Qui tangit frangatur.

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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Sunday, December 30, 2007

In which I got my ass kicked by a bird

And acquired the following bits of wisdom:

1.) It's harder to outrun an angry goose than a dog. (I.e. they can fly. Hello?!)

2.) Geese pack one hell of a pinch with their beaks (imagine your primary / elementary school teacher, but on Red Bull and with wings).

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Qui bene cantat, bis orat

It's amazing that no matter how far away I am, all it takes is a word, an image, a note, to call my heart back home...


Stanford professor's Palo Alto choir keeps Gregorian chant alive

By Carrie Sturrock
San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, December 23, 200

Gregorian chant has persisted for more than a thousand years, but some fear the haunting melodies are in danger of fading away.

That is, unless Stanford Professor William Mahrt has a voice in the matter. For the past 44 years, this musician and scholar has directed a choir to keep alive the medieval Catholic tradition he believes is a pathway to the sacred and divine.

"When you sing it beautifully and when it really works, there's an absolute still in the church," he said. "That's the kind of silence that's fruitful and it represents a kind of self-awareness that is also aware of the wider realities, and that kind of silence is where you have your best opportunity to speak to God and to listen to God."

It hasn't always been easy. Gregorian chant calls to mind robed monks singing Latin in a Gothic cathedral, and for hundreds of years that's exactly what it looked like. Many in the church considered the sonorous chant a relic and Mahrt's choir odd.

"Sometimes we were treated like a lunatic fringe," said Susan Altstatt, who has sung in Mahrt's choir in Palo Alto for 40 years. "A lot thought we were not very 'with it' - as far as being part of the modern church - and hoped we would eventually dry up and blow away."

But Mahrt, 68, is not just deeply religious, he's also stubborn. He considers Gregorian chant one of the greatest artistic achievements of Western civilization. So it's in everyone's best interest to keep it around - Catholic or no.

"The stuff is so unique that you hear a snatch of it and you say 'What is that?' " Mahrt said. "It isn't like anything else you've heard."

On a recent Sunday, he stood in the balcony of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Palo Alto, his tall, slightly bent frame directing the 20 men and women - known as the St. Ann Choir - whose chanting seemed at times to have a mesmerizing effect on the congregation, making everything tranquil and quiet.

"Dignus est agnus, qui occisus est/ accipere virtutem, et divinitatem, et/ sapientiam, et fortitudinem, et honorem."

"Worthy is the lamb that was slain to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honor."

Chanting was common in churches across the world until the early 1960s, when the Second Vatican Council permitted the Latin Mass to be said in the vernacular and the priest to face the congregation instead of the altar. Chant got the boot as churches turned to pop folk music to try to appeal to a broader audience - music Mahrt says he "wouldn't cross the street" to listen to. Priests who valued the chant yet didn't use it during Mass have told Mahrt they feared modern congregations wouldn't get it. But Mahrt contends that chant is accessible if people are properly introduced to it and persuaded of its worth.

Now, most folks hear it only occasionally - in movies such as "Becket" or if they happen to hear recordings by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, who made it briefly popular.

And although Pope Benedict XVI recently announced that the Vatican's choir would return to Gregorian chant, Mahrt still worries. There aren't many Gregorian chant choirs in the United States and even fewer that have done what Mahrt's has: rehearsed and chanted the entire Mass every week for more than four decades.

Gregorian chant is Latin liturgical texts sung in an unaccompanied melody - so no instruments. Many scholars believe it dates back to fourth century Jerusalem, although nothing was written down until the ninth century. For 500 years it endured through memory, which Mahrt considers astonishing since the chant involves 365 days of the Catholic liturgical cycle. It's called "Gregorian" because legend has it Pope St. Gregory I, the Great (540-604), played a key role in arranging the chants.

The chants may be ancient, but Mahrt's motley crew of a choir looks decidedly modern, wearing everything from Birkenstocks and tie-dye to high heels and suits. Mahrt would love to spiff them up with robes, but the suggestion never seems to go anywhere. And not everyone is Catholic - some chant for the sheer joy of it.

Many view Mahrt as something of a hero, said choir member Roseanne Sullivan. In an age of instant, ever-changing entertainment, his dedication hasn't wavered. The confirmed bachelor shows up almost without fail, always in a tie and jacket, and with a large store of patience. When he's not there and a substitute choir director takes his place, it's often because he's promoting chant in other parts of the country and world.

"He's shown up year after year and week after week ... for 44 years," she said. "Can you imagine?"

Mahrt, an associate professor of music, began his undergraduate education at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., but graduated from the University of Washington. He then earned his doctorate at Stanford. Friends say he's one of the world's foremost authorities on Gregorian chant and one of Stanford's best music professors.

He guides his graduate students deep into their intellectual arguments until they've mastered the material and "will invest an almost unbelievable amount of time into things," said George Houle, a Stanford professor emeritus. Mahrt has been slow to publish in an academic world that highly values that practice because, as Houle put it, "everything he does has that deep perfection and thought" and he wants to own a subject before writing about it.

Much of his spare income goes to collecting books on Gregorian chant, and he had to specially brace his extra bedroom's floor when he turned it into a library with stacks. Friends say his collection, which includes a 14th century chant book that he likes to show visitors, is more extensive than Stanford's.

Nothing about his upbringing on a wheat farm in Spokane exposed him to Gregorian chant, but he did have a devoutly religious mother who required all her children to take up a musical instrument in the third grade. It wasn't until Mahrt was an undergraduate at the University of Washington that he was introduced to Gregorian chant by a Dominican priest in the community.

He likes to say that someone once defined the sacred as "doing the right thing at the right time and in the right place." Gregorian chant is just that, he said: putting to music all these Latin liturgical texts that form the backbone of the Catholic faith.

