Thursday, March 31, 2005

On Language

I re-read yesterday's post, and marveled at my lousy use of language. So, in keeping with that theme, here is this month's poem.

The Poem Can Fail

I worry the words:
have I put them in the write order,
matched the noun and dangled a worthless article,
made the phrase active or passive,
a complete thought or incomplete concept;
have I taken that nebulous grey idea in my head
and used two dimensions of letters and paper
to transform the same thought in your head?

I worry the words to death,
I obliterate and rearrange them
until the whole frame disappears.
I’m sorry, I failed to tell you the story;
lost in translation,
vanished from my own moving paint,
edited away by an overly sharp pen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Sleep Awareness Week

My daily commute includes an electronic sign hung above the Thruway. The content varies; usually it contains a warning about a traffic accident ahead, or slowed traffic at the next exit. But this week, the flashing message seems rather bizarre:



Translate that? This is ‘Sleep Awareness Week’ (just think, some legislator probably sponsored this honor). Are we supposed to be aware of our sleep? Pay more attention to our rest patterns? And why should we stay alert? Is there a crisis due to the lack of sleep in our modern lives? We aren’t aware enough of our sleep? We should stay alert to this fact?

More likely, the designation refers to falling asleep behind the wheel, and we should keep ourselves awake and alert on the highway. Or should we be alert to the driver next to us, and make him aware of our (their?) sleep? or lack thereof? Hey, sir, you’re looking a little wane and pale this morning; get to be before 9 tonight, will ya?

I don’t know which is more vacuous and pointless here: the fact that someone designated a week to ‘sleep awareness’, the silliness of the phrases used as part of the campaign, or using a large highway billboard to advertise it.

Or, that I’m even writing about it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Years ago, I avoided Gail Sheehy’s book, Passages. I understood that she identified transitions in life and relationships, and categorized them into various phases. I wouldn’t read it because such categorization felt too deterministic. I wasn’t going to be told how my life was turning out, I didn’t want to know the social or psychological patterns that the years would create for me.

How simplistic – and naïve. Life happens, and we have choices that drive that life. Each life is a journey, we travel the path with many different people, we develop relationships that help us along that path.

As Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

So here’s the news that led me to think of Sheehy: our daughter is engaged. A transition in her life, and ours. Frank and Erin are happy, and that happiness does spread to those around them – including us. Marriage is a life marker, and so Erin’s will be a marker for their life and for ours. We won’t just go along for the ride; we’re part of the trip. Hang on, all!

I altered the heading to this journal. It now contains a passage from a desk calendar that a friend bought for me at Christmas; it consists primarily of eastern philisophical wisdom, with an occasional literary reference. I'll post these occasionally. Meanwhile, just so we don't lose it, here is the Jefferson passage that was up there for the first few months:

"...we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt...If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake." Thomas Jefferson, 1798

George W may believe that getting a democratic state in Iraq justifies his means. But his principles are still awry and should not blind us to the dangers of his actions.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Wielding our Moral Power

“How should democracy be exported? The First Amendment and food. We know how to grow it, and how to deliver it. The First Amendment is a pretty good starting point.” Senator A, quoted in “The New Yorker”, 3-21-2005

“Let me put it to you this way. The Lord Almighty, or Allah, whoever, if he came to every kitchen table in America and said, ‘Look, I have a Faustian bargain for you, you choose. I will guarantee to you that I will end all terror threats against the United States within the year, but in return for that there will be no help for education, no help for Social Security, no help for health care.’ What do you do? My answer is that seventy-five per cent of the American people would buy that bargain.” Senator B, in the same article.

Compare and contrast those two views. The first is hopeful. It takes time and patience to implement. It provides sustenance and life for human beings, and does so peacefully.

The second is driven by fear. It uses power, might, arms, aggression as a way of fighting the same.

I will take the first strategy.

Just for political kicks, who are the two U.S. Senators? Senator A is Ted Kennedy, Senator B is Joe Biden -- both Democrats. Biden may not agree with the sentiments he mentions; but telling the story indicates the political reality in which he is grounded. This is sad. Two disparate views on the implementation of foreign policy from the same party.

Leadership requires that an individual have a core set of beliefs and acts upon those beliefs. Given his history, Kennedy is no paragon of morality. But his stated belief on this subject is much more appropriate than the aggresive methods used by our current administration.

