Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pondering Obama

While waiting on my tickets for the Inauguration (yes, I applied on my Congressperson’s website but figure I don’t have a chance in hell), I’ve been thinking about how much we’ve changed since November 4th. There’s so much to be proud of. At least 51% of voters have grown up. Nothing will be simple black and white any more.

Here’s a reason to smile, even weep:

Here’s another -

And the whole shebang (if you need to connect with your emotions, play one after another) -

Makes you feel wonderful, doesn’t it. Sure there’s crap in the world, even a bunch of sickos wishing to take a shot at Obama. But I think there’s a spirit in this country that has been a long time in waking and there’s no stopping it now.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Short term memory

Sitting here with layers on because I refuse to jack up the thermostat and it’s about 60 here in my living room, I am reminded of early August in a certain park in Nazareth PA, in shorts and t-shirt, sitting on a picnic table playing my Martin triple-oh-eighteen. Man, I was hot!!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pondering the important questions

Okay, I’m sick. I never get sick. I refuse to get sick. I terrify germs. But this one got me. Maybe it’s because I’m more comfortable here in my new home and can afford to let my guard down. Or maybe it’s the exhaustion after the election, the one I slept, ate and breathed politics over. The one that gave me nightmares of you betchas and winks at world leaders and most of all the incitements to the bigoted crowds. Anyway, here I am, overjoyed with the election but not feeling my best.

Okay, so here’s the question of the day: If you’re supposed to feed a cold and starve a fever (I think I got that much right), what happens if you have both? Do you practice bulemia?

Until I get that figured out, I’m going to fall asleep to my Rachel Maddow fix. And if any of you out there in blogdom know the answer, feel free to jump in.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Angry and defrauded young

If any question why we died, tell them, because our fathers lied. -R. Kipling

Often, the lines above are used in reference to the Vietnam War and Nixon’s and Johnson’s and McNamara’s lies or now to the war in Iraq and to the lies of George W. Bush.

I think of one killed in each of those wars - and the utter waste.

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,
Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,
For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.
— Ezra Pound, 1920

I wish George W. in death, an afterlife, as in more words of Kipling:


I could not dig: I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

The hard truth that Vince and Guy before him already knew and my promise to them both that I will never forget.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The wordsmith Prez

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Obama is a poet as well as a superb speaker. Published were two poems he wrote at 18, appearing in Occidental College’s literary magazine, Feast. Before you judge, think back to your poems at 18. Better yet, think of the words of the current President he’s replacing.

Two poems by Barack Obama:


Sitting in his seat, a seat broad and broken
In, sprinkled with ashes,
Pop switches channels, takes another
Shot of Seagrams, neat, and asks
What to do with me, a green young man
Who fails to consider the
Flim and flam of the world, since
Things have been easy for me;
I stare hard at his face, a stare
That deflects off his brow;
I’m sure he’s unaware of his
Dark, watery eyes, that
Glance in different directions,
And his slow, unwelcome twitches,
Fail to pass.
I listen, nod,
Listen, open, till I cling to his pale,
Beige T-shirt, yelling,
Yelling in his ears, that hang
With heavy lobes, but he’s still telling
His joke, so I ask why
He’s so unhappy, to which he replies…
But I don’t care anymore, cause
He took too damn long, and from
Under my seat, I pull out the
Mirror I’ve been saving; I’m laughing,
Laughing loud, the blood rushing from his face
To mine, as he grows small,
A spot in my brain, something
That may be squeezed out, like a
Watermelon seed between
Two fingers.
Pop takes another shot, neat,
Points out the same amber
Stain on his shorts that I’ve got on mine, and
Makes me smell his smell, coming
From me; he switches channels, recites an old poem
He wrote before his mother died,
Stands, shouts, and asks
For a hug, as I shrink, my
Arms barely reaching around
His thick, oily neck, and his broad back; ‘cause
I see my face, framed within
Pop’s black-framed glasses
And know he’s laughing too.


Under water grottos, caverns
Filled with apes
That eat figs.
Stepping on the figs
That the apes
Eat, they crunch.
The apes howl, bare
Their fangs, dance,
Tumble in the
Rushing water,
Musty, wet pelts
Glistening in the blue.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I used to think Dick Cavett was a bore

Okay I confess, I’m being incredibly lazy today. And, in fact, there’s no way I can say it better than this. I grew up with the Dick Cavett Show and I had no idea he was such an enlightened wordsmith. I thought he was mostly a yawn. So, my apologies, Dick. And here’s to you and your blog on the mantle of my blog.

From his blog on the NY Times online:
November 14, 2008, 10:00 pm

The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla

Electronic devices dislike me. There is never a day when something isn’t ailing. Three out of these five implements — answering machine, fax machine, printer, phone and electric can-opener — all dropped dead on me in the past few days.

