Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Fire on the Mountain - More on the Monsoon

Fire over TucsonHave you ever noticed that the longer you live somewhere, the fewer pictures you take of it? John and I have been in Tucson since 1986, and the vast majority of our pictures of the place were taken from 1986-1990. These days, most of our pictures are taken by digital camera, someplace else.

I went looking for more pictures of dramatic weather in Tucson, but the notebooks are in the bedroom and John's asleep. I sneaked in (snuck?) and got a couple of neat pictures, though, to illustrate further explanations about the Tucson monsoon and the season that immediately precedes the summer monsoon: fire season.

The two pictures here are of a particularly bad fire on Mount Lemmon, circa 1988-1990. Mount Lemmon is part of the Catalina Mountains, which form the northern boundary of Tucson. If you think this fire is dramatic, let me tell you: the one in June and July, 2003 was much worse. It wasn't as visible from the city, but it did much more damage on the mountain, and ruined Tucson's air quality for weeks.fire on the mountain

Now it's fire season again, and there are restrictions on campfires and smoking in National Forest lands all over Arizona. Most of the worst fires in recent years, including the one that destroyed most of Summerhaven on Mount Lemmon, were caused by humans. At the moment, though, the fires around the state mostly seem to be caused by lightning--lightning, but no rain. Remember, it's a dry heat.

It's been clouding up, though, and I found more evidence of minimal overnight rain on my windshield this morning. So now we've got both heat (high 90s to low 100s) and humidity--not at Houston levels, but more than the 11% humidity we get in April and May.

Cheyenne checks out 'Cassional Creek

There's a formula the weather people use to tell us whether the monsoon has arrived, involving so many days of a certain dewpoint level, or something like that. We don't really need to know the details. It's pretty clear to everyone in Tucson that the monsoon has not yet arrived. And I've lost track of whether it's supposed to be El Niño or La Niña or neither this time around. I never could keep those straight, anyway.

In a previous entry I mentioned arroyos, those dry washes that channel muddy, fast-moving water during and immediately after a big rain. Here's one of them, next to our old house on Grannen Road. I used to call it 'Cassional Creek. The dog who's checking it out is either a neighbor dog, Cheyenne, or Kirby, who belonged to John's business partner, Walt.

To finish things off for now, here's a rainbow over the desert, just off Grannen Road.

rainbow saguaroI'll save the pictures of Tucson's only recorded White Christmas for another time.


National Weather Service - Tucson Monsoon page

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Another Mavarin (several, actually)

From time to time I check the word "Mavarin" in Google, partly to see which of my blogs and web pages and postings turn up, partly to see what real-world uses of my made-up place name may exist.

Major appearances of the word that don't come from my brain include:

A "Luxury" French Chalet near Mont Blanc.

A person named Marc-André Varin (M A Varin), marketing director of the Palais des congrès de Montréal (Montréal Convention Centre).

A cape that juts into the Bering Sea from (I think) Alaska.

An untranslated word in a bilingual poem in French and Mégevan patois. The Google translation of this page is quite wonderful nonsense. I originally posted two stanzas of it here because I love it so much, but I think you should really follow the link and see for yourself. Best line: "Sometimes, of 1 small air rascal/She begins to move the Kidneys." The untranslated original is attributed as "a 'bilingual' song created by the group 'Memories mégevans' in January 1999." © Jean-Marc Lord 1998-2004.

I notice belatedly that the song mentions Megève, which is where the chalet is.

It seems to me that a Google search used to turn up a non-English Harry Potter fanfic story also, but I don't see that now.

There's one more Mavarin I know about. My friend Sara Geer is working on a novel in which, as it happens:

"Mavarin is the daughter of Marlin, a pirate from the Island. ... She ends up running river trade on the mainland when she grows up due to some favors he does for Nia during this novel, and she's known as the Pirate Queen of the three rivers."

That's enough. Good night.


