Empty calendars, feelings about that

This morning, my to-do app presented me with today’s tasks, and one of them was to “email TCOs of the past two burns” — which means that I needed to open up the placement databases for Alchemy 2018 and Alchemy 2019 and send an email to the Theme Camp Organizers to let them know that registration for placement at Alchemy 2020 would soon be upon them.

Of course, that’s moot, because the burn is canceled —all burns are canceled — for 2020, so that depressed me.

But then my eye fell on a notebook on my shelf that I truly couldn’t remember being there; it was full of morning pages that I had started writing in September of 2013, right after I was retired from GHP by the vindictive Governor Nathan Deal (whose actual target was Dr. John Barge, Supt. of the DOE). All my pain and grief were there for me to revisit (along with some positive things like the cross country trip and the composition of Five Easier Pieces).

And there on one of the last pages I bothered to write (12/2/13) was this:

For some reason, I began thinking about Burning Man and what my cadre might have to offer.
Here’s the image that came to me:
Three Old Men — loin cloths — gas masks — large walking sticks — single file — in sync — slow motion dance with the walking sticks.

Well.

When I went back to my to-do list, suddenly the placement task was not so depressing, because unlike GHP, the burn will be back in my life. This is only temporary.

Sweetness and light

Meet Ed McGinty. He is a 71-year-old resident of The Villages, Florida’s most notorious retirement community. It is filled with Trumpsters and Magats, but Ed is not one of them. Go read real quick about Ed.

Recently Ed was physically attacked by a Magat. He is undeterred.

Here is a letter he received after that attack:

Here are the first two paragraphs:

Mr. McGinty,

Saw where you recently got your ass kicked in response to your misguided antics. Just remember there are some other red neck Trump supporters out and there and when they chase you down they too will be bringing an ass-kicking with them.

This may be because that you epitomize the democratic party—absolutely no class, devoid of common sense and common decency, and hate filled.

First of all, I’m not surprised by the garbled syntax. That just goes hand in hand with the Trumpster thought processes. I am surprised that this particular Magat failed to use the approved “Democrat party” shibboleth rather than the party’s official name.

And then there’s the problem of how a human brain can write that second paragraph after having written the first. I’m finding it hard to imagine how “absolutely no class, devoid of common sense and common decency, and hate filled” dovetails with “ass kicked,” “misguided antics,” and the threat of violence. And there’s that fourth paragraph, “Hopefully, the next time you have similar encounter, your opponent won’t be so gentle.” In what universe is that not “devoid of common decency” or “hate filled”?

Spoiler alert: In the Trumpster universe, that’s where. Their brains ain’t right. And that’s just common sense.

Sharknado: The Trumpering

The other night our friends Marc and Mary Frances were over, and after dinner Marc suggested we find some lame movie to watch and goof on. We ended up going with my suggestion of Sharknado, and I have some thoughts.

First of all, if you’re not familiar with Sharknado, you need to be. It — and its five sequels — are genius, though possibly not in the way you might think. I have chosen to believe that the movie’s balls-to-the-wall awfulness is a deliberate send-up of what a movie even is: coherent plot, continuity, character development, suspense — all gone, obliterated in a blitz of stupidity and sensory overload. It’s an entertainment pretending to be a movie, but it deliberately and gleefully breaks every rule of film-making and invites you to realize that and comment on it —a meta-film.

Basic plot outline: a hurricane moving up from Mexico has driven a “pod of 20,000 sharks” ahead of it, and waterspouts generated by the storm have sucked up all those sharks and are throwing them at the tasty, tasty citizens of Santa Monica. Our hero, Fin (!), owns a bar out on the pier, and when sharks come crashing through his window he and his friends realize they need to hightail it to higher ground. But first they have to go rescue Fin’s ex-wife and their two reasonably adult children. Hilarity ensues.

As we watched the movie and hooted at its stubborn refusal to be anything like a real movie, I had an epiphany: Sharknado is an eerily perfect analogy for the thought processes of a typical Trump voter.

