Halloween traditions

Grover's Mill monument to Orson Welles

Grover’s Mill monument to Orson Welles

Living near the site of Orson Welles version of “War of the Worlds”, Halloween has picked up new meanings and traditions. For the last few years I’ve helped a friend build a flying saucer for his front yard. He lives in West Windsor, which has annexed Grover’s Mill. Being a theatre guy, the saucer is lit professionally, with a computer driving the light sequences.

Martians land at Grover's Mill

Martians land at Grover’s Mill

Our first Halloween in Princeton, Lieve and I dressed up and sat in the front yard, drinking mulled wine and handing out candy. That was way too much fun. We managed to scare quite a few kids, and later when we attended an adult party across the street, Lieve finished a bowl of chili without realizing it was made with meat.

Well into our second bottle of wine

Well into our second bottle of wine

We don’t have any pedestrian traffic in the new place, so we’ve found different ways to celebrate. This year, Lieve saw an article about “carving” pumpkins using an electric drill. Following the fun she had at the shore with power tools, there was no holding her back.

I did the old school pumpkin, and my traditional roasted pumpkin seeds, but we didn’t get around to the pumpkin soup Lieve had promised. She doesn’t care for the pumpkin everything this time of year but she did offer to make pumpkin soup.

There is supposed to be a new Godiva store at the mall, the sign says “Opening October 2013” but there’s no activity, and the folks at Godiva International don’t have any information.  Starting 1 November I plan to visit the site and loudly say “Wow, I’d really like some chocolate about now” and then walk away. Subtle, and probably totally ineffective, but I will be there on the day they eventually open. One must have priorities.

Godiva ghost treats

Godiva ghost treats

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Cinema as spectacle

The first film I remember seeing as a child is “The Sword in the Stone“, a Disney film. Through the years I’ve enjoyed going to the movies, escaping reality for a few hours. I once watched the entire “Planet of the Apes” series in a marathon at a theatre in Los Angeles, drove half an hour to see a 70mm print of “Star Wars” a dozen or so times the summer of 1977, and saw a midnight showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” in New Jersey in 1979. One of the strangest experiences was “Apocalypse Now” at an Airbase, the only time I’ve seen an airstrike get a standing ovation.

Over the years, cinematography has become as interesting to me as the story, film scoring caught my ear beginning with “Star Wars”, but I don’t think it was until “Edward Scissorhands” that I was moved by an acting performance. There are actors that I’ve managed to see every film they’ve been in, but I’ve never avoided a film because of an actor.

Technology has become as important as storyline to Hollywood. Audiences are compelled by visuals, and computer generated characters are acceptable, maybe even preferred, by a generation raised on video games. Sometimes, effects like 3D and IMAX can enhance a film, sometimes they’re just a gimmick to move a bad script.

“Prometheus” was enhanced by 3D and IMAX, and “Oz the Great and Powerful” used 3D beautifully, drawing the viewer into the film, from spectator to participant. The scripts were great (although I don’t think the ruby slippers were explained properly), and I know the films will translate well to the medium through which most films are seen today, television. “Gravity”, on the other hand, could not exist outside an IMAX theatre. Much like the early IMAX productions, the spectacle of the images was the most important player in the film. Listening to Sandra Bullock breathe heavily for ninety minutes isn’t going to work without the impression of confinement within a vast emptiness that was conveyed in the theatre. The film was marketed on its visual effects, but unfortunately that’s all it has.

I am very much looking forward to “Ender’s Game”, which opens 1 November. The source, Orson Scott Card’s books, is a science fiction classic, and a timeless allegory about warfare, all the more meaningful in today’s generation of video games and virtual realities. It will be difficult to follow the actual story, with Ender aging through his childhood, but the trailers I have seen appear to have captured the content. It has the potential to be stunning in an IMAX presentation, and if the script holds true it may become popular for home viewing. Due to the centrality of time dilation in the storyline, it may not be possible to continue the series, the characters age at different rates, but anything is possible with technology.

Adequate representation

The American justice system was designed to protect the rights of the accused, Our entire system of government is based on not trusting the government, with rights of citizens against government intrusions paramount.

If accused of a crime, a citizen has the right to remain silent and not incriminate himself. The accused not only has the right to an attorney, if they cannot afford an attorney one is appointed by the court free of charge. On top of that, if this attorney, working for free and appointed by the government fails to present an adequate defense, you have the right to appeal based on a lack of adequate representation.

All this is in place to protect the weak against the mighty. To protect the indigent against the wealthy. To protect commoners against the well connected elite.

Perhaps the most disgusting and perverse abuse of this system is taking place in Connecticut, where Michael Skakel, a member of the Kennedy Klan, has had his murder conviction overturned on the grounds that his celebrity lawyer did not provide an adequate defense. Apparently, the judge felt that Mickey’s decision to spend his legal fees on country clubs rather than paying his income tax was an indicator of poor judgement. Mickey went to jail, Michael got a reprieve.

Skakel had used his status, and is quoted as saying “I am going to get away with it because I am a Kennedy”. Unfortunately, he was also quoted as saying he was in a tree masturbating while watching Martha Moxley through her window. In the twenty seven years that Skakel had avoided prosecution, he said a number of things, but it might have been when he threatened a teacher’s wife with a ski pole that people got to thinking about how Martha Moxley had been assaulted with a golf club.

One ironic issue is the flexibility of Skakel’s relationship to the Kennedys. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a measure of how the klan has disintegrated, maintains Skakel’s innocence, suggesting that he be released on bail while awaiting a new trial. Skakel was not so warmly embraced by the family during his previous trial. Still, the rich and powerful band together, RFK jr. is using not only his own radio show, but pal and son of Gloria Vanderbilt Anderson Cooper’s television program to make Skakel’s case. The court hasn’t bought the argument, stating that a retrial is not the same as a not guilty verdict. I would like to believe that the court finds the defense argument for a bail of no more than $500,000 so that he can visit his son laughable, the hypocrisy of trading on the power of a wealthy family and simultaneously crying poverty is incredible.

There are certainly abuses of the legal system by the wealthy, but this may take the cake. I find this most offensive in that by unscrupulously presenting himself as misrepresented, he makes the defense less viable for those who have truly been misrepresented.

Amelia Mary Aquilino

On 28 October 1956, John Rocco Aquilino and Esther Angelina (Rashella) Aquilino were blessed with their firstborn. The children of Italian immigrants living in South Philadelphia, they raised their daughter in a warm family oriented environment.

The Aquilino/Raschella family, 1956

The Aquilino/Raschella family, 1956

Amelia learned to cook from her grandparents, and she often praised her grandfather’s Sunday gravy. The neighborhood was full of family and extended relatives, and she had a wonderful South Philly childhood.

