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December 27, 2010

My Equatorial Trip Log

I rode a bike around the world. Finished today (Christmas 2010). I rode a ring at the equator, 40,075 kilometers over land and sea. A gift to myself. It took me so many years I don’t remember when I started, but I did it. Around the world in my study.

I read a lot of books sitting on my exercise bike. Jotted notes, watched some baseball on the computer, enjoyed some music. I don’t know if I had any great ideas in that position, but it’s always hard to pin ideas to time and place. I spent a long time there, long time and hard work.

The only things that really give satisfaction take a long time and hard work. So scratching a lottery ticket doesn’t count. A marriage does, raising kids, building a home, education, business, public service, art. Real accomplishments. But if you walk from Mexico to Canada or collect a ball of twine twenty feet high or ride a stationary bike around the world are those real accomplishments or are we in the world of Guinness records?

I’m not going to answer that question. I know nobody else cares about what I did, but it means something to me. That’s enough. I’m proud of myself, even as I recognize the silliness of the undertaking. You laugh too, but what have you done?

I will answer the question: now what? Now the ending of my first lap is also the beginning of my second lap. I’ll go round again, go back for seconds. Wouldn’t be a complete, good day without my hour of spinning my wheels.

So if I’m saying that this is my private pleasure, why am I even writing about it? I’m not expecting a pat on the back from anyone (oh go ahead, pat). But I’m happy right now, I achieved my goal. Now shut up. Enjoy the holidays. Back in the saddle again.

Happy trials, Martin Stronglegs*

Mutt: Good day, Sir Jeff, let me tell you a funny story.
Jeff: That’d be a first.
Mutt: This guy goes into a restaurant for a Christmas breakfast while in his home town for the holidays. After looking over the menu he says, "I'll just have the Eggs Benedict." His order comes a while later and it's served on a big, shiny hubcap. He asks the waiter, "What's with the hubcap?" The waiter sings, "There's no plate like chrome for the hollandaise!"
Jeff: I don’t get it.
Mutt: "There's no plate like chrome for the hollandaise!" Come on, it’s a Christmas joke!
Jeff: It stinks. All right, Darth Vader … You know who Darth Vader is?
Mutt: Sure, he used to be my barber.
Jeff: Darth Vader says, "Luke Skywalker - I know what you're getting for Christmas. I felt your presents."
Mutt: I don’t get it.
Jeff: Tough.
Mutt: Buy me a beer and we’ll call it a tie.
Jeff: This duck walks into a bar and orders a beer. "Four bucks," says the bartender. The duck answers, "Put it on my bill."
Mutt: A skeleton walks into a bar and says, "Gimme a beer, and a mop."
Jeff: A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm and says: "A beer please, and one for the road."
Mutt: And a happy and healthy new year to you, my friend.
Jeff: Same to you, my distinguished colleague.

*There's a video version of Martin's arrival at the finish line for followers only (see side bar). Become a follower and get a reward.

December 23, 2010

Godzilla Lives!

Where Godzilla is the Italian government, which is Berlusconi and the best politicians his money can buy, and underfoot is the country he’s destroying. Nature of the beast.

The weird part is that he’s been dead for years, and everyone pretends the contrary. The emperor has a stick behind his back that holds him upright, a Jokerman smile thanks to plastic surgery, hair made of steel quills that they press down with a hot iron (to cover his horns), and recorded slogans played by pulling a little cord hanging out of his pants. It works better than live politics.

The rumors that he has sexual relations with his four female ministers, any actresses that want to be on the tv shows that he controls (all of them), overage and underage prostitutes and generally any willing Barbie doll are all untrue. The girls he sleeps with (sometimes one, sometimes several, Ruby, Noemi, Patrizia, etcetera) are not prostitutes! He pays them cash, yes, but it’s a gift. He gives lots of gifts, like Saint Nick.

So, as the richest man in the country (this year he may have “slipped” into second or third place, no diff), Berlusconi can do anything he wants, right? He’s above the law and common morality and clearly better than everyone else. And, as we saw today, he bought the country and he can damn well do anything he wants with it. We’re all his sex slaves now.

