“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” ~ Confucius

“What happens to people living in a society where everyone in power is lying, stealing, cheating and killing, and in our hearts we all know this, but the consequences of facing all these lies are so monstrous, we keep on hoping that maybe the corporate government administration and media are on the level with us this time.

Americans remind me of survivors of domestic abuse. This is always the hope that this is the very, very, very last time one’s ribs get re-broken again.” ~ Inga Muscio

                    

A New Year’s Resolution for the Rich
by Sam Harris, author, neuroscientist
(Reposted from The Huffington Post; quotes and images added)

While the United States has suffered the worst recession in living memory, I find that I have very few financial concerns. Many of my friends are in the same position: Most of us attended private schools and good universities, and we will be able to provide these same opportunities to our own children. No one in my immediate circle has a family member serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, the only sacrifice we were asked to make for our beloved country was to go shopping. Nearly a decade has passed, with our nation’s influence and infrastructure crumbling by the hour, and yet those of us who have been so fortunate as to actually live the American dream—rather than merely dream it–have been spared every inconvenience. Now we are told that we will soon receive a large tax cut for all our troubles. What is the word for the feeling this provokes in me? Imagine being safely seated in lifeboat, while countless others drown, only to learn that another lifeboat has been secured to take your luggage to shore…

Most Americans believe that a person should enjoy the full fruits of his or her labors, however abundant. In this light, taxation tends to be seen as an intrinsic evil. It is worth noting, however, that throughout the 1950’s–a decade for which American conservatives pretend to feel a harrowing sense of nostalgia—the marginal tax rate for the wealthy was over 90 percent. In fact, prior to the 1980’s it never dipped below 70 percent. Since 1982, however, it has come down by half. In the meantime, the average net worth of the richest 1 percent of Americans has doubled (to $18.5 million), while that of the poorest 40 percent has fallen by 63 percent (to $2,200). Thirty years ago, top U.S. executives made about 50 times the salary of their average employees. In 2007, the average worker would have had to toil for 1,100 years to earn what his CEO brought home between Christmas in Aspen and Christmas on St. Barthes.

We now live in a country in which the bottom 40 percent (120 million people) owns just 0.3 percent of the wealth. Data of this kind make one feel that one is participating in a vast psychological experiment: Just how much inequality can free people endure? Have you seen Ralph Lauren’s car collection? Yes, it is beautiful. It also cost hundreds of millions of dollars. “So what?” many people will say. “It’s his money. He earned it. He should be able to do whatever he wants with it.” In conservative circles, expressing any doubt on this point has long been synonymous with Marxism.

And yet over one million American children are now homeless. People on Medicare are being denied life-saving organ transplants that were routinely covered before the recession. Over one quarter of our nation’s bridges are structurally deficient. When might be a convenient time to ask the richest Americans to help solve problems of this kind? How about now?

It is easy to understand why even the most generous person might be averse to paying taxes: Our legislative process has been hostage to short-term political interests and other perverse incentives for as long as anyone can remember. Consequently, our government wastes an extraordinary amount of money. It also seems uncontroversial to say that whatever can be best accomplished in the private sector should be. Our tax code must also be reformed—and it might even be true that the income tax should be lowered on everyone, provided we find a better source of revenue to pay our bills. But I can’t imagine that anyone seriously believes that the current level of wealth inequality in the United States is good and worth maintaining, or that our government’s first priority should be to spare a privileged person like myself the slightest hardship as this once great nation falls into ruin.

And the ruination of the United States really does seem possible. It has been widely reported, for instance, that students in Shanghai far surpass our own in science, reading, and math. In fact, when compared to other countries, American students are now disconcertingly average (slightly below in math), where the average includes utopias like Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Albania, Kazakhstan, and Indonesia. President Obama was right to recognize this as a “Sputnik moment.” But it is worse than that. This story was immediately followed by a report about giddy Creationists in the state of Kentucky being offered $40 million in tax subsidies to produce a full-scale model of Noah’s ark. More horrible still, this ludicrous use of public money is probably a wise investment, given that such a monument to scientific ignorance will be guaranteed to attract an ovine influx of Christian tourists from neighboring states. Seeing facts of this kind, juxtaposed without irony or remedy at this dire moment in history, it is hard not to feel that one is witnessing America’s irreversible decline. Needless to say, most Americans have no choice but to send their children to terrible schools—where they will learn the lesser part of nothing and emerge already beggared by a national debt now on course to reach $20 trillion. And yet Republicans in every state can successfully campaign on a promise to spend less on luxuries like education, while delivering tax cuts to people who, if asked to guess their own net worth, could not come within $10 million of the correct figure if their lives depended on it.

