Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mojo's Mailbox #5

Events in the real world have complicated my schedule, which was already battling the headwinds of my considerable inertia and less than laserlike focus, but I do want to try to maintain something here on a fairly stable basis, so it behooves me to thank the various contributors who give me reason to. Since the last mailbox, I have been inexcusably indolent, but still several of you found reason to drop me comments and thereby earn honorable mentions here. I'm going to try to resurrect this as a weekly feature, which of course requires having something to intersperse mailboxes with. Fortunately, I left myself a laundry list of items in progress last time out, so I at least have the material - it's just a matter of spinning it out...

I begin with the Mindbender, at which Heather gamely attempted an answer, which I can now confirm was incorrect. A future post will discuss the correct solution and pose a new Mindbender for the cryptically inclined to cogitate upon. Heather has been an encouraging presence on this baby-stepping blog, and I'll be speaking more of her later.

Karen was nice enough to thank me for my fortune-cookie-lite offering on her blog, which I find very perceptive and thought-provoking, so really if anybody should be thanking anybody it ought to be the other way around. I encourage anybody reading this to imbibe some wisdom from her if your other commitments so permit.

The "Project" Project - which, like many a Project to be discussed therein, is on official hiatus right now, although persistent rumors suggest it may yet emerge like a B-movie serial killer in the last reel - kicked off with a review of one of James Randi's sting operations, and brought a truly wonderful aphoristic response from Laurie about the scope of "the natural" - Laurie's blog deals with holistic themes that blur the boundary between the scientific and the mystical, and is another I'd highly recommend. Heather, for whose comments I can't express sufficient gratitude - Pirandello wrote about characters in search of an author, and I think many bloggers are characters in search of an audience - spoke eloquently to another aspect of magic: the wonder of it. I agree with her that we can get preoccupied looking for the man behind the curtain, and take the fun out of having our senses beguiled and deceived for a time. I have a few ideas for future blogs that arise out of this comment, and I appreciate the stimulus.

Although I don't get out and about around the blogosphere nearly enough, and I'm going to have to figure out a way to discipline myself into doing that because there are so many talented and interesting writers out there, I still doubt I'll find a title that delights me more than Fabulosity Nouveau. Wendy's blog weaves personal and global narratives and always has something, well, fabulous and nouveau to peruse. We are now clearly engaged in a war of compliments, since she said very nice things about my blog back when I was still writing it - although actually the nicest for me was that she intended to go look something up because I'd mentioned it. The idea that I can serve as a doorway onto something new for a reader is very satisfying for me, and it's certainly true that everybody who's commented on these pages has done as much for me in turn.

Lee, whose multifaceted creativity is partly responsible for what you see here, anticipated one of my blogs-in-progress in referencing 1984; Orwell's examination of the relationship between thought, language, and political action is very pertinent in today's media-saturated environment. I've got a couple more Agencywatch pieces lined up for days when I'm feeling political, and hopefully I'll be able to address the point Lee made in his comment without getting fitted for a tinfoil hat.

And so to the Round-up, which, I was pleased to observe, earned itself a thumbs up from Bryce that I'm happy to return: as a fellow alter-ego, I'm always gratified to see a creative talent married to a personable voice, just like what I'd like to be when I'm growed up. Bryce is the latest in an already uncountably vast sea of gifts from the generous and artistic Heather, with whom this mailbox fittingly ends as it started. She tagged me with questions, which I shall herewith attempt to answer.

1. What's the first thing you do in the morning? This is appallingly soppy, but the first thing I do in the morning, which is also the last thing I do at night, is tell my wife I love her. Sometimes I use those words, sometimes I use others, but that's always what I'm saying (and what she says back, unaccountably). A Cambridge professor found - for such men are always finding such things, presumably in lieu of such other things as fashionable haircuts or matching socks - that we can read words, even if the letters are scrambled, as long as the beginnings and endings are where they should be. I find I can live through days on the same basis.

