Friday, June 28, 2013

Goodbye, TOTN

It's gone, vanished from my radio dial with a whimper and a moment of blank air space.  Neal Conan won't be riding along with me as I come back from Pilates or drive over to G'ma or run out to pick up the kids at early dismissal.  Just as Diane Rehm greets me in the mornings, I've come to associate Neal Conan with "what am I having for lunch today?"

He will be missed.

Ted Koppel was the final guest for the final hour; the conversation covered hopes and fears for the world to come.  It was hard for the host to stay impersonal.  Leaving an employer who'd signed your paychecks for the past 36 years isn't easy. Young people, innovation, the internet, civic engagement... most of the callers were positive and forward looking.  Only Neal was holding back the tide.

Did his words really slow down as the final few minutes approached, or was that my imagination dragging it out for as long as I possibly could?  I know that he was reluctant to say goodbye; he told me so in his closing comments.  He mentioned tech staff and production staff and interns near and far as he ran through the obligatory thanks.  There was no mention of the network.

Talk of the Nation was among the top ten radio talk shows in the country, I was told this morning.  There was a significant pause after Neal Conan mentioned that fact.  What kind of management is running NPR, anyway?  There's a franchise with a following and they're turning it into dust.

Listening to Neal Conan was like listening to a really smart neighbor.  He knew he had to get along with you for the long haul, so there was never anything derogatory or inflammatory in his responses.  If your question went on too long, or you lost your train of thought while you were on the air, Neal Conan could be counted on to throw a life life... and not hit you on the head with it, either.

When he read emailed comments aloud, there was a subtle change in his voice, a more intimate timbre, the writer's style inherent in his tone.  He was as interested in the question as he was in the answer he'd extract from his guests.  It was conversation at its finest.

And now, NPR is telling its listeners that the stations are telling them that news magazines are what is wanted, that talk radio is over done and over due for an over haul.  There's nothing wrong with a news magazine, in a bland and non-controversial kind of way.  But tussling over the tough issues is not something that can be done in that format.  You need the give and take of questions and answers, guided by a person who respects both the content and the structure in which it is presented.

My local station, 89.1, will be running WBUR's Here and Now in place of TOTN.  That means that there is no way for me to talk to the station any more.  Diane Rehm's call-in show is pre-recorded; unless I get up and listen on the web, I have no options.  I'm feeling vaguely disenfranchised; no one wants to hear me on the radio anymore?

One of my comments was broadcast as the question of the day on the "Ask an economist a question" segment in 2006.  An email on Brother's lawn furniture made out of grass seed and chicken wire was read aloud in 2004 on a DIY segment.  There was a time, when I was driving carpool at the same time every day, when I could recite the production staff along with Neal Conan at the end of each broadcast.  They were family, and now they are gone.

Neal, if you and Ted Koppel create that radio station he was talking about, please let me know. I'll be waiting to hear your voice again.  You will be missed.... sorely missed.... indeed.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Typing With My Eyes Closed

Opening my eyes hurts.  There are flashing lights shimmering at the edges of my field of vision.  Trying to focus makes them grow.  Ignoring them while trying to focus on something else doesn't work,either.  They are there, dancing in a semi-circle, blocking my peripheral vision with glass-block-like-impermeability.

They are the precursors to the headache that is going to consume my afternoon.  Knowing that it is on its way doesn't help.  I can concentrate on the shimmering lights, or I can worry about the pounding that will be taking place behind my left temple when they disappear. It doesn't matter.  The day is shot.

I took medicine - Excedrin Migraine - and lay quietly across the foot of the bed as the pills dissolved and made their way to the pain centers and the aura centers and the fix-me-quick centers of my head.  TBG had his hand on the clicker, so I never had to listen to commercials. I heard about Maria Sharapova and Aaron Hernandez and Nelson Mandella and George Zimmerman and yes, they all have issues much larger than mine but right now I just don't care.

I feel like the main character in the old joke - my hip pain has retreated from its usual place, front and center, as the migraine blues push it to the side.  There's no arguing with this feeling.  There's no wishing it away.  It is here.  It will take its own sweet time, nestling comfortably in the folds of my brain, and then, when the aura is gone, it will exert its presence with authority.  Pounding, steadily, deeply, relentlessly in the middle of my head.

They started when I was in college.  I was interning in the Nassau County Department on Aging, visiting recipients of services to assess their needs.  In 1972 we didn't have MapQuest to lay out our routes; home visits were created on paper maps, outlined in highlighters and folded to reveal the neighborhood to be visited.  Trying to find street names as my vision clouded was frustrating.  I tipped my head from side to side, I squinted, I rubbed my eyeballs.... nothing helped.  After a while, I could see again, but my head was experiencing an earthquake unlike any I had felt before.

