Monday, June 30, 2008

Win your picture taken with Blicky!

The email rumor mills are off and running! I have gotten a few email forwards lately from some relatives in our clowder who live in conservative retirement communities.

So let's jump into the fray! At least we'll balance things a bit. Winning entries will be about any candidate except Obama and will be lavishly forwarded by the Blicky Kitty staff in conservative retirement communities.

Blicky has agreed to have his picture taken with the winner.
I've discovered a few good things that go into a good email rumor: 
1) Use an unflattering picture of your target and crop it weird. It makes them look shady -- like they've been caught by a private detective.
2) Use fonts to punctuate each point because your audience might not read and because they might resent your elitist good grammar.
3) Use fear to make your argument, then make a gigantic illogical leap. For example: John McCain is pro-life, he is against gay marriage (do a Google search to bolster your list of examples or just make some up and lie about the news source, like "he was quoted by NBC as saying he hates America") and he was against the granting of habeas corpus to prisoners of war. Therefore (gigantic illogical leap), JOHN McCAIN HATES FREEDOM. Hey... wait a second, terrorists hate freedom. Oh my God! JOHN McCAIN IS A TERRORIST!!! Your font size and color should go nutty at this point. If you could make it flash and put in any cute dancing animals that would be a bonus. 
4) Now would be a good place to throw in any photo edits you're able to generate -- such as your target strangling a kitten. Don't worry if your skills at Photoshop aren't as subtle and sophisticated as mine. It just takes practice.
5) You should always end a good email by telling them that they should forward this to everyone they know or they will contract an incurable, painful, fatal illness by midnight.

Please email your entries to

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Getting Green with Blicky

OK, while Blicky was working with Dick Cheney and Proctor & Gamble on a few top-secret projects we ended up with a Swiffer mop thing. It's not the fancy squirty kind. I guess we thought it would be easier to clean up after the kittens, but I soon realized that I had to mend my ways and find a greener alternative. So here you go:

1) 1 Blicky Swiffer thing
2) 1 cloth diaper (preferably with the baby detached)
3) 1 bottle of green cleaner or Blicky Brand alternate (1 part vinegar/1 part water)

Have your human affix said de-babied diaper to plastic hole thingy in aforementioned Swiffer.

Readjust your self-esteem based on the cleanliness of your house, your weight and your cat's assessments of both.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The "Real" Tuscany

If someone tells me to read one more self-indulgent, rhapsodic travel novel set in Tuscany I think I'm going to hurl something at their head. First of all, I lived there for three years. That means that Tuscany is mine, mine, mine-all mine. I ate the real Tuscany, I slept with the real Tuscany and Senator, you are no real Tuscany.
The second thing that bugs me about those books is that Tuscany is portrayed as a back-drop for the deep soul-searching finding yourself narrative that people would sneer at had it occurred in a kitchen in Jersey. They describe quaint old Italian men who were put on the earth with the sole purpose of smiling wistfully and respectfully while some bored, wealthy housewife "finds herself" near the vinyard he works in. But let me tell you, that quaint old man is more likely to interrupt your run by trying to offer you wine and if you did actually stop he'd probably grab your boob.

The Tuscans I know don't think Americans are so cool anyway. The WWII generation was completely besotted with all things American after our studly perform
ance trouncing the Nazis. Let's be real. Nazis suck and we kicked their Hinterteile. My friend Luisa remembers eating cat (maaaoooo interjects Blicky), and her brother, a partigiano, died in the resistance. They were probably so grateful that their children rebelled and embraced communism with a vengeance. Most dinner tables seem idyllic to the tourist in Italy, especially if you don't speak the language. We imagine them discussing things like "oh isn't family so important?" and "I'm really so happy I spent all morning making your homemade pasta because I don't want a job." But if you're part of the discussion, chances are good that you'll have to answer for electing George Bush, whether we let people die if they don't have health care, why we let children have guns, or why we condone the death penalty. Many people you meet have known hunger and violence of war and they don't understand how we can undertake it so lightly.

