Thursday, December 1, 2011

For all those who have ever had to put a pet to sleep, I found this story today online:

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.
As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.

Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.”

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation.

He said, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?”

The six-year-old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Two from Sherman Alexie

Food Chain

This is my will:

Bury me
In an anthill.

After one week
Of this feast,

Set the ants on fire.
Make me a funeral pyre.

Let my smoke rise
Into the eyes

Of those crows
On the telephone wire.

Startle those birds
Into flight

With my last words:
I loved my life.


Ode to Mix Tapes

These days, it's too easy to make mix tapes.
CD burners, iPods, and Itunes
Have taken the place
Of vinyl and cassette. And, soon
Enough, clever introverts will create
Quicker point-and-click ways to declare
One's love, lust, friendship, and favor.
But I miss the labor
Of making old-school mix tapes -- the midair

Acrobatics of recording one song
At a time. It sometimes took days
To play, choose, pause,
Ponder, record, replay, erase,
And replace. But there was no magic wand.
It was blue-collar work. A great mix tape
Was sculpture designed to seduce
And let the hounds loose.
A great mix tape was three-chord parade

Led by the first song, something bold and brave,
A heat-seeker like Prince with "Cream,"
Or "Let's Get It On," by Marvin Gaye.
The next song was always Patsy Cline's "Sweet Dreams,"
or something by Hank. But O, the last track
Was the vessel that contained
The most devotion and pain
And made promises that you couldn't take back.

--Sherman Alexie, War Dance, 2009

Friday, November 11, 2011

This is about all the bad days in the world. I used to have some little bad days, and I kept them in a little box. And one day, I threw them out into the yard. “Oh, it’s just a couple little innocent bad days.” Well, we had a big rain. I don’t know what it was growing in but I think we used to put eggshells out there and coffee grounds, too. Don’t plant your bad days. They grow into weeks. The weeks grow into months. Before you know it you got yourself a bad year. Take it from me. Choke those little bad days. Choke ‘em down to nothin’. They’re your days. Choke ‘em!”

-- Tom Waits

The Laughing Heart

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

-- Charles Bukowski

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The followed was written by Bill Cheney, CEO of the Credit Union National Association.

"Hear, hear," I say. The banks brought this all upon themselves.

Bank Transfer Day

The movement toward credit unions over the last several weeks has been nothing less than phenomenal. For us in the credit union movement, it is confirmation of our long-standing tenant that credit unions are "people helping people."

But it doesn't have to end this Saturday. As Kristen Christian -- the founder of Bank Transfer Day -- said: "November 5th is merely a deadline goal." (Facebook, Oct. 27)

As far as credit unions are concerned, any day is a good day for a consumer to become a credit union member. Nov. 5 is one good day to join, and we certainly encourage consumers to make the change.

Because when a consumer joins a credit union, he or she takes the first step for themselves, and their families, in moving toward financial freedom.

Consider this: Consumers who join a credit union can expect to save at least $70 in lower rates, higher return on savings and lower or no fees -- just as current credit union members did in the 12 months between June '10 and June '11.

And that's just on average; consumers who are loyal members of credit unions -- utilizing them extensively -- often receive financial benefits that are much greater than the average.

The best news for consumers, however, is that they truly seem to comprehend how they can benefit from credit union membership. The changes over the last several weeks -- since Sept. 29, when Bank of America announced its $5 debit card fee -- tell the story.

Our calculations at the Credit Union National Assn. (CUNA), based on a quick survey of our member credit unions from all across the nation, indicate that consumers have been moving by the tens of thousands -- and shifting their money by the hundreds of millions -- to credit unions over these past four weeks.

From what our member credit unions are telling us, the reason for the consumer swing is clear: Consumers are upset about bank fees; they've just had enough.

And, consumers have also been intrigued by "Bank Transfer Day," another reason our credit unions are telling us their new members are coming in the door.

These new credit union members have made the right choice, because they can now start saving.

In fact, if all of the people signed up to participate in "Bank Transfer Day" on Saturday do so, and remain credit union members over the year that follows, those consumers will save a combined $4.8 million. Combine that with the $5 per month that they WON'T be paying in debit card fees, and you're up to $5.1 million.

