Sunday, September 30, 2012

TCJO 2012 — 2013 concert schedule

"Contrary to several conflicting stories, I got the name Count right in Kansas City in 1936 while at the Reno Club. I was known as Bill Basie at that time. One night, while we were broadcasting, the announcer called me to the microphone for those usual few words of introduction. He commented that Bill Basie was a rather ordinary name, and further that there were a couple of well-known bandleaders named Earl Hines and Duke Ellington. Then he said, `Bill, I think I'll call you Count Basie from now on. Is that all right with you?' I thought he was kidding, shrugged my shoulders and replied, 'OK.'" — Count Basie

THE TURNER CENTER Jazz Orchestra has released the concert dates for the coming season. Below is the poster I made for the first concert, to be held Thursday, October 18 at 7:30 at the Turner Center on the Drake University campus. It features swing-era classics by jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman and others — and a dress-in-the-era costume contest with prizes such as tickets to the Des Moines Symphony and TJCO's special event concerts.

Now write these dates down on your calendar!

October 18:  The Swing Era — A big Band Hit Parade
November 15:  Salute to Jimmy Maxwell
December 20:  All That Holiday Jazz with Scott Smith
February 14:  Music for Lovers and Friends with Janey Hooper
April 4:  Jazz Vanguard — The Best of NOW
May 16:  The Music of Stan Kenton

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KC down and back

"It's very difficult for me to dislike an artist. No matter what he's creating, the fact that he's experiencing the joy of creation makes me feel like we're in a brotherhood of some kind... we're in it together." — Chick Corea 

I'M SITTING IN the backyard enjoying the gorgeous weather — and watching the furry kids walk around and enjoy it, too. I have a guilty conscience because I intended to door-knock for the Obama campaign this afternoon. I told them I would, but I just don't feel quite up to it today after the late drive home last night. The kitchen is also in desperate need of major cleaning. It's calling my name whenever I walk in there. 

We took great pleasure in our Chick Corea and Gary Burton concert last night. It was held in the Gem Theater. It seats 436 people and lives up to its name; it's truly a little gem of a theater. I'd forgotten that I'd been able to get second-row seats which put us about 15 feet away from the performers. It felt like having Gary and Chick in our living room to play for us. 

The view from our seats of Chick on the piano and Gary on the vibes taken with my iPhone.

Last night's stop in Kansas City is part of their Hot House tour, promoting their new album of the same name. 

The CD cover. Of course I bought one for Paul!

Here's what Chick's website has to say about the tour: "Chick and Gary Burton perform material from their new album Hot House, exploring their unique takes on “standards” — by composers from Kurt Weill and Antonio Carlos Jobim to Thelonious Monk and Lennon & McCartney. The multiple Grammy-winning duo also adds the Harlem String Quartet on select dates, expanding their legendary chamber-jazz repertoire on Chick’s composition 'Mozart Goes Dancing' and classic Chick & Gary tunes."

Chick and the Harlem String Quartet taken with my iPhone, so the quality isn't so great.

I asked Paul what his favorite tune of the night was, and he said, "All of them." My favorites were My Ship, by Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill and Eleanor Rigby, but I also really liked an original Chick Corea composition called Mozart Goes Dancing. 

Then I asked Paul which of the two musicians he liked best, and he said, "Can't choose. They're both the best." 

I give my personal edge to Gary; I'm not the musician in the family, so I get to have my uninformed taste. I like the understated way he comports himself while still playing as dynamically and with as much musical expression as Chick. Gary manages to make so much music with just the four mallets, whereas Chick has 10 fingers to use, and Gary has to stand up the whole the time; ya' gotta give him a little extra credit for that alone. Without exception, however, they were both utterly and completely phenomenal, and the ease and unspoken communication between them is something else. 

We were one of the lucky stops where the Harlem String Quartet joined Gary and Chick for the second half of the show. They were ab/fab and great fun to watch this diverse group of young people perform with so much energy and excellence.

The concert was a surprise present for Paul because he's been a huge fan of both of these legends since he was 15. I debated whether or not I should get tickets, though, because I knew we'd be going two nights after his almost 24-hour marathon gig, what with driving and all — and today he has another gig, this one in Oskaloosa, after not getting home last night until 1:30 in the morning, and on top of everything else, he has a really bad cold. 

I drove half the way down and all the way home so that he could rest as best he could. I kept my fingers crossed that in the end, Paul would feel like he'd had an unforgettable musical experience. He did.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gary Burton and Chick Corea

"I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come." — Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller

PAUL AND I are headed to Kansas City this afternoon to attend a Gary Burton and Chick Corea concert. Gary is a legendary vibes player and Chick Corea, an equally legendary jazz pianist. They've been two of Paul's favorite musicians since he was 15. 

