August 31, 2011

My summer food craze

I can't stop eating these things!

Each summer I succumb to a food craze of some sort. Usually, I crave something pickled. I have no idea why. In past years I'd crave spicy tuna sandwiches with pickle slices across the top -- on burnt toast. Gotta be burnt. But I hardly ever eat animals anymore and anyway, now that the Gulf's ecology is so shady, it's probably not safe to eat.

This year I found myself craving Victoria Marinated Artichoke Hearts. I put them on all my nice, non-animal sandwiches and have been doing this for about a month now -- and it's not getting old. In fact, it's totally taken over my life. I cannot get enough of them.

And then just now -- like it was a miracle sent to me by god -- I stumbled upon the Victoria web page! And on that blessed page there is a product I must eat immediately: Victoria Marinated Artichoke Salad! I gotta have it! Fair warning: if you're between me and a jar of this at the supermarket, get out of my way.

I'm addicted, what can I say? Do you experience voracious, seasonal food crazes? And if so, what do you crave?

As the 9/11 iconography turns

Dolan and Egan: faces of evil. Dog knows what they're laughing at.
This is how legends are created by our intrepid, independent press:
NEW YORK (AP) — Cardinal Edward Egan was eating breakfast when then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani called to say there was a tragedy and the churchman was needed. A police car would soon be outside the chancery to take the leader of New York's Roman Catholics downtown.

Egan didn't know exactly what had happened in lower Manhattan that morning as he and his priest-secretary hurtled through the city . . . He would spend the next several days anointing the dead, distributing rosaries to workers as they searched, yada yada yada. 
That's just what you need to do in a crisis: call some twit priest who's on a first-name basis with sky fairies so he can mutter incantations and give bits of plastic away. I'm sure that helped a ton. And many thanks to the inestimable Rudy Giuliani for calling this jerk instead of someone who could, you know, do something. The reporter's reverent tone makes me ill. "There was a tragedy and the churchman was needed." Indeed. I hope the church paid the writer well for this slavering bit of iconography.

Two more sci-links

I was intrigued by these stories today. No time to post about them so I'll just share the links:

Flame retardants linked to lower birth-weight babies
and
Parents' stress leaves lasting marks on children's genes

Both stories are scary.

PS: The Apple Store in Danbury was affected by a flood from Hurricane Irene so they're only starting to work on my computer today. Better late than never, I guess.

Dolphin language looks like human language

There's an article at (where else?) physorg today about dolphin intelligence and language. (It's also about alien communication but I'll leave that aside for now.) Although we don't understand the language used by dolphins, it seems to follow the same basic patterns of human speech. Here's an excerpt in case you don't want to read the whole article.
Think of all the different sounds human beings make as they speak to each other, the different letters and pronunciations. Some, such as the letters ‘e’ and ‘t’ or words such as ‘and’ or ‘the’ will occur far more frequently than ‘q’ or ‘z’ or longer words such as ‘astrobiology’. Plot these on a graph, in order of the most frequently occurring letters or sounds, and the points form a slope with a –1 gradient. A toddler learning to speak will have a steeper slope – as they experiment with words they use fewer sounds but say them more often. At the most extreme a baby’s babble is completely random, and so any slope will be nearly level with all sounds occurring fairly evenly. It doesn’t matter which human language is put through the information theory test – be it English, Russian, Arabic or Mandarin – the same result follows.

What is remarkable is that putting dolphin whistles through the information theory blender renders exactly the same result: a –1 slope, with a steeper slope for younger dolphins still being taught how to communicate by their mothers, and a horizontal slope for baby dolphins babbling. This tells us that dolphins have structure to how they communicate.
We're not set apart from the other animals. The differences between us and them are a matter of degree. This story lifted my spirits. There's still so damn much we don't know about ourselves, our planet and the relationships among all of Earth's residents. And yet we feel free to kill any creature and pollute the planet at will, as if we and we alone lived here. We are an infant race, just beginning to understand the complexities of the world around us, and yet our M.O. is so arrogant. This makes no sense. We're babies.

The rest of the article is fun, especially the part about looking for alien intelligence out there. G'wan, go read it. Here's the link one more time.

August 30, 2011

Interesting op-ed on inaccurate quotes

Brian Morton wrote a short, interesting article for the New York Times today. I don't usually read op-eds by people I don't know but I dove into this one because I hated the title:

"Falser Words Were Never Spoken"

That was the best he could come up with? Falser? This is an example of a sentence that should not have seen the light of publication. Editors should have rewritten it instantly to avoid use of the almost illiterate, though strictly allowable, word "falser". It's just not good usage, kids. "Is Christianity falser than other religions?" See how silly that sounds? (Though the sentiment is in the right place.)

Anyway, much to my surprise the article is interesting. And from my days of working at a newspaper I know headlines are usually written, or rewritten, by the copy edit desk. So I don't blame Morton for the sad headline, especially after he turned out such a good article. Give it a shot and see what you think.

But kids, promise me you won't use "falser" at home. Okay?

This is not America

From an AP article today about Cheney's new book:
Cheney, who is promoting his new memoir "In My Time," has been associated with waterboarding, considered by many to be torture. Asked on NBC's "Today" show if he was embracing a double-standard, he said, "These are not American citizens."
Yet even though he cheerfully admits his history of torture, the US does zilch about it and Cheney roams free. This is not America.

I'm losing it

The Holy Grail
Life without my fabulous iMac computer is awful. I'm making believe it's okay but I can't hang on much longer. (I know, I know: it's not like losing your house in a hurricane or flood. But still.)

I mean, it's nice that I have a replacement that allows me to check the internet and compose a post or two but I don't even have my passwords or favorite links or email addresses. And as you know, those are the things that make the man. So what's a guy to do?!

I planned to write this week so I could feel productive even without my computer. I have two short stories that are demanding that I write them: "The Learning Graveyard" and "Eve in the Quantum Garden of Eden". They want to be written; they really do. But my notes for these stories are on the computer that's in in the shop. And I can't work on any of my books because they're on that computer too, along with my writing software.

Life without writing is a waste of time. I can't believe I used to live like this. Thank dog I saw the light and started writing stories.

UPDATE: I wrote the above post last night. But then this morning I woke up and wrote half of "Eve in the Quantum Garden of Eden". It's funny and very enjoyable to write. Oh, and a second update: there was a flood at the Danbury Fair Mall where my computer is being fixed! I'm afraid to call and ask them how things are. At least I've got that computer backed up. In a worst-case scenario I'll just get a new computer and load all my old info onto it. And hey, I'm writing!

