Monday, September 26, 2011

"Nakedivity" (part 2)

It certainly defies the meteorological statistical data ("climate change", perhaps?) and it most definitely flies in the face of the image of the Maine climate as perceived by some people "from away" (yes, @Deb, I'm looking at you) but today, September 26, 2011, I sat on my pool deck, naked as a jaybird and basked in the glory of an early Fall day on the shores of Casco Bay. Life does not get any better than that. (Did I mention that there was beer?)

It was not entirely an idle pursuit - since I am in the process of closing the pool for the season I spent a few minutes putting away some of the pool furniture and accessories, including the colorful air mattress that been floating in the pool all summer. It was during this process that I discovered something that I think says a lot about our culture: the consumer warning printed in multiple languages on the bottom of the mattress. (What can I say? I had finished the crossword puzzle and the cryptoquote, and I was bored.)

The warning is printed in several languages, including some that I don't even recognize, but interestingly there are three English-language versions. The Australian warning is the most terse and seems perfectly adequate to me: "WARNING: USE ONLY UNDER COMPETENT SUPERVISION. What more do you need to say?

The British apparently require a bit more detail: WARNING: USE ONLY UNDER COMPETENT SUPERVISION. THERE ARE RISKS USING THIS PRODUCT AS A WATER CRAFT. PAY ATTENTION TO WINDS AND CURRENTS. NO PROTECTION AGAINST DROWNING! SWIMMERS ONLY! From my limited abilities in French, Spanish and German I think those warnings translate roughly the same as the British - maybe it's an EU thing.


Wow - and all this time I thought it was just something I could float on when I wanted to cool off. Who knew it could be so dangerous?

I suspect all of those warnings reflect the nature of the litigation that has been brought against manufacturers of these "devices" in the countries for which the warnings are provided. And I suspect that of all of those countries, the USA has the most highly developed "product-liability" litigation system (We're #1! We're #1!) It makes me proud to be an American.

But it was a truly spectacular day for "nakedivity" on the pool deck (did I mention that there was beer?).

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I haven't looked it up but I'm pretty sure "nakedivity" is not a word that's in the dictionary. But still I like it a lot - it was coined by a friend in response to the news that I had spent the afternoon of the autumnal equinox (that would be yesterday, as I write) sitting nude on the pool deck, doing the NYT crossword puzzle.

I am fortunate to have a back yard that is totally private, shielded from view by dense foliage and a six-foot stockade fence. Anyone wanting to see what's going on by my pool would really have to work at it and probably deserves whatever offense they may take at what they see. The pool is situated so that it gets full sun almost all day long so for a sun-lover like me it's a great place to spend some leisure time. And this summer since I essentially live alone for the first time in forever, I adopted a "bathing suit optional" policy for my time in or by the pool.

So yesterday when I arrived on the pool-deck fully clothed and intending to cover the pool for the winter, the allure of the warm sun and the prospect that there might be no more opportunities for sun-bathing until next spring proved irresistible. I ditched my ambitions to make preparations for winter, shed my clothes and revelled in the glory of an absolutely spectacular late summer/early fall day in Maine. Not only was I nude (it's not a pretty sight but fortunately I'm the only one who could see it) but I was totally free of any sense of obligation to be "productive" - I could cover the pool another day, this day was to be fully enjoyed for what it was, a rare perfect September day.

That is what "nakedivity" means - whether it is in the dictionary or not. It's not just the state of being unclothed, it's a state of mind. It's bound to be a long. cold winter here but the prospect of more nakedivity next summer will make the wait more bearable. Now if I could just figure out how to keep my tan from fading...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ACME Fan Club - part 2

Passion: n. - 3. a. Boundless enthusiasm. b. The object of such enthusiasm. (American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition - which I stole from the office a long time ago.)

Those who know me well could use lots of words to describe me, but "passionate" is probably not one of them. I have lots of interests and things I enjoy doing. but there's nothing for which I really feel "boundless enthusiasm". And as I think about most of my friends and acquaintances I can only think of one or two who I would say truly have a "passion" for anything. I am telling you this because today I discovered yet another reason to love Andrea Carla Michaels - she has a passion: words.

