway, comments are back. Gentle Readers may commence (and have recommenced) playing Online Encore, and there may well be new Book Reports in the near future. O Joy!

So. Those who had ’em having presumably smoked ’em, stamp out those butts, cease your lolligagging and return to your irregularly scheduled programming now in progress. Or regress. Or, for an extra two bits, step this way to see the egress.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

Comments are down; play is halted

Well, that was bad timing. Evidently, last night the blogs hosted by My Gracious Host got hit by a more intense than usual spam attack. The server guys shut down the database, and when it came back up, Jed, who was sick, tired and spammed, and decided, very reasonably, to shut down comments on all three affected blogs.


Well, for the nonce, comments are off. The Online Encore game is stuck; GRs have six points so far, with one song about daffodils and two songs about lilies. And another potential song, although my memory tells me that it is laurels not lilies, which are heaped on the casket of the Unfortunate Rake—well, sometimes it is roses, and sometimes they leave that bit out altogether. Folk Music.

Anyway, stay tuned. I will attempt to alert y’all with a new post when play begins again. In the meantime, smoke ’em if you got ’em.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

October 19, 2010

Unexpectedly Personal, or it does get better

My initial reaction to the rather breathtaking endeavor known as It Gets Better was, well, complicated. Dan Savage is a very successful person on his own terms, and as such he makes a great role model, but that in itself makes it (to my thinking) difficult to see his video having the desired effect.

That is, if you are a gay teenager at the point of suicide—you are depressed and brutalized, you have internalized the bullying and verbal abuse and the contempt of your classmates, family, congregation, community to the point of picking up a gun or a bottle or a rope—if you are at that point, the reaction to Mr. Savage’s video would be that sure, it gets better for Dan Savage, but not for me. You may be able to see how other people could survive the hell you are going through, and see how it got better, but that only emphasizes your own weakness—and how little you deserve to survive to see it get better. Dan Savage is just somebody else that you have let down.

Not that I mean to disparage Mr. Savage, who is Doing the Right Thing, whether I expect it to actually work. And I have my own reasons for expecting a thing like that not to work.

Would it surprise any Gentle Reader to know that YHB had a column in his high school paper? Senior year, 1986-1987, I was Your Humble Columnist for the Ram Page, the newspaper of the Horrible High School Rams. I wrote about whatever struck my fancy, mostly politics (ooh, a seventeen-year-old socialist in a right-wing town, I must have been so popular) but also odds and ends of whatever came to mind. For my last column that Spring, I wrote about my suicide attempt a couple of years previous, and told my classmates that it gets better. I think I wrote it in those words, but of course my memory of that column is colored by current events; I don’t have the actual column to hand. It kicked up a tiny fuss—I think of it now as having in a sense come out, although I don’t think it was a secret before that. But I suppose it was the first time somebody had written about it in the school paper, and it was considered important and brave by the sorts of high school teachers who bother to read that sort of thing. In point of fact, I had already been accepted into college (this was it getting better) and had one foot out the door, well, a foot, a leg, an arm and shoulder, my head and most of my torso out the door by the time it was printed, so there wasn’t much bravery involved. But I did write it, because I did experience it: I felt hopeless and wanted to end it, and then, not two years later, I felt great. And teen suicide was not uncommon, you know, even back in the eighties, even for straight people, and I wanted to make sure (in my very young conception of sure-making, because sure-making is one of those things about youth) that everybody knew that it gets better.

Three months later, when I was in a dorm at Swarthmore, I heard that a young woman I knew, quite popular (I remember her as being her class president, although that is also likely a corrupt memory—I don’t even remember her name, for crying out loud) and pretty and good grades and all, killed herself the week before starting her senior year at my high school.

Of course, she had read my column, and she still died. So my reaction to Mr. Savage’s note is, well, that kids will still die.

But here’s the thing—it turns out that Mr. Savage’s note and the notes of other celebrities are just the sparks. The thing about the It Gets Better project is that there are hundreds of such videos. Hundreds. of. Videos. There’s a sixty-year-old gym teacher and there’s a baby butch in a college dorm and there’s the mayor of somewhere and there’s the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and there’s some middle-aged guy from Canada with dorky glasses and there’s a cheerful woman and her sullen wife, and there’s probably an unemployed construction worker who just got dumped by his boyfriend and he is telling you it got better. And if it gets better for him, maybe it will get better for you.

Except that really, kids will still die. I still think that if you are at the point of suicide, even this overwhelming breadth of experience is not likely to pull you through. I mean, I do like to think of some poor sap clutching the bottle of analgesics with which he plans to make his final exit, but he got a link to one of the videos and he got caught up in going from video to video, hundreds of them, until he falls asleep in front of the screen, the bottle still unopened, and in the morning, things look different (and they do tend to look different in mornings, even while he dreads getting on that bus). But I don’t, I’m afraid, believe that a lot of people at that point are getting links to those videos sent to them. Or, if they saw those videos, that they are going to lift the depression.

And yet.

I do think that somewhere somebody is seeing those videos who has not yet got to that point, who perhaps is only starting to be ostracized, or has not yet been beaten up, somewhere somebody who had a supporting community in high school but lacks one in college, some nine-year-old who finds herself doubting that the boy talk that is going around fourth grade is for her, somewhere some kid will see this stuff before it all starts. And when the bullying and teasing starts, there is the chance that somebody, somewhere will recognize that this is just the same old shit that gets worse and then gets better, and not ever get to be the person these videos are ostensibly aimed at. Which would be even better.

And, as another benefit, there’s the possibility that some heterosexual kid will see these things and not join in when the bullying starts, that some jock somewhere will see some jock somewhere saying that he was almost driven to suicide before it got better and will have second or third thoughts, that maybe somewhere somebody will be left alone on the school bus because, well, it doesn’t seem funny anymore.

Like a lot of persuasion, this sort of thing only seems to be aimed at its declared audience—and, perhaps, its declared audience is the audience least likely to be persuaded. That’s always hard for me to remember. Even harder is the idea—which I have to tell you never even occurred to me until today, twenty-odd years later, and makes the whole incident easier to hold in my memory—that even though that poor kid wasn’t saved by a column I wrote in a high school newspaper, it’s possible that somebody else was, and that by the nature of things I never heard about it. Some kid who read the thing at fourteen maybe hit the bottom at nineteen and had, in the back of his head, some thing that he read somewhere that somebody had hit bottom and then found that it gets better. You never know.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

October 11, 2010

Boys and Girls Come Out to Play

Here’s my coming out story, which I happened to tell in real life last week: at the end of my fresh year in college, I was not getting along well with my roommate, so I asked another friend of mine if he wanted to room together for sophomore year. He agreed, and we made a deal (room assignment was complicated and involved lottery numbers and, well, it’s not worth going into, but it was important to have a deal in advance). The next day, or perhaps two days later, he asked to talk to me privately. He wanted to tell me he was gay, and to give me a chance to back out of the deal. It was clearly a difficult conversation for him, and to be honest, it was an awkward conversation for me. I did not back out of the deal, and I didn’t want to back out of the deal, but it took me a moment or two to adjust to the information. I don’t think I handled the conversation very well—I wanted to be sure that he knew I wasn’t gay, and I think we both wanted it to be clear that he wasn’t attracted to me, just because I was a male—this is the part that embarrasses me in retrospect, as I had no reason to think he was attracted to me, but it seemed important at the time. Anyway.

We roomed together for two years, and were very close, and eventually fought and had trouble and became less close, but none of that had anything to do with his sexual preferences. Nor did I find that having a gay roommate caused me any trouble or grief of any kind, either in my social or romantic life. We were at a small liberal arts college that was particularly keen on inclusion and equality; things would likely have been different at a different place. But for us, and our social circle, at that time, and where we were, it turned out not to be a problem.

In fact, when my room-mate came out more publicly later in that year, and I was shown to Not Have a Problem With That, it likely made it easier for the other people who came out to me to do so. I hope so, anyway. Certainly that’s one of the things I like to mention about National Coming Out Day: every person who comes out of the closet makes it a bit easier for another person to come out, which makes it a bit easier for another person. Which makes it easier for us straight people, actually, who would like to live in a world where our friends don’t lie to us, don’t feel they have to lie to us, don’t actually have to lie to us.

I don’t have any greater point in telling the story. I mean, I do hope that somewhere there is some college roommate coming out to his or her roommate, and finding that it will be OK. We have now an odd situation in this country where a teenager may find gay-straight alliances in high school, supportive parents, and even bring a same-sex date to prom and be welcomed, but go back in a Frosh Closet on moving into a dorm. I hope not, I hope that’s a myth, but I suspect it’s true, and sad, and difficult, and painful, and occasionally deadly.

I doubt that any Gentle Readers are not gay-friendly; I know some are gay, and perhaps there are others that are keeping me in the closet for now. I want to take this Coming Out Day to thank the people who have come out to me, and to ask if I can make it easier for those who have not—easier, at any rate, than it was the first time.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

September 15, 2010

Happy New Year

So. The Days of Awe are upon us again, Gentle Readers, as seems to happen every year. Which is, I suppose, a Good Thing, considering the alternative.

On the other hand, the recurring nature of the holiday and the cyclical nature of the (lunar) calendar mean that I do kinda run out of things to say. Plus, this year I am less focused on meditative rebirth as on the Sukkah I’m going to build once all this Awe is over. Should be a big one this year, and it’s early enough that there is some chance of having dinner in it without freezing.

Well, the point is that while my fate was Written on Rosh Hashanah, it is not Sealed until Yom Kippur. And the Divine is merciful, and judges with mercy, tradition tells us that the Divine cannot forgive me for offenses against other people until the other people have forgiven me themselves. Or at least until I have asked—asked three times, actually, in case anybody does not forgive me on the first go around, presumably figuring that it was a perfunctory apology made without really thinking about the nature of the offense and its likelihood of recurring.

I have mentioned here before that I don’t think much of the general apology for that reason. I do hope that Gentle Readers will forgive me for the things that I have done and left undone that have hurt y’all in any way, and I regret doing (or not doing) those things, whatever they are. But of course not knowing what they are means that I can’t really resolve not to do them again.

That said, I really have been neglecting this blog, and I will attempt to do better. I think I have been neglecting comment threads as well, not really engaging when y’all make good points, and not acknowledging when your comments have been persuasive and changed my thinking. So I will do better on those. And I have to catch up on the ridiculous book backlog, but that’s more for myself—I doubt, somehow, that y’all have been disappointed by how few Book Reports I’ve been writing lately.

While I’m on the responsibilities of Your Humble Blogger to the Gentle Readers of this Tohu Bohu, let me ask: is there anything y’all would like me to focus on? I haven’t been writing politics for a good long while, mostly because I rarely feel I have anything to add to what’s already out there. But if y’all are looking for a place to discuss things, and my lack of starting posts has been inhibiting that, I’m certainly game. Or if there’s another topic or field y’all want me to head over to. I have not been opening the documents with a bunch of potential ideas lately (other than the list of books, of course), so if anyone wants to give me a bit of a push, I’m only too happy to be pushed. I really do want to make this Tohu Bohu a good place for Gentle Readers, and am even willing to put work into it, if only I weren’t so lazy…

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 19, 2010

Down, down in the spam locker

This Tohu Bohu gets a lot of comment spam. Well, a lot—I don’t really know how much constitutes a lot, relative to other blogs of its circulation. But it seems like a lot to me.

The bulk of the spam falls into three categories. First are the comments that are obviously and upfront about directing people to some web site where they can consume pornography or pharmaceuticals or fancy watches that cannot be distinguished from other fancy watches by people who know nothing about fancy watches. Those are irritating and annoying, but straightforwardly so. I delete them and forget about them. There isn’t anything to think about, other than the small amount of time wasted keeping them off the blog.

The second and much larger category are the comments that appear to be from people who have happened on this Tohu Bohu and are impressed by it. Upon closer inspection, they are linking to some other site, presumably to optimize themselves to the top of search results. This is very dispiriting to YHB—My Gracious Host finds the flattering comment spam makes him feel good, but I get very depressed about all those false compliments. And even more depressed about the fact that I have trained myself to assume that any comment similar to I like your blog! is spam, and delete them all without checking. What if sometime, somebody somewhere actually does like my blog, and tries to say so, and I delete the thing without looking at it? My poor ego!

The last category are comments that appear to be comments about current events. This only started quite recently, but since I have become quite mechanical in deleting the other ones, most of my spam-killing time is spent on these. Generally, some of these refer to some Big News of the last few days—a celebrity scandal, often—and while they may be misspelled or grammatically nonstandard, they have the appearance of actual comments. I can tell that they are spam by (a) the fact that they are in response to notes that have no connection to the content of the comment, (2) the fact that they are (usually) on notes written years ago, and (3) the fact that the identical comment is submitted to different notes with different names attached. Not actually all that clever.

By the way, one of the things about having two email addresses is that often some piece of email spam that manages to come up with a sufficiently apropos subject line, so that I might be inclined to believe its disguise and open it, comes to both addies simultaneously with different sender names. That’s a bit of a giveaway, isn’t it? Actually, fairly often a bit of spam comes to the same email addy five or six times with different sender names but the same subject line. I might possibly fall for one, but I’m not going to get five emails about leaving something at my desk or cancelling lunch plans, am I? Less is definitely more, here, spammers.

Anyway. The reason I’m bothering telling you so is that in the last three or four days, this Tohu Bohu got spammed with dozens of notes about the Cordoba House, AKA the Ground Zero Mosque. As it happens, YHB, like so many fools, wrote something on the Ludicrous Kerfuffle a few weeks ago, so it wouldn’t altogether shock me to have some stranger drop by and try to set me straight about a few aspects I got wrong. However, these notes were spam; they were not written in response to my blog, were not an attempt to communicate, and were not going to be published if I could help it. Whoever put out the spam, though, did so by attempting to imitate what one might call a real blog-commenter, which meant that more than a third of the notes that came in were full of vicious and hateful bigotry. Insults directed not only at Our Only President (who is in some sense fair game, being a public figure) but at Moslems and at their religion.

Now, here’s the thing. I know that this is spam. I know that whoever typed in the note, or cut and pasted it, or caused it to be randomly chosen out of recent blog comments elsewhere by some randomizing software, I know that the spammer does not mean the insults or believe that they are true. Or care, probably. They sent notes on both sides of the issue, presumably making it look as if people were engaging each other on a topic of interest, and that the one thing that these various folk agreed on was the importance of linking to a purveyor of pornography. And, you know, I support pornography. I’m a big believer in it. I’m not offended by that part of it.

But my emotional reaction to these comments was severe. I found it deeply distasteful even to look at them enough to delete them. I can’t really justify having such a powerful negative reaction to the spam; it’s only spam, after all. And I am aware that there are—oh, shall we say ten million Americans who foolishly think that Moslems are evil, that mosques are Bad Things, and that We (vaddevah dat means) are and should be at war with Islam (vaddevah dat means, too). It’s distressing whenever I come across such people in Real Life or on the Internet, but I am not, in fact, coming across dozens of such people when I log in to this Tohu Bohu, I am just coming across comment spam. And yet, it feels as if my Tohu Bohu has been invaded by jerks and bigots.

Of course, if there’s something worse than a spammer pretending to be a bigot for the pathetic pecuniary advantage that he thinks spamming this blog will give him, it would be a politician pretending to be a bigot for the electoral advantage he thinks that will give him. Or the ratings advantage. Or book sales. But somehow I expect that, and it feels safely far away, despite the fact that these people have actual political power to make laws and change people’s lives, and potentially to result in Americans and other humans being deprived of their civil rights, their liberty, or their lives. I do get outraged by that, I really do, and I should take advantage of this Tohu Bohu to say it again. But that’s a kind of outrage that I can feel good about and even enjoy, to be perfectly frank about it. This comment spam just makes me sad and angry, and I don’t enjoy that at all.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 9, 2010

Fun and Games

Your Humble Blogger is back from a lovely week-long vacation with old college buddies and their spouses and children. Twenty-five of us in a magnificently idiosyncratic ramshackle house in Vermont. There was kite-flying, canoeing, playground trips, swimming, pedal-boating, frisbee-tossing, bubble-blowing. Cooking and dishwashing. Games, games, games: Dominion, Word-O-Rama, Clue, the Name Game, poker, Botticelli, Martian Fluxx, Dixit, Categories, Once Upon a Time, Shakespearean Charades, Guillotine. Others played bridge, Magic: The Gathering, other kinds of Fluxx, the Bean game. I’m forgetting some, I’m sure, and there were likely games that started after I went to bed (or while I was playing something else, or at the playground). And there were still, I would guess, more games brought and left unplayed than we played: I know I didn’t get to play Carcasonne or the Princes of Florence or Pandemic or Milles Bornes or Loot or Outpost or Apples to Apples, among the other ones in the big stack on the table. And I wanted to play Oh, Hell; I kept forgetting to get a gathering together.

One reason we all got along so well was that so many of us are games players. Not gamers, I’m afraid, which has a different connotation, but games players: we could be happy with Monopoly or Careers, playing The Minister’s Cat or Going on a Picnic (we did, in fact, go on a picnic and brought people with names from A through H and J, but not I, due to poor planning amongst Some People), playing Hearts or Bullshit, playing Settlers or El Caballero. While there certainly could be problems with that, as it turned out the week went very well indeed.

And now I am home again, jiggity jog, and find myself wanting to get another round of Botticelli together. I am thinking of a B.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 21, 2010

The Tenth of Av, the building is still burning

Your Humble Blogger had another thought that was indirectly connected with that last post, but I wound up splitting into this post because I realized I hadn’t written anything about Tisha B’Av. Tisha B’Av is the memorial day for remembering the Destruction of the Temple; our Tradition tells us that both the First and Second Temples were destroyed on the ninth day of the month of Av. Whether this is historically accurate or not, Tisha B’av is a fast day for remembering the Destruction as well as many of the other most horrendous events in Jewish History. A day of Lamentations.

So the obvious connection here is in an iconic building coming down in the midst of death, the emotional devastation that goes with it, and the eventual memorialization and ritualization that happens. There’s a story that Napolean was in Paris on Tisha B’Av and heard the lamentations and grief pouring from the synagogues. He asked what had happened, and was told they were lamenting the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Taken aback, he asked when that had occurred, and was told, of course, seventeen centuries ago. The grief is ritual, and it is real, and it is transmitted through the generations by the ritual. I don’t mean to suggest that we need a 9/11 ritual observance (frankly, the destruction of the World Trade Center just wasn’t that big a deal), just thinking about the Sarah Palin Tweets and their language of stab … in the heart, too raw, too real, catastrophic after nine years.

But there is something else that occurred to me, and I’m not altogether sure how it fits in.

You see, most Reform Jews, and I would say many if not most Conservative Jews (and I am guessing almost all Reconstructionist Jews) do not observe Tisha B’Av. They don’t fast, they don’t go to shul, they don’t refrain from bathing, sex and sitting on cushions. I would guess that there are many, many Jews who don’t even know it was Tisha B’Av yesterday. I have never observed the fast, I believe; my recollection is that at Camp Ramah we observed many aspects but as children we were neither obligated nor permitted to fast.

Digression: The internet makes it easier for me to be reminded of the days I don’t generally observe. I know it is Tisha B’Av because (a) I now read a blog that helpfully reminds people of the beginning and end times of fasts, and (2) Google Calendar has a helpful Jewish Observances option. I get emails from my Synagogue that (if I read them) remind me of upcoming events as well. As recently as, oh, five years ago, I could easily forget that Shavuos was coming; now I know where we are in the Omer day to day. I don’t know if that will make Jews like me more observant, but (f’r’ex) I had a conversation over lunch with my Perfect Non-Reader about Tisha B’Av, why I wasn’t fasting, and what else we were supposed to forego that I wasn’t foregoing. Which is more than I ever had with my father on Tisha B’Av. End Digression.

Why don’t we observe Tisha B’Av? Partially because us non-observant Jews are non-observant; we don’t celebrate most of the Holidays. Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, and Passover, and Hanukkah. That’s about it. Maybe Purim if the kids are in Hebrew School. Keep that in mind when we talk about why most American non-observant Jews don’t do this or that, as the interesting thing is when we do get into the shul to do something. And if we are going to observe another Memorial Day, it will be the Holocaust one, Yom ha-Shoah, or maybe Kristallnacht in the Autumn. Tisha B’Av is mourning for the Temples, and I for one (and without claiming to speak for anyone, I think most of us from Reform to the left feel this way) do not mourn either the Temples or Temple Judaism. We don’t want to sacrifice animals at the altar, and we don’t want anybody else to do it either. We think of the Temple period, and are taught to think of the Temple period, as a kind of adolescence of Judaism, as an unpleasant if necessary phase before we started davening and shukling like real Jews. Well, and that’s extreme—we certainly don’t think we think that way, but I think we largely do; in Hebrew School I was taught very little between, oh, the end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of the twentieth century. I see much the same at my Perfect Non-Reader’s Hebrew School.

The connection that I am trying to eventually get to is the way that modern Americans have managed to compartmentalize our thinking into religious stuff and non-religious stuff. That is, while we may find that our religious beliefs influence our political beliefs, they remain two separate spheres. This is, of course, a Good Thing in my opinion, because I am an American and my opinions are American opinions. It’s hard to remember, though, this is not the viewpoint most people throughout the world hold, and that many people not only disagree but find the viewpoint incomprehensible. Moammar Qaddafi writes in his Little Green Book about this: if your religious beliefs have political implications, then they are political beliefs, and if your political beliefs have religious implications, then they are religious beliefs. To make a law that goes against religion would be to make an unjust law, as justice is an inherently religious idea—and why would the State want to make unjust laws?

We tend to think of Al Qaeda as a religious group, that is, a group of radical religious extremists, and as a terrorist group, that is, a group that uses terror tactics and is willing to kill civilians and innocents. There’s a sort of blindness to Al Qaeda as a political group, a group that has certain political aims. While I tend to (in my Western, positivist, rhetorical way) divide these aspects up, doing so gives a misleading picture. Their political goals are religious goals; their religious goals are political goals.

The connection, then, is to both the rebellion of Bar Koziba and his followers and to Rome and its armies. The Judean revolt had a political goal (separation from the Roman Empire) and it was a religious movement. Rome had a political goal (the stability of the Empire) and was a religious movement as well. Both sides felt that allegiance to the other was blasphemy, or heathenish, anyway. Rome had a religious destiny, as did Jerusalem. The Expulsion from Jerusalem (which seems more raw to me than the Destruction of the First Temple these days, what with my having spent the last thirty months or so with the Rabbis of that era) (and because there’s such a good story—how is it possible there has never been a movie or miniseries about that war?) was a religious and a political event, and was so for both sides (albeit, obviously, more important for the little end than the big end).

As I say, my preference is that it’s better when people keep political and religious spheres separated—not that religion shouldn’t influence people’s political decisions, their votes and affiliations and policy preferences and all that stuff, just that we keep in mind that it is one thing influencing another, not all the same thing. This is because I am an American, mostly. But it’s also, I think, because I am a Jew. The Destruction of the Temple in 70, and the Expulsion that ensured that it would not be rebuilt, meant that the Jews became a Diaspora people. While the Zionists have succeeded in making a Jewish State (vaddevah dat means), I am a Diaspora Jew, and half or more of the Jews in the world are Diaspora Jews. And Diaspora Jews have always benefitted from people who were able to separate their religion from their politics. The Destruction, to me, and even more so the Expulsion (which is one of the Five Calamities observed—the Destruction of the First and Second Temples, the destruction of Betar and then the Expulsion from Jerusalem in the Revolt, and also the Report of the Twelve Spies in Numbers) are the markers that end Temple Judaism and begin Diaspora Judaism, that begin Judaism as a minority religion and culture.

So while I do try to take Tisha B’Av as a day of Lamentations—whatever one thinks about the Temples, the death toll is worth memorializing—I wind up also taking the day as a moment to cling to the new thing that was created out of that destruction. To me, a mosque at Ground Zero (not that there is such a mosque proposed) would be such a symbol, of something new and valuable coming from destruction and death. It is my hope that at some point, perhaps, most of the Moslems in the world as well as the Moslems in America and the non-Moslems in America as well as the non-Moslems throughout the world can look at a memorial observance Nine-Eleven as a memorial for death and destruction, yes, but also a symbol of a time when we began to make a separate and privileged space for politics, that is, the art of living together.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 14, 2010

I like me, I like me not

Your Humble Blogger has been meaning for some time to write about liking things. That is, Facebook liking.

Gentle Readers not on Facebook may not know about liking. Or you might, as other social network sites have set-ups that are moderately similar. There is a page with information about YOU, and you are encouraged not only to put in your birthday and your relationships and your location and your highschool and your bank account numbers but also your likes. For Facebook, these are activities, interests, music, books, movies and television shows as well as pretty much anything else in the world.

Here’s the thing—when you like something, say for instance within the category of books I like scripture, it then links me with everybody else who likes scripture. Not only do my FB friends see my name on that list, everybody with their name on that list sees my name on that list, as I see theirs. When it is something as broad as liking scripture, or something as popular as liking Harry Potter, that doesn’t mean much, as with thousands of people on the list, my name is nicely lost. But fewer than a hundred people like Ferenc Molnar, for instance, and if one were to enter enough stuff that one liked that wasn’t quite superpopular, well, one could presumably find a few FB friends who liked a substantial subset of what one had typed in. Which might lead one to believe that one would like those people.

I’ll go on with that thought, but I should also mention that there are a large number of very popular things that (presumably connected with that popularity) many, many people like. Ten million FB accounts like Barack Obama, while only a hundred thousand or so like John Boehner. There’s a sense in which I want to like all my party’s people (only twenty thousand for the Speaker?) just to push their numbers up in case some so-called journalist decides once again to draw some sort of conclusion about who likes who. And then there are the small businesses—I like a couple of small businesses owned or run by friends of mine, not because I particularly like the business, but because it seemed like a painless way to encourage them. I don’t know what benefit there is to having a person like your business when it won’t drive any, you know, business to the business, but it seems that there is some benefit, I suppose, or they wouldn’t ask me to do it, right?

But going back to the like of movies or celebrities or novels or whatnot.

When I was a teenager, high school and college mostly, I did a lot of connecting with people over shared fondness for particular actors, movies, comics, books or whatnot. My friends liked Gilbert and Sullivan, and Monty Python, and Devo, and Elvis Costello, and P.G. Wodehouse, and Doctor Who and the Lord of the Rings. I wore my fondness for those things like badges on my lapels, and often wore badges on my lapels indicating my fondness for the things I liked. They were a large part of my identity. I found it alternately constricting and enlivening. Many good friendships started through conversations about shared love for a particular songwriter or playwright, and (being college students) we discussed our shared passions in depth, enlightening each other with theories about the Greatness of the Great.

Then, when various bonds had been forged, came the discovery that such-and-such a person didn’t love Star Wars or Sunday in the Park with George or the Violent Femmes or Red Harvest. Or (and I was self-centered enough that I don’t really remember the details of this, but it did happen) I felt I let down my friends by not liking Eugene O’Neill or Judy Collins or Ursula K. LeGuin. I became defensive about some of my tastes and closeted about others (one of those things about The College Experience is that one can openly proclaim fondness for pornography and shamefacedly keep romance novels as a guilty pleasure) (not that I, personally, read romance novels, you understand—I’m just mentioning it as an example), and made mix tapes and forced books on people and generally took fandom all too seriously.

Lately, in my middle age, I find that I don’t identify myself so strongly with my likes. I still have them (as Gentle Readers will be aware), but I don’t care so much about sharing them. In particular, I no longer expect my friendships to be centered around a bond of shared passion for a particular subsection of art or entertainment; I rather expect that if I like someone, and we have the opportunity to become friends, we will over time find those things that we both enjoy, as well as those things one of us is passionate about and the other just cannot see at all.

Is this because my extra couple of decades have meant an accumulation of Things I Like to the point where there are enough of them that I can’t easily identify myself the whole list, nor is it pleasurable to identify myself by some small subset of them? Or is it because my experience over that time has reminded me that my close friends and I will like different things, now and then?

My Gracious Host (I suppose I could link to his FB page, where his friends can see a hundred things he likes. Your Humble Blogger likes some of those things, but not all of them. In fact, over the years, most of the stuff we have recommended to each other has been an utter bomb. Nowadays, we don’t recommend things to each other (mostly), but we read each others blog notes and wonder— how is it that someone I like, and more than that, someone whose views on movies and books and music I find interesting to read and discuss, so consistently likes such crap and doesn’t like the good stuff? How can this be?

The answer, of course, lies in the point that I perhaps have made before: the differences between people (one to another) make the world interesting and fun.

So. All of that is off the point, which (if I remember clearly) was pretty much this: I don’t like things on Facebook mostly because I don’t really care if my Facebook friends think of me as liking Eileen Atkins or Jim’s Big Ego—really, if the only way you would know that I like them is to look at my profile page, then you don’t need to associate me with those things. But if you want to know what I like, you know, ask, and I won’t be shy.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 8, 2010

Who's got game?

