Tuesday, January 31, 2006


"She went to the corner. She curled her hair and she put on her hat." With this little saying, I used to teach my students to make a "proper numeral five". I'm still doing it. There are all kinds of gimicks and sayings I remember and I still use them when I volunteer at the local elementary. The kindergarteners are learning their manuscript letters and numbers uppper and lower case. They now have little personal slates, pieces of chalk and a tiny piece of wet sponge to erase. They are instructed, by me, to start in the upper "left-hand" corner with most letters etc. Some still struggle with "laterality" and dominent hand. We play games for that too. ie. "Left, Right, Center" which I learned from my daughter-in-law. They then "write" and "illustrate" their "stories". It is so much fun.

When I taught the "upper grades" back in the "prehistoric times" (B.B.C.=blackboard chalk) I used to teach handwriting as in "cursive" penmanship. I'd get chalk all over me by the end of the day. (especially my cuffs). Then "dry- erase white boards" came out. Wow, what a difference! Color! My school was behind the times so one year, in September, I went to Home Depot and bought two big 4'x8' masonite boards that were that same smooth white on one side.(used, I think, for bathroom/shower wall repair) I bought a glue gun. Then I invited my principal to come and see my new "boards". He was always a very supportive boss and he "reimbursed" me. Pretty soon the whole school/district had them. One year I had the big wall-sized piece cut up into little "personal slates" the kids could keep at their desks. I gave them each a couple of colored dry markers and a bit of soft cloth. Boy did they have fun. They mostly wrote each other messages until we established some ground rules. We practiced our handwriting, did math problems, displayed our answers (or not) and did alot of sketching/art/doodles. Here's another one I used almost every year. "A B C D goldfish? L M N O goldfish. O S A R. A B C D eyes?" (with illustrations) We'd make up others. Again, fun! During the years, I picked up, and taught little "interest groups" to do "calligraphy". We had the special nibs and lined paper. I still do a bit of that for my massive, marketing mailouts to my potential buyers of homes. Still trying to make it fun.

When I was in school, penmanship was taught with a vengence. I actually got pretty good at it and won an award in 6th grade for my cursive. Then in Jr. Hi. I decided to print...everything... in caps. Block printing looked cool. At first my teachers wouldn't accept it. All my note-taking was done that way, but "smooth-drafts" had to be in ink and in "cursive" Ugh! No individuality, no chance to "rebel"... Then, in High School, I got my first typewriter. It was a gift from "Uncle Al". It was a portable Olympia. Oh, was I thrilled with it! I had barely passed "Typing Class" in Jr. Hi. (required)...and I could now type out my papers to "turn in". I just loved the clickety-clack of that little machine. It went with me to college. Soon there were computers and "word processors". They had many advantages ie. on the spot editing, spell checks etc. but, as you can see, I was getting further and further away from the "handwriting" I enjoyed. My note-taking "hand" got small and sloppy and barely readable even to me. Now, I'm noticing that I rarely write in cursive anything of length; just notes to myself for business, scribbles on my Palm Pilot; nothing serious. I can see why the "Art of Penmanship" is dying with our up-coming kids.

Schools in Anaheim are requiring all home work on computers, even emailed. "It's neater and easier to grade." says Linda Op de Beeck. "It's the 21st Century." It is being deemphasized in schools where the main concerns are being able to "read, and do math" for the "school report cards". Teachers don't know how to teach it anymore and don't have time. Their only criteria is: "Legibility". Gone are the "pains-taking" drills and writing to the rhythm of music...lines and lines of practice letters. There is no "pride in workmanship or accomplishment" where you can see the improvement. Gone is the feeling of being "grown-up" because I can "write in cursive". It used to be used to "foster virtue" with "repetition is the basis of all learning" phrases.

Enter the new S.A.T. Section ie. the timed Essay in handwriting. What to do? I can remember being on my District Committees to "read and grade" all 5th and 6th grade assigned essays in those little, bound essay books. Hours of extra-stipend pay(menial pay). You can't tell me that neater, well-formed handwiting, you could easily read didn't get a "better grade"...ie. at least half a grade higher. It showed CARE. It showed ORGANIZATION of thought/theme. (Doctors not withstanding ie. perscriptions have to be hard to read)

"These factors have prompted a few suburban school districts to revive the emphasis on penmanship." according to Gisele Ragusa, a USC professor who studies language and literacy instruction. The Capistrano Unified School District in Orange County is among them. This is where my grand children go...I think. Last fall they started a new curriculum called: "Handwriting Without Tears" It is intended to be easier for students to master. It is cleaner, clearer, without swirls, loops, and fancy stuff. At Don Juan Avila Elementary in Aliso Viejo, a roomful of second-graders are about to practice printing in anticipation of learning cursive. They flex their hands and arms, sit up straight, practice their pencil "pincher" grip and sing; "Where do you start your letters? At the top! If you want to start a letter then you better, better, better remember to start at the top!" Ah, yes! That's more like it! Bob!

Friday, January 27, 2006

"Deus Caritas Est."

"God Is Love." This is the title of Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical published this past Wednesday. Now, love is no simple topic, especially in the context of Christian theology. Benedict (with the help of John Paul II, who wrote parts of this encyclical before he died) writes of how "eros" and "agape" work together to create the "caritas" all "good" people have in their hearts. Encyclicals are basically how popes preach --they're letters to the whole church (the whole media) ie. "Catholic meaning Universal". He further writes, "I wish in my first encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn much share with others." The "idea" being, if you don't believe in God, do you believe in love as an expression of God? What then is love? eros? agape? caritas? Has the definition changed over the years?

Back in the 4th century, Pope Damasus commissioned the ascetic scholar St. Jerome to prepare a Latin translation of the Bible now know as the "Vulgate", since the translation was into the common people's "vulgar" Latin. Jerome's sources were mainly in Greek, and in trying to get from Greek to Latin, one of the first problems he faced was what to do with "agape".