Easter, 1963

Easter, 1961

Her parents moved to New Jersey after her brothers were born, and over time she grew to be a strong willed, independent young woman. Her father was a strict disciplinarian, and shortly after graduating high school she moved out on her own, living on the street at first, determined to go her own way. She met the love of her life, Geoffry May, who gave her the name “Emma”, and lived in Manhattan in the seventies, enjoying every drop of life.

10-25-2013 02;50;40PM

Emma and Geoff May

Geoff was a decade older than Emma, and from a prominent family. He was also a free spirit, and the two of them had a wonderful life together. Geoff died mysteriously on Christmas Eve just nine years into their marriage, and Emma’s world was shattered. Emma pulled herself together and worked in restaurants in Philadelphia, including Bookbinders, where she honed her skills as a server.

Emma in 1990

Emma in 1990

She moved on, meeting Charles Armstrong a few years later. They married, but had a difficult relationship, with Charles ending his troubled life in October of 1998. I met her shortly afterward, and it was love at first sight for both of us.

Emma was an incredibly complex woman. Strong willed and driven, there was also a little girl inside that needed gentleness. For the first few months we were together she didn’t allow me to enter the kitchen, but over the years she came to appreciate my cooking. She could be sharp and severe, but she could also be tender and loving.

She loved living in South Philly, being part of the neighborhood. She was on a first name basis with most of the business owners in the area, and couldn’t walk down the street without running into someone she knew. It was as if we were all one big family.

Just after our tenth anniversary, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She remained strong through the treatments, always encouraging other patients in the hospital. Her greatest fear was losing her hair, which never happened, and in fact she looked healthier than I did. It was not unusual for people to think that I was the patient and she was the escort. She took a turn for the worse after chemo, radiation, and surgery, but never lost her sense of humor. Her last interaction with the nurses was telling a joke.

Her last hours are indelibly burned into my mind, but I prefer to remember her life, which began fifty seven years ago today.

The Pope and David Peel

I couldn’t really use the title of David Peel’s song about the Pope, it is genuinely disrespectful, I’m thinking the song might be popular among the Cardinals as of late.

Pope Francis has proven to be unconventional, at least on the surface. This is a great thing for Catholicism Inc., the brand has been showing some rough edges and has been losing market share lately. Banishing a Cardinal who spent thirty one million euros on renovations grabbed some headlines. Walk in closets at $475,000? How many red gowns does he have?

The Pope has tried to demonstrate austerity by wearing simple shoes and living in a simple apartment, even though the special red “Pope shoes” had already been made for him, and the luxurious Papal apartments in the Vatican are still maintained. He drives his own car while the popemobile sits in a garage, but he is still surrounded by the Swiss Guard. Even in his attempts to show humbleness, the message is often missed. Recently he received complaints because he had washed the feet of women. The argument was that the ritual represents Jesus washing his disciples feet, and should only include the washing of male feet. The point, of course, is that Jesus didn’t wash the disciples feet because they were men, it was a symbol of humility, not sexism. Being humble before women was apparently more humble than his critics could handle.

This feeds directly to the Pope’s thesis. There is an obsession within the Catholic Church with ritual and ideology. Unfortunately, he’s fighting an uphill battle. No matter how clearly he presents his message (and how much I agree with it), the message gets twisted to serve an ideological point of view. The Pope is not speaking to “Right Wing Christians”, he’s speaking to Catholics who have forgotten the meaning of the rituals they mindlessly perform. Yet some people seem to think that the leader of the Catholic Church is commenting about Protestants. Jesus never visited Egypt, yet these Catholics seem to be swimming in the Nile.

Pope Francis is facing a difficult task, and I am wary of Papal politics, but if he is truly trying to return the Catholic Church to the teachings of Christ, he is to be praised. If he is merely trying to get Catholics back to church, he’s succeeding, I’ve seen many comments from Catholics saying he’s got their attention. If the message works its way through the bureaucracy down to the parish priests, Francis could change the world.

This could be the biggest change since Martin Luther.

The Golden Rule

There is a reason that the intelligence community and the Department of State don’t mix. No, not the obvious. Intelligence services play by the Golden rule, the Department of State has diplomatic immunity.

The Department of State spends its time pretending it’s not gathering information. Pretending to be playing nice. They tend to foul intelligence operations to protect their own interests. Which brings us to my favorite loose cannon, Edward Snowden.

The reason that the initial uproar to capture Snowden came from the Department of State rather than any of the recognizable sources is because Edward pulled open the curtain on political spying. It was alright if we spy on Americans, but diplomats? Back in 1979 we found so many bugs in the new embassy in Moscow that we couldn’t use the building, but we were adversaries with the Soviets.

Obama has tried to spin the release of information into a “everybody does it (wink wink)” story, but the Germans and French don’t want to play that way, so they’re raising a fuss now. You’re not supposed to admit you’re spying on each other. That’s how it works.

This is only one reason I’ve always detested “Staties”. An intelligence service is upset when an operation is blown because work has been lost, contacts revealed, and possibly lives endangered. The Department of State is more concerned with keeping up appearances. One line that always touches me in espionage stories is when the seniors reminisce, “I miss the old days”. Obama can’t decide whether he’s a diplomat or a generalissimo.

There are no rules today. Part of this is blamed on the middle east, the viciousness of their security has been difficult for some people to accept. We said the same thing about the Japanese in World War two and the Koreans in their conflict. The NAZIs said that Jews ate children. It is normal to dehumanize the enemy, especially when they have a different culture. The fact is we all play rough, but we used to play fair.

The truth has not changed. By lowering our standards we validate the standards of others. Keeping your friends close and your enemies closer was just as true for Sun-tzu as Michael Corleone. We have always kept an eye on our friends, long before Jonathan Pollard or Kim Philby, we made no secret of not trusting our allies.

This entire episode reeks of inexperience. Clinton gutted the intelligence community, and it was being rebuilt during the Bush administration. Obama came along and expanded intelligence tasks without adequate personnel, and rather than wait for proper clearances, people like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning found themselves in positions they should never have been in. An administration which can only be described as isolated from reality has no idea how to deal with such situations, other than to deny the existence of issues, or to  flex its muscles and make threats. Parallels can easily be drawn to Kennedy’s fumbling in Cuba.

This is not a game for amateurs. The stakes are too high.

Perspectives

I’ve been thinking about how various groups fit into the world, what our ranking is by size. This started a few weeks ago when I was writing about religions, and found that for all the attention paid to Judaism, there are only 15.4 million Jews in the world. Looked at another way, more than twice as many people live in Tokyo Japan than are Jewish. Yet we consider it a “major world religion”. This may become my new measuring stick, the Jewish population, or JP. America has a population of 22 JP.

Oh my God he’s playing with numbers again.

