Archive for the ‘Prose’ Category

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October 12th, 2015 Comments off

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Categories: computers, Prose Tags:

11 September – fourteen years on

September 11th, 2015 1 comment
You can't make anyone see reason.  All you can do is throw a big party around reason and see who shows up.

Its been fourteen years since the world as the US knew it literally exploded in its face in one of the most painful ways possible. The attacks on the New York World Trade Center and Pentagon were not the impulsive work of an unhappy loner. It wasn’t domestic terrorism. This was not the Oklahoma bombing or the Unibomber. The attack on one of the financial centers of the world and a major communications hub in New York City was a long planned, carefully thought out and executed act by a well funded and determined group.

The repercussions are still being felt. Multiple countries and thousands of families around the world were personally affected. All of us who were on active duty at the time knew at least one of those in the Pentagon. Most in the financial markets had a connection. But for thousands it was personal, caused a loss and impact that drastically changed the course of their lives.

The events of that day became fodder for countless news stories, journal articles, novels, memories and not a few criminal investigations.

It is difficult to say, but what became apparent over the next days, months and years was the depth of the hate some of the non-government organizations had for groups not like themselves coupled with the need to exterminate all those not agreeing. Violence, once again became an acceptable way to make your point. Not as a single individual or splinter group but as a major player on the world stage.

In certain mind sets the response was easy: military strike. Wipe them out, hunt them down. In doing so, it is easily possible to further the case you are trying to defeat. Demonstrating on CNN that you are the “evil western infidels” who are trying to destroy your particular way of life. Having started the fight has nothing to do with your reaction.

Poke the tiger with a stick, the tiger responds.

See! I told you the tiger is dangerous!

If it had only been that particular day and that particular set of government and military responses against essentially non-government allied groups we might have been able to settle down in a different world with a bit more fear but stability. Its not a pretty picture. Instead we are now mired in a conflict that looks to replace the Cold War for the next decades and beyond. This time there are not parties to sit down at a table and negotiate a peace. In truth I don’t think those on either side particularly want to the other to survive.

Militaries don’t just attack enemies in their plan to win a war. They fund research, search for tactical, technical and industrial advances to better be able to find and conquer their enemies. Parallel tanks rolling with cyber warfare. In this case it worked both ways. Monitoring found “enemies.” Cellphones let small groups and individuals better wreak havoc and kill. Drones can be piloted from half a world a way. Kill what is hopefully your enemy (if the intelligence is correct and it is not a school or clinic) and go home to your family in the evening.

Is it Ender’s Game, creating reality out of fiction?

We have stopped looking outward. The universe beyond our planet has been returned to those who write and read speculative fiction and isn’t a frontier of science and discovery. We look, but we don’t plan on seeing, traveling, exploring. As a global society, we seriously aren’t taking care of our planet. We continue to pump oil, destroy land, deliberately destroy forests while insisting that large parts of the “Third World” remain pristine so that we all can enjoy them. Those same parts of the world are riddled with disease and poverty. Unlike in earlier centuries communications have enabled the farmer whose crops were just elephant destroyed to know and see how others live their lives. To be told that he can’t kill the elephant, to be inundated with foreign images. One can hardly blame a parent for wanting better for their children which might just mean enough food to survive to the next growing season or a bed net to prevent mosquito bites.

Our world has become smaller, interconnected. Many aren’t adapting and are seeking to return to that time of history where Religion was reality and authority had all the answers. No thinking, no choices, just follow the prescribed path in this world. I am reminded of the Bug-Blatter Beast: just put the towel over your head and they won’t bother you.

Needing to wipe out your enemies is nothing new. Homo Sapiens is not a tolerant species which is why it has survived. Now – will we continue to survive?

Categories: Prose Tags:

37 years

September 10th, 2015 2 comments
10 Sept 1978

10 Sept 1978

since I walked to the front of our local synagogue chapel with this shaggy haired bearded guy with us both looking probably like refugees from an early decade. I did forgo flowers for my hair and I wasn’t carrying any either. But long hair and large glasses were definitely in attendance.

We were embarking on a new stage of our lives; more or less in our own fashion. If anyone noticed, that Sunday certainly foreshadowed what our lives were going to be. Our path to that point hadn’t been traditional, why would we expect our future to be?

A couple of years ago I counted up moves, children, houses and countries lived in, cars and other challenges which we have survived over time. For almost ten consecutive years somewhere there in the middle we managed to be separated on both of our birthdays in addition to our anniversary.  This year is no different with me being the member strayed off in a foreign location (this year – Tanzania, mid-Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay. Next year will be at least a little bit better since right now we are actually both scheduled to be on the same trip in July (his birthday). Anniversary? Probably not, and I’m not one to make a lot of noise about mine.

I’m hoping we are improved models on what we were then – and a bit more mature. Certainly the hair has changed –


still with the glasses. + grey hair and laugh lines

still with the glasses. + grey hair and laugh lines

but looking from then to now – I see who we were and I can see where life has taken us. I’d like another 37 years, but am afraid I am going to have to settle for a lot less than that.

Check this date next year for the update.

Categories: family, Prose Tags:

Is this really Africa?

March 17th, 2015 2 comments


Even when I mentally say the word I have an image of Tevye immediately appear in my head. What now strikes me as impressive is the portrayal of someone in the middle of change actually recognizing the world as he knew it sliding away.

Traditions are so often entrenched in many societies that they are not even recognized by those immersed in that culture. They can form so much of the framework of daily life and activities that what is bizarre to outsiders can be experienced as completely normal for that time and place. And, as such, they are not questioned but assumed as as the natural order of the world especially by those who are the main beneficiaries of those traditions. Why would you question your way of life, policies, procedures, social pecking order when you are “king of the heap?”

Admittedly, my experience in [Sub-Saharan] Africa to this point are limited to time spent in semi-rural Kenya in 2000 and these last days of whirlwind through South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Reading, let us not forget reading and lectures by various Docs from this region that I have attended within the last 12 months. I acknowledge this is an extremely limited sample and experience. What is more; all of these countries are former British Colonies. A people well known for their love of social order, class structure and extensive litany of expected behaviors.

Add in that this area of Africa was fertile grounds for the Arab slave traders for hundreds of years aided and abetted by tribes routinely sold each other out; one might say in order to keep their own tribe free of those same traders. I am a bit less charitable. It was an extremely practical and effective way to dispose of enemies.

What triggered off this rant was not my tour group leader. Lloyd was knowledgable, frank and honest about tribal and family traditions in the countries we visited. A well educated man, I note that he may speak fondly of rural life but doesn’t live there. Nor did the desultory performance of the men working at the one camp with a woman manager irritate me enough to put fingers to keyboard. I even kept it together this morning at breakfast. I watched in amazement as this woman literally served her husband his breakfast making multiple trips to the buffet till he was satisfied before getting her own breakfast.

What torqued me off were the smiles and nods that one man received as he moved through the check-in area at Tombo International (Joberg, SA). Picture in your mind this woman in her 40s. The luggage cart she is pushing has four massive suitcases stacked neatly on it. She is straining to maneuver it through the crowded area. Where is he? Sitting on top of the luggage.

Categories: Prose, Travel Tags:

Sharp Knives

January 14th, 2014 4 comments

Sometimes you just have to wonder about security policies. Specifically I am thinking about those related to port security even more than the standard TSA checks. For example, when Carmen and I sailed on the Enchantment OTS in Sept 13 she was not allowed to bring a standard 8” pair of scissors on board. If you do any kind of craft you know the kind I mean. Fiskars for example with plastic handles and blades used for cutting fabric, paper or ribbon. Apparently someone decided that the length of the blade fell into the knife exclusion category and fell into the category of dangerous weapon. Personally, I think who ever decided that has been reading way too much fiction and has not spent enough time on crafts.

But please, think about it. Taking a cruise is not exactly the same as traveling in coach courtesy of US flagged cheap airlines where you are lucky to receive plastic cutlery. Shipboard they have standard metal silverware to include knives and forks. Access to multiple weapons, wouldn’t you say – especially if you included a knife sharpener in your luggage. Said item, of course is not prohibited. I guess the assumption holds that your average passenger is more interested in booze than shivs.

Steak knives as weapons didn’t seem to be a concern on the Independence of the Seas; those provided were barely capable of cutting well cooked vegetables and properly crisp offered a challenge. Not so on the Legend as I discovered last night. The knives provided in Chops are actually sharp enough to make you bleed.

So there you have it – no scissors with over a 10 cm blade but 1800 passengers with potential access to sharp eating implements which could easily double as weapons. I guess the cooks are confident enough with their skill set that they can run out of broccollini and still not worry about attack.

