Tuesday, July 31, 2007

ove and Honor

A 1902 guide to romance, from a book I hadn't thought of for a while, until I read this wonderful posting of advice from a 1928 book on letter-writing.

No doubt there is such a thing as love at first sight, but love alone is a very uncertain foundation upon which to base marriage. There should be thorough acquaintance- ship and a certain knowledge of harmony of tastes and temper- aments before matrimony is ventured upon.

A gentleman whose thoughts are not upon marriage should not pay too exclusive attentions to any one lady. He may call upon all and extend invitations to any or all to attend public places of amusement with him, or may act as their escort on occasions, and no one of the many has any right to feel herself injured. But as soon as he neglects others to devote himself to a single lady he gives that lady reason to suppose he is particularly attracted to her, and there is danger of her feelings becoming engaged.

Neither should a young lady allow marked attention from any one to whom she is not especially attracted, for several reasons; one, that she may not do an injury to the gentleman in seeming to give his suit encouragement, another that she may not harm herself in keeping aloof from her those whom she might like better, but who will not approach her under the mistaken idea that her feelings are already engaged.

Some young ladies pride themselves upon the conquests which they make, and would not scruple to sacrifice the happiness of an estimable person to their reprehensible vanity. Let this be far from you. If you see clearly that you have become an object of especial regard to a gentleman and do not wish to encourage his addresses, treat him honorably and humanely, as you hope to be used with generosity by the person who may engage your own heart. Do not let him linger in suspense; but take the earliest opportunity of carefully making known your feelings on the subject. ... Let it never be said of you that you permit the attentions of an honorable man when you have no heart to give him; or that you have trifled with the affections of one whom perhaps you esteem, although you resolve never to marry him. It may be that his preference gratifies and his companionship interests you; that you are flattered by the attentions of a man whom some of your companions admire; and that, in truth, you hardly know your own mind on the subject. This will not excuse you. Every young woman ought to know the state of her own heart; and yet the happiness and future prospects of many an excellent man have been sacrificed by such unprincipled conduct.

It is a poor triumph for a young lady to say, or to feel, that she has refused five, ten or twenty offers of marriage; it is about the same as acknowledging herself a trifler and a coquette, who, from motives of personal vanity, tempts and induces hopes and expectations which she has predetermined shall be disappointed. Such a course is, to a certain degree, both unprincipled and

It is a still greater crime when a man conveys the impression that he is in love, by actions, gallantries, looks, attentions, all -- except that he never commits himself -- and finally withdraws his devotions, exulting in the thought that he has said or written nothing which can legally bind him.

Remember that if a gentleman makes a lady an offer, she has no right to speak of it. If she possesses either generosity or gratitude for offered affection, she will not betray a secret that does not belong to her. It is sufficiently painful to be refused, without incurring the additional mortification of being pointed out as a rejected lover.

Rejected suitors sometimes act as if they had received injuries they were bound to avenge, and so take every opportunity of annoying or slighting the helpless victims of their former attentions. Such conduct is cowardly and unmanly, to say nothing of its utter violation of good breeding.

It may be well to hint that a lady should not be too demonstrative of her affection during the days of her engagement. There is always the chance of a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip; and overt demonstrations of love are not pleasant to remember by a young lady if the man to whom they are given by any chance fails to become her husband. An honorable man will never tempt his future bride to any such demonstration. He will always maintain a respectful and decorous demeanor toward her.

No lover will assume a domineering attitude over his future wife. If he does so, she will do well to escape from his thrall before she becomes his wife in reality. A domineering lover will be certain to be still more domineering as a husband; and from all such the prayer of the wise woman is “Good Lord, deliver us!”

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hence the term "bird brain"

Okay, I did notice that the bird feeder was getting low enough that the birds had to reach their little heads inside if they insisted on using the top rail and top set of feeding ports. But I had some things to do and I figured, once they couldn't reach the seed from the top, they'd just go to the bottom rail and feed from there.