Agape is a Greek word meaning "love". But it's love of a special sort. The ancient Greeks had a number of words for love, each with different connotations. For example, you've almost surely heard the Greek love word "eros" and you can probably guess what kind of (erotic) connotations it carried. Agape, on the other hand, implied a chaste, self-giving, brotherly love (felio). Beaumont has a "drive-thru" coffee shop called "Agape" ie. a commercial use. Jerome's problem was that he lacked a good Latin equivalent for agape. Latin's primary love word was "amor", but its meaning was very broad. The love of a parent, brother, friend, lover --all sorts of love were "amor" in Latin. So Jerome turned to "caritas" instead.

Caritas is a Latin word that used to mean "dearness" or "high price". By extension, it sometimes meant "esteem", "affection" or--in an indisputably chaste sense --"love". By choosing it as his Latin "agape", Jerome lent great importance to "caritas"--and to words, like charity, that stemmed from it. He also inadvertently set up a linguistic schism in English Bibles. Some versions, like the King James Bible, talk of "charity" ("And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity") Others go right from agape to love (" now thesee three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love").

However you translate it, caritas is one of the tree primary Christian virtues, along with faith and hope. In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes, "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." Later, St. Augustine added, "Charity is a virtue which, when our affections are perfectly ordered(?), unites us to God, for by it we love him." Christianity still regards "caritas" as the bond of love and fellowship that unites us--both to each other and to God. So it is no surprise that the word "charity" has come to mean "giving". In "giving", we affirm the ties that bind us together (this is an except of "Knowledge News" by Michael Himick and Mark Diller)

After thrilling to the concert encore mentioned in my previous post, and reading this research, I have come to a different understanding of "love". There is a "brotherly love" that especially attracts me. I never really had a brother. I learned late in life that I had one who was "still born". My parents never mentioned it or talked about it to me. I found out about it in a very strange way. (topic of another post?) I have sought "brothers" to "love" all my life...still am. My jobs have mostly been with a majority of woman ie. school teacher, real estate sales. Betty and I raised four sons who are "brothers". They all live in different places and have very little contact.

I just got to know another (St.) "Jerome" alittle better. He came with my sister for a visit. I like him alot. He, at my request, is taking "good care" of my sister. They have been friends for years. They have similar interests in music, art, etc. He, to me, is giving a good example of "brotherly love" to my sister. I am not there for her very much. We live too far apart. Her chosen career has provided, over the years, much "caritas" to so many of her patients and clients. I wish I could've known her better and been a better brother. Yes, we all have regrets I'm sure. Maybe it's not too late...for me and other brothers. Bob

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Glory, revel, delight, triumph, crow, boast, jubilate, and celebrate are all synonyms of exult. That's what was happenin' the other night, Jan. 22nd. at the Disney Concert Hall with the Los Angeles Master Chorale. If there were crows in the hall, as this program cover suggests, they too must've been "flying for joy"! What a celebration! What excitement! What a concert!

This concert was especially wonderful for me because I was meeting my sister from Santa Fe there. We had two seats in the third row with an excellent view of the pipe organ keyboards which was the featured instrument of the night. This is only the third time that the L.A.M.C. has done this. Ken Cowan, an organist virtuoso, from St. Bartholomew's in New York, made that wondrous instrument "talk". He had a "page-turner" who got in the way on his right side at times, but it was fascinating to watch him use every extremity to play the West Coast Premiere of "River of God" by Andrea Clearfield. She was sitting 5 seats away from me, a lovely young lady, who just exuded excitement. I watched her hands as Ken played her composition and they held each other tightly, but her fingers couldn't keep from "moving on their own" with some of the more challenging arpegios. At the end of the work, she was acknowledged by Grant and took an extend bow with many standing O's. The compostion was based on Psalm 65 and it captured the Love of God as expressed there, like a flowing river. It was just gorgeous!

At the pre-concert lecture we were introduced to the two "none dead" composers in the program. They were both very young and upcoming in their fields. I would venture to say that they, Andrea and Tarik O'Regan, were probably the only ones there, at that lecture, say 100+ people, who were near or under 30. (excluding Grant) Yes, mostly "retirees" or "semi-retiree's" like me, attend these pre-concert functions. This is depressing to see and yet encouraging that L.A.M.C. is featuring the "growing/going edge" in this First Performing Art, choral music with organ. I met and sat next to one of my colleagues from Mountainside Master Chorale. Pat Kelly and her husband, both recently retired from related fields. She was a music (choral) teacher for many years and even brought her own groups to sing with Mountainside. Her hubby worked for KCET. We had fun together on choir tour to Scotland, England and the Istedfad in Wales several years ago. She is still active and performing in music but not with Mountainside. We both taught 6th grade at sometime in our careers and produced programs of music and drama with our students. Hopefully, some young whipper-snappers (baton shakers) have taken our places. My sister and friend Jerry recognized two of their friends in the L.A.M.C.: one from the Desert Chorale of years ago and one from Chanticleer; both men I think.

"Rejoice in the Lamb" by Benjamin Britten and Christopher Smart was most interesting to follow along with the soloists once we found out from Grant again that the poems it was based on were written in an Insane Asylum in a "state of constant prayer/madness". My sister said she had sung it and loved the Alto's version of the "mouse". I personally liked the "cat Jeoffrey" as portrayed by Claire Fedoruk, my favorite soloist, choir member. She sits on my end and sings from her heart. The "cat" "worships" in his way by turning around seven times in his bed with "elegant quickness". That's just how she sang it.

"Kiddush" by Kurt Weil had that "Porgy and Bess" harmonic of Gershwin. It was written for a canter at the temple and is a Jewish Rite, I think. It provided a nice contrast to the other selections and yet used Hebrew like the Chichester.

