Saturday, March 31, 2012

As Seen on TV

When I was a child we shopped from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue.  The women modelling underwear had no belly buttons.  They were airbrushed out in consideration of community morals.  My grandmother always referred to the upper section of the turkey leg as the "second joint" because she did not believe women should talk about thighs with men present.  She would not be comfortable with today's television advertising. Too much talk about  flatulence, incontinence and erectile dysfuncion.  She might wonder why women's previously private personal concerns have been the very last to break the barrier of poor advertising taste.  Hot flashes and menstrual products are slowly creeping onto the screen - but not yet in prime time.  Strangely silent are presentations of birth control.  Apparently its OK to depict a room full of men singing lustily about Viagra.  Its also OK to show the romantic couple, post coitus soaking side by side in outdoor bath tubs.  But its not OK to celebrate the products that allow a woman to enjoy the advances of a partner stoked up with Cialis.  Why the double standard?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Best Hometown in the Army

That's the slogan used by Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.  Fort Leavenworth has been in continuous operation since 1827.  A visitor can stand on the hillside at the center of the vast installation and look out over the Missouri River.  I did, and I wondered what it was like to cross that river in 1827.  The Fort is on the West side of the river.  The river is wide with currents and gullies and deep muddy shallows.  From the steep eastern bank it seems an impossible barrier to the westward promised land.  Those posted to the early fort, and soon those walking west behind their wagons must have stood on the east river bank and wondered how much else they had not understood about the path west.  There is a wonderful museum at Fort Leavenworth where the events of our frontier history are illustrated.  The scope of the Fort's early mission, and the enormity of the landscape to the west are hard to grasp.  We flew from Seattle to Kansas City in under four hours.  Military operations and wagon train journeys lasted months, sometimes years to cover this ground.  There is a cemetery at the Fort.  George Armstrong Custer is buried there.  His wife's travelling dress is in the museum.  

Fort Leavenworth is home to families with children.  There are schools, shops, playgrounds, a golf course, swimming pools and places to go fishing.  Since 1881 the Fort has been home to the Army Command and General Staff College which is now central to its mission.  So, too, is the Army Correctional Center.  The old prison sits near the top of the hill.  It now houses offices.  We ate lunch there in the 12th Brick Grill.  The food was good. The grill's location is in the heart of the old prison where you can see exposed the two foot thick stone walls. The new prison with its razor wire and gun towers it is in sharp contrast to the lovely historic houses and tree lined streets of "The best hometown in the Army".  Army Staff Sargent Robert Bales is incarcerated there, charged with 17 murders in Afghanistan. The prison reminds the visitor that the park-like setting on a hill top in east Kansas is much more than meets the eye.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Today is Bach's birthday.  Born on March 21st, 1685.  The "all symphony" station on my satellite radio is playing all Bach today.  It is an orgy at which I am not yet satiated.  I have heard musicians from every genre say that their music is better because they studied Bach.   I have heard musicians at the top of their career describe an out-of-body experience as they play the twists, turns and returns of a Bach piece. I have played Bach myself, breathless, looking for a ledge on which to take a short break as I climb through a fugue.  Bach is peerless.  He is at once the master of baroque and the pioneer of the romantic music that others wrote 100 years after his death.  If you haven't listened to Bach today, here is a link for tomorrow.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Going to Kansas City

...Kansas City here I come!  Our visit was much too short.  Be on your own way as soon as you can, and visit the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.  You don't even need to go inside to see one of the best exhibits.  Standing over 19 feet is a stunning sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and his wife, Coosje van Bruggen.  The sculpture is in four pieces, each a  badminton shuttlecock placed on the sweeping lawns that descend on either side of the temple-like museum building.  The building is the net,  These pieces are just as much art as the winning entry in a literary competition.  It was a contest in what today is called "Flash Fiction".  The author was Harold Robbins.  His entry: God lay dying.  Strong character, action, tension, suspense and mystery.  In three words.  The shuttlecocks on the enormous green court at the Nelson Atkins Museum have everything I want in art.  Discovery, challenge, unique, satisfaction.  Look, look again.  You see something different with each view. 

Friday, March 16, 2012


My husband and I were in Kansas City this week visiting family.  We drove to each house that had been home to grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends.  We peeked to see if the screened porch was still there.  We retraced the path to school and the park.  We found his first apartment and heard his stories about the first job, first independence, first try at being a man.  Some of the schools had closed - the big brick buildings boarded up.  Some of the houses had fallen on hard times.  One has a fine new owner.  I went for a walk one evening, looking for a book store.  I bought a copy of one of my favorite children's books, "The Little House" by Virginia Lee Burton.  Her story is told simply.  The house is part of the family, too. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Can He Do it Twice in a Row?