Bear with me as I unpack this.

  • Continuity and logical connection are irrelevant.
    • The hurricane comes and goes as a threat — we see shots of huge crashing waves, the bar is flooded with sea water and sharks, and yet the very next shot is an aerial of the pier with a glassily calm sea. (We then cut back to the shark-infested bar interior.)
    • April’s hillside house is flooded (with sharks), but when the heroes dash outside to flee in their vehicle, the courtyard is completely dry.
    • In fact, for a movie set during a hurricane, there is an abundance of sunshine and clear skies.
  • The plot is about on the level of an 8-year-old’s understanding of cause and effect.
    • The heroes are able to fly a helicopter right up to the tornadoes (with sharks) and toss in a home-made propane tank bomb that immediately “nukes the tornado.”[1]
    • Other people do not exist in any meaningful way. One character urges action to stop the sharks in order to save 1,000s of lives — in Los Angeles. Thousands. (Because once we know there are sharks, the threat of the hurricane (or tornadoes themselves) is forgotten.)
    • Plot development is driven by the hero’s insights, his “gut instinct,” not training, not knowledge, not data that have been gathered and weighed.[2]
    • Action scenes are disjointed, with choppy, frantic editing. There’s no coherent picture of how we get to the final punch, we just do.
    • There’s a hysterical disregard of such basics of physics as mass, velocity, gravity, or momentum.[3]
  • A cartoonish worldview of threats, where preposterous fears become immediate reality.
  • Tough guy hero — the ultimate rugged individualist — saves the day with no Communal Effort involved (other than his plucky band o’ rugged individualists).
    • Fin recognizes the danger immediately, but no one else does. There’s no evacuation or exodus.
    • In fact, there is absolutely no government response at all. No state of emergency is ever declared; conveniently placed newscasts keep us informed of the threat, but we see no police, no National Guard, no sirens, no elected officials urging the citizenry to stay safe (or how to do that).[4]

So what does all this have to do with Trump supporters?

Exhibit A: a letter to the editor from the Tampa Bay Times:

Imaginary threats, endowed with superhuman strength? Check. Rejection of science and data? Check. Irrational gut check with no logical meaning (“massive medical experiment”?). Check. Rugged individualistic hero? Check.

Exhibit B: a comment from Facebook.

Choppy editing with key context omitted? Check. Minimization of other human beings’ experiences? Check. Determined exclusion of nuance? Check.

Exhibit C: Tweets from the president (who is impeached and has botched the pandemic response)

Contradictory statements/camera shots? Check. Bolton’s book is simultaneously “all lies” and “revealing classified information.” Trump supporters are simultaneously an embattled/oppressed minority and the dominant “true” American culture. And so on.

All this added yet another layer to the meta-nature of Sharknado as I watched it: every stupid action sequence; every squalid, slapstick act of violence; every derailment of logical thought — all became emblematic of our nation’s hurting, hapless amygdala-based lifeforms as they struggle to maintain the fiction of Donald J. Trump as a great leader or even a great man.

None of which will prevent me from guffawing my way through the next five movies.

UPDATE: Exhibit  D: OAN correspondent Chanel Rion blurbs odd words with her mouth about Tulsa

—————

[1] Not the hurricane, a tornado. What kind of idiot would try to nuke a hurricane?

[2] Consider the Trumpster’s disdain of experts and data: “Oh yeah? Then how come last month the CDC said…”

[3] Sharknado is not alone in this. Most action movies are blithe about physics. I can only imagine the surprise felt by the real-life idiot whose vehicle is doggedly crashing into an abutment rather than executing the cool-ass, tire-squealing aerial ballet he’s used to seeing in Fast & Furious.

[4] Because in what universe would you have such an overwhelming disaster and not have public officials urging us to stay safe oh wait I see it now

Revel in the Dishevelment

REVEL IN THE DISHEVELMENT.

