Sunday, December 29, 2013

Camille Paglia and Hallmark America

by Meg Sonata

Support for Camille Paglia's maverick views on feminism comes from an odd source during this holiday season. While she decries the emasculation of the American male in speeches and articles, the Hallmark channel has been presenting a series of movies which depicts Christmas as the quest for traditional romance between the sexes. 

Typically, the plots of these films portray women struggling for independence while simultaneously seeking a life-mate to join them in celebrating the difference between the sexes, too. Synchronicity between these forces would not be so startling--except Paglia has championed her lesbian cause for years, while Hallmark could have dramatized the difficult road to Bethlehem, but didn't. 

When polarized forces reverse course together, is a cultural movement afoot in America? Will women strengthen by championing men to stand up and be strong defenders of the women in their lives? Sounds like a good plot to explore in the New Year! 

Check out

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Meet John Doe: The American Dream in the Media Age

by Meg Sonata

This famous film leaps across decades to explain America to itself. The hero, a stalwart Gary Cooper, plays a nonexistent character in a media drama. The heroine, the beguiling Barbara Stanwyck, discovers the secret to creating a media sensation. Politicians hide behind the curtain of good intentions, fiddling with the cords of manipulation. Like the Wizard of Oz, Meet John Doe rips away the facade of ideals, leaving an expose in their place.

How do perfectly honest souls end up conspiring to fool their fellow citizens? This question reverberates through every scene of this troubling movie, which begets quandaries faster than a hunting dog can find fleas. Cooper's face becomes the icon it already is here. Stanwyck's face, too, bespeaks eternal adoration. So, an innocent public falls for anything their idols say. But what kind of plot is this, when the stars set out to imitate John Q Public?

Released in 1941, the plot tracks the transformation of a Mr. Nobody into a character who unwittingly launches thousands to do his bidding. From start to finish, the John Doe played by Gary Cooper never manages to know exactly who he is, for he progresses toward the realization of a columnist's memory. Her father gave her the words which she places in John Doe's/Gary Cooper's mouth, to fantastical effect. Voila! Daddy rises from the grave!

Yet who is really the reporter's father in this film? His words endorse a Good Neighbor policy, domestically practiced in the USA. In the background of memory, however, lurks that biblical indictment: Just who is my neighbor? Is he the criminal hanging on the cross next to Christ's? Or is she the beautiful scoundrel whose face launches ships for a hellacious war? Do my neighbors include pally pols who would do anything but die for my vote?

The film's famous director, Frank Capra, pivots the action toward a single choice: Gary Cooper must become the fictional character he has pretended to be, in order to win mass acclaim. Finally, he must decide if he is up for committing suicide on Christmas Eve, the threat written into the plot handed to him by his own personal Eve. For dramatic tension, this film is hard to beat. What does it mean to say: "Never say die"? See the movie, and see! 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Edward Snowden's Neighbor: Spying in America

by Meg Sonata

When I was a teenager living in Cassadaga, NY, a tiny village in Western New York State, I experienced the same oversight described in Der Spiegel today. The title of their lead article shows the same editorial restraint which characterizes this detailed expose. It might have been sensationally labeled "Paranoia and Xenophobia in America." Instead, it quietly introduces "Woman at the Window: Judging Edward Snowden from Next Door."

The woman of the title is Joyce Kinsey, whose occupation appears to be unemployed hairdresser in Der Spiegel's expose, but should be recorded as "spying on her neighbors." With a clear sense of entitlement to know her neighbors' every move and intention, Mrs. Kinsey innocently lays out for the author, Alexander Osang, a recipe for fascism which will leave Germans screaming after their WWII experience with neighbors reporting suspicious activity to Hitler's faithful followers, especially his storm troopers with the death's head on their helmets, the dreaded SS. 

Osang doesn't need to state that this woman doesn't watch the History Channel or read Der Spiegel. There, 
regular features appear addressing Germans' prolonged attempt to come to terms with loyal citizens sending 
their fellow human beings straight to the gas chambers and mass murder pits. Her world view derives strictly 
from the American mass media, along with the proclamations and suspicions of her relatives, according to her own statements in Osang's numerous direct quotations. 

The more one reads of Osang's litany of Kinsey's complaints against Snowden, the more horrific her isolation becomes. She is propelled into the spotlight only due to a whistle-blower's determination to examine US surveillance practices. Thus, she unconsciously reveals the ignorance of a popular base supporting spying on everyone and his mother worldwide, without a single consideration for the consequences of mindless nosiness. Nathaniel Hawthorne had Kinsey's number in The Scarlet Letter, but how many Americans have read that expose recently, too?

