All My Friends Are Skeletons

Pete and I play an exciting game. No, it doesn’t involve handcuffs. But it could. I guess. Anyway, it goes like this: Pete is talking about something, then says something out of the blue. The other day it was “That’s what I can do with the frozen flounder.”

Tata: Wait, what will you do with the frozen flounder?
Pete: Quesadillas. Red pepper. Sharp cheese.

The game is now ON.

Tata: When, my dear, can I eat that?

I love this game because the rules are so flexible.

Pete: Restaurants serve brunches to get rid of leftovers. That’s what they’re made of, you should avoid those.
Tata: I should? I didn’t realize!
Pete: Yep, I can’t tell you what I’ve put into a walk-in on Saturday night, knowing it was going out on the buffet Sunday morning.
Tata: You know, there’s no need to go to brunch. You could put brunch on a pizza.
Pete: I don’t know…
Tata: Sure, you could. Peppers, onion, turkey sausage, a layer of herbed ricotta on whole wheat crust, perhaps a post-oven drizzle of hollandaise. That’s breakfast, baby!
Pete: You’re glad I thought of it, smartypants?
Tata: Exactly: when can I eat that?

We have what can only be described as happy accidents. Pete made a turkey meatloaf. Everyone since Betty Crocker looks at those and thinks about ketchup. I thought about cranberries. So while I was leaving the meatloaf in the oven twenty minutes longer than Pete instructed, I put a sauce pan on the stove, minced a chipotle pepper and tossed in a tablespoon of the adobo sauce, and poured in some orange juice. They simmered with a healthy splash of balsamic vinegar and a mess o’ dried, sweetened cranberries. When, to our surprise, the tater tots needed another few minutes – dude, I’m old enough to vote twice, I can eat some tater tots now and then if I hanker for ’em – I added a little more orange juice. This reduced sauce, ladled coyly over really moist turkey meatloaf, made me jealous later that I wasn’t eating that.

I love this game.

Sina Mali, Sina Deni

Sometimes, you watch and listen for a very long time, then suddenly you know how to fix exactly what’s wrong, and how to do it. Watch this:

…the Obama administration is shaping up to be robot-friendly. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates released yesterday his proposed cuts to a variety of military technology programs, and it looks like good news for unmanned systems.

While some high-profile programs like the F-22 Raptor are being scaled back, and the manned vehicles that are part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems program are going to be re-bid, Gates specifically left funding for “robotic sensors” and unmanned vehicles like the Predator. He also suggested increasing the initial fleet of Littoral Combat Ships – the LCS is designed to carry a number of mission modules to be deployed in the littoral area of the ocean (relatively shallow water, near shore, where most mines are deployed), and among those modules are AUV systems.

Okay okay okay, now take this trip down Recent Memory Lane:

This is an ingredient-driven outbreak; that is, potentially contaminated ingredients affected many different products that were distributed through various channels and consumed in various settings. The recalled products made by PCA, such as peanut butter and peanut paste, are common ingredients in cookies, crackers, cereal, candy, ice cream, pet treats, and other foods. Consumers are advised to discard and not eat products that have been recalled. To help consumers identify affected products, FDA has initiated a searchable database of recalled products that is updated daily or as additional recalls are identified. To date, more than 2,100 products in 17 categories have been voluntarily recalled by more than 200 companies, and the list continues to grow.

In January, the recall list was expanded to include some pet-food products that contain peanut paste made by PCA. Salmonella can affect animals, and humans who handle contaminated pet-food products also are at risk. It is important for people to wash their hands – and to make sure children wash their hands – with hot water and soap before and, especially, after handling pet-food products and utensils.

Any management consultant will tell you you should never tailor a job to the employee, and I fear we’ve tailored our governing to the governors. No, no, no. Maybe that worked during the cold war, but after a while everything gets stuffy and our needs as a people and employers have changed. So here is my brilliant idea: let’s put the American Wehrmacht in the hands of the scientists, social workers and bureaucrats. What? you ask. Isn’t it? It is not. Obviously, underfunded environmental nerds will wage eco-friendly war, when they’re done eating their free-range tofu pops, and social workers know how to wring $1.50 out of a buck. They’re old hands with compassion and bake sales. This, I truly believe, is the way to wage war: cheaply or not at all. Scientists are used to having their funding yanked the moment they discover something promising, which would really motivate them to either commit genocide economically or force them to quit it and invent something useful. And that would be good for everyone.

