Thursday, May 31, 2007

No Time To Play!

Quote of the day:
“I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine.”
--Kurt Vonnegut

Quote of the day no. 2:
“I remember fondly a joy-filled childhood in which we came home from school, gobbled down a snack and ran out to play until dark. We made up games, taught each other to roller skate and ride bicycles, ran and jumped, climbed and fell, fought and negotiated, and generally had lots of fun without adults telling us what to do.”
--Jane E. Brody, New York Times, May 22, 2007.

So much has been written about this recently. The lives of children have become over-structured and over-supervised.

As with so many topics, this is usually painted with too broad a brush. Just as some children 40 years ago didn’t lead “joy-filled” lives, it’s also true that many (most?) children today have a very healthy amount of structure in their lives.

Yet there is a serious matter to consider here. It is very difficult for children with no unstructured time both to develop social skills and to learn to think and make judgments independently. How can we expect these kids to begin to understand leadership?

On a more basic level, how can we expect these kids to learn consideration, generosity and respect?

Are we already seeing the consequences of this?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Paul Newman, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Carter

Quote of the day:
“They are the kind of people who are embarrassed by money, a dead middle-class giveaway. Poor people are not embarrassed by money and are contemptuous of those who are.”
--Rosellen Brown

Yesterday the San Diego Union-Tribune reported three historical facts, each of them a cause for reflection on the passage of time.

First was a milestone. “Jimmy Carter was the first president to be born in a hospital.” It wasn’t all that long ago that women routinely gave birth at home.

Second was an announcement. “Paul Newman says he has given up acting. ‘I’m not able to work anymore as an actor at the level I would want to,’ said Newman, 82. ‘You start to lose your memory, your confidence, your invention. So that’s pretty much a closed book for me.’”

I think of all his great roles--Hud, Cool Hand Luke, The Hustler, The Verdict, Butch Cassidy, and so many others. It’s hard to imagine that the list is coming to an end.

Third was a 65th anniversary. It was yesterday in 1942 that Bing Crosby recorded White Christmas. This snow-loving holiday classic was recorded in Los Angeles in May, and it was the top-selling record of the next 55 years. But our grandparents or great-grandparents actually knew a time before this song was ubiquitous at Christmas.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Almost an ER Trifecta

Quote of the day:
“I believe in the culture war. And you know what? If I have to take a side in the culture war, I’ll take their side. Because if you give me the choice of Paris Hilton or Jesus, I’ll take Jesus.”
--Alexandra Pelosi (daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi)

Guess who almost went to the emergency room today? C’est moi.

I was at the dentist to have some work done, and just after getting the shot of anesthetic, I felt really sick and lost consciousness.

I woke up after a minute or so and the dentist told me she had called 911. Even though I was feeling better, she insisted that they check me out.

So there we all were: two firemen, two paramedics, the dentist, the nurse and me. They all stood looking at me lying in the dentist chair.

All my vital signs were fine. They even took an EKG. It was normal, but the paramedics advised me to go with them to the ER to get checked out. I said no and signed a release. Everyone cleared out.

The dentist and I decided to go on with the procedure. It was a piece of cake compared to lying there with electrodes on my chest.

I went to see a doctor later in the day. He said I had just fainted and that I should request a different anesthetic next time. I’m following up with my personal physician next week.

In the meantime, I’m fine.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Respecting Those in the Military

Quote of the day:
“My friends tell me I have an intimacy problem. But they don’t really know me.”
--Garry Shandling

It’s Memorial Day, when we remember friends, neighbors and family members who served in the military.

Last week, with this holiday approaching, the debate in Washington continued over the funding legislation for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To help support the case for continuing war funding, President Bush declassified some intelligence documents that reportedly reveal an attempt by al-Qaeda two years ago to coordinate attacks against the U.S. According to the declassified material, the operatives for the planned attacks were based in Iraq.

While not denying the veracity of this information, several Democrats said that Bush declassifies only intelligence items that support the case for continuing the war.

We can’t know exactly what the truth is here. But, as a matter of everyday operation, the Bush administration has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to control and shape every bit of information coming from the executive branch.

Of course, every president seeks to present his policies in a positive way. I think it’s not necessarily a problem that this is done. But it is very much a problem when information control becomes the obsessive priority, above everything else and with seemingly little regard for the consequences.