The two, little known/performed works of Franz Liszt led off the evening in reverse order. I can see why now. The first "Qui Seminant in Lacrimis" was more dynamic and needed better "mixing" between the organ and the chorale. It was "sown in tears" and not quite "reaped in joy" for me. The second, "Ave Maria" was by far the better of the two chorally. The tenor's plantive and romantic lead definitely got to me, being a tenor now.

"The Dorchester Canticles" by Tarik O'Regan was comissioned and performed as a companion piece to the major work performed after intermission. ie "The Chichester Psalms" by Leonard Bernstein. We had the "leaner-meaner" versions of them (according to Grant) without full orchestra, just harp, organ and percussion. Tarik introduced his Canticles as being for the Anglican Church in Dorchester which is near Oxford where he lived when he began the composition. He said the second half of the work reflects his moving to New York City and the noise and chaos he found there. Psalm 67: "God be merciful unto us..." certainly speaks to that in Part II. The Chichester Psalms, sung in Hebrew, is just the opposite to me. It ends beautifully and quietly with Psalm 131 and 133 after Psalm 2 "Why do the Nations rage?" A real surprise was Psalm 23, Part II, "The Lord is my Shepherd", Justin Filbrich, a boy soprano, just walks out on stage, to his microphone and "like a pro" performs for memory in Hebrew perfectly. His clear, pure tones without any vibratto were so appropriate for this text ie. a young shepherd acknowledging his Lord as His Shepherd. Wow!

Ah, then, the thrill of the evening for my sister and me...the unannounced Encore: "Ubi Carita Deus ibi est" "Where there is Love, there is God." We both had tears of joy. It was just the perfect ending to our Evening of Exultation! Bob

Friday, January 20, 2006

" A Roget by any other name..."

"A synonym is a word you use when you can't spell the word you first thought of." Burt Bacharach Yes, I must confess that this is true for me. I'm not the greatest speller; even though I taught it for 38 years. I love synonyms and spelling them is usually not that important when I'm writing and experiencing that "creative flow". I rarely take time to look up a word in a dictionary let alone a thesaurus.

On the 18th, two days ago, Peter Mark Roget was born in 1779. He must've had a very interesting life. He was an English physician and philologist/lexicographer and is remembered to this day for his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases (1852), a comprehensive classification of synonyms or verbal equivalents that is still popular and has never gone out of print. He also invented a "log-log" slide rule for caculating roots and powers of numbers. The first edition of the Thesaurus, which was begun in his 61st year and finished in his 73rd, was a product of his retirement from active medical practice. As early as 1805 he had compiled, for his own personal use, a small indexed catalogue of words which he used to enhance his prolific writing. The book had synonyms presented under 990 classes.

What an example for all us "retired guys". I love to write but I'm not what you'd call "prolific". If I only had more time... I've used his slide rule too. When I went to college, way back in the "pre-historic" days (BC) that's Before Computers or Before Calculators (handheld) we used to have to figure out our "stats" for Psych. class with a "slide rule" It was pretty accurate too...just don't bump it by mistake.

I remember my first thesaurus. It was a gift and I treasured it. It was hardbound and smelled that "new book" smell. So as not to crack the binding, I gradually opened it from front and back, a few pages at a time and smoothed it out. I was in high school and just "discovering" that I liked to write. Yes, Mr. Harata's class again. He would challenge you not to be "redundant" or "pedestrian" with your words.

Did you know Roget's book has a thematic index up front? Abstract concepts, Spatial concepts, Physical and Material concepts, Human Intellect, Human Personality and Actions, Human Emotions and beliefs. Then it has the alphabetized entries and their antonyms. Then, in the back, it has Supplementary Word lists. ie. Words that end in...-cide, -cracy, -iac, -mancy, -mania, -ology, -phile, -philia, -phobia. Then there is a list of names for groups of animals ie. herd of antelope, a wriggle of worms etc. Lastly it has names of young animals. What a wealth of words! What a gift, present, donation, largesse, grant, boon, bequest, lagniappe! Us scrabble players and crossword puzzlers have a "field day" with this book. (probably illegal in scrabble)

I wonder what William Shakespeare, or as some claim, Edwin De Viers, did for synonmys? Did they have a ready list? I would like to believe that they also "spoke" and "wrote" in that "flow zone" that just happens and is impossible to break into to "look up a word or synonym". Thomas Berger, who must be a "distant relative" of mine, once said, "Why do writer's write? Because it isn't there." Bob!

Sea of Cortez?

My swim this morning in our indoor pool at the south club house was rather "warm"...like way above 86 degrees. It reminded me of our fateful dips in the Sea of Cortez a few years back. Of course there wasn't the sea smell or stickiness of the salination or boyancy. It did have the gentle waves and the and the alluring temperature and maybe even some "whales". It was around 37 degrees outside and the walk was a bit "nipply". The jaccuzzi was its usual 107 and an arthritics dream in the morning. A note on the door said there was a "mechanical malfunction of the pool heater and a disclaimer/warning not to strenuously exercise in such over-heated water. I was tempted to swim a few extra laps with "scuba man" and his mask and mouth piece; "sir splash-alot" who slams in and out of there in 30 mins. tops; "miss manatee" and her slo-mo cruising; "the one-legged man" who pops in and out with ease and has a beautiful stroke; "end-lane underwater only man" and his gigantic kicks; and finally the 4 to 5 "resident" water-aerobizier ladies and their styrofoam dumbells. Some mornings it is a virtual traffic jam for a while. I don't even try to get into the weight room or get a "machine" at this time of day...5:44A.M.