I heard on the news that in the first three weeks, 475,000 people had signed up for Obamacare (This does not mean that they purchased healthcare, just that they signed on). Less than half a million. Less than the population of Fresno, CA, or 0.03 JP. At this rate, two million (0.12 JP) people will be signed up by 1 January. The other three hundred eleven million Americans will be facing tax penalties.

I had no idea that the system was so unstable. It is alleged that the administration didn’t either. I’m not sure if I believe that, but there are plenty of management types out there who are incapable of saying “I’m sorry, we cannot possibly accomplish that”. When we switched to an Oracle system from mainframe at Imagistics, with only a few thousand users, it took a year to prepare and two months to work out the kinks. Could no one in the administration comprehend the scale, the number of systems being integrated and the number of users, this project represented?

When the system crashed soon after going live, how could anyone reasonably blame it on volume? Exactly how much traffic did they expect for a system with three hundred twelve million users? Did it not occur to them that on a daily basis, ten percent (2.2 JP) of those users would require access?

It is only recently the blame has been shifted from traffic volume to software, and now the software designers are blaming the White House for last minute changes. They apparently were not aware that you would have to register with all your data before you could compare prices. Obviously they had never purchased insurance of any kind for themselves. How ironic, the very people Obamacare was supposed to help…

But this wasn’t just a traffic problem. The software itself is useless. All of the data collected thus far is corrupted. If you happen to be one of those residents of Fresno CA who managed to sign up, the options you have been offered are based on corrupted data, so should you choose to purchase a healthcare plan, you may find that you don’t qualify for it. When will you find this out? When the doctor’s bill is rejected, and you’re responsible for it.

Not to be overly cynical, but which part do you suspect will work? How about the part that fines you for not having health care? There is a natural mistrust of anyone who handles your money, but the IRS has certainly earned their mistrust. A few years back there was a change in the tax code, and a large number of people were calling the IRS helpline for assistance. The information they gave out was incorrect. Not only that, but they refused to take responsibility, because it is the taxpayer’s responsibility to correctly file their tax forms. Add to that the recent scandal in which the IRS was targeting conservatives. First they apologized, then they denied having done it, then the director stated the employees did not know the regulations. I know I have trust issues, but this is ridiculous.

The White House has just offered a solution, allowing a six week extension (15 February 2014). This should only leave three hundred ten million Americans (20 JP) facing a tax penalty. Perhaps this is the solution to the deficit. All those people that we hear are not paying taxes will now be fined by the IRS anyway.

The only way for a system this large to work properly, is to erase all current data, rewrite the software, and test with a reasonable sample, let’s say 0.12 JP, or roughly the number of federal employees. After the bugs are worked out (there are always bugs), then roll it out to the general public. Of course this may mean that the program isn’t implemented during our children’s’ lifetimes, but this would be the right way to do it.

Foundations

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a structure is only as stable as its foundation.

The art of compromise rests upon the ability to find a mutually satisfactory agreement. It does not mean that both sides suffer equally. Selling out your ideals means they weren’t your ideals, whatever you sold out for is your ideal.

We form these principles either through admiration of the ideal or as a response to the negative effects of their abuse. Speaking for myself, I was surrounded by secrets for so long I now have an aversion to them. It has been said that I have a “hangup” about honesty, which still makes no sense to me. Trust is critical to my existence, without it I can continue, but it is with a troubled mind. Certainly knowing from the outset that someone has the opposite need, the need to keep secrets, is useful, there is a certain amount of honesty in the phrase “I’m going to lie to you”, but it is not the foundation for a solid relationship.

I am of the understanding that this is accepted, and even normal, behavior. Allowing people to lie is how life works. Everyone can understand the little white lies, told to avoid hurt feelings, and in that understanding begins the decline into redefining the truth.

I was always admired for direct truthful responses, because they were consistent. I hurt Fred’s ego today, but tomorrow my directness boosts Fred’s ego. Fred realizes the value of the truth. We don’t always agree, but he knows where he stands. Sometimes he changes my point of view, sometimes I change his. It is a healthy, growing relationship.

No one person should see themselves as the target for this essay, it is merely a commentary on society. I am tired of society right now, and need to rest my soul. It has been typical for me to take a period of time around this season to reflect, to recharge, and I’m going to do that now. Autumn has that effect on me, and November is my birthday month, so many years I took off the entire month of November to regroup. I won’t be taking an entire month this year, maybe not even an entire week, but I do need to take some time to evaluate the last year.

There is nothing unusually wrong, I just need a break. I have an article in mind for 28 October, and I’ll most likely be back in just a few days.

Surveillance

A week ago a woman ran her vehicle into the gate at the White House. Her car was surrounded by Secret Service agents, but she drove off. She was chased through Washington D.C., and several shots were fired at her vehicle. When she was eventually blocked in, she was shot as she exited her vehicle. Immediately she was described as suffering from postpartum depression.

In the rear seat of her vehicle was the cause of that postpartum depression, her infant child. None of the officers surrounding her vehicle had noticed the infant in a car seat, and one of the many reasons given for shooting her was that they thought there was a bomb in the vehicle.

There are a number of people to whom this makes sense. I am not one of them. Miriam Carey was a Dental Hygienist from Stamford CT, who believed that the government was electronically monitoring her. Perhaps she read the newspaper. Claims of being watched by the government used to be evidence of paranoia, before Edward Snowden. Today it should be considered evidence of being aware of current events.

The police, who could not differentiate between a bomb and a baby, immediately stated that she was suffering from postpartum depression. She was treated last year after the birth of her daughter. Mental health records are supposed to be confidential, and later reports indicate that her claims about being watched were not shared with the government. So how did they know about this during the chase, and when did suffering from depression become a capital offense?

The police who “thought” she had a bomb fired at her vehicle repeatedly during the chase. At no time did it occur to anyone that some explosives can be detonated by being struck by a bullet? At no time did it occur to anyone that there is no justification for shooting at a fleeing suspect who has not displayed a weapon? At no time did it occur to the officers that discharging a weapon in an urban setting could cause collateral damage?

Once she was stopped, and surrounded by police, she was shot as she exited her car. Again, at no time did she display a weapon or make any threats. She was no longer any kind of danger. Several Secret Service agents, highly trained in detecting threats, had surrounded her car earlier and not noticed a child in the rear seat, and now she was once again surrounded and killed on the spot.

No, this story does not make sense to me. The part that makes the very least sense is this story being so widely accepted. Normal protocols and procedures were abandoned, and the fact they were abandoned has been ignored.

There are a number of theories that would fit the facts, but seeing how people are apparently being assassinated for acknowledging information reported around the world, I won’t mention any of them. The real question is no longer “Is something wrong?” but “Just how much is wrong?”.