Your Humble Blogger plays a lot of videogames on the computer. I don’t write about them much, partly because I am embarrassed about how often I play videogames on the computer, and partly because I figure that the kind of videogames I play are not terribly interesting to talk about. Although I do think about them a lot. Overthink them. There is, presumably, a limit to the tactics available in any given one-button game.

One game I have been playing a lot over the last year is Little Master Cricket. Little Master Cricket is a simple swing-and-hit game: your batsman can’t move his feet, and you use the mouse (or trackpad) (or finger, I suppose; it’s available for the whatsitphone) to drag his body around by the wrists in order to swing. You score runs depending on where you hit the ball; near the ground for one run, higher up for two, higher yet for four, even higher for six, and then if you hit it too high, you are out. Or if you fail to protect the wicket, of course. Anyway, on each ball, you can get from one to six runs or be out (or leave the ball on the field, because of some odd and entertaining aspects of the game that I won’t go in to here).

Those are runs, by the way; your score is your total runs multiplied by your strike rate; that is, if you score N runs off K balls, your score is N * (N/K), rounded to a whole number. The game helpfully keeps track of your strike rate as you go, only not actually all that helpfully, because there are some odd bits of hinkiness that go along with the strike rate, mostly that of course your last ball will add zero runs while still counting as a ball, which brings down your strike rate and thus your score quite a bit. F’r’ex, if you hit five sixes and then are out on the sixth ball, your strike rate is five and your score is 150.

Generally, though, I ignore the score and go for runs. That isn’t quite true—I like to get a score over a hundred, so I aim for that, and if I make it (which I often do), I try to get a hundred runs. Getting a hundred runs (or a century) is a Big Deal in cricket. And while of course Little Master Cricket is nothing like cricket (even less like cricket than my other videogame, the one that taught me the rules at least, which this one doesn’t), I think I have learned more of an appreciation for a century by aiming for it in my little videogame.

See, even ignoring the strike rate multiplier for the score, the strike rate is still important. While theoretically, I could block every ball and get a hundred runs in a hundred and four balls, in practice I would miss one eventually, or the wonky virtual physics would get me out, in either case long before I picked up a hundred. Hm. Let me try it… yes, I was out for seven on one off the handle. Second try I had more than a dozen balls lying inert on the field before an incoming bounced off one of them and over my avatar’s head. And the third try I got to a dozen or so before getting out. So, no, as I suspected the purely defensive game is not an easy way to a hundred runs.

Of course, a very aggressive game is not an easy way to a hundred, either. Taking a big swing at every ball is a good way to make quite outs for a handful of runs (although a decent way to get to a score of a hundred in a short time, if you don’t mind making some quite outs along the way). Even a deliberate attempt to put every ball squarely in the four is hard to accomplish, and at least for me leads to trying to dig out a ball coming in low and lift it, and if I get too much wrist into it, it’ll pop up for an easy out.

No, the way to get a hundred runs is to watch each ball as it comes in, judge its potential, and then try to block it, smash it for six, or line it out for four based on that judgment. You have to decide quickly, as the ball is coming in, and you have to act on that judgment immediately, holding back for a big swing or setting up to block or whatever is called for at the moment. You can’t go in to each ball with a prepared and prejudged plan; you have to react to the ball as it comes in.

And yet, I can’t go in to each ball without a prepared and prejudged plan; I can’t just react to the ball as it comes in. I don’t have time. And when I say I am going for runs, what I really mean is that I am trying to maximize my chances to get a hundred, which isn’t quite the same thing. A score of 102 makes me much, much happier than a score of 98, while a score of 98 doesn’t actually make me happier than a score of 94. The ton line may be arbitrary, but that’s where it is, and that’s what I am aiming for. Which means that I tend to keep an eye on the score, and adjust my aggressiveness accordingly. But which way? If I get to around 75 runs, it’s too early to start blocking and making my way by ones and twos, because something bad will happen within fifteen balls, right? But can I really risk my score by trying to swat a couple of sixes? If I do, and I’m just about up to ninety, then it’s time to block—but if I block my way to 97 in another six balls and then pop one up to end it, I’ll be kicking my virtual self all virtual day. With just one more four, I could have had my century!

All of which, of course, is on a computer, sliding my mouse around with only my children to watch. For actual cricketers, facing actual bowlers who are varying their speed and angle and spin by volition, rather than randomly, and who also face changes in the light, the wind, the heat, and who are getting physically tired from running between the wickets, with thousands of fans watching them and rooting for or against them, and who have to keep their minds on the outcome of the match, not just their own statistics (but making centuries, rather than eighties, will have a huge effect on their careers and opportunities and finances)— I’m not saying that I know what it’s like. I’m just saying that I have a little bit better of a grasp, I think, on some of the aspects of it, to make it seem even more impressive than it seemed before.

So that’s all right.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 1, 2010

Not gone.

Your Humble Blogger is back from a week on the road.

Um, yeah. That’s pretty much it. I’m back from a week on the road.

Yep. I’m back, all right. You can tell, because, well, here I am. Not on the road. Back.

Oh, hell, I got nuthin’. And I have six hundred items on my aggregator just sitting there waiting for me. This could be a while.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 21, 2010

Not only uninterested, but actively avoiding interest

Can I just rant for a minute? Would that be OK? You don’t even have to really listen, just nod and smile and think of something else.

Your Humble Blogger really hates the use of the word disinterested to mean unconcerned or apathetic. That is, it bugs me when people use the word where YHB would use the word uninterested; there is a distinction between them that gets right on my stickler nerve.

This is particularly bad for me because the Youngest Member has been once again keen on listening to They Might Be Giants: Here Come the ABCs!, and one of my favorite songs from that set is E Eats Everything, which contains the line “ D is just disinterested/In anything you’ve got”. Gets right up my proverbial, it does, and prevents me from thoroughly enjoying a terrific song. Then I noticed the word (used correctly by my lights) in the bit I typed in from The Dresser, which reminded me that Lowell Weicker had called my State’s Governor disinterested in a speech I read about in a Hartford Courant article.

Digression: I think I actually read the longer on-line version of this story, but in both cases, the headline is that Former Gov. calls Current Gov. “disinterested”, but the body of the text does not include any such quote from the former Gov. This seems very, very strange to me. Does it seem strange to you? I was eventually able to find some video in which Mr. Weicker refers to “Republican Governors who are either corrupt or disinterested”, which given the meaning of the word as YHB uses it, should pretty much cover everybody, right? But yes, I think it is clear that he is referring to the only Governor Connecticut has at the moment, and that he means she is apathetic or unconcerned, rather than free of conflict. Still, it seems very strange to me to put the word in the headline and not include any aspect of the context in the body of the story at all. End Digression.

Now, I haven’t looked up the history of the word, and I suspect that the distinction for which I am a stickler for is something made up in the Stickler Period of grammar, possibly by William Strunk himself, or by Henry Fowler, or perhaps Stephen Fry. I have had to give up my mockery or literally, when presented with the evidence that (a) it is doing the same job as really, and (2) the use of literally as an intensifier is hundreds of years old, and therefore has more right to exist than I have right to deny it. I suspect that the use of disinterested to mean uninterested is hundreds of years old as well, and no doubt there are plenty of examples that would, if I considered them carefully, persuade me that my carping on disinterested is inconsistent and wrong. I don’t want to be thus persuaded. I want to keep getting angry about this one.

This isn’t like begs the question, where I continue to maintain that the use of the phrase to mean provoke the question, as it most commonly is used now, is just wrong, and I am willing to argue it out. No, this is one where I am unwilling to argue it out, because I would lose, and I don’t want to lose. So I generally keep my mouth shut about it.

Does this seem unreasonable? As a former stickler turned descriptivist, I often feel that I am missing the righteous anger of the peevologist. There is something rather magnificent about being shocked by the slovenly habits of so-called educated people these days.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 14, 2010

Gone today, ear tomorrow

Oh, YHB is not well at all. Not at all. My ears are infected.

Not, as you might think, by bad but catchy music, stuck in my head after repeated listenings in coffee shops or at the compulsion of the Youngest Member. No, my ears are infected in the other sense, that they are filled with pus and bacteria.

So, I am probably not capable of sustained concentration on anything, not when some jerk keeps sneaking up and jabbing an ice pick in the side of my head like that. No clever post today, folks.

In the meantime, award-winning journalist David S. Bernstein asks which Muppet would make the best Supreme Court nominee. His suggestion of Sam the Eagle would undoubtedly sail through Congress, but who is going to vote against Sweetums? But YHB throws this Tohu Bohu’s support behind Lew Zealand, who revealed a terrific legal mind when he said You gotta have sole. Or if you can’t get sole, use halibut. Y’all’s nominations to be discussed in comments.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 7, 2010

Labor saving

So. Last night was the traditional pizza-with-extra-treyf on paper plates, and today the switching of the dishes. After gathering together all the remaining unwashed Passover dishes (including my Best Reader doing the important task of going through the fridge for bowls containing leftovers), rinsing them, and flinging them into the dishwasher, it was clear that there simply weren't enough dishes to justify running the dishwasher. Even after grabbing any of the year-round dishes that could be said to need a wash, the thing was mostly empty.

In fact, the sum total came to seven dishes and seven pieces of silverware from the Passover set. This is what I get for catching up yesterday after lunch.

Well, and what I'm saying is: even after it becoming very clear that there was no way I was going to run the dishwasher, and that it made no sense to postpone actually packing the passover dishes until after dinner tonight off the regular ones, it still took me ten minutes to talk myself into just washing the damn dishes by hand. I mean! Washing dishes by hand, like some sort of wild animal in the wilderness. Isn't that just declaring defeat?

I'm not kidding, though. Ten minutes.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 29, 2010

Happy everything, y'all!

Posting will be infrequent for a week or so here on this Tohu Bohu, for reasons which are well and good for me, and nothing really to do with the blog. Opening Night at Punk R3 went very well, and the second night went badly, but not too badly. I feel sure that most of the largish crowd on Friday went away well disposed to telling people they would have a good time coming to our show, and most of the smallish crowd on Saturday probably did not, judging as best I can from their reactions. But then, you can’t really tell. Audiences are bastards and cannot be trusted under the best of circumstances. Ten more.

So that’s that, and the other great big thing going on of course is the usual confluence of Passover and Holy Week; the best argument against mixed marriage between a Jew and a Christian turns out to be not the difficulty of raising the children in one or another faith, nor latent anti-Semitism and anti-clericalism, nor yet the possibility of war between the US and Israel, but simply the logistics of the spring. Added to that, there are three major household activities that are demanding near-immediate attention (the welcome arrival of houseguests, the conclusion of the Girl Scout Cookie accounting for the year, and the delivery of a cubic fuckload of dirt for our garden), and well, let me just say this: posting will be infrequent for a week or so here on this Tohu Bohu.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 1, 2010

Me so sad and lonely, me

And so February ends, and March comes in like a lion. Seems to happen almost every year.

February wasn’t a bad month for this Tohu Bohu, looking at it, with more than a post a day, many of them notes of some substance rather than brief jokes or simple links. 46 comments on the month, which seems to be about the expected level of comments if I don’t have a particularly good guessing game going on. Note to self: Guessing games generate comments! At least with my Gentle Readers.

I mention this because I didn’t write an anniversary post, when my anniversary came around in the middle of the month sometime. Seven years and still going. Whoo.

Oh, and I’m a bit down about the blogging thing, at the moment, because—well, this is probably as pathetic as it can be, but it’s like this: two fellows I grew up with have gotten into this blogging thing in a big way. Now, I have been blogging for more than seven years, now, and (a) it has been at least six years since I decided I didn’t want to be an A-list blogger, and (2) both of those fellows are blogging stuff that they have, you know, degrees in, spend their working lives doing, and are actual experts in. So I shouldn’t be downhearted about the fact that they are both hugely successful at the form. Right? And I am pleased about their success—really, I am. And I truly do not want to become one of those bloggers with tens of thousands of readers, whose every mistake is fodder for widespread abuse and invective, even if the mistakes were not actually mine but someone else’s.

In fact, as this Tohu Bohu has settled into its two or three dozen Gentle Readers, it has become more personal and less political, more musing and less amusing, more what it is and less what it isn’t. There’s no real reason why the A-List would come calling here, or would stay here if it did, or would make me happy if it did stay. And yet…

Really, though, Your Humble Blogger is just being cranky and unhumble. I put a lot of effort into this thing I say, as I walk the streets of Blogtown muttering to myself, seven years, two thousand three hundred and seventy-seven notes, and what have I got to show for it?

This is because crankiness makes it hard to see what it is that a person really does have to show for it. It doesn’t diminish what I actually have, just makes it a bit difficult to see.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 31, 2009

The End of the Decade

So. Here it is the last day of the year, and there are two problems: (1) I have a bunch of Book Reports to do, and (B) I don’t know what they are. You see, I left the little thumb drive at my desk when I left the office a week ago, and the list was in a file on that drive. Silly of me? Yes. But there it is.

I do, as it happens, have enough memory to come up with a list of five or so unreported books. So I could spend the afternoon whipping through them. On the other hand, I am in a lovely house on a lovely day with some lovely family, and I may have better things to do. And the reports would, I hope, be better if I wait and spend some time on them. So I think I’m going to put them off, and then backdate them to today, so when I do my End of the Year List, I have the rightish numbers.

That’s more or less a warning that things will be slow here for a few days, and then look like they weren’t. As well as a general wish for a Happy New Year.

And while I’m thinking about Happy New Years, I have to ask if anybody else feels sort of, well, guilty about having had quite a good year and quite a good decade? I mean, yes, in the Big Picture, this was a nasty decade for a variety of reasons, and the year has been absolutely brutal in a bunch of ways, but very little of that affected my comfort and pleasure, except that I read about it and groused about it, and frankly enjoyed doing it, much of the time. In my life, I had two lovely children, lived in some interesting and pleasant places, read a lot of good books, ate a lot of good food, listened to very good music, had wonderful conversations with wonderful people, got to do theater again and had a lot of fun doing it, created this Tohu Bohu, bought a house in which I live quite comfortably, and just basically had a really good decade.

I wasn’t drafted to fight in the horrible wars, and almost nobody I know has had to fight in them or die in them. I distantly know a few people who were killed or hurt or bereaved by the destruction of the World Trade Center, but the terrorism thing had a very small direct effect on my personal life, as did the Katrina thing, climate change, the Bush administration, the financial collapse, etc, etc, etc.

In point of actual fact, I am one of those affluent, well-educated, middle-class, comfortable white suburbanites who is insulated from a lot of terrible things in the world (so long as they don’t actually happen on my block or to my immediate family). You know? Maybe you are, too. And it’s good for me to remember that, now and then. But when I read about the lousiness of the year and of the decade, I feel like I have to add that of course, for me personally it was pretty cushy. And I feel sheepish about that, as if not only should I have done more out of my own comfort to ameliorate the misery of others (which is certainly true) but also it would have helped, somehow, had I not escaped misery myself (which is not). Still, there it is. I hope the next decade will be as good for everybody else as this last one has been for me.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 25, 2009

Happy New Year! Again!

Almost ten years ago now, at a party in Ess Eff, while my Best Reader is off getting some more of those noshy things, and I’m trying to pretend that I know more than two of the people there:

YHB: Hey.

YHB2K: Happy New Year!

YHB: Yeah. Happy New Year. Recognize me?

YHB2K: Um, didn’t we work together at the…

YHB: No, I’m you from ten years in the future.

YHB2K: Wow. Really?

YHB: Really.

YHB2K: Only ten years? Shame about the hair.

YHB: Shut up.

YHB2K: Could be worse, I suppose.

YHB: Look, I am visiting from ten years in your future, through the magic of Fiction, to write a note for my blog.

YHB2K: Your what?

YHB: That’s not important. There’s a meme where you get to ask me three questions about the next ten years.

YHB2K: A what?

YHB: A meme!

YHB2K: Sorry, it’s really loud in here!

YHB: No, it turns out your hearing is going!

YHB2K: What?

YHB: You have a banana in your ear!

YHB2K: What?

YHB: I said you have a banana in your ear!

YHB2K: I can’t hear you, I have a banana in my ear! [they both laugh far too much]

YHB2K: Seriously, what?

YHB: Look, you get to ask me three questions about the next ten years.

YHB2K: Are there rules?

YHB: Of course there are rules.

YHB2K: Of course there are rules.

YHB: Rule Number One!

YHB2K: Which I will call Rule Number One!

YHB: No asking really personal stuff.

YHB2K: Why not? Because it will cause a paradox and, like, destroy the entire space-time continuum?

YHB: No, but I’m writing under a pseudonym, and personal stuff would totally ruin it. YHB2K: Oh. Well, that’s too bad. Are you getting paid?

YHB: Is that one of your questions?

YHB2K: No, but are you?

YHB: No.

YHB2K: Then what are you doing it for?

YHB: Shut up.

YHB2K: No you shut up.

YHB: No, me shut up, but ten years ago.

YHB2K: Ooh.

YHB: Hah!

YHB2K: Jerk.

YHB: Rule Number B!

YHB2K: You mean Rule Number Two.

YHB: What?

YHB2K: The last one was One, so this one should be Two, not B.

YHB: It’s a bit.

YHB2K: What?

YHB: Look, do you want to hear the rules?

YHB2K: Fine. Rule Number B!

YHB: No asking stuff that like who won the World Series or what stocks go up and down and shit.

YHB2K: Would that cause a paradox?

YHB: No, but there wouldn’t be much point. You’re going to forget pretty much this whole conversation.

YHB2K: Why? Do you have some sort of forgeterry flashlight like Tommy Lee Jones? Or is it the power of the space-time continuum preventing a paradox?

YHB: No, you’re just really, really drunk.

YHB2K: Oh, yeah. I forgot.

YHB: Plus, how would that be entertaining for people reading this? They could look that stuff up. If they cared.

YHB2K: So this is just about entertaining people reading your whateveritis?

YHB: Yeah.

YHB2K: I’m supposed to be your dancing monkey?

YHB: Pretty much.

YHB2K: Ook ook! Oook ook!

YHB: Do you want to ask the questions or not?

YHB2K: Can’t ask my future self questions, because I’m too busy dancing like a monkey! Oook oook!

YHB: Hey—do you know what really would cause a paradox and destroy the space-time continuum?

YHB2K: What?

YHB: If you were to bite me!

YHB2K: Well, I’d better not do that, then.

YHB: No, probably not.

YHB2K: Because otherwise…

YHB: Yeah. You could bite me.

YHB2K: A tragic loss for us all.

YHB: Rule Number Gamma!

YHB2K: This is a stupid bit.

YHB: Really? I like it.

YHB2K: No, I don’t.

YHB: Yeah, but you will.

YHB2K: I’ll also look like that.

YHB: Shut up. Rule Number Gamma!

YHB2K: Yes?

YHB: Can I have a glass of that bubbly?

YHB2K: Is that the rule?

YHB: No.

YHB2K: Will it rip a hole in the space-time continuum?

YHB: What the hell are you drinking? No, it won’t rip a hole in the space-time continuum.

YHB2K: Fine.

YHB: Rule Number Gamma! Um.

YHB2K: There aren’t really any more rules, are there?

YHB: No.

YHB2K: Fine. I get three questions? From 1999 me to 2009 me?

YHB: Yes.

YHB2K: For the purpose of entertaining some people in 2009?

YHB: Yes.

YHB2K: You suck.

YHB: Shut up.

YHB2K: No, you should do it the other way. You should ask questions about 2019, right? And then go ahead and answer them. That would be fun. This is stupid.

YHB: But I don’t have a 2019 me.

YHB2K: You will. I will. We will. Whatever.

YHB: Good point.

YHB2K: I know. I’m clever that way.

YHB: You’re drunk that way.

YHB2K: Yeah, but in the morning, I’ll be sober. And you, my friend, will still be. Um.

YHB: You?

YHB2K: Shut up.

YHB: All right, as long as I’m here, do you want to ask your questions?

YHB2K: Sure. Um, Question A: Are there going to be any more good Elvis Costello albums?

YHB: Yes.

YHB2K: OK, good. Um, where am I living?

YHB: I guess that counts. Connecticut. Greater Hartford.

YHB2K: Seriously?

YHB: Yes.

YHB2K: Do I like it?

YHB: Yeah. It’s real nice, actually.

YHB2K: Hunh.

YHB: No, it is.


YHB: You get another question.

YHB2K: OK, this isn’t about the World Series, but—I’m just curious, does anybody break Hank Aaron’s record?

YHB2K: Yeah.

YHB: Junior Griffey?

YHB: No, actually, it’s Barry Bonds.

YHB2K: Seriously?

YHB: Yeah. He bulks up, hits 73 to break the single-season, and finishes with 762.

YHB2K: Really?

YHB: As a Giant. Stays with the Giants.

YHB2K: That. is. so. cool.

YHB: Um.

YHB2K: No, really? This is going to be a great decade.

YHB: I have to go now.

YHB2K: Happy New Year, me! Happy New Year.

YHB: And to all a good night.

So, here’s the game: Ask your ten-year-future self three questions about the upcoming decade (the teenies, until we come up with a better name). No rules for you, but don’t waste any asking for stock tips. Then, all your friends answer them for you in the comments before New Year’s Eve 2009. Then, on or shortly before New Year’s Eve 2019, come back and award points for closest answer! Extra points for everyone who is still alive!

Here are mine:

  1. Which countries will I visit in the teenies?
  2. What produce shortage will I complain about most?
  3. Which song from my youth will be covered by a popular artist and be on the radio all the time to irritate me?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 22, 2009

Say, Say, What does this say?

Your Humble Blogger was a Beginning Reader once, believe it or not as you like, and just at the right time for Hop on Pop, the simplest Seuss for youngest use. In due time, the book was purchased for my Perfect Non-Reader, and is being enjoyed by the Youngest Member (who loves to shout No, Pat, No! Don’t sit on that! as loud as loud can be). This note is not about how wonderful that book is, but about how…interesting written English is.

You see, for many years, YHB’s mother would say, when the subject of HoP came up, which was quite often, in fact, as she is now a grandmother of six, that what she always appreciated about the book was that all the words could be sounded out by the letters, with the exception of night and fight. I accepted that this was the case during my years as an uncle-but-not-yet-father, so I was surprised to notice, when reading the book over and over and over and over again to my Perfect Non-Reader, back in the early part of the noughties, that it was false. Right at the very beginning, after pup and cup, comes house and mouse, with their silent e. Not that I should properly hold my mother to an observation made from memory and all, but there it is. And the silent e is more common than the silent gh, but it is still silent, and not amenable to sounding out.

We’re talking, by the way, about the big boldface words at the top of the pages. For those who do not have a copy to hand, a page will have two or three such words, a sentence using them, and an illustration. The sentences, of course, have some tricky words, but as one is teaching a child to read by the endorsed combination of phonics and whole word recognition, the point is that one can sound out the headwords as a key to the page. Right? And most of them (there are 68 of them, at a quick count) are easy to sound out, but there are four which are not.

Except that I was reading the book to the Youngest Member today, and noticed that there were th words, too. Now, it’s not that I think that the phonics system can’t handle th combinations (or sh or ch, for that matter), but it falls into the category with silent e and silent gh, requiring more than just a simple letter-to-sound correspondence. And I had not noticed it at all. I had been reading the thing with the idea of that letter-to-sound correspondence in my mind, noticed the mouse/house problem, and totally failed to spot the th issue. In about a million times through the book. Including the page that has the words tree and three in big bold letters, one right under the other.

And then, when I sat down to write this note, and went through to count the boldface words and look at them carefully, and went through them again to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, that’s when I noticed that walk and talk each has a silent l. How many times have I looked at those words, specifically thinking about the letter-to-sound correspondence, and not had an alarm go off?

Perhaps this is just me, and the way I think of things. I learned to read very young, and mostly the whole language way, which (at least in my case and my vague sense of what people say about it) makes for lazy readers who just recognize words rather than read them, if you know what I mean. Perhaps somebody who learned under a stricter phonics method would have spotted the lot of them immediately. Perhaps somebody who battled dyslexia would have spotted them immediately. But I couldn’t. And I’m not absolutely certain that there aren’t more still that I haven’t missed.

By the way—yes, I know that vowels throw off that whole letter-to-sound combination thing. Is the second e in see silent? And there are song and long, with that ng issue. And the ck in snack and black. And if you count Mr. and Mrs. as headwords, then you really are up the proverbial without a whatnot. But I’m not counting them, and ck doesn’t have a silent letter any more than the ll in ball. So there.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 4, 2009

An Awkward Moment

So. Fairly often I am at the circulation desk taking care of a student when that student’s buddy comes up behind them and thwacks them one.

To give you a sense of things: as you enter the library, the circ desk is to your right, perpendicular to the door. Thus, when facing the desk, people are entering behind you and to your right. The café is directly behind you, and the stairs to the bulk of the stacks come down behind you as well. So it is easy for someone to sneak up on you, all unbeknownst, like. Also, most of our students are ‘college age’, between 17 and 22, say. A great age for thwacking your buddies in the back of the head, or on the shoulder, or kicking them in the seat of the pants.

My usual reaction to this is a Librarian’s Glare, second level, followed after the departure of the kids by quietly smiling to myself about the whole nature of homosociality. Except that sometimes it isn’t homosocial. Sometimes it is heterosocial. And my emotional reaction to that is very different.

Just to be clear, I am talking about a fellow giving a reasonably firm but not vicious punch in the shoulder, slap up the back of the head, or hip block to a young woman who doesn’t see him coming. Today (my inspiration for the post) it was actually a kick to the seat of the pants. Not a bruising blow, but not a nudge. What used to be called a love tap, back when spousal abuse was considered sweet.

In today’s case, the young woman responded with affectionate eye-rolling; she kissed him shortly after. I responded with a Class One Librarian’s Glare (with eyebrow raised to the full third level), and with this post.

I don’t mean to be all whatsit, but seriously, no young woman should allow herself to be treated with that kind of rough affection in public. That should not be tolerated in our library. It should make the practitioner of the kick (or slap or punch) an immediate social pariah. Not because the young woman is being harmed, and only somewhat because I suspect that a fellow who routinely kicks his girlfriend’s ass in affection will have difficulty restraining himself in anger, and not only because for the love of Mike she had no way of knowing it was you and if she had responded by instinctively grabbing the book off the counter and decking you with it she would have been well within her whatsit, but because that kind of roughhouse is bad, bad, bad for women everywhere, for the women sitting in the café, in the entrance, on the stairs, or working behind my counter who have to watch it. What are the odds, at any point, that there is a woman within view who has been the recipient of abuse from a family member, romantic partner or other boy friend? Fifty-fifty? More? From the numbers and demographics, I would guess closer to two-to-one.

And yet, I never say anything. I glare, and I shake my head, and I go back to my desk and type. Because in the world as it is, my saying something would be wildly inappropriate (and might lead to my being fired, depending on what I said and how I said it), and would not be welcomed by the student who was kicked, and furthermore as there is no overwhelming social norm backing me up, wouldn’t do much good, anyway. Sigh.

And another thing that makes me uncomfortable about the whole thing—I assume that when a young man thwacks another young man at the desk that they are not romantic partners. I do think that homosocial thwackage is a part of our social norms, and although I wouldn’t encourage a son of mine to adopt that kind of thing, I wouldn’t ground him for a week if I saw him do it. I see third-graders behaving that way in the schoolyard all the time, and I give them only two levels of eyebrow. If I saw a son of mine thwack a girl, especially from behind, it would be Groundhog Day for him, if you know what I mean. Is this sexist? In a way, I think so, but I also (being sexist in that way) think that the world being the world, abuse of women by men being so much more prevalent than any of the other combinations (as heinous as those are), a man thwacking a woman in public has a devastating symbolic weight. A man thwacking a man does not. I feel justified in making this distinction, and yet it nags at me, when I contemplate what my (outward) reaction should be to a thwack at the desk.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 28, 2009

Only Seventeen More Shopping Days 'til Beethoven's Birthday

So. Your Humble Blogger is forty years old. Y’all know what that’s like, right? Born at the end of the sixties, a boy of the seventies, eighties teenager. A different world from now.

And I grew up without Christmas, not being Christian, so my perception of things is very different, I expect, but it seems to me that when I was a kid, Thanksgiving and Christmas were in different seasons. Thanksgiving was the last of the Autumn holidays; Christmas was the first Winter holiday. It’s true that Christmas shopping started the day after Thanksgiving—Santa Claus arrived at the end of the Macy’s Day parade, of course, and the next day in our shopping malls. So I am probably exaggerating things in my memory. Still, that’s how I remember them: there was a Thanksgiving time, and then a Christmas time.

Also, I think I went to school on the day after Thanksgiving, at least some years. I could be wrong. I don’t remember planning or doing anything for that day, or shopping for that matter, as a kid. But then, would I remember anything like that? I don’t know. But I don’t.