As I swam today, I thought of our experiences in Baja, CA and was still amazed we survived. Before we swam in the Gulf of California, the Sea of Cortez, east of the the pennisula out of La Paz, we had a harrowing road trip playing "chicken" with careening, lop-sided, overloaded mexican trucks on two-lane highways. Many times it was..."come to Jesus time" and we passed several over turned loads sprawled sideways on the highway. We heard that gasoline (petrolina)? was hard to find so we initially carried an extra 10 gal. container strapped to the back (or maybe it started out inside the van). Bad decision...not 50 miles into Baja, we had 4 car-sick boys throwing up cranberry juice and crackers...lovely smell. We made it to Guerro Negro by dusk where we had reservations and found it was so close to the Pacific Ocean that it was dank and moist on most surfaces, even the pillows. We did see the less-than-impressive monument to the "Tropic of Cancer" line. We made it the next day to Cabo San Lucas and a condo my wife's boss owned. Very nice but ...no electricity. Excellent food, fish, service at the adjoining Califia Resort where we got to know a wonderful waiter, forget his name right now. They had an "infinity pool" we "took over" with our boys and a restaurant with a patio that housed resident ferral cats in the thatched roof who came down for morsel peroffered by you know who. We danced the night away while the boys were back at the room and Betty got blisters on her bare dancing feet. We were kept awake that night by some tropically named storm that seemed to produce waves that continually crashed and produced a roar that was deafening. On our trip back we stopped in a town for "refreshment" and potty breaks and were "stared down" by the locals in a scary way either because we didn't park in the right place or our female wasn't properly attired(fully covered) We bought and got out quickly. We hit a "nicer" hotel on our east coast return and were lured into the water. You could walk way out it was so shallow and warm. Clark and Brooks noticed them first....the sea lice. Brooks got cramps and then stepped on a jelly fish. Clark carried him in. I went for the hotel doctor. Panic...he sent me out to a local "drugstore" (not that name, much longer with a "teca" on the end) I spoke some Spanish and was finally able to get the pills the doc said we needed. Then, Brooks, he his inibital(?) way wouldn't take them...he has a gagging reflex worse than his mom. I was so concerned that I used my "classroom voice and habit" the "countdown" only I didn't start at 10! No luck...but miraculously he survived. We still had two more encounters where we, as a family, almost didn't (survive that is). We were stopped on the road by machine gun-toting "federales" looking for an escaped prisoner who they were using on "road maintenance". Suddenly I "knew no Espanol" while they poked around in our van with their eyes and guns looking for a hidden "criminales". We thought we were goin' to...jail...never to return. Later on, almost gleefully free, we were "sightseeing" "vacas" in the "vados" when I spotted a burro and a cart. I turned to look and almost steered into an oncoming truck. I never felt so releaved and "free" when we crossed the border in that line of cars and thanked our lucky stars for the U.S.A. and the "Bill of Rights". ie. search and seizure, assumption of being innocent etc.

Next time, if there is one, we'll fly. We did have a chance to get off the Disney Magic this summer when it docked at Cabo. We chose the empty ship and its three pools and spas. Our memories of the Baja, will stay just that, "memories". Bob

Monday, January 16, 2006

To Infinity, and beyond!

"All the atoms on Earth and in our bodies were in stardust before the solar system formed". This is a quote from NASA's audacious "Stardust Mission" 's principal investigator Donald Brownlee from the University of Washington. This mission was a major accomplishment for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge and Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. It oversaw a spacecraft on its 2.88 billion-mile journey to snatch pieces of a speeding comet and bring them back to Earth. Above (left) you see a photo of this comet "Wild 2" (pronounced Vilt from the Swiss Scientist who discovered it). It will bring back about one milligram of comet dust from its "tails". (about one-thousandth of the weight of a paper clip) microns, thinner than a human hair. Launched Feb. 7, 1999, Stardust made two loops around the Sun before meeting up with with the comet between Mars and Jupiter in January 2004. There, a "tennis-racket-shaped" collector about the size of a desk, scoped up particles with the aide of "aerogel" a sticky sponge-like supstance. It then travel back to land in the Utah wilderness near Dugway hitting speeds of 28,860 mph. the fasted man-made re-entry ever. It could have particles with a similar chemistry/physics of those that "seeded" the Earth with some of its molecular building blocks of life. In 1979 there was a meteorite discovered in Australia containing "amino acids". So comets are like solar "libraries" that contain stored records of our formation. Stay tuned on what they might find in the next few months.

Leading astronomers are now beginning to believe that there may be a "tenth" planet way out beyond Pluto. Designated: 2003 UB313 (a code name) it was "discovered by Mike Brown, Chad Trujillo and David Rabinowitz, three astronomers working with one of the world's biggest telescopes at Palomar Observatory in California and a very sophisticated computer program to spot very slow-moving objects very far away. I heard they posted their "findings" on an internet site and someone else started taking credit for it...thus the code name. It had been 79 years since Clyde Tombaugh had discovered Pluto and named it after Percival Lowell (initials) an earlier giant in the field. Jay Leno said they should name it "Goofy". My suggestion: Edwin Hubble, who discovered other galaxies (among other things) E.H. "Extremely High Planetoid" No? See if you can do better. It is so far away, way past the Kuiper Belt and Pluto. Its distance to the Sun is 38 to 97 times that of the Earth (3.5 billion to 9 billion+ miles) It is larger than Pluto ie. 1500 to 2000 miles in diameter. Its year is 500 Earth years (trips around the Sun) ie. If Leonardo da Vinci lived there he would just now be celebrating his first birthday.

Dava Sobel's 3rd Best Seller is pictured above because, like her other two nonfiction/fiction books on "Longitude" and "Galileo's Daughter", I am thoroughly enjoying each chapter on a Solar Planet. She has the gift of making "very complicated" (boring non-fictiony) stuff come alive with human interest. They did a TV special on the guy who won the race/prize to "measure longitude" with a more accurate time piece that was "sea-worthy". Galileo's correspondence to his daughter, a nun, was very revealing yet so secretive. It had to be with what he was "thinking". In "Planets" she rightly predicted that future discoveries would be by collaborative efforts (see above E.H.) and not by lone geniuses. She left it open. She cofesses at the end of the book that none of the truly staggering data she had been priviledged to share had altered the planet's fundamental appeal to her as an... "assortment of magic beans or precious gems in a little private cabinet of wonder - portable, evocative, and swirled in beauty."