I figured wrong and came home from the paper (my usual Sunday two-hour last-minute-clean-up stint) to find this little fellow inside the feeder. Apparently it's a lot easier to find your way in than to find your way out. Especially if you're foolish enough to climb inside in the first place.

Please don't tell Fish & Wildlife. I don't want to have to post little labels on the feeder saying "Caution: For External Use Only."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

When $50,000 means nothing to you
but class does

When the Houston Texans signed veteran running back Ahman Green during the off-season, there was only one, small problem.

The 10-year veteran had worn the number 30 throughout his career, and he wanted to keep it. It seems a silly thing, but when your face is covered with a helmet, your number is what fans see, and football players are strongly identified with their numbers.

But on the Houston Texans squad, #30 is defensive back Jason Simmons. Simmons is no Hall of Famer, but he's a solid dependable 10-year veteran who has been with the Texans since the franchise began in 2001.

This problem has come up before, and you can imagine there's some pressure from management to bend and make the new guy happy. Usually that incoming superhero shells out some money to the guy with the magic number. But, really, what does money mean to these guys, given the huge paychecks they command during their active years?

So Simmons set the price for #30 at $50,000. Only he didn't want the money.

This year, Ahman Green will be #30 for the Houston Texans, and Jason Simmons will be #22.

And, thanks to $25,000 from Green and $25,000 from Texans owner Bob McNair, Regina Foster and her seven-year-old autistic son, Reginald, have their own house. The price of that uniform number was, by Simmons' terms, a down-payment for a single parent.

Classy guys.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

24 hours at a small newspaper

I covered the Harry Potter release at our local bookstore Friday night. The party started at 10 p.m. and was very corny and a lot of fun. They probably had 300 people there. I know that they ended up selling about 225 books, and there were a lot of families who put the kids to bed at their regular times and then got them back up for this -- so you'd have a couple of parents and a couple of kids, but they were only leaving with one book. 300 is a conservative estimate, then.

The doors were locked until 10, but, just as they were about to open, a group of witches and warlocks from the Ministry of Magic came striding down the street, loudly announcing that there was to be no release and that everyone was to disperse. The store owner, dressed in robes, came out and negotiated and argued, and eventually the MoM people left furiously and the store opened.

They had stations both in the store and on the sidewalk where you could solve various riddles, test your magical vocabulary, decode runes and so forth -- a botany professor from the college dressed up and brought a collection of truly strange plants for young Hogwarts students to identify. There were, admittedly, more than a few moments when I was thinking that it was the most fun you could have without learning Klingon, but everyone really was having a good time.

Well, except me, because the room was crowded and dark, and all I really wanted was a photo for the front page. But between the cramped shooting space and the bad lighting it was tough to get anything, and every shot that seemed half decent had someone in the crowd picking his nose or just wandering into the middle of things.

I decided to try for a shot of the books being passed out. I ran into the local arts critic and he introduced me to a local doctor. So we're chatting away and then it was 10 minutes before midnight and they threw us all out of the store so they could set up the book distribution. (The owner had the sense to pre-sell throughout the evening so there was nothing left to do but check off names and hand them out.)

The problem was, there had been half the people in the store and half the people out on the street at any given time, but now everyone was at the door and I suddenly realized that I wasn't going to be able to get back in -- I should have used my status as press to stay in the store and be ready. Oh well, something would come about.

And it did. As I'm standing in the group funnelling slowly towards the door, people start coming back out, and this girl comes out, sees a friend in the crowd and shouts excitedly, "I can't believe it! I got the first one!"

And I said, "Oh, come here, darlin', bless your heart, you have just rescued my job."

That's her.

So I got home about 12:45 and into bed about 1:15. The dogs let me sleep in an extra half hour, so I didn't get up until 4:30, whereupon I fed them and would have gone back to bed except that Saturday was Kingfield Days and the festivities began at 9 a.m. So I stayed up, did a few things, walked the dogs, went to the dump and drove the half hour up to Kingfield.