In the same manner that led to our trip to hear Bonnie Raitt and Marc Cohen together in concert in Chicago, Paul and I were chatting about Gary and Chick. He was talking about how iconic they are, especially playing together, and I thought, "I wonder if they're still touring." I popped over to my computer and low, they were touring together and they were in the middle of current tour and they were coming to Kansas City. I snagged two tickets in a hurry.

Chick Corea and Gary Burton play LA.

Well actually, it wasn't a quick process at all. It took about an hour. Unbeknown to me, and perhaps you as well, credit cards now have an additional security code (I'm not talking about the one of the back) that you have to sign up for in advance, and it was not an easy process. I had to call our bank twice for help, and the second time around banker Barb said, "'Here, I'll just do it for you," but even she couldn't get it done until she tried a second secret banker's-only method!

Thank goodness for Barb

Unfortunately, we can't stay the night. Paul has another gig tomorrow in Oskaloosa, and he needs to be there at 11:30 in the morning for rehearsal. He and the Des Moines Big Band are playing at Indian Hills Community College with Dave Sharp, a sax player who teaches at IHCC. They're playing all Dave Sharp arrangements. It's a free concert, so If you feel like hearing some big band music, drive on down. It's starts at 8:00 PM.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Late night, early vote

"Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'" Isaac Asimov

PAUL PLAYED A concert in Okoboji last night. It was an all-day and almost all-night deal. He'd been asked by John Michael Coppola, who was a member of the cast of Jersey Boys in Chicago and in one of the two national touring companies, to be the bone in the horn section 

John Michael Capolla

Paul's day went like this: clean out and gas up the van, drive four hours (the trumpet and sax rode with him, not the instruments, well yes the instruments, but I meant the players), unload, rehearse for three hours, wolf some food, play the concert, turn around and drive four hours home, try to unwind enough to go to sleep at 1:00 AM, find no success until 4:00 in the morning. 

And you thought the music biz was glamorous.

Paul was really happy to see Aunt Sally, her husband Ralph, cousin Anne and Anne's husband Brian. They were nice enough to make the trip to see him perform. Anne has always been a favorite of Paul's. Her personality is as sweet as her singing voice — and Brian is a talented musician as well. Musical giftedness runs in the Fairchild (maternal) side of Paul's family. We'll talk about what runs in my family some other day when we both — you and I — have the strength for it. 

For me yesterday turned out to be a perfect storm of crises, one after the other, none of them anything I could fix without Paul. I swear that somehow these problems save themselves up until he's out of town in order to blindside me when I'm alone.

Yesterday was also the first day for early voting in Iowa. The county auditor's office is exactly one block from ours. Cross the street, walk down a sidewalk, and bam, we're there; doesn't get any easier than that. Thousands of Iowans vote by absentee ballot, but I'm just old fashioned enough and paranoid enough to want to put my ballot in the ballot box in person.

I was going to walk over yesterday while Paul was away and check that off my to-do list, but I'd been up since 5:30 in the morning in a suit and pair of very high heels, which by the end of the day, I had determined were not shoes to go for a stroll in even for that short distance. Besides Paul and I always walk over together to vote, so that's what we did this afternoon.

Wanna know who I voted for? Take a stab. Here's a hint: I voted to retain the Iowa Supreme Court justices.
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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Little paper dots

"Impressionism is the newspaper of the soul." Henri Matisse 

PAUL HAS BEEN printing lots of music lately and three-hole punching the pages for his gig book, and as a result there are little paper dots trailing him wherever he goes — around the office and at home. Today when I pulled into my "luxury" parking place, as I got out of the car I glanced down and there were a bunch of little white paper dots strewn on the ground. I need to remind Paul that he should never consider taking up a life of crime.

Given this, it seemed like kismet when I came across this article on NBC News online. 

By Courtney Garcia, TODAY contributor

Most people who have occasion to use a hole punch just discard the little paper dots that fall out of the tool, but artist Nikki Douthwaite saw something more in the colorful little circles.

Nikki Douthwaite made this image of Marilyn Monroe with 99,000 hole-punch dots in 2010. She used colored dots in such a way as to make the resulting image look black-and-white. Says the artist, "It was the first piece that I have made where I didn't think I could do any better."

For the past three years, Douthwaite has been collecting paper dots, painstakingly sorting them by color, and crafting them into images of some of the world’s most celebrated icons, including Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, and Muhammad Ali. The work of the Manchester, England-based artist has been featured in galleries around the U.K., and recently, photos of her pieces wowed the Internet. (You can see more of Douthwaite's art on her site -- note that she's a big fan of Formula 1 racecar drivers.)

“The idea to use hole-punch dots came from studying pointalist artist (Georges) Seurat for my degree,” Douthwaite tells “I don't really have a trick, just hard work and an obsession. Tweezering one dot on at a time and making sure the color mix is right before I start. I will often stick my hand in a bucket of 30,000 hole-punch dots and say, ‘That needs more light purple.’"