But that's just the start. Suppose all of those others who have been invited by their friends to join in "Bank Transfer Day" do, in fact, decide to join credit unions. As of this writing, that's more than 423,000 persons -- who, together, would stand to save $31.7 million in combined credit unions savings and no bank debit card fee.

That's money that goes right into the pockets of consumers -- not into the vaults of banks, or their shareholders' wallets.

However, to everyday working people -- struggling to do their level best in a lackluster economy -- that's real money that may be better spent on their families and their futures. Credit unions are proud to give them that opportunity.

This Saturday will no doubt be an historic day for consumers and credit unions alike. Consumers want to be free of high fees, and credit unions want to help free them.

It's one day for consumers to make a smarter choice. But it doesn't have to end there: Every day is a good day to join a credit union.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What's Playing in Hell?

According to Chuck Palaniuk, in an interview with the magazine, Mother Jones, regarding his new book, Damned:

: Okay, new subject: Of all the movies that could be playing on an endless loop in hell, why did you choose The English Patient?

CP: I wanted a kind of lofty movie that a prepubescent girl would not really understand or appreciate. The Piano is also playing in hell. And also because, to tell the truth, sitting through both those movies was kind of a living hell for me. I just didn't get [their acclaim]. So that part of Madison is definitely me.

Read the rest of the interview here:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Misplaced Emphasis on Higher Education

I was going to write something along the lines of the following blog entry but realized that Becca had already done most of the work:

Higher Education

I had an interesting discussion with a new acquaintance from England the other day, and the conversation turned to children. She had two – a boy age 19, and a girl, age 17.

“Is your son away at school?” I asked, as most 19-year old’s are these days.

“No,” she replied in her lovely British accent. “He’s a musician and composer, and he’s trying to make a go of it. He had no interest in college – he just wanted to get out and do what he loved doing. But he’ll probably have to go back to England because he’s much more likely to have success there than he would do over here.”

I relayed my own son’s similar feelings about college, and how we had felt lucky to find a technical college dedicated to the field of study he was most interested in.

“It’s all so different over here,” she continued. “In England, it’s not expected that everyone will go off to University. It’s rather normal to get a proper job after you finish high school. Here, the kids seem pressured to go to college and all their friends are going so they want to go as well, even if they really don’t know what they want to study.”

I’ve had similar feelings about the push toward higher education ever since my son decided not to pursue the ubiquitous four-year degree. Those feelings have intensified in the past 10 years as I’ve seen several young people feel pressured to attend college, and then feel like a failure when they (a) find out they can’t make the grade or the payments; or (b) decide they’d rather pursue some other lifestyle path.

I was reminded of this tonight during rehearsal for the community theater group I’m working with. In the cast of the show we’re putting up, there are five young people between the ages of 22 and 30. Each of them has a four year degree from a top state university. Each of them was a better than average student in high school and in college.

None of them has a job.

Well, they have jobs, but they’re working in restaurants or retail clothing stores or driving trucks. A few of them are lucky enough to have part-time jobs in their fields (teaching, business, city planning) but nothing that will come close to paying the rent. They also have student loans which they can’t repay. So before they’re even established in life, they’re in big-time debt.

It made me feel even luckier that my son has been self-supporting since the age of 20, and was able to buy his first home at the age of 22. He’s been employed full time in his field since he finished his course of study, a program that was dedicated solely to his area of interest and focused entirely on that discipline. He was one of the lucky ones. He knew what he wanted to do, and he went after it. However, he had no assistance from anyone at his high school. The attitude of the counselors was “if you’re not interested in four year college, we’re not interested in helping you.”

I think we’re failing a lot of young people with that attitude. Not everyone needs to or is able pursue higher education in the form of a four year university. Students of all abilities should be encouraged to look for viable alternatives to the traditional university experience and there should be more focused educational avenues available for people who want to prepare for a specific career. Counselors should help young people discover their strengths and interests and guide them toward the proper educational experience, whether that’s a four year college, community college, technical school, or an apprenticeship.

