Mitt on Superstorm Sandy

I Think Now the Race Is Romney’s To Lose

I am beginning to feel better about the Presidential race. The thought of a President Mitt Romney is sufficient to cause my insides to curdle. But now, with Superstorm Sandy and Barack Obama showing just how presidential he could be, Romney might just be stranded in left field sucking on a mop.

Do you recall the race between Daddy Bush and Bill Clinton in 1992? George H. W. was accused of being too patrician for the White House. If he was too patrician, what about Mitt?

The following tweets from #MittStormTips #Sandy show more about Romney than he would like to have the public see. Read ’em and laugh:

  • If you haven’t already, move money from Cayman Islands to Swiss account.
  • People, this is why we only build houses on top of cliffs.
  • No generators at Home Depot. I have ordered Paul Ryan off the campaign trail to power my home with a stationary bike.
  • This is a time for bipartisanship, despite the President’s bungling of this preventable natural disaster.
  • Hurricanes are best spent overseas, visiting your money.
  • President Obama has not once referred to this storm as a hurricane. (This one is a bit more subtle: Think Libya and the Second Debate.)
  • Remember, the most important threat facing the east coast is and always will be Russia.
  • My thoughts and prayers go out to 53% of you.
  • What are you people complaining about? This wind is no stronger than one of my medium sized helicopter rotors!
  • Shucks, I hope FEMA isn’t the third agency Perry is getting rid of. (Think back to the GOP Primary debates.)

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“The Beast Not Found In Verse”

Borges and His Tigers

As you may (or may not) know, I am and always have been a devotee of the stories, poems, and essays of Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges. Here is a poem in which he tries to bring a tiger to life through sheer artistry, but fails—or does he?

The Other Tiger by Jorge Luis Borges

A tiger comes to mind. The twilight here
Exalts the vast and busy Library
And seems to set the bookshelves back in gloom;
Innocent, ruthless, bloodstained, sleek
It wanders through its forest and its day
Printing a track along the muddy banks
Of sluggish streams whose names it does not know
(In its world there are no names or past
Or time to come, only the vivid now)
And makes its way across wild distances
Sniffing the braided labyrinth of smells
And in the wind picking the smell of dawn
And tantalizing scent of grazing deer;
Among the bamboo’s slanting stripes I glimpse
The tiger’s stripes and sense the bony frame
Under the splendid, quivering cover of skin.
Curving oceans and the planet’s wastes keep us
Apart in vain; from here in a house far off
In South America I dream of you,
Track you, O tiger of the Ganges’ banks.

It strikes me now as evening fills my soul
That the tiger addressed in my poem
Is a shadowy beast, a tiger of symbols
And scraps picked up at random out of books,
A string of labored tropes that have no life,
And not the fated tiger, the deadly jewel
That under sun or stars or changing moon
Goes on in Bengal or Sumatra fulfilling
Its rounds of love and indolence and death.
To the tiger of symbols I hold opposed
The one that’s real, the one whose blood runs hot
As it cuts down a herd of buffaloes,
And that today, this August third, nineteen
Fifty-nine, throws its shadow on the grass;
But by the act of giving it a name,
By trying to fix the limits of its world,
It becomes a fiction not a living beast,
Not a tiger out roaming the wilds of earth.

We’ll hunt for a third tiger now, but like
The others this one too will be a form
Of what I dream, a structure of words, and not
The flesh and one tiger that beyond all myths
Paces the earth. I know these things quite well,
Yet nonetheless some force keeps driving me
In this vague, unreasonable, and ancient quest,
And I go on pursuing through the hours
Another tiger, the beast not found in verse.

Last year around this time, Martine and I were in Buenos Aires. Because she was curious about guanacos, we visited the Buenos Aires Zoo in Palermo at Sarmiento and Las Heras. Now that was the same zoo where Borges would visit before the days of his blindness set in to see the tigers.

He would write frequently about tigers, even titling one of his books Dreamtigers. The above poem is probably my favorite of all.

Ghosts and Goblins and Skeletons, Oh My!

Halloween Exhibit at the Grier Musser Museum in L.A.

It’s that time of year again: Halloween, becoming an ever more important celebration in the calendar of the year, is almost upon us. I have prepared for the festivities by reading four horror classics: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells and a trio of stories from Edwardian horror writer Algernon Blackwood, namely The Willows, The Wendigo, and The Listener.

Then Martine and I capped it off by visiting the Grier Musser Museum on Bonnie Brae Street close to Downtown L.A. Ray and Susan Tejada have purchased a Victorian mansion with which they have family associations and filled it with collections of antique and recent decorations pertaining to the seasons. At this time, it is full of eldritch Halloween exhibits, including animated figures, dolls, puppets, old greeting cards, and horror film tie-ins. The whole place is jammed full of ghosts, goblins, mad scientists, monsters, skeletons, and demons.