Douthwaite used 150,000 dots to make this image of Jimi Hendrix.

Each picture is inspired by a magazine photograph and takes anywhere from six to 15 weeks to create. For Monroe’s image, she used approximately 99,000 dots, and for Hendrix, 140,000.

“The younger and prettier someone is the harder I seem to find it, as there tends to be less distinguishing features,” says Douthwaite. “I find facial features really easy. I spent the most time on their hair, and making John Lennon’s glasses look real. Marilyn's eyelashes were tricky, trying to make them visible without being over the top.”

Douthwaite made this image of John Lennon as a birthday gift for a friend in Los Angeles. It was only the third dot portrait she had made, and she had to learn how to do hair and glasses.

Many pieces of her work have been sold; some, like the portrait of Monroe, were commissioned. Hendrix’s portrait went to a private collector, and Lennon’s image has been shown in galleries worldwide, including at The Beatles museum in Liverpool. In the U.S., a portrait by Douthwaite is owned by Ripley’s Believe It or Not in San Francisco.

Of course, all artists have critics, and in a medium as unique as Douthwaite’s, the commentary can be equally bizarre.

“People sometimes accuse me of blowing up huge photographs and pixelating them, then sticking dots over the top by matching the colors,” the artist says. “Seriously, can you imagine how long that would take? I use the dots like paint. I do different colors for the feel of the picture, and there are thousands of colors in each piece.”

She adds, “My house has constantly got dots spilled everywhere. My friends call me up and say, ‘I have a blue dot on my shoe, do you need me to bring it back?’”

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012


"The saddest thing I can imagine is to get used to luxury." Charlie Chaplin

THE SUBSCRIPTION DEPARTMENT at the New York Times called today to remind me that ours would expire next month and ask whether or not we wanted to reup. The answer was absolutely yes. I love love love reading the NYT. It's a luxury in my life, though it feels more like a necessity. It has such a diverse range of reporting and opinion that I would feel blind without it.

I got to wondering what other things in my life I consider luxuries. Here's my list in no particular order.

Having the Sunday New York Times paper delivered to us on Saturday night.

A garage that matches the period and style of our house.

Garage door openers.

Being a member of the Rotary Club of Des Moines.

The internet. It's the world's biggest encyclopedia in a little, flat box sitting on my lap right this minute.

Our fancy, decorative driveway.

Blackout shades that pull up from the bottom or down from the top in our bedroom. What an aid to serious sleeping-in on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

A parking spot right outside the back door at work.

A well-stocked closet offering enough alternatives to allow me to put together an outfit in the morning without much effort.

Eleven shelves of utterly ab-fab shoes and boots.

A jewelry armoire with many hey-look-something-shiny choices.

TIVO. If that isn't a luxury, I don't know what is. No having to watch commercials; I can fast forward through programs in sometimes half the time, and we can watch a show when it's convenient instead of just when it comes on.

Tile floors in the front entryway and in the AP room. The one in the AP room will be even better when we can hire an electrician to hook up the heating element in the floor. I can't wait!

A big-capacity washer and dryer. Compared to the apartment-size ones I had for 20 years, these are a dream.

Luxuries I want:

A shower, for crying out loud. I'm tired of the bath-only option.

A dishwasher!!!

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

When there isn't a tomorrow

"The death of someone we know always reminds us that we are still alive - perhaps for some purpose which we ought to re-examine." — Mignon McLaughlin, American journalist and author

DEATH TOUCHES US all and comes to us all. Yet even with this ever-present possibility, how easy it is to go through a day distracted by busyness, assuming those we love are there — and will be at the end of the day.

Two weeks ago I attended Barbara Mack's funeral. She was a force of nature, larger than life, a star that blazed. It seems impossible that she's no longer with us. She felt unwell and decided to sleep in a recliner because she found it more comfortable. Her husband, Jim, checked on her in the night, and she seemed fine. The next morning he found her dead in the chair.

A week ago today at Consortium, a breakfast club for and about women, our speaker talked about her quintessentially Iowa life: raised by two hard-working, loving parents; attended Iowa State University where she met her husband; they married shortly after graduation. When she became pregnant, friends and family members threw her a baby shower, as we'd expect. What she didn't expect was to come home, heart happy and arms full of new, baby things, and receive a phone call notifying her that both her parents had been killed driving home from her shower.

Yesterday I received an email notifying me that a Consortium member's husband, age 55, died the night before. She was participating in a foundation board meeting when it happened, not taking calls, never imagining for a second the reason her phone kept buzzing.

