Monday, October 03, 2005

I Am A Terrorist

Here is an incident, all too believable, which points out that an education devoid of humor is not much of a benefit.

Out of the depths

Sorry all about the long hiatus. For the last few months I have been overcome with melancholy ... or depression. A strange conspiracy of fates created an intersection of multiple deaths, births, poverty, computer failure, automobile failure, which combined with my natural melancholia to essentially cork my whines. In order to cure myself, or at least retrieve my ability to communicate, I have straightened my study, and surgically removed about 30% of my books. Included in this liberectomy are nearly all of my supporting library for technical writing. This is probably a good thing since it indicates my acceptance of the probability that I will not be re-employed in that field ... certainly not at the level that I was. It seems to me that it is time to write more durable prose. It is odd to realize that I have written over 100 books in the last 20 years and not a single one of them remains in print, having died with the software it explained. I have a novel that needs a bit of work before being launched on the whimsical sea of publisher's taste. I also have a history of Farmington, ME that needs some work. I should try to get that done soon since I have a hankering to win the National Novel Writing Month contest again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


My family communicates, albeit in curious and high tech ways. Witness moblog a blog perpetrated by my eldest son. Ahhh acorn ... it is not that far from the tree that you fall. And your father is talking like Yoda again.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The conscience of a pharmacist

I'm glad that we have some pharmacists who have the guts to follow their consciences. It's just too bad that all the attention is on those who will not dispense birth control. (I hope they're also being diligent about all of the medications that cause birth defects.) I'm sure that these pharmacists of conscience have purged their businesses of hair coloring compounds that contain lead, shampoos and conditioners that contain placenta, hair growth products that pregnant women are warned not to touch. It goes without saying that condoms, douches and anything else that could interfere conception are verboten. Perhaps the next step is to require wheelchair curb service for any female within the range of child-bearing years, after all we don't want any spontaneous miscarriages. And wouldn't it be good if we required all women to take "Antabuse" to keep them from drinking alcohol in the probability that they are pregnant I just don't think that it goes far enough. We need to highlight pharmacists of conscience whose scruples go beyond those of merely removing reproductive freedom. How about the PETA and vegan pharmacists who refuse to dispense any medications (or for that matter cosmetics) that were developed using animal testing. Don't expect to get any innoculations from them. Their bravery is immense. Just think how empowered they'll feel if we are attacked with bio-weapons. How thankful the anthrax will be to know that it is safe. It's time for NAAFA pharmacists to ban diet aids from their business. Vitamins have to go too, after all they just enable people to eat less for the same nutrition. And Moslem pharmacists who refuse to have photo-processin in the store. Damn! It's good to have people of conscience around to think these things out for us and tell us what to do. "Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable." --G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

An Omelette Recipe

Today's breakfast omelette: 1. Make some coffee. 2. Go out to the garden. 3. Gather two Bulbs and shoots of Egyptian onion, a sprig of basil, and a sprig of oregano. 4. Go to the kitchen. 5. Peel and coarsely chop five cloves of garlic. 6. Do the same to the onions. 7. Chop the herbs finely. 8. Slice some sharp cheddar. 9. Put a skillet on a burner. 10. Set to medium heat. 11. Toss in a lump of butter. 12. When the butter starts to turn color, add the garlic and onions. 13. Beat two eggs in a bowl with a fork. 14. Toss the garlic and onions to ensure even cooking. 15. Add the herbs to the eggs. 16. Beat the eggs some more. 17. Toss the garlic and onions again. 18. Pour in the egg mix. 19. Rinse bowl and fork. 20. Cook until nearly firm. 21. Add the cheese and fold. 22. Sing: You can get anything you want ... at Alice's Restaurant. You can get anything you want ... at Alice's Restaurant. Walk right in it's around the back. Just a half a mile from the railroad track. You can get anything you want ... at Alice's Restaurant. 23. Slide omelette onto a plate. 24. Add a pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper. 25. Pour a mug of coffee. 26. Get the rinsed fork and pick up the plate and the mug. 27. Walk out to back porch. 28. Sit and eat while watching the hummingbirds in the bee balm and ignoring the imploring looks of the dog at your feet. 29. Take your time. 30. When done put the plate on the floor by your chair for the dog to lick clean. 31. Take your time finishing the coffee. 32. Pick up plate, mug, and fork and take them to the kitchen. 33. Wash everything except the mug thoroughly. 34. Pour another mug of coffee. 35. Go to your study. 36. Avoid starting work by writing recipe.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Just thought I'd mention that, while no one was looking, I revived an old blog of mine called Mad URL. This is the place that I drop the strange, interesting or amusing sites that I find in my web wanderings. This brings the number of my blogs to three and that's where it will stay ... I think.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