On Memorial Day we think of the real, human cost of war. The real human beings who are serving us now need to know that decisions are being made with all available information, and with careful attention to consequences.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Quote of the day:
"Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It's what everything else isn't."
--Theodore Roethke

This has been a very, very quiet Memorial Day Sunday for us. We like it that way. We’ve been listening to music and reading all day.

Most of my life I’ve been going when others are stopping or stopping when others are going. It’s a way to avoid the crowds. Just like when Merrie and I eat lunch at our favorite hangout at 4 o’clock.

I’ve always enjoyed not being around when other people are. And being around when most others aren’t.

As a broadcaster, work hours are often very odd. I worked many holidays and weekends and took days off during the week. Also, often I seemed to be arriving at work just as others were leaving. When I started I worked a lot of odd shifts.

In the ministry, your work is organized around Sunday. Often Saturdays are punctuated by weddings, meetings or other events. Most ministers who wish to retain their sanity try to take off either Monday or Friday. If they get along with their congregations they take off another day also.

Only very, very rarely do I think that being out of sync is a bad thing.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Puppy to ER

Quote of the day:
“If the Second Amendment right is a personal right (rather than one enjoyed by the now obsolete state militias), it is one of those rights (like the obligations of a contract) that government may for good reason regulate or limit, and there is plenty of good reason for most gun-control regulation.”
--Charles Fried, Professor of Law, Harvard University

We had our second trip of the week to the emergency room. This time it was Sophie. It turns out she had an allergic reaction to a bee sting.

We were out for a walk in the beautiful afternoon sun. On our way back home she started looking a little woozy, and then she simply laid down in the grass. She was very sick and very weak.

I thought I might have to carry her, but she rallied to make her way straight home and in the front door. Then she laid down on the floor, her face swelling and breathing labored.

Merrie took her to the ER vet (whose name is spelled $$$$). They found the bee sting in her mouth, gave her a couple shots and watched her for about 90 minutes. We were glad that she could come home after this.

She seems ok now--sleeping, mostly. Merrie is fixing rice, chicken and cottage cheese for her.

What a dog. What a dog mother.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Hitting the Road

Quote of the day:
"There's an elegiac quality in watching [American wilderness] go, because it's our own myth, the American frontier, that's deteriorating before our eyes. I feel a deep sorrow that my kids will never get to see what I've seen, and their kids will see nothing; there's a deep sadness whenever I look at nature now."
--Peter Matthiessen

As usual, this holiday weekend began about 10:30 this morning as people across the country flipped on the “I’m on vacation” lights on the tops of their heads. Some people needed to stay at work pretending to do something for a few hours. But most everyone was gone by noon, or 1:15 at the latest.

The expectation is that some one-third of America will travel this Memorial Day. Here in San Diego we can actually feel the ground tip slightly as the inland population goes down and people from everywhere cram the beaches and attractions.

As for Merrie and me, we are vacationing at our favorite place, our home. We’ll relish the quiet and the ease of doing things with so many folks gone.

Whatever you do, enjoy!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Three Women Driving Fast

Quote of the day:
“Before sleeping together today, people should boil themselves.”
--Richard Lewis

Quote of the day no. 2:
“A tremendous number of people in America work very hard at something that bores them. Even a rich man thinks he has to go down to the office every day. Not because he likes it, but because he can’t think of anything else to do.”
--W.H. Auden

It’s Memorial Day weekend, time for the Indianapolis 500. I really like the annual ritual of watching this race. This Sunday I’ll be able to watch it from start to finish for the first time in several years.

A bit more history is being made this year at Indianapolis as three women have qualified for the race. It’s not just Danica Patrick any longer. How about that!

Race coverage on TV has become much more interesting over the last several years with cameras inside many cars and the use of very creative graphics describing the action. It’s all pretty darn amazing in high definition, with great sound. “Whoom, whoom, whoom-whoom-whooma-whooma!”

If the yearly 500 is not enough, I can extend my joy by watching the NASCAR race scheduled later in the day. A whole day of watching very rapid automobiles. What a time we live in!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Back Home Quick

Quote of the day:
"Achievements, seldom credited to their source, are the result of unspeakable drudgery and worries."
--Richard Wagner

Quote of the day no. 2:
“Hollywood markets its product to audiences assigned an average age of sixteen and believed to be happily at play in the bathtubs of the Everlasting Now.”
--Lewis Lapham in the May 2007 Harper’s.

