Friday, February 29, 2008

"Neurotics build castles in the air, psychotics
live in them. My mother cleans them."

Rita Rudner


Salt and pepper. Sourdough and pumpernickel. Point and counterpoint.

From Terry who is not my aunt.

Unholy Trinity

Not something you see every day.

From my Aunt Terry, who's spent her life pursuing comparable feats.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Honky Heaven

What do kitchen gadgets have in common with difficult breakups? They're Stuff White People Like. And that ain't no jive.

I found #62 especially trenchant:
A great way to make white people feel good is to tell them about situations where poor people changed how they were doing things because they were given the ‘whiter’ option. “Back in my old town, people used to shop at Wal*Mart and then this non-profit organization came in and set up a special farmers co-op so that we could buy more local produce, and within two weeks the Wal*Mart shut down and we elected our first Democratic representative in 40 years.” White people ... will be filled with euphoria and will invite you to more parties to tell this story to their friends, so that they can feel great.
From Shannon and Colleen, two of the whitest girls around. Erin go bragh!
Workmen carrying off debris and loading it onto rafts in Messina, Sicily, after an earthquake that destroyed half the town and killed over 77,000 people. December 1908. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pucker Up

Once, after a less-than-gracious breakup, an exquisite dark-chocolate rat was delivered to me at the office. After pondering the message -- and the likelihood of poisoning -- I ate it. It was bittersweet ... and delicious.

Had they been available at the time, I probably would have received one of these instead.

Thanks to Derek.


First this, then this* ... and now this. One thing is clear: I will never carp alone.

* British punctuation rules are quirky and sometimes bizarre. They are best ignored by Americans.

Thanks to Michael.


This would be funnier if it weren't so plausible.

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

From Florence.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Story of Her Life

No sooner had the ink dried on her first book than my pal Zana began talking about another. The previous effort had been collaborative, but the next would be all about her.

In the years since, she'd occasionally fed me pages of her journal, which I scarfed down like truffles. (The chocolate kind, not the mushroom kind. I hate mushrooms.) I encouraged her to publish -- so she could reach a wider audience and so I could read more myself. And now, finally, she has.

Legless in the Garden deals mostly with Zana's ALS experience. But it also offers a candid look into other aspects of her life, including her relationships, her childhood in Malaysia, and the exotic (to me) flora and fauna of her enchanting garden in suburban Sydney. It's given me a deeper perspective on my friend than more than a decade of emailing.

You can buy a copy here. It's available in both traditional and (yay!) electronic forms.

'It's Your Lucky Day, Fatass!'

I stumbled upon Natalie Dee by accident. Her comics are always quirky and often laugh-out-loud funny. The videos are a mixed bag.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Tit for Tat

This is funny, but not quite as clever as the original.

The new one comes from David, who'd have known about the old one sooner if he read my blog.

Friday, February 22, 2008

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil
is for good men to do nothing."

Edmund Burke


Suzanne Planchon Babut was born 121 years ago today. She was my great-grandmother.

She saw herself as an ordinary person, but few others shared that view. Her good sense, goodwill, and courage endeared her to people far beyond our family and even secured her a footnote in history.

Grandmère* was neither the first nor the last in the family to earn distinction. Her paternal grandfather, Jules-Émile Planchon, was a renowned botanist, and the Impressionist painter Frédéric Bazille was a relation. Her husband, Ernest-Charles Babut, was a noted scholar in early Christianity; his father, Charles, was a beloved and influential Protestant pastor; and a nephew, Daniel Bovet, would win a Nobel Prize in 1957. Grandmère’s endeavors, though less celebrated, were at least as consequential.

It’s hard to know what role misfortune played in forging her character, but it certainly helps explain her lifelong concern for the disadvantaged and dispossessed. Between 1909 and 1922, she lost her father, her husband, both sons, and her financial security. She also endured the privations of two major wars, and yet she somehow remained almost preternaturally warm and optimistic.

Grandmère was an early suffragette, and during World War I she trained and volunteered as a nurse. When that conflict left her a widow at 29 with a meager pension, she tapped her only real asset: the commodious house and garden that were her grandfather’s legacy. She rented rooms and served meals to paying guests, most from the nearby University of Montpellier, where her family had studied and taught for generations.

Not all of the lodgers were locals. When Franco’s takeover sent Spanish republicans scrambling in the mid-’30s, Grandmère took in several, including a family that stayed for over a decade. She did the same for refugees during the French-Algerian War and later for a few ex-convicts she’d befriended while they were in prison.

World War II put her legendary resourcefulness to its greatest test. Like many Huguenots, with their own long history of persecution, Grandmère became involved in the Resistance. Gambling that no one would hassle a sweet-looking middle-aged woman, she relayed messages, pedaling into the countryside and leaving them under a rock for pickup by the next link in the chain. (Years later, she would be greatly amused to learn that said comrade was her next-door neighbor.)