And of course, we still mourn the loss of beloved Richard Logli, who fell asleep in his big recliner in the living room, and died there sometime that night. He was listening to the iPod I gave him that year for Christmas.

I should have a point here, I guess. I don't exactly. Give this one a shot: Tell the people who matter to you that you love them as often as possible, see them as often as possible, hug them as often as possible.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Loud cell phone lady

“Gambling can turn into a dangerous two-way street when you least expect it. Weird things happen suddenly, and your life can go all to pieces.” — Hunter S. Thompson

I OVERHEARD a distressing conversation recently in TJ Maxx. I wasn't trying to listen; I just happened to be shopping in the vicinity of a woman talking really loudly on her cell phone. She was telling someone about a conversation she'd had with a Third Person (TP) who apparently likes to gamble at Prairie Meadows

Loud Cell Phone Lady (LCPL) said that she'd asked TP how she'd made out the other evening at the casino. 

TP replied, "Not very well."

Then LCPL said she told TP, "Oh you always say that, but you do alright. You never lose very much."

TP said in reply, "But you don't understand. I think it's becoming a problem."

And then LCPL told TP, "Oh come on, there's nothing wrong."

I relayed this little drama to Paul who said, "Eeeeeeee! Was it incredibly hard not to yell at LCPL and tell her that if someone reaches the point where they say they think they have a problem, they have a problem, and the last thing they need is to have someone discount what they're saying?!" 

Yes, it was.

The best thing that happened to me personally in the last month was having two people call me "kind" and two others tell me that I'd made their day. The first was a man looking for cans in the alley. After giving him a sackful from the office and a sackful from the van that happened to be in there on the way to being returned, we chatted for a little while. 

He's lives in the tent city near the river. I asked him about the just-scabbing-over, long wound on his hand and arm. He'd tussled with a raccoon who was stealing food from his tent. I tried to talk him into letting me take him to Broadlawns, but to no avail.

A couple of weeks ago, someone else was scanning for cans. I gave him what few we'd accumulated since we loaded up the last fellow. I visited with him, too. He's unemployed, but not homeless. He lives in an apartment in the near downtown area and rides a bike for transportation. I'm not sure what his story is. He's definitely seen hard times; he looks pretty well beaten up and beaten down. 

I asked him whether he might like to make some money cleaning our office once week. He said he did. He spends an hour and a half on Thursday afternoons vacuuming, dusting, taking out the recycling and the garbage and washing what few dishes there might be in the sink. Two weeks in, so far it's worked out, and I have to say he vacuums the heck out of the carpet. We'll see.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Close encounters of the bunny kind

"Most cats, when they are out want to be in, and vice versa, and often simultaneously." — Dr. Louis J. Camuti, cat specialist

SHYE, Shiva and Boy Boy love nothing quite as much as having their morning treat followed by a walk outside. We try to take them out once or twice a day. 

After work we go out with them, but in the morning we leave the doors from the rest of the house to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the back porch and the porch door open so they can go in and out at will while we're getting ready. 

Shye has to be able to get all the way back into our bedroom or she won't go out, so all three doors have to be left open. Even then she rarely ventures beyond the back sidewalk. She and the Boy are often content to just sit on the porch and gaze at the world beyond. 

Shiva, on the other hand, is adventurous and intrepid, so we have to keep more of an eye on her, but we've trained her to come when whistled for. 

Paul went to work on Wednesday before I did, so I was home and the furry purries were outside — or so I thought. I was standing in the bedroom when I heard frenetic scrambling coming from under the bed. I hastened to investigate, and there was Shiva with a baby bunny in her mouth. She let me take Baby Bun from her, and happily BB was entirely unscathed. I scooted out the back door and relocated him or her under a giant hosta. 

There was no more going outside that day or the next so as to leave Baby in peace. Friday morning, however, I relented. Paul was taking a bath, and I was in the process of dressing when he shouted for me to come quickly. The Boy had brought Baby Bun into the bathroom to Paul

BB was again unharmed and returned to nature — a little too much of a return to nature on my part in Paul's opinion; I had dashed out in nothing but a bra and underpants. Hey, Bunny safety trumps modesty. 

Our three fur balls have always played stalk and pounce with a leaf, a suspicious blade of grass or as frequently, a figment of their imagination, but lately we've noticed them engaging in what looks like organized hunting. We think they may have figured out how to cooperate to catch actual critters. 

Neither Shiva nor the Boy seem interested in hurting them. Paul thinks Shiva might be trying to adopt them; she clearly thinks she's the Mom in our house — to all of us. The Boy just wants to be friends with everyone and is too much of a scaredy cat (in this case, literally) to be harmful. After nearly four years, he still doesn't trust the hot air register in the AP room, approaching it gingerly every single day — and by now that would 1460 days — just to be on the safe side. He's a lover boy, but not very bright.