Cross-posted from http://mavarin.blogspot.com.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Shopping by TARDIS

This is a painting by bandleader Xavier Cugat, title unknown. Based on the colors, and the fact that one of the doctors is holding a copy of Playboy, I'm guessing it dates from circa 1960. We bought it at a thrift shop several years ago for $27.50, at the height of our yard sale and eBay period.

It hangs in a room full of furniture and decor of roughly the same vintage, midcentury modern vinyl couches and strange lamps and a fake tv minibar. A vintage bowl holds somebody's collection of old matchbooks. One of our many Tiki mugs, a glass one, holds our vintage swizzle sticks. Were it not for the fact that the room has since been overloaded with junk from my mom's estate, you could almost believe it's 1960 in that room.

We bought our vintage furniture, decor and toys on the cheap, at yard sales and estate sales, in thrift shops and at auction. Many of the pieces were inexpensive because of condition: torn fabric, mostly. Even the Cugat has a tear in the canvas.

There's a better way to get this stuff, if only we had the right equipment. You see, when I wrote about vacationing by time machine a couple of weeks ago, I left out a very important part of the itinerary.

I want to go shopping in the 1960s. So does John.

What I actually want is to shop in January and July of each year from 1955 to 1969. John and I would make our purchases at Sears and J.C. Penney, Weber's Department Store in Manlius NY, Economy Books and Ed Guth Hobbies in Syracuse, and at the Art Corner at Disneyland. We'd buy comics and original cells and Micki Mouse Club Magazine issues with Annette and Zorro and Spin & Marty on the covers. We'd buy Miller clocks and Eames chairs. I'd get two of each Barbie, Midge, et al. issued from 1958 through 1969. John would complete his collection of Warriors of the World figures. I'd get a Jane West, and all the bone china animals I had until Ethel and I gradually broke most of them.

We'd get mint condition crayons with all the original, politically incorrect color names, in both the 128 crayon box and the 64 crayon box with the built-in sharpener. We'd get the original Enterprise model with the light-up nacelles, and a complete set of Tinykins, and Steiff plush. Then we'd have to get a bigger house to display it all.

The closest we've come lately to shopping in the 1960s has been when we've visited our local Ace Hardware. This particular store has been around for decades, and carries much of the same stuff I used to see at local hardware stores before there was such a thing as Home Depot. They have jadite bowls and metal signs, model cars and trains, and zillions of other items, some of them quite nifty. A couple of years ago, we bought a white Christmas tree there.

The other great retro place here in Tucson is Yikes! Toy Store, which sells repro tin toys and Hula lamps and Freud action figures and other amazing things.

But I still want to go shopping at 1957 Disneyland, and Weber's, and Sears, and buy all those things we once had or never got but wanted, all shiny and new at pre-inflation prices.

And then, I suppose, we would sell the extra Barbies at 21st century prices, to finance our next stop: shopping in the future.


Arizona, Rain and Those Hazy-Crazy Memories of Summer

Flash flood at Old Tucson, circa 1987. Photo by KFB.

Here’s my response to another weekend assignment from John M Scalzi in By The Way....  He wants "the perfect summer song."  I'll give you two of them that work for me personally--and I can pretty much guarantee they won't be anyone else's picks.

Probably nobody under the age of 40 even remembers Nat "King" Cole's Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer.  I'm 47, and I remember it fondly.  I distinctly recall hearing it on WSYR radio in my mom's Rambler as we drove past the pharmacy near the bottom of High Bridge Road in Dewitt, NY, on our way to a vacation on Lake Ontario.  WSYR was the Syracuse station for my parents' generation, and they controlled the radio on family vacations.  I didn't really start listening to the Top 40 rock stations (WNDR and WOLF) until the early 1970s.

My other specific memory of Nat "King" Cole's 1963 summer hit is from years later.  I was at the home of  some friend of my mom's, hanging out with other kids I didn't know well.  The parents were off in another room or out to dinner or something.  I came across a 45 of Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer, and played it at least once.  My memory is that I did so while reading the original hardback edition of The Beatles' Illustrated Lyrics, a book that belonged to my mom's friend (Anita? Jean? Lillian? I don't remember which). 