There was also a recent article in the USAToday about the "lumpiness" of the Milky Way. It postulates that "passing galaxies" (dwarf and otherwise) and "dark matter" might be causing the clumping and lop-sidedness. "It looks like the tipped brim of a fedora." I wonder who and when will discover discribe "dark matter" which is supposed to be 10 times heavier than normal matter. Is it like "anti-matter" which, as everyone knows, is what drove the "warp drives" of the Starship Enterprise. Ah, there is so much to think about; day-dream material all. And to think that we are all a very small part of it. Talk about feeling minute and infinitismal...and beyond! Bob

Thursday, January 12, 2006

"Devi and Sadhu"

Meet the new Virgin Comics Hero and Heroine; possibly coming to your local comic book store in the near future. Who are they and where are they from? This is where it gets interesting.

One of the world's greatest stories, India's Ramayana, is being retold as a post-apocalyptic comic book, in "Ramayana Reborn", with an animated television spinoff for kids titled "The Seven Sounds". This is the brainchild of the newly launched Virgin Comics and Virgin Animation, an entertainment partnership between British billionaire Richard Branson, bestselling New Age author Deepak Chopra, film director Shekhar Kapur and India's leading licenser of comic books, Gotham Entertainment Group. They have already brought "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" to Delhi and Bombay. Their chief creative officer is Gotham Chopra, Deepak's 30 year-old son.

Ramayana is the Eastern equivalent of the Odyssey or Lord of the Rings. "Shakti" means "power" in Hindi and "Devi" means "goddess". Chopra describes her as "Asia's first superwoman. She wears the different faces of the goddess. On the one hand she plays the typical submissive Asian housewife, on the other hand she's Angelina Jolie." Another storyline concerns a 19th century English soldier who becomes a disciple of a "sadhu" or Indian wise man, who trains him to become a spiritual warrior. (snatch the pebble...)

The plan is to publish comics in the U.S., Japan and, of course, in India, not a traditional comic powerhouse but where there will be an estimated 550 million teenagers by the year 2015. Branson, a big western billionaire, recognizes the future of entertainment is in the East, not necessarily in Hollywood but "Bali-wood". (Indonesia too, I guess) Despite the fact that India has a mature entertainment business, with movies and sports, it has had no comic business. They are doing what Manga (Japanese) is doing. Marvel has made twice as much money licensing superheroes to movies than on the sale of comic books. Maybe they have to start with the "pulp" before the cellulose. Part of the reason comics have not yet flourished in India has been the lack of distribution and the absence of superstores like Barnes & Nobel.

Deepak Chopra is very much involved, says his son. "A lot of people, like my father and Shakur, they're tired of India being relegated to being this "backroom", this place for "outsourcing". They felt that India has this incredible pool of talent and they wanted to be part of a "Creative Renaissance". Deepak is writing a novel on the life of Buddha and Gotham wants to do the companion graphic novel.

My "take" on this, having read a smattering of Chopra's works and other like sources, is that there is great wisdom, "Vedic Wisdom" in so much of the Indian folkloric traditions and religions; "old age, not just New Age". The "masses" of the "sub-continent", especially current generation and up-coming generations are unaware and uninformed about it's much more ancient wisdom...and could care less about it. I once had an Indian boy in my class, directly from Calcutta. Betty and I were invited to his home to meet his family and have a wonderful dinner of their specially "spicy" dishes. They were so eagar to please and learn of our culture and yet knew very little of their own, its traditions and wisdoms. They just wanted to "make it" here and the boy wanted to be "accepted" in class, he didn't have a clue and was mostly the class "scapegoat". Would this kid have responded to the "lessons" of a comic book or graphic novel about his lost culture? Maybe...but probably not here in America. The "images" of his homeland was what he was trying to leave behind with his father's new employment here. They, that family, wanted the "American Dream" and our cultural heroes, not Ramayana's. This was also around the time of the huge popularity of "Dungeons and Dragons" from a somewhat European tradition. At least one of my sons at the time was really into that. When I think back, even I had those interests as a kid. I "liked" silent weapons and knights and armor Arthurian Legends etc. I had an "armor tree" in the backyard where I hung the crude "weapons" I tried to make and play with. I wasn't allowed a "b-b gun" so I made a bow and arrow and got in "big trouble" when my mom cause me trying to kill a bird. She broke the bow in front of me. This was my brush with "ancient wisdom" and just look how I turned out...Bob!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Peach Fuzz?

Have you seen this new comic strip? It was in Sunday's L.A. Times announcing that it would be in 30 U.S. daily newspapers. It isn't in our Inland Empire Edition yet. It seems to be about a 9 year old American girl named Amanda Keller who wants a pet. She is pleading with her parents with those "signature" soulful eyes that you've seen in other Japanese cartoons. She decides on a ferret, still illegal in these parts I think, and names it "Peach Fuzz" because of it's soft fur. It looks quite appealing especially for kids around 9, upper elementary, with it's "wide-eyed" innocence. Manga, the Japanese cartoon art, is published by Tokyopop, a leading publisher of this genre in the U.S. It is distributed by Universal Press Syndicate which, I think, is the same one so successful with "Peanuts".

Comic Strips have changed over the years. The print versions are now in a desperate struggle against all the latest "high def" digital ones on video and computer games ie. XBox etc. Fewer and fewer families even subscribe to daily newspapers, let alone read comic books anymore. Serialized episodes are a thing of the past. Sense of "story-line" with "a plot" ie. protagonists, antagonists, heroes, villains etc. seem to be on there way out; replaced by graphically exciting "hunt them down" "shoot them dead" senarios. These are just my limited observations, very limited. I wonder what long run effect it will have on our youth's ability and interest in "telling a story", "championing age-old values", wanting more "substance and content" in their lives?

