We’re Old Dogs and We Don’t Like Change

Newer coffee bars emulate Italy’s, where one downs an espresso in three sips while standing at the counter and then leaves.  In my 20 or so days in Italy over the past two years I saw not one person sitting at an espresso bar table working on a laptop.  The linked NY Times article reports that recently-opened coffee bars in NYC feature counters and chest-high tables, no chairs, to get away from what one cafe owner calls “the home office away from home.”  Every morning I meet friends at a local Starbucks.  It’s a typical Starbucks, with tables, chairs (hard-seat and upholstered), and regulars who use it as an office.  Two weeks ago it closed for renovations.  The initial plans did not include tables.  The baristas, who know our habits and needs, told the architect they could not get rid of the tables, no doubt picturing our confusion as we milled aimlessly about like dogs whose favorite sleeping pillows have been thrown out.  The tables were restored to the plans.


Maine’s weather this summer has been spectacular, until a few days ago.  Blue skies, warm sunshine, and cool nights were pushed aside by a low-pressure front with gray rain-spitting clouds blanketing the sky.  The 8:30 am temperature is a damp 60 degrees. Summer isn’t over–this weekend’s forecast is “sunshine and nice”–but autumn is edging into the mix.  No complaints.  I just want a few more days of the good stuff.

Cultural Chasm II

From a NYTimes Week in Review article titled “Crime (Sex) and Punishment (Stoning)“:

Stoning is not practiced only among Muslims, nor did it begin with Islam . . . The Old Testament includes an episode in which Moses arranges for a man who violated the Sabbath to be stoned, and stoning probably took place among Jewish communities in the ancient Near East. Rabbinic law, which was composed starting in the first century A.D., specifies stoning as the penalty for a variety of crimes, with elaborate instructions for how it should be carried out. But it is not clear to what extent it was used, if ever . . .

Stoning is not prescribed by the Koran. The punishment is rooted in Islamic legal traditions, known as hadiths, that designate it as the penalty for adultery. While the penalty may seem savage to Western eyes, scholars say it is consistent with the values of Arabian society at the time of Muhammad, Islam’s founding prophet. Adultery “was considered to offend some of the fundamental purposes of Islamic law: to protect lineage, family, honor and property,” said Kristen Stilt, an associate professor at Northwestern University who has written about Islamic law. “It was a tribal society, and knowing who children belonged to was very important.”

That may help explain the link between sexual crimes and stoning, as opposed to another form of execution. A crime that seemed to violate the community’s identity called for a communal response.

Some scholars . . . argue that the stoning penalty is meant more as a symbolic warning against misbehavior than as a punishment to be taken literally.


From the NYTimes article “Students, Welcome to College; Parents, Go Home,” about the difficulty of separating “Velcro parents” from their over-protected offspring:

At Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., a mother and father once went to their daughter’s classes on the first day of the semester and trouped to the registrar’s office to change her schedule.

The registrar’s office employees all required treatment for injuries related to eye-rolling.

As Mona Lisa Vito said in My Cousin Vinny, “dere’s moah!”  The article mentioned a parent who “had read books about the stages of grief” to deal with her son starting college.  Seriously?  She read On Death and Dying and its progeny, and admits it without embarrassment?  This article makes me feel like we raised our children 50 years ago, not ten.

Right-Wing Nonsense

The “ground zero mosque” controversy is a case study in media manipulation of public opinion.  The very name “ground zero mosque” is intended to mislead–it is a cultural center modeled on Jewish Community Centers across the country with a room for prayer and would be two blocks away from the World Trade Center site in a “busy and diverse city district.” If the issue is one of respect for those killed at the WTC on 9/11, what respect is shown by the presence, also within a few blocks of the WTC, of the New York Dolls Gentlemen’s Club, Thunder Lingerie, and the Pussycat Lounge?  Why don’t the cultural center’s opponents excoriate the owners of these establishments?  Because  respect for 9/11 victims is not really their point.  The cultural center generated little heat when the New York Times ran a story about its development last December.  Laura Ingraham even gave it her blessing while guest-hosting the O’Reilly Report on Fox.  Salon reports the wave of opposition was pushed by virulently anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, picked up months later by the New York Post, and trumpeted for political ends, fear mongering, and anti-Islam propaganda by the same right-wing blowhards who preach that Obama is, in fact, a Muslim.  It is a cynical and disgusting display of what is wrong with our present discourse.