(To the tune of that insipid pop song 'Brandy'.) There's a jerk on a western range, And he thinks that we need to change. So we let'im, don't you think that's strange? 'Cause we're losing all we've gained. And there's a girl in this guy's employ, She thinks diplomacy's a toy. They say "Condi's got another ploy To piss our allies off." They say "Condi, you're a fine girl "What an odd life you will lead "Now that you've replaced your ethics with your greed" (dooda-dit-dooda, dit-dooda-dit-dooda-dit) Condi wears a business suit To disguise her secret inner brute. For us she doesn't give a hoot. She's workin' for her George. He came on election day, Bringin' oil from far away, And he made it clear that he would stay, No matter what the vote. He said "Condi, you're a fine girl "In my cab'net you will be (such a fine girl) "But the Saudi's are my true love doncha see." (dooda-dit-dooda, dit-dooda-dit-dooda-dit) Yeah, Condi used to watch his eyes As he told the nation stories. She could feel her gorge rise As he waved around 'Old Glory'. But he offered her the loot and power to sit at his right hand, And Condi does her best to understand. (dooda-dit-dooda, dit-dooda-dit-dooda-dit) In Iraq, when we've had our way, Condi talks, excusing death away, Ensures the pipes are heading just our way Are they pumping red and black. George says, "Condi, you're a fine girl, "You've done a good job for me, (such a fine girl) "But now the money's flowin doncha see." (dooda-dit-dooda, dit-dooda-dit-dooda-dit) Condi, you're a fine girl (you're a fine girl) What a bad mess you leave (such a fine girl) But the rich don't the time to sit and grieve. (dooda-dit-dooda, dit-dooda-dit-dooda-dit) Sit and grieve Sit and grieve

To Mrs. Professor in Defense of My Cat's Honor and Not Only

A triple treat for you to make up for my absence. First - The title links to an excellent poem by Czeslaw Milosz. I could say more, but the notes below the poem will suffice. Second - Here are a lot more of his poems. Third - Let me tell you how I learned about him. A few months ago, someone wrote to tell me about "The Wondering Minstrels," a poetry email service that sends a poem nearly every day. The poems are accompanied by personal commentaries, critical analyses etc. The archive website lets readers comment. You can also subscribe from there.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A New Favorite Quote or Two

Okakura Kakuzo in The Book of Tea speaks of the mutual ignorance of the other's culture between Asia and the U.S. "You have been loaded with virtues too refined to be envied and accused of crimes too picturesque to be condemned." Ahh what a smooth talker! "I'll tell you right out-I'm a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk." -- Kasper Gutman (Sidney Greenstreet) in The Maltese Falcon "The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog." --G.K. Chesterton (with a point of view that the religious right should pay more attention to) "Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable." --G.K. Chesterton again "Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton (Can you tell that I am an admirer?) "The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true." --James Branch Cabell
I can no longer remember the name of the book (it belonged to the school library), but it was about some aspect of programming. I was on deadline and racing through the book when one paragraph stopped me in my tracks. I read it again more slowly and suddenly realized that it was a sonnet in paragraph form. The rhyme and meter were very good. It was Petrarchan rather than Shakesperean. It wasn't great, but it was competently executed.

I had this sudden vision of a scholar facing a life full of jargon and active voice, reaching out with a word processor, that he wished were a quill, hoping to make contact. When I went back to find the book a few days later, I could no longer remember which one it was.

Ah well ... time to diminish some more sonnets.

Bill S. had a way with a sonnet, He always had one in his bonnet. I feel kinship with Bill, For his verse (if you will) Only has a few extra feet on it. Sonnet 2
When forty winters shall beseige thy brow, And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field, Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now, Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held: Then being ask'd where all thy beauty lies, Where all the treasure of thy lusty days, To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes, Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise. How much more praise deserved thy beauty's use, If thou couldst answer 'This fair child of mine Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,' Proving his beauty by succession thine! This were to be new made when thou art old, And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold. Limerick 2 When your skin is like old corduroy, And your youth Father Time did destroy, She says, "You're no beauty!" You tell her, "Hey cutie, To see me, just you look at my boy.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Blog quirks

I'm a little surprised at some of the quirks that my blog has been experiencing. Perhaps the formatting I used is creating problems. ... A little later ... It seems to have been a problem with the template I selected. Once again I have been forced to change the look. My apologies to the confused.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Anatomy of Melancholy

What a wonder the web is. Today I received a message from a gentleman named Thomas, who writes a blog "Anatomy of Melancholy" from Athens, Greece. He discovered my blog in the course of a search. Google and its ilk have the potential to create the most fascinating virtual neighborhoods based on thought rather than mere geography. It was a delight to find that he tends to ramble, much as I do about the things about him and the hazes of meaning and ambiguity. It was also amusing (but, on reflection, not much of a stretch) to find that we also share an interest in Leonard Cohen, about whom Thomas has an extended ramble which includes the following:
Anatomy of Melancholy
"I think I can say that I'm not a philistine, but I do have a deep-seated distrust of and impatience with what I perceive as extra-literary theory, or even literary theory, when it is prescriptive. I prefer to be descriptive and not to stray from common sense. My distrust of theory probably comes from the observation that rather than help broaden our understanding, in most hands it is used to censure, and even to censor. I heard the words 'offended' and 'offensive' a lot in university. I don't think an open, inquisitive mind should or can be easily offended. Whoever is easily and vociferously offended is trying to cut down the world around them to their own measure, rather trying to understand and to adapt." It makes me think about the famous interchange when Oscar Wilde admitted to James McNeill Whistler, “I wish I’d said that, Jamey,” and Whistler replied, “Don’t worry, Oscar, you will.” I wish I'd said that, Thomas. Wait ... maybe I did ... Wander over there to enjoy some thoughtful and interesting writing. As an aid to navigation, I will just say that Thomas is the one who looks like a moody intellectual ... I, on the other hand, am the burly ruffian.