Categories: Prose, Travel Tags:


November 24th, 2013 Comments off

Abbreviations are very culturally specific.

If you don’t believe me, think of all the short cuts that have become almost common place since the advent of cell phone txt [ing]. See, right there my first inclination was to use txt instead of text since saving a letter when using the old number pad substitutions made a significant difference. Today with virtual keyboards, not so much.

Then there are all those abbreviations which go with the military. I will not bore you here. If you are, have been or related to a service member you have probably already had your fill.

Organizations look for spiffy combinations of names so that the acronym for the organization will be memorable and relevant. If it hangs around for decades or enters the general vocabulary, all to the good.

Where am I going with all of this? I first met CBD in Sydney and didn’t have a clue. Decided either it wasn’t important or relevant, promptly forgetting all about it. But it kept showing up over and over in Australia then in New Zealand.

It finally twigged in Wellington because I was logging into cbdnet. Hello? Where was I? The Central Business District and this was the free wifi in the downtown district. And if CBD doesn’t = what I think it does? Don’t tell me. Right now I am happy thinking I have a clue!

Categories: Prose, Travel Tags:

Sticky Floors

July 28th, 2013 5 comments

Normally I don’t deal with kitchen floors. It is part of my “I don’t do kitchens & bathrooms” deal that my DH offered along with marriage over 35 years ago. At the time I was being stubborn and working about 80 hours a week. I don’t think that he really thought that I would take him seriously; certainly not seriously for the rest of our lives.

But why should I do kitchens or bathrooms if I don’t need to? Obviously, I have been known to take out garbage when it becomes too terrible or empty out the fridge. But mostly I really believe in clean it up as you go (toss out, wipe up, put in dishwasher, toss out empty shampoo containers, etc) which really reduces the amount of maintenance cleaning that is needed.

None of this made any difference when a bottle slid out of the fridge and landed upright on the floor. The height was only a meter which didn’t make a bit of difference to that brown glass which gave a fractured cry, shattered and promptly dumped its contents all over the already dingy kitchen floor.

just the bigger pieces

just the bigger pieces

I mopped up the worst of it and decided I would cope better in the morning. I am the only one home. I set my mental clock to don’t walk barefoot into the kitchen and went back to knitting while listening to Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood.

It is now morning and things don’t look a whit better.

in fact it looked worse this morning

in fact it looked worse this morning

Before getting started on the scrubbing the vacuum seemed in order. No sense getting all those little pieces of glass off the floor while leaving grandma spiders webs intact -right? Also that old candy, the birthday paper, two pens and some cloth bags suddenly decided that underneath the table benches were no longer a safe hiding place. I considered anything up to eye height as fair game. After hunting down and killing my very own sponge, I set to work.

tools of the trade

tools of the trade

Four buckets of hot soapy water and some elbow grease later I sat back and admired my work thinking those tiles had not been that clean since right before they were installed.

I looked around the rest of the kitchen and sighed. Then firmly throttled any further impulse to do something completely out of character and headed to the livingroom with coffee cup in hand. This, of course, is after hanging up rags, emptying mop bucket and returning the vacuum cleaner to their rightful [out of my sight] locations.



No seriously, I did do a little bit more.

and after

and after

Another Baby Hitchhat

1/3 of the new hat

1/3 of the new hat

Categories: home, Prose Tags:

what do we owe whom

June 29th, 2013 14 comments

It was an interesting conversation I overheard at Red while joining my friends for the usual Saturday afternoon Strikktreff. The differences in attitude, culture, and response are striking between what this woman was saying and what I found in my reactions. I am not completely sure if some of it is not age. But more than age is the issue of generations and what you had when you were growing up.

Let me explain. This woman is married with a couple of kids. I think her age is late 30s. They live in an apartment and would really rather have a small house with garden.

With me so far?

This desire to me is completely understandable. But what came after just blew me away. She explained that her father in law had a big house. What is more he bought a lot of fancy clothes and took at least two fine vacations a year. And, in her opinion, he just didn’t need all of that when they were living in an apartment. She didn’t see a need for him to remain in a big house when he could take that money and help them buy a house.

Whoa. I wasn’t certain that I had heard her correctly. Her father in law, who I am assuming is probably about my age should not have and enjoy what he has earned because she wants more than what she has?

I avoided hearing any more so that I could avoid sticking my nose unwanted into the conversation. But am curious – is it just me?

Most of those who grew up post war in Germany had childhoods of deprivation. Education was a luxury and most families worked hard. Rationing extended into the 1950s. As a result, there are a lot of “self-made” in my generation who probably indulged their children more than would be smart simply because it was a pleasure to give them those things which they did not have when young. This extended to education (in Germany parents have an obligation to help students in advanced studies up to age 27), and many times to starting out.

But at what point do you expect your children to earn their own way?  When they are out of school? When they have good jobs? When they are married and have families of their own? And what is the obligation of adult children back to their own parents?

None of these are easy questions and I know that answers are not simple.

This woman was furious because her father in law was treating himself while she did not have a house. Notice, it wasn’t that she didn’t have a roof over her head or food on her children’s table. It was that he was spending money (the inheritance) wastefully in her opinion. Never mind that he most likely had worked his whole life, supported offspring for more than 25 years and was finally reaping the rewards while he was still healthy enough to enjoy it.

That is just my opinion and obviously I am that older generation who doesn’t think that an easy ride leads to ambition, responsibility or self motivation. I don’t have an objection to bounce-backs and reboots. Life is much harder now than it was for me 45 years ago when my limits were only what I could personally accomplish and my windmills were respect and pay on an equal basis irrespective of gender.

My four know that we are able to help them, but all resist asking unless they don’t have another option. Paying for their education gives them a start on the future. Putting a roof over their heads while studying makes sense. Helping the eldest if she decides to relocate is obvious, we have done that for the middle two. These are things I gladly do (and irrespective if it decreases my cruising or not). But thank goodness they all have more sense than to demand; that sense of entitlement just isn’t there.  Perhaps they figure that I gave 30 years to the Army so that they would always have food, clothing, shelter, medical care and that it is now my turn to have all the vacations I could never take.

But seriously? I think it is because they know that anything is more valuable when you earn it yourself and that being given too much leaves you with obligations and that small feeling that you aren’t quite a grown up.

I hope that woman and her husband are able to resolve their feelings for the sake of the grandchildren. But I see nothing wrong that father in law spending every last cent.

Categories: home, Prose Tags:

Boarding ships

March 11th, 2013 Comments off

This is a sea day.  We are going to the ice show (Freeze Frame) and the production show (Once upon a Time). I think the girls are also stopping by the art auction mostly to cage a free glass of bubbly.

Tomorrow is a tender port so the boarding process should be less painful in some ways than the last boarding in San Juan. And no, it is not just an army person spending time on ships. It is more like my expectations of educated adults especially when the signs leaving the ship clearly state that you are going to need photo ID along with your ship’s card to get back on.

I want to put a 3 meter high billboard next to the ships gangways on the pier to spell out for the morons the basics of life.

By the time there has been a port visit or three, getting back on the ship should not bring any surprises. Certainly it should be obvious that if you checked yourself out with your ships’ card you will need it to be electronically logged back in. Since the sign in front of the security desk clearly states that they need to see “you” and to remove hats and sunglasses I am astonished at how many people (english speaking now even) walk up to the check in with hats and glasses firmly in place. They then proceed to either look blankly at the security person who politely but firmly asks them to remove said items or, and much worse in my opinion than the cumulative delays caused by ignorance and inconsiderateness, start to argue with the ships’s personnel.

Once we are clear of that discussion comes the scanner belt and the metal detector. Now, none of this has changed one whit from when they first boarded the ship. So why should it be any surprise that they need to empty their pockets?

Hello? if your camera and phone are metal it should come as no surprise that you have to take them out of your pockets. It would really help if you managed to do this on one or two passed through the machine.

Now, if you are in your 90s with a good half of your joints replaced with stainless steel I could understand but someone in their 40s or 50s and able to pay for a cruise should be able to follow simple directions.

And we will not discuss at all the people who have to send a family member back to their room since they failed to bring along any ID (other than credit cards) and can’t understand why the US Customs and Immigrations personnel are not willing to let them back onto the pier.

But that is just my opinion.

Categories: Prose, Travel Tags:


February 8th, 2013 7 comments

There are occasional flashes of insight which while revealing are less than pleasant to accept. Many of us are masters of avoidance and I think I have honestly acquired advanced degrees. And sometimes it is the mundane, ordinary tasks of living that trigger off the thought process which might have been more pleasant left unexplored.