I also don’t really know what it’s like to be a kid these days, see above. But it seems to me that it must be hard for a kid, a ten-year-old or an eight-year-old, to have this great big four-day-weekend for Thanksgiving, already half a month into the Christmas season, and then go back to school on Monday and realize that there are four more weeks of school, no breaks or holidays, and no presents, either. It must be a very long month.

Of course, Hanukkah is early this year, so our kids have that to look forward to. But not all the kids get to light candles and eat chocolate coins to make the time go by.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 26, 2009

Thanks, thanks, thanks

It is traditional, on the fourth Thursday in November, for blogs of this kind to post a maudlin essay about what the bloggist is thankful for.

Um. You know, stuff.

My Best Reader, of course, and my Perfect Non-Reader, and the Youngest Member who still cannot read, although he can fool you what with having memorized The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza and Big Max and Danny and the Dinosaur. And other family members, immediate and in law, small and large, in this world or the next.

My astonishing level of comfort, and the country that makes it possible. And the moment in time—I’m grateful for the twenty-first century. The ability to cushion myself, with money and friends and stuff, from a lot of bad things.

Did I mention my friends? Gentle Readers, y’all count for that. I am thankful for you. I thank you.

The Talking Heads album Stop Making Sense, which I listened to today. I am thankful for that. I should send them a note.

Do you know what else? That thing where grapes ferment, under the right conditions, and make wine. I like wine. It’s kind of odd, when you think about it, that fermentation exists. If it didn’t exist, and you wrote it into a specfic world (there’s this chemical change which happens, which makes ordinary fruit juice become intoxicating when it rots, and it also changes the taste to make it more complex, and, um, you have whole industries of growing fruit just to rot it in just the right way) it wouldn’t be very plausible.

I am also thankful for how implausible the real world is, in so many ways.

The Internet. The personal computer. Telephone lines. The postal service, particularly—do you ever think about the idea that there might not have been one? At all? But there is. Well, done Ben Franklin. Thank you.

You remember that I’m thankful for the fermentation thing? I’m not so thankful for the tobacco curing thing, but I am very thankful that in twenty-first century America I only rarely go places where I come out stinking of tobacco. When I was a kid, thirty years ago, I must have had that cigarette stench on my clothes and in my hair all the time. We all must have. It was everywhere. Not so much today, so thanks for that.

I’ll add thanks that the email that I got yesterday from the President of the United States of America, mentioning the Thanksgiving observance, wasn’t irritating to get. It wasn’t hugely inspiring, although it was nice in places (I particularly liked the mention of people who have to work on Thanksgiving because it’s their job and they don’t have any choice, and that’s another thing I’m thankful for, that my job isn’t like that and I have the freedom to avoid work that is like that) and rather sweet in its overall tone, but (a) we have a President who doesn’t get up my nose just by being President, (2) we have a President who is capable of putting his name over more than three sentences without offending me in the text itself, and (iii) I got an email from the President of the United States of America. Seriously, I know it wasn’t personal, but that’s pretty swell.

I’m thankful that the Avot is around, and the whole Scripture, all of it. I probably won’t write about it on Saturday, but you never know, I might. It’s a free weekend, for the most part, and I am very thankful for that.

And for tea. Did I mention tea? In with the whole fermentation thing, and tobacco curing, there’s this plant, a tree really, the leaves of which, when dried and fermented and dried and steeped in hot water, well, you don’t believe any of this, do you? But you drink coffee.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 6, 2009

Not a Book Report, go elsewhere

Your Humble Blogger should probably stop calling them Book Reports. Book Notes? That seems kinda cutesy-cutesy to me. Book log, I suppose.

Somehow, this Tohu Bohu has floated to the top of searches for book report and certain titles. This has lead on at least three occasions, twice this week, to odd little comments on my blog asking where the actual book report is. I assume that these comments are from young persons who are tasked with writing a book report and are looking for assistance, or possibly for somebody else to do the work for them. Alas, I cannot help these people. Or at least, I won’t help them, and certainly what I write in this blog isn’t going to help them at all. Of the two newest seekers, one found a four-sentence note that just counts up the Dick Francis novels by tally, and one found a note (also found by someone else last Spring) that describes the subject as more like Charlotte’s Web than Treasure Island. I don’t know how a sixth-grader would make use of that.

Our Library is not the only person to use this phrase, but it’s something that we use as part of our introduction to internet research: on the Internet, nobody is in charge. I can post my Book Reports, and they will be utterly worthless to you, and there is nobody to complain to. I mean, you can complain to me, in the comments, but what do I care? I’m the one who is posting them. I won’t care. You can complain to Google that their search engine isn’t helping you, but (a) they really don’t care, either, and (2) they will point out that with just a little more work, you can get what you want and not what you don’t want. But you have to be in charge, because nobody is in charge. I am perfectly capable of writing a straight-faced Book Report that is utterly false in every particular (note: Alfred Nobel was not, actually, a hideously deformed monster who kept little boys in a cage to fatten them up for the stew) and ha ha on you, seeker after proper book reports.

No, dissatisfaction with my Book Reports among the non-GR populace does not lead me to rethink the whole Book Report thing I do the way I do. There are a handful of reasons I do Book Reports at all, and do them the way I do them, and assistance for elementary school students is not high on that list. It does, however, make me think about my comment-moderation practice.

My policy, as I have (I think) posted here before, is that I will happily delete and filter for spam, which I have some difficulty defining but the bulk of which I have no difficulty recognizing. I reserve the right to delete and/or edit for offensive content, but (a) I promise to indicate that I am doing so, and (2) I have not actually done so as yet. I don’t want to, either. My preference is to have more comments than fewer, and to have a wider spread than a narrower.

And, in general, I feel that I need some reason to delete a comment that is more than my dislike for it. I do refuse to be used as a tool for other people to make money by influencing search engine, and I don’t mind deleting messages that are gibberish, machine-generated, or pure advertising from outside the group. But attempts at communication, well, those I don’t want to delete.

On the other hand, there is no benefit to Grs, or to me, in having a comment that simply says where is the book report at the end of one of my notes. I don’t expect the commenter to come back and find out my thinking on the topic; perhaps I am wrong in that, but it’s hard for me to imagine the thinking that would bring the poor saps back to this Tohu Bohu. So responding directly in the comment thread seems to be like talking into a disconnected telephone. It just makes me feel foolish. And leaving the comment unanswered also seems foolish; the individual entries are, at least to my eyes, diminished by that line at the end. Not that those entries were so much before the diminishmentosity, which I suppose makes it worse, from my point of view. Those notes served their purpose, and I wouldn’t have gone back to them, if it weren’t for the kids and their lousy search skillz, and going back to them hasn’t been a matter of pride (there are posts of mine I’m proud of, you know, but the Book Reports are mostly filler), which affects my attitude.

And then there’s the whole thing about the audience for the blog in general, a matter on which YHB is still ambivalent. On the one hand, I am actually quite pleased that this Tohu Bohu shows up on the front page of some searches with some fairly common words. On the other hand, you know, ambivalent. I want the kids off my lawn, unless they are good kids, who are welcome to play ball on my lawn and can use my lawn darts (the safe kind). I gripe about the sparsity of comments, but then I get comments and gripe about the quality of them. With each of these notes, I worry whether I will get more of them. And worrying? takes away from the fun of the whole blogging thing.

And, in fact, if I thought that deleting them would lead to less worrying about them, I would probably just delete them. But I can’t decide that without worrying about it a lot more.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

October 31, 2009

Looking Down

OK, so y’all know that I am a circulation clerk at an academic library, right? As such, part of my job—most of my job, really—is supervising college kids who are working five or eight hours a week for pocket money. This is fine; it’s easy work, and I’m pretty good at it. The job is, essentially, being a visible grown-up. There’s a good deal of training and manual-writing, which I can do, and a fair amount of basic circ-work, checking in and out and shelving and so on, but mostly, I am making sure that the young persons show up and do what they are supposed to do. Yes? And provide a grown-up presence in the library, in case that is necessary.

The grown-up presence is really my job. All I have to do, most of the time, is walk around, wear a necktie, and have gray in my hair. The student workers will not be as inclined to chat with their friends and romantic interests if I am nearby, or to slang each other, or ignore the desk. I rarely have to ask them to stop doing something inappropriate; I do my work by just being there. I am Uncle Supervisor. This is excellent work for me, because I do not secretly want to be twenty again, or to join in the lives of the students. I don’t listen to their music or watch their television shows (which aren’t usually on television); I don’t dress like them or speak like them, and I don’t have a facebook account.

I also don’t make the hiring and firing decisions, which is nice for me. The people who do make those decisions consult with me, and I am carefully noncommittal. I have, on a couple of occasions, confirmed that a student will not be missed; I have much more rarely stood up for a student who I think is potentially a good worker. The person who does the hiring prefers, on the whole, to hire women than men, I think on the reasonable grounds that college-age women are more likely to be steady and responsible than college-age men. I think this is true in general for our university’s students, but fails to take into account that a young woman in her sophomore year is likely to remain at her level of maturity for another year, while a young fellow is fairly likely to learn about buckling down right about then, even after a freshman year of slack. But my point here (and I’m slowly getting to it) is that while I am the supervisor on shift, I am not the Head of Department; the big decisions and the discipline are done elsewhere, with minor input from me and the other supervisors. I am in between.

This all means that I am friendly with the students without being friends with them. They know a little about my life (that I am married and have children, that I act in community theater) and I know a little about theirs (where they are from, their field of study), and perhaps we discuss books or art, but I don’t, for instance, know about their romantic lives, or their fights with roommates, or their finances. Oh, sometimes I wind up finding out about some of that, against my will, but on the whole, I keep my nose out of their business. Yes? Clear? Now the tricky bit.

We have a student, let’s call her, oh, you think of a name. Rachel. How about Rachel? We don’t have a Rachel at present. OK, we have a student worker who we’re calling Rachel, who seems to be fairly bright, helpful, pleasant, prompt, all that good stuff. No problems, as far as I know. Our working hours overlap only a little bit; most of her hours she has a different supervisor, but I do see her at least briefly twice a week, and then of course on occasion in the library when she isn’t working for us but for her profs. I have had a few conversations with her, but I would say I know her even more distantly than many of the other student workers. And I certainly have no complaints about her work, which I haven’t seen, for the most part.

I have a complaint about her clothing.

And I should say—I don’t even have a complaint about her clothing, as such. I mean, I am not complaining.

Rachel has a large and well-formed bosom. I have seen pretty much all of it at this point, and I do have to say I’m impressed. It’s not, you know, astonishing. Her breasts are not the biggest of all our student workers; I would guess Rachel has a C-cup, and we have a couple of workers in the double-D region. And all of the young women wear clothes I consider inappropriately revealing. Another of our workers, let’s call her Joan, has an absolutely tremendous bosom, real enter-the-room-before-she-does figure, and about a yard of décolletage most days, and if I were her father, I would prefer she wear high-necked stuff, but she doesn’t, and that’s her business. But Rachel’s outfits show a difference in degree that I think is a difference in kind. This is less like peeking and more like being flashed.

You know about cleavage—there’s the cleavage that is a vertical line, and there’s the cleavage that’s more of a V, and there’s the cleavage which is actually two lines? Where you can see the skin between the breasts? Sometimes women with small breasts have that, but for a C-cup, it usually requires either very good undergarments or really remarkable breasts. Or low gravity, I would guess. Anyway, what I’m saying, with Rachel, there’s the skin between the breasts, the underside of the breasts, and part of the nipple.

Now, when I say, above, that being Old Guy on Duty is excellent work for me, the one thing that I do worry about in that capacity is that I am the kind of Old Guy who likes to look down the shirts of young women. I attempt to do so discreetly. I mean, in addition to our workers, there are the students and faculty; the job does require a fair amount of people handing me books over a counter, which is a terrible temptation for a very susceptible circulation clerk. I am rather afraid of developing a reputation as a Creepy Old Guy, rather than an Avuncular Old Guy, and I hope I have avoided that so far. I am also afraid of actually being a Creepy Old Guy, in the sense that I don’t want to creep these young women out. Partially because of ego of my own, and partially (I insist) that I really do believe that everybody has a right to a workplace that doesn’t creep them out. I hope that my safely-married status is comforting; I am the most married man in the world, as people who get to know me quickly figure out. I haven’t made a pass at a woman other than my Best Reader since I was a college kid myself, working at the circulation desk. I don’t want to do anything with these young women other than look at them on occasion, to the extent that I can do so without creeping them out.

All of which is to admit that I do look down the shirts of my inappropriately-dressed underlings, but I don’t stare open-mouthed, drool running down my chin. I look our employees in the eye when I speak to them, and I don’t make up tasks for them that involve a lot of bending at the waist. You know? I am creepy, but I try to keep it within bounds.

With Rachel, however,it is extremely difficult not to stare. In fact, I wind up staying further away from her, looking away when talking to her, and generally trying like hell not to look down her shirt, because I don’t think I can do it discreetly. While, of course, thinking about it and, particularly when she enters the library, taking a quick look.

Now. On the one hand, I do think it’s her business; she is neither so stupid or so nearsighted that she is unaware that she is showing off, and I actually support her in her right to so choose. On the other, I think it’s a minor mistake—I doubt she realizes that it’s not just the hunky guys in her classes but the creepy middle-aged staff and faculty who are getting an eyeful of skin. Perhaps she does, and either (a) she thinks it’s a fair tradeoff, or (2) she likes showing off to creepy middle-aged people. I have no idea.

The difficulty for me is that as her supervisor, I feel that it would be a good idea if someone told her that she shouldn’t flaunt her bosom quite so much whilst working. Or at least if someone made it clear that it might very well make other people uncomfortable, and that it would be better to use some discretion herself in the interests of workplace amity and so on. But I don’t want to tell her myself. I can’t imagine that conversation going well at all. (Rachel, if I could just have a moment of your time, I just wanted to say I’ve been looking down your shirt, and—) Nor, honestly, do I feel like a conversation between YHB and the other supervisory staff would be enjoyable and free from awkwardness. (Can you tell Rachel to cover her damned tits already?) I think, in point of fact, that any such conversation would be likelier to increase the difficulty of the workplace rather than decrease it.

And, just to embarrass myself further (we’re all friends here, right? We didn’t leave the window open, did we?) I am not altogether sure that want the final resolution of the matter to be that Rachel dresses more sensibly. I mean, yes, it would make things easier for me, but then, you know, in a few semesters she’ll be gone, and I will have an amusing memory, and in the meantime, she really does have a great rack. But when the person who makes the schedule starts asking about next semester, I don’t exactly know how to say I’d like to have Rachel arrive just as I am leaving, please, so I can get one good look without having to deal with the consequences.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

October 15, 2009

Walk away and come back to it later

Your Humble Blogger has started doing crosswords again. I go through phases with crosswords: I go years without the slightest urge to do one, and then I start doing them every day, or maybe two or three a day, for a few weeks, and then I’m all done for another few years. This time is different; I added the goofy NYT crossword widget to my Google page, which gives me only one puzzle a week, and that’s all I’m doing.

I have never been particularly good at crosswords. I mean, by good-at-crosswords standards. I know the general standard is by NYT day-of-the-week, with Monday being easiest and Saturday hardest (if I am remembering correctly); crossword solvers can describe themselves as being Thursday-level or Wednesday-level, depending on which day they have to really start thinking about the puzzle rather than just filling in the little boxes. The ones the NYT is making available vary in difficulty, and they give the date of publication, so I could figure out the day of the week, but I don’t. Generally, though, I find them moderately time-consuming. I can’t just whip through them, but neither do I generally leave anything blank, or at any rate, not more than a square or two.

What I wanted to write about, though, was the odd thing that happens with puzzles, that I experience with crosswords because those are the ones I do, but I understand is a general phenomenon. I get stuck, I walk away from the puzzle, and then I come back the next day and find a bunch of stuff that seems really easy, and I can’t figure out why I was stuck. I’m not talking about the thing where you get two or three clues you didn’t get before, and that gives you a long one, and then you’ve broken the back of the puzzle. No, I’m talking about the ones you were staring at, had no idea about, and then without getting any new letters, the answers suddenly become obvious.

You all have this, right? About crosswords, or sodoko, or rebussess’s, or videogames, or coding, or carpentry, or whatever you work on. It’s so common that I don’t think I’ve ever really questioned it before. Of course, if you are trying to work something out, and you are stuck, you walk away from it for a while, and then come back with fresh eyes. Everyone knows that.

But… why? Why would that work? I mean, the synapses aren’t, you know, actually wearing grooves in the wrong places in the brain. That’s a metaphor. There’s no evolutionary benefit to humans developing an inability to solve crossword puzzles on one go, but an ability to get inspiration on a second look. The brain isn’t a magic eight-ball that needs shaking up to get a good chance at a positive answer, or a deck of cards that has to be shuffled to prevent the patterns from the previous deal affecting the next one. You aren’t actually changing the brain, physically, at all. Right? You are just walking away and coming back.

I don’t mean to in any way denigrate the experience, or the brain for that matter. It’s really cool that I can think about other things and then come back to a problem and have a chance at improving my thinking about it. It just seems—well, if you were designing human brain function, Gentle Reader, is that the sort of feature you would select?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

September 26, 2009

For the Sake of Zion, vaddevah dat means

So my Perfect Non-Reader, now being a big third-grade kid, has progressed to the next level of Hebrew School. They are finally teaching her the aleph-bet with some seriousness, and they are teaching her the liturgical structure of the service, and they are brainwashing her with Zionism.

They gave her, in that first week of classes, a very odd thing: it’s a page out of For the Sake of Zion: Pride and Strength Through Knowledge, by Tuvia Book. This is a work specifically and explicitly devoted to indoctrinating passion for Zion. And it’s aimed at high-school students and college kids. From the press release:

Once Jewish students leave the protective bubble of school, home or intimate social group and enter the “real world” of a mixed college campus, sometimes hostile to Jews and Zionism, they often find themselves uncomfortable, on the defensive and unable to speak about Israel in partbecause they lack the passion for Zion.

In order to respond effectively with a sense of self-respect and to be proactive, students need a sense of commitment and pride, as well as knowledge and tools.

The sheet they gave the kids is a list of statements, and a space to respond whether the reader agrees or disagrees (on an A-E scale, oddly enough). I’m going to type in the whole thing, because—well, because I find it interesting and a trifle disturbing.

  • The Jews are a nation like the French or the Germans.
  • The Jews are a religious group like Muslims or Christians.
  • All Jews should live in Israel.
  • Jewish life in the Diaspora is vital to the continuation of the Jewish people.
  • Jewish life in the Diaspora can never be fully safe or satisfying.
  • Self-determination is the basic right of all peoples.
  • The Jewish claim for national independence is based on Divine promise as recorded in the Torah.
  • The Jewish people have an absolute and singular right to the Land of Israel as their national homeland.
  • The Land of Israel is the national homeland of both the Jewish and the Palestinian Arab people.
  • The State of Israel should be a model of Western liberal democracy.
  • The Torah is the national constitution of the Jewish people and should be the national constitution of the State of Israel.
  • The State of Israel belongs to the entire Jewish people.
  • The State of Israel belongs to the citizens of the State.
  • Israel is primarily a refuge for Jews fleeing oppression and a response to anti-Semitism.
  • Israel is primarily a creative expression of the Jewish people’s will to be an independent community.
  • All citizens of the State of Israel, regardless of religion or national-cultural identity, should share the same rights and privileges.
  • Zionism demands personal fulfillment through Aliyah.
  • Any support of Israel is Zionism.
  • Zionism does not end with Aliyah, but continues through personal work to create a better society in Israel.
  • A person living in Israel has to serve in the IDF to be considered a Zionist.

Well, now. As a conversation-kicker for grupps, or perhaps even more so for college kids, there’s a lot there. I could probably write a note about each of those twenty items (or more accurately, I could begin the project and then peter out after eight or so, despite having plenty to say about the rest). If we all (Gentle Readers and myself) just did the A-E response that the worksheet calls for would generate a wide range of responses. Giving it to a bunch of eight-year-old kids— My Perfect Non-Reader has an immense vocabulary, and I think is able to more or less understand the sentences and what they mean. Or, I should say, what they mean on the simplest level; I don’t claim to fully understand what Self-determination is the basic right of all peoples means, or what national independence means, or personal fulfillment or Western liberal democracy, for that matter. These are not well-defined terms. That doesn’t mean that they have no meaning, or that they can’t be used to communicate effectively, just that there is a limit to the extent that I am willing to say that I understand them. But that limit is very different from the limit experienced by an eight-year-old, who may or may not know what, for instance, the word refuge means. My Perfect Non-Reader does know that word, and its relation to refugee, because her parents are that way.

So I think her trouble is the greater one, close to the one that I have with the list. On the other hand, I have had lots of these conversations before. I have some experience with the tricky parts. It’s fairly easy for me to say it’s more complicated than that to pretty much anybody. I’m thinking not so much for an eight-year-old in class.

And then there’s this: I am an anti-Zionist myself, in the sense that I think Zionism was an error, although I have no solution to offer myself. Certainly I don’t think that immediate abolition of the State of Israel is a good solution, but given a range of solutions, I would rather work toward a future without a Jewish State, if that could be done without making things worse for lots of individual people. It’s hard to see how that would happen. So in terms of practical policy preferences, I am probably in line with, oh, J Street, despite their “support [for] Israel and its desire for security as the Jewish homeland”. I desire security for Jews, both in the Holy Land and elsewhere, but I do not in principle support the State’s desire for security as the Jewish homeland. But then here I’m reminded of the book-dialogue between Michael Lerner and Cornel West, when they are talking about Zionism, and it turns out that neither of them believe in the nation-state as such, so of course the whole concept of Zionism is suspect. I, too, have trouble with the idea of the nation-state, and that puts me in the corner with the guys with the funny haircuts who make trouble, but has almost nothing to do with anything practical.

But practically speaking, I am a Diaspora Jew. I identify myself as a Diaspora Jew, and I practice Diaspora Judaism. When we discuss Jewish matters (which happens fairly often around the house, as you can guess), I respond as a Diaspora Jew. And as an American. And that rubs off. My Perfect Non-Reader filled out this page as a Diaspora Jew, and as an anti-Zionist, to boot. I suspect that she was one of the few people to strongly disagree with the absolute and singular right stuff and give a shrug of a C to The State of Israel belongs to the entire Jewish people. Not that I would fill the paper out exactly the way she did, but on the whole, she wrote a paper as YHB’s daughter.

And that worries me. Not, in this instance, because I am worried about my own indoctrination, pace Akabya b. Mahaleel. But because I think it will be difficult and unpleasant for her to hold such unpopular views. Because she will be torn between loyalty to her Old Dad, who she loves (thank the Divine, although I embarrass her so) and respect for her teacher and the respect of her classmates. This is not like growing up a Yankee fan’s son in Boston. This is like that kid whose dad sued to have the Pledge of Allegiance returned to its original secular text.

I grew up in a New York Liberal Jewish household in a Southwestern town. My dad remains an old Trotskyite, at heart. When the Soviet Union fell apart, I was in college, and at that point I heard echoed in my community his response that this was the best possible news for advancing socialism. But when I was in high school and we read Animal Farm, I caused a major ruckus by making a similar point about Marx and Stalin. And that was high school. When I was Brynnen’s age, more or less, Jimmy Carter was running for President, and I was aware that our household was an Democratic island in a sea of Republicans. I heard dozens of Jimmy Carter jokes from my classmates. Not that I cared, particularly, about politics at the time. And I associated the political thing with the religious thing; we were supposed to be outsiders, after all.

Now I live in a town with seven synagogues. The local A&P put out a huge display of round challah right by the entrance last week, together with raisins, apricots, figs and those sticky nut-honey things that the Sephardim eat. And on the right day, too. The schools are closed on Monday for the Yom, not particularly out of sensitivity but out of logistical necessity, with so many students and teachers out. Being a Jew is not being an outsider in this town, and I am reminded almost every week of how different that is from my own childhood.

And yet, it seems, I am bringing my daughter into an outsider status of her own. I am, how do you say, conflicted about this. I am proud of her and worried about her. I feel guilty for having put her in this position, and I feel good about having protected her against the indoctrination I disagree with. I am frustrated by the whole weight of history that has made it seem almost reasonable for my shul to indoctrinate the kids in their school in Zionism, even while I think it’s a wrong-headed idea. And I want, in the words of the press release for that book, for my Perfect Non-Reader to respond effectively with a sense of self-respect and to be proactive, drawing on a sense of commitment and pride, as well as knowledge and tools. Only, I think I want her to do it in 5777, not this year.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

September 24, 2009

Avarice, Anger, Sloth, Gluttony, Secrecy, Mink and Palmer

So Your Humble Blogger was washing dishes, as happens not infrequently, and as a not infrequent mental accompaniment to the dishwashing, was composing a possible note for this Tohu Bohu. It was a Days of Awe note, full of that combination of insight and whimsy—well, anyway. I had come to that part of the bit where I list the Seven Deadly sins, and I was preparing to slip in a reference to the great Woody Allen Vodka Ad bit and sneak in the Seven Dwarfs instead.

Or, rather, do that other bit I do, where I start out with the Disney Canonical Seven Dwarfs and end up off track a bit. It’s surprising how often I get a chance to do it, although of course the ability and willingness to rattle off the names of the Seven Dwarves does tend to skew conversations into paths that give one the opportunity to show off such an ability, just as, I imagine, people who do not know the first ten digits of pi rarely find themselves in conversations where one might be able to slip those numerals in to great effect.

Anyway, as I say, what I actually do is not name the Seven Dwarfs but (and this is a tone of voice thing, so you have to imagine YHB doing it deadpan and with total confidence) instead list off Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey, Sleazy, Jumpy and Mike. It’s the Mike that amuses me so. I mean, the rhythm of the actual last three (Sneezy, Bashful and Doc) is so great, and Mike is (to my ears) just the right distance from Doc—not so close that you think it’s correct, and not so far off that it makes no sense. And I love the idea that everybody gets a descriptive name and one guy is just named Mike. Or that somebody (notionally YHB) really believes that one of them is called Mike.

Actually, the whole thing started when I lived in Ess Eff and I had a good friend who worked for a law firm (cum lobbying firm) I referred to as Thelen, Marrin, Johnson, Bridges, Sleazy, Jumpy and Mike. All those trochees. They are now just Thelen LLP, presumably because after all the mergers they blew the trochee thing, being at that point Thelen, Marrin, Johnson, Bridges, Reid, Priest, Berlack, Israels, Liberman, Pinsent and Masons. Which is a trifle unwieldy, and you can see why they went with the short version. The short, unfunny version. Not that law firms really need to think about maximizing the hilarity potential of their corporate identity.

But the hilarity potential of misnaming the Seven Dwarfs is clearly something that does require serious thought here in this Tohu Bohu. Because, frankly, I am not altogether satisfied. For one thing, I have long thought that substituting sleazy for sneezy is a bit obvious, a bit adolescent. Not unfunny, and I think it is important for the first not-quite-correct name to be very close, which that does accomplish. But better can be achieved, I think. Perhaps with incongruity: something like Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Jumpy, Lefty and Mike. Or going further afield: Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey, Lefty, One-Eye and Mike. I do like the idea of one of the dwarfs being called One-Eye, as a reference to an obscure David Edgar play called Ball Boys I am very fond of, and the combination of Lefty and One-Eye to me sounds very English-thug, which is a good combination with Disney Dwarfs, but then Mike is no longer funny, being neither a Dwarf of a Goon. Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey, Lefty, One-Eye and Spike? Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey, Lefty, One-Eye and Jock? Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey, Lefty, One-Eye and Brick? Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey, Duffy, Solly and MacClanahan?

Yes, this is the sort of thing Your Humble Blogger spends a lot of time thinking about.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

September 14, 2009

The first spot on the Anti-Monopoly board

Your Humble Blogger wrote a page analysing the manner in which Left Blogovia became dominated, largely, by people who are passionate in their opposition to the Republican Party (quite rightly in my view) and deeply suspicious of the Democratic Party for being pro-business and “moderate” without being very far to the left of center on the actual substance of policy. It was a very dull post. I didn’t finish it.

Yes, I’ve been a lousy blogger lately. Sorry about that. Lost the mojo, somehow.

I will try to recover, but it will likely be slow. Well, and we’re off-book next week, so I should be working on my lines, anyway.

In the meantime, if anybody wants an unused Digression on the way support for single-payer health insurance is the hobby-horse of cranks of the left, while opposition to single-payer unemployment insurance is not even audible amongst the hard-core anti-government tea-dumpers on the Right, it is available. And may yet turn up in a note in the next few weeks. Reuse, recycle, repurpose, retrain, relax, relent, research, remark, ricola. Repeat.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 5, 2009

Grass or Greens?

YHB pulling weeds

A book called Edible Estates : attack on the front lawn crossed YHB’s path yesterday. Last night I ate some extraordinarily tasty squash, grown in our back yard and grilled by our next-door neighbor. And this morning I went out and mowed the lawn in two hundred degree heat (with five hundred percent humidity). All of which got me to thinking about this idea of getting rid of the grass and devoting the whole of our (tiny) yard to vegetables and flowers.

