Archive for March, 2010

When I went to elementary school, we had a tradition of preparing bouquets for our at-home keepers in honor of Mothers Day.

Each carrying a pair of blunt little metal scissors, we’d go outdoors with our homeroom teachers.  The violets were omnipresent and profuse at this time of year.  Snippets, often handfuls, were gathered.  Back inside, the teachers passed out intricately stamped bright white paper doilies and boxes of stumpy crayons in the eight “basic” colors.

For some of us dorks, the fat, dry crayons always wound up tearing the paper.  Nonetheless, we proudly cut a hole in the center of the doily, inserted the violets, and presented them to our deserving mothers when we got home.  Limp, perhaps, but heartfelt and handgathered.

Some people regard the lowly violet as a weed.  They poison their yards to get rid of it. I have always loved violets, perhaps from this oldtime school custom.   Lately, I’ve transplanted many of these cheerful freebies to line our front path and garden walks.  Their blooms are fresh as a smile, and their bright, crinkly spade-shaped leaves stay green and lush the whole summer.

(So when did we graduate from the fat crayons to the slender kind, and when did we attain the status of the 4-lane 64 pack?)

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There’s a great blog called Listverse.com that brings you the latest in Top 10 lists.  The List Universe serves over 4.5 million pages a month to more than 1.5 million readers.  I don’t know if it has any of Letterman’s evening funnies, but the humor is comparable, both in style and by laugh meter.  Take, for instance, Jamie Frater’s March 22 poll of the

Top 10 Places You Don’t Want To Visit.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a circulating gyre of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean.  It’s larger than the state of Texas and poisons the entire food chain.  A huge hole in Turkmenistan that has been burning since 1971. Volcanic fart islands in Japan and a crime-infested radiation zone around Chernobyl.  A crocodile island in Burma, a Brazilian poison snake colony, and so on.

Here’s the garbage patch.  Ya gotta see the rest of the pictures.



Not to be outdone, a guy named Sam Greenspan (a writer, producer, host and kickball coach living in Venice, California) has an 11Points.com blog.  It’s made up entirely of 11-item lists. Funny lists, movie lists, sports lists, top lists.  “Because top 10 lists are for cowards,” Greenspan says. See more at http://www.11points.com.

Greenspan hasn’t influenced Listverse yet, apparently.  So here’s my opening.  The freespeech candidate for the 11th worst place to visit:

The Atlantic Garbage Patch, several hundred miles off North America and covering a distance between Cuba and Virginia (more than 1000 miles).  Small segment shown.  Same stuff that’s in the Pacific.  National Geographic broke this news last year.  http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/breaking-news-atlantic-ocean-has-large-garbage-patch-too,1192852.shtml#ixzz0j3IEV6ib

And if you’d like to explore more global monstrosities, there are another three of these things swirling around in other oceans….

I have but one word for this:


I also think it’s time to beg the aliens for help.

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Remnants and beginnings.

Strawberry patch.






Incipient bluebells.

Budding purple crocus.

White crocus.

Blue crocus.

Bulbous plants emerge.

Field of variegated crocus.


Ground cover.



Daffodils and crocus.

Tulips and lilies.

A flood of golden daffodils.

Daffodil glory.

Floral nemesis.

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A gruesome face, seeming alive with malevolence, stared up at me from a suburban table otherwise resplendent with beneficent Ganeshes and calm sitting Buddhas.

I had come to the estate sale seeking rare books, but in their apparent absence I saw the mask, almost two feet high.  It dared me to pick it up.

It was lighter than I would have thought.  Repelled and fascinated, I took in its worn green face.  Thai?  Too scary.  Noted its bristling copper eyebrows and snarling mouth, its viciously erect tongue, its pointed, bright tin-cloaked nose and bulging eyes, its feral silver teeth.  What was the meaning of the three symmetrical turquoises?  And why did this fearful image wear a crown of five laughing skulls?

Spent $25 I didn’t have on that thing.  Took it home and googled it up before I sat down.  The creature turned out to be beneficent.

It is a Himalayan mask of Mahakala, the chief dharmapala (protector of the Buddhist teachings).  His image is used in Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies for everything from sheltering village crops from ruinous hailstones to celebrating the victory of Padmasambhava over malignant deities.

