Friday, August 31, 2012

#shrugging Reading Atlas Shrugged with the RNC

I watched the Republican National Convention through the filters of Twitter and blogs, and then I read a little of Atlas Shrugged. And I have to say, it was illuminating to juxtapose the two.

Here's the thing: reading Atlas Shrugged has helped me understand why Obama's line "You didn't build that" touches a very raw nerve in the Republican party. At least in this first part of the book, our heroine Dagny Taggart's whole goal is to build something--a railroad--that everyone around her is trying to stop her from building. And though I find the descriptions of her single-handedly building a railroad with apparently unlimited financial resources on an impossible schedule completely preposterous, the point Rand makes is that you can build it; it's just that the government won't let you.

Last night, I got to the point where the John Galt line has been completed and will run for the first time (chapter 8, if you're wondering). Here's the line that leapt out at me:

"[T]he sight of an achievement was the greatest gift a human being could offer another."

The greatest gift! No wonder the convention highlighted the theme.

More thoughts on this as I continue, but Shrugged has been worth reading so far just for that.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why you should be extremely jealous

Because I got to hear Barbara Cook perform her new cabaret show last night and you (most likely) didn't.

Along with singing such standards as The Nearness of You and the incredible pairing of House of the Rising Sun and Bye Bye Blackbird, she told us about being addicted to YouTube videos. With that in mind, here's a Barbara Cook video I invite you to watch. I still want to know what it is she does when she sings that makes a person cry.

How does she do that!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Uganda in the Little League World Series

I'm sorry I missed seeing this news earlier! The team from Uganda made it to this year's Little League World Series. Although they have been knocked out of the tournament, they are the first ever African team to win a game in the Little League World Series. So glad they were able to make it this year! (Followers of the Infusion will remember the heartbreak last year when the Uganda team wasn't able to get visas to come be part of the LLWS.)

Congratulations, Uganda!

Full history of Uganda Little League here.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

#shrugging: An Ayn Rand Twitter Book Group

Well, it's not much a "group," actually; it's just me posting tweets about Atlas Shrugged as I chortle my way through it. Honestly, how anyone can take this book seriously is beyond me. I keep chuckling and laughing in a most derisive manner, and I'm only through Chapter 2. It's not the philosophy that's making me laugh; it's just the writing. The writing! Oh my. Here's a sentence just to give you an idea:

"The window frame trembled with the speed of the motion, the pane hung over empty darkness, and dots of light slashed across the glass as luminous streaks, once in a while."

Once in a while?

I have to say, risible or no, I'm enjoying it a lot. It's just chock-full of passive-voiced pot-boilery goodness. I'm looking forward to finding out what happens.

I honestly had no preconceived notions about it going in, which is very refreshing. I'm reading it because of how much it's in the news after Paul Ryan was tapped for VP, but I didn't have a clue what it was about.

You're welcome to join me, if you wish. If you're on Twitter, use the hashtag #shrugging to add pithy comments or simply to say hello.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Various & Sundry: Dairy Products for President

Is it nice to be nice? The Dish offers several points of view on the subject, including noting that "nice" used to be an insult. I especially appreciated Edward Champion's perspective: "If you’re 'being nice' to someone, you’re not being honest. You’re humoring a person you don’t want to be with and I don’t think I can trust you."

Meanwhile, on the nasty side of the ledger, Jamelle Bouie suggests that the mudslinging of this presidential campaign is actually a good sign.
If this were truly a trivial contest over inconsequential things, the campaigns would be less vitriolic in their approach. But because it isn’t, and so much rides on this election, it’s only natural that both campaigns would eventually fight it out in the gutter. Or, put another way, the negativity of this election is simply a sign that both sides are deeply serious about the consequences of victory or defeat.
Hmm...I'm willing to consider that.

One thing's for certain: no one is electing this clown mayor of Alameda any time soon. Not after this story came out:
"Families waiting for San Francisco's cable cars on a recent morning couldn't help but notice Kenny the Clown, who wore a curly rainbow wig as he twisted brightly colored balloons into animal shapes for visitors, blasting Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" from an iPad at his feet.

"Little did the clown know that the tablet doubling as his stereo would turn out to have been stolen from the home of the late Steve Jobs."
Of course it might be better to simply let the yogurt take over, as John Scalzi wrote in an older post I only just discovered. No one argues with the yogurt.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

World in Prayer, August 16

It was my week to write the World in Prayer prayers, and the news seemed particularly rife with violence. I wanted to acknowledge that while also recognizing that violence is not limited to death and mayhem, but also occurs through mudslinging and garden variety cruelty. And as you see this week's news led to my more fervent prayers for peace.

