Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day--the National Cemetery System

Yesterday, I was overcome with a desire to pay my respects to those who have served in the Armed Forces in some sort of active way. I don't know how I came to learn of it, but I knew that there is a National Cemetery system, that Arlington isn't the only one. And so I decided to go and visit and see what I could see.

The National Cemetery nearest me is the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery--a very recent one, formally dedicated in 2007. It's about halfway between the Bay Area and Sacramento, a rather hot, flat area just off of highway 80 and across from a fruit orchard. And in the middle of seemingly nowhere, here's this National Cemetery.

The way they set up the entrance has basically a marble wall with gaps for cars to drive in. It felt like I was literally driving into a memorial, which I suppose I was.

I'm so glad I went. It was incredibly moving to me. I didn't take a lot of pictures because it felt disrespectful somehow. But I walked through and tried to take in some notion of each person I visited.

Each headstone or columbarium niche was marked with the person's name, what branch of the service they were in, what rank they held, what war (or wars) they were part of, years of birth and death, and then (often) a personal statement.

There was a small flag in front of every grave, as you can see here:

At least I hope you can see it.

Because the cemetery is so new, the columbaria are sparsely attended, so to speak. Only the facades with remains had the flags in front of them. Although there was also lots of empty lawn that will soon also have headstones, there was more of an impact in seeing all those empty niches that will eventually be filled.

What also hit me were seeing all of these stories that I didn't know in one place. The fact that veterans are not grouped by war meant that I saw "Vietnam" and then "World War II" and then "Korea" and then "Persian Gulf" all cheek by jowl. So many stories.

One thing I didn't know was that the spouse could also be recognized and buried in the National Cemetery. I don't know the rules on that. Some seemed to have their own plot; others (and I found this fascinating) were marked on the back of the headstone of the service member. I loved the one where the personal statement was "Hello It's Just Grandma." Says a story right there, doesn't it?

Although I knew it, it hadn't really sunk in that at the National Cemeteries you don't choose a plot; you are buried by date: the most recent next to the next recent, and so on. Maybe this will explain:

Date of interment for the far right was May 27; two to the left of that on May 26; etc. It made me think how inexorable death is, whether you die fighting or end up spending a long life after the war is over. Death goes marching on, tromping over the lawn, and we remember as best we can.

If you are looking for something meaningful to do this Memorial Day, I would recommend that you look up the National Cemetery closest to you and pay a visit. It gave me, at any rate, a sense of the broader picture of what we're talking about when we talk about Memorial Day. Maybe you will find it meaningful too.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Funnies

Happy Trinity Sunday to you, especially to all you folks preaching today.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Roncalli Junior Varsity Softball Team Theory of Atonement

A friend of mine posted a link on Twitter to a story about the day Roncalli High School took on Marshall in a Junior Varsity softball game. Take it away, Rick Reilly:

After an inning and a half, Roncalli was womanhandling inner-city Marshall Community. Marshall pitchers had already walked nine Roncalli batters. The game could've been 50-0 with no problem.

It's no wonder. This was the first softball game in Marshall history. A middle school trying to move up to include grades 6 through 12, Marshall showed up to the game with five balls, two bats, no helmets, no sliding pads, no cleats, 16 players who'd never played before, and a coach who'd never even seen a game.

One Marshall player asked, "Which one is first base?" Another: "How do I hold this bat?" They didn't know where to stand in the batter's box. Their coaches had to be shown where the first- and third-base coaching boxes were.

That's when Roncalli did something crazy. It offered to forfeit.

Yes, a team that hadn't lost a game in 2½ years, a team that was going to win in a landslide purposely offered to declare defeat. Why? Because Roncalli wanted to spend the two hours teaching the Marshall girls how to get better, not how to get humiliated.