It wasn't the first time I'd looked at that book while at that particular house.  The first time I saw it, I had Peggy Lee's Siamese Cat Song stuck in my head because of the lady's two (you guessed it) Siamese cats.  I'm sure I learned the song from an episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color

Anyway, the second or third time I spent an hour or more looking over The Beatles' Illustrated Lyrics, the woman loaned it to me to take home.  I still have it, that very copy, along with a copy of The Little Prince that was also originally loaned to me by a friend of my mom's.  Sorry about that.  I would have returned them 35 years ago given the opportunity.  I suspect that at some point, the books' original owners decided to let me keep them.

Now that I've confessed to my illicit possession of that Beatles book, I should name one of their songs as an alternate summer song in case only rock and roll counts.  All right: Rain.  No, it doesn't mention summer, but it's perfectly appropriate for summer in Tucson, where there are no beaches and no sane person dives with the top down in July or August.  A hot wind when it's 100 degrees or higher is not refreshing. Rain, though, can be very refreshing in such circumstances.

"Wait a minute," you may be saying. "Tucson?  Rain?  Isn't Tucson in the desert, a place reputed to have 360 sunny days a year?"

That's right.  But twice a year, it starts to rain for a month or two, not every day, but enough to get almost all of our 11 inches a year into two brief periods.  Each season is called a monsoon, after similar weather patterns on the other side of the world.  One is called the "male" monsoon, and the other the "female" one--at least, they used to be. The winter rainy season is no big deal, just a bit of rain now and then, with a little hail or snow mixed in once every couple of years.  It's in summer that we get the real monsoon.  It starts in June or July, and it's a big show: dramatic thunderstorms, lightning, pouring rain, and flooded roads.  Tucson Boulevard turns into a river.  People drive into washes (small river beds, also called arroyos, that are dry except during major storms) and get stuck or float away.  When someone unwisely drives into a dip in the road and has to be rescued, the city bills them for the cost.  It's called the "Stupid Motorist Law."

The coolest thing about the summer monsoon is that it's like the weather in the song Camelot. It usually only rains between four and six PM, or at night.  Late in the afternoon, I hear the rain pounding on the roof, and rush to the window to admire the downpour.  By the time my work day finishes, it's all over, and I can drive home. The temperature has just dropped at least 20 degrees.

Anyway, here it is late June, and everyone in Tucson is waiting for the monsoon to start.  So far we've only had a few drops when we weren't looking, just enough to make the cars filthy. When the rain comes, we'll run and hide our heads, only to watch the show from the safety of our homes and offices.

What's that, John?  You also want a song for the last day of summer?  Okay, with cooler weather only a month away--sometime in October--it will finally be time to listen to the Beach Boys, Fun Fun Fun.

Have a nice summer. 


fun facts about the Tucson monsoon - NWS

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Another Blogger for Kerry - A Defense of General Purpose Journals

Photo courtesy of JohnKerry.com. (Hotlinked - now long gone.)

I was a caller on
NPR's All Things Considered again this week, this time putting in a word in favor of literary and general purpose blogs and journals. Neal Conan's guest, a journalist and fan of political blogging, dismissed essentially all non-political ones as "I got up this morning and I brushed my teeth," in other words, dull and pointless.

He's mistaken.

One has only to look at the lively discussions on
Making Light and Electrolite to see a blog community in which politics is only part of the equation. Aspiring writers swap ideas, techniques and news of their progress on Within the Qelenhn, Presto Speaks! and many other individual journals. The friends function of LiveJournal enables journalers to keep up with several blogs at once, and add their own comments to each. And over on AOL, John M Scalzi's By the Way helps to keep journalers motivated to write on a wide variety of topics. True, a few of his posts run a little toward the tooth-brushing end of things, but even that has value, as we peek into the life of a writer who works out of his rural home, far from any AOL HQ.

