Sunday, November 27, 2005

Dogs in the News

Ever since Diane Whipple was mauled by her neighbor's dogs in San Francisco, I have had a morbid fascination with these incidents. The most recent one, Lillian Stiles in Texas, has me truly amazed: "The dogs were found at the home of Stiles' neighbor, Jose Hernandez.
The sheriff's department will send the findings of its investigation to the Milam County District Attorney's Office, which will decide if any criminal charges will be filed against Hernandez."

Now, it really does say, "IF", doesn't it. I have a very hard time understanding exactly how the owner of the dogs would not, in some way, be responsible. If they are dangerous, then shouldn't the owner be liable if they get out. I would expect that he must be required to keep them on his property or under his control at all times. Or he should only be allowed to own pugs and chihuahuas that would not be able or inclined to take down a person.

Just a thought.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Upside to Los Angeles

Yesterday Michael wasn't feeling up to much. He's got that flu that is going around, keeping him up at night coughing and feeling generally ill. As a result, we didn't go out to the Mojave to find a desert hot spring. Instead, I got to take some time to cook.

When I was off in Italy, I told my Italian host mother that I didn't want to learn how to cook because I didn't want my future husband to expect me to. But then, two weeks before I was scheduled to return to California, I realized I should have learned how to cook those amazing meals while I had the chance. As a result, I have about 4 dishes from La Mamma - not nearly enough. Somewhere along the line I got hooked.

For a while, in my mid-twenties, I was close with a woman named Lauren. She would come over and the two of us would talk and cook up a fine meal. We did a few dinner parties together, which were often an excuse for trying out a new recipe. Poor Mike and Ken, guests at several of my first hostessing attempts. The first dinner I servered, pork in foil with veggies, just would not cook! At 9:30 I finally got it on the table - they were nearly passing out with hunger. Another time, I forgot to ask if they had any allergies. I made a curry from scratch, using 8 bell peppers. Once served, Mike then informed me that he was allergic to peppers... he kindly munched only on rice and salad. Opps.

But yesterday, I got to make up a sausage ragout from the Silver Palate which required me to first make up a spicy tomato sauce that needed to cook down for 3 hours. It was divine, but the sauce and the ragout (served over cous cous, but I think soft polenta would have been better).

Since Michael was stuck on the couch, I was cooking with time to think of all that is good in this world. Los Angeles does have a good side: I was out in a short sleeved top and flip-flops yesterday. No one stopped to gawk at the over-red color to my hair as they do in Washington DC. I have the resources to shop at Whole Foods. I have been very lucky this week. I had three days to myself with few appointments and unscheduled time to myself. That could be habit forming.

Most of all, the pollution here gave me the most beautiful sunset - with pinks found only in pre-teen wall posters of puppies and hearts. Living on the 6th floor also gives me views and the ability to put life in prospective, to see above and beyond the immediate.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Allocation of Resources

Watching the previews before Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (very funny - go see it), there was one for Syriana. In it, Matt Damon says to some robed men, "100 years ago you people were living in tents and you'll be back in tents 100 years from now."

And it reignited a thought I had once about Saudi Arabia. According to the CIO's website, they have 25% unemployment rates with a literate population. We've got a thinking population, with no political influence and little future ahead of them, sitting idle with religous zealots lurking in the shadows. As we saw in 2003, that resulted in terrorism. With all the money coming in from the oil sales, the government has shot themselves in the foot by not investing in infrastructure, education and industry.

Instead of palaces, they could have had world class educational institutions. Instead the young are either learning to read from the Koran or going abroad for education. I can just picture the research centers - they could lead the world in stem-cell research. So many options, so many ways to get their economy based on something other than oil. To build a sustainable industry that would take advantage of the human capital - look at China. It is more economical for them, due to their massive population, to build computer components by hand than for the same products to be built in America by machines.

Here are home, we are not immune either. Currently our leading edge consists of innovation and brain-power, but we're losing that as China is out stripping our production of engineers. More and more we are based on service industries - but how is that sustainable? India is now doing our phone tech support. Just like with Saudi Arabia, we need to invest in our country. Education is the best way for us to keep our position as world leaders - but the current administration is pulling the funding for that - trying to get a voucher system. Policies of that nature are sure to cloud America's future.

