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El Gato Negro - The New Menu

El gato negro blog 3

I may have set a world record for longest menu, which probably doesn't surprise anyone that knows me.  There are 12 pages of food, several pages of superfoods and health information, the FAQ and several pages of random book notes before getting to my list of favorite books.   Each time I edit it, I add pages. 

You can see my 36-page menu in PDF format here:   Download El gato negro menu

The menu goes into effect Wednesday morning.

You can see photos pf my store here, though it hasn't been updated for a while.  We have a Facebook page thanks to Rob, but it's his domainand he is bad about putting up photos.

The menu covers are homemade, abstract collage creations.  This batch was not quite as interesting as the last menus, which included the sex menu cover: a collage of a brochure from The Vagina Monologues and The Dysfunctional Family Doll Set with cross-drssing dad, S&M mom and the psychiatrist in the pink rabbit suit.  I have a twisted sense of humor.

Despite the uniqueness and intricacy of some of the menu covers, most people don't notice them.  Or they notice them they are falling apart becasue we haven't updated the menu and prices in more than two years and  it's costing us money on any item with blueberries.  But in good condition many people never noticed that they were holding the sex menu cover, Playboy centerfold and all.  

I am also working on coffee bag labels and because I have to be different, I am using several different cats and mixing them with vibrant labels, of which there will be almost limitless color combinations. On top of the labels. I am creating 5x6 postcards and two sizes of stickers.  I like that I can sell my art in my store!

Off to the printers tomorrow.  Here are a few more of my images:


El gato negro art 9


El gato negro blog 2 



When schools close for good: How do you educate your child?

A recent article in the New York Times entitled "Surge in Homeless Pupils Strains Schools" and my comments about the article on What Really Happened have inspired me to write this post.

Whether or not any person reading this is willing to admit it, our society - our global society - is collapsing before our very eyes.  Recovery via the old paradigm is not around the corner.  While many people are preparing for hard times ahead (heirloom seed companies ran out of product, it's almost impossible to find ammunition, and health food stores are selling out of essential oils, herbs, and supplements), I haven't seen anything written about how to educate children when the public schools fail or mom and dad are living in one of the growing tent cities.  If children are our future, we are doing a poor job in getting them ready to handle these forthcoming changes in society.

I don't have children.  I don't have a degree in education.  I am not what anyone would ever refer to as a "teacher".  I cannot even teach my cats not to jump on the table.  However, I think about the subject of education far more than most of my acquaintances with school-age children.

Assuming the worst - political crisis, financial crisis, hurricane, Baxter-made pandemic, earthquake, revolution, or whatever, how will you educate your child and/or those children around you (we are about to see an explosion of homeless, parentless children) if the public school system ceases to exist in your area?

For those of you whose immediate response to this question was something along the lines of "the internet" or "educational software", think again.  What happens if the internet ceases to exist as you know it?  What if you don't have electricity?  What if your computer dies and you don't have the ability to replace it?

Judging from the average American home, I fear for the future of our children.  Admittedly, I am a book whore.  I own a bookstore.  My own private collection was once large enough to be called a library, though I have managed to part with some titles because moving several thousand books around the world is expensive, and there are very few books that I have ever read twice.  My books give me comfort.  I am often wigged out when I step into the average American home and see no evidence that the family reads.  Leftover college text books, how-to/self-help manuals and copies of People magazine don't count in my extremely biased opinion, though that tends to be what defines a literary collection these days.  More often than not, I don't see a book anywhere in sight, though often I do find televisions in every room, even the bathrooms.

So here are my biased recommendations.  

First, have a blackboard and plenty of chalk available.  Skip the expensive and short-lived dry-erase boards with their expensive, toxic markers.  Chalkboards are getting harder to find, but you can make your own with a few layers of black acrylic paint (sanded between coats) and a piece of plywood.  

Next, pick up the basics: ruler, compass, pens, pencils, notebooks, plain paper, solar-powered calculator (or battery-powered one with a spare lithium battery or two), and hi-lighters.  If you have the money, stocking up on a supply of crayons, colored pencils, paints, markers, glue and some basic art supplies would be nice, too.  