This writer has read that masterpiece, as well as Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and Shakespeare's Macbeth, where ancient women stir the pot of trouble whenever they can. Her own case of neighborly surveillance defied that stereotype, since a lone man spread the blinds in the house next door every time she came home from a date. He very obviously, too, shut the blinds when she entered her house. God knows the latest employment figures in the US don't begin to assess the need for worthwhile jobs in the United States of America. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

DC Drama: Have We Seen This Plot Before?

If the US budget fiasco were a TV crime show, what would happen? Law and Order, NCIS, and the Mentalist line up as the likeliest suspects. First, Law and Order would make a lot of noise about "compassion for victims." NCIS would feature a diverse cast racing against the clock to snag the bad guy. The Mentalist, of course, would find some poor schlep to hypnotize.

In every case, though, tension must ratchet up until the very last minute—to keep the audience from switching the channel. A ratings war is always waiting in the wings to undermine popular shows' standing. The stars always are negotiating their—not our—job contracts. The writers have a lot on their minds, too, so an old plot revamped is cheaper than a new one.

How many times do we have to watch this drama before we say: Enough already! Give DC its own TV show, and let America get on with producing something besides a plot so hackneyed that H. L. Mencken would say again:

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed -- and hence clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

For more scandalous thoughts from H. L. Mencken, please see:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Maybe DC Watches Too Much TV?

Drama Queens dominate the budget scandal in Washington, DC. Just as a solution from the House emerges, the Senate has to shoot it down. Does anyone remember how the US got into the budget mess? Weren't those famous last words concerning the Affordable Care Act "Just pass it. You can read it later"?

Now, any high school graduate knows very well the cardinal rule before signing any document: "Read it first. Ask questions NOW, not later. Be sure you understand every single word before adding your signature." May we assume that every member of the Obama administration and Congress, too, had those words poured into them long before they attended law school?

May we assume that they also reviewed this rule like the bible in the law schools they attended? How is it then these legal geniuses disobeyed this rule from the get-go with the Affordable Care Act? Do these lawyers now need their own lawyers to explain how to protect themselves, as well as their clients, the American people, from charges of legal malpractice?

But, if they had obeyed this cardinal rule, what opportunities they would have missed! The leaders of both chambers would have had no reason to pontificate before the country. They would not have scored acting points with Hollywood for demonstrating outrage, worry, bafflement, loyalty, and every other emotion meant to charge the country's batteries for the 2014 and 2016 elections.

And Obama, the star of Hollywood's parties, would not have been able to demonstrate his highly mobile face, grimacing with indignation, raising his eyes in hope, and channeling the fury he hopes to whoop-up in his lobby groups. The solution for Number 1 and all his kin is to be sent to their rooms with no TV until they stop acting like spoiled TV stars and begin performing their duties.

Maybe with no TV on their schedules, they will have time to read legislation before they pass it?  

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Cats and Angel Hair: A Perfect Match

Cats can benefit from a Mediterranean diet, too. 

If your cats are exploring your garbage disposal, eating your angora sweaters and turning your doorknobs—just when you need to keep them inside or outside—they may need spaghetti. 

First, if they enjoy noise makers, shake-rattle-n-roll that Angel Hair container the next time you prepare a spaghetti dinner. See if they don't come running. If they do, you've just discovered a new sure-fire way to get them to line up and pay attention.

Now, you get to decide if you will share this information with dog fans who insist that cats can't be trained. Cats are amenable to training but only if you think like a cat. In addition, of course, cats are not only curious but skeptical and analytical.

If you're grinning like a Cheshire cat at this information, you're half way home to solving feline-human conflicts. Give them sounds and textures they appreciate, and they'll love you forever. Take those away, and they'll hunt them from floor to ceiling.

Offer just one long strand of dry Angel Hair at first. If they grab for it, you've already won the game. But, just for fun, grab it away. That's what they would do, so go for it. They'll chew it, drop it, and chase it. Angel hair makes cats into angels every time. 

American Civil War: De Ja Vue?

John F. Kennedy famously described Washington, DC, as a "city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm." That description has been updated to read: "DC is Hollywood for ugly people," and it's getting uglier every day that grimaces bespeak the tensions of the government shutdown.

The update appears to have been lost in the proverbial murk of Foggy Bottom. As reports: "Washington? As one comedian has put it, Washington is a Hollywood for ugly people." That quotation they attribute to the first issue of George Magazine, when the joke was already old, but the magazine was co-founded by JFK's heir apparent, whose words, like his father's, are sorely missed.

Nevertheless, JFK deserves kudos for recognizing where he was in the United States, once he became ensconced in the White House. As a Yankee, he entered foreign territory with a Texan, not a Delaware senator, at his side. Thus, JFK's White House team embraced both sides of the Civil War.