Such goings-on do little to get John Kerry elected, but frankly I doubt that political blogging will tip the scales in the upcoming election. I'm much more interested in the results of Neil Gaiman's and Harlan Ellison's respective lawsuits, the dubious merits of POD, and how Sara Geer's tv production is coming along.

But okay: yes. You should vote for John Kerry this fall. Satisfied? You shouldn't need me to tell you that. This truth becomes clearer with every news report. Anyone who isn't thoroughly disgusted with George W Bush by now probably has been getting his or her news, if any, exclusively from Fox and other conservative media.

If you actually like what Bush and his cronies are doing, I'm not going to change your mind by blogging. All I can do is suggest that you pay more attention to NPR and other news sources that do more than skim the surface of stories.

Next subject, please.

For more cool not-necessarily-political blogs, follow some of the "Other Journals" links at the right, or visit the ones mentioned in the comments below.


Otherworld Book Excerpt: from The Book of Alef

Cross-posted from Messages from Mâvarin.

The following is a fictional excerpt from a nonexistent religious text, part of the beliefs of most Mâvarinû. It should not be construed as an endorsement or condemnation of any real-world belief or practice,except as a general parable about understanding vs. self-aggrandizing power. - KFB

Alef and Varshti were talking with Lokvanishmû.

"The Lord is eternal, but our lives are short," Varshti said. "By the time we get to know each other at all, our mortal lives are over."

"There is still the Afterworld," Alef said. "This is when we grow closer to the Lord."

"Why not just go there to start with, then?" Varshti asked.

"The Afterworld is not a place for beginnings," the Lord said. "Would you learn to farm and ride before you learn to walk and talk?"

"Will you tell us about the Afterworld, at least?" Alef asked.

"You cannot understand it until you are there," the Lord said.

"And once we are there, we cannot come back here," Varshti said.

"I did not say that," said the Lord.

"Let me have an immortal life, Lord," Varshti said. "Let me come and go between this world and the next, and never sicken or die. That way you will have a friend through all time."

"If I do as you say, will you indeed be my friend? Or will you decide you are a god yourself?" the Lord asked.

"I will be your friend and servant," Varshti promised.

"Let it be so," the Lord said. “And what of you, Alef? Do you wish to be immortal like your brother?"

"You have already promised immortality in the Afterworld, Lord," Alef said. "I am content that you have ordered things as they should be. I ask only to know and understand you and your creation better."

"Your desire shall also be granted," the Lord said. “Yours is the better request.”

Saturday, June 19, 2004

This is the last one, I swear

For convenience in posting to LiveJournal blogs by Sara, Sarah and Shelly, I've started one of my own. The journal you're looking at right now, Musings from Mavarin, will continue to be the main one. The blogspot one (Otherworlds) will be an archive of fictional entries by Mavarin characters, and the LiveJournal one will be mostly about writing, plus postings of misc. short pieces of mine that don't fit elsewhere. It's called Lost in Mavarin.

First up: an abandoned song of mine called Real Life (the melody didn't work out well enough), three Bulwar-Lytton sentences from a couple of years ago, and thoughts on dogs' thoughts.


Friday, June 18, 2004

Weekend Assignment: Li'l Old Philanthropist, Me

John M Scalzi's weekend assignment over on By the Way is about what you would do with a million dollars, what you would do differently if it was $2 million after taxes, and what you would do if you had to give it away.  Having thought about such things from time to time, I have a fair idea of the answers.

A Million or Two

When I was a kid, Parade Magazine published an article, "What Will You Do With Your Million Dollars?" noting that over the next thirty years or so, the average person would probably earn that much, albeit in dribs and drabs rather than a nice, big, investable or spendable chunk.  That was thirty years ago, and the spending power of that million has gone way down.  In short, a million dollars ain't what it used to be. It's still a lot of money to get all at once, but it's not enough to be automatically rich for the rest of your life (except maybe if you're already over 70!).  Whether it's a million or two million, it's therefore necessary, if I'm keeping at least part of it, to invest conservatively (that's low risk, not Republican) so that there will still be money ten or twenty or even thirty years from now.  That's after I pay off my debts, which are currently quite large and getting larger (the UoP isn't cheap!). I'm not retiring anytime soon, even with the two million.  I might take a year off to write, though.