Merrie made it home in plenty of time to see the American Idol results show. In fact, she made it with six hours to spare.

We’re relieved that tests showed she hadn’t had a heart attack. So she came home, had lunch, and took a long nap. There was one mighty pleased German Shepherd mix on the premises.

Then we had the chance to be surprised that the last American Idol turned out to be a fairly entertaining variety show.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Another Bump in the Road

Quote of the day:
“For the first thirty years of my life everybody’s phone rang exactly the same way.”
--Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman in today’s Zits.

Quote of the day no. 2:
"The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it's considered to be your style."
--Fred Astaire

Merrie was feeling a little pain and pressure this afternoon, which meant a trip to the emergency room. The initial tests the doctors made indicated that there was no heart attack. but they were not conclusive enough. So the decision was made to admit her to the hospital for 24 hours for observation.

She’s having blood tests every few hours and she expects to see her cardiologist tomorrow. She was disappointed to miss the final American Idol and asked me to give her a complete report. Which I attempted to do.

Now she is hoping to be home in time for the results show tomorrow night. Wouldn’t that be great?

Another Bump in the Road

Quote of the day:
“For the first thirty years of my life everybody’s phone rang exactly the same way.”
--Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman in today’s Zits.

Quote of the day no. 2:
"The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it's considered to be your style."
--Fred Astaire

Merrie was feeling a little pain and pressure this afternoon, which meant a trip to the emergency room. The initial tests the doctors made indicated that there was no heart attack. but they were not conclusive enough. So the decision was made to admit her to the hospital for 24 hours for observation.

She’s having blood tests every few hours and she expects to see her cardiologist tomorrow. She was disappointed to miss the final American Idol and asked me to give her a complete report. Which I attempted to do.

Now she is hoping to be home in time for the results show tomorrow night. Wouldn’t that be great?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Carter vs. Bush

Quote of the day:
"Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth—more than ruin—more even than death. ... Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man."
--Bertrand Russell

Even though I didn’t have the radio on this morning, I could still hear the disgusted sputtering of Rush Limbaugh and his dittoheads. As in: “If he can’t support our president and our troops, he should keep quiet.” Or: “He’s one to talk... he’s the one who (fill in the blank).” Or: “If he were president after 9/11, the terrorists would have attacked again. This has not happened under Bush because he has been strong.”

Former President Carter really started something over the weekend when he said in an interview “I think, as far as the adverse impact on our nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history.”

He did back off this statement this morning when he told the Today show’s Meredith Viera that he meant to compare the Bush administration just to that of Richard Nixon. See a transcript of the Viera interview at

It’s interesting that neither of Carter’s statements is especially outlandish. I’m not an expert on foreign policy or the history of international relations. But in all the yakking about the audacity of Carter’s statements, I haven’t heard anyone suggest, in a specific way, that any other president had a worse foreign policy.

Very early in his presidency, Bush simply walked away from several long-standing agreements and ongoing negotiations. These included Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, the Kyoto agreement and nuclear weapons treaties.

I can understand a new administration having problems with a particular process or agreement, and I can understand the corresponding effort to make changes in the process or agreement over time. But I think it is tragic to simply abandon or summarily reject the painstaking work of hundreds of skilled diplomats over many years.

I would bet that there are many, many reasonable, non-ideological citizens who agree with what Carter said. Or at least are willing to hear his opinion debated in a rational way.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

"The Sopranos" as Shakespeare

Quote of the day:
“One life stamps and influences another, which in turn stamps and influences another, on and on, until the soul of human experience breathes on in generations we’ll never even meet.”
--Mary Kay Blakely

After the first couple of seasons of "The Sopranos" on HBO, a reviewer referred to the series as Shakespeare for our era. At the time I thought that was a bit hyperbolic, but as the show approaches its final episodes I have changed my mind.

"The Sopranos" has done what "Hill Street Blues" did in the 1980s. It has brought a new level of drama and a new level of quality to television.

It began a trend of telling more-challenging stories with much better writing and much higher production values. "Six Feet Under," "The Wire," "Deadwood," "Rome," "The L Word" and "The Tudors" all sprang from the success of "The Sopranos." Shows on broadcast TV and basic cable have also been developed in response, but have not reached this level because of subject-matter restrictions.

