My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down

Ben Wattenberg’s appearance on The Daily Show scared me. I was afraid he’d get away with saying any old poisonous thing. Jon Stewart softens his style when confronted with an older person or a genteel woman. His interview of Nancy Pelosi earlier this week contains a few Jon, did you hear what she just said? moments, for example. But back to Ben Wattenberg – or more specifically, back to me, on the edge of my seat last night: Jon lets a few very dangerous assertions get past him before he’s had enough.

Let me declare, now and forever, that after 9/11 I supported the bombing of NO ONE, the declaration of war on NO ONE, no shredding of the Constitution, no denial of anyone’s human rights, no lunkhead rush to vengeance, no. At no time have I ever supported the insensible and grammatically insupportable War on Terror. No. And I know plenty of people who did not lose their minds and wet their beds, plenty of people who opposed rash action and depraved indifference to genocide and torture – you probably number among those people. The media’s narrative says EVERYONE supported and supports this pointless, endless, and cowardly fool’s errand. It simply isn’t so, and insisting doesn’t make it so.

Now – with that much straight – now, we can start talking seriously.

Man, They’re All the Same

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the financial news is going to get much, much worse before it gets better. In fact, despite our short attention spans and denial, we may not see our economy ‘normalize’ for a decade or more. In this country, the lines at food banks and soup kitchens will lengthen. Around the world it’s going to get very rough, and we’re all going to wonder what we could have done differently.

I already wish I played games more often.

Spelled H-E-D

I’ve been tired and run down, and feel forced to conserve my energy. There are friends I want to talk with but just can’t right now, when I fantacize about splitting in two so half of me could be sleeping while the other paints the attic. Some years ago, a nerd pile-on determined that the universe had a color that is roughly similar to a neutral bone color, though initially the universe’s true hue was a peculiar light green. NASA, you vex decorators! I can’t take so much into account without a roller extender. A karma-conscious gal can’t tune into her aura with the spectre of future accent walls blocking her chi!

But enough about me! While you contemplate what you think of my color scheme, I’m mulling over this:

The government defines poverty as an annual income of only $16,227 for a family of three.

In 1985, I took a job at a fast food joint making $16,500. I had a baby, an employed boyfriend and a small apartment in Perth Amboy.

My current apartment, which is modest, is approximately $12,000 a year without utilities.

Where in New Jersey do people making $16,227 in 2008 live?

I’ve Come To Take You Home

Driving, windows open, radio playing.

Tata: There are a few things I’d like to do before I move. I’d like to bury Larry’s ashes. It seems pretty stupid to carry them around with me.
Pete: At your mother’s house, right?
Tata: Well, why not bury him where we live? Would you mind?
Pete: No, that’d be fine. You want to scatter your Dad’s ashes, too, right?
Tata: Yeah.
Pete: Have you picked a place? You were talking about the Shore.
Tata: I think so. I think the place where his grandparents had a house. His ashes would join the Gulf Stream and he could go around the world. He loved Europe and Iceland, and Japan was really good for him.

At the first notes of a new song I burst into tears.

Pete: What’s wrong?
Tata: Nothing. That’s what we’ll do. Do you believe in signs?
Pete: Sometimes.
Tata: I don’t think you could get a clearer sign than this one.

See Innocence Shining Through

On Planet Green, a Discovery offshoot, you can learn a whole lot in a few short episodes. For instance, since Suzette’s waiting impatiently for fruit-based beauty product pointers, you can fast-forward by going positively retro.

Why go buy face masks when you can make them totally naturally yourself? Here are some basic face masks that you can make on your own, and in a matter of minutes.

All of these ingredients are simple to put together to make a great face mask. Just mash the given ingredients together and let the mixture sit on your face for 10-15 minutes.

Here are the items you should try combining:

Brown Sugar+Milk
Egg Yolk+Honey+Olive Oil
Oatmeal+Olive Oil
Blended Almonds+Honey+Egg White
Baking Soda+Water

All of these combinations make for wonderful masks and they help to green up your life and improve your skin simultaneously. Try them!

None of this is new. In fact, it’s deeply old because it works. The Egyptians slathered themselves and each other, alive and dead, in fruity goo. More to the modern point: smart vain people indifferent to corporate advertising have nurtured dewy complexions with yogurt, honey, berries, olive oil, milk, almonds, egg, oatmeal, cucumber, avocado and apple since fragrant time immemorial.* In fact, I distantly recall a Facts Of Life episode where Mrs. Garrett lectured Natalie on the stupidity of buying into buying beauty, sort of. Oh, irony! The best tightening mask I ever used – and still do when I can – is an aqueous suspension of magnesium hydroxide or Milk of Magnesia. It was recommended to me by a little old lady with the tiniest pores you’ve ever seen. She said glop the stuff on once a week, wait until it dries and rinse with cool water. It’s cheap and – bonus! – the teenage cashiers at your drugstore think you’ve got a glamorous eating disorder!

