Thursday, March 29, 2007

Gunfight at the DC corral

I wish I could find the picture that's on the front page of the SF Chronicle today; it's not on their online version, drat them. It shows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a sand-colored suit, striding through the halls of Congress, flanked on both sides men in dark-colored suits, slightly behind her. She looks fabulous, in the way that power can look fabulous. I swear it looks like those publicity stills you see for old Westerns with the sheriff/Henry Fonda in the middle surrounded by other B-list gunslingers. Whether or not the photographer meant to convey that iconography, it certainly is reminiscent of a showdown.

Strangely, the picture the Chronicle does have online makes Speaker Pelosi look old, tired, and somewhat bored. There's a hand blocking her face and she looks small compared to the men surrounding her. Just goes to show what a picture can convey.

Now, the truth of the matter...well, that's another thing entirely.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

You can only do what you can do

This being my mantra against perfectionism. I saw it reflected this morning in a NY Times editorial on our policies in Iraq, written by Rory Stewart. A friend of mine raves about his book "The Prince of the Marshes and Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq," but at the moment I'm still catching up on the Best Political Writing of 2006.

Stewart's article begins "We must acknowledge the limits of our power and knowledge in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and concentrate on what is achievable. The question is not 'What ought we to do?' but 'What can we do?'" That seems eminently sensible.

But it is his closing sentence that blew my mind: "We have no moral obligation to do what we cannot do."

Of course, all of this begs the question of what is possible and what is achievable. That requires a great deal of self-knowledge--both humility to accept that I may not be able to do as much as I think, and also courage to accept that I may be able to do more than I would like. But it is still a revelation to take the moral obligation out of achieving what is not possible.

Along the same lines of a William Stafford poem I read in a literary magazine and have not found elsewhere that ends this way (or close to it):

After you've done what you can, you just have to wait. That's the way the trees do it, and the rocks and the stars.

I'll need to think about all this some more as I drink some overdone jasmine tea.

Uninformed opinions on current events

Still thinking about the Edwards family, as if I had any say in the matter, and have finally decided that it's none of my business whether they should or should not continue in the presidential race. My job as a voter is to decide for whom to vote based on what I know and what I learn. Which means I'd better pay more attention to people's positions, even though it's so much less fun than speculating on how and why the Edwards decided to continue campaigning.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A true connoisseur

Having now looked up the spelling of "connoisseur" at (which was rather roundabout, since I looked it up via the thesaurus by typing in "expert"), I need now to pass along a quotation from Lord Champion of Pontypridd, mostly for his name, which I am not making up, who said, in reference to fish and chips wrapped in newspapers, "I am such a great connoisseur that I can tell the difference between the tang of the Beaverbrook Daily Express and the mellow flavor of the Times."

You may now return to more important things.

Tea in Seattle

I have returned from the rainy Northwest to the rainy Bay Area absolutely awash in fabulous Seattle tea. My friends there indulged me to a high degree, taking me to the Queen Mary Tearoom in the U district, a place with high levels of free-floating estrogen, sustained by caffeine and carbohydrates.

We had lunch accompanied by Golden Monkey tea, selected primarily for the name, although the tea descriptions spoke to the true tea snob. I'm sure there's a name for a tea sommalier, but I don't know what it is. I also wish at this point I were sure of the spelling of "connaisseur," but I am not. So I will simply say these descriptions were for those who actually have a good palate, and I am not one of those.

For example, should I get Darjeeling, "the champagne of teas," "A high mountain, second flush tea, picked from small gardens in the foothills of the Himalayas"? Or perhaps Jasmine Pearl, "A fragrant and tantalizing hand-rolled green tea from the Fujian province of mainland China. Scented more than five times with night-blooming jasmine."

I want to know who writes these descriptions.

As it is, as I said, we went for Golden Monkey, "A gold-red tipped, hand processed tea from the Fujian prvince of China. It is a smooth and delectable tea with a caramel finish." Our server arrived with teapots for each of us, saying, "Two Golden Monkeys," which had a festively simian quality to it, wouldn't you say? Our server, too, attested to Golden Monkey's caramel overtones, which were lost on me, probably drowned in the added milk and smothered in the granulated sugar with the rainbow-colored flecks. Yes, it was all tremendously precious. Mighty fine tea, though.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Seattle, ho!