Some characters on "The Sopranos" can be very coarse and shockingly brutal. People have told me they can’t watch it because of the violence and the prodigious profanity. But let’s face it: whatever our patriotic songs and our national mythology tell us, we can be a very coarse and shockingly brutal people.

It is exactly because these shows are so challenging that they are both so entertaining and enlightening. Just like Shakespeare, they portray the poignancy of human goodness and the tragedy of human failings. They call us to examine ourselves and to respond to the best in us.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Quote of the day:
“Every year the U.S. school system graduates 700,000 people who cannot read their diplomas.”

Quote of the day no. 2:
“Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart give yourself to it.”

The movie “Waitress” has become more well known for the tragic death of Adrienne Shelly--its director, writer and co-star--than for any qualities it may have on its own. Too bad, because it’s a good film.

Three waitresses work at a pie cafe in an unnamed southern town. They all have problems with men. Just hearing that story line might make you think it’s just like a dozen other movies and TV shows.

But Shelly takes a unique approach. There’s a special kind of aura around these characters. Shelly brings together theatre techniques, a hint of "The Wizard of Oz," the metaphor of continuous pie-making and the prospect of new life.

The result is a slightly other-worldly almost-fairy-tale that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. And Andy Griffith is great.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hot Music

Quote of the day:
“One cannot rest except after steady practice.”
--George Ade

Quote of the day no. 2:
“Personally I have nothing against work, particularly when performed, quietly and unobtrusively, by someone else. I just don’t happen to think it’s an appropriate subject for an ‘ethic.’”
--Barbara Ehrenreich

April’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival brought tens of thousands of people to the desert to see tons of great music. Performing were Willie Nelson, Rage Against the Machine (in a much-anticipated reunion), Crowded House, Happy Mondays, the Arctic Monkeys, Kings of Leon, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bjork, Roots, Amy Winehouse, Arcade Fire, Lily Allen, Mika, Peter Bjorn & John, Jarvis Cocker, Pharoahe Monch and others.

Two items of note. First, the temperatures in the Coachella Valley this time of year usually range between very hot and blazing. At least it’s not the summer. Then, temperatures are between blazing and blast furnace. It shows extraordinary commitment to pay to attend a long concert under such extreme conditions.

Second, another performer at the concert was the original Bessie Smith. A DJ named David J took his turn in the DJ Dome, and he played nothing but pre-1939 78s, using a 1908 wind-up Victrola.

I like this guy.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

One Billion Uncounted People

Quote of the day:
“Children’s talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives.”
--Maya Angelou

Quote of the day no. 2:
“Manners cannot be taught unless the underlying premise exists that the feelings of other people matter.”
--Judith Martin, today’s Miss Manners

Quote of the day no. 3:
“About one billion people in the world live in slums. According to a United Nations document, ‘The urban poor are trapped in an informal and “illegal” world--in slums that are not reflected on maps, where waste is not collected, where taxes are not paid, and where public services are note provided. Officially, they do not exist.’ In the next 20 years the number of slum dwellers is expected to double. The Millenium Development goals are projected to improve the lives of only 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.”
--New Yorker, November 13, 2006.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Twisted Voting

Quote of the day:
“It’s the job of intellectuals and writers to cast doubt on perfection.”
--Antonio Tabucchi

Here I go, writing about American Idol for the second day in a row. Maybe I’m losing my mind.

A gasp was heard across the nation tonight, as Ryan Seacrest revealed that Blake and Jordin would be on the final episode. Melinda had the lowest number of call-in votes and was eliminated.

I had not done an extensive survey, but from what I did read and hear, it seemed almost certain that Melinda would be in the final. People agreed that she was the best singer on the show. Randy, Paula and Simon as much as said that. I think she’s the best of the last three seasons.

She was not eliminated because “the audience” voted her off. What we have here is a particularity of voting.

Consider this. Melinda is a fairly sophisticated singer with a strong adult appeal. Blake is hip, happening and poppy. Jordin is 17 and very likeable.

Then consider this. While a wide variety of people vote after the show airs, most of the votes are cast by those under 25--and especially those under 18. Many teens and their friends are voting dozens if not hundreds of times.

