Tuesday, December 30, 2008

'I'm Yours'

I learned about this Jason Mraz song from my young daughter.

Say what you want, but I think it's just about the catchiest, most infectious happy-go-lucky song to appear in a long time. Appear? Did it just appear? Or did Mr. Mraz create it?

Enjoy.

Enjoy (an imperative one-word grammatically correct and complete sentence with "you" as the understood subject, as we learned to diagram sentences, at the chalkboard, instructed imperatively and imperially (albeit thoroughly) by the inestimable Mrs. Helen Clarke Rivers in English class in seventh grade, at Burdick Junior High School, in Stamford, Connecticut, circa 1961.

I'm yours.




Merry Christmas, I Say

I wish you a Merry Christmas, and notice that I did not append the word "belated" to the greeting. Why not? It's not late. Despite the mercantile manifestations to the contrary, it is still the Christmas season, liturgically and actually. What do you think those Twelve Days of Christmas are all about? In my palace, the tree (always live) is not permitted to go out to the curb for recycling until Epiphany, traditional Epiphany, January 6. So there.

It Is Written (or is it?)

Scene: Downtown, Montgomery Street, near the Y. About 12:25 p.m. I feed the coins into the solar-powered parking kiosk-thingy. It spits out the parking permit, a little receipt, a ticket, if you will, with the expiration time of 1:10 p.m. This little piece of paper is to be placed on the dashboard. I do so. Driver's side. I close the door. The paper wedges up against the window, in a crevice, making it unreadable, or virtually (why don't we say vicely?) unreadable, hence the danger of a parking ticket, but not the good kind of ticket. I open the door. I fish out the wedged paper and place it again on the dashboard, in a readable position. Take 2. I try to close the door, playing cat and mouse, waiting to see if the wind will swoop it, as if I were a bit player in a Charlie Chaplin movie, oh what the heck, as if I were the befuddled Chaplin himself. Or Harold Lloyd. The small piece of paper goes flying, orbiting above the dash. I pick it up and retrieve it. Is it written by the gods that I cannot or should not park here? Take 3. It not only goes flying but whips around and hides under the passenger seat, as if it has a personality or as if this is a cinematic special effect. I smile, even chuckle. Why get pissed? This is life! Is anything wackier than this? Take 4. I gingerly place it again on the driver's dashboard, pause, stand in front of the door, balancing, shieldng my precious receipt from the wind, waiting, and close the door gently, very softly. It works. Presto.

Book List, Executive Branch Version

Speaking of book lists (see post of a few days ago), Karl Rove in a Wall Street Journal column reveals that he and President Bush have had a yearly book-reading contest since New Year's Eve 2005.

And if Rove is to be believed (one would have healthy reason to be skeptical of anything these guys assert) their reading habits are if not prodigious at least substantial. Rove says he outdid the president each year, with Bush logging 95 books to Rove's 110 in the first year.

You can carp and quibble about their choices (more fiction, please; and some potent poetry, too; but, hey, The Stranger, by Albert Camus?!), and you can argue vehemently with their existential conclusions and lament loudly their decisions, but... but.... you've got to applaud the fact of reading.

Why do I say more fiction and more poetry? It's hard to explain, but true literature reveals, illuminates, pierces, shreds, unravels, sanctifies, enlightens, and translates reality in more and deeper ways that nonfiction never can.

Think King Lear. Or Hamlet. Or Julius Caesar. Or Macbeth. Or Richard III.

I stand by my list of 22, though.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Spy in the House of Ah!

I am sitting at a coffeehouse on the east side. I live on the west side. I grew up in a housing project on the west side (of another city), went to college on the east side (of this city, its environs, actually), lived a short time in an urban east-side neighborhood here. This place is sumptuous, with Craftsman (or is it Arts & Crafts style? is there a difference?) furniture and furnishings. I (typically) go to church on the east side. My spiritual mentors meet weekly on the west side; in fact, West End is emblazoned in their name. I do not speak the east side language, though I can. I do not dress the east side style, though I can fake it (but they would know). I once owned an Audi (used); still, they knew then and would know now. If I were to quote Kierkegaard and Goethe, hum Bach and Berlioz, all while attired from head to toe in Ralph Lauren, underwear too, still they'd know. They'd know I was a west sider; they'd know I was a spy in the House of Ah! (All apologies and kudos to Anais Nin, for one of the best titles ever dreamed, which I have borrowed and adapted.)

p.s. Is it always the same cultural-class split vis-a-vis East and West? Someone once claimed to me it was based on the inconvenience of sun in the eyes of commuters. A cute theory, but not likely. Let's see. Manhattan. Upper East Side, definitely more high-brow. Berlin. West is definitely more upper-crust. So, not much of a theory to go on because I do not have much empirical, or any other kind of, data.

Book 'em: We Are Listing, But Not Listless

In what has become an annual rite, here is my list of books read in 2008, in the order of my having read them. I know the year is not over, but I won't finish Netherland by Joseph O'Neill until sometime in 2009. You are invited to share lists of your own, publicly or privately.

1. The Lay of the Land. Richard Ford. Fiction. I place it in the top ranks of any year. A journey through the modern American landscape, especially the interior landscape of the older American white male. Yes, he has a soul.

2. The Quick of It. Eamon Grennan. Poetry.

3. Born Standing Up. Steve Martin. Autobiography.

4. Returning to Earth. Jim Harrison. Fiction.

5. A Three Dog Life. Abigail Thomas. Memoir. (Yes, Mark Murphy, I would have added a hyphen to the title.)

6. What the Gospels Meant. Garry Wills. Nonfiction. Erudite and excellent. Readable.

7. Three Days to Never. Tim Powers. Fiction. (Powers is one of son's favorites.)

8. Then We Came to the End. Joshua Ferris. Fiction. Bought in paperback at a fine bookstore in Potsdam, Germany. Catch-22 goes to the office. A book about people losing their jobs, the right book at the right time, for me.

9. God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. Adam Nicolson. Nonfiction. Scholarly and hugely entertaining.

10. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Kate Di Camillo. Fiction. It can be rewarding to share reading with your children (which is also true for numbers 7 and 3; or with one's spouse, number 5).

11. The Unknown Terrorist. Richard Flanagan. Fiction.

12. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. Roddy Doyle. Fiction. Touching, and unbearably sad.

13. The Hidden Assassins. Robert Wilson. Fiction.

14. Once Upon a Fastball. Bob Mitchell. Fiction. Rewarding.

15. After Dark. Haruki Murakami. Fiction. Murakami. What else to say? (Read first by my daughter, who has become a fan.)

16. Skin Deep. E.M. Crane. Fiction.

17. Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, and Robert B. Cialdini. Nonfiction.

18. A Step From Death. Larry Woiwode. Memoir.

19. One Good Turn. Kate Atkinson. Fiction.

20. Supreme Courtship. Christopher Buckley. Fiction. I met his dad, William F. Buckley Jr., when "Christo" was around 12, at his home. He surely does not remember.

21. What Jesus Meant. Garry Wills. Again, Wills is so great. Unconventional and intelligent.

22. Holidays on Ice. David Sedaris. Fiction (some say nonfiction, but depends on the piece). Fresh after seeing him and meeting him at the Landmark Theatre, Syracuse. My kind of humor, for the most part.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Vision Fission Fusion

The other day, my Zen Calendar had this quotation:

"As a man is, so he sees." -- William Blake

I dare say, au contraire:

As a man sees, so he is.