The Untraveled Travel Agent

As previously noted, there are a zillion places I'd like to see that I've never been, and can't afford to go.  So the other thing I'd do in that year off would be to travel.  While I was doing this, I'd probably buy an extra home, most likely in England.

Givin' It All Away

Even if I'm allowed to keep it, a good chunk of the money goes to charity.  For me, that means St. Michael's And All Angels Episcopal Church.  If there's two million, and it's all going away, the second charity would be one I'd start myself.  The Sam Beckett Foundation, named after the Quantum Leap protagonist, would exist to "put right what once went wrong" in the real world.  In the spirit of the tv series, handouts would have to be for some small, personal crisis, not to fix the world's problems on a macro scale.  I'd have to find someone with good judgment and compassion to administer it, preferably someone wealthy enough not to need a big salary to do this.  One office, small staff, helping one person at a time.


Thursday, June 17, 2004

Tolkien Pastiches

 It's died down a bit now, but for several days a fun literary game was being played over on Teresa Nielsen Hayden's blog, Making Light.  The idea is to rewrite Tolkien in the style of another writer.  In practice, these pastiches tend to be based on specific works by everyone from Lennon & McCartney to Jane Austen, with Tolkien elements substituted for most of the original words.  The result is entertaining, and often quite funny.  Oh, and half the fun is identifying the source material of other people's pastiches.

I wrote about a dozen of these (I want to say "put together," since it's in effect a satirical rewrite of the work of others), and could happily have done a dozen more.  Nevertheless, I'm going to try to quit while I'm ahead.  Here they are.  Other people wrote more elegant, more literary, more clever, subtle and wondertful ones, but this is my blog so you only get the ones I did.  To see more, check out the link above, and follow the further links from there.

So.  What writers and works am I pastiching (is that a word?) here?

It was a dark and stormy night.

In the Prancing Pony Aragorn son of Arathorn, wrapped in a weatherstained cloak, sat at his usual table and watched the hobbits tossing back beer and singing songs. Outside the inn clouds flew urgently away from the Shire. Every few moments lightning flashed through them, illuminating wraithlike shadows that rode toward their halfling prey.

The inn shook.

Wrapped in his cloak, Aragorn shook.

He wasn't afraid of the weather. --It's not just the weather, he thought. --It's the Ringwraiths on top of everything else. On top of me. On top of the hobbits doing eveything to draw attention to themselves.

Once upon a time, a rather long time ago now, about last Saturday, Bilbo Baggins lived with his nephew in a hobbit-hole, under the name Bag End. 

("What does 'under the name' mean?" asked Merry.

"It means that the hillside was called Bag End, and he lived under it," said Gandalf.)

"Pippin wasn't quite sure," said Merry.

"Now I am," squeaked a voice.

"Then I shall go on," said Gandalf.

The Red Book of Westmarch is a truly remarkable book. The introduction starts like this: "Hobbits," it says, are smallish folk with mind-bogglingly large, hairy, leathery feet. I mean, you may think you have trouble finding decent boots, but that's just peanuts to hobbits. Their feet are so big and tough that shoes themselves seem small and flimsy. Listen...."

After a while the style settles down a bit and the book starts to tell you something you might actually need to know, such as the fact that most of the Rings of Power were corrupted or destroyed, so if you should happen to find one, it is vitally important that you don't put it on.
He dons the ring with nerveless hands
Close to the Eye in evil lands,
Lost to himself at last, he stands.

Gollum Frodo's exit stalls.
From fatal bite, o'er lava walls
With ring and finger, Gollum falls.

One Ring! One Ring! Glowing bright,
Forged in fires of the night,
What immortal, lidless Eye
Now seeks thy grasping symmetry?