I am doing laundry; one of those repetitive tasks requiring minimal intelligence, perseverance and a tolerance for repetitiveness. To be up front, our laundry room has become the depository for the odd bit of clothing, unmatched sock and those things which various members of the family don’t recognize as owning. The result is the floor is somewhat akin to the stream where fishermen keep throwing back their catch in hopes of hooking something legal to keep or at least big enough to eat.

There are unmatched sock, ragged towels, boxer shorts, a couple of t-shirts missing for months and other detritus common to people who have both some money and closet space.

Picking up a couple of the items intending to toss them out, I froze. The sock had been kicking around the room for years but I remembered it on the foot of my youngest dancing out the door on the way to school. Those pink boxers? They survived 15 months of Camp Doha washing machines with the cotton becoming softer and the colors fading in the summer hot water.

Stuff for me is memories. I have never particularly thought of my self as a horder. After all, we can walk through the house, I toss items, donate things and otherwise recycle on a regular basis. That which comes (we will ignore the post office for the moment) are consumables, clothing/shoes, media of all kinds and craft supplies. Considering that we have been in this house since 2001, we are not doing all that badly. There are still empty cupboards, space in the attic and space to walk.

But not everything I have is still being used. Not counting yarn/fabric/fiber which comprise the largest amount of future stores/stash, the rest of what I have, faded and used as it may be is my living memory bank.

Handling a worn object, picking up a previously read book brings back memories. The item becomes a physical trigger on a window to what was. Some items are large – like the printer which has been sitting in George’s office since I returned from the UK in fall of 2010. Others as small – pamphlets, patterns, fabric pieces, 15 gms of sock yarn carefully balled up. There is the pile of sweaters and shawls which I am committed to finding new homes.

In the back hall are three boxes of various school books and papers. All three youngest are gone off to University. There is absolutely no reason to hang onto any of it. Six boxes have become three. I keep promising myself that the textbooks can go – finding a new home or landing on the free-cycle swap shelf will a swage by guilt at not knowing what to do with books never mind that some/most are probably outdated.

If I let things go, will I also be letting go of the memories? Alzheimers runs wide and deep from my mother’s side of the family. Perhaps it is why I cling so ferociously to things which have no use but emotional context. By keeping them I both ground myself in the present and review the past. It also occurred to me that some of these fears may lie underneath my lack of interest in permanently moving back to the states. It is not the closing of a chapter of my life – it is shutting the door on the daily reminders of my past.

Of course, none of this explains (other than the reminder that I spent more than enough money at Ally-Pally) why I need almost a dozen 3.00 mm circular needles of various materials and lengths. I don’t think that is hoarding – just simple greed.

Categories: home, Prose Tags:

Pull-eezzz get dressed!

January 31st, 2013 3 comments

Remember on the various Royal Caribbean Cruises I kept threatening to do a photo series on bad fashion choices? Especial as it related for women on Formal night? Just your your imagination for a second. This of Lulu from the Stephanie Plum Mysteries – plus size crammed into glittery spandex or women two decades older than me wearing skirts too short odor Maus. Then there are all the backless, sleeveless, plunging front necklines completely exposing old, crepey discolored skin. Since a suit or tuxedos on a man cover almost all the skin (unless too small and gaping at the front) I am more likely to have to display Hawaii shirts in eye searing colors and patterns straining across huge bellies or acres of staffing and faded tattooed skin topping obscenely tiny speedos.

Trust me guys – if you don’t have washboard abs – you don’t belong in a sped. Notice that I did not say six pack since way too many interpret that as a keg.

Well here I am on NCL which is Freestyling. It means that there are no assigned main dining room seats or formal nights. You are “free” to be yourself and dress in what you chose and hit the troughs when you want. It seems like a significant number of people take it as an invitation to be complete slobs. All of your knot that I limit dress up – cocktail parties and the country club scene are so not my style. But really? Jeans & T-shirts to the Captain’s Reception? My 24 year old daughter has more sense than most of the 30w. 40s. 50s+ on this ship who should know better. She didn’t have fancy clothes along and didn’t feel it was appropriate to attend more formal events in very casual. Add in the cultural difference represented by all the different passenger nationalities and using the word bizarre is an understatement.

I really wish some of the passengers would get dressed but maybe this is what they wear for a day out on the town at home? I never planned on turning into a crabby lady, but Ms Manners is correct. There are clothes that need to be relegated to certain areas of one’s home and never seen in public. It may be for reasons of decency, cleanliness or because the wearing of rags out at a formal event is simply in bad taste. Somewhat akin to wearing hair curlers and muumuus with flip-flops to Tiffany’s.

Categories: Prose, Travel Tags:

Electronic Networking, Personal Isolation

January 11th, 2013 1 comment

Waking up before the alarm this morning I even had a good 4+ hours of sleep. I hadn’t left much of anything to do this morning other than pack up the computer (night spent charging all the electronics) and print out the cruise boarding pass. As it turns out – NCL emails the On Board discounts (one more way to transfer costs to the customer) as well as the luggage tags. Since I can get luggage tags at the dock, it was the work of a couple of seconds to realize that there was nothing in the coupons worth having.

Taxi to the Bahnhof – not willing to chance waiting on the hourly Strassenbahn at this time of the morning. One cup of coffee and a deliciously not good for me flaky/buttery croissant later and I was feeling almost human,

But where I was going with the subject line is as follows: the more we seen to connect up electronically whether it be with social media sites, bulletin board forums, instant messaging/texting or email the less we seem to connect to the people who are physically around us.

I boarded the ICE in the very front since it is a Handi Free Zone. In Mannheim a group of three young men, obvious friends as well as work colleagues boarded the train and entered my compartment. After dropping their duffles next to my suitcase each promptly sat in a separate seat, pulled out electronic handhelds and proceeded to message/watch a movie/read a book. They each sat in their own bubble of space for the 50 minute duration of our journey to Frankfurt Airport not even disturbed by the conductor (maybe the Bahn doesn’t charge Politzei in uniform for their transportation to work?). Getting off the train, they were back to smiling, joking and otherwise being social.

I can understand the need for quiet time, don’t get me wrong. The development of the Internet over the last 25+ years means that I have gotten to know people all over the world some of whom I have met in person, others are still voices only in my head from their words on my screen.

Trading emails/txts with one’s children and friends has become easier than phone conversation. It maintains communications and contact, but with a different context than either phone or old fashioned letter writing. The voices have moved from the page and ear into the imagination. Words, word choice have become critical but are often ignored. Punctuation, grammar and spelling seem to have been tossed aside in favor of short cuts, abbreviations and emoticons. (Note, I make no claims to spelling or grammar but I do try).

What I don’t see is people making eye contact with each other. How can they when their attention is glued to the small screen in front of them? I do see people stopping, oblivious to their surroundings as they read and answer txt messages resulting in stumbling off escalators, bumping into others and [hopefully] avoiding becoming roadkill from vehicular traffic.

All around me on airplanes those smart phones are held with practically death grips with fingers frantically getting out those last characters as the plane taxis out to take off. The minute wheels touch the ground out come the phones, everyone frantic to catch up on whatever might have been missed while in the air.

Now, I don’t think I am all that important and nothing I am currently doing is critical. A message now or in a few hours is all the same. No matter what the emergency, there is little I can do to effect a resolution when I am hours or days away. Moral support? Yes, but I can do that with a simple phone call. If there is nothing I can do – and the crisis is over before I hear about it – as long as it emotionally benefits the person letting me know then I am fine.

But are we connecting to others via media at the expense of those around us? Is it easier to text than sit down for a cup ‘a? Are many of us living through others vicariously and avoiding dealing with the world in front of our eyes?

I will plead guilty to traveling a lot. I enjoy seeing new places and don’t believe that I am ever going to know any as well as a native. Ships give me a chance to travel at a reasonable pace and to converse in person with dozens of people from various countries and walks of life. It is an environment where it is alright to strike up conversations with total strangers some of whom have become long term friends; others whose company I enjoyed at the time but may never cross paths with again.  I am trying to use electronic media as an inexpensive communication tool and not as a substitute for life.

And, if I was not on the computer or traveling, I would have to clean the house.

Categories: Prose, Travel Tags:

That time of year again

December 24th, 2012 8 comments

Up front, I would like to offer congratulations to all my colleagues who do not procrastinate. I know you are out there somewhere sitting smug, safe and secure on the 24th of December knowing that you, once again, have completed your recertification requirements prior to the end of the year deadline.

For the rest of you normal people like me who haven’t learned to “Eat that Frog” (link is to the Brian Tracy Audiobook) all my best to you and whatever you absolutely have to get accomplished by the end of the year.