It's odd that a zen calendar wouldn't see things that way, the latter way. After all, see the whole universe in one drop of dew on a blade of grass. That sort of thing. I remember a line in one of John Updike's Rabbit books, Rabbit Is Rich, I believe, something like, "When you feel better you see better." That too. Or vice versa. It might all sound counterintuitive, but it's the same thing as: "You can act yourself into a new way of thinking." When I first heard that, I thought they were crazy, but it has turned out to be empirically true for me and many others.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Obituary of Silences

Harold Pinter is dead at 78. I claim no special knowledge of his works. I saw a film version of "The Homecoming" in the 1970s. I thought the lovely Lee Remick was in it but now don't find any evidence of that at various movie sites. My wife and I saw a fine Syracuse Stage production of Harold Pinter's "Betrayal" a few years ago.

Critics talk of the power of the tortured silences in Pinter dialogue.

Yes.

Oh yes.

True.

We had a bite to eat afterward.

Some tea.

What?

Yes, some tea.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Latte, avec laissez-faire

Starbucks (do they use the apostrophe?). Tuesday, 8:39 p.m. A line of holiday shoppers snakes out toward the food court, but doesn't quite reach it, either a sign of the poor economy or the weariness of shoppers or a paucity of coffee addicts. A few slots ahead of my spot in the line (overwhelmingly populated by youngish women; why is that?) is a mother, say 28, with two animated young devils (I mean, girls), say 2 and 4. These two do not need any beverage or food with caffeine, since clearly their mother a few minutes earlier had gone into the lavatory to inject them with high-grade, imported, pure caffeine, illegal amounts of it. Oh, and Mommy appears to be pregnant, showing a roundness of belly on an otherwise thin frame. She is well-dressed, even stylish in a low-key way. Think Audrey Hepburn, on an off-day, distracted and a tad disheveled, with a stroller. The stroller is unoccupied. Mommy Dearest is either bored, tired, or else she extracted all her body's caffeine to put into the hypodermic needles for the kids. Suffice it to say she needs a pick-me-up. Something! Or maybe she is always this blase and breezy, having attended the Laissez-Faire Academy of Parenting. No ring on her finger, so perhaps she attended alone. Clearly, she graduated with high honors from the Laissez-Faire ranks, summa cum loud. The two girls may have been robots or Christmas toys. Humans do not move that quickly close to 9 p.m. The wind-up springs in them were about to snap. Like worker bees, the amphetamine-addled tots buzzed back and forth, clinking Starbucks mugs like revellers in a Holbein masterpiece, rearranging coffee packages, reconfiguring bric-a-brac on the sales shelves. Merry mayhem. I seriously entertained the fleeting thought that the tiny pranksters were not her children. I searched for the look of a concerned parent. No one. She paid them no mind. It was as if the children existed in another dimension or in another time zone or on another continent. Predictably, one of the younguns chipped one of the display coffee mugs. Uh-oh. Not to worry. Mother put the chipped fragment in the cup and took the cup and placed into the stroller. She obviously subscribed to the You Break It It's Yours philosophy that was not part of the Laissez-Faire curriculum. She took the cup from one of the little whirling dervishes! -- meaning they were her charges! She mumbled a few half-hearted remonstrances and then went back to staring off into outer space. She paid in coins, from what I could discern, so maybe she was not rich, as I had suspected. "Look at me," she said to one of the locomotives, garnering the girls' attention for a nanosecond. "I must be getting old," I said to the man around my age to my left, in back of me in line. One of the girls had wandered in back, rearranging the inventory again. Mommy Oblivious again. "Down in Atlanta those kids'd be gone," he remarked in a slight drawl. Mother went up front to await her beverages. She ambled toward the food court, sans precisely one daughter-cyclone. She exhibited no evidence of awareness that Dervish 2 (or was it Dervish 1?) was Missing in Active Animated Action (MIA3). How long would it have been until she made this discovery? I suspect cold fusion would have been perfected sooner; a new planet would have been discovered and inhabited. Atlanta Man, fortunately a kindly and good-hearted soul, steered the kid to Momma. I could neither hear nor lip-read the conversation between Atlanta Man and Mominator. "Oh!" seemed to be the word she uttered. Or: "Oh, shucks, golly, I had no idea my kid was hanging out with an adult. Oh, dear. She was probably getting references lined up for Harvard. Oh. Thanks." Oh.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Solstice

winter roars in with wind and snow

brightness inches incrementally

onto the screen from here on

white on white on dark

Breaking Bread

Last Thursday, the day starts off ordinary. A quotidian routine. Morning toast and tea. With whole milk. No sugar anymore; gave it up one Lent; never looked back, except for the occasional indulgence. It's so addictive to slide back into, but I don't miss that sweetness, not really. Shockingly sweet if sugar added. The bread is local, artisanal. Heidelberg Baking Company. Herkimer, New York. This morning, white. Excellent for toasting. But first the sliced pieces need delicate separating. Had we frozen this loaf? So, sliced is not quite sliced until my hands surgically finish the existential act. It is a careful operation. Attentive. Or else the pieces will crumble into untoastable morsels. But the division is complete and the toaster accepts this sacrifice. Breakfast is a quiet feast.

Lunch is a pleasant indulgence with a dear friend.

Supper at India House with wife, younger daughter, son, his wife.

Gifts, mostly books.

Wrapping paper.

Such was my 60th birthday.

Gratitude.

Found in the breaking of the bread.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

CARTE BLANCHE

In 1989 or 1990 I was working on a government proposal. Huge. Many volumes. Military stuff. I came upon a blank page that was not quite blank. "This page intentionally left blank." These words emblazoned the otherwise white 8.5 by 11 page. In brackets. Centered. Is my memory accurate? Is the phrasing correct? At first I laughed, thinking, how stupid! I still don't get it, not entirely. Was it a placeholder for information to be filled in later? Was it blank for security reasons, and if so when would it become nonblank? But, of course, in a swirl of circular Dadaism, the page could never be blank as long as it had words on it, albeit bracketed words. How powerful, then, are brackets! They are cogent enough to suspend reality, as it were, or is, or ever shall be. They are Editors Supreme. Would that we could employ (do not expect to see me use the loathsome word "utilize"!) brackets orally, the way people bend their raised index and middle fingers, genuflecting the air, to indicate either irony or a literal quotation. Of course, that's not oral at all. I meant visually vis-a-vis speech, didn't I? Perhaps we could start a new movement (literally qua literalness) of angling the thumb and index finger of each hand rectangularly, raised parallel to each other, like a referee signaling a touchdown, bracketlike, to alert the world to the advent of one's bracketed speech, as if to say, "I'm not really saying this" or "I cannot believe what I'm going to say" or "I'm saying this but it doesn't count" or [This mind intentionally left blank].
[THIS PAGE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK.]

Monday, December 15, 2008

December

T.S. Eliot called April the cruelest month in his poem "The Wasteland."

Do you think December was a cruel-month candidate in any of the earlier drafts, the ones subjected to scratchings and emendations and scribblings and redactions courtesy of Ezra Pound?

In the northern climes, December is dark and has the shortest hours of daylight.

Plus, all that pressure of the holidays.

Laugh.or.else.

Advent, the Conspiracy

Speaking of the Advent Conspiracy, does anyone in the world at large even know what Advent is any more? (Ever see those Advent calendars with all the little doors? Are the calendars a German tradition? Didn't the Advent calendars often have little pieces of chocolate behind each door?)

Then again, maybe Advent should be a secret, a subversive holiness. A conspiracy of caritas.

Trim, the Mystery

English is a funny language, with much grist for the humor mill (or humour mill, across the pond). George Carlin, who died this year, surely made much hay of our funny linguistic harvestings. Am I mixing enough metaphors here?