Kingfield is an interesting little crossroads town, because it's part mill town and part resort. Oh, and the Stanley Steamer was invented there, because it's the kind of town where most people know how to tinker with stuff, but the Stanleys knew how more than most.

These young people I took to be brother and sister, but in fact they aren't related -- they know each other because she used to babysit him when he was much younger. They had teamed up for a day-long contest that paid $100 to the winner. This was the portion of the day that involved eating worms, and he is telling her that, having eaten two of the three required worms, he expects her to take on some of the responsibility. It was a very funny series of pictures, though the fact that they were under the tent made the lighting problematic.

What was interesting was that, when they took off to do whatever they had to do next, I just turned to someone and asked for names. Now, it happened to be her mother, but afterwards, I realized that I could have asked anyone. It's that kind of small town -- very much the size and feel of Star Lake or Cranberry.

This is the bike parade. The "parade" itself was only about a block long and a bit more like a dog show -- they have everyone just ride down and back in a big circle so the judges can have a look. Only the dogs in a dog show are on leashes and each has a handler making that trot right alongside. In this case, there was a certain "cat herding" quality to the affair that had people on the sidelines in stitches. Of course, since everyone is related to a couple of the riders, it's good spirited and everyone tries to stifle themselves, but, as Dave Barry once wrote of a school play, "There wasn't a pair of dry underpants in the house."

There were also several craft booths. The woman in blue was collecting money for AIDS in South Africa on behalf of her church. She had with her a four-month-old cairn terrier, and this little 23-month old girl wanted to pet it. It was a little hard to tell which of the two puppies was more excited -- the four-legged one or the two-legged one, but if dogs could giggle, they'd have both been giggling.

The Stanley Museum was going to be open that afternoon, and I would have loved to have gone and had a look, but I had to get back down to Farmington because there was a Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournament going on. I didn't really have space for it in the paper, but this fellow (the one officiating above) has sent me a couple of releases and I wanted to have a look and maybe get a few pictures for future use, for instance, if we did a story on his school. It's better to have some serious competitive shots than the usual shots of nine-year-olds flailing around.

So I go into the gym (and immediately see those yellow lights that make photography such a nightmare) and this voice calls out, "Mike!" and it turns out that the guy's wife is a woman I'd met before because she had been doing publicity for a drama that a women's group was presenting a few months ago. So here I am suddenly very well oriented, because she's one of the organizers of the tournament (which drew competitors from throughout New England). And it doesn't matter that I didn't get any really useable shots -- that one above is a little dodgy, and it's the best -- because Melissa said she'd get me some, not to worry.

But the day wasn't over.

That's my boss, making a small speech about 9:30 that night, at a going-away party. He's headed to take up a similar position about six hours from where he and his wife grew up in Oklahoma, which is understandable since their parents are not in the best of health and this is a long way from there. The crown and wings were added earlier in the evening by the head of the United Way, and there were also several other indignities heaped upon him by state legislators and various other folks.

So while we're at the bar before the shindig begins, I'm talking about the Harry Potter party, and said I had a shot of this young girl for the cover of Tuesday's paper, and someone says, "Who was it?" I happened to remember her name and the response was, "Oh, good! She's such a nice girl -- and so bright!"

And later in the evening, I'm sitting at the table with my camera out, and I am showing one of our state legislators some of the pictures from Kingfield and we get to the picture of the puppy and the baby and he says, "Oh, that's Anne!" and begins to tell me more about this woman who had the dog.

It is a very small town we have here, and I am fast becoming fond of it. Which is probably a good thing, since (A) I am going to be filling in for the publisher until a new one is hired, (B) the editor of our weekly newspaper in the next town just quit, so I'll be filling in for him, too, and (C) I toddled home at 10 p.m. Saturday, just 24 hours after the beginning of the Harry Potter release party.

