Kay Ryan, poet laureate

I’m ashamed to say that I couldn’t have named America’s current poet laureate until today. Kay Ryan turned 63 today; I’ve been reading some of her work available online and quite enjoying it. Her work is often conversational like Billy Collins’s, but tends to be more spare, more focused, each poem trying to capture exactly one thing perfectly.

Great Thoughts

by Kay Ryan

Great thoughts
do not nourish
small thoughts
as parents do children.

Like the eucalyptus,
they make the soil
beneath them barren.

Standing in a
grove of them
is hideous.

It interests me that she teaches remedial English at college: I can scarcely imagine a more draining, discouraging field in education. Modern American poetry lives mostly in the academy, and in the upper reaches of MFA programs of top schools at that. Ryan’s poems are witty and musical, yet her other professional career involves people who struggle with basic written communication. To read more of her work, visit http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=80608.

Something needs to change

So tired. At first I was coping well with the job, but the long days are starting to wear on me. I’m away from home 11 hours a day minimum. The apartment is descending into chaos, I can’t focus to work on my friend Casey’s webpage, I don’t have the energy to exercise–I’m even having a hard time reading. Most of my days seem like a cycle of wake up, pour a little coffee down my throat, work (and I like the work fine), collapse in front of the computer and maybe watch a TV show, play some WoW or Civ4. That’s not enough of a life, and I want something to change–soon.

Pleaz to wir money

I got a letter today from this Secretary Paulson guy. He sounds really trustworthy–what do you think?

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

(source unknown; making the rounds of the Internet today)

An unsung pioneer

We just watched Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip, one of Ken Burns’s shorter documentaries. It recounts the story of Horatio Nelson Jackson, a Burlington doctor who made America’s first cross-country trip by car. He didn’t do it for money or publicity; Jackson was a car enthusiast who, in 1903, made a bet among gentlemen in San Francisco that he could drive from San Francisco to New York in 90 days. Two professional teams set off shortly after Jackson and Crocker (a chauffeur/mechanic), but the amateurs made it first, in just 63 days.

I was touched by the presence of Bud, their animal companion. Jackson seems like a pretty impulsive guy; at some point during this grueling trip over dirt roads in an unreliable car, he decided to buy a bulldog. He named it Bud, and Bud accompanied Jackson back to Vermont where he lived a full doggy life. Think about how lucky this dog was. He was the first dog to go on a proper road trip–30 miles an hour, head over the side, tongue hanging out, ears flapping in the breeze, staring at cattle or trees or farmers or birds or just nothing at all. Why has this not been made into a road movie yet? It’s got plucky amateurs against the big money candidates, danger from storms, deserts, cliffs, and hunger, two friends and a cute dog, colorful locals–everything! Plus, Bud got to wear dog goggles. Where the heck did they find dog goggles, anyway?

Redneck wedding!

When Frank Serio first came to visit me in Vermont, I met him at a gas station in town because directions to our apartment were hard to describe. There was maybe ten minutes between his calling me to say that he’d arrived and my showing up to greet him. His first words after the usual “So great to see you,” big hug, etc. was “Boy, they’ve got rednecks everywhere, don’t they?”

Yes. Yes they do.

Come for the moose, stay for the raping!

So as mayor, Sarah Palin decided that the town of Wasilla should stop paying for rape kits, the equipment hospitals use with possible sexual assault victims to establish evidence for police and prosecutors. This doesn’t even make sense if you’re a penny-pinching sexist asshole; if more sexual assaults can be reported and investigated, the courts can take more violent assholes off the streets. In reading about this scandal, I was surprised to discover that Alaska has the highest number of rapes per capita in the U.S. To defend the state against accusations that there’s nothing else for the ice truckers, fishery workers, and oil rig hands to do during the long months, I repost this imaginary entry from WyzardWhately of RPGNet.

Journal Entry #27:
Snowed in for over a month now. Have exhausted the possibilities of MSTing the stack of talking-animal Disney movies. Nobody can find the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzles. The ennui is hellish, like a living thing that smothers our every attempt at pretending normalcy. People told us it was a risk out here, but I never expected the raping to set in so fast. Last night, Dwayne raped the couch. Melissa raped the refrigerator. Chris has claimed, truthfully or not, to have spent the night up in the attic, trying to rape the abstract concept of loneliness. If he would have just ran Nobilis for us like we asked him to, we might never have come to such a pass. Johnny and Cindy can’t stand the sight of each other anymore, broke up, and now rape each other every night. Nothing has changed, except now they’re louder.

Understanding the economic crisis

I read some really insightful reporting this week. It predates the recent bank collapses, but it’s the best explanation I’ve read of how handing out mortgages to people who couldn’t make payments is crashing the world’s economy. It was an episode of the wonderful radio show¬†This American Life broadcast back in May. Reporters spoke with bankers, mortgage brokers, economists, and home buyers about a chain of events that began with unprecedented money flowing to developing countries and is now bringing world stock markets to their knees. The episode costs a bit to download, but you’ll see a small link marked “Download a transcript” that’s free. Available here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1242.

Collide for great justice!

Every high-profile science project draws detractors: the Hubble telescope, the Human Genome Project, the Space Shuttle program, space travel itself, etc. Last week though, I heard some comments about the Large Hadron Collider that really stumped me. The arguments followed one two lines:

1) We have serious problems with hunger, thirst, disease, and poverty in the world. Those $5 billion could better be spent solving those problems. This is a well-worn sentiment, based on some flawed assumptions, but at least arguable. A few billion dollars’ worth of food aid would indeed make an immediate impact on life in developing countries. Problem is, that’s true of absolutely everything we spend money on, every time we spend it. I feel a duty to contribute and help lift people out of poverty; I do not feel compelled to devote every penny and every minute to doing so.

2) Why are we wasting money satisfying the whims and curiosities of a few elite scientists? This is the one that leaves me flummoxed. The Large Hadron Collider is designed to crash narrow beams of particles into each other at incredibly high speeds. As a guy, I find this unspeakably cool. It’s frickin’ particle beams that carries the energy of an aircraft carrier steaming at full speed, only packed into the space the size of your pinky finger. And then you shoot ’em into each other! Awesome! I can’t think of a way I’d rather have my tax money spent. (Strictly speaking, this was mostly European tax money, not mine.) But more than that, the point of the experiment is to create subatomic particles not seen since the Big Bang. Who knows what that could tell us about the birth of the universe? I’ll say that again: the birth of the UNIVERSE. This universe, where everything we know and love comes from: Earth, puppies, the Beatles, Frances of Assisi, Virginia Woolf. Seems to me that we should try to learn all we can about it.