Trim got me thinking. We talk about "trimming the tree" at Christmastime, but in doing so we are adorning and adding ornaments. how is that trimming? Maybe the sense comes from trimming, or paring, the tree to its ornamentable size (as we did Saturday, when we hunted one down at a farm and hauled it home). I gladly participated in the ritual sawing and hoisting and erecting in the stand, then I took a nap and let the ladies have at it, ornamentwise (actually, I hate that overuse of -wise as a suffix; the estimable reference book Words Into Type cites a New Yorker cartoon in which one owl says to another something like, "So, wisewise, how are things?" HAHAHAHAAHAHAHAAHAHA. [H]owls of laughter). This year after bringing the box of ornaments down from the attic, I studiously avoided all manner of familial tension regarding the stringing of lights or placement of baubles. My nap on Sunday was luxuriously guilt-free (yes, the day after we fetched the tree from the proxy-quasi-semi-Bavarian forest).

But we trim our hair, which is taking away.

If you drill down far enough in the etymology of trim, you find that "trim a tree" is redundant, because trim is a tree, or was long ago, in the knotty-so-distant-past we sometimes pine for, oakay?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Advent-agious

My annual holiday malaise is creeping in, ready to swamp me, swarm me with melancholy and angst.

Maybe this video can be an antidote (or, for some a Christmas anecdote to tell tellingly). Dote upon this message from the Advent Conspiracy, if you will:


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Anno Domini

Forty years ago today, Thomas Merton died.

Here was a man who truly mattered, who matters now.

Traditionally, a saint's feast day is celebrated on the day of his or her death.

We are blessed by his presence, by his absence, by his eloquent silence.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Psychopathy for Beginners

Just finished an engaging piece about psychopathy in the November 10, 2008, issue of The New Yorker. First, a word about the word "psychopathy" itself. As I was reading the article, "Suffering Souls," by John Seabrook, I more or less assumed that the word was pronounced with the accent on -path, but also wondered it might not be true, because, after all, we don't put the accent on -log in psychology. Sure enough, Merriam-Webster, with its pronunciation thingy-doodle audio device, informs us that the accent is on the -op. But I digress. The article explores how neuroscientists, especally Dr. Kent Kiehl, are studying the functional MRIs of prison inmates, to see if their brains function differently than the brain of, um, normal people. It all provokes fascinating and provocative questions about good, evil, justice, and salami-on-rye sandwiches. Sorry, I digress again. Uh-oh. A diagnostic checklist used to evaluate for psychopathy, the PCL-R, measures, among other things, poor impulse control (not mind-wanderingness, not exactly sort of). We are let off the hook, a bit, with this: "If a biological basis for psychopathy could be establshed and pharmacological treatments developed, the idea that many people have at least a little of the psychopath in them could well become acepted." Relax, will you? This is not making a pitch for the acceptance of antisocial behavior. I'm merely saying how intriguing it is to ponder how the brain works and how we move within very lmited realms, it seems. (On a similar note, NPR today had a bit about brain scans and what they reveal about our shopping and other choices. Buyology. Neuromarketing. Martin Lindstrom. Whew, I love "Mad Men, " but times have changed since Don Draper and his team at Sterling Cooper left the building.)

Seabrook's Q. and A. is here.

The Unkindest Cut, Revisited

Come to think of it, maybe I got that pesky cut from slicing a bagel. See, man (or woman) does not live (or die) by bread alone. Strange, isn't it, how one can forget a source of physical pain but cling tenaciously (elevenaciously, in times of inflation) to the sources of mental or spiritual pain.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Mongrel Redux

Long, long lines at the P.O. tonight, of course.

Of course, I ran into the Aussie who called me a "mongrel" earlier this year.

Ruff, ruff.

No more bytes here.

The Unkindest Cut

I have a tiny diagonal cut on my right hand, in the meat of the palm, in a fleshy portion opposite the fleshy portion near my thumb. The way of all flesh. I guess it's a paper cut, but I don't remember getting it. It stings. Today it is visible, yesterday it wasn't.

How many know that "the unkindest cut" is an allusion to Shakespeare's "Hamlet"?

Or who recalls that "the way of all flesh" is a novel, or a movie? (I'll leave the searching to others.)

"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

Another allusion, this one biblical, or Biblical, if you prefer.

Which is worse: losing our allusions? Or losing our illusions?

To paraphrase Dylan Thomas (or to quote him out of context), "Man, be my metaphor."

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Comma-ical Populism

Yesterday, The Laughorist blog had more than 200 hits, and I can't tell you why. Not exactly.

From what I can gather by my stats counter (provided, thank you, by statcounter.com), most people stopped by for a brief flirtatious visit (most visitors staying fewer than 5 seconds; is that an eon in cyberworld?), and most either coming in to browse over palaver I posted on the serial comma or so-called obitchuaries; that and a few other bits here and there.

I'm flummoxed.

And bowled over.

People apparently came from -- as a sampling: Wisconsin, New Mexico, the United Kingdom (quite a few; thank ye), Sweden, Pennsylvania, Syracuse and Rochester, New York; Connecticut, Kentucky, Oregon, Florida, Wshington, Kansas, Ohio, Ontario, South Africa, Norway, Iowa, Indiana, Texas, Egypt, California, Mexico, Maine, Australia, Ireland, Arizona.

And Elsewhere, initial cap E.

Thankee.

Pony Tale

Tonight I carried a pony up from the basement, out the basement side door, over the metal fence, and out to the curb. Garbage night. More accurately: garbage-the-night-before-tomorrow-morning's collection night. Cobwebs swarmed all over my coat from the effort, cumbersome and awkward. It was one of those old-fashioned bouncy-bounce rocking horse toys. A plastic pony astride springs. Metal stirrups. Whose was it? Probably my youngest child's. I cannot summon vivid images of her frolicking on this play pony. I mean, I could imagine her toddler face, her unfettered glee, that look, that laugh, but I can't conjure a real and accurate image, one grounded in a quotidian event. I left for a meeting and the pony was sitting there, in the glow of a nearby streetlight. I came back, about 90 minutes later, and it was still there, wasn't it? I saw a van pull up near the curb, by the front of the house. The sliding door. Someone getting back in. The sliding door. A kid? The pony was gone. As typically happens in our urban environment, you can put just about anything out by the curb and someone will find some use for it. Lawn mower. Computer. Broom. Couch. Anything metal. Not old tires. Then I wondered: will it be cleaned up, made to look brand-new? And will this be some child's present on Christmas morning? I ached with the thought and its sentimentality. And wrestled: is this an occasion for heart-wrenching joy or heart-wrenching sadness?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Post Position

For some neurotic, compulsive, obsessive reason (or lack of any reason), I am determined to publish more posts this year than last year, 2007, which was my first full year of blogging.

And that won't be hard, given posts like this one.

Ever notice that THAT SAID or HAVING SAID THAT are vogue phrases?

I think people think it makes them sound erudite.

Having said that, I sign off for now.

Typecast

Maybe typocast is a more accurate title.

I find that by far visitors to my blog come from places far and wide because of one or two posts I did a few years or so ago on the serial comma.

That's right.

Individuals, companies, government entities, universities, law firms, and you-name-its come to this URL to pause and ponder my wisdom about the serial comma -- whether I like it or not.

They come from all around the planet.

However, in terms of keyword searches, "serial comma" gets beat, by a margin of 1% or less, by the term "obitchuaries," from a post I did back in 2006.

So, you never know how you'll get typocast.

As you were.

At ease.

Discernment

Yes, I do get visitors to this forum, not a ton by entertainment standards, but typically a steady daily stream. (A steady daily stream. There's a seventh-grade joke in there somewhere.)

In the last several months, though, I rarely receive comments. (Is it a forum, really? Or more of a Monologue Echo Chamber?)

A. This is exactly what a solipsistic blogger gets and deserves. (After all, I rarely comment at other blogs, except during periodic comment-binges.)

B. So, do I eliminate the capability for others to comment?

C. Does doing so make this blog more pure?

D. Or does it miss the whole communal point of it all?

E. And are these questions merely fraudulent attempts to garner comments via a slightly veiled, though readily transparent, manner?