Civil War buffs may find it fascinating now to track the geographical strains wrenching that "Southern city" and "Northern charm" described by Obama's supposed model and definite forerunner in political hula-hoop exercises, which attempt to gather opponents in a circle pointing to the Oval Office.

Where does Senator McCain's power originate—Chicago, Boston, NY City? No. He hales from Arizona, the Western frontier. His chosen running mate also haled from outside the DC corridor, so far that land lubbers barely recognize Alaska and the United States in the same breath, as they ridicule its proximity to Russia.

Where does Speaker of the House John Boehner's power originate? In Ohio, the heartland of the Midwest, but years and leagues from urban Chicago. Note: Ohio and Iowa are NOT Chicago. MO is not Chicago, either. Then who exactly speaks for the Heartland of America? Why are spokesmen for this area not on the same side?

Where does Senator Harry Reid's power originate? Nevada. How many Northerners know beans about Nevada, except, perhaps, that Nevada gambling has its own website at—and Utah is next door, right along with Idaho, Oregon, California, and Arizona, which brings us right back to Senator McCain?

Where is the White House's strategy to bring these titans together? JFK's plan was obvious, so obvious that historians still speculate on how JFK and LBJ cooperated, if they did. The aggravating point which requires attention is this: Why should the South cooperate with an administration which seems not to have heard of it—except for vile rumors?

The causes of the American Civil War remain a contentious subject. In the South, however, one hears references to the "War between the States,' and one sees that "Many Confederate monuments are listed on the National Register of Historic Places," as noted by Wikipedia." To enflame conflicts among the states is the specialty of scoundels. As Lincoln said: "A nation divided against itself cannot stand."

For additional reading:

Guarantee Government Shutdown: Don't Negotiate

Both sides in the current budget crisis guarantee a shutdown when they refuse to negotiate. They also inspire this question: What kind of lawyer refuses to negotiate even when they are getting paid to negotiate?

Barack Obama received a JD from Harvard Law School; his wife also holds a JD from Harvard Law School.

By contrast, John Boehner holds a BA from Xavier University. "He is also the first Speaker [of the House] who has served both as majority and minority floor leader for his party since Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn ," according to Wikipedia.

Matching tit for tat, Harry Reid is not only Senate Majority Leader, but also served as Minority Leader and Minority and Majority Whip, again according to Wikipedia. Furthermore, Senator Reid earned a JD at George Washington University Law School.

Given the negotiating skills of these individuals, how is it they regularly refuse to converse? Back stories may tell the real story. As Wikipedia adds: "He [Reid] went to George Washington University Law School earning a J.D.while working for the United States Capitol Police."

Indeed, the farther back research goes in Reid's and Boehner's life histories, the more interesting their backgrounds prove. Wikipedia informs readers that "Reid's boyhood home was a shack with no indoor toilet, hot water or telephone," and Boehner "started working at his family's bar at age 8, a business founded by their grandfather Andy Boehner in 1938 "

The real question may be: With whom do Harvard lawyers hang out? Whom do they represent? And, when they do talk, is everybody expected to take notes? Surely, somewhere along their educational track, wasn't there a seminar with this title: How to Talk to the Rest of the World, when it's your turn, and nobody cares anymore if you went to Harvard?

Crisis in DC: Health or Politics?

Crisis in DC: Health or Politics?

Media coverage of the latest major traffic incident in DC demonstrates why mental patients are on the loose. Relatives immediately inquire if the shooting was necessary. Police admit the patient was unarmed. Has anybody so far admitted that the patient was armed with a car, and showed no signs of stopping her aggression until public officials acted? Then the complaints start over again.

Media coverage of such incidents can exacerbate misunderstanding. If reporters echo comments by laypersons without footnoting--at the very least—that these statements come from parties not trained in objectivity, they can participate in whooping up outrage. Relatives also are bound to be on the defensive. Emotionalism turns up at intersections all too often, usually in the form of road rage.

All officials involved in such episodes must operate in the theater of the NOW. Obviously, a suspect does not hand a medical history to police in hot pursuit as she goes speeding toward public icons of American history. All quotations from patients, made during a history of questionable reliability, prove nothing about this suspect's intent as she accelerates and reverses into police vehicles.

If such incidents were soap operas, and suspects' faces flashed across the public's memory banks, then the audience could be expected to get caught up in instantaneous psychodrama. Villains too quickly occur to viewers accustomed to applauding and booing their favorite TV stars, who regularly include the heavy hitters—actors so intense that fans dub them "the ones we love to hate."

