March 2006


Mardi Gras and Thoughts Turn To The “Titmeister”

In the aftermath of Katrina, you might have thought that they would have called off the party, given that—not only have 1,000 died, but that 2,000 still remain missing. But then again, we don’t know New Orleans; we have only been visitors. And our thoughts turn to one such visit at Mardi Gras, just three years ago.

A business trip…a group of associates…three in the morning…we pick up the narrative from our journal:

March 7, 2003
Friday 2:55pm
New Orleans, LA

“…walking down the dying streets, a gregarious black man on a bike—calls to us. Next thing you know, he and I are crooning old “Platters”. Then… “Up On The Roof.” He then does a solo of “Amazing Grace”… that takes your breath away! He’s tipped well. As a token to me, his partner in harmony and song, he offers his neck ware: beads and plastic “titties”. He drapes them about my neck with these words: ‘You the “Titmeister!’”

This tacky adornment, so quintessentially politically incorrect, still sits in an upper drawer among our things. And we cannot help but wonder, if the “Titmeister” —a name we have since transferred to him having not gotten his real name— is among that 1,000, or among that 2,000. We say a small prayer that he is still out there in the wee hours of the morning, riding his bike, in search of tourists and two-part harmony.


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A Mother Lode of Mummies

The following newswire popped up on line at the CNN website Thursday, February 9, 2006: 7:31 p.m. EST (00:31 GMT):

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – The first tomb to be discovered in the Valley of the Kings since Tut’s in 1922, contains five sarcophagi with mummies, breaking the nearly century long belief that there’s nothing more to find in the valley where some of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs were buried.

As to why we don’t give a flying tut about this veritable mother lode of mummies, might best be conveyed in a poem we wrote way back in the ancient days of MMIII.


An Open Letter To Archeology

Call off the digging;
you have found too much.
The dazzle— pebble by pebble— is dying.
Even the mummies have become humdrum.

You have unearthed one
clay pot too many
so that even our Dixie cups have come
to seem so quaint and wisely waxed

and sized as they are
with their one pure sip
of the water of life:
no frills; no spills; we down our pills.

And then there’s that one more spoon so ornate
with its moment engraved from an unknown age
that leaves us numb to artifact and yawning
in the face of a civilization dawning.

Our coffee stirrers seem more poignant;
swizzle sticks, fuller in spirit, so to speak.
And pull down those tapestries adorning the walls—
their unicorns romping in a fenced-in field—

in their numbers they seem factory spun.
My mother a seamstress in a sweat shop once
if inclined, no doubt, could have turned out facsimiles.
Next thing you know, we just know, you’ll be finding

a garment enwrapped about some bones:
“My Daddy fought
in The Peloponnesian War
and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”

And how much more statuary
minus nose and/or penis
must we see before the novelty
of erosion has eroded away?

No, you have found too much.
Call off the digging.
We get what we once were about
but what must we become?




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Six Blades In Search of The Ultimate Shave

You would have thought that by this time, we as a human species, the discoverers of DNA, developers of the Internet, travelers to the moon and back, cloners of sheep and masters of the universe— one of us so brilliant as to determine that E=mc² —should have once and for all found… the ultimate shave.

You would have thought that long ago, we would have solved the problem as to how to remove every last follicle of “five-o’clock-shadow,” without the slightest physical or psychological discomfort. But no. Apparently not. And the quest goes on.

Gillette, the leader in this field of foam; obsessive-compulsive in this search, now asks the world to consider:

a new battery micro-pulsing powered shaving system, consisting of five parallel PowerGlide© blades in front…one trimmer in back—   

 Is there no end to this madness that all began, sanely enough, when in 1901 King C. Gillette started his company on the strength of a EUREKA moment he had had six years prior: a razor with a safe, inexpensive, and disposable blade.

Innovations thereafter came slowly, only to begin their rapid acceleration in the early 70’s. Here are some of the major breakthroughs by Gillette in the past 105 years

  • Safety razor (Gillette Safety Razor 1901)
  • Razor designed specifically for women (Milady Décolletée, 1916)
  • Razor dispenser (1946)
  • Stainless Steel blades (Super Stainless, 1963)
  • Double-blade razor (Trac II, 1971)
  • Disposable double-blade razor (Good News!, 1971)
  • Razor with a pivot point (Atra, 1977)
  • Razor with a lubricating strip (Atra Plus, 1985)
  • Razor with spring-loaded blades (Sensor, 1990)
  • Razor with microfins (Sensor Excel, 1995)
  • Razor with three blades (Mach 3, 1998)
  • Razor with battery power (M3Power, 2004 note: is this not an admission that electric shavers are better after all?)
  • Razor with five blades (Fusion, 2006)
  • Razor with rear trim blade (Fusion, 2006)

Where will it all end?

How many blades is one too many?

How much innovation is too much innovation?

And when, or do, you reach a point where there literally is no longer room, for even a whisker of improvement? (You cannot cut yourself shaving these days, if you try. And we have. Tried).

And then of course, there’s this; the implicit existential question begging to be asked before the bathroom mirror:

If we cannot even find the ultimate shave,
how can we ever expect to find the ultimate
meaning of life? (Not to mention God?)

But in the meantime, and until enlightenment strikes us dead, we bought this new Fusion thing. And you know what? It ain’t bad.


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Random Patterns? Not So Oxymoronic!

