Further Musings

Beauty smote his heart, he looked up from the forsaken land & hope returned to him

Archive for June 2009

RT and Shiloh Frolicing

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From our trip this past weekend to NE.



Written by furthermusings

June 30, 2009 at 6:39 am

Posted in Pictures, Travel

Proposal Gaffe

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“Where land is unequally distributed, income produced in agriculture is skewed towards a few very large farmers.”

My editor and friend, C, points out that this sentence structure makes it seem like obese farmers make more money, probably through their gravitational pull according to my sentence.  “Towards owners of a few very large farms” would probably be more accurate and make people less likely to laugh.  Oops.

Ah grammar.

Written by furthermusings

June 29, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Laughter, On the Job

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

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coverimageforELICreviewIt’s late, much too late to be up even though we’re just back from central time but I just finished my second novel of the summer: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer and I wanted to blog about it before I left its spell. There’s something about me that loves to read a novel that still has me aching 20 minutes after putting it down.  I picked it up at midnight and when I looked up 30 minutes later it was 2am.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a beautiful and aching story in which winds the love of a family winds around three terrible calamities.  The story, told by three different narrators, revolves around nine-year old Oskar Schell, his grandparents and their love story, and Oskar and his mother’s love for his father.  Oskar sets off on a peculiar quest around New York City: he has a key and name but cannot find the lock.

Foer’s imagination is as creative as the typesetting.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a novel but it blurs the line towards . . . towards art?  towards a graphic novel?  He violates the standard rules of the novel (black and white typeset only) in ways that show how full and in love and how empty and lonely the characters are.  He did a good job of easing me into his use of color and space in the format of the novel (though I have to confess at the first violation I thought some *&%^* student had defaced the book).  As the bright red ink wove between the lines in places I wondered about how the printing press confined the novel and why adult books (unlike children’s books) are largely devoid of illustrations and pictures.

It’s a beautiful, funny and sparkling story.  The characters and their love are beautiful and it’s aching for the pain the suffer.

Written by furthermusings

June 29, 2009 at 1:41 am

Posted in Reviews


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The other morning I got up to eat the “super nutty” granola I bought at Whole Foods.   I amended it with a a half cup or so of flax  that I’ve been trying to eat my way through.  A little yogurt along with some granola in a bowl and then I was off to eat while reading the news online.

The only problem was that it was crunchy.  Really crunchy.  Unpleasantly crunchy.  I was worried I was going to break my teeth.  The nuts would yield to my bite but only just.  I ate about half of it before swearing it off.  Yeah . . . so after my shower I put the left over flax seeds back only to discover it was barley.  Not quick cook kind either.  Real, raw barely.  Envision eating uncooked rice.


Also, it turns out to be impossible to pick the barley grains out of the uniform brown of granola.  Sigh.  More expensive compost.

I decided to work from home that morning in case there were any . . . ah . . . ill effects.  Thankfully there were none but I don’t recommend it.

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June 15, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Posted in Laughter

On Car Shopping

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Today I went to an auto dealer and test drove two new cars.  Even as I type this I can hear the collective drawing in of breath at this startling admission.  Andy?  Owner of cars from 1985, 1995 and 1997?  Car dealership?   Here’s the deal:  the “cash for clunkers” bill is making its way through Congress and seems likely to pass.   Depending on how the bill turns out we might qualify for $4,500 towards a new car (though this chance is looking very small).  However dubious the economic wisdom of this policy in its current form, we still drove around a bit.

What really surprised me was that driving either of the cars did very little for me emotionally.  I was expecting a thrill similar to when I go in the Apple Store.  There I reflexively think “wow this is beautiful and cool” and fawn over their products in a way that must make their marketing executives very happy.  Or I was expecting a feeling of being cool, like when I still feel slightly hip as I walk around in my new pair of shoes.  But instead while driving around, I got nothing, and I noticed that absence.