Not, you understand, that I am actually planning on doing anything about it. The yard, and particularly the gardens, are my Best Reader’s territory. I grew up in the desert. I lend a hand, here and there, but I don’t make the decisions. At the moment, we have a few small beds for veggies, and the rest is lawn.

Regular Labor:

  • Lawn: Mowing, dandelion-pulling, nettle-pulling
  • Veggies: weeding, harvesting, watering

Annual Labor:

  • Lawn: Not a lot.
  • Veggies: Purchasing new plants/seeds and soil, planting, mulching


  • Lawn: occasional mower sharpening or repair.
  • Veggies: Large initial expense for plants, but then reduced expense for veggies at the store.

You know, for kids!:

  • Lawn: running, jumping, playing catch, kicking a ball around
  • Veggies: education, nutrition

It’s all about YHB:

  • Lawn: I grew up with a lawn, even in the desert. It seems natural.
  • Veggies: Yum, plus it’s fun to watch them grow.

I should also note that where the regular labor of a lawn can be replaced with money outlay, that’s less true of the regular labor of a veggie garden, until either the Perfect Non-Reader or a neighborhood kid can be given that those tasks. At the moment, with our lives how they are, we don’t want to spend money on the outdoors, but as we get older, our interest in avoiding the trowel or mower may increase. Also, the nearest public park/playground is far enough away that a parent would have to go with children for quite a few years yet; it’s walking distance, but across major streets.

What do y’all do, those of you who have control over an outdoor patch near where you live?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 31, 2009


Five Thousand Comments!

That’s three zeroes, preceded by a five. That’s a lot of comments. I mean, for some guy with a blog. There were probably five thousand comments over on the McCovey Chronicles in one evening a couple of weeks ago. Atrios probably gets five thousand comments on a slow afternoon. I’ve got them slowly over twenty-three hundred days. And I wrote a lot of them myself. I don’t know how many; a simple search seems to break the whole system down. Phooey. Anyway, although five thousand is a good round number, it’s a bit misleading, as (a) there are at least half-a-dozen comments included in there that are double posts or spam and should be removed, and (2) there may have been some proper comments inadvertently deleted along the line. So although I was considering setting off bells when that five thousandth comment came in, and then decorating that special comment with colors and stars and the dancing baby animated gif, on second thought, not so much. In fact, I wound up waiting for another dozen comments or so before writing this up.

Because although the Comment Milestone is terrific, and it actually means a lot to YHB (far more than it should, probably, but then I’ve been watching the counter tick over for hundreds of comments now, and then there was the whole business where it spent a week going over 5,000 with spam and then going back down under when I deleted the spam, which, I can tell you, added so much to the experience), I decided some years ago that I didn’t want to go for quantity, what with the quality being so good. And I have to admit, for some reason we all had time, back in those days, for good long comment conversations, such as the Conservative Tenets series, particularly Eight and Ten or the thread on More Notes from Union Meetings.

Oh, while I’m at it, here are a few other threads that make me happy: Not very zippy, after all, President Bush Reaffirms Resolve to War on Terror, Iraq and Afghanistan, and The death business. Or How could anyone… (aka the New Strunk and White’s), What Voters Want or Mais Non, Mais Non (doot-doo de-doot doo). Or Understanding, validating, disagreeing. Or Haftorah Bo.

And I really should do more quizzes and contests, because Hint: Not the Hippopatamus wound up with a really interesting thread, and I vastly enjoyed Online Encore. They do require some work on my part, though.

Well, anyway. The point is just that I am very grateful to you, Gentle Readers all, for all the comments over the years. Thank you.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 15, 2009

Mmmmm, spam.

Sorry about the lapse in posting lately. There has been a combination of factors, as is usually the case when I don’t post for several days. One major factor, happily, is that we have houseguests, who are lovely and are taking up large chunks of time. Another, less happily, is that my employer has this week gone to a new controlling software program, which has been substantially less problematic than I expected it to be, but still has taken concentration and effort that has effectively ruled out tippity-tapping in a word processor for later insertion into the Tohu Bohu. And another, very crankily, is that there have been just hundreds and hundreds of spam comments over the last several days, so when YHB visits the controls, it’s all about the spam-killing.

I had gone through a chunk of time where my spam filters weren’t working at all, and I was able to get them working, so for the last several weeks, it was catching spam and not putting it on the web. And when I did get a bunch, I could spot the cues and tell the filter to stop any more of them, and it worked, and that was a Good Thing. My Gracious Host, Jed, helped with that, and it was working, and I was happy, happy, happy.

And then… these comments have been coming in with, as far as I can tell, random combinations of letters (and not long strings, either) as the email, URL and content. They are not from the same IP address, and they do not have any links within the body of the spam. There are no words or recognizable (and repeated) word-like things to alert a filter. And they have been coming more or less every five minutes for several days. If I am off-line for a while, and I often am, I come back to discover dozens of comments that have been published and are not only crudding up the Tohu Bohu but are bloating my aggregator—and your aggregator, too, if you are clever enough to be subscribed to the comment feed. It makes me cranky, so cranky. And I don’t like being cranky.

And, er, I am exaggerating a bit. I mean, it’s been three days, and a total of two hundred or so spam comments. A lot, and in my aggregator I get less than a hundred proper items a day, so adding another fifty spam items makes my aggregator useless as an aggregator, but not every five minutes, which would be, over forty-eight hours, let me see, twelve eights is sixteen and eighty, and four twelves is forty eight, which is, don’t tell me, carry the one, fifty and fourteen, a hundred and twelve, it would be five hundred and sixty-sumpin’ spam comments, when in fact, I had only a third of that. Not that much, really.

But still making me cranky.

So what I’ve done, for the moment, is put a hold on all incoming comments. So when you post, it’ll go to that famous moderation cue, and I will make it visible just as soon as I can distinguish it from the spam. Which should be easy, unless you are posting random combinations of letters. In which case, curse you (shakes fist)!

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 20, 2009

Ten Good Years

Where were you, Gentle Reader, ten years ago today?

Most of you were helping me get married.

Well, many of you. I don’t know how many Gentle Readers there actually are, but of those who comment, now and then, I’m pretty sure more than half were in that room. Not that I remember it, but my Best Reader and I were looking at the pictures this morning, and there you were. You seem to have been having a good time.

So do I. Although, as I say, I don’t remember much of it. We lit a candle for unity and snuffed out our individual lives; I remember that. I remember that it was raining, and then it wasn’t, and then it was again; we moved the reception inside and seemed to continue having a good time. My Best Reader was beautiful; I remember that, but it was nice to see it in the photographs. And y’all were young. So young.

For those of you who weren’t there at the time, well, I’m sorry you missed it. We had funeral parlor fans printed up, for people to wave; they weren’t needed for the heat, in the event, but people amused themselves with them anyway. There were children running around, evidently; they seem very small in the photographs, almost unrecognizable from the big kids I know. The cake was pretty, and also tasty to the best of my recollection, and it’s too bad that Sweet Daddy Bakery (in lovely Wayne, PA) is no longer around. And there were lots and lots and lots of roses.

The thing about this moment, ten years (give or take an hour) from signing the ketubah and being pronounced man and wife by a nice old Marryin’ Sam, is that for all it’s a magnificent anniversary, well worth remembering, celebrating and commemorating, it is just a moment. It did, for a long time, divide our lives together into before the wedding and after the wedding. One of those pivots, it looked like, a major landmark, when Everything Changes. Now, having spent some time this morning looking at the photos, and some more time, since the box was open, looking at some other photos, it looks less like that. Oh, it’s a Big Deal, don’t get me wrong. But it’s possible for me to look at a photo of my Best Reader and not know whether it was from Before or After the wedding. Or, particularly, care. We have had ten good years of marriage. Before that, we had eight good years of cohabitation, and before that four good years of friendship.

And the moment, thinking about it, that Everything Changed (or rather, one of them, since the most Changy of the moments was when we bumped up a generation and started being parents)— the moment that Everything Changed was not the moment that we exchanged promises and become husband and wife, in the eyes of the state, our family and friends, and (one hopes) the Divine, but some earlier moment when we realized that we wanted to make those promises. And fulfill them. Which, thank the Divine, we are still working on.

Then why this mawkish and unusually personal blog note? Because, Gentle Reader, while that earlier moment may have been the real moment when Everything Changed, it was not the moment for publicly commemorating that change. That was ten years ago, more or less now. I think; I don’t really remember. But there are pictures.

And then, this moment is another moment for that public commemoration. And, just as ten years ago, it required a room full of family and friends to properly do the job, I was thinking that this morning it requires you, Gentle Reader, whether you were there at the time or not, to make this a commemoration of that moment when we exchanged the vows, of the earlier moment when we chose to do so, and of all the time since that we’ve been working at them.

And of all the time ahead for working at them some more. We still, my Best Reader and I, propose marriage to each other. Probably three or four times a week. Sometimes, and don’t tell anyone this, we dance, in the kitchen, while the kids are wrecking the living room.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 4, 2009

Optimism, Pessimism, Semism

My Gracious Host’s recent post about Worry, hope, and jinxing things gives me a spur to write about my own combination of optimism and pessimism. That isn’t exactly what the post is about, but I have been known to go off on my own tangents before.

You know the half-glass of water? It’s difficult for me to describe myself as either an optimist or a pessimist; I tend to say that the glass is half-empty, but that it’s probably potable water, good to drink. You know? My usual formula is that I tend to think that the worst will happen, but that it won’t turn out to be so bad, after all. My recent travel experience makes a story worth telling about that attitude.

We were changing planes in Chicago.

No, at Midway, but still. Southwest, the mad scramble for seats, but we had A group tickets. For those who haven’t done the Southwest thing, they don’t have assigned seating, but ticketholders can go on-line twenty-fours before departure time and get a group assignment. Group A boards first, then Group B, and so on. Within each group, there are numbers, so the holder of A-15 will in theory board fifteenth of all, and it’s better to have B-5 than B-41. Your chances of getting the seat you want, or if you are traveling in a group the seat configuration you want, are dependent on getting a good assignment and on the people in front of you wanting different seats. And, of course, if you don’t show up in time to board with the A group, having an A assignment is worth bupkess.

Well, if that’s all clear, then follow me further: we are connecting at Midway with a short layover of, say, forty-five minutes. The plane we were on is twenty minutes late boarding, and then backed up on the runway, so it becomes clear that we are likely to be something like an hour late coming in to Chicago. I become convinced, absolutely convinced, that we will miss our plane. Because, you know, we are going to arrive in Chicago after the scheduled departure time. So. We’ll miss our plane. Pessimism.

On the other hand, I figured there would be another plane to Hartford that night, or if not, then they would put us up at a hotel for free for a night. Either way, not really a problem. I mean, an annoyance, but nobody was meeting us, and it was on the way back, so it wasn’t cutting into our visiting time. So I was pessimistic about catching our plane, but optimistic about our evening and night.

Then I said to my Best Reader, you know, says I, the worst thing would be to get to the airport with two minutes to get to the other gate, have to race through the airport and then find it all filled up so we wouldn’t get seats together. Meaning, Gentle Reader, to put in perspective the annoyance of missing the plane entirely. I expected the evening to contain a moderately unpleasant discussion with an overworked gate agent, an hour and a half to kill in the airport, and then a late flight home. Not so bad. Optimism.

Of course, what happened was that the Hartford-bound airplane was also delayed, so our plane pulled into the gate with two minutes to get to the other gate, and we had to race through the airport and then find the plane was all filled up so there were no seats together. There were ten or so middle seats empty; all the aisle and window seats were taken. Some nice chap gave up an aisle seat so that my Best Reader could sit with the Youngest Member; YHB sat behind my Perfect Non-Reader across the aisle. And it was fine.

Of course, in a situation like that, there is no way that the luggage made it from one plane to another like that, right? I said as much, on the plane, and then again whilst waiting at the baggage carousel. Pessimist, me. On the other hand, we were on our way home, and there wasn’t anything in our checked luggage that we desperately needed overnight. In fact, it would be slightly more convenient to have the bags fail to show up and then have the airline drive them to the house the next day. Or the day after. I mean, there’s the whole filling out forms, I would guess, and a conversation with an overworked agent, but on the other hand I wouldn’t have to schlepp the bags to the car.

I’m not sure whether it counts as optimism or pessimism. I mean, an optimist would believe that the bags would be on the plane, that we’d catch our plane, that we’ll stop global warming, that we’ll stay out of a major Depression, that we’ll have good weather on the night of the School Fair. A pessimist would believe that the bags were permanently lost, that we’d be stranded in Chicago, that global warming will lead to hundreds of refugees from drowned cities fighting over a diminished supply of food, that by next winter the frozen bodies of the homeless will be stacked up like unaffordable cordwood, and that the School Fair will be miserable whether it rains or not. I tend to think that our bags will come home to us wagging their tails behind them, that there will be another flight home or else a reasonably comfortable hotel room, that some particularly clever people will find a way to house the refugees and feed them, sparking not violence but fascinating new cultural friction, and that the millions of jobless and homeless will find fulfilling work, productive and creative and lasting. And so on.

Any attempt to reconcile this fence-straddling attitude with my attitude toward John Henry will be doomed to failure. But the failure won’t be that bad…

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

May 18, 2009

Why? And for what reason? And wherefore?

I had meant to respond, ages ago, to a question Matt H. asked in the comments to a note almost a month ago. Since I never did respond, rather than just ignoring it, I’ll put it up here in a new note, particularly as I don’t have any real inspiration for writing just now, and don’t feel like doing another damned Book Report.

What is it that makes you in favor (apparently) of abolishing tenure, where I’m leery of it; and I want term limits for Senators, which concept you (V) previously have expressed the leer thereof?

First of all, I’m going to do the web thing where I dismiss the question: The current situation with Senators, which can roughly be described as renewable six-year contracts with the understanding that almost all the incumbents will be renewed in their positions, is what I would imagine replacing the current tenure system, if the tenure system were to be replaced. I would be against limiting the professor to a particular number of renewals at a particular institution; I would be against granting Senators life appointments. So there’s that. And besides that, I wouldn’t describe myself as in favor of abolishing tenure so much as strongly ambivalent about tenure; if I could snap my fingers and make that policy change, I don’t know that I would do it. And I am less leery about term limits than I was; if I could snap my fingers and institute a, say, four-term limit for the Senate, I don’t know that I wouldn’t. Although I would prefer to use that finger-snapping business as leverage for other changes that I think are more valuable, but that’s where the leer comes in, right?

But I don’t think Matt was getting at the specific differences in circumstances and policies. I think he’s looking at our instincts when it comes to job protection, democracy, conservativism (in the sense of preserving What Is), and the levels of leeriness in suggesting changes. Essentially, we both look at the tenure situation and see positives and negatives, and he is leery of change where I am willing to chance it; we both look at the Senate and see positives and negatives, and I am leery of change where he is willing to chance it. It’s not risk-aversion, it’s not the conservative temperament, and I’d be willing to suggest that it isn’t really the policy differences in the matter (much as I would be willing to argue that I am correct in both of my positions). So what is it?

Partially, of course, it’s that my Best Reader is at the moment Junior Faculty. Y’all know the joke about the scholar that has a heart attack and dies at the very moment the hood is placed over his head conferring the Ph.D.? At the gate of the Afterlife, he is told that while of course had he continued in his academic career, he would have been dispatched to the Bad Place, but since he expired just at the moment, they weren’t sure what to do with him. Eventually, he is told that he will have to choose his ultimate destination. Choose? he asks. I mean, isn’t it obvious? No, he is told, he should visit both and see which he prefers. So up he goes on a visitor’s pass, and it’s very nice. Harps, hosannahs, haloes. You know, nice. Not real exciting, but nice. And then he goes to the other place, again on a visitor’s pass, and you know what? It’s wonderful. It’s like the ultimate college, and the library? It has everything, everything ever written and a lot of stuff that was never published, and even more, there are all the great scholars and academicians, from his own advisor’s advisor’s advisor all the way back to Plato, and all the stuff they’ve been working on since passing to the other side. And they all sit around and talk about the work. And they are interested in his work, too, and have suggestions for collaboration and for resources he could use, and all of these conversations are over the most fantastic meal he’s ever had, eating and drinking and the life of the mind and when he is back at the gate turning in his visitor’s pass, he says I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d like to go to Hell, please. Well, there’s this, like, ultimate thunderclap, and blam-blam-blam there’s our deceased young friend in Hell, with torment, unspeakable torment, and flames, and ice, and demons jeering at him, and the howls of damned souls, and all of that, and he cries out in agony, he cries out Where is the library? Where is the meat and drink? Where are my colleagues? This is not what I was shown! and the voice that answers him says that was the interview, fool. Now you are junior faculty.

Which, you know, funny. But.

I’m saying that the problems with faculty tenure are connected to problems in my own daily life. I’m actually experiencing them. So, naturally, when I’m totting up costs and benefits, and weighting factors and risks and whatnot, I’m naturally going to weight those factors that I’ve seen with my eyes more heavily. Too heavily? Probably. Hard to tell, of course. How could I tell how heavily to weight the misery and waste of publish-or-perish? I see the people (not by Best Reader, so far) who have gone into the decision and come out busted, the university losing a good teacher (in at least four of the cases I personally know about, although to be fair, I don’t know that they are good teachers by any sort of objective metric, if such a thing exists) and the neighborhood losing a neighbor as the tenure-denied family packs up to go elsewhere, and all that. And did I mention selling the house? And in many of those cases, it seems to me that the problem is tenure, that the departments would, on the whole, be happy for the junior faculty member to keep teaching and going to committee meetings and all, but for tenure, well, they just don’t have the stuff for that.

Whereas, you know, the stuff about the Senate and term limits, while I do see the problems in theory, in practice there are very few bills that I am aware of as passing or not passing because of term limits, or cases where the bill that passes is significantly worse because of the lack of term limits. Is that because I’m just not paying attention? Or because I’m not working on the Hill, or married to somebody who is working on the Hill, with a bunch of other college buddies and siblings and other friends and acquaintances on the Hill as well. Or because the problem is trickier and more insidious, because the real problem is the committee chairs and their seniority-driven power to set the agendas, so that it rarely comes down to a vote and an old retrograde Senator who has rested on incumbency for a decade to publicly screw his constituents in that vote. Sure, all of that.

So I can make all the logical arguments in the world, and furthermore I can believe all of those arguments, and ever further all of those arguments can be right but that’s not why Matt and I have different instincts on these cases. Why is that other thing.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 30, 2009

It's what's for breakfast

So. The Youngest Member, when queried this morning about his breakfast wishes, announced that he wanted cookies, ice cream, cake, cupcake, and a chocolate milkshake. We, his parents, explained to him that those were desserts, and that they were not breakfast foods. Nobody eats cake for breakfast we told him, and then a few minutes later, in the kitchen, I appended to my Best Reader except doughnuts, of course. She agreed. Doughnuts, clearly an allowable breakfast food. Sure, it’s a treat, still, it’s nothing at all like having a piece of cake for breakfast, right?

Although, as my Best Reader pointed out, coffee cake was also potentially an allowable breakfast food. Not just corn muffins and bran muffins and blueberry muffins, but chocolate chip muffins are allowable as well, as are (again, as special treats) those chocolate muffins. Totally different from cake.

Also, danish. And pain au chocolat. And pancakes, with syrup, and possibly with chocolate chips. Also Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, of course, and Honey Grahams, but not under any circumstances Graham crackers. Bread and honey, approved for breakfast. Honey cake, not approved for breakfast.

Apple danish, by the way, perfectly fine for breakfast. Apple strudel, OK. Apple pie, no. Pumpkin pie only allowable for breakfast in the state of Vermont.

Also, milkshakes must have some coffee in them. Right? Or am I wrong here?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 24, 2009

Er, welcome?

Anyway, I feel I should eventually write something about something that isn’t connected to Lois McMaster Bujold. Not yet, though. Maybe tomorrow’s Pirke Avot session will manage to avoid a connection.

I don’t think it’ll surprise anybody that I am ambivalent about the whole issue of audience in blogging. I think the issue of audience is very important for me and my writing of any kind: who am I aiming for, how will that audience know it’s for them, how is that audience likely to interpret what I’m saying (and more importantly how I’m saying it), what response do I want from that audience, who am I likely to offend, how much do I care…

This usually works very well for me when I am writing instruction manuals and memos, although it does mean that I take a lot longer to do it than people expect me to. Ah, well. And when I’m writing a play (more accurately, when I wrote the play), I am both writing for actors, who I know pretty well, and for audiences, who perplex me. Even when I’m in them. But for that experience, I was fortunate to have my own personal dramaturge, and I let her stand in for my audience, and that worked for me.

When writing for this Tohu Bohu, however, I am (I said this before) ambivalent. Much of the time, I rely on my image of the Gentle Reader, who has been reading for some time (years, probably) and comments now and then, knows what I’m on about, is knowledgeable about the world and its wife, and is likely to give me the benefit of the doubt. Some combination of Chris Cobb (who is an old college buddy) and Matt Hulan (who I’ve not yet met). There are perhaps two dozen of y’all, and I am comfortable with you. I long ago decided that I didn’t want an a-list blog with hundreds of thousands of readers, not only because I am too lazy to do the work to get there, but because then something blog-related would occur to make me unhappy every damned day. The way things are now, only rarely does anything cause me any blog-related stress, and when it does, it’s usually a miscommunication of some kind and is cleared up quickly.


As a blog, it is open to the whole world. I try to keep in mind, as I write, that anybody could come and read, and that when I say anybody I do mean anybody, including any specific person. Ricky DiPietro could read a note here. Dick Cheney could read a note here. Evan Schnittman could read a note here. Whatever I say about those people is possibly being said directly to their faces. And that’s… intimidating.

Now, of course, most of the time, YHB can say whatever I want about somebody, and that person will not read it, and neither will their children, their spouse, their ex-lover, their mother, etc. And when I do a hatchet job, I generally do so on somebody who is sufficiently public that I feel my own attack will be lost amongst the far harsher attacks being leveled in other locations. And I have to say that I didn’t really think that Neal Asher had visited this Tohu Bohu, and I wasn’t at all sure that A. Lee Martinez had visited this Tohu Bohu, but at this point it’s pretty much certain that Lois McMaster Bujold visited. I mean, seriously. At what point of fame does the need to egogoogle fade? I do it every week or two, myself, but then I’m not famous at all, and this is only the third time that somebody I don’t know as a Gentle Reader has mentioned anything I’ve said. And, understand, I’m not mocking Ms. Bujold, or Mr. Asher, or Ms/Mr Martinez (I assumed masculinity or at least maleness, way back then, but that was based on nuthin’). Do you know how, when you’re a kid, you think that there’s some point of gruppness that indicates completion, but as you age you start to realize that you don’t get a grupp card on some birthday that indicates completion? You never really know if you’re complete until it’s over? I suppose fame is somewhat like that—Ms. Bujold knows that somebody is talking about her, somewhere, every moment of every day, the whole world around, but still… I was hoping the world wasn’t like that, somehow.


The point is not so much the famous people who I discuss here, fairly or unfairly, because even if it never occurred to me ever that Ms. Bujold would ever read anything I’d put into this Tohu Bohu, I do try to keep in mind that it is possible, and that famous people are still people, and ethical concerns come into play. That was made clear to me at one point when I read a thread at the old Baseball Primer about Barry Bonds and had a sudden horrific vision of his son reading it.

No, the point is that whilst I am writing for my Gentle Readers, and am (intermittently) able to keep in mind that any individual read could wind up here, I am utterly unable to keep in mind that a mass of people could wind up here. I don’t write for a mass of people. I can’t really imagine what it would be like to be the guy who put up the video of his baby’s laughing fit and had millions and millions of visitors, day after day for years. The idea of a sudden invasion by barbarian hordes scares the shit out of me.

And yet.

There’s no question that the arrival of dance (prone to laughter) at just the right moment was a terrific thing for this Tohu Bohu and for me. And Cat Faber is certainly welcome (any friend of Jed’s is a proverbial, here). And when the Online Encore game brought me fauxlore, that was wonderful. And Matt Hulan himself, and Dan P, both of whom have become pillars of our little, um, what is it that pillars are of? Porticos? Anyway, in actual experience, the introduction of new Gentle Readers to this Tohu Bohu has been a Good Thing, and the expansion from my Old College Buddies to a slightly wider circle has brought with it a lot of great conversation, as well as a wider range of actual experiences, which have served to set me straight on a bunch of things. All good.

And yet.

If you are new here, then, please don’t feel unwanted, and please be a bit patient if I seem defensive or hostile. I am ambivalent about the whole issue of audience in blogging.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

February 20, 2009


Presumably, after all this time, Your Humble Blogger would have a whole slew of notes just sitting here waiting to be posted. Yeah, right. I utterly failed to spend five off-line days jonesing for this Tohu Bohu. When I got back on-line, my aggregator had five fucking hundred items waiting for me, and it took me another two days to get through them. And then there were rehearsals for Enchanted April, and starting to get my lines into my head. It's actually surprisingly easy to get used to not blogging…

Still, here it is a week and then some from my last post, and I'm finally typing in something to prepare for that magic moment when my Gracious Host tells me that I can once more log in to this blog. Which, presumably, has already happened by the time you read this. So there.

But the point of this pointless note is for me to remark to myself in semi-public about the things I could conceivably blog, so that I will create some pressure for myself to actually blog, thus getting myself back into the habit.

There's the long-delayed analysis of Our Only President's Inaugural Address. There's the next verse of Pirke Avot. There's some observations about baseball and steroids, which would probably be better left alone. There's something about higher education, I suppose, and the library. What else… I should catch up on my Book Reports, of course, but I'm actually not too far behind on them. Oh, yes, my Coraline experience. That'll do to go on with, yes?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 14, 2009

Two Thousand and One, a Blog Oddysey

Hunh. One thing about the new update is that I more frequently see the Big Stats on this Tohu Bohu. This includes a great little box on my end that is headed Most Popular Entries that simply says beneath it There are no popular entries. I love that box. I’m thinking of adding a box beneath it that says Prick and beneath it You’re a prick.

Anyway, one of the things it shows me is how many total posts there are in this Tohu Bohu. And as of right now, there are two thousand posts. Well, right now when YHB is typing. When I post this one, there will presumably be two thousand and one. I’m rather unpleasantly proud of this Tohu Bohu, along with a simultaneous feeling that it should be much better than it is, somehow. In the sixty-three weeks since I wrote a milestones note for my fifteen hundredth, I seem to have averaged eight notes a week, which seems like a lot. I’ve done a lot of Scriptural analysis since then, including a series on the Haftorah readings for the week that I rather enjoyed and the Pirke Avot series that is getting off to a good start. I have written a lot about theater, and enjoyed it. I don’t have a simple way to get statistics on categories, which is just as well, since they aren’t meaningful categories anyway. But it seems clear from glancing at it that much of my writing over the last year or so has been (a) Book Reports, (2) Scripture Reports, and (iii) Theater Production Reports, with a smattering of politics and music. That’s not how I expected this blog to look, but then, if I had any confidence in what I expected for this blog, I wouldn’t have called it a Tohu Bohu, would I? And then perhaps when I’m looking back at notes 4500-5000, it’ll look altogether different.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 13, 2009

An Apology

I feel I owe the Gentle Readers of this Tohu Bohu an apology. Not only because it’s sucked so badly over the last month or so. That’s happened before, and will undoubtedly happen again. I hope it has a stretch of not-sucking at some point, but I suppose that’s in the eye of the beholder.

Anyway, what I really want to apologize for is the state of the blog. First, those of you who are using an aggregator of some kind have presumably been seeing a lot of spam comments, many of which are not safe for work, in the sense that they are explicit porn. Sorry about that. I hope none of you have got in trouble on that account. I have been (1) slow to delete them and (b) bad at preventing them, because I suck, and my attention has largely been elsewhere.

Also, I have been meaning to spend time on the layout of the front page of the blog, and on the layout of the individual main pages, and I just haven’t. Sorry. I know that there are some busted links, and there’s some odd stuff up at the top, but fixing that sort of things is not terribly fun, and requires a stretch of uninterrupted computer time, and when I get a stretch of uninterrupted computer time, I have other things to do that are more fun. I hope things aren’t too bad.

And then the whole household got the Winter Vomiting. Not good, and tending to diminish both the uninterrupted computer time and YHB’s willingness to do things that are difficult and not terrible fun. We’re all better now (touch wood). So there’s at least a chance that I’ll put in the effort soon.