Now what?  Well, you should have some familiarity with the skill sets of family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, colleagues, and professionals in your immediate area.  Who has skills that they can pass on to the children?  Are they willing to help?  What can they offer?  Make a list, make a plan. and get a list of book recommendations.  

Being a bookstore owner, you would think I would have some specific titles to offer.  I do not.  Okay, maybe a few.

First, read Jared Diamond's book "Collapse."  Re-read it if you don't understand it.  It's not perfect, but it gets you thinking about how societies succeed and fail.  As the parent/educator/citizen, you need this information.

Next, pick up a book or two on home-schooling children.  Search out internet forums and community groups for information, even if your kid is in public school.  These people are going to be in high demand soon, so best  to get the information before they become bogged down with too many requests.  

When it comes to selecting books, skip the "See Dick Run" type of books.  Children are smarter than that and (theoretically) their vocabulary and grammar surpasses that level of reading by the age of six particularly if the parent has spent time educating the child instead of waiting for the government to do so.  Don't waste money on simpleton books.  Kids can read "See Jane scavange for food in a dumpster" just as easily on a chalkboard as they can in a book.  Save the money for good books.

Your job as a homeschool teacher is going to be much easier if you keep your kids away from television.  They need to learn how to read, not how to become consumers for cereals, hamburgers, toys and cell phones.  The more exposure to television, the worse the reading comprehension.  

If you do need to use video in your classroom, at least make it something along the lines of the BBC's "Planet Earth" and not some video produced by the same people who lied to you when they said economic recovery is  just around the corner.  And just because it was produced by National Geographic, PBS, or Al Gore, don't assume it's true, especially if Al Gore endorses it.

As a side note here, I would suggest you read "State of Fear" by Michael Crighton, for this work of fiction (with footnotes and an appendix) gives excellent examples of how scientists are willing to fake/manipulate evidence to continue their livelihoods.

Books.  First, skip Kindle or electronic books.  They are useless without electricity, batteries and expensive hand-held devices.  A current unabridged dictionary is a must, as well as a thesaurus.  Also required are an atlas and a globe.  In the US, I would suggest Americans also have an English-Spanish dictionary on hand, a Spanish phrase book, 601 Spanish Verbs, and an introductory and intermediate  language study guide.  "The Idiot's Guide to Spanish" is actually better than most of the high school and college Spanish text books that I have seen over the years.   You don't have to limit your child (or yourself) to Spanish, but given the large Hispanic population and the proximity to Central America (potential refuge of many people planning to leave the US when TSHTF), it's not a bad idea to have Spanish as a second language.  

Next on the list are books on astronomy, botany, mathematics, natural medicine, history, scientific theory, anthropology, sociology, and psychology.  Think of these books as reference books for the entire family, not just kids.  There are millions of titles to choose from, so do your homework before spending  the rest of your cash on on titles that may or may not be of use to you and those you want to educate.  For physics, I recommend James Gleick's "Chaos - Making a New Science" and possibly a follow-up book on complexity.  Also, Gleick's book "Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman" is a far more interesting read than any traditional textbook.  These books will inspire children and adults to pursue further studies, at which time they can figure out which further reading materials they want to pursue.    Traditional textbooks don't even mention Chaos Theory.  I would also recommend "The Botany of Desire" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma" as good starting points on educating kids on the inter-relationship of plants, food and people.  I wouldn't even know where to begin when recommending a basic botany book.  A good organic gardening book should cover all the science aspects needed for a basic education in botany.  Kurt Vonnegut's, "Wampeter's, Foma and Granfalloons" makes a better introduction to sociology than a standard textbook.

Overall, I think it is best to start with an idea to generate excitement and then throw in a textbook or two or five to compliment the subject matter.  It's important to instill curiosity in an individual, which leads to the development of critical thinking skills.  Obviously those with education degrees and those who teach people intending to obtain degrees in the field of education probably vehemently disagree with my thoughts, but one only has to observe the average worker-bee in the US to see that "See Dick Run" and Orwellian New Math have done little to create a population that can handle this mess, let alone the ability to have foreseen this mess.  The paradigm is changing.  Education must, too.