No, I am not speaking about those resolutions that you lost sight of sometime in the last 12 months or the things you do every month (pay bills, hound spouse,  drool over travel schedules). Rather I am looking at those once a year deadlines which can have consequences in excess of not filing your taxes on time. Birthdays’ and Anniversaries may fill this requirement for you – there are those which, if you miss, are going to wind up either never getting forgiveness or costing so much in terms of emotional heartache that making a mistake of any kind is simply not worth it.

For me, other than death and taxes – and since I am not planning on leaving this mortal coil any time soon that only leaves the taxes which I foist off on George if at all possible – I have the annual CME requirements from the American Board of Family Medicine.

Knowing myself quite well, when the opportunity to move from a seven year cycle to a ten year cycle came up ~2005/6 I jumped on the bandwagon. To really keep the pressure on myself, I prepaid for the ten years. Being the basically cheap soul that I am, this almost completely insured that I didn’t quit somewhere along the line since you don’t get refunds. Money spent? Need to get my value back out of it! Each year, in addition to regular CME, I have to complete an on-line learning module by the 31st.

Now, I have a couple of good friends doing full time clinical practice. They sail through the modules, using them as review for the types of things they are seeing in daily practice. No muss, no sweat, minimal crying and pain. Me?  I have been doing primarily Occ Health/Public Health/Travel Med for … let us say ….. 20 years or more? I know my limits in family medicine. Being quite computer literate, I have no problems looking things up as I go, asking for assistance, finding answers. I routinely conduct various on-line searches. I have been doing this since PUBMED first went on-line. Over the years, I have expanded the tools which I use as other databases, searches and methods have become available.

For heaven’s sake, I have an MPH, epidemiology, study design ,and several stats courses under my belt. I know how to evaluate research, studies and be objective. The idea of evidence based medicine being problem-based, learning and life long isn’t an issue.

The process involves:

♦ Converting information needs into focused questions.

♦ Efficiently tracking down the best evidence with which to answer the question.

♦ Critcally appraising the evidence for validity and clinical usefulness.

♦ Applying the results in clinical practice.

♦ Evaluating performance of the evidence in clinical application.


is very sensible and provides better results for both patient and practitioner than randomness, tossing darts at the wall or most empirical guess work.

So why can’t I wrap my head around the sentence structure and format that the ABFM wants me to use in its scenarios? It just shouldn’t be all that difficult. The concepts are there, PICO (Patient/problem, intervention, comparison, outcome) I get – it is just that my sentences don’t like up word perfect with theirs and I am sick of not being able to see the difference between what I just filled in the box and what they would like to see filled in the box.

I’ll let you know tomorrow if I survive this section. At least this is not the 31st so that means that I am not howling as late in the year as has happened in the past. I do have a couple of days ahead of me in which to complete it.

Argh – so far I am having by far more fun frogging an old project than studying!

frogging an old project

Categories: Books & Tapes, Prose Tags:

Ending with the Mayans

December 21st, 2012 Comments off

Well, I for one do not believe that the world will end with a whimper just because the Mayan calendar ends.

I have seen comics which are apropos of the situation –

a guy is chipping away on a big circular rock piece with a chisel. Second guy walks up and asks if he wants to stop for a beer. First guy looks up, shrugs and and says, sure – the world won’t end if I don’t finish this…..

And then there is always the question of “when?” which is a lot more significant than it appeared to be several thousands of years ago when the earth was flat and no one worried about time zones.

Today it is completely different. If the world is going to end with the 21st – or on the 22nd …. whose 21st or 22nd? Is it going to be a curtain of dark that rolls across the earth on the same speed as dusk falls? What about China with the equivalent of five-six times zones all on one? How about the International Dateline? How is that going to affect the end of the earth?

So if you call me later today and I don’t answer – it could be the end of the world. Or, it might be that I just can’t find my phone again……

Categories: Prose Tags:


October 24th, 2012 2 comments

There has been a new trend over the last several years in office design. It is called open plan offices. What it means is that rather than a bunch of cubicles, the walls are missing and everyone is out in the open. Not only can you see everyone in your area, but you can hear them, their calls and smell their lunch. Obviously I don’t think it is an appetizing trend in the least.

Back in the dino days when I worked at AMC, there were four of us “out in the bullpen” which is what it used to be called. Oh say about 1986 when I was the only hen in the group. Now, looking at the renovations with open plans, glass walls and ability to stare at people I am trying to decide between fishbowls and cages. Glass enclosures to be sure, kind of like those in the zoos where you can stare at the occupants. The other option, the fishbowl, only works if you add vast amounts of water to obnoxious inhabitants…..

Categories: Prose Tags:

which way?

October 10th, 2012 3 comments

Several of us were having a discussion earlier about interactions with others and one’s place in the world. Wait, let me explain that a bit better. Robert’s contention was that you start out assuming that everyone is like you and there maybe hard lessons along the way as you figure out that not everyone else out there is like you, thinks like you or is going to be nice to you. His wife is shaking her head and explains that they deal directly with customers on a daily basis so they are exposed to a large number of people who may not (probably are not) particularly nice. The second half of your life, he believes you really discover that no one is like you at all.

Ruth, on the other hand, feels like you can spend a lot of years feeling like you are not like others/unique (and not always in a good way). What you then learn over the years is to find the common ground; those places where you are like others.

Is this pessimist vs optimist? Not really sure but it lead to some quite lively opinions.

And yes, we managed knitting at the same time!

Categories: Prose Tags:

Where there is a hair

September 20th, 2012 3 comments

Ladies, this morning on the train I discovered that there was something worse than a comb-over. Really, I am not kidding so rather than report that I took the train to Frankfurt Flughafen followed by a flight to Gatwick etc, etc etc I thought I would share the amazing sight.

In case anyone is missing the point of this particular discussion (not the travel, that is a given), there is a distressing tendency among men with a certain pattern of baldness to grow whatever hair they have left on either side and comb it over the top to the other side. Starting out as a small, perhaps discreet bit of cover-up, some of these attempts have evolved to the point where the ten hairs from behind the left ear are artfully wound up and over the shiny top and down toward the opposite ear somewhat resembling dead weeds.

Now a woman would not do this. She would resort to a scarf or a wig knowing that everyone around here would be observing and commenting at hard plastered to a dome top. Guys, on the other hand take those few orphan hairs, comb ’em over the top making sure to double check in the mirror and they are happy. They have hair! (You ever see a comb-over flapping in the breeze? Not a pretty sight at all….)

Since they are fooling themselves only, I fear there is a strong resemblance to the Bugblatter Beast*

Back to other options. This morning I was introduced to the comb forward. The young man in question appeared to be barely 30 so I can sympathize with the thought that he finds his impending baldness disconcerting. His hair is obviously and completely gone in the center back to the crown of his head. I watched him as he double checked his reflection in the train window. From the back and both sides he carefully combed his hair to the middle. Rather than looking elegant, this maneuver made him resemble a mangy squirrel getting ready to molt. However, he looked satisfied, took out his MP3 player and proceeded to snooze.

Guess I have not recovered completely from 33 years association with the military. I understand short hair. Head gear on and off all day makes even the idea of a comb over ridiculous. The standard male military option is cut it short or shave it off. Be bold – be bald.

But now, instead of pay it forward, I have comb it forward stuck in my head.



*(Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Making sure that you take your towel. When threatened by the beast, put the towel over your head. If you can’t see him, he thinks he can’t see you. Isn’t denial a wonderful thing?)

Categories: Prose Tags:

Weighty Thoughts

July 23rd, 2012 4 comments

If you haven’t watched the HBO Special “Weight of the Nation” you can download it for free from iTunes (at least for the US based folks).

A multiple part series, HBO attempted to take an objective and scientific look at the issue of obesity in the US. There is a lot of good and useful information. There are also quite a few things they gloss over (like it makes a difference how many years you have been carrying around that extra weight in terms of ease of being able to shed what you don’t want).

Unlike in the bad old days (read anytime before 1950) when being heavy was a sign of wealthy, today in western countries, obesity is pretty closely aligned with poverty. What stuck me specifically were two things: the first was the distribution of fast food stores in poverty areas and the second being the lack of grocery stores in exactly those same areas. It is harder to eat healthier when you can’t buy fresh fruit and vegetables and when it costs you a lot more than junk.

At the same time, I was bothered a bit by a certain attitude of “it’s not my fault.” Admittedly, it might be harder to control your weight on cheap food – but I watch a lot of people eat. Frankly, they eat a lot more than I do. I watch people eat fried foods, toss on extra dressing, eat deserts.

(note, just like the study about a small glass of wine being good for your heart – a little might be ok, but a lot is a disaster. This goes not just for alcohol but also for oil, sugars, and portion size.)

