Sunday, August 31, 2008

Which gives the bigger bounce, the repug convention with hurricane or without? We shall see. Weather disasters always trump politics in the news. I'm grateful this didn't happen last week. It reminds us that Bush is doing now what he should have done three years ago. It also reminds us that Bush couldn't have done this three years ago given the condition of FEMA. Neither McCain, from Arizona, nor Obama, from Illinois, have key roles in federal hurricane response. Their jobs are to be properly concerned & stay out of the way. Even if Gustav declines in ferocity, it is projected to stall over Louisiana & East Texas, a whole other problem of torrential rain & inland flooding.

Us East Coasters have wary eyes on Tropical Storm Hanna, which has an entire week to fritter out into nothing or take a ride up the coast or along the Appalachians. North Carolina, Virginia, & Jersey are as vulnerable to tropical depression river flooding from the west as to storms from the ocean.

Living at The Kismet

kis·met: Fate or fortune. That which is inevitably destined. The will of Allah. [Turkish, from Persian qismat.]

Megan & I stayed at the Kismet in '95. We must have tested the limits of what The Kismet's proprietors wanted for clientele when a couple of college age friends came down & took a room for a night. Kismet liked fishermen who got up early & went to bed early. We weren't noisy but the proprietors probably figured out from our general high spirits what we were smoking. But it turned out to be our last boardwalk trip together. She finished her art degree, we broke up, she moved to Jersey City & was married within a few years. I don't begrudge former girlfriends their subsequent happiness.

I enjoyed the new routines, the quiet nights, the convenience of being so close to an interesting beach & inlet, going there several times each day. I saw birds I had never seen before. I could hear the ocean from our room when the breakers were splashing. It was a minor matter to drive a mile or so down island, park on a side street near the The Grey Manor, where I had stayed, & pick up the boardwalk there.

A small edition of my poem Boardwalk was finally published in'98 & to celebrate I spent a week by myself at The Kismet. It was a worthwhile if solitary vacation, giving me an opportunity to explore Cape May at my own pace, stopping wherever & whenever I wanted for as long as I wanted. If The Kismet owners liked quiet guests, they must have loved me that year. As pleasantly & quickly as the week passed, having someone with me was better. But I did not want to come home. Weekend rates & a scheduled radio show forced the matter.

I returned once more, during May, with a new friend, a woman from Virginia I'd gotten to know pretty well online. Since we were meeting for the first time, we booked separate rooms, but we arrived in the same car. I was a lot more anxious about this than my friend, who was taking the far greater risk. She was a smart, attractive, unpretentious woman who had grown up near Monticello & learned a good bit of American history the same way I had - by osmosis. She made me smile. We had a good weekend. She liked The Kismet & loved the sandbars at the inlet, still littered with large clamshells from winter storms. She knew how to walk on a beach, as she often does in the old Potomac River resort town of Colonial Beach, which she visits several times each year. The roughness of the young pre-season weekend crowd on the huge Wildwood boardwalk made her nervous, & I didn't care much for the atmosphere myself. In a way, I think she would have felt more comfortable on a packed August weekday evening when the families come out to play & you have to dodge baby strollers. She loved Victorian Cape May City. Tears came to her eyes when she had her first close look at the Cape May lighthouse, suddenly towering over us as we drove into the state park. I wanted to surprise her. I'll always remember that moment. She went home with many souvenirs. I haven't seen The Kismet since. It's still there, with the same simple amenities of air-conditioning, cable TV, a picnic table out front, a grill if you want to cook burgers outside; hopefully the colorful Lurae Motel still in business across the street, a Wawa store nearby with ten flavors of coffee; the beam from Hereford Lighthouse flashing overhead at night, & an ocean close enough to hear & smell.

I believed that if I could live at The Kismet I'd give up most of what I own - which isn't much - to fit myself into a single room. Emily Dickinson reputedly made due on three books: The King James Bible, Collected Works of Shakespeare, & a dictionary. I have a computer & the internet. The boardwalk season begins & ends on schedule, but the natural seasons seamlessly change with ocean temperatures & migrating birds. I have never had a walk by an ocean or bay as part of my daily routine. It has been my dream since I was child. The closest I came was living next to a narrow, urban tidal stream miles from open water. I am a fool.

I'm a different person down there, perhaps a better person, if that means liking who you are. Maybe it's the higher ozone level. Would I be that person all the time if I lived there, comfortable in myself, or do I just need someone around me all the time who understands why I would imagine it?

(The orange dot in the photo is The Kismet. Hereford Lighthouse is three blocks up, just to the left. As the tide falls, long sand bars emerge extending into the inlet at top, with a wide, shallow tidal pool near the shore that traps schools of small fish & attracts wading & diving birds. Kayaking is popular. The inlet itself has too many shifting shoals for most power boats. )

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North Wildwood NJ

Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, Anglesea NJ

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Is it possible

in this day & age that a mother of certain conservative religious beliefs, with a certain kind of reputation to protect, would choose a devious course of action over a more open & honest one should something potentially scandalous (in her moral order) occur in her family? Is that unimaginable? Of course not. It happens all the time. Just as powerful men lie about their extramarital affairs all the time. Even if he's running for president. Even if he is president.

We've seen enough tawdry What were they thinking? behavior at the highest levels of government to know that it exists, & that it can be very strange behavior, & to know that persons are sometimes brought quickly & in unforeseen ways into public spotlights they never expected to have illuminating their personal lives.

That's why Gov. Sarah Palin has to be vetted for rumors that are unpleasant to hear, for statements she might have made that, at the time, the Lower 48 had no reason to hear. Alaska is a distant & exotic place to us down here. Alaskans enjoy their political & cultural isolation, from us & from each other; they're proud of it. They like to remind us how different they are up there, independent & self-reliant, even peculiar. So they shouldn't come down here & expect us not to be skeptical when they say; Here's our beauty queen soccer mom governor for ya, folks. She's just like you. Indeed, perhaps she is, in ways she'd rather we didn't learn.

We used to have a governor here in New Jersey, elected with 56% of the vote, whose closest staffers made certain we knew - unofficially of course - about every Guys Night Out he had at the local Badda Bing Club with his pals. He was Catholic. He had the kind of working class background Democrats worship. He could campaign with ease through a lunch crowd at a Jersey diner. He divorced. He remarried. His first wife moved far, far away with their daughter & never commented on their relationship. He entertained ambitions of national office - like Vice President Jim McGreevey. Had he stayed in office without major scandal he would've been on the long list for VP this year, & spoken at the convention, & probably offered a cabinet post in an Obama administration. We're a small state sandwiched between two huge media markets. Yet, this very smart politician's secret didn't come out until he did something inexplicably stupid.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Kismet Motel

On a Friday afternoon in August 1994, as Megan & I started the long trip home from Wildwood. we drove slowly up Surf Ave. looking for possible places to stay the next summer. Then, just a few blocks south of the Inlet, we saw this:
A pink & white cottage with a separate single-story row of rooms behind it. A motor court, really. Outside, a man was on a ladder, painting the porch trim. There was a portable workbench set up in the small parking lot. A woman on the porch was watering flowers in pots. How had I missed this place on previous trips? We pulled over in front of The Kismet, got out & went over to talk to the flower woman. She & her husband had bought The Kismet that year from the old widow of the man who had built it himself in the 50s. They were restoring it to more-or-less its original look. They lived there with their teenaged son who was soon off to college. This was their dream. Their rates were modest. No pool. No gameroom. Open through Oct, maybe a bit longer. It was a quiet place. She looked over my punkish, considerably younger companion with her close-cropped hair & multiple ear-piercings, the short stocky frame of a former All-County field hockey player. Well, yeah, we were a peculiar couple. But Megan also possessed a soft Piscean face that put people at ease, & we had been together for 18 months. The lady gave us a business card. We got back in the car, drove three short blocks; on the left was the lighthouse, turn right for the ocean & beach, the choppy waters of Hereford Inlet straight ahead. The Kismet was it.

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Sarah Palin, Wet Dream for Born Agains

Horny born again teenage guys all over America (& a few wingnut Jersey bloggers) will be playing under the blanket with a flashlight & her photo.

Still warm off the press, but on first reaction she looks like an excellent gamble. Definitely a gamble. McCain recognized that some of the tactics he was using against Barack probably wouldn't fly after the DNC, specifically "inexperience" & "unpresidential." So he's getting rid of them. Palin will play very well in many places. She could make a serious gaff, but McCain's willing to risk that. Palin has to deliver a winner of a convention speech & hold her own in a VP debate, but other than those, she's out on the road working the demographics she's been chosen to work. She did her first job; countering Obama's speech in the Friday news cycle before the weekend hurricane coverage kicks in.