I have started another blog. It is a petty thing. Its reasons for being are to give me a small, self-imposed challenge to create limericks based on the day or week's news and to amuse me. It is called (in my typically pungent manner) LimeRickey or for the paronomastically impaired LimeRickey. (If you do suffer from Ambiguity Deficit Disorder you may want to forgo a visit to the new blog since it will only confuse, sadden and anger you.) These limericks will be written quickly, and thus may not be up to the standards of the Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form (OEDILF). I will have the advantage over Philipp Goedicke of NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me (the strictures under which he composes must have an effect), since I get to choose my own news stories and don't have to worry about Carl Kassel's cold-reading skills.

Monday, June 20, 2005

A brief word about editorial privilege

Because in this blog, I am both mighty and all powerful, it is my privilege to go back and revise from time to time. Since I have just added pictorial capability, I have gone back to give you the joy of looking at some of the photos on the walls of my study. I have also taken the occasion to revise and reformat some earlier pieces.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Launching a thousand ships?

Some people may want to put a face to 'The New Anatomy of Melancholy'. This character study for a portrait of Diego Martelli by Degas suggests that perhaps I am older than you thought.

A Single Shell Organism

Imagine a shell, egg-shaped & so clear you cannot see it. Be inside it. Be sealed off from all contact. It works so well that it bounces around you like a bubble yet you walk straight & stable. You are so used to it you no longer notice as it pushes people to either side as you pass. You are so used to it you are aware only of its failures. The compression in the subway stops your breath. The wind whips a scarf into your face & you recoil, not hurt but shocked by the touch. You can reach out, but no body reaches in. It has been so long that you do not remember whether you made the shell or others put it around you. It doesn’t seem to matter. No body reaches in ...

Where there's a Will there's a limerick

Occasionally when I ponder the works of Shakespeare, it seems that he can be a bit verbose. Sonnet #29 for example goes like this:
When, in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state, And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, And look upon myself and curse my fate, Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, Featured like him, like him with friends possessed, Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope, With what I most enjoy contented least, Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, Haply I think on thee, and then my state, Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings, That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Which is all well and good, but it's verbose and in sonnet form. Sonnets are merely limericks that need to go on a diet. Limerick #29
When alone I can get sort of blue, And jealous of those with a clue, I might wish I were smart Or had some kind of art, Then I think that I'm rich to have you.

Laundry day

Remove the silk, the satin and drop them to the floor. I will not enter, nor try to steal a glimpse of your body with the sharp straight lines of elastic cut into your flesh. Stretch your arms above your head and I will imagine you, body free, marks fading, in the sunlight through the dusty window. Put on the faded bluejeans and cotton shirt ... sandals if you want. Here is a washboard and a bar of soap, a galvanized tub with cold water. We’ll carry it out to the back of the house where a pile of clothes waits for your rough justice. Here is a pile of wood and the axe that I will use to split it, dangerously stealing glimpses at you out of the corner of my eye. Scrub the coarse cloth against the washboard. Your breasts move freely within the shirt, straining the buttons, and you start to sweat. Your hands are rough and red in the cold water. I split the logs to kindling, watching you move in your damp soapy clothes, the movements of your body perfect. The axe is silent the wood is done. I lean on the axe, filling my eyes with you and finally you look up, and catch me looking. You smile and take the last of the laundry and twist it over the tub, and toss it into the finished pile, and stand up, and walk to me, and take my work-reddened hand in yours, and lead me to our bed.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Change in the look

For those who are returning to this blog, you will notice a change in its appearance. Although I liked the simple elegance of the previous template, the grey text was irritating. In typically lazy fashion, I scrapped the template instead of modifying it. For new visitors ... never mind!

Friday, June 17, 2005

My Study

My room is lined with books. Six large bookcases hold my 'in use' library. Shelves of hardcovers and paperbacks loosely sorted into categories. The two volume 'Oxford English Dictionary' lies on the floor near my feet. It takes up too much space on the oak library table that is my desk. I need it too often to shelve it. With a small pillow on top it makes a nice low footrest. Other dictionaries and thesauruses are on a shelf that I can reach from my chair. 'Bartlett's Quotations', Partridge's dictionary of slang, 'Walker's Rhyming Dictionary', some etymological dictionaries, a biblical concordance, Brander Matthew's 'Study of Versification' sit next to a handful of style guides, the printer's 'Pocket Pal' and an assortment of XML and HTML references. On the shelf above you'll find books on information design and usability. The distinctive yellow spine of 'A Pattern Language' holds the center spot. Other reference shelves contain a complete set of Frazier's 'Golden Bough', a complete set of Sir Richard Burton's 'One Thousand Nights and a Night' with all the supplementary volumes. There is a shelf of books on New England folklore and references on farming for the novel that I'm writing, another shelf of books on linguistics, symbols and semiotics. The two shelves of poetry are overstuffed. I'll have to winnow them soon. Deacon, Pinker, Gould, Thomas, Dennett and Calvin all appear in the science and philosophy section. Three volumes of Euclid are also there beside Darwin and Warren McCulloch's 'Embodiments of Mind'. Paperback fiction is stored on its side in stacks the stacks arranged two or three deep depending on the size. From where I sit I can see a stack of Robertson Davies, another of Tom Holt, some Charles DeLint and Christopher Moore. But Ernest Bramah's Kai Lung books, Matthew Lewis' 'The Monk', and a stack of Tom Sharpe's insane novels are tucked in there somewhere. My library insulates me from the cold and from the intellectual Siberia that is suburbia. The smell of paper soothes me and the tactile input of the page whether bright white, smooth pages of O'Reilly technical books or the yellowed foxed pages of my Pomey's Pantheon published in 1709 warms my soul. My closet is stuffed with my inactive library in neatly labeled boxes. In them are books that I may not need, but am unwilling to part with yet. At the bottom are boxes containing most of the 100+ software manuals that I have written, talismans of once and future (but not present) employment. Books are not the only things I have around me. Drawings and lithographs hang on what little wall space is left. Pinned to the bulletin board by my table are maps and timelines for my novel. A photo of Tom Baker as Dr. Who, and the following photos:
Jerry Lettvin and Walter Pitts talking with their collaborator Rana Pipiens.
Concert pianist and legendary teacher Theodore Lettvin gazes moodily down at the corner of a badly scanned photograph.
G.K. Chesterton accepting the gift of a dandelion from a young admirer.