While I’m sure there are many teens who like Melinda, her primary appeal is older--among people who may vote two or three times if they vote at all.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter that she will not win the competition. Melinda’s talent will take her far indeed. I will be interested to hear her first album.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Simon Cowell, You Are Wrong

Quote of the day:
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
--Abraham Lincoln, from the second inaugural address.

Well, well well. Next week is the final episode of American Idol. It may be hard to believe if you avoid the show, but there has actually been some good singing this season. Maybe some of the best singing since this show began.

Naturally, many performances--and some whole weeks--are forgettable at best. The most recent example is Barry Gibb week--last week. Let’s not talk about it.

I usually agree with Simon Cowell in his evaluation of the performances, but I take exception to two of his comments, both in reaction to Jordin.

One was last night after she sang “I Who Have Nothing”--a song Tom Jones made popular 37 years ago. Simon called the song “old fashioned” and suggested that Jordin was ill-served by it. I think she sang it very well indeed. It was a moving moment, and the audience clearly was affected.

Another moving moment was several weeks ago when Jordin sang another old song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s "Carousel." It was authentically heartfelt, and practically brought down the house as the show ender. But, again, Simon said the song was “too old” for 17-year-old Jordin.

Far be it from me to pretend to know more than a wildly successful music executive. Well, not that far. The fact that a 17-year-old can take a “corny” old song, understand it and make it honestly her own says something important about her character as well as her talent.

And I also think it would sell. So there.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Stuff Happens

Quote of the day:
“I never gave them hell. I just told them the truth and they thought it was hell.”
--Harry Truman

Quote of the day no. 2:
“Some people think they are worth a lot of money just because they have it.”
--Fannie Hurst

When stuff happens. Explaining life’s vexing questions:
Taoism: Stuff happens. Who gives a stuff?
Hinduism: This stuff has happened before and will happen again.
Buddhism: The stuff that happens doesn’t really.
Zen: What is the sound of stuff happening?
Islam: The stuff that will happen will happen.
Judaism: Lord, why is this stuff happening to me?
Evangelicalism: Jesus, we praise you and just wanna ask why this stuff isn’t happening to someone else.
Catholicism: Stuff happens because you deserve it.
Rastafarianism: Let’s smoke the stuff.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

"I Live Half an Hour From Work"

Quote of the day:
"My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it."
--Mark Twain

Quote of the day no. 2:
“When I get in, I’m pumped up, ready to go.”
--A Cisco Systems engineer who drives 372 miles--seven hours--to and from work every day. He lives in the Sierra foothills and works in San Jose.

Quote of the day no. 3:
“Researchers have found that hours spent behind the wheel raise blood pressure and cause workers to get sick and stay home more often.
--Eric M. Weiss, The Washington Post, April 24, 2007.

Have you ever heard anyone use the expression “commute from heaven”? Neither have I.

What we hear about are different manifestations of “commute from hell.” It is a “commute from hell” because there were two serious accidents along the way. Or, very rarely, it is a “commute from hell” for me every day.

We often rationalize and delude ourselves about commuting. We say to ourselves and others we live “just a half hour from work” when we know that means only when we can drive 75 mph the whole distance. It takes a while to realize and understand the effects of long commutes.

Years ago Merrie and I lived in Lakeside, a community about 25 miles east of San Diego. I was “about a half hour” from work, and Merrie was “about 45 minutes.”

One day, after about four years of doing this, it dawned on me that the first thing I was doing every morning was listening to the traffic report and getting stressed. Maybe some people consider this daily stress a small price to pay for an affordable big house with a yard, or whatever. We found it mighty annoying.

We simply didn’t want to live our lives that way, so we moved into the city--seven minutes to my job (including three stoplights) and “about fifteen minutes” to Merrie’s.

It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Me Good, You Good; Me Bad, You Bad

Quote of the day:
“The tide is high, but I’m holding on.”

Quote of the day no. 2:
“Written history is, in fact, nothing of the kind; it is the fragmentary record of the often inexplicable actions of innumerable bewildered human beings, set down and interpreted according to their own limitations by other human beings, equally bewildered.”
--Veronica Wedgwood

Quote of the day no. 3:
“Factual truth is not the only thing that matters. It can be just as illuminating to know what people thought or pretended was true, if one can discover why they thought it, or why they had to pretend it. I do not despise a plausible legend, or totally disbelieve a miracle that everyone believed in.”
--David Howarth

As for me, I enjoy the fantasy of believing that I’m right all the time. But no one else seems to share my enjoyment.