"It adds something beautiful," he said. "A religious service ... should be beautiful because beauty is an attribute of God."

-- To hear the St. Ann Choir perform Gregorian chant, go to

The St. Ann Choir will chant the Christmas Eve midnight Mass as well as the Christmas Day noon Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church. The church is located at 751 Waverley St., Palo Alto.



Saturday, December 22, 2007

(For the love of) images

His presence accepted by a black-brown albatross in the Falkland Islands, photographer Frans Lanting waited for hours to capture a single frame that would represent the shared work of mates — nesting on shore, and foraging on the wing.

In a mixed New Zealand colony of grey-headed and Campbell albatross, chicks shelter under a guardian parent for the first three or four weeks of life. By the time they're left alone, bigger chicks can protect themselves from marauding skuas and other hazards.

(Safina, Carl.  "Wings of the Albatross."  Photo. Frans Lanting.  National Geographic Dec. 2007:  92, 115.)

A series of landscape photographs by Josef Hoflehner on display (until 29 February 2008) at Atlas Gallery.

Born in 1955, Josef Hoflehner lives in Austria and has worked in some of the remotest areas in locations such as Antarctica, Vietnam, China, Yemen and Iceland.

The works on display embody Hoflehner's fascination with secluded places.

The landscapes are stripped down to the barest elements of line and form.

The frames are often minmalist - featuring basic and fundemental structures such as fence posts in the snow and old abandoned huts.

The black and white images frequently show landscapes reduced to painterly shapes.

Human beings tend to be absent from Hoflehner's images - empty spaces taken with long exposures.

The result can be both peaceful and haunting.

This year, the IPA (International Photography Awards) voted Hoflehner Nature Photographer of the Year.

Friday, December 21, 2007

3 Trains

NYC hails Muslim 'Good Samaritan'

By Alastair Lawson
BBC News
18 December 2007

A Muslim Bangladeshi student is to be honoured by the mayor of New York on Wednesday for helping three Jewish people who were being beaten up.

Hassan Askari has been described as a "latter-day Good Samaritan" for coming to the aid of the three, who were attacked earlier this month.

A gang yelling anti-Semitic slogans had assaulted them on the city's subway.

His intervention left him with a possible broken nose, a stitched lip, bruises and two black eyes.

But it was sufficient for the attackers to turn their attention on him and allow one of those who was being attacked to raise the alarm and call the police.

"I was brought up to believe that you cannot walk away from an incident like this," he told the BBC.

"I felt I could not just stand there and watch these people being beaten up without doing anything to help.

"I believe we are all members of one family, and my religion teaches me always to come to the aid of my fellow man in distress."

The slightly-built accountancy student - who comes from an aristocratic Bengali family - was travelling from home on 9 December when he saw the attack take place on a crowded train.

Mr Askari has three forefathers who were knighted by British monarchs during the days of the Raj and is a member of the Dhaka Nawab family, an important political dynasty in the Indian subcontinent.

Around 10 people were attacking the three Jews after an argument had broken out.

"As the quarrel turned progressively more violent, scores of people on the train ignored the fight and didn't want to have anything to do with it," said Marc Scheier, a rabbi from the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, who presented Mr Askari with a bravery award earlier this month.

"Mr Askari - like the Good Samaritan - was the only person brave enough to intervene.

"The symbolism of his action at Christmas time is striking - a foreign Muslim coming to the aid of three Jews in an act of kindness and cooperation.

"People often forget that Judaism and Islam aren't so far apart as the radicals from both sides would have us believe. We are both Abrahamic religions and in many respects share a common faith."

Mr Askari said that he was "overwhelmed" by the publicity his actions have generated, and "embarrassed" that the American press have labelled him a "hero of the city".

"I have friends who are Jews, Christians and Buddhists and would have acted in the same way if they were victims of an unprovoked attack," he said.

Rabbi Scheier said that he could tell from injuries sustained by one of the three victims that it was a "brutal and extremely violent" attack which would have required "immense courage" from Mr Askari to get involved in.

"He is such a humble and modest man blessed with the most extraordinary bravery," he said.

Ten people have been arrested in connection with the attack and three of them have appeared in court charged with assault and disorderly conduct.

Mr Askari is due to be presented with a medal on Wednesday that will be handed to him either by or on behalf of the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg.

The student - whose mother, father and younger brother live in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka - says that his long term aim is to return to his beloved home country where he grew up as a child.

"Home is where the heart is and at least there is no subway there," he said.




...when I was briefly living in Oakland, I used to take BART into Berkeley every day. I lived pretty close to Coliseum station, so I would drive down, BART in, do my thing, drive back, rinse, lather, repeat. At any rate, sometimes my commute got a little exciting when there was a game on, because a lot of people would go to the game on BART, rather than driving, which is something I generally applaud, although it did make my train trips chaotic sometimes. But everyone was usually pretty nice, and I remember once a group of exuberant young men insisted on walking me to my car because it was dark and they were worried about me, which was very sweet.

So I hopped onto the train one day and it was incredibly crowded, even though BART had added extra cars. I quickly saw that I wasn't going to be able to sit, so I grabbed a pole and made the best of it. Most of the train was in a state of high energy, obviously excited about the upcoming game, except for a handful of outliers, including a businessman sitting in the handicapped seat, reading the Wall Street Journal and jabbering loudly on his cell phone with his brief case sprawled out next to him. For some reason, no one had made him yield the other seat, let along get up for one of the older people on the train, which kind of surprised me. He was very obviously not handicapped, and yes, I know that people have disabilities which are not readily visible, but trust me on this one: he was just a self righteous yuppie, and he in no way, shape, or form needed to sit down.

So we reached MacArthur station, and a very pregnant woman got on board, along with a bunch of other people, and the train fell into a state of expectant silence, with everyone looking at the businessman, who continued blaring into his phone, obviously totally oblivious. The pregnant woman didn't kick up a fuss at all, she just grabbed a pole and stood, getting ready for the train to leave.