Hobbits, go where I send thee.
Where shall I send thee?
I will send thee south and east
Where darkness falls and you the least,
Baggins, little bitty halfling
Will slip beneath his notice,
Hope, oh, hope of Hobbiton!

In Khazad-Dûm did Durin's Folk
A stately treasure cave decree,
Which orcs and trolls soon overran
In caverns closed to dwarf and man
Far from the streets of Bree.

Call me Mithrandir.

Gollum leads you up to his stairway into Mordor
You can hear the orcs go by
You can stay entombed forever
And you know you’ve gone half-crazy
But that’s why you have to be there
And Sam feeds you out of dishes
Carried all the way from the Shire
And just when you want to tell him
That you cannot travel further
He takes you in his arms
And he lets his strong back answer
You’re not heavy, you’re his brother.

And we want to travel with them
And we want to read their tale
And we think we understand them
For the world in which we find them
Makes ours pale.

And Sauron was a voyeur when he sent out his nine Ringwraiths
He spent the last year watching
From Barad-Dur his tower
And when he knew for certain
That both elves and men were falling
He said, “All their lords will die except
The ones that heed my calling,”
But his dark power was broken
By a lowly injured Halfling
Never quite forsaken
You lost the Ring of Power
At Mount Doom.


Now Sam leads you down to the base of the volcano
You can see the world is changing
By the dawn that’s late in breaking
And the eagles fly in beauty
To bear you and Sam to glory
And though you’re slow to heal, you’re with
The Ranger at his crowning
There are heroes from the Shire
There are men who are rebuilding
There are elves now looking out to sea
Who’ll sail away forever
And you too will be a sailor.


It was a long-expected party.
Suddenly, the host disappeared! The guests shouted. A gate slammed.
Suddenly, a Black Rider appeared on the horizon!

I was out with Sam, my gardener. It was his year for following me around; he kept calling me Mister Frodo. He thought he was doing his duty by me. Gandalf’s fault. Ha, ha.

He’d cooked a couple of coneys for me, with herbs, no taters, reluctantly helped by Gollum, who’d since gone off on his own.

I’d eaten pretty good, but I was cranky. “Come on, you moron,” I demanded, “find me a way out of this wasteland.” 

[Note: this entry has been cleaned up with much less "vulgar" language than in the original. Sorry, HE.]

“Repent, Gandalf!” said Saruman.
“Get stuffed!” said Mithrandir.

There are a few more of these in the comments below.


Sunday, June 13, 2004

Visit "Otherworlds"

For several annoying reasons, I find it necessary to start a second blog at http://mavarin.blogspot.com. The name of it is "Otherworlds." It will be pretty much just for the journal entries by the Mâvarin characters, most of them previously published here.  The terms "otherworld" and "otherworlds" refer to a spell rediscovered in Mages of Mâvarin that allows the building of a portal between one reality and another.  That's why Cathma and Crel, for example, aren't quite the same person: they literally come from different worlds.


“Does this feel as weird to you as it does to me?” --Cathma, Mages of Mâvarin, Chapter 24.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Had Dog, Did Travel

Jenny, bed and van, 1986. Photo by John Blocher.

This is Princess Guinevere of Westcott Street, better known as Jenny Dog, Jen-Jen, Trouble Dog or even Dognose. She was the first and smartest dog I ever had. When I heard about
the dog with the large vocabulary on NPR today, I thought of Jenny immediately.

She arrived under my slumlord ex-boyfriend's jacket in 1978, the progeny of Bob's hideous curly-haired gray dog whose name I've since forgotten. Bob called my puppy Princess. I lived on Westcott Street and was a T.H. White fan, so now you know where the long version of her name came from.

When she was a puppy, Jenny used to come with me on the 15 minute walk to Liz's house. Syracuse University paid me $10 a week to read textbooks to Liz, a blind grad student at the School of Social Work. Once when I tried letting Jenny go outside on the honor system, she immediately took off for Liz's place. I had to get dressed and follow her there.