I can fully accept that some people’s issues begin in childhood – and that it is very difficult to parse out what is nature (heredity) and what is nurture (I don’t care if you are full -you can’t leave the table till your plate is clean. Children are starving in India). End result of all of this? Some of us grow up to love food and for others it is fuel.

Looking at other models out there, for example alcoholism, we accept that there are addiction issues involved but we put the responsibility directly on the person. Very rarely is someone holding them down to pour that drink down their throat.

Perhaps we are doing that in the US in portion sizes. I now ask for the old people’s or kids size portion. It is not hard to tell the waitress/waiter that I just can’t eat all that much and I don’t like seeing food thrown out. In many places half portions are cheaper. Or learning to split a entry with your partner. It can drive waitstaff crazy – but if you order as you eat you will wind up with the right amount of food and a lower bill. (It is only in the very expensive places that I hate anyway that a teaspoon of “whatever” plated beautifully is considered an adequate portion.)

Off the track here? Probably. But it is easier to not gain the weight than to get right of it. And frankly once any of us pass that magic 40-45, our metabolism slows down and we need less food on a daily basis. Bummer? Probably. But I think it might just be a species survival trait. The elders who are not involved directly in childbearing and providing soldier bodies are able to do more with less, leaving the food for the younger generation.

So there we have it – thousands of years of evolution designed to make us efficient on less coming up against a culture that is no longer hunting/gathering. Instead, sitting down at a desk all day leaves our minds occupied and our stomachs bored. We eat.

So next time you look at food – ask yourself the three key questions
1) do I really need something to eat/drink right now?
If the answer is no, well….
2) If I do – is this what I need? (Healthy, good for me and in the right amount)
if not – skip it or substitute
3) Will it improve my sex life?

Categories: Prose Tags:

Oh, right

July 4th, 2012 Comments off

it is the 4th of July. Not that I remembered it was any day of importance till this morning as I was about to go out the door for medication refills.


Independence Day and all of that. Pharmacy closed, clinic closed. For that matter, the passport office was going to be closed as well.

Sounds like a great reason to knit or read. But not clean. Nope, not going there.

Certainly not a day on which I am going to spend a lot of time contemplating the US. Don’t get me wrong, I love my country but I am thoroughly sick of politics and it is only July. I think deep down, most of us already know how we are going to vote come November. Some of us might like to discuss things or argue about things. Occasionally there are those of us truly impassioned about the issues. But no matter what anyone says – we all vote our own personal agendas. We vote for who supports what we currently want. Not what might be best for the country (hello? can you see anyone with a seven digit $US voting to pay a fair share of their taxes?) in terms of economy or environment.

If it wasn’t sad, I would be rolling on the floor laughing at one of my former Army colleagues. A staunch conservative, she is now caught in the dilemma that it was the Obama regime that has allowed her to be open about her marriage, to get her wife an ID card and to have their kids be “legal.” Yes, she likes the right economic politics and her perceived support for the military better, but not at the cost of potentially losing her hard won and very well earned status. Now, once she retires in a couple of years it may be a whole different ball game.

Perhaps the old adage is true – we get what we deserve, not what we want.

So this is the reminder for all you US citizens out there: if you are not registered to vote go do it immediately. If you are not going to be around on voting day sign up for your absentee ballot. S/he who doesn’t vote doesn’t get to bitch about the results.


Categories: Prose Tags:

New form of Advertising

June 27th, 2012 5 comments

This was the photo that I wanted to show you on Monday.

the Austrian Train Engine

Obviously I wasn’t the only person gawking or taking pictures as it seemed to draw quite a crowd. Not the least of whom were those scheduled to board the train destined for Vienna [Wien]. Most people do not voluntarily get into anything with a rather large Police label and many would not care to do it under any circumstances. Now think about a journey to another country at high speed completely under the control of the engineer….

Anyway before any of our imaginations get away from us let me just reassure you that the whole tone of the paint job changed as you walked along the side of the engine toward the rest of the train. From intimidating the whole atmosphere changed to a recruiting type advertisement. Yep = kind of like some of the US Army or Marine ads touting that you can be someone, do something and enjoy the challenging in as a police officer.

Ok, all I can assume is that the police – like most other service organizations – are not getting a wide variety of society recruits. In many of the European countries, the police force was a legitimate alternative to military service when there was conscription. Now, with voluntary militaries apparently the concept of service and voluntary police forces is not exactly at the forefront of Gen “Y”‘s minds. If they have minds but that is a completely separate discussion.

The well designed and executed advertising in the form of a paint job on an OSS engine still leaves me wondering. Do we really want in a police force the kind of people who would be attracted to a career based on this type of advertising?

Categories: Prose, Travel Tags:

No one walks

June 12th, 2012 Comments off

here in Phoenix.

It was 1430 in the afternoon when I headed out the door. Temperature being somewhere (in F) between 102-106 depending on which website you want to believe. Caveated with the “feels like …. 97, 102, 104″ so figure that with 7% humidity you don’t notice that you are rapidly turning into human jerky.

There is some kind of canal near where my sister lives. If you hike up the dusty hill you can walk along the canal using it as a short cut to a major road. Noah walked me partway so that he was sure that I would not lost.

At the first major intersection Walmart’s parking lot was to my right. Skipping them, I looked across the street – cheap corner store, beauty salon, bird store and train store. Detouring into the train store (I love model trains) I spent the next 30 minutes discussing O gauge trains. Compared to what I have in the store room (LBG or G gauge old fashion trains dating from prior to the ICE), these are way cool. I really hadn’t looked at US train sets for a long time; I am so used to the European models. But I didn’t buy anything, not even a book or a catalog (it was not smarts, it was the thought of adding more weight to my suitcase that stopped me).

Hiking down McKellips toward Fry’s I was able to find an ATM, a Starbucks and a Nail/Spa place (recommended by both Beauty Salons in the area). I could go off on a tangent here and talk about frappaccinos and the pleasure of letting someone else deal with my nails but I will spare you the details. What I really wanted to mention was the fact that not once during the 2 1/2 hours that I was out and about did I see anyone on foot who was not directly in route between car and store.

No one, not one person was on the sidewalk anywhere along the road. No one was out in their yard. For that matter, I didn’t even see an open window or a convertible. One lone bicyclist formed the only exception to the enclosed vehicle syndrome. Lots of people driving around, many looking for that special parking space only five quick steps from the door. Admittedly it was warm out, but really. Living one’s entire life on wheels and inside air conditioning.

I walked back along the canal carrying a couple of bags and watching a family of ducks on the water. I don’t  wonder at the rapidly increasing size of the American public.


Categories: Prose Tags:

Eating Out

June 10th, 2012 9 comments

The 50s Diner

I can remember when I was in college and medical school. Money was extremely tight and eating out was something special. Usually reserved for dates in fact and I always sweated the issue of going someplace well within economic reason.

Eating in cafeterias (especially when provided free as part of a rotation) I never viewed as really counting and I am not sure that particular mind bent hasn’t held through to this day. Which means buffets sort of fall into the same category. But there are somethings really key to eating meals away from home that you pay for.

The first is obviously that you have to have the money to do so. Since there was a lot of years in which I couldn’t afford it there is still a certain amount of joy to be in being able to sit down, look at a menu and pay someone else to prepare, cook and serve my meal. If you are on a tight budget obviously meals away from home are one of the first things to fall by the wayside.

Next comes the issue of value for your money. If you skipped my rants from the San Francisco Bay area I could hardly blame you. There are reasonably priced places to eat (I found several of them) and then places that may have a name but …. well, you can’t eat either the name or the menu. Or the atmosphere either. In fact, I don’t like atmosphere. I like to be able to see my food which leads into my last point. Taste is a personal issue; for me it also includes the ability to identify what I am eating. Not a great fan of mystery food/preparation as you might have guessed which eliminates a lot of novelle cuisine (small, cold mashed potato pyramids topped with chopped cilantro flavored veggies comes to mind).

Does this make me some kind of snob?

Maybe so. I will admit that when I can afford to eat out, I do appreciate the comfort of sitting and having a dinner/lunch that I didn’t have to prepare. Which takes me to the diner. Bringing back memories of the local dinner where I waitressed in high school I took my son and sister to lunch the other day. They serve breakfast all day, burgers & fries with the usual fixing. Since this is the US, you get water on your table without having to beg or pay. Ice tea comes with refills.

So there we are. I am eating french toast for lunch, they are having burgers. The tables are rimmed with metal, the booth seats are two toned plastic straight out of the 1950s. Looking through the juke box, us two older ladies recognized just about every song and group listed while the boy was drawing a complete blank.