2. How old do you feel? Ageless, I guess. One of the factoids I like to drop in the path of conversations - much as vandals drop breezeblocks in the path of oncoming trains - is that I was born a blue baby; strangulated by the umbilical cord, and revived only after some time in the infamous blue light by a dedicated team of doctors to whom I am on most days profoundly grateful. This is too convenient a scapegoat to pin all of my oddities on, but prolonged reflection upon the circumstance has left me with an outlook that has elements of the fatalistic acceptance of the very old and the perennial wonderment of the very young. I am remarkably blessed by this, and one of the several side-effects of it as a condition, if it's reasonable to refer to it as such, is that I generally feel myself to be the approximate age of whoever I'm dealing with, although they invariably feel I'm either younger or older than is actually the case. Very occasionally, I'll meet someone who doesn't know Germany was once divided, or that the Challenger was a shuttle that exploded in the sky over Florida, or that music was once recorded on cassettes (I no longer even expect anybody to remember vinyl), and be reminded of my provenance in the linear-time stream; but for the most part I live either in the moment or outside it, and in neither wise am I much troubled by concerns over my age, or lack of it.

3. What's your sign and does the description match your personality? I'm a great believer in the parasimplicity principle - not least for the egotistical reason that I formulated it myself. The parasimplicity principle is itself parasimplistic, by which I mean that it can be expressed in myriad ways all of which mean the same thing in different paradigms: one of the simplest is one adopted, long before my strangulation and subsequent birth, by Oscar Wilde - "nothing is itself alone." There is a neat symmetry in the fact that one of the more difficult expressions of parasimplicity is the reciprocal of Wilde's dictum: that "everything is other than itself." This seemingly irrelevant prolegomena leads to an observation about the descriptions appended to the various zodiacal signs, which are in my experience sufficiently lengthy and wide-ranging that it would be remarkable if I didn't identify with them. That said, I am both a textbook Pisces and a textbook Dragon, to a remarkable degree in both cases. Whether this is an application of the parasimplicity principle, or merely another example of it, I'm not sure; and, happily, neither frame alters the convenience of fit.

4) How do you like your caffeine? I very rarely drink coffee - by 'very rarely,' to qualify, I've drunk perhaps half a dozen cups this millennium - although I drink tea, both in the quaint English hot-with-milk-and-two-sugars and the adopted Southern iced-and-sweet varieties, much more frequently. Almost all of my caffeine, however, comes from Pepsi products. I drink far too many soft drinks, but everybody has to have a vice.

5) Favorite cartoon character? This question made me laugh, because another of those train-wreck factoids of mine concerns my youthful fondness for certain anthropomorphic female cartoon characters (Jessica Rabbit wasn't my style; oddly, Brittany Chipmunk was). But, in a more - shall we say - cerebral sense, my favorite is probably the Pink Panther.

I now need to find some victims to tag in turn with these same questions... and that concludes today's mailbox. Please don't attempt to unbuckle your seats until the ride comes to a complete halt. Thank you.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mojo's Round-Up #1

Herewith a brief culling from recent news items ...

Sports ~ Wimbledon seed Bethanie Mattek-Sands has something of a reputation as an avant-garde fashionista and, despite Wimbledon's famously restrictive on-court dress code, she turned heads at the Wimbledon player's pre-party in this little number:

The dress, designed by Alex Noble - famous for his associations with Lady Gaga and her, shall we say, eclectic wardrobe - certainly got attention. Whether her play on the courts - Bethanie is seeded 30th for the All-England Championships scheduled to start Monday, rain permitting - proves equally eyecatching remains to be seen.

Politics ~ Sticking with a sporting flavor, two heavyweights of the American political scene met this weekend for a long-awaited summit - on the golf course. President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner teamed up on the links against Vice-President Joe Biden and Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich. In an outcome that seems increasingly unlikely to be played out in Congress, Obama and Boehner both won - although victory wasn't assured for either until the eighteenth hole, which may well mirror the protracted contests in the corridors of power over the deficit, engagement in Libya, the lawsuit against Boeing, and a host of other issues great and small. Still, at least the Speaker and the President pocketed $2 each from their five-hour golfathon.

Animal Planet ~ To Montana now, and a macabre task for Northwestern Energy in East Missoula, where a power outage was traced to the unwelcome influence of a deer fawn... resting on a high-voltage power cable thirty feet in the air.

Tasteless college prank? Dry run by Santa Claus?

Apparently not, according to East Missoula resident Lee Bridges, who claimed a bald eagle she had seen around the same time the outage was reported was responsible.