Now something has gone wrong with all three television sets. They will get only Sarah Palin.

I can play a kind of Alaskan roulette. Any random channel clicked on by the remote brings up that eager face, with its continuing assaults on the English Lang.

There she is with Larry and Matt and just about everyone else but Dr. Phil (so far). If she is not yet on “Judge Judy,” I suspect it can’t be for lack of trying.

What have we done to deserve this, this media blitz that the astute Andrea Mitchell has labeled “The Victory Tour”?

I suppose it will be recorded as among political history’s ironies that Palin was brought in to help John McCain. I can’t blame feminists who might draw amusement from the fact that a woman managed to both cripple the male she was supposed to help while gleaning an almost Elvis-sized following for herself. Mac loses, Sarah wins big-time was the gist of headlines.

I feel a little sorry for John. He aimed low and missed.

What will ambitious politicos learn from this? That frayed syntax, bungled grammar and run-on sentences that ramble on long after thought has given out completely are a candidate’s valuable traits?

And how much more of all that lies in our future if God points her to those open-a-crack doors she refers to? The ones she resolves to splinter and bulldoze her way through upon glimpsing the opportunities, revealed from on high.

What on earth are our underpaid teachers, laboring in the vineyards of education, supposed to tell students about the following sentence, committed by the serial syntax-killer from Wasilla High and gleaned by my colleague Maureen Dowd for preservation for those who ask, “How was it she talked?”

My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars.

And, she concluded, “never, ever did I talk about, well, gee, is it a country or a continent, I just don’t know about this issue.”

It’s admittedly a rare gift to produce a paragraph in which whole clumps of words could be removed without noticeably affecting the sense, if any.

(A cynic might wonder if Wasilla High School’s English and geography departments are draped in black.)

(How many contradictory and lying answers about The Empress’s New Clothes have you collected? I’ve got, so far, only four. Your additional ones welcome.)

Matt Lauer asked her about her daughter’s pregnancy and what went into the decision about how to handle it. Her “answer” did not contain the words “daughter,” “pregnancy,” “what to do about it” or, in fact, any two consecutive words related to Lauer’s query.

I saw this as a brief clip, so I don’t know whether Lauer recovered sufficiently to follow up, or could only sit there, covered in disbelief. If it happens again, Matt, I bequeath you what I heard myself say once to an elusive guest who stiffed me that way: “Were you able to hear any part of my question?”

At the risk of offending, well, you, for example, I worry about just what it is her hollering fans see in her that makes her the ideal choice to deal with the world’s problems: collapsed economies, global warming, hostile enemies and our current and far-flung twin battlefronts, either of which may prove to be the world’s second “30 Years’ War.”

Has there been a poll to see if the Sarah-ites are numbered among that baffling 26 percent of our population who, despite everything, still maintain that President George has done a heckuva job?

A woman in one of Palin’s crowds praised her for being “a mom like me … who thinks the way I do” and added, for ill measure, “That’s what I want in the White House.” Fine, but in what capacity?

Do this lady’s like-minded folk wonder how, say, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, et al (add your own favorites) managed so well without being soccer moms? Without being whizzes in the kitchen, whipping up moose souffl├ęs? Without executing and wounding wolves from the air and without promoting that sad, threadbare hoax — sexual abstinence — as the answer to the sizzling loins of the young?

(In passing, has anyone observed that hunting animals with high-powered guns could only be defined as sport if both sides were equally armed?)

I’d love to hear what you think has caused such an alarming number of our fellow Americans to fall into the Sarah Swoon.

Could the willingness to crown one who seems to have no first language have anything to do with the oft-lamented fact that we seem to be alone among nations in having made the word “intellectual” an insult? (And yet…and yet…we did elect Obama. Surely not despite his brains.)

Sorry about all of the foregoing, as if you didn’t get enough of the lady every day in every medium but smoke signals.

I do not wish her ill. But I also don’t wish us ill. I hope she continues to find happiness in Alaska.

May I confess that upon first seeing her, I liked her looks? With the sound off, she presents a not uncomely frontal appearance.

But now, as the Brits say, “I’ll be glad to see the back of her.”


I’ve been having such fun reading all the replies on the Internet -

Most confirmed what I felt (favorite line: “one who seems to have no first language”) that finally there was an intellect in the media who could take apart Palin-speak without losing him/herself in it.

A few smart-asses started taking apart Cavett’s words (”you can’t hear a wince, you can only see a wince”).