August 29, 2011

Harry's cute but what's with the military schtick?

Harry on military adventure.
Okay, sometimes I think "Prince" Harry is cute(ish). Men don't really get cute until their mid-40s, but for a young feller he's not so awful. The nicest thing about him is that there are tons of photos of him with his pants falling off. One always approves of such behavior in moderately attractive men. But what is this military thing all about? To me, he seems to adore it in a fan-boy sort of way -- can't get enough of his military adventures, our Harry. (Their Harry?)

There's a story out today about him doing even more army stuff:

EL CENTRO, Calif. (AP) — Prince Harry — a British Army captain — will train at two U.S. military bases in California and Arizona as part of an Apache attack helicopter course conducted by his country's Defense Ministry. 

What's with this guy? I'll bet he has sex with his uniform (partly) on (and partly falling off). Seriously, I think the guy's got issues. He loves war (and soldiers; just saying). The lad loves his mates and says so quite often -- can't bear to be parted from them. Perhaps he played with soldiers too often when he was little. You'd think Diana would have put the kibosh on that, but there you go. He makes no sense to me at all, but he is cute(ish).

August 28, 2011

Look! Up in the sky!

Twas almost night when . . .
This evening just before darkness fell I took my moths outside to set them free. I stood in the fierce winds from the hurricane, opened the top of the Bugzooka and they flew into the wind currents. It seemed marvelous.

The air was so wild and the fading night so inviting, that I stood there for a bit. Soon I heard my flock of geese but I couldn't tell where they were. It was almost dark and I couldn't see them anywhere. I tried to localize their honking. Where was it coming from? Ahead -- that was as far as I could pin it down. I stood still and listened. The honking was getting louder.

Suddenly the flock streamed across the sky, right over me. Their black silhouettes stood out clearly against the lighter background of the fading night sky. They called loudly to each other as they flew -- and I knew I was hearing Milo, calling out to his flock and directing their flight. And the others called back to him, sounding joyful to follow his lead.

These adult geese flying through the night sky were, in large part, the babies I helped raise this summer. They've grown up and are as powerful and large as the other geese. Last week I noticed that Milo had begun to take the flock on day trips. They're gone for most of the day now, where before they'd just lounge around in the yard. Milo is literally training them, taking them on longer and longer flights to get them ready for the coming migration. Some nights they don't return at all. (And yes, I worry when they don't come home at night. It's just the way I am.)

But in that brief, wild moment as they passed overhead, as I stood in the wind, already feeling the power of nature all around me, their appearance in the night sky seemed so perfect. I will always remember this experience. (And it's very cool to have friends who can fly.)

The post-death post

Until recently, I hadn't thought about writing a post to go up after my death. But jeepers, it sounds like great fun! I'm definitely going to work one up. Any other bloggers out there have one ready to go, just in case?

Now, let's see . . . I'll work in a few swipes at the popey guy while being funny and making people cry over losing my wit forever, oh, and it should have some good stories, oh -- and a moral, a big take-away, oh, and I can write a final piece of fiction into it, oh, and I'll need a great final image, and . . .

Fun!

PS: The hurricane was a big bust. All we got was rain. There wasn't much wind either so the trees are all fine. I hope everyone else in the hurricane's path survived in great style. Hurricanes: meh.

August 27, 2011

Popey guy laments world's "amnesia" about god

Amnesiac popey guy.
Oops. I missed this last week. During his fabulous trip to Spain (which I'm sure involved frequent, exciting costume changes), the popey guy forgot all about the 34 dead boys and the mad transferring of pedophile priests that took place under his watch. Oblivious to irony, he complained that the world had "amnesia" about god.

Here's the lede:
MADRID (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI complained Friday that modern society has a certain "amnesia" about God as he lamented the dwindling of the faith during a visit to Spain, a once staunchly Catholic country . . .
Indeed. We have amnesia, eh, popey guy? You only wish. Then maybe we'd forget about your priests raping all those children. What gall. It's very GOP, don't you think? When you call a Republican on something, he just turns around and accuses you of doing the same thing. This is straight out of the GOP playbook.

So here's the popey guy, chastising the world for its amnesia -- as the world watches in horror while the church claims amnesia about the pedophile priest scandal. They don't remember doing anything bad. That's pretty much been their defense all along. As usual, there is startling hypocrisy in the popey guy's words.

By the way, popey guy. It's not that we've forgotten god; it's that there is no god. See? There's nothing to forget.

Irene cometh

Folks, if I disappear for a time it means I've lost power because of the hurricane. I will pop back up; I promise.

Mind you, I'm having trouble believing this is for real. Evacuating parts of New York? I think Mike Bloomberg is just trying to counter the terrible image he established when he was unprepared for last winter's snowstorms. He's afraid to get caught with his pants down (again). If there had been no snowstorms, I doubt there would be an evacuation today.

I lived right on the shore in Long Beach, Long Island for many years. In all that time, I never paid the slightest attention to hurricane reports. Never left, never worried, and nothing bad ever happened. It's hard for New Yorkers to believe in hurricanes (or tornadoes or earthquakes or gods).

In any case, I wish everyone well. Here's hoping you (and I) still have houses and power after the weekend.

August 26, 2011

John Paul: The Road Show

JP: The fun saint.
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Relics of Pope John Paul II have arrived for public display in Mexico City, kicking off a four-month tour of the country that will hit more than 100 locations. 

Oh, boy! A traveling almost-saint road show! Wow!! Darn that Mexico for being so far away! I especially love this part of the story:

Worshippers applauded, cried and prayed Thursday morning as a vial of the ex-pontiff's blood and a wax figure of the pope donning a papal robe arrived at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

That popey guy sure knows how to put on a show, doesn't he? This is sure to be a mega-hit in the hinterlands (which includes all of the USA at this point). I'd sure like to see that wax figure of the popey guy puttin' on a robe. Wow!

Visiting Danbury's Apple Store

Apple Store at Danbury Fair Mall.
I don't get out much. So although I've been a Mac owner for many years, until last week I had never seen the inside of an Apple Store. I always imagined that visiting one of the stores would be a magical experience, though I admit I was vague on the details. But when my computer broke down and I had to take it to an Apple Store, I finally got a firsthand look.

Lordy! The store in Danbury was a nightmare. It was one long room filled with people, all of whom were talking. The problem was that the room's acoustic features amplified all sounds. It reminded me of a supposedly chic new restaurant that opened on 8th Avenue when I lived in Manhattan. It wasn't until opening day that anyone, including the owners, learned about the restaurant's sound issues. Every fork that clinked on a plate and every glass that was set down on a table echoed wildly throughout the place. No one could stand it and I think the placed closed shortly after opening. The Apple Store had a similar problem.

