Today is the birthday of Malcolm X. He would have been 87 years old.
Malcolm rarely receives the kind of mainstream press attention that his better known counterpart, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. does. And perhaps that is best. Unlike King, Malcolm has been not been subjected to the ahistorical nostalgia machine of American hero-making. His radicalism remains intact.
I have no adjectives to describe the latest cover of Newsweek, which declares Obama “the first gay president” after he personally endorsed same-sex marriage.
I’ll just let the rainbow halo speak for itself.
Usually this is where I’d post a picture of said cover, but I refuse to perpetuate that crap. Google it if you haven’t seen it already and you want to feel sad about American print media.
On a less disappointing and more historical note, George Mason University’s History News Network just ran an illuminating article about the real first gay president of the United States. (Hint: it is not Barack Obama)
There can be no doubt that James Buchanan was gay, before, during and after his four years in the White House. Moreover, the nation knew it, too — he was not far into the closet.
Today, I know no historian who has studied the matter and thinks Buchanan was heterosexual. Fifteen years ago, historian John Howard, author of “Men Like That,” a pioneering study of queer culture in Mississippi, shared with me the key documents, including Buchanan’s May 13, 1844, letter to a Mrs. Roosevelt. Describing his deteriorating social life after his great love, William Rufus King, senator from Alabama, had moved to Paris to become our ambassador to France, Buchanan wrote:
I am now “solitary and alone,” having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.
Despite such evidence, one reason why Americans find it hard to believe Buchanan could have been gay is that we have a touching belief in progress. Our high school history textbooks’ overall story line is, “We started out great and have been getting better ever since,” more or less automatically. Thus we must be more tolerant now than we were way back in the middle of the 19th century! Buchanan could not have been gay then, else we would not seem more tolerant now.
This is a great, great article. Read it!
And if you needed any more convincing that Newsweek has in fact degenerated into a vulgar peddler of sensationalistic tripe:
“Congratulations, North Carolina. Last night you struck a decisive blow for loneliness. And tonight, as you go to sleep beside your heterosexual life mate, you can rest assured that all across your great state a gay man or a lesbian woman is crying themselves to sleep in solitude, and making your relationship stronger with every tear.”—Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report, 5/9/12)
All of the experts seem to agree on one thing. The state of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan is unacceptably precarious.
It has been 14 months since the massive 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country and triggered a triple-meltdown at the Daiichi plant. Japan is still trying to understand the short-term and long-term health consequences of the largest nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl, although the psychological scars of the disaster are already evident. And while much of the 12-mile “exclusion zone” around the power plant is likely to remain uninhabited for decades, there is potential for a much larger disaster that could wreak nuclear havoc on a global scale.
Our political future: Voting for inflexible positions rather than leaders
Tonight, six-term U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) lost his reelection primary to conservative challenger and Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock.
It should be noted that the Senator of 36 years lost the primary handily. Indiana Republican voters broke for Mourdock by a twenty point margin.
After conceding the race, Lugar’s office released the following statement. I’m posting it in its entirety because I think it describes the current state of U.S. politics better than anything or anyone I’ve recently encountered.
The president who won the Nobel Peace Prize less than nine months after his inauguration has turned out to be one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades.
Liberals helped to elect Barack Obama in part because of his opposition to the Iraq war, and probably don’t celebrate all of the president’s many military accomplishments. But they are sizable.
Mr. Obama decimated Al Qaeda’s leadership. He overthrew the Libyan dictator. He ramped up drone attacks in Pakistan, waged effective covert wars in Yemen and Somalia and authorized a threefold increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan. He became the first president to authorize the assassination of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and played an operational role in Al Qaeda, and was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen. And, of course, Mr. Obama ordered and oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The left, which had loudly condemned George W. Bush for waterboarding and due process violations at Guantánamo, was relatively quiet when the Obama administration, acting as judge and executioner, ordered more than 250 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2009, during which at least 1,400 lives were lost.
Mr. Obama’s readiness to use force — and his military record — have won him little support from the right. Despite countervailing evidence, most conservatives view the president as some kind of peacenik. From both the right and left, there has been a continuing, dramatic cognitive disconnect between Mr. Obama’s record and the public perception of his leadership: despite his demonstrated willingness to use force, neither side regards him as the warrior president he is.
