Seen and Heard

Dual Bag for Christmas

In what probably amounts to a confession on the shortness of my attention span I have to admit that I love television commercials as a visual genre. The way I see it, a good commercial is like a perfect mouthful of chocolate truffle. It captures my attention, delights me in some way and makes me want to have another one. Or, in the case of the commercial, watch it again. Ladies, you may wish to show this one to your husbands. It is a bit on the long side. 4 minutes +. That's an eternity in commercial time but the humor carries it through.

An awesome book by Dallas Clayton

On a daily basis I normally stumble upon some wonderful sites on-line. Great blogs, great news articles, great art, great people. The other day I found a children's book that is really meant for grownups. Like all the best children's books should be. I read it from beginning to end and then read it to my kid who stopped and looked at all the pictures and seemed very engaged in the story before declaring it was a bee-u-dee-fol book. I suppose it doesn't need more endorsement than that (at least in my book), but you shall have to make up your own mind.

For if you need further convincing about why you should at least take the time to look at it, I give you the confident words of author Dallas Clayton himself in explanation.


This is all you need to know:
I make things that are beautiful.
Sometimes these things are written down.
Sometimes they are drawn.
Sometimes they are wrapped and plastic and sold in important stores
for more money than they cost to manufacture.
I am quite good at making most things.
I am most interested in making people happy.
I have a son who is nearly five years old.
I enjoy making him happy most of all.
I would like to do this more and more every day forever.
This is why I write for children.
When I am not writing for children I am writing for adults and the
companies adults run, drawing pictures for those adults, and reading things out loud to crowds of strangers.
I can do just about anything.

Time passes, and every time that time passes, something fades - Jules Romains

That phrase in the original French, Le temps passe, et chaque fois qu'il y a du temps qui passe, il y a quelque chose qui s'efface... is what "O'clock," a work designed by student Nadine Grenier displays every twelve hours when the 500 hands that compose it move into positions that allow the words to be read. The quote comes from French author Jules Romain's novel Les Hommes de bonne volonté (The Men of Good Will). I love the kind of inventiveness that marries words and mechanics. Don't you?

via today and tomorrow and fubiz

What our environment says about us...

The principal of my high school was foreign lady named Yvonne de Enseñat. She was a very tall French woman who was fond of striding about in pristine smock-like dresses with pearls at her neck. She wore neon colored lipstick in teeth-staining pink and orange hues that were carefully reapplied after every cigarette that she chain smoked. She also sported a helmet of steel gray curls that never let a hair escape even though, in the 6 years that I was a student at her high school, my fellow classmates engaged in the kinds of escapades that would have given lesser mortals electric up-dos. She ran her school with an iron fist and eyes in the back of her head and in this manner she consistently churned out A+ graduates that went into the world better prepared for having passed through her molding hands.

You may thus imagine my shock the first time I ever walked into her office. I had never imagined the like. There was no place to sit except in her own chair, and one could not view her across it for the towers of papers that rose through the smoke-heavy air like skyscrapers hidden by clouds. On the floors there were also multiple stacks piled as high as my waist, enclosing her in a tortuous maze only she dared topple. How could this be? How to reconcile my pristine, put together, methodical Madame Enseñat with the person who had obviously created and inhabited that cigarette-smelling-trash-heap of an office?

“That the neo-Babbit in the third volume contains the witness to the apocalyptic events of the second would strain plausibility did not so many peaceable citizens contain lethal soldiers, so many criminals contain choirboys, so many monogamous women contain promiscuous young things. An adult human being consists of sedimentary layers. - John Updike

Those words from Updike make me think that us growing older is similar to a process of fossilization. Our exteriors are for the record but how we came to be that way is what really tells the tale. I think that neat as a pin Madame Enseñat needed that messy interior. Somehow, it was the fuel that fed the regimented, structured and orderly life she imposed on her students. I've always loved those dichotomies in people, not so much in myself but definitely in other people. That's one of the reasons I'm always curious about the spaces others occupy. A home, and how our possessions shape its areas, is just another sedimentary level radiating clues for those who are willing observers.

Below, you will find a BBC interview with Eamonn McCabe. McCabe who was the former picture editor of the UK Guardian has an exhibition going on at the Madison Contemporary Gallery in London titled Writer's Rooms. What he has gone and done is photograph the rooms in which famous writers have penned their works. Amongst them Beryl Bainbridge of Booker Prize and putting-her-head-in-a-lit-oven, fame. Martin Amis the satirical son of Kingsley Amis, who was once dubbed by the New York Times as the master of "the new unpleasantness." Sue Townsend of my beloved Adrian Mole series and Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul (whose hand I once shook), amongst many others. Quite fascinating. Layers upon layers. Let's see what we can glean from them.

Photographer Eamonn McCabe.

Beryl Bainbridge's writing room. Please notice the gun lying next to the typewriter.


Updike quote courtesy of Ron Davison from Rwrld.


Muppetganza (Just because)

The Muppets do Bizet's Habanera from the opera Carmen

I don't think that it is ever to early to start a child on classical music. Ever since my son saw this short, funny as can be video, he's been asking for 'banera' all the time. I was age 11 and part of a children's choir when I first heard the tune myself which means, that at 4 years of age, my kid is definitely getting an earlier start on his opera.

