Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Touch Me, Please

An article in yesterday's USA Today, states:

A new study from researchers in Utah finds that a warm touch — the non-sexual, supportive kind — tempers stress and blood pressure, adding to a growing body of research on how emotions affect health.
To which, all I could think of to say was, "Well, duh."

I have seen people holding everything inside let it go like a dam bursting because someone finally took their hand and looked into their eyes and said, "It's okay. I understand. I'm here for you." And it wouldn't have been the same without the touch. Touching--gently, firmly, calmly, reassuringly--says to a person, "I am willing to connect with you. I am not afraid of you. You needn't be afraid of me. It will be okay."

Of course, there can be too much touching, and there can be unwelcome touching, and I would never encourage anyone uncomfortable with touching to do so. There was more to Spock's Vulcan mind-meld than Roddenberry likely knew-- touch someone and they will know things about you, and you will know things about them. And for that reason, I'd never encourage anyone uncomfortable with human contact to go on a touching spree anytime soon. Anxiety is just as transmissible as calm through touch.

But calm is transmissible. Our souls can resonate with another like a guitar string next to a tuning fork. And to those whose natural pitch is calm, I would say, you are welcome to touch me anytime. The luckiest of us know someone like that and can't get enough of being near them. They touch us and the jangled dissonance of our stressed out psyches falls into sympathetic tune.

This is a case, I would say, of research merely quantifying what most of us already knew. Modernity and science "discovering" what many have known all along. Those many are called "touchy-feely" for a reason you know.

Or, as my favorite tuning fork remarked when I pointed out the study, "We're all really just mammals at heart."

So go ahead. Scratch my head and just see if I don't wag my tail.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Snopes This

Oh, but to stop the world a week or two. A month and I'd be caught up, and swear to stay that way for the rest of my life. But, alas . . .

There'll be light blogging ahead. I'll be on the road this weekend, flying halfway cross the country to see my youngest perform on stage. Yay!

Meanwhile, though I know half or more of my readers I likely share with my cousin anyway, I want to point the few of you who may not be regular readers of Enrevanche to this post. If I had but time, I'd write a fictional snopes.com analysis to go with it. Enjoy.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rap Translated

I suspect this is what happens when English professors have too much time on their hands (of course, the only time that's possible is when they're unemployed).

http://view.break.com/569516 - Watch more free videos

Hat tip: Chap

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hanlon's Razor

Over at Enrevanche, cousin Barry has finally explained, in today's post, why I've felt Murphy was sniping at me from a Saruman's tower. The proposition is that I've been mistaking a confederacy of dunces for supernatural Irish marksmanship. Maybe. I'll still give Murphy credit for orchestrating the confluence of so many for whom the Peter Principle seems to have been no impediment whatsoever.


Other than astonishment at my own age, I did come away from that AF birthday celebration the other day with something interesting. Likely I misheard, but I like the way I heard it so I'm going to share. The guest speaker was challenging a roomful of future officers to get out from behind their future desks and mingle with the troops. And especially not to hide behind a computer and command through e-mail.

I think what she said was that "you have to do more than communicate like that," but what I heard was "you have to do more than computercate like that." If that is what she said, then she's on the cutting edge of language--the Webster's Online definition of the word is barely two months old.

Either way, I like it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cheerwine: "The Nectar of North Carolina"

I managed, in a 27-yr Air Force career, to be stationed in or next door to North Carolina for ten of those years. The other 17 were split between Colorado and California. During the 10 years in Colorado, I used to get my "southern fix" in a couple of different ways, largely with the help of my Dad. Sometimes he just made sure when I was packing up to drive back from a visit that I wasn't forgetting essentials. Other times, he would ship those essentials to me. Essentials, in this case, translates to cases of Cheerwine and gallon jars of Duke's mayonnaise--two of the first things to enter my fridge in the new place here on the SC coast.

So, I thought it worth noting that there were two articles in the hometown paper Thursday about the soft drink I grew up considering a natural part of the world. The first regards "a new branding, packaging and marketing campaign" and the second tells us that, "Cheerwine has taken a foothold in New York City."

I couldn't help but smile at both of these. I could smile because it doesn't sound, for now at least, as if the company is trying to make itself into anything new. Rather, it sounds as though they're wisely attempting to do a better job of marketing what Cheerwine has always been. The article's quote from the company's CEO pretty much nails it: "Those who know and love Cheerwine have always connected the brand to simple and relaxed times, hanging out, eating Southern barbecue and being laid back." So long as they don't mess with that, I don't expect too many people will get bent out of shape about new packaging. It's changed before.