 

Rorschach

Back to a favorite theme and some favorite illustrations. The Rorschach test, commonly referred to as ink blots, is a personality assesment tool. It was formalized by Hermann Rorschach in 1921, and has been refined through the years, but the idea of meaning in the interpretations of ambiguous images dates back to Botticelli.

As with any personality assessment, it is in many ways subject to the personality of the interpreter. It is one of many tools that should be applied in conjunction with each other.  The concept behind Rorscach’s evaluations is simple. We see what we want to see.

You knew I couldn’t go six months without using that video twice.

With healthy introspection, we can judge ourselves by what we see. Stop there. It is inappropriate, no matter how useful, to judge others. I will explain.

The entire point of interpreting images is to reveal what we do not acknowledge. We do not acknowledge these thoughts to ourselves consciously, having someone tell us what we’re really thinking is unwelcome, and typically denied. If Bob can’t admit to himself that he covets his mother, why would he admit it to you? The fact that he’s hiding the feeling is enough to tell you that he is in denial, and will most likely be angered by the suggestion that it is his desire. Everyone likes to think they know themselves.

The level of ambiguity is not important, any image with various meanings will show something about a person. Which character a person identifies with in a book or film is also revealing. What thought comes to your mind from the following image?

Conf_Navy_Jack_(light_blue).svg

If you said “The Navy of the American Confederacy” you are well educated in Civil War history. The Confederate battle flag was the same design, but it was square. That square, set in a white field, was the second national flag of the confederacy.

But you probably didn’t say any of those things. Your age, social class, and location all play into your interpretation of the “Stars and Bars”. It’s a striking image, designed for immediate recognition. For a large portion of the American population it is synonymous with “Rebellion”. Some see it as a symbol of the American South, some see it as a symbol of what they believe the Civil War was about. There are even people who believe that this flag is a symbol of racism. You see what you want to see.

I find it amazing that people who consider themselves open minded and without prejudice can bundle a large portion of this country into a single group, “Southerners”, and ascribe to them motives and feelings. They obviously haven’t spent much time in the South. Or the North.

Rochester NY 1964

Rochester NY 1964

This photograph of racial tolerance in New York State was taken in 1964, during a riot which the governor had to call in the National Guard to disperse.

Long after integration was a fact throughout the South, many Northern cities continued to segregation schools based on race. In 1974 the city of Boston MA finally ran out of appeals and were ordered to bus students to attain racial parity. The violence continued for fourteen years. The following photograph, taken in 1976, won the Pulitzer prize for spot photography for Stanley Foreman.

The Soiling of Old Glory Stanley Foreman

The Soiling of Old Glory (Stanley Foreman)

Racism knows no boundaries. From personal experience, I find it more rampant in the North. Part of that is due to the difference of manifestations. In the South, if a White man doesn’t care for Black men, he’ll say so, in the middle of Main Street. In the North, if a White man doesn’t like Black men, he’ll invite them to a barbeque and talk about them behind their backs. In the South, a Black man knows where he stands with you. In the North, he’s never quite sure. So I didn’t see any racial problems in the South, I didn’t hang out with racists. In the North, I wasn’t aware that I was hanging out with racists until I knew them for a while. I didn’t see what I didn’t want to see.

Part of being a Rebel is defying preconceptions.

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Missing

On 3 May 2007 a little girl disappeared just days before her fourth birthday. She was last seen in her parent’s hotel room in Portugal with her two siblings, fraternal twins just two years old at the time.

The parents were having dinner in a restaurant just fifty yards from the room and were checking on the children frequently. A good deal was made at the time about parental neglect, but the truth is the parents were no farther away than many parents might be in a large house.

The story is back in the news this week, along with “age progressed” images of the little girl, and images of possible suspects that are bland enough to be mistaken for a large segment of the population.

In the six years since her disappearance, many other children have disappeared most of whom you’ve never heard of. It’s difficult to get statistics for Europe, but in America one number is 800,000 a year. That number includes all the children who are late returning from visiting a non-custodial parent, or have run away from home for a night. 58,000 a year were non-family abductions, and 115each year fit the category of “stereotypical kidnappings”, defined as “a nonfamily abduction perpetrated by a slight acquaintance or stranger in which a child is detained overnight, transported at least 50 miles, held for ransom or abducted with the intent to keep the child permanently, or killed”. That’s just in America, seven hundred children kidnapped in six years. Plus the family abductions in which the chilren are not recovered.

In Europe, jurisdictional differences make tracing missing persons over national borders much more difficult than the state lines of America, and cultural differences make determining the actual number of missing persons next to impossible.

So what makes Madeline McCann so special that the search for her is on the news in America, across the ocean from her last sighting? I’ve no idea. If telling her story makes one parent more aware of the possibility, and prevents just one disappearance, it is a worthwhile story. According to statistics, children still missing after thirty days are almost certainly dead. But a parent never gives up hope.

Fifty five years ago, just prior to my birth, Myrisha and A.J. Jr. Campbell, ages three years and 11 months,  were picked up by their father (A.J. Campbell Sr.) in Goliad, TX. What happened after that is less than certain, other than the fact that at 0200 the next morning A.J. Sr. ended his life.

The children’s mother never gave up looking, and since her death in February her family, led by her son from a second marriage, have continued pursuing every avenue in the search for some closure.

There are several horrible aspects to these stories, the immediate effects on the child, the impact on the family, and extended family, for years afterward. The feeling of helplessness when a child is involved, tears a heart apart, particularly for the parent who is responsible for the child. But the important thing to remember is that no one other than the abductor is responsible for missing children. Steps can be taken towards safety, but there are no guarantees.

Don’t lose track of what’s important to you. Tomorrow is uncertain, give all your love today.

 

 

Wealth

I saw a clip on television about a televangelist. He was saying “God wants you to be rich”. I’m hoping I misunderstood him, because he appeared to be talking about money.

There is a clear separation between Earthly wealth and spiritual wealth. In Matthew 19:23-24, Jesus says “23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” It is not to be taken that God prefers poverty, more that focusing on wealth takes the focus off of God.

Luke 12:15-21 Jesus says “15 And he said unto them, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” This is the “rich” I hope the televangelist was conveying, rich of spirit, rich in God.

In John 12:23-24 Jesus says “24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” The measure of our life is not here on Earth, this is only preparation for eternity. As I look around me, I see very little to love in life. I will not miss this world.

Most of us are familiar with 1 Timothy 6:10 “10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

Possessions are not the measures of wealth that should be important. The “intangibles” of life, a smile, laughter, friendship and love are the items that make one rich in the ways that matter.

 

 

 

Cancer

Bad things happen. Bad things happen randomly, to good people and bad people, we just don’t care as much when it’s a bad person.