A good selection of books is imperative to while away the hours of the day.  Literature preferences are too personal to come up with a comprehensive reading list.   I found the majority of the literature I was obligated to read in public schools to be boring at best.  Just because something is classic doesn't mean it's good.  A 1938 Talbot-Lago T-150 CSS is classic, but by definition, so is a 1971 AMC Gremlin.  As a bookstore owner, I have never ben impressed with the book recommendations of college lit majors compared with college or high school drop-outs.  Es verdad.  The drop-outs have much better recommendations.

I won't even try to list children's books, but for teens and adults, I would suggest "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, "Native Son" by Richard Wright"; "1984" and "Animal Farm" by George Orwell; "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley, "East of Eden" and "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck; "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding;  "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger;  "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller;  "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabakov (and "Blue Angle" by Francine Prose - obviously for the older teens - it's important that adults don't pretend that teens won't comprehend the subject matter);  "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey; "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe; "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert; "The Portrait of a Lady" by Henry James; "Ulysses" by James Joyce; and "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand.  (Personally, I don't agree with her philosophy, but the books explain much about our present-day conundrum.)

These titles aren't going to work for small children, but most teenagers can grasp the subject matter better than educators and other adults want to believe.

There are plenty of great contemporary authors.  I absolutely loved "A Fraction of the Whole " by Steve Tolz and I think many teens would find it great, too.  I could go on and on, but it's all about personal preference.  I think individuals should make up their minds about books rather than having to force read "Moby Dick" because it's old and some lit major thinks it is a classic.  Some argue that "Lord of the Rings" is better than "Harry Potter" and some might argue that "Twilight" is better than "Draclua", but in the end what is more important is that a person reads and hopefully enjoys the book enough to want to keep reading more.

In writing this, I am not in any way suggesting a definitive list for homeschooling your children.   There is much to add.  In my book list, it is obvious that I don't have children nor have I ever been an educator of small children.  I just hope to inspire a few people to think outside the box.  Thinking along the lines of the traditional paradigm won't move you ahead and will do nothing to benefit your children.  I just want people to think about the need for homeschooling and plan for it because there will be a need very soon.

Lastly, it should be obvious, but diet is crucial to learning.  When a parent has to deal with teaching their child instead of pawning him off onto the public school system, this concept might once again become important.  Keep kids away from processed foods and sugar.  Deal with hyperactivity with physical activity.  (Wii is not physical activity, by the way.)  Use rosemary oil for aromatherapy in the classroom.  (It enhances cognitive function.) Use calming herbal teas if the kids can't focus.  Let them voice their concerns about what is happening around them, and above all, don't lie to them.  You don't have to tell them Armageddon is coming, but if you don't have an answer, tell them so.  It's okay to not have all the answers.  You can seek them out together.

If Sharks Were Men

Thanks to Danny for sending this to me.

Excerpts from Brecht’s Stories of Mr. Keuner, translated by Martin Chalmers (City Lights, 2001). Copyright 2001 by Stefan S. Brecht.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), author of The Threepenny Opera, Mother Courage and many other provocative plays, poems and theoretical writings, composed his Mr. Keuner anecdotes at odd moments from the 1920s through the 1950s.

If sharks were men

“If sharks were men,” Mr. K. was asked by his landlady’s little girl, “would they be nicer to the little fishes?”

      “Certainly,” he said. “If sharks were men, they would build enormous boxes in the ocean for the little fish, with all kinds of food inside, both vegetable and animal. They would take care that the boxes always had fresh water, and in general they would make all kinds of sanitary arrangements. If, for example, a little fish were to injure a fin, it would immediately be bandaged, so that it would not die and be lost to the sharks before its time. So that the little fish would not become melancholy, there would be big water festivals from time to time; because cheerful fish taste better than melancholy ones.