Why is it that there is such little worthwhile musical education in our schools nowadays? My father knew the choirs to Nabucco, Aida, and many other arias from Verdi operas before he was 10 years old. There is no such thing to be said of ten year olds in this day and age. Many years ago, rummaging in old boxes I'd found in my grandmother's house, there were graying, pencil annotated librettos which my father had used during his music lessons as a little boy. This was back in the 1940's when the public parks in Panama held Saturday concerts played by National Symphony members and amateur bands. There have not been public park concerts regularly held in my country for many decades now. Such a pity. Maybe someday, when R's hands can show reverence for old things, I shall show him the one libretto copy I've kept and tell him how his grandfather held it once, just like him. In the meantime, I'll let him enjoy his 'banera.'

Buddy Rich battles Animal on the drums

On a different end of the musical scale, here you have Buddy Rich in a battle to the drum death with Animal. I've always loved Animal. He is my favorite Muppet character. Growing up it was a tossup between him and the Cookie Monster but in the end, the Cookie Monster lost by a cookie's hair breadth. Not here though. Here it is Buddy who wins.

I hope you guys enjoy these. Sorry to have been rather absent these past few days, I've been visiting my family in DC. May you all be enjoying your family time as much as I, Milena.


Should you scroll down to the bottom of the online page for the UK Guardian, there is a little tabbed section that lists the most viewed stories in the newspaper. Every day, as soon as I come into the site, I make my way there to read what others have been finding of such interest.

Today, there was an unusual article about how the Japanese seem to be obsessed with blood types. Now obsessed is a pretty strong word. Weighty enough that when used in reference to blood, I envision scenes of a Draculean nature. That blood obsessing was a craze in Japan, of all places, only piqued my curiosity further considering how I've been seriously tripping on strange stories about the Japanese. A few days ago for example, I saw this CNN clip on
Youtube about Elderly porn (strictly PG I promise). Yep. Elderly porn. As in porn by the geriatric set. Starring, you guessed it, Japanese grandfathers and grandmothers. Some sweet young things too but mostly, it's about the grandparents enjoying themselves.

According to a Time report, titles such as Maniac Training of Lolitas and Forbidden Elderly Care have proven so popular, that business is booming outside of what you'd consider its intended age market. In other words, the movies are being increasingly viewed by the young'uns for the seemingly hot, sweaty, if perhaps creaky-boned, sex.

"Director Gaichi Kono says the eroticism of elders is captivating to younger viewers. -I think that, as a subject, there is this something that only an older generation has and the young people do not possess. It is because they lived that much more. We should respect them and learn from them, - says Kono passionately." Time magazine

Then there was this reprint from the Washington Post today on BookofJoe about how theft committed by the elderly is on the rise in Japan. In 2006 on the island of Hokaido alone (population 5,583,072), 880 of them were so very unsuccessful at their shoplifting attempts, that they ended up getting arrested. Only 642 teens were hauled in for the same crime during that time period. That's a 3 to 2 advantage for the granny set. Unusual to say the least especially, as I have a distinct memory of Jane Seymour circa mid-1980's, explaining how theft was practically nonexistent in Japan in this PBS documentary. It's plain to see that much has changed in the 30 years since then. Enough so that the Bushidō code of conduct might be suffering a reversal by the generation most likely believed to continue upholding it.

All of which brings me to today's chronicled Japanese obsession with blood. Blood type to be precise. Here are some excerpts from the article to give you an idea what the hangup is all about.

Failed yet another job interview? Unable to meet the right man or woman? Don't blame your parents. Or society. The source of your suffering is your blood type.

The idea that blood type defines our personality, temperament and ability to mingle is routinely dismissed as nonsense, but that has not stopped four books on the subject from occupying Japan's top 10 bestseller list for the past year.

Blood typology has filled countless pages and a large chunk of television airtime since journalist Masahiko Nomi wrote the first of 30 hugely popular books on the subject in the early 1970s.

Daytime TV shows offer "blood horoscopes", while on sale are all manner of items supposedly tailored to each of the four blood groups, anything from chewing gum to condoms to bath salts - a relaxing, blue concoction for the sensitive type A.

Blood type-mania has a darker side. It has been blamed for bullying among kindergarten children, denying jobs to otherwise ideal candidates and ending happy relationships, all because of an imagined haematic mismatch.

About 90% of Japanese know their blood type, often before they know how to tie their shoelaces. About 40% are type A, 30% are O, 20% are B and 10% are AB.

Some experts explain blood typology's central place in the Japanese psyche by pointing to the rough similarity between the distribution of blood types and social classes in feudal Japan: the strong-willed samurai (O) and mild-mannered farmers (A), and smaller numbers of sensitive artisans (AB) and earthy tradesmen (B).

Type A Reserved and prone to worry, sensitive perfectionists such as Britney Spears and Adolf Hitler.

Type O Decisive, self-confident, curious, and ideal for sport, including Elvis Presley and the Queen.