(Echo-echo-echo-echo-echo.........)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nonplussed

It is easy to be nonplussed by the word "nonplussed."

It is commonly used as a substitute for "unfazed" or undaunted," although it means perplexed or bewildered.

Surprisingly, there's no entry for nonplussed in The Associated Press Stylebook.

At least not yet.

(But in my experience as a copy editor, or copyeditor, if you prefer, at a newspaper, the sports desk seemed to shun The AP Stylebook about as much as some of its prose stylists shucked modesty and moderation, especially in the Run-Away or Rampant Metaphor Department. I digress.)

Today I saw this sentence in the sports section (called "Sport" [singular] in British papers) of the local paper:

"[name of basketball player] seems nonplussed by the big time."

True, you can't tell what the sense is just by that sentence, but if you read on you understand by context that the intended sense was "unfazed."

I refer you to Charles Hodgson for an enriching and entertaining history of "nonplussed."

I don't deny that words change meaning and would not be surprised to find that perfectly acceptable dictionaries now give variant definitions for nonplussed that incorporate the "right" and the "wrong" meanings.

I don't get my Y-fronts in a knot over these things.

A pedant does reside in my bones, but I also am capable of sitting back and enjoying the etymological ride, so to speak.

(Note to true editors: yes, yes, yes, this post is a mess regarding consistent or proper use of quotation marks and italics. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Posturing

So the physical therapist launched into a valedictory sermon on posture, pointedly telling Pawlie that keeping the back and shoulders straight while sitting, while typing, while anythinging, is paramount in mitigating my rotator cuff impingement and toward pain prevention. Not that I disagreed. How could I? Not that I am unwilling to try. Why should I be? But a certain gloom hovers over my shoulders in knowing the tenacity of habits, the tenuousness of reform, in this case, literal re-forming. But that gloom is not supposed to round my shoulders, slump them forward.

Lips together teeth apart. Or tongue against the roof of the mouth. Those exercises were simple enough but hard enough to persist in, to alleviate terrible TMJ pain last year (mostly gone now).

Habits die hard. New ones take root in a soil of fragility.

To say nothing of moral posturing, or other poses.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lawn Mower in the Snow

bless me, Father Luke
for I have sinned against suburbia
leaving our lawn mower naked in the snow
and no place to go
except down to the catshit moldy basement
to endure an icy hangover
all winter long
I'm afraid
to look at maybe puddles
pooled around the stoic machine
down there down there
that oldtimer coinage
for the carnival
the southern summer riot

Maybe if I had had the courtesy to anchor
the reaper under the maple the snowfall
may have been kinder
though I doubt it 'cause
the naked branches afforded no
shelter the leaves sulking yellow
until I used the Sears-bought Briggs & Stratton
to mulch the leaves just
a few weeks ago it was a miracle where
did the leaves escape to in the November dusk

Jason the Argue-not
up the street
what does he say about all this
he is mum presiding
over his abandoned patio furniture
from the sweltering garden party
six chairs empty waiting
for the Board of Bankruptcy and Emptiness
to convene to cancel all convention
mummified alabaster on white
a silent pantomime
waiting for the players to clink glasses
once again a toast
and tell mosquito stories
once again
I'd call that hope
a great white hope
spiked by a greeny stubbornness



Monday, November 17, 2008

Mirabile Non Dictu

Back in high school, in Latin class, we learned the phrase "mirabile dictu," o wonderful thing to say. After listening this weekend to a fine interview with Gay Talese, on PRI's "To the Best of Our Knowledge," I realized, a bit, the value of "mirabile non dictu," o wonderful thing not to say, the silences between sentences or words.


[silence]


As Talese wrote in Origins,

I learned [from my mother] ... to listen with patience and care, and never to interrupt even when people were having great difficulty in explaining themselves, for during such halting and imprecise moments ... people are very revealing--what they hesitate to talk about can tell much about them. Their pauses, their evasions, their sudden shifts in subject matter are likely indicators of what embarrasses them, or irritates them, or what they regard as too private or imprudent to be disclosed to another person at that particular time. However, I have also overheard many people discussing candidly with my mother what they had earlier avoided--a reaction that I think had less to do with her inquiring nature or sensitively posed questions than with their gradual acceptance of her as a trustworthy individual in whom they could confide.

I interrupt too much. This underscores the danger, the harm, caused by my hyperexuberant conversational reflexes. It shows the spiritual index of silence. But . . .

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Money Is No Object

"Money is no object."

It's a line straight out of gangster movies or stories of political scandals.

Or today's news stories.

Help me out here.

The mega-normous financial bailout was supposedly $700 billion. Then the final bill was said to be $800 billion (or was it more?) with all the sweeteners added to the bill to get it passed. But news stories still tend to say "$700 billion bailout."

Sheesh.

Which is it?

Oh well, what's a hundred billion dollars here or there? (Just ask the folks at A.I.G.)

It's so much beyond our comprehension, does anyone care?

Can some math wizard break it down into something practical, like dollars per minute per adult? Or how may pounds of pasta it would buy? Or Tootsie Rolls? Something!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Oily Substance

Light Sweet Crude.

Don't you just love that term to describe petroleum?

Yass, yasss, yassss, many have taken up the banner and used that term, or parts of it, for business or marketing or what-not. A lot of what-not.

Light Sweet Crude.

It's a moniker I could imagine for myself, or more accurately imagine others imagining about me. However, on any given day, I submit that I must quibble as to the accuracy of any one of that trio of adjectives.

Lightly, sweetly, and crudely yours,

The Laughorist.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Taxonomy of Taxiness

This in today's Syracuse Post-Standard:

"At midafternoon, stickers on entrance doors to the restaurant stated,

' This property has been seized for nonpayment of taxes and is in possession of New York state.' "

Yikes! Would I love to be the lawyer representing that defendant, if the sticker posted on the premises has any bearing on the case.

So, let me parse this parsimoniously: if you want to gain possession of one of the largest states in the Union, the venerable Empire State, just stop paying your taxes?

It's a queer bit of illogical logic, but these are odd times.

Who said grammar ain't important (or impotent, pronounced with the accent on the second syllable for humorous effect)?

Talk about the -tax in syntax!

Monday, November 10, 2008

wordie-ness

lambent, a word I cherish

from Merriam-Webster (and dictionaries are NOT the same):

Pronunciation:
\ˈlam-bənt\
Function:
adjective
Etymology:
Latin lambent-, lambens, present participle of lambere to lick — more at lap
Date:
1647
1 : playing lightly on or over a surface : flickering
2 : softly bright or radiant
3 : marked by lightness or brilliance especially of expression
— lam·bent·ly adverb

Maybe, my sense is off. The morning light is silently still, not flickering.

And let me ask you: does anyone know why lights on lightposts always look like they are flickering when you look down at them on the ground from an airplane? An illusion? Or what?

Lambent Light

gone is gray

lambent light today

moist chill burning off

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Gray

Or grey, as our Brit brethren and sisthren spell it.

This evening was steel-newsprint gray with mist and impending flurries.

Walking the dog, I felt winter crowding in. I wore my heavy winter coat and wore gloves.

The unseen geese above sounded like barking puppies.

On last night's walk, the wolves or coyotes at the nearby zoo were wailing like sirens, like their neighbor hyenas. But I don't think it was hyenas.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Keep on Truckin' (Not!)

Ever see this sign on the back of a dump truck?

CONSTRUCTION VEHICLE

DO NOT FOLLOW

Now, honestly, what's a driver supposed to do?

Slam on the brakes?

Kick it into reverse?

These are perilous options, especially alongside many fast-moving vehicles on a superhighway.

Just sayin'.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Say What?