Is Tuscany a good place for self discovery? Yes, and some rhapsodizing has it's place when you're admiring the cathedrals in Lucca, the Uffizi in Florence or the view from Fiesole. But there's also some real opportunity for self reflection beyond your traditional garden-variety type. We as a country have a lot to learn about what matters in life and what matters in a society.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New York, Blicky Style

Blicky just made up a wonderful fish recipe. He didn't want me to cook aft
er a busy long weekend at NYC and a beautiful coastal island. He just put some garlic and ginger in the food processor, then added onion mango and yellow bell pepper to create sort of a salsa. Then you pour some OJ into the pan just to add some moisture in the bottom and you put the fish in and spread the salsa. Then he just drizzled a tiny bit of olive oil on top, some soy sauce and sprinkled some cilantro on top and cooked it at 420. He always checks it for doneness after 20 minutes. Fast and healthy once you pick the kitty hairs out.

Friday, June 20, 2008

There has been a spate of great articles recently about the Internet, reading and how technology is impacting the way we think. The Atlantic Monthly was emblazoned with a question posed by Nicholas Carr; "Is Google Making is Stoopid?" For those of us who in all truth don't need Google to make is stupid it's a fun read. I always love a good scapegoat. Although I do feel that the Internet uses text and image together in a similar way to Medieval and Renaissance manuscriptsHere's a link to a recent On Point radio show with neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf describing about how learning to read creates a tectonic shift in the cognition of children which manifests itself. It's fun to listen to her because she makes you feel so smart for even learning how to read. Her wonderfully titled book, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain is my long list of things I will read when I am living in the South of France and can spend endless hours at my local cafe every day reading.

I think though that these shifts in our ways of thinking aren't unique to this period in history. One of the coolest theories I've heard is from Julian Jaynes who wrote the lovely egg-headie titled monograph The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. It's on my list of books I will read when either a freak nuclear accident or complete isolation from Google makes me smarter. Jaynes looks at ancient literature and argues that in works like the Iliad humans aren't conscious by our current definition. Words weren't used metaphorically and the human mind functioned with a bicameral split. He argues that when an ancient person perceived stimulus from the intuitive, creative right temporal lobe it would be interpreted as  Athena issuing a command or delivering a celestial missive. He wrote that at a certain point when the lobes of our brains started functioning in concert, writers would lament that the gods had stopped talking to them.

The ability to read and write things down easily was an enormous shift for our memories. Portions of human memory could be housed in books. Before the days of sticky notes and scratch pads ancient and Medieval thinkers would rely upon very intricate mnemonic devices. Augustine described the use of memory palaces. You would create various rooms containing symbols for things you wanted to remember. Feats of memory were much praised throughout the medieval world. There was a fascinating article about human memory in the National Geographic last fall that gives a wonderful overview of art of memory in the ancient world. The author also describes an interesting new phenomenon; our memories are increasingly residing in our hard drives and remote servers. I think mine must have gotten lost in cyberspace somewhere. Or maybe it never made it there with everyone else's. Could it have gotten stuck in a loose wire somewhere? Maybe if I do a Google search for it it might turn up.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Dawn

I would be ignorant as the dawn
That has looked down
On that old queen measuring a town,
With the pin of a brooch,
Or the withered men that saw
From their pedantic Babylon
The careless planets in their courses,
The stars fade out where the moon comes,
And took their tablets and did sums;
I would be ignorant as the dawn
That merely stood, rocking the glittering coach
Above the cloudy shoulders of the horses;
I would be -- for no knowledge is worth a straw --
Ignorant and wanton as the dawn.