American opposition to the “redistribution of wealth” has achieved the luster of a religious creed. And, as with all religions, one finds the faithful witlessly espousing doctrines that harm almost everyone, including their own children. For instance, while most Americans have no chance of earning or inheriting significant wealth, 68 percent want the estate tax eliminated (and 31 percent consider it to be the “worst” and “least fair” tax levied by the federal government). Most believe that limiting this tax, which affects only 0.2 percent of the population, should be the top priority of the current Congress.

The truth, however, is that everyone must favor the “redistribution of wealth” at some point. This relates directly to the issue of education: as the necessity of doing boring and dangerous work disappears—whether because we have built better machines and infrastructure, or shipped our least desirable jobs overseas—people need to be better educated so that they can apply themselves to more interesting work. Who will pay for this? There is only one group of people who can pay for anything at this point: the wealthy.

To make matters more difficult, Americans have made a religious fetish of something called “self-reliance.” Most seem to think that while a person may not be responsible for the opportunities he gets in life, each is entirely responsible for what he makes of these opportunities. This is, without question, a false view of the human condition. Consider the biography of any “self-made” American, from Benjamin Franklin on down, and you will find that his success was entirely dependent on background conditions that he did not make, and of which he was a mere beneficiary. There is not a person on earth who chose his genome, or the country of his birth, or the political and economic conditions that prevailed at moments crucial to his progress. Consequently, no one is responsible for his intelligence, range of talents, or ability to do productive work. If you have struggled to make the most of what Nature gave you, you must still admit that Nature also gave you the ability and inclination to struggle. How much credit do I deserve for not having Down syndrome or any other disorder that would make my current work impossible? None whatsoever. And yet devotees of self-reliance rail against those who would receive entitlements of various sorts—health care, education, etc.—while feeling unselfconsciously entitled to their relative good fortune. Yes, we must encourage people to work to the best of their abilities and discourage free riders wherever we can—but it seems only decent at this moment to admit how much luck is required to succeed at anything in this life. Those who have been especially lucky–the smart, well-connected, and rich–should count their blessings, and then share some of these blessings with the rest of society.

The wealthiest Americans often live as though they and their children had nothing to gain from investments in education, infrastructure, clean-energy, and scientific research. For instance, the billionaire Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, recently helped kill a proposition that would have created an income tax for the richest 1 percent in Washington (one of seven states that has no personal income tax). All of these funds would have gone to improve his state’s failing schools. What kind of society does Ballmer want to live in—one that is teeming with poor, uneducated people? Who does he expect to buy his products? Where will he find his next batch of software engineers? Perhaps Ballmer is simply worried that the government will spend his money badly—after all, we currently spend more than almost every other country on education, with abysmal results. Well, then he should say so—and rather than devote hundreds of thousands of dollars to stoking anti-tax paranoia in his state, he should direct some of his vast wealth toward improving education, like his colleague Bill Gates has begun to do.

There are, in fact, some signs that a new age of heroic philanthropy might be dawning. For instance, the two wealthiest men in America, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, recently invited their fellow billionaires to pledge the majority of their wealth to the public good. This is a wonderfully sane and long overdue initiative about which it is unforgivable to be even slightly cynical. But it is not sufficient. Most of this money will stay parked in trusts and endowments for decades, and much of it will go toward projects that are less than crucial to the future of our society. It seems to me, however, that Gates and Buffett could easily expand and target this effort: asking those who have pledged, along with the rest of the wealthiest Americans, to immediately donate a percentage of their net worth to a larger fund. This group of benefactors would include not only the super-rich, but people of far more modest means. I do not have 1/1000 the wealth of Steve Ballmer, but I certainly count myself among the people who should be asked to sacrifice for the future of this country. The combined wealth of the men and women on the Forbes 400 list is $1.37 trillion. By some estimates, there are at least another 1,500 billionaires in the United States. Something tells me that anyone with a billion dollars could safely part with 25 percent of his or her wealth—without being forced to sell any boats, planes, vacation homes, or art. As of 2009, there were 980,000 families with a net worth exceeding $5 million (not including their primary residence). Would a one-time donation of 5 percent really be too much to ask to rescue our society from the maw of history?

Some readers will point out that I am free to donate to the treasury even now. But such solitary sacrifice would be utterly ineffectual, and I am no more eager than anyone else is to fill the pork barrels of corrupt politicians. However, if Gates and Buffett created a mechanism that bypassed the current dysfunction of government, earmarking the money for unambiguously worthy projects, I suspect that there are millions of people like myself who would not hesitate to invest in the future of America.

