Monthly Archives: January 2010

If a body catch a body

J.D. Salinger is dead. I just saw someone Tweet that they had powerful memories of the first time they read Catcher in the Rye.

I remember my second time better than my first time.  The first time I think I stayed up quite late reading it – couldn’t sleep til I finished it.  I believe it was some time in the summer between my Junior and Senior year.  Maybe it was the year before.  Doesn’t matter.

I vividly remember the second time I read it or sorta read it.

Senior Year AP English our last assignment was to read and review some book of our choice.  We’d had plenty of notice.  The choice of books was long, two columns on a page if I recall correctly.  I chose Heart of Darkness because of all the great literary works on the list it had the fewest number of pages.  But it turns out it wasn’t a very fun read.  Who could have predicted?  By that point I’d done my SATs, been accepted to the college of my choice, and I no longer had much patience for the trivial demands of secondary education.

The night before the assignment was due I panicked. I did need to graduate.  And I probably also needed a reasonable grade in AP English or else I wouldn’t have been able to comp out of Freshman English in college (although I don’t think that occurred to me at the time).  I couldn’t face Heart of Darkness. Couldn’t have finished it and written up the report in twelve remaining hours either.

To make matters worse, I received a panicked phone call from my friend Keli.  She hadn’t read her book either.

Although neither of us still had the list of books in our possession, I remembered Catcher in the Rye was on the list and I had read that a year or two before (see at the beginning of the term I was still scholarly, elsewise I’d have picked something I’d already read from the start).  I resolved that we would write our book reports together.

I no longer even had a copy of the book – and since I grew up in a town without a bookstore and in an age without Internet or e-readers – this was a problem.  I called around and found someone with a copy. (Thank you John!)

We sat at Kentucky Friend Chicken and wrote the report paragraph by paragraph.  Or rather, I wrote both reports – varying them only slightly.

We handed them in in the nick of time the next morning.

Of course, we were seriously chancing our luck turning in nearly identical papers.  And to make matters worse, it turns out that Catcher in the Rye was not one of the books on the list.


It was a phony list anyway.

Commanding presence

Our Bill is a bossy boots. He’s quite insistent that things are done acertain way. He’s not evil with his power, but it’s clear that he’s the one who needs to be in charge. He’s generous with his favorite treats (for example, blueberries) – but only if he’s the one who’s doling them out.

It’s not just us he bosses around. When I pick him up for nursery in the evening, it takes us forever to get out of there because he’s making sure that the right parents take home the right child.

Two days ago when one father arrived, Bill pointed at him sternly and said “Simone” (the name of his child) – and then promptly rounded up Simone and steered her into the legs of her father. We had to wait around the nursery gate so that Bill could hold it open for Simone and her father and ensure the gate was properly shut behind them.

Yesterday, a car pulled up as we were leaving and Bill insisted on opening the car door for the woman and then informed her that her son was in the nursery with much emphasis and gesticulation.

Judging by the reactions of the other parents, it’s cute… now. But how long will that last?

Would you like fries with that?

As if cake weren't quite unhealthy enough….this cake is fast food themed, the fries and nuggets are baked goods.   Pretty amazing work.

Giving to Haiti – donating to the Salvation Army

One of the sermons that has made the biggest impression on me was delivered by a member of the Salvation Army’s Caribbean territory to the non-denominational congregation we attended when we lived in Puerto Rico. They did some amazing, innovative and often counter-intuitive work there. For instance, they ran a jail. A jail for illegal immigrants. That sounds pretty rough. But rougher still were the prisons that these illegal immigrants would have been placed in – alongside real criminals. It was truly a mission of mercy to house these non-violent breakers of civil law, economic refugees from places like the Dominican Republic or Haiti.

The Salvation Army has a history of working with people that others won’t. They already have a long term presence in Haiti, running an orphanage – among other things. They are running medical clinics, they are bringing aid to Haiti. And they have a reputation for doing a lot of the second stage disaster relief – helping people clean up and get their lives back together.

I donated money to the Salvation Army to help their relief and long term efforts in Haiti. I hope you will, too. Although there are many other places that could make good use of your money.

Read more about the work of the Salvation Army in Haiti and donate online.

Sacred made real

I’ve been meaning to go see the Sacred Made Real exhibit at the National Gallery for quite some time, but couldn’t quite convince anyone to go with me.  I knew that it was an exhibit of creepy Spanish religious art, but I fully underestimated the level of torturous hyper-realistic portrayal of the suffering surrounding the Passion of the Christ or the fanatical (?) religious devotion of saints like our friend Francis Borgia below.

Click on the pic to see other images from the exhibition  courtesy of The Guardian

I’ve long been a fan of one of the principle artists in the exhibition Francisco Zurbaran whose masterly painting of saints demonstrate a sense of drama as well as realism.  We even have a reproduction of his Santa Margarita above our fireplace.  (She was a saint often called on by women to provide help in childbirth, but despite holding a position of honor in our house it didn’t work for me.)   I knew I would kick myself if I didn’t take the chance to see some his work that I hadn’t seen before.

