Thursday, December 31, 2009

Have A Happy New Year!

Ten years ago tonight, my thoughts were of Millennium and disaster. I knew the year 2000 neither began the 21st century nor the 3rd Millennium, but it always excites me to see the odometer slip into multiple zeros.

I had decided to see in 2000 alone, thoughtfully and quietly. I bought bottled water – my only acquiescence to Y2K fears that had people hording food and money and guns – and planned an evening of reflection and reserved celebration. Around 11:00 p.m., I turned off the tv and listened to music while my New Haven apartment was lit only by candle light.

For the last half hour of 1999, I blew out a candle every 5 minutes until only one remained to be blown out at midnight. Then I sat in my quiet dark apartment and heard the sound of the year 2000 beginning: cold quiet broken by the sound of some idiot firing a gun into the night off in the distance.

And thus began my own annus horribilis, the beginning of one of the worst periods in my life. More on that another time. I'm here to wish you well.

I wish you all, a Happy and Wonderful 2010. I am planning on having a great one too. It's on my "To Do" list.

Here. Some music to start your New Year:

("I'm still very obsessed with this song)

And a Magnetic Field's song by Tracey Thorn & Jens Lenkman

Have a Happy!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Two months without a word and you are probably thinking that I have been too busy to blog, and you’d be right.

After months of unemployment and even running out the twice extended unemployment benefits and not getting a nibble on the job market, I finally landed a new job with what seems to be so far a decent company. And while it’s not with books, it is with one of my other loves: food.

I was quite neurotic about getting the new position, fearing that my mouth would somehow jinx me until I walked in the front door for training, I told just my parents and one other person before descending into silent worry-and-don’t-sleep mode.

It’s been such a hard year for so many people including myself, hunkering down in the depths of the twin Depressions, Financial and Emotional. My new company is progressive and socially conscious and worked with the state Department of Labor to interview people who were out of work for ages. So many of my new coworkers also needed jobs too and it’s great that now they do.

I’m going to stop here before I tear up (like Frank McCourt my “bladder is in my eye”). I do promise to write more, but it’s been great having a very good reason not to be.

A very Merry Christmas to you all!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Songs stuck in my head

Since the art of the mix tape is lost to us all...

Friday, October 09, 2009

Dog Phone Art

Cell phone photos are rarely great works of art, but there is something very reminiscent of English drawing room pets portraits in how these came out.

Perhaps my artist friends (Susan, Pahl, Catherine, Michael, Dawn etc) can tell me what painter these vaguely copy.

Céilí is my parent's dog. She was born in Ireland, a "timpiste" - an accident, which is what I wanted to call her - an unintentional mating of a West Highland terrier and something else. My father and I brought her to the US when she could just fit in my hand. Happy accident she is, indeed.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Mind, intractable thing

The Mind, intractable thing

even with its own axe to grind, sometimes

helps others. Why can't it help me?

-Marianne Moore

That I suffer from periodic bouts of insomnia is well known to family & friends. It’s the result of bad sleeping habits, an irregular schedule, stress and an overactive mind that takes a while to shut down all its spinning wheels.

Over the years, I’ve developed some effective tactics against insomnia that don’t involve sedatives. Having a firm, comfortable mattress in a cool, dark bedroom. No caffeine after 4 p.m. Nothing to eat after 8 p.m. No excitable television (e.g. news, action movies, horror movies, etc.) before bed. No running mentally through the next day’s events, “to do” lists or preparation steps. A little quiet time before bed. Creative visualization when the mind is running wild.

Sometimes I use melatonin, which helps shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and deepen the sleep I get (no matter how small) but which gives me odd dreams.

But at some point of tossing and turning, I give up, get up and stop fighting war against IT. I resort to reading from few books that reliably relax me. Not that they are boring, soporific books, it’s just that, for what ever quality they possess, they drain away the insomnia.

The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton. I have a small Modern Library edition from the 1940s I keep near the bed. The descriptive prose and the involved plot, made familiar by repeated viewings of the Scorese film and rereads of the book itself, are so comfortingly evocative of 1880s New York society that it’s like falling into a John Singer Sargent painting.

I also love slipping into any of the many collections I have of Guy de Maupassant’s Short Stories, the master of the short story set during the Franco-Prussian War. Although some of his stories have a twist or a barb at the end, it’s his unrushed telling of them that I like.

Collected Short Stories of Eudora Welty. I usually go for the less showy authors after midnight, like Welty or any other of the New Yorker short story school, like William Maxwell, John Cheever, etc.

Any work by Australian writer, Peter Carey. Carey, who won the Booker Prize for Oscar & Lucinda, writes with this intelligent, precise prose that it’s easy to get lost in for a few hours.