This is a phrase I coined sometime back in April or May — time has no meaning any more — to highlight the necessity of foregoing haircuts during lockdown. Make it a badge of honor that you didn’t risk your life or others around you just to look good, that kind of thing.

My last haircut was in February. I had not gotten one in March because I was forced to take the role of Adam in my production of As You Like It at Newnan Theatre Company, and I thought a shaggier look would be better for the octogenarian. I figured I would get a haircut in Germany after we left for our Viking River Cruise down the Rhine, the morning after AYLI closed on March 29.

And so here I am, June, no haircut in sight.

Yeah, I know, it doesn’t look bad. I’m glamorous that way. Just like Jake Gyllenhaal.

But my hair is the longest it has ever been, and certainly my beard has never been anywhere this long. (There are those who will claim my hair was this long back in the 80s, but that was when it was not gray and had no texture, hanging lankly about my ears.)

Now it’s beginning to bug me: it’s too long, and despite the flattering photo, it doesn’t really look good.

Here’s my point: WHY DO I NEED TO LOOK GOOD? 1. I’m in Captivity — who cares what I look like? 2. Let’s think about the pressure to LOOK GOOD.

LOOKING GOOD is one of those cultural/economic hoops you jump through to be “acceptable,” and you always have to ask yourself… to whom, exactly? The short answer is to other people jumping through those same hoops and who now firmly believe in their reality.

I’ve never been one to grant those hoops “reality” — I jump through them because I’m privileged and it’s easy — but I am under no illusion that a) I really have to; or b) I would be accepted as “acceptable” by gatekeepers whose gates I have no intention of going through.

So it’s easy enough to wear my hair uncut — and my beard untrimmed, even though I could keep that in check — as a symbol of my “purity” of intent, even though the way things are going I probably won’t be getting a haircut until August or September — if then. The important thing is that I continue to self-quarantine in order to do my best to keep myself and my family from being exposed to the virus.

I’m kind of looking forward to the ultra-dishevelment. New boundaries to transgress, old hoops to set on fire and not jump through. I’ll keep you updated.

50 years

Fifty years ago today, on June 14, 1970, my parents drove me onto the campus of Wesleyan College in Macon, GA, and left me there for eight weeks. I was one of 400 students selected for the seventh Governor’s Honors Program, and I was attending as an art major.

It changed my life, as we say in the business.

As is well documented elsewhere on this blog, GHP was a major part of my life from that day forward, culminating in my being hired as director for the program in 2011. Alas, in 2013, after the 50th summer, Governor Nathan Deal pulled the program out of the Dept. of Education into his own Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, and I was retired.

In one of the great ironies of my life, even if I were still the director I would not be able to stand in front of this year’s students and welcome them with the words, “Fifty years ago, I sat where you are sitting,” because like everything else GHP has been canceled for this year.

So here’s my speech.

Nearly 60 years ago, a woman named Margaret O. Bynum began pushing for more to be done for Georgia’s gifted and talented students. She spearheaded not only gifted education in schools and in colleges of education, she initiated, implemented, and developed what the Official Georgia Code describes as “an honors program for students in the public and private high schools of this state and for resident students who attend a home school program who have manifested exceptional abilities or unique potentials or who have made exceptional academic achievements.”

And so in the summer of 1964, 402 students from all over Georgia came to the campus of Wesleyan College in Macon, GA, and Margaret O. Bynum became the first ever Governor’s Honors Program director.

—————

[boilerplate welcome: GHP is the largest, longest-running summer program for the gifted, etc]

—————

“GHP is a life-changing experience.” Yeah, fine. Let’s talk about that for a moment.

Fifty years ago, I sat where you sit today. Think about that. When I was your age, “fifty years ago” meant before the stock market crashed, before The Grapes of Wrath or Gone With the Wind, before Stalin’s great purges or FDR’s first term.

For you, it means before the fall of Saigon, before Watergate, before the United States was even 200 years old. It was a long time ago.