Suddenly the media may present the unknown quantity roaring down the street—officially known as an "unsub" in popular crime dramas—as a character deserving sympathy. For what is a soap opera without a heroine, too? The truth remains that any party who disobeys traffic police in DC should expect to be stopped. Since 9/11, is taking chances with public safety negotiable?

For additional reading:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"Mending Wall": American Heritage and Border Relations

A Rolling Eyes Column! ((O) (O))

As America's Poet Laureate, Robert Frost delivered his encomium on boundary diplomacy in the simplest terms. "Good fences make good neighbors" serves as his refrain in this famous utterance which pits the enthusiasm of good will against the sturdy resilience of deeds and property.

While this line comes under challenge from international communications providers like Vonage, whose TV ads portray communicants taking axes to walls, Frost's refrain echoes with simple—not virtual—honesty and practicality. Open borders leave everyone and no one responsible for repairs.

Like that other old wise man of American Art Johnnie Cash, Frost dramatizes neighborly neighbors walking the line annually between their outposts in civilization. And these dudes apparently remain civil ad perpetuum, unlike America's current unrepentant president and other assorted politicians.

United by mutual interest in security, as well as geography, Frost's solid citizens review where they stand together. Who can deny that their annual ritual provides an examplary model? If this writer's neighbors followed Vonage's advice, and crashed through her walls, would laundry ever get done?

Would her garden survive untrampled? Would meals arrive on the table? Even cats and dogs understand these needs, as they scramble for advantage. When DC decides to read Frost, instead of talking points, maybe American citizens can practice business as usual, in the land of the free. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Aaron Alexis Report: Possible Error?

Reports circulating quickly in the shock of the Navy Yard shootings contained at least one line which needs checking.  The New York Times treated this line with caution, reporting:

"Mr. Alexis’s father has told the authorities that his son had been among the first responders at the World Trade Center and that he believed that Mr. Alexis suffered from post-traumatic stress and had difficulty controlling his anger. It was not known whether he was involved in any rescue effort."

These words appear in the article "Naval Yard Gunman Is Said To Have Had Mental Ills for a Decade," by MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, SARAH MASLIN NIR and TIMOTHY WILLIAMS; published: September 17, 2013.

By contrast, the UK Daily Mail Online appeared to cut to the journalistic chase with this headline:

"Revealed: Washington gunman who murdered 12 had 'anger issues' after rescuing victims of 9/11 and had been kicked out of the Navy after gun charge," by JAMES NYE, LOUISE BOYLE, DAVID MARTOSKO IN WASHINGTON, MEGHAN KENEALLY and PAUL THOMPSON IN WASHINGTON; PUBLISHED: 08:11 EST, 16 September 2013 | UPDATED: 07:12 EST, 17 September 2013. (Highlighting supplied by this writer.)

The contrast between the two claims may be checked by consulting 9/11 Research: World Trade Center Survivors, which reveals: 

"Here we focus on a much smaller group of people who either escaped or were rescued from Ground Zero after being trapped by the Towers' falls. Just 20 people are known to fit this description. Four of those were trapped and rescued by Ground Zero workers. The rest found their way out of that scene of incomprehensible destruction."

These two reports demonstrate the disturbing circumstances of both events: the 9/11 attack in Manhattan and 9/16 attack on the Navy Yard in Washington, DC. Journalists chasing the story cannot be faulted for being traumatized, too.

In this context, however, this critical question arises: Does the public remember the particular horror of First Responders' experience at Ground Zero on 9/11? There was almost no one to rescue: the destruction had been that thorough. Almost 3,000 people had been incinerated.

Complicating this entire experience on both occasions is acknowledgement that the public, including journalists, are not observers—they are participants, and every report must be vetted and vetted repeatedly, just as thoroughly, indeed, as the resumes and credentials of those seeking security clearances.

For additional reading:

9/11 Research: World Trade Center Survivors is available here: < wtcsurvivors.html>.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mylie Cyrus: The "Me" Girl

In a recent interview, Mylie Cyrus revealed the secret of her ambition, if not success. Supposedly, reversals had bedeviled her life. As she admits here ( )

she felt like an adult when she was a child, so she considers it her privilege to reverse the usual process. Perhaps that explains her kinky movements in public: She's just trying to jerk herself back in time. If she wriggles enough, will she be able to shed her new skin, and get back into her old one?

Somehow, she also believes that "every girl" focuses on fashion. Just where has this "girl" traveled to know so much about the young females of Iran, Somalia, Serbia, Kosovo, Latvia, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tibet, Cameroon, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and, of course, Syria?

Mylie, dear, the first lesson that healthy babies learn is that the world doesn't revolve around them. There really are children out there who yearn for education. There really are girls in the world who grow up instead of down. Yes, Mylie, there are women, too, who contribute to the enterprises of finance, law, architecture, engineering, medicine, psychology, literature, peace and understanding, just as good men do. 