Unfortunately many opportunities for trades and crafts persons have been “outsourced,” which has not only diminished the possibility for finding employment in those fields, but also devalued the work monetarily and in terms of status. The professional careers are supposedly “where the money’s at” these days, but there seem to be too many applicants for too few positions. It’s part and parcel of the polarization of our society – the rich and the poor, the educated and the ignorant, the haves and have-nots. The middle ground seems to be disappearing every day, and we all seem to be scrambling toward the high or low ends of society’s see-saw.

In the end, how valuable is a higher education if you can neither pay for it nor use it?

Click here to see original source

Monday, September 12, 2011

We Are Not Victims

Yesterday was September 11th . I will offer my own personal prayer to the families of those lost in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, whether employees, firefighters, or police but I do not think we are well served peeling this scab open each year or allowing politicians to co-opt the tragedy as those who screamed “Remember the Maine” did so many years ago. How many years will this go on?

It is appropriate to celebrate our Independence Day – commemoration of liberation and the birth of a nation. It is appropriate to honor our workers with Labor Day, and our veterans with Memorial Day. But if someone proposes a national holiday to honor the victims of 9/11, I will protest strenuously. Why should we continue to wail and bemoan our unfortunate experience as victim and target? What can it do but inspire hate and anger?

Some may say, “Well, we celebrate Memorial Day” to honor our fallen soldiers. It’s not the same thing. Soldiers go into service to fight for a cause and they know that, among other things they may be required to do, they may die. The victims of September 11th did not go to work, assuming that one of the risks of their eight hours on the job would be death. They were VICTIMS.

Do we, as a nation, come together each year to commemorate the discovery of a vaccine for polio? To remember the fall of the Berlin Wall? Are we building a memorial to honor the dead of massive natural disasters or many thousands more than the victims of 9/11 who fell in Iraq or Afghanistan?

Certainly we should not forget tragedies such as the San Francisco Earthquake, the dropping of the bomb on Japan or the horrors of the concentration camps in Europe, but the point in remembering these things is to learn from them and move on in order to make the world a better place, not to bitterly dwell upon them and use the event to flog an enemy we have not yet brought to justice.

Memory of 9/11 belongs in context with other unfortunate events in our history and the history of the world. It does not deserve to be beaten to death or used for political fodder in an election year which is, you will notice, when it is most fervently unearthed and eulogized.

Friday, August 12, 2011

No Big Pictures

In Vermont, it is illegal to paint landscapes in times of war.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tell all my mourners
To mourn in red --
Cause there ain't no sense
In my bein' dead.

- "Wake" by Langston Hughes

Friday, June 3, 2011

Terry Pratchett's Alzheimer's Speech

Terry Pratchett's Alzheimer's Speech in Full

Posted on Sunday, March 16, 2008

My name is Terry Pratchett, author of a series of inexplicably successful fantasy books and I have had Alzheimer's now for the past two years plus, in which time I managed to write a couple of bestsellers.

I have a rare variant. I don't understand very much about it, but apparently if you are going to have Alzheimer's it's a good one to have.

So, a stroke of luck there then!

Interestingly enough, when I was diagnosed last December by those nice people at Addenbrooke's, I started a very different journey through dementia.

This one had much better scenery, interesting and often very attractive inhabitants, wonderful wildlife and many opportunities for excitement and adventure.

Those of you who's last experience with computer games was looking at Lara Croft's buttocks might not be aware of how good they have become as audio and visual experiences, although I would concede that Lara's buttocks were a visual experience in their own right.

But in this case I was travelling through a country that was part of the huge computer game called Oblivion, which is so beautifully detailed that I have often ridden around it to enjoy the scenery and weather and have hardly bothered to kill anything at all.

At the same time as I began exploring the wonderful Kingdom of Dementia, which is next door to the Kingdom of Mania, I was also experiencing the slightly more realistic experience of being a 59 year old who finds they have early onset Alzheimer's.

Apparently I reacted to this situation in a reasonably typical way, with a sense of loss and abandonment with an incoherent, or perhaps I should say, violently coherent fury that made the Miltonic Lucifer's rage against Heaven seem a bit miffed by comparison. That fire still burns.

I want to go on writing! Admittedly, that means I have to stay alive.

You can't write books when you are dead, unless your name is L. Ron Hubbard.

And so now I'm a game for real. It's a nasty disease, surrounded by shadows and small, largely unseen tragedies.