      “There would, of course, also be schools in the big boxes. In these schools the little fish would learn how to swim into the sharks’ jaws. They would need to know geography, for example, so that they could find the big sharks, who lie idly around somewhere. The principal subject would, of course, be the moral education of the little fish. They would be taught that it would be the best and most beautiful thing in the world if a little fish sacrificed itself cheerfully and that they all had to believe the sharks, especially when the latter said they were providing for a beautiful future. The little fish would be taught that this future is assured only if they learned obedience. The little fish had to beware of all base, materialist, egotistical and Marxist inclinations, and if one of their number betrayed such inclinations they had to report it to the sharks immediately.

      “If sharks were men, they would, of course, also wage wars against one another, in order to conquer other fish boxes and other little fish. The wars would be waged by their own little fish. They would teach their little fish that there was an enormous difference between themselves and the little fish belonging to the other sharks. Little fish, they would announce, are well known to be mute, but they are silent in quite different languages and hence find it impossible to understand one another. Each little fish that, in a war, killed a couple of other little fish, enemy ones, silent in their own language, would have a little order made of seaweed pinned to it and be awarded the title of hero.

      “If sharks were men, there would, of course, also be art. There would be beautiful pictures, in which the sharks’ teeth would be portrayed in magnificent colors and their jaws as pure pleasure gardens, in which one could romp about splendidly. The theaters at the bottom of the sea would show heroic little fish swimming enthusiastically into the jaws of sharks, and the music would be so beautiful that to the accompaniment of its sounds, the orchestra leading the way, the little fish would stream dreamily into the sharks’ jaws, lulled by the most agreeable thoughts.

      “There would also be a religion, if sharks were men. It would preach that little fish only really begin to live properly in the sharks’ stomachs.

      “Furthermore, if sharks were men there would be an end to all little fish being equal, as is the case now. Some would be given important offices and be placed above the others. Those who were a little bigger would even be allowed to eat up the smaller ones. That would be altogether agreeable for the sharks, since they themselves would more often get bigger bites to eat. And the bigger little fish, occupying their posts, would ensure order among the little fish, become teachers, officers, engineers in box construction, etc.

      “In short, if sharks were men, they would for the first time bring culture to the ocean.”

What Book Are You?

You're Lolita!
by Vladimir Nabokov
Considered by most to be depraved and immoral, you are obsessed with sex. What really tantalizes you is that which deviates from societal standards in every way, though you admit that this probably isn't the best and you're not sure what causes this desire. Nonetheless, you've done some pretty nefarious things in your life, and probably gotten caught for them. The names have been changed, but the problems are real. Please stay away from children.
Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

A Pile Of Books by the Nightstand

Summer vacation is usually synonymous with pouring through a stack of books. At any given time of the year, I always have at least ten must-read books scattered over my desk or next to my bed. I am a book junky, searching out independent bookstores for my latest fix. I have even stooped so low as to shell out a generous portion of hard-earned cash at Borders and Barnes & Noble on days when I am jonesing for something good to read. It’s not as if I don’t have a whole lot of choices in my own home – fifteen bookcases worth of reading material, much to the annoyance of the moving company. But upon entering a bookstore, I am like a kid in a candy shop. The pretty dust covers and titillating titles send me into a frenzy and I cannot leave empty-handed.

This past year has been busier than most, ands while I spend several hours a day reading, it tends to be news, blogs, and assorted web sites. I feel a tad guilty reading fiction when there is so much of interest in the “real” world. My fiction choices tend to be fast-paced: political intrigue and Florida humor. Tim Dorsey, author of Florida Roadkill, Hammerhead Ranch, Orange Crush, Triggerfish Lane, Stingray Shuffle and Cadillac Beach, is by far my favorite writer. I have learned not to drink beverages while reading his books, as the result of having coffee come out my nose in a crowded café. I read the last two titles on my vacation, and now I am left with what feels like an infinite wait until he scribes another story of the adventures of Serge, the psychotic historian, and his best-friend, Lenny the pot head.

From Cadillac Beach:

A bearded man in rags stood on the side of a busy noon intersection, holding up a cardboard sign: will be your psychic friend for food.