As for Halloween itself, it’s a working day. In the evening, if it’s anything like the last fifteen years, there won’t be any trick-or-treaters. The schools have been very effective at alerting parents that the practice is dangerous, what with so many child molesters about. Parents are afraid their children’s candy will include rusty razor blades or strychnine. Instead, there are Halloween parties at the schools which include a distribution of “safe and sane” candy.

I remember going trick or treating when I was a kid. I had an old blue cub scout shirt, to which I had my mother sew some impressive epaulets, and wore a Union army cap. My disguise: A Civil War and Old West Cavalry officer. I didn’t bother wearing a mask—too uncomfortable! I liked the costume because I was a devoted fan of such TV series as Rin-Tin-Tin and F-Troop. And I got a ton of chocolate, candy corn, popcorn balls, and apples.

A Tale of Three Restaurants

Bertha’s Famous Tamales

Generally speaking, I do not cook on weekends. It’s a special treat for Martine to be able to go out from time to time, and Saturdays and Sundays are usually it. Now you would think that Martine would not be a tamale person, and you are right! While she lolled around in bed resting after an all night bus ride the night before. (She had taken a Greyhound Bus to Sacramento to see her doctors, her old friends from her days working at the old Sacramento Army Depot, and her mother’s grave.)

So, instead of rustling breakfast up for myself as usual, I drove out to the Farmers’ Market in Santa Monica at Pico and Cloverfield. There, accompanied by a thermos of my own unsweetend Darjeeling tea, I had two pork tamales from Bertha’s Famous Tamales, well slathered with their fiery hot sauce. Then I bought some Deglet Noor dates, some Asian pears, and some Fuyu Persimmons.

Attari Sandwiches in Westwood

Lunchtime I took a chance with my little sweetie. We went to Attari Sandwiches in Westwood, a busy Iranian sandwich shop where I had a mortadella sandwich and their delicious home-brewed iced tea with lime and mint. Martine had a chicken sandwich which she did not much care for. If I were in Teheran, I would have no difficulty adapting to their delicious cuisine—except I would eat too much Basmati rice, which is more or less forbidden to me because of my Type II Diabetes. Martine, on the other hand, would have a rough time of it.

Attari Sandwiches is a key focal point for the busy Westwood Iranian community. The restaurant was really hopping when we were there, but the owner and his staff know me well and always give great service (and delicious food). Their osh soup is fantastic, but it was too hot for it today. (It got up to 90° Fahrenheit today.)

Pepy’s Galley (AKA Pepy’s Chili) in a Mar Vista Bowling Alley

I had to make it up to Martine for taking her to a lunch spot she didn’t care for, however much I love it. For dinner, we went to Pepy’s Galley located in the Mar Vista Lanes Bowling Alley on Venice Boulevard. Pepy’s is an American/Mexican comfort food restaurant where Martine could get her hamburger steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, cooked vegetables, and a salad for a reasonable price. The food is down-home good, with good American dishes and a chilaquiles plate that will knock your socks off.

For dinner, I just had a navy bean soup and a plate of cantaloupe with iced tea. I had eaten enough earlier. The important thing was that Martine was placated for making her eat strange “Muslim” food for lunch.

The Dancing Plague of 1518

Engraving by Hendrik Hondius of Three Women Affected by the Plague

History is full of strange byways and seemingly unsolvable mysteries. Why is it that, for a period of hundreds of years during the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, and into the Renaissance, there were outbreaks of dancing fever. During these outbreaks people started dancing and kept dancing until they dropped dead, some of them from strokes and heart attacks, others from sheer exhaustion.

The worst outbreak is recorded in Strasbourg, Alsace, during the year 1518. The city fathers even hired musicians in hopes that the dancers would dance until they got tired and just stop. But many did not stop, and these died. Although I do not have the mortality figures from the Strasbourg incident, one source indicates that up to 400 people were involved in the frenzy.

According to Edward Waller, a Professor at Michigan State University, and author of a book entitled A Time to Dance, a Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518, has examined all the evidence and, according to Discovery.Com, concluded as follows:

A series of famines, resulting from bitter cold winters, scorching summers, sudden crop frosts and terrifying hailstorms, preceded the maniacal dancing, Waller said. Waves of deaths followed from malnutrition. People who survived were often forced to slaughter all of their farm animals, secure loans and finally, take to the streets begging.

Smallpox, syphilis, leprosy and even a new disease known as “the English sweat” swept through the area.

“Anxiety and false fears gripped the region,” Waller said.

One of these fears, originating from a Christian church legend, was that if anyone provoked the wrath of Saint Vitus, a Sicilian martyred in 303 A.D., he would send down plagues of compulsive dancing.

