Friday, April 28, 2006

Happy Floralia!

Yes, today is the first day of Floralia, the Roman festival dedicated to Flora, goddess of flowers and spring! From today through May 3, we should all be wearing bright colors and making offerings of milk and honey in a joyous celebration of springtime and the renewal of life. No doubt you already have your Floralia festivities all planned, with dancing and drinking and of course the customary tossing of chickpeas!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

People. Who needs 'em.

Lately I have been repeatedly confronted with the baffling nature of people. Why do we make things so complicated for ourselves, why??

That is all I have to say.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Earth Day musings

One thing my sister and I have in common is that economics was our worst subject in college. I actually had to take more economics in graduate school, although MoxieVanilla was smart enough to pick a subject that didn't require it.

Moxie, who is one sharp cookie, has nonetheless been carrying around a vague sense of her own stupidity as a result of being unable to grasp economics, and I have been trying to reassure her that she doesn't understand economics because it doesn't make sense. People try to pretend economics is a science, like physics, but please - it's totally value-laden while pretending to be objective. We're talking about a discipline that says:

  • people getting cancer = economic growth (because of medical services consumed)
  • cleaning a toxic waste dump = economic cost
So, I tell her, be grateful that economic theory makes no sense to you. It means you're sane. For me, the fundamental insanity of it is that I don't really believe we can "create" wealth. There's only so much stuff in the universe, and it just gets moved around. If you take raw materials and turn them into a finished product that you can sell for more money - well, the value of the raw materials, human time, energy, environmental damage etc. all went into that final product.

It's a big shell game. I can admit a little room for the value-add of genuine artistic talent, or intellectual discovery. But that's about it. Wealth is only "created" within the confines of a small canvass, because in the big picture you eventually hit the first law of thermodynamics, i.e., The Big Shell Game.

There's an article in this month's Harper's about the real estate bubble, and it has one of my all-time favorite factoids that demonstrates the inherent absurdity of economics as a "science:" If you had one penny the day Jesus was born, and you were somehow able to put it in the bank and earn 5% annual compounded interest - today you would have a solid gold sphere 150 million times the size of the Earth.*

Indefinite growth is a myth. Unending wealth creation is a myth. The sooner we accept it, the better off the whole planet will be.

*For a variant on this argument, see Garret Hardin, Living Within Limits, Oxford University Press 1993. He makes the argument that if the 30 silver coins allegedly received by Judas for betraying Jesus were converted to gold and put in the bank for 2000 years at 5% interest, they would grow to the equivalent of 4.78 x 10-to-the-42nd grams of gold - or 8 x 10-to-the -14th solid Earths of gold.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Heaven, no, we won't go!

Yesterday the auther Anne Lamott was speaking on the local public radio station. I've never read any of her fiction, but I absolutely loved two of her nonfiction works, Bird by Bird (ostensibly about writing, but really about life) and Travelling Mercies, a series of essays about her journey to religious faith. I've also heard rave reviews about Operating Instructions, a book about the first year of her son's life.

Yesterday she got a couple of calls from fundamentalist Christians taking issue with her statement that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality or abortion or, really, sex at all. "The Bible does say that God condemns homosexuality!" scolded one caller, but Lamott knew her Bible and held her ground. "In the Old Testament, yes, there are a few statements about homosexuality" she replied, "but Jesus never says anything about it at all. He just talks about love." The Bible was written by men, exclusively men, she pointed out, who lived in a primitive time. The myriad rules layed out in the Old Testament reflect their way of life, the importance of cohesive community for survival, and the many, many things they feared.

Anyway, she told a story that made me laugh, about how when her son was young, he heard from somewhere that Jews could not go to heaven. "Well," Lamott said, "I doubt that's true, but if it is, we won't go either. Or better yet - we'll organize, to open it up for everyone. Mommy's really good at organizing. So don't worry about it."

Monday, April 17, 2006

New life

I was feeling the easter vibe yesterday, let me tell you. Not in a savior-rises-from-the-dead kind of way, but in the more universal way - easter, pasqua, rebirth, new life. The universal celebration that humankind has always lifted up at this time of year, when green things burst forth and color blooms and birds build nests. Just as the Christmas season is another incarnation of the primal human urge to pray for, and then celebrate, the return of light after weeks of lengthening darkness, so Easter is another incarnation of the primal celebration of the return of life after a cold, dead winter.

To me, it's comforting in its universality. Supposedly Christians didn't start believing in the literal resurrection of Jesus until a couple centuries after his death, when - out of convenience, or nostalgia, or just the way beliefs evolve - the new religion began to be overlayed onto the old, lining up the major events of Christianity with the old, familiar pagan holidays. That concept freaks some people out, but not me. These holidays have resonance for me because they are so universal, so inescapable, so compelling, no matter how many new religions we humans invent.