W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) The Wild Swans at Coole, 1919

Garden Ecosystem

Here's the view of our feeder from the living room. Our house is a bit like a treehouse and we can just sit here and enjoy the view. I visited a friend's garden recently and she said because of the number of birds that flock to her garden they can enjoy the outdoors virtually mosquito free. So they would be welcome visitors even if they didn't make the landscape so beautiful. You can't really see the little finch in this shot. We get a lot of finches woodpeckers and hawks. This always amazes me because growing up in New England during the DDT laden 70's we only seemed to get chickadees and starlings at our feeders. There's a lovely variety now. I plan to place another feeder near the garden so they can eat any garden pests for me. I throw bread crusts, pasta and cereal (which you're not supposed to compost) out for the birds and squirrels. The squirrels are pesky, but maybe if I fatten them up they'll all develop hypertension and be unable to eat the birdseed.

Bleeding hearts seem to love my garden! They grow like weeds here. I'm trying to clear out all the briars and poison ivy to create my woodland garden but I'm reticent this year as I still bear scars from last year's poison ivy outbreak. I'm going to try vinegar to control it because I really want to avoid using Roundup!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Blicky Email Volley: Part I

OK every clowder of cats has them. The cousin with whom we disagree profoundly in all matters political. Some of them use their paws to hit "forward" rather too liberally in the human aetheric medium of the email. Here's the email I received: 
"A lot of Americans have become so insulated from reality That they imagine that America can suffer defeat Without any  inconvenience to themselves. Pause a moment, reflect  back.

1. 1968 Bobby Kennedy was shot and killed by  

Muslim male  extremist between the ages of 17 and  40.

2. In 1972 at the  Munich Olympics, athletes were kidnapped and massacred by  

Muslim male  extremists between the ages of 17 and  40.

[OK I'll abridge the email  but it goes on and on like this, then presents its case for racial profiling at airport security, and quotes the Book of Revelation about the Anti-Christ being a Muslim man in his 40s]

And  Now:

For the award  winning act of  Stupidity Of all  times the People of America want to elect, to the most Powerful position  on the face of the Planet -- The Presidency of the  United states of America

A  Muslim Male in his  40s!

Say what you  want, he was born a Muslim (and is still considered a Muslim by his  family), to a Muslim father. His mother remarried, yep another Muslim so  what makes you think she didn't raise him as a Muslim? His African family  is Muslim, he attended a Muslim school.  Have the American  People completely lost their Minds, or just their Power of Reason  ??? Let's send this to as  many people as we can so that the Gloria Aldreds and other stupid  attorneys along with Federal Justices that want to thwart common sense,  feel ashamed of themselves -- if they have any such  sense."

I know, so blicky! My apologies for even posting it. But here's my response that apparently I couldn't help from firing off:

"I promise I won’t hit reply all, but feel free to forward this back to the bigoted [my offensive term bleeped] who wrote it. OK an un PC term, but I’m not PC so I'll say it:

That’s completely [my offensive term bleeped]. Maybe if you keep your brain in the “off” position it makes sense.
But Timothy McVeigh was not Muslim to my knowledge,
nor was the “Unabomber,” Theodore Kaczynski.
nor was Hitler,
nor was Mussolini.
I could go on but it’s a waste of time.

As far as Obama being Muslim? I’ll just use a quote because people way smarter than I have already written about it:

As political rumors go, these are of a piece with John McCain's illegitimate black baby: Too ugly for polite company, the stories thrive on e-mail and talk-radio hearsay, and though they're trivial to debunk (the truth is just a Web search away), the lies seem possessed of uncanny sticking power. Polls show belief in the Obama-is-a-Muslim rumor now hovers at around 10 to 13 percent, up from single digits last December.

In March, as part of a New York Times Magazine article on the science behind myth busting, I spoke to several rumor experts about Obama's efforts to fight the Muslim claim. In politics, conventional wisdom holds that the best way to neutralize a whisper campaign is to ignore it.”

If you’re going to critique a political candidate at least stick to the issues."

Driftwood Horses

My wonderful friend Judy emailed these images and a bit of sleuthing reveals that the artist is Heather Jansch (click her name for the artist's Web site) from the Westcountry of England.

