Friday, June 26, 2009

It's not very original, but...what I have to say about MJ

It's true, that's totally MJ at the White House with the Reagans.

Michael Jackson, though he may have turned out to be quite odd, was indeed one of the greatest entertainers of all time. Even on NPR this morning, they did multiple stories and interviews about him. One of the people from Motown Records was talking about him as a child, and how he was just magnetic, even then. He was an original, there had never been, and won't ever be, anyone else like him. But someone also said that his house, at Neverland, was just filled with hundreds of enormous, life-sized statues, and how it gave everyone the impression that he was very lonely, which is really sad. They played a clip of him singing "I'll be There," as a little kid, and it may have made me tear up a little. It doesn't seem like someone who's already such a legend should die, I guess.

I used to work at this cafe here in the summers, and one summer this guy named Andrew was also working. Andrew was a teacher, so he was just using the job to make some extra money while he was out of school, and we often had the same schedule. He was really into music, and a little older than me, and he told me one time that when Kurt Cobain died in 1994, he was teaching at a boys school up north. It was a boarding school, and he said that day he was walking through the courtyard in the middle of the dorms, and suddenly all the windows flew open, and simultaneously, stereos in all the buildings started thumping that first rhythm of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and the boys poured into the courtyard, shirtless, in a collective moment of teenage boy upset.

Listening to them talk about the crowds filling the streets outside of Jackson's hospital this morning, I thought of that story, and pictured somewhere on a campus collective stereos blasting those first synthesizer strains of "Thriller" into a courtyard, and everyone suddenly gathering to do that iconic dance on the lawn, arms raised with hands curling claw-like in time to the beat.

R.I.P., King of Pop.

Watch this. And, of course, this.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

There must be something in the water...

Wow. Did John Ensign put him up to this?

Democrats everywhere must be cackling gleefully into their Barack Obama coffee mugs. Apparently, the Republican party has fulfilled the quest they've been barking about for months - nay, years; re-defining the brand of the GOP. Perhaps they're hoping to collect a younger demographic with the edge-y "Moronic middle-aged guys who can't keep their pants on" branding. I'm thinking that may not test real well with their usual demographic but perhaps it will draw in some outlier groups. Like maybe people who are big Bill Clinton fans?

My questions about this whole situation:

a) What on earth made him think that as one of only fifty governors in the country, he could disappear without actually telling people where he was going for a full week and think that no one would question it? Did he want to get caught?

b) He says his wife has known about the affair for five months. If he had already admitted it to her, why would he continue it??

c) I ask once again why everyone ignores Ron Paul despite the fact that he is brilliant and can keep it classy. The Republicans wouldn't even let him into some of the debates.

d) I wonder what our country will be like once we have a one-party political system as the Republican party is clearing crumbling from within like a house of feta cheese built on a foundation of sand...

Yeah, yeah

Since I know most of you probably didn't power through the epic of libraries, I will leave you some lighter fare today. Perhaps a first for this little blog: a movie review!

Folks, last night Katie and Lacey and I went to see "The Proposal."
For one thing, let's be honest, we've all missed Sandra. She is gorgeous and adorable and funny. Also, let's note that Ryan Reynolds (while I slightly judge him for being married to Scarlet Johanson) pretty much fits the same description, although to a slightly lesser degree on all counts.

Secondly, I will say that the movie itself is hysterical. Truly enjoyable hilarity throughout, and not in a please-don't-smoke-on-the-roof-and-set-the-house-on-fire Meet the Faulkers kind of way (I hated that movie and all movies like it) or in a crude-but-you-still-have-to-laugh kind of way. Just funny. Everyone in the theater was shrieking at various points, including the few men who had been brave enough to venture into a movie called "The Proposal."

Yes, it was pretty predictable, and yes at the end I felt that they didn't really bother making the ending legitimate, but I didn't really go into it expecting "Life is Beautiful" or something. If you are in the market for some light, really delightful and straight-up funny film fare, I recommend it.

Or you can go see Transformers 2, which has been described by pretty much everyone as "loud, obnoxious and loud."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Salute to libraries

This is the Peabody Library in Baltimore. It makes me wish I lived in Baltimore. This photo is really ubiquitous, but this particular version is from leafar's flikr page, whoever that is. Once in 7th grade our teacher did this exercise where we were supposed to close our eyes and picture an ideal, peaceful place, and if I had seen this picture then, this is what I would have pictured. What I actually pictured was a room with lots of big, sunny windows, shiny parquet floors, salmon-y coral colored walls, bookshelves, and a big beanbag/floor cushion thing upon which I would sit. What would you picture?