At Wegmans today [they don't use the apostrophe and their reasoning is weak] I saw a guy with a long goatee who had these words emblazoned on his black shirt:

Everything Louder Than Everything Else

in a Gothic-looking script.

After a slight bit of Google-addled research, I discovered what many of you already knew, that this is more or less a heavy-metal rock credo, with a rich musical history. Or maybe a Harley-Davidson creed.

As an observer [see my recent post], I was amused by the phrase's tautology and by its koan-like blend of logic and absurdity.

I like it.

It reminds me of a quote by Albert Einstein: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

It offers an array of endless possibilities to ponder and play with:

Everything Holier Than Everything Else

Everything more silent than nothing else.

nothing more silent than nothing else

no one more singular than everything else

something less logical than nobody home

either

or

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Out-takes

1. Several weeks ago, wearing an Obama T-shirt, I am accosted in the university area by a panhandler near Starbucks. I'm in no mood. "Hey, Obama!" he shouts out once I'm across the street. He takes me as an easy mark. I'm not. Like I said, I ain't in no mood. I always gladly help out the neighborhood guy, Mike, who makes his living collecting bottles and cans. That's his job. Mike never panhandles. In fact, he does not ask for anything, just works the streets, even in the dead of winter. We've become first-name friends.

2. Yesterday, Election Day, at Arby's in rural Upstate New York, a young truck driver glares and glowers at me; he wants to catch my eye. At first I thought he was staring at me because we knew each other. I come to realize it must be my Obama button. I'm afraid, honestly wary, about saying anything to him. He looks steely and fierce. I eat, read the paper (the Times, of course), don't raise my eyes. He leaves, drives off in his huge waste hauler.

3. Today, Hess gas station, west side of Syracuse, I'm buying the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Daily News, The Post-Standard. I'm standing in line next to a black woman, professional, maybe in her forties. I've got my bow tie on and sport jacket. Our eyes meet. I say, "It's a great day, isn't it?" "It's a beautiful day," she says, her face radiant, beatific. We both exchange campaign stories. I tell how the day before, in Athens, Pennsylvania, young and old, black and white, Hispanic, straight and gay, worked together. "This is America." She tells of having 18 kids, presumably students, work in the campaign. We have tears in our eyes. I think she thanked me. Huh? Did I thank her? I walk to my car. I want to just walk back inside and hug her, but by then she was either gone or other customers were in line. Plus maybe she'd think I was weird, but I don't think she would. More likely, I'm afraid of what emotions would pour out of me.

4. Later this morning I fetishistically go to buy another copy of the Times (they say they were selling for $199 on Ebay; people in various cities waited in line merely to buy newspapers!). I wanted a copy without a price tag of $1.75 on it (besides, it's only supposed to be$1.50). I want a clean, unblemished original. An older woman, matronly, 60s or 70s, is behind the counter. Humorless. You know the type. "It's pretty historic. A good day to buy the paper." Nothing. Blank. "Here's your change, sir."

5. Wearing the button is a cultural-political-emotional barometer of sorts. "Obama!" a woman in the post office says to me in the mall post office, in a good way, I surmise.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

History

Walking the walk, I drove (not walked) to "battleground state" Pennsylvania (Athens, Pennsylvania, to be exact) today, making calls to prospective voters, for Barack Obama, I'm proud to say, this in addition to canvassing several weeks ago, with my daughter, 11, in Erie.

For once, The Laughorist was not a voyeur of his history or history with an initial cap (i-cap, as editors say).

I feel spiritually and emotionally obliged to post on this historic (not "historical," as some have erred) day.

I close with these two quotes, from an American treasure, the nonpareil ballerina Suzanne Farrell:

"You don't just become a ballerina; you have to get there, and the only way to get there is to live and dance."

I quote these words because if you substitute "person" or "citizen" for "ballerina," and if you substitute "act" or "do" for "dance," you have the same existential equation. More or less. Or you have parts of the same Zen koan.

And:

"You have to live in the now, and you make your now."

Amen.

See, liberals can say "amen" too.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Report From The Observatory

"The observer is the observed." -- Krishnamurti

What a paradigm for bloggers.

We observe, we watch, we report -- on matters external and internal. And others observe these observations and watch and report. It's a loop.

The very act of observing changes me.

If I observe my own thoughts and actions, especially in writing, the act provides objectivity, and that objectivity reduces the "I" factor, enabling serenity.

But do we change what we observe, as the observer effect in physics states (often confused with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle)?

You tell me, dear reader.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Howlin' Wind

Walk out the door a skeleton
red bud branches naked
staring me in the face
their iridescent sunniness
a shock against
the Brillo sky so
rudely rubbing me
the wrong way I'm thinking
no singing to myself
Dylan's a hard rain's gonna
fall whipping into snow gloppy
glory luminous and driven

Monday, October 27, 2008

Say the Word . . .

Remember the Beatles song that had the lyrics "say the word love"? Although I didn't know it at the time, the song was arranged as a Gospel tune (perhaps faux Gospel would be a more apt description). In these waning days of the almost-eternal U.S. presidential election, we now hear several variations on this chorus (i.e., mantra); one of them is "say the word socialism." Hearing the word socialism, we are supposed to make a face of horror, like Macaulay Culkin in "Home Alone," scream, grab our wallet or purse, reach for a weapon of minor destruction (rifle or pistol), and call 911, not necessarily in that order. When we hear socialism, we are supposed to conjure up sepia tone images from newsreels of the Stasi and East Germany and the color gray (spelled g-r-e-y in the welfare state of the U.K. until Margaret Thatcher "cleaned things up" -- so goes the neocon mythology) or listless mine workers or assembly line drones or alcoholic couch potatoes living in cement blocks or Quonset huts or Swedes sitting around, well, looking blond and bored. Of course, if you mean distribution of wealth, a more genteel term, you have the uber-capitalist Adam Smith (no relation to Anna Nicole Smith, that I know of) backing you up as well as the entire history of the Internal Revenue Service code. You can look it up. No, the word socialism is pink-baiting, meant to scare, meant to bring fears of The Other (although Those Others in, say, European socialist countries did not start this mess), meant to thump one's capitalist chest. Well, um, comrades, the words capitalist and socialist -- whatever they said in the textbooks or dictionaries -- just got a rewrite inthe last several weeks. They mean zero, zilch, in traditional terms, unless you are pressing an emotional hot button. They mean n-o-t-h-i-n-g. Unless you are into good, old-fashioned political propaganda (but at least admit it and then enjoy the ride).

Oh, we have a word for that button-pressing: demagoguery. (I learned the word, long ago, from William F. Buckley, Jr., the recently deceased high priest of American conservatism.)

While we're on the subject, Catholic voters are hereby reminded that popes have repeatedly warned of the dangers of pure capitalism or pure socialism. That's my point: they don't exist. Except in Utopia. And I remind you that Utopia, as expressed in Thomas More's wonderful satire, is Greek for "nowhere."

There are some other choruses that we are tirelessly hearing. One of them is "lower taxes." It is trite. Do I want more money in my pockets? Of course I do! After all, I live in highly taxed New York State. Is our money wasted? Yes. Are there "earmarks"? Indeed. And everyone loves the bacon when it comes to their district. Then Congress is doing a great job! But I ask you: where is the end of that arc? No taxes? none? All money kept by solipsistic me me me me? People in California may recall Proposition 13 about 30 years ago. They got lower taxes. Then they cried because the library was closed two days a week or because health care was not available at a public hospital or the DMV was closed every other day, et cetera ad nauseam.

Now, "Say the word endum," um, sort of like addendum, but not quite.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pinkwash

pinkwash -- v. To smear one with false allegations of "socialism" (at a time when a so-called conservative president is presiding over the largest government intervention since FDR's efforts during the Great Depression, when Republicans even opposed the idea of Social Security as a "socialist" move).