OK, I kind of knew that Andrea likes words and the things one can do with them from her interests: crossword puzzles, Scrabble, "Wheel of Fortune", and her occupation which is naming things. Clearly, she has a "thing" for words. But I didn't appreciate the depth of her interest until I watched a mini-documentary produced in connection with her recent school reunion. Andrea it seems has a bona fide passion for words.

Here's the video; judge for yourself:

Life in Black and White: Part I from Regina Rivard on Vimeo.

Seriously, how could anyone not love this woman?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Malt Shop Memories"

It's time for the Fall pledge drive on public TV and so PBS is airing another set of those extravagant productions intended to strike a chord with their prime demographic group, old people like me. Every year they trot out another selection of shows designed to evoke fond memories of life in the 1950s and '60s, when we were young and life was good. Their hope seems to be that we will enjoy remembering those times so much that we will make large contributions to PBS so we can relive those moments over and over, courtesy of the CDs and DVDs they will send us in appreciation of our generosity.

This year's variation on the musical theme is titled "Malt Shop Memories" and features the music of Fabian (you remember him, don't you?), Bobby Rydell, Maria Muldaur, The Drifters, Leslie Gore (It's my party and I'll cry if I want to...) and lots of others whose names I can't remember. It's the music that was on the juke box at Ray and Ola's Soda Shop, where I went to meet up with my friends every day after school in the early '60s. It was fun then and it was fun to hear it again on PBS last night, 50 years later.

But here's the thing - while I enjoyed the songs and the memories they evoked I know that was all in the very distant past and I can never go there again (I'm not sure that I would want to, either). I do not want to wallow in it over and over by watching a DVD of the show or listening to a multi-CD set of every song recorded during the era. So the "thank-you" gifts that PBS is offering in return for my generous contribution of $150 are meaningless to me. And if I really wanted a comprehensive collection of recordings from that time, Time-Life Records probably has a better compilation for less money, so no sale.

Another thing about the show that puts me off - it's an extravagant production that had to be very expensive to make, so it seems like a significant portion of any contributions it generates would have to be applied to the production costs. It reminds me of fund-raisers for fire fighters where only a small portion of the contributions go to the intended cause and most of the money goes to the fund-raising company. It's like a scam wrapped up in the respectability of the cause, and I don't like it. And that TJ What's-his-name guy who produces the shows for PBS really annoys me with his faux-appreciation of the music of the era - he tries way too hard to convince us that he's in it for his love of the music, not the money, and I ain't buying it.

The last reason I won't be sending any money to PBS for "Malt Shop Memories" is this: this show and all of the ones like it make me feel "old" - not just in years but in relevance and vitality. When the camera pans across the audience of mostly white 60-something geezers trying to clap in rhythm to the music, or shows a close-up of a performer who is clearly past his prime trying to recreate the appeal of his youth, I feel sad for them and sad for me. Those years are long gone and there's no sense in trying to recapture them or relive them - they belong in the past. Remember them, sure, but there's no going back.

PBS's other pitch is that these shows keep the music of our generation alive for future generations. Memo to PBS: future generations have there own music. Every day I tune my radio to WMPG, the station owned and operated by the University of Southern Maine. The DJs are all volunteers, mostly students, and they play music of every ilk and every age. You never know what you'll hear, but it's all good. Oldies, sure, but Rap, Hip-Hop, Bluegrass, Reggae, Irish, Blues, classic Rock, contemporary Rock, even Russian Rock - you name it, they play it! They are starting their fund-raising campaign ("Beg-a-thon") soon, and I will contribute generously because they make me feel good about the present, not long for the past.

I'll contribute to PBS, too, but I'll wait for a locally produced program to register my support. Last year I received tickets to the "Young@Heart" concert in Portland as my thank-you, and I loved it! The show was a celebration of old people who choose to live life to the fullest in the present, not yearn to regain their lost youth through "Malt Shop Memories". I want to be like them.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Obama is back!

I didn't want to, I didn't intend to, but I still did it - I watched the president's address to the joint session of congress about the economy and jobs in particular. I liked what I heard; here are my preliminary thoughts:

"American Jobs Act" (AJA) is a catchy name that neatly frames the debate - it's about jobs; are you for them, or against them?