As for the actual content, well, there’s a chance that I will pay attention a bit more to the world at large, and that my thinking will improve as well. I’ll try.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 7, 2009

Ice Ice Baby

So Your Humble Blogger is feeling pretty pleased with himself at present. Why? Because my purchases at the beginning of the winter have turned out to be useful. I was pretty sure the sidewalk scraper would come in handy, although I hoped it wouldn’t. But I also bought a third snow shovel, with an all-metal lightweight blade, and it turns out that the blade of the shovel is so thin that you can slide it right under that horrible sheet of ice and shove it along, breaking up the sheet into billions of pieces that (if my understanding of physics is correct) will melt faster than the sheet. Well, we’ll see. But so far it worked like I thought it would.

I grew up in the desert. I shoveled snow for the first time when I was twenty-glob, I think. I have never shoveled snow with my parents or grandparents, or with my older siblings. I assume that shoveling out the driveway is one of those things that has a correct way, which is how you do it, and a wide variety of heretical and wrong ways, such as how everybody else does it. I don’t mean the mechanics of shoveling without doing lasting damage to your back, although, you know, ow. I mean whether you start down by the street or up by the garage. Do you shovel across the driveway or along it? Do you wait to shovel until the snow has stopped (or as late as you can before a car needs to come in or out) or do you go out as soon as it becomes clear that you’ll need to shovel? And what about the salt? I don’t mean to suggest that there are absolutely correct answers to these, just that I suspect that people grow up with a Way of doing it, and that’s the only Way that makes sense, and I’m just making it up as I go along.

But there’s a question of driveway-shoveling ettiquette that I would like to consult Gentle Readers’ ideas about (Virginians, Californians and Texans are excused, although of course if you have relevant experience, please share). I live in the sort of close-in suburb that has house quite close to each other; our driveway runs along the property line, although I have to admit I’m not sure where the precise line is. As I shovel, I am heaping snow from my driveway onto their property. Not all of it, and of course it’s just landing on the snow that is already there, but still: our snow, their yard. It seems inevitable, and I don’t worry about it much.

At the end of the driveway, though, there is a massive amount of snow (piled up by the plow in rock-hard ridges) to be cleared, and there’s the sidewalk as well, which limits the available area for snowmountain. I know in Greater Boston, the habit is to make giant ice mountains in the street; we have enough space to make that unnecessary, and it’s a Bad Thing, so we don’t do it. Instead we make moderately large ice ridges over the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street, and (as that is limited), moderately large ice mountains at the corners of the driveway. And it’s much easier in terms of backbreaking labor for me to make one of those moderately large ice mountains on the far corner of our driveway, that is, on the neighbor’s lawn.

Is this incredibly rude? The only real effect is that after a day or two of warmish weather, the green lawn is revealed except for a mound of dirty grey at the corner. I have one such mound, and my neighbors have two (the one I make and the one they make by their driveway, which is on the far side of their house). Then the whole thing gets covered in snow again.

Now, my current neighbors are cool and laid-back, and grew up without substantial snow themselves, and I’m not worried at the moment about offending them. We haven’t discussed the matter, but I’m pretty sure if they were upset, they wouldn’t have cleared the sidewalk in front of our house on New Year’s Day when we were away. Which was incredibly nice of them. I scraped the ice off their sidewalk this afternoon, since I was all pleased with myself about how well my tools were working, as opposed to last year when I broke a shovel during the ice storm, and hurt my back as well. But I’m curious about the snow shoveling etiquette as a general matter, and how people learn it. Or is it just in the northern blood?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 3, 2009

Still working

It’s the New Year, Gentle Readers, and I’ve got a handful of notes I’m planning to write. One about the employee-employer agreement, one about the designated Cabinet of Our Elected President, and the Year in Books. I also have a Book Report to catch up on (only one so far), there’s another note to write about Bound, and I missed a week on the Pirke Avot and would like to catch up on that, possibly today. I’m hoping that today will be a good day for writing.

On the other hand, if I were to have a few hours on the computer without constant interruption, I should fiddle with the templates of this blog. It will take some concentration, as my instincts for this css/mt business do not appear to line up with how it actually works. Yesterday I attempted to have visited links appear in a different color than unvisited links, and it took away my serifs. For about an hour. Then they came back, wagging their…well, they are tails, aren’t they?

Anyway, the point of this note is just to give Gentle Readers a chance to tell YHB what might improve this Tohu Bohu in terms of the fiddly bits, rather than the writing. The Potential Notes are gone, for now; I don’t know if I’ll bother bringing them back, as I wasn’t doing anything with them. I could put the latest comment widget and the search box on the side of the individual entry page. Oh, and I’m probably getting rid of the pop-up comment screen, and making the comment link go to the comment section of the individual entry page. Is there anything else? Bigger type? Smaller? Less clutter? More clutter? Polls? Your wish is my, well, topic for consideration.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 30, 2008

Please Stand By

Gentle Readers, forgive this blog its technical problems. My Gracious Host has updated the software, and we all know what that means. The midnight oil lasts for eight days, and at the end of it, I still gripe at him about the flaws of the software (about which he can do nothing, of course). I know the comment links aren’t working just yet, and commenting may be hinky too, for a while. Don’t worry, we’ll be back up and running in the New Year. It’s also possible that things will be Improved! from your end in some way that I’m rather vague about at present; I can already see that things will be Improved! from my end, and it will give you a warm glow just to know that, I’m sure.

In the meantime, please send copies of error messages to Vardibidian blah blah, you know the drill. And smoke ’em if you got em.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 17, 2008

Shoe shoe shoe, baby, don't cry baby

Your Humble Blogger is hoping to get a couple more Book Reports done, and we are within inches of having a full set of Cabinet Nominees for me to appreciate, but none of that is going to get a note written tonight. Sorry, Gents. This week’s notes were far too long, and now I can’t get back in the typing mood. Plus, there is much to do around here away from the keyboard. So.

So. I’ll just mention, that if anybody had told me, oh, eight years ago, that the fellow who was going to be Our Only President for the next two terms—two terms!—would be in a country we had invaded and occupied, and some crazed local journalist would fling his shoes at the President of the United States in anger and contempt, and that much of the world would (a) react with sympathy for the shoe-flinger, and (2) immediately believe the unconfirmed and biased report that the shoe-flinger had been severely beaten in prison after being dragged away, well… I didn’t like the guy, and I remember thinking that he would be a lousy President, but that it probably wouldn’t be all that bad, certainly not worse than Ronald Reagan.

And if you told me that not only would our standing around the world be so low, but that a good portion (possibly most) of the population of this country would react with sympathy and would believe that report… and that I would react that way as well…

Look, he’s the President of the United States, and as I’ve been saying, he’s the only one we’ve got (for a while yet, anyway). I should take the insult to the President at least somewhat as an insult to this nation (which it was), and should bridle at the idea that people should fling shoes at the President. And I do bridle at it. Don’t fling shoes at the President, people! Just don’t do it! No more!

Whew. I managed to work myself up to it. It wasn’t easy, though.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 3, 2008

State of the Blog

Your Humble Blogger is down to two wisdom teeth. The oral surgeon pointed out that the teeth don’t hold up to a cost-benefit analysis: you still have to brush them and floss them and maintain them, but they don’t really help you chew. This may be true, but the marginal cost of maintaining the teeth (assuming you are brushing the ones next to them anyway) seems pretty small, while the cost of removing them seems pretty big. Not just the monetary cost, which has got to be a big chunk of the premium money on top of a hefty co-payment, but the cost in time and agita. We needed a babysitter for the time I was in surgery, and then more babysitting for the rest of the day, since I was not really capable of looking after children, or other responsible tasks such as wiping drool off my chin. Still, thirty hours or so later, I’m back to what we laughingly refer to as normal, with the added excitement of trying to restrain myself from playing around with my tongue and the sutures.

It’s like that thing where you tie a knot in a cherry stem with your tongue. Only a lot less sexy.

Anyway, what with houseguests, Thanksgiving, and oral surgery, I’m afraid the blog has been on the back proverbial for a week or more. Which is probably fine; I wrote 41 entries in November and 41 in October, which I think is a two-month record. And both months topped a hundred comments, which makes YHB very happy, particularly after whinging so much about the summer.

As for December, well, I’m expecting to continue the Pirke Avot series, and there’s the imperative to catch up with Book Reports by New Year’s Eve, so that in January I can write my Year in Books. I’m not sure if I’ll continue my Music Mondays; I like the idea of them, even if the actual notes haven’t been up to that idea. And in January, I’m hoping for a few posts on a theatrical topic that I am not ready to start just yet. And I imagine things will come to me.

Still, if there is anything any Gentle Reader would like me to rant about or comment on, sock it to me.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 27, 2008


Happy Thanksgiving, all you Gentle Readers in the You Ess of Eh! Your Humble Blogger had a very traditional Thanksgiving involving lots of Turkey, a stroll in the chilly late-Autumn air and a long afternoon nap. I did not watch or play football, which is just as well, really.

I know it’s been a quiet week here at the old Tohu Bohu. The thing about a library server going down is that it’s a lot of work when it goes down, but even more work when it comes back up. Combining that with some very lovely and welcome houseguests, a festive meal that requires the candying of yams, and a bad case of Blogger’s Back, and, well, it’s been a quiet week at the old Tohu Bohu.

One thing that’s become a Thanksgiving tradition is the list of Things for which one is Thankful For. I enjoy reading those sorts of lists—heck, that tradition itself is a fair thing for which to be thankful for—but I’m not going to indulge in one here. Much, much, much. Let it all go without saying.

I will either be back tomorrow with (most likely) a series of Book Reports (I am behind again) or I will back on Saturday with Pirke Avot. In the meantime, enjoy whatever Thanksgiving traditions you enjoy, or if you happen to be somewhere that celebrates its Thanksgiving in October or some other time of year, enjoy not doing whatever Thanksgiving traditions you dislike.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 21, 2008

Mustela erminea, or the weasel with the raggedy tail

The Youngest Member loves an ermine. It’s a stuffie toy, made by the Fuzzy Town people, white and cute with a little black tip to the tail. The tail is important. Well, ermine tails are important; it’s how you know they are ermines. This particular ermine tail is important because the Youngest Member cannot function as a toddler without frequently inserting the tip of the tail into his ear. Also, daily repetitions of an exercise involving holding the ermine tail between the big toe and the next toe and pulling with all one’s strength appears to be an important part of his regimen. In all, a tail of no mean value.

The tail has been surgically re-attached twice.

So far.

The cloth is fraying. The next time the tail goes, it will take inventive and creative measures, and frankly, there are limits.

Your Humble Blogger being, as parents of toddlers tend to be, not overscrupulous in matters of deception and dishonesty, I had developed a Plan to purchase a second ermine, identical to the first in every respect, except that instead of containing the diamonds being old, filthy, ragged and worn-out, it would be clean and new. Briefly.

OK, we were willing to buy two new ones.

Only they don’t make ’em like that any more.

As a result, the Youngest Member will learn at a tender age that material objects are all ephemera. Look on my plush toys, ye mighty, and despair! I am sure that he will learn to love his inevitably tailless ermine, just as many of us loved our stuffies to bits when we were children, and then they acquired the power of nostalgia to take the place of their missing tails, eyes or fuzz.

A few weeks back, Abi Sutherland over at Making Light wrote about a few of my favorite things, starting a thread of people talking about those things that are “most precious to you”. The thread is interesting in a variety of ways (as many at that location are), and I thought to myself at the time I wonder what objects in my life are precious to me. Perhaps I would write a blog entry about it, someday. I made a note. I thought about it.

I had a lot of difficulty coming up with, say, a Top Five. Part of that is that I can’t decide on the criteria. Are they the things I would save in a fire? The things I get the most joy out of? The things that I have invested the most sentiment in? The irreplaceable things? One of my most precious possessions is a coffee mug that actually is a replacement for the one that broke. Since the preciousness (OK, in two senses) is connected to the story behind the mug, and the story behind the replacement of the mug is also a good and precious story, it’s possible that the replacement mug is actually more precious to me than the matching original.

Another possible answer is a sweater my mother knitted for me to my design. I wear it every three or four days all through the winter. It’s gray with a dark blue honeycomb pattern across the torso. It’s a nice sweater, and my mother made it for me, and I will be sad when it develops a hole that I can’t fix. But most of the time, when I wear it, it’s just a nice gray sweater; I don’t derive more joy out of it than the really comfy storebought one that is my other gray favorite.

I have a lot of books, including a few first editions and a few signed by the authors. I value them, I like having them, I take a sort of pride in them, but if somehow the idea of them being destroyed or lost is one I can face with equanimity. If I lost both our copies of Leave it to Psmith (mine and my Best Reader’s), I would go out and buy another. My mother’s old aleph-bet? The dictionary my mother gave me when I went to college because I was not eligible to get the dictionary given by the local chapter of the Seven Sisters Alumnae to those attending their almae materae? I like having them, but I wouldn’t put them on that list.

What about my tools, things that I use all the time? My laptop computer is swell, but it’s also running Windows Vista, so I would have to admit that I curse it far more than I praise it. And frankly, it’s not all that shiny. I have an mp3 player that, you know, plays mp3s, and I like that it does that, but I would happily trade it in for a better one. My Best Reader has an iPod, which is shiny and kinda cool, but I would happily trade that in for a better one. I like our Prius, but again, I would happily trade it in for a newer one. We have a few Good Knives, which I am glad of when I want to cut things, but if we didn’t have Good Knives, I would cut things with Crappy Knives and grunt and move on.

OK, my pens. For now, I am using three pens, mostly: my grandfather’s Pelikan, which is marvelously easy to fill but has a teeny tiny nib that I don’t much like; my trusty but cheap Osmiroid, for which I cannot find a cartridge converter that I like, since I dropped the last one down the drain whilst attempting to clean it; and a speedball nib (C-4) in a Koh-I-Noor holder for dipping. Each of these has annoying aspects, although I do enjoy using each of them. I would probably miss any of them, were I to (f’r’ex) drop them down the drain whilst attempting to clean them.

Last category that comes to mind is momentos. Snapshots of me in various plays. Awards that I won for doing various things at various times. Correspondence—there we are getting close. I have several boxes of letters and postcards, and the contents of those boxes would grieve me greatly to miss. They are almost certainly my most precious possessions. On the other hand, I keep them in those boxes, rarely take them out and look at them, and other than vaguely wanting to keep them intact, I have little use for them, either practical or spiritual. I get little joy from them, on a day-to-day basis.

In fact, there isn’t anything I get joy from near as much as the Youngest Member gets from that beat-up crusty ermine. Sometimes, after he has had one of his screaming fits, we present him with the ermine, and the screaming stops, the tip of the tail goes into his ear, and the anger almost visibly eases from him. At night, he may be resistant to the whole idea of going to bed, but once we pick him up and start singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and put the ermine in his arms, he is reconciled and snuggles in.

I have no object I love like that. I couldn’t love an object like that. It’s a toddler thing. And I suspect that’s why I can’t make my list of five precious possessions. If I didn’t have the Youngest Member and his example of what love for an inanimate object really looks like, I would probably just list off five things—the mug, the box of correspondence, my grandfather’s pen, my mother-of-pearl cufflinks, and the little fortune-cookie slip that reads give a kiss to the person sitting next to you that I keep meaning to slight-of-hand in at a Chinese restaurant—and not worry much about the criteria or the implications. As it is, though, I can’t do that.

And maybe, the right answer is that my most precious possession are those two new clean ermines with strong stitching on their tails. The one’s we can’t buy, because they stopped making them.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 8, 2008

Looking good, feeling lousy

A question occurs to me today on which I would like to survey my Gentle Readers (and their friends and associates and their sisters and their cousins and their aunts). On a day when you feel lousy, but have to go to work anyway—let me clarify and stipulate a bit here. By work, I’m essentially thinking about a day in public that you can’t easily get out of, whether it is paid work or attending classes or the church rummage sale that you volunteered for or whatever. And by lousy, let’s say something like the migraine, or a toothache, or I suppose menstrual cramps. Let’s take contagion out of it, because this isn’t about when to call in sick and go back to bed, but the kind of thing that you know is going to make you miserable all the day long, without preventing you from actually fulfilling your responsibility.

So. On a day like that, do you (1) crawl into whatever clothes are near the bed and comfortable and meet minimum requirements, putting as little of your miniscule supply of energy into the process as you can get away with, or (B) put on that special shirt (or dress or whatever) and put extra effort into your morning grooming, figuring that you need the extra energy over the day that you will get from knowing you look bitchen?

I’m wondering if this is a highly gendered thing, statistically, what with women growing up with more faith in the power of clothing, or whether it isn’t, because it has more to do with optimism and pessimism and so on. Or whether women are more likely to conserve energy, as on the whole they must have far more days like this than men do.

Your Humble Blogger is of the second set, the ones who dress up to ease the pain. But then, that doesn’t stop it from being highly gendered the other way, as I could just be an outlier (this charge of effeminacy is new to me, he said, arching his eyebrow). What’s your strategy?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

October 25, 2008

Twenty Questions about Food

So. I happened to pick up this interminable list of food questions from fauxklore’s lj, and I wound up answering all of them. The thing is, I am not in any way a foodie. I suspect that the list of questions is more interesting for somebody who thinks about food more often (and more variously); to the extent that mine is interesting at all, it is interesting because my answers are so boring. If you know what I mean. Because I don’t cook very often, or very well, or eat at a variety of restaurants, my answers to these questions highlight the paucity of my gustatory imagination. Which, I hope, makes them worth reading.

  1. What’s the last thing you ate? A brownie. One of my co-workers brought in brownies and I had to be polite, didn’t I?
  2. What’s your favorite cheese? Gouda. It’s gouda and it’s gouda for you!
  3. What’s your favorite fish? I like salmon a lot. I’ve had wonderful swordfish, and that was probably the best fish dish I’ve had, but salmon is very likely to be tasty.
  4. What’s your favorite fruit? Apple.
  5. When, if ever, did you start liking olives? If I remember correctly, it was just about the time that hell froze over.
  6. When, if ever, did you start liking beer? I don’t like beer. I did start drinking cider when I was in England and looking for something to drink in a pub, and I discovered that I really like cider, so I drink a lot of that. This summer, late in the summer, I drank a lot of that lemonade-flavored beer as well.
  7. When, if ever, did you start liking shellfish? I don’t remember not liking shrimp, but I ate it only very rarely growing up. I discovered that I like scallops around, oh, 1994 or 1995 or so? I had lobster for the first time around then as well, and discovered that I liked it OK, although it wasn’t worth the effort.
  8. What was the best thing your parent/s used to make? My mother’s famous candied yams. I have the recipe (not really a recipe, more of an instruction manual) and it’s my bring-along dish for festive occasions.
  9. What’s the native specialty of your home town? Phoenix, Arizona? Specialty dish? Er, um. I know! Cactus jelly!
  10. What’s your comfort food? Potato chips. Although it is probably worth mentioning that the absence of tea means the absence of comfort, so to that extent, the answer is tea.
  11. What’s your favorite type of chocolate? Probably good hot chocolate, very rich.
  12. How do you like your steak? Cut from a lamb or a pig.
  13. How do you like your burger? My Best Reader combines ground meats, including lamb and turkey and pork, in some mystic combination, with breadcrumbs and spices and egg and whatnot. So good. But of course they need to be well-cooked.
  14. How do you like your eggs? In a sandwich: English muffin, egg and sausage. Or swimming-pool eggs, where you fry the egg in the hole in a slice of bread. Either way, they have to be over hard (or at least fairly hard) or it doesn’t work.
  15. How do you like your potatoes? Sliced very thin and fried crispy. Or mushed into a slurry with salt and whatever the hell else is in a Pringle and molded into that Pringle shape.
  16. How do you take your coffee? Right over to my Best Reader.
  17. How do you take your tea? Often.
  18. What’s your favorite mug? The mug I drink from the most often is a lightweight grey travel mug. It used to have a logo on it from an educational institution that employed me, but the shield has worn off and the lettering has nearly worn off. It now says EDY RNM. I also have two mugs that I drink from at home (alternately, not simultaneously) that were a gift from my father-in-law from Las Vegas New York. But my favorite mug is the mug I got from the Alumni Office of my alma mater that has the school logo and the words ‘I was mugged by the Alumni Office’. But there’s a story there.
  19. What’s your cookie of choice? Chocolate chip. Medium size, medium soft. No nuts. Second choice would be a really chewy molasses cookie.
  20. What’s your ideal breakfast? A great big cup of really good hot tea. An excellent newspaper. My Best Reader (not to eat, to converse with). Probably an egg sandwich, with sausage or bacon.
  21. What’s your ideal sandwich? Now I’m thinking about an egg sandwich, and it sounds pretty darn good to me. With really crisp bacon? Mmm. Other than that, good maple ham and provolone and brown mustard on ciabatta, pressed hot.
  22. What’s your ideal pizza (topping and base)? Thick crust (Sicilian), sweet garlicky sauce, lots of cheese, pepperoni. But I’m happy with a plain cheese pizza.
  23. What’s your ideal pie (sweet or savory)? Apple. Just out of curiosity, would Boston Cream Pie count in this category, or is it a cake?
  24. What’s your ideal salad? Chicken Caesar, with lots of parmesan shavings and small crunchy croutons.
  25. What food do you always like to have in the fridge? Cold cuts and baby carrots. Also, I keep water chilled in the fridge.
  26. What food do you always like to have in the freezer? Ice cream, frozen veggies, sausage of some kind (hot dog, kielbasa, breakfast sausage, chicken-apple), bad frozen pizza.
  27. What food do you always like to have in the cupboard? Noodles, tomato sauce, potato chips. Also wine, but that’s a different cupboard.
  28. What spices can you not live without? I could probably live without the whole rack, if I had to. But if I don’t have oregano, pepper and garlic, it’s hard for me to cook with the rest of the rack.
  29. What sauces can you not live without? Is mustard a sauce? What about honey? Otherwise, if there were no barbecue sauce in the world, I would be all sad and stuff.
  30. Where do you buy most of your food? Well, my Best Reader buys most of our food, mostly at the nearest supermarket, a Shaw’s. That’s probably where I buy more food than anywhere else, although I also shop at the corner market (called Hall’s Market), the A&P, a kosher market and the CostCo.
  31. How often do you go food shopping? Probably between us we make a stop three times a week. Maybe more.
  32. What’s the most you’ve spent on a single food item? I have no idea. We did buy one of those Box O’Meat deals this summer, but that’s not a single food item. A leg of lamb?
  33. What’s the most expensive piece of kitchen equipment you own? Not counting the range and the fridge? We have one of those sandwich presses; that’s probably the most expensive. We have some lovely knives that would probably be expensive, but we didn’t pay for them.
  34. What’s the last piece of equipment you bought for your kitchen? A fine mesh strainer. And there’s a story there, too.
  35. What piece of kitchen equipment could you not live without? Well, if I didn’t have a refrigerator, it would be pretty tough. Other than that, there’s no single thing that I can think of in the absence of which I couldn’t make do with something else. Even a teapot.
  36. How many times a week/month do you cook from raw ingredients? It depends on what is meant, here, but I’m going to say three times a week. I’m counting lunches and breakfasts and I’m counting some things as cooking from raw ingredients that probably shouldn’t count. My Best Reader, on the other hand, cooks from raw ingredients at least half-a-dozen times a week by any definition, and probably a dozen by mine. Not counting baking.
  37. What’s the last thing you cooked from raw ingredients? This is a good example of what I was talking about. I made tortilla pizza with store-bought tortillas and a tomato sauce my Best Reader made with store-bought sausage and a can of tomato sauce and a jar of pre-minced garlic and some other stuff. Is that cooking from raw ingredients? Probably not. If you don’t count that, I made a fry-up recently with potato, egg, cheese and ham. You don’t count that, either? Man, you are tough.
  38. What’s your favorite thing to make for yourself? You know that fry-up thing? That’s probably it. In terms of enjoying the making part.
  39. What meats have you eaten besides cow, pig, chicken and turkey?
  40. Lamb, venison, goat, alligator, buffalo, rattlesnake. Fowls: definitely duck and goose, and ostrich and I’m pretty sure I’ve had game bird, although I can’t remember what: quail or squab or something.
  41. What’s the last time you ate something that had fallen on the floor? 11:40 am.
  42. What’s the last time you ate something you’d picked in the wild? Does a commercial apple orchard count as the wild? If not, I may never have eaten anything picked in the wild. I don’t particularly like berries, which are the only things I remember being with people picking wild and eating. I have sipped honeysuckle from the vine, though.
  43. Place the following cuisines in order of preference (greatest to least): Indian, Chinese, Italian, Thai, French, sushi. Although I get a yen for Chinese the most often of those, but I like Indian more when I do eat it.
  44. Place the following boozes in order of preference (greatest to least): Vodka, rum, brandy, whiskey, gin, tequila. This is mostly based on one or two tastes. I don’t drink strong liquor straight, and I don’t drink mixed drinks very often, either. I may not have had any of those boozes (not counting things cooked with them) in a year or more.
  45. Place the following flavors in order of preference (greatest to least): Garlic, lime, ginger, basil, aniseed. The middle three are close enough together that I could put them in any order.
  46. Place the following fruits in order of preference (greatest to least): Apple, orange, banana, pineapple, watermelon, cherry. A big drop-off after pineapple.
  47. Bread and spread: Just bread and spread? Hm. Crusty Italian and butter. Although a baguette and gouda would be better, if you are big-category in spreads.
  48. What’s your fast food restaurant of choice, and what do you usually order? First would be a local pizza joint, two slices of pepperoni. If I can’t locate one, or the local pizza is inedible, a Quizno’s chicken sandwich.
  49. What are three of the best dining-out experiences you’ve had?OK, here is the difference between me and a foodie. My best dining-out experiences have been about the conversation and the company, not the food. I’ve eaten good food, I’ve eaten things that made me say wow this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten, but I don’t have any memory of it after a few months. So. Three great dining-out experiences. A few years ago, on (or nearly on) my Best Reader’s birthday, we ate in a little restaurant in Boston’s North End called l’Osteria. There was soup with tortellini, and I believe I had a citrusy chicken dish of some kind, and we chatted and had a lovely time, and then went to the New Garden to watch the Beanpot finals. That’s one. Another could be eating at Goat Hill Pizza with my Best Reader and two other Gentle Readers (long before there was a Tohu Bohu) at a sort of all-you-can-eat night where it was a sort of pizza dim sum experience, and we ate so much we staggered back to the bus to ride home in replete silence. Although generally I think a great dining-out experience shouldn’t involve so much regret afterward. And a third one could be—can I count the time we bought an éclair the size of my fucking head from a cart in Camden Town? Or how’s this for what YHB is really like: one of my best dining-out experiences was the first time that the guys at Pinocchio’s saw me come in the door on a busy day, I held up two fingers, and when I got to the front of the line two slices of pepperoni were on the counter waiting.
  50. What’s your choice of tipple at the end of a long day? Port wine.
  51. Favorite cookbook/s? I don’t have one. I’m very fond of the stuff my Best Reader makes out of the Wooden Spoon Bread Book, though.
  52. Got any favorite food blogs? No. I did read Sarahparah’s Cook and Nifty Wench blog for a while, but I guess it’s defunct, now.
  53. What’s the next thing you’ll eat? Does tea count? No? Then I don’t know. I mean, I could make it easy by declaring that I will eat a piece of chocolate, and then doing it, but that doesn’t seem right. No, my Best Reader is preparing some sort of dinner, thank goodness, and I have no idea whatsoever what it might be. If I had to guess… fish?

I wrote most of this yesterday afternoon; the next thing I ate turned out to be the aforementioned lamburgers, some very grainy whole grain grain grain bread (which was technically the first thing I ate, as I had a bite after the blessing), some squash and a very tasty carrot dish with butter, brown sugar and ginger. And a glass of wine. So I should append to this note about me not being a foodie that I eat very well indeed, actually.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

September 29, 2008

Head of the year, tail of the year

In a few hours now, it’ll be Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year. May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life, Gentle Readers, for a good year, and a healthy year, and a sweet year. We could use one, couldn’t we?

It’s just beginning to be autumn here in central Connecticut. The trees are mostly green in my leafy town, so the dozen or so that have begun to show fall colors stand out. One on Prospect with a lot of red, one on Arnoldale all orange, and the ones over by the athletic center are all yellow. Mostly, though, it’s green, green, green—but not for long.

The days are getting shorter, too. We’ve passed the equinox; we passed below twelve hours of daylight last week. By Hallowe’en it’ll be down to ten and a half hours or so, and then we’ll be back on standard time and the sun will be down at quarter to five. The workday is still ending in daylight, but not for long.

Perhaps that’s why this Rosh Hashanah feels to YHB more like the winding up of the old year than the opening of the new one. The image that we play with for this holiday of the Book of Life (on Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur, it is sealed) doesn’t usually deal with last year’s volume. We’re getting to the last few words, I imagine, of whatever was written for us this last year. Was it a sweet year? A healthy year?