I'm my own ...

I apologize for the lack of PC in the following piece. I've always been amused by Guy Lombardo's little ditty about family relations and one day it occurred to me that things could get far more complicated these days. So ... I made it more complicated. (Apologies to Guy Lombardo) Now many, many years I was a man you see, I was married to a widow who was pretty as can be. This widow had a daughter who liked older men she said. My father fell in love with her and soon they too were wed. This made my dad my son-in-law and changed my very life. My daughter was my mother 'cause she was my father's wife. To complicate the matter, even though it brought me joy, I soon became the father of a bouncing baby boy. My little baby then became a brother-in-law to Dad, And so became my uncle, though it made me very sad, For if he was my uncle, then that also made him brother, Of the widow's grown-up daughter who was also my stepmother. Father's wife then had a son who kept them on the run. And he became my grandchild, for he was my daughter's son. My wife is now my mother's mother, and it makes me blue, Because although she is my wife, she's my grandmother too. Now if my wife is my grandmother, then I'm her grandchild, And every time I think of it, it nearly drives me wild, For now I have become the strangest case I ever saw, As husband of my grandmother, I am my own grandpa. Thanks Guy! I'll take it from here. But the lie that I've been living throughout these many years Has kept my soul in misery and salted all my tears. The gal I have inside of me insists she must be free, And so I went to Sweden and arranged for surgery. So now the widow has a wife, her daughter's second Ma, My son has got two sisters, though still he calls one 'Pa.' This makes my grandson dizzy so he calls me 'Granny Sis.' And my poor wife has told me that she can't go on like this. She told me that she hated that my tits don't sag like hers, That I use up all her lipstick and have a nicer purse. She says she's not a lesbian, I no longer turn her on. So now she's gone to Sweden too and says to call her John. She didn't give up men though (she says she's nouveau gay). I opened up a letter that she sent the other day. She said that she's divorcing me to marry Jim my cousin. But she's the groom and he's the bride and my poor head is buzzin'. 'Cause she wants me to be the best man and bridesmaid all in one. Of course I said I'd do it, and I think it will be fun. But today's the day and in the mirror I think a see a pimple. Oh why must this afflict me now? Why can't my life be simple. Oh I'm my own transgen I'm my own transgen It sounds funny I know, But it really is so Oh I'm my own transgen.

Private England

To the tune of 'Officer Krupke' from West Side Story (as always, apologies to Bernstein and Sondheim) ALI Dear Private Lynndie England, You gotta understand, Our faith will not be shattered Nor vanish on command. Our mothers all are wailing, Our fathers all are dead. Golly Allah, shot right through the head! Gee whiz, Private England, we're very upset; Your country blocked the food and meds we needed to get. We ain't no Al Qaeda, We're misunderstood. But still on our head there is a hood. There's a hood! ALL PRISONERS There's a hood, there's a hood, There's a big black hood. We did no crime but still we wear a hood. MUSTAFA (speaking as Private England) That's a touchin' good story. ALI (spoken) Lemme tell it to the world! MUSTAFA as England (spoken) Just tell it to the Intelligence Officer. ALI Dear kindly Colonel Pappas, Don't let those dogs bite me. I have no information. Why won't you set me free. I know you think I'm evil. For begging for baksheesh, But why must I wear a collar and a leash! SALEEM as Colonel Pappas My dear Private England put a hood upon his head; If he don't want to help, then let's just shock him instead. Clip wires to his balls and make him stand on a box. And give him the juice until he talks. ALI Til I talk. ALL Til he talks, til he talks, Til he damn well talks, And then we'll let him pound some rocks. SALEEM (speaking as Pappas) This man is an Arab, so he can't be telling the truth. ALI (spoken) Hey, I'm a liar for Allah! SALEEM as Pappas (spoken) So take him to interrogation. ALI Why have you stripped me naked And put me in a pile The Koran says that's sinful. Women's panties ain't my style. The private likes my privates. And never lets me dress. Goodness gracious, that's why I'm a mess! RASHID (as interrogator) Go away Private England and take him along. He has some vital facts for us and I'm never wrong. Go ask Mister Rumsfeld just what he wants to do, This plan that he hatched has not come through. ALI I am through! ALL We are through, we are through, Though what we say is true, And talk until our face is blue. RASHID (speaking as the interrogator) In my opinion, this man does not respond to standard interrogation techniques. We'll have to use torture. Make him listen to Rumsfeld justify American foreign policy. That should soften him up. ALI (spoken) Hey, I got a soft spot on my head where I got clubbed! RASHID as interrogator (spoken) So take him to the Pentagon. ALI Oh Mister Secretary, They say that I am bad, They say that I have info, I swear I never had. I do not hate your country, I only hate George Bush So take my statement And shove it up your tush. IBRAHIM as Rumsfeld Oh my, Private England, you've done it again. This man don't want to talk, so you must hit him and then You'll have to take the rap because you're poorer than me, Maybe in ten years you'll be free. ALI What of me? ALL What of me, what of me? Won't you set us free We're innocent so set us free. SALEEM as Pappas The trouble is he's Shiite. RASHID as the interrogator The trouble is he's poor. IBRAHIM as Rumsfeld The trouble is he's pissed-off. SALEEM as Pappas If he walks out the door. RASHID as the interrogator He might just join Al Qaeda. IBRAHIM as Rumsfeld 'Cause that's what we would do. ALL England, we can't cover your ass too! Gee whiz, Private England, We're down on our knee, ALI And no one wants a fella who just wants to be free. ALL Salaam, Private England, What are we to do? We got fucked over You too!