A friend posted on Face Book the other day, “I’m in the hospital, they found a mass in my brain, details later”. He didn’t communicate after that but another friend passed on messages. A large tumor, pressing on the optic nerve. Radiation and chemo first, brain surgery is tricky.

There are things you don’t have to be told. This is bound to affect his vision, and if it is as large as described it’s going to have far reaching effects. Nobody talks about the dark “what if?”s. He’s a genuinely good man, and from what little I have heard is handling this well.

Why does it happen? Because it happens. Illness is not a punishment, no one lives as long as they want to. It is the good people who we mourn, they have so much more good to do in this sad world. There is enough pain, we don’t miss the bad people.

There are times we feel frustrated, we cry that life isn’t fair. It most certainly is. Tragedy is equally distributed without regard for any other factors. Our measure is how we respond. It is my opinion that this is when we may display our grace. This is more than just making lemonade from the lemons life throws at us, This is an opportunity to inspire others. Because surviving tragedy is just as evenly distributed, humbleness and gratitude for the ability to continue are the proper responses.

We must make the most of every moment, we have no idea how many moments we have.

 

This is a short entry, despite my positive and realistic outlook, I am still dumbfounded by this situation, and need to rest my consciousness for a bit.

Eggplant Chili

It seems like everything with Eggplant is compared to ratatouille. In fact, ratatouille has very little in common with the popular dish called by that name (which is more properly referred to as ratatouille niçoise). Anyway, it is how a dish is put together and spiced that makes it what it is, and most important is what the chef calls it. I was looking in the fridge the other day and texted Lieve that I was making Eggplant Chile.

I was at a technical school in California once, and the only attendee of Mexican origin was from Oklahoma. Everyone wanted to try “Mexican” food while we were there, but had no idea what the various dishes were. He said, “Tomatoes, Cheese, Beans, Meat, and Tortillas, just mixed up in different ways”. Maybe a little too simplistic, but I got his message. It’s all the same basic ingredients, it’s the preparation and presentation that makes the dishes different.

So I took two medium eggplants and cubed them. In a large dutch oven I heated a couple of teaspoons of olive oil, then sauteed about two ounces of diced ginger and maybe six crushed cloves of garlic. To this I added one large chopped Vidalia onion, and sauteed until the onion was transparent. I added two chopped red peppers and cooked for a few minutes, then I added the eggplant.

I reduced the heat a little, stirring the eggplant every few minutes, while I chopped about eight ounces of white mushrooms and two or three ounces of Medina olives. I added about two tablespoons of chili powder, another tablespoon of dry basil, two teaspoons of dry mustard, and maybe a teaspoon of cumin seed, stirred everything together and added the mushrooms and olives. Then I chopped a bunch of cilantro, maybe a cup, and added that.

I covered it and dropped the heat to the point it just bubbled here and there, and left it for about an hour. when I came back there was a little too much fluid, so I left it uncovered and stirred it occasionally while I made some wild rice.

viola

Only Emily Litella understands this

Wonderful fall meal.

Ingredient list:

1) reasonably stocked kitchen.

So now you understand why I don’t often share recipes. I don’t write this stuff down or measure, I just cook. I will share my Martini recipe, it’s very precise. You will need a proper shaker and glass.

Ingredients:

Grey Goose Vodka

Dry Vermouth

Ice cubes

Olives

Tooth picks

Fill shaker with ice cubes. Add one ounce vermouth. Shake well while singing the Jeopardy theme.

Pour cold vermouth down the drain.

Place three olives on a toothpick, place toothpick in Martini glass.

Pour four ounces of vodka into shaker. Shake well while counting to fifty three by prime numbers. 

Pour cold vodka into glass.

Perfect Martini. Precision is important at times.

Juggling

Life is a series of metaphors. One that has suited a large portion of my life has been juggling. Juggling is like a dance, you learn the moves, and anticipate your partner, but in the direct physical style of juggling, your partner is inanimate and always behaves as expected. In the real world, juggling responsibilities or issues, your partners have a mind of their own and seldom cooperate. Kind of like juggling parakeets, it looks easy until they try to fly.

I’m pretty good juggling scarves, they hang in the air and you basically just move them from place to place. I can do a couple of rounds with bean bags or other soft objects, but hard objects have always been a little more difficult, which is why people get nervous when I pick up three items in the produce section.

There’s a High School teacher in Dallas, Texas who tried to juggle the expenses of going to college with the responsibilities incumbent to the degree she was working towards.

Cristy Nicole Deweese posed for Playboy when she was in college. She’s a pretty girl, and was featured as “Coed of the month” and then “Coed of the year”. At the time, she acknowledged she wanted to be a Spanish Teacher, and found a job at a magnet school in Dallas after graduation. She is an excellent example to her students of “once it’s online, it never goes away”.

A few parents are upset. Here’s the next example of juggling. While some parents chose to “speak out”, they did so anonymously. Assassins prefer the dark. Cristy didn’t hide anything, both literally and figuratively, but these parents are asking “what will the students think” and portraying the fact there was another woman in the photo-shoot as “a lesbian scene” without showing anything of themselves except their ignorance. Regardless of your stand on nudity, questions about personal responsibility cannot be addressed by someone who is not taking personal responsibility for their attack.

Student, both male and female, stated she is an engaging teacher. This is a magnet school, typically the standards are a little higher, so she must know her stuff. I can’t fault her for expecting people to be better than they are, humans rarely go beyond expectations, so setting the bar a little higher is a good thing. Maybe this is a lesson her students will learn as well.

Another example of juggling is professional endorsements. Back in the seventies, there was an issue about endorsements from people who had not actually used the product, so Joe Namath did a commercial for pantyhose while wearing a pair. Today, the issue is athletes, who have made their fame through physical prowess, endorsing less than health diet choices. The National Institutes of Health published a study indicating that choice of products is influenced by endorsements, even when the endorsement is countered by information on the label. So if Serena Williams endorses Oreos, kids are more likely to eat them, even after they read the label and find out they’re not health food. Lebron James didn’t get to be a basketball star by chewing bubblegum, he just got five million dollars richer by it. Peyton Manning doesn’t endorse Pap John’s pizza because it’s training food, but because he owns twenty one Papa John outlets.

Most people juggle priorities or morality. Is it better to lie or hurt someone’s feelings? Is it more important to “get the job done” or follow the rules? Juggling is about balance, balance is the key to life. Zero tolerance makes juggling difficult if not impossible, so juggling teaches acceptance and flexibility. Physically and emotionally.

 

 

 

The best restaurant

I was asked in an interview the other day “What was the best restaurant you’ve ever been to, and what was the best dish you’ve had?”.

What kind of question is that? “Favorite” restaurant? “Best” dish? There are so many intangibles involved.