We do, traditionally, look back on the year, for the purpose of arguing our case before the Heavenly Judge, and we run around apologizing to everybody for whatever harms we may have occasioned, for our sins to each other of omission and commission. We forgive each other, more or less sincerely, hoping to be forgiven ourselves, more or less sincerely. That whole human forgiveness thing has to come first, before Divine forgiveness, both in traditional rabbinic teaching and modern psychological understanding. But that backwards look is largely unconnected to the Book. We don’t submit a subpoena to have the Book admitted in evidence. Perhaps because we feel it wouldn’t on the whole do our cause much good.


Gentle Readers, I do hope you forgive me for my various failings, both as Vardibidian and (as many of you know me) in the Real World.

I suppose this would be a good holiday season to talk about the traditional Mishnaic financial structure, under which it is absolutely forbidden to charge interest on loans, and similarly forbidden to lend money (or lease real property) for longer than seven years. Such rules, even if routinely broken as we can assume them to be, would clearly have prevented the modern world entirely, not just its sudden dissolution this month.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

September 17, 2008

Constitution Day

According to Presidential Proclamation and in accordance with the law, today is Constitution Day and Citizenship Day and the start of Constitution Week, the one week out of fifty-two where our government abides by the restrictions of the Constitution.

No, that’s not right.

What should YHB and y’all do to celebrate the Constitution today? This Tohu Bohu is not legally obligated to hold an educational program, since we aren’t currently receiving federal funds. And once again, Sen. Byrd, making Constitution Day mandatory is missing the point badly, badly.

We could sing the Preamble. That’s always nice. I did my Top Five provisions a few years ago, and I don’t know that they’ve changed in the interim. Gentle Readers in the Bay State can enjoy the results of yesterday’s primary elections; there was a lovely sticker-shock victory for Carl Sciortino and Dianne Wilkerson appears to have lost her primary, which I find shocking. Elections have consequences, which is good to keep in mind, right?

Or we could promote the general welfare. The thing is, without a formal declaration of war, there’s no rank higher than general available, and even in wartime, a general can only be promoted to a different kind of general.

Maybe I’ll just go find a busker and give him my James Madison dollar.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

September 4, 2008

August is the cruelest month

Well, and August was a lousy month for this Tohu Bohu, wasn’t it? I wrote 34 entries, if I counted correctly, and y’all contributed only 26 comments (plus nine of YHB’s comments in response). That’s a low for comments, at least for the last couple of years. I blame myself. And Matt Hulan.

Anyway, my show now being over (I will have at least one more post about the show, probably today or tomorrow), and the year having started (the academic year, that is, the one that dominates my life and I’m guessing the lives of several of y’all), and the campaign having at last begun for realsies (huzzah), I am hoping for more active conversation here.

Although I’m low on inspiration. So. I’m opening up this Tohu Bohu for y’all to give me ideas on what to write about, that y’all will converse about. The election? Presidential and Legislative? More about music? More about the library? Hungarian jokes? Rants about items in the daily news?

OK, to get y’all used to commenting again, here’s a direct question for you: Do you read lefty blogs? Specifically, do you read (a) Eschaton, (2) Talking Point Memo (looking at the front/headlines), (iii) TAPped? I have been assuming that any of y’all who have any interest in politics read those blogs, and so not commenting on things that are covered there, unless I strongly disagree with what appears to be the agreed take by those commenters. Should that be my continuing policy? Or should I pass along observations I agree with, to expose y’all to the highlights of Left Blogovia?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

September 3, 2008

Middle of the Road

So. This past weekend, Your Humble Blogger completed the run of Pygmalion and had a birthday. Closing night was the eve of what I’ve come to think of as my first thirty-ninth birthday. This confluence (and, um, some alcoholic intake) led me to brood over endings and passings. I’m not going to be doing another show with that gang, and I’m not going to be in my mid-thirties anymore, either.

The gang are pretty terrific. This is my third show with the same director and stage manager, and four castmates have joined me in all three of them, another one in two of the three. All good people. And the actors who I met for this show were good people, too; they were the sort of people I would want to be in three shows with. And it’s possible, if unlikely, that I will be in a show with one of them again someday, or even two. But not more than that. I am not driving sixty miles to rehearsals again; that was crazy.

Before doing those three shows, I had stopped doing theater for about ten years. I left college with the idea of becoming a professional actor; I soon discovered that I didn’t actually want to be a professional actor. I still enjoyed theater, though, and for a few years, I did shows at the community theater level. I found that level frustrating. Many people who do community theater are more interested in socializing with their friends in the group than in working on a show, which infuriated YHB, who still attempted to maintain a professional attitude (vaddevah I thought dat meant). The production values were often terrible, not only because of a shoestring budget but because nobody cared about the lights, or the sound, or the stage management. I didn’t have a whole lot of fun.

When I walked in to auditions for The Man Who Came to Dinner, I had determined that I wouldn’t make myself angry about professionalism. If I had a good time, and we put on a decent show, that would be fine. In fact, we put on a terrific show, and although the cast wasn’t in the least professional, we had a good time and worked hard. So I did another show, with most of the same people, and it was great. Since I was a lead this time, it was more work for me, but enjoyable work, and we had a terrific time and put on a good show in the end. Then I moved from Western Connecticut to Greater Hartford, and welcomed the Youngest Member, and took another couple of years off theater. And then our director told me she was doing Pygmalion, and my Best Reader said that technically, it wasn’t actually impossible. And once again, I worked hard and had a good time, and the show was good. But I also spent three hours a day in the car, and I missed dinner with my family four days a week for two months, not to mention the kids’ bedtime, and my Best Reader lost two months of work on her book because she was single-parenting while I was driving. So that won’t happen again.

I keep coming back to the definition of middle-age that I came across recently: it’s the time of life when people stop thinking about the future in terms of what they will be able to do, and start thinking about the future in terms of what they won’t be able to do. There’s youth, of course, when every year or two there’s some new thing you are admitted to: middle-school, movies on your own, driving, dating, voting, draft age, credit cards, car rental, drinking, sex, a real job, your own apartment, marriage, home ownership, promotion, parenthood. At thirty-five, you are qualified to be President of the United States, and that’s the last one until you start getting discounts. Your Humble Blogger is thirty-nine at last; there's the house, the children, a job, my Best Reader’s career. I’ve got a wonderful life; I am clam-happy. And middle-aged.

Do I want to go and visit family across the country? I can do that, thank the Divine, as long as I budget for it, and arrange it so that the Perfect Non-Reader doesn’t miss too much school. And of course I can’t just crash on somebody’s sofa anymore, because of my back (and my knee), so I need to either stay with somebody who has a guest room or take a hotel room, and there has to be enough room for the Perfect Non-Reader, and somewhere for the Youngest Member, too, and if we all share a room, nobody’s going to get much sleep, and you know? The hell with it.

That’s what I mean by middle-aged. It’s not chronological, it’s a combination of life’s circumstances and frame of mind. And I’m in it.

The important thing is to remember that I am in the middle-aged frame of mind because I've got so many wonderful things. I don’t want to be eighteen anymore, or twenty-three or even thirty. I want to have what I’ve got: a family, a home town, a settled life, immovables, habits, comforts. That’s not a bad thing.

And while the knee hurts a lot, and the back is always vulnerable, and the extra forehead limits my choice of hairstyle, the stamina is just about where it should be at this point, I’m still at the point where the physical plant problems are an inconvenience, rather than a barrier or a burden, something to keep in mind rather than something that can’t be ignored. So that’s all right, d’y’see?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 29, 2008

Home States

OK, here’s an odd question: Joshua Keating over at FP Passport notes that “this election now features both a Hawaiian and an Alaskan”. I know it’s considered a good thing for a Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate to have two or even three home states, but is it a good thing for us regular joes?

I have voted as a resident of five states. Sequentially, yes. I grew up in Arizona, and voted absentee as an Arizona resident during my college years in Pennsylvania. After college, I lived for three years in California, then for ten in Massachusetts, then a year and a half in Virginia, and now I’ve been in Connecticut for three years. Is that right? Three years? Well, anyway. I still think of myself as an Arizonan, and I think of myself as a Nutmegger now as well, but although I do still feel a connection to Pennsylvania, California, Massachusetts and Virginia, I certainly don’t think of them as home states.

Do any of you think of yourselves as having two home states? Or three?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 25, 2008

Things to Do in Denver when You're Not in Denver

Your Humble Blogger watched almost all of last cycle’s Democratic Convention, and blogged a lot of it, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I particularly enjoyed blogging the not-ready-for-prime-time stuff. And I would enjoy watching and blogging again this year: this evening will be a dozen or so Representatives with whom I am mostly unfamiliar, the Attorney General of Illinois, Sen. Klobuchar, some union folk, eventually Sens. Harkin and McCaskill, and of course Michelle Obama. And I will watch some of it, I hope. But not much.

Part of that is simply the time zone thing. Today’s action starts at three in the afternoon, Mountain Time, which is five in Connecticut, not a good hour for focusing on the live stream . The two or three hours that follow are also bad; I could have the stream on, but I will be eating dinner with my family (a very important thing, which I have missed far too often this summer), and then playing with my children and getting them to bed. I can’t say I know for sure when Ms. Obama will speak, but the schedule calls for her to be the last speech, likely at around ten o’clock our time. I may watch, or I may turn in early; I am still catching up on lost sleep from being in a show.

Anyway, I will probably make the odd comment or two, but I’m afraid that for full convention blogging you will have to look elsewhere. Or do it yourself! I’ll open this Tohu Bohu to guest posts on the convention, or you can comment on these posts. Help a brother out, Gentle Readers.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

August 11, 2008

Oh, the bed!

Over at the OUP blog, which is a strange thing, they feature some advice for insomniacs from Overcoming Insomnia, by Jack D. Edinger and Colleen E. Carney. Now, YHB is an insomniac, and some of the advice seems like it might be worth trying, but I had to point out this bit.

While in bed, you should avoid doing things that you do when you are awake. Do not read, watch TV, eat, study, use the phone, or do other things that require you to be awake while you are in bed. …Sexual activity is the only exception to this rule.

Hunh? I mean, yes, I get the concept that if you comfortably read in bed (or watch TV, or write in your journal) then it is harder to tell your body that you’re in bed damn it, and that it is time to sleep. I understand that, and even if I’m a bit skeptical, I see why it makes sense as advice. But if you are training your insomnia that BED=SLEEP, then why make the exception for sex? I mean, surely if you, for instance, said that the only two things you do in bed are read and sleep, then, well, the light’s off, and your body is largely shutting down and relaxing, and even if your mind is in the mood to read, well, as I say, I understand the advice, but hell! If the only two things you do in the bed are sleep and WHOOOOOHOOO, then isn’t your body going to get a bit confused? I mean, I would be. Frankly, if you are going to make an exception for sex, then you may as well order pizza and put on tap shoes, because BED doesn’t equal SLEEP anymore.

In fact, reading the advice, I would be inclined to think that for an insomniac (and it should be clear that this advice is for insomniacs only) the advice to keep a bed that is only for sleeping, and to take your sexual activity to another bed (or wherever) would be more persuasive. Yes, yes, sexual activity can make a fellow sleepy, but I’m guessing most insomniacs will try that method long before they start buying clinical workbooks. When you get to the book-buying stage, you are willing to try keeping another bed for screwing. Winston Churchill (it is said) would change beds when he couldn’t sleep, and in the morning he was sober and she was still ugly. Or something.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 28, 2008

Many returns

Your Humble Blogger spent the weekend at a wedding and the surrounding events. The people getting married are Gentle Readers (and occasional commenters) at this Tohu Bohu; one overlapped with me at college and is therefore an Old College Buddy within the meaning of the act, while the other is a year younger and does not so qualify, although she and I (and my Best Reader) have several subjects of interest in common, things like, oh, Scripture, heresies and how to beat college students without leaving external marks. I am fond of these two, and it’s always nice for me when people of whom I am fond marry each other, making for happiness that increases by squares. Well, some people would call us all squares, but that’s neither here nor there.

Much of the weekend was spent with Old College Buddies and their spouses, some of whom are also Old College Buddies. There was also a large contingent of what one might call Younger College Buddies, that is, persons who went to college with people who went to college with people who went to college with YHB. Our social set has (or at least has had) some mechanisms for strengthening such links; there were people there from the class of seventy-cough and from the class of ought-sneeze. Well, and the early one is an outlier, but there were multiple representatives from the class of eighty-wheeze. And, not coincidentally, I suspect that at one point the majority of Gentle Readers here were in one room.

While YHB spent much of the weekend enjoying thinking about the Wedding (which was lovely and moving) and much of the weekend chasing after the Youngest Member (who was lovely and moving rather quickly), much of the weekend was also spent thinking about an Old High School Buddy who died earlier this week. This is a woman with whom I spent many happy hours in the High School theater world, and those of you who have done that know how pleasant such friendships can be. I have not seen her in twenty years and more, and will not now see her until the endtime, if ever. There is no longer a chance to catch up. This week I found out that she has three children and a loving husband; she won’t know how my life turned out, where I find my happiness.

It was a deliberate choice I made, after high school, cutting myself off from the friends I had made. I left town to go to college elsewhere, and felt that I would be happier, perhaps that I would be more free, severing those ties. And, frankly, keeping them was hard work, and to me hard work is something I prefer to leave to other people, who are so much better at it. So my Old High School buddies—the ones I ate lunch with five times a week, the ones I played cards with in Physics class, the ones I led at speech tournaments, the ones I rehearsed with and played with, the ones I bullshitted with and the ones I sang tipsy songs with, the one I went to Prom with and the one I asked to marry me, the one whose car had no air conditioning and the one who drove like a maniac, the one who was terrific with a pool cue and the one who could tap dance, the one I carried over my shoulder and the one I fell over on—were part of my past and not my present, and I have no idea what happened to any of them, except one that was particularly dogged about staying in touch.

Well, and another, who happens to have a blog, but we went to different high schools, so we are not technically Old High School Buddies. From good old Washington High School, home of the Rams, it’s just one fellow, and we average one telephone call a year.

Which is all fine. I have regrets about the decision, but I don’t know that it was the wrong one at the time, nor do I fool myself that the other decision, the one to keep in touch with some or most of the old gang, would have been without emotional cost. If I did try to fool myself that way, I would be reminded by events like this past weekend, where I am thrown back in to contact with people I know, or used to know, in social situations much like those we used to enjoy. And I like these people—let me be clear about this, I do like these people, without exception, my Old College Buddies, this is not a case where we are socializing now because of that connection but didn’t like each other at college or anything like that—and enjoy their company, and yet it is very difficult. It takes me a long time, some hours at least, before I can ease back into the old rhythms of conversation, and it takes me even longer to ease into new rhythms of new conversations.

Those are the ones that I really fully enjoyed. People talking about their current lives, their current thoughts and concerns and pleasures, the universes they perceive and how all of those universes match and how they don’t. Much of that was “talking shop”, the various academics talking about their departments and their students, because many of us who were impressionable at the same time were impressed in the same way, so many of us went down that long and winding road. And then, those of us with children (not as many as one might imagine) spent time talking about the universe those of us with children inhabit, with its dangers and frustrations and delights. But as I come home to central Connecticut, what seems to be sticking with me is not the facts or views of those people but just the sudden, almost revealed knowledge that I like these people, that they are not just of my past but of my present, and that they can be part of my future as well, not as I say without the cost of a good bit of awkwardness, even of hard work (dare I say it), but to the advantage of a stronger and deeper sense of myself.

And, eventually, when one of us is again struck down, suddenly or slowly, perhaps with a sense of grief unencumbered (or less encumbered) by that alienation from my own past.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 20, 2008

Stiff Upper Lip

Your Humble Blogger, as there is no particular reason for Gentle Readers to know, is a man with a moustache.

—Darling, there’s a man at the door with a moustache.
—Tell him I’ve already got one.
Boom Boom

I started growing a moustache as soon as I could, or in truth a few months sooner. I never looked forward to shaving; I looked forward to not shaving. Sadly, the beard thing never happened. In addition to coming in patchy, a moustache suits my face, a beard does not. I did grow a goatee—an echt goatee, not one of those imperials that are called goatees these days (although as a descriptivist, I am obliged to concede that since nobody other than YHB has worn what I would call a goatee in decades, and since the word is actually used by actual English speakers to refer to any beard (with or without a moustache) that doesn’t connect to the sidewhiskers, communication requires that the things called goatees are goatees, curse them all)—where was I? Oh, yes, I grew a goatee for a few months, for comic effect, but as it neither looked particularly good nor improved my morning ablutions, I gave up and shaved it off. My beard comes in dark and impressive down my throat, which is exactly where it should not be.

But the purpose of this note is not to gripe about my facial-hair situation, except to the extent that its purpose is to gripe about my facial-hair situation, as will be seen. You see, I am a man with a moustache. I like having a moustache, I think of myself as having a moustache, and for twenty years or so, the only times I have shaved my upper lip have been for the stage. As I shaved my upper lip on Friday morning.

The first set of publicity photos are set for Wednesday, so there was a terminus for the moustache, and my experience is that it is wise to give the raw skin a few days sunlight and air before starting with the greasepaint. Well, pancake. Nobody actually uses greasepaint anymore. And spirit gum; my mad Hrungarian has whiskers, as Shaw requires. Not the fluffy and luxurious sidewhiskers I think would be perfect for him, but I really don’t have time to deal with fluffy and luxurious sidewhiskers as I make the eight-minute change to Rich Alfie. Particularly as our Dear Director is trying to pick up the pace everywhere, so I may have only a seven-minute change…

It’s Whiskers that’s the problem. Alfie could have a moustache, but Whiskers must have a moustache, and therefore Alfie must not have a moustache, for the purposes of differentiating the two. And as it’s difficult for an actor with a moustache to play a character without a moustache (at least on stage), YHB must shave the lip for six weeks or so. Which is all right. Of all the inconveniences I have inflicted on myself to be in this show, the shaving ranks very low. Even counting washing out the washbasin.

However, it has been dispiriting how few people have noticed the change. My Best Reader noticed, of course, as did (eventually) a G.R. who was houseguest at the time. My Perfect Non-Reader when prodded, felt sure that I had shaved it off the previous day or even earlier. Co-workers failed to notice, or at least to comment, although many of my co-workers won’t see me until Monday. I had lengthy conversations with four of my Perfect Non-Reader’s friends’ parents, and short ones with two more, and none of them seemed to notice. Of the couple next door, the fellow gave me the business about it but his wife did not (although that doesn’t mean he noticed first). It seems in the mirror to be a radical change in appearance. If it isn’t, if it’s not something that people notice is missing, then maybe YHB is not, after all, a man with a moustache, just a man who happens to have a moustache?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

July 3, 2008

A Man's Home Is His Hassle

I should presumably be writing a nice Fourth-of-July note to put into the hopper for tomorrow, but I don’t have any ideas at the moment. If some idea strikes me, I may be able to post, but it will be a bit of a hassle, and it will be easy to post on Saturday (Chukat, Judges 11:1−33), so I probably will wait, and that whatever the idea is, it will have fled.

I could also write up a State of the Blog post, such as I used to do, month to month, but my notes are in a little thumb drive which I think is in the pocket of the waistcoat I was wearing yesterday. I hope that’s where it is. I could go through the trouble again of finding out that I had thirty-odd posts in June and ninety-odd comments, which is up five from May but down from thirty-glob posts in June of 2007. Or something. Frankly, that would be a hassle, too.

Is this a theme of hassle-avoidance? Perhaps it is. I have plenty of hassle in my life at present. Good hassle, but then this Tohu Bohu is good hassle, and it’s still hassle. At least I’m not behind on my Book Reports anymore, until I finish the one I’m nearly done with now.

Well, anyway. Have a happy Fourth of July. I hope you all, Gentle Readers, have just the right amount of hassle—not so little that you are absent from your family, friends and hobbies, but not so much that you are with them only to gripe and grouse. Enjoy the Independence of America.

Oh, and I’ll pass along an observation from a citizen of South Africa, resident in this country the last few years, who adores the Fourth of July. She points out that South Africa does not have any great national celebration day, splitting its national holidays between Reconciliation Day, Human Rights Day, Freedom Day and other such stupid (to use her word) holidays, most of which aren’t really celebrated by all the various ethnic, language and political groups. Which makes sense: the days largely commemorate the victory of one group over another within the country. In this nation of ours, the Fourth of July commemorates our Declaration of Independence, and aside from any resident Englishmen (or Welshmen, I suppose, if they feel that way about it) it wasn’t a victory over anybody here. Which may be nice to think about, as you watch the rockets’ red glare, and the cherry bombs, bursting, in air.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 21, 2008

Interview'd, fifth and last

The final question Matt Hulan asked in his interview was this:

You analyze faith, and more specifically the literature of the faith of your fathers, more than most people I know. Have you any ambition to become a rabbi? Have you ever had such an ambition?

Short answer: No. Long answer: Noooooooooooooooooo!

OK, proper answer: I like to spend time reading and discussing Scripture. If being a rabbi meant that people would pay me to sit around and read and discuss Scripture, I would be tempted. There are other parts of the job I would be willing to take on as well; I would happily write and deliver sermons (although not ones that would suit the congregation at any shul big enough to pay a rabbi), and would be willing to lead services, both by overseeing the contributions of congregants and by standing up on the bimah myself. The amount of fund-raising a rabbi has to do would be unpleasant for me, but I suspect it’s unpleasant for nearly all rabbis. Still, it’s starting to look less appealing as a job. Then there’s the administration of the congregation, the synagogue, the school. Sitting on committees. Finding volunteers. And then there are the pastoral duties: visiting the sick, comforting the perplexed, advising the cranky. No, not a job I would enjoy. And the hours suck, too.

There’s another thing, which is probably the most interesting, at least from the point of view of anyone who isn’t fascinated by my own taste in working conditions. I’m not a very observant Jew. I like to attend services. I love to study Scripture. I want to keep learning about how different Jews adopt and adapt different practices. But I don’t keep the commandments. Many of them I don’t keep because I don’t believe that keeping them is important to my relationships with the Divine and with my fellow Jews. I eat pork. I eat shellfish. I mix milk and meat. I mix wool and cotton. I am married to an Episcopalian, and I think that’s a Good Thing. I regularly violate certain sexual prohibitions, and I think that’s a Good Thing, too. Most Jews in America also violate dietary and sexual prohibitions, and many of them also believe that those dietary and sexual prohibitions are better broken, but—they want their rabbis to appear to follow them, and to publicly endorse them. Furthermore, there are a lot of such restrictions that I’m a bit ambivalent about, and people don’t want ambivalent rabbis. There are a lot of things that I would vaguely like to do (pray daily with t’fillin, for instance), that frankly, I can’t be arsed to, and people don’t want rabbis who are too lazy to pray. Which is quite right; I myself don’t want a rabbi as lazy as I am. Particularly not if it’s me.

So, no. I’ve never given any serious thought to becoming a rabbi. If I had more of a facility with languages, I’d consider learning Hebrew and then perhaps taking some classes, either at a Rabbinical school or (more likely) at a local university. I wouldn’t consider it very seriously, though; I’m a terrible student, and my desire to avoid taking classes is great. If I do go back to taking classes, it will be for something that will get me a job I want to have and keep and actually perform, not something that would utterly fail to get me a job which, if I were to somehow get it, would make me and my employers miserable.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 18, 2008

Interview'd, holding fourth

One of the good things about doing an interview the way I’m doing it is that I can interpret the questions however I like. F’r’ex, when Matt Hulan asks What is it about Elvis Costello?, rather than answering What is it about Elvis Costello that makes him such an asshole?, I can answer What is it about Elvis Costello that makes him so important to YHB personally? If you would like to try such interpretations for your own set of five questions, simply leave a twenty-pound note between the end of chapter two (The Detection of Leaks) and the beginning of chapter three (Checking the Thoroughness of Mixing) of any nearby copy of Radio Isotopes: A New Tool for Industry, by Sidney Jefferson. Or type a note in the comments, if that’s easier for you. Now, on to Elvis Costello.

Gentle Readers will no doubt be shocked to learn that Your Humble Blogger was a nerdy kid. Glasses, asthma, bad skin, special classes for the gifted, social ineptness, poor hand-eye co-ordination, ostracization, the whole bang shoot. And, of course, the rage, envy and self-loathing that is the birthright of the nerd, or at least of the male nerd (I suspect the female feels much the same, only worse). By the time I was in seventh or eighth grade, Elvis Costello was the outlet for those emotions. I listened to My Aim Is True over and over. A big old platter, on an enormous Hi-Fi system, usually alone in the house in the afternoon, or, if my mother were home, perhaps in my sister’s room on her more modern turntable. “Allison”, “Watching the Detectives” and “Mystery Dance” expressed the adolescent inferiority/superiority complex with an eloquence I could not, and with a frankness I could not reach, either. Particularly, this was a rock star who not only had glasses and pigeon toes but sang about a sexual life that existed primarily in twisted fantasies, where fulfillment wasn’t as easily imagined as revenge.

It’s cool now, I promise.

You know what? I’m going to go through the album song-by-song, just to bring back the ugly past:

  • Welcome to the Working Week: in my teens, this was a song about a boy whose girlfriend becomes famous, for some reason, and inadequate to the glossy life of a starlet’s boyfriend, and demoted to a sort of assistant/dogsbody. I don’t exactly know where all this came from, but that’s what I got.

  • Miracle Man: This, for me, was the song of a man who is losing his struggle with his urges. He’s got a crazy crush on a girl who sees him as just a friend; she teases him casually and he usually pretends not to care, but he’s reaching the breaking point.

  • No Dancing: This is a fellow who finally makes it to his girlfriend’s house, expecting to get lucky, but his clumsy advances are such a turn-off that she dumps him. Shudder.

  • Blame It On Cain: Just a crazy outsider rant. But fun.

  • Alison: Classic dark, jealous threat.

  • Sneaky Feelings: The boy in this one prefers his fantasies to the possible realities.
  • (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes: Another unrequited love story, but with perhaps the Best Ever line: I said “I’m so happy I could die”/She said “Drop dead” then left with another guy. This is the inevitable result of transitory happiness for this frame of mind. Or, perhaps, when anyone is fourteen.

  • Less Than Zero: Er, about fascism. Worth bringing up the other point, which is that Elvis Costello songs were not just about sexual longing and inferiority, they were about sexual longing and inferiory expressed in erudite terms. You know, for nerds.

  • Mystery Dance: In this song, the boy is not only clumsy, but actually ignorant of the mechanics of sex, for extra humiliation.

  • Pay It Back: Here, the boy is putting up a hard front, until the line Until the lights went out, I didn’t know what to do/If I could fool myself, then maybe I’d fool you too, which brings us back to the previous song’s humiliation.

  • I’m Not Angry: Oh, yes he is. And jealous. Another is-she-really-going-out-with-him song.

  • Waiting for the End of the World: This song is more the aloof nerd, the one who is just better than the circumjacent yahoos, and a little bit afraid of them, too.

  • Watching the Detectives: Although it isn’t clear whether the boy in this song is only fantasizing about kidnapping the object of his pathetic crush or whether he has done it, it’s still creepy. Wonderfully creepy.

I think that’s the whole album that I had on vinyl. I could probably sing the whole thing through, word for word, right now (except for the mondegreens, since the album came without a lyrics sheet, and I learned the words off the Singing Dictionary much later and the intellectual knowledge hasn’t replaced the muscle memory of singing the wrong words), and—and this is really important—hum most of the bass lines and guitar solos and tap out the drum parts on a table top. Because in addition to the whole emotional thing, these are really good songs. The lyrics are witty, and funny in places, and powerful, and the tunes are catchy, memorable and enjoyable.

And then there are the other nineteen albums. Mr. Costello (or Mr. MacManus, to use his proper name) has put out a lot of great music, over my entire adult life. He was the first recording artist that I ever sought out information on when a new album was coming out to go and buy it as soon as it was available. Back when they were on big black plates, you know. Actually, the first album I bought on CD I bought was Imperial Bedroom, to replace the cassette that was worn out, and besides cut off partway through “Town Cryer”. That was, coincidentally or not, the first CD I damaged and had to replace. Ah, well. I walked four miles to buy Spike on the first day it was out. Well, it’s more accurate to say that I wandered around Philadelphia lost for an hour until I blundered my way to the Tower Records on South Street, but I was headed there to buy Spike. I have grown less obsessed over time (as I have grown more complacent with my own life), and I haven’t got around to getting the new album, yet. Plus, over the last ten years or so, I’ve started to resent him for being an asshole. But whenever I hear a new album, I want to like it, because that first one was so important to me, way back when.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 15, 2008

Interview'd, third time's the charm

In this third response to five questions from Matt Hulan (don’t forget, you can claim your five questions from Your Humble Blogger by shouting “It ain’t rocket psychiatry!” into a metal pail, or by asking nicely. Or why not go to the source?), Your Humble Blogger was given a choice of recounting the sweetest story of either the birth of the Youngest Member, the birth of my Perfect Non-Reader, or the story of how I met my Best Reader. The first two are properly my Best Reader’s stories to tell—that is, I was there and all, but if I leave out all the medical details that are properly hers to decide to reveal or not, there isn’t much to the story at all. Those who really want to know might enjoy the blog of the Punitive Sibling.