People don't know what to say, unless they have had it in the family.

People ask me why I announced that I had Alzheimer's.

My response was: why shouldn't I?

I remember when people died "of a long illness" now we call cancer by its name, and as every wizard knows, once you have a thing's real name you have the first step to its taming.

We are at war with cancer, and we use that vocabulary.

We battle, we are brave, we survive. And we have a large armaments industry.

For those of us with early onset in particular, it's more of a series of skirmishes.

My GP is helpful and patient, but I don't have a specialist locally.

The NHS kindly allows me to buy my own Aricept because I'm too young to have Alzheimer's for free, a situation I'm okay with, in a want-to-kick-a-politician-in-the-teeth-kind of way.

But, on the whole, you try to be your own doctor.

The internet twangs night and day. I walk a lot and take more supplements than the Sunday papers. We talk to one another and compare regimes.

Part of me lives in a world of new age remedies and science, and some of the science is a little like voodoo.

But science was never an exact science, and personally I'd eat the arse out of a dead mole if it offered a fighting chance.

Fortunately, I have the Greek Chorus to calm me down

Soon after I told the world my website fell over and my PA had to spend the evening negotiating more bandwidth.

I had more than 60,000 messages within the first few hours.

Most of them were readers and well-wishers.

Some of them wanted to sell me snake oil and I'm not necessarily going to dismiss all of these, as I have never found a rusty snake.

But a large handful came from 'experienced' sufferers, successfully fighting a holding action, and various people in universities and research establishments who had, despite all expectations, risen to high places in their various professions even while being confirmed readers of my books.

And they said; can we help? They are the Greek Chorus. Only two of them are known to each other and they give me their advice on various options that I suggest.

They include a Wiccan, too. It's a good idea to cover all the angles.

It was interesting when I asked about having my dental amalgam fillings removed.

There was a chorus of ? hrumph, no scientific evidence, hrumph???., but if you can afford to have it done properly then it certainly won't do any harm and you never know.

And that is where I am, along with many others, scrabbling to stay ahead long enough to be there when the cure, which I suspect may be more like a regime, comes along.

Say it will be soon - there's nearly as many of us as there are cancer sufferers, and it looks as if the number of people with the disease will double within a generation.

And in most cases you will find alongside the sufferer you will find a spouse, suffering as much. It's a shock and a shame, then, to find out that funding for research is three per cent of that which goes to find cancer cures.

Perhaps that is why, for example, that I know three people who have successfully survived brain tumours but no-one who has beaten Alzheimer's???although among the Greek Chorus are some who are giving it a hard time.

I'd like a chance to die like my father did - of cancer, at 86.

Remember, I'm speaking as a man with Alzheimer's, which strips away your living self a bit at a time.

Before he went to spend his last two weeks in a hospice he was bustling around the house, fixing things.

He talked to us right up to the last few days, knowing who we were and who he was.

Right now, I envy him. And there are thousands like me, except that they don't get heard.

So let's shout something loud enough to hear. We need you and you need money. I'm giving you a million dollars. Spend it wisely.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Here's what I love: when a great writer turns me into a Jew from Chicago, a lesbian out of South Carolina, or a black woman moving into a subway entrance in Harlem. Turn me into something else, writers of the world. Make me Muslim, heretic, hermaphrodite. Put me into a crusader's armor, a cardinal's vestments. Let me feel the pygmy's heartbeat, the queen's breast, the torturer's pleasure, the Nile's taste, or the nomad's thirst. Tell me everything I must know. Hold nothing back."

-- Pat Conroy, "My Reading Life", 2010

Monday, April 11, 2011

That's Auel, Folks

The last volume in Jean Auel's "Earth's Children" series is here and apparently it is a dreary stinker. I'm judging by the hundreds of disappointed reviews by people who have already read the book and posted their feelings online.

I haven't read it yet and likely won't since I stopped at the third book and never cared for Jondalar.

This excerpt from a review by Tea With the Squash God:

"However, I also respect the contract with the readers, and if you’ve put the gun on the mantle in book three, you are required to fire it by book six. Saying, 'Hey, look, remember that gun from book three?' does not count as firing it. Visions and prophecies are not like remainders in long division — merely mentioning them does not count as resolving them."