When you're a Fed

To the tune of 'When You're a Jet' from West Side Story (apologies to Bernstein and Sondheim) When you're a Fed, You're a Fed all the way From your first wiretap Til you put 'em away. When you're a Fed, Let 'em do what they can. You got Bush on your side, If you follow his plan! You're never alone, You're never disconnected! Just put 'em in jail: No civil right's protected, For the disaffected! Then you are set With a mandate to play, Fast and loose with the law The American way. When you're a Fed, You stay a Fed. When you're a Fed, You can do what you please, You're in charge of it all All those assets to seize. When you're a Fed, A tool of the right wing: Why not just have a coup; And make Bush the king. The Feds are in gear, Their guns are all a poppin'. They're instilling fear 'Cause Ashcroft they are proppin' And they're not stoppin'. Here come the Feds Like a bat out of hell. They'll beat us to death, With the Liberty Bell. Here come the Feds: Arab world, step aside! Better go underground, Better run, better hide. We're drawin' the line, So keep your noses hidden! We're hangin' a sign, Says "Visitors forbidden" And we ain't kiddin'! Here come the Feds, Yeah! An' they're gonna beat Ev'ry liberal lefty Every Arab they meet. On the whole ever-mother-lovin' street!

West Side Story

I wonder what it is about the Bush Administration that makes me think of West Side Story. Scalia To the tune of 'Maria' from West Side Story (apologies to Bernstein and Sondheim) Scalia ... I just met a judge named Scalia. And suddenly I find The Bill of Rights' not signed For me. Scalia Say it loud and it sounds like braying, Say it soft and you'd better be praying. Scalia He'll keep me from straying Scaliaaaaaah ... Oooops, gotta go. Ashcroft's at the door.

Bill Clinton in Slumberland

I was wandering through some old files and found this little ditty that I had composed for Bill Clinton.
Are you tucked into your bed? The battle fought, the country led, For all good boys should be asleep Your fantasies in dreams to keep. Don't let them out to take the air For everyone will want to share. The fun they'll poke, the games they'll play, (They'll want to play them every day). Your inner needs will be a joke, Your plans and power up in smoke. Your work supplanted by the sleaze Of a woman on her knees. Too late. Those dreams are running free Providing grist for mills like me. So dream away the old dream's tar With what you wish upon a Starr.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Singular Statements

Some think it difficult to write paragraphs containing one hundred words without repetition, but composing examples seems trivial. Others may stumble over profligate use of passive voice, which, though a common academic practice, usually produces dense, pointless or confusing drivel. Keeping prose active, choosing verbs that move things along, reduces redundancy, avoids verbosity, increases clarity and simplifies communication. Short sentences also help allowing more flexibility in your vocabulary. Can such strangely constructed content retain meaning? Yes! Good discipline combined with thoughtful grammar creates an elegant, lucid style. Political discourse could benefit if we limited demagogues similarly. Imagine briefer speeches. However, thesaurus sales would rise.


He stretches his legs, waking from a doze in the warm afternoon sun. Life is good. There's not much to do today but eat and sleep. He stretches again. His joints crackle slightly. He wipes his face and picks up another tasty snack. Then he hears the noise. It's like thunder but it's more sustained. "Will it rain?" he wonders. The sound fades then gets louder as if it is moving further away and then returning. Each cycle it sounds a little closer. He takes another bite. The noise increases, shaking the ground. "What could it be?" he thinks. Then the leading edge of a disk shape starts to block the sun. He scrambles to get out of the way but it is too late. Beneath the disk, four huge metal bars are attached to a central hub. They are spinning ... fast. The updraft is powerful. He grabs onto something and tries to keep from being sucked upward. He sees others flying up to get crushed by the blades their body parts swirl in a bloody cyclone. His grip loosens and he flies upward to meet the invader. A blade catches him in the midsection but he grabs on, only to watch the lower half of his body, crushed and severed, fly into the whirlwind and disappear. For an instant more he keeps his grip on the blade, and then he too is gone. The disk shape moves on. The sun shines down on a scene of utter devastation. Body parts lie strewn in the grass. The blood puddles before soaking into the soil. There is his top half. A flicker of life remains. He twitches and sees the green carapace of his front legs move. His compound eyes view one last mosaic of the world, and then he dies. And that my dear is why I am philosophically opposed to mowing lawns.