The story of how my Best Reader and I met, though, is an excellent story, and definitely worth telling. This is my story of it, of course, and will differ in some particulars from hers.

It begins with my arrival at college. Well, no, I tell a lie, it begins with the next day; people traveling a long way were allowed to arrive the night before the dorms officially opened, and I got in late (particularly with a three-hour time difference) and tired and pretty much collapsed into bed. I met my roommate the next day. We got along very well; Cigus Vanni, erstwhile Swarthmore Dean and Jeopardy! champ, had done quite a good job of putting us together. We fell out, later, which happens a lot, but I imagine we were both fairly difficult roommates, and we did OK.

And now I’ll go back even further, to explain that I am one of those people that is simultaneously extroverted and shy. When I am feeling comfortable, I enjoy “working a room”, but toss me in a room full of people I don’t know, and unless I’ve got some sort of structure or scheme for getting comfortable, I’m likely to stand off to one side and never meet anyone. In high school, it had taken me a long time to achieve a sort of comfort with my classmates. I never became popular, in any sense, but I became high-profile, which suited me as well; I rarely went into a room full of people I didn’t know, and often went into rooms full of people who knew me and were happy to see me. Or so it seemed to me, I suppose they may not have been. Anyway, when I arrived at a campus I had never seen before, and at which I knew no-one whatsoever, I was determined that rather than stand off to one side and never meet anyone, I would face the matter bravely and meet as many people as possible in that first orientation week, and get it the hell over with.

I managed to convince my roommate to go in with me on this, as it’s easier to be socially brave with two than one, particularly since we had hit it off very well on that first day. So we happened on a maneuver that worked well for us: we would walk up to clusters of other lost-looking freshman and introduce, not ourselves, but each other. Hello, I would say, this is J---. Or the other way around. We met a lot of people that way, both people we became friends with and others that we didn’t. I should add that our college class was around 300 people or so; what with all the orientation activities, it wasn’t that hard to meet a high percentage of them in a few days.

One of those orientation activities was the Mugging, which I believe still occurs. The Alumni Office begins their relationship with us alums-to-be by giving us each a mug that says I was mugged by the Alumni Office, and hosts an afternoon party. That year, the Mugging was on the lawn in front of Parrish Hall. My roommate and I were walking around together, as we were in the habit of doing already, and I saw a woman sitting on the steps of Parrish Hall all by herself. We went over to her, one of us introduced the other, and we started chatting. She turned out to be quite nice. In fact, within, oh, five minutes or so, we were fast friends, and have remained so (brief quarrels notwithstanding) for twenty-one years come September.

And that’s the story.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

Pick One, beat the other to death with a stick

OK, Your Humble Blogger is being dragged off to Fathers’ Day frivolity. In principle, I am against Fathers’ Day as a Hallmark Holiday that encourages consumerism and whatnot, but in practice, I find I’m growing fond of it.

So, as I just have a moment, I propose a Fathers’ Day poll for Gentle Readers, those who are fathers, those who have fathers, those who think they have heard of this father thing somewhere:

Struvvelpeter or Punch and Judy?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 14, 2008

Having a stroke

Just as a matter of curiosity, do any of y’all know why the American abbreviation for air-conditioning is A/C with a slash? It would be bizarre to see air/conditioning, but we expect A/C, and I use that more naturally than I use A.C. or AC. Wikipedia’s entry on the slash reminds me that b/w, i/o and O/O are also abbreviations that introduce the slash mark where there was none before. What’s up w/dat?

Also, just to check: YHB uses air conditioning solely to refer to cooling, that is, making a car or room less warm, and uses heating to refer to making it warmer. A unit designed to condition air (vaddevah dat means) without changing its temperature would be a ventilator, or a humidifier or dehumidifier, if that were it’s main purpose, or an air filter (or filtration system if I were feeling office-speak-y). Or, you know, a fan. But an A/C unit is for cooling, right? Or is this not the common use?

In part, I’m curious because my Prius appears to use air conditioning to mean the whole process of fan and filter and heat and cool. The button is marked climate, but the dash says A/C on if the heater is working. This seems wrong to me. Does it seem wrong to y’all?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

June 13, 2008

Interview'd, a second go

Your Humble Blogger is in the process of answering five questions from GR Matt Hulan. To no-one’s surprise, the answers will be long, and have little to do with the questions. Any Gentle Reader who wants a turn on the grill should let me know; the requirement is that you respond to the questions and then offer your own skills as an Inquisitor to all and sundry.

So, the first two questions, were, essentially, when you blog about reading books in the blink of a proverbial, do you cheat or are you Just That Fast? And how do you do it? The first answer was that I cheat. The second is that I am Just That Fast.

Well, and not quite That Fast, but quite fast enough. I had never timed myself, but to answer your question, I decided to experiment. For my first time trial, I picked up a often-read book, The Chosen, an old paperback copy, and opened it at random. It was the first time that Reuven meets Reb Saunders: the evening service to end Shabbat, and the lecture with the two mistakes, one for Danny and one for Reuven. A wonderful bit. I started on page 108, and I stopped on page 134, at the end of the lecture (but before we go upstairs with Reb Saunders and the boys). It took eight minutes. At 26 pages for 8 minutes, I get something like eighteen and a half seconds per page. The book is 270 pages long; call it 90 minutes total for the book? A nice long bath. It seems a bit fast to me, actually; I suspect it would take more like two hours. The next trial was with a novel I am reading for the first time, People of the Book, a hardback. I started on page 281 and stopped on page 297, after eleven minutes. Call it thirty-seven seconds a page. Four hours for the whole book, assuming a constant rate (which wouldn’t happen). Last trial: I read eight pages of Isaiah Berlin’s “Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century” in Four Essays on Liberty, which took eleven minutes. Which I thought was a pretty good clip. At that rate, it would take me an hour or so just to finish that essay, and five hours to finish the book. Which is preposterous, not only because I doubt I could read the essay for an hour without stopping, but because I clocked myself on the first eight pages, which are introductory in nature and require very little going back to check what I’m reading now against what I thought I read in the last bit.

Anyway, is that fast? I suspect it is. I don’t really have a sense of it. If there are, say 350 words on a page of the novel (are there? I have no idea), I’m reading something like 600 words a minute for new stuff. TSOR tells me the average is 250 or so; so I evidently read at least twice the average speed. So I read quickly. I’m not a speed reader, but I do read very quickly.

How do I do it? I have no idea. I have no particular training in it, other than years and years and years spent reading. I do have what I think of as a quick mind. I type fairly quickly (around 50wpm, 12,000 kph 10-Key). My memory works very quickly indeed, when it works at all, which is very often, actually. I’m not a terribly deep thinker, or a creative one, but I am pretty quick. Growing up with quick siblings encouraged that quickness, at least in conversation. So in general, I think I read quickly because I think quickly.

I also must have trained myself to read quickly, simply to read as much as possible. In particular, I remember trying to finish books (or at least a chapter) before having to go to bed. Now, I hated to go to bed (I was an insomniac from an early age, worse luck), so some of that may have been staving off bedtime. I have a distinct memory of having two minutes (or some such) before my bedtime, and asking if I could read for that interval, being granted permission, and then being discovered on the sofa with my book half-an-hour or more later. But it wasn’t all a delaying tactic. I was also one of those flashlight-under-the-blanket readers, trying to finish the book before I got caught. I suspect some of my techniques for reading quickly, such as they are, I developed when I was seven or so, and trying to get to a stopping place before I had to stop.

One result of reading as quickly as I do is that if I am attempting to analyze a speech (remember when I used to do that?), I find it frustrating to slow down and listen to it delivered. I read transcripts rather than listening to or watching debates. Often, if Left Blogovia is abuzz about some video or other, I will find a transcript if I can, and if I can’t, sometimes I’ll just give it a miss altogether. The broadband breakthrough, the prevalence of YouTube and other video clips, and the wide availability of analysis on-line is cool, but I appreciate the theory and then go back to my text. Just a preference on my part.

Which I guess brings up one more thing to mention about my reading speed, which is that for a long time I thought that because I read faster than other people, I was smarter than other people. This is an easy mistake, but a problematic one. It’s more so because, since I both read faster and spend more time reading than many other people, and because of my trick memory I retain more of what I read than most other people, I have a greater store of information in my head than most people. Most of the information is useless trivia, true, but people are easily impressed by useless trivia. And I am, too, of course. I spent most of my teenage years impressed with my store of useless trivia, and I can’t honestly claim to be totally over it, even now. Still, I am not that smart. I’m OK, I have my strengths, and certainly it’s good to have a nice big memory store, but my ration of good ideas to bad ones is, frankly, not what I would want it to be. Which is a good thing to keep in mind, when I brag about my hundred books a year.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

Interview'd, part the first

It having been a while since Your Humble Blogger was last beaten with a meme stick, Your Humble Blogger signed on to 5 Questions from Matt Hulan. The way this works is simple:

Anyone who wants me to interview them leaves a comment on this note so indicating. I come up with five questions. That person posts the questions answers on their own blog, should they be embloggened, or should they be disembloggened for whatever reason posts the answers as a further comment in this Tohu Bohu. In addition to the answers, however, the interviewee must agree to become the interviewer in turn, offering (as YHB is now) to ask five questions of anyone so inclined, and they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on, ad infinitum, to the world’s end, amen.

Having asked Matt for five of the best, I promptly forgot all about it, but he reminded me, so without further ado, or with only a trifle of further ado, really barely worthy of the name ado at all, when you think about it, herewith the five:

  1. You seem to read extraordinarily quickly, even by my standards. I’ve been known to read a novel in the space of a day, even an afternoon, but you’ve mentioned reading a novel in the space of a bath. Do you cheat, or are you Just That Fast?
  2. Assuming that the answer to #1 is that you cheat, how do you cheat? Assuming that the answer to #1 is that you’re Just That Fast, what is your page rate, and how did you come to develop such speed?
  3. Choose the sweetest of these three story options and tell it:
    • The story of how you met Your Best Reader
    • The story of Your Perfect Non-Reader’s birth
    • The story of the Youngest Member’s birth
  4. What is it about Elvis Costello?
  5. You analyze faith, and more specifically the literature of the faith of your fathers, more than most people I know. Have you any ambition to become a rabbi? Have you ever had such an ambition?

And the answer to the first question is—wait for it—no, really, this isn’t hard to guess, shall we all say it together? It’s more complicated than that. First of all, I take really long baths. Seriously. Forty-five minutes is a quick bath for me; an hour and a quarter is a decent soak. I likes to submerge me into hot water. So, there’s that. Then my description of my reading habits is misleading. I do take books into the tub, but I rarely finish them in one bath. More usually, a Bathtub Book will be started as I commence to bathe, and then put aside at the end of the tub to be picked up at bedtime, or such later time as I have for reading. Usually bedtime, for those books. For a Dick Francis, for instance, or a Lois McMaster Bujold, I will read for, say, an hour or so in the tub, then another half-hour or more in bed, and then again at bedtime the next day, and then perhaps a stolen chunk of time in the morning— let's call it three hours altogether. Not much more. A long book may wind up in more than one bath, a few days apart. And I don’t mention how long it takes me to finish books, particularly when it does take me a long time. I’ve been reading Aubrey’s Brief Lives in bits and kibbles for months, now. It took me at least three months to complete The Story is True. I had to renew The Staging of Romance in Late Shakespeare from ILL, and then had to essentially skim the last chapter because I ran out of time, and I still turned it in a day late. So this image of me frequently picking up a nice thick book, settling into the tub, and emerging clean and shampooed and finished with the book a half-hour later is false.

Also, I cheat. With rereads, I will on occasion skip bits of description or paragraphs of narration that I mostly remember. I am a very lazy reader. I don’t skip full pages, but I will let my eyes pass lightly along clumps of verbiage until I get to the next interesting bit. I also cheat because I have a trick memory, so when I have read a book before, I often know it very well on the second time through, and so can read it very fast indeed, essentially skimming over the bits that I don’t feel like slowing down for. I also cheat by reading books that are not very dense, books that are plot-heavy and description-light. And books written for teenagers and tweens, I read a lot of those, too. All of that contributes to my hundred books a year or so.

I suppose that’s the answer to the second question, as well, except that, because it’s more complicated than that, there’s another answer, which is that I really am Just That Fast at reading. And I’ll talk about that in the next note. In the meantime, any Gentle Readers who want to answer five questions from YHB, and who are willing to ask five to any passer-by who passes, er, by, should request five from me, and I will do my best to provoke and inspire. Gannet (and Duck, who doesn’t comment much these days, if she still reads) may take a second bite at the apple, should they so desire; after all, questions are free.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

May 30, 2008

A Bad Dream

I had a nightmare last night.

In my dream, I had been a political prisoner. I don’t think that I dreamed the imprisonment itself, or if I did, I don’t remember it. Thank the Divine. The part of the dream I do remember is my attempt to adjust back to freedom. Or, rather, the attempt by my friends and family to help me adjust. I had clearly been abused while in prison, and had somehow betrayed other people by giving information. In reality, of course, I have no information that would have interested my captors, but then, that presumably would have only made things worse.

Physically, I was very weak. I walked slowly, and leaned on support when it was available. My appetite was bad enough to be a source of concern for my family, and in fact a source of conflict, as I stubbornly refused to eat. I was also emotionally weak, for want of a better description. I wept frequently, and silently. I cowered at loud noises. I spoke very quietly; clearly I had been conditioned not to raise my voice.

In the dream, I was at a gathering, perhaps a college reunion, because a lot of my old college were there, along with (as happens in dreams) people I knew from other parts of my life. It was in a sort of resort camp in a wooded, hilly area, with a stream and a waterfall, and trails though tall trees. I remember being overwhelmed by the beauty of the area, weeping at it, and being unable to stop weeping. I also remember seeing, at a distance, other people surrounded by their friends and family, and knowing that they, too, were released prisoners, and wondering if I had been responsible for their imprisonment.

Mostly, I remember the terrible feeling of shame, combined with (or perhaps caused by) my terrible weakness. My family and friends clearly sympathized; nobody blamed me, or (as far as I remember, now that I’m awake) talked about the years in prison at all. There was, I think, a conversation about the political change that had led to freeing the political prisoners, but I don’t remember any details.

Anyway, it was just a dream.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 15, 2008

One up, one down, then one to the ri-i-i-i-ight

Your Humble Blogger recently read Potter on Supermanship, and the idea expressed in the work at Yeovil of being one-up or one-down has stuck with me. It’s amazing how big a role one-up-ness plays in our lives.

Some of it is spending a fair amount of time with young children, five to seven years old or so, for whom one-up-ness is hugely important. If a five-year-old can catch out an adult saying lunch when what is meant is breakfast, well, that’s a five-year-old that is one-up on an adult, and how often does that happen?

Actually, it happens all the time, at least to me. Sometimes it is deliberate. My primary method for entertaining such children is making easily catchable mistakes, such as substituting the word moose for whatever nouns in a sentence can be inferred. Such hilarity! Ah, well.

Children, of course, are so rarely one-up on adults that I find it easy to forgive them their glee in such one-up-ness as they can temporarily grasp. Well, and children are naturally one-up in games and sports, in that an adult’s victory over a child makes the adult one-down among his adult peers. But in life, in choices of dinner entrees and schools and entertainment, of bedtime and clothing and hairstyle, in leisure activities and chores and family time, children are so utterly and thoroughly one-down that the temporary (and often fictional) one-down-ness of adults is understandably savored.

It’s less appealing in adults.

No, no, let’s be clear: there is a difference between winning and being one-up. Just as an adult who scores off a six-year old goalie is one-down, so is the winner or loser of a contest often irrelevant to one-up-ness. Winning can be appealing in an adult, as can exulting in victory. Gloating, not so much.

But just as the work at the Institute moved from Gamesmanship to Lifeitselfmanship, one-up-ness and one-down-ness infiltrates much more of our lives than games. In fact, I find it much easier to forgive a friend who gloats over victory at Fluxx or Word-O-Rama than to forgive one who gloats at a victory in grammar or argument. Nor is it entirely, or even mostly a matter of simple victories of that kind. No, most one-up-ness (as the work of the Institute makes clear) is a matter of off-hand remark, in-joke, snark, primness or vulgarity, self-righteousness or self-pity, put-downs and put-offs and put-asides.

If it helps, here are some thoughts on the topic: It’s OK to be wrong. When somebody corrects you, you win, because you have improved your knowledge and the other person has not. It’s OK for other people to be wrong, even on the internet. If somebody assumes you know something that you don’t know, they made the mistake. But don’t let them feel one-down, because that’s not nice.

It’s OK to be on the outside. It’s OK to like popular music; it’s OK if other people don’t like the unpopular music that you like. Same with movies. And books. And art. And people. Other people’s ignorance of your favorite people, art, books, movies and music is neither a criticism of your taste nor a character flaw. They can continue in their ignorance without being one-down, or they can gain exposure without anyone else going one-up.

Everybody—everybody—is born one-up. If anybody’s one-up-ness makes you one-down, then keep in mind that there are more of them than there are of you.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

April 3, 2008


I’ve noticed that my Perfect Non-Reader, when she attempts to catch a ball, by instinct brings her hand up and out toward the ball, rather than moving her hand with the ball as it comes to her. This is one reason why such attempts so rarely succeed. Another reason is that her body and head generally flinch away from the ball, and then she also closes her eyes fairly often as well. Not really very good at catch, my Perfect Non-Reader, but she reads well and does arithmetic like a champion.

I tried to explain about moving your hand with the ball as it comes to you. I may have been successful at imparting the concept. I was certainly unsuccessful at improving her rate of success.

I don’t think I ever had a real problem catching a ball that was thrown right to me. I have horrible depth perception, though, so a ball thrown on an arc from any distance is a mystery to me. I was a terrible outfielder in Little League, and am still a terrible outfielder when I make the rare attempt. I have soft(ish) hands, but I have trouble getting to the ball. And I’m slow and have a lousy arm.

My arm isn’t quite as lousy as it was when I was a kid, though, largely because when I was in high school I finally figured out follow-through. Mostly as applied to bowling, but I was able to see how it worked more generally, which improved my throwing, batting, and pool playing as well. I’m not sure how I managed to get to sixteen or so without getting follow-through, but then, I expected myself to be lousy at sports, so I attributed my lousiness at sports to my asthma, nearsightedness and, I’m afraid, my verbal and mathematical ability (as if it was a trade-off, and people who were good at sports had to be slow-witted, which was observably untrue—some people are slow and some are quick, some are bright and others dim, some are big and others small, and some people are quick and bright and big, and some people are slow and dim and small, and even the slow, dim small ones have a spark of the Divine fire, but try telling that to me when I was ten years old, if you want to waste your time travel). And to be sure a good deal of my lousiness at sports was due to my asthma, nearsightedness and meager size, but some was due to my not learning how best to use what height, eyesight and wind I had.

I don’t think much of the theory of multiple intelligences as cognitive science, but it does seem to be a good source of vocabulary for talking about people being different, one to another. Whether kinesthetic intelligence is an actual thing or not, I imagine it’s clear when I say I am kinesthetically stupid; my body does not, on the whole, do exactly what I want it to. I can’t draw a straight line, for instance, nor kick a ball with any real aim, nor navigate through a room without bumping into the furniture three or four times out of ten. But just because I read quickly and easily, I don’t think it takes any great wit to be able to read, and just because other people are dextrous and strong doesn’t mean I can’t catch a ball that’s thrown at me. And, in fact, in my teenage years, I learned to juggle, spending hours and hours and hours throwing a ball from one hand to the other until it usually went where I wanted it to.

I don’t care if my Perfect Non-Reader learns to juggle. I would like her to overcome her kinesthetic stupidity to the extent of being able to catch and throw, and sometimes hit a ball with a bat. Mostly, I don’t want her to believe, as I did, that her kinesthetic handicap prevents her from reaching that level, because it doesn’t, unless she lets it.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

March 9, 2008

Daylight under your toes

Your Humble Blogger was thinking about writing a note extolling Daylight Savings Time, but it turns out that I wrote that note a long time ago. So that’s that.

Still, while I was looking for that note (which I had only the vaguest memory of writing), I noticed that this will be only the fifth time Your Humble Blogger has used the word daylight in a note on this Tohu Bohu. Once I described when somebody saw me in daylight (after seeing me under stage lights), once about cricket, once describing a (fictional) robbery, and now twice discussing Daylight Savings.

Clearly I do not use enough daylight. Whatever am I saving it for?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

February 24, 2008

Five Years On

It is five years today since My Gracious Host made the announcement that essentially opened up this Tohu Bohu. I had been blogging for a couple of weeks, just to get the hang of it and see if it was something I realio trulio wanted to do, but then, a week or two before Jed set me up with the blog database, I noodled around with writing blog-entry-type notes in a word processor, so it’s hard for me to put a better natal date to this thing than 24 Feb 2003. So. Five years.

Sadly, what I was on about five years ago was the potential invasion of Iraq by a US-led coalition under the aegis of the United Nations. I was (“reluctantly”) in favor of such an invasion, although I rescinded my support later. Well, I don’t want to dwell on it. It was five years ago, and oh shit can you believe we’re still fighting over there?


Anyway, one thousand six hundred and thirty-nine entries, not all of which sucked. Someday I should think about going back and writing that first entry.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 31, 2007

from the french aguillanneuf, or in the norman dialect hoguinané.

Happy Cake Day, Gentle Readers. Today is the last day of the year, so you have just a few more hours to do whatever it was that you meant to do this year, but didn’t get around to actually doing. Or you could do it next week sometime. No rush.

Your Humble Blogger tends to do a lot of year-end considering and measuring. What kind of a year was it? Am I a better person than I was a year ago? A better blogger? A better husband? A better friend? A better father?

And I do that several times a year. Cake Day, of course, and the Days of Awe, equally of course, and there’s my birthday also, and the wedding anniversary, and the end of the school year, and there is a loved-one’s birthday in February that sparks such talk, and another in the summer, and another in the fall. Which makes the yearly self-evaluation kind of strange, because I’ve done one just a few months ago, and most of the things I’ve done in the last year I had done the last time I self-evaluated, and although sometimes I do evaluate those actions somewhat differently a month or two later, mostly not so much. You know?

There is the whole year-end list thing, and I’m going to make a fair try at getting caught up on my Book Reports by midnight (four left, although I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting some) so I can make my Annual List of Ten or Eleven Books YHB Enjoyed Reading This Year tomorrow or the next day. I don’t list movies until February or March, in case I catch a couple of 2007 movies in early 2008, and I don’t know that I’ll list movies this year at all, since, not so many this year. I haven’t even got out to Sweeney, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to get to it on the big screen. Ah, well. As for new music, well, let’s not be silly. My favorite sides of 2007 are likely to be my favorite sides of 2006, and probably twelve of the top twenty were in the list for 1997 (had I made such a list).

Which is all right. I read a lot of new books, and reread old ones. I don’t listen to a lot of new music, but a listen to a lot of old music. I don’t watch very many new movies, but I watch a fair number of old ones I haven’t seen before. I blog. I forget to make telephone calls. Sometimes I get a decent night’s sleep. I show up at work on time. I sing to my children, whether they like it or not. I miss my friends who live far away. I gripe a lot. I make mistakes. I do clever things. I dance when no-one is looking.

I doubt very much that any of that will change a whole lot, between one Cake Day and the next. I suppose the difference is that some years, there’s cake, and some years there’s Crème Brulée.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

December 19, 2007

That's what Youth Culture is, these days

Your Humble Blogger does not wear T-Shirts, but I would totally buy a T-Shirt with the slogan Blackwater Shot Our Dog. I know plenty of people who would wear it. Although, you know, my is funnier. Or include the source: New York Times: Blackwater Shot Our Dog in the headline font they use. Maybe on the back, it could say w00f.

Anyway, Your Humble Blogger is unlikely to write anything very long and clever in the next, oh, let’s just say through the end of the year. I’m sick, and I’m tired, and I’m distracted, and I’m traveling, and I’m cranky. So. Expect a barrage of Short Takes, and feel free to use the comments to talk about whatever is interesting these days to people who are interested in things. Smoke ’em if you got ’em, just don’t shoot the dog.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

November 22, 2007

fourth thursday

It seems that Your Humble Blogger has not developed a Tohu Bohu Thanksgiving Tradition. Well, and mostly, the tradition has been not posting anything, because I’m all doing things, eating things, and washing things.

Now, however, Your Humble Blogger can cheat. I can set entries in advance. My Election Day presentation of Mr. Whitman’s marvelous poem was slotted in a few days beforehand, like a little time bomb (or time blog), set to go off on the day. That was just in case I forgot. Well, and so that it would post in the morning, whilst I was busy, you know, voting. So I could set something up to post itself on cue, all the same as Election Day, Armistice Day and Memorial Day. But I don’t have any ideas.

I am disinclined to do an annual list of Things For Which To Be All Thankful For And Stuff. As I mentioned at one point, I’m thankful for the bad stuff, too; I’m just happy to be here. I could find poems of thanksgiving and praise, I suppose. I don’t know. I’m not going to post favorite recipes, because I don’t think about recipes enough to have favorites, except for a very tiny handful, which would run out too quickly to make a ToBoThanksTrad. I have given up on my brilliant Oscars game, so I can’t open up the game season with a Thanksgiving post.

I got nuttin’. I’m not even here.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

October 27, 2007

Miles Tones

This note, if my software is counting correctly, and there’s no reason to assume it is, will become the 1,500th note in this Tohu Bohu. That works out to an average of six a week for the four-and-three-quarters years that Your Humble Blogger has been Humbly Blogging.

My 100th note, it turns out, was about Dennis Prager. Back in those days, I was having Eleana Benador email me right-wing columns to keep up with what was going on. I don’t know when that stopped, but it was a long time ago. Now the links from that entry are dead. Ah, well. Let’s go on.

My 200th note came as I was moving residences and internet service providers, and is memorable mostly because YHB forgot to give it a title, so Mine Gracious Host had to step in for me. My 300th note was a Book Report on Ten and a Kid, a lovely book by Sadie Rose Weilerstein that I would like to reread, now that I’ve been reminded of it. My 400th note is the first appearance of Barack Obama, a rather critical analysis of his keynote speech at DNC2004. My 500th note is a Parshah prep about Chaye Sarah. My 600th note is primarily a rant about the use of the word meme, but also contains a (still valid) offer to rant on any topic of a Gentle Reader’s choosing. My 700th note is a Book Report on Villa Incognito, which (like my 600th note) contains an egregious error. My 800th note was an unsuccessful attempt to find out if Gentle Readers who are sports fans enjoy their All-Star Games. My 900th note was an excellent example of the ways my Book Reports often fail to report on the book they purport to. My 1,000th note is an embarrassed little shrug about my arrogant ignorance of popular culture (specifically Harrison Ford flicks). It would have been nice if my thousandth entry were something cool, such as the beginning of the Liaisons stuff or a wonderful guest post by my Best Reader. My 1,100th post is about intolerance and proselytizing in a small town in Delaware. My 1,200th post is Pure Drivel, or at least a Book Report on the work of that name. My 1,300th post is about feedback in the system of politics, policy and personality. My 1,400th post is a set of three things I didn’t have time to write about. And my 1,500th entry is one of those dumb navel-gazing entries that can’t get its head out of its own tailspin.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

October 18, 2007

from blue to orange

Gentle Readers all, settle in for a bit of a shift. By the kind hands of Mine Gracious Host, this Tohu Bohu is going to undergo a bit of a change. Most of y’all will experience it as a purely cosmetic change, I hope not an unpleasant one. I hope you like orange.

The big news about the change, though, is that at long last Your Humble Blogger has decided to give in and have a feed. Enjoy. I hope that you all still read the site in your browsers and continue to (or start to) comment; the reason I’ve been reluctant to institute the feed business is because I want you here, commenting, not on some aggregator, reading. But you can get here from your aggregator, when you have something to say, which I hope is often.

Don’t make me regret this.

The other thing I’ve added is a list of Potential Notes, which should be sites that I’ve noticed and set aside for possibly writing about. My hope is that the list right up front where I can’t miss it will spark me to write about them, but my other hope is that (1) some Gentle Reader will shoot me an email expressing an actual interest in my writing about one of them, now and then, or (b) some Gentle Reader will be sufficiently interested in one of them to write about it over at their place, thus saving me the trouble. We’ll see how it works. Once the thing appears (on the sidebar on the right, if all goes well and the creek don’t rise), feel free to use it however you like.

As you should the rest of the site, really. I’m in it for the comments, as I think I’ve said before, but y’all should be in it for ... well, what are you in it for?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

January 1, 2007

Also, there was a trip to the No Such Thing store, where we purchased the self-spreading peanut butter

Well, and Your Humble Blogger has returned, as promised. Since my last post, I have eaten chicken, pork, ham, shrimp, goose, venison, lamb, goat and some unidentifiable form of fish. Also some sausages that by rights ought to have been pork. Oh, and I suppose I have had a very small amount of beef, in the form of a highly spiced sausage sliced very thin and placed on top of a pizza.