Imagine that Gates and Buffett raised a trillion dollars this way: what should we spend it on? The first thing to acknowledge is that almost any use of this money would be better than just letting it sit. Mindlessly repairing every bridge, tunnel, runway, harbor, reservoir, and recreation area in the United States would be an improvement over what are currently doing. However, here are the two areas of investment that strike me as most promising:

Education: It is difficult to think of anything more important than providing the best education possible for our children. They will develop the next technologies, medical cures, and global industries, while mitigating their unintended effects, or they will fail to do these things and consign us all to oblivion. The future of this country will be entirely shaped by boys and girls who are just now learning to think. What are we teaching them? Are we equipping them to create a world worth living in? It doesn’t seem so. Our public school system is an international disgrace. Even the most advantaged children in the United States do not learn as much as children in other countries do. Yes, the inefficiencies in our current system could be remedied, and must be, and these savings can then be put to good use—but there is no question that a true breakthrough in education will require an immense investment of further resources. Here’s an expensive place to start: make college free for anyone who can’t afford it.

Clean Energy: As Thomas Friedman and many others have pointed out, our dependence on nonrenewable sources of energy is not only bad for our economy and the environment, it is obliges us to subsidize both sides of the clash of civilizations. Much of the money we spend on oil is used to export the lunatic ideology of conservative Islam—building mosques and madrassas by the tens of thousands, recruiting jihadists, and funding terrorist atrocities. We should have devoted ourselves to a clean-energy Manhattan Project thirty years ago. Success on this front would still yield enormous wealth in this country, while simultaneously bankrupting the Middle Eastern states that only pretend to be our allies. Our failure to rise to this challenge already counts as one of the greatest instances of masochistic stupidity in human history. Why prolong it?

I am aware that a proposal of this kind is bound to seem quixotic. But what’s to stop the wealthiest Americans from sponsoring a 21st Century Renaissance? What politician would object to our immediately spending a trillion dollars on improvements in education and energy security? Perhaps there are even better targets for this money. Let Gates and Buffett convene a team of brilliant people to lay out the priorities. But again, we should remember that they could scarcely fail to improve our situation. Simply repaving our roads, the dilapidation of which causes $54 billion in damage to our cars every year, would be better than doing nothing.

                   

Think of the American economy as a large apartment block,” says the softly spoken professor. “A century ago—even 30 years ago—it was the object of envy. But in the last generation its character has changed. The penthouses at the top keep getting larger and larger. The apartments in the middle are feeling more and more squeezed and the basement has flooded. To round it off, the elevator is no longer working. That broken elevator is what gets people down the most. ~ Larry Katz, Harvard Economist 

More later. Peace.

Music by Soulsavers, “Kingdoms of Rain”

Advertisements

“You burn with hunger for food that does not exist.” ~ David Foster Wallace

Fire and Ice: Art of Nature, by Henri Bonnel(Pixdaus)

                      

“I am a jumble of passions, misgivings, and wants. It seems that I am always in a state of wishing and rarely in a state of contentment.” ~ Libba Bray

Colorful Winter's Day (Pixdaus)

Thursday evening. Clear and cold. Third day of this migraine.

Is the knot in my neck causing my migraine, or is my migraine causing the knot in my neck? These are the things that I ponder as 2010 comes to a close. I’ve been working on this particular post for two days, maybe three; it’s hard to remember. You see, I choose the quotes based on my mood, which guides the theme for my quotes, my images, and the accompanying music.

I love the David Foster Wallace quote that I am using as the header for this post. It’s not a new quote for me, but its meaning is  a constant in my life: the search for that which isn’t, the need for that which has yet to appear, the yearning for that which may never exist in this lifetime.

For the past two nights, I have stayed up quite late and slept into the afternoon, a habit that I thought that I had broken during  my stay with my mother. But it’s so cold everywhere—outside in the brisk air that makes my lungs seize up, and inside my brain, which refuses to thaw long enough to create—so cold that I cannot will myself to face the day. And then there is this days’ old migraine. So very tired of the omnipresent brain constriction; I have to wonder what this is doing to my grey cells in the long-term.

And so contentment, shall we say, continues to elude me on this, the almost eve of a new year.

“How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” ~ Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel)

Winter Sunset on House (Pixdaus)

By the way, does anyone happen to know a good curse-breaker because there is definitely some bad mojo at work on this family: This morning the police knocked on our door looking for Alexis. Her permanent address is still here. Seems that both of her cars were involved in an accident. Okay, yes, I know. Not the best way to be awakened, but luckily, not bad news in the police-at-your-door vein of bad news.

The good news is that the cars were parked outside her apartment. The bad news is that both cars were totalled by the huge-ass Suburban that slid on the ice and slid into the Civic that my mom just gave to Alexis; said civic was pushed back into the old Civic, which was pushed about 15 feet with the parking brake on. Neither car survived the encounter well.

Oddly enough, that’s how I lost my favorite car, my Oldsmobile Calais, in an encounter with a big-ass Suburban. The right front fender was pushed into an accordion into the passenger seat. The Suburban has a small dent in its bumper. The Calais never recovered.