At this point, a thuggish young hoodlum tapped the businessman on the shoulder. And I mean thuggish. Not wannabe ghetto, seriously thuggish ghetto, as in probably packing a gun that he knew how to use. The kind of person that you would cross to the other side of the street to avoid.

The businessman looked up irritably after about thirty seconds of tapping, and said "what" in a snarling, hostile kind of way which actually kind of impressed me, given who was tapping him on the shoulder. Now the train fell into complete silence, so silent that you could almost feel the tumbleweeds blowing down the center aisle.

"Yo, dog," the thug said. "You gonna move for that pregnant lady?"

"I wasn't planning on it," the businessman said, which amazed me even further.

"Yo, dog, can you read? This sign says "disabled" on it. You disabled? 'cause you don't look like it, man."

The businessman held his ground, silently, as an even larger thug slid up behind thug number one.

"The man asked you to move," he said, very softly. "You should stand so that nice pregnant lady can sit down."

The pregnant lady was mortified at this point over the fuss, while the train's passengers were waiting with bated breath and dropped jaws.

"You best git out o' dat seat," he said, a little more loudly. The businessman ruffled his paper defiantly...

...and thug number two literally lifted him by the collar and deposited him in the aisle as the train exploded in laughter and the businessman's cellphone went skittering to the other end of the train. He started indignantly boiling over while another standing passenger helpfully handed him his briefcase and the two thugs escorted the pregnant lady to her seat. Eventually the cellphone made its way back to the businessman, who stopped sputtering and sat in humiliated silence on the floor while everyone congratulated the thugs and starting high fiving each other from sheer exuberance.

When the businessman finally got off (12th Street), thug two looked him in the eye and said:

"Next time I see you takin' that handicapped seat on this train while someone who needs it is standing up, I'll shoot you, dog. Then you'll really be a cripple."

And the doors slid closed while the train continued on its way.

This, my friends, is why I love Oakland.



Deaf, blind or just oblivious?

I refer to the letter "Expecting a seat? Fat hope" (Dec 17). I take the bus and train daily and often see pregnant women and the elderly having to stand.

While I make it a point to offer my seat to them, I feel more people should do so, especially the young. Many pretend to sleep, or are just too engrossed in video games or sending messages on their mobile phones to care.

I don't know if people are oblivious or are just intentionally uncharitable.

Recently, a teenage couple in the bus seat designated for the disabled refused to give up the seat to a blind man. Several passengers had to guide him to an empty seat further inside the bus. If you are willing to let a blind man grope his way around to find an empty seat, I despair for you.

What surprised me is that nobody told the couple off, not even the driver. I am ashamed to say that I am one of those people who did not do anything. Being a foreigner, I felt obliged to do as the locals do.

However, I now realise that if the local culture involves keeping silent in the face of such behaviour, I would rather speak up.

Does the bus captain have the authority to tell able-bodied passengers to vacate such seats meant for the disabled or elderly?

It is surprising that many people complain about smelly and noisy buses and trains but few speak up when they encounter such discourteous behaviour.

When my Singaporean colleagues ask me what I miss most about my country, I tell them I miss the acts of common courtesy. I miss being in a place where men still open doors, give up their seats for women, children and the elderly, and where the young help the elderly. We don't have to tell people to be courteous because it is already practised.

Christina P. Ondevilla

(Ondevilla, Christina P.  Letter.  "Voices."  Today [Singapore] 19 Dec. 2007:  32.)


Expecting a seat? Fat hope!

Few offer a place to sit on MRT, says pregnant mum.

According to the report, "Retiring early low list" (Dec 13), charity and volunteer work is No 7 on Singaporeans' list of "dreams." I am seven months pregnant and my dream is that Singaporeans will find the charity to volunteer their seat on public transport.

I get offered a seat only once a week. And this week, despite 15 trips on the MRT, I have not received a single offer. Almost every day, I have been pushed aside by others while boarding the train as I prefer to wait for exiting passengers to alight.

I believe a pregnant woman will go into labour before she is offered a seat in Singapore. This is a sad indictment of the psyche of people here.

It does not take much to perform small acts of charity, such as offering help to people around you or volunteering once a month.

It would be nice to see more compassion in Singaporeans' everyday actions and behaviour.

Penelope Bennett

(Bennett, Penelope.  Letter.  "Voices."  Today [Singapore] 17 Dec. 2007:  19.)


Related post
Apes under their Armanis

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What's the price of a dream?

I have been deep in thought the last few days. At this point, it is premature to share all of them, but I must say this exercise has been in part triggered by QQ's post, "A Story about Life" (Thanks, QQ), a conversation with an acquaintance, and observations of people around me. All too often, I see people trading the priceless for baubles. Baubles that can be bought. Trading time for money; trading youth, health for money; trading dreams for social acceptance, status — respectability.

Have you ever seen the sadness in an old man's eyes when he looks upon a mountain peak, the boundless ocean, the endless road — spent and tired before even contemplating?

Roots. Some say roots anchor. I say they imprison. Sure, a rooted tree flourishes, reproduces, but it remains in one place. I rather be driftwood. It sees more places than entire forests of its rooted kin. Sometimes, I feel, the journey itself is the destination.

A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.
         (Matsuo Bashō)

This belief may not be as mad or ludicrous as it seems. In the Belgium film directed by Bart Van den Bempt, To see Mardin, Herman and Marie, a couple in their fifties, land in Istanbul to retrieve the recovered backpack of their deceased son. In it, they discover the logbook of his last expedition. Herman decides to reconstruct his only child's last journey by experiencing it himself. He convinces the reluctant Marie to join him in what he believes is a cathartic venture.