Social Media Policies: Not a Funny Joke

Recent statements of social media policies which appear here ( assume that the media are objective, and have the public's interest at heart, but is this assumption true and demonstrable?

What media with the public's interest in mind would keep celebrating Hollywood's celebrities?

What purpose do reports of celebrities' arrests, divorces, extended wardrobes, make-up decisions, hair-style changes, and flirtations serve other than public relations to support celebrities' careers?

What purpose do reports of celebrities' drug problems, alcoholism, addictions, mental illness, and their children's drug problems, alcoholism, addictions, and mental illness serve other than to suggest the public's children follow suit?

Certainly, every celebrity does not need to be a model of decorum, with cameras catching them attending parent-teacher meetings and cutting their grass while wearing full-length jumpsuits. Nevertheless, it would be a relief to see the media TCB, instead of hyping the next movie. 

Ziva David, Where Are You?

This morning's shootings at the Naval Yard in Washington, DC, call attention to the departure of the character Ziva David from NCIS. The show's audience can easily imagine the drama inside the Naval Yard from numerous scenes where special NCIS agents search for suspects, scooting along hallways, their profiled bodies acting in concert like an ensemble of ballet dancers—with Ziva David in the lead, her courage and aim leading the charge. When this episode from the news hits the series, let's hope that the show, as well as its source, has found a worthy replacement. Who could that be? Sometimes reality is too much like fiction now. Gibbs always lauded this recruit to NCIS. He was hardly alone. Well, she hasn't exited from the show YET. Putin may ridicule events at the Naval Yard for demonstrating that the US is NOT "exceptional." Ziva David's fans would argue that their favorite champion of American justice IS EXCEPTIONAL every time she appears. Stay tuned. This episode began at 8:20 EST this morning. It's only 1:59 EST now. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Tigers, Twitting, and Cultural Exchanges

A Rolling Eyes Column! ((0) (0))

Recent events trigger exciting possibilities of more cultural exchanges between Russia and the US. Soon, will we be able to read Vlad the Wicked Pen's take on what to wear—or not—while twerking? Russia probably has its own experts on which is worse—winter in Siberia or Buffalo, NY. And what exactly is the Russian diet, aside from borscht? Can we replace videos of Obama's golf swings with Vlad's performances in arm-wrestling and tiger-taming? And, so long as Edward Snowden has absconded to Russia, could we have Garry Casparov in return?

Maybe Putin and John McCain have discovered the perfect solution to international crises. When the political weather gets too hot in one region, just chopper in and switch leaders. That will teach the local population to complain. Try explaining jury trials to a citizen of a dictatorship. Or try justifying lobby groups to leaders whose population dies off by the millions for lack of food. The intellectual challenges alone might set whole new standards in education and research. Tendencies toward isolationalism and Tea Party Hats would be nipped by the proverbial Buddy System.

Meanwhile, check out Garry Casparov's availability for speeches and exhibitions worldwide. Maybe he would agree to stay in the US? From Twitter, Casparov has twitted Putin for daring to discover God, among other extraordinary claims. Casparov's official website notes the launch of the Casparov Chess Federation in New York City in 2002—as well as its contributions to curricula. More than once, this chess champion has played the best computers to a draw. He has also launched a political career. Interested parties may contact Casparov at

America's Real Problem with Sarah Palin

A Rolling Eyes Column! ((0) (0))

Sarah Palin's problem with America begins with their knowledge of Alaska—which remains nearly nonexistent. Do Americans even conceive of Alaska as a state? They take world-class cruises there, but how many would choose to live there? Polar bears are more than photo ops. How many Americans from the mainland have met a moose, and would know what to do with it, if they did? Grizzlies remain a mainstay of horrific journalistic reports about being savaged. Californians don't want to negotiate with cougars. What would they do in Alaska?

This comparison comes to mind as we await the coming winter in Western New York State. Last winter was a push-over, meaning there was little snow here to push anywhere. That observation has been true, though, for only the last two winters here. In far winters past, I used to watch the weather reports here, right along with those from Canada and Alaska. There was remarkably little difference. I still stock up on parkas, and am well accustomed to listeners from other regions sneering at my accounts of winter snowfall in Cassadaga, NY—beyond their wildest dreams, democrat or otherwise.

Inevitably perhaps, I have been accused of exaggeration, melodrama—the usual for natives of The Land of the Snow Queen, where winter once lasted from Halloween to Easter. But who else has taken a fly-over in a tiny plane which landed on skiis in their front yard? Have they started out for college—and found their trip lasted three days, not three hours, due to a blizzard? Have they tried to get out their front door—and found the snow meeting midway between roof and ground? Americans need to know their national neighbors, even those in Alaska—or Dunkirk, wherever that may be, if the Farmer's Almanac prediction is accurate this year.