So I suppose a few lessons can be learned from this experience:

  • Buy an old Suburban if you want a vehicle that is built like a tank.
  • Don’t count on  the fact that you did not slide on the ice as a sign that all is well because other people are out on the ice with bigger vehicles than yours.
  • Always have car insurance (which we do), and always be glad when the other driver also has insurance.

So now Alexis and Mike have the onerous task of dealing with insurance companies, adjusters, and trying to find two new/used vehicles, and Mike is due back on site in Northern Virginia on January 3.

So about that curse-breaker?

“Whoever you are: step out of doors tonight,
out of the room that lets you feel secure.
Infinity is open to your sight.
Whoever you are.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from “Entrance”

Winter Sunset through Trees (Pixdaus)

The snow is gradually melting. In the past few nights the temperature has dropped below freezing, which means black ice on the roads, something that Brett and I experienced on our way home on Tuesday evening.

We went out Tuesday afternoon while Corey was trying to sleep before having to go back to work for another 11 hours that night. Brett wanted to look for yet another vintage coat at is now-favorite surplus store. No-joy on the coat, but he did find a great hood that fits on his jacket, and it was $10. Excitement all around. Then we went to another store to exchange a couple of presents, which meant that we found ourselves driving home after dark.

The Rodeo has a winter drive mode the same as my old Trooper Izzie did, and it’s a great feature. Just push that button, and feel the traction increase. We did hit one spot of ice but had minimal slippage. Luckily for us as just a few feet ahead of us was a car that had not made it over the patch quite as well and was in the median, which on that particular stretch of road has a dip. State Police were already on scene, but we didn’t see any injuries.

The best practice this week has been to stay inside and off the roads as much as possible. My mother had a doctor’s appointment yesterday, which I was planning to drive her to, but she canceled it as she was certain that the roads would be horrible. I tried to explain that in the afternoon, things were fairly good, mostly slush, but she wasn’t having it, so she has rescheduled. That being said, she drove herself to bingo this evening. Does anyone else notice the illogic that rules my mother? 

“Chantez, riez; soyez heureux, soyes célèbres;
Chacun de vous sers bientôt dans les ténèbres” ~ Victor Hugo
(Sing, laugh; be happy, be famous;
Each one of you will soon be in the darkness)

Silence (Pixdaus)

It’s now 9 o’clock, and I began this post hours ago. My headache is getting worse, so I need to wrap things up for now.

I just took some more pain medicine for my migraine, which reminds me of a very troubling and infinitely sad story that Corey showed me on The Virginian-Pilot’s website, pilotonline.com. It seems that in February of this year, a marine who served in Afghanistan was admitted to Portsmouth Naval Hospital for chest pains. The marine, who was suffering from PTSD, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a very treatable form of cancer, with a 90 percent five-year survival rate.

Twenty-year-old Lance Cpl. Ezequiel Freire never left the hospital. Instead, he died of a drug overdose, caused by too many doctors prescribing too many medications without taking into consideration what treatment Freire was already receiving. His autopsy showed a high dose of Fentanyl and 10 other narcotics and sedatives. This young man died of a toxic pharmaceutical cocktail, the kind of death that is on the upswing in this country because of the rampant use of prescribed narcotics.

Freire survived over 50 firefights during his six-month deployment only to die because too many doctors who were involved did not pay attention. But no firings will result from this tragedy because it’s a military hospital, and no suits can be brought because of that little thing called the Feres Doctrine, which absolves the military and the U.S. government from liability.

The other really pathetic aspect to this story is that some people used the comments section of the story to try to say that this (Freir’s death) is the kind of thing that will happen under Obamacare because healthcare will be government-run. Seriously? This kid was 20; he served his country; he was traumatized so much that he couldn’t enjoy a meal in a restaurant because of the noise, and he was given a potent mix of drugs: “first morphine, then oxycodone and its time-release variant OxyContin, supplemented by Dilaudid. Simultaneously, he was receiving a series of sedatives for anxiety – first Ativan, then Xanax, and finally Klonopin – plus Ambien and then Lunesta for insomnia.”

And you want to turn this horrible situation into a commentary on government healthcare reform? Have you no shame? You people are barbarians.

Enough. More later. Peace.

Music by Mazzy Star, “Flowers in December”

                   

Flowers in December
Before I let you down again,
I just want to see you in your eyes.
I wouldn’t have taken everything out on you,
I only thought you could understand.

They say every man goes blind in his heart,
And they say everybody steals somebody’s heart away.
And I got nothing more to say about it
Nothing more than you would me.