On another site, someone posed the question: "How many experienced Republican women were overlooked to choose her?" If the Dems don't have to pick Hillary, he doesn't have to pick Olympia Snowe (who might've been the VP candidate but for her prochoice views). Sarah Palin is a Christian Right wet dream. They'll gladly trade a few years of McCain for a future President Palin. Unlike George W., who joined them, Palin is from them. "Vote for John McCain because if if is God's will that he is unable to complete his term of office, then it is God's will that Sarah shall command us!"

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Signed, Sealed, and Delivered

Barack Obama convinced me tonight that he's an authentic contender. I think he convinced most of America. & that's what he needed to do - weave the threads of his primary campaign together, the various appeals; populist, inspirational speaker, leader of a youth movement, the "Yes We Can" man, the black hope, the reformer, & stir in some of the partisanship we valued in Hillary, & then transcend the sum of the parts & exit the podium as a candidate who leaves no doubt he could be President of the United States of America & commander-in-chief of our armed forces. When Americans who won't vote for him are assured of his presidential qualities, alleged lack of those qualities ceases to be a major campaign issue. We have other matters to discuss in this country & in this campaign. Barack has now made certain that they will be discussed.

John McCain is the Repug nominee by default. I think he expected to be elected president by default. Next week, McCain has to provide reasons for voting for him other than that he's not Barack Obama. I won't be watching much of that show.

I promise you this: No matter what country music stars the Repugs have lined up for their week, they won't have anything nearly as fabulous as Stevie Wonder performing "Signed, Sealed, & Delivered." & they'll just disappoint millions of men & Mary Cheney if volleyball medalists Misty May & Kerri lead the Pledge of Allegiance & aren't wearing bikinis.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Connecting with the Dream

When Barack Obama delivers his speech tonight, hold in mind that he is connecting with one of the most renowned speeches in American history, given 45 years ago in front of the Lincoln Memorial. It is fitting that he do this. He has the right, an obligation to make this connection. To suggest that he does not is an insult. Barack is required by the moment to act as both a candidate & as a symbol. Few presidential candidates carry this kind of symbolic obligation, although most try very hard, & pay consultants well, to invent some grander purpose for their candidacies. Barack cannot serve himself up to the American people as worthy of one's vote because he's a a regular guy we'd like have a beer with in a local bar, which seems to be our favorite qualification. He is a culmination of hopes that began when the first Africans were brought to America in chains. Many, many thousands have died so that we could witness what occurs tonight. & generations of Americans, black & white, for whom it was inconceivable. I find nothing funny about that, nothing warranting cynicism or sarcasm. Yes, Barack wants to be elected President of the United States. Yes, that is his goal & ambition. But he cannot downplay or minimize the significance of his nomination to placate angry white reactionaries. He won't pretend that this event is no different from any other acceptance speech. Whether or not he wins in November, he has a duty to speak to & for history tonight. He may even be handicapped by that duty in the partisanship he allows himself to express.

The Repugs would do well to give Barack his space & moment & venue, especially if they expect to have the conceit that black Americans should vote against their own interests like bankrupt Kansas farmers. Barack is not standing alone at the podium, & he is standing there for more than himself & the Democratic Party, just as Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice would do if the Repugs had nominated either of them. There are two months to take Barack down on the details.

Shawn Johnson Peace Sign earrings alert: She's leading the Pledge of Allegiance at the stadium.


Jill Biden

I noticed the high regard shown to Jill Biden by the Democratic elite, although we don't know much about her. But she's been married to Joe for 30 years, so everyone in Washington politics knows something of her & no one feels any need to "gild the lily." In politics, women are depicted as too ambitious & educated & therefore insufficiently maternal if they're unable or unwilling to bake cookies, or they're criticised for being too much in the background, too compromised in their marriages to powerful men. Jill Jacobs-Biden was born in Hammonton NJ, raised in Pennsy, had a brief first marriage before Joe; solid rather than prestige education 3 of her 4 degrees are from public schools, finished her doctorate two years ago; taught high school & special ed; spent some years as a homemaker after the birth of her daughter; & for past decade has taught at a community college. As an educator, she's in the trenches not up in an ivory tower. She is an expert on education by training & experience. The Bidens aren't a "power couple" in the sense of the Clintons or Obamas, & she's definitely not a beer heiress bankrolling her husband's lifestyle. But after three decades of marriage, & given what she married into, the politics & the tragedy, the reason the Bidens are one of the "poorest" senate families is because becoming a wealthy family wasn't on their agenda. Jill Biden will be very good for this campaign.

I was unimpressed, though, with Joe's praise of his mom for having ordered him to give a bully a bloody nose. That response is not an all-purpose solution to bullying, it's an act of desperation. It may deflect a bully's attention on to someone even weaker, but it won't change the bully. But as a political lesson, it's probably a good one right now.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Grey Manor

In 1990 I found The Grey Manor Motel listed in the free Wildwood directory I got in the mail. It was a block from the beach at 26th & Surf, just north of where the main section of the Wildwood boardwalk began. I could hear the rides on Mariner's Pier & see the tops of the taller ones. Grey Manor was owned by a nice woman named Fay who lived on the premises & waved whenever she saw guests headed toward the boardwalk. Motels without pools are less expensive. It was a good-looking, clean little motel. So I went there for two nights with a woman I was seeing that summer, but she was so upset about something else going on in her life that we had a terrible time. That was the end of us. She apologized for that weekend when I ran into her a few years later.

I did return to the Gray Manor a couple of years later with a new friend. The trip down the Parkway was so enjoyable that we didn't even mind getting stuck in a massive traffic jam just below Ocean City. It was a warm day & after a few minutes of going nowhere people got out of their cars & began tossing frisbees & beach balls around with strangers. Fay had a couple who wanted to stay extra nights in the stuffy little room we'd reserved, so she installed us in a better one on the top floor with a wide deck in front of our door. One night we sat out there with a pizza & watched fireworks. It was very pleasant. My new companion was a genuine boardwalk girl whose family owned a half-shack in Lavallette near the Seaside Heights border, so she was delighted to be in Wildwood. I hadn't had that kind of girlfriend since I was 18. We wandered around with ease, except when she thought I was looking too intently at a woman getting a real tattoo in a boardwalk parlor. We ate up the three days & went back the following year for the whole midweek special, also great although we were in the little room. We visited the zoo, went on the ferry, poked around trinket shops (I''d had an ear pierced & found a small Horseshoe Crab earring in one of larger shell shops). We took the sort of long evening strolls so appreciated by seasoned boardwalk afficionados, where you look at everything but don't feel compelled to buy anything. You eat supper before you go there, play your favorite games in your favorite arcades, listen to music through open doors of clubs, laugh at silly people, treat yourself to an ice cream cone, & then go look at the ocean before you head back to your digs for the night. A dying hurricane was passing several hundred miles offshore & for two days the entire wide flat beach was covered with a layer of water only inches deep at high tide, with wavelets rippling across that expanse, & the sky over Wildwood was gray much of the time, no swimming. But the sun was shining ten miles west over the mainland. Strange weather.That final stay at the Grey Manor resulted in a major - & for me, shocking - conclusion: That I needed to find a place to stay away from the boardwalk.

I had soaked up enough boardwalk atmosphere & been exactly where I had wanted to be. I'd also had enough of being within earshot of the screaming people riding The Condor. The pier was many blocks away but you could see the ride from the balcony of the motel. Street traffic didn't let up until 3 am & then there were happy drunks singing their way back from the bars. The Grey Manor itself had some noisy clientele. It wasn't all due to my becoming middle-aged. It wasn't like I was trying to get to sleep before midnight. There were, after all, other aspects of the shore I had always loved. Only one mile north of The Grey Manor was a beautiful lighthouse, a much narrower beach you could cross without a camel, seawalls, Hereford Inlet entering the ocean, & wide sandbars at low tide. There was fresh coffee & decent pizza in that direction. The pace up there was considerably more relaxed. Maybe, if I listened closely, I could actually hear the ocean at night.

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Little Anthony & the Imperials

How come Little Anthony & the Imperials aren't in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? "Tears On My Pillow," Two Kinds of People," Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop" from the doo wop era. Then in the Sixties, "I'm On The Outside Looking In," "Goin' Out Of My Head," "Hurt So Bad," "Take Me Back," "Hurt,""Out of Sight, Out Of Mind, "& a personal fav "Better Use Your Head" that got more play on Philly stations than in New York. They charted R&B into the Seventies. Anthony still sings swell (probably gave up the backflips, tho), two of the three Sixties Imperials are in the group, theydo some steps & wear matching stage suits, they've aged better than most of their peers, a working act not out-of-tune geezers one tolerates for sake of oldies reunions or fakes licensing the group name. They were on Letterman tonight, brought along six violins, a cello, three French horns, & tympani drums to do "Hurt So Bad." & Anthony always hurt more than Linda Ronstadt. Vote 'em in.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Believe it or not

NEW YORK — Late summer visitors to Manhattan's Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium be advised: The museum's newest exhibit famously favors those yearning to be creative—procreative, that is.