Yellowwashing




yellowwashing -- n. Impugning (i.e., pissing on) or questioning the motives, integrity, bravery, courage, loyalty, or patriotism of a political opponent because the opponent's views differ from yours.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Greenwashing

I learned a new word at an environmental conference last week:

greenwashing

It's a delicious combination of green and whitewashing (and brainwashing, come to think of it).

According to Wikipedia, here are the Six Sins of Greenwashing:


In December 2007, environmental marketing company TerraChoice gained national press coverage for releasing a study called "The Six Sins of Greenwashing," which found that 99% of 1,018 common consumer products randomly surveyed for the study were guilty of greenwashing.

According to the study, the six sins of greenwashing are:

  • Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off: e.g. “Energy-efficient” electronics that contain hazardous materials.
  • Sin of No Proof: e.g. Shampoos claiming to be “certified organic,” but with no verifiable certification.
  • Sin of Vagueness: e.g. Products claiming to be 100% natural when many naturally-occurring substances are hazardous, like arsenic and formaldehyde (see appeal to nature).
  • Sin of Irrelevance: e.g. Products claiming to be CFC-free, even though CFCs were banned 20 years ago.
  • Sin of Fibbing: e.g. Products falsely claiming to be certified by an internationally recognized environmental standard like EcoLogo, Energy Star or Green Seal.
  • Sin of Lesser of Two Evils: e.g. Organic cigarettes or “environmentally friendly” pesticides.
Being a bit of a wordsmith, I ask you, what would these words mean:

yellowwashing

redwashing

purplewashing

blackwashing

graywashing

Oh, I have ideas percolating. Oh yeah.

Sometimes, though, it is best to let imaginations play, which would be spectrumwashing.

Friday, October 17, 2008

To Womb It May Concern

Peace begins

in the Womb.

I saw that on a bumpersticker today.

We like our philosophy or theology simple in America, simple enough to fit on a bumpersticker or a T-shirt. I can't complain about that. I've written a peer-reviewed technical paper touting the wisdom of simple messages for complex material.

Peace begins in the womb. (Why the uppercase W? Is it a subliminal message from W, the Prez? Is it saying that that anatomical part has higher grammatical ranking than, say, the heart, the penis, or the elbow? Is womb uppercased as a proper noun per order of some feminist manifesto?)

I suspect the message is trying to make a comment regarding the abortion vs. pro-choice debate. (I happen to oppose abortion and don't know anyone who expresses gleeful support of that act. I also happen to recognize we live in a pluralistic society. In passing, let me add that pro-life, for me, also means opposition to the death penalty and support of a myriad of social programs to nurture life [human life, that is], once it is on this earth, programs that are often opposed by the "lower-my-taxes-I-hate-government-except-when-convenient-to-me-me-me-so-called-conservative crowd.)

Anyway, back to "peace begins in the womb."

Does it?

Does this refer to playing Bach for fetuses? (Feti? Is there such a word?) Or the nap time of people-to-be in utero?

And, honestly, doesn't peace really end in the womb?

Come on. Was anything ever more peaceful than those days, those good ol' days back in the womb?

After all, that's why we humans invented the fetal position.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Word Counts, Revisited

I take back what I said about words in the previous post. Sort of.

Words count. But so does counting words.

Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, counts words and analyzes what the array of our words and their number say about us, whether we are lying, what our motives are, whether our relationships are changing, other patterns, et cetera, ad infinitum.

When I was an English teacher, I loathed when students would pencil in their running tally of words in their assigned writing. They'd pencil in pesky little numerals above their text -- text that usually consisted of What The Teacher Wants To Hear. Yawn. And I told them I loathed that practice because they were paying more attention to the number of words than the content of the words. They'd say, "Mr. K, how long does the assignment have to be?"

"I don't know; as long as it's good," and they'd howl.

Who knew the kids were inadvertently on to something?

Click on the link here for the article in today's Science Times; fascinating.

Plus, check out Wordwatchers, Dr. Pennebaker's intriguing website that provides dispassionate and sober critiques comparing word use by, yes, of course, McCain and Obama (and the other candidates).

So, now, this blog has explored the linguistic gamut, From Um to Eternity.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Cost of Wording

In the economy, we hear about the "cost of living." A raise might even be termed a COLA, or "cost of living adjustment."

What about blogging?

Some blogs rely on imagery or videos or photos; most use words. What if we had to pay for each word (or each character) our fingers tapped out on the keyboard? Already some pilot programs are being tested to limit Internet use, mostly to thwart hoggish e-behavior.

My point is this: in a reversal of the days of Charles Dickens or Henry James, when some authors were paid by the word and were encouraged to serialize and to write more more more, what if we all had to pay for each word?

How measured would we become? How carefully would we choose our words? Would we use the editor's scalpel or even the handy hatchet? Would haiku become the coin of the realm, the currency of choice in a deflated market of post-logorrheic excess?

Watching the financial world turn upside down, I scratched my metaphorical head and wondered what would happen if such tumult applied to the blogosphere.

And now we return to our usual unusual programming.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Avoid Brain Brownout

More studies support my crusade, um, campaign, against multitasking.

As reported on NPR, a study by Dr. David Meyer of the University of Michigan is among the latest.

He says that multitasking causes something like brownout in the brain and harms performance and is addictive and will give you warts (well, he said some of that).

I've been telling you folks.

Now help the struggling economy and go out and buy one of my Age Quod Agis products, but not while doing something else.

p.s. For those who forgot, "age quod agis" is a Latin phrase that means "do what you are doing." Thank you. See, shameless capitalism still exists in this age of bailouts. (I wish they'd bail me out; it would cost way less than a billion or two, give or take.)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

May Day, or Whatchamacallit




Calling from Brooklyn, a dear old friend of mine said to me last night, "This [referring to the financial mess] could make the Depression look like the Feast of San Gennaro." I laughed robustly because it was such a great line -- which we both hope turns out not to be prophetic. Speaking of feasts, it's more like May Day! May Day! Well, October 4 was (and still is) the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. He's an apt model: a spoiled rich kid who gave it all away and devoted his life to God and others. And found joy in poverty. Picture a hot shot on Wall Street or Hollywood celeb who discovers the emptiness of it all. Something like that. He may be remembered most as a kind of Dr. Dolittle, but the statue of him in your garden stands for so much more. In my teens I thoroughly enjoyed the novelization of his life by Nikos Kazantzakis. Don't you just love that name? I do. Incidentally, the epitaph on his tombstone reads: "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free."

Saturday, October 04, 2008

. . . and miles to go

My 1999 Ford Contour turned 100,000 miles yesterday. (Turned. Is that the term?) I was disappointed to have discovered this milestone event after the fact, 4 miles after the fact. Thinking back, the landmark moment would have been while I was on the highway, so it would have been risky to stop on the interstate and mark the occasion. I am not sure why it matters. I have with other cars pulled over and paused to celebrate or otherwise observe the event. I'd say, "Kids, wow, look at all those nines become zeros! Cool!" (They'd feign interest, or not, and continue with their electronic game or reading or music listening or dazing out the window.) Or with yet other vehicles I'd set off firecrackers, hire strippers, and shake Pepsi bottles as faux champagne for the gala numerical bonanza.

Yes, one is wise to ask why it matters at all to me. Why should one configuration of digits matter more than any other?

Of course, carried to its logical extenson, that question would also apply to birthdays, anniversaries, et cetera ad infinitum ad nauseam for just about any human endeavor.

It would be so zen-like to say "This Is This" and be at peace with it, be it the numerical commemoration of birth, death, gain, or loss.

Anyway, I figure it is now less than (fewer than?) 10,000 mles before I encounter the exquisite beauty of 111,111.1 miles showing up on the odometer, assuming both I and the car roll that far.

Age quod agis.