Don't you call me a Seattle ho. But I am going to be there for the weekend. Bye!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A lack of sympathy

There's a great line in the movie "Laura" where Waldo Leydecker sarcastically says, "I would be distinctly sorry to see my neighbor's children eaten by wolves." That's about my level of sympathy in the case of the 12-year-old boy scout lost for four days in the North Carolina mountains.

Well, I do have some sympathy: for the leader of the boy scout troop. Would that be a troop leader's worst nightmare, or what? I did like this quote from the AP report: a scout named Griffin Prufer, who got on the Today show out of all of this, said "I noticed my dad going into the woods yelling and screaming [the missing scout's] name and blowing whistles and stuff."

Oh, I bet he was. I notice Griffin's dad isn't listed as going on the Today show. Probably still furious. The kid wasn't having a good time? So he was going to hitchhike home?

I'm not sure what to make of the lost-now-found scout's dad's comment: “We're going to have our lectures about hitchhiking again,” the father said. “We've had them in the past, but with a special vigor, we'll go over that again with Michael.” Ya think? And what do you mean, AGAIN? How often has this happened?

I have to say that when the kid's MO is that "The boy had asked his dad if he would give him $5 if he didn't have a good time," I'm thinking this is a kid I would not like. OK, so I didn't HAVE to say that, but I'm going to anyway. I'm glad he's not dead, but that's for the scoutmaster's sake. Even after his traumatic experience, the kid gets no sympathy from me.

Bach-handed compliments

Perhaps my mind turned to baseball yesterday because spring was in the air, even though I hadn't recalled that today would be the first day of spring. I hadn't recalled that today is Bach's birthday either. Didn't send him a card or anything. Heard "Sleepers, Wake" this morning on the radio, and how appropriate was that! Well, not really appropriate for the liturgical season, being more of an Advent tune, but certainly appropriate for my state of mind, which would be soporific.

And doesn't that sound like it should be a compliment? As in "Man, that baseball game was totally soporific!" I'm sure that in the right crowd one could slip that in and get away with it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

baseball on my mind

Here I am, drinking an herbal infusion, delivered by a friend of mine to aid me in my Womanly Complaint (though it does not appear to have chocolate (the herbal infusion, that is, not the Womanly Complaint) and so, of course, my mind turns to baseball.

Perhaps it was the email update on the A's. Perhaps it was the table of baseball books at the bookstore I browsed during lunch. Perhaps it's because I don't want to be working (and, why, look, I'm not!). Perhaps it's because I've got home opener tickets in my wallet. But I'm thinking about baseball. About its pace and its persistence. About how hard it is and how easy it looks.

The season starts the Monday of Holy Week, but the A's are away until Easter. The tickets are an Easter Monday treat I got myself. He is risen, and the season has started. And really, what could be better than that?

More later, but in the meantime Palm Sunday beckons.

Monday, March 19, 2007

War anniversary/purgatory

Here it is, the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Isn’t that a cheery thought? I don’t exactly want to send George Bush and co. to hell, but I find myself hoping that there’s such a place as purgatory where they will have to apologize person by person, face to face, to everyone who has been in any way hurt by our presence there: Iraqis, troops, families--everyone. And none of this “mistakes were made” crap (which one announcer I heard describe as the “past exonerative”); deeply, humbly, sincerely apologize with genuine contrition. That’s what I want.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

St. Patrick

No green on me today, not being in any way Irish, but I thought a little bit about St. Patrick and his story of being sold as a slave to Ireland, escaping back to Britain and then returning to Ireland despite that. In his "Confessio" he seems sane enough, not given to the intense self-loathing that many of our saints seem to have. Hard to tell, and even if I could tell, I would probably be wrong, not being in his skin or of his time.

I have a quote from his Confessio on my refrigerator to keep me humble: "Behold now I commend my soul to God who is most faithful and for whom I perform my mission in obscurity, but he is no respecter of persons and he chose me for this service that I might be one of the least of his ministers." Because Ireland WAS obscure. That's not where the up and coming clerics would go. And yet whom do we remember today?