Drones, drones, drones
For more thoughtful discussion on the rapidly expanding (and largely secret) drone program under Obama:
Reporter Michael Hastings: What’s driving it [the drone program]? … There’s no cost, politically, to using it, you don’t put boots on the ground, and it makes it seem like there’s no human cost to war … and it’s something the Obama administration has embraced.
In America, our Constitution explicitly divided the president’s role as commander in chief in war from Congress’s role in declaring war. Yet these links and this division of labor are now under siege as a result of a technology that our founding fathers never could have imagined.
And now we possess a technology that removes the last political barriers to war. The strongest appeal of unmanned systems is that we don’t have to send someone’s son or daughter into harm’s way. But when politicians can avoid the political consequences of the condolence letter — and the impact that military casualties have on voters and on the news media — they no longer treat the previously weighty matters of war and peace the same way.
For the first 200 years of American democracy, engaging in combat and bearing risk — both personal and political — went hand in hand. In the age of drones, that is no longer the case.
The change is not limited to covert action. Last spring, America launched airstrikes on Libya as part of a NATO operation to prevent Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government from massacring civilians. In late March, the White House announced that the American military was handing over combat operations to its European partners and would thereafter play only a supporting role.
The distinction was crucial. The operation’s goals quickly evolved from a limited humanitarian intervention into an air war supporting local insurgents’ efforts at regime change. But it had limited public support and no Congressional approval.
When the administration was asked to explain why continuing military action would not be a violation of the War Powers Resolution — a Vietnam-era law that requires notifying Congress of military operations within 48 hours and getting its authorization after 60 days — the White House argued that American operations did not “involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof.” But they did involve something we used to think of as war: blowing up stuff, lots of it.
Without any actual political debate, we have set an enormous precedent, blurring the civilian and military roles in war and circumventing the Constitution’s mandate for authorizing it. Freeing the executive branch to act as it chooses may be appealing to some now, but many future scenarios will be less clear-cut.
One last thing…
No discussion about Obama’s covert and morally-ambiguous warfare tactics would be complete without covering the disturbing and under-reported case of the CIA’s fake vaccination program in Pakistan.
To sum up, for any folks unaware of this:
Last year, in its efforts to track down Osama bin Laden, the CIA set up a fake humanitarian vaccination program in Pakistan. The goal was to identify DNA from any of bin Laden’s family members living in Abbottabad and thus confirm the terrorist leader’s location. In the end, while the CIA collected DNA samples from an untold number of unknowing Pakistani civilians, the elaborate ruse yielded no valuable intelligence.
For more on the human cost of these tactics, which were never approved by Congress and were surely never intended to become public knowledge:
The CIA’s plot — recruiting a Pakistani doctor to distribute hepatitis vaccines in Abbottabad this spring — destroyed credibility that wasn’t its to erode. It was the very trust that communities worldwide have in immunization programs that made vaccinations an appealing ruse. But intelligence officials imprudently burned bridges that took years for health workers to build.
To start, the CIA’s actions may have jeopardized the global polio eradication program, which has saved thousands of lives and in which billions of dollars have been invested. Americans could one day be at risk again from re-imported polio.
Many Pakistani communities suffer from preventable infections, including ones that have been brought under control or eradicated elsewhere. Pakistan is the last place on Earth where wild polio still spreads in local outbreaks. Only a handful of places elsewhere in the world have sporadic cases, and vaccine campaigns are vigorous in those areas. But if the Rotary Club, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, governments and others working to eradicate polio realize their aspirations, Pakistan is where victory will be pronounced.
Few issues have proven as historically sensitive for global health practitioners as building trust around vaccines, especially for polio, within Muslim communities. About eight years ago in northern Nigeria, mass refusals of polio vaccines led to a resurgence of cases locally. The infection then spread beyond Nigeria’s borders. Distrust in the vaccine stemmed from Internet rumors that the vaccine was sterilizing people or spreading HIV; some of these claims were fueled by local religious leaders. It took years of negotiation and education for the World Health Organization, UNICEF and other health agencies to counter the conspiracy theories and regain trust about childhood vaccination.
Trust is both fragile and essential for successful global health outcomes. In Afghanistan, where colleagues of ours are helping to rebuild the national health system, locals often link trust in health services with security — in other words, they trust clinics because they believe they are safe places. But health workers there and in Pakistan may now be suspect or seen as spies. People throughout the region may reject vaccines out of politically derived fear. Health efforts beyond vaccination, including those aimed at reducing maternal mortality rates and bringing safe drinking water to millions of rural residents, could be imperiled.