Prince of Peace: fill our hearts, fill our minds, fill our souls.
Strengthen us for your service that we might be instruments of your peace in our world.

May there be peace to those who are far off and peace to those who are near.

  • For the victims of bombs in Iraq, drug violence in Mexico, and shootings in Texas, Louisiana, and Washington, DC (USA), may there be peace. 
  • For protesters in South Africa, rioters in France, and those in India fleeing their homes for fear of violence, may there be peace. 
  • For Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and places of deep conflict, may there be peace. 
  • For the 11 people whose murder remains a mystery in Kazakhstan, and for two Brazilian prisoners lynched in Bolivia, may there be peace.  
  • For those seeking public office and the partisans who support them, may there be peace. 
  • For Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Christians, and those of every faith and creed, may there be peace. 
  • In our families, schools, neighborhoods, and churches, may there be peace. 

May there be everlasting peace.
May there be deep and wide peace.
May there be reconciling and humble peace.
Lord, we pray, may there be your peace.

Help us, gracious God, to seek peace and pursue it,
To bring peace wherever we may be,
To share peace with the fearful and the angry,
And continually to pray for peace in our time, O Lord.

All this we ask through your Son who came to bring peace to the world you sustain with your love. Amen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review: Feed - and vague thoughts on YA dystopias

The other night I finished Feed by MT Anderson, which was a tremendous novel, if highly disturbing. I can't remember how I first heard about it, but it was already on my pile from the library when NPR published its list of top 100 YA novels (where it ranks as number 88).

It was a quick read, but I wouldn't say it was an easy one. It's an Aldous Huxley dystopia, a la Brave New World, in which control is acquired through pleasure rather than repression.

In the highly believable world Feed creates, at every moment the feed implanted in your brain from childhood is selling you things, gathering data on what you purchase to further discern your demographic, and selling you more based on that information. Each chapter ends with some of the ads coming through on the feed, disrupting your own thought processes as you watch clips of pitches of products pass by. It isn't our world, but it is way too easy to imagine a world like that. It was like looking at current society in a distorted and magnifying mirror and realizing the essential parts of you were still being reflected in it.

I looked up MT Anderson as I was reading the book and can't say I was super surprised to learn that his mother is an Episcopal priest. You know he was steeped in something when you get a sentence like this:
The sun was rising over foreign countries, and underwear was cheap, and there were new techniques to reconfigure pecs, abs, and nipples, and the President of the United States was certain of the future, and at Weatherbee & Crotch there was a sale banner and nice rugby shirts and there were pictures of freckled prep-school boys and girls in chinos playing on the beach and dry humping in the eel grass, and as I fell asleep, the feed murmured to me again and again: All shall be well...and all shall be well...and all manner of things shall be well.
In Feed, people young and old are lulled, mollified, and plied with treats. Contrast this with (or compare it to) The Hunger Games, another YA dystopian novel, only in The Hunger Games it is want and scarcity that drives the plot, and rather than being entertained, the young protagonists are to be the entertainment.

All of which has got me thinking about how many dystopian novels seem to be geared toward teens. I don't remember this being the case when I was young. Aside from The Lord of the Flies, the dystopias all involved adults--and Lord of the Flies (though we read it in school) wasn't considered a YA novel.

So why is it that there is so much dystopian literature for youth nowadays? Is it because the youth are the ones listening? Or the ones the authors think need to hear it? Or is it because that's the way to sneak this message out there to old and young alike? Because one thing's for darn sure in both Feed and The Hunger Games: the dystopia ain't the young folks' fault.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Obituaries and the Single Girl

Margalit Fox, who also did that wonderfully playful obituary of writer Christine Brooke-Rose, had a field day with Helen Gurley Brown's NY Times send-off. Let's start with the second sentence, shall we?

"She was 90, though parts of her were considerably younger."

One must also admire this pithy summation of the work she did when she took over Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1963: "Ms. Brown had never held an editing job, but her influence on Cosmopolitan was swift and certain: she did not so much revamp the magazine as vamp it."


The whole obituary itself is a well-told summary of a very full life, not overlooking the more controversial aspects while offering what seems to me a remarkably fair assessment of Brown's contributions.