In fact, let me make a little detour and tell you a quick story. Did you see the photos on the poster in the lobby, all the boys and all the girls at Wesleyan College in the very first GHP in 1964? They were sent to me by Gail Leven Pollock, whom I met a couple of years ago at a reception given by the GHP Alumni Association. She and another lady from that first summer were there, and I was really excited to meet them.

Because—I wanted to know what it was like, that very first summer. I know the program has changed a lot since my year, but what was it like that very first year.

And so I asked them: What was it like? How did it work? What did you get out of it?

As they began to tell me, I experienced the strangest time warp: their eyes lit up, and without hesitating they started talking about how it turned their world upside down; how freeing it was to be in an environment where everyone around them was as passionate not only about their subject matter but about learning in general; how it changed their lives forever. It was like listening to a student from last summer, not from 57 summers ago.

So here I stand, still saying the same thing I imagine you’ve heard from every person who ever attended the Governor’s Honors Program: “It changed my life forever.” And you’re wondering, “Are they all for real? Will it happen to me? Can it happen to me? What’s going to happen to me? How will it happen to me?”

That last question I can answer. For fifty years, we’ve been guided by the same two mandates. First, we must provide instruction that is significantly different from the regular high school classroom. Second, we must empower our students with the skills, knowledge and attitudes to become independent lifelong learners.

We do that. Do we change lives? Let’s do a quick demonstration. Faculty, if your life was changed forever as a student at GHP, please stand… Thank you.

Wait, there’s more. Faculty, if your life was changed forever as a teacher or staff member in this program, please stand… Thank you.

So.

Take your ID… I said, humor me here. Take your ID… and look at that picture. Are you looking? Good. You’re looking at the only person on this campus who can stop you, stop you from taking full advantage of this program, from succeeding in ways you never realized you could, from failing in ways you never thought you would risk, from changing your life forever.

—————

[boilerplate tough talk about expectations]

—————

On a more pleasant note:

I’m a huge Lord of the Rings nerd, or as most of us prefer to be called, a Tolkien scholar. The summer I attended GHP was the crest of the first big Tolkien revival wave, and when I got home the first thing I did was to go to the public library and ask for these books I’d been told about. Mrs. Wood had never heard of them, but she dutifully ordered them, and when they came in I checked them out, I went to my room, and I didn’t come out for a week.

Now, oh so many years later, after dozens of re-readings and close readings, I can discuss with you the difference between the Noldor and the Sindar, or how it’s not really a “trilogy,” or how Frodo was originally named Bingo, or why Peter Jackson can be forgiven for leaving out Tom Bombadil but should be horsewhipped for omitting Merry’s oath to Theoden or changing even a single word of Éowyn’s scene with the Nazgûl… but I digress.

Near the end of the movie version of The Return of the King, there’s a scene where our hobbit heroes are sitting in the Green Dragon, just sipping their half-pints while behind them their friends are discussing the merits of an admirably large pumpkin. There’s a look they give each other—I call it the GHP look—that you may have missed before, but that when you next see the movie, will break your heart: they know what the others don’t, because they’ve been there.

You’re about to go there, and back again.

—————

Now, it’s time for our next activity. Please listen carefully. After we are dismissed, we will proceed directly to the Palms Dining Center for supper. And I know what you’re thinking: “With whom will I sit?”

How many of you have a blog? Look around.

How many of you play a sport of some kind?

How many of you play a musical instrument? See, the music majors weren’t expecting that.

How many of you believe that Star Wars: Episode I was a complete mistake and a waste of all right-thinking people’s time, even in 3-D?

Well, good, now you have something to talk about with your 600 new friends in the longest line you will wait in this summer.

You will now go directly to the Palms for supper. This will be the longest line you will wait in this summer. But they will move you through quickly. Remember, that you must be on your respective halls promptly at 6:30 p.m. for hall check.

We are dismissed.

Is he smarter than a 5th grader?

In an op-ed over at Bloomberg about Trump’s failed stunt with the Bible, I was struck by the man’s pronouncements. Even if the purpose of the stunt was only to showcase his Mussolini-esque (-ish?) strength, you might think that he would deliver a rousing speech, something inspirational, like exhorting his cult followers to go burn down the Reichstag.