And I wasn’t disappointed.  But I hadn’t realised that the point of the exhibition was about how Spanish polychrome wooden sculpture influence painters like Zurbaran.  But it’s an influence that we don’t often recognize because these scultptures – astonishing works of art – aren’t recognised as art in the same way that paintings or other sculpture are. And that is because many of these are still used in religious processions and are part of the sacred decorations of churches in Spain today.

The realism of the sculptures is amazing.  The muscles and windpipe in the neck of the severed head of John the Baptist.  The scourge marks, bruises and blood on the back of Jesus.  The unwashed body of a Dead Christ.  The detail of all this so painstakingly captured.  The curator of the exhibit described them as so perfectly rendered as to become beautiful, but I’m not sure I’d go quite that far.  It was fascinating for certain – a glimpse into religious grotesquery like a Flannery O’Connor novel.  But yet it was also oddly stripped of its religious significance within the exhibit space of the National Gallery.

There isn’t much time left to see this exhibit, it closes on the 24th of January.  It was creepy, but brilliant.  And very popular with the ecclesiastical set.  As I was leaving tonight, I saw more dog collars than I’ve seen in some time.  Clearly a hot ticket for vicars and the morbid like me.

Alabama Displays National Championship Trophy at Walmart [Photos] > Buster Sports

OK, you knew I couldn’t keep up the congratulatory stance for long. I hate Bama. (Less than Lane Kiffin, but still). I did have to LOL on this one


Snow in the garden

It’s a winter wonder land! Wish I’d had the foresight to hide the compost bag on the right and the inflatable children’s pool on the left. Still the snow covers an amazing amount of failing-to-tidy the garden

Some people said I spent too much thought, money and energy on my shed. (Paul Barlow) Some people (James Bowman) thought that my color scheme was ‘brave’ to say the least. But I love my big red shed. Kiffin no longer popular in Tennessee

In the winner of the “Stating the bleedin’ obvious” headline of the year.

Lane Kiffin quits – LOSER

Ripped from via Rocky Top Talk

Our head coach has gone and quit on us after only 14 months. Tennessee has been struggling for quite some time and this past season under Kiffin’s leadership hasn’t left me exactly over-brimming with hope for the next couple of years, but I was willing to wait and see what his ‘recruiting genius’ would bring. But now this has gotta, well – not be good.

I suppose it’s some consolation I guess that USC is the “only school” that Lane woulda left us for. I guess a similar level of comfort that I would feel if my husband ran off with some skank-floozy and said “Honey, she’s the only other woman I could see myself leaving you for.”*

Lane – I hope USC gives you the clap.

For more discussion (all kept largely invective free – check out

My brother tells me that people are waiting outside his home and at the airport. Is someone warming up the tar?


*Turns out it’s worse than that – it’s like if my husband had run off with the floozy in MY car with my cat and told me by emailing me from my new Mac that he’d also taken with him.

There may be something in that

I saw you

Remember David Kelly, the UK government scientist who, was the inside source for exposing the dodginess of the dodgy dossier?  Just after he testified before the Parliamentary committee I saw him on the Underground, somewhere on the District line.  My guess is Embankment.  I’m notoriously poor at recognising celebrities so I stared at him extra hard.  He clocked me. And smiled broadly.  And I thought, well – that’s cool – he’s handling all this pressure really well.

Except he wasn’t.   He committed suicide and his body was found in a field near his home.

Or did he?

And you know the freaky thing.  The day I saw him was the same morning that he was found dead, having killed himself the previous evening.

Or did he?

I talked to my brother not too long after it happened and he asked me if the British public was awash with conspiratorial speculation.  Colleagues at work were stunned by the concept.  Although they shouldn’t have been .  Conspiracy theories were widely circulated a Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Baker ‘investigated’ his demise and had a lot of questions – implying that the British government (of which he’s a member of the loyal opposition) must have done him in.

If that’s the case, how could I have seen him in Central London on the day in question?  (Answer, clearly I couldn’t have.  I saw someone who looked a lot like David Kelly.  So much like him that I wasn’t the first person who ‘recognised’ him – and he was used to it).

Piss-up in a brewery

I’ve worked in and around government for a long time.  I know a little bit about how bureacracy works.  And it’s slow. And it’s difficult to get agreement on anything. And often you can’t get anything done at all. And keeping a secret?  Well, the best way to do that is to actually bury whatever little nugget of bad news it is in a whole pile of other stuff.