Eric Cantor wants to help the poors by taxing them more
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA): We also know that over 45 percent of the people in this country don’t pay [federal] income taxes at all, and we have to question whether that’s fair. And should we broaden the base in a way that we can lower rates for everybody that pays taxes.
Remember, whenever you hear a politician talk about “broadening the tax base,” that’s code for “raising taxes on poor people.”
And why are we broadening the tax base raising taxes on poor people? So that we can “lower rates for everybody that pays taxes.”
How can we be lowering rates for everybody if we’re raising taxes on the poor? Oh, when you say “everybody” you mean "successful" rich people.
Cantor: I’ve never believed that you go and raise taxes on those who have been successful that are paying in, taking from them, so that you just hand out and give to someone else. Those someone else[s] want hand-ups. They want the ability to get up the ladder.
Personally, I like the assumption that anyone who doesn’t make enough money to pay federal income tax is getting a government handout.
Come to think of it, I didn’t make enough money at my two part-time jobs with no benefits to pay federal income tax this year. Apparently I should be expecting some sweet handout from the government.
I’m such a bad poor. All I asked from Uncle Sam on Tax Day was adequately maintained roads to get to work, a fire station near my apartment building, decent schools in my neighborhood, and reasonable student loan rates.
See The Atlantic for more commentary on Cantor’s tax plan:
What would it take to force these lucky duckies to pay positive income taxes? It would mean instantly higher taxes for 70 million Americans. It would mean raising taxes on some of the poorest households by up to $4,000 a year, according to the Tax Policy Center.
If we need to fund the necessary operations of government, why go after where the money isn’t? If people naturally want to be richer, why would slightly higher tax rates on income over $330,000 change their mind? If the poor need hand-ups, why make them poorer?
It is a matter of economic dogma that taxes discourage behavior. Eric Cantor has obviously convinced himself that higher taxes on income under $30,000 will discourage poverty. On the issue of ridiculous taxes, maybe we should create a new levy on comments that the tax code would be “fairer” if the bottom 40% did more to support the burden of top 1%. That sort of inanity ought to be discouraged.
And if you didn’t click on the link above, read Salon's article, America’s True Tax Rate, which features “what is perhaps the single most important and easy-to-understand chart” explaining the U.S. tax system.
As you can see, the top 1 percent of income earners make about 21 percent of the money, and pay about 21 percent of the nation’s taxes. Likewise, the next 4 percent of income earners make 14 percent of the income and pay about 15 percent of the taxes. In other words, for most every income segment, the share of total taxes paid is almost identical to the share that the income segment earned.
To know this is a flat tax system is to ponder how differently a genuinely progressive system would operate. You’d have the top 1 percent of income earners making 21 percent of the income but contributing a much higher percentage of total national taxes. But again, that’s not the reality because our tax system is effectively flat.
It’s been quiet over here on my blog, mostly because of my crazy work schedule. And first, let me say how great having a job is.
Like, really great.
Paying for stuff is so much better than not paying for stuff. I am so grateful to my second home (Jersey City) where I spend most of my waking hours teaching psychology to really cool people. The opportunities I have discovered here not only let me work at something that I love, but (even more importantly) they let me work.
Now we all know that New Jersey gets a lot of hate from us New Yorkers. But Jersey saved my butt this year. Which is why I will defend New Jersey’s honor to the bitter end.
Seriously. Take your Jersey-hating self elsewhere.
I ♥ NJ.
LESS WRITING, MORE LINKING
All that said, I don’t want to abandon the blog altogether. I really enjoy writing here, but until now I haven’t figured out a way of fitting it in to my limited free time.
I did discover Pinterest a few weeks ago, and I find it’s a really great way of bookmarking and brainstorming. I kept thinking to myself how useful Pinterest would be if I was still blogging.
So, in an effort to jumpstart the blog, I’m going to try rethinking this space. I loved writing the roundup posts, where I aggregated and wrote about news, politics, and culture. I’m going to move in that direction, and use more of my blog to share interesting things I see and read about.
Basically, less writing and more linking.
We’ll see how it goes, but as of right now I’m excited about blogging again.