Type B Cheerful caring, flamboyant free-thinkers such as Jack Nicholson.

Type AB High-maintenance, distant, suited to arts, such as Mao Zedong.

Throughout my life I have of course witnessed discrimination, been subjected to it both knowingly and unknowingly, and if I am honest, harmlessly engaged in some of (within my mental recesses) my own. Of all the types of discrimination I have ever considered possible however, discrimination of the blood, as due to your blood type, was not one of them.

I can just see how this might play out:

Hi. My name is Hachigoro. I saw you from over there and I thought you were really cute.

Thanks. I'm Echiko (Blushing).

Echiko, if you don't mind my asking, what is your blood type?

Echiko (all business), I'm type B and you?

I'm type O.

Oh how wonderful, Echiko says (back to blushing).

Hey, my grandmother has been arrested for shoplifting so I'm staying at her apartment for the moment. She's got some great elderly porn there. Want to come and see?


A legend plays Ping Pong?

If you consider that he was supposed to have been able to:

  • Move so fast that his scenes had to be shot at a slow 32 frames per second vs. the normal 24fps, because otherwise his lightning fast combat movements could not have been captured on film.

  • Snatch a dime off a person's open palm before they could close it, and leave a penny behind.
  • Perform push ups using only his thumbs.
  • Hold an elevated v-sit position for 30 minutes or longer.
  • Throw grains of rice up into the air and then catch them in mid-flight using chopsticks.
  • Performed one-hand push-ups using only his thumb and index finger.
  • Done 50 reps of one-arm chin-ups.
  • Broken a wooden board whose thickness was more than 6 inches (15 cm) deep,
  • and side-kicked a 300-lb (136 kg) bag hard enough to hit the ceiling...

Then I suppose you might indeed believe that this is truly Bruce Lee showing his prowess at the Ping Pong table.

Here's a clear sign I am getting way too old...

A boy I once knew is now a man full grown. He lives in India where he is currently writing his first book and at 26, is one of the youngest foreign correspondents in both the International Herald Tribune's and the New York Time's history. Go read his latest article on the Mumbai Terrorist attacks for an insightful and well documented recounting of how India has reacted to this singular event.

"For a country with no dearth of terrorism in its past, it is perhaps the fleshy immediacy of these men and their deeds that makes this a defining assault — one that separates all attacks of the past from those yet to come. In the television studios, on the roads, in the anguished phone calls of friends to friends, Indians said the words again and again: This is our 9/11."

Anand Giridharadas

They had to grow up somewhere...

Much can be inferred about a man from his mistress: in her one beholds his weaknesses and his dreams. Georg Lichtenberg

If the mistress says all that about a man, I wonder what the decor might explain about these people's music?

"We found this fascinating series of photos from the archives of LIFE magazine, giving readers a peek inside the homes of the parents/grandparents of some of the most influential musical artists from the 1970's, including the likes of Frank Zappa [above], Grace Slick, The Jackson Five, Elton John, Eric Clapton..."

You know, I had always wondered how someone could name their child Dweezil. Moon Unit comes across as mildly spacey but Dweezil? I mean, geez... it sounds like weevil and WHO in their sane, non-eggplant purple mind would want to make people think of a bug when having to address a child? At best Dweezil sounds like a close cousin to chervil. Not that putting one in mind of a parsley bush makes the name any more palatable. Watching this photograph of where Frank Zappa grew up, I can better understand how too much of a purplish upbringing can unhinge that part of your mind that you must need tap into when naming the offshoots.

"Eric Clapton with his grandmother Rose in the house he bought her in Surrey." [John Olson/LIFE]

Eric Clapton is no longer a smoking hot God. No, he's a mangranny. How awful. Even his vest has taken on a doillie-ish appearance. From here on out, I shall forever associate him with teapots, doillie wear and watercress sandwiches.

"David Crosby standing with father Floyd in father's house in Ojai." [John Olson/LIFE]

Yes, yes, I can absolutely see how someone so bookish-looking could produce a fringe-sporting, messy, hippy, probably non-deodorant wearing fellow as his son. Did you take stock of how the National Geographics next to the sofa are squared away in a stair pattern? That explains everything as far as I'm concerned. I'll bet you a quarter that Floyd Crosby was one of those people who ironed his boxer shorts. Which is why David most likely never wore any.

Photographs via Apartment Therapy Los Angeles

Were it that everyone could be this drolly humorous when drunk...

I'm just putting it up because it made me laugh a lot.

The Drunk Poem

Starkle, starkle, little twink,
Who the hell are you I think.
I'm not under what you call
The alcofluence of incohol.
I'm just a little slort of sheep,
I'm not drunk like thinkle peep.
I don't know who is me yet,
But the drunker I stand here the longer I get.
So just give me one more fink to drill my cup,
'Cause I got all day sober to Sunday up.

via c4vct.com

Gelato loves...