Jenny was the mascot of my used record store, Rockarama (1979-82). One day, a meter reader threatened to kill her because she barked at him. I called and reported him to the gas company.
Jenny's favorite Christmas present, aside from food, was balloons, which she used to chase until they popped in her mouth or under her paw. Then she would look at us expectantly, and wait for us to blow up another one.

In 1986, my husband John and I put a mattress in the back of our 1984 Dodge van, put most of our other possessions into storage, and drove around the country looking for someplace it wasn't winter. It was cold and windy even in Florida that February, and the Florida Keys gave me severe allergy problems. We eventually made our way as far north as Montreal, where it was really winter. Jenny spent the trip on the bed in theback of the van, coming out to frolic in the snow at Niagara Falls or check out the ocean. (We really got around that year.) At one point we were following what was left of Route 66 through Oklahoma when the road dead ended at a cemetery. Cows were hanging out there. "Look, Jenny! Cows!" we said, and Jenny barked. She liked to bark at cows.

Jenny knew the commands Jenny up! Get down! Jenny come! Get the stick! and I forget what else. The particular way we had of calling her ("Jenny dog!") got translated into notes (think of the first three notes of Ring Around the Rosy, or Nyah-Nyah-Nyah-Nyah Nyah Nyah!), which after a while we whistled to call her instead of using words. If you ever hear a woman whistling those particular notes in a grocery store, that's me calling John away from the magazine rack. Several other voice commands also became whistles, which Jenny responded to just as readily as the spoken words.

I loved Noodle, who came along as Jenny was wasting away from Cushing's Disease, and I love Tuffy, our present dog. But Jenny was special.


Five Things that Dogs Are Telling You, and Four Things That Dogs Want

Don't Forget the Dog! (journal entry about Tuffy Toro)

Tags: ,

Dubious Legacy

First Aaron Burr, and now this.

In the rush to lionize the 40th president of the United States, there's a push on to put the face of Ronald Reagan on the $10 bill, replacing Alexander Hamilton. This would be, I think, a short-sighted mistake: politically motivated, sentimental and somewhat ignorant.

Myself, I was never all that fond of Reagan. Oh, he was pleasant enough as the host of Death Valley Days, which is as far back as my memory of him goes, and he was by all accounts a nice man, extremely personable, optimistic and reassuring.That is what made him so popular, even beloved. He made Americans feel good. But does that make him a great president, worthy of bumping one of the Founding Fathers off the $10? Not necessarily.

Reagan's presidency was marked by Iran-Contra, soaring deficits, an increase between the gap between rich and poor, and the unchecked spread of AIDS. In a comment that I've remembered all these years but can't track down or quote verbatim, someone once said that he was the kind of President who would give you the last dollar in his pocket, and then sign a bill taking away your Medicare. One of the funniest SNL sketches of the late Reagan era showed the president as a decisive, high-energy genius, pulling an all nighter to converse with Gorbachev in Russian and issue rapid-fire orders on every issue to his bewildered staff. I don't know whether there was any Alzheimer's in evidence by1987 or so, but such high-octane competence certainly wasn't the style of a president who once said that trees caused pollution.

It is bad taste to say nasty things about a recently-deceased President, and I really don't want to tear the man down here. Some of the accolades being heaped upon him this week are justified. Democrats and liberals therefore bite their tongues this week as Republicans, conservatives and the general public sing Reagan's praises.

But the $10 bill? That's a pretty big accolade, one not to be offered in a moment of acute sentimentality. To displace a historical figure as important as Alexander Hamilton, who helped to shape this country long before Reagan was born, one must be able to make the case that the new honoree had a greater and more beneficial effect on the 228-year history of the United States than Hamilton had. I think it's too soon to make that judgment about Ronald Reagan.

Besides, Hamilton needs all the publicity he can get in a country that tends to ignore anything that happened before each of us was born. Until this latest controversy, the last time the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury got much press was in reprints of James Thurber's 1942 science fiction story "A Friend to Alexander." Oh, and in a 1990s milk commercial.