Sometimes I’ll pick up one of my favorite children’s novels, like The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis, or The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, or Padraic Colum’s telling of the Norse myths, Nordic Gods and Heroes, complete with art nouveau illustrations.

Then there is the anthology The Literary Insomniac, edited by Elyse Cheney and Wendy Hubbert which is chock-a-block with tales of sleeplessness by famous writers. My favorite entry is "Waking Up" by E. Annie Proulx, who, when she gets up in the middle of the night, does literary research, reads her weeks old recently delivered New York Times or clog dances (she lives alone).

If I’m desperate, there’s the various technical reading I have. The manuals for my Mac, for Office 2008, for my camera, for my phone. Some pedestrian nonfiction on a subject I like. Grammarians. Trivia and fact books. Books to learn a foreign language.

And if those fail, I get up at 2:35 a.m. and write.

Monday, September 28, 2009


My reading has been directionless and serendipitous lately. One of the movie channels ran a series of films based on great books and so after my stint with the Spanish Flu, William Maxwell’s They Came Like Swallows, (which was slightly disappointing compared to his great short story collections and the magnificent So Long, See You Tomorrow), and Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider, I let this cable station steer my literary rudder.

Triggered by the films I’ve seen, I read or reread E.M. Forster’s Howards End and A Room With a View, then Peter Carey’s wonderful Oscar and Lucinda. Merchant and Ivory managed to perfectly capture Forster’s spare prose and deceptively simple plots but Gillian Armstrong could not visually paint the magical language of the Booker Prize winning Oscar and Lucinda, despite starring Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett as the leads.

Into the Wild on HBO shamed me into finally reading a book I’ve been hand selling for years to parents of “boys who don’t like to read but like outdoors stuff”. Kind of funny, considering how I devoured Jon Krakauer’s other book about the fatal to climb Mount Everest, Into Thin Air, in my drafty third floor apartment in New Haven under a quilt during a bitter cold snap. Better there, than on Everest.

I had an advanced reader’s copy of Into the Wild, a prepublication edition sent by the publishers to reviewers and booksellers, which means I’ve been putting off reading it for 13 years. It was well worth it. Sean Penn’s adaptation really just focuses on Christopher McCandless’s journey across America and makes it look epic, but the book has a much larger scope and, of course, more material about the people McCandless met in his journey. It’s short, just under 180 pages - very non-threatening to some kid who thinks reading is agony - but it’s also very well written.

Then I stumbled across some very schlocky film adaptations of some H.P. Lovecraft stories, which drove me to reread from my collections of his schlocky works. Lovecraft is one of those writers whose ideas sound great on paper and are very influential in horror fiction, but whose images just look silly on film . Neil Gaiman said something once about how Lovecraft’s great monster, "the green, sticky spawn of the stars", part dragon, part octopus, part demon, Cthulhu looks absolutely ridiculous when depicted on screen. They sometimes look silly on paper too.

After this reading sherbet, time for a bigger project.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

With the first hint of the cooler fall weather...

I think of this poem:

As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away—
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy—
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon—
The Dusk drew earlier in—
The Morning foreign shone—
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone—
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.

Emily Dickinson

Monday, September 07, 2009

Labor Day 2009, by the numbers...

September 7, 2009 | An EPI Fact Sheet

compiled by Anna Turner

Note that all numbers are current as of September 4, 2009.

Print-friendly PDF format


• New jobs needed per month to keep up with population growth: 127,000
• Jobs lost in August 2009: 216,000
• Jobs needed to regain pre-recession unemployment levels: 9.4 million
• Manufacturing jobs lost since the start of the recession: 2.0 million (14.6% of sector’s jobs)
• Construction jobs lost in the recession: 1.4 million (19%, nearly one in five construction jobs)
• Mass layoffs (50 or more people by a single employer) in July 2009: 2,157; jobs lost: 206,791


• Number unemployed: 14.9 million (up from 7.5 million in December 2007)
• Underemployment rate: 16.8%; Share of workers un- or underemployed: roughly 1 in 6
• Under- and unemployed, marginally attached and involuntary part-time workers: 26.4 million
• Unemployment rate, ages 16 to 24: 18.2%
• Male unemployment: 10.9%; female unemployment: 8.2%
• White unemployment: 8.9%; black unemployment: 15.1%; Hispanic unemployment: 13%
• Unemployment rate, young college graduates: 5.9% (2nd worst on record); Worst recorded unemployment rate for young college graduates: 6.2% (1983)
• Traditional ratio of young college grads’ unemployment to overall rate:
50%; Current ratio: 70%
• Portion of unemployed who have been jobless more than six months: one third
• Average weekly unemployment benefit in July (including additional $25 per week from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act): $332