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fed Up

Here's an interesting site which discusses the Federal Reserve.

Right off the bat, they make an observation that I've often pondered: Why don't our high schools teach 1) Fiscal responsibility and the history of things like the Federal Reserve and 2) Logical argument and the detection of fallacious types of argument?

Thursday, March 31, 2011


I thought I'd been getting awfully negative as a result of work, my injury, the way I have no current creative direction (a killer for me).

I was sure when I had the following exchange with a phone customer today:

She: "Computers live in a world of their own."
Me: (waiting for the information to come up) "Yep, don't you wish there was a way to spank them?"
She: "Oh, no! I wish there was a way to reach them and communicate effectively!"

Oh my, I was ashamed.

I've seldom had such an obvious wake-up call.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Just when I think I'm finished with Love, it smiles and buys me another drink.

-- Anonymous

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Illusion of Companionship

Here is an excerpt from a very illuminating FRONTLINE interview with Sherry Turkle:

When one talks to people who are enthusiasts for technology, they often will say, look, it's not one or the other. Having robots or text messages or cell phones to deal with all the things that we don't have time or the inclination to deal with ourselves gives us more time to have meaningful connections that we really want to have.

This is a very compelling argument until you hang out for five years with teenagers who theoretically are the ones who are supposed to be having their text messages and their long conversations, too.

What I'm seeing is a generation that says consistently, "I would rather text than make a telephone call." Why? It's less risky. I can just get the information out there. I don't have to get all involved; it's more efficient. I would rather text than see somebody face to face.

There's this sense that you can have the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. The real demands of friendship, of intimacy, are complicated. They're hard. They involve a lot of negotiation. They're all the things that are difficult about adolescence. And adolescence is the time when people are using technology to skip and to cut corners and to not have to do some of these very hard things.

So of course people try to use everything. But a generation really is growing up that, because it's given the option to not do some of the hardest things in adolescence, are growing up without some basic skills in many cases, and that's very concerning to me.

One of the things I've found with continual connectivity is there's an anxiety of disconnection; that these teens have a kind of panic. They say things like: "I lost my iPhone; it felt like somebody died, as though I'd lost my mind. If I don't have my iPhone with me, I continue to feel it vibrating. I think about it in my locker." The technology is already part of themselves.

And with the constant possibility of connectivity, one of the things that I see is ... a very subtle movement from "I have a feeling I want to make a call" to "I want to have a feeling I need to make a call" -- in other words, people almost feeling as if they can't feel their feeling unless they're connected.

I'm hearing this all over now, so it stops being pathological if it becomes a generational style. And I think we have to ask ourselves, well, what are some of the other implications of that? Because certainly our models of what adolescents go through in order to develop independent identities did not leave room for that kind of perpetual reaching out to other people in order to feel a sense of self. That was something you hopefully went through and then developed the kind of thing where: "I have a feeling. I want to tell somebody about it."

Friday, February 4, 2011

"It's easier to empathize with the dog than with the flea."
-- Eric Greene, "The Importance of Being Cute" from Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals by Hal Herzog, 2010

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Twilight + Anne Rice + L.L. Bean + Photo shoot = "Outerwear With a Vampire"
"Benedict and I have had difficult periods. And we always faced serious, scary problems. But I have a theory about courage. I don't think it's a moment of bravery when you have a rush of adrenaline. Courage is something level, a kind of force that sustains you. And that's what it takes to face difficult things, to make it through life successfully."

-- Nancy Freedman, co-author of the book Mrs. Mike

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"I've never said I was gay and I've never said that I wasn't. A Lot of people would say that I wasn't because I never do anything about it. What I'm trying to say is that I am a person before I am anything else. Now people come up to you and say, 'I'm a press agent' or 'I'm a writer.' I never say I am a writer. I never say I am an artist."

-- Edward Gorey in an interview with Lisa Solod,
Boston Magazine, September 1980

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"I ate at The Broken Drum, a little place on Wilshire whose motto is -- You Can't Beat It. The pun is bad but the food is good."

-- Richard Matheson, "Someone Is Bleeding", Lion Books, 1953
Recently reissued together with two other early Noir titles
as NOIR: 3 Novels of Suspense, Forge, 1997