Seems I'm ending on a happy note today.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Tucson, for me was a wash - however, I did acquire my first pair of cowboy boots in Tombstone. Did I mention in the last post that our air conditioner was broken while we were strolling through the desert? Make it a bit warmer than average and I think my skin was extra soft from the exfoliation it got while going 70 with the windows open. Civilization is good thing. Our modern form of dress, while often taken to extremes and sloppy, is a blessing in the heat.

But I get ahead of myself. We roll into Tombstone and stop for a drink at the Wagon Wheel or something like that. I'm a bit green under the gills still, so I have a soda while Mike gets a drink. We chat up the bartender and learn that she is married to "Doc Holiday" - now I would guess that his mother didn't name him that, however, we are in Tombstone and just go with it. Doc runs the farro game over at the Crystal Palace- yes, this sounds like the movie, but stay with me - and was cleaned out the day before by some bikers and so didn't have the game running on Sunday when we arrived. Michael asked the bartender what her name is and she said, "Kate" - "Big Nose Kate!?!" gasps my husband. "Just Kate, thanks" comes the retort. "Is your name really Kate?" "No. Just everyone calls me that."

The nice lady then gives us suggestions for decent motels in the 'stone and we go off and get a room at The Larian motel. Which I would highly recommend - clean, economical and we, as fate would have it, got the "Big Nose Kate" room. I settle in for a nap, as I'm still a bit weak and Michael is off and running about town... kid in a candy store. Not long after, he comes back with books and work pants and suspenders.

Our next day I am able to shower with out using the walls to hold me up - good sign and we look around for a place for breakfast. Nothing like seeing the main street of Tombstone with garbage cans to kill the Old West atmosphere. The stores were closed, as it was 9 AM and the tourists weren't going to arrive for another hour. We decide to check out and make a quick trip to Kartchner Caverns.

Now I don't find inherent humor in those with lower IQ's than average, however they do make for good stories. One of my favorite comes from a ranch my husband's friends have up in Winters. They are down 1/2 a mile on a dirt road that has a 90 degree turn before heading up a small hill and reaching the property. The wife orders a semi-truck load of shavings for the horse's stalls and is careful to have it delivered by a company that can send a 2-part trailer so that it can get around that turn. Now, this being winter, the depressed area next to the turn is filled with a seasonal pond. They see the truck coming own the road and it approaches the turn. The drive is a novice and doesn't quite do it right and the 2nd trailer starts to slip into the ditch.

Now about this time those with a brain on their head would backup up or maneuver to get the turn corrected. This brainiack goes out and unhooks the 2nd trailer. The trailer then completes its slide off the road and falls on its side in the pond. The trailer isn't sealed - as it is a canvas covered frame and the water begins to seep into the shavings. Our fine friends come down the road to see what is going on. The driver and his partner request that they start ferrying up the shavings to the house. The wife who has a solid head on her shoulders turns down this request stating that the truck is not on their property and, therefore, the company's problem.

When I arrived, there were two semi-sized tow trucks and about 7 people trying to figure out exactly how to remedy this problem. The driver was overheard saying, "Oh golly, I hope I don't have to go back to building chicken coops." evoking such a delicate mix of pity and pain - Is this how the other half live?

I think we had his cousin on our tour of the caverns. While some of us were asking about the age of the caves in relation to the limestone caves in Big Basin National Park, he was asking, "What's the deal with that rock?" and points to one that is 1.5 feet from the giant fallen shield that the guild has just spent 5 minutes reviewing in detail. I guess it was too much to surmise that it was a rock that had broken off the shield on impact 10,000 years ago. Yikes. And he had a son with him, but I was happy to note that the lad was asking smarter questions than the father. After hearing him ask the guide, "How long have you been underground?" I had to turn to see exactly how the guide was going to answer that. Maybe suggest that he uses a small corner cave as a bedroom and that he was saving-up his stalagmite so that he might, someday, afford an above ground abode?

Is this how the other half live?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Arizona Peregrinations

With a huge sigh of relief, Michael and I resigned the same day. We then took a week to travel in the Southeast corner of Arizona. Michael had been itching to see Tombstone ever since I went there about a year ago.

We started off going East on I-10 and kept going until we were outside of Phoenix and hung a right on 85. Dropped down to Gila Bend and then over on I-8 to Tucson. We decided that there wasn't much to see in Phoenix and we might as well just push on to Tucson.