Mikey Bloomberg loves them jackboots

The Mayor of Money.
I always get a kick out of watching Mike Bloomberg talk. The man is so unconnected to normal life.

Today he appeared on live TV to tell New Yorkers what they had to do because of the hurricane. He loves that have to do stuff. Essentially, he is a rich person who protects the rights of rich people and businesses. But he also adores authoritarianism. (Just check his city's marijuana arrest records.) Show him some jackboots and he starts drooling, wanting to lick the soles.

Watching him on the teevee today, it seemed he really enjoyed telling people they'd have to evacuate their homes. But he also seemed to hate the flip side of this authoritarianism: having to offer shelter to those thrown out on the streets. Each time he had to say something like "shelters will be open to receive the displaced", he said the words quickly, to get them out of his way. Those words didn't matter to him. And when he switched back to the pushy, authoritarian stuff, his voice became more powerful. He spoke with gusto about shutting down subways and buses and forcing evacuations of huge swathes of New York. Mikey likey.

The little people don't exist in Mayor Mikey's mind. He's not the Mayor of New York, he's the Mayor of Money. That's a very different thing. Anyway, he's funny to watch. Thanks, Mikey. I needed a laugh.

August 25, 2011

Dawkins, dissing Perry, speaks of evolution's beauty

Richard Dawkins
I'm sure readers are aware that Rick Perry (and every other Republican nitwit running for president, other than Huntsman) said he doesn't believe in evolution. It's amazing that anyone in the civilized world could say such a thing in 2011, but there you go. The Republican field is composed of dimwits.

In an article today on PZ Myers' blog, he quotes Richard Dawkins' response to these Republican nitwits who fail to grasp that evolution is a fact of life on Earth (and everywhere else, for that matter; evolution rules the universe). Dawkins spoke about the exquisite beauty of evolution and the ineffable sadness of human beings who fail to understand this essential theory:
[Evolution is] one of the most beautiful ideas anyone ever had as well as arguably the most powerful. To die in ignorance of its elegance, and power to explain our own existence, is a tragic loss, comparable to dying without ever having experienced great music, great literature, or a beautiful sunset.
There's a lot more at PZ's post. Go read it. It's good stuff.

Smart dolphins use tool to fish

Dolphin/Wikipedia image.
Okay, we always knew dolphins were intelligent. But they're doing something new.

It seems that some dolphins have learned how to trap fish by using a large conch shell. It's pretty amazing. Not only that, but the researchers report the practice is spreading. Apparently unintiated dolphins are watching others who use this method, and learning from them. The researchers plan to follow this learning process to see if it spreads far and wide.

Very cool.

August 24, 2011

Why we blush

A big blusher.
Earlier this year I read a great explanation for why humans blush. I had never thought about it before but obviously blushing confers an advantage on the blusher, evolutionarily speaking. If it didn't, we wouldn't blush. So what's the advantage?

The answer is simple: acceptance comes to those who blush. Think about it. When we're with a new group of people and we blush, we reveal something about ourselves. This lets the group know we're "one of them". In essence, blushing is a way to share personal values with observers. And there's no way to fake a blush so the observer gains here too. It's so weird: it's a communication tool, albeit one that is often embarrassing.

Blushing confers a direct evolutionary advantage on the blusher: group acceptance. Without that, early man would not have thrived. Nothing in life exists unless there's a good reason for it. Evolution is totally cool.

Here's a link to an article about the evolutionary aspects of blushing. I think this is a very cool science fact.

A simple language trick

Listing items in a sentence should be simple but people often screw it up. I don't think many people notice the problem I'm concerned with here, but I'm going to help you see it and fix it in your own writing.

Let's use an example from a science article at physorg. It's about efforts to head off climate change. Here's one sentence from the article:
"Initially, those efforts will probably take the form of limits on greenhouse gas emissions or forest preservation."
Do you see the problem? The sentence refers to "limits on greenhouse gas emissions or forest preservation," implying that the word "limits" applies to both terms. But the efforts probably won't include limiting forest preservation. Mind you, it would have been worse if it said "gas emissions and forest preservation." Perhaps the poor soul who wrote this assumed s/he'd fixed the problem by using "or" instead of "and". Nope.

It's easy to avoid this problem: just re-order your list. The sentence would be clear if it was written as follows:
"Initially, those efforts will probably take the form of forest preservation or limits on greenhouse gas emissions."
See? Problem gone. Just say "forest preservation" as a lone positive, and then use the word "limits" only in reference to greenhouse gas emissions.

Check the order of things you list in sentences. Does that list really make sense? Take any modifier that occurs before the list begins and apply the modifier to each of the objects in the list, to see if the meaning is sound for every item. The solution is always as simple as above: just change the order of the list (which usually means taking the lone item that doesn't work with the modifier and putting it first -- before the modifier).

This message is brought to you by the editing fairy. May he always be well!

Is this an egret?

Hanging out on a boat hull.
I've never seen this variety of bird before today. I guess it's an egret. We get a few herons each year and at first I thought this might be a white heron. But it's bigger and quite different. As far as I know, this bird is not a regular visitor to upstate New York.

Its strangely graceful but its body form seems so alien. When it stretches and elongates itself, it is totally weird. I couldn't take my eyes off it. I apologize for the distant view. I didn't want to scare it off.

Since I haven't seen an egret in the 17 years that I've lived here, I assume the bird's visit is a result of climate change. Its species must be moving northward. Makes sense at the tail end of such a hot summer.

Tell me, world. Is it an egret?

August 23, 2011

God smites popey guy

Uh-oh, popey guy.
MADRID (AP) — A freak thunderstorm on Saturday forced Pope Benedict XVI to cut short his speech to an estimated million young pilgrims gathered for the church's world youth festival, giving the outdoor prayer vigil at a Madrid airfield a dramatic climax.

Since I had no internet access, I missed this. On Joe Jervis's blog (you can't link directly to his posts, for some reason) I read that this was much more fun than you'd think from the above description.

Apparently the wind knocked his popey-guy crown off and then his tent collapsed. At least, that's what I heard on the internets. And it seems the popey guy had just been telling those poor young innocents that marriage is "defined" as being between a man and a woman. Fun!

I guess god smote him. Seems clear enough. It's about time god started smiting the right people. 