Send me your flowers of your december,
Send me your dreams of your candied wine.
I’ve got just one thing I can’t give you…
Just one more thing of mine

They say every man goes blind in his heart
And they say everybody steals somebody’s heart away
And I’ve been wondering why you let me down

And I’ve been taking it all for granted

 

“Perhaps I am a bear, or some hibernating animal underneath, for the instinct to be half asleep all winter is so strong in me.” ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Drift Away by worldonpause

“It snowed and snowed, the whole world over, Snow swept the world from end to end. A candle burned on the table; A candle burned.” ~ Boris Pasternak

                     

A Long December

A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember the last thing you said as you were leavin’
Now the days go by so fast

And it’s one more day up in the canyons
And it’s one more night in Hollywood
If you think that I could be forgiven… I wish you would

The smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl

And it’s one more day up in the canyons
And it’s one more night in Hollywood
If you think you might come to California… I think you should

Drove up to the Hillside Manor sometime after two a.m.
And talked a little while about the year
I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower,
Makes you talk a little lower about the things you could not show her

And it’s been a long December and there’s no reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better that the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass

And it’s one more day up in the canyon
And it’s one more night in Hollywood
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean… I guess I should

“Do you hear the snow against the window-panes, Kitty? How nice and soft it sounds! Just as if some one was kissing the window all over outside. I wonder if the snow LOVES the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” ~ Lewis Carroll

Bethlehem, Pennslvania by cornersoftheworld

 

“Here
I’m here—
the snow falling.” ~ Kobayashi Issa

Lost in Winder by aL-baum on deviantART

Boxing Day, home, early evening.

It’s 28° F and dropping. This winter, I am perhaps more grateful for one thing above all others: the return of central heat to our house—a luxury too many of us take for granted. My hope for today? That those without, those facing the elements without the warmth of a coat, or hat, or gloves, those without shelter, those without a hot meal—those much less fortunate than we will be able to find a place to sleep tonight that offers some semblance of comfort.

We are currently experiencing one of the worst snowstorms to hit this area in many years. Earlier today conditions were classified as “near-whiteout,” reminding me of our 26-hour road trip to Ohio last  holiday season in which we found ourselves driving through a blizzard with frozen windshield wipers, and eventually, a flat tire. So glad we aren’t on the road today.

That being said, Corey did have to be at work at 7 this morning, and when he finished his shift at 3, it was snowing harder. For some reason, few snow plows are out (actually, not too surprising as Norfolk probably owns maybe two plows for the entire area), which mean that most major roads, let alone backroads in neighborhoods, have yet to be cleared. Right now Corey is scheduled to be back in at 6 a.m.; the forecast is calling for snow throughout the night, wind, and falling temperatures, which means ice.

People in Hampton Roads cannot drive in snow under the best conditions; give them ice, and driving becomes bumper cars. Not pretty.

“Today on the way home, it snows. Big, soft caressing flakes fall onto our skin like cold moths; the air fills with feathers.” ~ Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

Winter Morning (Pixdaus)

Originally, Corey had been scheduled to work yesterday morning (Christmas), but fortunately the yard to which he was supposed to report closed in the wee hours, so he was home with the family. Eamonn came over on Christmas Eve to finish his wrapping, and he spent the night here so that he could be home for Christmas morning. It was lovely.

Then yesterday was another day of running around, more so for Alexis, Eamonn, and Brett than Corey and myself. The kids had to go to their dad’s house, and then their grandfather’s house, then to my mom’s for Christmas dinner, then to their other grandmother’s for dessert. Afterwards, Mike and Alexis decided against their final three stops; Eamonn went to a friend’s house for the remainder of the night, and Corey, Brett and I came home and vegged.

Christmas dinner was wonderfully uneventful this year. Last year’s fiasco with the restaurant was not repeated. Instead, we decided collectively to eschew a traditional dinner in favor of Filipino food, so we had pancit, lumpia, rice, and tuppa. The only nod to westernization were the Pillsbury crescent rolls with fresh butter.

Everyone had their fill, and the aftermath of a big holiday dinner was greatly alleviated by fewer large dishes as well as far fewer leftovers. Admittedly, I had a bit of wine to help me get through the stress that arises whenever my mother’s house is filled with people who are all talking at once, something that tends to wreak havoc with my nerves. Of course, my mother had to comment about me being a wino, which is a hoot since I have gotten to the point at which I may drink a glass of something four times a year, two of them being Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Whatever. 

“Only a house, quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem.” ~ Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street

Winter-Licht by Michael Jotze (Pixdaus)

Today was blessedly quiet, with a few exceptions. I could not get to sleep last night, so I visited a few fellow bloggers until I felt my eyes getting heavy around 2:30 a.m. I awoke at one point with Shakes sitting on my chest making hacking sounds like he was about to throw up.