And then there was a response that seemed oddly familiar. After reading it several times, I continue to ask myself is it a put-on (”but seriously, Volks”?) or for real? Or am I just getting paranoid about the now historical fact that a candidate for one of the highest powers in the land doesn’t have to make sense, so now they’re all coming out.

I’ll let you decide:

You ask what makes her popular. The word says it all, but let Shakespeare try, too: “The skipping King [...] enfoeffed himself to popularity [... and] ambled up and down, with shallow jesters and rash bavin wits, soon kindled and soon burnt.” People like her because she talks like them, and as a English teacher I can tell you that most folks write like they talk so when they talk like they talk, or other people, people like it because it helps them see that somebody that’s in charge, you know, like in the president’s office, sees it like them.

Just wait. Soon she’ll be praised as if she’s Faulkner. Or at least Benjy. But seriously, Volks, her people don’t just tolerate her mangled English. They actually like it, because it proves their teachers wrong: good grammar is unrelated to success. It shows that she finds world issues just as confusing as they do; but, above and unlike them, she proceeds to whip (up) moose with perky confidence and without a frown. With this (and hunting from aircraft–can you say “Black Hawk”? Sure you can. ) she reassures them that conviction counts for a lot more than mastery of a lot of dumb history facts and stupid grammar rules. She speaks for all the people who ever thought their English teacher [sic] was clueless.

Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more.

— Paul Erb

"Huh?" I ask, scratching my head.

Skye, definitely out for now

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I'm so sick of phony PCedness

So this comes from the late great…

George Carlin on the Indians

Now the Indians. I call them Indians because that’s what they are. They’re Indians. There’s nothing wrong with the word Indian.

First of all, it’s important to know that the word Indian does not derive from Columbus mistakenly believing he had reached ‘India.’ India was not even called by that name in 1492; it was known as Hindustan.

More likely, the word Indian comes from Columbus’s description of the people he found here. He was an Italian, and did not speak or write very good Spanish, so in his written accounts he called the Indians, “Una gente in Dios.” A people in God. In God. In Dios. Indians. It’s a perfectly noble and respectable word.

As far as calling them ‘Americans’ is concerned, do I even have to point out what an insult this is? We steal their hemisphere, kill twenty or so million of them, destroy five hundred separate cultures, herd the survivors onto the worst land we can find, and now we want to name them after ourselves? It’s appalling. Haven’t we done enough damage? Do we have to further degrade them by tagging them with the repulsive name of their conquerors?

You know, you’d think it would be a fairly simple thing to come over to this continent, commit genocide, eliminate the forests, dam up the rivers, build our malls and massage parlors, sell our blenders and whoopee cushions, poison ourselves with chemicals, and let it go at that. But no. We have to compound the insult.

I’m glad the Indians have gambling casinos now. It makes me happy that dimwitted white people are losing their rent money to the Indians. Maybe the Indians will get lucky and win their country back. Probably wouldn’t want it. Look at what we did to it.

George Carlin, “Brain Dropppings,” Hyperion Press, 1997, p. 165

Have a great Thanksgiving and be sure to give thanks to the INDIANS who gave their all.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Lease Runs Out on the Typewriter

An amazing obituary in The New York Times was brought to my attention by my aunt.

I'm thinking maybe I should start honing my fix-it skills in this now lost art, if anybody's still using the machines. Otherwise, in another plan to save mother earth, we could recycle them into miniature (read: manageable) catapults hurling tiny ammunition based on the letter of the key struck - F for fecal matter, J for jujubes, G for gefilte fish, and so on. They'd just have to be quite small to fit on the metal typeset arm being thrust.

Think of the wars of the future, how little harm would come to the targets. But I regress.

Here's to you Martin...

Martin K. Tytell, Typewriter Wizard, Dies at 94

Published: September 12, 2008

Martin Tytell, whose unmatched knowledge of typewriters was a boon to American spies during World War II, a tool for the defense lawyers for Alger Hiss, and a necessity for literary luminaries and perhaps tens of thousands of everyday scriveners who asked him to keep their Royals, Underwoods, Olivettis (and their computer-resistant pride) intact, died on Thursday in the Bronx. He was 94.

Patrick Burns/The New York Times
Martin Tytell in 1958 with his favorite kind of writing machine.

The cause was cancer, said Pearl Tytell, his wife of 65 years. She said that her husband also had Alzheimer’s disease.

When he retired in 2000, Mr. Tytell had practiced his recently vanishing craft for 70 years. For most of that time, he rented, repaired, rebuilt, reconfigured and restored typewriters in a second-floor shop at 116 Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan, where a sign advertised “Psychoanalysis for Your Typewriter.”