But then I look back on some of the comics I grew up with and I'm not so convinced that our next generation of "comic readers" is headed to "Toonsville Shallowland". Do you remember "Blondie"? "The Katzenjammer Kids"? "Dick Tracy"? "Li'l Abner"? They weren't known for their "heavy content" either. Then we have "Garfield", "Calvin and Hobbes" and my hope is a bit restored. I used to check the mail almost everyday during the last part of the month for my latest edition of my "Donald Duck" comic book. I collected them. Wish I had saved them because they would really be worth something now. "Sadie Hawkins Day" was originally introduced (to me?) by Al Capp and his "Li'l Abner" where once a year the "spinsters" got to chase and try to catch the "dyed in the wool bachelors" all around 'Dogpatch". It was funny what they would do not to get caught. I guess that's why we called them "Funny papers".

"The Peach Fuzz Quintet" was the name of an early "Christian/Gospel Rock" Band at our church in Eagle Rock back in the '50's. Charlie Magnuson, a piano whizz and elementary school teacher, got the band going. It was all instrumental and very popular at the time. This reference to "Peach Fuzz" had to do with their not "shaving yet" but having that pre-whisker stubble that is still soft. These guys were not "cartoons" but real-life "cool guys" as I remember. ie. someone to emulate. I took piano lessons but I just couldn't play like Charlie. He went on to be the main organist and choir director at ol' Eagle Rock Covenant. I remember when he retired from teaching. I wonder of he is still with us? He was one of my "real life heroes". I don't think I ever told him. Bob

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Just a "Leap Second"

I feel like I've been "slowing down" a bit lately. It could be my "advance age" or all the new homes I've been selling. Or it could be that the World is "moving alittle slower" this last year. Our Earth's Official Timekeepers have just added a "leap second" to the calendar at midnight on Dec. 31st. Maybe that's it. I detected it, didn't you?

This was the first leap second to be added in seven years - though they've added 22 of them between 1972 and 1999. Every four years our calendars add its "quadrennial cousin" the "Leap Day", Feb. 29th on "Leap Year". "Thirty days has September, April, June and November. All the rest have 31 except February (28)...which in four, adds one more, making 29."(sic) This has been keeping the Earth's clock in sync with "atomic time" since 1972, when the timekeepers first started using Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This is the legal standard in most places. UTC ticks off time in "atomic seconds" - each of which is equal to the time needed for a cesium -133 atom to perform 9,192,631,770 complete oscillations. It is built to stay in step with Greenwich Mean Time, in which the length of seconds varies slightly, depending on how long the Earth actually take to rotate. In recent years, Earth spun a bit faster than it had been spinning - hence the lack of leap seconds. But experts say that was exceptional. Over the long haul, Earth's rotation is gradually slowing down. In just a few decades, we may need to add a "leap second" every year. In just a few centuries, we may need to add one every month. You and I probably won't care by then will we?

Back in 1851 on this date (1/8) Jean Foucault, a scientist demonstrated definitively that the Earth rotated on its axis with the "Foucault Pendulum". I don't think he was that concerned about seconds. I remember taking my classes on a "field trip" to the Griffith Observatory. There they had this wondrously gigantic pendulum in the center atrium that demonstrated the "Earth's motion" ala Foucault. It was a giant ball on a wire connected to the dome. It swung, knocking over little pegs around a circle in the indented floor and "never" stopped swinging. Fascinating! Each peg was probably an hour.

Also on this date in 1942, Stephen Hawking, an English physicist and mathematician was born. He has also added to our understanding(?) of time with his "Brief and Briefer History of Time" (not mine.) Coincedentally, Galileo Galilei, an Italian astronomer, died on this date in 1642 Three hundred years to the day! He, of course, had a difference of opinion with the Catholic Church at the time about "rotation" ie. "time" and spent most of his declining years under "house arrest" because he dared to think the Earth rotated around the Sun. His first inkling that this might be true, was from observing the slight swinging motion of the chandeliers in "church" as he prayed for his soul. He was later motivated to build a stronger telescope and detected "moons" that "rotated" around a different planet, not the Earth, and not the Sun. Shocking! When we toured the Vatican Hallways leading to the Sistine Chapel, our guide pointed out the gigantic picture of Pope Urbanus(?) who "excommuicated" Galileo, could've had him put to death, and kept him "arrested". I asked the guide if he was Galileo's Pope. She said yes. We then went with our singing group, Mountainside Master Chorale, one of many that day, and sang in the Sistine. What a thrill!

During my years of teaching, 38 or so, I usually "declared" "Leap Day" in my class on the years divisible by 4, Feb. 29th and we tried to think up all kinds of creative things to do. We didn't just have the girls running everything...(class monitors etc.) We tried to have special events, publications, poems, activities that were fun and involving. I think we even tried to invent a "dance" for "Leap Day". Sometimes, the quadrennially celebrated Olympics, was one of our "events". I'd make sure and teach Summer School that year and have a wonderful theme with the Olympic Events for kids, and the the historical study of Greek Democracy/History, Greek Myths, drama. I once came dressed as "Socrates" in a long, flowing white toga and I did nothing all day but "ask questions" and "answer questions by asking questions"...the Socratic Method of learning. What fun and very frustrating to my students. Teaching, for me, was a "Performing Art". Here's hoping there are many more "leap seconds" for many more "leap years" of learning. Bob

Friday, January 06, 2006

Starstruck Dancers

Last night's "Dance-a-thon", the second annual, was "a kick" to watch. I could hardly keep from movin' and groovin' along with it. Betty and I just love this program and we were going to vote on-line this A.M. but found out it was too late. If we had voted: her first pick was going to be Drew and Cheryl, the top scorers. They were so precise and looked like a couple. My first choice: It would be a toss up between Stacy and Tony; the lady wrestler with 42" legs and Jerry Rice and Anna; with the hips that just would quit. We both like Geo. H. and Edyla just for sentimental reasons and he's a senior like us (my same age)and Lisa R. and her partner(?) for her grace and long legs and "Soapy memories". It will be interesting to see if our picks hold up and are popular...usually they are not.