As the Germans closed in, members of Grandmère’s church helped as many Jews as possible to safety. She and her confrères, as part of an underground railroad, shepherded children to such havens as Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, the Cévenol village whose heroic story was recounted in the documentary Weapons of the Spirit. But many people were inevitably left behind, and Grandmère heeded her instincts and opened her home, quietly sheltering up to 20 at a time, some for long periods.

The next several years were spent under the enemy’s nose – almost literally. A French army installation sat directly across the street, and the Gestapo had commandeered a neighboring villa as their local headquarters.

The latter provided a rare moment of comic relief during those dark days. One of Grandmère’s trees was toppled in a storm, falling onto the garden wall and projecting into the street. When she went out to have a look, she was startled to find a Nazi officer wringing his hands and bemoaning the “tragic loss” of “such a beautiful tree.” Tiens, she thought. Il torture les gens, mais il pleure pour mon arbre. (How odd. He tortures people, yet he’s crying over my tree.)

“Wasn’t she scared?” I once asked my great-aunt Antoinette, who admitted with a chuckle, “Once or twice she got a little nervous when people argued in Yiddish in the garden.”

Somehow they survived, thanks to Providence and the complicit silence of untold people. Many of those who’d found refuge chez Grandmère stayed in touch after the war, some returning to visit in happier circumstances.

In 1976, Grandmère was informed that Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial authority in Israel, had named her one of the Righteous Among the Nations. (I much prefer the simple French term, les Justes.)

Her response, translated in a 1993 book on the subject, was very much in character. The designation, she wrote, “has confounded me, for I deserve no decoration. Besides, I am against decorations. However, I accept your medal not as a decoration but as a sign of the friendship which penetrates my heart…. Please, I beg of you, do not arrange an official ceremony for the awarding of this medal. One deserves no credit for doing what one’s heart and conscience dictate. One need not be thanked for this; even less to glorify in it. Hence, I say: ‘thank you’ … simply thanks, with all the admiration and friendship that I bear toward your people.”

She ultimately consented to a local ceremony, hosted in February 1977 by the mayor of Montpellier, in which the Israeli consul from Marseille presented her with the medal. She pronounced the gathering delightful: "not cold or official," but "almost a family reunion, with so many old friends."

A year later, Grandmère died at the age of 91. (Curiously, the date was February 28th - the same as her sister, in 1966, and her husband, in 1916. Their younger son almost shared the distinction, but he died after midnight, ergo on March 1st, in 1922.) And in October 1979, on a tour of the Holy Land, Antoinette dedicated her mother's tree at Yad Vashem.

I was lucky enough to know Grandmère for my first 11 years, and I never heard her mention her travails – or anything else negative, for that matter. She retained her thrifty ways, saving scraps of paper and cloth and sewing them into little notebooks. Several survive, along with sachets of lavender from her garden. When I remember Grandmère, she’s sitting outside in the sun, or the shade, or in Antoinette’s parlor – knitting, stitching, always busy. And always smiling.

* The term is actually grand-mère, but I somehow learned it without a hyphen and was never corrected - not by my grandmother, nor by the subject herself - so she remains Grandmère to me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I was reading something the other day when my heart suddenly surged with a warm little rush of pleasure. I don't remember the context -- an ad? a letter to the editor? the side of a box? -- but the sight that so gladdened me is indelible: a semicolon. Used correctly! It stood out like a flower in the desert.

You might find it depressing that such a thing excites me. What I find depressing is how rarely it occurs. Fortunately, I'm in good company.

Thanks to Bobbie.


I'd barely come to terms with Dan Fogelberg's untimely demise when I received word of this deeply disturbing development. Is nothing sacred anymore?

Courtesy of Derek, who always delivers hard news with a soft blow.

Crunch Time

One of the cutest things I've ever seen.

From Alan, almost as precious and not as prickly.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Biddies and the Bog*

We just got back from the nearby botanical garden, where a wonderful new orchid house had opened since our last visit.

Upon arrival, we came face to gnarled face with a vast wave of ancient people, all lurching and tottering towards us on canes and walkers. It was Dawn of the Dead meets Cocoon. Turned out they were on a field trip -- from death's doorstep, apparently -- and it was time to go home for their nap. Never get between old people and their bus; you'll be scraping polyester off your shoes for days.

Our contractor has checked in a couple of times to report commendable progress. In just three days, they did all the demo, framed the new walls, and roughed in the plumbing and electric. Tomorrow the city inspector comes, and if s/he signs off they can proceed with drywalling etc. Very exciting.

* Alternate title: The Codgers and the Crapper.

Lookin' Good for Jesus

This must be a big story, because three people sent it to me in the space of a few hours.

Two people sent me this one. If Romeo's lookin' good for anyone, it's probably Vishnu. Vishnu and the ladies.

Psst ...

This kid is gay. Can you tell?