Not that there was much in Tucson. I should warn you - if you go - the Downtown rolls up their sidewalks at 5 or 6 PM. There is some action on Broadway, but if you're accustomed to coastal cities, the 5-6 bars won't seem like much. We accidentally made a right near the Congress Hotel which dropped us under the train tracks and we found 4th Ave. Now, 4th Ave on the Congress Hotel side is so quiet they don't bother with street lamps after about 2 blocks, so it was quite a surprise to find a lively street there. More surprising was their collection of punks and alterna-hipsters.

Exactly what are the punks in Tucson rebelling against there? Rocks? Heat? There doesn't seem to be strong cultural forces to begin with, let alone fight against. But more power to them, I would say they are keeping it real.

Then again, I might be bitter with Tucson, as I got the worst case of food poisoning while there. It stalled our trip, as I was not mobile for the better part of Sunday. Following that, I had terrible cramps for the following 5 days (they have finally subsided, today, Friday) - so I was less than perky on this adventure. Poor Michael. He did his best, but really, there is nothing he could do while I was writhing in pain between sprints to the bathroom and passing out on the bed. Gives me more and more respect for hospice workers. I can't imagine their grit and strong moral fiber, as in so many cases we are as ineffective as the doctors in the middle ages.

Daily we gain a more comprehensive understanding of the human body, the impact of specific medications on the body and nano-workings (I just wanted to write Nano). Yet most information leads to more questions. Why does one chemical cause three specific interactions while a slightly modified one cause two? Not to mention the helplessness that comes from understanding the cause, but having no cure. Or viruses - they enter our bodies and we are never able to make them leave, we are only able to develop anti-bodies that keep them in check. And what really is us? How much of our cells and make-up contain our DNA? There are hundreds of microbes digesting that margarita in my tummy and even more munchins eating the dead flesh off my skin - neither of which are me, yet I wouldn't function as well without them. Now, if so little of me is me, then how much of me must be mechanical or computerized or electronic for me to be a cyborg? Was this question solved by Darth Vader? So similar to this is questions of translated text - how much of the Odyssey is Homer and how much is Richard Lattimore?

I think it best to judge by the ends in these cases. My body is what it is due to the hybrid of its make-up - as it could be complimented by robotics as well. Not that I have them, but would implants count as robotics? They do serve a purpose and are foreign. And a translated text can be delightful in its own right, but if searching for the beauty in the original text, it might be best to learn the language.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about Tombstone.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Athens and the Vote

What civilizations do we value? From where do our values, as Americans, come from? Do we turn to the ancient Spartan? Do we turn to the Egyptians? Do we turn to the Syrians? We turn to Athens, ancient Greece. Where democracy was born.

What are the values of Athens? Knowledge and art are valued. Science, learning, libraries. Where are these values today? The current administration is attempting to dismantle our educational system. How can we run a democracy without an educated populace? The current administration does not value the arts - and what is it we value from ancient societies, aside from their art?

Where are the Republicans taking us? To a place where science holds no water? Where art is anathema. Where education is only for those who can afford it. Where torture is what Cheney advocates.

Each day that I look at America it looks less and less like the mighty civilization that our founding fathers envisioned and more like a desolate wasteland.

Please vote in tomorrow's election. No in November.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Empathy and Fiction

Last night we were watching a thrilling Masterpiece Theater bit. Yes, I’m using the word thrilling to describe Masterpiece Theater, but I had me on the edge of my couch. It was about a sheltered young man, Davie, who was thrown into the world like soup getting pureed in a blender. He’s a likable fellow with absolutely no street smarts and I just cringed watching him fall into yet another trap. While my husband shows no stress on his face, I’m putting my knees up to my chin in hopes that my fetal position will somehow help him.

Where it is programmed into my brain feel so much for characters in perilous situations? I got into bed, and picked up David Sedaris’ Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules and started in on a short story just to find another character being led down a fictional path to torment and ruin. I think I’m going to have to go back to non-fiction, or I’ll never be able to relax.

These situations aren’t happening to me – why should I be so worried? Is it the vulnerability of the characters is so similar to my own that I can envision myself so clearly in their shoes. Yet, aren’t I just learning how to avoid these problems? Then again, I’m not much at risk of being sold into slavery on a boat headed for the new world.

You know, I think I might have to find a book on empathy to read before bed. If I learn about it, I may be able to master it, right?