Thursday, May 29, 2008

Adieu, Plutarch

Technically, I ought not to write that I have finally finished reading Plutarch. I have completed his monumental, 925-page Lives, as of 10:35 last night, and previously read Volume One of his Moralia. But the latter work continues in 15 more volumes. 15! I could qualify for a senior citizen discount at Barnes and Noble by the time I hit Vol. 16.

I had to special order that Volume One and no doubt would have to do so for the rest. Maybe I will, maybe I won't. After all, I am very curious as to his explanation for why Women [supposedly] "eat not of the midrib of lettuce." Just one of the many miscellany of his massive Moralia.

It's time to move on to the next author on the list, chronologically, the historian Tacitus, whose life spanned, in part, the first and second centuries A.D., a momentuous age. He was a boy when one Paul of Tarsus ran afoul of Nero; by the time he died, the religion that Paul had preached had outgrown its crib and was looking for a world to rule.

I have enjoyed Plutarch, I most certainly have. In particular, I appreciate how the lives of Women, both noble and flawed, intertwine with the lives of the men that he officially chronicles.

In fact, it is in reference to Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, that he shares these final words of the book:

"A noble nature and education avail to conquer any affliction; and though Fortune may often be more successful, and may defeat the efforts of virtue to avert misfortunes, it cannot, when we incur them, prevent our bearing them reasonably."

Monday, May 26, 2008

Cleopatra meets Anthony

The Roman writer Plutarch's gift for detail positively dazzles in his portrayal of the meeting of the Roman statesman Antony and the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra:

From The Lives:
"She was to meet Antony in the time of life when women's beauty is most splendid, and their intellects are in full maturity.

"... She came sailing up the river Cydnus in a barge with gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along, under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her. Her maids were dressed like sea nymphs and graces, some steering at the rudder, some working at the ropes. The perfumes diffused themselves from one vessel to the shore, which was covered with multitudes, part following the galley up the river on either bank, part running out of the city to see the sight.

"... Her actual beauty, it is said, was not in itself so remarkable that none could be compared with it ... but the contact of her presence, if you lived with her, was irresistible; the attraction of her person, joining with the charm of her conversation, and the character that attended all she said or did, was something bewitching. It was a pleasure merely to hear the sound of her voice, with which, like an instrument of many strings, she could pass from one language to another, so that there were few of the barbarian nations that she answered by an interpreter..."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Constantine's Sword, revisited

A while back, I reported on Isis about "Constantine's Sword," by James Carroll.

I was very surprised to read this week that a film has been created based upon it. It didn't seem to be the type of book that would lend itself to film format.

Reviews seem to be positive so far.

Now I need to finish the book so that I can see the film and decide for myself.

Friday, May 23, 2008

She speaks -- Greetings from Sweetie!

My beloved Sweetie has finally agreed to type a few words on Isis.

You already know a lot about Her, but this is a special chance to hear it directly from Her.

"I understand that a lot of you who read this blog love little animals. That's something that I do, too. ECD and I have a little bird that we dearly love and lots of animals that visit our yard.

"I enjoy the sitcom "Seventh Heaven," very much and "Touched by an Angel."

"May you all have a wonderful Memorial Day. Enjoy the time with your families and friends."

Ten more reasons to celebrate Womankind!

Just a good, straightforward, scientifically-based list, without any nyaah-nyaahs.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Anonymity, like innocence, never lasts

This week in the world of PR, my employer is facing a certain challenge with which I have to deal. Today, word of this challenge has spread so far that I just fielded an annoying phone call from some radio dj in another part of the state, making fun of our explanation for what we did.

Of course, this is a useless blog-post since I can't get any more specific, although it would be so cathartic to do so. I've blogged long enough now, about enough things, that anybody with the desire to do so could probably figure out exactly who I am and where I live and where I work.

I think that's inevitable if one blogs long enough. If you mention local events, someone can do a newssearch. If you mention what you do for a living, they can narrow down the possibilities of your employer.