This is Andrew Carnegie, steel magnate and builder of more than 2,500 libraries. I like him. He is the real focus of this essay. Mainly because I went to the Chattanooga Bicentennial Library last week for the first time in forever and before I even walked in, I could smell the library smell - books and carpet and dust and old newspapers and a little disinfectant and the ink from the check-out date stamps. It reminded me of how much I love the library.

Although libraries are not everyone's favorite place, and I did avoid the one at Auburn as much as I could, (too much fluorescence - further ranting on my hatred of cfl lights and the fact that ambient light in this country will be forever ruined by the year 2012 later) the library makes me happier than most places. 

One of the many great things my mother did for me when I was a child was keeping me in constant supply of books of all genres and sizes. I enjoyed nearly complete collections of Nancy Drew and the Boxcar Children, and classics like Little Women, Girl of the Limberlost, Anne of Green Gables, and Narnia. There were also the slightly more obscure tomes like the Five Little Peppers, and the Betsy books (omg, so wonderful I wish I was reading one right now), and All-of-a-Kind Family books, and The Twenty-one Balloons (which I gave all the students in my class last year for Christmas), and Ginger Pye, and a book I stumbled upon at the library called The Little White Horse, which was old and odd and a truly magical story. 

I created rituals for myself with some of these books - Little Women I read every year over Christmas from second grade through college, The Little White Horse I read every summer for about as long. Going to the library in and of itself was a ritual for me once the summer began. When I was little, we would park at the Choo Choo and get on the electric shuttle, which would deposit us at the Broad Street entrance of the library, right in front of the giant fountain composed of books made of steel. Then through the doors onto the Brady Bunch-era orange carpet (still there), turning right in front of the information desk constructed out of dark possibly-wood. To get to the children's section, you go up the stairs with the smooth shiny handrails to the second floor. 

This convenient photo is from a website called

When we got back on the bus, the bus driver would tease me about my giant stack of books (even she could sense my nerdiness.) By the time I was ready for the grown-up section, we had moved to Brainerd and started going to the East Gate library, which was smaller and not as cool, but I still liked it, and would roam the stacks forever. I remember exactly where I found All's Quiet on the Western Front, and Agatha Christie. 

Anyhow, all this to say that the library was integral to my childhood and adolescence, and I think I would probably be different if I hadn't had access to all those books. "You are," as Frank Navasky writes about 'The Shop Around the Corner', "what you read." Annie Dillard, in the oft-mentioned An American Childhood, remembers that her father's bookplates stated "Books make the man," over a picture of a ship with full sails. Both true, in my opinion. 

From Annie Dillard, I also learned about Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-born immigrant who came to America with his family as a child and started working at 13. Carnegie, as we know, was the developer of US Steel and played a key role in building our nation's railroads, which in turn dictated a great deal of the development of our nation in general. 

As a result of this and some other smart investments, Carnegie amassed an enormous fortune and felt that it was a major responsibility on his part to disperse his "surplus wealth" for the betterment of mankind. "One of the serious obstacles to the improvement of our race is indiscriminate charity," Carnegie once said, and his philanthropy was based on this principle. He believed in giving to the "industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefitted by help from others." Ah, indeed, Mr. Carnegie. 

As a young man, Carnegie worked for a telegraph company, and his boss would let the workers have access to his private library on Saturdays. Carnegie was endlessly grateful to this man who had given "working boys" the opportunity  to acquire knowledge and better themselves. The memory of this gift is likely what inspired Carnegie to choose libraries as one of the chief means of distributing his surplus wealth, for as he said, "I choose free libraries as the best agencies for improving the masses of the people, because they give nothing for nothing. They only help those who help themselves. They never pauperize. They reach the aspiring and open to these chief treasures of the world -- those stored up in books. A taste for reading drives out lower tastes."  

What he had gathered from the gift of books had been stepping stones to becoming the person he was, and he felt that enabling others to find those stepping stones was the greatest gift he could give. (Incidentally, he also gave a great deal of money to other things like universities and health care facilities, but libraries were his dearest gift.)

Anyhow, in addition to the more than 2,500 libraries he built around the world, we also have Carnegie to thank for the way libraries work these days. Before he started designing them, going to the library to get a book meant asking a clerk to go back into the closed stacks and pick it up for you. Carnegie wanted people to be able to explore the books, and be pulled in by what they saw, making their own selections to build their stepping stones, so he designed open stacks that people could wander and browse. This concept is key to the library experience, so grazi, Andrew. 

His libraries were all beautiful buildings, aesthetically supervised by his secretary, James Bertram. Most feature a prominent entrance reached by a staircase, to symbolize elevation by learning. Each library also generally featured a lantern or lamppost outside, which represented enlightenment. The first library he built was in his hometown of Dunfermline, Scotland, and over the door he had enscribed "Let there be light." Since he was such a classy guy, we will forgive him for what could be taken as an overuse of symbology and appreciate the sentiment. 