         Director's statement

A story about two people who both try to deal and live with the finitude of life, each in his or his own way. We are soaked by mortality, though we consider ourselves immortal. Remarkably, surrounded by death, we manage to forget we will die one day that all things are finite, and we enjoy our vulnerable existence with passion. [ . . . H]ow do 2 people with a different worldview cope with their loss and with each other’s grief. How does a journey courses if the journey itself is the destination? What happens if you love somebody who is not there and will never be there again?

Trying Struggling to answer the director's last question, I would say I see people taking on — and carrying on — the journey of their loved ones. Why, I have no idea, because they would never see their loved ones again, and continuing the journey of the deceased does nothing to change that. But they still do...

Its been a long night, enjoy my favorite song:

Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we've been told and some choose to believe it
I know they're wrong, wait and see.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

Who said that every wish would be heard and answered
when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that
and someone believed it,
and look what it's done so far.
What's so amazing that keeps us stargazing?
And what do we think we might see?
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
the lovers, the dreamers and me.

All of us under its spell,
we know that it's probably magic....

Have you been half asleep
and have you heard voices?
I've heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same.
I've heard it too many times to ignore it.
It's something that I'm supposed to be.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
the lovers, the dreamers and me.
La, la la, La, la la la, La Laa, la la, La, La la laaaaaaa

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


There is something surreal about having "aunties" walking by with umbrellas in the rain, watching you do laps in the pool, and then commenting, "Crazy! [It's] Raining. So wet."

Monday, December 17, 2007

In Memoriam

Poet, biographer, feminist Diane Middlebrook dies of cancer at 68

Heidi Benson
San Francisco Chronicle
December 16, 2007

(12-15) 15:42 PST San Francisco -- Diane Middlebrook, the award-winning poet, biographer, teacher, feminist and salonnière, died of cancer Saturday in San Francisco, her family said. She was 68.

A professor of English at Stanford University for 35 years, Middlebrook made a graceful and unusual leap from teaching poetry to writing biography.

She is perhaps best known for "Anne Sexton: A Biography," the controversial 1991 best-seller and finalist for the National Book Award, and for "Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, a Marriage," the best-selling 2003 biography about the troubled union of the poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. She also wrote "Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton," the 1998 biography of a female jazz musician who lived as a man.

At the time of her death, she was at work on a fourth biography - "Young Ovid" - which will be published soon by Viking Penguin, to coincide with the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of the Roman poet.

Middlebrook was born in Pocatello, Idaho, in 1939, one of three daughters of Thomas and Helen Wood, a pharmacist and a nurse, and grew up in Spokane, Wash.

As a child, she was always writing. "I had a poem in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on the cartoon page when I was 8 years old," she told an interviewer in 2002. "It stays in my mind as a very thrilling experience."

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1961 from the University of Washington, Seattle, she went on to Yale University, where she earned a master's degree in 1962 and a doctorate in 1968. She was one of the first women to teach in the English department at Stanford University, where she was hired as an assistant professor while still in graduate school.

During the course of a distinguished career, Middlebrook received many honors, including a Guggenheim fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and a Pew Foundation research grant. She was a 1990 fellow at the Rockefeller Study Center in Bellagio, Italy, and has been a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London since 2004.

She also created a series of literary salons for women, inspired by her numerous friendships and professional alliances with female writers and artists.

"Diane has a certain radiance that reaches out and attracts people," said author and Stanford senior research scholar Marilyn Yalom, who has been co-host of the San Francisco salon. Middlebrook went on to launch a second salon for her colleagues in London; in New York, authors Kamy Wicoff and Nancy Miller co-host a salon based on Middlebrook's model.

"Often poets and academics are really more interested in books and writing," said Rena Rosenwasser, co-founder of Kelsey Street Press in Berkeley. "But Diane was interested in people, especially in women and what they were encountering in their professional lives."

Middlebrook said the salons served as an extension of her life as a professor. "Women have a different kind of conversation," she said in a recent interview with The Chronicle. "Everybody who participates is there on an equal basis."

In 1963, she married Jonathan Middlebrook, a fellow graduate student in literature. Their daughter, Leah, was born in 1966, and Jonathan Middlebrook was hired as a professor of English at San Francisco State University, where he has continued to teach. The marriage ended in 1972. (A brief early marriage ended in 1961.)

In 1985, Diane Middlebrook married Carl Djerassi, emeritus professor of chemistry at Stanford University, who is best known for contributing to the development of the first oral contraceptive pill, an invention that brought him a fortune. In recent years, Djerassi turned to writing novels and plays.

"They each met their match," Dale Djerassi said of his father's marriage to Middlebrook. "She was clearly his literary counselor, critic and muse."

Their Russian Hill apartment, where the couple hosted many gatherings of intellectuals and artists, has spectacular 360-degree views of the San Francisco Bay and an equally spectacular art collection, with works by Paul Klee. They also lived part of the year in London, where they spent summers and the fall theater season.

The two collaborated on many endeavors including the creation of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in the Santa Cruz mountains, an artists colony founded in honor of Djerassi's daughter Pamela, an artist who took her life in 1978.

Middlebrook liked to see creative, talented individuals thrive. "Diane was fabulous at drawing us out, making an environment where women could talk about their dreams, about things they wanted to invent and do," said San Francisco artist Squeak Carnwath. "And then, they would happen."

At one salon, Carnwath posed a question: Is it possible, without money, to start a foundation to benefit artists? "That was five or six years ago, and now the Artist Legacy Foundation just gave away its first grant this year," she said.

"Diane is not just a great intellect and a creator and a gracious human being," said author Kate Moses, with whom Middlebrook shared research when they were both working on books about Plath and Hughes. "Diane also has this great well of womanliness and nurturing." From 1977 to 1979, she was director of Stanford's Center for Research on Women, where she worked closely with Yalom.