Friday, October 03, 2008

Straight to the Heart

Aiming for the heart of the problem, the so-called rescue or bailout or whatever bill has some curious features.

This, just noted by Michael S. Rosenwald of The Washington Post:

"From the Not Making This Up Department: The bill also repeals a 39-cent excise tax on wooden arrows for children."

As Casey Stengel used to say (purportedly), "You could look it up."

Maybe this should be called the Glass-Stengel Act in honor of him and transparency.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

CDOs + CDSs + IOUs = DOAs

Being a longtime technical editor, I've seen my share of acronyms (in many cases, actually initialisms). One of my favorites is FRACAS, which I encountered on a Department of Defense proposal many years ago. I believe it stood for "failure reporting analysis corrective action system." Or something like that. You have to figure someone threw that one in there just for fun, to make sure the bureaucrats were still reading. (My spilling the beans on this means some dire breach of international security, probably. Right.)

Well, Gretchen Morgenson of The Times (New York, not London) has laid out as well as anyone the whole mess behind the financial crisis. She refers to "collaterized debt obligations," or CDOs.

And "credit default swaps," or CDSs. (The big villain you hear about a lot. Will someone please just show me one? Just one? And tell me how much it is worth? Or was worth? Or was purported to be worth?)

Of course, at the heart of darkness in all of this was another abbreviated entity, American International Group, or AIG. (Among many other throbbing entities barely breathing.)

(You can see that I opt for the leaner style without the periods and apostrophes that some employ for my initialisms.)

It all adds up to IOUs that were dead on arrival, DOA.

The whole series of maneuvers almost made the whole financial system go IUD, or "I, Um, Die."

Incindentally, I'm the only one I know of to make this analogy: it's just like the steroids scandal in baseball. Everyone (fans, players, owners, media) looked the other way when it was fun, when they got something out of it (e.g. Sammy Sosa vs. Mark McGwire in the homer race). Until it all "cratered," to use a John McCain verb that David Letterman has wonderfully lampooned.

Collateralized debt obligation? Here's where semantic seekers like myself could've saved the economy. A word like "collateralized" smells rotten. Anytime you see a noun turned into a loathsome verb or participle (verbal adjective) with that many syllables in it, you know you're in for a swindle.

Credit default swap? Whew. Sounds like a come-on line from a guy with a Hawaiian shirt and shades promising to commit a sexual infidelity the first chance he gets with his married neighbor sitting by the pool in her bikini.

"Hey, baby, you want to credit default swap? Check with your husband. See if he's into that."

It was all so much fun while the party lasted.

Right.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Poetic Performance Anxiety

For today, my Zen Calendar offers this quote, by the poet W.H. Auden:

To ask the hard question is simple.

You know, W.H. (can I call you Wystan Hugh?), that's indecorous at best and embarrassing at worst, and not just because of the age factor.

Or maybe it's easy to ask the hard question, but significantly more difficult to answer the hard question.

Yes, yes, private conversations sometimes skirt the issue of the hard question, but it comes down to blunt reality in the long run.

And that naked fact is incontrovertible: it either is or it isn't [existentially, that is].

(For once, The Laughorist is not declaiming about punctuation, but if we had to characterize the topic grammatically, it would fall under the word defined as "a short sudden emotional utterance" -- or attempts at such.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wall Street Wipeout Wordie

Now, what other blogger breezily cooks up a broth that combines these ingredients: Wall Street, "Wipeout," and Wordie vocabulary entertainment?

As for Wall Street, the recent debacle speaks for itself. Well, it doesn't speak for itself, not anymore. For good or ill, capitalism as we know it ended on September 16-17, when the U.S. government agreed to nationalize American International Group, or A.I.G., by lending (lending?) it $85 billion, with a B. So, the Fed speaks for Wall Street, as well as America's new unelected president, Treasury Secretary President Henry M. Paulson Jr.

(Hang on, I'll tie these all together tighter than a corset giving Joan Holloway a scrumptious "figure 8" figure on AMC's series "Mad Men," which will win some Emmys tonight.)

As for smiling contagiously through the toughest of times, there's Jessica Bertoni. Oh yes, she smiled in the mud and the muck, the dirty water sullied by defeat and frustration. She even smiled when ruthlessly sucker punched on a "Wipeout" episode that aired 7/29/08. Smiled! Genuinely! Bless her.



As for the word of the week, Paulson supplied it when he said: "And we talked about a comprehensive approach to deal with the illiquid assets on financial institutions' balance sheets."

Illiquid?

He should have said ill liquid.

Ill liquid, get? HAAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAAHA!

As in ill liquid assets (or illiquid, for the formerly uppercrust, which reminds me of the Bob Dylan line "when you ain't got nothin' you got nothin' to lose.")

Illiquid, as in that muck you see on "Wipeout."

Word!

I mean, "Wordie!"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Locavores et Alia Omnia

I just learned the word locavores, the word for people (excuse me, culinary adventurers) committed to eating locally, say, within a 100-mile radius.

It was the 2007 Word of the Year of the Oxford Amercan Dictionary.

Little did I know I'm so yesterday.

Locavore. It has a certain ring to it, don't you thnk? It sounds like a tourist destination on Spain's Costa del Sol.

All of this reminds me it's time for The Laughorist to coin some words, just for fun.

Jump in. Try your hand. There's plenty of room in this pool.

finavores -- sharks on Wall Street eating up all your retirement so-called money.

amoravore -- one who is famished for love.

toreavore -- one who feeds on bullshit (cf. bullivore).

pairavore -- one who eats two of everything.

hurtivore -- one who feeds on others' pain.

These stink.

I need your help.

Why am i sticking to the -avore suffix?

There's a whole universe of Wordie wordilicious wonders a-waitin' to be harvested out there.

Because I Said So!

We hear a lot about the words please and thank you. We know how cogent and efficacious these words can be.

And we know that words matter.

But, as described in a chapter titled "Which single word will strengthen your persuasion techniques?" guess what that word is?

Because.

Yes, because.

Let me explain before you think the parental saw "because I said so" is the way to go.

In Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, and Robert B. Cialdini (his name gets bigger letters), the authors cite multiple experiments and studies on what gets people to go along with things.

It was fun to read. I breezed through the whole book, footnotes and all. Figured it might help me in work and in life.I can use help. Can't you?

Anyway, Chapter 35 out of the 50 scientifically-proven-ways chapters points out that a request accompanied by the word because, followed by an actual reason, brings more results (within limits) than not doing that.

This is not shocking.

In my own experience, I know that a resume or a proposal backed up by real data is powerful stuff.

How come no one told me this while dating in my teenage years?

I'l leave that one alone because it would cause me layers of embarrassment.



Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dish Network Disabled

Lying in bed last night around 11 p.m., just after reading Larry Woiwode's A Step From Death memoir, I was jolted out of my incipient, albeit typically restless, slumber.

The dishes!

The dishes were lying in the sink and on the counter, not a lot of them, but, still, the remains of the day, more accurately the evening, the detritus of plates and bowls and silverware; a small frying pan; some glassware and cups.

What will this do to my vow of never waking up again to dishes from the night before?

I decided to let it be, not to arouse from the bed and disturb the universe.

I decided the point was to observe, to see, to learn; that the point wasn't the dishes themselves. The point was me (or the lack of me).

Remember what Robert Pirsig said in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? Something like, "The motorcycle you are working on is yourself."

I did them today.

No guilt.

Pleasure, in fact.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dishing It

Growing up, the dishes were always -- and I mean always -- done immediately after the meal. All the years growing up, maybe once (twice?) did my father allow, and even proclaim, we'll leave them. "Leaving them" meant for a few hours, likely not overnight. (Yes, Mom cooked; Dad did the dishes. The boys dried. Dried? Now they dry by themselves.)

That has not been the case typically in my own life.