My taste buds have been doing loop-de-loops and cartwheels since I discovered Ciao Bella. There are not enough rapturous adjectives with which to convey how delicious the contents of these cute containers are. Rapture comes at a cost however - $6 to $8 per pint is what it'll take. Yes, you read right. That's way more than we already pay to lay our gobbledy little hands on our favorite Ben and Jerry's or Häagen Dazs ice creams. Just the price would make me swoon were it not for the fact that tasting Ciao Bella is like having edible haute couture. In my book that justifies everything because after all, no one pays $10 for Valentino ball gown and truly expect it to be a Valentino now do they? Of about the 8 or so flavors I've tried so far, my personal favorites are the Blood Orange, Pomegranate Champagne, Passion Fruit and the Valrhona Chocolate Gelatos. Ciao Bella produces about 50 gelatos, 20+ sorbettos and they also have an extra roster of ten or more seasonal flavors. You may get some provided you are willing to say ciao to your waistline by clicking right here.


Circadian Rhythms

The sun rises over St. Lucia

Well I can tell you now that I needed to get away. Quite badly as it turned out. Not particularly because the life I lead in the everyday world is something terrible, no, on the contrary. I needed to get away simply because without realizing it, I was well past due for a circadian resetting of my life rhythms; past due for a cartographic rerouting of the importance of getting from point A to point nowhere.

This was easier to accomplish without the fogging distractions of my daily patterns. Once the insane car driving of Houston highways, the repetitive chores of my housewife life had all been left behind, a radical 180 degree shift took place. Somewhere, soon past the starting of our arrival to St. Lucia, my husband and I rediscovered the joys of not having to go about decently dressed and properly coiffed; Of letting our kid run wild because no one, and most especially the sea, minded not a bit that he was more than his usual, rambunctious self; that my thoughts, trapped in the same mental asphalt I'd been pouring from in the last few months, would be easier to de-tar with the cadenced help of waves lapping at my subconscious.

I had forgotten what the stars looked like in the embedded setting of an indigo-hued sky. How clear the night could appear that when devoid of clouds, relieved of planes and spared the competition of man-made scintillation, that the erasing of many light-years worth of separation would seem an almost possible feat. I am almost certain that I touched their light these past few nights and if I didn't, well then I quite sure that their light touched me.

Now that I am back in Houston and away from the bountiful glory of the West Indies, I have promised myself to not overlook the axial grounding of sea and stars. I will look up more into the city-tarnished glow of the former and attempt to recall just as often the surging magic of the latter. And because I'm feeling a little sad after the closure of one of the nicest trips I have ever undertaken, I leave you with this melancholy little poem by Derek Walcott, Nobel Laureate and native St. Lucian. It seems to me that he echoes the archetypal solace one can always find in the sky and in the water.

After the Storm
by Derek Walcott

There are so many islands!
As many islands as the stars at night
on that branched tree from which meteors are shaken
like falling fruit around the schooner Flight.
But things must fall, and so it always was,
on one hand Venus and on the other Mars;
fall, and are one, just as this earth is one
island in archipelagoes of stars.
My first friend was the sea. Now, is my last.
I stop talking now. I work, then read,
cotching under a lantern hooked to the mast.
I try to forget what happiness was,
and when that don't work, I study the stars.
Sometimes is just me, and the soft-scissored foam
as the deck turns white and the moon open
a cloud like a door, and the light over me
is a road in white moonlight taking me home.
Shabine sang to you from the depths of the sea.

The sun sets over St. Lucia


Postcard from St. Lucia

As I look out over the turquoise tinted waters, their ageless flow interrupted by the blondish heads of a tribe of European tourists, I think about the people who can afford to make their annual pilgrimages to some tropical paradise, the kind of place which the local inheritors of said geographic real estate gold hardly ever get to enjoy themselves; too busy as they are in keeping up with the needs of the invaders.

These past four days I have thought of myself as one, an invader. That doesn't mean that I haven't been enjoying my touristic colonization inmensely, hedonistically even. Wouldn't you? I mean look at this place!

Dock at Windjammers, St. Lucia

I find it difficult to move even a foot, such is the lethargy brought on by the existence of a conveniently lifted flag that signifies my desire for something, anything, whatever might grip my fancy. And there has been a lot of fanciful gripping since we arrived here. I have progressed from a mentality of offering to one of dedicated taking.

Yes, I will have that tropical mango slush with a splash of local rum.

Absolutely! I'd love a cold hand towel with which to moisten my sun-burnt brow.

Oh yes please, I should like nothing better than a pedicure/manicure while I tan myself dark enough that upon my return to Houston, friends might comment with envy at the goldenness which can only be achieved by prolonged exposure to some Caribbean sun.

I don't mean to sound so... is the proper phrase for it world-weary jaded? I realize I might come across as one and yet I don't really mean it, what a sham I am. Truly. Because I am so incredibly cognizant of my luck in being here; of having the time and more importantly, the disposition to enjoy. If you could sum me up neatly then this is an apt way of describing me - I am always grateful to have the opportunity to enjoy and I hope this is a quality I shall never lose.

From here in paradise I send you some sun, warmth and happy thoughts of slushy mango crushes. In the meantime I'll just enjoy one for you.

Much love from St. Lucia,


The New York Times like you haven't read it yet...