G'ma and Daddooooo were stumped.  Neither of them had a clue.  A call to the HMO secured an appointment in The Headache Clinic.  A lovely young man placed electrodes on my scalp, shined lights in my eyes, took readings and measurements and told me that I probably had migraines and not a brain tumor, that there were over the counter medications and prescription medications but that none of them really worked.

Forty years later I can agree with him.  There are a lot of remedies out there; none of them make the pain go away.

They don't seem to consider how busy I am; they arrive on their own schedule.  I was in the library when this one hit; suddenly I could no longer read the blurbs on the front covers of the books I was grabbing.  As usual, I denied it at first.  Scrunching my eyes, squinting, moving to a spot with less glare .... useless.  I drove home with one-third of my vision occluded; I was very glad that I had only three blocks to cover, that there was no traffic on the roads, that I could drive slowly with impunity.

And now, I type to you with my eyes closed.  Opening them brings on a renewed wave of stabbing and jabbing behind my eyeballs.  That stack of books sitting on the kitchen table will be there tomorrow.  It is not being touched today.  Instead, I am drinking green tea, taking deep breaths, and contemplating getting a manicure.

When all else fails, pampering is the solution.
To those who read this when it was originally posted, before the BlogHer sidebar posting, will notice that I corrected the typographical errors in the first one.... I was really in a bad way.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Was She Only Here for a Visit?

Someone with standing on the issue thinks that she may well have been a short, brief, gift from God.  Bringing joy to a tragic morning, leaving on another sunny day nine years later, was her life meant to be circumscribed by those events?

Was she so full of life because her time was to be so short?  In a crowd of one hundred children, she was the one you noticed.  I've said it so often that I have to stop and remind myself that it is more than a catch phrase.  It's true. There was a lot packed into the body and soul and heart and mind that made up Christina-Taylor Green.  One might almost say it was a full life, condensed, too much to be held in so it burst from her eyes and her arms and enveloped you in the wonder that was her life.

These are hard concepts for me.  I turned my back on formal religion early and definitively. My relationship with a higher being is a private one, one that does not need external rituals.  There's something out there.  I just don't know what it is.

An itinerant pastor, a Cornellian, came to visit me soon after I was shot.  She encouraged me to ask God the questions I was asking her. In the shower the next morning, I cried and wondered why this had happened to us. I felt better afterwards.

It was probably just the tears themselves, a necessary release of the flood that refused to be absorbed and demanded to be set free, although I suppose the framework in which they were set might have had something to do with it.  I've never been quite sure; I've examined that morning every once in a while for the last two years.

There are somethings that are just too big for me to grab onto.  My brain explodes when I attempt to consider what's outside the universe; infinity is too much for me.  Getting shot feels just like that.  It's completely real, yet I don't remember much about it at all.  I was laughing and then I was bleeding and I couldn't bring my girlfriend's daughter home, as I had promised. I had bullet holes in my body. Some one tried to kill me.

I had no framework, no experience, no guideposts.  I was lucky to have trained therapists who helped me heal.  That's the kind of loop that could dominate my life; in fact, some version of it is on in the back of my head, volume down to soft mute, pretty much all the time.  Behavioral techniques and recognizing the triggers that set me off and learning to soothe myself are effective and helpful ways to deal with it. They don't touch on that head-splitting question: What does it all mean?

I would go to the Academy and inquire of Aristotle.  I'd leave offerings at Delphi.  I'll sit up late at night and hash it out with friends and philosophers and kings and I'll still be unable to grasp it.  I need more than the facts.  I need it to have a purpose, to be more than a random event that left us bereft.  So, I'm going to try this on for a while.  I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

You Manage

You make it work.  You don't have a choice.  You just do it. 

That's what separates the grown-ups from the children.  Knowing that there's no one else who can solve the problem is the scary side of the equation. Recognizing that you have the skills and the power to take control of the situation is the uplifting piece, the part that successful adults embrace with relish.

We spent the weekend with some new, old friends. We heard about them at the same time, years ago, from HDK.  First one to see him was TBG, then he came to visit the desert with a really odd companion, and then he brought her along.  The relationship kept getting better and better the more time we spent together.  

They drive from the boondocks in Northern California to our oasis in the desert; the pool beckons before the suitcases are unpacked.  No one minds that the heater is still un-repaired; the water is wet and that's all that matters. We are laughing and nodding and feeling at ease, as I wonder how it is that some couples just slide into our lives with nary a bump. We're different, we're the same, we're relaxed.