I have watched her for days through the intermittent flutter of her curtains. She wears a white cotton nightgown with lace at the neck, buttoned up tight to her throat. One hundred strokes every night without fail. Her dark hair unbound takes the brush like a lover takes a caress. She turns out her light, leaving me with the moon. I feel its pull. The fluid in my veins rising in a red tide, humming in my ears. Tonight I shall visit her. As dry as a leaf I flutter in the wind ... and in the window ... and wait in the corner of the room. I am the shadow of a branch, the movement of a cloud across the moon. I wait. Her breath is quiet. She is still. A flutter of the curtains and I move skittering across the floor. I am the shadow under her bed. She moves gently on the bed above. I smell her rich and warm. I am the shadow of a cloud between her face and the moon. I inhale her sweet exhalation. I exhale her next inhalation. She sleeps deeply now. She sleeps until I leave. Still I am gentle as I pull back the covers. Still I am gentle as I lift the nightgown. Still I do not touch her as I lean close to smell all the secret odor, to feel the warmth radiating from the special places where her fluid, like mine, rises to the moon's pull. I part her legs and leaning closer listen to the pulse in the femoral. and follow it up to the heart. Enough. I am taking too much pleasure. I close her legs and cover her. I turn her face away from me, brusquely, but wait ... That sweet gentle venous pulse. So dear, so sweet. I stop and kneeling lay my cheek against the gentle throb. It beats against my skin like a lullaby. For a moment I sink almost to sleep. Then the pang hits. Sharp. Oh if touch were enough . . . But, I lean in, and gently pierce, drawing one drop, and rolling on my tongue the taste of life in one precious globule, that is not red to me, but black forever under the moon.

Mojo Hand

Going around and around in circles, Trying to break free ... but no direction insight. Sitting typing words into glowing embers of phosphorus, instead of singing my stories across a fire, into the rising smoke. I need a mojo hand I need a power that has slipped away from me again. I need an analogy that will let me describe why I am lost. I am trying to sing the blues in a sensory deprivation chamber. I am trying to write an epic in sound bites. I am trying to capture emotion in magnetic pulses. It feels wrong. Have my synapses been eroded by chemicals? Or have they never really been there? I seem to remember being close, but I can only remember the sensation with longing. I remember cultivating dithyrambs like wildflowers, but now I can’t get past the serried rows of tulips ... all alike, all alike.

Circles of Hell

A grid of colored blocks floats behind the screen. The movement of my hand on a block of plastic sends a small black arrow skittering a trail of green. I try to divorce the thought that this is too drastic a separation between mind and hand. Where is the block of ink, the bamboo brush? Digital ink spills, smears across the glowing medium, yet not a drop on my fingers to remind me of a thoughtless moment, a soundless sound. Where is Giotto's skill when perfect circles spread with the ease of pebbles dropping in a pond? Perfection and perfection and perfection . . . The tool is not the problem, it is the eye which no longer cares for content but for repetition, infinite generations of perfect circles, in their unyielding sameness.


Someone once challenged me to write a poem in which no words were repeated. This was the result: Words are bread, some poet said, We butter them with rhyme. Ideas live though his body's dead, An orphaned soul of time. A dictionary he once used Now open on this table Dirty, dog-eared, ripped abused These lyrics to enable. Jingling verse, vile critics curse, As nutritively nil. But, they won’t fill an empty purse. I’ll take their bitter pill If doggerel’s a loaf of wry And heavy in your belly Please sacrifice, just eat it dry. My brain has turned to jelly. Other poems in the churn May smoother spread but when Jingles can three pennies earn That makes me push a pen.

The Frog Pond

That's the wading pool In Boston Commons. The benches are green and hot Under the midday sun. The pool has been drained. Waves of heat rise from it, Making the tree trunks wriggle As if made of gelatine. From out of the shadows A man appears. He is in his thirties, clean-shaven, Wearing a grey pinstripe business suit, And a power tie, carrying a brown leather briefcase. He puts the briefcase on a bench, on its side, Takes off his jacket. Carefully he folds it inside out. He is wearing yellow suspenders, Bright against the blue of his shirt. He lays the jacket on the briefcase, Unbuttons his collar, And pulls at the knot of his tie Loosening it a half an inch Or so. He stares at the jacket For a moment as if receiving Final instructions. He turns and walks briskly into the middle Of the dry cement pond. He turns again facing his approach. Hooking his thumbs under the yellow suspenders He begins to sing loadly. “He rocks in the treetops all day long, Hopping and bopping and singing this song . . . “ He sings 'Rocking Robin' all the way through. He messes up a lot of the words. He walks back to his briefcase, Puts on his jacket, And quietly walks back into the city

Cold Spring

Written April 23, 1998 Boston is chilly today. A dark overcast hangs low over the city. Some less hardy souls have re-established their relationship to their topcoats, but I, having shucked the things of winter, refuse to backslide. Let it flurry, let it blizzard. I am in shirtsleeves until October. My double espresso firmly in hand, I stroll into the Common. The corner at Tremont and Park Streets is busy with vendors setting up their stands, leafletters replacing the litter still being picked up by the groundskeepers, and petitioners carrying clipboards like bucklers into their political holy wars. The pale green of freshly opened leaves flutter against the sky, the contrast is a natural op-art effect achingly bright against the retina. People bustle by rushing to work. I'm in no hurry. I sit on a bench to drink my coffee. Squirrels dash across the grass between trees and across the paths between pedestrians. The pigeons look depressed. They know the cold weather means less crumbs for them this morning. Nobody stops to sit, except me. I toss the empty paper cup in a trashcan, and stroll toward the Public Gardens. A film crew is setting up lights on the knoll. Charles Street is empty so I cross against the light and wait for three bicyclists to exit through the narrow gate with its sign enjoining visitors from using bicycles and roller skates within. Each cherry tree seems to march to a different drummer this year. The large tree just inside the gate has bloomed and gone by, a smaller one nearby has lost half of its blossoms, but the tree across the lagoon is glowing pink against the granite sky. The lagoon has been drained cleaned and refilled for Spring. The dock is empty, the Swan Boats still in storage. Around a turn in the path there is a park bench which faces away from me. It is packed end to end with small bodies, short legs gaily swinging under the bench. The gray hair above bright quilted jackets tells me that it's the Chinese grandmothers, five old ladies who sit in the park every morning talking and laughing at passers-by. I run the gauntlet of their comments, wishing once again that I knew Chinese. (What is it about me that they find so freshly amusing every morning?) The automatic sprinklers are on in the daffodil beds. A golden retriever stops and sticks his head into the spray. Some green fluorescent silly string clings to the base of the statue of Sumner implying some strange late night hilarity was had by someone. I cross Arlington Street, then Boylston, stroll another block, put on my work face and open the door.