One of my favorites is Mama Maria’s, in South Philadelphia. Mama’s is prix fixe. For fifty five dollars she serves a six course meal, and complimentary wine, liqueurs, and espresso. Mama is warm and friendly, I used to have a patch of grey hair on my chin and she would greet me by walking up and stroking it. She has a cooking show on public television, and welcomes guests into the kitchen. It’s a small place, maybe six tables, last time I visited we were there for hours drinking espresso and home made limoncello.

Her food is wonderful, but with the level of service you probably wouldn’t notice if she served cardboard. Holiday meals, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, are spectacular. Thanksgiving she served a full Italian meal, then a traditional American Turkey dinner. Christmas she goes all out, the entire Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Another favorite restaurant is now closed. Deux Cheminees closed its doors in 2007 (My God, has it been that long?) and Chef Fritz Blank headed to Thailand. Deux Cheminees was a classic French restaurant, in an older home in Philadelphia. Dark, quiet, and comfortable, it was like walking into another universe when you closed the door to Locust street behind you. The menu was perfectly balanced by the wine list, and equally expensive. A bottle of Chateau Margaux at four hundred dollars went perfectly with a seven hundred dollar meal.

There is a rule I use when buying wine. “Can I honestly say that seventy dollar bottle is twice as good as a thirty five dollar bottle of wine?”. Yes, the four hundred dollar bottle was at least ten times as good as any forty dollar bottle of wine I ever had, and fit perfectly with the meal. The most expensive and very best meal I’ve ever had, worth every penny.

I had a wonderful evening at Moshulu one time, the decor and view were beautiful, and back then you could smoke cigars in the lounge. My girlfriend ended up doing a lounge singer bit with the pianist, it felt like a scene from a film.

The food at Ristorante Panorama is not spectacular, but the wine list is. It is, in fact, a wine list with a restaurant around it. With over eight hundred selections, one hundred and fifty of those available by the glass, Ristorante Panorama is in the Guinness book of World Records. My first date with Lieve started there, so it certainly qualifies as one of my favorite restaurants.

Lieve and I usually review a restaurant based on its Crème brûlée, in fact we have chosen restaurants solely because of their Crème brûlée. That is how we discovered Bann, a Korean restaurant in Manhattan, that serves a “Trio of brûlée” and some unusual Sakes. We chose The Frog And Peach for its Crème brûlée when we were in New Brunswick for a play. Well, that and because of the name, from a Peter Cook comedy sketch. Which, of course, underlines the point. This is supposed to be fun.

Sometimes the most fun comes from the exploring itself, or whatever brought you to the restaurant, or a quirky server, or a beautiful view. A wonderful experience can have as much to do with who you are with as anything else.

So after fifty something years of great restaurants, how am I supposed to pick a favorite?

Immediate surroundings

I’ve seen a number of examples of people who are not aware of their immediate surroundings, being busy texting as they walk up on a bear is but one example.

The recent government shutdown has been a feast of dissociative behavior. The administration seems to believe that America is their personal property. Woody Guthrie is spinning in his grave. For the first time ever, shutting down the government has meant barricading national monuments and parks. In South Dakota the Federal Government blocked views from a State road (a violation of several laws), and in Florida, the Florida Bay was “closed“. Apparently, paying Federal employees to keep Americans out of America is “essential”.

Maybe the best illustration of this drama is the following graphic.

Wasn't that how it's always been?

Isn’t that how it’s always been?

Smokey Bear, a symbol of personal responsibility since World War Two, has somehow had his message twisted to imply the Federal government has been doing the job he’s been saying that only you could do for seventy years.

How any of these things can be justified is beyond understanding, but it seems people aren’t aware of what belongs to them and what belongs to the government.

But the Drama king in DC is not the subject of this article, just one of many examples.

I was watching a home renovation program the other morning, a contractor who has done quite well for himself (it’s his show), was renovating a home for his family. He lives in Austin, TX and has purchased a beautiful rural property. From what I can tell he is a Texas native.

While I can’t find any reputable sources to compare States, Texas has one hundred thirteen species and sub species of snakes. But for some reason this guy never expected to find snakes on his property. He actually asked the snake handler he called after finding a snake how to keep the property “snake free”. The handler was polite, he didn’t say “Move to Hawaii”.

I recall a group of tourists being run over by a drunk driver one night in Delaware County, PA. A number of people said “They were from the South, maybe they didn’t know not to cross a highway”. Right. Driving through Princeton the other day traffic wasn’t moving at all because of pedestrians walking into the street, must be Southerners.

This may be the best example of a driver not watching where he’s going. Watch carefully, no deviation from course, no brake lights.

There are countless videos of people so wrapped up in their cell phone conversations that they walk into lamp posts. Bizarre to me is the epidemic of “Apple picking“, in which the phones themselves are stolen from the person speaking on them. Someone is so unaware of their immediate surroundings that the phone they are holding to their ear is stolen, with such thefts being an epidemic they could hardly not be aware of. Well, obviously they’re not aware, probably not aware whether or not they’re wearing shoes.

I’m not sure how people expect to be adequately aware of world events to hold positions, when they can’t be aware of their immediate surroundings. Or even simple concepts such as cause and effect.

Who did you think was paying?

Who did you think was paying?

The Seventh Day

Genesis chapter 2 “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”

I’ve had an emotionally rough week, so rough that I had no desire to write. Lieve mentioned a day of rest.

I thought about the Sabbath. Although most Christians observe it on Sunday, Jews observe it on Saturday, and Muslims observe it on Friday, how is the day of the week that God began creation, from which we would calculate a seventh day, determined? Considering it didn’t create days and nights until the fourth day (Genesis 1:14-19), which calendar was it using? Most Calendars begin the week with Sunday, although I’ve seen some that begin with Saturday or Monday. Did it set to work at 0800? GMT?

The answer seems clear to me, Genesis 2:4 “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens”. Days are not twenty four hour periods, hours not being created until the fourth day. The word day is used as in “Back in the Day”.

So which day is really the Sabbath? Jews worship on Saturday. Muslims and Catholics have worship services every day. Baptists have Services routinely on Sunday and Wednesday. In Romans 14:5-6, Paul says “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks”. Although he most likely said those words in Latin, seeing that he was speaking to Romans.

The name that you have given to the period of time you reflect upon your relationship with God and its creation is inconsequential.

At one point this last week, searching for what makes me different from others, it came to me. My relationship with God. That is not to judge the relationships or the significance of those relationships that others have, it is merely saying that mine is different, perhaps unique, and from what I can see, that is the way it is supposed to be.

God speaks to all of us, how we interpret its will is individual to each of us. It does not tell us what we want to hear, but what we need to hear, so most folks don’t hear it at all.

I am taking this day to rest, reflect, and explore some curry and bhindi masala.