"Those were the years in which feminist scholarship was taking root in the public imagination, but in universities it happened much more slowly," Yalom recalled. "When Diane and I would sit down at the faculty club in the late '70s, it wasn't unusual for some male professor to come over and say, 'What are you two girls plotting now?' "

These were formative times, but Yalom believes it is as a biographer that Middlebrook "came into her own. The Anne Sexton biography really put her on the map," Yalom said.

She began working on the Sexton book in 1982, while teaching part time. When it was published 10 years later, the book stirred debate over revelations of incest by Sexton. The poet's psychoanalyst - believing he owned the rights to audiotapes of his sessions with Sexton - had given them to Sexton's daughter, who passed them to Middlebrook.

In writing the book, Middlebrook was determined to avoid academic language. "I had to teach myself how to write, which was very liberating," she said. To write biography, "you have to fill yourself with the writer's imagination. It was a pleasure to see that I could do it."

In 2004, Middlebrook resigned from teaching, with plans to focus on her writing and on the salons. But a routine physical checkup discovered a recurrence of a rare form of liposarcoma, a slow-growing cancer for which she had surgery previously.

"What is so extraordinary is that when she got ill, she was so committed to keeping herself vivid and alive - which meant continuing on her next project," Rosenwasser said. "As long as she had an ounce of energy, Diane was going to work on Ovid."

Moses - who has been helping Nancy Miller, Middlebrook's literary executor, prepare the manuscript - pointed out, "With the new book, Diane has created a biography of a person for whom there is no biographical information, doing it by using her skill as a poet to create fully fleshed-out, imagined scenes of key moments in Ovid's life."

Since her diagnosis, Middlebrook had further surgeries and several types of chemotherapy, and traveled to Germany for alternative dendritic-cell treatments. By early fall of this year, doctors predicted little hope of recovery, and she and Djerassi returned to San Francisco.
"Diane has influenced many people, not only as a professor and a writer, but as a human being lucidly and courageously facing death," Yalom said.

It is poignant that Ovid - who was banished from Rome but continued to believe in the timelessness of his poetry - is the subject of what would be Middlebrook's last book, Moses believes. "Ovid said, 'They've taken everything from me but my talent, and my talent is what's going to live on.' "

In a 2002 interview, Middlebrook compared Shakespeare and Ovid: "Both allude to the idea that 'If you can read this, I am still alive - because I am in my language.' "

Middlebrook is survived by her husband, Carl Djerassi, professor emeritus at Stanford; daughter, Leah Middlebrook, an author and professor of comparative literature at the University of Oregon; son-in-law, Norio Sugano, an entrepreneur; sisters Michole Nicholson of Arroyo Grande (San Luis Obispo County) and Colleen Dea of Spokane, Wash.; stepson, filmmaker Dale Djerassi of Woodside; and stepgrandson, Alexander Djerassi of Washington, D.C.

A memorial for friends and colleagues of Diane Middlebrook is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside.

The family requests that donations be made to the Building Fund for the Diane Middlebrook Residence for Writers at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (, a tax-exempt organization.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ukrainian Army Recruitment Ad

At least it confirms a universal trait among BMW drivers. (Well, a small part...)


Thank you

Not to join the crowd at the end of the year, where everyone is sappily broadcasting their nauseating episodes of emo, replete in the most hackneyed purple prose, and rollicking in group hugs clusterfucks:

I have learnt that the institution of marriage is not for natural solitaries, and if I had been totally honest, I would not have got into a marriage or even a commitment. Hence[. . .] doing a disservice to the marriage partner. I have since learnt to be completely authentic, to keep faith with my truest and deepest instinct.
         (Dr. Catherine Lim)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

This is sad

Mr Shuichi Amano,

"To be divorced is the equivalent of being declared dead — because we can't take care of ourselves."

When his wife told him eight years ago that she was "99 per cent" certain that she was going to dump him, he added, the only things he then knew how to do in the kitchen were to fry eyes and pour boiled water over noodles.

Mr Amano would probably enjoy chatting with the little old lady I met in Perth. I even have a title ready for their discourse: "Dependency and Co-dependency: Secrets of an Enduring Marriage."

On the flip side of the fence, in all my years, I only met one girlfriend whose cooking skills surpassed mine (and she isn't Singaporean). And then, there was this chick who couldn't even reheat a can of Campbell's soup (neither a girlfriend nor romantic interest. Thank Gawd for little mercies).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Color book

Though I applaud the effort by the archdiocese, I can't help but feel a little creeped out.

Coloring Outside the Lines

The New York Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic church has an unusual new weapon against child abuse.

Angelic Advice: A new comic book warns children against being alone in a closed room with an adult

By Jessica Bennett
Dec 10, 2007 Issue

After years of humiliating sexual-abuse scandals, Roman Catholic Church officials are trying harder than ever to convince parishioners that they're doing everything they can to prevent such tragedies from happening again. That means public education, training programs and—in the New York Archdiocese—a surprisingly direct, abuse-themed coloring book for kids that's being sent to parishioners across the area. At first glance, "Being Friends, Being Safe, Being Catholic" is what you'd expect from a Christian handout: lessons in loving thy neighbor and knowing we're all special in God's eyes, plus a fun word search with names of people whom kids can trust (parents, counselors, teachers). Many of the book's cartoon-sketch drawings, which were created by a church volunteer, are light in tone and narrated by an angel looming overhead. But on one page, the angel warns of an online predator—with chest hair exposed—who attempts to chat with a child; on another (shown above), the angel implies that children should make sure they're never alone in a room with a priest.