Last year I wrote about John Baker's first place finish in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.  The race is on again.  And, again, John is a contender.  This year the race is especially exciting - four teams are within striking distance of one another, and they are closing in on Nome.  You can follow this race in real time.  go to the Iditarod web site and subscribe as an "Insider".  There, you can log onto the GPS tracker that updates every 10 minutes and displays the mushers' positions on a map of the course.  It is 40 below zero out on the coast where the leaders are driving into the night.  The dogs are checked by a veterinarian at each checkpoint.  The few not fit to go on are dropped, and carried back to Anchorage by the "Iditarod Airforce", a volunteer corps of small planes.  They are looked after by more volunteers in a temporary kennel in a warehouse at Northern Air Cargo.  The rest of the team and their musher push on.  

Do yourself a favor.  Watch the rest of this year's Last Great Race.  See video on the web site, see progress on the GPS map, think of the dogs with their booties, harness and flapping tongues.  Wish you, too, could - just once - have the stamina and drive to run 1,000 miles. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Farewell # 31

That is the number of the last molar on the lower right side.  Mine is now in whatever receptacle oral surgeons use for pulled teeth.  On episodes of "The Deadliest Catch" I have seen men pull out their own teeth with pliers.  I was not that ambitious, or brave.  In retrospect, I put up with tooth pain far longer than made sense just to avoid the procedure.

Both Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about bad teeth.  There is evidence that teeth have been pulled out to relieve pain for 2000 years.  My dentist's wall gave framed evidence of his training and license.  Patients in an earlier time were not so lucky.  Perhaps the barber, perhaps a quack with primitive forceps, perhaps simply mom or dad with steely nerves got a hold and pulled.  I'm glad modern instruments and medication are available.  RIP # 31.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Thinking About Darwin - Again

Last year I wrote about bears and the apparent evolution of a new polar/brown bear cross.  And now owls, the Barred Owl and the Spotted Owl.  It will not be light reading, but I urge your attention to the draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) prepared by the Oregon and US Fish and Wildlife agencies.  The title sets the stage: "Experimental Removal of Barred Owls to Benefit Threatened Northern Spotted Owls".  My summary.  Barred Owls are bigger than Spotted Owls and have occupied desirable habitat with increasing success.  The population of Spotted Owls is declining in areas where the Barred Owls compete for the desirable niche.  The agencies propose to shoot the Barred Owls and see if the Spotted Owls will subsequently prosper.  I am not making this up.

The agencies acknowledge that this is not about reducing man made impacts on the owls such as logging.  They observe that even without any trace of human development, the Barred Owls are moving in and the Spotted Owls' success in rearing young diminishes.  Nevertheless, in the words of US Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe, "...we have a clear obligation to do all we can to prevent the Spotted Owl's extinction and help it rebound."  The DEIS is packed with moral baggage.  The Barred Owls are said to have "invaded" new territory.  Darwin would tell us that they took advantage of the opportunity presented by a weaker rival.  DEIS: Barred owls represent the "most pressing threat" to the Spotted Owl.  Darwin: This is an example of survival of the fittest.  DEIS: The presence of Barred Owls "exacerbates" the decline of the Spotted Owl.  Darwin: Species will adapt and thrive or otherwise perish.  The agencies have arrogated to themselves the role of evolutionary agent.  Without agency intervention, nest success diminishes, populations diminish, the genetic pool is weakened and eventually either adaptation or extinction occur.  Courtesy of the agency proposals, healthy, mature, breeding adults are slaughtered - lured to the gun by recorded mating calls.  OMG.

The agencies are seeking public comment.  Perhaps I will send them a video of the old TV series, Sing Along with Mitch Miller.  In "Be Kind to Your Webfooted Friends" he had just the message for them.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

What are the Odds of this Happening

If you tuned in to the live radio broadcast of Verdi's Aida from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, you were in for a treat.  The young Texan, Latonia Moore was called up from her understudy role to sing the title role of Aida.  This was her Metropolitan Opera debut, an event that always marks a major milestone for any singer.  She brought the house down.  We were lucky enough to be listening to the radio.  I usually have a good link for a story like this but I have found none that do justice to the event, or the woman who matched Verdi's mastery with her beautiful voice.  Watch for highlights on YouTube.  Check out the Metropolitan Opera website.  Google Latonia in a few days.  She is in her early 30's.  Before today she was moving nicely on the international stage.  After today, her life has changed forever.

SUNDAY morning update.  Here is a link to Ms. Moore singing O patria mia yesterday.