Make Way

In Spring, before they put the swan boats out, The lagoon in the Public Gardens is drained. Miniature bulldozers scrape up The detritus of the previous summer. It is early morning, so early that A triple espresso seems barely enough To last the hour. A yellow haze around the willow trees Across the lagoon, is a halo of rebirth. The trees are budding. Within days the yellow will darken to green. My life rhymes with green Caffeine Nicotine Dexedrine But I digress. A movement attracts the eye. Slogging through the mud and garbage At the bottom of the lagoon is a fat, old lady. She is Chinese. She waves a plastic shopping bag like a flag. Brandishes it like a war banner. She is chasing a duck across the bottom of the lagoon. The duck moves just fast enough to stay out of her grasp, It doesn’t seem worried At the prospect of being dinner. I look over my shoulder at the bronze statues Of the duck and ducklings From 'Make Way ...' One is missing.

An Unfulfilled Passion

Long ago and far away (oh, my best beloved) there was a student of limited resource and capacity. He lived in the vale of Washington University, set about by phallic symbols made of the teeth of elephant children. These towers protected the land from the intellectual desert of St. Louis.

At night, he huddled in a small cave hung with posters and mobiles, and eye-catching items of more than oriental splendor. But when the sun rose, he placed upon his back the coat of morning and ventured forth in his guise of "The Elementary Penguin", to tell stories and soothe the hallucinatory dreams of those who had eaten of the mushroom or tasted the blotter.

One day the Penguin was seated in the cool shade of the student union (a coming together which was devoutly to be hoped for), contemplating navels other than his own, when he noticed a creature that resembled a long hairy ... ummm ... let us say 'sausage' (best beloved). The creator of all things had seen fit to place short stubby legs upon this animated sausage, two before and two behind. Above the forelegs rose a head that seemed too big for the rest of the creature.

The Penguin regarded the creature with 'satiable curiosity, wagering with himself as to the moment that the head would overbalance the body and, pivoting on its forelegs, the wiener dog Max (for indeed it was that very animal) would tip forward and flip end over end down the slope which led down from the student union to the swamp known as 'the residential halls'.

But as he studied Max he realized that there was indeed a counter-balance dangling from the rear of the creature. A counter-balance which even in repose seemed to clear the ground by only the faintest fraction of the smallest fragment of an inch. Sipping from the potent caffeinated beveraqe which was his usual if not sole sustenance. He watched the animated sausage at play in the field, and pondered the irritation and pain that would be the lot of an extruded member so proximal to the ground.

As the sun rose higher, the Penguin recorded the approach of a long-haired female, more of Max's persuasion than of the Penguin's, yet extraordinarily different. The Penguin muttered "is Timmy in the well?" under his breath.

Max had become aware of the presence of the female and turgidly produced a pink sausage that seemed to cling remora-like to its supporter. It did, as the Penguin winced to recognize, drag along the ground, scraping through stones, sand and grass clippings leaving a shallow ditch. The Penguin, as was his wont, took a simple-minded delight that the word ditch appeared in relation to the female, and immediately started casting about for other rhymes.

She, in the meantime, had found some shade beneath a dying maple and lay there panting, overheated in a multiplicity of ways. Max, with his enormous pink plow, furrowed the field as he slipped up behind.

He attempted. The lass looked over her shoulder with disdain and dislodged the intruder through the simple expedient of standing up. She moved to another patch of shade, but Max came grooving through the fields to try again ... and again ... and again. After thirty minutes the field looked like a trigonometrician's blackboard. Max's excitement was intense and he had been leaving trails of genetic material in the furrows. The penguin pondered this, realizing that to the vector belong the spills.

At last more in furrow with his hanger, Max watched as the object of his affections trotted away to find a more private place to repose. The Penguin watched as Max's spirits wilted. Sadly, that was all that wilted, and for some time the animated weiner wandered forlornly, leaving a map of his sorrow.