They're raising an unplanned for grandson, and never has one little boy been surrounded by so much love.  There are grandparents and parents and aunts and 250 acres of woodlands to roam.  Their property is home to creeks and crops and the occasional wandering cow from just up the hill.  

Our friend cuts the wood they need to keep them warm in the winters.  He taught himself the skills he needed to create a life in the country; Jewish boys from Chicago-land don't pick these things up from their family and friends.  He had a vision of what life could be.  He made it so.

Life hasn't been without its roadblocks and speed bumps and head-long crashes into disaster.  No one is getting any younger, and wood isn't getting any easier to chop.  There are decisions to be made, choices to be pondered, discussions to be had.  Watching them listen to one another, consider the other before reacting, grapple with serious facts without running away - it was a workshop in Getting Through It 101.

There wasn't any whining, though there was much rueful shrugging of shoulders.  No one thought the issues would disappear if they weren't discussed.  No one was running away.  There weren't any solutions without consequences.  Not all the consequences are pleasant.  We talked.  We thought.  They shared a smile that only those who've walked a long road together can share.

They are a lesson in optimism and resilience and doing what's right.  I'm doing my best to learn.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Pink Season

We stick Monsoon between Summer and Fall. Although NOAA may have decreed that Monsoon begins on June 15th, those of us who were here before bureaucrats decided to micro-manage the weather know that monsoon begins after 3 consecutive days with the dew point over 54, as I ranted here in 2010. Up until then, it's just hot, with a side of breeze.

The tiny yellow blossoms have fallen from the mesquite and the palo verde.  They've been swept away and replaced by seed pods.
I passed a man harvesting them from the lower branches of a neighbor's tree.  If anyone is interested, mine are available for picking, too.  The native people created foodstuffs from the pulverized seeds; I'm not enough of a cook to create my own ingredients, too.  
The seed pods are falling onto the driveway and the pool deck and are an unpleasant surprise to bare feet.  
The saguaro flowers never really did much this year, but the casings are strewn over my walkways.  
The birds and the ground squirrels are fattening up, that's for sure. The red inner lining must be very tasty.

The garden is turning pink.  The Englemann prickly pears turn pink when they are stressed.  
Since native plants receive no extra irrigation during once they are established in my yard, mine are coloring up quite nicely.  
The crepe myrtle are ubiquitous. These are in the parking lot at pilates.

 which makes getting out of the car into the sweltering heat almost palatable.
 I can get up close and personal to the greenery 
and forget, for a moment, that I'm in a black-topped parking lot in the desert.

At home, my own bushes are also doing quite nicely.
 After July 22, 2013, I will have lived in this house longer than I've lived in any other house during the course of my marriage.  For the first time, I have a chance to watch my plants grow to maturity.  This crepe myrtle, a beautiful pink surprise when I moved here in July, 2006, has been a reliable producer of pink pine cone-like bursts of color that I admire from the desk as I type to you.  MOTG's cocoa-cola-bottle-hummingbird-feeder hangs where I can watch the hummers flit to wet their whistles.  
And then there's the volunteer crepe myrtle.
It established itself in a purple lantana and, despite an unintended run in with a gardener's electric blade, it has continued to reappear and make me smile.
The healthiest plants are the ones that self-select their locations. 
I'm very glad that this one chose to set up house in the courtyard, at the end of my view.

I froze the adenia which had lived sheltered lives in my courtyard for three years when I forgot to bring them inside when the temperatures went below 45.  
This is my replacement, replete with a seed pod.
 The bougainvilla are just beginning to flower.
Those sharp edged spikes don't seem to deter the caterpillars.
My yard better be filled with butterflies this summer; my leaves are eaten to shreds.
 The hesperaloe parviflora are turning from flowers into pods.
 Those green sacks are soft and covered with tiny, feathery, threads.
Once they pop open, the birds perch and feast.

And, since I couldn't leave it all outside,
since I needed some pink when the sun sets and the world is black outside,
I brought these home to liven up the living room.
What color is your garden this month?

Friday, June 21, 2013

For Whom Is This Written?

I'm enrolled in a four week seminar on Rhetoric.  We've read Thucydides and Homer and Sappho.  Plato's Gorgias and Apology, dialogues I've read before and will read again; as always, I learned something new from a new teacher.  I kept up with the conversations.  I followed the thread of the arguments. I understood the words written on the page and I was able to deduce a meaning.  It might not be "the right" meaning, but at least the words all made sense, strung together in a pleasing whole.