That's an unusual approach, says David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, but not necessarily a bad one. "We welcome any innovation," he says, "especially from an institution that has such a horrific track record." The coloring book is intended as a supplement to the prevention curriculum mandated by a 2002 U.S. bishops charter—a way for adults to broach a topic that is "not the most pleasant to talk about," says Edward Mechmann, the director of the New York Archdiocese's Safe Environment Program. He says the book (along with comics about molestation, for older kids) has been shipped to about 700 schools. Administrators are then given the option of distributing them. "Teachers love it," Mechmann says. "It's a nice little vehicle for speaking to kids about [abuse]." Talk about alternative education.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cosby and Whitlock

After the following suspects were arrested for the murder of Sean Taylor, the following preface appears before Jason Whitlock's article, "Taylor's death a grim reminder for us all":

EDITOR'S NOTE: This column originally appeared Wednesday [Nov 28], two days before Friday's [Nov 30] arrests of four men in the shooting death of Sean Taylor.

And so, to those detractors who claimed that Whitlock was pulling generalizations from his ass, here are the 4 suspects arrested for the murder of Sean Taylor:

Undated photos provided by the Miami-Dade Police Department shows the four suspects, Venjah K. Hunte, 20, Jason Scott Mitchell, 17, Eric Rivera, Jr., 17, and Charles Kendrick Lee Wardlow, 18, arrested Friday, Nov. 30, 2007, in connection with the shooting death of Washington Redskins football player Sean Taylor. (AP Photo/Miami-Dade Police Dept., HO)

Here are their myspace pages. Hmm... What a coincidence, they are aspiring rappers.

Jason Scott Mitchell (profile).

Venjah K Hunte (profile).

Eric Rivera, Jr. (profile).
*Deleted profile on Dec 1*

Charles Kendrick Lee Wardlow (profile).

Here is some data from the U.S. Department of Justice:

In 2005, homicide victimization rates for blacks were 6 times higher than rates for whites.

In 2005, homicide offending rates for blacks were more than 7 times higher than rates for whites.


Here are the lyrics to a song by one of the 4 aspiring defendants... ahem! rappers:

Really Real

I'm a thug nigger,
I'm a thug, thug, thug crook nigger, crooked scheming fiending thugging drug nigger,
I'm a pants sagging mark stabbin' thug nigger, thug thug thug thug...

You might as well call me 2-faced
'Coz I be talkin' in ya face, to find out where that safe, and plot on you the next day.

Shit get really real,
And for my dawg I will kill, coz he will do the same for me.

And the fools are now charged for murder.

Wilbur Smith, attorney for Eric Rivera, Jr., "This is another situation of a young black male killing another young black male. It's really sickening when you think of the lives that are now forever affected."  (Source)

If all these sound just too heavy, just follow this simple instructional video (repost) produced by Chris Rock  :-D

Related articles
4 charged in slaying of Redskin's Taylor
Sean Taylor Murder Suspects: Attorney Blames a Hard Life for Player's Murder
Blinded by the Lure of Stolen Bling, Sean Taylor's Killers Took His Life
One more black man dies

Apes under their Armanis

Ah, Singapore, where pretense (veneer) is all: the title of a first-world country, with none of the grace . . ..

I penned that line more than a year ago; and, since then, my opinion has only been reinforced through experience.

Going through last week's papers, it appears that I am not alone.

First World nation, Third World actions

It is with much shame and frustration that I write this letter about the attitudes of some Singaporeans towards foreign workers.

On Sunday at about 6:15 pm, I was waiting at Macpherson Road for bus service 65. Many foreign workers were also waiting at the same bus stop for bus service 66 to take them to Little India.

When service 65 arrived at about 6:30 pm, the driver was about to stop so that a woman and I could board the bus.

Just then, the group of foreign workers lined up behind us to board No. 65 instead, since they had been waiting a long time for No. 66.

And upon seeing the foreign workers, the driver veered from the bus stop and drove off.

These foreign workers work hard every day and it it is sad that they cannot depend on our public transport system to take them to their destinations.

I was shocked by what the bus driver did. Not only did he make many of us late for our appointments, he also did the foreign workers great injustice with his racist behaviour.

And the bus driver was not the only one who was prejudiced towards the foreign workers. When we finally managed to board another bus, a woman covered her nose and looked disgusted upon seeing the group of foreign workers.

I hope the bus driver who had refused to pick us up would be punished.

I also hope that SBS Transit can ensure there are enough buses to meet the demand, especially during peak hours and on the weekends. Despite countless promises about improving services every time there is a fare review, SBS Transit has yet to do so as I have not seen any improvement in the frequency of buses.

Tay Kim Lian

(Tay, Kim Lian.  "Voices."  Today [Singapore]  29 Nov. 2007: 42.)


Oh when will we dump our Third World habits?

I continue to be astounded by the sheer laziness and thoughtlessness of many people who seem intent on dropping their litter wherever they like, other than a rubbish bin.

It's not as if there's a shortage of rubbish bins in Singapore, although half of them seem to be empty due to the fact that most of the trash intended for them is lying outside them.

Recently, I had an unpleasant experience that drove home the issue of a total lack of respect for our surroundings, when a man tossed a handful of litter onto the pavement, just a few meters away from a bin.

When my wife told him he had committed an offence and should pick up the litter, he response was: "I'm Singaporean, I do what I want."

I told him it was irrelevant who he was or where he lived, he should show some respect for his surroundings.

He retorted: "What's your problem?" and then made an obscene gesture.

Despite the local media's relentless crusade to highlight a so-called world class education system, I keep coming back to the same, inescapable conclusion: What a wonderful, well-planned, First World infrastructure; too bad about the people with Third World habits who are abusing it.

Simon Hulber

(Hulber, Simon.  "Voices."  Today [Singapore]  6 Dec. 2007: 40.)


How does that saying go?

You can take the people out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the people.