A Volvo rolled up. The bum leaned to the window.

"People are out to get you. Vaccinations will be rendered obsolete in coming years by superaggressive bacteria. Your memory will start playing tricks. Tackle those feelings of hopelessness by giving up."

The driver handed over a dollar. Serge stuffed the bill in his pocket and waved as the car pulled away.

"Have a nice day!"

The traffic light cycled again; an Infiniti pulled up.

"Today is the day to seize opportunities and act on long-term goals. But not for you. The House of Capricorn is in regression, which means the water signs are ambiguous at best. Meanwhile, Libra is rising and out to fuck you stupid. Stay home and watch lots of TV."

A dollar came through the window.

"Peace, brother."

The light ran through its colors. Serge knocked on the window of a Mitsubishi. The glass opened an inch.

"Put off making that crucial life-decision today because you'll be wrong. Stop and notice the small things in life, like pollen. Wear something silly and give in to that whimsical urge to kick people in the crotch."
A dollar came through the window slit. Serge waved cheerfully as tires squealed. Next: a cigar-chomping man in an Isuzu. Serge bent down.

"The word 'smegma' will come up today at an awkward moment. Begin keeping a journal; write down all your thoughts so you can see how stupid they are. Don't be rash! Blue works for you!"

"Hey, what kind of a reading is that?"

"Top-of-the-line," said Serge, holding out his hand. "Where's my money?"

"I'm not paying you."

"Come on, ya cheapskate!"

"That was a lousy reading!"

"Okay, let's see what else I got." Serge placed the back of his hand to his forehead and closed his eyes.
"Wait, I'm getting a strong signal now. A transient will take down your license plate, track your address through the Department of Motor Vehicles, come to your house at night and kill you in your sleep." Serge opened his eyes and smiled. "How was that?"

The silent driver held out a dollar.

"Oh, no," said Serge," that was my special five-dollar prediction." The man didn't move.

"No problem," said Serge, pulling a notepad from his pocket. "I'll just jot down your plate and come by later to get the money."

The man pulled a five from his wallet, threw it out the window and sped off.

“How did you get to be homeless?" asked Whooping Cough Willie.

"Oh, I'm not homeless," said Serge. "I'm camping."

They laughed and passed a bottle.

"No, really. I love camping, ever since I was a kid. I used to go to the state parks, but cities are much more dangerous and fun."

Carl Hiassen is another of my favorites. I finished his latest, Skinny Dip while sitting on the shores of Daytona Beach. It was the perfect setting. The story revolves around a marine biologist who doctors water samples for a ruthless agribusiness tycoon. From the jacket cover:

Chaz Perrone might be the only marine scientist in the world who doesn’t know which way the Gulf Stream runs. He might also be the only one who went into biology just to make a killing, and now he’s found a way – doctoring water samples so that a ruthless agribusiness tycoon can continue illegally dumping fertilizer in the endangered Everglades. When Chaz suspects that his wife, Joey, has figured out his scam, he pushes her overboard from a cruise liner into the night-dark Atlantic. Unfortunately for Chaz, his wife doesn’t die in the fall.

Clinging blindly to a bale of Jamaican pot, Joey Perrone is plucked from the ocean by former cop and current loner Mick Stranahan. Instead of rushing to the police and reporting her husband’s crime, Joey decides to stay dead and (with Mick’s help) screw with Chaz until he screws himself.

Strip Tease and Native Tongue are still my favorite Hiassen novels, but I enjoyed Skinny Dip enough to stay up ‘til three a.m. to finish the book!

Also on my vacation reading list: The Dice Man by Luke Reinhart. This is an older novel, originally published in 1971. It is the tale of a disillusioned psychiatrist who rolls a pair of die to determine his actions throughout the course of his life. It is bizarre, entertaining and made me fearful of the psychiatric community. Robbie, whom I met in Ireland, introduced me to the book. He handed me the book and told me to read two paragraphs that outlined the psychiatrist decision to rape his best friend and colleague’s wife. Yes, it was a bit strange to be standing on the streets of Dingle in the afternoon sun, reading a passage about a man’s decision to rape (which turned into consensual sex in the novel). Robbie knew I would not misconstrue to the gesture. It was a fascinating read. I found a cheap copy on Amazon and added it to my reading list. I surprised myself by actually reading it on vacation, as I prefer light-hearted fare for my days at the beach. This is definitely in my list of memorable books.