Another obituary triumph, Ms. Fox. Thank you for a fun and informative article on a subject worthy of your skills.

Every wind of doctrine

Consider this your "shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted" Bible study post. But, hey, this passage will come up again:
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:14-16

Here's the thing that struck me reading it this time. So. It seems to me that people toss around that phrase "every wind of doctrine" to mean "every newfangled thought that comes along." Is that how you've heard it used? But it occurred to me that at the time the letter was written, Christianity was the newfangled thought. And Paul was an innovator even within this newfangled sect of Christianity, welcoming the uncircumcised, calling a slave his brother (and his owner's brother), expecting a radical equality among genders and races and incomes. He was doing crazily new stuff, way out of the mainstream.

So it makes me wonder if doctrine here doesn't mean new doctrine, but what we usually think of when we think of doctrine: those beliefs that are settled and static and cast in stone.

What if this isn't saying, "Don't be blown about by the latest fad," but instead is saying, "Don't be blown about by 'the way we've always done it'"? Don't be blown about by those forces that wish to deny new truths that have been brought to light through Jesus Christ. 

Remember that grim hymn "Once to ev'ry man and nation"? It has this great couplet:

New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

And of course let us not forget the great Thomas Cranmer's delightful introduction to the first Book of Common Prayer (1549, of course): "There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted."

Darn right.

So the next time someone throws that old "every wind of doctrine" line at you, I'd recommend you say, "That's exactly why we need to speak the truth in love, so that we are not continually battered by doctrines that no longer fit our understanding of God and of the world." The winds of doctrine isn't about new ways of thinking; the winds of doctrine are the ones that try to blow us backwards as we attempt to make progress, promoting the body's growth.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Garden Update, August 2012

It's about time to check in on the garden and see how things are going.

Well, the tomatoes are doing just fine.

In fact, I believe I am due for another BLT for lunch today.

A couple of volunteer hollyhocks are standing guard at the corner of the house.

They're the only hollyhocks I have this year. Well, there's one other but it's been a green mound, a bust of a plant.

The hydrangeas continue to be unstoppable.

Not quite the monsters they were last year, but still.

The bed next to the hydrangeas is still scraggly; however, the bee balm is in year 2 and decided to bloom.

We went a little dahlia-mad this year, and some of them are finally blooming in that extravagant dahlia manner they have.

Love the red edges on this one.

This one is called Tip-toe.
Check out the Daddy Long Legs hiding in the petals!
Meanwhile, in the backyard, the side bed is looking pretty good. Coreopsis and zinnias are the stars this year.

But let's not overlook the zucchini hiding in the undergrowth:
I have GOT to figure out what to do with these.
And in the side beds, a coreopsis managed to survive several uprootings and is blooming!

Strangely, though, there is a new bare patch in the other side bed where the alonsoa once bloomed.

I wonder why that is...

Sunday Funnies, August 12

I do love this, even though I probably shouldn't.

Found via Twitter.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Various & Sundry: Thimbles, wine, culture, and song

Oy! I'm glad to have a little time finally to blog. So much to blog, so little time. Let's start with the obituary pages this week:

Have you ever thought about thimbles? "Diane Pelham Burn, who has died aged 79, was an international authority on thimbles and other needlework tools," and after reading her obituary, I took thimbles much more seriously.
“It is hard for us to imagine how rare and valuable needlework tools once were,” she told an interviewer. “The British Museum has on display a last will and testament that was written around 1600 in which a mother bequeathed her treasured needle to her daughter. A single needle. It was a very important possession.”

My favorite blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates had two great contributions this week. First, on his own blog on the Atlantic, he spoke of the limits of free will--simply fascinating insight. And in the NY Times, he has an op-ed about culture as a set of tools that is nuanced and subtle and illuminating. Do check them out.

Also in the NY Times is a strange and wonderful essay from a man who looked for a writing job in the wine industry. He nails the culture in two sentences: "In California, casual equals power. The people in ties valet park the cars of the people in polos." Oh so perfect. The rest of the story about a truly abysmal interview is cringingly hilarious.

Also in cringingly hilarious wine news, Tom Wark does a painfully funny take-down of a wine review. Be sure to read to the end.

The New Yorker has an article about a Gay Pride event in Uganda.