Someone (who shall remain nameless) thought that it would be a wonderful idea to buy all three dogs big beef marrow bones as part of their Christmas. All three dogs took turns throwing up yesterday and into last night. Let us just say that this bad decision shall not be repeated next year.

Anyway, Shakes did not throw up on me (thankfully), and he went back to sleep. I did not, so it was another restless night for me. Which means that I was so glad that my mother called at 10 a.m., asked me if I was still asleep, and then tried to have a conversation with me. I did manage to get a few hours of sound sleep between 10:30 and 12:30, so I’m not completely sleep-deprived.

Everything outside looked so beautiful from inside the house that I decided to snap a few pictures from the doorways (hope to post tomorrow). The big Camellia bush directly across from the kitchen window was almost completely covered and resembled an huge snowball. I then opened the front door and stuck my head out to take some shots of that area. Tillie, who had been waiting for someone to take her snowplowing, immediately gamboled out the front door and sank. I wasn’t worried about her running away, and she had a great time as I clicked away.

However . . . the two Jack Russells got wind of the fun being  had without them and came from beneath whatever covers they had been snuggled in and made a mad dash out the door. When they sank up to their bellies, I thought they would turn around and come back in, but nooooo. They made a run for it. It would have been funnier if not for a few things: Brett got really nervous, and I suddenly realized that if they went into the street, no one would be able to see them (good thing few cars were out and about). So I pulled some boots on over my flannel pjs, put on a sweater and coat, and went in search of the bad boys.

Brett pulled on his boots and ran out sans coat or hat and immediately spotted the two dogs that I hadn’t managed to find yet.  It was only amusing in retrospect. 

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“And freezing.”
Is it?”
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.” ~ A. A. Milne

Winter Dreams by Mikhail Tkachev (Pixdaus)

All in all, it was a fairly relaxing Christmas. I did start to go into overdrive on Christmas Eve until Corey reminded me that we had actually done pretty much everything that we needed to do. We had a nice meal, a few nice visits, and the kids got some things that they needed and wanted (the wanted was from relatives other than us).

My special present was that Corey picked up the ring that I had taken to the jeweler’s over two years ago and then forgot about; when I did remember that the ring was there, there was no money to pick it up, and then I convinced myself that they no longer had the ring and was too afraid to call them to find out the status.

Let me back up a second, the last Christmas before everything changed in our house Corey and I were both still working. He had bought me a right-hand ring that I absolutely love. Unfortunately, I didn’t really pay attention to the design until the ring broke at a stress point that was pretty obvious after-the-fact. That’s the ring that I finally took to the jeweler and promptly forgot as things like life took over my mind.

But now I have my ring back, and it’s better than new as the jeweler reinforced the stress area. So good times.

I’m going to close with a passage from James Joyce’s short story “The Dead,” which comes from his Dubliners collection. I did a Joycean seminar in which we studied Dubliners, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses—all in four weeks. If you know anything about Joyce, then you realize what a grueling proposition this was (I was unaware when I enrolled). At the time, I didn’t have a real appreciation for “The Dead” as I was still trying to come to grips with Joyce’s transitional epiphany style as well as the lack of final literary resolution to which I had become so accustomed at that point.

Years later, I can appreciate much better Gabriel’s epiphany and the overwhelming subtlety of the snow as imagery for both life and death, paralysis and change.

“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland . . . It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” ~ James Joyce

More later. Peace.

Music by The Weepies, “All that I Want’

                   

Peter Quince at the Clavier

I

Just as my fingers on these keys
Make music, so the self-same sounds
On my spirit make a music, too.
Music is feeling, then, not sound;
And thus it is that what I feel,
Here in this room, desiring you,

Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk,
Is music. It is like the strain
Waked in the elders by Susanna;

Of a green evening, clear and warm,
She bathed in her still garden, while
The red-eyed elders, watching, felt

The basses of their beings throb
In witching chords, and their thin blood
Pulse pizzicati of Hosanna.

II

In the green water, clear and warm,
Susanna lay.
She searched
The touch of springs,
And found
Concealed imaginings.
She sighed,
For so much melody.

Upon the bank, she stood
In the cool
Of spent emotions.
She felt, among the leaves,
The dew
Of old devotions.

She walked upon the grass,
Still quavering.
The winds were like her maids,
On timid feet,
Fetching her woven scarves,
Yet wavering.

A breath upon her hand
Muted the night.
She turned —
A cymbal crashed,
Amid roaring horns.

III

Soon, with a noise like tambourines,
Came her attendant Byzantines.

They wondered why Susanna cried
Against the elders by her side;

And as they whispered, the refrain
Was like a willow swept by rain.

Anon, their lamps’ uplifted flame
Revealed Susanna and her shame.

And then, the simpering Byzantines
Fled, with a noise like tambourines.

IV

Beauty is momentary in the mind —
The fitful tracing of a portal;
But in the flesh it is immortal.