"The Marshall players did NOT want to quit," wrote Roncalli JV coach Jeff Traylor, in recalling the incident. "They were willing to lose 100 to 0 if it meant they finished their first game." But the Marshall players finally decided if Roncalli was willing to forfeit for them, they should do it for themselves. They decided that maybe -- this one time -- losing was actually winning.

[emphasis mine]

Sounds like a story of sacrifice, grace, and redemption to me.

I've never much cared for the theories of atonement that say God's honor was offended, or that God punished Jesus in our place. Reading this story made me wonder if we could think of atonement as God forfeiting a game God could have easily won because God is more interested in helping us win than in winning.

But I just think of those things because I'm a total geek. You should just read the story and enjoy it. It's lovely.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The mind and the senses

I was intrigued by an obituary I saw earlier this week for a psychologist named Richard Gregory. He was an experimental psychologist who was particularly fascinated by the way the brain fills in visual information. "He explained that perception involves two sorts of processing: the straightforward acceptance of what is in the retinal image; and the use of what we already know, or have learned, to fill in or complete the image."

Here he is explaining it himself:

"Well, blow me down!" he says.

A long time ago, I remember reading an interview with the documentarian Errol Morris who said "Believing is seeing and not the other way around." His further contention is that "Unhappily, an unerring fact of human nature is that we habitually reject the evidence of our own senses. If we want to believe something, then we often find a way to do so regardless of evidence to the contrary." But Professor Gregory also shows that sometimes our senses have no idea what to make of the evidence in front of us. Or that we make something of it because something in us compels us to make something of it.

I can't tell you how happy I am not to be preaching on the Trinity this Sunday. But if I were, I think I'd be talking about how desperately we want to explain things and how at this moment I am feeling very at ease knowing that I am unable to comprehend the Trinity even with the best efforts of my mind and senses. I know I'm filling in the blanks but I hope I also know that this is not because I understand but because I want to.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Logic is not prejudice's strong suit

So let's talk about Don't Ask, Don't Tell for a moment, shall we? So. The policy means that gays aren't banned from serving in the military, right? It means that gays and lesbians can serve in the military, but they can't say they're there. And if you do admit you're there or other people find out you're there, then you're kicked out.

Here's what I love (in a bitter sort of way) about the threatened filibuster of the troop funding bill. John McCain is supporting the filibuster because, and I quote: "I'm going to do everything I can to support the men and women of the military and to fight what is clearly a political agenda."

Ummm...does that not include the gay men and women in the military? Cuz they're there, you know. Been a policy for almost 20 years (as opposed to an unspoken practice, which has been forever). And would holding up troop funding to prevent the overturn of DADT not be...oh how should we put this...a political agenda?

My other favorite is the group America's Survival that says that the overturn of DADT would allow "disease tainted gay blood to threaten our troops." Again: dude. Gay people...already in military. You're worried about gays and lesbians being diseased? You'd think the proper homophobic answer would be "We want to know who those gay folks are so we can subject 'em to extra testing! Overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell!"

(Also, as one commenter pointed out: "And I always thought it was bullets and things that explode that 'threaten our troops.' Silly me.")

It's shooting fish in a barrel, I know, to point out how this prejudice is irrational. But what kind of bogeymen are these folks imagining? What are they fighting? The people they're so afraid of are wearing fatigues and defending their country. Talk about sacrifice.  God bless them. 

Comic from Dan Piraro.

Kurt's Dad's (Burt Hummel) Speech GLEE

Beautifully done.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, May 25

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi OccupationIn my continuing search for insight into WWII, this week I've started Americans in Paris: Life & Death Under Nazi Occupation.

Here's the Teaser:

A great phalanx of helmeted Wehrmacht troops marched to a Nazi band, while the Swastika flew over the Arc de Triomphe. At this scene, Parisians had stared sullen and silent, many of them weeping.

I hear there's a (reasonably) happy ending.