And that image of what Cheerwine is really all about is why I also had to smile at the second article. I recently had a series of conversations with several friends about the difference between Yankees and damned Yankees. You can't really fault a person for the geography of his or her birth. But you can sure fault them for their attitude, blue and grey alike. I have good friends who are Yankees; damned Yankees give me a fairly wide berth.

Here's why. Throughout my sojourns into over a dozen foreign countries through the years, I've tried, everywhere I've gone, not to be the obnoxious American (I'd have said Yankee here, but it might have muddied my point, despite the upsetting behavior being pretty much the same in either case). I've tried to make it clear that I've been interested in learning about the culture of the place I was visiting, in occasionally immersing myself in that culture, in appreciating it for its own values and pace. I have tried, studiously, to avoid giving any impression that I expected that culture to conform to my values, my pace, my concept of the shape the world should hold. I have tried, tried consciously, carefully, consistently, not to be a "damned Yankee."

I've noticed, especially now that I'm back here in the land of y'all somewhat permanently I hope, that some of these people are noticeable before they say a word. They wear an expression much as if someone had just waved a teenager's unwashed sneaker under their nose a good month into gym class. They hate it here. The pace irritates them. The culture we treasure, they revile. They cannot understand why, if the North won the war over a century ago, the South should remain so utterly foreign a place to them. They want quick service, they don't want to know how you're doing, and would rather you didn't ask about them. Their desire, their expectation even, is that we should have been just like them by now. On the whole, they are a good example of the very things that make the stereotypical obnoxious American abroad obnoxious. They are, if you think about it, a good example of some of the most misguided features of American policy abroad: the inappropriate drive, not to thoroughly understand a foreign culture and work within it to emphasize the better qualities, but to reshape it wholesale toward an American model. I'm well aware that we don't always get it this wrong, but on the whole, I think we far too frequently do.

But, I digress. My point is simple. The war goes on folks, never doubt it. It's not for real estate now though. It's for hearts and minds. The culture is both the battleground and the prize. And in that war, food is one of our main weapons. So when I read in that second article:

Brother Jimmy's Barbecue, which has six restaurants in New York, has begun offering Cheerwine with its traditional North Carolina-style barbecue and hush puppies. 'We have finally brought the nectar of Carolina to New York City,' said Jim Goldman, an owner and founder of Brother Jimmy's BBQ.
I couldn't help but smile. I had to smile at Brother Jimmy's slogan too: "Put Some South in Yo Mouth." Yeah! Take that ya'll.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Coming Crash

Cormac McCarthy was right when he said in Suttree: "There are no absolutes in human misery and things can always get worse."

I've been saying for some time that, economically, things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better. Part of that has been a carry over of a general sense I had, and have commented on before, that this year, the world as we know it, was going to change. Not a small change, but a major shift on its axis, the kind that leaves us measuring time in a new way: before the change, and after. It's not a personal shift I have in mind, but a shift for all humanity. It will feel personal, very personal. But our personal perception of it will only be a part of something larger.

I've been speaking from the gut, from personal experience, from a strange sense of foreboding and little else. Over at Enrevanche, Barry posted a piece in toto by someone qualified to speak on the economy from more than his gut.

If you need to keep your head in the sand in order to avoid despair, then don't read this. If you believe that knowing what's coming doesn't really make it any worse, if you're committed to seeing the crisis through to the other side by simply putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, then, by all means, read it.

We look back on history and we wonder how some of the worst things could have been allowed to happen. Where were the good Germans during the Holocaust? Why didn't someone stand up to Joe McCarthy sooner? How was the massacre in Rwanda allowed to happen? You can find your own example of something, I'm sure, that you just know you'd never have allowed to take place on your watch. Well, it's our watch now. In the coming days, probably years, there will be ample opportunities to show our mettle, or to burrow into a corner in the interest of self-preservation. I had said "cower in the corner," but I'll not cast that stone. For some, saving one life will mean putting other lives for which they're responsible at risk. The firefighter who's a sole breadwinner for a family does that every day. Not everyone faces that dilemma, and not everyone facing it decides for altruism.

We look back on history and wonder. When our children and grandchildren look back on the coming days and wonder, it will fall on us to explain. If we can.

Be kind to one another. Putting one foot in front of the other will carry our bodies through this. Nothing less than kindness will ferry our souls across.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Happy Birthday USAF

Went to an Air Force birthday celebration today. Created by the National Security Act of 1947, your Air Force is now 61 years old.

I came away from said celebration with a single significant realization: having been initially sworn in back in June of 1977 and just under two weeks from true retirement, I've been in the Air Force more than half of its life. Crossed that line with respect to my own life (having been in the AF more than half of it) about eleven years ago. Maybe there's something to all those jokes Buzzard likes to make about my age after all.