This week we read Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics. Look at how beautiful it is in Greek:
Book 1
πᾶσα τέχνη καὶ πᾶσα μέθοδοςὁμοίως δὲ πρᾶξίς τε καὶπροαίρεσιςἀγαθοῦ τινὸς ἐφίεσθαι δοκεῖδιὸ καλῶςἀπεφήναντο τἀγαθόνοὗ πάντ᾽ ἐφίεταιδιαφορὰ δέ τιςφαίνεται τῶν τελῶντὰ μὲν γάρ εἰσιν ἐνέργειαιτὰ δὲ παρ᾽αὐτὰς ἔργα τινάὧν δ᾽ εἰσὶ τέλη τινὰ παρὰ τὰς πράξειςἐντούτοις βελτίω πέφυκε τῶν ἐνεργειῶν τὰ ἔργαπολλῶν δὲπράξεων οὐσῶν καὶ τεχνῶν καὶ ἐπιστημῶν πολλὰ γίνεταικαὶ τὰ τέληἰατρικῆς μὲν γὰρ ὑγίειαναυπηγικῆς δὲ πλοῖον,στρατηγικῆς δὲ νίκηοἰκονομικῆς δὲ πλοῦτοςὅσαι δ᾽ εἰσὶτῶν τοιούτων ὑπὸ μίαν τινὰ δύναμινκαθάπερ ὑπὸ τὴνἱππικὴν χαλινοποιικὴ καὶ ὅσαι ἄλλαι τῶν ἱππικῶνὀργάνων εἰσίναὕτη δὲ καὶ πᾶσα πολεμικὴ πρᾶξις ὑπὸ τὴνστρατηγικήνκατὰ τὸν αὐτὸν δὴ τρόπον ἄλλαι ὑφ᾽ ἑτέρας:
That's about as much sense as it made to me.  This is the third time I've approached Aristotle.  This is the third time I have been rebuffed.  My guides have been young and gifted graduate students, a chemical-engineer-turned-local-mayor octogenarian Great Books Leader, and a scholar-gone-over-to-the-dark-side (an administrator).  Different styles, different approaches, same result.  I haven't a clue.

I could barely tell you what his thesis is, what he's getting at, or how he's travelling.  I'm befuddled and bemused and bathetic. It is truly from the sublime to the ridiculous. The work has been extant for millenia.  It is studied as a pillar of the Western Canon, those old, dead, white, men who influenced my education.  I ought to be able to read it and be given a glimpse of what it's all about.

Perhaps, I ask too many question.  Perhaps, I'm allowing my fears to interfere.  But really, what is this all about?
Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts.
Is this a wordsmith telling me that the words don't matter?  Is adequate as mealy a term as I find it to be?  Since when did precision become optional?  This is beginning to sound like Marin County, circa 1993.  It's cool.... whatever works for you. Close-enough-for-government-work was a favorite phrase of a Cooperative Extension Home Economist who'd spent decades abroad, teaching and living as a civil servant.  Is that what Aristotle is getting at?

Or how about this:
Where there are ends apart from the actions, it is the nature of the products to be better than the activities.
Says who?  What happened to It's not the destination, it's the journey? And what does "nature of the products" really mean?  One's nature seems as natural a topic to explore as justice or virtue.  It's a potent term to be throwing around.

And that, perhaps, is the crux of my issue.  Aristotle's original prose was translated into English.  Translation is a tricky business.  There's literal translation, a word for word, barely adjusted for idiom, business.  The version of Beowulf you read in high school was probably translated that way.  Then, there's the Seamus Heaney treatment, keeping the meter and the intent but making the words accessible to the modern ear. Listen to this:
The fact is, Unferth, that if you were truly
as keen or courageous as you claim to be,
Grendel would never have got away with
such unchecked atrocity, attacks on your king,
havoc in Heorot and horrors everywhere.
This was a poem designed to be read aloud.  It's a long and scary bedtime story designed to while away the long northern nights.  What does it hurt to make it more 21st century friendly? Compare and contrast:

I tell thee in truth, son of Ecglaf,
That never had Grendel wrought so many horrors,
The terrible monster, to thine own prince,
Shame in Heorot, if thy mind were,

Thy temper, so fierce, as thou thyself reckonest
The same tale is in there.  It's just hidden away behind unnecessary verbiage.  Archaic grammar and sentence structure serve to confuse the issue.  I'm not seeking a bowlderized version of anything.  In fact, I'm searching for the opposite.  Since I'm not reading it in the original ancient language, why not figure out what the words mean know... and use them.