Previously on Teaser Tuesday: The Man Who Cancelled Himself was one of David Handler's better-written ones--and they're all well-written. Might have something to do with the fact that it's set among television writers and he used to be one. The plot, however, was much like any other Hoagy plot. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It hit the spot.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Funnies

News from the Animal Kingdom, courtesy of Pleated Jeans.

More ways animals spend their days.

More ways animals spend their tax refunds.

And because I can't stop myself:

My cat is embarrassed for me.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010

More on helping

Ajiri Tea won a prize for "Best Packaging" at the World Tea Expo and I'm still struggling with how I feel about that. Struggling because how much of that was a "Look at what the humble natives can do with our help" kind of a thing. And yet I would love to see Ajiri succeed, and the recognition from the World Tea Expo cannot but help.

Here's the info from Ajiri's website:

Ajiri Tea was started with the social mission of creating employment for the people of western Kenya and of educating the local orphans. Through the sale of Ajiri Tea, we hope to create a sustainable cycle of community employment and education. Ajiri means "to employ" in Swahili, the national language of Kenya.

We buy our tea from a tea factory in the Kisii district of Kenya and employ women in Kisii to handcraft the box labels, beads, and twine. All profits are sent back to the community through our donation to the Ajiri Foundation to educate orphans by paying their school fees and purchasing their books and uniforms. By supporting farmers, employing women to create the unique handmade labels on every tea box, and paying school fees for orphans, we hope to make a difference in Kenya today and in the future.
There's just something so...wincingly saccharin about this to me. And how can I be so callous? But there's something about the combination of "orphans" and "handcraft" and "women" and "farmers"--just the whole thing--that makes me squirm. If only they had been orphaned women farmers!

I'm glad these folks are doing this. I really am. It sounds to me like they are doing a lot of good and making some real impact. And yet I am disquieted. Perhaps by the "Let us come and help you" aspect (according to Sarah Vowell in The Wordy Shipmates, this is a long-held American trait). Perhaps it's the confluence of so many liberal buzz-words in one small space. Perhaps it's my own experience, seeing the production of "handcrafts" to play on the pity of folks in the west, all made to spec with supplied materials. I still may buy the tea, but something about this--this kind of helping--doesn't sit right with me.

You know what I think it is? It's the power thing--that I can help you, but you don't have anything that can help me. Even though that may not be what's really going on, that's what it feels like to me. And, of course, the people who founded Ajiri Tea are themselves earning a living this way. Nothing wrong with that. But I think those of us in the helping professions are kidding ourselves when we forget that we owe our livelihood to the people we're trying to help.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Obit quote du jour

I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash.
--John Shepherd-Barron, inventor of the ATM

Another choice piece: "He invented some other less-well-known devices, including one which played the sound of a killer whale in an attempt to deter seals from salmon farms. When he retired to Scotland in 1985, when he was 60, he tried his hand at snail farming."

On being hurt

I read a story this morning by a woman who has been working since 2007 to help a feral cat in her neighborhood, one Meathead by name.  A number of things struck me about this story, especially as one in a helping profession.

First was how long it took and how gradual the process was.  She started by setting out food behind the fence and now, three years later, he will, on occasion, sit on the author's lap.

Second was how specific this was.  She didn't take care of all the cats in the neighborhood; it was this cat and one other who was with him.

Third, related to that, was that she couldn't save them both; the other died, "succumbing to the upper respiratory infection he had ever since I first saw him."

Fourth, also related, is that "saved" is a relative term.  Meatie is not a housecat and will never trust people.  I suspect he still hasn't been to a vet.

But the thing that was most powerful to me is that helping isn't a safe thing to do.  This woman writes that "he has hurt me quite badly too many times, despite the fact that he only has one tooth in his head. He has a vicious paw strike capability, and those deep scratches hurt for days."  And yet she doesn't stop with the efforts.

I don't want this to be a facile message about how we should help others even though they hurt us.  It's more about how being hurt isn't necessarily a sign that you're doing it wrong, that if only you did it right, the other party wouldn't hurt us.  It makes me think that I don't (necessarily) need to take it personally if someone lashes out. 