And yet how many more are there who have performed their mission in obscurity? This just to say it's hard to gauge the impact of a ministry, and as always success is less the point than love of God and neighbor. God is no respecter of persons in that all are equal before God. Patrick certainly seemed to learn that in a deep way, that he could return to love and care for the very people who enslaved him.

Happy St. Patrick's day to you all.

Friday, March 16, 2007

God on Nightline

Yawn. Stayed up late last night to watch "Nightline" for the first time ever because our dear PeaceBang of "PeaceBang's Beauty Tips for Ministers" was featured as a Sign of the Times. Not that she knows that she is "Our Dear PB" in my mind because I am a total lurker on her blog, but there you are. She's special to me. She made me get rid of all my jumpers--now that's love. And that's power because I loved my comfy jumpers.

(She's also the one who inspired me to start this blog--that and blogger's tempting little "create a blog" link in the upper right hand corner. Who knew it was so easy to spout ignorant opinions in a public forum?)

Of course PB's segment was on last, requiring me to stay up until midnight, if you can believe it. The first segment was on a project called "The GodMen," trying to reclaim the masculinity of Christianity. The announcer kept referring to "muscular Christianity," which has historical resonances thta I don't think he quite understood.

And so in a 30-minute program, we saw two segments on two extremely different slices of Christianity, and I've got to tell you, I think both of them made people of faith look a little ridiculous to people outside the charmed circle. They fed into stereotypes I suspect people already hold about Christianity in this country.

The Godmen seminar was meeting in a mall in Tennessee. The part of the presentation we saw was very conservative in flavor and suggestively patriarchal, meeting in a dark room, high tech, multimedia, drums. They particularly focused on a presentation about pornography, because of course those conservatives are totally obsessed with sex. And then, on the other hand, you've got the UU minister in Massachusetts, and they showed a large whitewalled church that was largely empty, I was so sorry to see. Stodgy mainline is what it projected. And the suggestion that all PB is interested in is how she looks, which is not what she's about at all.

I suspect the non-religious watching either one of those would see them and say, "Thank God I'm not like these people." And settle back into the couch, congratulating themselves on their wisdom.

The comments on PB's blog today included a couple of people saying, "Godmen--creepy." Well, guess what? The Godmen folk were watching the segment on PB and criticizing her, which makes me sad. Hellooo people! Let's not cast stones. Neither one of you appeared as you truly are because hellooo! the Nightline people decided how you would look. Pray that God will use this for good and move on.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Death of a piano teacher

So, there I was with my Hawaiian pizza and my beer, glancing through the local newspaper with its SCANDALOUS headline about how they are going to start distributing condoms at the local high school when I turned the page to glance at the obituaries and, my God! It was my piano teacher!

Back when I was in middle school, I would walk the couple of blocks to Mrs. V's little house around the corner for my weekly piano lessons. They weren't very good, as I recall. But then, I wasn't very good either. I remember playing the Maple Leaf Rag and Babes in Toyland (what a creepy song that is! "Once you pass its borders, you may never return again"--which sounds like you'd be trapped there forever--but I digress). That's about it. Didn't get very far studying with her. But she was kind and patient, which I imagine is a job requirement.

She died a week ago Monday, two years younger than my parents, and the photo in the paper is just how I remembered her. The memorial is tonight, donations to be made to the Alzheimer's Foundation. No mention as to cause of death, so I don't know if that was her disease or a cause close to her heart.

Her obituary talks about how she "touched many with her singing and music leadership." And I guess that's how she touched me, too. It's been years since I thought of her, but it takes me right back. Blessings, Mrs. V. Rest in peace.

Greek myth

Sitting down with a strong cup of Chinese Breakfast tea, thinking about the flap at DuPauw over the Delta Zeta sorority. Just went to the Delta Zeta website where they are hunkered down in a big way, saying "That's not what we meant! That's not what we did!"

Which was to evict most of the members of the chapter house in DuPauw, allegedly because of looks. The pretty ones were invited to stay; the overweight, the awkward, or the geeky were asked to go. The only minority members have all left, either voluntarily or as part of the same purge. The main office contends this is not true, that this was entirely based on a commitment to recruit. And what else can they say, really?