He did luck out. Our trip the rest of the way down memory lane was short circuited by the fact that quarters passed through the slot and bounced off the table from underneath the box.

Heading back out the door I figured that I had my money’s worth. Decent food, great company and a more than reasonable price for the meal and service. None the less, my tastes have changed over the years and I have a yen for Thai tonight.

– Mesa AZ

Categories: Prose Tags:


May 16th, 2012 3 comments

and the next photo will explain

Yet another wakeful night….

Remember the Simon and Garfunkel song – Wednesday Morning 3am from the album of the same name?

No crimes have been committed here but at 3 am my dear husband is snoring. That is not what woke me; blame the time zone difference for that. My son, sensible kid that he is went to sleep at 1800 last night and slept through till 0700 this morning. He is fine while by later in the afternoon I am really dragging.

Today is errands, organization and shoes. Add in Thai for dinner, sushi for lunch and that just about completes the day….

just someone's front lawn

no clue, but apparently this has been growing for years

in transition

Categories: Prose, Travel Tags:

an open window

February 28th, 2012 2 comments

As I was knitting my way through the first repeat of Chart B (Row 26 in case you are interested) there is a narrator in my ears. On this iPod is a free download courtesy of the UK Guardian and still being able to sort of lay claim to a UK address: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

The narrator is Michael Karner who combines a fabulous voice with a reading style perfect for the book coming across as a person sitting across the table from you just to have  chat.

I remember the original publication of the book and never got around to reading it. Motorcycles, Zen and philosophy were simply not of interest at that point in my life. Discussions of why is there air, the meaning of thought were completely overwhelmed by the reality of medical school clinical rotations. I knew about life and its effects, at least as represented by critically ill children, old men in VA hospitals and two cats complaining about why I wasn’t giving them proper attention.

Over the years I have tried various books in this genre and they drive me up the wall. Alexander McCall Smith’s series set in Scotland comes to mind. Yes, it is fiction but the characters spend so much time figuring out what things mean and what is a proper (moral) way of doing something that they never seem to either have a life or get on with theirs.

So imagine my skepticism when I started listening. Leaving out the whole issue of how depression and psychotic breaks were treated in the 1950s (prior to any meds) I hit something that resonated. At one point in a discussion of Rhetoric (the middle R of the three Rs a believed by educators from time immemorial ) he describes the believe that all those rules are developed after the fact. That, in truth, anyone who is trying to communicate through the written word is not looking at grammar and all the fancy principles taught in schools and university by erudite members of English faculties. Rather, they are putting down words in the order that seems to make sense to them. They are not writing with the intention of of using certain forms or themes; rather writing, then coming back later to see if the words in the order they are written do what they want them to do. Are they pleasing and do they convey what is intended.

This makes sense to me. The transmission of ideas from one person to another does not follow the same type of clear and simple structure as knitting a Starmore Fairisle pattern that arrived complete with charts and symbol key.  Much of what is taught in English classes is an effort on the part of someone with a lot invested in the system to understand another’s thoughts complete with rules, regulations and an assumption of inner meaning.

If you want clear, sensible writing that easily transmits her thoughts and ideas – you only have to read Cat’s missives.  If you want snortworthy commentary on subjects as widely varying as political candidates and cow poop (wait a minute, perhaps those are the same thing) you can read Murr.

But Pirsig is right, no matter how we look at it, we do know quality when we see it. All of us know good writing when we read it. At the end of the piece, we have an understanding of what the author meant with their words. Not what others have said the author meant, but what the author actually said.

And sometimes, “the blue curtain fluttered in the breeze of the open window” is not a metaphor for anything in particular. It simply means that the curtain which just happened to be blue was hanging in an open while it was windy outside.




Categories: Prose Tags:

Looking back

February 27th, 2012 5 comments

Since I am once again having problems with the links to older posts on the bottom of the page (and personally going back month by month using the calendar would turn me the rest of the way grey) , I decided to look back the easy way. which also gives you the basic format for finding previous months and years.

The actual date of interest is 11 March 2007. Prior to that, “all” I managed was a static website, several of them as a matter of fact. The kids did almost nothing with theirs originally and have done nothing since as far as I can tell. Just about the time that any of the younger ones might have developed an interest first MySpace, then Facebook came along with LiveJournal as an intermediate journaling option.

As you can probably believe, I have stayed away from all of the above preferring to more directly own and manage my own content. Having had the experience of T-Online completely trashing my email account to included deleting all my archives not once, but twice and the Baltimore based guys at who I had used for over 10 years pulling the plug on their operation you might see where I have a few control issues.

Anyway – I have been at this particular version of insanity for almost five years with the occasional comment here and there. Early on the blog and mailing list were two separate entities only becoming consistently combined Aug 2010 when I started the prep for deploying to Afghanistan. Since then the posts are normally the same, but not always. More on the blog than gets delivered by email: length, photos and more entries.

My focus has also changed somewhat over the last five years. The first few years were mostly about knitting, spinning and the occasional foray into whining about the cold in the UK. Then I started including more on vacations including pictures which meant that I mentioned various family members more often. This in turn meant that more distant relations might be interest.

Then we have Afghanistan (and I am very glad that I am not there right now) followed by the fun and challenges of trying to get retired from the military. After that, a lot of this past year has really turned into a travelogue. Since there are plenty of people writing interesting blogs about various spinning, knitting, sewing, quilting, whatever techniques and projects I am comfortable with the current direction.

As I travel I have also had the chance to meet more and more people who are reading this taking the proportion (compared to 1998 and the Balkans or 2003 and Kuwait) who I actually know in person up to about 80%. It has also turned into a journal of where I have been and perhaps who I am becoming.

As a side effect, who knows? Perhaps it can also serve as an electronic alibi since I am documenting where I am which gives you where I am not by process of elimination? No bad deeds on the horizon but the year is young yet!

Categories: Prose Tags:

The shortest day

December 21st, 2011 1 comment

I would have also called it the darkest day, but you would think that I was repeating myself.

It was dark when I got up in the morning, overcast the entire day and dark early in the afternoon.

Actually, when I started looking it up I found claims that the 21st was the solstice or the 22nd. Or, more importantly that the 23rd was the longest night. It was at this point that I decided that no one was going to confuse me with facts and that I needed to knit something simple.

Like, let us say – a soft, squoosy, slouchy hat for one of the girls. Knit on size 9mm needles out of two strands of Shakespeare held together. It finished up in no time at all just leaving the Eldest with the task of procuring her own ribbon for the row of eyelet’s.

Dirigible - The Jane Victorian

Dirigible - The Jane Victorian

warm ears for the Eldest

warm ears for the Eldest

Categories: Knitting, Prose Tags:


December 15th, 2011 12 comments

This is absolutely not my favorite time of year. I don’t like short days. Well, let me take that back – I don’t like it dark in the morning. I can live with it being dark in the evening but I need light in the morning.

Being on the cruise ship was fine. We had to do time zone adjustments as we traveled. Sensible people ran the ship which means that the clocks were pushed back at 2 am. Since I am not up that late it simply meant that it was increasingly unlikely that anyone was going to challenge me for the use of the treadmill at 0600 in the morning.

Flying back on the 16th of last month wasn’t even that bad since one always gets whacked out by traveling east. What I had forgotten was that I was also traveling north. Germany – from the perspective of someone who lives in Oslo (for example where they are down to just under six hours of daylight) is not all that far north. But coming from Panama – let me just tell you that the change in hours of daylight was significant. Going off daylight savings time didn’t help a bit. It was dark in the morning.

For the last month I have been fighting it – the creeping feeling that no one in their right mind has any business out and about when it is dark out there. No one who is up to any good. No one who is not crazy. It even leaves me feeling mildly sympathetic toward offspring who don’t want to be up before noon. Not completely, mind you. They have studies to complete, cleaning to do, dogs to walk. But a mild bit of sympathy might just stir as long as no one pushes it.

Did I mention that it is also dark in the evening?
15 Dec 2011 08:14 16:26 8h 11m 59s − 42s 12:20 17.4° 147.241

are the numbers provided by Time and Date.Com

Do you see that?!? Only eight hours and almost 12 minutes where there is daylight. That is, where it would be daylight if it wasn’t overcast with rain……

Categories: Prose Tags:

Madam Butterfly

December 3rd, 2011 3 comments

Madam Butterfly by Puccini

You know the story? 3 acts worth of

    1) Naval Officer with the Consultant in Japan rents house and contracts with 15 year old Japanese girl for marriage. Later – he takes off since he always intended to and marry a proper American wife
    2) she waits for him –
    3) the coward that he is -he tries to sneak in the back door and pick up his son (hello? take home a mixed race child of your husbands? I don’t think so……). Distraught from being abandoned – she turns over the boy and kills herself.