The body dies; the body’s beauty lives.
So evenings die, in their green going,
A wave, interminably flowing.
So gardens die, their meek breath scenting
The cowl of winter, done repenting.
So maidens die, to the auroral
Celebration of a maiden’s choral.

Susanna’s music touched the bawdy strings
Of those white elders; but, escaping,
Left only Death’s ironic scraping.
Now, in its immortality, it plays
On the clear viol of her memory,
And makes a constant sacrament of praise.

~ Wallace Stevens

“What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.” ~ Agnes M. Pahro

White on White: Doves on Snow

“Christmas gift suggestions:
To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.” ~ Oren Arnold

Christmas greeting from a letter written by Italian friar and painter Giovanni da Fiesole (Fra Angelico) 1387-1455:

“I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.
There is nothing I can give you which you have not already, but there is much, very much, which though I cannot give it, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today.

Take heaven.
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this precious little instant.
Take peace.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and courage in the darkness could we but see; and to see, we have only to look.

Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their coverings, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard.
Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love, and wisdom, and power.
Welcome it, greet it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there, the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence.
Our joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage, then, to claim it, that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims wending through unknown country our way home.

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greeting, but with profound esteem now and forever.
The day breaks and the shadows flee away.”

Music by Enya, “And Winter Came”



“Youth ages, immaturity is outgrown, ignorance can be educated, and drunkenness sobered, but stupid lasts forever.” ~ Aristophanes

Vintage Christmas Card: Christmas Song Birds (1913)

                   

“The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and stupidity.” ~ Harlan Ellison

Vintage Christmas Card: Germany (1901)

Monday, early evening, Webb Center computer lab, ODU.

I arranged to pick up Brett from school today at 4:15. My phone is still not working, so I was unable to find out whether or not he wanted to stay longer. Turns out, he did, so I decided to come to the lab for a bit and work on this blog while he hangs.

We are switching my phone back to our T-Mobile plan, which means replacing the sim card. I did that, but for some reason, it takes 24 to 48 hours for my phone number (which was originally a T-Mobile number) to be transferred back from the Straight Talk plan.

Just a word of caution for anyone who is thinking of switching over to Straight Talk: Don’t. The customer service is absolutely horrible, and the plan, while it seems fairly straightforward and simple, isn’t. We had thought about switching over everyone to the Straight Talk plan to try to save some money; fortunately, we tried it with my line first while keeping the T-Mobile plan for everyone else.

The problems just weren’t worth the small savings; hence my switch back to T-Mobile. Only problem is that I don’t have service yet.

Cox Communications, our cable and Internet provider, is now offering wireless service. I suppose we’ll check that out to see what they are offering. If we can bundle all of our services, we may be able to save a bit of money. Have to see what’s going on with that.

“I responded to this development with the kind of sophisticated language for which I am famous. “Crap crap crap crap crap crap crap stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid crap.” ~ John Green

Vintage Christmas Card: Bringing Home the Tree (date unknown)

Sunday evening, home. Windy and cold.

It is now almost two weeks since I began this particular post, and you may be wondering to yourself, ‘why bother?’ Legitimate question. Let me just say that I had already picked out all of these wonderful quotes about stupidity, and I hate to waste a good quote. So we will now be rejoining our regularly scheduled program, already in progress.

Brett finished his exams last Friday; we’re waiting for final grades, but it looks like he may be getting two A’s and two B’s. Quite happy about that. And Eamonn told me last night that he got three B’s and one C, much better than last semester. His comment was that he didn’t even try; I did not come back with the expected retort of imagine how well he would do if he did try . . .

Since I began this post, quite a few things have happened. One of which is that we learned—much to our joint consternation—that the wonderful Straight Talk phone we bought several months ago when we decided to try the switch, that phone (which is a Samsung Gravity model), cannot be used with any other system, even though it is SIM-card ready. My new T-mobile SIM card will not work in the phone. Period. Corey found out this dismaying information after several wonderful conversations with the ST customer service people. (He had to make the calls as I refuse to deal with them ever again; he now understands why that is.) We even tried some Internet sources that claim to be able to unlock any phone; well, they can’t.

So my mother, who cannot stand that she is unable to call me several times a day, is buying me a new phone for Christmas. I found a great deal on e-Bay for a similar Samsung, not one of the newer gravity models, which is fine as I don’t really like touch screens or have  need for all kinds of apps.

Once again, a word of unsolicited advice from me to you: DON’T go with Straight Talk unless you have unlimited patience and never plan to move your service again.