Also, he's not wearing pants.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Men who seek happiness are like drunkards who can never
find their house but are sure that they have one."


Deerely Beloved

A heartwarming tale with a matchless headline:

Sonya Rinker was looking for a guy: someone who was kind, respectful and had a special place in his heart ... for tractors. She wanted a man who could share the thrill of a good tractor-pull show, who could see beauty in a shiny row of green and yellow of John Deere tractors.
From Colleen, whose farmer is out there somewhere.

Cowboy Cripple Hits the Rodeo

Everyone needs some lovin' every now and again.

From Sean.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hard Times

"He is a homunculus hatched out of a seething medium of bile and bounced checks."

A writer muses about F. Scott Fitzgerald, his alter ego Pat Hobby, and the WGA strike.

From Laura, a writer who doesn't "look like one."
English suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), founder with her
daughter Christabel (1880-1958) of the Women's Social and Political
Union, being removed from a protest by a policeman in 1914.
(Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Friday, February 08, 2008

Going South

Our long-planned bog project is finally getting under way, so we're skipping town for a while, hoping to miss the worst of the mess. We'll be with Dan's parents in South Cackalackee.

If I fall silent while we're away, it's not because I stopped loving you; it's because the Iglfolks' wireless network is tighter than a Republican's sphincter at the thought of President Hillary Clinton. Which is a topic we'll be diligently trying to avoid for the next nine days.

Careless Whisper

Now, this is what I call a virtuoso performance. What a blast!

From Mike, himself a man of many talents -- albeit not this one. That I know of.

Frozen in Time

Portraits of the rich and famous.

From Riley.
Beija Flor samba school dancers parade down at the Sambadrome
in Rio de Janeiro. (Ricardo Moraes/AP)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Today's Top Story

Talk about claustrophobia ...

From Colleen.

Take Wing

One of the downsides to being a shut-in is that you often miss emerging cultural phenomena. For example, Wing, whom I'd apparently have known about if I kept up with "South Park."

If you've ever had the pleasure of a birthday serenade by Zap and Devo, the effect is remarkably similar. On second thought, it's more like Yoko Ono ... eerily so.

I found her renditions of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "In the Ghetto" especially poignant.

Need more? Her official site is here. Sadly, it's too late to request "Wing Sings AC/DC" for my birthday. I listened to a sample, and it's bitchin'.

Thanks to Clark for filling in this appalling gap in my knowledge.

Sometimes I Just Don't Know

Whether I'm gay ... or blind.

From Derek, who is gay and blond. But not blind.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"The Hallmark Channel: It's like a greeting card that
. For people who think Lifetime's too edgy."

Jon Stewart

Blame It on Rio

I feel claustrophobic just looking at pictures of Carnival.

From Riley.

Coming Attraction

People think D.C. is staid, boring, buttoned down -- and in many respects it is. But not always.

From Marty, an industry spokesperson.
Children attempt to play instruments belonging to the East Compton
Silver Band, 7 December 1935. (Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Today's Top Stories

Apparently Americans don't have a corner on the ignorance market. Further evidence:

Shop pulls "Lolita" bed for young girls

Thanks to Riley and Peggy.

The End of Innocence

It's all fun and games till someone gets infected.

Thanks to Alan for calling my attention to this important health issue.
A float featuring effigies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama makes its way through the streets during the "Rose Monday" carnival parade in the western German city of Duesseldorf. (AFP/DDP/Volker Hartmann)

Monday, February 04, 2008

Bouncing Bears

"German stress reliever" sounds like an oxymoron to me. In fact, until I saw this, I thought the only thing in that category was beer.

Just run your cursor over the bears.

From Mary.

Parlez-vous Franglais?

In Canada, Franglais helps French and English speakers co-exist, even if it's a shoddy compromise for some. In France it is something quite different. It is a cultural attack.

My favorite example: Il y a un petit homme dans ma tête qui fait le demolition work.

Merci à Prunelle.

'Death by Tray It Shall Be!'

"Why, with the power of the Death Star, do we not have a tray that is fucking dry?"

From David, an Eagle Scout who could certainly kill with a tray ... or a thought.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Garry, Garry, Quite Contrary

Garrison Keillor laments the relative civility of the presidential race:
The candidates are hoping to be affable, brave, capable, decisive, electable, etc., but wit and combativeness are not evidently what Americans hope for in a leader; otherwise, the pollsters would have located this hope and measured it, and speechwriters would be assigned to write invective that truly lashes and makes the lashee weep for pain. Personally, I think it would be a blast.
From Riley, who as a good Quaker enjoys nothing more than a bloody brawl.

Half Baked

Who didn't love the Golden Girls? Crusty Dorothy, saucy Blanche, sweet Rose, salty Sophia. I could just eat 'em up.

From Terry, indirectly, who has all of those qualities and more.
Two sailors repairing sails onboard ship circa 1897.
(Reinhold Thiele/Theile/Getty Images)