We can have many arguments over the ends justifying the means, particularly if democracy does spread in the middle east. But it doesn't change my view on how we should act as a people.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Back to Baseball

Two weeks. Ick. Some discipline.

They are playing baseball in Florida and Arizona. The New York sky is bluer, the sun is warmer and stays up longer. Life is good.

I am a baseball bigot. I pay little attention to other sports; the Super Bowl is the only football game I watch in its entirety, and college basketball is no longer the emotional rollercoaster that I used to ride when I followed Syracuse every winter. The final four competes with baseball’s opening day, and by then I’m analyzing my rotisserie draft strategy for the fifth time.

I am a San Francisco Giants fan. It’s genetic: my Father followed the New York Giants, and didn’t let go when they moved to SanFran. Willie Mays was still his guy, just as Mel Ott had led him on during the 1930s as a kid. I – and both my brothers – latched on to Mays, McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda during those perpetual 2d-place 60’s; then the sad 1970’s, when Bobby Bonds couldn’t meet the unattainable expectations.

So now it’s an addiction. I do not trace the Giants exclusively; any game can capture my attention, especially in person. I can sit happily on a side hill in our local town park and watch a summer league game with 18 and 19-year olds.

Barry Bonds is one of the best players to play the game. No, I do not cotton to him as a human being, but I really don’t know him. My impressions are garnered through other’s words and pictures. But no player has ever combined eye-hand coordination with the power stroke as he has. He rarely misses, and when he does hit the ball, the largest portion of the bathead hits the middle of the ball.

I do believe he took steroids knowlingly. He has admitted that he took them, but claims he believed them to be diet and organic supplements. No one is that naïve, particularly in professional sports. He saw a way to add to his edge and become an even more powerful player, and he took advantage. At some point, he may pay a legal price for his actions. He will surely pay a physical price later in life.

I will still follow the Giants. They will wipe the tarnish clean in time, even after it becomes really ugly with the volatile Bonds. They will need to clean house at the management level, as part of the cleansing. I do not like Brian Sabean’s methods as a general manager, but it is certainly hard to argue with his success. He may not be able to start a team over after the tornado blows through.

Meanwhile, there’s always the new Nationals.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The View from Helsinki

President Bush attended a European summit last week in Brussels. He met with EU leaders, and each member was given time for a short speech. Finland’s president, Tarja Halonan (yup, a woman) was given one minute. She has not released a transcript of her remarks, but the Finnish press has speculated about what she said.

Even better, tho, was a collection published in the primary Helsinki paper, Helsingin Sanomat. The paper invited 10 people to write a one minute speech that they would have given in Bush’s presence. These ten columns represent a great cross-section of how others view our leader, and to some extent, our country. A few interesting examples:

“Monsieur Bush, we have underestimated the depth of the trauma caused in Americans by September 11th. After the terror attacks, the answer to the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ has changed. …Everyone has the right to live in peace as a member in good standing of our human family. Hope brings mankind into bloom - lack of hope is our greatest threat.” Ari Vatanen, Member of the European Parliament.

"Values are not the property of nations or of political systems. They are common and universal. Values like home, faith, and motherland are sacred in Finland just as they are in the United States. I believe that they are familiar and revered principles in Iraq and Afghanistan, too. All over the world we see empowered other, negative principles, ones that do not stem from such values - inequality and intolerance come to mind as examples. These can be eradicated only by showing that the other values and principles are better. This demands patience and it demands time." Georgij Alafuzoff, Commodore, Finnish Navy, Finland’s liason officer at the Anti-Terrorism CentCom, Tampa, FL.

“The United States was the first multicultural and multi-faith democracy. Your country has, in admirable fashion, shown itself able to combine freedom, pluralism, and strength. In addition to the right attitudes, this has required great wealth. For the impoverished in the midst of his struggle through life, it is often hard to be pluralistic and tolerant. To prosperity and tolerance belongs the virtue of open-mindedness. A man of open mind knows how to put a damper on his own zeal and make room for others. He understands that offering gifts is often imposing on others, and can offend those less well-endowed. The man of open mind knows how to give considerately, without sermonising. We peoples of the North have often had to keep a cool head in problem situations. Patience is a virtue, and unnecessary gung-ho behaviour and rushing about brings harm to oneself and to others. Please, Americans, please learn moderation and open-mindedness. It will be worth the effort." Risto Saarinen, Professor of Ecumenics, Faculty of Theology, Helsinki

And so we are viewed.....