The cars were quiet, smooth, and high quality but in the end they both felt . . . well, functional, which I think is an unusual emotion to have around such prominent product especially given how charged most car commercials are with screaming danger and thrills or gentle feelings of communitarianism.  I know marketing folks want me to associate those feelings with the products on the lot today but it just wasn’t that exciting.  Even with the promotional material for the Fit, which is aimed exactly at my demographic, complete with buzz words that people like me emotionally respond to, it was simply a pleasant and comfortable car when I saw it in person.

I wonder my lack emotional response is because I reflexively think of a car as a means of transportation, not a thing that makes me cool or uncool, and sadly for the car industry, no amount of ad money has swayed me on this point.  It’s just a car, not an identity.  And yet . . . as I try to write that I have to confess, that even though our 1985 Ford Ranger is functional, we also think it’s pretty durn cool to drive around town.  Still it’s just a car, not an identity . . . and yet we still feel a bit sheepish when we pull up with our missing hubcaps beside business folks in their Beamers and Lexuses (Lexi?).

It’s an interesting interplay to pull out into the open and look at, this junction of shopping, of possession, and identity.

All of this makes me wonder what purchases I reflexively think of as cool and therefore I buy them.

And I also wonder how coolness and enjoyment are related to each other.  Can I really parse them apart?  I hope I can because at my core I think that sometimes the coolness factor is shameless self promotion at the expense of others.  When I enjoy dried black mission figs because I like the way they make me feel like I’m an edgy, educated and erudite eater, unlike the unenlightened then that’s shameful.  When I eat them because they’re a great taste that I haven’t eaten enough in my life, then that’s wonderful (literally).  The first is a sobering because I often do that, the second is a freeing because I love to rejoice in the beautiful.

I’m sure there’s more thinking to be done here.  Perhaps a theme to continue thinking on . . .

Written by furthermusings

June 13, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Posted in Reflections

Gilead (or Shreveport)

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This last weekend I had the treat of traveling to visit my Mom’s side of the family in the hot blaze of the Louisiana sun.  I traveled, played disc golf with the cousins, cooked up a fancy dinner, and went to church.  I sat with my grandparents telling them about my life and hearing about theirs.  And I watched my 86 year old grandfather begin to show his age.  These last years have mellowed him, gentled him.  I think it’s evidence of the Holy Spirit that he has aged into such grace and humor.  He forgets the conclusion of the story or the name of a family member, he trails off with a few laughing comments about how his memory isn’t what it used to be.  It’s hard to know that he’s irrevocably aging but wonderful to see him accept correction and smile at the memory renewed.

I really enjoyed the trip.  In addition to all the family I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the vacation aspects.  Each morning and afternoon I disappeared for an hour or two to read or nap.  It was really nice to have a break from thinking about and working on the dissertation.  I’ve read fiction, a rare treat given how much I read professionally.  Mostly I worked slowly through Home, a sweet, gentle and sad story of an old pastor and his two adult children who are driven home to him.  It felt restful to not check the NYTimes, or my email but once a day, or the blogs.  I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed not having chores, or cooking, or cleaning up the kitchen.

I enjoyed my grandparent’s stone flagged patio beside their house particularly with its breeze, the wind chime and the blue sky.  The wind blew off the clean white streets between the evenly spaced houses in their planned community.  It swept over the perfect grass maintained by the homeowners association, through the cast iron gate and down the stone path wedged between the neighbor’s high wall of bright brick which basked in the sun and my grandparents picture windows.  It passed over my right hand shoulder and over my propped-up bare feet before exiting that pretty alley over the top of the gray plank fence in front of me.  I sat in the shade and just felt the breeze and the warmth of the sun and the brick of the neighbor’s garage.  My grandmother’s beautiful plants surrounded me as I wrote and mused to a dear friend.  As I considered and pondered and prayed I delighted to be surrounded by various varieties of daylilies in full bloom, ranging from deep purple to frilly and coral, a lush and bright collection of red geraniums, stately red and coral canna lilies, and clementis vines wandering up their metal trellises with bright purple flowers.  The spindly crepe myrtle reached up towards a bright blue sky marked with only one small stationary cloud.

It was peaceful, beautiful and restful.  A real treat.