According to Ripley's, some 2,000 women reported pregnancies after touching its pair of ebony West African fertility figures. Acquired in 1993, the 5-foot totems did three world tours before returning to Ripley's Orlando headquarters in 2001, where they drew pilgrims. The nude king and queen figures, carved by the Baule people of Ivory Coast, kick off a new three-year circuit on Aug. 26 in Times Square.

Apparently hands that long to rock a cradle have so worn down the statues that one of the queen's breasts shows signs of wear and the king's male organ is about "2 inches less in diameter than it used to be when we got it," according to Tim O'Brien, Ripley's vice president of communications.

Visitors can touch the statues, the most popular exhibit in Ripley's history, for free, he said.
I had a small fertility figure from an African woodcarver who used to set up at a local mall. After awhile I decided I didn't like it & gave it to a friend. She had a larger collection of exotic objects & it could gather dust on a shelf in her house. She was nearly 40, recently married, & not trying to become pregnant. Apparently she wasn't not trying enough. A few months after she received the statue, she was with child, like they say.

She's been a great mom. I think she's always considered me & the carving somehow involved. Her husband wouldn't agree.


Entertain me

I don't plan on writing about the party conventions, unless it's to comment on the music. I like silly hats. I have no interest in the partisan either/or, yes/no/maybe so, for/against talking head talking points "analysis" of the cable networks, nothing new to say & they never invite anyone who might have an original thought. I don't know how anyone can stand to listen to Tom Brokaw, whose wrong-headed statements are routinely accepted as "true" because nobody bothers to pick them apart; or any of the other predictable pundits, bland or contentious depending on why they've been hired. How come all the Catholic commentators are sour Jansenists who can't enjoy themselves when they sin? Cripes, they're worst than the protestants who pour milk in root beer because carbonation is too stimulating. I'm only watching the big speeches. I switched over from the Mets game for Uncle Ted's moment & from Weather Channel's tropical storm forecast for Michelle. BBC-America treats the conventions as entertainment spectacle, they have nothing like them in British politics, even the terms "liberal" & "conservative" have different meanings for the Brits. The BBC team is just having a little party in their little broadcast booth, they seem to be enjoying themselves immensely.

Later: Shawn Johnson wore her white peace sign earrings again, this time on Letterman. The girl is definitely making a statement, if only a general sentiment. She chooses to wear them.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Finding Wildwood

The first time I went to Wildwood overnight was in late October in the 80s. We drove down on a Friday evening in a furious rainstorm, trusting the excellent forecast for Saturday & Sunday. The road acroass the marsh into North Wildwood (Anglesea) was unimproved, a two lane road lined with shack cottages on silted canals, an old drawbridge at the island end. We stayed at a bed & breakfast in North Wildwood. The innkeepers weren't there when we arrived - they were at a high school reunion, & a designated neighbor checked us in. Saturday morning was clear blue sky, & cool, & I realized I wasn't a B&B type. I don't want to have to get up at certain time & immediately sit down to breakfast, no matter how tasty, with strangers. I just want a good cup of coffee. & even it's not that good it's still better than nothin'. Anyway, after breakfast we had a look at the boardwalk. This was at the tail end of Wildwood's post-season, & the immensity of the sparsely populated boardwalk stretching out before me was a beautiful thing; I resolved then & there to return the following August. That weekend also included my first stroll around Cape May City & first visit to the classic Cape May lighthouse & the Victorian light in North Wildwood. Following that weekend, I made the final revisions to my long poem "Boardwalk," originally published about five years earlier under a different title. Which was one reason I made an offseason trek to Wildwood. I needed to find out if my poem felt big enough to encompass a place like Wildwood. It did.

The following early Spring we stayed for a night in a standard motel with a cute name. I recall little of that visit, we had gone on a whim. In August we took an inexpensive room for three nights in an older wood frame hotel in the center of Wildwood. It seemed like a good idea at the time, trying an "Old Wildwood" experience, but I wasn't going to do that again either, sharing a bath. Also discovered how wide the beach is when all you want to do is get to the edge of the water & plant a beach chair. But the boardwalk was fabulous. So was a maiden voyage on the ferry across Delaware Bay to Lewes. I brought a small tape recorder along & captured several great barkers & lot of ambient boardwalk sound.

Downtown Wildwood in the late 80s was a failed pedestrian mall; the city had fallen for the Urban Renewal scam, lost the core of its pre World war II history & had nothing else to replace it. Wildwood is still throwing itself away. Not having gone there as a child or adolescent, the town fortunately was incapable of breaking my heart. Visits to Atlantic City & Asbury Park are tough enough. I knew there were plans on the drafting table to widen the two lane causeway into North Wildwood & replace the drawbridge, getting rid of all the shacks. There was creeping condo development at both ends of 7 Mile island. The 50s & 60s motels had been publicized & praised in a study from the Yale Architectural School. But that wouldn't be enough to save them. Most of the smaller motels were family-owned, & those not located on a beach block were obviously struggling. The city's "Doo Wop" promotional campaigns were just that. No serious effort was being made at developing & codifying anything that would constitute a real attempt at preservation of buildings or even style. It was mostly, in a word, jiveass. Wildwood real estate would soon enough be as ripe for the picking as a Matawan cornfield. Unlike Cape May City or Ocean Grove, the buyers don't buy to live there.

These initial Wildwood experiences happened in the declining years of a lengthy relationship . I might have gotten more out of them if I'd been alone. She liked boardwalks but had no childhood memories or family connections to the shore. I appreciate that she had the patience to let me explore mine. Our fathers had died a few years before & she understood this was a large part of how I was coming to terms.


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Busby Berkeley in Hell.

Kept flipping to channel 4 trying to catch Jimmy Page playing at the Olympic closing ceremonies, & each look brought a different nightmarish image, Busby Berkeley staging a totalitarian pageant in Hell. At last, Leona Lewis rose out of something resembling a London bus with spinning umbrellas on the side, & she appeared to have a long metal pipe connected to her vagina. Then Jimmy Page ascended to the roof of the bus & they performed "Whole Lotta Love," an early Led Zeppelin song about having sex during an LSD trip.

This much I'll guess: The Brits won't spend forty billion dollars in 2012, shut down their ports, enlist a million "volunteers," & destroy Tibet.

I watched what interested me & was easy to find, mostly volleyball, some BMX biking, whatever was on late if I turned on the TV late & it was worth seeing. But the Olympics don't interest me as such. They're a frightening glimpse of the "New World Order" in which nationalism & idealized bodies are celebrated with a tribal religiosity not so distant from the Olympia of Leni Riefenstahl even as the event becomes subservient to international corporatism. They call this peace?

Misty May, Kerri, Shawn, & Michael had to compete on behalf of some nation or not compete. But many of the non-American track & field athletes could have waved their American college pennants along with their national flags. The Cuban volleyball teams are authentically nationalist, just as the old Soviet hockey players were technically members of the Soviet Army. The Gold Medal American women's basketball team came together just weeks before the Olympics, some WNBA players went back to their home countries. Michael Phelps' mom & other Olympic parents would have worn corporate logo clothing if not for rules against it. That may yet change until everything & everyone get plastered with ads like at NASCAR. Aiming for the Olympic is lifelong gamble, the odds are hugely against it, & it's expensive in America to reach the level where one's costs are defrayed. But the payoff ... global superstardom.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Kickoff party today

Today, Nesbitt Funeral Home in Elizabeth holds a kickoff party on the eve of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, from 3 to 6 p.m. at 165 Madison Ave.

The Union County rally for the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee for president, Sen. Barack Obama, and his running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden Jr., will include speeches, music and refreshments, along with a voter registration drive.
What are they kicking? Who are they registering?

A midweek special

There may be no such thing as a "simple" vacation, but nothing ought to be simpler than a few days in North Wildwood. Choosing a motel is easy. The Wildwoods are packed with expensive palaces sporting names like Fleur-dy-Lys, Quebec-by-the-sea, Le Voyageur. In addition to the usual amenties, these places will wake you in the morning, feed you, tan you, sauna you, bus you to Atlantic City & hand you an ice pack for your brain when you stagger home at 4 a.m. Competition is fierce. One motel even advertises a "solar heated pool," which could also be said about the Atlantic Ocean. Many of the French-Canadians who flock to these exotic hostelries by the thousands only see the boardwalk & ocean from their neon-lit balconies.