Pre-human ancestors cooked food

Chef homo habilis?
My favorite web site, physorg, has a story today about homo erectus and other human ancestors. I posted recently about the news that homo erectus sailed to distant islands before humans even existed. Like many of you, I imagine, I found the idea of human precursors sailing the seas exciting and evocative.

Today's story adds to this new image of those who came before us. It seems that homo erectus, the species that preceded homo sapiens (us), was able to cook food! And not only that -- their precursors could cook! Here's an excerpt:
Cooking may actually have originated with other species that also lived in Africa and came just before homo erectus, including homo habilis and homo rudolfensis, the study said.
Hey, humans! Still feeling special?

August 22, 2011

Five Easy Pieces at the DMV

The last time I visited the DMV to renew my license, they took a few photos. Then the 50ish female clerk put four photos on the screen and said, "Pick one."

I said "I don't care. You pick one."

Instantly, the woman became apoplectic. "You have to pick one of the photos," she said, as if explaining to a child that night will come whether the child likes it or not.

I can't help myself -- I love to kick the supports out from under this sort of rigid fool.

I said, "I really don't care. Any one will do. Any one at all."

Her face darkened. She said, "You have to choose one of these photos. Pick one."

Then her face turned an even deeper red and she compressed her lights so tightly that I thought she might hurt herself. She stared -- and the look in those eyes! The woman apparently thought she was looking at the devil hisself, a creature that wouldn't follow rules! Lawdy!

"I don't care which one you use, " I said again. "You'll have to choose." And I smiled, very sweetly I thought.

After a long hesitation during which she glared at me incessantly, her eyes telling me everything her mouth never would, the woman finally stabbed a key. It was clear that she'd rather stick a spike in my eye. Sweet lady. She chose a nice photo, too. Thanks, DMV lady!

You know, next time I take a driving photo I think I'll toss my ponytail around to the front. It's more obnoxious that way.

Computer troubles abound

So there was this big storm, see? I've never seen a storm like it. Lightning was crashing all around the house and the thunder was awesome. Best storm ever. We thought we'd die, for sure.

But we lived. And after the storm, my computer wasn't the same. The poor thing got sick from the lightning. Anyway, I've been unable to post or get email or do anything for a few days. I just got back from the Apple Store and had to leave my computer there for repair! The poor thing will be so lonely without me. In the interim, I borrowed back my old one from my sister, so at least I can stay in touch.

Readers, I had a ton of good posts ready and waiting for you. Unfortunately, they're all in the Apple Store on the sick computer so you'll have to settle for this tale of woe, at least for today. I promise I'll work up some fun posts for the coming week.

I missed all of you, and your millions of kind comments. (And yes, that's a slam against you, dear lurkers). I missed my online life. It's impossible to live without a connection these days.

So, whatcha been doing? Did you miss me?

August 20, 2011

Your faith is a joke

Since I can't find a music video that I like, how about some great blasphemy by Pat Condell? The guy deserves an award for his videos decrying religion in all its filthy forms.

(I'm putting this "Sunday" video up early in case my internet connection cuts out again.)

Boring high school reading lists

Okay, that's too broad a title. All I'm qualified to talk about are the reading lists in Catholic high schools. Unfortunately I spent four of my tender teenage years in such an institution, and I remember being bored stupid by what they forced us to read.

Now, remember, I love reading. I used to read a book every two or three days in my teens, but even I couldn't read what they assigned us. Boring, boring stuff -- that's all they gave us. And here's the thing: I graduated from Catholic high school nearly five decades ago. Yet my nephews, in Catholic high school today, are being force-fed those same, archaic titles.

Way to go, Catholic HS! This country has kids who've never enjoyed a book in their lives and you're giving them dried parchment to read? Yes, there are classics but you know what? Some of them are interesting. How come you don't assign those books?

No, the kids get "The Red Badge of Courage" and "The Scarlet Letter". That'll set 'em on fire, for sure. Newsflash: good books have been written since the year 1900. Even in the decades since I was in high school, some very good books have come out. What about them? Why not let the kids read something that is interesting and is set in a world they can recognize? Herman Melville? You think that's good fare for today's teenagers? Wake up!

When "Xmas Carol" is finished, I'm going to send a copy to my Catholic high school with a note to say that I, an illustrious alumnus, wrote the book. I'm hoping they'll include it in their next freshman reading list. I'm lookin' at you, Archbishop Molloy High School. Trust me, the kids will love it!

Life without the internet

Pre-internet fun.
Update: After writing the post below, I lost my internet connection for over a day! Aaaaaargh!

Yesterday there were periodic outages on the net. Daily Kos didn't come in for a while. Sci-blogs were spotty at best. And then it cleared up. I haven't read any news reports that explained the outages.

Then today my internet connection disappeared periodically -- for hours at a time. I have no idea if these things are related but I do know that I hate when anything gets between me and the internet. It's my lifeblood and I think many of you can identify with this.

It made me think about the old days. Life was deadly boring and so slow before the internet arrived and saved us. I mean, before the net you actually had to look up phone numbers in a book! Can you imagine?! And driving directions were something you got from Uncle Otto -- if he was sober enough. Life was not good.

Computers were the first step. I've always said that if computers weren't invented when they were, I would be dead. I would have succumbed to boredom and killed myself, truly. But computers did come along and they allowed me to do things fast. I like fast. Suddenly life picked up its pace. And when the internet came along, the picture really brightened.

I cannot live without my computer and the internet. Take anything else away: food, medications, TV, heat, A/C -- I don't care. But don't you dare touch my internet.

August 18, 2011

Words!

Since the world is so boring, let's schmooze about words today. It's fun and we seriously need a break.

First off, let's take a gander at pronunciation. You know what galls me? When I hear our local TV "news" folk say things like "Shtruggling with shtress?" This is something I hear all the time on local TV. "He died in the shtreet, alone." People -- "st" is pronounced "st" (of all things) not "sht". You sound like idiots. "The Shtrand Bookstore" indeed.

More word talk after the jump . . .

"We stopped dreaming"

PZ has a video up today of Neil deGrasse Tyson's appearance on the Bill Maher Show. I won't put it up here; that would be stealing. But you can visit Pharyngula to watch the short video here.

Tyson echoes what I've been saying here lately: we've forgotten how to dream.

Funny NYT headline

"Pope Demands Greater Ethics in Economics"

It's just too rich. What about those 34 dead boys the other day?