The really brilliant part of my brilliant plan: put the Pentagon in change of Healthcare, the EPA and Education. The generals have proven they can deliver – um – something. We need little children trained to read? Send in the Army Corps of Engineers. Those children will be reading in no time. We need healthcare for everyone, shore to shore, in America? Dude, who sees the big picture like the Pentagon! What do we need like a global war on polluters? The Pentagon has proven it can handle the gazillions of dollars we’re dumping into it at a rate that year after year exceeds the military budgets of the whole rest of the planet combined. Let the Pentagon keep its literally unimaginably ginormous budget and give us what we as employers really need: laser-like focus. Think of it: Pentagon hospitals, nursing homes, organic co-ops and animal shelters. Suddenly mission creep might mean sexay-sexay expanded Social Security, Unemployment and Welfare. I’m telling you it’s a match made in Heaven, and it would be brilliantly good for everyone.

Take Only What You Need

Johnny, Poor Impulse Control’s Southwest Bureau Chief, sends back this detailed communiqué from Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico. Yes, there is such a place. Do I know there was a television show by the same name? I do, but it’s just a coincidence, like Intercourse, Pennsylvania and that North Brunswick is south of South Brunswick, New Jersey. No one is that casual about place names. That’s why you go to arenas that share the same names as ginormous corporations: because names come from God. I read that somewhere. So here we are in Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico. It’s a coincidence. Shut up.

Plainly, it’s not all glamor. I was thinking the other day about the gaps between what we see and what it might be possible to see. At the height of my artistic rampagery, a photographer and I combed the rusting ramparts of shipyards and power plants for industrial stalagmites and stalactites of great scale we could use in what graduate students refer to as body art. Finding the rusted cityscapes became a hunger for us. In retrospect, it’s kind of a miracle we never got arrested, which would have been an excellent career move.

You see the sign. You may see what it was supposed to be. Perhaps you make signs or grew up in a forge. If you did, I’m glad you got out, those are hot. You have insight into what was, perhaps not just at the beginning but also over time. You see the pride someone felt the first time he flipped the switch on a new sign. You see the fatigue of late nights, beer sweat and unpaid bills. You see someone turning off the sign for the last time and locking a greasy door. You feel the wind blow. All that’s left is a picture of love, of this place. Once upon a time, happily ever after.

Who Doesn’t Notice All the Others

New York Times:

Oil Companies Loath to Follow Obama’s Green Lead

In other news: Duh.

The Obama administration wants to reduce oil consumption, increase renewable energy supplies and cut carbon dioxide emissions in the most ambitious transformation of energy policy in a generation.

But the world’s oil giants are not convinced that it will work. Even as Washington goes into a frenzy over energy, many of the oil companies are staying on the sidelines, balking at investing in new technologies favored by the president, or even straying from commitments they had already made.

Our top story tonight: Duh.

BP, a company that has spent nine years saying it was moving “beyond petroleum,” has been getting back to petroleum since 2007, paring back its renewable program. And American oil companies, which all along have been more skeptical of alternative energy than their European counterparts, are studiously ignoring the new messages coming from Washington.

Duh: film at 11.

The administration wants to spend $150 billion over the next decade to create what it calls “a clean energy future.” Its plan would aim to diversify the nation’s energy sources by encouraging more renewables, and it would reduce oil consumption and cut carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

The oil companies have frequently run advertisements expressing their interest in new forms of energy, but their actual investments have belied the marketing claims. The great bulk of their investments goes to traditional petroleum resources, including carbon-intensive energy sources like tar sands and natural gas from shale, while alternative investments account for a tiny fraction of their spending. So far, that has changed little under the Obama administration.

When we return from commercial: traffic, weather and Duh.

Perhaps not surprisingly, most investments in alternative sources of energy are coming from pockets other than those of the oil companies.