Obama adeptly laid his proposal out in terms of ideas that have always enjoyed bipartisan support, including some that were originally advanced by Republicans. If you were for them then, why would you be against them now?

Tax cuts for employees and small businesses are an integral part of the package - who would oppose tax cuts for either of these groups; to put it another way (as the president did) who would support a tax INCREASE on them in these hard economic times.

Fairness should be a component of tax reform; EVERYBODY should pay their fair share and EVERYBODY should share in the sacrifice.

Veterans who fought for our freedoms should not have to fight for a job!

The next election is 14 months away - America cannot wait 14 months for something to happen to help the economy improve. "Pass this jobs act now!"

It's not a race to the bottom it's a race to the top, and America can win that race.

Obama may have been addressing the joint session of Congress but he was speaking directly to the American people, and he was saying what they wanted to hear. John Boehner, sitting directly behind the president and clearly visible during the entire speech, clearly knew this and appeared extremely uncomfortable for the duration of the address.

The president was speaking to the American people but more importantly he was speaking FOR the American people. He knows his proposals are supported by a majority of the people because they will benefit a majority of the people, and he made that distinction. Do you support the people, or don't you? It's a yes or no question. It was apparent that Boehner recognized the implications of this question.

Joe Biden stayed awake for the whole speech, so it must have been good!

There will be lots of analysis, spin, and commentary by a lot of pundits a whole lot smarter and more informed than me, but here's my take-away message from watching the president tonight: Obama is back, and he's ready to fight for his vision for what America can be, and to take on any one who gets in the way. He's going to take his message to the American people and I think that's a winning strategy for Obama, and for the nation.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Corporate crony capitalism"

That phrase captures the essence of what is wrong in America today, and I wish I could claim credit for having coined it but I can't - that honor belongs to Sarah Palin, or more likely to one of her speech writers. Not only do I like the sound of the phrase (I always liked alliteration) but I think I actually agree with her point.

Now first, I have to say that I am writing this on the basis of a very brief piece in the paper about Palin's speech at a tea party rally in Indianola, IA - I did not hear the speech nor do I know the whole context of the remark. But in this age of 30second sound bites and echo chamber reporting maybe that's all I need to form an opinion that's at least as informed as the next guy's.

Apparently Palin's remarks were intended to chastise the president (no surprise there) and a "permanent political class" that she said has protected their powers and enriched themselves, their friends and their contributors at the expense of ordinary Americans and the country's well-being. Honestly, I cannot find much to disagree with there.

"There is a name for this," Palin said. "It's called corporate crony capitalism. It's not the capitalism of free men and free markets, of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and risk, No, this is the capitalism of connections and government bailouts and handouts...and influence peddling and corporate welfare." (That's some pretty good speechifying, right there.)

So while I'm pretty certain that Palin and I would be at opposite poles when it comes to creating solutions, it seems I am actually in agreement with her (I expected a lightning bolt to strike me as I typed that) in identifying the problem - it's the "permanent political class", installed and financed by the plutocrats to maintain and protect the system that enables them to enhance their wealth and power at the expense of the rest of us.

Apart from the cool phraseology, a couple of other things about the speech (or what I read about it)strike me as significant. First, this is pure populist stuff designed to appeal to citizens of every political persuasion. With approval ratings of just about everybody in government in the single digit range, who's going to disagree with any criticism of the whole bunch? Second, and more significant I think, is that Palin didn't, as far as I can tell, exclude the current batch of Republicans currently seeking the presidential nomination from the ranks of "professional politicians of all stripes" who she said are all but destroying the country.

So what we seem to have is a political speech designed to appeal to the masses by railing against something that everybody, not just the tea party, loves to hate, while at the same time setting herself apart from every other aspiring candidate for president. Ironically, she seems to be staking out some of the same territory that Barack Obama claimed on his way to victory in the last presidential election. The newspaper account of the speech said, "she offered no fresh clues" as to whether she will seek the presidency in 2012 - I beg to differ, I think the clues are right there staring us in the face, and I predict she will run, and she may even win the Republican (tea party) nomination. And if she were to pick someone other than Michele Bachmann (can you imagine the cat-fights?) or Rick Perry (who'd wear the pants in that relationship?) as her running mate I can imagine a scenario (topic of a previous post) where she might pull it off.

I need a drink.