Grudges

I do not usually hold a grudge. I can be consistent, and choose to let irritable people irritate themselves, but I don’t see avoiding bitter hateful drama queens and kings as holding a grudge.

There are times that the best thing to do is simply walk away. Typically this happens when you walk away, but some folks seem to believe that is the time to begin an argument.

My first wife began an argument thirty years ago when we divorced. I stopped arguing about fifteen years ago, but she’s still going. It’s something of an embarrassment, people question “what did you do that has her so pissed off after thirty years?”. The answer is I gave her what she wanted, I left.

No, it doesn’t make any sense. I haven’t seen the woman in over a decade, but she’s still out there, stalking me, spreading her hate wherever she can. She’s not alone, there are several people in my past that have chosen to spend their lives enveloped in hatred. I sat down the other day and contemplated the reason. The answer is, I allow bad people into my life.

I’m finding that these people are not rare. In fact, there’s nothing special about them. NPR has even coined an acronym for their behavior, “ACC” or Annoying (or any A- word) Carbon Copy. Dragging the world into your discussion. Prevalent in Middle Schools. The thing these people don’t realize is that the only thing they accomplish is to widen the circle of people who think they’re a wanker. Oh, and in my case, when they take their private hell onto public forums, I end up selling a few more books.

There is a disgusting story created by my parents’ other son, in which he insults both my dead wife and my present wife who he has never met. It is the very reason I refuse to speak his name. If people choose to believe that story, they don’t know me. If they choose to repeat the story, and they have no reason to believe it to be true, they are wankers. I have no room for wankers in my life anymore. So I spent some time earlier this week saying goodbye to people I have loved, because they obviously don’t love me. The response has been deafening. These are people who say they don’t want to talk to me (but they’re comfortable talking about me) and now I can’t shut them up.

My son, who has refused to talk to me for years, is suddenly a chatterbox now that I told him I was finished trying. He’s in his thirties, and has chosen to believe people that he is well aware have lied to him all their lives, because the truth just isn’t as interesting. The only thing that got him started talking was my saying “I’m done”. Now that I’ve stopped trying to talk to him, he’s tried to spread his personal issues around the internet. If you’ve been exposed to any of this, you understand why I’ve given up.

Other relatives have chosen to be polite to my parents other child, which he apparently takes as approval. It would have been so very heartwarming if they had shared the condemnation of his behavior that they expressed to me with him, but decent people let sleeping wankers lie. Someday they’ll realize he talks about them the same way he talks about me, they probably already do and just limit their exposure. I’m sure that applies to most people who choose to impose their impolite opinions on polite society.

I have a soft heart. I am attracted to wounded people. I have this misguided idea that demonstrating love will negate hate. Wow have I been wrong. Wounded people are to be avoided as wounded animals. Of course, I still approach wounded animals, the Boy Scout in me just won’t die.

It is in the same moment healthy and painful to discard these people. In many cases they share my genes, and although I thought I understood genetics, I can’t comprehend our connection. Then again, 70% of our DNA is the same as a sea slug. It crossed my mind that I must be like them, that shutting them out is just as hateful as exchanging insults. I’m not a psychoanalyst, but I do spend a great deal of time introspectively, and it has taken years to make these decisions. I love fires, but I don’t stick my hand in them.

It’s easy to take an approach of superiority, I choose not to. I’ve been damaged by life as much as they have, possibly more, but for some reason my response has been different. Maybe I’m just lazy, I find it easier to love than to hate. I don’t think it’s necessarily a sign of superior intellect, but that is my first impression. It’s possible that exposing your inability to get over something that happened decades ago by making up obviously false stories and spreading them on the internet is a sign of enlightenment, but I don’t think so.

I’ve just ignored the garbage for years. Lies don’t hurt me. But they do hurt my wife, so I’ve chosen to take this moment to talk about it.

All I can do is take my hand out of the fire, and apologize for any exposure to these people that you have to endure.

The politics of obfuscation

I have a love/hate relationship with politics. I enjoy the subtleties, and can appreciate a politician for his skills even when I disagree with his policies. I’ve been actively involved in politics for forty years, starting with working on a campaign for a county seat my friend’s mother was running for. Lately it’s gotten far too depressing in America.

Much of the population seems more vested in an ideology than any idea. Obamacare is defended because it belongs to Obama, not because it will actually benefit anyone. People who it is hurting find ways to spin a defense of the act. People who it will not affect attack it endlessly.

The Obamacare bill passed without being read. Blind support of a new regime. So many people were against it that Republicans replaced many Democrats in congress. So many that the Republicans took control of the House of representatives, and nearly have the Senate. Now that the “people have spoken”, it’s a war, not a Democracy.

Since the only way to slow it down was to cause a “government shutdown” (the seventeenth time since 1980), the fingers started furiously pointing at who was to blame, beginning with the predicted horrors of a “government shutdown”. Oh, don’t worry, any real incentive to reach a compromise, such as suspending pay for members of congress until they could agree on a budget, was never an option.

Although the threat of a shutdown is designed to inspire fear among those that depend on government, all it really does is point out how little we depend on the government, and what a farce the entire charade is. The Washington mall, a collection of statues and monuments, was barricaded. The dozen or so park rangers who worked as guides were laid off, and replaced by police guarding the mall. Expense of maintaining the mall, zero. Money saved by replacing park rangers with federal police, zero. Newsworthiness of barricaded monuments, priceless.

A list of important services that came to a halt was published. While I do agree that shutting off the Panda Cam may cause some hardship, it’s a camera. It costs the same whether the switch is in the on or off position. The Mars rover? A lie. The rover is operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Cal Tech. It is operated by a multinational team, and members of the University staff. Neither is funded by the Federal government. Less than five Federal employees were affected, the Rover keeps on roving. National Parks were closed. Fees from visitors ceased, the trees kept growing, the rocks didn’t even notice. Bills to reopen the parks were voted down by Democrats, who accused the Republicans of being unwilling to negotiate.

Who might be affected? Recipients of welfare may find that they’re less important than keeping congresspersons checks on time. Given enough time, money may run out for them. But we don’t do anything on time, there’s always a last minute solution. We got through Obama’s first five years without a budget, but now of course it’s the Republican’s fault. Even Obamacare is now being blamed on Republicans, because twenty years ago a conservative non-profit organization suggested a similar plan, which was rejected by Democrats and Republicans.

Negotiations were offered, but the administration refused to even discuss them. But the Republicans are blamed for not negotiating.

Belgium got by for over a year without a government. Meanwhile, the rhetoric here compares government programs with the voluntary purchase of luxury items. Yes, that’s the point. It is a voluntary purchase to fund government programs.