I originally tripped upon this mock New York Times page yesterday and thought it real until I began to peruse the headlines. Below is an extract of the Fine Print section. It explains what is behind this amazingly thorough effort. You will find that all the links are enabled. Do not miss out on the article titled Court Indicts Bush on High Treason Charge.

"This special edition of The New York Times comes from a future in which we are accomplishing what we know today to be possible.

The dozens of volunteer citizens who produced this paper spent the last eight years dreaming of a better world for themselves, their friends, and any descendants they might end up having. Today, that better world, though still very far away, is finally possible — but only if millions of us demand it, and finally force our government to do its job."

From - Whose Line Is It Anyway?

I have never once seen this show on the television. Only online do I ever manage to catch their improvisational genius. Check out this segment Called scenes from a hat. Funny stuff.

The Oracle at Delphi was never this good.

Sometime in October of 2007, John Bird and John Fortune of the British satirical show Bremer, Bird and Fortune, which is Broadcast through Britain's Channel Four Network, did this satirical skit. Listen, weep or laugh...

So much to learn, so little time.

A few weeks ago I did a post titled Language Orgy. I sincerely do not know HOW I could have missed this particular site then but I thought I would add it here anyway.

From the website -"Wordie lets you make lists of words and phrases. Words you love, words you hate, words on a given topic, whatever. Lists are visible to everyone but can be added to by just you, a group of friends, or anyone, as you wish."

There is another site similar to Wordie which, if I had to explain as succinctly as Wordie explains itself, could only be described as Like Flickr, but with video. Try Wordia out. You'll love it.

For if you missed it - they were people worth knowing about:

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Studs Terkel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose searching interviews with ordinary Americans helped establish oral history as a serious genre, and who for decades was the voluble host of a popular radio show in Chicago, died Friday at his home there. He was 96."

You may read his New York Times obituary here.


Yves Boucau/European Pressphoto Agency

“When you hear this message, I will no longer be there,” the voice, characteristically spirited, confident, just a little bit cheeky and familiar to all of France, said on a tape released this week.

The words were those of Sister Emmanuelle, a nun revered for her work with the disenfranchised, especially among the garbage-scavengers of Cairo, and renowned for her television appearances in France as an advocate for the poor. She died Monday at a retirement home operated by her order, the Congregation of Notre-Dame de Sion, in Callian, in the south of France."

You may read the remainder of her New York Times obituary here.

Via Joe Stirt at Book of Joe


Hope you had a great weekend everyone.



Période Bleue by Jane Birkin

Jane Birkin -

"After a career dominated by the influence of her charismatic ex-husband, reinterpreting his songs and re-recording his lyrics, she has produced her first album made up entirely of her own music. Enfants d'Hiver (Children of Winter), out tomorrow, is a Serge-free zone with none of the usual covers or tributes."

backstory on this album at the UK Guardian

Here is the 62 year old chanteuse and songwriter singing Période Bleue - Blue Period from Enfants d'Hiver. Enjoy its poetic sweetness in this, one of her best musical moments.

Here is another song of hers I've loved for a long time. It's called Je m'appelle Jane - My name is Jane. She sings it with Mickaël Furnon of the rock group Mickey 3D.


Yesterday at around 6 am, 4 years ago

R and I

You were born of course. Your appearance capped a marathon 36 hour birthing that seemed more like 366 hours to my exhausted mind. I'd been carrying you inside my belly since sometime in mid-February of 2004 but truly it wasn't until you were seven months grown in there that I began to hug you all the time. Constantly rubbing at whatever part of you kicked outward into the world.

I often wondered what you'd be like before you were born. What mother doesn't toy with the mental rearrangement of family features in loving expectation of her child? I kept saying that I wanted you to look just like your Baba jan, and so you do but, only much later did I secretly admit to your aunt Alex that I also regretted that you had had nothing that was recognizably mine in your features. What did tía answer to that? "But Mili, he's got your laugh" and I have to admit that the truth of this statement pleases me like few others. Not particularly because I like my laugh, but because I love that you like laughing as much as I do. To hear it constantly bubbling forth out of those rosy lips is my confirmation of your continued happiness with life and, should there be anything of mine that I would always hope to see in you, then that cheerful disposition towards the world in general, is about the best legacy I could ever have passed on.

Happy Birthday child of my heart. Laughter for you always for as long as you live.

Tu Mami que te adora.


On this day - some thoughts, opinions and advice that are worth knowing about

June 1, 2008 Mitchell, South Dakota: Barack Obama addresses a rally on the street in front of the Corn Palace in the final days of the primary season Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty


I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving. To reach the port of Heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it - but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, SR.

Marian Wright Edelman, President and founder, Children's Defense Fund:

A cartoon published in the early 1960s depicted a Black boy saying to a White boy: "I’ll sell you my chance to be President of the United States for a nickel." At the time the cartoon appeared, Barack Obama was a toddler. There were only five Black Members of Congress and about 300 Black elected officials nationwide. The Voting Rights Act hadn’t been passed and the overwhelming majority of Black Southerners were disenfranchised.

On the ballot this morning was a Black man for President of the United States, marking the culmination of a long evolutionary struggle for political empowerment among disenfranchised Americans. My fellow voters—of all races in every corner for America—will consider Obama’s presidential candidacy on the basis of his proposals, his vision and his intelligence.