Perhaps nothing personifies randomness more than those classical abstractions of Jackson Pollack.

Not only can’t we decipher any real pattern in the end result, but given the known means to that end—the tossing of industrial paint through the air from cans or brushes that never even come in contact with the canvas— we are convinced of our position: that of Randomness with a capital “R”.

Have a look below at Autumn Rhythm (No. 30) which he “painted” in 1950.

Frankly, we would have been inclined to entitle it something along the lines of “Toothpaste Rhythm (with Tartar Control)”, but we are not painters—oils nor “house.” Nor are we computers.

Ah, computers.

Bless their little absence of heart, for they were able to identify consistent patterns in the above, as well as in several other of Pollack’s so called “drip paintings.” This then enabled a physics professor and an art historian, working in tandem, to prove that recently discoveries of unknown Pollack’s,” — when compared with those that are known and computer-analyzed— were fakes! “Elementary, Dr. Watson!”

Of course, no one is contending that Jackson Pollack ever tried to produce any sort of readable patterns in his work. But it does suggest that patterns, though often unintentional, are perhaps inherent in many forms of human expression. Or not so Human Expression? If you get our drip…er, drift.

And that only now, with the development of new technologies, are we beginning to discover patterns where once we saw only randomness? So maybe following our despair over the aforementioned “shaving quest”, there is hope after all?


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All Politics Aside… Politics Can’t Always Be Put Aside

For the most part, we try to stay out of “hard core” political stories and issues in this venue. When political commentary does creep in here, it’s usually connected or interwoven in some way, to the arts or literature we’ve run across: a Jasper Johns painting (The Map)…Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”… architecture that may have jumped out at us, like The Viet Nam and World War II Memorials… etc.

And we‘d like to state right here in response to some comments received following the piece on Ted Kennedy last month, that that was not about politics. We were satirizing the behavior of a man who just happens to be a politician. We would have been all over O.J., an ex-jock, or Scott Peterson, an ex-fertilizer salesman, if either of these gentlemen had ventured into writing a book for kids. (Ick!)

But we digress.

To get to the crux of the matter, this story about these now infamous “Danish cartoons,” is just too troubling to pass without some comment.

Curse those dastardly Danes! And perhaps “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

But please, boycott Miller Beer. Stop reading Hans Christian Andersen to your kids. Give up the Danish with your morning coffee at Starbucks, if you must.

We dare say that setting fire to embassies and consulates and killing people in the process, is more than a tad beyond the spirit of “an eye-for-an-eye” and of course, not even in the ballpark of “turning the other cheek.”

At this point, much has been written about this situation. But perhaps one of the most interesting perspectives we’ve read on this foreboding state of affairs, concerns the fallout of all this on America’s sense of freedom and fair play. It was written by Tim Rutten in his LA Times column Regarding Media (Saturday, February 11, 2006). We offer the opportunity to read this lengthy piece in its entirety, to appreciate all the interesting things he has to say on the matter (L.A. Times: Main News,0,7556376.column?coll=la-news-columns).

But the fundamental point he makes, is clear and crucial:

that the American press has declined to show these “blasphemous” cartoons to the public (the better for people to gauge the offense for themselves) NOT out of a sense of religious sensitivities, but out of fear of reprisal.

For if it is the former, to quote him directly:

“…a great opportunity to prove the point (on religious sensitivities) is coming. A major American studio, SONY will release…The Da Vinci Code.”

When we commented a year ago, of the passions this movie was likely to generate (March, 2005 newsletter, we of course had no idea that a whole new context would be laid on top of this already smoldering piece of fiction that unflinchingly depicts Catholic conspiracies, monkish murder and Vatican vendettas.

Therefore, Mr. Rutten goes on to ask:

“…should newspapers and television networks refuse to accept advertising for this film since plainly that would be promoting hate speech? Will our editors and executives declare their revulsion at the very thought of profiting from bigotry?

“Naaaaww. It won’t happen…”

The Vatican response to the book last year, was predictable. They urged their followers not to buy it. But they did NOT urge anyone, TO SET FIRE TO DAN BROWN’S HOUSE. This is no small distinction.

Now if it is the latter, that is to say, fear of reprisal that renders our media mute, then the takeaway can only be: we are losing in this War (Battle? Struggle? Conflict? Contest?) on Terrorism!

This is not a slam against President Bush. Nor is it about being a Republican or Democrat; Federalist or neo-Bull Moose Party member; or a This or a That. It is about being an American. An “unhyphenated” American at that.

You cannot measure “victory” just in terms of preventing another World Trade Center from happening. Nor in terms of the apparent success of our bombing might. (Remember “Mission accomplished”?)

Nor can victory be read in how well or badly things are going in Bagdad on any given day. This is not a baseball pennant race.

You cannot judge victory by elections over there, but on its impact on Democracy over here. And last time we looked, freedom of speech was a pretty important component to our system of government and way of life, albeit realizing that that freedom can sometimes offend.

Of course every news outlet (save one according to Mr. Rutten) is denying that they are acting—or non-acting in this case—out of fear. But Mr. Rutten, in taking his own paper to task, doesn’t believe them. And neither do we. Historical inconsistencies abound. Have we not seen Jesus Christ spoofed six ways to Easter Sunday in our media and culture?

Given the double whammy of fear and more importantly, lying about fear, we can only conclude, most unfortunately, that the terrorists are winning.


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