Shye, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish — or cat, as it were. She had been feral when we got her, and there's still a lot of wild in her. She's utterly afraid of all humans except us, but Paul maintains she's the fiercest of the three, the one with killer instincts who could make a living hunting if she had to. Just goes to prove, like they always say, it's the quiet ones you gotta watch out for.

Who knows what's going on in their fuzzy, little heads. Whatever their captures are in their minds — baby, friend or food, I'm grateful they seem to think the proper thing to do is bring them in the house to us so we can repatriate their finds.

Shye on the left and Boy Boy on the right survey 
the Serengeti from the back porch. 

With me Shye is a purring, drooling, kneading, lovey, dovey 
baby, but I wouldn't trust her with anything she could eat.

Paul thinks that Shiva might think the buns are her babies. 
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Tuesday, September 11, 2012


"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?" — Mahatma Gandhi, Non-Violence in Peace and War

THOSE OF US who were alive and conscious at the time haven't forgotten the tragic events of exactly 11 years ago today. The images are etched into our brains and the sadness seared into our hearts.

As we remember, mourn and honor, I suggest that we not limit our heartfelt feelings to only those who perished that day in acts of violence.

The number of documented civilian deaths from violence in Iraq from 2003 through 2011 is somewhere between 108,595 and 118,671.

As of March 2012, there have been 12,793 civilians killed in Afghanistan in the past six years.

In 2008 the International Rescue Committee estimated that the second Congo war which began in 1998 claimed the lives of 5.4 million people, half of them children, as a result of disease, starvation and violence caused by the war.

Various estimates of the number of human casualties from either direct combat or starvation and disease inflicted by the genocide in Darfur between 2003 and 2010 range from 10,000 and 300,000.And of course the list is so much longer than this. 

May we grieve for all of these and not just our own.
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Friday, September 7, 2012

The downside of Facebook

"If your relationship is so damned complicated that you have to identify it as such on your Facebook profile, get the hell off Facebook and go fix your relationship." — Andrea Grimes, SF Weekly, Heartless Doll

SINCE I MADE the decision to give up Facebook I've had three friends tell me that they think I might be onto something, there being only so many hours in a day and all. 

Shortly after writing that particular post, I saw a little thing in an issue of the New York Times Magazine, the point of which was that being on Facebook can be the means of losing friends in the real world if they feel unattended on FB, IRL or both. 

I've been behind on reading NYTMs and have been making an effort to catch up (I have more time to do it, now that I'm not on Facebook) and when I went back through accumulated issues to find the aforementioned short piece, I could't locate it. In the process, I came across this article that puts a different spin on this 21st century social phenomenon. Like all things, Facebook can be used to welcome or wound, embrace or exclude.

In the Facebook Era, Reminders of Loss After Families Fracture

By CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS, Published: June 14, 2012 

Not long ago, estrangements between family members, for all the anguish they can cause, could mean a fairly clean break. People would cut off contact, never to be heard from again unless they reconciled.

But in a social network world, estrangement is being redefined, with new complications. Relatives can get vivid glimpses of one another’s lives through Facebook updates, Twitter feeds and Instagram pictures of a grandchild or a wedding rehearsal dinner. And those glimpses are often painful reminders of what they have lost.

“I frequently hear, ‘I heard from somebody else who read it on Facebook that my son just got married,’ or, ‘My daughter just had a child, and I didn’t even know she was pregnant,’ ” said Joshua Coleman, a psychologist in the Bay Area who wrote a book about estrangement, “When Parents Hurt.”

“There are things that parents assume all their lives they’d be there for, then they hear in a very public third-hand way about it, and it adds a layer of hurt and humiliation,” he said.
No data exist on the number of family estrangements nationwide, or whether they are on the rise. But experts generally agree that family rifts — between parents and children or siblings — can lead to depression, marital strife, addiction and even suicide.

Vera Shelby, director of Healing Estranged Relationships, a support group with chapters in Texas and Colorado, said estrangement has its own stages of grief. “This is almost worse than death, because when they are estranged from you, they aren’t gone,” said Mrs. Shelby, 67, whose daughter refused to speak to her for four years. (Unlike Mrs. Shelby, most people interviewed for this article who are estranged from their parents or children did not want their full names used.)

A woman named Mary, a county employee in Florida, has endured two long stretches when her daughter has stopped speaking to her. The first, starting in 1997, was heartbreaking, but she said it was not as agonizing as their current 10-month stalemate.

“I didn’t know all those months and years what she was doing,” Mary said, adding that her daughter cut her off because she disapproved of her boyfriend. “It was easier because there were no reminders.”
In 2005, they reconciled for six years, but the daughter, who is now married to that boyfriend and has a young child, again stopped speaking to her 10 months ago for reasons Mary does not understand. Mary, who joined Facebook in 2008, now squirms when she checks her news feed.