August 17, 2011

Intelligence not required

There's a story today on physorg about the mental abilities of bees. Here's an excerpt:
The team's findings suggest that bees are able to solve complex routing problems by learning, without needing a sophisticated cognitive representation of space. Dr Lihoreau explained: "Despite having tiny brains, effectively used gradual optimisation (comparing several different routes), to solve this famously complex routing problem which still baffles mathematicians 80 years after it was first posed."
A tiny bee brain that we wouldn't assume is capable of very much, and yet it can outpace us in this area. I love that the bees managed to learn and come up with this routing solution without a large brain. That's so cool.

I sometimes wonder if intelligence is the holy grail that we think it is. My favorite kind of sci-fi books are the ones about alternate, alien sorts of intelligence. Peter Watts' "Blindsight" went wild with this notion. If you enjoy the idea of varied concepts of consciousness, pick up a copy. The book even asks whether intelligence requires a self. Could there be another kind of intelligence, almost the opposite of a human's? His answer is fascinating.

Consciousness and intelligence are insanely interesting topics. Remember, folks: we don't even know how our brains create the illusion of "selves" -- or for that matter, what these "selves" are. It's just wild that we know so little about what we are.

We are truly an infant race. Here's hoping we reach adolescence.

August 16, 2011

Wingnuts will love this cloud

GOP cloud on Saturn.
There's an article on physorg today about an arrow-shaped cloud on Saturn. That's it on the left.

The article says the cloud is "the size of Texas". Hmmm. A cloud on Saturn shaped like an arrow pointing rightward -- and it's the size of Texas. Jeebus! It must be a sign.

Religious loons love signs. Will Rick Perry say this cloud is a sign from god? After all, it points rightward and its Texas size "tells" Earthlings that Perry is the right choice. It's totally nuts but it occurs to me that these idiots believe in nonsense, so why not this? I think they're gonna love this one. (Though they may miss it since science seems to scoot right by them.)

A bright, shiny, new fact

Homo Erectus: sailor?
From McClatchy today:
RALEIGH, N.C. — Early manlike creatures may have been smarter than we think. Recent archaeological finds from the Mediterranean show that human ancestors traveled the high seas.
The article reports that one of humanity's precursors, Homo Erectus, was able to cross open waters 130,000 years ago. That's 100,000 years earlier than was thought possible. It's a great image, isn't it? Non-humans piloting a raft or other type of craft. I love it. Here's a quote from one of the researchers:
"The thing to me that really makes this unique and exciting is ... these other sister species maybe weren't entirely stupid like we portray them," Wegmann said. "They were capable of really complex things.
That sound you hear is wingnut heads exploding. Fun!

What did the church do to those 34 dead boys?

Uh-oh, popey guy.
Dutch Prosecutors Probe Catholic Institute Deaths is the headline of a story in the NY Times today. Here's an excerpt:
Dutch prosecutors are to investigate the deaths of 34 boys in a Catholic institute for the mentally disabled in the 1950s — the latest probe in a long-running inquiry into sexual abuse in the church.
I particularly liked this bit:
The Roermond Diocese — where the institute was based — issued a statement saying it could not comment on the investigation, but welcomed the probe, saying it was in line with the diocese's policy of reporting such matters to prosecutors if necessary
Those guys sure wanna do the right thing, huh? If necessary, of course. Otherwise, fuggedaboutit.

At the heart of this case is that thirty-four boys died at this Catholic institute in a three-year period! Suspicious? Duh. The popey guy must be shaking in his special red shoes. I can't wait for the outcome in this case.

The Roman Catholic Church -- bringing you filth for 2,000 years.

August 15, 2011

They're still raping kids

Evil bishop Robert Finn/NYT
If you think the Roman Catholic child abuse scandal is all in the past, you should read this story in the NYT. It's the same old tale: priest repeatedly abuses children; the bishop knows about it; the bishop says nothing; and the priest continues merrily on his way. This one is going on in Missouri right now.

Special bonus: the bishop is an Opus Dei priest who swept into the parish and immediately destroyed many great, kind programs in order to redirect the diocese's funds toward massive anti-abortion protests.

No morality. That's what we always see from officials of the Roman Catholic church.

On becoming "well-read"

There's an interesting post up at Fiction Writers Review. It's about the effort to become well-read. The story is called "We're going to miss almost everything". If you're an avid reader I think you'll enjoy it.

August 14, 2011

"Killer bull"?

MADRID (AP) — A killer bull has claimed another victim after fatally goring a 29-year-old man during festivities in Spain's eastern Valencia region, an official said Sunday. 
The headline for this AP/NYT story is "Killer Bull in Spain Fatally Gores Man". I've read the story. A more accurate, more appropriate headline would be "Drunken, risk-averse fool invites bull to gore him; succeeds".

The edit goes well

I've almost finished my latest edit of Xmas Carol. It sounds great, just the way I want it to. I can't even guess how many times I've edited the book now. I wonder if I'll soon be able to recite it by memory, the way the people in "Farenheit 451" could recite their assigned books. It's been a long haul.

This time through, I still found plot errors such as characters knowing things before they logically could. It flat-out amazes me that I didn't pick these things up in prior passes through the book. But I didn't, and that's a fact. It seems that when you clear away the chaff, you see things that had been hidden by all the weeds. In any case, I fixed the problems. I'm halfway through chapter 11 (of 12), so I'm almost there.

After that, one more time through the book will do it. On the next pass, I plan to cut every word that doesn't further the plot. What's left will be the final book. Xmas Carol is coming. Hang on.

August 13, 2011

Stop the pervasive religious nonsense

Cartoon / Sydney Anglicans
There's a headline in the LA Times today. It says, "Holy altar found in Mexican drug tunnel into California".

Hey, LA Times guys. What's with the "Holy"? It's wouldn't be enough for you to say "Altar found . . .?" Nope, it has to be holy. I guess the writer could tell, huh? How?

And the altar wasn't even in a tunnel! When you read the story, you learn they found it in a house. Yet they turn this into a headline about a "holy" altar in a "drug tunnel". Little care goes into newspaper stories these days.

I'm so sick of the omnipresence of religious words and imagery in print and media. How many times have you read a news story that mentioned "the holy city" of Karbala? Why do they say these things? It only perpetuates the nonsense. What the hell is holy about a city (or anything else, for that matter)? Saying plain old "Karbala" wouldn't identify the city properly?

And then religious fools have the nerve to object to a simple atheist message on a bus. Amazing.

Two Robert Palmer tracks: a progression

Robert Palmer
I love Robert Palmer. There were years when his music was always playing in my apartment. The man was so creative and such a risk-taker. Yes, he churned out mega-hits but he also experimented. At those times, he played right at the edge of the musical cliff: go any further and it's no longer music. He loved dancing on the edge and sometimes took a step further, trusting the air to bear his musical weight. To me, those were Robert Palmer's best moments.