And then, repercussions could follow.

Those of us who are grownups might get fired, or depending on our blog content, get cut out of the family inheritance or lose a relationship. For young folk or people living alone, actual physical danger might result.

Flower power

I turned over some soil by the side of the house yesterday and planted Oriental poppy seeds. Two years from now, they will look like this:

Poppies and man have a love-hate relationship. They are the state flower of California, waving in the warm breeze -- and the illegal, national industry of Afghanistan, their juices being squeezed to make heroin or morphine, the profits being used to finance Taliban terror -- and to feed a poor peasant's family.

In Flanders Fields they famously grow, amongst the graves of the World War I dead. Elsewhere, more prosaicly speaking, their little black seeds lend crunch to a bagel.

In the hospital, their powerful synthetic cousins knock out pain.

I met poppies first in the pages of literature, when I was a kid, reading of the blooms that Dorothy encountered in Oz, that lulled her to slumber. It was a very strange chapter. I was young enough to have no understanding how a flower could possibly have such power.

Monday, May 19, 2008

How computers have fun at our expense.

Poor Julie Andrews.

This is how the Barnes & Noble computer abbreviated the title of Her autobiography, on our receipt the other day:

(Add in "--ly Life," and all is well again.)

D.J.'s in da house!

I watched "Pirates of the Caribbean" yesterday at the in-laws, with my little Niece-in-Law, who wasn't at all frightened.

Got me wondering about the tentacle-faced villain who stars on the show's filthy Flying Dutchman.

From Wikipedia: "Davy Jones, according to sailors, is the fiend that presides over all the evil spirits of the deep, and is often seen in various shapes, perching among the rigging on the eve of hurricanes, ship-wrecks, and other disasters to which sea-faring life is exposed, warning the devoted wretch of death and woe. ”
— Tobias Smollett, published in 1751.

He seems to bear a resemblance to this guy, a distant cousin perhaps, who ended up a a krusty landlubber in Springfield:

P.S.: At, where I found the first picture, a blogger was carefully to distinguish that Jack Sparrow's scary-faced nemesis is no relation to a certain member of a certain 70's boy-band. To witness:

"Aye, Davy Jones be no Sea Monkee. With those suckers, consider the Peter Tork."

Music from a kiln

"The [Chinese] Sung period (960-1260)... represents a cultural pinnacle when all arts expressed the ideal of harmony between man and nature. It was with the Sung porcelains that Chinese ceramic art truly matured. The Chinese use of the term porcelain at this time included not only the "pure" porcelain (with a white translucent body) but also those with gray and dusky bodies which had been fired to such a state of vitrification that they emitted a musical note when struck. This musical note was the principal test of early porcelains in China." -- From Collier's Encyclopedia.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Nurses and Eliasomes

Last night, the in-laws, Sweetie and I drove to see a young relative of ours go through Her pinning ceremony for Nursing School.

We heard a great speech that perfectly explained to us non-nurses what these students have gone through to obtain their degree.

This morning, I will head outside and plant the dozen bloodroot (sanguinara canadensis)seeds that I harvested yesterday from the little plants that I started from a root a few years ago.

C. loves nursing and She will be a fine one. Her personality is perfectly adapted to the work that will be required of Her.

So it is with nature, too: each species adapts to a particular niche and fills it perfectly.

Bloodroot is an ephemereal. That means it pops up briefly in the spring, absorbing the early sunlight of the forest before the trees leaf out. This is a niche in time and place that most other plant species don't exploit.

The seed includes an odd little white tail that looks like a little worm. It's called an eliasome. To an ant, crawling about the leaf litter in May, the eliasome is a gift from heaven, an anty Dunkin Donut that it is quite happy to haul away home, with the seed included. Thus the seed is assured locomotion to a new place and proper burial.