This is a world-defining and nation-defining election. This morning as I stood in line to vote, I was moved by the realization that finally this is the day on which my fellow Americans are willing to do what Dr. King envisioned: vote for a President based on the content of his character rather than the color of his skin.

Via Politico


If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other islands, but a continent that joins to them.
Francis Bacon.

Dennis Hopper, Academy Award nominated actor and filmmaker:


Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.
Fitzhugh Dodson.

Madeleine Albright: A letter to the next President


Congratulations on your success. You have won an impressive victory – but with that victory comes the responsibility to guide a troubled America in a world riven by conflict, confusion and hate. Upon taking office, you will face the daunting task of restoring America’s credibility as an effective and exemplary world leader.

This cannot be accomplished merely by distancing yourself and your administration from the mistakes of George W. Bush. You must offer innovative strategies for coping with multiple dangers, including the global economic meltdown, two hot wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan), al-Qaida, nuclear threats and climate change. In every realm, you will need to recruit a first-rate team of advisers, apply the principles of critical thinking and develop a coherent strategy with a clear connection between actions and results.

Your first job as president will be to re-establish the traditional sources of international respect for America: resilience, optimism, support for justice, and the desire for peace. As you recognised during your campaign, America’s good name has been tarnished. Your message to the world should be that the United States, though unafraid to act when necessary, is also eager to listen and learn.

That first step is important, but you will need to do much more.

Starting on Inauguration Day, you must strive to restore confidence in the economic soundness and financial stewardship of the United States. The October crash proved that our current leaders have lost their way. All eyes are now on you. Pick the right people; show discipline; stick to the rules you establish; and push for an economic system that rewards hard work, not greed.

Overseas, you should begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. If you hesitate, you will be forced _ by an evolving consensus within Iraq _ to do so nonetheless. By initiating the process and controlling the timing, you can steer credit to responsible Iraqi leaders instead of allowing radicals to claim that they have driven us out.

The troops that remain as the redeployment proceeds should focus on further preparing Iraqi forces for command. Despite recent gains, the country is still threatened by sectarian rivalries. These have a long history and can be resolved only by Iraq’s own decision-makers. American troops cannot substitute for Iraqi spine. The time for transition is at hand.

In Afghanistan, an unsustainable stalemate has developed in which the majority of the population fears the Taliban, resents Nato and lacks faith in its government. Given the stakes, you may be tempted to “do more” in Afghanistan, but that alone would be a reaction, not a strategy.

Our own military admits that the current approach is not working. We cannot kill or capture our way to victory. We need more troops, but we also need a policy that corresponds to the aspirations and sensitivities of the local population. Under your leadership, Nato’s primary military mission should be to train Afghan forces to defend Afghan villages, and its dominant political objective should be to improve the quality of governance throughout the country.

Economic development is crucial, and you should encourage global and regional institutions to take the lead in building infrastructure and creating jobs. Diplomatically, you should concentrate on enhancing security co-operation between Islamabad and Kabul. Overall, allied efforts must go beyond killing terrorists to preventing the recruitment of cadre to replace them.

In addition to the Taliban, the reason we are in Afghanistan is al-Qaida, which remains an alien presence wherever it exists. Even its roots in Pakistan are not deep, and the failure of its leaders to articulate a positive agenda has reduced the allure of Bin Laden-style operations even to potential sympathizers. Al-Qaida, still dangerous, is beginning to lose the battle of ideas.

Targeted military actions remain essential, but you should avoid giving the many in the Muslim world who disagree with us fresh reason to join the ranks of those who are trying to kill us. This is, after all, an important distinction. Closing Guantánamo will help.

From the first day, you should also work to identify the elements of a permanent and fair Middle East peace. Cynics are fond of observing that support for peace will not pacify al-Qaida, but that is both obvious and beside the point. Your efforts can still enhance respect for American leadership in the regions where al-Qaida trawls for new blood.

Only effective regional diplomacy can persuade Israelis and Arabs alike that peace is still possible. In the absence of that hope, all sides will prepare for a future without peace, thereby validating the views of extremists and further complicating every aspect of your job.

The dangers radiating from the Middle East and Persian Gulf are sure to occupy you, but they should not consume all your attention. Just as an effective foreign policy cannot be exclusively unilateral, neither can it be unidimensional. You should devote more time and resources to regions, such as Latin America and Africa, that have been neglected.

As a leader in the global era, you must view the world through a wide lens. That is why I hope you will establish a new and forward-looking mission for our country: to harness the latest scientific advances to enhance living standards across the globe.

This initiative should extend to growing food, distributing medicine, conserving water, producing energy and preserving the atmosphere. It should include a challenge to the American public to serve as a laboratory for best environmental practices, gradually replacing mass consumption with sustainability as an emblem of the American way. Such a policy can serve the future by reducing our vulnerability to energy blackmail, while conveying a clearer and loftier sense of what the United States is all about.

Mr. President-Elect, the job once held by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and the Roosevelts will soon be yours. In years to come, you will be required to maintain your balance despite being shoved ceaselessly from every direction, and to exercise sound judgment amid the crush of events both predictable and shocking.