Mahakala represents the four energies of pacification, attraction, magnetism, and repulsion, my online sources told me. His wrathful expression denotes the energy used to cut through powerful obstacles. Mahakala threatens any force that would impede the practice of Buddhism.

The character is omnipresent in Himalayan ceremonial and performance art.  A Tibetan lama dances in costume with the mask high on his head.  The top and back of his head are covered by a yak tail mane.  He sees through the open mouth.  A terrifying visage, Makahala’s face protects the monk from deceptions and distractions.

Mahakala’s uppermost turquoise turns out to be a third eye, revealing his wisdom and omniscience. The five skulls signify victory over the five emotional obscurations. The mask hangs on the wall of a Tibetan home when not being used ceremonially.

This particular mask is very large, as Makahala faces go.  To me, its atypically lavish tinning suggests the Himalayans used it in a very dark place, where the metal would reflect and magnify torch or firelight.  This may attest to a certain antiquity.  Or perhaps its possessor was rich enough in worldly goods to have commissioned the elaborate tinning.

I may never know.  I hope it was not stolen.  Still, it’s comforting to conceptualize the thing as one’s wrathful protector.




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for last night’s blanket,

daughter, live a life of joy.

“hallowed be thy name”

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The (b)Ad Side of Social Networking

On our social networks, advertisers (right-hand column, on facebook page) have begun intruding on the conversation of humans with increasing frequency. Even advertising people are finding these tactics objectionable.  “It caught my eye, but it sure didn’t win my trust.  It just seemed like a scam,” said one adperson interviewed in The New York Times by Brad Stone (link below).  Making matters worse, the network apps have begun to interrupt the message stream by getting personal.

Online networking originally offered small businesses an unequaled opportunity for successful niche marketing.  Self-service ads offered instant access to precisely defined sets of likely prospects.  The fit between product and consumer was based on information freely obtained about many of the world’s half billion networkers through their own declared preferences and profiles.

Messages from small business are often playful, humorous, and eye-catching.   Like the tiny blocks in the back pages of the Sunday paper, many of these tout military academies and mail-order degrees.  Intentionally or not, some online offerings have been downright hilarious.   Brad Stone’s piece in the Times offers quite a few catchy examples.  But as facebook and the others go after big bucks from the Fortune 1000, the ad game is changing.  And not for the better.

Now that the networks have hit the bigtime with sponsors like Wal-Mart, Sealy, and Avon. veteran spinmeisters are beginning to reap millions from sophisticated targeting methods.  But the impact on the consumer audience can be pathetic, demeaning, and worse.  Consider the constant barrage of term life insurance and wrinkle creams offered to aging baby boomers.  No sponsor I’ve seen has yet offered the ghastly total funeral insurance one encounters on Rerun Television, but leaky bladders are definitely in the forefront.  Can customized coffins and the bury me/burn me competition be too far behind?

A second big turn-off has also developed recently–the “personalized” app.  An outgrowth of such popular online games as Farmville and Mafia Wars, these programs are inserted into the message stream by default.  The first such message is 100% unavoidable.  The applications refer to the user and his/her friends by name and imply a direct connection where none exists.  The only way to “get” the message is to offer up access to all your profile information, photos, friends’ info, and other content that the app requires to work.  In other words, by feeding thw monster that bites you.

Some of the kids have adopted a new game in the past couple of weeks, and as usual, adults are quickly following suit.  This one is called “Friend Test.”  It pops up on your wall with a friendly blue box stating “You have a new answer!”  The message within the stream tells you that “Jane Doe (your friend’s name) just answered a question about John Doe (you)!”

Friend Test goes on to remark that “Jane is answering questions about their friends. You can play to find out what your friends really think about you.”As of yesterday, the new app was rated super-low on the scorecard. Use at your own risk, and those of friends and family.

This type of personalized approach disrupts all the positive effects of networking.  It implies to the sender that his/her message will be received, and it implies to the recipient that the sender has sent something worthwhile and personal.  To the young and the unwary, not joining the “play” can falsely indicate lack of interest on the reader’s part and disappointment for the poster. Ultimately, not playing contributes to personal distancing.