One cannot simply dry this seed and then plant it any old time or place, like carrots or beans. One has to be mindful of the specific conditions to which the plant is adapted: moist, cool soil, with a minimum of sunlight.

So I must sow today, before the seeds dry out, in a place where they will not be disturbed during the long summer months. Only in the fall will they finally awaken and only in the spring will I see the plants emerging from the soil.

This is what they look like:

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pixels from the Edge: On How to Be a Girl

This is a beautiful, heartfelt post, from Rebecca, who has given me permission to repost it here on Isis.

Pixels from the Edge: On How to Be a Girl

Why I am amazing

You know, that sounds like the most pompous, arrogant, narcissistic subject for a blog post.

But I have had an irritating, disappointing, frustrating month and I can either whine like a three year old or I can try to do something positive.

I choose the latter. I am going to explain how this crappy month proves how amazing I am. I will be somewhat brief. Then you will be returned to your regularly scheduled programming.

A few weeks ago, the office issued me a new computer, which has been a pain in the butt to master. But I am mastering it, one day at a time. At the same time, I was put into a week long intensive Sharepoint system course, while having to simultaneously put together the very complex regular school district newsletter. Of course, this all had to be handled while preparing for Sweetie's and my anniversary. There have been night meetings in the district virtually every day since mid-April. I am tired as hell. And it is allergy month.

Yet, I have not gone insane. I have kept the grass mowed. I have met all my deadlines. I planned a special anniversary event and thus have not had to sleep on the couch. And I have even posted, albeit sporadically, to this blog. I have also correctly spelled simultaneously and sporadically, without resorting to Spellcheck.

So I am intelligent. Hard-working. Flexible. Dedicated. And blessed in many ways.

And that is enough of that.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why editors really suck

Email in my box this morning:
(Notice no attempt was made to even address me by name.)

"[The XYZ newspaper] is planning to cut back on our correspondents and are planning a slightly new direction. As a result, we are discontinuing your weekly column with [XYZ newspaper] effective June 1. We want to thank you for contribution to our newspaper and to the community. We plan to review our columns again in the next six months, in which case we could continue our relationship.
Thank you once again for all your contributions."

Well, thanks for 11 years, folks. Umm, let's look at the bright side. No more staring at a blank screen on Sunday night trying to come up with a topic. No more offending complete strangers with my opinions. No more wondering if I am repeating myself like some doddering old fool, since a weekly column times 11 years = about 572 opportunities to do that.

Of course, part of me really hopes that you, Mr. Editor, get a &*^!-load of hatemail from my loyal readers over this stupid decision. And that your building collapses into a sinkhole.

Must ... control ... bitterness.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Plugging on

I never had any intention of shutting down Isis. I NEED this outlet. Last week was awful and this week has two more night meetings and two other nights of long drives to see a certain relative.

The garden goes neglected, Plutarch goes unread, the woods goes unwalked-in. Sigh. Only 20 more years until retirement.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Tired today

So very tired. Awful work week. Late meetings. Meeting again tonight -- on a Friday! Sick of it. Just tired. Storms last night. Didn't sleep well. Sorry I haven't updated much this week.

Monday, May 5, 2008

This is all, for today

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Coming back to an important theme

I really had my eyes opened last month when I temporarily put up a widget that showed how many people were visiting Isis, and from where.

Oh sure, they weren't in the hundreds. But it still made me aware that these words I write are being read in countries to which I have never been, by people I will never meet. People will visit Isis, read a little and perhaps not comment.

So what message can I share, what can I say that would be important to these anonymous visitors?

Isis regulars, You know already where I am going. If the words I am about to say were general knowledge, I wouldn't need to share them. They are not. Therefore, from time to time, I will.

Two facts are certain: Either You are a Woman, or at some point in your life, you will interact with a Woman. To the former, I say: You are fully as intelligent, as valuable, as gifted, as any man. The Creator gave You a brain because the Creator intended for You to use it. It is time for You, whoever You are, whereever You are to stand tall and claim Your inalienable human rights and to understand that You are beautiful, powerful and NECESSARY!