To justify our confidence in you, you must show confidence in us. End the politics of fear. Treat us like adults. Help us to understand people from distant lands and cultures. Challenge us to work together. Remind us that America’s finest hours have come not from dominating others but from inspiring people everywhere to seek the best in themselves.

Madeleine K. Albright was U.S. secretary of state from 1997 to 2001. She is the author of “Memo to the President: How We Can Restore America’s Reputation and Leadership” (HarperCollins, 2008).

Via the UK Telegraph


Language Orgy on this Leaping Thought Wednesday

Why? Because I like to indulge...

Sesquipedalian feast:

About three weeks ago, I came upon this interesting article in the BBC News Magazine about a man who read all 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary for fun. Afterward, readers of the story were asked to name a few of their own favorite words. 50 best were chosen and I have to say that from the list, I became immediately enamored of the word Tmesis. Pronounced [tuh-mee-sis], it means to break up a word by interpolating another between its parts. For example: dis-bloomin-graceful is a perfect example of a British-y sounding Tmesis. And now, for the very first time, I have a word that describes a phenomenon I'm exceptionally partial to. Isn't that abso-frikin'-lutely wonderful?

Gems? Jams?

Sometime back in April, Ron Davison of Rwrld put up a post titled Inexplicable Fragments of Imagined Lives. In it there was this particular fragment which I simply loved.

Once again, Fred peered into the fridge and wondered, did the woman pay no attention at all? Did she have “buy pickles” on a monthly grocery shopping list? Did she not realize that the pickles were building up in the space behind the leftovers? And didn’t she realize that with his Freudian training this act of passive hostility would take on inescapable meaning? Oh why couldn’t he have studied Jungian psychology instead? It seemed as though it would be so much easier to laugh off her idiosyncratic behaviors if only he’d chosen differently in grad school.

Having discovered since reading that particular passage that I myself must pay no attention either because I have a buy quince jam line perennially engraved in my own grocery list. And that currently I am five jars deep into quince jam inside my pantry, I do wonder what anyone's psychoanalytic training would make of my passive accumulation of jams - quince to be precise. Anyone? Jan?

Listen, I don't care if you are Freudian, Jungian or plain ole crazy yourself. Just tell me, what do you think all that quince means?

A pain in the Royal Coccydynia:

I should know. I have had a fractured coccyx bone and it ain't fun. Took forever to mend and I had to sit on a doughnut like cushion for just about ever. Insulting indeed.

More wonderful words that make for disparaging as well as entertaining fare at Neatorama.

Untranslatable words from around the world

Photo by Joi

The one below means that you must turn the other cheek twice. "2" being the magic number to withstand but, all bets are off after that. Give 'em hell!

From the Tshiluba language spoken in south-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, this word has been chosen by numerous translators as the world’s most untranslatable word. Ilunga indicates a person who is ready to forgive any abuse the first time it occurs, to tolerate it the second time, but to neither forgive nor tolerate a third offense.

There are more words that defy translation at Alta Blog.

I love Anagrams - Naive as Glamor

original                   anagram
****** ******
dormitory..................dirty room
evangelist.................evil's agent
desperation................a rope ends it
the Morse Code.............here come dots
slot machines..............cash lost in 'em
animosity..................is no amity
mother-in-law..............woman Hitler
snooze alarms..............alas! no more Zs
Alec Guinness..............genuine class
Semolina...................is no meal
the public art galleries...large picture halls, I bet
a decimal point............I'm a dot in place
the earthquakes............that queer shake
eleven plus two............twelve plus one
contradiction..............accord not in it
I wish I could say these came out of my head but alas, I cannot. They came from the kitcar website or from the wackiest biter - take your pick.

Dying languages. There's a documentary subject if I ever heard one.

La pièce de résistance - It is a REAL place. And of course the name had to be Welsh
I absolutely dare you to mispronounce it.



It is all one word by the way. I had to break it up so that it would fit in here.


P.S. I'm very sorry I was gone for so long. I hope you forgive the absence. I needed and took some time off.



Into the Heart of Poverty - A Blog Action Day Post

Photo by Ricky

Rarely now, the image of the little boy pops into my head but when it does, I remember him so distinctly that recalling the tilt of his thin face, the threadbare shirt he wore, the longing look in his eyes against the background of an overcast Caribbean day, requires no real effort. That is because somehow that particular moment in time, when he stood waving goodbye to Alejandra and I, became deeply embedded into my psyche.

It had been our last day in Bluefields, Nicaragua when we met him. We'd been sent down from Washington D.C. as a video production team by the Inter-American Development Bank to shoot footage in this isolated enclave of Nicaragua's Atlantic coast.

When I first heard of Bluefields, I was warned of its poverty - abject poverty to be precise. Nevertheless, I really didn't think that there was anything there I wouldn't recognize in terms of scarcity. In my native Panama and elsewhere, I had at times witnessed what it was to live a life where the most basic of necessities were lacking. Personally, I had experienced deprivation and knew what it felt like to have no money, and to have to manage the day to day with painful economies. This place I thought, would have nothing that could surprise me.