Yes, one can turn off such apps, but at the cost of losing very valuable contacts who do not regularly communicate by other means.  A case in point was my conversation yesterday with a nine-year-old nephew.

I had posted on my status line a note about being tired of turning off posts from my game-playing friends and relatives and losing the important things they have to say.

Almost instantaneously appeared these posts from young Benjamin:


“it was adamatic”

Replying immediately, I said:

Ben, I am not talking about YOU!!!  I’m saying, why should people have to read the game things and the real things all in the same space?  Two separate streams would allow people to find what they’re looking for MUCH faster.  And they wouldn’t make aunts go through all kinds of verifications and open up private information just to talk to their nephews!”

We went on in the CHAT mode:

Sandy:  hi

Benjamin:  hi

Sandy:   did you get my messages?

Benjamin:  yes

Sandy:  i mean the answer to your comments about sorry and automatic

Benjamin:  yes I saw that

Sandy:  so do you understand how some people feel about the way games interrupt conversations and conversations interrupt games?

still there?

Benjamin:  yes

Benjamin:  yea that’s why I always use the talk thing that were doing right now

Sandy:  buddy, you chat me any time or send me a message!  I am here for you!  you too?

Benjamin:  yes

Sandy:  I love you, Ben! Don’t ever stop writing!

The questions Ben answered about me included “Do you think that Sandy is hot? [the FIRST question]  Do you think Sandy can actually hook up with someone out of their league?  Do you think that Sandy would lie for you?  Do you think that Sandy would sell you out for a million bucks?  Do you think that Sandy lets the yellow mellow?  Do you think that Sandy has ever watched someone undress secretly?  Do you think that Sandy is part of the ‘mile high’ club?  Does Sandy have a nice butt?  Do you think that Sandy makes more than $50k a year?”

I’m not sure my nephew should be thinking about some of this stuff.  Doesn’t it make a body yearn for the simple honesty of

You’ve got MAIL“?

See also http://nyti.ms/9rN1SL

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Used to be, when I realized the light, pungent, sweet odor of cooking doughnuts was in the air, I recoiled and resented my wealthy neighbor with all my heart.  Imagine having a brand new stainless steel kitchen with the capacity to assemble such treats and emit such a tantalizing scent!  With a rasp of envy, I could not help coveting her ability to create and share that grandeur.

She is a naturalized American from Germany, with her strong tall husband and raucous band of kids.  A totally elegant figure, cosmopolitan, politically sensitive, devoted to motherhood.  Graceful teacher of Pilates in the room over her garage.  Survivor of a disease usually fatal, with a beautiful baby daughter to testify to the spirits and health of her sunny household.

When her family moved next door, we became friends at first.  She loved the view of my prolific garden, and I enjoyed a minor revival of my German-speaking days.  I even managed to think in the language, again, a bit.  We shared liberal politics and dreamed of breaching the wall between our houses with a swimming pool for all to use, day or night.  I watched her house when the family was back home in Deutschland, fed her husband steak (albeit burned) when the others were gone, gently collected and returned the remains of their beloved cat carelessly run over on our street, lent the father a shovel to dig it a grave in the back yard.

But in the dust of my collapsing marriage, the pain of severe arthritis, the insecurity of approaching parkinsonism, and the hills and valleys of recovery from substance abuse, I berated her and her family.  I complained constantly of too many heavy screamers on the trampoline, loud grownup partying far into the summer nights on her porch below our bedroom window, and her whole family assuming it was okay to play football, baseball, whatever on my front lawn, tearing up the grass and breaking down the hedges.  I became the real-life witch next door, limping, balding, and crying.  (An irony, that I have always hated Halloween.)  At last, they erected a tall fence between us.

Years have at least left us on speaking terms.  I wish her Advent party invitation had reached us before the gathering’s end.

Today, blocks away from my house and deep in thought, walking out kinks in my knees new and old, I sensed the warm odor of sweet frying cake in the chilly air.  Anja is up!  I thought.  Anja is braving the pain, the sudden vomit, the merciless downward pull of cancer, surgery, and debilitating medical remedies that have been hers since one day in early winter, one day when her life took a perilous turn.

Bless you, Anja.  Bless us all.  Bless the wretched moments of life with the simple and unrestrained aroma of frying pastry.

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