There's something, too, about taking on the risk and allowing oneself to set the terms and limits.  I'm not clear in my mind about this yet.  I once preached a sermon that started, "Love does not mean being a doormat."  I think there's a difference between love-based service and feeling responsible for the salvation of the world.   I think it's legitimate to reach a point where you say, "I can't do this any more."  Perhaps this is selfishness.  Perhaps it is knowing oneself.  I am struggling to find the balance.  I guess all I'm saying is that being hurt comes with the territory of love.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Things to entertain my mother on her birthday

How do you celebrate your bus driver's birthday?


Meet the sloths from Amphibian Avenger on Vimeo.

both h/t Andrew Sullivan.

Should I have gotten you this?

It's from Schadenfreude Interactive.

Everything you loved in the first game, but more of it, ja? Features a new Practice mode, and 65 new songs including:
  • Leichtensteiner Polka, Traditional
  • The Bowling King, Those Darn Accordions
  • Can't Touch This, M.C. Hammer
  • Ya Ya Wunderbar, Frankie Yankovic
  • Pictures of Matchstick Men, Status Quo
  • In Heaven There Is No Beer, Traditional
  • Ride The Lightning, Metallica
 Oh, go see the website.  It's a hoot.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, May 18

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Man Who Cancelled Himself, TheIn a brief hiatus from WWII, I'm reading The Man Who Cancelled Himself by David Handler, one of his Stewart Hoag mysteries.
He held up a pudgy hand for silence, even though he was the one doing the talking.  I could see the fresh scars on the inside of his wrist from when he'd tried to kill himself with a razor blade earlier that summer.  A few days later he swallowed the contents of an economy-sized bottle of Uncle Chubby's children's aspirin, 277 tablets in all.
Which is three sentences, but I didn't want to stop at two.

Previously on Teaser Tuesday:  I could not get through The Irregulars, which was disappointing (both the book and the fact that it didn't hold my interest).  My eyes kept slipping off the page.  The author did her research, but the story ultimately seems to be, Roald Dahl was posted to the U.S., cultivated a lot of contacts and passed on information to the Brits.  I'm not sure if it simply wasn't that big a story, or if it wasn't told well, or I wasn't in the mood, or a combination.  My suspicion is that this should have been an article rather than a book, but she was committed to a book, so a book it had to be. 

Detective Chief Inspector Watson

It's not a particularly dramatic obit, but there's something lovely about Watson getting his investigative due.

Watson helped to write the blueprint for murder enquiries within Lancashire, and said that if this system was followed in full, "there will never be a murder unsolved". Indeed, during his lengthy career with Lancashire police, he cleared up every murder investigation of which he took charge.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I personally wouldn't advise this as an anniversary gift

The Snuggie has some competition:

Very much annoyed

I loved yesterday's reading from Acts. Paul casts an evil spirit out of a slave woman. Does he do it out of compassion? Because he was filled with the Holy Spirit? No. He did it because he was "very much annoyed" because the woman had been following Paul and Silas around for days saying, "These are slaves of the most high God."

"Annoyed" is one of those emotional states that doesn't get much credence on the Christian emotional spectrum. At least in my experience, being annoyed in church matters often gets overlaid with a veneer of saintly patience, accompanied by a deep sigh and a wan smile and a small shake of the head. Ms. Beezle-Bubb, I'm sure, would consider this more seemly than any more overt sign of annoyance.

And then here comes Paul, healing someone out of annoyance. I like that very much. It makes me laugh. It makes me wonder how many things we can change and heal when we finally lose our patience.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Funnies

I know it's an ad, but it made me laugh.

Also, can I just give a huge shout-out to Betty White for hosting Saturday Night Live last week? Amazing.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rosa Rio

The headline from the Times obit says...well, a lot of it. "Rosa Rio, Organist From Silent Films to Soap Operas, Dies at 107."  Isn't that a great photo?  From 1934.