After all, when's the last time you heard someone referred to as Thee? 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Family Values

Posit this:  You are parenting a 15 year old boy.  He has access to Twitter and Facebook and on-line gaming.  He's one of five children. You, the Dad, work out of town.  You have a job that puts you in the public eye.  You have deeply held religious beliefs.  You've stood up for what you think is right, even though 90% of your constituents disagreed with you.  You took your boys on a survival trip to the Marshall Islands, and posted a video edited by that 15 year old boy on YouTube.

You are rated 92% by Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, whose mandate includes this platform:
Protest anti-Christian bigotry and defend the rights of people of faith.

You sat on the stage next to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, USN Commander Mark Kelly in front of 2000 well-wishers at a memorial service on the UofA mall.  I met you then.  You smiled, you shook my hand, you posed for pictures with your wife and Gabby and Mark; I know, because I took them.  You told me how sorry you were for my loss, for my injuries, and how glad you were that I had taken the time to show a child how our government works.

Sounds pretty sweet, doesn't it?  Peel back a layer or two of the onion, though, and there's a rotten core.

It seems that you stopped paying attention to Tanner in 2011. That's when he posted this video to YouTube.  (If you are squeamish - that is to say, a rational human being - you may want to believe the words and skip the video)
I'm not sure how you missed this, how you let this slide by, how you didn't delete it from the web and put the poor child into counseling immediately, but you did.  At least, that's what the public record shows.  There's no mention anywhere of your reaction to this video. If this is not a cry for help, I wonder what you think one might look like?

Two years pass, and that same child is discovered to use niggerkiller as his gaming moniker.  An acquaintance stole a joke and got some laughs; your child called him out on Twitter by ending the tweet like this: Jew.  His posts and tweets are replete with comments labeling others as faggots.

I wonder how clueless you are.  Don't you follow your own child's social media streams?  While you are busy keeping me safe from those who want to prevent me from bringing a loaded weapon into a bar on a Saturday night, your own child is spewing vitriol.  Perhaps you ought to start to pay a little more attention to your own home before you begin to worry about mine.

ABC's Phoenix affiliate ran a story on this issue.  The anchors and the correspondent sighed over the difficulties of raising "kids with all this technology .... they are so young, they don't understand the consequences."  That is certainly true.  That is not the issue here.

Senator Flake's apology is short and sweet: "This language is unacceptable, anywhere," Flake continued. "Needless to say, I’ve already spoken with him about this, he has apologized, and I apologize as well."(from

To whom has Tanner apologized?  To his parents?  They are, I assume, neither gay nor Jewish nor black.  Is he apologizing for bringing shame to the family name?  That's the only way I see an in-the-family apology having any credibility at all.  

Kids who grow up in a household where those kinds of slurs are acceptable post them on line.  Kids whose parents make it a point to correct their behavior, who model positive actions, who do not tolerate demeaning the of others, don't end up naming their avatars niggerkiller. And if they do, their folks find out about it in no time.

Big Cuter was a big gamer in high school.  It swallowed up his world.  Not only did I know his screen name (Belhothar, if you are interested), I knew his password.  It wasn't an issue for him to share it with me. It was a condition of being allowed to play the game.  Although I spent years decrying the game as "bad, dumb, stupid, and evil," I also spent more time than I'm happy to remember watching him vaporize orcs and demons.  I was as involved as a non-gamer-mom could be.  I made sure he was safe. I made sure the environment in which he was playing was not detrimental to his ongoing mental health.  The door was open when he was on-line.

Five is a lot of kids.  Working in Washington when the family is in Mesa is tough.  Too bad.  Your son put a fake gun to his head and pulled the trigger.  He posted that video on YouTube.  How did you miss that?  Your son routinely used words that are abhorrent in modern society.  How did that slip past you?  

I know that you don't pay attention to the wishes of your constituents; your vote on the Manchin-Toomey background checks bill made that eminently clear.  I suppose I could find some comfort in the fact that you don't seem to pay much more attention to your children.  

This is more than "insensitivity."  This speaks to character. There is a de-personalization of the other which is more disturbing to me.  The facility with which the words were used, the lack of super ego controls which allowed them to be published, the saccharine apology.... none of them enhance my opinion of you or your family.

Am I criticizing your parenting?  Absolutely.  You are a public figure.  You should be a role model for the young people in my life.  Your son besmirches your constituents and you have a private discussion and settle for an apology?  Where is the lesson learned?  

I know what the lesson I have learned contains - a heartfelt desire to have someone with real family values represent me in the Senate