• Highest unemployment rate: Michigan, 15.0%; lowest: North Dakota, 4.2%
• When California’s Hispanic unemployment surpassed black unemployment:
2nd quarter, 2009
• Projected African American unemployment for Michigan, 2nd quarter of 2010: 24.9%


• Decrease in all prime-aged worker’s real median weekly wages, 2000-2007: $1; Decrease for African Americans: $3
• Annual growth rate of private-sector workers’ wages, last three months: 2.6%
• Annual growth of wages in managerial, professional, and related occupations, 2009, 2nd quarter: 0%
• Annual growth rate of real (inflation-adjusted), average, hourly wages since June 2000: 0.70%*
• Ratio of average CEO’s pay to typical worker’s pay in 1979: 27 to 1; Ratio in 2007: 275 to 1


• Share of minimum wage workers with high school diploma in 1979: 57.5%: Share in 2008: 72%
• Workers getting a raise from latest minimum wage increase:
4.5 million
• Share of affected workers with annual family income below $35,000: 57.1%; Share working at least 20 hours a week: 81.6%
• Extent to which the minimum wage’s real value is lower than in 1968: 17%


• Drop in children covered through parents’ employers, 2000 to 2007: 3.4 million
• Share of people under 65, with incomes in the top 20%, covered by employers in 2007: 86.4%; Share with incomes in the bottom 20%, covered by employers: 21.9%
• Share of Hispanic workers who are uninsured: 39.8%
• Percentage of under-65 Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance in 2000: 68.3%; In 2007: 62.9%
• Average monthly cost of COBRA with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act subsidy: $370; Without American Recovery and Reinvestment Act subsidy: $1,057
• Rise in out-of-pocket spending for the 1% of adults with the greatest medical expenses, 2004-2007: 42%
• Increase in health care premiums since 1999: 119%
• Amount by which U.S. private health insurance administrative costs exceeded all Canadian national health spending in 2007: $25 billion**
• Share of total U.S. health care costs paid by private insurers in 2007: 35%
• Share of total health care costs paid by U.S. government in 2007: 46%


• Percentage of amount needed to maintain living standards that is held by average 401(k) participant approaching retirement: 20-40%
• Share of 401(k) assets estimated to be lost since 2007: 29%


• Share of employers that interrogate workers in mandatory one-on-one meetings, 1999-2003: 63%; Share of employers that threaten workers in such meetings, 1999-2003: 54%
• Increase in likelihood that firm will fail if unionized:
• U.S. manufacturing workers ranking on “value-added per employee,” compared to 16 nations with higher compensation: 2


• Likely size of this contraction without the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: 3-4%
• Jobs lost with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 2nd quarter, 2009:
1.3 million
• Jobs that would have been lost without the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 2nd quarter, 2009: 1.8 million at least***

* EPI analysis of CPS and BLS data
**EPI analysis of HHS CMS, OECD, and World Bank data
***Mark Zandi, Moody’s

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Happy Shiny Monkey Magic Time!

(*Happiness the monkey magic time which has gloss)

I have to confess to an obsession with strange Japanese game shows.

Remember this is from a culture who think little kids fighting a zombie is funny.

I do think Pan-Kun, the chimp, comes out better than the magician. Or it could be the pro-chimp bias of the Japanese media.

**Update: evidently, there are a host of Pan-Kun videos. Look here and here. He's quite the celebrity.

***Update-update: since I seem to be in cute video mode, here's a video a couple did of a picture every day for their son's first year :

and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, the likable young leads from 500 Days of Summer dancing and being utterly charming:

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I was up at dawn this morning and saw the most amazing cloud formations in between thunder storms. Like cloud volcanos...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A politcal moment

I don't usually get political on this blog as I find discussions on politics can be as personal and as emotion rousing as ones on religion. Persons wishing to remain in polite society should avoid both.

Yet, the recent uptick of insurance industry supported scream fests of the tea bagger conservatives with incorrect facts loudly disrupting townhall meetings with cries of "take back our country!!!" (From what exactly? From the democratically elected black guy running it?) "death panels!!" and the painting of health care reformers as wanting to control the world are, ironically, frighteningly parallel to Hitler's strong armed seizures of government meetings in Bavaria in the 1920s.