P.S. I will continue to use my Pinterest boards to bookmark and organize my thoughts. Feel free to follow me there, although you may see some repeat information here on the blog.
If you’re a big movie-fan (like me)—if you’re the type that marks Oscar night on your calendar six weeks in advance (also me)—if you print out your own Academy Awards ballot and put more than ten seconds of thought into predicting who will win that coveted “Sound Mixing” award (well, maybe that one time…)—then you should definitely read this article on Salon.com.
The matter of gender is simultaneously important to me and a non-issue.
When it comes to my personal life - friends, family, intimacies - neither the sex nor gender of myself or the other party/parties involved have any standing on my relationships. I identify as genderqueer and pansexual. The first, as I see it in myself, means I identify some parts of my self as feminine and some as masculine, but ultimately I define myself wholly as neither. The second means when it comes to attraction, gender in itself does not factor into whether or not I find myself attracted to someone (physically or mentally).
That’s just me and my personal life. When it comes to social (in)justice and (in)equality, the issue of gender identity is immensely important to me. Some have said the transgender movement is about 20 years behind the gay (civil rights) movement. I wish I could say that was a pessimistic view, and one day in the closer-than-20-years future I can look back and chastise myself for ever being so glum. Unfortunately, I don’t expect that to be the case …
Please take a few minutes to read this entire post on Zanne’s blog. Then consider learning more here, because you don’t need to be LGBTQ to be an informed ally.
In which one American company defines snapshot culture:
We’re not sure when or where a photographer first asked his subjects to state the name of the delicious dairy product, but we do know that when you say “cheese,” the corners of your mouth turn up, your cheeks lift and your teeth show. It looks like a smile, and since smiling is what we do in pictures, the instruction seems pretty practical.
The deeper question, then, is: why is a smile the default expression for photographs?
As author and mass communication professor Christina Kotchemidova points out, people didn’t always smile for photos. Before 1900, some people actually said “prunes” instead of “cheese” to achieve the ideal “small, tightly controlled mouth.”
Then, sometime in the twentieth-century, the smile became king, ruling over snapshots with an iron fist.
Prior studies of the smile in photography, Kotchemidova says, relate its rise to “the speedy camera shutter, attractive faces in media and politics, and the rise of dental care,” technological and cultural factors that may have begun a process of “mouth liberalization.” Kotchemidova, though, proposes that we look at smiling for the camera as a cultural construction of twentieth-century American snapshot photography.
The smile’s big moment came when Kodak produced the world’s first mass market camera—the Brownie. And of course, like so many cultural innovations, it all comes down to good advertising:
Kodak’s ads and photography publications presented taking photos as a happy experience for both the photographer and the subject that served to preserve fond memories of good times. One way that message was communicated was plenty of smiling faces on happy consumers, which conveniently provided “a model for how subjects should look,” that quickly spread along with the adoption of the technology.
Kotchemidova concludes that Kodak’s position of leadership in the culture of photography and their saturation of the ads, magazines and their own publications with images of smiling faces allowed the company to define the standards and aesthetics of good snapshots, and smiling for the camera became the cultural norm.
So not only did Kodak reinvent the camera, but they reinvented the smile, too.
In which a guy in Oregon beats out National Geographic, the CIA, and the US Census Bureau for cartography’s top award:
According to independent cartographers I spoke with, the big mapmaking corporations of the world employ type-positioning software, placing their map labels (names of cities, rivers, etc.) according to an algorithm. For example, preferred placement for city labels is generally to the upper right of the dot that indicates location. But if this spot is already occupied—by the label for a river, say, or by a state boundary line—the city label might be shifted over a few millimeters. Sometimes a town might get deleted entirely in favor of a highway shield or a time zone marker. The result is a rough draft of label placement, still in need of human refinement. Post-computer editing decisions are frequently outsourced—sometimes to India, where teams of cheap workers will hunt for obvious errors and messy label overlaps. The overall goal is often a quick and dirty turnaround, with cost and speed trumping excellence and elegance.
By contrast, David Imus worked alone on his map seven days a week for two full years. Nearly 6,000 hours in total. It would be prohibitively expensive just to outsource that much work. But Imus—a 35-year veteran of cartography who’s designed every kind of map for every kind of client—did it all by himself. He used a computer (not a pencil and paper), but absolutely nothing was left to computer-assisted happenstance. Imus spent eons tweaking label positions. Slaving over font types, kerning, letter thicknesses. Scrutinizing levels of blackness. It’s the kind of personal cartographic touch you might only find these days on the hand-illustrated ski-trail maps available at posh mountain resorts.