Sunset Story

A Maine neighbor recently said there were vestibular bats roosting at her house.  “Vestibular?”  It’s her idiosyncratic locational, not species, description.  The bats hang upside down in her vestibule in the middle of the night, resting and digesting for a while before flying off for another meal.  On the dock for tonight’s twilight swim I discovered umbrellic bats (bumbershootal bats for Anglophiles).  The lake, completely calm, reflected a reddish-orange band of light filtered through the low clouds on the horizon.  Entranced by the sunset I did not initially register the nearby squeaks.  They persisted, I heard them, and knew bats to be their source.  Two market umbrellas on the dock are the only places a bat could hide; the squeaks came from the larger umbrella on the right.  I loosened its ties, slowly spread its ribs, and looked inside.  A furry brown knot perched at the top of the pole, a short distance from the umbrella’s highest vents.  It was difficult to distinguish the knots features but it looked to contain at least two bats.  I did not want to disturb it further, gently closed the umbrella, and sat with one eye watching the sunset and the other watching for the bats to crawl from beneath the canvas.  Ten minutes later the sun was down.  Despite many squeaks from within the umbrella no bat emerged.  I tired of waiting and returned to the house.

Cultural Chasm

Remember the chill you felt the first time you read The Lottery by Shirley Jackson?  I experienced some of that from reading this article in yesterday’s New York Times:  In Bold Display, Taliban Order Stoning Deaths:

The Taliban on Sunday ordered their first public executions by stoning since their fall from power nine years ago, killing a young couple who had eloped . . . The couple eloped when the man was unable to persuade family members to allow him to marry the young woman. She was engaged to marry a relative of her lover, but was unwilling to do so, according to Mr. Khan.

The couple eloped to Kunar Province, in eastern Afghanistan, sbut family members persuaded them to return to their village, promising to allow them to marry. (Afghan men are legally allowed to marry up to four wives). Once back in Kunduz, however, they were seized by the Taliban, who convened local mullahs from surrounding villages for a religious court.

After the Taliban proclaimed the sentence, Siddiqa, dressed in the head-to-toe Afghan burqa, and Khayyam, who had a wife and two young children, were encircled by the male-only crowd in the bazaar. Taliban activists began stoning them first, then villagers joined in until they killed first Siddiqa and then Khayyam, Mr. Khan said. No women were allowed to attend, he said.

Mr. Khan estimated that about 200 villagers participated in the executions, including Khayyam’s father and brother, and Siddiqa’s brother, as well as other relatives, with a larger crowd of onlookers who did not take part. “People were very happy seeing this,” Mr. Khan maintained, saying the crowd was festive and cheered during the stoning. The couple, he said, “did a bad thing.”

I keep reading the last two sentences.  “People were very happy seeing this,” Mr. Khan maintained, saying the crowd was festive and cheered during the stoning. The couple, he said, “did a bad thing.” You might observe that the event described is on the end of the same grisly continuum as the old U.S. custom of public hangings.  I would agree, and say public hangings as a festive social event also similarly repulsive.  Repulsive, because I share the same gene pool with the cheering rock-throwers.

Weather Report

80 degrees, sunny, mild humidity . . . 82 degrees, sunny, dry . . . 73 degrees, sunny, very dry . . . 80 degrees, sunny, very dry . . . night-time temperatures from low 50s to low 60s, perfect for sleeping . . . no rain . . . lake temperature about 78 degrees . . . each morning we have coffee on the deck and savor the unfolding of another perfect day on the lake.

There’s Always a First Time

Yesterday I submitted to the SMG Copy Center all three fall-semester course packets. They are not due at the Copy Center until next Monday, so their early delivery is noteworthy in itself.  More noteworthy is that for the first time since I started teaching full-time in 1999 I finished all my course packets before the first class of the semester.  I’ve not outgrown the need for deadlines, I just focused on a different event for motivation.  We are spending the next eleven days, and most of August, in Maine.  I’m treating myself–and Judy–to a course-prep-free month.  I worked like crazy to wrap everything, and emailed PDFs of my course packets to the Copy Center because I couldn’t print everything before the Center closed at  5 pm, but I left for Maine moments after pushing send.  Now, a day later, memories of my frenetic preparation are fading.