The Penguin ordered an iced drink poured it into a bowl, placed it on the ground and called Max over. He wondered which end would be in the bowl. Max lapped at it gratefully and the Penguin enjoyed a Cat Stevens moment for he had provided 'tea for the tillerdog'.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Pish on posh

This word's apocryphal acronymic association is absolutely absurd. The story is that "POSH", an acronym for Port Out, Starboard Home, was printed on 1st Class tickets for travel between England and India issued by the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company. The original folk etymology suggested that the port side on the trip out would have the coolest cabins ... a curious theory since it assumes that the microclimate of a ship is capable of providing a significant temperature differential. It does not take into account the position of the sun, the direction of the wind, or the fact that as the ship sails South to Cape Horn the port side will face East on the other side of the cape, sailing North the port side faces West. If the trip is through the Suez Canal, the time of year is more likely to be a temperature factor. This being the case an alternate theory was concocted. This suggested that the port side would always be in view of the shore and therefore the scenery would be better. But ships, especially large passenger ships do not hug the coast. There are too many possibilities for disaster from weather or shallows. Putting the death blow to this story is the fact that no tickets with POSH on them have ever been found, and the company records show no evidence of the phrase. Merriam Webster puts the earliest publication of the acronym story in the London Times Literary Supplement of October 17, 1935. But "posh," meaning a dandy, dates back to 1867. Some think it derives from a Romani word meaning half (used in monetary terms). Others, including Partridge, think it may be a contraction of polish. To spin this etymological circus out yet further, I could make a case for some other derivations as well. Posh -- from pasha a middle-eastern title for a ruler. Folklorically, pashas lived in great splendor and luxury. Luxurious items were sometimes described as "fit for a pasha." The phrase degraded and shortened to "pash" or "posh". Posh -- a variant of pashe or paishe which itself is a shortened variant of "passion". Posh -- a term used to indicate the luxurious decorations and vestments used in the church at "Pasch" or "Pasche" meaning Easter (Paschal season).

Common Tears

It is a mild December day in the commons. A good day for a walk, With an unlicensed cigarette. The trees provide their skeletal memories, And the pigeons poke forlornly, In the debris near the trashcans. On one of the benches (so odd that people stop To look, to think perhaps, and then Move on) Are three large translucent plastic bags Full of wrapped gifts. Abandoned? The next bench is 20 feet away. On it sits a man. His clothes are woodsy, chic, And new. He is sitting very still. Tears are streaming down his face. Rolling off his chin, Dripping on his plaid shirt, But he never lifts his hand to wipe his eyes. People pause at the bags of gifts, And hurry past the tears. I take a deep puff, And do the same.

The Joke

I sit on a bench, Amused by knowing that it is my cigarette That gets me out of the office, Pushes me out amongst the living, To anthropologize in the park. I know I seem receptive, so when a man In raggedy clothes comes up to me It’s just a matter of waiting for the opening line. When it comes, it’s excellent. “Tell you a joke for a buck?” Cool, very cool . . . I hand him a dollar. He tells me a joke, But doesn’t finish it. And turns to walk away. I say, “Hey that wasn’t funny.” He says, “The punch-line will cost you five.” I laugh and give it to him. He laughs and tells me the punch-line. We both laugh and he walks away. It was an old joke, But I was happy to hear it again. It was worth the money To hear it told that way.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

More proof of my lack of compassion

The guilt had gotten to me. The guy in the wheelchair at North Station, the insistent quasimodos in Salvation Army uniforms tintinabulating at every street corner, the stocky old man in tattered jeans who sang to me, "I need some money, I need some money bad," had set me up. Stoically, with my eyes in a thousand-yard gaze mode, I had passed by them all. My hand in my pocket clutched my change to keep it from jingling. I felt awful. I was a liar and a cheat and an ungenerous son-of-a-bitch, but I had made it through the gauntlet with enough money for a cup of coffee and a hard roll. The coffee shop was steamy and friendly. They knew me. Usually I joke around a bit with the ladies there. This time I just smiled and grabbed my paper bag and left. I could see another panhandler on the corner so I cut through the alley to the next street and my office. The building was still locked, but, as I got out my keys I suddenly remembered a doctor's appointment this morning. I turned and headed for the subway. As I passed a doorway further down the street, someone stepped out. "Spare some change for a cup of coffee mister?" Her timing was perfect. I handed her the paper bag and said, "I'll do better than that, you can have this coffee." She shrank back and wouldn't touch the bag. For a moment I thought she was frightened. Then she said, "It's probably not black." I laughed. "Yes it is," I said and handed her the bag again. This time she took it and stepped backward into the doorway as I headed down the steps to the Red Line. Suddenly I heard her voice again. "Hey mister, didn't you get any butter for this hard roll."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Green Line -- BU to Park Street

He sits, hand shielding his eyes against the snow-amplified sunlight. Then the trolley squeals into the tunnel. His commuter face set blankly against eye-contact, he lowers his hands to the back of the empty seat in front to brace against the sharp turns. The screech of brakes predicts a station. The dim light slides past the window, the glass so fogged and filthy that only vague shapes can be seen outside. Doors hiss open; bodies flow in. Deep in insularity he ignores the new passengers. Then he jerks in shock. His hands still clutch the top of the forward seat. Now a mass of brown curls, smelling sweetly of shampoo, cascades from under a raspberry colored knit cap and over his hands tickling sweetly. He starts to pull back from the intrusive sensation, but hesitates, and settles back in the seat looking at the hair. He blinks. A single tear reflects the fluorescents from the corner of his eye. He sits savoring the inadvertant contact. He glimpses her face in the window's reflection. It’s pleasant, blank, a commuter face. The stations ooze by outside, like a slow slide show. At one station he tenses and starts to stand, then settles back never taking his eyes off the curls. After two more stops, the woman turns her head and stands. Caught by surprise, he makes a small sound. She turns, looks down at him and at his hands. She smiles. The smile transforms her face. Momentarily she is startlingly beautiful. “Sorry,” she says. His mouth quirks at a corner. "It was nothing," he says.