“You’re watching other people enjoying your daughter and the grandchild you’re supposed to have, and you’re left out in the cold,” Mary said. “I have to watch pictures of my grandson — that I didn’t get — on my daughter’s sister-in-law’s page.”

Their rift also plays out in front of relatives and friends, in a humiliating way. When Mary’s 21-year-old son took his sister’s side and cut off contact for a few months, he not only removed her from his friends list but also disowned her on Facebook. “It was a blank little ghost where his face used to be on my profile,” she said.

Some parents said they could not help but check up on their estranged children online, searching for clues to unlock the mystery of why they have been cut off. If a parent’s child has blocked them on Facebook, they might send a “friend” request to their child’s acquaintances, follow them on Twitter or do Internet searches to find out where their grandchildren attend school.

“This is a common question on my Web site — whether it’s more painful to sneak views on Facebook or not, or just to stay away altogether,” said Elizabeth Vagnoni, a documentary filmmaker who runs an online discussion forum for parents with estranged children — currently with more than 2,200 members — at She went through bouts of silence with her mother over a decade, and now has two estranged sons of her own. “I now live with knowing exactly how I made my mother feel,” Mrs. Vagnoni said.

For those who hope to reconcile, the online sleuthing can backfire if it is perceived as spying, said Monica McGoldrick, a family therapist and the director of the Multicultural Family Institute in Highland Park, N.J. For a mother, she said, “If ever there comes a day where she and her daughter get to have a conversation, what is she going to say?”

People who use social media are often aware that their estranged relatives are watching. A decade ago, Jessica, a 27-year-old Manhattan resident who works for a marketing company, stopped talking with her father, an alcoholic, after much turmoil. (Shortly after he remarried when she was 10, she called him and said, “You can divorce your wives, but you can’t divorce your children.” His reply, she recalled: “I wish I could.”)

She sends Twitter messages for work and for fun, and knows through other relatives that her father is keeping up with her — her vegan diet, her travel schedule, her social life. It angers her, even though she acknowledges anyone can see her posts.

“I didn’t want him to be telling extended family that stuff he was learning online about me because 140 characters don’t tell the whole story,” she said. Armed with details, he had misrepresented to his mother — with whom Jessica talks often —how close he was to her.

“That’s been a frustration,” she said. “That’s when I realized how creepy the digital space is.”
After reconnecting with her biological father in 2008, Lori, an adoptee in Brooklyn, grew increasingly concerned and then alarmed by the aggressive tone of his e-mails, in which he accused her of disrespect and not staying in touch.

She ultimately decided to end all contact in 2009. She blocked his phone calls and e-mails, denied her father’s Facebook request and dropped his niece as a Facebook friend. Lori, 37, still agonizes about the decision. “I have a lot of guilt about breaking up,” she said, but added, “I don’t owe it to him to stay his pseudo daughter.”

Sometimes people use social media to snipe at one another from afar. Mark Sichel, a Manhattan psychotherapist who wrote “Healing From Family Rifts,” said that a client’s son had posted details on Facebook this month about their falling out. Mr. Sichel has also counseled a bickering couple whose sunny Facebook postings are calculated to annoy the husband’s estranged mother. Their online persona, he said, is “a charade.”

Often estrangement does not sever just one relationship, but forces relatives to choose sides, leading to other rifts — for instance, birthday cards sent by a grandparent might never be passed on to grandchildren.

In this context, social media does offer hope that estrangement does not necessarily have to have a ripple effect.

“Say your sibling doesn’t talk to you, but has grown children; you can ‘friend’ them on the Internet,” Dr. McGoldrick said. Her philosophy: “Even if somebody chooses not to have a relationship with me, no one has a right to tell me who I can’t have a relationship with.”

Mr. Sichel, whose parents cut him off in 2001, is skeptical. “I don’t think Facebook helps heal family relationships,” he said. “It just adds a new dimension of gossip, hearsay and visuals.”

One possible solution is to simply close Facebook accounts to avoid the pain. But that is hard to do in practice. “It scares me to close it down,” said Mary, whose heart sank when she watched a recent video of her grandson and heard him giggling.

“In a weird way, I feel I can make some sort of connection even if it’s through a glass screen,” she added. “I know it’s not real, but it’s my last little thread that I’m holding on to.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Don't confuse me with the facts

"My opinions may have changed, but not the fact that I'm right." Ashleigh Brilliant, author and syndicated cartoonist

RECENTLY MY father-in-law and I were discussing how intransigent political views are and how difficult it is to change strongly-held opinions even when they run counter to the facts. I had just read the below article in the New York Times Magazine on exactly that topic and indeed, as he was lamenting, shifting a mindset has little to do with "just the facts, ma'am."