I’m going to miss American politics. I’m not going to miss American politicians. I won’t be able to understand the subtleties of a foreign government, which will put me in the same place as countless Americans who are arguing about Washington. The difference is, I don’t talk about things I don’t know about. I’ll have to find a new subject to fill the odd blog, because I don’t want to stand up and shout about my ignorance. In fact, talking about the ignorance of my countrymen is getting exhausting. I joined a conversation the other day about the servers failing on the first day of Obamacare. The comments were based on how it was the Republicans fault, since they had denied funding of server upgrades in Red states. Never mind that it’s a Federal server and that the outages were predominantly in Blue states.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve corrected (and been asked to leave) conservative groups when they spread false information. The thing is, two group admins actually thanked me for providing correct information, no liberal group ever has. Liberals do tend to be better at spelling, or at least they’re clever enough to use spell check. I’ve had to tell conservatives that I only think I agree with them, I couldn’t decipher their writing.

We are Red or Blue. There will continue to be problems until we are Red White and Blue. But where can we vent our anger if we spend our energy on getting along? Oh, maybe we won’t have any anger to vent. That’s worth investigating.

Reboot

Reboot

Learning English

As I consider basing my writing platform in another country, it was obvious that I would need to learn another language or two. What wasn’t immediately apparent was that one of those languages would be English.

Growing up in America led me to believe that I was fluent in English, but as it turns out, my native tongue is American. Looking at the world, more people in America speak the English language than any other country (England is fifth), but there are two English languages, American English and British English. Most English speakers in the world speak British English, that is, those who speak English as a first language (considering Canada, Australia, India, and other countries are more British than American). The numbers on which English is more popular as a second language are difficult to define, but with the number of people in China who learn English growing, American English is on the rise. Which raises the question of fluency in the language. I have always considered myself fluent in English, but Lieve corrects me occasionally (Of nations in which English is not a primary language, Belgium ranks sixth in fluency). The thing is, she’s fluent in British English. I wonder about the measure of fluency, and how native English speakers would score on the test.

This is how I see this. Every language has dialects, but there should be a standard. Flemish, which is based on Dutch, has within its six million speakers several dialects. In fact Flemish itself is largely seen to be a dialect of Dutch, making Flemish dialects more dialects of a dialect. As in Bronx verses Staten Island within New York City within New York within American within English. I know people who cannot understand a language if there is an accent they are not familiar with. Emma couldn’t follow British, people in the North and South have difficulty understanding each other, and Lieve had to turn off a Flemish movie we were watching because she couldn’t understand the accent.

What brought all this to mind was a spelling issue, in which Lieve was able to demonstrate she is more fluent in British English than many British English speaking people. “Defence” verses “Defense”. I know that there are differences in spelling and pronounciation of many words, and these differences follow certain rules, so I was confused by a story from the BBC in which the spelling was “Defense”. I googled the question, and found that opinion was universal among both Americans and British speakers, defence is British, defense is American.

Lieve, whose mother was an English teacher in Belgium, knew the answer. “C” is the noun, “S” is the verb. Department of Defence, acting in self-defense. A little more research, now that I had a clue, proved the case. There is a standard in British English and Lieve, the Belgian, knew about it.

Understanding a language requires more than just knowing the words. I am fluent in English because I can understand the language, written or spoken, regardless of dialect or accent. I’m not sure how I’ll write English for a European audience, I’ve always mixed spellings in an attempt to maintain attention, and I believe that by using various idioms I foster greater understanding across dialects. That would be my goal, helping people understand each other. In order to help people understand each other, I have to be understood,

That may be the core of my frustration. I have difficulty reaching people who don’t want to be reached. It really has nothing to do with accents, every voice carries the tones of its path. It has more to do with the desire to be unique, rather than actually being unique. These are the people I most want to reach out to, and the ones least likely to be receptive.

In Flemish, they say “Maakt dat de kat wijs”. Literally “Make that the cat wise”, a rougher translation would be “Go tell it to the cat”. If you want to understand the meaning, it appears (to me) obvious, at least in context. It is a reply to an unbelievable story. If you were the one telling the unbelievable story, you might find it odd to share your “wisdom” with a cat, or you might understand that you were being called on your credibility. In America, we seldom literally pull someones leg, but people are accused of it all the time. By “all the time” most people would understand that I mean “frequently” rather than “constantly”.

There is probably a standard definition of the lines between “Language”, “Dialect”, “Accent”, and “Wanker” (particularly the last), but each distinction is driven by ego, the desire to be unique, special, and exclusive. A modern vision of Babel.

 

 

Garbage chefs

A friend once said that to be a good chef you had to be a garbage chef, able to throw a good meal together with whatever is in the kitchen. She said this at 0300, as she was making Filet Mignon for about six of us, while we sipped Viuex Telegraphe ’79 in her kitchen. I doubt very much that Susan had ever had what most people would call “garbage” in her kitchen, she had one of the most developed palates and noses of anyone I ever knew.

I consider myself a good garbage chef, unlike other people who shop for meals, I shop for ingredients and put together meals on the fly. We’re slowly ridding the freezer of meat since Jack is going away, but I put together a few interesting meals for him, including a cheese steak pizza. mostly I cook with grins and veggies now, but there have been some interesting tufu creations.

I’m partial to one dish meals lately, Sunday I used a soy chorizo, cous cous, Mediterranean olives, red pepper, broccoli, cilantro, Belgian endive, mushroom, and green onions in a dish, basically whatever I had in the fridge. I’ll be doing something with Eggplant and tomatoes, probably garlic and ginger and whatever else is fresh later this week. So yes, garbage chef.

Last week we actually followed a recipe Lieve had found on the internet for a veggie lasagne, spinach, ricotta, caramelized vidalia onions, portabella mushrooms, walnuts, and Gorgonzola cheese. Much better than a veggie lasagne my sister in law once made, in which she just substituted broccoli for meat.

Being a vegetarian of convenience does cause some mistrust of my cooking. I made some wonderful stuffed sweet peppers for the crew at the shore, but one friend wouldn’t try them because I had eaten a meatball at lunch the previous day, and she didn’t trust my vegetarian integrity. There was no meat in them, just felafel, olives, ginger, cilantro, feta, and whatever else looked good at the moment. The carnivores loved them, which might have been another reason she was uneasy about trying them. My cooking often carries the textures and flavors of meat dishes, I did spend almost forty years cooking with meat, and there are profiles I aim for.

Making the most of what you have is a lifestyle. It applies to everything I do, a skill learned in the Boy Scouts, and honed in the Air Force. It has helped in every job I’ve ever had, and in a sense, every relationship. I have made the best out of twenty years of Multiple Sclerosis, unappreciative partners, and other “bad breaks” in life.

The most important part of doing the best you can is recognizing that sometimes your best is to do nothing.