Thing is, small-town life is not as slow-paced as the stereotypes suggest. It's a matter, rather, of priorities and preferences. One of the things we talked about at the party was the number of writers and artists you find up in the woods around Kingfield and throughout this area, and yet it's not an artsy sort of place. The artists who come here come to be part of what's going on, not to transform it into something else. And that's the way this place is -- people really value a certain type of small-town life and are quite conscious of what they've got.

In short, the people-who-know-people here know 15 year old girls who love Harry Potter and women with puppies and kids who like to decorate their bikes and guys who teach judo.

Which made last night's bash a whole lot more fun than the White House Correspondents Dinner. It just naturally attracts a better class of people.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Small touches

I realize that about 80 percent of my readership is probably already tuned into this strip, but this morning's "Watch Your Head" struck me as exemplifying something important about cartooning.

Robin, the young woman receiving the present, is the crush-interest of the strip's protagonist, but dates Steve, who is portrayed as an insincere egotist, although, in the spirit of this often subtle strip, most of his negatives are being seen through the eyes of the guy who wishes Robin was in love with him.

But that is not the small touch of which I speak.

I was struck this morning by the differences in how Cory Thomas draws Robin and Steve in the first panel, when they are all lovey-dovey, and the way he draws each of them in the subsequent panels when they are just hanging out with their roomies. Of course, it's not unusual for a cartoonist to depict a character as smiling, laughing, looking more animated on a date or in the middle of a ball game, and then more relaxed at home, but Cory does it with a subtlety that maybe could be called "cartoon realism."

It's made all the more striking in that the gag is not particularly fall-on-the-floor hilarious, though it does, in the context of the ongoing strip, add another element of Steve's manipulative nature. Or is he just being a guy? There's your subtlety all over again.

There's also a very interesting flow in the placement of the word balloons that significantly improves the strip's timing.

This is quickly becoming, not just one of my favorite strips, but one of my most admired. Cory does stuff that other people aren't doing, and I wonder if anybody out there notices, or if subtle grace is wasted in this medium?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I've got sunshine on a cloudy day ...

"The report released today is further indication and affirmation of the failure of the political leadership in Iraq to initiate the passage of the political benchmarks that would achieve national reconciliation," said Senator Snowe, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "The Iraqi government has failed to meet the deadlines and goals they established as far back as last September. The surge was designed to provide the Iraqi government with breathing room to work toward a national reconciliation, yet they have failed to take advantage of this time. The interim report released today states that movement toward new elections, legislation to fairly distribute oil revenue, and reversal of existing "de-Baathification" laws that limit Sunni participation in the government is "unsatisfactory." Indeed, the Iraqi government has consistently bypassed, overlooked or set aside critical deadlines for achieving these goals. One must question whether the Iraqi government and its political leadership is more interested in enacting an agenda on behalf of all of Iraq rather than consolidating power for sectarian interests. And this is the key issue – if the Iraqi government is not prepared to integrate the minority population and to move forward in a manner representative of the entire country, than clearly our military should no longer be on the front lines making an extraordinary sacrifice when the Iraqi government is unwilling to unify its own nation.

"As we are coming off of the bloodiest quarter for Americans since the war began, the number of attacks across Iraq has remained steady, and the Iraqi government has failed to enact or implement any of the benchmarks necessary for national reconciliation, then it is time to send a strong message from the United States Congress on behalf of the American people that the current strategy is unacceptable and that we must move in a different course."

Mr. President, I rise today to join my distinguished colleagues from both parties in offering a bipartisan way forward on what is the greatest challenge facing our country: the war in Iraq.

I have repeatedly expressed my opposition to the President's strategy of sending tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq.

Despite my opposition and that of many others, the Administration pushed forward with its plan, arguing that the surge would give the Iraqi government the time to make the political compromises necessary to end the continued sectarian violence. Unfortunately, my initial concerns with this misguided policy have been proven to be well-founded.

