Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Trumped news

New York City lost its news to trivia again.

I'll grant that a man climbing Trump Tower without permission is newsworthy. But I was surprised that more than half an hour of the local news was taken up with this. AND I WAS APPALLED THAT THE national NEWS WAS PREEMPTED on all three major networks in NYC!

According to a poll released today, one in five Republicans want Trump to drop out!  But New York City residents who get their news by ABC, CBS, or NBC didn't hear about it on their news tonight.

Under-covered recent news includes complicated election process allegations, loose nukes, historic wildfires & floods.

What are our priorities?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Nature and shopping

Yesterday I "spent" most of the day window shopping, online, alone. I'm not going to say that I'm holier than thou because today I walked through a park and noticed motionless turtles on a log. I'm not going to say that window shopping is "bad" because, frankly, browsing books that I could not afford to buy did honor my love of antiquariana, if that's a word.

Thankfully, I don't have to choose between spending time online googling out of print bibliographies and walking through the park, because I'm not sure I could choose between them. I'd like to think that I'd choose nature, but I don't want to dishonor my appreciation of century old ephemera, either.

What I do regret is the fact that I spent almost the whole day online. Okay, I only sort of regret it.

As Jennifer Michael Hecht said in a recent talk, we force ourselves out of the house.
This morning I was tempted to stay home, but I forced myself out.

I'm glad I did today. I'm glad I saw people, I'm glad I walked through the park.
Window shopping was wonderful in one way, but how do you compare the "wow" of an old human made object --however interesting or beautiful--- to the wonder of seeing a turtle decide to sun itself, or decide to go back into the water?

In the park I walked on grass ---not concrete, not indoor carpet or wood, but grass---- and it reminded me of when I was a little girl. How many cryptology bibliographies is THAT worth? Yesterday I discovered that an 1864 Davenport Brothers broadside is available cheaply in reprint. How does that excitement, of yesterday, compare to making an acquaintance laugh, in person, which I did today? A century old trade card to a watching a real live bird, in the park, hopping right nearby?

I'm not saying I won't eat pumpkin pie, I'm saying that vegetables can taste good too. Movies AND books, time with people and solitary time. Even classic black and white movies had gray, too.

And, yes, Nature _and_ Shopping.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Magic, conjuring, escape?

When I saw magician David Copperfield on Broadway, each of the last three numbers earned a standing ovation. "Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants" was called the hottest ticket in town by a leading New York newspaper--and with reason. The New York Times called magician Peter Samelson "a soft spoken conceptualist of sorcery."

I'm not saying that magic tricks often reach such heights. I am saying that in the hands of a skilled performer, magic _can_ be artistic.

Or powerful: how many entertainers have the half-life of Houdini? A recent TV series, comic book, novel, biography, and the occasional newspaper headline about someone escaping "like a Houdini." Pretty good for someone who's been dead for ninety years. (I'm a fan of the website "wild about houdini dot com by John Cox, who works hard and writes clearly about Houdini in the past and present).

Or useful: consider that Houdini exposed fake spiritualists. Imagine going to a seance hoping to contact a dead loved one. In mourning. Desperate. How heartless of a fake medium to take advantage of such grief! (Some mediums supported Houdini's efforts: better to route out the fake ones).

Or do a youtube search on Peter Popoff and James Randi. Popoff implied that God was allowing him to read people's minds, and used this as evidence that he had the power to heal people's cancer. He told people to throw away their medicine! Randi discovered that Popoff was using a radio transmitter to have someone backstage communicate with him. "I discovered two things about God that I hadn't known before", Randi joked, "One was that she was a woman, the other was that she sounded a lot like Popoff's wife!" Randi used his knowledge of magic tricks to expose a heartless scam.

Or consider the con game of three playing cards, a fast talking guy with fast hands, and a wager that you can track one of the cards. As entertainment, it may be fun. As a con, it parts suckers from their money. In AARP magazine, and in Stars and Stripes newspaper, magicians have exposed it, and other card cheating, as a public service.

Whether you like magic shows might depend on how good the magician is, or the style of magic: like music, there are many ways to be a magician: big tricks or small tricks, straight forward or artsy, funny persona or serious persona. Criss Angel is a goth daredevil magician, Lance Burton's original act was done to classical music and performed in a tuxedo.

But well done magic, regardless of the style, teaches us a very important lesson: we can be fooled. This can be fun-- a sense of pretend--- or not. An unskilled magician can do something we can't explain. A skilled magician can do something that seems unexplainable. The latter's a gift! If we can see the impossible, right before our eyes, even though we were staring at it, that means that we can be deceived even when we are on alert for trickery. And we know that, in the larger society, politicians and advertisers never ever try to deceive us, right?

But enough of this "magic can be important" argument. I'd like to stop typing, relax and watch some fun magic, taken into a world of fantasy where, as Eugene Berger puts it, "that which is broken can be made whole again". It's only pretend, but pretend can be fun.

Entertainment magic, performance magic, can be done badly, in public. But if you don't like the performance you just saw, consider that it might be the performer, or the style.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Surprising chicks

People and birds have surprised me.

Imagine sitting in a park that does not have enough trees, but does have a river view. Imagine watching the tides, another park goer on a green wooden slatted bench reading a newspaper, an occasional bird. My friend ate a muffin and tossed the muffin wrapper on the ground! Litter. But wait: a bird  began pecking at the crumbs stuck to the wrapper, and another bird joined it, and then another. The birds were the size of an egg, brown, and didn't walk so much as hop.

Then one bird grabbed the muffin wrapper in its beak, and flew several inches away with it! "I want it, I want it!" I imagined it saying as the other birds scattered, then came back. Their whole body would tilt forward as they pecked, then they would bob back up. Occasionally one would blink an eye! I stared. Then, disaster struck: the wind flipped the muffin wrapper over. The little brown birds pecked, but the crumbs weren't accessible any more.

What to do?

The birds wandered, the birds came back, looked at the upside down wrapper, dumbstruck.

I was surprised by how much joy I felt at seeing them finally flip the wrapper, gleefully pecking again. Then another bird grabbed the wrapper in its beak, and flew maybe a foot with it. This time the others did not hesitate to follow, but the new spot was under the railing. With each peck, the wrapper shifted position slightly, now partly overlapping the water. It felt like "The Perils of Pauline": would the wrapper fall to the river? But it was saved, as the birds pecked the paper further away from the water, away from the railing, and then they---

Then the birds dragged the paper behind a bench, and I couldn't see the drama anymore. I was surprised by how disappointed I was.

People I expect to like, but when I went to a new support group meeting, I felt like a "chick" (forgive the pun) out of place: in opening introductions I heard nothing I could relate to, and a bit that I disliked. One of them said something I would never say, another wore something I would never wear, a third I can't even describe my reaction to.

You can guess the punchline: I was tempted to drop out of the group,  gave it one more chance, and, could barely believe that I was feeling connected to the experiences of the ladies who, on the surface, I had so little in common with. I'm looking forward to the next meeting.

Whether it's as trivial as birds being fascinating, or as important as a support group, I've been pleasantly surprised recently.

If only I could remember this the next time I'm bored, or the next time something that might be "good for me" is a little uncomfortable. Maybe I'll start that diet the day after tomorrow, I mean next month.