Exactly what is legend and what is history continues to divide us. The creation stories at the beginning of the bible are a great example of this. Some people discard the stories as barbaric, others reverently worship the details and take them literally. Reasonable people find themselves somewhere between these two extremes.

Most people never read the actual stories. Just as very few people read the actual text from which the ten commandments are taken. (People seem to like the list better, even though it is a broad interpretation.)

Whatever we feel or believe about these stories, what matters is this: all people live based on the premise of either the first or the second creation story. And that’s the truth of the matter.

Premise of first story: human beings are inherently good. As in “God looked over all that he had created and saw that it was very good.”

Premise of second story (Adam and Eve): human beings are inherently bad. So bad that they were thrown out of the garden.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Hi-Yo Silver, Away!

Quote of the day:
“Somehow life doesn’t always pay off to those who are most insistent.”
--Max Lerner

Quote of the day no. 2:
"For now, books are still the best way of taking great art and its consolations along with us on the bus."
--Francine Prose

When I was growing up, my parents had an album of overtures, including Rossini’s "William Tell." I listened to it a lot. And I was very dutiful--I listened to the whole thing, not just the Lone Ranger part at the end. Aren’t you proud of me?

Classical-music aficionados tend to look down on this piece as being a tad ridiculous. I confess it’s been years since I’ve listened to it.

In fact, it is fun, enjoyable and vivid music, as I just rediscovered. I listened to a $3 used record I just bought of Rossini overtures played by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan. It was so much fun that I had to get out a couple of other versions and listen to them, too.

But Karajan was the best. The playing is impeccable and precise. The brass section is literally incredible. It’s as if they’re getting inside the spirit of the story. This is a great orchestra. I don’t think I’m the first person to say that.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Lego My Lego

Quote of the day:
“To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man.”
--Michael Servetus

Quote of the day no. 2:
“Sex. In America an obsession. In other parts of the world a fact.”
--Marlene Dietrich

Just north of San Diego there’s a popular theme park called Legoland. It’s aimed at young children and their parents, and features displays and rides consisting of or based on things built from Legos.

Several weeks ago Legoland was promoting a new attraction, called New York, New York. It’s based on the Las Vegas resort of the same name. Which is based on the skyline of Manhattan.

So what we have here is a commercial attraction modeled on another commercial attraction which is based on a well-known group of buildings.

The next step will be a box of Legos called New York, New York. It will be based on the theme park based on the resort based on the city.

Don’t we live in a fascinating world?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Wide Open Spaces

Quote of the day:
“Say, you haven’t stopped talking since you got here. You must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle.”
--Groucho Marx, to Margaret DuMont

It’s a simple thing, but it always amazes me.

When you leave the city and travel almost anywhere in the heart of the west, you find yourself in wide open spaces, with little obvious evidence of human beings for miles in every direction.

I’ve lived in urban areas my whole life, except for four years in a small college town. So I’m not accustomed to this. Hence my amazement at seeing nothing but natural landscape surrounding me.

I wonder if anyone does get accustomed to this?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Georgia O'Keeffe On My Mind

Quote of the day:
“If you’re naturally kind you attract a lot of people you don’t like.”
--William Feather

Quote of the day no. 2:
“Myth is the step by which the individual emerges from group psychology.”
--Sigmund Freud

Years ago Charles Kuralt did a wonderful interview of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who lived her later life in the countryside outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. Two things stick with me from that conversation. They both are responses to a question about how she found inspiration for her work.

O’Keeffe said that one way she found inspiration was to listen to Beethoven. But not just any Beethoven. It was the piano sonatas. And it wasn’t just any version of the piano sonatas. It was Rudolph Serkin’s recordings. When Kuralt asked her if she listened while she was painting, she emphatically said no--she simply sat and listened.

She also talked about the more-obvious inspiration of her natural surroundings. I remember watching as she attempted to describe how the quality of light synergistically met the landscape to create other-worldly moments.

That effect is indeed very hard to describe, yet it is real. There is something about how the altitude and latitude affects sunlight--it is both bright and slightly muted, and direct yet strangely angular.