“The difference between stupid and intelligent people—and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety.” ~ Neal Stephenson

Vintage Christmas Card: German Elves (date unknown)

In keeping with tonight’s theme, I want to mention a very entertaining blog that I came across on blogsurfer.us: Losers I’ve Loved and Lost. The blog isn’t stupid, far from it, but the responses from the individuals on match.com who contact the blog’s author . . . well let’s just say that they are a bit lacking in the functioning grey cells category.

Essentially, the blog is a running list of selected letters the author has received via match.com and her responses to said letters. Now I’ve never tried online dating, and I know that it has become a staple in the dating world for many reasons, not the least of which is the ability to cull through the chaff for the wheat via profiles and responses. I will be the first to admit that this system would never work for me, ever, ever, as I would correct grammar and be generally bitchy and condescending, that is, my normal self.

So when I began to read the letters and her responses, I found myself laughing out loud as matchmaker (the blog’s author) comes across as my kind of woman: She does not suffer fools gladly. For example, she specifies that she is short, that she smokes, that she is not interested in an older man, a divorced man, or a man with children. She also specifies a locale. Do any of the men who write her pay attention to these specifics?

Of course not.

To wit:

Letter (intro paragraph): May I have the honor of inviting you for a dinner or lunch in San Francisco (I work in downtown) or a dinner in Berkeley (my neighborhood has all the celebrated restaurants)? I really enjoyed reading your relaxes but refreshing profile—you seem to be lovely person inside and out. (accompanied by photograph of obviously older gentleman)

Response (selected parts): dinner at a celebrated restaurant in berkeley sounds fantastic!  i love places that people celebrate or that others find celebrating or that celebrate regularly.  celebration is the essence of celebration.  the problem is i live in los angeles.  but it’s just a minor problem.  you sound very successful and i’m sure you could find a private jet to fly me up and back just for dinner.

i think you do meet all of the criteria for my partner.  except for the “within 5 mile radius of west hollywood” one, and the “between the ages of 34 – 39” one (as you’re 62).  and i’m glad you enjoyed my relaxes, because i relaxes a lot.  i relaxes all day if i can… and if i can’t, at least i make time to relaxes for at least half the day every day.

regarding me being a lovely person inside and out, well that’s a tough one.  i hate most people, pull the wings off of flies, and try to purse my lips in a frown like manner so people don’t approach me or try to talk to me as i don’t like strangers

See what I mean? She pulls no punches, which will offend some, alienate others, and put off those males looking for a traditional, sweet wifey type—which is obviously her strategy. And those of you out there who know me well know that I would take the same tack, which is why I am sooo glad that I don’t have to do this kind of thing. Visit LIL&L if you are into acerbic wit and rampant sarcasm.

“An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.” ~ Victor Hugo 

Vintage Victorian Christmas Card (via vintageholidaycrafts.com)

Let’s see . . . what else is happening? I have on my list of things to do addressing Christmas cards, with any luck, perhaps even tonight when I finish this post. May I just pause here to say that I am terribly saddened by the fact that no one, no one sends cards any more. To date, we have received two cards.

What is up with that? I read recently that more and more people are sending e-cards in lieu of paper cards. I know, a greeting of any sort is lovely, but I want that tactile sensation. I want to ooh and aah over the images, to read the short notes hastily scrawled inside in an attempt to be more personal. I mean, a recent study revealed that children are using less of their brain potential because they do not write with pens and pencils any more. We have an entire generation coming up that will have no idea as to how to pen a letter, literally.

Such a waste. I mean, what about doodling? All of those doodles with colored pens, matching your own name with some boy’s name, drawing little hearts and curlicues. Or the mad doodling in which the pen is pressed to the paper so hard that you form wholes and tears. A child who does not know how to take up a writing implement is being deprived, much in the same way as the child who is read to from an e-reader (another subject worthy of pages and pages of ranting).

Big I digress as usual . . .

Famous Louis Prant Christmas Card (ca 1882) via Card Museum

Holiday cards: Yes, that was the subject. No one sends them any more. It’s not like they are expensive. Boxes of beautiful cards can be bought at after-Christmas sales for a few dollars. I know because I’ve been doing that for years. And postage? Okay, send ten cards, just ten. It’s still about the same as the cost of a caramel machiato at Starbucks. Which one lasts, and which one goes straight to your hips?

Okay, before you accuse me of being the curmudgeon that I am, know this: I am a foolishly sentimental curmudgeon. And it’s not that I don’t embrace change. I love technology, love the gadgets and hoo-has, but I sincerely believe that in this, as with everything else, there must be balance. I mean, think about it. Are we going to progress so much that wedding announcements will be received via Blackberry and iPhone?

If you really don’t understand why I’m making such a big deal out of this, then you have never had a love affair with paper. You have never obsessed over the perfect pen. And if that’s the case, then there really isn’t any point in continuing this discussion.

More later. Peace.

Music by George Winston, “Variations on Pachelbel’s Canon in D”