First, there has been a terrible loss of life among our troops over the past few months. Three hundred thirty-one American soldiers were killed from April to June, the highest three-month level of the war. One such soldier was Sergeant Joel House, a brave and patriotic Mainer whose funeral was held last week in his hometown of Lee.

Second, the Iraqi government has utterly failed to pursue the political reforms that are necessary to quell the sectarian violence. When you combine the increased sacrifice of our troops and the unwillingness or inability of the Iraqi leaders to act, it is not surprising to see a steady erosion of support for the President's policy.

It is clear that our country needs a new direction in Iraq. We need a new strategy that will redefine the mission and set the stage for a significant but gradual withdrawal of our troops over the next year.

Mr. President, we do not have to search far and wide for this new policy. It is already mapped out for us in the unanimous recommendations of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. The Iraq Study Group's recommendations chart the path forward and remain just as viable today as they were when they were released last December.

The Iraq Study Group has laid out three core principles for salvaging a measure of stability in Iraq and the surrounding region. First, the ISG says that the U.S. must shift the primary mission of military forces in Iraq from combat to training, with the goal of removing all combat brigades not necessary for training, force protection, and counter-terrorism by March 2008.

Shifting the mission of our troops to a new and more defined set of goals will ultimately encourage the Iraqi military to step up to the plate, while lowering U.S. casualty rates, relieving our servicemembers of heavy deployment schedules, and improving the long-term readiness of our units.

Second, the ISG states that U.S. support for the Iraqi government should be conditional on Iraq's making progress in meeting specific benchmarks. Senator Warner and I authored legislation in May to require the President to provide two reports to Congress, on July 15 and September 15 of this year, on whether the Iraqis are meeting a number of benchmarks essential to achieving political reconciliation. The first of these reports will be released tomorrow. Although we have not yet seen the report, from everything I have heard, the Iraqi government is unlikely to have met any of the benchmarks we laid out.

The Warner-Collins proposal also included a provision that I authored to condition the release of reconstruction funds to progress made by the Iraqi government. If the Iraqis are not doing their part to meet their own goals, the United States should not continue to provide reconstruction funds. This is also consistent with the ISG's recommendations.

Third, the ISG says that the U.S. must launch a new diplomatic offensive in the region to ensure Iraq's long-term stability. Iraq cannot be addressed effectively in isolation from other major regional issues and interests. Both the international community and Iraq's neighbors are clearly not doing enough to foster its stability, and it is time that this changed.

Senators Salazar and Alexander have incorporated these recommendations into legislation, S. 1545, which I have cosponsored, and into the amendment we will offer to the Defense Authorization bill.

Mr. President, Iraqi leaders must reach political agreements in order to achieve reconciliation, and their failure to do so is greatly contributing to the spiraling violence in Iraq and the causalities among American troops. The responsibility for Baghdad's internal security and for halting sectarian violence must rest primarily with the Government of Iraq and Iraqi Security Forces. An open-ended commitment of American forces in Iraq does not provide the Iraqi government with the incentive it needs to take the political actions that give Iraq the best chance of quelling sectarian violence. Ultimately, resolving the sectarian violence requires a political, not a military, solution in which the Sunni minority is more fully integrated into the power structures and oil revenues are more fairly distributed among Iraq's citizens.

This war, and the way it has been prosecuted, has cost our nation much over the past four years. It has cost us the lives of our men and women in uniform, and it has cost us billions of dollars.

While our nation's armed forces have sacrificed greatly, they continue to persevere. They inspire us. Many of our nation's soldiers have been to Iraq more than once. This, of course, has been very hard on them, and it is also difficult for the families they leave behind. We especially need to thank our reservist and National Guard members, who continue to answer the call of duty. Far too much is being asked of these citizen-soldiers, their families, and employers. Whether they are from Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, or Mississippi, these citizen-soldiers are willing put their lives on the line and their jobs and families aside to answer the call of duty. But we as a nation are asking too much of them given the failures of the Administration's policy in Iraq.