Waller therefore believes a phenomenon known as “mass psychogenic illness,” a form of mass hysteria usually preceded by intolerable levels of psychological distress, caused the dancing epidemic.

If there is a scientific reason, why have there been no outbreaks in Europe dating from the time that the Christian religion ceased to play such an important part in the lives of the people? The anxiety and fears are still present to some degree. (Isn’t that why some people vote Republican?) But the religious trigger is absent.

According to the Discover.Com website cited above, there have been similar outbreaks in Africa as recently as the twentieth century, and even a strange reaction in Belgium involving hysteria over soft-drink consumption.

Now I know that, if Romney is somehow elected President, the ultimate cause will be a mass psychogenic illness caused by Karl Rove, Faux News, and Republican spin doctors.

Notes on the Zombie Apocalypse

What’s With the Zombies Already? No, Wait, That’s Just a Republican!

Until George Romero’s 1968 film The Night of the Living Dead, zombies were simply thought of as Voodoo-reanimated corpses. A good example is the character (if it can be called one) of Carrefour in Val Lewton’s lyrical I Walked with a Zombie (1943). Then, too, there was Victor Halperin’s early White Zombie (1932) starring Bela Lugosi. Also zombies (or was it vampires?) played a role in Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend.

But it was Romero who really got the ball rolling and transferred the concept from an African or Haitian context to the general population. And the idea took hold, especially among the young who, perhaps, saw zombies as a metaphor for the breakdown of civilization and, perhaps, the mindlessness of an older generation that won’t let the young get on with their lives.

In any case, now that the Twilight novels of Stephenie Meyer have blunted the whole concept of vampires for young males, it is perhaps natural that they moved on to the zombies as the new thing in horror.

It was only a matter of time before the concept of a zombie apocalypse was born. What happens when the zombies threaten to attack en masse? Even the august Centers for Disease Control (CDC) got into the act by issuing a tongue-in-cheek website entitled Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse. Actually, it was a shrewd move because, if you are prepared for a zombie apocalypse, you are prepared for any eventuality.

Looking around me at America today, I see little chance of a zombie apocalypse. I think most Americans—even dead ones—are allergic to brains, whether devouring or even using them for anything more sophisticated than supporting a hat.

Photo credit: I hijacked the above photo from a website entitled You the Designer, which has thirty-seven zombie photos for your amusement and delectation.


The Line Between Good and Evil

If only there were evil people insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?—Alexander Solzhenitsyn

I Wipe the Dust of Ohio from My Feet

I Get Pretty Tired of All My Political Contributions Being Spent in Ohio

Unless you live in one of the swing states, such as Ohio, Florida, and Iowa, you’re vote just doesn’t count as much. Now California is the most populous State in the Union. All fifty-five of our electoral college votes for President will go to Obama. That’s almost a dead certain guarantee, however badly the ranchers in the San Joaquin Valley and the Republican troglodytes of Orange County feel about it.

But where is all the effort in the last few weeks of political campaigning going? You guessed it: Ohio, Florida, Iowa, and a handful of other swing states.

Why is it that these are swing states? The answer is simple: Because they are divided approximately fifty-fifty between Democrats and Republicans. Take Ohio. I’m from Cleveland originally, which, like most of Northeastern Ohio, leans to the Democrats. South of Lake Erie is where most of the trogs, recidivists, and Red-State racists live. As a Clevelander, I never visited Columbus, Dayton, or Cincinnati: We also considered the southern half of the State to be south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Over the decades since I’ve left Ohio, the State has drifted farther and farther to the right. So far, in fact, that I repudiate my origins, at least insofar as the State is concerned. (I still have some feelings for Cleveland, “The Mistake on the Lake.”)

It’s not that I want to see more political advertising in California. I hate political advertising. It’s one of the reasons I don’t watch television at all. But I have donated several hundred dollars to the Obama campaign; and I am mightily pissed that most of that money is probably going to television stations in parts of Ohio that I would just as soon see swamped by a tsunami.

There is a funny short piece on Raw.Com entitled F*ck You Ohio for hogging presidential race. Among the points it brings up is that all kinds of concessions must be made to Southern Ohio regarding the use of coal for energy:

For example, [Andy] Cobb [of Second City] notes that vying for Ohio means that candidates feel the need to promote “clean coal” technologies, “something the rest of the country knows is bullshit.”

“Ohio made them do that,” he observes. “Clean coal doesn’t exist. Coal is dirt. So, clean coal is like clean dog shit.”

Why should we kowtow to Ohio for being so deeply divided? The answer lies in our country’s dysfunctional electoral college voting system, which should be scrapped in favor of direct elections. But that is another matter entirely. It is probably the most glaring weak point of our Constitution and should be scrapped.

I suspect, however, that it will drag on for several more decades, doing incalculable harm to our political process.