There, at the Tytell Typewriter Company, he often worked seven days a week wearing a white lab coat and a bow tie, catering to customers like the writers Dorothy Parker and Richard Condon, the newsmen David Brinkley and Harrison Salisbury, and the political opponents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai E. Stevenson. Letters addressed only to “Mr. Typewriter, New York” arrived there, too.

Mr. Tytell worked on typewriters that could reproduce dozens of different alphabets appropriate for as many as 145 different languages and dialects — including Farsi and Serbo-Croatian, Thai and Korean, Coptic and Sanskrit, and ancient and modern Greek. He often said that he kept 2 million typefaces in stock.

He made a hieroglyphics typewriter for a museum curator, and typewriters with musical notes for musicians. He adapted keyboards for amputees and other wounded veterans. He invented a reverse-carriage device that enabled him to work in right-to-left languages like Arabic and Hebrew. An error he made on a Burmese typewriter, inserting a character upside down, became a standard, even in Burma.

Martin Kenneth Tytell was born on Dec. 20, 1913, the next-to-last of 10 children whose Russian Jewish immigrant parents lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Eventually, going to school mostly at night, he earned a bachelor’s degree from St. John's University and an M.B.A. from New York University.

But as a boy he worked in a hardware store, carrying a screwdriver everywhere, and one day in school he got himself excused from gym class by volunteering to answer the telephone in a nearby office. Sitting on a desk was an Underwood typewriter, which he took apart. The man who came to fix it gave him his first lesson in typewriter repair. Before he was out of high school he had the typewriter-maintenance account for Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital.

In 1943, a contraband shipment that included 100 Siamese typewriters was seized by the federal government, and with typewriters needed by overseas forces and typewriter producers having largely converted to other wartime manufacturing, Mr. Tytell, then in the Army, was asked to convert the Siamese typewriters for the Office of Strategic Services, the World War II precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. His machines, capable of reproducing 17 different languages, were airdropped to O.S.S. headquarters at various war fronts.

In 1950, lawyers for Alger Hiss, the former State Department official who had been convicted for lying to a grand jury about passing secret information to a Communist agent, Whittaker Chambers, hired him to prove that unlike a fingerprint, a typewriter’s writing pattern is reproducible.

Hiss had been convicted largely because the government presented expert testimony maintaining that the documents passed to Chambers were written on a typewriter owned by Hiss and his wife, Priscilla. At his sentencing, Hiss famously accused Chambers of committing “forgery by typewriter.”

Afterward, to prepare for an appeal, Hiss’s lawyers hired Mr. Tytell to build a typewriter whose print pattern would be indistinguishable, flaws and all, from that of the Hisses. It took him nearly two years, but he succeeded. His work became the foundation of Hiss’s plea, ultimately unsuccessful, for a new trial and, after his release from prison in 1954, of the debate over his guilt, which goes on to this day. Hiss died in 1996.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Tytell is survived by a daughter, Pamela, of Paris, and a son, Peter, of Manhattan. Peter Tytell, who closed the store about a year after his father retired, is a forensic document examiner who frequently testifies in criminal trials, a natural offshoot of the family business. Mrs. Tytell said on Thursday that she had met her husband in 1938 when he went to an office she was managing and sold her a typewriter.

“And he said, ‘Come work for me, and I’ll marry you,’ ” Mrs. Tytell recalled. “And I said, ‘That’s no inducement.’ ”

Mr. Tytell was proud of the rarity of his expertise, and relished the eccentric nature of his business. “We don’t get normal people here,” he said of his shop. And he was aware that his connection to the typewriter bordered on love.

“I’m 83 years old and I just signed a 10-year lease on this office; I’m an optimist, obviously,” Mr. Tytell told the writer Ian Frazier in a 1997 article in The Atlantic Monthly, commenting on the likelihood that typewriters weren’t going to last in the world much longer. “I hope they do survive — manual typewriters are where my heart is. They’re what keep me alive.”

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Maya Angelou's take on Election Night

“First I laughed,” she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “Before I could finish laughing, I wept. Then I shook. I mean, I trembled. You know, the old meaning of the word `thrill’ has a physical aspect. It’s like, `Brrrrr!’ My body started shaking.”

But the experience was also cerebral. Images of slavery and the civil rights movement and of her slain friend Martin Luther King Jr. raced through her mind, and in that moment, she realized that the United States was finally “growing up.”

“I thought of my people, African-Americans. I thought of white Americans. I thought of Asians and Spanish people. And I thought, `My God! What a country. What a country.’ I believe that in the secret heart of every American there’s a desire to live in a great country. And look at us now.”

“On the Pulse of Morning,” the poem she composed for Clinton, talked of war and divisiveness, but also of hope for a new beginning of peace.

Angelou said Obama is “a clear and clean wind, a breeze. … There is some poetry in him, yes.”