To the latter, to the men, I say: Share these facts with the Women in Your life.

That is all.

Of publishing, New York and censorship

I am particularly interested in what Rebecca and Nicotine Queen, two of my Big Apple blogfriends, have to say about this quote I read the other day:

"In America, through the concentration in New York City of the publishing industry, the book-reviewing journals, the great national newspapers, and the headquarters of radio networks -- a process of consolidation at work for many years -- a curious kind of censorship of ideas and imagination has become possible. This private censorship does not seem ordinarily to have been deliberate or conspiritorial; rather, it has been a kind of contagion of opinion within a comparatively small set of people living a highly artificial life in a city with few roots in the past -- persons sometimes with small faith in traditional values, and therefore the more anxious for the approval of other people in their coterie of publicists, writers and entertainers." -- Russell Kirk, circa 1972. (Kirk was a professor of political science at Long Island University and author of "The Conservative Mind; Beyond the Dreams of Avarice.")

Kirk wrote these lines more than 30 years ago, before the Internet, before satellite radio. I wonder how true such a statement might still be today.

Shattering the glass of ignorance

I get so tired of people who apparently know nothing of history, insisting that civilization is men's doing.

In refutation of yet another such ignoramus, I posted the following on a message board:

It is utter fallacy to assume that, just because they were not "allowed" to read, write, etc., in some cultures, that Women contributed nothing to civilization. There is probably no field of human endeavor to which Women have not contributed -- sometimes quietly, sometimes overtly.

Even the briefest glance through history would disabuse anyone of the notion that civilization is all men's doing. From Hatshepsut of Egypt to Elizabeth, Queen of England; from Sappho to Susanna Centlivre; Molly Pitcher to Marie Curie, Women have been leaders of nations, writers, scientists, artists, warriors, even pirates on the high seas.

Social sanctions, backed by the threat of brute force, which are what have historically been used to keep Women down, do not equate to superiority. The man who holds a gun to my head in order to take my wallet, is not my superior. He has a gun, that is all.

Without such a figurative, and sometimes literal, gun to their heads, Women in the modern world are now surging ahead of men in all important human endeavors. Thus we see clearly their true superiority.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Angola, continued

Angolans love seafood and they love their food spicy. I like that!

From wikicookbook: After decades of civil war, Angola is picking up the pieces and rebuilding the country. Because few years have passed from the end of the civil war, there isn’t yet any important food festival celebrated here. Because of the famine that is still haunting most of the country, food traditions are rarely celebrated. One of the most loved festivals is Island Party which is celebrated for two days in November. The purpose of this celebration is to protect the Isle of Luanda from sinking and people from drowning. People throw fruits or even cooked dishes in the water and offer prayers.

One of the best known Angolan desserts, cocada amarela shows the extent to which the Angolan chefs have taken the art of cooking in their quest for a flavour that combines the traditional African ingredients with the European taste. The main ingredients of this dish are cloves, Sugar, coconut, egg yolks and cinnamon.

Unfortunately, due to the conflicts and wars that Angola has gone through, there are not many Angolan chefs. However, other chefs around the world got inspired by the Angolan cuisine and began expanding it and familiarizing the public with the wonderful flavoured Angolan dishes.

The typical Angolan meal consists of a starchy food such as rice, yams or flour cooked into porridge. When a meal consists of meat, the tradition requires that the men and the elderly receive the biggest portions. The men in the Angolan families make beer from honey and from such grains as maize or millet. They also make wine from the sap of certain kinds of palm trees. Usually, in most ethnic groups in the Angolan society, it is considered very impolite to refuse the food that is offered to you. This is considered a sign of disrespect. The tradition requires that the women are the ones who cook all the food and the men in charge with providing the beverages for the meal.