Back to Planet Green: some shows don’t interest me. They’re celebrity gossip in organic cotton, and who cares, really? But some offerings are really exciting. Renovation Nation pits host Steve Thomas against his own ideas. Homeowners are renovating green, often spending a great deal of time and money, and Steve, former host of This Old House, turns up to help and heckle. Sometimes, you can tell Steve’s not entirely convinced by the homeowners’ plans, some of which are really innovative – green tech is developing really fast right now in all kinds of directions. It was really exciting for me three days ago to see photovoltaic roofing heat water and collect energy for electricity. Before that episode, solar roofing seemed to do one task or the other but not both. So while engineering green moves forward in breathtaking leaps and bounds, some of the most charming developments are old-fashioned and humble.

I saw an interview with Dan Phillips on a Planet Green show but for the life of me I can’t figure out which. The interview I saw emphasized the unique and totally original nature of each house, reminding me of a book Daria had when we were kids called Andrew Henry’s Meadow.

If you read celebrity gossip, you know that Zach Braff remembers this book, too. Doris Burns published this book in 1965 about an intrepid little boy who gets tired of his family, takes his tools and goes for a long walk. He finds a meadow and builds himself a house. Other children see this and join him in droves in the meadow, where Andrew Henry builds each child a house suited to him- or herself with materials he finds lying around. Eventually, the worried parents find the children, see the special houses and take the children home. For their parts, the parents learn to see their children as people. The children go home, happy to be loved for themselves. When I saw the treehouse in the Dan Phillips interview my heart sang a bit. I will deny that sentimentality under oath. You’re a terrible person for mentioning it.

The other day, a woman in my office made a derisive comment about “the environmental frenzy” and I stopped in my tracks. She’s nearly ready to retire, which means she was born during or after WWII. Her earliest memories are of living in a 16-room house in Newton, Massachusetts, not unlike the one in current episodes of This Old House. An address like this and wasting money were signals to the community, in some way that matters to her, of prosperity, though she talks about rooms closed off and left unheated. She and I have even talked about the Newton project, which may be all about real estate for her. I’m not sure. As for the show, I recall the utter delight with which the guys toured warehouses full of reclaimed materials during the New Orleans rebuild. Reusing and recycling isn’t new. It’s the oldest trick in the book.

* Whatever you do, please don’t try picturing Burma Shave signs in hieroglyphics. You’ll be up all night with that one.

Brush Me, Daddio

The aforementioned cookbook edited by Marion Howells is Australian. Sort of. The stats:

First published 1970 by Golden Press Pty Ltd
10-16 Dowling Street, Potts Point, Sydney Australia
© Australian Consolidated Press Ltd 1970

This edition first published in the United States of America in 1971 by Crescent Books, A Division of Crown Publishers, Inc., 419 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016

This edition © Octopus Books Limited 1971

I probably received this book in 1975. The recipe:

Strawberry Hazelnut Gateau

4 egg whites
pinch salt
10 oz. (1 1/4 cups) castor (superfine) sugar
4 1/2 oz. (1 cup) ground hazelnuts
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 dessertspoons black coffee


1 lb. strawberries
1 pint (2 cups) whipped cream
6 oz. (6 squares) plain chocolate)

Beat egg whites with salt until stiff; gradually add sugar; beat until mixture is of meringue consistency. Fold in remaining ingredients. Spread n 2 greased and floured 8 in. springform pans. Bake in moderate oven, Mark 4 350ºF, approximately 35 minutes; release sides of pans. Cool on base of pans.

Remove from base, place a layer of meringue on serving plate. Spread with thin layer of chocolate, which has been melted with water. Spread 1/2 in. layer of cream over chocolate. Top with layer of sliced strawberries; reserve remainder for decoration.

Spread second layer of meringue with remaining chocolate mixture; place on strawberry layer, chocolate-side up. Cover and top with cream.

Refrigerate several hours, or preferably overnight. Serve decorated with reserved strawberries.

The cookbook opens with two pages called American Weights and Measures. Even as a kid, I was troubled by these comparisons. You will be relieved to know that the answer to the pertinent question What the fuck is a dessertspoon? is A tablespoon, duh! I know I was! But the tables don’t explain why the list of American dry measures includes weights without mentioning why that would be important, and did you know that in American measures a half-cup is called a gill?

I love that the whipped cream has no sugar in it. The full, rich flavor of cream is a good balance with tart strawberries, semisweet chocolate and the melting sweetness of the meringues. I’ve never tried it with bittersweet chocolate but I’d be very careful not to serve that to persons expecting some form of conventional dessert.