Uganda’s Pride was a weekend- long event, made up of film screenings, a fashion show in drag, and all-night (and into the morning) parties. Two hundred and fifty tickets had been sold, though, as a vivacious trans woman named Cleo told me, fifty-some people showed up on Thursday and Friday, because many were still wary about gathering in large groups. “We couldn’t have done this kind of thing two years ago, and for those that were here back then, they almost can’t believe things are safer and better now,” Cleo said. The first two days went off without a hitch, and more people, predictably, showed up for the evening bacchanals.

"Safer and better"--wow. Good to hear that. And kudos to the kuchus who are making this happen.

Burned out on the Olympics yet? Or is everything starting to take on an Olympic tinge? I loved this Olympic-level competition for national anthems. Anthems are scored by

1. Transcendence of Historical Suffering (Freestyle)
2. 200m Inculcation of Hard-Won Optimism
3. Compulsory Tingliness
4. Volksgeist, the Expression of the Spirit of the People

Which nation's anthem will bring home the gold? You'll just have to read the article and see. No tape delay available.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What's in your wallet?

In my job at the winery, I help with the sales at the end of the morning tour. Yesterday morning, a man wanted three bottles of wine (which isn't unusual) and paid for it with a Visa (also normal). It was the kind of credit card that struck me as odd: a Liberty University-themed credit card.

In case you don't know, Liberty University is the college founded by Jerry Falwell, Training Champions for Christ since 1971. To say it is conservative is perhaps mild. (If you're looking for a terrific book (full stop), I recommend The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose about his year as a student at Liberty.)

At any rate, there I am at the winery with a man paying for his wine with a Liberty University-themed credit card, which was a bit of a stunner.

Now, I'm not saying this is surprising because I expect Liberty University alums to avoid alcohol, though I do. It's more because of all the terrible things the Bible says about charging interest.

This is not a criticism of the man who bought the wine, incidentally. I just wonder why Liberty University would allow itself to have its image placed on a credit card. Apparently, university-themed credit cards are a thing--and not such a good one. According to one source, "those official school cards are almost always a poor choice because of their lousy terms and high interest rates. It seems the colleges are more interested in making money from their credit card deals than protecting their students."

I guess that's why I found that so shocking. At the same time, though, there's something clever about this. If you pull out a credit card to pay for something and are reminded of what you were taught by this university, you might at least give it some thought.

I don't know. I just thought it was odd.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Review: Wild Thing

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I read Beat the Reaper while peeking through my fingers? Yeah, well, I couldn't stop myself and I ended up reading Wild Thing, the second novel featuring our former Mafia hit man turned doctor, Peter Brown. Only now he's Lionel Azimuth and he's working on a cruise ship, courtesy of the Witness Protection Program.

Dr. Azimuth, as he is now known, is hired by Rec Bill (short for Reclusive Billionaire) to check out a possible scam in Minnesota that might or might not involve a dinosaur living in a lake. He is accompanied by paleontologist Violet Hurst and discovers (as you might expect) that things are not as they first seem in the dying town of Ford, Minnesota.

I thought this book was a much easier (i.e. less gory) read than the previous one and said as much to a friend.* I neglected to mention the part at the very beginning with the two teenagers being chewed in half while swimming in a lake, possibly by a monster. So there's that. Then there's the paleontologist (a much more complete female character than the one we had in the first novel) who offers a theory on why the world is going to go to hell in a handbasket in the next 50 years or so. Not comforting. So there's that, too.  That's the point where my friend stopped and say "Really? This is better than the last one?" Good thing she stopped before the meth lab scene.

So "less gory" is a relative term. But what can I say? I thought it was good. Really interesting characters and a convoluted but compelling plot. I've got to say, though, that the footnotes that seemed an interesting device the first time just got annoying this time around.

Clearly, however, I can't stay away from Bazell and his vivid imagination. So we'll see if Dr. Brown/Azimuth returns in another installment and what alias he takes. Just stay out of the water, OK?

*It should be noted that this is the friend who gave me a copy of Beat the Reaper saying, and I quote, "It's funny."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Funnies, Olympics week 2

I have been having a great time listening to these daily podcasts from The Bugle offering an up close and personal view of the Olympics. Very funny. And very British. Here's today's podcast, which I haven't even had a chance to listen to yet.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Your Olympics/Episcopal trivia of the day