Great story, too. Born and raised in New Orleans, she wanted to go into show business, but her parents thought it improper for a good Southern girl. They relented to the point of "children's piano teacher" and foolishly let her go to Oberlin. She left Oberlin, however, to go to Eastman (named for George Eastman of Eastman Kodak) where they had a program in silent film accompaniment.

That career, of course, had its ups and downs given the changes in film technology, but I loved this story at the very end of the obit about her time in radio.

Radio of the period was a rough-and-tumble world — a man’s world. Miss Rio gave as good as she got.

As recounted in Leonard Maltin’s book “The Great American Broadcast: A Celebration of Radio’s Golden Age” (Dutton, 1997), she was playing a show at NBC one day when the announcer, Dorian St. George, crept up behind her, undid the buttons down the back of her blouse and unhooked her bra. Miss Rio, performing live before a gallery of visitors, could do nothing but play on.

When the music stopped, Mr. St. George stepped up to the microphone to do a commercial. As he intoned plummily with the gallery looking on, Miss Rio stole up behind him, unbuckled his belt, unzipped his fly and neatly dropped his trousers. Then, according to Mr. Maltin’s book, she started on his undershorts.

What happened next is unrecorded.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Garden update

I promised myself that as soon as I finished entering a bunch of data I would go out and take pictures of the garden to post on the blog. You may or may not be excited, but I'm pleased as punch to report on the latest growth.

The roses are going nuts!

There are rose bushes on either side of the walk up to the front door and it smells so good.  Need any roses?  Come by and take some.  Really.

In other flower news, the first of the hollyhocks snuck open when I wasn't looking.
It's still mighty short, though, barely peeking out over the azalea.  This is the second growth for this hollyhock plant, so I'm not sure how well it will do, but it's mighty pretty.

The vegetable bed is looking great, with beans and peas leading the charge.
That's corn in the foreground, there.  The poor little peppers in the back row still seem very puny; I don't know how they'll do.  I keep trying to grow them from seed, but I may have to break down and buy some that have been started and hardened off better.  But the peas!

On the right, there, you can see how one of the snow pea plants has wrapped itself around the tomato cage for support.  Very cool!

One word for you: strawberries.

Finally, I wanted to show off my favorite flower: the agrostemma, which I discovered by chance at Annie's Annuals last year and continues to charm.
I wish I had video of this since they are just wonderful in breezes.  They do tend to get knocked over pretty easily so I've finally learned to plant something behind it to keep it propped up.  The one above managed to reseed itself, though, and did just fine without my help, thank you very much. 

It didn't stop me from planting more of them.  The one below still looks a little spindly, but it's just so sweet.  I hope next time I report, the penstemon to its left will be blooming.

I'm so sorry to be missing the Lilac Festival in Rochester this week!  But I'll manage with what I've got.  Happy May to you wherever you are.

And now: back to work.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ask culture and Guess culture

I thought this was fascinating and wanted to share.

Someone (back in 2007) wrote to a website to ask advice. A friend of the writer's wife asked to stay at their apartment in NYC for a couple of days while she was in town on business. Writer and wife are appalled at friend's rudeness and wonder how to turn her down. After much comment, some saying, "This isn't rude, just tell her no," and others saying, "How rude! Some people never get the hint," one comment stood out:

This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it's OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you're pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won't even have to make the request directly; you'll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you're a Guess Culture person -- and you obviously are -- then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you're likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

If you're an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.

Obviously she's an Ask and you're a Guess. (I'm a Guess too. Let me tell you, it's great for, say, reading nuanced and subtle novels; not so great for, say, dating and getting raises.)

Thing is, Guess behaviors only work among a subset of other Guess people -- ones who share a fairly specific set of expectations and signalling techniques. The farther you get from your own family and friends and subculture, the more you'll have to embrace Ask behavior. Otherwise you'll spend your life in a cloud of mild outrage at (pace Moomin fans) the Cluelessness of Everyone.