How to Move a Mind
By Maggie Koerth-Baker
October 19, 2012

Forget for a minute everything you know about politics. Barack Obama now openly supports gay marriage. Mitt Romney now opposes roughly the same kind of health care reform he fought for as governor of Massachusetts. What if they weren’t two politicians calculating how to win an election but instead just two guys who changed their minds? They didn’t “flip-flop”; they experienced, as social scientists say, an attitude change, the way any of us do when we become a vegetarian or befriend a neighbor we used to hate or even just choose to buy a new brand of toothpaste.

In the last decade, psychologists have focused increasing attention on moral attitudes. Jonathan Haidt, professor of psychology at the Stern School of Business at New York University and author of “The Righteous Mind,” told me that researchers have been especially interested in the way emotions and attitudes interact. Moral attitudes are especially difficult to change, Haidt said, because the emotions attached to those preferences largely define who we are. “Certain beliefs are so important for a society or group that they become part of how you prove your identity,” he said. “It’s as though we circle around these ideas. It’s how we become one.”

We tend to side with people who share our identity — even when the facts disagree — and calling someone a flip-flopper is a way of calling them morally suspect, as if those who change their minds are in some way being unfaithful to their group. This is nonsense, of course. People change their minds all the time, even about very important matters. It’s just hard to do when the stakes are high. That’s why marshaling data and making rational arguments won’t work. Whether you’re changing your own mind or someone else’s, the key is emotional, persuasive storytelling.

In 2006, researchers from Ohio State University and Colorado State University demonstrated that a well-written TV drama can change the political opinions of college students. They split 178 students into two groups. One watched a crime show that told a persuasive story about the value of the death penalty. The other group watched a different, unrelated drama. Afterward, both groups were interviewed about their personal beliefs and their opinions on the death penalty. The students who watched the crime show were more likely to support the death penalty. In fact, support for the death penalty was about the same whether those students self-identified as liberal or conservative. That wasn’t true among the students who watched the other show. There, political ideology strongly predicted their opinions on the death penalty.

Timothy Wilson is a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and the author of the book “Redirect,” about how we change our minds and behavior. Stories are more powerful than data, Wilson says, because they allow individuals to identify emotionally with ideas and people they might otherwise see as “outsiders.” Wilson says researchers speculate that children who grew up seeing friendly gay people on TV will be more likely to support gay marriage as adults, regardless of other political affiliations and religious beliefs. Once you care about a character, Wilson says, you can find a way to fit them into your identity.

Our identities, of course, are also stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. In some cases — if we want to think of ourselves as thoughtful and open-minded — we can adopt identities that actually encourage flip-flopping. This is why juries function, and it’s what places pressure on scientists to form opinions based on reliable data. In 2009, the Oregon Legislature mandated the creation of the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review, panels made up of random residents assigned to review and assess ballot initiatives in “citizens’ statements.” The panelists know they’re expected to base their opinions on hard evidence, and this expectation becomes part of their temporary identity.

Under those conditions, says John Gastil, professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State, facts suddenly matter. He points to Measure 73, a widely popular mandatory sentencing initiative, which the citizens’ panel voted against, 21 to 3. The panelists felt obligated to consider the measure more carefully than they otherwise would have, Gastil says, so they noted the high costs and thought about people who might be unfairly punished. Only a minority of voters knew the panel existed, so the measure still passed — though by a smaller margin than expected. In a study he performed on the public response to Measure 73, Gastil found that the panel’s opinion significantly changed the minds of those people who read its findings. “You got a shift from two-thirds in favor to two-thirds against just by reading the report,” Gastil says.

Simply having to articulate why you believe what you do can also end up changing your attitude. Timothy Wilson and his colleagues showed posters to people and asked some of them to explain why they liked or disliked the images. Then they allowed every participant to take one poster home. The people who had to explain their preferences chose the poster they most easily justified liking. But when they were called a week later, those same people were least satisfied with their decision. “They talked themselves into choosing something they really didn’t like that much,” Wilson says, noting that if you have to explain your preferences, you’re likely to adopt an attitude that makes sense to your interlocutor, even if it conflicts with your emotions.

Even when we do change our minds, we often convince ourselves that we haven’t. Wilson points to the work of Michael Ross, professor emeritus of social psychology at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Since the 1970s, Ross has been studying autobiographies and has found that authors largely distort their pasts, depending on what point of their story they want to emphasize. The end result, it always turns out, was where they were heading all along.

All of this can help explain how a couple of politicians might change their minds but feel they haven’t actually changed their beliefs. Obama has said conversations with his daughters about friends of theirs with gay parents affected his thinking. Romney has had to spend a lot of time explaining his beliefs and past decisions to groups of very conservative voters, who weren’t inclined to accept him as part of their tribe, and perhaps that process has genuinely led him to question his thinking on health care. Of course, both men could just be pandering for votes.