This one is called Apollo. Below is Fortune Filly. I think they're exquisite. Here's an article from an exhibition catalogue describing her work.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Supreme Court's Decision Thursday to uphold the writ of habeas corpus for Guantanamo detainees (Boumediene v. Bush) might prove to be a pivotal issue in the general election. John McCain in a touching show of allegiance to They-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has criticized the decision as being "one of the worst decisions in the history." Hmmm... I wonder what would happen if I Googled "bad Supreme Court decisions"....

Wow, thank you, John McCain for teaching me so much! I guess that means that the decision to grant basic legal rights to "enemy combatants" is on the same level of badness as say... Dred Scott, the case that declared all blacks nonpersons. The one where Chief Justice Taney said Blacks could not be citizens even if free because they were "beings of an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the white race." So John McCain, I guess granting detainees the right to appeal in civil court makes 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick tame by comparison, huh? The court upheld a Georgia statute criminalizing sodomy and the prosecution of a gay man. In his remarks Chief Justice Burger quoted William Blackstone's Commentaries on the laws of England where he "described 'the infamous crime against nature' as an offense of 'deeper malignity' than rape, a heinous act 'the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature,' and 'a crime not fit to be named.' (ibid) Those were the good old days. We could never have predicted the true badness the Supreme Court could achieve.

It's shaping up to be an interesting debate with McCain, who helped draft the Military Commissions Act of 2006 which prevented courts from considering the habeas corpus petitions from Guantanamo detainees on one side, and Obama who voted against the act in the Senate, on the other. Obama praised the decision as "an important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting our credibility as a nation fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus."

An article in the NYT opinion page sums it up for me: "It is sobering to think that habeas hangs by a single vote in the Supreme Court of the United States." "The ruling is a major victory for civil liberties -- but a timely reminder of how fragile they are."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Blicky is out of town this week on a research fellowship in Rome, so once again I'll have to generate his blog entries. I believe he is combining it with a multi-national lecture tour.

For anyone planning a trip to Rome the Ara Pacis Museum in its Richard Meyer edifice one of the most spectacular installations I've ever seen. You can see how incredible the building is on their Web site. The windows face the Tiber river on one site and Augustus' Mausoleum the other. It is just the perfect way to enjoy a work of art.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Blicky's Garden

Here's a picture of our attempt at a vegetable garden this year. There is broccoli, zucchini, tomato, pumpkin, cantaloupe, and green beans and I want to add some purple string beans later in the season. We are woefully ignorant about the process so I welcome any suggestions. We've created our ramshackle fence from wire mesh and re bar to keep out the deer and woodchucks. We have left this nice raised bed idle for years because everything we tried one year was eaten or killed by us. Knock wood, all of the plants look happy so far...

Please grow, broccoli! We mixed in nice kitchen compost, cow manure and bone meal in when we planted so hopefully the soil is good. Our gate looks pretty professional, doesn't it?
This is one of my inspirations for our ornamental garden. The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. Not only is is a beautiful place to walk and admire, but they have special events like sculpture exhibits. I love woodland gardens and it's a nice way to learn more about indigenous plants. We have a bunch of pink Lady's Slippers on our land that I would love to move gently so everyone can enjoy them. I'm also obsessed with cinnamon ferns lately and I keep looking for roadside specimens to snatch shamelessly since there are none on our land. They seem to love little brooks so I'd probably need to water them a bit. I'll post more pictures of the garden as it hopefully approaches the images I have in my mind. I keep thinking of Fern Hill by Dillon Thomas when I think about the garden I hope to create.  This is one of our faerie houses that the girls and I love to build. This one we made for the faerie town they have at the Maine Botanical Gardens.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Blicky Discovers Homemade Yogurt

Well, Blicky's paws are covered with yogurt, so I'll have to manage this post on my own. Thank you Melanie for your instructions about making homemade yogurt on the wonderful Bean Sprouts blog. I can't believe how simple it is! I was spending way too much money on Fage and it didn't feel good amassing all of those hard-to-recycle containers. I still need to play around a bit and I might need a better pot for heating milk because I always seem to overheat it a little and it leaves a burned aftertaste. When I get it right it's heavenly.