This is a Carnegie Library in Oklahoma. Note the classy dome and columns. Very nice, Andrew. 

This is a Carnegie Library in England. As you can see, Andrew insisted that the libraries be beautiful, welcoming places that people would actually want to go into. Very classy.

Carnegie, like many of his fellow titans of industry, became the model for today's philanthropists. The MacArthur Foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and many others follow his ideal of inspiring people with goals and dreams to better themselves, and to rise above whatever their circumstances might be. I feel like I owe a lot to Andrew Carnegie, and so I felt compelled to write this little ode to him, for which (if you've read this far) I appreciate your indulgence. 

Here are some awesome things that Andrew said while he was alive. I wish I could shake his hand:

"Think of yourself as on the threshold of unparalleled success. A whole, clear, glorious life lies before you. Achieve! Achieve!" This is my favorite thing that Andrew said. I feel like it should be emblazoned on the walls of every school in the country. Of course then people would just get used to it and ignore it. 

"And while the law of competition may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department." Ah Andrew. It is a shame you aren't around to remind people (government people, especially) about this.

"He that cannot reason is a fool. He that will not is a bigot. He that dare not is a slave." Tell it like it is, Andrew.

"There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration." I really appreciate Andrew's definition of democracy, which rests on the tenet that men are free when they pursue knowledge and achievement by stretching their minds. Seems unique. George Will would approve. And Ron Paul. That's how you know it's good. Also, I wish people still said stuff like that, just in general. People in the 19th century were so much more eloquent. Thanks a lot, television.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Morning Post

I continue to be freakishly busy as deadline approaches but beseech you all to please, please read this post from The Cajun Boy of Gawker because I have tears coming out of my eyes as I laugh silently at my desk. Here's a teaser:

"As you can tell from the photo at left, the poor blogger, "D.Billy," didn't even get to crack the top on his can of Pepsi One when the feathered beast flew in through the open door and dipped its razor-sharp talons into his lunch."

I realize that my reading Gawker makes it seem like maybe I'm lying about being freakishly busy but it pops up on my Google reader and sometimes I need a brief break. Unfortunately I don't always think fast enough to come up with witty and relevant blog posts during that break, which is why I am sending you to read this hilarious tale.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I meant to write about this last week...

It's been kind of crazy around here.

Ok, first, political culture consultant Ali called this to my attention late last week. If you don't trust our brilliant recommendations enough to read the article (come on, it's funny! for real!) then I will summarize by saying that Kinsey, one of the Post's opinion writers, proposes that we pick a new, more singer-friendly national anthem, and offers several viable suggestions. Reason being that the song spans nearly two full octaves where most normal people (read: not Martina Mcbride) have a range of less than one octave. This means that the majority of Americans cannot actually sing our national anthem without at some point sounding ridiculous.

Now, on this part of his thesis I can't really argue because true or false: everyone has heard more painful performances of the Star Spangled Banner than you've heard Jillian the Bachelorette say "ah-booot" instead of about. Ok, maybe not because she says that a lot, but everytime I hear someone sing it I'm crossing my fingers they won't miss the high notes.

So anyhow he also notes that our national anthem is terrifically filled with lyrics about violent battles. Well, sure it is, because it's about the American Revolution and the endurance of the flag (*symbol alert: representing patriotism) so I don't have a problem with that (although some of the other verses are a little more intense than the normal verse. Probably why we don't sing them. Also since there are like 6 it would take forever, you'd have to start singing before batting practice was over so the game could start on time.)

Kinsey also claims that "home of the brave" is kind of ludicrous because there's "nothing in the American myth (let alone reality) to suggest that we are braver than anyone else." However, historically here I take issue with him because the whole deal with the patriots was that they were brave enough to stand up for what they believed in despite seemingly insurmountable odds and unbeatable enemies (read: the entire British army/navy.) Also, as a result of the role America has played in most major wars, I'd say that bravery is certainly a part of the 'American myth', as it is something that is often lauded and poeticized and made movies about. So while there are certainly brave people in other countries, I'd say that having "home of the brave" in our national anthem isn't that absurd.

Of his suggestions for replacements, my pick is certainly "The Battlehymn of the Republic." So fun to sing and with classy and inspiring lyrics to boot. Although a rousing chorus of "God Bless America" complete with clashing cymbals would be fun too. I was always inspired by that country song "An American Child," too, which goes nicely with one of my favorite books, "An American Childhood", though the two are in no other way connected.