I patronize a small, no-frills, family-owned motor court called The Kismet, a few blocks south of Hereford Inlet & a mile north of the nearest loud boardwalk amusements. It has no swimming pool, game room, or resident psychiatrist. I don't need those frills anymore.

After making reservations in May for a 5 night "midweek special" in August, I start worrying about the weather, intently studying the long range forecasts, hoping for the jet stream to make a certain snakelike loop over the Great Plains. I expect 85 degree days, balmy nights, & a big thunderstorm scheduled to begin promptly at midnight Wednesday & ending 30 minutes later. Since having my flesh slowly incinerated at the beach holds no appeal for me, a cloudy day won't ruin a visit to Cape May Zoo or keep me out of the undertow.

Vacation logistics are about what to bring & in this matter I am a Survivalist, so I must transport my own coffeemaker. Because I want to spend money on good stuff, like crab cakes, pizza, & ice cream, I also pack bowls, utensils, snacks, cereal & anything else that might keep me out of an all-you-can buffet, I stop by the local Pathmark before I check in. Wandering around the shore on an empty stomach is risky; nothing blows a budget faster than boardwalk food. I also pack Alka-Seltzer, boombox, a couple of books, & the strongest sunblock legally available.

Clothes perplex me. Might be hot, cool, rainy, or the first ever August snow. The worse weather pattern has muggy days with a nippy drizzle & a hurricane 200 miles offshore, which happened one year. All possibilities must be anticipated. Fashion counts for little. No one on the beach in late afternoon looks thrice at a skinny middleaged guy wearing flowerprint swim trucks, xtra large Mister Bubbles teeshirt, sea shell necklace, & green Aloha Surf cap. Only a writer would look like that..
For evenings on the boardwalk I bring ten pocket baggy khaki pants. Lots of places to stash coins for pinball. Forget about socks.

Finally, I pack everything in backpacks & plastic supermarket bags, taking care to remember small essentials. While I think nothing of pushing hard cash across a counter for a funnel cake or Ramones shirt, I get really annoyed if I have to purchase toothpaste or shampoo at inflated prices from a store that mainly sells bait & beach balls. Everything goes on to the back seat of the car. I have an irrational fear that the trunk will fly open just past New Gretna & deposit my stuff in the marsh.

Vacation officially begins, rain or shine, over an iced tea at Forked River rest stop. If the car broke down there, I'd have it towed the rest of the way to Wildwood.

Hopefully, I'm on vacation "double occupancy."

(8/05, from an earlier column for Worrall Community Newspapers)

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Wildwood NJ

"Watch the tram car, please."

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Delaware Crab

Sen. Joe Biden is fine with me. He's liberal, experienced. pugnacious, almost a Jerseyan, Roman Catholic, no more given to verbal gaffes than McCain. The only bad choice is when a VP nominee makes you wish he was the presidential candidate; happened when the Democrats paired Dukakis with Bentsen. Repugs know from experience that creepy Repug VPs are electable; Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, so McCain has plenty to choose from.

Joe's gonna need his Rosaries when the reactionary Bishops start flippin' their mitres. Cable TV's lineup of nasty Irish-Americans will be flinging their overcooked cabbage before this day is ended. Biden can handle them. In Jersey, we're puzzled by upbeat politicians with cheerful messages, so we rarely elect any to our major offices. Biden is more our type, Obama not so much. The only reason Obama should have to campaign personally in Jersey is because big party contributors here will get in a snit if he doesn't.

I like Delaware because it's small & flat, & south of Dover one can think of it as just a wide beach.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Motel Blogging

El Morro Motel, North Wildwood NJ
I'd be on the boardwalk right now, but I'd sit & look at the pool when I got back.

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They Liked Ike

A fascinating switch by a person little known to me & the general public:
Reflections on Leaving the Party by Susan Eisenhower

I have decided I can no longer be a registered Republican. For the first time in my life I announced my support for a Democratic candidate for the presidency, in February of this year. This was not an endorsement of the Democratic platform, nor was it a slap in the face to the Republican Party. It was an expression of support specifically for Senator Barack Obama. I had always intended to go back to party ranks after the election and work with my many dedicated friends and colleagues to help reshape the GOP, especially in the foreign-policy arena. But I now know I will be more effective focusing on our national and international problems than I will be in trying to reinvigorate a political organization that has already consumed nearly all of its moderate “seed corn.” And now, as the party threatens to trivialize what promised to be a serious debate on our future direction, it will alienate many young people who might have come into party ranks.

My decision came at the end of last week when it was demonstrated to the nation that McCain and this Bush White House have learned little in the last five years. They mishandled what became a crisis in the Caucusus, and this has undermined U.S. national security. At the same time, the McCain camp appears to be comfortable with running an unworthy Karl Rove–style political campaign. Will the McCain operation, and its sponsors, do anything to win?

This week, I changed my registration from Republican to independent.
& this:
Hijacked by a relatively small few, the GOP of today bears no resemblance to Lincoln, Roosevelt or Eisenhower’s party, or many of the other Republican administrations that came after.
Her change doesn't mean much to anyone younger than the Eisenhower era. In my home, Eisenhower was the face the Repugs. My dad became involved in Repug politcs during the Fifties. I strongly disagree with Ms. Eisenhower that her party has been hijacked by "a relatively small few." If George W. Bush could have run for a third term, his bleak poll ratings wouldn't have prevented his party from crowning him by acclamation, the religious right holy rolling & speaking in ecstatic tongues over the glory of his godly eminence. The Repugs aren't even the party of Goldwater anymore, if they ever were.

You can't find a Repug blog, however humorous (& some are very witty), that doesn't have as an author a person who is basically a heartless bastard & bigot capable of enslaving their next door neighbors tomorrow & hitching them to plows if doing so would guarantee stable property taxes for another year. Among those Repugs claiming no strong belief in young Earth creationism, if a steady supply of cheap oil somehow required the castration of gay men & clitoral circumcision of lesbians, they would approve without a second thought. That's the party today.

So here is this decent, intelligent, rather old-fashioned Repug, who was able go from Eisenhower to Nixon to Ford to Reagan to H.W. to W., who now decides she cannot take another step, even if means voting for a "liberal." It can't be that difficult for Ms. Eisenhower, because this season's particular liberal is hardly more liberal than Nixon & considerably less liberal than Hubert Humphrey on domestic issues. The current Repugs will just say good riddance to a famous old name & probably label her a socialist & closet Unitarian.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

US softball team loses 3-1 to Japan

The United States softball team beat Japan two out of three games in Olympic competition, had a better overall record, & lost the Gold Medal to Japan.

Preliminary & medal round competition baffles at times. For one example, it provides the strange spectacle of sprinters & hurdlers not running full out to the finish line in the short distance prelims, as if those final 10 meters will exhaust them beyond any hope of recovery for the next race 24 hours later. It's understandable in the middle & long distances. Swimmers don't have this luxury since they can't be certain what's happening in the other lanes. Not once did we see Michael Phelps easing up down the stretch lap. Some of the swimmers had 30 minutes or less to prepare for the next race. If Usain Bolt hadn't broken the 100m record in the final, he would've been stuck with the frustration of knowing he might've broken it in the qualifier if he hadn't hot dogged the end. That's his concern. He doesn't deserve a lecture on sportsmanship from the IOC president, who never breaks a sweat as he's wined & dined year round by the world's political & corporate tyrants. We've seee plenty of perfunctory handshakes & hugs over the past two weeks.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Enemies, enemies everywhere!

Zogby likely voter poll now has McCain five points ahead of Obama. There's a few reasons that would happen. The Georgia crisis; the Russkies are back. Falling gas prices. Obama's vacation. The patriotic flavor of the Olympics. McCain's aggressiveness. He's floating Lieberman as a serious VP candidate & gave Giuliani the convention keynote address, which telegraphs that he intends to downplay the religious right moral stuff - he assumes he's got them no matter how suspicious they are of him - & emphasize the Enemies, enemies everywhere! themes. The Repugs will treat the hard religious right the way the Democrats treat African-Americans. As long as the magic formulas are invoked, where else they gonna go? McCain took Obama's measure & correctly concluded he was no Bill Clinton. Or Hillary Clinton.

I've always thought Barack's support was soft. I don't trust the strength of youth crusades, never have, even when I was a youth. In the jargon of the day, you had to fight "The Man," & The Man was where the power was at, & The Man wasn't gonna give it up. So the best you could do, probably, was to take the long view & chip away at the attitudes of the people who supported The Man. To replace The Man, you had to be like The Man. & that involved serious compromises to be sure.