Before we go any further, let me give you a little more background so you will understand my point of view. Your concurrence is not required of course; just that sometimes what seems completely stupid on the surface is….. even more so when you think about it. The Opera was written in 1904 by an Italian who, by any account has never been to the far east, made no study of the culture and demonstrates this clearly in his concept of characters and plot. He based it on stories by others (can you spell white European male?) and scholar’s aside – given the attitude toward mixed race anyone held by Europeans I have real doubts as to the veracity of that particular event, especially in the 1880s. (Shall we leave out his personal, repressible behavior in terms of having affairs and otherwise not being a pillar of society?)

This performance at the Volksopern, Vienna was staged with more than full cast and orchestra. Orchestra being defined in this case as a good band diluted by 36 excess strings, an excellent harpist and 4 bored men with bases. Pucinni likes strings. I don’t. Woodwind sections are good; this one was fine which was good since we had the pleasure of being on that side of the theater and spared the brass. However, with Puvcinni it probably didn’t make a difference. He is enamored of strings which means that I was surprised that the brass and percussion sections managed to stay awake for their five minutes of involvement peppered into 2 hours of music. Strings would not be so incredibly annoying if we hadn’t been in lodge seating and were treated to an unrestricted view of excessive body english to the point of flipping feet up and down on the part of one violinist.

I am a recovered flutist of the old school variety – the one that says body english is distracting and a waste of energy that should be better channeled into the music. Bobbing, swaying and writhing in ones chair are not a sign of emotional playing – they are a public exhibit of lack of taste.

Gee – no opinions or digressions here or anything! Back to the performance.

The Volksopern has a standard stage with good mechanics which the director used to advantage. The center stable section had a “Japanese” like building with side panels used to good effect. The outer ring rotated bringing in settings and props. The minimalist props and set pieces were fine.

The actors on the other hand – well just let me leave it with there were an awfully lot of people wandering here and there with no real purpose at the beginning as well as in numerous crowd scenes. It is not that they were needed for chorus work – they were just bodies. Inaccurately dressed bodies. If you are going to portray an era – please be consistent. Don’t mix 1860s with 1880s with 1910 in women’s clothing (all of the silhouettes were wrong and not a corset, bustle or pannier in the herd). Modern foot gear is not a good idea, especially combined with ties (not cravats). Just because you put a straw hat on a kid doesn’t mean that he/she is dressed appropriately for the time.

Shall we just ignore the modernization portion at the end? Crowds again, this time in modern dress – hanging out, staring. Mannequins would have been preferable and more lifelike. To finish it off Pucinni as narrator physically involved with his own opera? Stumbling around with a cane which I guess was supposed to hint at the wheelchair which was his main mode of mobility.

I actually don’t mind the Italian. I don’t know enough Italian to be irritated at the triteness of the lines and story. Put over-titles for subtitles (German) at the top of the theater arch and the little remaining mystery is gone. Stupid story, decent voices often drowned out by the orchestra. Sopranos cut clearly through everything – altos and baritones not so.

George’s take on it was simple – not a good performance. He found the lack of balance coupled with the staging = the worst of the many performances of this opera he has seen. Given that Madam Butterfly ranks right up there at #8 on the world-wide most performed operas, there are more than a few chances to hear it.

I was relieved to catch the S-bahn back to the hotel, have a decent nights sleep and fly comfortably home today.

According to the printed list I got from the machine in the lounge – I just went over the bar required for Frequent Traveler Status on Lufthansa for next year. It is pretty funny that I wound up getting more miles for the little spent on this found trip than I did for my last NY-Frankfurt run…..

Categories: Prose, Travel Tags:

Dual Use

October 26th, 2011 Comments off

26 Oct 2011 – Dual Use

The first few lectures today fit right in with a them in the current book I am reading in Audio (Uranium). The basic premise in the book is that there is more than one use for technology. If you are a cynic, you will say that all those who are promoting the non-war uses of the particular methodology are searching for justification or attempting to romanticise the technology. In Uranium, he makes the point of several scientists, journalists and industrialist who touted the peaceful divided and bounteous energy of uranium use while the majority of people were attempting to increase the destructive aspects.

The same can be said for the field of Synthetic Biology. If you can create a “virus” from components, you maybe able to develop a gene carrier for fixing inborn errors of metabolism. Or recreate an historical virus from scratch. Or create something nasty and deadly in your own laboratory.

Simply pointing out that scientist should be responsible is probably not enough. In most countries there is regulation, requirements and legal consequences should you screw up (get caught). One of the problems is that part of the regulation burden has been shifted onto the companies which supply reagents, chemicals and products to order. Since I have not read the regulations, I am not sure how significant a burden this is. But if your company supplies things – you can be responsible for only selling to approved customers. What is reasonable to question? How many genes or amino sequences need to be checked against databases. Which databases?

If this sounds a bit strange – think about the Silicone Valley model of science. Bright people set up labs in their garages and make things. You can buy an incredible variety of toys on eBay. This is free enterprise at its best and worst. SynBio has resulted in decreasing (deskilling) the skill level required to play with this equipment. Regulation flies i the face youthful enthusiasm and the free market economy of the US.

I think I mentioned that I was test knitting several patterns. The first, a cowl, was completed a couple of weeks ago. The second project is a bit more long term. It is a long and complicated shawl on which I managed another 25 rows on each half (knitting both at the same time so they match). Since this is a section that is heavy with beads it has been rather slow going. This used up the first skein on yarn. According to the designer, I am 19 rows past the ½ waypoint so I hopefully I will not run out of yarn.

The other project is a fingerless mitt knit in lace weight on size 2.0 needles. To say that it has been less than fun would be underestimating the pain. I finally got the pattern for the eight row cuff repeat in my head and managed 2/8 repeats without major error. Did I mention that there is patterning in every row, that the stitch count continually changes and that there are double yarn overs? I am just glad that I only need to knit one….

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October 3rd, 2011 Comments off

Once again, the year has rolled around and it is a German Holiday.

For me – the late 1980s seems like just yesterday, but for the youngest three in my family – well they have grown up with a single Germany, an absence of the USSR and completely different political influences in their lives.

I sit in my studio and think of traveling to the divided Germany on the duty train on our first tour with our young child and crossing the border at Check Point Charlie just to say that we had been to East Berlin. Not shopping for comforters, but instead buying children’s books; George and Shana warm while I froze in my mandatory uniform without name or insignia.

A later trip when Nina was not even a year old when it took almost 11 hours to make the four hour journey about 1/2 of which I was taking care of a retiree with chest pain who did not want to be dropped off in the East, even for medical care.

And now, I am the retiree.

The roadside is no longer littered with Ladas and Traubies broken down on their drive west exceeding both speed and distance from their design specifications. The autobahns are full of trucks from Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Baltics.

The world is no safer. But I can buy yarn from Estonia.

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More on Ten Years Later –

September 12th, 2011 2 comments

The following post is included with permission from a friend of mine who is now in the UK. A PhD epidemiologist, she has a split US/UK citizenship courtesy of her parents:

I worked very near the World Trade Center, from April 2000 to the anniversary of Pearl Harbor in 2001.

On September 11, 2001, I was running late for work because I had gone to vote in the Mayoral primaries: the turnout was huge and long lines meant I was riding the subway later than usual. I was underground when the first plane hit. The subway stopped between stations and the announcement said there had been an explosion at Cortland St. I thought a water main must have burst. After a few minutes, really not long at all, they told us if we wanted Manhattan, we had to get out of the subway at 14th St. I realized I’d have to walk the rest of the way to work (the subway was being diverted to Brooklyn – this line never went to Brooklyn) . To get to work I would simply walk towards the Twin Towers.

Upon emerging from the subway I did what every NY’er does: I looked up to find the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center to get my sense of direction. I had just turned to walk south marvelling at the glistening beauty of the blue sky that morning and puzzling over the odd “cloud” surrounding one of the towers. At that moment, a new “cloud” emerged from the other tower: a vivid orange “cloud.” Clouds aren’t orange…what on earth was happening…..and what was that oddly shaped “shadow” in the first tower? It was the entry wound from the first plane….

I was suddenly aware of cars and taxis parked along the sides of the roads, everyone was standing and listening to car radios blaring the news. Emergency vehicles and the mayor in his motorcade swept past…

I got to work, asked my secretary for any news he had heard while turning on my computer anxious to get the latest information. A very short time later, someone ran past my office and said “its down, its down” “What is down?”, I asked. “The building, it has fallen down.” was the hurried reply.

We all congregated in a colleague’s office. I had always been envious of that office. It had a truly spectacular view of the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty. That was the last day I ever envied that view, I never looked out of that window again without a terrible sadness.