A chocolatier worth his salt reads that recipe and sees a couple of things that shouldn’t work. Make it and see how you feel about it. One thing you should know: this is extremely messy to eat and you should put down a tarp in the formal dining room. It will never cut into neat cake slices so do not think this is your moral failure. Hand out your best spoons and cozy up to the scrumptious gateau.

Let’s Break Out the Booze And Have A Ball

Omigod, I hate sticky, but do I love sticky?

LONDON, England (CNN) — A protester who wanted his message to stick managed to superglue himself to the British prime minister Tuesday evening.

Dan Glass was at 10 Downing Street to receive a charity’s award for his work on transportation issues when he staged the unusual protest. Just before Prime Minister Gordon Brown presented him with the award, Glass squirted superglue in the palm of his left hand. He shook Brown’s right hand and then grabbed the prime minister’s sleeve.

“I’ve just superglued myself to your arm,” Glass said he told Brown. “Don’t panic. This is a non-violent protest.”

Glass is affiliated with the group Plane Stupid, which campaigns against airport expansion and climate change. He said he acted to protest Brown’s “hypocrisy” on the issues.

“I just wanted a few more minutes of his time to get the message across, because he’s not listening to communities affected by airport expansion,” Glass told CNN on Wednesday.

The prime minister managed to free himself in about 30 seconds, Glass said.

“He can shake off my arm, but he cannot shake away climate change,” he added.

Surprisingly, Mr. Glass was not fed to the Queen’s Corgis. But we don’t live there. We live here.

Since we can’t shake off the hangover caused by two endless wars, the destruction of an American city, the destruction of our military, the emptying of our treasury, the evisceration of the Constitution, the absolutely avoidable corrosion of the middle class, the union busting, the jobs loss, the wholesale incarceration of the poor, the corruption of the Department of Justice, the environmental policies written by oil lobbyists, the installation of unqualified political hacks into significant positions, the xenophobic and homophobic invective and legislation, the unforgivable fleecing of the Department of the Interior, the cruel and stupid border wall bullshit, the poisoning of political discourse, the stacking of the Supreme Court, the outing of Valerie Plame, the loss of American credibility on human rights issues, the hollowing out of Roe vs. Wade, the dismantling of contraceptive and AIDS prevention programs worldwide and the unbelievably cruel abandonment of women in Iraq and Afghanistan, let’s watch Beeker sing Ode to Joy. Because why not?

I’ll See You In My Dreams

For a few weeks, I’ve felt run down, sore and exhausted. I wish I had time to take a day off and lie still while charming young things bring me restorative chicken liver pate and tropical fruit. I don’t. No matter. My co-worker got hit by a dump truck that launched his car fifty feet into a telephone pole, totalling the car and cracking his rib. He’s sitting at his desk now, telling us about the Have A Heart trap that survived the various impacts that turned his car into crushed metal. It’s a fucking miracle! Well, shut my mouth.

I haven’t been able to bicycle to work. Yesterday was the sixth successive day topping 90 degrees, and almost every forecast contained some mention of lightning. It’s raining lightly now. That’s why today is the only day this summer I’ve worn suede shoes. Because, you know, because.

The Weavers at Carnegie Hall has been on my mind. Daria, Todd and I spent a lot of time alone together, singing these songs. In my lifetime, the way people listen to music has changed fundamentally. Let’s call this American History: our parents weren’t wild about television anyhow, so they’d put on records. A listener had a respectful, attentive duty to records: motion was limited to what did not disturb the needle for 24-26 minutes, and sometimes all a person did was hold still and really listen. Sometimes, we’d sing along and often dance. Sometimes we’d dance to the radio. Until we started buying our own records – no mean feat since we didn’t live anywhere near a record store – we had this intimate relationship with our parents’ music. Thus, somewhere in the back of my child mind, I know every note, every catcall, every thunderous cheer of The Weavers at Carnegie Hall.

Because I remember my father coughing on his restaurant breakfast and whispering, “That man over there – he was blacklisted by McCarthy” and because I’ve been in a foul mood since warmongers started flinging around the word traitor in 2002, and because there was never any reason to invade Iraq, I see this treachery for what it is. Somewhere, there is music and we should be dancing.

We Didn’t Have To Wait So Long

Once again, I’m working my tapered fingers to the bone at the family store. I wish I were at home, where Topaz reclines in an alcove of Dad’s cookbooks, manuals and dictionaries. Pete and I refer to this as Topaz’s Room. Like any girl with a jealous feline sister of approximately the same age, Topaz defends her turf. I’m sure she’s going to cut up Drusy’s Shawn Cassidy posters. Daria and I, sixteen months apart, were scrappers from the beginning but we knew sisters in high school who were so mean they gave each other shocking nocturnal haircuts. I’ve warned the cats about bobbing one another’s fur.