It explains so much!

So which one are you? Are you from Ask Culture or Guess Culture? Or does it depend on who you're with?

h/t The Lead.

Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?

I actually still like what I said last year about Ascension Day, that if you just stand looking up, you get a crick in the neck and can't see anything going on around you.

This whole notion of people looking up towards heaven is informed this year by these two posts from the late Michael Spencer who asks

Is there too much heaven in some versions of Christianity? Was Jesus as much about heaven as my faith tradition told me? Is rejecting this world and longing for heaven the normal Christian life? Is there something wrong with those of us who are rooted in this world and find out joy in God here now?

Certainly I think Ascension Day would suggest the answers to these questions.

It's funny. The line that stood out to me in the readings for today was a line from Psalm 47: He chooses our inheritance for us. I don't think I'd ever noticed or thought about that before. It seems like another clue that I should just get on with the things I've been given to do and leave the rest to God.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rogation days: Beating the Bounds

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week (the three days before Ascension Day) are Rogation Days, from the Latin "rogare" which means to ask and during which people prayed to God for a good harvest and safety from natural disasters. In Elizabethan England (and beyond) people would also "beat the bounds," walking around the perimeter of the parish lands, "to share the knowledge of where they lay, and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands."

I was going to be all reverent about this practice, but then I read this:

The priest of the parish with the churchwardens and the parochial officials headed a crowd of boys who, armed with green boughs, usually birch or willow, beat the parish boundary markers with them. Sometimes the boys were themselves whipped or even violently bumped on the boundary-stones to make them remember. The object of taking boys is supposed to ensure that witnesses to the boundaries should survive as long as possible.

Well, that's one way to do it, I suppose.

Strange Britain reports that

Curiously, certain stones, trees or other marker points around the boundary would also be beaten by literally bumping a boy (often a choirboy) against the mark. The boy would be suspended upside down and his head gently tapped against the stone or he would be taken by the feet and hands and swung against a tree!

Photographic evidence:

To be honest, doesn't that sound like something a lot of the boys at church would love? To be swung by your hands and feet by the boundaries of the church? Not violently, but, you know, for fun. If they wanted. I could see kids vying for the opportunity. OK, so it's strange and arcane, but goodness, it could be kind of fun.

Add that to the lovely prayers for the day, and you might have yourself quite the intergenerational event

I hope you're able to get out and about today to see what's going on in your neighborhood, to enjoy creation, and to discover ways we can be better stewards of God's good gifts. And if you see any choirboys, make sure to bop 'em on the head.

O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, May 11

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime WashingtonThis week's teaser is from my WWII reading series (now that I'm on my second book, I guess it's officially a "series"): The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington. What a combination! We've got WWII, YA literature and espionage in one 350-page package!

Here's the teaser:
Never one to follow the rules, be it at school or at the embassy, Dahl was always getting up to some kind of mischief, whether it was filching expensive cigars from his boss's office and passing them around, or sending self-aggrandizing missives to Marsh written on the thick, buff-colored British Embassy stationery and carrying the official red wax seal. His favorite pastime was lampooning the mannered style of his country's wartime representatives, particularly that of the British ambassador, the first Earl of Halifax, an old Etonian who even his erudite information officer, Isaiah Berlin, an Oxford philosopher, described as "being not of this century."
He sounds like one of his cheeky characters, doesn't he?


Previously on Teaser Tuesday: I finished and greatly enjoyed David Carkeet's From Away. I reviewed it and other Carkeet books here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lena Horne

Oh, Lena Horne, sultry goddess.  I do not know your work nearly well enough, but you're impressive as all get-out.

After reading her obit in the Times, I thought this would be a more appropriate farewell than Stormy Weather

If I'd a known Dallas Braden was going to throw a perfect game...