Oh, look! Singapore Sale!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Be(a)ware or be roadkill

One person definitely not on Santa's list this year:

Man talking on cell phone killed by train in San Leandro

By Steve Rubenstein
San Francisco Chronicle
December 6, 2007

(12-05) 17:02 PST SAN LEANDRO - A pedestrian apparently absorbed in a cell phone call was struck and killed by an Amtrak train in San Leandro today after he walked around a lowered crossing gate and onto the tracks, authorities said.

The victim, a man who was not immediately identified, was struck at 12:30 p.m. by a northbound Capitol Corridor train at the Alvarado Street crossing, about 8 miles south of the Oakland station, Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said.

None of the 20 passengers or crew aboard the train was injured. That train and two others were delayed and another Capitol Corridor train was cancelled, Graham said.

Crew members aboard the Sacramento-bound train told authorities they saw the victim talking on the cell phone before he was struck, Graham said. The warning lights and gates at the crossing were functioning properly, she added.



Selected comments

stimpy wrote:
Boy, that musta been one interesting conversation...

ontherightside wrote:
This is weird, I just wonder what was so important. I guess we will never know.

usafgen_jripper wrote:
Tragic. Was the train damaged?

trudat wrote:
Darwin triumphs again...

mrc11864 wrote:
Ya gotta love natural selection! There's absolutely no bias at all!

daninthesunset wrote:
Can you hear me n...

jackjack2 wrote:
Natural selection at work. Nothing to see here. Move along.

thatisjustcrazy wrote:
I'm curious who he was talking to and what the subject matter was. How important is it that you lose complete focus on your suroundings?

teddytenderloin wrote:
With all the bad news we get bombarded with every day, it's stories like this that restore my faith. One less idiot risking the innocent lives of others. I'm celebrating tonight.

sideshow_bob wrote:
Every day on the way to work I have to go through 40 city blocks to get to the freeway. On the way, I stop at all stops. I check both directions. I yield to pedestrians if they're obviously owed the right of way. But it never ceases to amaze me how many idiots walking and talking on their cell phones are completely oblivious to vehicular traffic, and whether or not they have the right of way they'll wander into the street without even looking to see if a 2 ton truck is about to flatten them. People, please, get off your freakin' cell phones when you're in a potentially life-threatening scenario, or at least tell the person on the other end to hang on a second while you look. Crosswalks do NOT act like a magic force field that protects you. The only thing that will protect you is PAYING ATTENTION. It's a phone... it'll still be there AFTER you look and act safely. THEN resume talking... sheez.

tenbaum wrote:
Can I claim his unused minutes?

jesus_jihad wrote:
More trains vs cell phone users

long_long_le wrote:
He won't do that again. Now if we can only extend the same demise to others in cars.

mugwomp wrote:
Hardly a tragedy. He killed himself instead of somebody else. The world is a safer place.

digit wrote:
This is just stupid. Glad he wasn't driving.

johnniebgoode wrote:
"What? What? You hear the train a-coming? When the heck did you turn into a Johnny Cash fan? So, you hear the train a-coming...what you expect - you won't see the sunsh......"

bmfarley wrote:
The headline is appropriate. I call it like I see it.... the Gate deserves a compliment. In past occurrences of ped-train incidents... the headline always indicated that it was fault of the train, "Train kills pedestrian". Ideally I'd like to see the headlines go further, like "Train 1, Pedestrian 0"

Webster9 wrote:
"Operator,-----Information,-----Give me Jesus, on the line !"

barenthresher wrote:
Good riddance. Hopefully, he didn't reproduce before he was removed from the gene pool.

rrrr wrote:
Rollover minutes.

jsbsf wrote:
Christmas is a time for giving. Give someone stupid a cellphone!


Oh, better make that two...

Cell Phone Blamed in Berkeley Train Death

November 16, 2007
The Associated Press

BERKELEY (AP) ― Being distracted while talking on his cell phone is being blamed for the death of a Berkeley man who was hit by an Amtrak train.

Authorities say 31-year-old Scott Slaughter was hit and killed by the train while taking a shortcut across two sets of tracks to get to work Thursday morning.

Witnesses say Slaughter waited for one train to pass on a first set of tracks, then crossed onto the second set of tracks and was hit by a second train.

A spokeswoman for the Alameda County Coroner's Bureau says Slaughter didn't see or hear the second train because he was on his cell phone.

The accident halted Amtrak service through Berkeley for about three hours.



Baulking at walking and talking

I noticed that increasingly, pedestrians are using their mobile phones while crossing the roads.

It is not only going to endanger one's life, but will also hold up traffic at busy intersections.

I do not see how urgently someone might need to answer a call while crossing the road. It takes merely half a minute to cross the road, and the call can be returned and the conversation continued at a safe spot.

While I have not read of any incidents involving pedestrians using their mobile phones reported here so far, there has been such incidents overseas.

I do not look forward to hearing about such incidents here before attention and awareness is raised on this issue.

Let's cultivate a good habit and make our roads safe and friendly.

Khoo Lih Han

(Khoo, Lih Han.  "Voices."  Today [Singapore]  7 Dec. 2007: 42.)


And then, there's Philip Roth (Thanks, dear)...

For me it made the streets appear comic and the people ridiculous. And yet it seemed like a real tragedy, too. To eradicate the experience of separation must inevitably have a dramatic effect. What will the consequence be? You know you can reach the other person anytime, and if you can't, you get impatient - impatient and angry like a little stupid god.

These little gods may like to know, in Buddhist philosophy, even gods die.

I hear the train a comin'
It's rolling round the bend...

Related posts
Well, what do you know? I'm not alone in this
Lemmings, lemmings, they drown
A voice in the wilderness, eh?
No cell phone
Cell phone, thy true name


82.8 meters (271.6 feet).

The regulatorsPoseidon Xstream and Apeks TX50 — performed flawlessly despite the bone-chilling 40.5° F (4.7° C) bottom temperature.