From wikipedia:

On 14 September 1921, Hitler and a substantial number of SA members and other Nazi party adherents disrupted a meeting at the Lowenbraukeller of the Bavarian League. This federalist organization objected to the centralism of the Weimar Constitution, but accepted its social program. The League was led by Otto Ballerstedt, an engineer whom Hitler regarded as "my most dangerous opponent." One Nazi, Hermann Esser, climbed upon a chair and shouted that the Jews were to blame for the misfortunes of Bavaria, and the Nazis shouted demands that Ballerstedt yield the floor to Hitler. [26]

The Nazis beat up Ballerstedt and shoved him off the stage into the audience. Both Hitler and Esser were arrested, and Hitler commented notoriously to the police commissioner, "It's all right. We got what we wanted. Ballerstedt did not speak." [27] Hitler was eventually sentenced to 3 months imprisonment and ended up serving only a little over one month.

Fear and lies are powerful weapons. It's with this concern that I post the following video:

Now, you may not like Keith Olbermann (especially if you are a right winger) but of the major partisan commentators, he has never called for someone's injury and has never rallied his viewers to violence or fear, just to a sense of injustice and exasperation. Try to find someone like that on Fox.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Haiku Update

Not writing. Reading
books on the Spanish Flu while
sick. Chasing bullfrogs.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Today is my birthday, and I am sick in bed trying to get over the flu that rebounded over last weekend. It’s not a major birthday year so I’m not too upset that I’m not indulging my sweet tooth or stuffing my maw with things that are no longer good for me and stay with me longer than I would like. It’s not the worst birthday either. That was my 19th birthday when my beloved grandfather (whom I was named after) died in Ireland with my father just making the 3000 mile journey within a hour before my grandfather passed away. Despite the years in between, and ignoring my name and my birth date, I think about him, and all my grandparents, a lot. Barely a week goes by that I don’t think of all them.

Since today I am being a bed-to-couch-to-bed slug, I thought I would share some favorite things.

1. Books. Well duh!

I finally finished entering all my books into a media cataloging program called Delicious Library. It saved me the task of actually counting my books, which I traditionally do on my birthday. The total as of today is (excluding 50 blank books and 100 stripped cover mass markets) 1,961.

Entering books into Delicious Library took longer than expected as I often stopped to reacquaint myself with a book, usually baring the distresses of smoke and water from the Fire, and losing myself within it for a few hours. It’s a wonderful thing to have a few hours of quiet to read a good book.

2. Food.

I used to be a thin man until I discovered I like to eat. Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything was very instrumental in making me unafraid of cooking as well as enlarging my waistline.

In fact, Bittman got me brave enough to try recipes from tv shows. Here’s one of my absolute favorites recipes – it’s EXTREMELY easy and EXTREMELY good.

I don’t make it that often as I end up eating it right out of the pan. It’s been a while since I last made it so, the FIRST person to contact me about this will win: me cooking this for you (and helping you eat it).

Pork Scallopine with Tomato Basil Sauce

Martha Stewart & Chris Schlesinger of the East Coast Grill in Cambridge, Mass.


Makes 2 servings.

1 pork tenderloin, about 10 to 14 ounces, cut into 4 pieces, crosswise

3 tablespoons olive oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 shallot, minced

1 tablespoon cognac

1/4 cup Homemade Chicken Stock

1 tablespoon grainy mustard

3 tablespoons heavy cream

2 tablespoons finely chopped plum tomato

1 tablespoon finely chopped basil

2 heads radicchio, quartered

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar


i. Stand pork tenderloin pieces on end between two layers of plastic wrap. Pound meat to a 1/4-inch thickness with a rolling pin; set aside.

ii. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Season pork on both sides with salt and pepper. Add meat to pan, and cook until browned. (There will be a release of juices on the surface of the meat after it has been turned, 2 to 3 minutes per side.) Transfer meat to a platter, and keep warm. Pour off any excess fat from skillet, and discard. Meanwhile, heat a grill pan over medium-high heat.

iii. Return skillet to heat, add the shallot, and cook for about 1 minute. Remove skillet from heat, and deglaze with cognac. Return skillet to stove, and carefully ignite with a match. When flames subside, add chicken stock and mustard; reduce to thicken, 1 to 2 minutes. Add heavy cream, tomato, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, and serve sauce over pork.

iv. Meanwhile, toss radicchio with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Place on preheated grill pan, turning as it begins to color. Remove from grill pan, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, and serve with pork scaloppine.

3. Movies.

Top 3 favorite movies of all time: Vertigo, The Third Man, Wings of Desire.

But oftentimes, the trailer is the best thing about a movie. Not sure why, but I love this trailer to Where the Wild Things Are.

4. Stories.

Three of my favorite FREE podcasts are from National Public Radio and involve the telling to stories.

Selected Shorts, which is an hour-long reading of various kinds of short stories by famous actors.