Everyone seems to be talking about Ethelbert Talbot these days. Well, actually, they're not talking about him by name. It's just that I saw this mention of how the Olympic Creed was inspired by a sermon. A little more digging revealed that the sermon in question was by the Rt. Rev. Ethelbert Talbot, then-Bishop of Pennsylvania, in London in 1908 for the Lambeth Conference, which happened to coincide with the Olympics.
The games were very contentious, with many American protests against British rulings. Talbot was aware of this and it concerned him. He was invited to preach at St Paul's Cathedral on July 19, a service to which athletes and officials of the games were specially invited. In his sermon, he said,
“We have just been contemplating the great Olympic Games. What does it mean? It means that young men of robust physical life have come from all parts of the world. It does mean, I think, as someone has said, that this era of internationalism as seen in the Stadium has an element of danger. Of course, it is very true, as he says, that each athlete strives not only for the sake of sport, but for the sake of his country. Thus a new rivalry is invented. If England be beaten on the river, or America outdistanced on the racing path, or that American has lost the strength which she once possessed. Well, what of it? The only safety after all lies in the lesson of the real Olympia - that the Games themselves are better than the race and the prize. St. Paul tells us how insignificant is the prize, Our prize is not corruptible, but incorruptible, and though only one may wear the laurel wreath, all may share the equal joy of the contest. All encouragement, therefore, be given to the exhilarating - I might also say soul-saving - interest that comes in active and fair and clean athletic sports.”
And from this was drawn what is now called the Olympic Creed:
The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.
The good bishop, there, became Presiding Bishop, the last bishop to take the office due to seniority. There's also a fabulous story (in both senses of the word) in his Wikipedia article from his time when he was the missionary bishop of Wyoming and Idaho.
When he arrived in his see, there were only four clergy in each of the two states. In the ten years in the West, he established 38 churches and built St. Matthew's Cathedral in Laramie, Wyoming. This was still the Old West and the story is told of his encounter with bandits while riding in a stage coach,
“Surely you wouldn’t rob a poor bishop?” said Talbot.
“Did you say you were a bishop?” asked the bandit.
“Yes, just a poor bishop.”
“What church?”
“The Episcopal.”
“The hell you are! Why that’s the church I belong to! Go along, driver.”
And with that, I'm going to watch the women's triathlon which I recorded from early this morning. Fight well.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Various & Sundry, no exertion required

All right, who's staying up until 1 in the morning (Pacific Time) to watch the women's triathlon? Me either. I've set the DVR, though, and will watch it while lounging about in my sweats with a cup of tea tomorrow morning. Hey, at least I'll be wearing athletic clothing.

I could, of course, always watch the triathlon while also commemorating the life and invention of William Staub, the man behind the treadmill we know and love today. He died, as seems only fair, at the age of 96.
Early on, Mr. Staub’s son Gerald designed an on-off switch that could be mounted on the handlebars. His father was perplexed.

“My father said, ‘Well, why would you want to do that?’ ” Thomas Staub said. “My brother said, ‘To make it easier for people.’ And my dad said, ‘But it’s an exercise device.’ ”
He has a point.

Another notable obituary this week for Thelma Glass, "the last surviving member of a black women’s group that in 1955 organized a yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala." She was 96. She taught geography at Alabama State University for 40 years. The obituary ends, "On July 20, just a few days before her death, Professor Glass attended a black tie gala at the university, clad in an elegant gown." That's the way to do it.

Speaking of elegant gowns--well, I'm not sure "elegant" is the right word, but Tom & Lorenzo have a fabulous (and opinionated) take on the gown that Kate Beckinsale wore to the premiere of Total Recall. Behold:
You got a big-ass science fiction film coming out? You don’t wear something demure and colorless; you wear something big and science-fictiony. You break out your muthafuckin Lizard Queen dress, bitches, and you conquer that red carpet like it’s loaded with potential slaves for your Space Lizard Empire. This is the kind of dress that immediately causes its wearer to stand up a little straighter and resist the overwhelming urge to shout things like “SEIZE THEM!!!!!”

Where's my Lizard Queen dress, minions? Oh, right. I'm looking forward to wearing sweats. To watch the Olympics. While potentially eating some zucchini and apricot muffins. I've got to do something with all these zucchinis. 

I don't know, though. It seems cruel to eat them when they're all snuggled together like this. Besides, does a Lizard Queen actually eat vegetables?

What an ass.

And he seems so pleased with himself.

Listen. I don't have a dog in this Chick-Fil-A fight. But there's a mighty fine display of self-righteousness on everybody's part all across the spectrum. Is this really where we need to put our energy? Really?

And this guy: Haranguing the girl who's working in the drive-thru window? That's a good thing to do? That's going to help? Really?