I don't know if it's my Anatolian ancestral lineage calling or simply my eccentric Armenian taxidriver uncle who sat with homeless people on park benches and lectured them about Queen Victoria, why the colonies should have remained loyal to England, or how yogurt and prunes can make you live 100 years. He's the one on the right. You could see him walking all over town well into his 90's anyway. My great-grandmother (seated) used to make it herself and I think some cousins had kept the same culture going until fairly recently. 

I'm happy enough with my Fage starter. Here's a really yummy, healthy breakfast recipe: 1 cup homemade (Greek-style) yogurt. 1/2 cup fresh or frozen red rasberries with about 4 or 5 crunched-up pecans on whole grain waffles. I'm so besotted with my yummy breakfast that I really need to start making homemade waffles and freezing them. Past generations were so much more adept and resourceful with the daily requirements of life. These simple things ought to be even easier for us with all our new gizmos. Below are some Armenian ancestors from Husenig in Kharpert (Harput). This was taken before the Armenian genocide.

Sadly, even though the process should be dummy-proof I goof a lot. Last week a batch came out burned and yucky so I used it to make saag paneer tonight. With this recipe I substitute tofu for paneer and I use a bit more yogurt and whole milk instead of the buttermilk and half and half. It comes out really yummy and healthy. You can mix up your own garam masala too with 2tb. each of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper. It's probably not authentic Indian, but I like where the flavors sit in my mouth when I do it that way.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Great Ted-Kennedy-Off

I've always maintained that were I to have an alter ego it would have to be an irrascible anti-hero; a politically conservative feline with a snaggle tooth and a penchant for evil.

Just last weekend, Blicky attended the Massachusetts State Democratic Convention in sultry Lowell, Mass. Perhaps he went undercover on a fact-finding mission. Although he missed his kittens, he knew they were happily feeding on junk food with other members of his clowder of cats. While Blicky was generally affronted by the lack of racism, warmongering and overall blickiness of the participants in Lowell, he was mildly interested in the I'm-the-most-Ted-Kennedy-ish contest between speakers. Challenger for Kerry's senate seat O-Reilly came out with an impressive level of Ted-iousity if only by virtue of his family resemblance. Some of Blicky's fellow attendees even speculated that perhaps that he actually was Joseph Patrick Kennedy II engaged in a covert attempt to rebrand himself in a more sodden, pugnatious format -- JPK2.0. Although our delegation had the nosebleed seats, so there's no way to know for sure. Round 2 of the Ted-Kennedy-off saw Kerry counter O'Reilly's Kennedy-ishness with a daring parry of Lloyd Bentsen-sonyishness. In the end Blicky decided Kerry was the Kennedyishness-esque, but was glad that someone was taking him to task for his vote for the war. 

The puzzling thing about O'Reilly's speech was that the drive of the anti-war message was subverted by the governing metaphor of his talk; the one-two punch. From what Blicky could discern, Massachusetts deserves a one-two punch from it's senators. Now we only have a one punch (Kennedy and his un-Kennedy counterpart), but his election would turn it into a one-two. Blicky admired the rhetorical flourish with which O'Reilly tried to persuade a room full of bleeding-heart peace-nicks to go punch out the US Senate. Maybe Massachusetts voters should really really kick its arse.  Maybe the congressional delegations of Rhode Island and Connecticut could hold it down while we deliver an uppercut to the Senate's abdomen. I think that would definitely end the war. They'd also realize that we're sending young people to war from up here in the European suburb of Massachusetts and that maybe they should send us some of that sweet, fatty, pork barrel they've been gorging themselves on.

Van Jones was an amazing keynote speaker who made Blicky wish he has accomplished more in life (although Blicky usually prefers evil). He hopes to turn collective concerns about the environment into an opportunity to strive towards greater social justice and equality. Perhaps a new WPA with clean energy conversion as a focus? His slogan is "green jobs, not jails."