We flew out to Bluefields from the capital city of Managua on an ancient little plane that looked like it was being held together by the grace of God and duct tape. Even so, all the proprieties had been observed within its narrow dilapidated aisles. For example, there was a gloved and uniformed stewardess who paraded a rickety cart offering a selection of canned national beverages for the passengers. Her actions would have looked ridiculous had it not been for the fact that the effort felt so poignantly sincere; somewhat like trying to impress someone with a fancy dinner when all there is to serve are soda crackers. That flight however, was to be the most comfort and luxury we would know for the next few days.

In trying to think of words that would best describe to you what I saw as we drove into town, I mentally place myself first inside the car that took us over the potholed roads framed by run down buildings whose peeling paints, and warped wooden foundations were the perfect metaphor for the harshness of a world stripped of advantages; an existence mired within the confines of the bare minimums - Bluefields was a dirty, depressing and worn at the seams kind of place. Still, because the outward face of poverty was not unknown to me, I was sure I could handle our stay there with the aplomb of one who understood the transient nature of our time there. And so for the next three days I handled, and this is what I came away with from that effort: Any deprivation which I have ever experienced does. not. constitute. poverty.

Poverty, is a state of being that overtakes all strata of life, for the 24 hours of every single day over a protracted period of time. Poverty goes beyond not having the money to purchase things whether they be basic or superfluous and, it is a condition that settles deeply into a place where the hopelessness of life is an insurmountable wall that a vast majority of people never even attempt to overcome because, they have never known the luxury of options. There is never anything better nor anything different in poverty. It is even keeled and steady in its abjectness. Living in poverty is an everyday chore which most of us who have not been born or grown into it, would characterize as plain ole surviving.

With this recognition in hand, I ventured forth that last day holding my video camera while Alejandra stood by my side to conduct the street interviews. We asked the expected questions. In retrospect, I feel that they were the wrong questions to ask. You may imagine what they could be in the context of one who looks in with curiosity on the underprivileged. How do you manage like this? What would you do if you were given... They were intrusive questions, inadvertently designed to highlight what was so obviously lacking for those whom we approached.

So many years later I know that we are missing something fundamental in our worldwide approach to eradicating poverty. Having worked for the kind of institution that spent inordinate amounts of time, money and personnel resources on examining the problem from every angle, I would agree that there is no one approach, no single formula that can consistently be applied everywhere. It is true however that there are basic cornerstones that must be met to propel the fight in a direction where some difference is readily visible. To name a few, a minimum standard of living, access to basic education, a stable government that foments the kinds of programs that prioritizes the interests of its citizenry and more importantly, that vies for the interests of the youth that will someday take over from the present generation because everyday, the divide grows wider and every day, more fall by the wayside, forgotten and ignored. But here is the single most important notion which I think is lacking in all this questioning of the problem. I'm talking about a recognition of something that is lost that must somehow be regained - Hope.

The problem of poverty can be partially solved by addressing the issues of what tangible options we can give that might serve to better empower the poor. They do not address however the intangible necessity of hope. And this last realization is what brings me to that little boy I mentioned earlier in this post. He broke my heart. And what I remember most about him is that in such a young person, there was no flare of expectation and a very visible acceptance that his barren life was all there would ever be for him. When asked what he wanted most for himself he answered quite simply that all he wished for was a little white car to play with. In articulating his desire it was very obvious that he believed it to be an impossible dream that one should ever come into his possession.

When we finally put the camera and microphone away, Alejandra and I looked at each other and without saying a word we set out to hunt for a white car that we could bring back to him. In a small business selling all manner of cheap wares along the main street, we chanced upon a Chinese made package that held the car of his dreams and we purchased it, went back, and set it in his hands.

That action only made us feel moderately better. He was happy, true. Disbelieving that someone would do something nice for him with no strings attached, yes. Grateful to the point of tears, absolutely but, in that moment of handing him his perceived heart's desire, Alejandra and I reenacted a microcosm of how we continually attempt to address the issue of poverty without tackling the fundamental lack and acute need for sustained hope. Giving him the car made us and him feel briefly better but ultimately, it did nothing to help him out of his desperate life situation. What little hope might have flared in him, surely died a speedy death with our departure and the unrelenting constancy of his poverty siphoning off whatever joy we were able to give him.

I have a little boy myself. Today he is only slightly younger than the boy in Bluefields was when we interviewed him so many years ago. Had my son existed then and I been able to stand him next to my Bluefields child, you would see immediately beyond the differences of quality of dress, nourishment and health, to that one marked and unmistakable distinction of how they look out into the world. R's eyes shine with the promise of a hope he doesn't even recognize he owns. That security in the rightness of his world was glaringly absent in my little Bluefields boy.

Afterward, his image haunted me for the longest time. Whenever I would tell someone of what I had encountered in Bluefields my eyes watered in remembrance of him whose name I cannot even recall. Only much later did I come to recognize why this was the case. With all my heart, my desire would have been the ability to continually paint his world full of hope. To have shown him what he could have longed for in life beyond his little white car.

For more information on why the subject of poverty inspired this post, please click here.