Gwynedd is gorgeous. Diolch yn fawr, Bruce.

How I wish for you today

Performed for the 9/11 Tribute to Heroes, this is the closest video rendition (in the public domain) that I could find to the acoustic version with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Long Road

And I wished for so long, cannot stay...
All the precious moments, cannot stay...
It's not like wings have fallen, cannot say...
But without you something's missing, cannot say...

Holding hands are daughters and sons,
And their faiths just falling down, down, down, down...
I have wished for so long
How I wish for you today

We all walk the long road. Cannot stay...
There's no need to say goodbye...
All the friends and family
All the memories going round, round, round, round
I have wished for so long
How I wish for you today

And the wind keeps roaring
And the sky keeps turning gray
And the sun has set
The sun will rise another day...

I have wished for so long
How I wish for you today

I have wished for so long
How I wish for you today

We all walk the long road
We all walk the long road
We all walk the long road

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Caption this

Travel: go for it, before you impregnate some haphazard-girl that'll only suck you dry and make you work for the rest of your life so she can shop at Wal-Mart* and drive a Soccer-mom-obile.
         (Kosher Princess)

* = Wal-Mart is known as ASDA in the United Kingdom, Walmex in Mexico, and Seiyu in Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

What Bill Cosby said

Taylor's death a grim reminder for us all

By Jason Whitlock

There's a reason I call them the Black KKK. The pain, the fear and the destruction are all the same.

Someone who loved Sean Taylor is crying right now. The life they knew has been destroyed, an 18-month-old baby lost her father, and, if you're a black man living in America, you've been reminded once again that your life is in constant jeopardy of violent death.

The Black KKK claimed another victim, a high-profile professional football player with a checkered past this time.

No, we don't know for certain the circumstances surrounding Taylor's death. I could very well be proven wrong for engaging in this sort of aggressive speculation. But it's no different than if you saw a fat man fall to the ground clutching his chest. You'd assume a heart attack, and you'd know, no matter the cause, the man needed to lose weight.

Well, when shots are fired and a black man hits the pavement, there's every statistical reason to believe another black man pulled the trigger. That's not some negative, unfair stereotype. It's a reality we've been living with, tolerating and rationalizing for far too long.

When the traditional, white KKK lynched, terrorized and intimidated black folks at a slower rate than its modern-day dark-skinned replacement, at least we had the good sense to be outraged and in no mood to contemplate rationalizations or be fooled by distractions.

Our new millennium strategy is to pray the Black KKK goes away or ignores us. How's that working?

About as well as the attempt to shift attention away from this uniquely African-American crisis by focusing on an "injustice" the white media allegedly perpetrated against Sean Taylor.

Within hours of his death, there was a story circulating that members of the black press were complaining that news outlets were disrespecting Taylor's victimhood by reporting on his troubled past

No disrespect to Taylor, but he controlled the way he would be remembered by the way he lived. His immature, undisciplined behavior with his employer, his run-ins with law enforcement, which included allegedly threatening a man with a loaded gun, and the fact a vehicle he owned was once sprayed with bullets are all pertinent details when you've been murdered.

Marcellus Wiley, a former NFL player, made the radio circuit Wednesday, singing the tune that athletes are targets. That was his explanation for the murders of Taylor and Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams and the armed robberies of NBA players Antoine Walker and Eddy Curry.


Let's cut through the bull(manure) and deal with reality. Black men are targets of black men. Period. Go check the coroner's office and talk with a police detective. These bullets aren't checking W-2s.

Rather than whine about white folks' insensitivity or reserve a special place of sorrow for rich athletes, we'd be better served mustering the kind of outrage and courage it took in the 1950s and 1960s to stop the white KKK from hanging black men from trees.

But we don't want to deal with ourselves. We take great joy in prescribing medicine to cure the hate in other people's hearts. Meanwhile, our self-hatred, on full display for the world to see, remains untreated, undiagnosed and unrepentant.

Our self-hatred has been set to music and reinforced by a pervasive culture that promotes a crab-in-barrel mentality.

You're damn straight I blame hip hop for playing a role in the genocide of American black men. When your leading causes of death and dysfunction are murder, ignorance and incarceration, there's no reason to give a free pass to a culture that celebrates murder, ignorance and incarceration.

Of course there are other catalysts, but until we recapture the minds of black youth, convince them that it's not OK to "super man dat ho" and end any and every dispute by "cocking on your bitch," nothing will change.

Does a Soulja Boy want an education?

HBO did a fascinating documentary on Little Rock Central High School, the Arkansas school that required the National Guard so that nine black kids could attend in the 1950s. Fifty years later, the school is one of the nation's best in terms of funding and educational opportunities. It's 60 percent black and located in a poor black community.

Watch the documentary and ask yourself why nine poor kids in the '50s risked their lives to get a good education and a thousand poor black kids today ignore the opportunity that is served to them on a platter.

Blame drugs, blame Ronald Reagan, blame George Bush, blame it on the rain or whatever. There's only one group of people who can change the rotten, anti-education, pro-violence culture our kids have adopted. We have to do it.

According to reports, Sean Taylor had difficulty breaking free from the unsavory characters he associated with during his youth.

The "keepin' it real" mantra of hip hop is in direct defiance to evolution. There's always someone ready to tell you you're selling out if you move away from the immature and dangerous activities you used to do, you're selling out if you speak proper English, embrace education, dress like a grown man, do anything mainstream.

The Black KKK is enforcing the same crippling standards as its parent organization. It wants to keep black men in their place — uneducated, outside the mainstream and six feet deep.

In all likelihood, the Black Klan and its mentality buried Sean Taylor, and any black man or boy reading this could be next.



Jason Whitlock is a columnist for The Kansas City Star.

Related post
Race matters