A book that I wish I could forget is Never Mind the Pollacks: A Rock and Roll Novel by Neil Pollack. A five hour flight with no reading material save for the Sky Mall magazine was the reason I read and finished the book. I didn’t care for the crudeness, but it probably appeals to guys who flock to Will Farrell movies. I prefer novels that do not focus on unrelenting descriptions of bodily fluids, even if it is satire.

Political thrillers are my favorite, but I have grown weary of the same formula: a former intelligence hero – the greatest who ever lived – is called out of retirement by an office so secret that that even the President of the US is unaware of its existence, to combat the evil terrorists. Last summer I read The Paris Option written by Robert Ludlum and Gayle Lynds. Actually, Robert Ludlum passed away before the year prior to the release of this novel, so it is actually written by Ms. Lynds – and it shows. If not for the plot – molecular computers and the EU Army v. NATO, I would have stopped reading for use of the word “terrorist.” I despise the overuse of the word. One man’s terrorist is another man’s political revolutionary. I don’t remember Ludlum’s books using the term “terrorist” ad naseum to describe the enemy combatants. A few months after I read the novel, the United States and Europe were hit with power outages and military types within the EU were asserting independence from NATO. Life imitating art?

One thriller I did enjoy was Term Limits by Vince Flynn, published in 1997. The plot revolves around a secret group of former Navy SEALS who assassinate two of the slimiest politicians in Washington, D.C. and threaten to kill the more if Congress and the President do not put aside their partisan bickering and put forth a balanced budget and pay off the deficit. I cannot write my true feelings about the plot for fear the Grayshirts (the official garb of the unconstitutional OHS) might be reading this, but I can dream. The downside is that Flynn needs a better editor. There were a few inconsistencies, but I liked the overall plot, save for the ending where Congressman O’Rourke decides that the public cannot know the truth for fear that it would –gasp! – lose faith in our current form of government. Dan Brown did the same thing in The Da Vinci Code, with the pious protagonist believing that people do not have the right to the truth if it would shatter their spiritual conceptions. I find those assumptions to be arrogant and clichéd, ruining what had been decent novels up to that point.

The current nightstand stack includes Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (I thought this was the book club’s September novel), The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (which turned out to September’s book club selection), The Romanov Prophecy by Steve Berry (related to the book club in that I purchased it when searching for a particular translation of Anna Karenina), The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green by Joshua Braff (ditto impulse purchase), Buddha’s Little Finger by Victor Pelevin (October’s book club selection), and the very exciting CSS Cookbook by Christopher Schmitt (which is useless to me because I don’t know the first thing about Cascading Style Sheets, so I’ll have to find an introductory book and go through all of the damn tutorials so that I can design the websites I have created in my head).

Books for Soldiers

I have the winter blues. It’s been cold and miserable and I miss my cats. It seems like everything I touch just falls apart. In an effort to lift my spirits, I did a Google search on “good news” and “positive news”. There was one site that looked interesting, but it has not been updated in almost a year. Is this a sign of the times? The other sites were either the “god loves you” sites or links to articles on earnings and dividends of assorted stocks. Nothing that was just happy and positive news about the joy of living on this planet, but lots of murders, kidnappings, assaults, robberies, and, of course, terrorist boogeymen du jour.

One morning I was especially glum when I went to check my e-mail. It was an interview with two officers on leave form Iraq. One mentioned that at least fifty percent of the troops in Iraq suffer from post-traumatic stress. I went to get my morning Starbucks fix, the officers’ words heavy on my mind. I encountered six homeless people in three miles. Four had signs claiming veterans’ status. I kept hoping for green lights all the way so I didn’t have to see their faces, heads bowed sown to mask the shame in their eyes. One man had a sign indicating his duffel bag had been stolen and he didn’t have anything to survive. I’ve made a deliberate attempt to keep a few ones in my purse, but I am angered that every day another homeless person appears under the freeway interchange, especially war veterans. I don’t think it’s fair that millions of men and women have died or had their lives destroyed because they were pawns for the truly wealthy – all of whom are invest in defense industries that require a an outside threat to justify the trillions of dollars spent on defending freedom through oppression after World War II.