Whatever the exact cause, the quality of light brings a unique beauty to much of New Mexico and Arizona.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Last Train From Clarkdale

Quote of the day:
"I have a terrible need of — shall I say the word — religion. Then I go out and paint the stars."
--Vincent Van Gogh

Merrie and I are aboard the train between Clarksdale and Perkinsville in central Arizona. Clarksdale is a thriving small village and one of many former copper-mining towns in the state. Perkinsville’s population is about five.

This is a purely sightseeing train trip, and it’s through some classic, unpopulated, unspoiled western landscape. Rivers, trees, mountains, sheer cliffs and desert. That’s after you pass the huge Clarksdale slag heaps at the start of the trip.

A highlight was seeing a bald eagle’s nest on a cliffside with two chicks in it. We also saw the mother or father flying above the river.

Merrie alerted me to this by running into the train car flapping her arms. It was a very clear and emphatic communication, and several other passengers appreciated it.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Climbing From Warm to Cool

Quote of the day:
“The friend who holds your hand and says the wrong thing is made of dearer stuff than the one who stays away.”
--Barbara Kingsolver

Quote of the day no. 2:
“If those who owe us nothing gave us nothing, how poor we would be.”
--Antonio Porchia

We took a drive this afternoon north from Cottonwood, Arizona, through Sedona to Flagstaff. The scenery along this route is stunning, as is the temperature change.

Cottonwood is in the high desert. The weather is quite warm in the summer, but is moderated by an altitude of 3000 feet. The air is a touch thinner, too.

Travel half an hour north and 1000 feet up and you’re in Sedona, which is set among spectacular towering red cliffs. It is a long-time magnet for artists, tourists, real estate brokers and seekers of the mysterious energy vortex.

Another 45 minutes and 3000 more feet brings you to Flagstaff, the coldest populated place in Arizona. You won’t find any cactus here, except in kitchen window boxes.

Flagstaff is not what most people think of when they think of Arizona. If you blindfolded me and dropped me in the middle of its charming downtown, I would assume I was in Colorado.

From there it’s just an hour and fifteen minutes to the Grand Canyon. And a lot of folks don’t realize that it’s in Arizona, too.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Life in the Desert

Quote of the day:
“I’m a secretary. On a good day I type ninety-five words per minute, on a bad day I show up drunk in my pajamas.”
--Mary Beth Cowan

Quote of the day no. 2:
“Figure it out. Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there’s no one to live in it.”
--Arthur Miller

Southern Californians sometimes complain that the drive to Las Vegas is incredibly boring because most of it is through the desert.

The desert is far from boring, of course. And this is especially evident in Arizona, where you can watch the landscape and terrain gradually transform as you drive. Seemingly slight changes in altitude and proximity to moisture cause significant variations in the amount and type of vegetation.

The saguaro cactus may be the most obvious example of this. It is quite common in southern Arizona, but it needs a very specific climate to thrive. When you drive anywhere in the southern half of the state, it’s common to see a few growing for a mile or two, and then none for a long time, and then some more for a few miles.

If you aren’t familiar with it, the saguaro is the tall cactus with arms that was featured with Snoopy’s grandfather in the Peanuts comic strip. It’s also the state symbol of Arizona. Saguaros take a long time to grow--they don’t sprout arms until they’re 80 years old.

The organ pipe cactus is also fascinating. It prefers the very hottest part of the hottest desert. That’s why it’s confined to the Sonoran Desert, which stretches from Mexico into southernmost Arizona. The organ pipe thrives in that blazing desert, wherever there is no shade during the day.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Creative Refreshment Along the Way

Quote of the day:
“Intellect does not attain its full force until it attacks power.”
--Madame de Stael

Wenden, Arizona used to be a stop on the way from Phoenix to Los Angeles. Just like many towns throughout the west, it was made obsolete long ago by the interstate highway system.

The Ingredients Way Cool Cafe in Wenden is run by a group of women with a uniquely creative touch. They take old stuff (i.e. junk) and turn it into art and design.

The owner took Merrie and me on a tour of the backyard, which was populated by an array of old doors, hanging lamps that don’t work, glassware, saddles and homemade tables and chairs. It’s quite a place, and its quirkiness is oddly comforting in the middle of the Arizona Desert.