Americans have very short attention spans, no patience for detail, & a general disinterest in facts. & we're bullies, not colonizers. We're waiting for the Iraqis to accept the hard reality that they have to give us their oil. As soon they demonstrate they can be trusted to do it, we'll pull back to our enclaves & let them behead their uppity women, , if that's what they want. Morally, we're very flexible. All we want is affordable gasoline.

John McCain is the candidate for lower gasoline prices. Rising pump prices made Bush policies a failure. Falling gas prices make them a success, or less of a failure. However, if prices stabilize for awhile as neither here nor there, not too painful, Americans will think about the cost of other stuff, & maybe less about the enemies who threaten our gasoline, & that favors Democrats.

I 'd like to believe that Obama's campaign is smart & what they're doing this summer is working the edges. Visit the slightly laid back Republican protestants in Southern California, the ones who eat fresh guacamole after church. Take a working vacation in Hawaii; reminds the press that it ain't Crawford Texas. Pretend they're serious about contesting North Carolina. & now comes the VP pick & the convention & they unveil the full presidential version of Barack Obama. I sure hope so.

Five black boys from Newark

Thirty years ago, five teenage boys vanished after playing basketball in Newark, N.J. They were never heard from again.

Their remains were never found, Social Security numbers never used -- and no arrests have ever been made. But the community has never forgotten its tragic loss.

Melvin Pittman, 17, Randy Johnson, 16, Ernest Taylor, 17, Alvin Turner, 16, and Michael McDowell, 16, who have become known as "The Clinton Avenue Five," vanished Aug. 20, 1978. Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of their disappearance.
This was not then, & would not be now, a Nancy Grace Show type of story. No blonde All-American girl in Aruba mystery. Move along, folks, nothing of interest here.
Police initially believed the boys had run away, but the family said they weren't the type to do that. Just one of the boys, McDowell, of East Orange, got into trouble once for a fistfight, but the others -- sophomores and juniors at Weequahic High School -- never got into trouble at all, according to The New York Times.
Trouble. The boys' movements were traced into the pickup truck of a contractor who had reportedly offered them work. He passed a polygraph test, the trail ended there.
But despite the disturbing, painful facts of their disappearance, there was precious little media coverage at the time. It was 1978 -- a decade after the Newark riots -- and many speculated that the reason local papers -- even The Star-Ledger -- and media outlets failed to cover the story at the time was because it was about five black boys.
The story of five black boys from Newark NJ. The Clinton Avenue Five.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

thunderstorms never materialized

Wish I could track down a video still. Shawn Johnson wore dangling white peace symbol earrings for her studio interview with Bob Costas after winning Gold in balance beam.
Such a pleasant evening, the thunderstorms never materialized, I walked over to CVS to refill a prescription & around the corner from there to the supermarket. Both close at ten, & I cut it close. My route tonight was entirely residential neighborhood, houses, majority of those single family. After dark, I'm not concerned with anyone residing between here & the stores, or hanging out in front of houses. It's the occasional mobile groups of young males, duos & trios or larger I watch for. Of course, 95% of them are harmless. But there is gang graffitti on mailboxes & stop signs. There's nothing over that way to interest punks, no street action, no hangouts, no corners where they can do business undisturbed. & a lot of the Hispanic & black guys who are proud of the nice houses they own around here, green lawns, flower beds, & backyard decks, look plenty tough even when they're out late giving their wives' tiny pedigree dogs a last chance to piss, an additional discouragement. I often get a kind of "humph" & head nod greeting from them as we pass, which I take as a "You're ok to be on my street at night" acknowledgement.

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Two Wildwood NJ Motels

Sunflower Motel

Sonata Motel
Choose a vacation love nest.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

The nation that wins the most gold medals

The nation that wins the most gold medals is the greatest nation in the world.
No, the nation that wins the most overall medals is the greatest nation is the world.

It's like half the world's track & field athletes train at American colleges. Brazil exports excess beach volleyball players. Baseball & softball are being elminated because Americans dominate, but you think our professional men's basketball Dream Teams will ever lose another game now that they have a good attitude? Not while there's always a world superstar like Kobe Bryant selling tickets. If we can field a world class women's soccer team, I think Japan, Cuba, Venezuela, China, & Canada could eventually become competitive in softball. Still, when you outscore opponents 53-1 so far, that is dominant. Like they say, good pitching beats good hitting. Our softball team is a Dream Team. So let them be like the basketball team, like the "amateur Soviet Union hockey team used to be, the world gold standard. Eventually there will be a "Miracle On the Diamond."
I don't trust sports with scoring by committee. Maybe I never got over the egregiously bad judging in some Cold war era Olympic events when I was a kid. Had to wait until 1984 for Mary Lou Retton, & the Commies boycotted that one (except Romania. a depressing place even for athletes who were Heroes of the Revolution), & Mary Lou was a teenage wingnut & not so easy to adore as Nadia. But the tiebreaker in gymnastics is dumb. Perfection is banished, which for some reason insults the poet in me. They can't give out two Gold medals like in other sports, so they whittle down the size of the committee until the tie is broken. Anyway, we all know the Chinese are lying about the ages of their female gymnasts. I've read that some of them are 13. That seems on the high side. They look the third class that comes on stage at Miss Pat's dance recital, which would put them at about 11.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cape May Point NJ

Sunset Beach at the end of Sunset Boulevard. Entertaining tourist trap five minutes from the lighthouse. I always stop by. View of what remains of the concrete ship. See Delaware on a clear day. Tee shirts, snack bar, typical Jersey shore nicknack gift shop crammed with all sorts of peculiar stuff. This place tries to sell you pricey "Cape May Diamonds," polished quartz. People actually comb the beaches for them. But it's pretty good for the same shell jewelry & lighthouse souvenirs that cost more in Cape May City. The sunsets can be spectacular here.

It's a likable roadside attraction. But if the family that owns it ever decides to sell, the state ought to pay whatever it takes to buy it, tear it down, & hand the beach back to the birds & horseshoe crabs. Otherwise, condos would block the sunsets.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Saddleback Church

Rick Warren: What can you say that will make my 20,000 white church members & all the purpose-driven zombies who buy my books want to vote for you?
Barack Obama answer: Well I think & maybe & you know if you look at it this way & when I was teaching at the University & the steel mills closing on the south side & churches doing that faith-based stuff.
Rick's desired answer: More Scalias on the supreme court, constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage, millions of federal dollars to give your books to drug addicts, no tax increases for fabulously wealthy mega-church preachers.
Correct answer: Kiss my ass, Rick.

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The ancient mariner

41 year old Olympic swimmer Dana Torres had me thinking what I was doing at that age. She's a consummate competitor in a sport with a strong culture of older swimmers & plenty of opportunities to compete even if for gray-haited geezers - an honored group in competitive swimming, but those ain't the Olympics. Dana's competitive drive is tempered with older athlete's Just happy to be here attitude & a generous sportsmanship. She's narrowed her goals. She's so experienced that she snaps into her racing mentality in a matter of seconds, maybe I admire that most of all. Many younger athletes have all sorts of intense rituals & tics they have to go through beginning hours before a competition. For Dana it's Let's go, it's race time.

For men, 40 is when we're absolutely forced to readjust our relationship with baseball. Only a handful of ironman pitchers & designated hitters are active at that age. There's a few managers in the major league dugouts younger than that. The fantasy is over. I identified with short guy infielders who could bunt & steal, most of whom probably became beer distributors in the midwest, joined Rotary, & are very soft around the middle.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Hoyt's War

James Hoyt had nightmares.
DES MOINES, Iowa - James Hoyt, one of four U.S. soldiers who discovered the Buchenwald concentration camp as World War II neared its end, has died.

Hoyt's wife, Doris, said he died Monday in his sleep at home in rural Oxford. He was 83. The cause of death was not immediately determined.

Hoyt served in the Army's 6th Armored Division during World War II, earning a Bronze Star. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the bloodiest battle fought by American troops in World War II.

Buchenwald, one of the largest concentration camps established by Nazi Germany, was liberated in April 1945. It is estimated that 56,000 prisoners lost their lives at Buchenwald between 1937 and 1945.
Private First Class Hoyt had fought in the terrible Battle of the Bulge. By April, as a seasoned soldier, he was chasing disintegrating German resistance with Patton's Third Army & probably thinking he'd been through the worst of it. Then he arrived at Buchenwald on April 11, 1945.