Entertainment ~ They tried to make her go to rehab ... but for Amy Winehouse, whose career held so much promise when she stormed the Grammies in 2008, her very public travails with drink and drugs continued last night in Belgrade, where a shambolic and incoherent performance saw her booed off stage after what the Blic daily newspaper slammed as "the worst [concert] in the history of Belgrade." At this rate, the talented singer seems doomed to become another rock 'n' roll "What Might Have Been" - while successor artists like Adele go from strength to strength in her wake. Winehouse is the subject of an infamous New York sculpture entitled "The Only Good Rock Star Is A Dead Rock Star;" let us hope this doesn't prove prophetic.

Hero of the Day ~ David Lundberg plies his trade in a profession often associated with fairly unsavory activities and pursuits. But even a private eye can rise above the tawdry fare of photographing illicit trysts, and so it was when Lundberg successfully completed a two-month quest to track down a homeless man in Salt Lake City. Max Melitzer had been living rough for years and had drifted out of contact with his family - so, when his brother died of cancer, leaving Max a significant sum in his will, the family hired Lundberg to locate him and give him the news. Although Lundberg has respected the family's wishes for privacy and has not disclosed the amount of Melitzer's inheritance, he did tell the AP: "He'll be able to have a normal life, and be able to have a home, provide for himself, and purchase clothing, food and health care."

Officialdom of the Day ~ Meanwhile, in Montgomery County, Maryland, hosting this year's US Open Tournament, Jennifer Hughes of the county's Department of Permitting Services was acting to restore the karmic balance. Mindful of her duty - "protecting communities and protecting the safety of people" in her own words - she acted swiftly when she saw a threat outside the Congressional Country Club where the world's best golfers are gathered, and issued a $500 ticket to... a lemonade stand.

The six children running the lemonade stand - the oldest was 13 - were dismayed and confused. After a local cameraman spotted the confrontation, the county wisely elected to rescind the ticket. And what will the kids be doing with their ill-gotten gains?

Donating them to charity.

Today is ... ~ Father's Day, of course! The celebrations aren't confined to the United States; Pakistan is one of several countries that dedicates this day to fathers, although apparently the honors don't extend to fathers-in-law. In Chowkazam, Pakistan, an ugly scandal brewed as a cleric accused his son-in-law of tying him up and shaving his beard, a mortal offense in his religion. The son-in-law, Muhammad Imran, had borrowed a fridge from Maulvi Muhammad Hanif; when Hanif asked for it back on Friday, Imran flew into a rage. He said he would get the fridge - it later transpired he had already sold it - and then assaulted his father-in-law, tying him up and shaving off his beard. Hanif was treated for his injuries at a local hospital, but was more concerned about his beardless condition: "I am a cleric, how am I supposed to show my face in society any more?"

Imran is being sought by authorities; he should probably hope they catch up with him before Maulvi Hanif's fellow clerics, who are up in arms over the incident.

And Finally ~ The emergence of swarms of 13-year cicadas inspired Sparky's Homemade Ice Cream in Columbia, MO, to produce an innovative recipe that has attracted the attention of the health department: they boiled the bugs, coated them in chocolate and served them up to customers - apparently, they taste like nuts, which is quite appropriate since you'd have to be nuts to want to eat that stuff.

Whatever next? Steak made from poop?

Is this thing on ...?

Oops. I knew there was something I was supposed to be doing... I hadn't realized just how useful the A to Z Challenge was for keeping my nose to the grindstone, so to speak. There are actually a few bits and pieces I've been working on during my long hiatus away from this blog: if I were sensible, I'd parcel them out over the next couple of weeks to give myself opportunity to get back into the swing of things.

I am not sensible.

Accordingly, I'll be posting up in relatively short order a prototype for a new "Round Up"-format blog; an observation on Weinergate, which came and went while I was away but deserves comment; a second "Project" blog; and a lengthy counterblast against a Time article allegedly identifying five myths about our economic recovery. Plus, we're long overdue a Mojo Monthly Mindbender, and indeed the solution to the one posed previously; and there's a Mailbox to craft.

Hopefully, you'll still be around to read this; even more hopefully, you'll gain something from the experience.