This is what he said:

“We have a great country, that’s my thoughts,” he said. “The greatest country in the world. We’ll make it even greater. We will make it even greater. It won’t take long. It’s not gonna take long. You see what’s going on. It’s coming back. It’s coming back strong. It will be greater than ever before.”
“Okay. Thank you very much. We have the greatest country in the world. We’re gonna keep it nice and safe.”

Oh.

Even more than usual I was struck by the gobsmackingly simple-minded vocabulary. How is this man the President of the United States?

Being a retired elementary media specialist, it occurred to me to head over Lexile.com and see what reading level our president (who is impeached and has botched the pandemic response) speaks. Lexile has positioned itself as an arbiter of readability for books; every book these days has a Lexile score. The idea is that your student will have a range of Lexile scores within which they are comfortable reading, and that for best growth the student should read somewhere near the middle of that range, if not lower.

(I was constantly having to teach parents of gifted kids that no, it was not beneficial for the kids to read at the high end. After all, I would point out, if the parents read at their Lexile level, they could just chuck the Tom Clancy out and stick to St. Thomas Aquinas or Kierkegaard.)

So over to the Analyzer I hopped, and this is the Lexile level of Trump’s “oration”:

I think it’s a hoot that the longest sentence is the longest only because of the editorial he said.

And the recommended books?

And most ironically of all:

The question remains: what grade level are we talking about? Have a chart:

Here we have the End Of Year Lexile level for each grade level, both for the absolute middle of the road kids (50th percentile) and the very bright kids (90th).

By the end of first grade, the brightest kids have already outstripped Trump’s Lexile level.

By the end of second grade, even the most average kids are reading beyond Trump’s “best words.”

So is the president (who is impeached and has botched the pandemic response) smarter than a fifth grader? Honey, please. He’s not even smarter than a second grader.

Meal prep strategy

I’m pretty sure most people who cook have some similar system in place, but just in case you find it frustrating to throw a meal together and have all the components come out ready to serve at the same time, here’s how I do it.

I had a soy sauce glaze that I had made (to replace a missing ingredient in a Blue Apron shipment) and wanted to use up, so I decided on sautéed shrimp, roasted broccoli, and rice for the meal. Each element is going to take a different time to prepare, so the idea is to break that time down into chunks and set kitchen timer “checkpoints.”

Step 1

(Preheat the oven, of course.)

Get a sticky note and write your elements at the top of the sheet, with the actual cook time involved. (If something requires a long prep, like marinating, etc., you might want to include that as one of your time chunks.)

Clearly I will need to start the rice in the rice cooker first.

A little basic math, and now we have our first timer setting: 21 minutes before the broccoli has to go in the oven.

Do that again with the shrimp:

Now we have our timer settings.

And there we have it:

I scribble all of this down and put the sticky note on the counter where I can keep track of it. If this were a set of instructions in a cookbook, it would be like this:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
  2. Start the rice in the rice cooker, setting the timer for 35 minutes.
  3. SET THE OVEN TIMER FOR 21 MINUTES.
  4. Prep the broccoli and the shrimp. Chop the lovage to add to the rice when it is done.
  5. When the timer goes off, PUT THE BROCCOLI IN THE OVEN.
  6. SET THE TIMER FOR 6 MINUTES.
    1. When there are a couple of minutes left, preheat the pan. (You could break up the timer in to 4 and 2 minute chunks, of course.)
  7. Put the shrimp in the pan.
  8. SET THE TIMER FOR 3 MINUTES.
  9. Turn the shrimp
  10. SET THE TIMER FOR 3 MINUTES.
  11. Add the glaze.
  12. SET THE TIMER FOR 2 MINUTES.
  13. Stir the shrimp to coat with the glaze.
  14. And ding! everything’s done. Plate and serve.

And that’s my good deed for the day.