Buchenwald wasn't a mass extermination camp with gas chambers. It was a high-security SS prison. Horrific medical experiments were conducted there. Inmates were starved & worked to death, shot, hung, tortured. Women were brought to Buchenwald to serve as SS prostitutes. The brutal original camp commandant was so corrupt that he was later arrested by the Nazis, tried, & executed at Buchenwald days before the camp was liberated. His wife is known as "The Witch of Buchenwald."

Elie Wiesel, then a teenager, was at Buchenwald when the war ended. His father had died there a few months earlier. German theologian & anti-Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer passed through Buchenwald on his way to another camp, where he was executed on April 9, hung with piano wire from a meathook.


Nastia, Shawn, and Yang

Last night I watched an actual woman, lithe & graceful Nastia Liukin, win the gold in all-around women's gymnastics, beatiing the prepubescent Chinese. But it was Shawn Johnson who astonished. She was a small cat leaping to the top of a refrigerator. For all their skill, discipline, & power, the gymnasts still remind me of circus acts. I half expect they'll be followed by poodles riding ponies.
Nastia Liukin's father and coach, Valeri Liukin, said the international gymnastics federation would be wise to eliminate the age rule that requires gymnastics athletes to be at least 16 or turn 16 during the year they compete in the Olympics and world championships.
That would be a coach's view. The Chinese cull their gymnasts from the general populace around the age of 3 & send them on a special track. But as long as the gymnastic world insists that artistic as well as athletic qualities count, it ought to acknowledge that the older & taller female gymnasts (over 5') are generally more "artistic" than the rubber tumblers the size of a fire hydrant. Nastia is a dancer. Shawn & Yang are not. But while Shawn understands it's about weight distribution & center of gravity, concedes that to Nastia in the floor event & works around it in her routine, Yang's "dancing" was a means to end in the doll-like poses one sees at any local dance school recital. Which may be how she blew the simple move that cost her the silver medal. Shawn is such a superb athlete that even at a diminutive 4'9" one easily imagines her excelling at nearly any sport, including basketball. & absolutely, I see her playing second base & batting .400.
I was watching the Olympic repeats late because I had an achy joint in my leg, probably a touch of the bursitis that used to almost cripple me in hips & shoulders when I was in my 20's & mysteriously eased thereafter but for occasional unpredictable confluences of stress & humidity & for all I know barometric pressure & moon phase. A couple of aspirin usually takes care of it but in the meantime I have to find a nonpainful position & stay in it for awhile, & sleep is out of the question. That & seeing the world's greatest athletes reminded me that I need to get my little bike back on the road because just toodlin' to the library or supermarket on it a few times each week strengthens exactly the muscles that take the pressure off the joints.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Almost Catholic

Another religion-themed post.

Rarely will I abandon a book halfway through. Twenty or thirty pages might send it back to the library, & that doesn't happen often. I read decent private eye novels, most by established authors, & choose nonfiction with some care. I impulsively grabbed Almost Catholic: An Appreciation of the History, Practice, and Mystery of Ancient Faith by Jon M. Sweeney off the library's 14 day shelves.
Rosaries, rituals, crucifixes and canonized saints: Sweeney, an Episcopalian, enthusiastically embraces these trappings of the Catholic faith, even as many Protestants find them unbiblical and some Catholics have abandoned them. In his latest book, Sweeney talks about his chosen state of being almost Catholic, explaining how Catholicism's practices and outlook help connect him to the divine and expand his worldview. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, Sweeney tells how he grew up believing Catholics were going to hell unless they found our brand of true salvation. Later, as a church planter in the Philippines, his thinking started to shift when he stepped inside a Catholic church for the first time. Overwhelmed by the sensory experience, he came to love Catholicism as an approach to faith that lands in the heart and the body as well as in the head. He has stopped short of converting, however, saying that those who remain outside the institution can still access Catholic life.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
A "church planter" is an evangelical term for missionary.

Had a bad reaction at the start. Sweeney was raised fundamentalist (with an Irish name), didn't have the sense to ask the Catholic kids he knew about their church. Of course, he was overwhelmed by rural Filipino Catholicism. That's exotic stuff even for American Catholics. The Phillipines were colonized & converted by the Spanish Empire, with Spanish Empire methods. He was mesmerized. Nothing about it resembled bare wall American Calvinism. It must have been hallucinatory to the impressionable young man.

Sweeney is now a communicant at Episcopalian church. Hasn't even converted to that denomination.

With the possible exception of High Church Anglicans with Papal envy, there's no such creature as an Almost Catholic. The best way for non-Catholics to learn about Roman Catholicism is to ask Catholics why they're Catholics. You'll get a lot of different answers. Ask strict Catholics. Ask "cafeteria" Catholics." Most interestingly, ask "lapsed" Catholics why they persist in identifying themselves as Catholics. You get a sense of some deeper connection. Two of my four Catholic-raised girlfriends were in the latter category. Less common is the vocal ex-Catholic like my dad, who renounced & denounced the Church. Yet, I discerned an amusingly Catholic tone in his occasional rants, some string his Jesuit high school teachers plucked & set forever vibrating.

If you want to read about Roman Catholicism, start with the Wikipedia entries & other abundant online resources. Read Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton & The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day. Right wing protestants who love to quote G.K. Chesterton & hear former Lutheran pastor - now insufferable neocon priest Richard John Neuhaus explain what the Pope is really saying can't deal with how the Church transformed the lives of sophisticated converts Merton & Day. Read Garry Wills' Why I Am A Catholic, by a man who seems to reject about 80% of the Church's beliefs & practices & yet remains Catholic, whether "in good standing" or not I don't know.

The idea of being almost Catholic was a matter of curiosity for me. My parents had all their babies baptised Catholic with no intention of raising us in the Church. The best I'm able to figure out, I was Catholic, given a "bye," until I reached the confirmation age of voluntary consent. Which explains why around that time a great-aunt, a nun, sent me a book titled Why Become a Catholic? I had never heard of her, but she had heard of me through the family Catholic grapevine. I still have it. It's an old Baltimore Catechism book with a special introduction. I didn't want to become a Catholic or a Methodist. I can be almost Methodist. There's no almost with Catholicism. They have a sacramental process as certain as protestant Evangelicals insistiing one be "born again."

Roman Catholicism is part of my family & cultural heritage. If I had the cheek to write a book called Almost Catholic, it would be very different from Sweeney's. It wouldn't begin with not listening to Catholic kids but rather with listening to their confused explanations of Catholic doctrines, my reaction of, "That's ridiculous, " & later discovering they weren't doctrinal & were ridiculous. Many Catholic doctrines are unbelievable or unconvincing to me, but they aren't absurd. The world is absurd. A recognition of that absurdity is in part why there's such a rich history of Catholic reasoning, Catholic art, Catholic literature, & Catholic mysticism continuing to this day.

About 100 pages into Sweeney's book I became completely frustrated with what he was taking from Catholicism & presenting to the reader. Who was he writing for? What he was doing felt more like plundering than appreciation; he wasn't connecting with the mother church that Catholicism is for protestants who feel the connection. Almost a virgin. Almost pregnant. Almost poetry. There's no almost about it. If Sweeney keeps on this spiritual path he'll become an almost protestant, but he still won't be almost Catholic.

BTW, Jon didn't have to travel all the way to the Philippines for strange rituals & Catholic folk superstitions. He could have gone to a Notre Dame football game.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

An Obscure Pastor

My friend Pastor Dan got attacked by name at megachurch media wingnut preacher Rod Parsley's Center for Moral Clarity website. For PD, this is almost as good as making Nixon's enemies list
On this side of the Atlantic, Rev. Schultz would be an obscure United Church of Christ pastor of a tiny congregation in rural Wisconsin if it were not for the power of the Internet and his own passion for new-media publicity. Under his pen name, pastordan, he has become perhaps one of the premier liberal Christian voices in the public arena (how liberal? Consider that he is just as likely to verbally trash Sojourners president Jim Wallis as he is more doctrinally correct Christian leaders like former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and American Values president Gary Bauer). That's just to start.
That's just the first paragraph. What I love about Pastor Dan is that his physical reality is an obscure pastor of a tiny rural church in Wisconsin. He grew up in Wisconsin. His dad is a retired pastor. Dan lives with his wife & two kids in a parsonage next to the church. He posts his sermons every week, they often take up matters of social justice in rather nonspecific ways, but never deviating from what's considered Christian orthodoxy. A Catholic priest could deliver most of Dan's sermons as homilies. In fact, every so often Dan receives an invite to speak at a nearby convent home for retired nuns.