Bhut Jolokia; Gotta Get Some of 'Dat

Foodie Jay will appreciate this one.

As I strive to find some sort of routine in my life, I've begun to breakfast in front of the computer, scanning not one paper online, but about eight. Occasionally, something other than a headline distracts me. Like this feature from the Charleston Post & Courier about the Bhut Jolokia pepper.

This pepper has a flowery aroma and taste similar to a Habanero, but the similarity stops right there. Heatwise, the Jolokia, at 1,001,000 SHU (Yes, that's right. That's not a typo.), blows the doors off the typical Habanero, which can muster only a paltry 250,000 SHU. Even the Savina Habanero can put out only 577,000 SHU. The Jolokia's flavor is like a sip of nectar ... with a napalm chaser.
That's what I'm talkin' about.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Striving for Second Worst

Yesterday's blog post and the news story that spawned it reminded me of a story published in the Raleigh News & Observer back when I was a grad student at Chapel Hill.

Seems North Carolina had had the distinction of sporting the second worst SAT scores in the nation, then SC, who had been worst, moved up a notch, knocking us to the very bottom of the list. Comment from the state's education head? Not that we needed to look at the programs of the states near the top of the list and see what we could apply to The Old North State. No. In a remark that really revealed more about the roots of the problem than it was probably meant to, the person in charge of educating our Tarheel children remarked (and I may paraphrase here, after 19 years or so, but not much, if at all): "We clearly need to find out what South Carolina is doing, and do more of that."

Yeah. Second worst is so much better than the bottom.

If you get ambitious (I have the ambition, but not the time) and look up the original story (sometime between summer 89 and summer 91), I'd love to have a link.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Things I Wish I Still Didn't Know

From today's Post & Courier:

South Carolina suffered more violent crime than any other state last year, matching its dismal performance in the FBI's annual report for the second year in a row.
Now you tell me.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Jill Greenberg: True Evil

I don't have a lot of time to blog these days. I don't even have enough time to keep up with the blogs of my friends who do. I will, again, eventually. But this transitional time is busy, sleepless, crucial, overwhelming, exhilarating, and terrifying all at once.

Still, now and then I have a second to peruse my old haunts. And tonight over at Lex's place, I hit a thread I almost wish I hadn't. Lex ran a post about Jill Greenberg's portrait of John McCain for the October Atlantic. That led me to a post in American Digest that contained the outtakes causing all the hubbub. Even this didn't get my ire up. Politics is ugly. What she did is unacceptable, base, unprofessional, etc, but not necessarily evil.

Then, somehow, I found my way to a site about Greenberg's End Times. I learn there that this is a woman who intentionally invoked anguish in children.

Photographer Jill Greenberg has whipped up a storm of controversy with her new exhibition, End Times. The pictures in the show, for which she deliberately provoked tearful outbursts from children by taking away lollipops she had just given them, have been described by some as tantamount to child abuse.

Greenberg herself insists that the children had the sweets returned within 30 seconds, that no lasting harm has been done, and that her concern was to depict what she says reminded her of the "helplessness and anger I feel about our current political and social situation."
I'm sure this issue has been covered to death already. But I'd not heard of it, and maybe some of you hadn't either.

I'd like to know, just for the record, Ms. Greenberg's position on the interrogation technique known as waterboarding. And I'd like to ask her about those photos again, just as soon as her panic subsided with no lasting harm done, say, 30 seconds after the towel was removed from her face.

Interesting difference here between me and her, I guess. There are complicated reasons, that, though I'm not in favor of the practice, I wouldn't consider waterboarding a terror suspect "evil." Yet, deliberately inducing anguish in children, even temporarily, I do think of as deserving that label pure and simple. For her, I guess, it's the other way around. There's room for both of us to be wrong, but I sleep just fine on my side of that line. I wonder about Ms. Greenberg's slumbers.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

Charleston. Thanks for asking.

Building a new life, while still awash in the detritus of an old one.

More grateful than ever for friends. New and old. Including soon-to-be-ex-spouse. We got along better than 4 of 5 couples I knew while we were married. We get along better than 9 of 10 couples I know going through a divorce. (Okay, so technically, I don't know 10 couples getting a divorce, which means, in truth, we get along better than 6 of 7 divorcing couples I've ever known.) Know what? Still sucks. But it could be so much worse.

Anyway, eventually, I'll take up the keyboard again more regularly. Beginning to see the first glimmers of a routine into which daily writing here will hopefully fit. Meantime, I am still alive. I will have much to say about lots of stuff.