This American Life. Which looks at true stories united by the barest of common themes and can be funny and heartbreaking and very, very human at the same time.

The Moth Storytelling Project: An amateur storytelling “jam” where someone tells a story under 15 minutes, live and without notes. Just last week I heard the second story by Ed Gavagan, “Victims’ Impact” continuing his account of when he was stabbed in New York City. It goes to a different place then what you would expect and had me weeping at the end in how a little grace and a little forgiveness overcomes a lot of evil.

Drowing on Sullivan Street

Victim's Impact

5. The little faces that run smiling to me when I visit my nieces & nephews.

God, I think that adds years to my life.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Old Photos

One of the many personal projects I've been working on is scanning the many old photos I have. The Fire in 2000 that burned down my apartment, also took the collected negatives of every photo I had. Thankfully, one of the first things the firemen did was to pile photo albums and other irreplaceable stuff on the floor and throw a waterproof tarp over them to protect them so the photos were saved. Go Firemen!

About two years ago, I read a fascinating article in the New Yorker about a professor at Carnegie Mellon, Gordon Bell, who was scanning or digitizing every photo, letter, email, book, web-page, phone calls etc. that he took, looked at, or took part in, turning it into a digital file and storing it paperlessly, rather than being surrounded by the clutter of his life.

Not a bad idea. We seem to be moving towards electronic document storage anyway. The Kindle,'s paperless electronic reader for books and magazines, seems to be a big hit. Like most people, I have an iPod with 10,000 songs and a closet full of boxes of CD that have been turned into mp3s. Like most people, I have a digital camera and thousands of photos on my computer and backed up on disks.

I plan to scan old writings I have lying about (old poems, scribbling, my 2,500 + page journal I've kept for 28 years) but since I lack a replacement format for photos, it's best if I start with them first.

Here is a small selection of some random photos I've scanned. The photo above is of my bookshelves, circa 1988.

Beal Loch, near our home in the Knockmealdown Mountains, covered in rhododendrons. The loch is allegedly bottomless and haunted by the ghost of "Petticoat Loose" condemned to empty it with a thimble for eternity.

A shot of Manhattan circa 1986 from the Circle Line boat tours. Not depicted are the legions of little old blue haired ladies who nattered on without stop for the entire three hour ride.

Muir Woods, looking straight up into the sky at the canopy of redwood trees, several hundred feet high.

Famed City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, home to, and first publisher of, many of the Beat Poets, like Allen Ginsburg and owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti. First publishers of Ginsberg's famous "Howl."

San Francisco's famous Transamerica Pyramid from its base looking up.

The Green Dog Table.

There's a long story about this I'll save for another time.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The sounds of dogs howling

Only a few of you know this about me. If I’m watching TV and a commercial comes on with Billy Mays BLARING IN HIS SHRILL CRASS SMOKED OUT VOICE ABOUT THE MERITS OF SOME CHEAP PIECE OF CRAP PRODUCT!!!!!!! I get an almost emotional and physical, averse reaction to the sound of his voice that I feel in my teeth or in my spine.

It’s so bad I am compelled to change channels immediately (whether it’s my home or not) or mute the loud hairy troll and have been known to walk out of a room and even cover my ears and hum until his sonic assault is over.

My reaction is so strong, so substantial that I’ve likened myself to one of those killer trained dogs in some bad TV movie who are fine one minute, then hear their trigger word and turn into frothing, growling carnivores, except my trigger word is the sound of Billy May’s voice BELLOWING ABOUT PRODUCT X.

Even here I’ve tried to convey his ALL BUT SCREAMING voice typographically. The man is a walking, talking car siren at 4 a.m., a living alarm clock buzz, a human pop-up window advertising something plastic and cheap in an amped up voice that has clearly been altered to make it louder than the show you were just watching.

I don't care if he makes money for whatever fly by night product he's shilling, he contributes to the unnecessary increase of noise pollution. And gets on my damn nerves!

Which is why I take great pleasure in this:

Congress Pushing For Bill To Reduce The Volume Of TV Advertising

Under a new proposal taken up today, Congress would give the FCC power to limit the volume of commercial advertising to match the average decibels of the show being watched.

Under current laws, TV ads must not exceed the loudest peak in a show—but anyone who has ever been scared half to death by Billy Mays exploding onto the screen for Oxi Clean knows that is generally unacceptable.

Naturally, broadcasters and advertisers want to set their own standards—they even have their own plan to reduce ad volume set to take effect within a couple of months. Many believe that the Congressional bill with pass, but it may not be necessary if the broadcasters set acceptable limits. Either way, it looks as though loud pitchmen are going to be the only ones losing out on this. [York Daily Record]