A gum-popping tween could spot the stupidity of this discussion. Oil companies have no obligation to develop anything. Nothing at all. In seventy years, they’ll be out of business if they don’t, but that’s their problem. Our problem is what we are doing and not doing to develop clean energy sources, and by ‘we’ I mean you and me. We. Why doesn’t the New York Times know that?

I’d Be Running Up That Hill

NEW JERSEY (AP) – Local woman Tata LongItalianName had nothing to say Monday night in what friends, relatives and acquaintances declared was a near miracle.

“Holy crap! Pour some adult beverages and put an APB out on missing bass players!” exclaimed Siobhan Pseudonym, a long-time “associate” of Ms. LongItalianName. “Those bass players didn’t just get up and walk away!”

“My sister Domenica? Has nothing to say? Was she conscious?” asked Daria MarriedSomeDude. “Was she eating – because sometimes that’s the only way to tell.”

Ms. LongItalianName touched up paint in the attic, worked on website construction and scratched her three cats for two hours Monday night without uttering a word. Those who’ve known her longest expressed surprise.

“She what?” asked Kim LongItalianName, Tata’s mother. “Hallelujah!”

Ms. Pseudonym hurried to assure the public there was no cause for concern. “She can’t help herself. She’ll be complaining again by breakfasttime.”

See Them On the Beach

An hour ago, I was upstairs rowing when I felt a truck stop in front of the house, but I was rowing so I didn’t get up to find out if it was selling ice cream. I immediately forgot about this truck because I have no attention span and I almost never eat ice cream. Some time later, Pete mentioned the fire trucks parked in front of our house. I have to say I was really surprised. When your house receives that kind of attention, usually you’re aware of something a little different going on. The strangers with the big yellow coats are a tip off. Pete said the trucks were actually addressing an incendiary situation two doors down and their presence in front of our house was merely friendly. I wondered if we should bake something but that seemed like pandering. Every gust of fresh air carries with it an intensely chemical smell, familiar for all the wrong reasons: grease, lighter fluid and something else I’d rather not think too much about. The lights are very twinkly.

Take Off Your Watch, Your Rings And All

Photo: Bob Hosh

Yesterday, Minstrel Boy told me a story that reminded me of another about Mullah Nasrudin, the Sufis’ Wise Fool. I spent a little time looking for this Nasrudin story online, but I’m not going to find it. It’s from one of Idries Shah’s collections, so out of print even Alibris scoffs at my search. Someone from the commune gave them to me for my birthday when I turned 13. It was quite some time before I knew how lucky that made me. Online, though, one can find some delightful stories. Wikibooks:

Who died?
A traveler was passing through town when he came upon a huge funeral procession. Nasrudin was on a corner watching the people pass by.

“Who died?” the traveler asked Nasrudin.

“I’m not sure,” replied Nasrudin, “but I think it’s the one in the coffin.”

In this format, some stories come with the lessons spelled out.

* Language is imprecise and we can sometimes miss the context of a question.
* Speak only the truth you know.
* Once somebody is dead, it matters little who they were in life.

Fantastic! Even I might learn something!

The Nature of the Unseen
It seems that the Master of Mirth and Chief of the Dervishes, Nasrudin, was once called to pontificate on the ‘Nature of Allah’ in the local mosque. Present were the many Imams and Doctors of the Islamic Law. Out of courtesy and because Nasrudin could not be counted on saying anything worthwhile, these illustrious guests explained and inspired the audience with their eloquence and wisdom.

Finally it was Nasrudin’s turn to explain ‘the Nature of Allah’.

“Allah …”, started Nasrudin impressively “is …”

Nasrudin removed and held up an ovoid mauve vegetable from the folds of his turban, ” … an aubergine.”

There was uproar at this blasphemy. When order was finally established, Nasrudin was reluctantly asked to explain his words.

“I conclude that everyone has spoken of what they do not know or have not seen. We can all see this aubergine. Is there anyone who can deny that Allah is manifest in all things?”

Nobody could.

“Very well,” said Nasrudin, “Allah is an aubergine.”

I love this guy!