And, yes, bears have been seen in Cassadaga. ((0) (0)) 

Going Rogue Not Easy Now in America

A Rolling Eyes Column ((0) (0))

When Senator McCain announced his desire to write a column for Pravda, I nearly fainted. Okay, so Vladimir Putin is not content with big game hunting. He's set his eyes on Hemingway's prize: the Nobel. I'm sure glad that word is not spelled "Noble." Then, Putin would have to put on this big show, roll his eyes, and wink. ;-) Nobility isn't allowed in the Land of Brothers, which seems to be where we are now in America—brothers with everybody, so long as it isn't the original rogue.

McCain's chance to write a column for Pravda terrified me: He would tell everybody what he was really thinking—and then where would we be? He remembers that spurned subject: History. He'd start rolling down the list of events that propagandists have wiped off their hard drives' memories: the Cold War, the Vietnam War, American MIAs, Jane Fonda, and that little kink in the Brothers' story: the KGB. The good senator's possible international writing career must have scared DC, too.

This morning—Whoop!--all problems solved! Kerry and his Russian counterparts have agreed: Syria's no longer a problem. So, Americans are left with Sarah Palin: the one good girl that democrats can't stand. She isn't a frumpy fake blonde with a philandering husband. She governed ALASKA, home of grizzlies, a unique bull moose population, and OIL AND GAS RESERVES. Time to pull out that pen, Sarah. Putin hasn't hunted bull goose loonies in America—YET. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Octopi and Bettas: The Strangers Among Us

Michael Gruber's blogspot posts remind writers to investigate the mystery at hand, wherever we are. Of course, I can easily note my cats chasing down spiders, or my dog's insistence on filling the role of office manager, reminding me that a ginger ale bottle does not belong on the floor of the bedroom. Bark, bark! Let's get organized, that canine shouts at me in the dining room. You know, Meg, where ginger ale belongs!

But how does that dog know where ginger ale belongs? He must be able to conceptualize after seeing ginger ale in the refrigerator, along with its friends, the juices and milk containers. But even more, how does he conceptualize his place in this household? Where did he get the IDEA of being an office manager when the equipment he brought with him points in another direction, as in long coat, long ears, perfect nose to scent rabbits—and bound just like them?

Gruber's story of interacting painfully with an octopus in his online interview also provokes us to question how wild animals, too—not just domestic—figure out their place in relation to us. While I know my dog talks to me, and even talks back, a betta (Siamese fighting fish) has no capacity with his fish lips to form words. Nonetheless, the bettas I've kept in glass bowls on my writing desk engaged me in conversation. They didn't need words or computers, either.

Just like my dog, my bettas bossed me around. Don't they know I pay for their residence? Do they care? NO! They started by nodding at me, just as a new acquaintance might—nod, nod, got that, Meg? I'm here. You are, too. What are we going to do about it? Well, for a start, there's that jar over there, with my food. Nod, nod. I can see you're busy typing away, but, nod, nod, that jar's not going anywhere unless you lend a hand. Nods escalated to wriggling.

Before long, the hand reached for the food jar, unscrewed the lid, shook the flakes down into Betta's Water World. The fish flashed with happiness, just like a sailor signalling from a ship in the night. This stranger from another environment had made contact and accomplished his mission. The waitress brought the food right to his table. The fish curled over after consumption. Time for a nap. The writer puzzled: Where is the sign for the restaurant?

Body language alone does not explain how this fish KNEW the hand of another species had the capacity to save him from starvation. From his perspective, what did I look like—an instagram blown to life? He was an inch long, without fins. Nevertheless, he figured out how to establish contact, and engage another life form in a relationship. There wasn't room in that body of his for a brain even the size of a pea, yet he demonstrated that life seen through glass is pure mystery. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Alfred Hitchcock, Birds, and Terrorism

Did Hitchcock offer a primer on terrorism in his classic film about birds attacking a small town? First, with all due respect to that incomparable director, The Birds proves contrived from start to finish. 

Yesterday, while watching the fliers swoop in from all directions on the screen, this movie-fan enjoyed the freaky experience of knowing the birds have been swarming in Dunkirk, NY, for a week now, chirping and screeching in whole choruses as they leap from flickering tree to flickering tree. Occupied trees bobble with their movement, but the birds are clever enough to carry on their political conventions behind leaves until they wish to be seen.

When they gathered right outside this writer's residence, the area became a sound chamber, exaggerating sound effects as each chirper's song multiplied and echoed the identical contributions of his winged relatives, friends, and colleagues in the equivalent of music festivals held regularly across the country. 