Mostly via the internet, Dan is becoming a more prominent voice on the Christian political left. How many prominent voices are there on the "religious" left compared to the religious right? Dan has no organization, no books to sell; he hasn't used a 501(c)(3) tax exemption to build himself a little ol' parsonage to go with Parsley's church in the valley by the wildwood.

Pastor Dan mostly doesn't give a crap about Rod Parsley. He's better educated than Parsley & could handle him in a debate, tossing around Bible passages. But if the furnace in his church breaks, he calls the repairman. He performs the weddings, baptisms, & funerals for his congregation, welcoming them individually when they arrive & praying over them individually when they go. He empties the garbage cans at the chicken barbecue & works the kitchen at the pancake breakfast. Because he does much of his pastoral duties at home or across the parking lot at the church office, that makes him enough of stay-at-home dad to get the kids a lot. His lovely wife married him knowing this was a life he was being called to; she has her professions, social services & teaching. Having a lifestyle like Parsley's, insulated from common lives & community, & ambitious for grand political influence, would be a sin for them. They're spending the next two weeks with friends at a beach town in Delaware. Must be a bargain if they're driving all the way there with two kids.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

You can't go wrong with Elvis

Blender! polled the two candidates on their favorite songs:

1. Ready or Not Fugees
2. What's Going On Marvin Gaye
3. I'm On Fire Bruce Springsteen
4. Gimme Shelter Rolling Stones
5. Sinnerman Nina Simone
6. Touch the Sky Kanye West
7. You'd Be So Easy to Love Frank Sinatra
8. Think Aretha Franklin
9. City of Blinding Lights U2
10. Yes We Can

1. Dancing Queen ABBA
2. Blue Bayou Roy Orbison
3. Take a Chance On Me ABBA
4. If We Make It Through December Merle Haggard
5. As Time Goes By Dooley Wilson
6. Good Vibrations The Beach Boys
7. What A Wonderful World Louis Armstrong
8. I've Got You Under My Skin Frank Sinatra
9. Sweet Caroline Neil Diamond
10. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes The Platters
Barack would seem to have the cooler list. But there's calculation in it. "Sinnerman" by Nina Simone leaps out as the hippest pick on both lists, with the smallest demographic reach. The average American has never heard Nina Simone. It's easy to like McCain's choices. His taste is guileless. But there's no excuse for two ABBA songs. If you have two ABBA songs rather than two Merle songs or two Roy songs, you just don't listen to enough Merle or Roy. & do you think McCain knew the name of the "Play it again, Sam" guy? "Good Vibrations" may be something he remembered that "the kids" dig. Oddly, that along with the Satchmo number gives McCain two of the biggest marijuana AM radio hits of all time, one made for teenage potheads, the other sung by a man who smoked doob every single day including the day he recorded "What A Wonderful World." Neither of these guys making a pitch for the Spanish language vote. & where's Elvis? You still can't go wrong with Elvis.

As a long time DJ & before that a musician, I' ve been asked often enough to choose favorite songs or a favorite song. Usually, I felt I was being tested in some way by the questioner. I wouldn't do a top ten list. But I favored a number of doo wop songs as well made, poetic, pleasurable, & uncontroversial. Finally, I decided I ought to settle on a #1 so I would never have to think about it again, & chose "Little Darlin' " by the Gladiolas.

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Wiki Man

So now we know someone on John McCain's staff reads Wikipedia; it's highly unlikely the candidate himself could locate it. But what the heck is this piece of history doing in his statement about Georgia:
"Georgia is an ancient country, at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and one of the world’s first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion."
Is this some freakin' criteria for McCain's foreign policy decisions?

I haven't found anything saying Christianity is the official state religion of Georgia now, but if it is, that religion would specifically be the nationalist Georgian Orthodox Church, an institution that could care less what American Evangelical protestants believe unless Southern Baptist missionaries began over-running their country to keep the pagans Papists Ottomans tsarists commies Ruskies at bay.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

So what

Linden Mayor Richard Gerbounka, an ex-Democrat who turned independent and won control of the city two years ago, called upon residents today to support GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain.

Standing in front of City Hall, Gerbounka and four members of the City Council urged residents in this Democratic stronghold to cross party lines and support McCain, who will be visiting New Jersey tomorrow.

Gerbounka's move marked the first time since former Elizabeth Mayor Tom Dunn went for Ronald Reagan that a mayor of a major Union County city turned on his party.

There's only one "major city" in Union County & isn't Linden. Not likely McCain will carry Linden. Although who knows what many old white Democrats will do this year? . Gerbounka wouldn't be Linden mayor if his aging Democratic predecessor had stepped aside when the party clearly wished he would do so.

Tom Dunn, on the other hand, called himself a Democrat & was mayor of a major city. In 1984, a friend asked if I wanted to drive over to Elizabeth City Hall to hear Dunn endorse Ronald Reagan, with Reagan present. I said sure, let's go.

We got through the security perimeter & metal detectors.. The crowd was mostly retired folks bused in from city senior housing. Reagan was late. If nasty, reactionary Irishman brings an image to mind, it's of someone like Tom Dunn in 1984. He was no asset to Reagan beyond a handful of votes in a state Mondale would carry only if every dead Democrat in every Jersey City cemetary voted twice. Dunn made the Union County Democratic machine look like high-minded, progressive reformers.

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Most Important News

Occasionally I have testy little disagreements with posters on other websites over what constitutes the "important" news of the day. Not what ought to be important - that's a province of bloggers, political commentators, & writers pushing their special interests - but over what actually receives the most attention on a given day. Some liberals are so focused on political news to the exclusion of general news that they can't see when a news story negative to our liberal cause is falling off the cycle. Let it go.

There are six headline feeds on my My Yahoo aggregator page: New York Times, BBC, Reuters, Associated Press, Fox, & the local Star-Ledger, plus AP's current photo. I have New Jersey National Weather Service alerts; about 15 weather locations around the state & world;, sports scores for a number of pro & college teams (it gets crowded only during college basketball season); daily horoscope for Scorpio; three comics (2 more via daily e mail). Down toward the bottom of the page are feeds from several large political & music-oriented community blogs; WFMU recent playlists; a friend's Flickr photo account. I think this is more than sufficient, My clock radio radio is tuned to local CBS news. Of the news feeds, Fox is always a bit out-of-step with a couple of strange or lurid headlines, like a national version of the New York Post. I enjoy The Post, easy to browse through at 7-11 without buying it.

I think AP gives the most accurate snapshot of American news culture. Every AP Yahoo news page has a bunch of convenient tabs at the top. "Most Popular" is informative. There I get "Most Popular" & "Most Recommended" stories, & my favs, "Most Viewed" & "Most E Mailed" photos. Currently, the most e-mailed photo is of George Bush visiting the American female beach volleyball team on Saturday, with views of Misty May Treanor's & Kerri Walsh's cute asses (By my standards, Misty doesn't even have an ass). I looked in vain for beach volleyball on TV yesterday. You can have the gymnastics & diving; scoring-by-committee sports are fixed. Most viewed is of a collapsed arch in Arches National Park. AP is where I find news like "Battle of Gettysburg 'witness tree' falls in storm."

Yahoo forced a redesigned page on me a few weeks ago, deciding everyone must upgrade to their helpful doo dads & color icons. The lean page I had for years & could take in at a glance now looks cluttered.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Isaac Hayes

My two favorite Isaac Hayes albums.
Sam & Dave: Double Dynamite. Loaded with snappy Isaac Hayes/David Porter songs. Hits "You've Got Me Hummin' " & "When Something Is Wrong with My Baby."
Isaac Hayes: Truck Turner. Movie is a1970's hoot. Because Isaac starred in his "Black Moses" phase, he put a lot of effort into the soundtrack music. Better cut for cut than Shaft. But no hit theme song.
For Isaac at his shaven, waxed, chain mail vest best, it's Isaac Hayes Live at the Sahara Tahoe.

I've always believed that Isaac's lugubrious, extended versions of pop songs were directly inspired by the late Sixties band Vanilla Fudge, which was quite famous for just that thing. His 1969 Hot Buttered Soul LP, with the 12 minute "Walk On By" & 19 minute "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," almost certainly sold stronger among white pothead college students than it did with singles-oriented black listeners. In any case, Hayes improved on Vanilla Fudge.

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Atlantic City NJ

Hotel Stanley

Atlantic City is so old, so large, had so many hotels, & generated so many postcards that I could post a different one every day. I know Hotel Stanley survived into my era because it had a nine digit phone number with no letters. It was probably quite shabby by then. In the two decades before casinos, even the newer hotels & motels had the appearances of bad investments from the moment they opened.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

This is sad for number of reasons:
WASHINGTON - Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Friday admitted to an extramarital affair while his wife was battling cancer. He denied fathering the woman's daughter. Edwards told ABC News that he lied repeatedly about the affair with 42-year-old Rielle Hunter but said that he didn't love her.