My special attraction now is that, since my hip replacement, I haven't been able to really dance without "fear" of "pop-out" when I twist too much. Betty is very protective since she'd have trouble carrying me off the dance floor. We danced at the last Charity Ball but only briefly and sedately...no boogalooing. So, I still feel the rhythm and do alot of "virtual dancing" and keeping the beat mentally or with finger tapping etc. It drives Betty crazy. Believe me, "Not for public consumption!"

My dance roots go way back to elementary school with my "favorite partner" Marilyn Carriger. She was "my partner" afterschool at the square dancing recreation because "she was tall like me" We had the same step/stride and had alot of fun. I recently started communicating with her through out "class reunion" planning group efforts. We will probably see each other for the first time in 50 years next year at the reunion. Ought to be fun to share how our lives have gone, kids, grandkids, dancing partners(?) etc.

My next significant dancing experience was in Junior High Gym Class where we "had to learn to dance all the dances" once a week for a few months with randomly matched partners ie. we'd line up (girls and boys) and pair off, stand facing each other and wait for the instruction and music in the gym...maybe 50+ couples. You can imagine the "comments" and reluctance to "have to dance" with certain "girls" we didn't even want to touch. Of course there were a special one or two who we secretly hoped we would, by chance, be paired with because there was an "attraction", especially one particular girl who "tried" to hug you and had "developed" early...wow! The challenge then became to keep it under "control" since we had to wear our gym shorts and outfits, yes, both boys and girls. Talk about "Sweatin' with the Oldies". I think the teachers secretly liked, sadistically, to see some us, excruciatingly shy, panic and sweat.

I wan't allowed to attend my high school dances because of "our churches'/parent's beliefs" I think I got to go to one, a prom, in those three years. I had a cute partner, I can picture her, but can't remember her name. We double-dated 'cause I didn't have a car or access to one yet. I finally got the old family car when dad got a new one. My first dates were not to dances. No. "Big Saturdays" at the L.A. downtown church.(about missionaries). Only the Pasadena Freeway was my challenge then...dancing between the swirving cars and trying to erase the lipstick on the collar before my mom saw it.

College for the first two years was also a "church school" and there were no dances scheduled. We had Gym Jams though, they were fun. We had high jumping cheerleaders at games. But no dancing allowed. Choir singing and "gospel quartet touring". Just not the same as "dancing".

Since then, my wife and I have gone dancing several times mainly connected to weddings we were invited to. Rarely did/have we gone out just for dancing. It was connected to a dinner or banquet. We probably look good together, even still, but it just wasn't something we did because of our "up-bringing" What a shame. Our kids were allowed to go and usually chose not to.

When I taught Jr. Hi. one of our required "extracurricular duties" was to "chaperone dances in the gym" I actually enjoyed it and got into it. I preferred to be stationed outside to catch the "sneeker-offers" and because it wasn't so "hot and sweaty" outside. The gym was so jammed and "in-motion" collectively, that the walls would literally "sweat". Once, at the "Sadie Hawkins Dance" where the girls ask the boys, I was "Marryin' Sam" and the the couples lined up to get "mock married" I got into it, dressed the part, had a ball. Some couples were so "serious" too.

So you can see why I enjoy "Dancing with the Stars" in an "arm-chair" kind of way. A missed the proclivity and opportunity...oh what could've been...You see why I like to "Bob".

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Twelfth Night Eve

Out here in the West the evening preceding Epiphany is Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night marks the end of medieval Christmas festivities and the end of Twelfthtide (the 12-day season after Christmas ending with Epiphany). This twelfth night of the 12 Days of Xmas is the official end of the Winter Holiday Season and one of the traditional days for taking down the Christmas decorations. This is what my wife if doing right now. This year, many of the school districts delayed Xmas Vacation until the 23rd in order to have until the 6th off (tomorrow). Most of those kids went to Disneyland yesterday.

It is also a traditional day for "wassailing apple trees" in southern and western England. I wonder if this is also done here in Oak Glen, our local apple orchards. Revelers gather in orchards where they sing to the trees, drink to their health, pour hot cider over their roots and leave cider-soaked pieces of toast in their branches for the birds. They scare away "evil spirits" with great shouts and the firing of guns. What about those "hard cider spirits"?

The ancient Roman tradition of choosing the master of the Saturnalian Revels by baking a "good-luck bean" inside a cake was transferred to Twelfth Night. In Italy, the beans were hidden in focaccia rather than a cake; three white beans for the Magi and one black. Whoever found the black one was made king and could choose his queen and rule the banquet. In Sweden (and our family) an almond in hidden in the rice pudding for the lucky finder. They would "get married" or have a "new love" within the year. In colonial Virginia, a great Ball was held on this night. The king gets the "honor" of sponsoring the ball the following year; the queen the privilege of making next year's "Twelfth Night Cake". This must've been a real "slow" time of the year and "indoor sports" were favored.

So, Christmas celebrations have an exuberant encore. Jan. 6th, formally called Epiphany is the Day of the Three Kings or Three Wisemen. In Hispanic cultures it is El Dia de Los Tre Magis (I think) Hallmark introduced Spanish Language Three Kings Day Cards in the U.S. in 1998. It is also the name of a famous Shakespearean comedy: "Twelfth Night". Few people outside of what used to be New Orleans may be aware that T.N. is the first day of the celebration that ends in Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) preceding "Ash Wednesday" and Lent. I guess there are plans to have all this again in New Orleans and just have the parades etc. on different streets that are still there. There is one parade, by invitation only, called "Phunny Phorty Phellows Streetcar" ride. More than 40 "fellows" (girls too) pack a streetcar and pass around the traditional King Cakes, a sweet bread with a baby figurine baked inside. (watch out...oh my bridge work!) We love sweetbread with cardamom it.