If you can believe it, the first cookbook my family ever gave me was English. I should have sensed their hostility and run away from home immediately. This being before Google the Great and Powerful or rides to a real library, I was left to puzzle out what rashers of bacon might mean to quiche, and why the pictures made food look slightly hysterical. I’d seen desserts before, but never an emotionally overwrought Pavlova stacked with nervous kiwi.

In the first picture of lovely Topaz with her delicious new feathery bell toy thingy, the English cookbook is backwards in the stack. I still use it sometimes to demonstrate my claim that I make a gateau that’ll make you cry, especially if you’re wearing an expensive outfit.

Topaz is far too sleepy and too refined for such silliness.

In Mortal Chains, Who In Power

Sometimes, I notice someone’s speaking in code.

When the hair-twisting mommy says, “Like other vaccines, it’s about prevention” I get out my 3-D glasses and decoder ring. Why? Leaving aside the hipster silliness of about, all vaccines prevent disease and infection. And people don’t say things like “It’s about prevention” unless people are talking about it being formulated to do something else. In Australia, fundamentalists say Gardasil kills girls but the data is full of holes. People can say anything, but it doesn’t have to be true or useful. Could parents be confused by what something is and what someone says it does? Yep. Happens all the time. Words used and misused have great power, and words misused with ill intent are very, very dangerous.

Today on Shakesville, Mustang Bobby posted about amusing and awkward corporate double speak, and all was going swimmingly until a glib professional linguist turned up and commenters who ought to know better kissed her ass. If that’s in any way an opaque description, I’ll help. Ass-kissing can be defined as happens when a commentariat is cowed by cleverness or alleged credentials, rather than putting forth the suggestion that the clever, allegedly credentialled commenter is full of shit and probably disastrously bad at her job.

Frankly, the language should have turned a little Anglo-Saxon.

Look, I’m nobody. I didn’t graduate from college and I won’t stoop to listing off reasons you ought to kiss my ass – though I might lean over a little now and then. I’m still about to say something really important. No. Really. Ready?

Language is your first line of defense.

What people say, what words they use, how they use them – all these things are not neutral. You can learn a great deal about a speaker, broadcaster or conversationalist by weighing her words. For a simple example, my grandmother, who did the New York Times crossword in pen for fun, used to say, “Sweetheart, you made coffee,” which sounds delightful unless you know my grandmother never said the word “sweetheart” without clenched teeth, and I make terrible coffee. There. Meaning has harmlessly, totally shifted, but Gram was allowed to shift these meanings because, of course, we were all grateful I hadn’t made espresso and Gram, raised by Italian immigrants, spoke perfect English.

Here and now, words fly fast, furious and spurious. Honest people are genuinely perplexed by what they hear and dishonest people perplex par excellence. If you’re listening, you can hear words shift in the public discourse. I recall distinctly feeling the solid ground shake under the word feminist and wondering why anyone was stupid enough to shimmy along, but people have been doing that same dance, unquestioning, for years. Words, once again, have great power: to raise up, to destroy, to inspire, to rend, but we have to listen, and we have to know what words mean when we use them. If we don’t, we don’t know when they’re used to tear us apart from one another.

The NAACP has heard McCain’s words before.

A word we hear and use and misuse is racism. Racism is a systemic power imbalance based on the dominant culture’s perception of skin color, manifesting in but not limited to social, economic, educational and linguistic inequalities. It’s racism when the average household worth of non-Hispanic white people is above $80,000, but for black people it’s less than $6,000. It’s racism when police and fire departments routinely hire white applicants in numbers disproportionate to the population. It’s not at all racism when black people, speaking where white people can hear them, mention racism exists, and that it’s wildly unpleasant to live with. What, then, about black people who do terrible things to white people? That’s not racism. That can be prejudice, hatred, a violent dislike or a loss of composure, but in America, it doesn’t have the weight and omnipresence of the system and the state. When we use the word racism to describe the actions or words of a black person, we are not only misusing this word, we are teaching people not to trust our words. And we have to know this, because people who understand the meanings of words are listening.

The issues are complex and the language is rich and supple, however loaded it might be with the tools of oppression and damage. In America, English is an oppressor language, wielded by the dominant culture against immigrants and natives alike; never mistake it for a weapon that won’t be used against you. It is, every day, all the time, but it’s also your weapon if you take it up and learn how to use it. People who think spelling and grammar are not important might as well be asking con artists to steal their savings accounts.

Back to the glib linguist: she remarked that it was surprising feminists resisted changes in language and all the hair on my arms stood up. I was at work, so I went and did something else, possibly involving knives. To me, that statement said everything I needed to know or will ever need to know about that person. Further, I know that if I need to con someone out of her nest egg, I know precisely who’ll never see me coming.