So when I hear about conspiracy theories in which some kind of government agency is the principal actor, I just have to laugh up my sleeve.   Look we can barely organise the things that people think are good things – you know like education or clean drinking water.  So, bringing down the Twin Towers?   Think of the competitor sites.  Think of the states which would have preferred to see a jetliner crash into some disastrous white elephant of a public building (think about how much Peter Mandelson would have liked some insurable disaster to befall the Dome by autumn 2001 if you need an example).   Contemplating the navigation of procurement rules alone for something like that  makes me shudder.

Twin Towers 2 by Andrew Coulter Enright on Flickr

True, I’ve never worked for agency that keeps black helicopters parked on its roof, but bureaucracy is bureaucracy.

For Christmas we received a copy of Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theories Have Shaped Modern History by David Aaronovitch.  The book singularly fails to live up to its title.   It isn’t really clear at all how they’ve shaped history – rather it’s an entertaining romp through various conspiracy theories  – e.g. the Jews have organised themselves into a worldwide cabal to run everything, Stalin’s show trials, JFK, Marilyn Monroe’s murder, 9/11 and a few more – and why these are so patently false.

In the introduction, Aaronovitch states his hope that the book will provide us with sufficient ammunition to dispel conspiracy theorists and I’d say it does a mixed job on that.  For example, only a bit on dispelling some of the crazy 9/11 theories (of course you can always go and check the Popular Mechanics piece if you want that), but an excellent expose on some of the 9/11 Truthers.

Only in the last Chapter does Aaronovitch try to bring the stories together into a revelatory narrative.  He gets awfully close to why these conspiracy theories are potentially damaging, but doesn’t quite hit on their greatest potential damage.

They are plotting

All human enterprise is full of conspiracy – or collaboration.  We’re often at our best when we work co-operatively to harness the skills, talents and efforts of groups of people.  We can buy people’s labour, but buying people’s silence is a more tricky thing.  Sure, people will often keep quiet about stuff for a while if they think it may help them keep their job.  They may even feel terribly conflicted about sharing information and try to leak it on the sly (like David Kelly).  But someone on the inside of a really big job will tell (at least in a relatively free society).   That’s why I don’t think that something as clear cut and yet so absolutely huge a job as ramming a couple planes in the twin towers is something that no one would ever tell about if it was an inside job.

Yet, clearly there was a conspiracy afoot around 9/11- more than one in fact.  Here are three, at least.

1. Al Qaeda conspired to cause mayhem and destruction.  It was a complicated and expensive plot.  But these people are fanatics not career bureacrats.

2. There was an ex post facto conspiracy (these are more common, I reckon)  in the US Government to cover up the lax way that Al Qaeda was being dealt with.  This conspiracy was probably largely uncovered through the 9/11 Commission – but it’s so complex that it’s difficult to comprehend.

3. There was a bizarre conspiracy among the Bush insiders to use the 9/11 attack as a means to attack Iraq.  This succeeded and it’s still being sifted through.


Aaronovitch describes in the last chapter how he thinks that conspiracies are currently being almost accepted, mainstreamed.  For example, after the Katrina hurricane – there were a number of rumors circulating that the levees had been breached on purpose.  Basically to flood out the black people or some variation on that.

Now, I don’t believe that.  But I – as people quoted in the book – can sympathise with that point of view.  After all, there are people alive today who will have been alive when levees were dynamited to avoid damage to the City of New Orleans in the Great Flood of 1927. It wasn’t secret and people were warned.  But you know it was going to be the poor (black) areas which were sacrificed.  There was significant displacement generally and the conditions of camps housing the displaced were apparently ambominable.

So in a weird conflation of history you can see how the conspiracy theory arised.  But that really wasn’t what happened.  And it really wasn’t helpful for Spike Lee to present uncountered (nor supported) those theories in his film When the Levees Broke.

Because it lets people off the hook for the real conspiracy.  A conspiracy of inaction for which no one has really been held accountable.

Maintenance of the levees had been underfunded.  It was a Federal responsibility and though people had raised warnings, no one did much about it.  FEMA – the US domestic disaster relief and emergency management agency – had been brought under the newly established Homeland Security which was being run by a bunch of Bush cronies.  There’s little doubt in my mind they were unprepared and people died while they were trying sort their elbows from their posteriors.

But no one blew up the levees that time.    And wealthy neighborhoods of New Orleans went in the drink, too.   It’s just that the people who owned these homes had the means to get out and essentially enough trust in authority to take the hint to get out when they were told to.

Focusing on conspiracies which represent the depth of your anger – the truth that’s written on your soul – may make you feel better – but it diffuses accountability and wastes energy and makes it far more likely that lessons won’t be captured.

Too easy

Aaronovitch correctly identifies that believing in conspiracies can be a salve to those who feel they’ve lost out.  And he hints at the idea that they can be a salve to those who are uncomfortable with complexity and ambiguity.   It’s much easier to think that someone must be behind this rather than to accept that an assassination was a terrible event that the state failed to prevent through bad luck or just dropping the ball, or that there was a failure of policy and bureaucracy and people made a bad series of decisions.