* Don’t talk about things you don’t know about.
* If you can’t see god in all, you can’t see god at all.
* A fool can make a fool of learned men.
* The wisdom of the lord is the folly of men, and the folly of men is the wisdom of the lord.
* People know as much about god as a chick that is still inside the egg.
* Wise men can be trumped by a vegetable.
* Religious people do not really believe the things they say and think they believe.
* No description is equivalent to the thing it describes. To do so it would have to be the thing itself. Therefore, one can demonstrate but not describe the nature of Allah.

Wise men can be trumped by a vegetable. That explains a lot, I think.

Audience with the King
Nasrudin returned to his village from the imperial capital, and the villagers gathered around to hear what had passed. “At this time,” said Nasrudin, “I only want to say that the King spoke to me.” All the villagers but the stupidest ran off to spread the wonderful news. The remaining villager asked, “What did the King say to you?” “What he said – and quite distinctly, for everyone to hear – was ‘Get out of my way!'” The simpleton was overjoyed; he had heard words actually spoken by the King, and seen the very man they were spoken to.

Imagine the progress we might make if these stories were taught for five minutes out of every news hour. Just…imagine.

Very Small Boys Talk To Me

This is not delicious.

Often, I buy a carton of soup cans and stash them in my filing cabinet at work for those days when time and patience run short. Ya gotta eat, right? Right. So I picked up a set of Select Harvest Italian Wedding Soup cans and yesterday, I ate some soup.

Let me make a prediction: sometime in the next two or three years, a food inspector will open a simmering vat of Select Harvest Italian Wedding Soup and discover where Trenton’s sewers have been mysteriously draining for the last 50 years, and spinach.

A Satin Sash And Velvet Elevation

I’ve been thinking about this song all day. The melody is full of whispers and suggestions that travel up my spine and out through my limbs, I feel it in my shoulders and the way my head should turn. This is my native language. I have spoken it well, lyrically, better than I have done anything else. I wonder now if I am an exile, abroad in a land where I will never speak it again. This is an idle thought, of no importance. My hands are full.

Jake and Dinos Chapman made an installation piece called Hell that was destroyed in a fire. With the help of some very generous benefactors, the artists recreated the piece, this time naming it Fucking Hell. The Guardian UK:

Fucking Hell – also on show at the White Cube gallery in central London – is nine glass cabinets arranged in a swastika formation with tens of thousands of miniature figures enduring awfulness on a grand scale. The original installation was lost in the east London fire which destroyed much of Charles Saatchi’s stored art collection four years ago.

“You couldn’t fail to see something funny about Hell being on fire,” said Jake. Their first thought was: let’s do it again. Jake said: “We wanted to rescue the work from the sentimentality that soon clothed the work after it burned, an affection for the work that wasn’t there when it actually existed as an object, so the idea of a world without Hell was unacceptable to us.

“While everyone else was whingeing around kicking their legs in the air like overturned cockroaches, the first thing we said was we’d remake it”. The Chapmans did not realise Hell was in the fire at first. “We thought it was in special storage for the stuff that he [Saatchi] really liked,” joked Dinos.

Pictures don’t do it justice, so watch the movie. Go ahead. It’s really short.

In the course of considering Heaven and Hell, we are also considering the nature of a Supreme Being. I’m not sure there is one, but I do three stupid things before breakfast so what do I know? A lot of people are sure, and they’re sure there’s an afterlife that rewards good behavior and punishes bad. That’s an awful lot to be certain about on some very iffy say-so, and these are just words. But art is a lens that blurs and focuses. Art is character study. As I watched the short movie, I thought: Hell itself is not the product of a loving theology. The minds that created it, as minds will when there is a gap in information, did not hope for the love or favor of their Supreme Being – or its mercy. No. All of that suffering, filthy and predestined, is just a bore. Imagine tormenting souls for ten minutes. Imagine an hour. Try to imagine a ceaselessness that you simply can’t as a mortal being. Imagine the tedium of eternity. What the creators of the philosophical Hell feared more than anything was their Supreme Being’s indifference. Given the many myriad possibilities of the human imagination, this is the poison pill: that there is no reason to care about any of us.

Of course, I am special. I hear the dance in music and sense the impatience of time.