I love that to this day, the major popular icons of Easter have nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with fertility and fecundity: eggs, bunnies, tulips. I also love that inventive Christians managed to embody this compelling concept in a man. Some feminists see that as an indictment of Christianity's misogyny and patriarchy, but I think the Goddess chuckles.

That's not to disrespect Jesus, by any means. Indeed, the universality of the spring fertility rite, in whatever form it may take, is what makes it True, with a capital T. Deep, intuitive, mythological Truth, which is so much greater than truth with a little t - factual, literal, narrow truth. The Truth of the Christian Easter is what makes it powerful, not the literal truth (or lack thereof, depending on your point of view) of the resurrection story.

It is Truth that will, I hope, unite us all some day, helping us to overcome our squabbling over truth.

Happy Easter, everybody. Whatever it means to you.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Why Toby is my role model, Part 87

My dementedly relaxed dog:

And his dementedly relaxed little face:

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Things I have recently learned

Today there are officially three months until I turn 40. I'm not sure how successful I've been with my plan to hit 40 fit, mentally psyched, ready to accept the great wisdom that shall come with my Croning a mere decade from now. But, I have learned some things.

First of all, it's harder to flunk out of PI school than you might think. Despite skipping one too many classes and failing to turn in two homework assignments, I passed anyway. (I still didn't sign up for the last quarter.)

Second, a friend of mine recently alleged that the people who make deodorant and antiperspirant actually add something to their product to make you sweatier and smellier, so you will never question your lifetime need for their wares. She said she gave it up and for one week she sweated and smelled like heck, and then it stopped and she has been perfectly clean and fresh-smelling ever since. I scoffed, but I tried the experiment myself, and you know - let's just say it just might be true.

Third, I learned that contrary to my prior assumptions, it IS possible for a sole proprietor to hire another sole proprietor on subcontract and issue them a 1099 and deduct it as a business expense!

Lastly, I learned, for the umpteenth time, that when you make a mistake, tackling it head on is a much, much better response than avoidance. Maybe by the time I'm a Crone I will have gotten that one through my head once and for all.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Service versus sacrifice

How do you draw the line? Is it necessarily bad to sacrifice, or just unhealthy to put yourself in the habit and mindset of doing so to the detriment of your own well-being? What if they come bundled together, and you can't be of service without a little sacrifice? Is it no longer a sacrifice if you make a willing choice, in order to do service that pleases you? Is the distinction between service and sacrifice entirely in the mind, that is - if you feel good and fulfilled afterwards it was service, if you feel cranky and lessened (psychologically, emotionally, financially) it was sacrifice? Or is there some intrinsic measure that can be applied to the act itself? Is sacrifice merely service that became boring, or overstayed its welcome?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

True friendship is...

...helping your best friend try on approximately 832 Little Black Dresses because she needs something to wear to a black-tie fundraiser starting in six hours.

Friday, April 07, 2006

It takes all kinds

I emailed an economist friend to ask for help in finding a reputable statistic for medical inflation, for a project I'm working on. His (very helpful) reply began as follows:

"Nothing excites me more than talking about inflation adjustment."

Nothing excites me more than a box of Cocoa Crispies, a nice bottle of Malbec, and my DVD of Cold Comfort Farm. Or maybe a miniature golf course on a warm, sunny day. But hey, that's just me.

So many feet

I know, it's lazy just to post pictures of my dogs. But I'm not feeling particularly verbally inspired.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Shortest church service ever!

Daylight Savings. Spring forward. Got it.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Ass-Kicking Dog

I'm back in town, and Enrico has headed back east for a friend's 40th birthday bash. Which means I'm on solo dog-walking duty. Normally Enrico carries the bulk of the dog-walking load.

Because Nelly launches into full battle mode each and every time she sees another dog, taking her out is like running a gauntlet. Our neighborhood has a lot of dogs, and I long ago picked specific routes that seem to have the lowest likelihood of encountering an off-leash dog, which can be downright traumatic. We also quickly developed a set of nicknames for all the individual dogs in the neighborhood, to help us keep on top of the dog topography.

For example, there was Pogo Dog, named because of her ability to shoot straight up in the air in order to continue barking at Nelly even after we'd passed on the other side of her shrubbery. We soon learned Pogo Dog's real name, and she lost her leaping abilities to advancing age and eventually death; but in my mind, she was always Pogo Dog.

We learn the real names of our immediate canine neighbors - Polly, Shep, Mambo - but mostly we just have nicknames. There's Fence-Climbing Dog, Little White Snack Dog, Ewok Dog - all pretty self-explanatory. There's Dancing Bear Dog, named not for its own behavior but for the fact that it barks ferociously from a second-floor balcony, inducing Nelly to dance and twirl on her back feet, lunging upward, looking for all the world like a dancing black bear cub. There was Kong, a big hulking dog, and I don't remember if his name came from his size or from the little rubber dog-toy of the same name.

I wonder if other neighbors do this same thing. If so, I'm pretty sure our guys are known as Bat-Shit Crazy Dogs.