That said, I have a great deal of respect for Reagan, and even more for Nancy Reagan. Her love, courage, dedication and candor, especially inthe last years of her husband's life, are an inspiration to anyone who has ever been a caregiver, or struggled privately or publicly with family and health problems. Kudos and condolences to her. I wish her all the best in her efforts in support of Alzheimer's research.


Friday, June 4, 2004

I Am My Books (well, maybe)

John M Scalzi's weekend assignment is to post about what book would give the reader some idea of the blogger's personality. Four books come to mind for me, two of which most people can't read yet, and two more that millions of people have read.

What you haven't read (apologies to Sarah, Sara and Linda):
Of course I'm referring to my two unpublished novels, Heirs of Mavarin and Mages of Mavarin. It's not just because of a desire to promote them that I mention them here, although it's fair to say I'm obsessed with getting them edited and accepted for publication by a major publisher. The salient point is that they dramatize many of my core values - gentleness, compassion, idealism, honesty, a questing sort of faith, empathy, and earnestness - as well as my frailties - selfishness, obsession, impulsiveness, messiness, insecurity, alienation, and naivitee. Very few of my characters are malicious, and even those guys are somewhat likeable, and have reasons for what they do. In short, the Mavarin books have a sensibility that is the antithesis of Lord of the Flies.

What would these books tell you about me? Not much, in terms of biographical details. None of these characters are me, particularly, or people I know. I suppose there are reflected bits of me, split by a prism into a fragmented rainbow. Still, the biggest fragments reflect my attitudes with fair accuracy. I don't like war, revenge, or most of the nastier human emotions and actions. They exist, though, and must be dealt with, preferably by loving, peaceful means wherever possible--not that that always works.

What y
ou've read, or should read:
Not surprisingly for someone
who maintains a Madeleine L'Engle website, the single most seminal book for me among books by other people is
A Wrinkle in Time. The award-winning story, about a smart, alienated non-beauty adolescent misfit, promotes compassion, critical thought, faith, reading, truth, mathematics (okay, I'm a little weak on that part) and individuality. Its depiction of logic without love, imposed conformity without compassion is especially memorable. One message in the book, examined more bluntly in one of the sequels, is that even the alienated misfit needs to learn to adapt, not for the sake of conformity but to be more effective at survival. That's a lesson I was unable to learn as a teenager. I hope I'm better at it now.

What I would "unread":
In ninth grade we not only read William Golding's Lord of the Flies but were made to watch the film. I hated it and was haunted by it. The premise of this novel is that people are no damn good, and that only the veneer of society - the social contract codified by laws and enforced by police - keeps people from murder and depravity. As the former victim of elementary school bullies (ten kids surrounding me to put ice down my back for the crimes of social ineptness and the last name Funk), I know perfectly well that people sometimes do malicious things to each other. One has only to look at the Middle East and Africa (just for starters) to see malice at work. I prefer to believe, however, that that is not the dominant thread of human behavior. People hurt each other mostly because they've developed a dehumanizing "us and them" mentality, in which "they" aren't really human and therefore don't have any rights. The most extreme form of this is found in the psychopath, who cannot believe in anyone other than himself (or herself). I suppose the Lord of the Flies defines me about as well as the other books mentioned here, as an example of everything I'm against.


Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Checking in by Mac

I just looked at this journal on my iMac (AOL for OS X) for the first time in a while, possibly ever. Loath as I am to admit it, this diehard MacUser has been using her Compaq almost exclusively lately, because the Mac isn't portable, or compatible with the UoP web site. So anyway, I went online on the Mac to let Norton update, and checked this journal. What a mess! The font size problems on the entry below this one, which I worked so hard to fix in Windows, are decidedly not fixed in the Mac version of the page. Furthermore, the Mac version of "edit entry" has no text controls at all.

Phooey. The world seems determined to part me from my Mac, simply by refusing to let software work properly on it.

Well, I'll experiment. If I can fix it in Word or Netscape and then paste it back in, maybe it will look okay.

Or maybe the Windows version will end up in 64 point reversed Comic Sans. Who knows?