On one of those occasions he wrote "Woke Up Laughing". It's a song about that fuzzy instant between sleep and waking -- and how sometimes, just for a moment, we bring the crazy logic of a dream into the real world. If you've ever awakened laughing at something that a moment later you couldn't even understand, you'll probably like this song.

(Two videos and a bit more wordage after the break)

Not baseball talk but "Talkin' Baseball"

Just for fun. I love this song.

August 12, 2011

A sad bug story

Poor little guy.
Recently I wrote about the BugZooka, a great tool for catching bugs without hurting them. I'm still wildly happy with the contraption but ...

The other day I was contending with the tiny moths that have moved into my kitchen. (I think they come from the rice or maybe a wheat cereal; I'm not sure. They certainly don't come from the 50-lb sacks of wild bird seed all over my house.) Anyway, I caught four or five of them and then saw another one.

NY Archdiocese finds sex ed "troubling"

Archbigot Dolan
Do you believe the gall of these folks? The Roman Catholic Church, the one that goes around raping kids, is upset that students in NYC public schools are going to receive sex education! Do these priests have no mirrors? Here's an excerpt from the Times article:
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York called a new city requirement that sex education be taught at all public middle and high schools “troubling” on Wednesday, and some Catholic officials said they would advise Catholic parents not to let their children participate. 
I assume they're worried that children would be encouraged to contact the police if an adult abused them. This would cramp the church's style. They want their old world back, the one where they could do whatever they pleased to anyone they encountered, and suffer no repercussions.

Well, churchy guys, welcome to 21st-century New York. Maybe you don't fit in here anymore. Heck, maybe you don't fit in anywhere. So why don't you just pack up your supernatural toys and your funny hats and your absurdly expensive "vestments" and move to a secluded island where there are no children? 

August 11, 2011

Respecting the great apes

Chimp/Wikipedia.
There's a good op-ed by Roscoe Bartlett in today's New York Times. He was involved in chimp research for the space program. Now, as a senator, he's sponsoring a bill that would outlaw such research on the "great apes".

It's worth reading. And they're worth respecting. I'd even go further: let's outlaw torturing any living creature for our own purposes (and yes, that would include humans). Why do we feel that we're the only beings on this planet who count? I don't get it.

Well, actually I do. This insane notion comes directly from religion, which tells us we're special in some magical way. We're not. We're the hairless monkeys of Earth, kids. So how come we get to torture all the other creatures?

Oh joy. Now we can kill even more people.

There's an article on physorg today about a new, much more destructive material that will soon be used in warheads. Excerpt:
By combining several metals with standard manufacturing techniques, High-Density Reactive Material (HDRM) has the potential to dramatically increase the explosive impact of most weapons with little or no compromise in strength or design.
Unlike conventional munitions, the innovative materials approach integrates the casing with approved warhead explosives for increased lethality. In addition, the unique design for fragmenting warheads allows release of after impact, increasing the probability of a catastrophic kill.
Oh, happy day, because you know, we haven't been quite destructive enough, to date. But this will surely put us over the top. Hooray! Maybe we can start even more wars now!

August 10, 2011

Spoilers are a good thing?

Click to embiggen.
This story on physorg is about a study coming out next week in Psychology Today. It says that spoilers don't ruin the pleasure of reading a book -- even when it's a detective story or a suspense novel! In fact, they go on to say that spoilers can enhance the reader's experience. Well, I don't believe a word of that.

I don't know about you, but I never read the blurbs on the backs of books -- I just go by the cover and author. They tell you way too much on those back covers. The blurbs themselves are spoilers. I hate that.

The topic of spoilers is especially interesting to me because there is no way to talk about Xmas Carol without ruining the book for readers. Its very nature is a spoiler.

Anyway, read the story and see what you think. As for me, I will continue along my chosen path, avoiding spoilers at every turn. And I hope readers will treat it this way too. If they pass the book on to a friend, they should just say "Read this. It's fun."

Good Booman post today

Booman's got a post up today entitled, What Rich Republicans Don't Understand. It's about the riots in England and why we may see something like that here. The piece is spot-on and not too long. I urge you to read it. Here's an excerpt:
Now we're back to 1920's level of income disparity. Conservatives are attacking every aspect of the New Deal. What rich people seem to be forgetting is that the opposite of the New Deal is not some idyllic paradise of free-market bliss. The opposite is rampaging mobs who light shit on fire just to show you that they can do whatever they want. Eventually, that can include burning down your business or your house, or, maybe, even taking your life.

August 9, 2011

On the other hand . . .

This is a follow-up to my curmudgeonly post about reunions. Although I don't want to meet or see anyone from my past, I'd like to know what happened to a few people, where their lives went. Humans love stories; we can't help it. It's probably some inherited monkey thing. We literally hunger for them, which is a lucky fact for fiction writers.

So here's my add-on to that post. What I was thinking is that these days, much of our lives are online. Some entrepreneur should write a computer program that gathers the information out there about someone, and then turns it into a narrative, as if it was a news story about the person being sought. All you'd have to do is feed the program names.

The nanobots come. Billions!

In a very basic sense, we have seen the first iteration of nanobots. Scientists have learned how to make nano-particles do things on command. Very cool. They'll ramp this up in stages, with larger and larger results, until nanobots are a reality of modern life.

And then, of course, the nanobots will kill us all. But until then, fun times!

Funniest thing you'll see today

Hat tip to Joe Jervis of Joe.My.God for this. You've just got to click this link and go read a nutjob question that a deranged religious mother posted -- and then read the comments, which are spectacular. It'll make your day. I promise.

August 8, 2011

I'd rather be dead than at a reunion

The past is gone.
A couple of times recently, people from my distant past called to say "we're having a big reunion and want you to come." Each time I said "I'm not interested" and hung up.

The past is the past; it's over. I have no interest in visiting it, seeing people from those days, or rehashing any experience that we shared. That was another lifetime and I was someone else.

The present and the future are the golden times, not the past. Don't get me wrong -- I enjoy my memories. But those days are gone. And like the me of those times, the people I once knew no longer exist.

You can't recapture a time but you can enjoy the present and work to create the future. I'm on that end of things, fully. So if you used to know me and are planning to hold a reunion, don't even call.

On the other hand, if you're a person from the future and you'd like to contact me, the lines are open.

August 7, 2011

Where are the dreams of our future?