When we think of all the things that have fallen by the wayside in the digital age, cartography isn’t one that occurs to many of us. However Slate's strange Cinderella story about one mapmaker's masterpiece offers a compelling argument for why Google Maps shouldn't be the end of cartography.
Yet, barring a miracle, this opus will barely be seen. Specialty map shops are disappearing. Bookstore chains tend to carry only the major map brands. And even if they were somehow made aware of Imus’ marvelous creation, most school systems can’t afford or can’t be bothered to update their classroom maps. A map is a map, right? That circa 1982 Rand McNally wall blob does the job just fine, the thinking goes.
Some might argue that classrooms don’t need paper maps at all. That none of us do. The Internet is full of free digital maps that boast amazing functionality. They can dictate driving directions, or help us find stores and hunt for real estate. We can look at these maps on the move—on our mobile phones or on the navigational systems in our cars. What good is an unwieldy paper wall map that can’t be pinched, zoomed, or double-clicked?
For one thing, that zooming capability means the makers of a single digital map are forced to design dozens of differently scaled versions. This severely limits how much time they can devote to perfecting the layout at each zoom level. Imus’ map never varies from its scale of 65 miles to the inch, but everything you see at that one scale is exactly as Imus wishes you to see it. Besides, if you need to zoom in on a wall map you can just tiptoe closer to the wall.
There’s also a certain flavor of geographic comprehension that comes with taking in a map all at once in a large format. Imus argues that you can’t truly understand a place if you only use zoomed-in maps on teensy screens. (Evidence for this notion: Although we probably look at maps now more than at any other time in history—thanks to their digital ubiquity—our knowledge of geography hasn’t improved at all. Studies show that our kids continue to live in geographic ignorance, in some cases worse than it was 15 years ago.) Looking at Imus’ big, richly detailed map offers a holistic sense of what America looks like—how cities spread out along rivers, forests give way to plains, and mountains zigzag next to valleys. In Imus’ exuberant view, a map like this might inspire enough geographic curiosity to guide the next generation of students back on course.
Click through the link above to read more about this remarkable work, and to see images that compare Imus’s map with others.
Bonus Links: Here’s some map humor. If you enjoyed that, then watch this clip. If both of these things entertain you then we can be best friends.
The Shuttle Motion Simulator (SMS), which for more than three decades exposed astronauts to the sights, sounds, and motions they’d experience when they launched and landed on the real orbiters, is being moved 100 miles from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to Texas A&M University in College Station. Once there, the hydraulically maneuvered platform will resume work as a simulator.
"The SMS at College Station at Texas A&M is going to be returned to be an operational simulator," Paul Hill, director of mission operations at NASA Johnson, said. "And there, more students and engineers will have the opportunity not just to see it, but actually use it to develop new operations and develop new equipment to be used by next generation spacecraft."
As an Aggie and a spacenerd, I had to share this article. Not only am I proud that the SMS will find a new home at Texas A&M, but I am also excited about how the University plans on sharing this unique piece of history:
"When the SMS does get to College Station and we install it, we’re going to preserve it as a piece of living history," said John Valasek, director of the vehicle systems and control laboratory in Texas A&M’s aerospace engineering department. "It is not going to be changed or modified in any significant way. The crew of STS-135, the last crew to fly it, will be able to come into the simulator and see it exactly as it was when they were last in the simulator for training."
"It will be living history that many people can enjoy," said Valasek.
And by many, he didn’t mean just engineering students.
"We will use it for public school outreach, for university outreach and university education," Valasek said. "It will be used in engineering classes. It will be available to all majors and all students. And most importantly to me, it will be available to the public."
The simulator was used to train astronauts on all 135 shuttle flights, and, when installed at A&M, will offer the public an unprecedented look at the history of American space travel.
This December, in a surprisingly simple yet ridiculously amazing installation for the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, artist Yayoi Kusama constructed a large domestic environment, painting every wall, chair, table, piano, and household decoration a brilliant white, effectively serving as a giant white canvas. Over the course of two weeks, the museum’s smallest visitors were given thousands upon thousands of colored dot stickers and were invited to collaborate in the transformation of the space, turning the house into a vibrantly mottled explosion of color.