Cocktails: Lemony goodness

Yesterday a friend emailed me with a request: he really liked this nice tonic water with a lemon taste, but it’s expensive. Did I have a substitute/workaround?

Probably. Not having tasted this particular brand, I wasn’t sure what we were looking for, nor could I find it during my ramblings during the morning.

So we improvise.

First, I got a bottle of pure lemon extract and gave that a whirl. For a lowball glass full of tonic water, one drop is enough to give it a strong lemon taste. (Ingredients are lemon oil, alcohol, and water; you could dilute it with more alcohol.) (Also, remember those ingredients.)

Next, I prepared an oleo saccharum. (I have a killer sour mix that’s an oleo saccharum.)

It’s easy. Use a vegetable peeler to peel a lemon.

You can leave them whole; this time I cut them into strips.

Put them in a bowl with one teaspoon of sugar and muddle them. If you don’t have a cocktail muddler, use a wooden spoon or something similar.

Let it sit for 4–6 hours. The lemon’s oil will ooze out and collect. Add two tablespoons of lemon juice and one of vodka, strain into a container. You have basically just created pure lemon extract from the store, but fresher and a little more balanced (with the sugar) for your cocktail.

One or two drops of this in your tonic water is effective.

Thirdly, you could just use lemon bitters.

There you go. That’s my civic responsibility for the day.

Replies, but no answers, Drew Ferguson edition

Guys, I would never suggest our congresscritters are evil and lying when Occam’s Razor offers us the simplest solution: they have no way to respond to constituents in this day and age when everything is automated.

However.

Here are the two recent blog posts that I asked my congresscritters to respond to, to take a clear stance in support of (which is the default position) or in opposition to the president (who is impeached and has botched the pandemic response)’s recent actions.

  1. Trump threatens to kill Democrats; GA congresscritters okay with that.

  2. Trump extorts Michigan; GA congresscritters OK with that

Here are two emails I just received from Rep. Drew “Who?” Ferguson:

And…

There was more blah blah about all the stuff that the (Democratic-led) House of Representatives did.

So here’s your challenge: exactly what message from me was Rep. Ferguson replying?

As far as I can tell, Rep. Ferguson’s positions on my two blog posts (and ResistBot messages to him) remain the default: He supports the idea of killing Trump’s political opponents; and it’s fine with him for the president (who is impeached and has botched the pandemic response) to extort states who do not kiss his ass.

New Cocktail: Cedar & Sorghum

I’m not wild about the name. As you will see, I could also name it the Cedar & Sassafras. Or I could find another gemstone/crystal to name it after, like the Smoky Topaz, the Smoky Quartz, and the Jasper. Time will tell. In the meantime, here’s the new cocktail, which I am wild about.

Quick background: Years ago I made a stab at mixing my own bitters, choosing to create tinctures of all the ingredients and mix proportionately with those (as opposed to dumping all the herbs, etc., into a jar and not being able to adjust anything).

Yesterday, while musing about clearing out two decades of software installation disks, I came across the jar of cedar shavings, still soaking away. Hm, I thought, and began to experiment. (ABORTIVE ATTEMPT)

Manhattan + 1/4 oz of the cedar stuff was astringent. (GESTALT)

I modified. (SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION)

Cedar & Sorghum

  • 2 oz rye
  • 3/4 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 barspoon cedar tincture
  • 1 barspoon bourbon-barrel maple syrup
  • 2 dashes WoodfordReserve Sassafras & Sorghum bitters

Stir over ice, strain into glass. Garnish with orange peel.

To make the cedar tincture, find “cedar papers,” the kind used for grilling. Break up 3–4 of them into chips and place in a jar. Add vodka, let steep for a week or so, until it’s a dark amber color. Strain and filter. You’re not going to need a lot.

The drink is good: the woodiness and astringency of the cedar is still there, but doesn’t overwhelm your palate on the aftertaste. The maple syrup mellows the overall front of the drink while still contributing to the woodiness. The bitters bolster the flavor of the syrup and provide one more layer to the drink.

Enjoy!