Three Kings Day has one of its biggest celebrations in a small town in Puerto Rico call Juana Diaz about 70 miles from San Juan. The city almost doubles its population with reveler who asked to dress as shepherd or the wisemen: Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar. You can hire out these "wisemen" to places like Brooklyn, N.Y. for their Three Kings Day parade, Miami puts theirs off until the 15th, with Lilo and Stitch invited and Shaq as the grand marshall. San Juan Pueblo and Taos N. Mex. has honoree animals and performers clad in deer hides or buffalo heads.

So, I guess you can see how far "afield" these "traditional celebrations" go. It isn't just the "Fiddlers on the Roof" that have "TRADITIONS" !!! We all seem to love having them as "points of identity" and "caring about each other" Something to pass on. Bob

Turn out the lights, the party's over.

It was fun while it lasted. I enjoyed every minute of it...almost three years, 34 games, breaking all kinds of records and it all came down to 19 seconds and another college football team who just wouldn't give up. Yes, it was a "nail-biter" and my "second half team" who had come back and led by 12 points could not contain the long horn quarterback. Would he pass? Would he run? Would he scramble? He was "in-Vince-able" last night again in the Rose Bowl. The only "help" I think he had, other than a team who knew how to block for him running or passing was a "disputed" -lack of a call- in the first half when he lateraled from his knees and his team mate ran for a touchdown. A time out should've been called and a "video review" should have taken place. There were other "questionable calls" on both sides.

There were so many brilliant "team work" plays made by my Trojans and I think they don't need to feel ashamed. They were "putting it altogether" in the 3rd and 4th quarters with a multiple attack alternating between "up the middle" with LenDale, "around the ends" with Reggie and "pin-point passing" with several different receivers and Leinert. ie. the "hook-em horns" did just that on the Trojan's last touchdown when two defenders literally "rammed" into each other while Byrd(?) jumped high above them and stretched for the end zone. One went off with his arm in a splint. I think that "galvinized" Texas as a team and from then on they had a "mission". Bush's unsuccessful attempt to lateral was also another "turning point" in the eroding of the Trojan team confidence. Then, when they did get a touchdown, there was excessive "celebrating" on the side lines with all kinds of involved choreographic dances as though it was "won" or "over" and it really wasn't. I'm not going to say, "Pride cometh before..." but there is a taint of that "old saw".

What I liked and, I think, can be learned by all this "gamesmanship" is that my guys, "never gave up" and "Fought On!" which has been their motto and philosophy. Their conditioning was very evident late in the game when the other team's players were having to be subbed because of "cramps" and, I would guess, "fatigue". This all speaks to their "daily discipline" and physical training. It goes hand-in-mind with their "mental toughness" also. They had the confidence to keep trying, even though, at the end it was looking bleek ie. get in a position to kick a field goal and tie, but no, they tried to sping Bush loose...and he almost made it. "Almost" just isn't good enough for "National Championship" All "good things" must come to an end and at least it came (the end) in the ultimate bowl game...look out next year! They will be back...My Trojans, I mean. And so will their loyal supporters. Bob!

Monday, January 02, 2006


This New Year is certainly starting off differently here in southern California. I'm not one to give any credance to "omens" but RAIN and WIND on the Rose Parade? Come on, I thought they had a "deal" with God ie. "never on Sunday = never any inclement weather" It was brutal out there I'll bet. What a bunch of "troopers". As Raol Rodriguez said, (sic) "This is nothing compared to what Katrina and Tsunami victims went through." Of course they weren't "volunteers" either. Our hearts especially went out to Stephanie Edwards who was relagated to the stands with an umbrella and a soggy program. She kept her composure and her hair and mascara didn't even flinch. Whose decision was it to put her there and Bob and Michaela(?) in the rickety, tarp-covered(?) booth? By the end of the parade the stands were half empty and Stephanie was alone at street level. Enough of this "raging" over...time and demographics marching on. Flexibility, change, adjust or "pass and be forgotten with the rest".

Yes, that is from my latest favorite album/CD "Dragonfish" by the "Whiffenpoofs", a male a cappella group from Yale University...probably one of the oldest, on-going groups, with "fresh"-man talent every year. I learned their famous song, that ends every program of theirs, (The Whiffenpoof Song) when I started group singing in Jr. Hi. Our teacher loved this song and she made us memorize and sing it alot. It think it comes from WWII and a bunch of flight school pilots, getting drunk in a bar, near campus, before they fly off to...that "great commaraderie in the sky"? ..."and the magic of their singing casts it's spell...the songs we love so well...we will seranade ol' Louie while life and voice shall last...and we'll pass and be forgotten with the rest...we are poor little lambs who have lost our way...baa, baa, baa... little black sheep who have gone astray...gentleman songsters off on a spree, doomed from here to etenity, Lord, have mercy on such as we...baa, baa, baa. Having done my "duty" with the Naval Air, this was a tune I hummed a time or two.

And it is a "good thing" I don't believe in "gloomy predictions" for 2006 because that is what we had in a Press Enterprise article titled "A Future of Flux"- Gloomy predictions mix with bright - Dec. 30. Johanne Verville of Palm Springs, a psychic, says she has bought "earthquake insurance" for the first time. She accurately predicted the terrorist attacks in London and cancelled a group trip because of it. She recommends staying close to home (earthquake country) this next year and avoiding European destinations such as Italy and France because of the terror threat. "March 29's eclipse suggests an attempted terrorist attack on a place related to our national identity", said Anita Burns reading from her Tarot cards in Corona.

Good thing I'm a firm believer in "random probability"cause we've booked a cruise of the Greek Isles starting in Rome, Italy and ending in Istanbul, Turkey. It now has that extra-exciting element of "danger"...what a way to go... ;-) Bob!