He said he has not taken a paternity test but knows he isn't the father because of the timing of the affair and the birth.
& we have to credit the National Inquirer with staying on the story.

So, John Edwards went ahead with a serious campaign knowing he had a time bomb scandal. We're lucky not only that he wasn't nominated, but that he quit early. (Write it. Leno's gonna say it anyway : "Withdrew early.") His "What were you thinking?" moment. Thinking of sex. It doesn't matter politically now except he won't get his poverty speech at the Convention. His supporters, like myself, viewed John & Elizabeth Edwards as a team candidacy. Sad. But since he's not in office or running for office, it's mainly a family matter. According to Elizabeth, it's already been dealt with in the family.

Take the paternity test, John. Inquiring minds want to know.

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Sorority Fatwah

AP— Bruce Ivins was so obsessed with the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority that he believed it had a "fatwah" against him, once claimed to have broken into a sorority house to steal a secret handbook and claimed to know more about the organization than any other nonmember, according to government documents made public Wednesday.
The anthrax letters all were sent from a mailbox in front of 10 Nassau St., right across from Princeton University's campus and near the building at 20 Nassau St. where Kappa Kappa Gamma, which has no official affiliation with the university, had offices.
Wrong sorority? Ivins' alleged obsession might be more understandable if he had obsessed over Kappa Alpha Theta, a national sorority that counts Laura Bush, both Bush daughters, Lynn Cheney, Cindy Helmsley McCain, & "Plame Affair" journalist Judith Miller - who received an anthrax hoax letter, among its alumnae.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Aunt Jean

Unstable air tonight. On radar, a little storm cell popped out of nowhere about ten miles west, grew larger halfway across the county, crackling over the radio ballgame, but was already shrinking away by the time it dropped a small amount of rain here.

Learned that my Aunt Jean died last night at age 92, in North Carolina, quietly in her sleep. Which leaves Uncle Jack, 99. What an emptiness he must feel. Married her early in the 1940's. Aunt Jean was my mom's older sister. My sister was down there three weeks ago sorting out a deteriorating situation of two old folks who could hardly take care of themselves anymore, talked Aunt Jean into a hospital, & had intended to return there soon anyway. Hopefully, she, & Aunt Jean's grandson, made our Aunt's final weeks a little more comfortable.

Sister's matter at hand now becomes helping Uncle Jack through it so he wants to see his 100th birthday next May. Although I know few details about my Uncle, he has a will-to-live at his core that he can draw upon if he keeps hold of it. After his wife, my sister's always been his apple, since he has no daughter or granddaughter of his own. She could be decisive. Uncle Jack might not want to disappoint the plans I'm sure she has for his birthday cake.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Boardwalk Cams

Ocean City Maryland boardwalk cams

A variety of boardwalk & beach views, some better in daylight.


Like a true nature's child

we were born, born to be wild:
Sturgis SD. “It will be a good day on election day if there are a lot of bikes parked outside polling places,” Mr. McCain said, at a tribute to veterans and those who serve in the military held in the midst of the ongoing party that locals says consumes this part of the country for several weeks.
Especially parked outside the polls in minority neighborhoods.

The story of McCain's campaign visit with his wife & daughter to the Sturgis rally winds around the world. Old style Harley bikers are an aging demographic, & one wonders what small percentage of them give a crap about politics or are registered to vote. John got a weak reception of bike engine reving, so he offered up his wife Cindy to the Buffalo Chip Campground beauty contest, which by various accounts is topless, bottomless, & features pickle-licking demonstrations. There's probably a good deal of pickle-licking at Sturgis, not all of it by women.

When Obama spoke to 75,000 in Oregon in May, I must have read 10 news reports before one mentioned that The Decemberists, a popular Portland band, had opened for him, nobody venturing a guess as to how much of the crowd they drew. In Sturgis, McCain was the warmup for Kid Rock & the lickable Kellie Pickler from American Idol.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Much of my blog traffic arrives via postcards. The photosite where I stored postcards dropped my account for nonusage. I'd filled it to capacity, opened a postcard site elsewhere & had no more need to sign into the old account. But when the account was closed, postcards disappeared from all the blog posts with linked images to the site, although they still show up on google. So I have many old posts with no images & have to find & upload those cards again. That leads to adding labels & titles to posts that don't have them. While doing that I'm distracted by other posts - I enjoy reading myself. In some of those posts, which no one will ever read again unless I repost oldies but goodies like Suzette does, I tinker with grammar. & I am reposting some oldies soon.


man with a tote bag

I had two files open, writing notes on two books I'm reading, one brand new about Catholicism from the 14 day loan shelves at the public library, the other older & on Evangelicals. I squeeze this serious stuff in around the private eye novels. Takes a long time to get through the semi-intellectual reading, but if I take notes it gives me months of material to spice up my comments at the Street Prophets website & sound like a smarty. My brain got tired, so I took a break & walked up to the 7-11. A man with a tote bag outside my building asked if I wanted some information about the Bible. I politely said no thanks. He said have a nice day. After filling my much used refillable 7-11 Mets logo plastic cup with hot chocolate & paying for it, I browsed through newspaper headlines, even sneaking a peek inside The Post to learn more about what Mary Kate Olson didn't know about Heath Ledger's drug use. I then left the 7-11 & immediately encountered the man with the tote bag who again asked me if I wanted some information about the Bible, & I politely said no thanks, & he said have a nice day.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

An ice cream truck, a nasty dog

The County contracts vendors to run refreshment stands in the larger county parks. No food trucks are allowed to operate inside any county park. Hot dog trucks occupy coveted spaces just outside the entrances of some of the parks. The unwritten code of Jersey Hot Dog Truck Territory applies to them, & competitors test the code at their own risk. Sometimes a hot dog truck will let an Italian Ice truck park nearby. Probably cousins.

The small county park up the street is mostly playground, very popular, & has no refreshment stand, & there's a one hour parking limit on the street. One enterprising ice cream truck operator slowly drives into the parking lot with "Popeye the Sailor" playing loudly. He parks the truck, turns off the music, locks up , & uses the park men's room. He stays in there for about ten minutes. By the time he gets back to his ice cream truck he's collected a large crowd of kids. He announces that he's going to the street where he'll open for business. He then drives slowly a few yards out of the park to the street like a Pied Piper playing "Popeye," sugar-fixated children (& some adults) walking behind the truck.
I like dogs. I'm wary of them when not properly introduced. I might stop & try to befriend any loose cat; if it comes over to say hello it won't bite me. I do not pet strange dogs even if they appear friendly, at least not until I've chatted with its owner & the dog has had time to sniff me. Most dogs exhibit no more than brief curiosity. Their top two interests are: 1. The odor of dead things; when a dog finds a dead thing it either eats it or rolls around in it. This is natural. 2. The odor of other dogs' pee. At night, with their poor vision, some dogs tend to get excited at shadowy humans, if not hostile. I expect people walking their dogs to restrain them when I pass by on the sidewalk. Tonight, a lady failed to do so & I could feel the yappy little thing snapping at the legs of my baggy jeans before she pulled it away, muttering in Spanish. At that moment I was reminded that I was capable of kicking her dog clear over the telephone wires if the leash extended that far. To be sure, I'd feel sorry afterward. For not kicking the woman instead. The dog was straining & barking yards before it got to me, & my vibe doesn't do that to dogs,* which means it's an ill-tempered little beast that goes nuts around every stranger. Odds are that it wasn't born to be nasty. A few weeks ago I got past a large, loose dog with a big red nose at 1 am without incident, although it approached me quickly out of darkness, I could hear the clicking of its toenails before I saw it, & I was plenty freaked by the encounter.

*There are humans with zilch empathy toward animals. Some of then even have pets, although it oughta be again the law, because they are deliberately cruel or, without realizing it, cruelly indifferent. I knew a guy capable of making a cat's hair stand on end just by looking at it. In the Middle Ages he would have been burned at the stake or lauded as a great witch hunter.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

May nothing evil cross this door

"May nothing evil cross this door, and may ill-fortune never pry about these windows; may the roar and rains go by. Strengthened by faith, the rafters will withstand the battering of the storm. This hearth, though all the world grow chill will keep you warm. Peace shall walk softly through these rooms, touching your lips with holy wine, till every casual corner blooms into a shrine. Laughter shall drown the raucous shout and, though the sheltering walls are thin, may they be strong to keep hate out and hold love in.

Louis Untermeyer
Text to hymn sung this morning at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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