When barred owls practice this habitual behavior in West Virginia, they appear to be holding their very own hoot-nannies—so loud that their wing-flapping functions as both applause and intimidation. Bird-lovers know, however, that barred owls are the most loquacious members of their tribes, maximizing the experience summarized in the film Beyond the Sea with those immortal words: "We see what we hear."

So, this blogger entered another world as the birds' clamor for God-knows-what reason—scientists still cannot fully explain why the impulse to swarm sets birds to chattering and singing like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—echoed all around her. Inside her dwelling, the movie The Birds was unrolling its devilish plot, while outside the local birds were swarming closer and closer to her porch. 

She leaned over the railing, as if she might interview these chirpers, and discover at last their perspective on human and avian interaction. Politics, too, was much on her mind as the birds' clamor increased to extraordinary decibel levels. This experiment in psychology and cinematic techniques suddenly ended more swiftly than it had begun.

With a single bark, the writer's dog ended that political gathering. As soon as that dog opened his mouth, the birds vanished—as if the writer herself had decided: Begone, you loud-mouthed bickering oracles of deviltry! The dog then resumed his faithful position at the writer's feet, his mouth placed on the floor between his feet, satisfied that he had dispersed the latest menace to peace and safety in the small town of Dunkirk, NY. 

Peering through the porch screens, though, the cats were NOT satisfied. They had just missed their golden opportunity to demonstrate what cats will do with birds and cuisine and happy landings. So, Hitchcock's impressive classic owes a little debt to a critical omission: Get those cats on the case, and the birds will discover their very own Cinema Realite. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Thank you, President Obama

Already critics accuse the US president of blinking in a game of chicken with the Middle East's latest tyrant in Syria. Nevertheless, Obama's announcement today, August 31, 2013, demonstrates that he has chosen an unexpected card to slap down in the political arena: the Congress card!

Who knew he kept this card up the always-too-short sleeves of a tall basketball player? Historical scholars will be taking close notes because suddenly this question emerges: What if previous presidents since Franklin Delano Roosevelt had played the Congress card instead of the Zap card?

Military commanders may jump into the fray over timing, of course, but what if President Obama's predecessors in office had played the Congress card before—not after—rushing to attack? Then, the only card left in their hands was the Go-First-and-Get-Approval-If-You-Can-Later from Congress.

Analysts may also talk strategy as much as they please—and God knows they will—but the US president's strategy in this encounter must account for moves by not only Syria, but also China, Russia, the US Congress, and the American people. Obama didn't miss his Napoleon lesson, did he?

Obama has also proven that he understands the business world this time around. Participants in any deal must "buy into" a bargain, or they can and will complain bitterly if results do not meet expectations. This time, who can complain that they went anywhere without full disclosure?

There will be no warranties, of course, the Middle East being the closest thing that Americans know to a scorpions' nest. Still, the American people have heard those magic words at last: We go together, or we don't go! You get your say, and so do I. Don't complain--ever--that I didn't warn you.

Those words are worth pure gold because partisanship has been killing this democracy. At last, Congress must speak as one. Americans must also remember they are one people, too. The Constitution planned this battle on the home front: The Constitutional lawyer did his homework.  

Pecan Pie Pleasures: 10 Reasons to Serve Pecan Pie

  1. It's the sweetest dish that comes with its own excuse to forget about sugar because it's too sweet to believe, but 
    photo by Margaret Curtis

  2. It contains nuts, a valuable source of protein and recommended source of energy, and

  3. It may contain brown sugar, which creates the most delicious pudding from molasses;

  4. It's a Southern delicacy, so consumption counts for cultural diversity for Northern diners;

  5. It also comes in bourbon and chocolate, preventing arguments over discrimination, but

  6. It also comes in so many rich varieties that chefs may remember pralines and caramels,

  7. Those delights perfect for decorating the surface of that scrumptious nut-crazy dessert, but

  8. Pecan pie may be so tempting that guests at Labor Day parties will want to take slices home as favors

  9. To savor at breakfast, brunch, or leftover parties of their own, so make extra always because

  10. There can never be enough pecan pie to keep the holiday nuts everyone knows 100% happy.

Be sure to consult the Food Network at for 72 recipes of delicious, delightful, dementing perfect pecan pie pleasures. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Time for Country Mice to Get Happy

Time for Country Mice to Get Happy

by Meg Curtis, PhD

As perfume drifts in from the fields, the trees clump with red fruit, and the vines swirl with purple drapes. Dionysus prepares the urns for wine. Harvest will soon be upon us with its heady offerings.