I woulda watched the whole thing, instead of just listening to an inning on the radio while I was running errands.  While I was listening I heard the A's score two runs, so I was in on part of the excitement.  It was early days, though (fourth inning) so I imagine no one had an idea what was coming.

Look at that beautiful scoreboard!

At least his grandmother knew to be there.  His mother--a single mom--died of skin cancer when he was a senior in high school and his grandmother raised him after that.   Just to add to the human interest.

Such a strange game, baseball, when the excitement builds because nothing is happening.  It's like watching someone defuse a bomb, but with less deadly consequences.  Love it.

Pictures are from the SFGate article.  Video with TV and radio calls are on And I didn't know until today that the past tense of "throw" when it relates to baseball is "throwed."  I find that amazingly disturbing.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day update

UPDATE: In case for some reason, the picture wasn't up when you looked at the Sunday Funnies blog post earlier, here it is. I don't want you to miss it.

Mother's Day Funnies

Happy Mother's Day one and all, but especially to my mother, who sent me this picture of her accordion band from days of yore. And who is taking accordion lessons from the same teacher now at age 71. Her teacher is, what? Eighty? Isn't that awesome?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

How can we best help the poor?

I don't normally watch (or post) longer videos, but it's Saturday and this was worth my 20 minutes. I do love my data, especially when it's tied to making the world a better place. This talk encourages me to think we can make informed choices to reduce poverty and disease. And it may not be in the ways we think, but as the speaker says, "Sometimes ideology has to be trumped by practicality." I'm all for practicality.

And here's the link to Deworm the World.

h/t Andrew Sullivan.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Quote of the day

During term time Marguerite continued to study in Paris, but at half-term and holidays she would resume her spying.

From this obituary for Marguerite Garden.

Goodluck is right

I was not surprised to see a couple of days ago the news that the president of Nigeria, Umaru Yar'Adua, had died. It had been a strange situation for some time. He had been in poor health and gone to Saudi Arabia for treatment last November, leaving the rest of the government wondering what was going on. Was he dying? Would he be back? Who was in charge? The National Assembly transferred executive power to the Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, in February. And finally, upon Yar'Adua's death, Mr. Jonathan was sworn in as president yesterday.

Reading the obituaries for Yar'Adua in the Telegraph and Al Jazeera, I can't help but feel regret over what might have been, had he been healthy. But he wasn't and we will never know. It may be that the flaws the obituary glosses over (allegations of election fraud, application of sharia law) would have been the order of the day, rather than battling corruption which he seems to have been willing to tackle head-on.

And though he didn't fall into the trap of political corruption, in his ill health he did engender a constitutional crisis for his country.

Meanwhile, there is some religious tension as the Muslim Mr. Yar'Adua is replaced by the Christian Mr. Jonathan.

Basically, I wouldn't want to be in the new president's shoes. But then, I don't have to be. Good luck, Mr. Jonathan.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

National Day of Prayer

I was going to get all shirty about the National Day of Prayer (as I seem to do each year now that I know about it) and various flaps surrounding it, but then this morning I was reminded that May 8th is the feast of the English mystic Julian of Norwich who said "All things will be well," and that just calmed me right down. This flappiness ain't even a molecule of a hazelnut and not worth getting my knickers in a twist.

And then I read President Obama's proclamation for the National Day of Prayer, which is quite lovely and generous of spirit, in my opinion, and I thought that rather than rant, I would do what the president suggests:

Let us remember in our thoughts and prayers those suffering from natural disasters in Haiti, Chile, and elsewhere, and the people from those countries and from around the world who have worked tirelessly and selflessly to render aid. Let us pray for the families of the West Virginia miners, and the people of Poland who so recently and unexpectedly lost many of their beloved leaders. Let us pray for the safety and success of those who have left home to serve in our Armed Forces, putting their lives at risk in order to make the world a safer place. As we remember them, let us not forget their families and the substantial sacrifices that they make every day. Let us remember the unsung heroes who struggle to build their communities, raise their families, and help their neighbors, for they are the wellspring of our greatness. Finally, let us remember in our thoughts and prayers those people everywhere who join us in the aspiration for a world that is just, peaceful, free, and respectful of the dignity of every human being.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 6, 2010, as a National Day of Prayer. I call upon the citizens of our Nation to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I invite all people of faith to join me in asking for God's continued guidance, grace, and protection as we meet the challenges before us.