Typically it's a buildup of a few days, mirroring the circadian rhythms of at least my own bingeful ways. I can't speak to anyone else's patterns.

This past Sunday I thought of this dishes pattern in my formative years.

I wondered, what has changed in me? Why the difference?

I made a silent vow to myself and no other.

Never leave the dishes overnight.

Not a vow exactly, but more a watchful observance, an attentive promise to myself, fully realizing the sad, sour history of futility and failure of self-directed moral crusades in my life.

As the Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh has remarked (I'll paraphrase), The only thing unpleasant about doing the dishes is not doing them.

Doing the dishes itself is joyful.

So far so good.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tranquilization by the Trivial



As noted in an earlier post, the phrase "tranquilization by the trivial," attributed to Soren Kierkegaard, for whom I leap, surely describes American culture.

Case in point:

Remarks by two presidential and one vice presidential candidates about lipstick (lipstick!) are scrutinized for significance. (Here's a new phrase, attributed to Pawlie Kokonuts, Esq.: the
scrutinization for significance (better yet, scrutiny for significance).

To a significant degree, I blame the media for playing into the hands of the public hunger for trivia. And yet: this is how we are: much more "fun" to have a controversy over lipstick than something as unsexy as mortgage foreclosures.

If Nero fiddled while Rome burned, we applied lipstick to our pouted lips while the empire collapsed.

God [feel free to insert other name of Higher Power here or leave a blank space for those who believe the Sacred is ineffable and inexpressible], help us.

The insertion of the immediately preceding comma makes it a prayer (doesn't it, Mark Murphy?) as opposed to an imperative statement without the comma.

(Afterthought: Mark, "candidate" or "candidates" in paragraph 3? Probably best to use the editor's favorite tool: recast the sentence.)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fodder for the Serial Comma Wars

In today's Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley pens a lovely salute to The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White.

Yardley's essay has this excerpt:

This is the same William Strunk, Jr., who two pages earlier writes, "In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last," as in "red, white, and blue," this second comma being "often referred to as the 'serial' comma," except in newspaper offices, where it is often referred to as the "space-eating" comma.

Score one for the serial comma!

The funny thing about Strunk & White is this: over the years as an editor, I have heard countless colleagues (often engineers and scientists) make adoring comments about it -- and rarely, if ever, apply its principles. It got to be that if someone quoted Strunk & White to me, I cringed, knowing their writing would be obtuse and bloviated.

I doubt they ever read it.

Same with many lawyers.

Such is life.

Ahead of Death

One tall sunflower, its trunklike stem bent mercilessly, bows almost to the ground on our side of the fence, overcome by its own largeness, broken by its own self, a head so full and ripened it carries the weight of next year's seeds (or this year's creature food) almost to the ground -- and yet achingly beautiful even as its yellow leaves pale and scatter.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Three Very Simple Questions

Q. Why is virtually no one (candidates, newspapers, newscasters, bloggers, magazines) talking anymore about the real estate ("subprime" mortgage = multiple-party greed) crisis and its ripple effect on the whole economy?

Q. As with the savings and loan debacle twenty years ago, is it because the topic is considered too complicated, not sexy enough?

Q. Why aren't the Democrats seizing upon this as an utterly classic and delicious example of the need for government regulatory oversight, which in the heyday of so-called conservative so-called deregulation has all but vanished without a whisper?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ghosts in the Machines

Last night, while struggling to fall asleep, with a fan and an air conditioner thrumming, I thought I heard voices outside, or maybe instrumental music, or singing. Just barely.

Then, upon leaving the room, going to a non-AC portion of the house, I couldn't hear the voices, music, or singing.

Help me out here.

Was it a psychotic fugue (to use musical nomenclature)?

My imagination?

Or...

Or...was it one of those deals where the AC window unit somehow acts like a radio receiver, the way they used to say someone's braces or dental fillings could work like a radio?

People have really claimed that, and I guess it's true.

Just thought I'd ask.

What They Taught Me in Kindergarten -- and Beyond

First day of school here.

School? Some memories of my own, of school long ago and far away, in Stamford, Connecticut, and beyond:

1. The fear of being bullied by Dennis F. and his moo-ha-ha-ha sadistic laugh.

2. Enjoying recess as the high point of the day.

3. Never doing homework upon first getting home. Instead, changing into play clothes and playing outside. Doing the homework at night and then, if possible, being free to watch "The Dick Van Dyke Show" or "Andy Griffith."

4. Pining for Louise L., whom I spied at the wind-up pencil sharpener in 4th grade.

5. Anxiety doing long division.

6. Worse anxiety doing math word problems, and the tension in the kitchen as my parents tried to help.

7. Mrs. Rivers's shouting into our faces "know it now" or "bear that in mind" as she drilled us on grammar in 7th grade. (The term serial comma never came up, and I don't remember her position on the serial comma, but she was probably the best teacher I ever had, at least in sheer efficacy, but not the most cherished [that would be Father Giuliani].)

8. Diagraming sentences on the blackboard in Mrs. Rivers's class.

9. Saying the "Hail Mary" in French in Father Methe's class in high school.

10. The panic of trying to get to class after gym, after fiddling with the combination lock on the gym basket, hair dripping wet, in 3 minutes. (Try diagraming that sentence!)

11. Learning Latin in 9th grade, taught by Mrs. Nell Herndon (who had a very cool new Thunderbird) in a Texas drawl.

12. Boys' and girls' separate entrances at Burdick Junior High School (now replaced with condos, I think).


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Editorial Comment

My previous post was satirical.

Chalk it up to my philopolemic nature.

Philopolemic: loving debate or contention.

The Speech Sarah Palin Will Not Give

My fellow Caucasian rural jingoistic Americans, I accept your nomination as self-proclaimed proletarian princess to become your vice president (give or take a vice -- your pick).

The puck stops here. It is time to shatter that glass ceiling like a moose hit by buckshot. It is time to crush the namby-pamby Eastern effete elitist grandiloquence. It is time to show that women can not only be the president of the local LaLeche chapter but also commander-in-chief, nursing the dreams of patriots just born as well as those old enough to know better.

My fellow Americans, we can be strong as Alaska wolves and as deliberate as a glacier.

We are pro-life! (Except when it comes to the death penalty, gun control, daycare, universal healthcare, stopping genocide in Darfur, and urban crime.)

Most of all, think of the vision we can celebrate for this great land: a return to 1955! Senator McCain -- praise the Lord! -- has brought us a miracle! Yes, 1955 is back. What better place than Alaska to embody the great native land before it was besmirched by hordes of immigrants with names we can't even pronounce, with gays, and Negroes, and . . .

I am one of you, friends. Actually, I am what the Democrats pretend to be: blue-collar. As for you Republican country club ladies, I am what you wish you could be -- if your rich hubby would let you.

So, in closing, let's hear it for 1955 and the good ol' red, WHITE [applause], and blue.

Thank you. And may the evangelical God bless America.

Amen.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Wordie

Just e-stumbled on this cool site for wordies (why not? we have foodies) like me:

Wordie.org.

Check it out.

I like it -- a lot.

homodox

Nope. Not what you were thinking.

homodox: having the same opinion.

From Mr. Grambs:

"her complaisant, homodox friends"

Also, homodoxian.

Blog Liberalization

McCain's people are complaining that "liberal" or "leftist" bloggers are smearing Sarah Palin.

Multipart question:

What, really, is a liberal blogger? Or a leftist blogger? Or a conservative or rightist blogger?

When I say "I Leap for Kierkegaard" is it liberal or conservative?

What about poetry?

What if I am liberal on some days and conservative on others?

What if I'm liberal on some issue but conservative on others?

What do I do about my anarchic tendencies?

Under what category does walking the dog fall under?

Whose politics is embraced by haiku?