I saw people jumping and simply falling out of the building. The desperation, the hopelessness resulting from such a decision was ghastly. . simply beyond anything imaginable.

I saw the second building collapse: it hovered and then fell in on itself seemingly in slow motion. In televised repeats, it always seems faster than the way it happened as I watched it in real time…..

The man standing next to me in the crowded office after the tower hit the ground said “I felt our building shake when it collapsed.” I turned to him and said, “I’m shaking and I can’t differentiate between my own shaking and our building shaking.”

Shortly after that, we were all gathered together and told to try to get home. It was barely mid-day. I told my work-friends to come to my apartment if they couldn’t get out of Manhattan to their own homes. I gave them my phone numbers and my address (in case the telephone systems were still down) and told them to just come if they needed to do so.

I called my mother in England. Exactly 24 hours previously, she had flown out of JFK to return to England after going to the US Open (tennis) tournament with me. After dozens of attempts, I finally got through. She wasn’t at home, so I left a message. I was OK, I was going home. I didn’t know if she would be able to call me or if I would be able to call her because the phones weren’t working reliably. I told her not to worry, I was OK. I told her I loved her.

Just before I left my office, my phone rang, it was a dear friend, Nina, calling from the other side of the US “Dear God, Mary, please tell me you are on a business trip!” was the rush of words tumbling through my cell phone. I told her I was not on a trip, I was in NY, I was OK and heading home.

I walked home, approx 5 miles, in heels. Any buses that passed were being kept exclusively for the elderly, disabled and the refugees from the Twin Towers. The subway system had been closed down completely.

I walked with work colleagues who were going to try to get trains from Grand Central Station to CT and Westchester. There was an incredible silence that I didn’t think was possible to achieve in NYC…. No one talked, no one shouted, no one blew their horns. Everyone just moved in silence.

The silent crowds parted like waves whenever an ash-covered survivor passed. They always appeared alone, never in groups or pairs. We tried to reach out to help and could smell the shock emitting from the entire being of the ghostly presence. We would try to help but just left the silent person to make his/her way home to his/her family…We were there watching, reaching out when we were needed but respecting their space.

We walked past the old house in the East 20s off 3rd Avenue. It belongs to some dear friends of mine and dates to at least 1789, an original NY farmhouse. I asked my colleagues how this little white house could still be standing after more than 200 years following what we had just seen….

Before going up to my apartment on the 32nd floor, I stopped at the supermarket. What would happen if friends arrived at my door and I didn’t have enough food? The supermarket was packed and food was flying – or had already flown – off the shelves. The lines to pay wound through the store. There was more silence. The woman in front of me in the line looked at my shopping basket: a gallon of milk, huge chicken ready to roast and everything else I had gathered to provide nourishing sustenance. “You don’t have water,” she said to me kindly. “That’s OK, thanks, I can use tap water” and I explained I was shopping in case I had non-Manhattanites round needing shelter. “Get yourself some bottled water,” she encouraged, “you don’t know if something will happen to the water supply. I’ll watch your shopping and place in the line.” From that day to this, I have always kept some bottled water in my home.

I struggled home with my purchases, throwing the stuff into my fridge.

Then I dug out my nursing license and ran over to NY Hospital, 2 blocks away. Went to the main reception desk and said I was here in case they needed extra workers. The woman at the main reception desk was so grateful and didn’t have to ask me to see anyone else, she knew what they needed. She took my landline and cell numbers and said at the moment they were adequately staffed but it was likely that they would need me sometime in the middle of the night, they would call me.

I went home.

No stress-relieving glass of wine for me…what would happen if they called me and I had consumed a glass of wine? NO, I needed to keep my head together.

I turned on the news.

I looked out of my window and I could see the smoke heading my way. In a few minutes I had to shut my window because the smell made me feel physically ill. I realized this was what Germany smelled like during the war, it is like nothing else I have ever smelled nor ever want to ever again.

I sat in front of the tv with tears silently falling down my face.

Throughout the following hours, I kept checking my phones to make sure I had dial tones. Eventually I went to bed and somehow slept a little. In the morning I woke up not quite knowing where I was and then checked my phones for the millionth time to make sure I had dial tones. Why hadn’t my phone rung? Why didn’t the hospital call me in?

Then I realized…..the need for extra staffing did not exist…..

The next day, I started to get used to the circling Air Force jets. It became a security blanket that I could see from my apartment windows. Keeping us safe….. NY’ers gradually got used to their presence and we were united in our gratitude to see them there.

September 12, was strange, hollow and extremely sad. This wasn’t a nightmare we could wake up from, this was reality. I really don’t remember much from that day besides the cover of the NY Times waiting, as always, right outside my door and the non-stop news. As my office was in the area of NYC that had been sealed off (and remained so for the rest of the week), there was no work to go to. I walked over to NY Hospital to see if there really was no need for my nursing skills.

The fires continued to burn and the wind continued to carry the smell my way.

In the middle of the night between September 12 and 13, there was a massive thunder and lightening storm. I’ll never know how long it had been going on before I woke up but one crack of thunder was right over my building. I woke up and didn’t move. I knew it was a thunderstorm, it was, wasn’t it?? I crept to my large wall of windows in my living room and perched myself on the window sill to make certain. Minutes passed and after several rolls of thunder and multiple bolts of lightening, I decided to go back to bed. The storm must have been going on for a while before I actually woke up because my sheets were drenched with perspiration.

The next week, my office reopened. Traveling to work every bus stop, subway stop, anywhere possible, were thousands of signs listing missing loved ones: “have you seen?”…. “last known to be working on x, y or z floor”….”please call.” All these young, vibrant, happy faces on xeroxed pages with loved ones on the other end of phone numbers longing for word to end the hell they were in. You had to stop, say a prayer and try to take in the enormity of the situation.

It was not uncommon to see well-dressed people simply walking down the street with tears quietly streaming down their faces. This was not weakness or anything other than a natural by-product of what had happened to us. To this day, I get annoyed when someone who wasn’t there tries to suggest that we were over-reacting or panicking.

My apartment building was diagonally across the road from Sotheby’s at (East) 72nd St and York Avenue. From the roof of my building I had once been able to see the Twin Towers. From my apartment windows I looked down to the Chrysler Building thirty blocks away. Across the road from my building was an express bus stop to the Financial Center. Needless to say, a lot of people in my building worked down there because it was such a great commute. Stunningly, not one person in the 38 floors of my apartment building died on September 11 but my zip code, 10021, suffered the greatest loss of life.

As I mentioned at the start of this, my job came to an end on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. The economy was not good prior to September 11 but subsequently had only become worse. The pharmaceutical company who had been my client was cutting back on their advertising and marketing spend and my job was over. I had a new offer elsewhere but I had been ABD (all but dissertation) and close to completing my PhD at Columbia since 1995 but never got any further….work always got in the way. Friends would ask “when are you going to finish?” Until the morning of September 11, I always smiled and replied “Sometime before I die.” I realized it was time to finish it, I could no longer use that reply. In late November or early December, I called my mentor and asked if he would chair my committee, I was ready to finish. Throwing myself into my dissertation in January 2002 was an amazing experience. Researching and writing my dissertation was one of the most rewarding times I’ve ever had, I loved every minute of it – I know, reading this you must think I’m very odd. I defended my opus on April 29, 2003 and graduated the next month. Of course it was hard, don’t get me wrong. I had a committee of 5 amazingly brilliant professors and they pushed me every step of the way and I loved every minute. At the end of my defense they made me promise to get it published because they felt it had value for others. Maybe one day I’ll find the right publisher….

My first visit to the World Trade Center site was on my birthday in January 2002. My mother had come over for Christmas, as she always did, and she wanted to go. Although I had been back to work a few days after that frightful day and was there until my job ended, I had never gone over to “the pile” as the FDNY called it. But that day, my mother and I went together. As we got closer and closer, that silence descended …. I have been back a number of times. Now that I’m not living in NYC, I usually go if I’m back in the city. I always say a prayer and spend several quiet moments.

To this day, if I see a large plane flying lower than I think it should, hairs on the back of my neck go up and I find myself scanning the skies….

NYC has never been quite the same since. It was months and months and months before that NY “humm” came back, it might have been more than a year but I remember when it finally returned. There is a friendliness about NY’ers, a kindness towards strangers that was brought to life that day and has never really left. In the wake of the horrors, NY’ers always waved and smiled at passing firefighters and when they were not racing off to save others, we always thanked them.

I think that one day I shall go back to live there……NYC is my birthplace and is, and always will be, my home no matter where I am.

Mary Bussell, PhD
12 September 2011

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