Written by furthermusings

June 12, 2009 at 9:02 pm

Posted in Travel

Robert Moses’ Lessons of Power

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After finishing Power Broker last week I sat down to process a bit more about the book.  The biography is one part the story of New York, one part the story of the man, and two parts an extended lesson in how power is gained, used, and lost.  It’s a book full lessons about how to build a kingdom and I wrote out a list (see below), a bald and shocking list, to help me process and understand his methods, some of which are wise and some repulsive.  Many are relevant only to those in politics but more than a few are wise words for every setting.  Moses used them all, ruthlessly and effectively, and Caro details how he used each of them to create New York’s parks, bridges and highways, building some of America’s greatest public works, and used each of them to destroy people, treasured public places, and hundreds of thousands of homes.

I often think of novels as case studies that are amazing for how they show me how people think and how they live.  This biography was a case study of just how ruthless a person can become and Moses absolutely lived by these rules.

In the end, for all his kingdom building, for his unparalleled power, for his unparalleled 40 year reign, he still lost it all.  He ended exiled and ostracized, a victim of the rules he lived by.  I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes lately and the meditations on the loss of power in chapter two echoed through Moses’s story.  They’re a reminder of how temporary every earthly kingdom is.

Moses’s Lessons of Power

Gaining Power

1) Understand the realities of power where you are.  Understand who can crush you, how they can do it, and what they want.

2) Competence is rewarded.  The way to stay employed and at the center of any job is to be so competent that people need you.

3) Work harder than everyone else.

4) Know and write the laws.  If others are too lazy or trusting to read and understand them then you can create your own power.

5) Know the organizational structure.  Understand how everything is connected so you can know both how to attack and how to defend.

5) Create an organization of people loyal to you.  Pick the competent and reward them with responsibility and money.  Use them to stack boards in your favor.  Ostracize anyone who crosses you.

Keeping Power

1) Associate yourself with something virtuous in the public’s eye.  Who could be against parks?

2) Insulate yourself from public opinion, it will turn one day.  Create power that public opinion can’t take from you.

3) Create policies that outlast you.  For example, if you want to keep people can’t afford cars away from your parks one option is to ban buses from the access roads leading to them.  But this only works if you remain powerful enough to keep the laws from changing.  If you build the bridges to low for buses then people who have to ride the buses will never come to your parks.

4) You can’t win fight with the media, they control the dialogue.  Fighting with them inevitably makes you look bad.

5) Manipulating the media is key to success.  They are people.  Win their ear with hospitality.  Make them feel powerful.

6) Controlling money matters.  Money is where policy meets the road.  Politicians want jobs, parks, roads, schools, hospitals.  If you control whether and how those are built then you control them.

7) Winning flies with honey is important: if you can give people pleasure through food and drink and entertainment and they will thank you for it.

8 ) The media is powerful.  They are powerful in their monopoly of public discourse.  They can be blinded but they can be voracious when scandal drives their incentives to be so. But there are things more powerful than the media, particularly the law, so control the law if you can.

9) The silence and ignorance of the media are just as powerful.  They can’t report on what they can’t understand and the world is often so complex that they can’t get it.  Especially when blinded by preconceived notions.

Getting Things Done

1) Come to meetings with detailed plans to solve complicated problems.  Detailed plans get put into place.  Anybody can have vague dreams about building highways.  Having a detailed and completed plan when no one else has one makes your plan implemented by default.

2) Lie about people when it’s prudent and useful.  If you can destroy their reputations then no one will listen to their criticisms of you.

3) Lie about costs of your projects.  Once 1/3 of it is built you will get the funding for the rest.  The people who approved the project will be too invested to not give you the rest of the money.

4) Lie about the costs of others ideas if they can’t prove they are right.

5) Use the resources of the state.  Private citizens can only fight as long as they can pay lawyers to do so.  Public servants have the state paying for their lawyers.  You’ll win through attrition nine times out of ten.

6) Start projects.  Even if you’re legally in the wrong if you’ve already torn down the original building then your project will follow.

Written by furthermusings

June 2, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Posted in Politics