And some vegetables.

And chocolate. Rather a lot of chocolate, really.

Also I watched much more broadcast television than usual, including several quiz shows. I think I may just possibly have figured out Deal or No Deal, which is a sort of Beckett quiz show, where the form of the quiz show remains, but all the questions and answers are removed, and time slows down, and the viewer enters a sort of perceptual netherworld where action of any kind appears impossible, at least until after the commercial break. It is interesting to me, though, that it is the only show I’ve ever seen that openly acknowledges that the break for commercials is an unpleasant chore to be finished before one can watch the show again. On the other hand, the commercials were often far more entertaining than the show, so where are you. Family Feud, on the other hand, is a far more interesting and challenging way to utterly waste a half-hour that will never come back.

As for the New Year, well, as Michael says, this is the Year the Lord made, and it’s too late to give it back.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

May 23, 2006

Question and comment

A question for my Gentle Readers: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? No, wait, that’s not the question. Your Humble Blogger knows the answer to that one: A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

No, the question is: what is the proper word for that exchange? It’s not a riddle, and it’s not, properly speaking a joke, either. My Perfect Non-Reader called it a joke, but there’s no real joke in it. And it sounds like a pun, but there isn’t actually a pun in it after all, is there? Is it a tongue-twister? If so, it’s a spectacularly easy one to say, not at all like the story about Betty and her bit of butter or Peter and his pickled peppers. If not, well, what is it?

While you’re chewing on that, Gentle Readers, I will inform you that this Tohu Bohu no longer takes comments to entries more than 30 days old. YHB is weary of deleting spam, particularly the comment that “I think the man should be given a medal for having more balls than all the Democracts combined.” Since that comment (with a variety of links to a variety of sites) seems to be frequently attached to either (a) my Report on Jimmy Carter’s book (and I know he isn’t a Democract, but he certainly is a Democrat, and although ballsy enough in his own way (as is Roz, to be fair) not ballsier than, say, Charlie Rangel and Kathleen Sebelius combined, much less all the rest of us), or (2) my musings on Valmont’s possible fading prowess (and the Vicomte is not a Democract or a Democrat, nor yet a democrat nor even a republican, and although the man has, in some sense, huevos, it seems a odd extrapolation from that particular aspect of his character, if you follow me, to emphasize).

At any rate, if you are moved to comment on something very old, send me an email, and I will ... well, I’ll read it, that’s what I’ll do. And then I’ll see. Probably I’ll make a new post incorporating your email, but perhaps I’ll find a way to incorporate it into the old thread. Email me, anyway.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,

March 10, 2006

Lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a Mornay sauce garnished with truffle paté and brandy, with a fried egg on top

One of the many nice things about this hand-tooled blog is that comment-spammers had never really thought of it as a blog. It doesn’t look like a blog—or, rather, it doesn’t look like a blog to a machine. Plus, of course, there’s the cozy nature of its readership, which allows me to eschew exclusivity while still being able to have the whole readership sit on the front porch, if the weather’s nice. Not a lot of incoming links, not a lot of awards, not a lot of spam.

Of course, there is some spam, now and then, and my host’s hand-tooled audio-vibratory molecular spam-blocking device takes care of most of it. In the whole month of February, for instance, there were seventy-four spam comments, of which twenty-five were blocked by Jed’s code, leaving less than two a day that I had to actually delete by the tedious effort of three mouse clicks. Not so bad. And February was not an outlier. January had only 50 spam comments, and December had 123. November, in fact, was the highest total ever seen on this blog, with 188.

Until now. I’m edging very close to the thousand mark for March. In fact, I think I’ll just hold on to this post until I hit a thousand, which will likely be before I finish writing it anyway. Woof.

Jed’s widget has held up pretty well, by the way, catching well over nine hundred of the phony comments without any work on my part at all. In fact, the fivefold increase in spam has not actually resulted in any necessary new work on my part. I’ve done some new work, looking at the subject lines of the comments and wondering why a spam comment meant to push wagering sites would attempt to disguise itself as a spam comment pushing porn sites, but then any work there is my own fault for bothering.

I can’t help, even knowing that these things are essentially costless and therefore need no deep and elaborate game theory to account for them, wondering why the sudden onrush. I mean, did they just figure out that this was a blog? Is this Tohu Bohu getting links here, there and everywhere? My Mad Google Skillz were able to come up with a not-particularly-spurious-looking search site that appears to now include at least some of my posts, but nothing else that looks particularly suspicious. Although, at some point somebody I don’t know quoted from one of my posts (which had been quoted by people I know), so that was kind of cool.

The other thing that happened was that in the three days or so when the spam attack was at hits (so far) height, we had some really nice and interesting discussion here, on two very different topics. At least two.

... YHB was interrupted in writing this, and coming back to it after an hour and a half or so, discovered that the current tally lies at one thousand, one hundred and seven.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,

October 3, 2005

State of the Blog

Well, and it’s State of the Blog time again. Since the last time I totted up the notes, I had the big move in July (17 notes) and August (26 notes), and then bounced up a bit higher than normal with 37 notes. Books remained fairly steady (7 in July, 13 in August, and 13 in September), which indicates that if I’m not blogging, I’m still reading. Maybe I read more when I don’t blog. Maybe that’s preferable.

Anyway, the big SotB news was September’s comment explosion, with 142 comments from 18 different Gentle Readers, not counting my own comments (42 of those) or the 134 spam comments I deleted. However I count it, that’s a record for this Tohu Bohu. I think my previous high was 121 (in December 2004) which would have included my own comments and any odd spam. I didn’t have much spam back then, though.

Jed (thank you) made a nice little change in the way I receive comment notification in July, which allowed my to separate out spam and self-commenting in tracking, and encourages me to spend even more time examining numbers. In July, by the way, there were 58 real comments and 24 spam comments; in August, there were 40 real comments, 11 self-comments, and one hundred and sixty-two spam comments.

The other news of note in TohuBohuville is that for (I believe) the first time, this Tohu Bohu has been put onto a blogroll. That is, I do have some very nice old college buddies who have been kind enough to link to me, but Matt over at Holy Chao has not only dropped by and commented (thanks, Matt!) but added this spot to his “Friendly Links”, along with the likes of Gentle Reader Dan P, David Moles, where I lurk and occasionally interrupt, and Benjamin Rosenbaum, who has some brilliant kid-stories recently, and a bunch of people I’ve never heard of. I must say that being on a blogroll is a bit of a kick, in exactly the way I didn’t expect it to be.

Anyway, Your Humble Blogger is clearly back from Summer Recess, and so are the Gentle Readers. Shana Tova, all: a good year, a healthy year, and a sweet year for all of us. We could use it.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,

August 5, 2005

Connected, sorta

Well, and YHB is trying to figure out how to use the local library's internet connection to do a trifle of blogging, before you Gentle Readers all forget why this Tohu Bohu is worth visiting. If it is. Anyway, this is being typed on the computer with dial-up, and will be (probably) saved to a floppy disc, which will then be carried into the library and so on and so forth. The thing is that when we finally get set up here in lovely (but rural) Kent CT, we will probably do the goofy wireless-network-through-the-house stuff. We'll get a wifific laptop, and be all whatsit, just like all you Gentle Readers probably have been for years. At the moment, though, it's a floppy in the pocket.

The other thing about being in the Land of Dial-Up is that I don't get my news from the computer, which really means that I don't get much news at all. An occasional radio broadcast and (gasp!) televised news are my only connection to the world. The disturbing thing is how little that disturbs me. I have some books, and I have my family to chat with, and if I don't know anything about the latest international incident, or how the war is going, or even how my Giants are doing, well, it doesn't bother my mind. Of course, I'm keeping busy, what with unpacking all my worldly possessions, or rather opening the boxes in which my worldly possessions are packed and then deciding which to unpack and which to leave in the old barn for a year. Once that is accomplished, I'll probably notice the lack of news simply as a matter of entertainment, to fill my day (particularly once my Best Reader goes back on the job). Is that all the news is to me? I know that I find the news entertaining, but I do have an ill-formed sense that I ought to follow it, that it is incumbent on me as a citizen to Keep Up. And yet ... it's not like I really need to follow the news to be a good citizen; I can vote based on principles, party affiliation and endorsements and come up with the same candidates I get from a more knowledgeable perspective. Yes, I can't participate in the great national conversations without following the news, but do I participate in those anyway?

So, tell me, is it really important for me to follow the news, or is just rationalizing my entertainment preference? It won't make any practical difference, as when I get back on the broadband, I'll be following the news anyway. What I want to know is whether I'll be a better person for it.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,

June 6, 2005

State of the Blog

Your Humble Blogger hasn’t done a State of the Blog for a while, it seems. The state hasn’t really changed very much, though, which I suppose is a good thing. No news is good news, and the like.

I’ve been in the mid-thirties in notes, from 39 in January down to 34 in February, 35 each in March and April, and up to 39 again in May. Comments followed a similar path, unsurprisingly, 106 in January, 105 in February, 90 in March, 82 in April, and up to 109 comments in May. Clearly, writing about Pop Music is a good way to get comments.

On the commentless-note front also it’s been pretty steady: 14 in January, 11 in February, 15 each in March and April, and 13 in May. And for the book reports, there were 8 in January, 7 each in February and March, only 6 in April, and 10 in May. Of course, a lot of that depends on when I get around to writing the reports; two of the reports I’ve written in June were for books I read in May, and I assume I wrote reports in May for books read in June.

I suspect, though, that I’m entering into a period where I will not be posting so much. Maybe yes, maybe no. The actual life is pretty complicated at present, and unlikely to get much simpler in the near future. I may well get to 35 posts in June, but I’d be surprised if I hit 30 in July, what with one thing and another, and frankly, I haven’t the faintest idea where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in August. So. State of the Blog: uncertain.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,

March 16, 2005

gonna, Daddy, gonna

Michael, that Gentlest of Readers, has been wandering though the back pages of this Tohu Bohu, and has left a few comments, here and there, which is awfully nice, like leaving little gifts around the house. It also, by the way, points out one of the nice things about this medium that is, I suspect, sadly underused: the ease with which the blogger can examine his own breadcrumbs, and the humility (as well as the sense of movement) that goes along with that. As Jed (mine host is, thank the Divine, home, and as he knows, carries with him not only Your Humble Blogger’s affection but admiration, whether at home or no) set up the Recent Comments to link to the comment, not the note, if a Gentle Reader wants to be reminded what I was on about when, the search field comes in handy. For instance, Michael has a cogent observation on my note Really changing management, from July 2003, the substance of which I had entirely forgotton. But, as it turns out, YHB has used the word management in only seven notes, three of which were from that summer month. Now that would make an interesting meme, if LJs are easily searchable that way.

Anyway, it turns out that YHB has only used the ‘word’ gonna in only seven notes as well. What I found interesting was how I used it... Twice it’s in the title and no-where in the body of the piece; both of those are cultural references. Four of them are song lyrics notes. The fifth is in a quote (or a paraphrase, anyway) from the great Rep. Barney Frank, speaking at the Democratic National Convention last summer. In other words, I’ve never said it in my own voice.

Now, in my speaking voice (look out, or I’ll start podcasting, now) I often say ‘going to’ with two syllables, probably more often than with three. And I’m scarcely reluctant to mangle spelling for effect. Yet I evidently used ‘going to’ 85 times, and I’m guessing almost all of those were in my own voice (or my ‘Vardibidian’ voice, anyway). Well, OK, you say, he’s fine with using hijjus or churchin’, but hesitant to use gonna. So what? Well, then, why do I use it so often in other people’s voices? And it’s not that I’m really identifying a particular dialect. The voices in question belong to The Proclaimers (Scotland’s favorite sons), Dr. John, Cab Calloway, the BoDeans, and June Christy, in addition to the Hon. Barney Frank. As for the first title, well, I hear it in the magnificent voices of Sweet Honey in the Rock, but then I should admit that if I were really going to dialecticize those voices, I might spell it Ain’t gon’ study woah no moah (and having begun typing, I had to restrain myself from typing Ain’t gon’ study wo’ fo’ shizzle). Still, in the relevant phrase, gonna ghit-beats going to by twenty to one, or more accurately by 4720 to 224, although leaving off both and searching for “study war no more” yields 13,800 which means that the four-word phrase is used more often without either (although, predictably, “study war no more” �gonna �“going to” gives only about 5,800 hits, leaving three thousand pages which neither do nor do not have one or another of the phrases). And, by the way, the only other misspellings I allow myself (deliberately, that is) in those lyrics notes are ev’ry, wond’ring, and splittin’ (to rhyme with Britain).

So, I suppose the answer is that I think the gonna spelling is OK if, and only if, I’m emphasizing scansion or rhyme. More generally, I think it’s OK to use dialect in quoting a song lyric, but only to the extent that it affects the scansion or rhyme, but not otherwise. It’s good to know that’s what I think; I never would have known.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,

February 1, 2005

State of the Blog

It’s the end of another month. In January 2004, Your Humble Blogger managed 39 posts; y’all Gentle Readers obliged me with 106 comments, leaving only 14 commentless posts. These numbers should be compared to December 2004 with 32 posts, 121 and 10 commentless posts. Not bad, particularly as I was away for the first week of it. The number of posts appears to be settling into the thirties, which is probably more or less right. Forties would be all right, I suppose, but fifty posts a month would be too much, I think. It looks like I read eight books in January, and somehow none of them were re-reads. Not a bad month, although I need to be more conscientious about the parshot. I still owe everybody a note on last week’s Yithro, and it’s already Tuesday night and I haven’t read next week’s portion. The highlight is my first guest post, which I hope will begin a trend.

I suppose, as this Tohu Bohu gets to the end of its second year, it is about time I figure out why I’m doing it. It turns out that I’m doing it for the comments.

One of the odd things about the set-up here is that I don’t see the statistics for the site. That is, I’m sure Jed at some point told me how to get them, or volunteered to send me information about them, but in fact, I’ve never done it, and have no idea at all whether there are ten regular readers of this Tohu Bohu or ten million. Well, I suspect the former is closer. But I don’t know. As a result, I have managed to keep from becoming obsessed with how widely-read this Tohu Bohu is, or how I could claw my way up the blogosphere’s ladder of whuffie. My knowledge of my Gentle Readers is confined, pretty much, to the commenters, with a couple of exceptions. That turns out to be lovely; when I write, my audience is clear in my mind, and it isn’t statistical numbers but commenters with names.

Now, as it happens, Your Humble Blogger has himself essentially stopped leaving comments on other people’s blogs. At least, on blogs kept by people I don’t know. I’ve actually cut back quite a bit on my blog reading altogether, for a variety of reasons. I still read half-a-dozen blogs—oh, why be coy, I read the Language Log, Rhetorica, Whatever, Nathan Newman, the Decembrist, and the CJR Daily, as well as Altercation (which I no longer particularly enjoy, but read anyway) and Eschaton (ditto) and on occasion Pandagon. I have also started reading Michael Bérubé’s blog, but I doubt I’ll keep it up. And there’s Fafblog, of course, which remains the world’s only source for Fafblog, but is better if I don’t read every entry.

Where was I before I started blogrolling? Oh, yes, I’m down to reading about ten blogs (not counting, by the way, journals and blogs written by friends or friends of friends; rest assured that I read and enjoy your blog, Gentle Reader, unless you’ve locked me out of it, you bastard), and I’ve pretty nearly stopped leaving comments on any of them. Not that I was ever a prolific commenter, but I would probably leave one or two posts a week, around the ’sphere. I’ve never had particularly good experiences doing so. Oh, I’ve had responses, and now and then interesting and challenging responses (particularly from Mssrs Scalzi and Cline), but I’ve never felt that I was either participating in the blog or building a relationship with a person. And in the absence of any particularly good experiences, the few bad experiences I’ve had have led me off the whole commenting business.

At the same time that I’ve gone off the commenting business elsewhere, I have come to enjoy the comments here as the best part of blogging. I assume that this is because (a) the comments here are ever so much better than those elsewhere, and (2) all the comments are in response to Your Humble Blogger, a subject of great interest to Your Humble Blogger. Still and all, what I want is to make my Gentle Readers happier about commenting here. Not that I necessarily want more comments out of you lazy malingerers, just to make commenting here that good experience that I haven’t had elsewhere. I have no idea how to do that.

The big difference, of course, is that most of my Gentle Readers are old buddies of YHB. I do still leave the odd comment or two on the personal journals/blogs of people I know (my aggregator has 21 such, 16 of which are on LiveJournal, and about half-a-dozen of which are essentially dormant). Now, most of these are ham-and-eggs journals, which is all right, because I actually care about what my old buddies have for breakfast. That’s not to say that these ham-and-eggs journals never talk about philosophy or books or politics or Scripture or economic theory, but for the most part they are talking about their lives, day to day. The comment conversations, then, mostly talk about those lives, which is nice enough and accomplishes the good experience I’m looking for there, but not what I’m looking for here.

So my question to you, Gentle Readers, is what can I do for you? This breaks into a couple of things, some of them technical. Would a different format be better? The threaded comments over at lj seem cool, but I’m reluctant to take this Tohu Bohu over there due to the ham-and-eggs connotations. Would any others like to be guest bloggers on occasion? I’d be happy to post notes from those of you that don’t maintain blogs of your own, or of course from those who do but want response from the group here. Am I failing to respond to too many comments, or am I hogging the last word? Am I making it clear that I actually think about each comment, even if I don’t respond to it? And I know y’all are busy, and I can’t do anything about that, nor about the internet thing that seems to require thought before posting if you don’t want to say things you don’t want to say.

Then there’s the RSS issue. Jed tells me he could set me up with one the same as his, but I’m reluctant. I find in my own experience that if I get the note in the aggregator, I don’t bother to go to the blog to see if there are any comments (as the comments don’t show up in the aggregator). And, of course, having read the note in your aggregators, I don’t know if you will hit my home page a few days later to see that the conversation is still going on. I think aggregators are terrific for things you want to read but not comment on, but I want you to comment. On the other hand, if you don’t read the thing, you can’t comment on it, so if having a feed means you would read more of the notes, then that would be good, too.

There are other things I could use advice on, but in general, I’d like to ask people who comment what their preferences are, and people who don’t to either make an exception or email me to tell me if there is anything I can do to make this Tohu Bohu a good commenting joint. Unless I’ve already had a nice long conversation with you about it, in which case you are Off the Hook. Everyone else, have at me.

Thank you,

January 14, 2005

State of the Blog

It occurs to me that I’d enjoy doing a State of the Blog for December, although with only 32 entries I have to give myself a pretty substantial break for being out of town. Still, my Gentle Readers contributed a total of 121 comments and only left ten of my entries commentless. So y’all have picked up my slack.

12 of my 32 entries were book reports, of which nine were new reads, so that’s all right. Among the others were a couple of the sort of posts I actually want to write, so that’s even better. On the whole, I think December was a pretty good month. In particular, if anybody missed it, I’d like to draw attention to my post on Purity and the conversation following it. That’s the sort of thing that makes the blog worthwhile: I note something somewhere, write something about it that I still like, although a wide-ranging conversation brings my attention to a variety of aspects in a variety of ways, without anybody getting cranky (as far as I could tell). Now, if I could do that once a week, I’d be getting somewhere.

That also brings to my mind something I’ve been thinking about in relation to the Koufax awards over at Wampum. My first reaction, well, my first reaction was to curse the lefty and his hated team. My second reaction was probably amusement that the award for bloggers of the left was named after someone who was only dominant for a few years, was average before, and was out of the business just after. It’s not a bad award for Blogovia, where it’s all about Peak Value. Anyway, my third reaction was that surely in a list of 160 nominees for “Most Deserving of Wider Recognition there’s room for YHB’s little Tohu Bohu. I mean, don’t I deserve wider recognition? Ain’t I a blogger and a lefty?

The thing is, though, that although I do dearly desire wider recognition in the sense that I want the ungrudging respect of admirable men and women, I don’t actually want much in the way of greater readership. Or, more accurately, I don’t want comments from hundreds of ignorant yahoos, or even hundreds of informed yahoos. I’m pretty complacent about the commenters, and given my druthers, I druther that Michael and david and metasilk and David and Nao and Chris and fran and Dan and Jed and Chaos and Irilyth and Amy and Wayman and all had a lot more free time to comment, rather than having an addition two dozen commenters. And I mean that only partially in the elitist my-friends-are-the-smartest-and-most-articulate-people-on-the-web sense, although it’s hard to imagine the tone being raised by another two dozen commenters. Mostly, I mean it in the sense that I actually know y’all, even though at least two of you I’ve never met; when I read a comment, I have a context to put it in, either through years of face to face conversations or through the occasional comments here and through your own blogs.

Now, if anybody else wants to start commenting, I’d be happy as a pig in mud. If CRConrad chimes in from Finland, or alleged-Neal-Asher, or Sozadee, or quadratic, or anybody starts commenting frequently, I feel confident my mental ability can expand to include them. Gentle Reader, please don’t think I don’t want you to comment; I do. It’s that other guy that I'd rather not have. Really, it isn’t even him, but the aggregate of dozens of them that I see on Pandagon and Alas, a Blog, not to mention Eschaton. Which is to say, I want the wider recognition I so richly deserve, I just don’t want to be bothered by that recognition or have it affect my life in any negative way at all.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the blog. Still without form, still void. Still how I like it. And still behind on vacation reading: I have four reports to write before I can pick up another book in good conscience. The rule, you see, is that the stack of completed but unreported books should not grow large enough that when it topples, I am at risk of injury.

Thank you,

December 1, 2004

State of the blog

November, oddly enough, seems like it wasn’t a bad month for this Tohu Bohu of ours. I wrote 45 entries, which is quite a few more than previous months (Oct-34, Sept-37, Aug-22). Of those, only nine were Book Reports, so the increase isn’t entirely due to my having stocked up on comfort books. Six of the nine were re-reads, but then three new books in a month isn’t so terrible, either.

Of course, eight of the entries were related to my Parshah project; there were only 28 entries unrelated to either project. And three of those were simply passing along poems for occasions. Plus a few (for me) unusually short entries, simply pointing to other things. So if I want to be depressed about not being a productive blogger, there’s hope.

Actually, I have been particularly depressed (note: stop reading now, as what follows is self-pitiful whinging) about the way this Tohu Bohu exposes one of my most intractable character flaws. I have, in a year and a half or so, started a variety of projects: an examination of 21 Conservative Tenets, of which Your Humble Blogger examined 17; a discussion of The Tipping Point, which I abandoned before discussing the last chapter or writing any conclusory note; my attempt to analyze the convention speeches, which petered out before actually analyzing the two main speeches of the first convention; my abortive attempt at a Book Club, which got up to the fourth chapter out of twelve; and an Oscars game which as of yesterday had no entries. Today, though, there has been an initial entry to the Oscars game, which may not have to be abandoned after all, and I’m able to remind myself that I have written over a hundred Book Reports and am only thirty-one days away from successfully completing that year’s project. I’ve also (I think) well begun on my Parshah project, which although it hasn’t generated the kind of discussion on the blog I had wanted has been immensely valuable to Your Humble Blogger. And, after all, it’s not as if I didn’t already know that I have very little discipline. OK, end whinging and go back to boasting.

I am particularly pleased to have ninety comments (that is, 90 made during the month of November; there may well be more comments made on November entries). That’s pretty good; October only had 69, five or six of which rightly belonged to September (particularly chatty with 92 comments of its own). On the other hand, 22 of my November notes totally failed to elicit comments, from 15 in October and 12 in September, so I’m writing more but less provocatively. Or, of course, my Gentle Readers have limits.

Anyway, November 2003 I wrote sixteen entries and had 41 comments, so things are looking up. And I seem to do better in the Spring than the Fall, so there’s the chance that by May I’ll be writing sixty entries and have a hundred and fifty comments (that, Gentle Readers, is a joke).

None of this naval gazing gets me any closer to the essential question of why am I doing this and its concomitant am I doing it well, but the important thing is that I have learned how to spell concomitant, which has fewer t’s and m’s than I expected.

Thank you,

March 28, 2004

Blogroll, of sorts

Your Humble Blogger doesn’t have a blogroll, nor need one, I think. But the news that The Invisible Adjunct is hanging up the old keyboard reminds me that I’ve been meaning to note down a few blogs I read and enjoy.

The problem is, after spending a day and a half between that last sentence and this one, I really only have a very few, and most of those I have, I have already mentioned in this Tohu Bohu more than once.

I look at the Daily Kos every day. I look at the main column, read the intros, and then scan the diaries to the right (at least, that’s how it’s set up on my screen). I maybe read three actual entries a day. Kos himself writes with the snarky tone that I associate with blogs generally; DHinMI is even more snarky, but tends to get a bit deeper into topics, tho’ still without much value added except his style. The analysis is dreadful, but they do draw my attention to stories I would otherwise not get until the next day. In addition, the group there acts as a sort of focus group, picking which outrages to get het up over, and which to sneer at, and which to more or less let go. It’s an interesting attempt to form an actual on-line community; I hope somebody’s studying it for a dissertation.

I’ve mentioned Nathan Newman in this Tohu Bohu a few times; his blog is outstanding. He focuses mostly on labour issues, but his reactions to current political events are historically informed, well-written, and not altogether predictable. He appears to understand the way politics works, and is a pragmatist. He and I share a good many assumptions (though we come to different conclusions on specifics fairly often). Also, he writes clearly, which is a plus. It’s really a terrific blog, but he hasn’t built up a decent community in the comments section. Which is too bad, really.

Rhetorica is my favorite blog in the blogger-I’ve-never-met category. Andrew Cline is interested in the use of rhetoric, the reporting of rhetoric, journalism, the presidency, the public interest, and the public. It’s an endlessly fascinating subject (ok, it’s endlessly fascinating to YHB) about which he writes with both insight and wit. Half his entries I wish I could have written myself, and half are things I never would have thought of, and require a good deal of thinking before I can agree or disagree with them. Again here, he would benefit from a dozen or so regular correspondents, but that’s scarcely his fault. He responds to comments quickly and gently, but seems to have few long-term readers with whom to have an ongoing dialogue. My own comments there are generally fawning in nature, which doesn’t really help.

The Blogging of the President is an attempt, I think, to form a community of well-read, well-spoken people to discuss the campaign in great depth. In my arrogant opinion, it hasn’t succeeded yet, and I doubt it will, but it’s an interesting attempt. The bit that is most active is the BOPNews blog with regular posts from a half-dozen or so people who are, for the most part, intelligent, well-informed, and interesting, if pretentious and annoying (about which YHB can hardly complain about). Also, it’s pretty clearly dissolved from a blog about, well, about the Blogging of the President to a pretty random blog without a brief. I still check it, and on rare occasion post to it.

Clutch Hits, over at the Baseball Primer, has been my favorite baseball blog/chat site for a couple of years, but I’ve drifted away during this off-season. In a month or two, they are going to a registration-based system, which might help entice me back, but what will really get me back is the opening of the season, and (I hope) more discussion about the teams and the players.

While I’m on the baseball topic, I check the fairly new Phillies Foul Balls pretty frequently; the writer is an old college buddy, a good writer, and a good baseball guy. It’s a specific Phillies site, though, so prepare to be depressed (haw, haw). Good, decent, Giants fans can check Westwood Blues and Waiting for Boof, both of which are entertaining, if you know what they’re talking about.

On a more personal note, I of course read my gracious host, and enjoy it tremendously, and I would certainly read my servermate, PoI, if Dan would post now and then.

Other old college buddies have Livejournals; for now I approximate the friends list by using irilyth’s list, which in addition to irilyth himself, has gannet, whose magnificent journal I’ve mentioned in the past, along with several others, whose journals are mostly of interest to those who know and care about them. I sometimes refer to these as ham-and-eggs journals, as the journalist may well post more or less the information we might have conversed about if we lived on the same block, such as what he or she had for breakfast. I’m terribly glad that some of my friends have ’em, as I’m such a terrible correspondent.

There are others I look at now and then. I’ve just started reading John Scalzi’s Whatever, which appears to be entertaining. Alas, a Blog is enjoyable. Jeanne, at Body and Soul,lets her character come through very well, in a political blog. For some reason, I do read Margaret Cho’s blog despite finding it more annoying than amusing. I’ve just noted Easily Distracted, which I’m hoping becomes worth reading regularly.

That’s pretty much it. And I’m not, on the whole, looking for more. Suggestions would of course be appreciated, but I may not manage to follow them up. I know there are brilliant, entertaining, compelling, challenging blogs out there which would knock my proverbial socks off, but there are brilliant, entertaining, compelling, challenging books, too, and my brilliant, entertaining, compelling, challenging Best Reader to spend a life with, and my brilliant, entertaining, compelling, challenging Non-Reader to be raised, and brilliant, entertaining, compelling, challenging meals to be eaten as well, and brilliant, entertaining, compelling, challenging naps to be, er, well.

Redintegro Iraq,