In 2008 photographer Martin Becka completed a remarkable project. The artist captured the dramatic and modern architecture of Dubai—but here’s the twist—he used only the archaic photography equipment that existed in the 19th Century.
The resulting images are otherworldly and beautiful. By using antiquated technology Becka manages to reveal (rather than hide) Dubai’s striking look—strong evidence supporting Dubai’s status as one of the world’s most modern cities.
It may seem a trifling matter, but as we recall from the great New Coke fiasco of ’85, there are some things that should not be messed with. And that’s the real reason for the outcry. It’s not about a lazy inability to distinguish regular from diet. It’s about the potent ideal Coke itself perpetuates – solid, dependable, and goddammit, red.
Remember this shocking story from last year?
A Toledo, Ohio woman viciously attacked a McDonald’s drive thru cashier when she was told she couldn’t order McNuggets at 6:30 in the morning:
Now I’m not saying we all go around busting up drive thrus when we can’t get a box of our favorite boot-shaped meat when the craving strikes. But I can confess feeling unreasonably upset after buying the wrong soda, or running out of my favorite cereal, or forgetting those delicious leftovers at the restaurant. Similarly, few things improve my mood like a good dessert. Sure, I’m usually too embarrassed to admit just how emotional food can become. But if I’m being honest, I am certainly guilty of feeling a little too attached to what I eat.
Why are we so emotionally invested in our food? Well I don’t know if this last video gives us a complete answer, but I think it does reveal how early in life this unhealthy relationship can develop.
So remember Halloween this year, when Jimmy Kimmel basically punked hundreds of kids across the country? The talk show host encouraged parents to submit videos of themselves telling their little trick-or-treaters how they’d eaten all their candy.
Funny as this video is, what does it tell us about our food problem?
Diet Coke Cake
For calorie-conscious cakesters:
Mix one box of store-bought cake mix with one can of Diet Coke (or other diet cola), omitting other ingredients (eggs, oil, etc.).
Bake according to directions on cake mix box.
Eat, and avoid thinking about how [Diet Coke = eggs + vegetable oil].
You can also try substituting other diet sodas—Diet Coke works best with chocolate cake, but Diet 7UP and Diet Sprite work well in lemon and white cakes.
I have always felt that the later generations of tots, products of less romantic upbringing, cynical nonbelievers in Santa Claus from birth, can never know the nature of the true dream. I was well into my twenties before I finally gave up on the Easter bunny, and I am not convinced that I am the richer for it. Even now there are times when I’m not so sure about the stork.
Time and again it looked almost successful, but then he would remove his hand carefully…. BOING! … the kneecap kept springing up and sailing across the kitchen. The ankle didn’t fit. The glue hardened into black lumps and the Old Man was purple with frustration. He tried to fix the leg for about two hours, stacking books on it. A Sears Roebuck catalog held the instep. The family Bible pressed down on the thigh. But it wasn’t working.
Finally he scooped it all up. Without a word he took it out the back door and into the ashbin. He sat down quietly at the kitchen table. My mother is now back at her lifelong station, hanging over the sink. The sink is making the Sink noise. Our sink forever made long, gurgling sighs, especially in the evening, a kind of sucking, gargling, choking retch.
Aaaagggghhhh—and then a short, hissing wheeze and silence until the next attack. Sometimes at three o’clock in the morning I’d lie in my bed and listen to the sink—Aaaaaggggghhhh.
Once in a while it would go: gaaaaagggghhhh … PTUI!—and up would come a wad of Mrs. Kissel’s potato peelings from next door. She, no doubt, got our coffee grounds. Life was real.
Scattered out over the icy waste around us could be seen other tiny befurred jots of wind-driven humanity. All painfully toiling toward the Warren G. Harding School, miles away over the tundra, waddling under the weight of frost-covered clothing like tiny frozen bowling balls with feet. An occasional piteous whimper would be heard faintly, but lost instantly in the sigh of the eternal wind. All of us were bound for geography lessons involving the exports of Peru, reading lessons dealing with fat cats and dogs named Jack.
But over it all like a faint, thin, offstage chorus was the building excitement. Christmas was on its way. Each day was more exciting than the last, because Christmas was one day closer. Lovely, beautiful, glorious Christmas, around which the entire year revolved.