I got home and surfed a little, discovering Books for Soldiers, Any Soldier, and Soldiers Angels along the way. I went through my bookshelves and gathered enough paperbacks and current magazines to assemble a stack of care packages, which I sent to units in Afghanistan and Iraq. I saw a few requests under the “Forgotten Soldiers” section of the Books for Soldiers site, so I dashed off a few cards and letters. I then stumbled upon the Soldiers Angels site and I have since “adopted” someone in Iraq. I sent my guy three care packages of socks, snacks, powdered lemonade, stationary, ramen, pictures of Texas wildflowers, toiletries – I kind of went a little overboard, which I’m prone to do. It felt good. It’s hard to feel sorry for myself when I think of all the men and women away from home digging their own latrines and breathing in all that Depleted Uranium.

Yesterday I saw a headline describing yet another bombing. The division name caught my eye. I grabbed my mailing list, hoping that the units were not the same. It didn’t appear so. Even though I don’t know the people I wrote to – and even if they never write back, the war suddenly became a little more personal for me, which makes me want it to end that much more.

Anything could be true

Excerpt from George Orwell's book, 1984:

The pencil felt thick and awkward in his fingers. He began to write down the thoughts that came into his head. He wrote first in large clumsy capitals:


Then almost without a pause he wrote beneath it:


But then there came a sort of check. His mind, as though shying away from something, seemed unable to concentrate. He knew that he knew what came next, but for the moment he could not recall it. When he did recall it, it was only by consciously reasoning out what it must be: it did not come of its own accord. He wrote:


He accepted everything. The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia. Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford were guilty of the crimes they were charged with. He had never seen the photograph that disproved their guilt. It had never existed, he had invented it. He remembered remembering contrary things, but those were false memories, products of selfdeception. How easy it all was! Only surrender, and everything else followed. It was like swimming against a current that swept you backwards however hard you struggled, and then suddenly deciding to turn round and go with the current instead of opposing it. Nothing had changed except your own attitude: the predestined thing happened in any case. He hardly knew why he had ever rebelled. Everything was easy, except!

Anything could be true. The so-called laws of Nature were nonsense. The law of gravity was nonsense. 'If I wished,' O'Brien had said, 'I could float off this floor like a soap bubble.' Winston worked it out. 'If he thinks he floats off the floor, and if I simultaneously think I see him do it, then the thing happens.' Suddenly, like a lump of submerged wreckage breaking the surface of water, the thought burst into his mind: 'It doesn't really happen. We imagine it. It is hallucination.' He pushed the thought under instantly. The fallacy was obvious. It presupposed that somewhere or other, outside oneself, there was a 'real' world where 'real' things happened. But how could there be such a world? What knowledge have we of anything, save through our own minds? All happenings are in the mind. Whatever happens in all minds, truly happens.

He had no difficulty in disposing of the fallacy, and he was in no danger of succumbing to it. He realized, nevertheless, that it ought never to have occurred to him. The mind should develop a blind spot whenever a dangerous thought presented itself. The process should be automatic, instinctive. Crimestop, they called it in Newspeak.

He set to work to exercise himself in crimestop. He presented himself with propositions -- 'the Party says the earth is flat', 'the party says that ice is heavier than water' -- and trained himself in not seeing or not understanding the arguments that contradicted them. It was not easy. It needed great powers of reasoning and improvisation. The arithmetical problems raised, for instance, by such a statement as 'two and two make five' were beyond his intellectual grasp. It needed also a sort of athleticism of mind, an ability at one moment to make the most delicate use of logic and at the next to be unconscious of the crudest logical errors. Stupidity was as necessary as intelligence, and as difficult to attain.