They have great coffee, too.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

GOP Debate

Quote of the day:
“Miss Manners has learned to be wary of those who declare too roundly that they are true to themselves. Too often it turns out to be at the expense of decencies toward others.”
--Judith Martin

Quote of the day no. 2:
“One of the saddest things is that the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. You can’t eat for eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours--all you can do for eight hours is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy.”
--William Faulkner

I’m sorry that I had to miss the debate among the Republican presidential candidates. I gotta say I wasn’t aware that there were ten of them--with at least one more on the way.

Is it just me, or is there less variation among the GOP choices than among the Democrats?

Do the three candidates who said they “did not believe in evolution” actually not think it’s true? Or do they feel like they have to say it for political reasons?

It brings to mind what I talked about in "Pondering the Christian Right."

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Thee, Thine, Thou, Wow

Quote of the day:
“In the U.S. you have to be a deviant or exist in extreme boredom. Make no mistake, all intellectuals are deviants in the U.S.”
--William S. Burroughs

Merrie’s favorite commercial:
The one with the aliens in the office talking about a vacation in New Mexico.

Morning music:
A Bach violin concerto, with David Oistrakh
Debussy’s Preludes played by Walter Haas
Beethoven’s Piano Trio No. 2
Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, played by the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam

Today is the 396th anniversary of the publication of the King James bible. At the time, words like “doth” and “sayeth” were no longer used. In fact, they hadn’t been common for many years. But the authors wanted to give the book the sound of an ancient document.

The influence of the King James bible on our culture and language is considerable. This is especially obvious in the liturgies and beloved hymns of churches.

Fondness for the King James version sometimes goes too far. This is usually harmless, even amusing. For example, when certain people prayed in one of my churches, they would automatically switch to King James English, using words like “thee,” “thou,” “leadeth” and “wouldst.”

I think the unconscious assumption was that King James English is God’s language. So God will understand you if you use it when you pray.

Due to the fact that the King James bible was used for hundreds of years to teach English to children, its rhythms, poetry and images have become embedded in our language. It is beautifully and vividly written, and has been mined extensively for creative inspiration.

But respect and affection for this book are sometimes taken way too far. For example, some congregations and individuals consider the King James bible to be the only “true” bible. This is logically impossible, of course, unless you assume the book dropped out of the sky in 1611, and was therefore not based on any previous bibles.

And unless you assume that God speaks only English. King James English.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Three Vital Economic Trends

Quote of the day:
“When you grow up in a dysfunctional household, you quickly tune in to what's going on under the surface. From age five or six, I was scanning, figuring out all the stuff not being discussed."
--Sue Grafton

Quote of the day no. 2:
“We’re losing eight children and teenagers a day to gun violence. As far as young people are concerned, we lose the equivalent of the massacre at Virginia Tech every four days.”
--Marian Wright Edelman

Morning Music:
We began with Debussy’s Images and Dances for Harp and Orchestra in a wonderful Phillips LP from the 1970s with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. Then we listened to a Bach Cantata (no. 69) on a fine old Erato recording. Feeling adventurous, I put on Mahler’s Third by the London Symphony--the Nonesuch recording that Gramophone magazine still adores. Mahler was too much for the morning, so I took it off and went back 600 years to Dufay. Then the Mendelssohn Octet (another Erato) and then the Sinead O’Connor Irish CD from 2002.


We are regaled two or three times each month with news stories about surveys of home prices. We are hugely interested in these reports.

At the same time, there are three more-significant economic trends that we don’t seem to be much interested in.

The dollar is at a 25-year low, measured against the British pound, the euro and most international currencies. If you have traveled outside the U.S. recently, you’re very aware of this.

The dollar being so low gives other nations even more incentive to invest in dollars and dollar-denominated assets. A "San Diego Union Tribune" financial columnist cleverly pointed out recently that the biggest U.S. export to China is dollars. China has accumulated $1.2 trillion in foreign-exchange reserves, and that figure is going up by the hour. Interesting tidbit: in order to buy dollars, the Chinese are simply printing more of their own currency, the yuan.

Second economic trend: long-term interest rates are lower than short-term rates. It’s been this way for several months. The consequence is obvious: it is more advantageous to borrow long-term than short. And, for savings, it is more advantageous to invest short-term than long.

Third, the Dow Industrial Average is hitting all-time highs. This is a result of the first two trends, and also because corporate earnings seem to be getting stronger.