We used to dream of a fantastic future for the human race. From the Jules Verne era forward, it seemed people couldn't stop fantasizing about humanity's enormous potential and what the future had in store for us. It was widely believed that through science, we would develop into a super-civilization that extended its reach throughout the universe. World peace was a given, as was an end to disease and famine. Everyone in the future would be happy and fulfilled. We dreamed of a human race that would exist for hundreds of thousands of years, a race that would come to learn all the secrets of the universe. It was a lovely dream shared by a huge segment of the population in the 1950s and 60s. We looked forward to this future, and worked toward it.

Kids used to fantasize about "outer space" and every kid wanted to be a spaceman. But it wasn't only the kids. Adults looked forward to every new book or movie that promised a glimpse of these possible futures. And though an apocalyptic vision or two was included in the mix, by and large these visions confirmed something for us: the future was endlessly bright.

Where did all that go? Does anyone dream about the future anymore? Or has everyone decided that there is no future? This is why I write my books. We need to re-learn the skill of dreaming about our future. It's such a simple thing, but we've forgotten how to do it. I want us to dream.

NYT has a great opinion piece on Obama today

Wonderful op-ed by Drew Westen in the NYT today. Here's an excerpt:
The president is fond of referring to “the arc of history,” paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But with his deep-seated aversion to conflict and his profound failure to understand bully dynamics — in which conciliation is always the wrong course of action, because bullies perceive it as weakness and just punch harder the next time — he has broken that arc and has likely bent it backward for at least a generation. 
Read the whole thing. It's excellent.

August 6, 2011

My fave from the new Bon Iver album

What can I say? I love this guy. Don't give up on the song if you don't like the open. It changes. You'll find the video below, and here are the lyrics. As always, Justin Vernon give us word soup, a side-stream of sound and disjointed meaning to accompany his melody. For this reason, the lyrics below are just a guesstimate.

Minnesota, WI

Armour let it through, borne the arboretic truth you kept posing
sat down in the suit, fixed on up it wasn’t you by finished closing

ramble in the roots, had the marvel, moved the proof be kneeled fine’s glowing
storing up the clues, it had its sullen blue bruised through by showing

settle past a patience where wishes and your will are spilling pictures
water’s running through in the valley where we grew to write this scripture:

never gonna break
never gonna break
never gonna break
never gonna break
not for a part in any gamut of the dark

doubled in the toes annex it, it minute closed in the morning
did not lose it in the stack’s stow, imma lay that call back on ya

you know it won’t beseech you, we’re laying in an open field
I will let you grow, no need to know this

so carry on my dear, what is clear up in the daylight is we’re hung here
fall is coming soon, a new year for the moon and the Hmong here

never gonna break
never gonna break
never gonna break
never gonna break
all that it seems
bellows tracing through the streams

never gonna break
never gonna break
never gonna break
never gonna break
all at its seams
swallows swelling for the beams



Yes, I'm still editing Xmas Carol

I keep saying I'm "editing" Xmas Carol but a more accurate statement would be that I'm rewriting it. I'm always rewriting it. It's apparently what I do.

Our own Artichoke Annie suggested a few changes after reading it, and I agreed because her ideas were good. So I dove back in to make the changes . . . which of course ended up with me making more changes, and more changes, and . . . So yes, I'm rewriting the book.

I used to look down on writers who took three years to write a book. After all, I wrote three books in 18 months. Ah, but that was before I began "editing" the books into final form. Xmas Carol is the one I chose to work on first -- and I'm still doing it many months later. I started writing Xmas Carol on January 28, 2010. So I've been working on it for about 19 months, and I figure it's going to take another month or so to complete. Whew.

This brings me back to a quote I see often on writing blogs: "Great books are not written, they are rewritten." I'm rewriting the book, not editing it. And it's a good thing. Each time I go through it, the book becomes better.

Right now, I'm about 2/3 of the way through the book. And when I'm done I'm going to go through it again. And I'm going to cut, cut, cut. I am so rewriting this book.

Hang on. I promise it will be done at some point. Really.

August 5, 2011

Thoughts on our new Gilded Age

I trust that anyone who finds his or her way to this blog already knows we're living in a new Gilded Age. Economic inequality has never been more extreme. One percent of the world's population owns 40% of the wealth. In other words, "Let them eat cake," is the order of the day.

You all know how this plays out in real life. Mega-financiers rape maids and then a well-financed PR campaign turns the country against the maid -- and the financier goes off on another gilded holiday. You can't get into serious trouble if you're rich; you just can't, not today. If you don't believe me, ask the banksters who brought down the country and are now reaping record profits. This is how it works in the new Gilded Age.

But today I found myself wondering if there's another kind of inequality that's just as corrosive and prevalent. I think there is. The divide between sophistication and ignorance is ominously wide today. Sure, there were always eggheads and know-nothings mixed in among the population but there was also a growing level of shared knowledge and literacy working its way through the land. Today, that's not happening. The American people no longer read, no longer learn. They are incurious and ignorant in equal parts.

On the other hand, in many urban areas there are smart, knowledgeable people who have, you know, gone to school and read books and know things.

These two groups are in a race -- the ignorant and the knowledgeable -- and the prize is control of the future of the human race. In light of this competition, consider the import of what is happening today. Everywhere you look, they're firing teachers, cutting school budgets and closing libraries. This guarantees that the ignorant will outnumber the educated in the future. This is how the already-tipped scale tips further and further. At the end is collapse.

Things aren't looking up for the good old US of A. The Gilded Age is coupling with the Dimwit Age and they're making some nasty music together.

August 4, 2011

Homophobic wording in NY Times

I was disappointed to see this lede in a New York Times story:
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A teacher has testified that a gay student at a Southern California junior high school paraded around in makeup and high heels in front of a classmate who is accused of killing him the next day.
Was that language necessary? It doesn't appear that the writer was quoting the teacher. If he was, there would be quotation marks surrounding the phrase, "paraded around in makeup and high heels". So why say this? Is this the writer's view? The language is incredibly homophobic. "Walked back and forth in front of the defendant" would work just as well in the article -- without bringing bigotry into it.

This kind of homophobic reportage is like something from the 1950s. New York Times, you are disgusting.

When nature comes into the house

BugZooka is humane.
First of all, allow me to establish where on the PETA scale I lie: When I pick a zucchini from the garden, I can't cut into it until it's been in the refrigerator for a few hours. Otherwise it's too warm and alive. I hate to hurt living stuff. Okay, so now you know me.