We change our minds for utilitarian reasons, too. Especially pragmatic thinkers will consider whether an idea is feasible before they adopt it, says Michael Slater, professor of communication and behavioral sciences at Ohio State University.

But even in Washington, understanding the power of stories could go a long ways toward bridging gaps that only get bigger when we expect those who disagree to rationally accept data and evidence. “We fight it out by throwing arguments at each other and are upset when they have no effect,” Haidt says. “It makes us accuse our opponents of bad faith and ulterior motives. But the truth is that our minds just aren’t set up to be changed by mere evidence and argument presented by a ‘stranger.’ ”

Maggie Koerth-Baker is science editor at and the author of “Before the Lights Go Out,” on the future of energy production and consumption. 
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Monday, September 3, 2012

And I quote

"One love, one heart, one destiny." ― Bob Marley

IT'S TAKEN A month and a half, but I've gotten more than a third of the way done with going back through all my past posts and adding quotes. The sleuthing to find meaningful, memorable, appropriate quotes has been, as this blog always is for me, a stumble-upon self-education.

I came across something that Bob Marley said that I can't help but offer on it's own. It's the best advice I've heard for making a woman happy.

“You may not be her first, her last, or her only. She loved before, she may love again. But if she loves you now, what else matters? She's not perfect - you aren't either, and the two of you may never be perfect together, but if she can make you laugh, cause you to think twice, and admit to being human and making mistakes, hold onto her and give her the most you can. She may not be thinking about you every second of the day, but she will give you a part of her that she knows you can break - her heart. So don't hurt her, don't change her, don't analyze and don't expect more than she can give. Smile when she makes you happy, let her know when she makes you mad, and miss her when she's not there.” ― Bob Marley

Bob Marley died of cancer May 11, 1981 at age 36.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Laboring on Labor Day weekend

"My theory on housework is, if the item doesn't multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?" Erma Bombeck

PAUL AND I are celebrating Labor Day by laboring. We're giving our home a deep clean from top to bottom. We've also been binge-watching Doc Martin. We sweep and scrub and watch a couple episodes, dust and vacuum and watch another episode or two. Last night we finally reached the end of all the episodes they've made so far — all five seasons of it.

If you aren't familiar with the series, it's a British-made TV show. PBS is currently airing a limited number of episodes. The story revolves around a former renown surgeon from London who quite suddenly develops a blood phobia and relocates to a village of 900 in Cornwall to be a GP. He's also socio-phobic with Asperger's syndrome. Though brilliant, he's incapable of recognizing or communicating about his own emotions much less any one else's, and wouldn't pick up on a social cue if it hit him on the head — and people sometimes do out of unalloyed exasperation! 

He's in love with a lovely young woman who — and for the life of me I can't see why this would be so — loves him. 

We discovered Doc Martin about six episodes in, running on IPTV and watched them until they stopped. They'll be airing more episodes later this month. Happily, Paul discovered that the whole series is available on NetFlicks. There are five seasons, eight episodes per season.

I have to warn you; they're highly addictive. It reminds me of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series of books. Once we had read the first one, we were hooked and had to read the next book in the series as fast as we could, one right after another. 

So we're cleaning interspersed with watching the Doc and Louisa. I get a certain amount of satisfaction from cleaning, actually. Unlike the messes in the world at large, I can do something about the ones at home. 

At our house, it's a constant war against cat litter and fur. My heavens, these four (!!!!!!) are a lot of work! But they're so funny and so loving and loyal that there's no alternative. 

The three downstairs comprise a little pride. I wake up in the morning and there are always at least two, often all three, sleeping with us. They wait for me to get up — sometimes they demand that I get up — but if I don't, all three of them settle back down in bed for the duration. They'll stay there as long as we do — even all day, if that's the order of the day.

When I do arise, they escort me to the kitchen as a group to make sure I'm adhering to the treat ritual; we call them my entourage. After they've reassured themselves that morning treats are being served, they each go to their respective spots — Shiva on a little table in the kitchen by the window, Boy Boy in the dining room and Shye in the bedroom — to wait to receive them. Afterwards, in good weather, they all move en masse to the back door for their daily constitutional. 

Anaya, who lives upstairs, had a big adventure yesterday. She doesn't care to leave her second-floor room, so I go upstairs and read or write or sometimes sleep in the room with her. Yesterday, however, Paul decided to vacuum every square inch of her room, and she wasn't about to hang around for that. She crawled in a book case in the hallway upstairs to hide. After a while we began worrying that she was too afraid to get out and have access to her food, water and litter box, so we pulled all the books off the shelf and coaxed her back into her safe haven. That's where I am with her right now — about to have a little lie-down. Later today — barbecue.
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