Now it is time that we stand up and show these service members, and the American people, that we in Congress can move past politics on the most critical issue facing our country today. That we can build a bipartisan approach to bring a responsible conclusion to this war. That is exactly what this amendment will do, and I ask my fellow Senators to join us in supporting this measure.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Name From the Past

My house in Maine is out in the country but it's set back quite a way from the woods and I don't have the huge numbers of birds hanging out in the backyard that I did back in New York, where the woods were about 30 feet from the back wall and there was a huge old tree in the yard.

But what they lack in numbers, they make up for in color. I did have goldfinches and purple finches in New York, but here there are also indigo buntings, which add a shade of blue that's a little surreal in nature ... or at least in zoological nature. This picture, of a very colorful group who showed up at the same time the other day, was shot through the window and is not very clear, but you can see which bird I'm referring to.

When I was very little, we had a game called "Bird Lotto" that featured cards with a lot of very colorful birds. I don't remember much of the game itself -- my memories of playing it are set in a house we left when I was in the first grade, and either the game didn't make the move or we had simply lost interest in it -- but I learned a lot of birds' names, including the indigo bunting. It may have been my first exposure to nature and, whether or not Bird Lotto sparked the interest, I soon began to acquire lots of books on the topic, and to follow Disney's nature films closely. For that matter, one of the first comics I followed with any sustained attention was the Sunday version of Mark Trail.

The result is that there are lots of animals I know about but have never seen. The first time one of these intensely blue little birds appeared on the feeder this spring, I immediately thought, "That's got to be an indigo bunting!" and looked it up and, sure enough, there it was, only 52 years or so after I learned its name.

Which goes to show you that no knowledge is ever wasted, if you live long enough.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Master of Spin

(I haven't seen "Sicko" and probably won't. Since I tend to agree with Moore's
general tilt on things, I don't feel as guilty about criticizing him without actually
parsing every word as I would if I disagreed with him. However, a friend sent me

this memo from a Blue Cross/Blue Shield exec. Here's my response -- about
the memo and Moore in general, but not about the movie itself.)

Interesting. I put Michael Moore in with Abbie Hoffman as someone who raises constructive hell but isn't much for the real spadework of reform. Standing outside a building with a bullhorn and shouting for the CEO to come out and talk with you is a good stunt, but guaranteed not to actually produce the conversation -- so the question becomes, did you want a conversation, or just the airtime?

As someone who is a player in the game, I got about half an hour into Fahrenheit 911 and switched it off -- the purposeful editing was too distracting and most of the revelations were things I already knew. But I was glad it was out there because it was shaking people up.

Similar thing here -- I don't expect fair treatment or an intelligent deconstruction of the health care crisis, but I'm glad he's raising hell. Unlike Jane Fonda or Cindy Sheehan, he manages to be obnoxious without being ineffective and that's a gift -- my comparison to Abbie Hoffman is not to be taken lightly. While Tom Hayden and people like that were doing the real work of stopping the war, Abbie was getting kids out into the street and, frankly, that had a helluva to do with the eventual end of our involvement.

Of course, Abbie was also a pro at finding a parade already in progress and leaping in front of it with his baton, and I don't see Moore doing that, so that's a point in his favor. (But I still have great affection for Abbie.)

The memo itself seems pretty straightforward and sensible. I'm not clear on the practical difference between non-profit and for-profit and I think he places too much emphasis on it. That's definitely corporate spin. The rest seems reasonable -- he gives Moore a lot of credit but he recognizes that Moore isn't looking for a fair, objective examination of the topic. However, his admiration for Moore's ability to spin is apparent and he doesn't seem to bear any ill-will towards him.

Very interesting!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Exocet Ridgeback

(Actually, Ziwa is quite nimble, and as frightening as it is to have
her approach at full speed, she generally manages to avoid
the collision. Not by much, but of course that's the point
of the game. Incidentally, she weighs about 85 pounds,
so, if you're trying to decide whether to brace yourself
or go limp, I'd choose the latter. And don't dawdle.)