Well, I've had an infestation of tiny moths in my kitchen for a few weeks now. It's wildly creepy because I don't want to kill the moths. Yes, I try to catch and release them but we're talking legion here. Many mucho moths. A friend of mine who also cares what happens to creatures once told me, "You can kill anything that invades your space." And I have, on occasion, killed some of these moths. Pardon me as I hang my head in shame for a moment . . . (interlude; music almost plays) . . . There, I think I'm okay now.

Anyway, the point of this confessional is that I found a great solution: I bought a BugZooka. It is the coolest thing. That's it up top in the photo. It's got a bellows on it (you can see this a bit at the bottom of the photo) and you simply compress the bellows and pull the trigger. No batteries needed. It sucks the little guy into a clear plastic tube at the tip. (This is funny: they also include a dark grey plastic tube in case you don't want to see the bugs.) The bug is not harmed by the process and you just go outside, unscrew the tip and set it free. It's a win for me and the bug. Very cool.

Great Mets game the other night

Resnick gettin' high-fived afterward.
The Mets sportscasters hold a "Kidcaster contest" each year, to let young people try out as sportscasters (by sending a recording, I assume). The kid who wins gets to go on the show during a game, and take over the sportscasting duties.

The cool thing is that for the last two years, when the let the kid do it, the next ball or the one after it was a home run. It's like the best thing in the world for the kids, and it's amazing that this keeps happening. Anyway, I just saw that HuffPo has the video on its sports page. So if you'd like to, you can watch and hear Jacob Resnick, the 11-year-old winner, as he bumps right into a home run with his first batter, Jose Reyes. The kid did a great job.

(The game was a keeper, by the way, and I'm saving it for my winter baseball trove. Huzzah! I shall not be without baseball this off-season. Take that, MLB!!!)

August 3, 2011

You know who's a peach?

Vin Scully, Dodgers broadcaster.
Vin Scully, that's who. Do you know this guy? He does the broadcast for the Dodgers and he's just amazing.

The guy is 86 and he does the games alone. To my knowledge, he's the only lone sportscaster in the MLB. The other guys host the games in groups of two or three, a much easier set-up because no one person is responsible for keeping up the patter. They take turns.

Not Scully. He does the whole damn thing by himself. I really admire him for this. It's a huge responsibility. And he's not just dribbling out nonsense. Scully offers succinct, intelligent commentary that comes out sounding like the printed page. Most people who are 86 have trouble keeping track of the days of the week, yet Scully provides a truly heads-up, alert commentary for four- or five-hour stretches! Alone! Now that is amazing.

He always has the inside scoop and he tells his audience what each team, player and manager is trying to do, every step of the way. And the man is shrewd. He says things that make you see the game in a new light.

Plus, he's been broadcasting for 50 years. The guy was there when the greats played, and talks about those days in entertaining fashion. He is living history. And, the icing on the cake, Scully's voice and delivery bring back the sounds of old-time baseball broadcasting. When I hear him, if I close my eyes it could be 1950 or 1960. The timbre of his voice proclaims this. I love this guy.

If your TV system lets you watch a Dodgers game from their viewpoint, give Vin a listen. He is something.

Great post at AmericaBlog

John Aravosis said it all today in an article called "Hope Takes a Holiday". Just read it.

August 2, 2011

But the magic never happens

Even Houdini's magic failed him.
Most people on this planet believe there is a god. Given the reality that surrounds us, this is astounding. But what amazes me the most is that believers don't notice that the magic never happens.

We hear their pronouncements. The world will end on a certain day because the bible says so. Praying will bring about miracles. The prophet will return and carry the saved to heaven. Some guy who rose from the dead after a virgin birth is available to hear your prayers nightly. And don't forget, he'll meet you in heaven after you die.

No religious prediction has ever come true. And in the entire history of the world, no one has been able to come up with any evidence to support the notion that there is a god. An all-powerful being -- yet there's no trace of him anywhere. What could this mean? Duh.

This is what's called evidence. Reality does not allow for elves, magic or gods. So although addle-headed believers constantly predict this and that thing will happen, it's all nonsense, as is everything else about religion. Yet the gullible believers continue to believe. It's an insane situation and a pernicious one that is eroding our world. People everywhere are killing each other because of these cartoon-like beliefs. It's stunning -- and suicidal. 

As I often say here, believers' brains are hobbled. They can't update their contents when new, accurate information comes along. The contents of religious people's brains are like old movies. In that airless room inside their thick skulls, nothing changes and everything is a repeat. They call this empty state of mind "faith" but the rest of us should see it for what it is: ignorance. To be even more precise, faith is chosen ignorance.

The magic never happens. This is a clue. Wake up.

So let's see . . .

Joe was just like a Fox news host.
After 9/11, we attacked the wrong country. (And we don't care; odd, that.)

And now, in the midst of the worst economic crisis in living memory, the government has attacked the wrong problem. We don't have a deficit problem or a debt ceiling problem; we have a demand problem. And the reason no one has money to spend is because they don't have jobs. The plan just enacted by congress will make both these situations worse, not better. After long debate, our nation just punched the wrong opponent again.

This is quite a country we've got here. And things will stay this way until progressives, young people, democrats and independents rise up and elect people who can actually think. I haven't much hope for this happening.

Good luck to us all. We're going to need it.

August 1, 2011

Dawn in the dining car

Dining car on an old Chicago line.
One of my earliest memories is of a train ride from New York City to somewhere-or-other in Canada. I was less than six years old, how much less I'm not sure. I remember one thing vividly from the trip.

It was still dark when my mother took me to the dining car in the morning. It was the most wonderful place in the world, a rolling room from a fairytale. I didn't know about racism and Pullman porters yet. To my child's eyes, it only seemed festive that the staff were black and wore shocking white uniforms. It looked special, as if the look was designed.

The tablecloths and napkins weren't just white -- they were shockingly white, as were the uniforms of the dining staff and the towel over the forearm of the man who served us breakfast. And there was a lot of silver and glass on the table.

As we shook and rolled, we ate eggs with sausage and toast, and had a cup of coffee. At one point, I remember being very impressed by a tiny glass of tomato juice the waiter placed before me. It sat, so bloody red on that blindingly white tablecloth. Drinking that glass of tomato juice seemed the height of sophistication to me.

And all the while, the world rushed by our window. I saw mountains and rivers and waterfalls. And as the minutes passed, the darkness lifted in stages. It was the first time I saw the sun rise. It was absolutely glorious, inside the car and out. I thought I was in heaven.


That hour spent in a railway dining car is one of my favorite memories. Got any you'd like to share?