Farmers continue to be the lucky ones among laborers who may never see the fruit of their dedication. Agricultural workers see that fruit, smell it, touch it with reverant hands.

Cherry and berry pickers return from their climbs and forays covered with red juice, not human blood. They wrestle with branches and wind tossing gaunt arms, not bullets. They radiate sun.

They live with water as refreshment for plants and animals alike. They pour it, whisper it, at just the moment of need, knowing thirst is a universal challenge. They feed animals first, themselves last.

Animals understand farmers' compassion. Their eyes turn to those who work with them every day. This is team work of the first order, preserving the earth so it may rise again, watching it sleep.

Do not ask a farmer if bumblebees matter. Do not ask him or her if land is a commodity or home. Just ask: How did you do this? And s/he will answer: God knows. The rain came in time.

If the rain does not come on a reliable schedule, then farmers will have risked their all for nothing. Just look at the sky as they do: It rumbles with power. It breathes with freedom to make a living.

All marvels do not come from machines. Yes, the combines will be busy, and the pitchforks will send bales flying. But in the great schemes of Nature, who are we but mice who nibble gratefully?

Brad Thor's Athena Project: Jane Bonds Aplenty!

Brad Thor's Athena Project: Jane Bonds Aplenty!

By Meg Curtis, PhD

With The Athena Project, Brad Thor tears open a new niche in the thriller business: He scoffs at every cliche that males may assume about females. Sensitive? No! Weak? No again! Thor stakes this novel on his faith that readers enjoy seeing females behave exactly like James Bond.

Along the way, he considers nazi technological ambitions, American competition for nazi scientists, and international competition for human fax machines. Formally known as quantum teleportation, this phenomenon repeatedly hits the media with sudden announcements of progress. To keep up with experiments, just search for "quantum teleportation latest," to find unnerving surprises.

Thor's genius lies in combining remarkable characters with science so mysterious that readers will find themselves requiring their friends to dive into physics. According to scientists' expectations, quantum teleportation promises to offer new prospects for encryption, as well as transportation of information so fast that the next internet will make the present version look like the Gutenburg bible.

Thor's plot takes his characters deep into Paraguay. His exploration of human motivation wrestles with the CIA and security questions so frightening that readers may have trouble napping. Just turn the page, though, and those space age women may save the Republic yet. His faith in human intelligence conducts a space race all of its own, to discover if the urge to survive triumphs.

Throughout international conflicts, Thor's writing style remains deceptively straightforward and direct. He never leaves the reader behind, no matter his choice of topic. His wit unleashes laughter, even as his females launch parachutes from buildings, and make readers gasp how chic chicks will land without finding the enemies' hands fast on them. No spoilers here. Go with the girls for thrillers every time! 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The US Flat Earth Society vs. A New Political Reality

The US Flat Earth Society vs. A New Political Reality

by Meg Curtis, PhD

When President Obama complains about the Flat Earth Society in America, he needs to check his rear view mirror. His speeches address race and sex. He refers to Edward Snowden as a "hacker." Obama is the creation of the 1960s. His most famous words yearn for "Dreams from My Father." Newsflash: This is the twenty-first century, and Obama's strategies have not even begun to acknowledge the real change in America's workforce.

First, with every development of technology, communications workers have upped their power ante. This group constitutes the "Communications Workers of America (CWA) ... the largest communications and media labor union in the United States," according to Wikipedia. The CWA, in turn, is "affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the Canadian Labour Congress, and Union Network International...and the worldwide membership of the AFL-CIO total[ed] 11,000,000, as of 2008." The CWA has its own connections, and those are not limited to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in DC.

Second, while Obama agonizes over race and sex, the following developments have occurred:

"In October 2003, 77 million persons used a computer at work, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported ....These workers accounted for 55.5 percent of total employment. About 2 of every 5 employed individuals connected to the Internet or used e-mail while on the job."

These statistics cut across racial and gender lines. They practically define "labor" now while the US President harps about the birds, the bees, and skin.

Third, we come to that elite group of high tech workers who, just like Snowden and Obama—we hope—have security clearances. Even in 2011, the Washington Post's research revealed that enough security clearances had been issued to cover nearly the entire population of Washington, DC. That report, described in "Checkpoint Washington," admitted: "The official count is so much greater than previous estimates that it caught security experts off-guard."

Across the board, this fall-out of the computer revolution seems to have occurred without America's leaders recognizing its consequences. Computer users should also now define the largest voting block in this country, and they are ripe for some smart politicians' plucking. Can America ever stop fighting the last war, and get onto current challenges? Technology unites, threatens, and characterizes our everyday life. The high tech wars have started, and America is right in the middle of them. Where oh where is Obama?

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