Addendum (10/26/12): This cartoon from David Horsey that appeared in today’s Los Angeles Times:

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Under Brinkie’s Brae

Alfred Street in Stromness

I have been to Stromness in Orkney twice, once in 1976 and again in 1998. It is a strange little town with narrow winding streets—and, oh yes, a great poet and storyteller who lived here until his death in 1996. I am talking about George Mackay Brown (b. 1921), whose work I have been reading since I met him outside the town’s bookstore in 1976 while clutching a copy of his poem collection, Fishermen with Ploughs.

Tongue-tied, I asked him whether he was George Mackay Brown, knowing full well that he was, as his likeness was familiar to me. He smiled and said, “I cannot deny it.” If my heart were not in my throat, I would have invited him out for a pint. As it was, I showed him my book, being even too shy to ask for his autograph. We went our separate ways.

What I hope to accomplish here in my blogging here on WordPress is what Brown accomplished in a weekly column he wrote for The Orcadian, a newspaper published in Kirkwall, some fifteen miles eastward. Just to give you an idea of the flavor of his work, here is one of his essays entitled “Place names”:

I was sitting idly in the sun the other afternoon when seemingly out of the blue, the words “Orkney Islands” came into my mind. A waste of syllables, really: since Orkney itself means Orc islands. The fault is what is called, I think, tautology. (Whether “Orc” means whale, or seal, or boar, I leave to the experts to decide.)

That’s not the only tautology in our list of place names. “Houton Head”—the Hout part itself signifies headland (like Howth promontory outside Dublin).

Another misnomer is Brough of Birsay. Possibly the whole parish derives its name from the tidal island where there was originally a keep or fortification of some kind.

The very south end of Stromness is called the Point of Ness; which is to say, “the point of the point,” Ness meaning a piece of land thrusting into the sea: in this case, into the tiderace of Hoy Sound. That is why Stromness is called what it is. Living in the town itself, this is not so obvious. But coming down the Scorradale Road into Orphir, there it lies, a thrust of hard land into the wide strong waters. (Maybe the Norseman who gave Stromness its name was looking west one day from the Orphir foothills.)

Brown’s little essay goes on and names other places in the archipelago, ending with “Hrossey,” the island of the horse, which was the original name of what is today called the Orkney “mainland,” though it is by no means a mainland, but just the largest of the isles off the north end of Caithness.

I have just finished the second volume of Brown’s columns for The Orcadian, called Under Brinkie’s Brae, after the hillside overlooking the east end of Stromness. The pieces were charming and often quite lyrical, full of northern Scots words such as “haar,” “peedie,” “noust,” “Hogmanay” (that’s New Years), “clapshot” (mashed “tatties” and “neeps” with a liberal infusion of butter).

To get to Orkney, you have to take the slow train from Inverness to Thurso, and thence via a short bus ride to Scrabster, where the roll-on roll-off ferry St. Ola will transport you past the Old Man of Hoy to Stromness. There you will find an austere land almost entirely devoid of trees (the wind is so fierce). On Orkney, you will never be far from the sea, and you will never be far from George Mackay Brown, the poet of Hamnavoe (the old Norse name for Stromness).

The Paradise of Apples

Loaded Branch at Green Mountain Orchard

One of the best things about travel is discovering (or, in our case, re-discovering) some great foods. Although we like the apples from Oak Glen, where we journeyed yesterday, nothing can compare with the tanginess of apples and apple cider from Vermont and New Hampshire. There is something about the granitic soil that does something rich and strange to the flavor. And when you make cider from them—without killing the flavor by pasteurizing—the result is one of the most refreshing drinks on the planet.

The first couple of days of our vacation in September were spent in Vermont. After a brief stop at the Vermont Country Store in Rockingham, we drove to nearby Putney, where Green Mountain Orchard is located. We had heard they sold unpasteurized apple cider, and it was true. Between the two of us, we guzzled a whole quart of the stuff and then spent an hour just driving around the property and seeing their trees (such as the one above) as well as their stands of raspberry and blueberry bushes.

When we crossed over the border into Canada, we hoped to be able to find equivalent quality. We bought a bag from a farm stand just west of Fredericton, New Brunswick, but it wasn’t the same thing. The terrain had changed to fertile flatlands, which are good for most crops, but which result in so-so fruit.

I remember buying apple cider by the gallon from Tanzi’s Grocery (now long gone) in Hanover, New Hampshire, when I was a student at Dartmouth. Because at the time we had no access to refrigerators, the students would hang the gallon jugs by the eyelet from their dorm room windows. Most did this to ferment it into hard cider. I just wanted to drink good, cold cider. (Naturally, it was unpasteurized.)

Northern New England will forever go down in my memory for its apples, its Maine lobster, and a delicious preparation of young cod, haddock, or whitefish called scrod that Martine and I ate in Boston back in 2005.