The Delta Zeta website has a lovely green background with a picture in the upper left corner of a pink rose just beginning to bloom, and the Greek letters Delta Zeta superimposed upon it. As you roll over the menu bar, the words turn from green to pink. The preciousness of that is a peculiar contrast with the wall of defensiveness of the statements on the home page. Why am I thinking they didn't know this would become the most emailed article in the NY Times when the story broke? Just a little local thing they were doing at little old DuPauw in the middle of Greencastle, Indiana. Who is going to pay attention to that?

Why do I have a feeling that there was unexamined bias in the national chapter's selection of who would be willing to recruit and who wouldn't? No newsflash there. I have a feeling they believe every word of their PR, that commitment to recruitment was the only factor in their eviction process.

After the purge, only 12 young women were left in the sorority. Kudos to the six who left in outrage after that. Of the six remaining, four were seniors, and I can appreciate not wanting to leave your house when you have four months left of school. I am most curious about the two who remained. What do they think about all of this?

Of course, I've never much liked sororities and went to a school that didn't have any. I have a strong anti-Greek bias that's relatively unexamined in itself, but I think is in part due to the belief that recruitment WAS largely based on being "conventionally pretty," as the remaining Delts are described. I would have been one of the recruits for the creepy, dark, and socially hopeless Gumma Gumma Dope or other low-on-the-totem-pole house, and why set yourself up for that? It's the ranking and pecking order bit of it that gets under my skin; but how much of that is because I don't think I would be in the top rank? Not for a social organization like that.

Unfortunately for DZHQ, every woman in the country (I would be willing to bet) has had someone disparage her appearance and use that to gauge her worth. People are going to believe that DZ evicted the girls on appearance because many people have had something of that nature happen to her.

At least I believe it because something of that nature happened to me. I was in middle school and I got glasses and I was told I would not be invited to a party because of it. And the thing is, the girls with the party were girls I didn't like, so it's not like this was a huge trauma. But still, the message was clear: looks influence status, no matter what you do.

And so there is something incredibly satisfying about the conventionally pretty girls getting their comeuppance in the popular press. Mythic, even. DZHQ may not deserve all the bad press they are getting, but I can't say I mind.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Godspell and 9/11

I watched the movie "Godspell" for the first time in a long time a little over a week ago with the youth group at church, and since the movie and thoughts about it are sticking with me, I'm posting my thoughts.

There's the great production number "It's all for the best" about halfway through the film, when Jesus and Judas do a little softshoe about why oppression is not the end of the world: "Who is the land for? the sun and the sand for? You guessed: it's all for the best." And behind them the rest of the cast dances along. It ends with them all on top of a skyscraper and the camera pans back to show...that they are on top of the World Trade Center before it had even been completed. I thought I was going to cry.

That Sunday at church we sang "All my hope on God is founded," one of my favorite hymns, but I cannot sing it any more without thinking of 9/11. One of the verses includes the line "though with care and toil we build them, tower and temple fall to dust." And continues "But God's power hour by hour is my temple and my tower." All the same, I can't help but be reminded how terrible that was.

The gospel for Sunday (yesterday) includes Jesus talking about the fall of the tower of Siloam when 18 people died. Were they bad people? Jesus asks. And his answer is confounding. Basically, it's "They're no worse than you are." Neither a eulogy nor a condemnation, but instead an answer to the people asking the question. You don't know when and how your life will end: get your act in gear.

Watching "Godspell" was the youth group made me realize how time had passed. Most of those attending are 11 or 12 years old; they were 5, 6, 7 in 2001. Do they even remember it? And if so, how?

At the same time, another member of our parish and his family had their last Sunday yesterday as they prepare to move to Honduras. This member, the father, had been in the building across from the towers as the planes flew into them, and it changed him utterly and completely. He accompanied our youth on a camping trip last Spring, and his question to them in the dark around the campfire was "Where was God when the towers fell?" His own answer, as I remember, wasn't about where God was, but about where he ended up: drinking at least a six-pack a night in order to sleep, spending time away from his family in the wilderness, trying to sort things out. And his prayer was "I can't handle this by myself," which he says turned things around for him. This move to Honduras is part of it, I would imagine. And can I say that I think his wife is a saint.