Amen to that.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Review: From Away

A couple of weeks ago, someone I follow on Twitter was asking for book recommendations. I went to my go-to title: The Full Catastrophe by David Carkeet.

I have no idea why I picked it off the shelf of the Village Green bookstore in Rochester lo these many, many years ago, but I have never regretted it, and have read it many times since. I've also read Carkeet's other novels: Double Negative, a mystery set before The Full Catastrophe with his linguist hero, Jeremy Cook; The Error of our Ways, a follow-up with Jeremy that I didn't like as well; I Been There Before, a fantastical novel about the miraculous return of Mark Twain with Halley's Comet; and The Greatest Slump of All Time, which I confess I don't remember.

All this to say that when I recommended The Full Catastrophe, I asked myself, so what has ol' David Carkeet been up to? And what do you know: a new book of his had just been published in March 2010. That would be From Away which I used as my teaser yesterday.

A new book by David Carkeet! What joy was mine! The first problem was finding it. The library didn't have it in the system, so I broke down while traveling and bought it. I went to the novel section; they said it was in new mysteries. I went to new mysteries; it was in new novels. I snatched up the only copy they had and scurried away with it.

It did not disappoint. Carkeet draws believably peculiar characters better than anyone I know. There's a particular kind of Carkeet character: very bright, but with limited and self-conscious social skills. His characters are always observing themselves, but they don't seem egomanical so much as ill-at-ease in the world without understanding why. I like reading about them and I root for them, but I tend to be glad not to know them personally.

The social inept in this case is named Dennis Braintree who writes for a model train magazine. As you might imagine, he doesn't do this...well, let's just say "normally." Instead, he tries to "enter the scene," asking modelers for the back stories of all the figures in the layouts. His boss complains, "These are little plastic people, Denny. Did you really ask him how long the switchman had been married?" That's the kind of obsessive strangeness we're dealing with.

After a car accident which opens the novel, Denny gets stuck in Montpelier, Vermont, becomes implicated in a murder, assumes the identity of a local named Homer, and bluffs his way through the novel, trying to figure out who done it. Sort of. It's not a typical mystery; Denny's efforts seem half-hearted at best. The pleasure in the book is watching this socially inept guy impersonate a laconic New Englander and wondering how long this can go on.

He's perfectly confident he can carry it off despite all evidence to the contrary. I loved this passage as he starts his impersonation:

Everything was falling into place. What was acting but an extended lie, and what better liar was there than Dennis Braintree? Only once had he been caught in a lie, a little over a year ago. He had been at the zoo, and a small bird had flown low right at his face and then veered away at the last minute. Denny's mouth had been open at the time because he was imitating the face a chimp had just made at him, and it occurred to him that the bird could easily have flown into his mouth. That thought became the account he delivered later, at a meeting of the church mission committee: "A bird flew into my mouth at the zoo." The ladies responded with a mix of surprise and disgust. They made faces, and one made spitting sounds to eject the bird. But afterward, privately, one of them said to him, "That didn't really happen, did it?" As an experiment, he said, "No, it didn't." She said, "You're involved in the church because it's a welcoming institution, correct?" Again he agreed. "There are limits," she said.

You keep waiting for him to hit the limits throughout the novel. Somehow he never quite does. He continues to blunder about awkwardly, always trying to "enter the scene," always as an outsider, always trying to get the back story, imagining what it would look like as a model train layout. He never quite gets it, but it's fun watching him fumble.