Cocada amerela recipe (from

Cocada Amarela
(Yellow Coconut Pudding)
Origin: Angola Period: Traditional

180g sugar
700ml water
2 whole cloves
1/2 coconut
6 egg yolks
ground cinnamon

Cut the coconut into easily manageable pieces and finely grate half of them. Combine this with the sugar, water and cloves and place in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once it boils continue to cook until the mixture reaches 230°C as measured on a confectioner's thermometer then remove from the heat.

Beat the egg yolks until they thicken then add 120ml of the coconut syrup and stir together. Pour this mixture into the saucepan and stir to combine. Return to the heat and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the pudding thickens enough to pull away from the sides and base of the pan. Allow the custard to cool, spoon into serving dishes then sprinkle with ground cinnamon and serve.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

New month, new nation, Angola

I spent the evening tying up the asparagus stalks outside. The neighbor's little black Scottie dog came over to keep me company.

May has arrived. It's time for me to learn about a new country. Angola is my subject for this month -- an African nation on the west coast of that continent. At 481,350 square miles, it's no speck like Andorra -- it's twice the size of Texas.

The name derives from an African word for king, ngola.

This vast country is mostly a great plateau, with a healthful and refreshing climate. The nation is also blessed -- or perhaps cursed -- with huge oil reserves, only recently tapped, and predictably not being shared with most of the population.

The people are Bantu, linguistically. Most are Christian. And Portugal was the nation's colonial ruler until the 1970s.

So that's the place in a nutshell. It will be a challenge to dig deeper, to learn about this country which is not only very different culturally from my own experience, but which is also largely off the world's radar screen. Who are their heroes? What are their special dishes, their authors, their cherished holidays?

I support Lilly Ledbetter

I will add to this post later.

Here is the legislation:

Lilly Ledbetter is a Woman who was paid considerably less in Her job doing the same tasks as Her male colleagues. That is wrong, that is insufferable and yes, the company that She worked for should be punished. Yes, She is entitled to compensation, and lots of it -- enough to convince other companies not to pull the same crap on any other Female employees ever again. Why is that so hard for certain politicians to grasp?


If I haven't visited your blogs much this week, it's because I have been submerged in my quarterly project, the district newspaper insert.

When I go grey, it will be in part due to this task.

About a week ago, I presented my boss with a one page statement, his ghost-written "column" that runs in that newspaper. Having heard nothing from him, with the deadline fast approaching, I gave him another copy yesterday afternoon, reminding him that I had to have this thing done by 9 a.m. today.

I heard nothing.

I should not have assumed that that meant all was well. I should not, I should not.

I came in early this morning and through exhausting effort, met my deadline to send the project to the printer.

At 12 p.m., my boss came to me with the corrections that he wanted for the column.

You can imagine the scenario when I told him the newsletter was already being printed.

Yes, I should have called him to make sure that he was okay with it. I know that he is very busy, with a very important job. But quite frankly, am I 100 percent to blame in this case?

Blogging Blues

Those of you out there who have been around Isis for a while know that I have on several occassions managed to step on some blog toes. I did it again the other day.

That is the price that one pays for writing a blog that reaches out to other people, that talks about other people and that also attempts -- and sometimes flops -- at humor.

I have set myself a simple rule for blogging. I will be very slow to be offended by what others may say about me. I will recognize that most people, at least the bloggers that I know of (and frankly, who else WOULD write about me?), would never write anything intentionally hurtful about me. And neither do I wish to offend the people whose blogs I visit. Sometimes our words are clumsy. Clumsy, but not malicious.

And if something does seem offensive, I will ask the writer what he or She actually meant. Once we understand each other, we will laugh about it and move on. Neither the writer or the writee, I would hope, would beat themselves up over it. Neither the writer or the writee, I would hope, would question their own intelligence at having miswritten or misunderstood. After all, stupid people don't blog. They're all busy being your boss or driving badly on the freeway.