I was amazed that seeing the towers again moved me so deeply. I've never even been to New York City. But it was like seeing a picture of a loved one who has died, coming across it unexpectedly, showing when she was young and hopeful. All the people in the buildings that day were murdered, it finally hit me, and the buildings were murdered, too.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Obituary update

As a dabbler in obituaries, I was intrigued by today's offering in the SF Chronicle about Dr. Lawrence Mathers, an anatomy professor at Stanford.

"As an anatomy teacher, Dr. Mathers would honor the cadavers in the dissection lab with a moment of silence to pay tribute to those who had donated their body to science." And good on him.

I did have a passing thought, wondering if Dr. Mathers donated his body for dissection. I suspect not for the practical reason that too many students would know him. It would be disconcerting to do a dissection on a former professor. But I think it would be disconcerting to do a dissection on almost anybody. One would have questions: who was this person? What did he do? Who are her children?

Also ironically, given Dr. Mathers' profession, "No cause of death has been determined."

Let us pause for a moment of silence for Lawrence Mathers, "a teaching legend at the Stanford University School of Medicine who taught anatomy to nearly 30,000 students over more than three decades."


Another question arises: did that mean 30,000 cadavers as well?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Happy International Women's Day

I just learned that today is International Women's Day and I'm trying to think of an appropriate way to celebrate.

For one, I signed a petition to support the GROWTH act, which stands for the Global Resources and Opportunities for Women to Thrive act (a bit of a stretch, there, acronymically).

To be honest, I have problems with legislation designed to make Other Countries Do Something About It, but I'm all for women having property rights.

But what to do that's close to home? I will look around and see what sounds promising.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

"The Higher Power of Lucky"

I just finished reading the 2006 Newberry Award book The Higher Power of Lucky after hearing of the kerfuffle it caused amongst teachers and school librarians everywhere for its use of the word "scrotum." Since it was a dog's scrotum, I'm not sure it was as scandalous as folks made it out to be, but when our hero, Lucky, asks her guardian at the end of the book what a scrotum is, you can hear in the character's answer the threat that this question implies.

After answering, Brigitte, the guardian, asks Lucky why she wants to know.

"'It was just something I heard someone say,' said Lucky.

"For some reason, Brigitte said, 'You know if anyone ever hurt you I would rip their heart out.'"

And for this reader at least, the reason Brigitte said that is clear. Is she asking because a man's scrotum has appeared in Lucky's life? And throughout the book Lucky seems on the cusp of discovering something about her sexuality. It's lurking just behind the text, but is never stated outright. I suspect that also had something to do with the disapproval this book received.

That and the emphasis on evolution. This whole book works on the assumption that evolution is a scientific fact. There's much mention of adaptation as well as evolving. A schoolteacher (imagine!) teaches about how polar bears adapted to their environment. And there's more mention of Charles Darwin in this book than in any other I've seen, much less a children's book. Lucky's dog is HMS Beagle and Charles Darwin is her favorite scientist. I didn't hear any mention of this in the press, but I wonder how much this affected the attitudes of some teachers and parents.

Personally, I liked the book. I liked the tone and the language. But can I just say, no more orphans! Lemony Snicket can do it because he is being ironic, but why the endless appeal of the parentless child in children's literature? I have grown tired of the convention, but then, I'm not a child any more.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The TeaBag's first cup

Because what I need is something else to distract me, I have started a blog, right around teatime on a Monday afternoon. Why? Because I'm just as opinionated as anybody and because I want to see what happens. I want to see what's rattling around in my own head and see what readers (if any) come this way and what they think as well.

Why "The TeaBag"? Because it takes me a little while to steep and get the flavor out of a thing. I don't respond instantly to input. Don't expect to see flash responses to most major news of the day. I'm a savoring kind of a person who likes to settle down and sip at something. I'm not trendy or fashionable or even fancy. No extra double shots with foam. Just a cup of tea. Though I do like to add a little sweetener.

And if this all sounds unbearably fey, I apologize. I hope it won't be. Although I like a good cup of herbal at the end of the day to calm me down, first thing in the morning I take my tea black with a full dose of boiling water. We'll see what happens. Thanks for sitting down with me for a bit.