Ok, time for lunch. There was something else I meant to write about last week too but now I can't remember it...maybe later.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hey, I've got an idea

Dear City of Chattanooga (and all other muncipalities with parking meters),

Please learn how to make parking meters that accept pennies.

For one thing, parking meters in general are a pain and a rip-off. A quarter = 20 minutes? I remember when a quarter was worth half an hour, sonny. I even remember when I could park at Coolidge park for free (not a tough memory to conjure since that was like last year, but still.)

All I want to do is run in Figgy's or Ankars and grab a quick lunch, but if I am out of change, no such luck. I must drive all the way down Broad Street to the Subway (because the one downtown requires change for meters too.) This is a plastic world, folks. I almost never have cash. Which, conversely, means I almost never get change.

Except, there are ALWAYS pennies.

Everywhere, lurking. Because there is no use for them (no offense, Honest Abe.) I have been known (on occasion) to throw them away when cleaning out a purse because they're so basically useless and I don't want to carry them around.

HOWEVER, if I could put them in parking meters -- Oh, the utility! How much easier my life would be, and how coppery-clutter-free! Zip down to Figgy's, pop 10 shiny pennies in the meter, the city is satisfied, I am satisfied, it would be genius.

Why is it that machines reject our coppery little friends? No coke machines, no bubblegum machines, (obviously) no parking meters...what gives? Why do machine-makers hate on Abraham Lincoln? Maybe somebody knows this. Walker, you're an accountant, any ideas? Amanda Youell, you read this on occasion and are very smart/work with numbers, perhaps you can help?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Consistant blogger I am not

Saturday night, we went to this festival/fundraiser in town to celebrate Jason's birthday, which officially happened yesterday (happy birthday to Jason!)

The festival is called Bella Sera, and involves lots of people strolling around one of the riverfront parks, armed with a wineglass and hopefully the phone number of a cab company (or, as in my case, an apartment within walking distance.)

Your ticket to the event entitles you to tapas from five different restaurants (who were all set up under tents along the sidewalk) and all the wine you care to slosh into your glass. The event's proceeds go towards a local organization called Endeavors, which seeks to help people who've been released from prison get their lives back together and get on a positive path.

The evening began clear and warm, and as the sun set over the river, folks from all around gathered under the trees to taste yummy things and chat. My favorite food item from the evening was one I already knew I liked. I don't care who you are, the chicken tortilla soup from Taco Mamacita is AMAZING. They give you a bowl containing neat little piles of fresh ingredients, like avacado, tomatoes, some sort of tasty Mexican cheese, lime and cilantro. The server then pours steaming broth over the contents of the bowl, creating a delicious fresh soup. Their guacamole is also pretty amazing. I'd say my favorite wine of the night was Riesling, which makes my wine tastes disappointingly girly. I tried to drink red but I just plain don't like it.

After picking up our third round of tapas, we sat down at a table with several people we didn't know. Later, we ran into one couple, and the guy (we'll call him Jim) goes "hey it's our neighbors!" His girlfriend goes "um, those aren't our neighbors..." and we all kind of laughed. Then the guy is like "NO from the TABLE," which was true enough. We later sat down with them again. We learned that Jim and his girlfriend (we'll call her Karen) and their friend, the vegan (we'll call her Kate) are entertaining.

Jim has a very distinctive accent, combination southern drawl and someone very, very chill. In response to queries regarding what he does for a living, Jim tells us "I make teeth." To the understanding follow-up question of "how did you get into that?" he offered the clarifying explanation that he formerly worked in a tattoo shop, but doing piercings.

Karen asked if we both lived in town, and upon finding out that Jason lives in Atlanta, all three of them made faces like they'd smelled something dead and chorused "WHY??" (coincidentally, he received this response not just from this group, but from almost every person we talked to at the event. I found this amusing and edifying.)

Jim learned that it was Jason's birthday, and when he heard Jason's new age, he stared at him for a second and then said "dude...I don't know what the h*** you're eatin', but I want some." This was flattering for Jason and amusing for all. (Mild expletive abbreviated for curse-sensitive readers.) It turned out that Karen, Jim's girlfriend, is a nurse, so we consulted her about Jason's sprained ankle. She examined it and began explaining proper care for such a sprain (/ligament damage), all while Jim is interjecting with comments like "dude, no, don't listen to that. you're FINE. just have a couple drinks and you won't even be able to tell. Ice it? Naw. This is just a bunch of malarky."

Eventually we launched into a discussion with Karen regarding swine flu, and she was adament that when a vaccine is available, everyone should get vaccinated, because last time there was a swine flu (in like the 1920's), it went away and then came back even worse. As you can imagine, Jim found this ridiculous also. His solution to avoiding infection?

"Drink scotch and don't wash your hands. I guarantee it."

You heard it here first, folks.