Our local congressman from Messina, for example, noted for his enormous personal debts (liens on all seven of his houses), was more than willing to change his vote to please Mr. Money-bags, along with several other Judases who reversed the confidence vote against Berlusconi in Parliament. So, one might think, he lives to fight another day.

But he’s dead, remember? Morally and politically and legally dead. Morally for the above stated reasons, politically because he isn’t really the leader of the people but a phony mannequin leader who leads himself, his paper-doll copies and the flag-wavers he pays to turn up at his rallies. And legally because of the vast variety of serious crimes he’s being tried for and that he keeps passing laws to save himself from (see Wikipedia for a list).

And the worst? You won’t believe this. The Italian parliament, with a Berlusconi majority, on a Berlusconi government proposal, recently attempted to pass a law that eliminates obligatory arrest for anyone engaged in ‘minor acts’ of pedophilia. A pro-pedophile law! Could it have been inspired by the priest caught getting serviced in his car by a 12-year-old girl? (that is, figuratively, the Catholic church, which admits to only 1.5-5% guilty criminal pedophile priests: 5%!) Or by the president of the council of ministers himself? I’d bet they’re not the only interested ones. Rumors of coke parties and Lolita orgies involving Berlusconi’s cohorts and guests have circulated for years.

The press, controlled by Mr. B (you know he owns all three big private networks and controls the three public ones through his puppets, right?), has been mute on this topic. Deafening silence. No scandal at all for the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard of. Back to the days when the local noblemen were supposed to de-flower all the teenage girls of the village.

In Italian there’s an expression which roughly translated goes: There’s no limit to things getting worse. Okay, but could we not have a leader who’s articulate, calm, politically skilled and statesman-like instead of a raving, degenerate fool? As Mutt and Jeff would say, “you get what you deserve.” Yeah, but when have we been punished enough?

Keeping you informed … your informal correspondent in Italy …

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: In Australia, the Local Area Network is called the LAN down under.
Jeff: In France, they cook their omelettes with only one egg.
Mutt: Why’s that?
Jeff: Well, you see, in France one egg is un oeuf.
Mutt: In England, they do not have a kidney bank, but they do have a Liverpool.
Jeff: In Texas, an old rancher was drawing up his will so that he might provide for his three boys when he would pass away. He decided to divide his land up evenly among them. His wife suggested that he name the place The Focus Ranch. "Why should I do that, my love?" he asked.
She answered, “because it is where the sons raise meat."
Mutt: In Boston, you know what you need to start your car?
Jeff: What?
Mutt: Khakis.
Jeff: In South Carolina, two boll weevils were born and grew up. One went to Hollywood and became a famous actor. The other stayed behind in the cotton fields and never amounted to much.
Mutt: So?
Jeff: The second one, naturally, became known as the lesser of two weevils.
Mutt: Are we funny yet?
Jeff: Merry Christmas.

December 21, 2010

Picks of the Flicks 2010

Everyone who has a blog is obligated by international law to post a list of their favorite films. Here goes: (I watch films on Sky television, so they will likely be from past years):

A Serious Man
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Crossing Over
Forbidden Lie$
Ghost World
Pet Therapy
Reservation Road
Temple Grandin
Thank You For Smoking
The Burning Plain
The Darjeeling Limited
The Reader
What Would Jesus Buy?
Winged Creatures
I kept it short. Many films I enjoyed (Inception, for instance) are not here because they didn’t give me that extra oomph, that satisfaction that lasts 24 hours. After a good film I also often feel: “Wow, I wish I’d written that.” Back to work, brother.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Two ropes walk into a western saloon.
Jeff: You’ve been waiting all year to tell this old saw, haven’t you?
Mutt: The first rope goes up to the bar and asks for a beer. "We don't serve ropes in this saloon," sneers the bartender, who picks up the rope, whirls him around over his head, and tosses him out into the street.
Jeff: But everyone on earth knows this joke.
Mutt: "Oh, oh. I'd better disguise myself," thinks the second rope. He ruffles up his ends to make himself look bigger and twists himself into a circle. Then he too sidles up to the bar.
Jeff: Mercy.
Mutt: "Hmmm. Are you one of them ropes?" snarls the bartender.
"No, I'm a frayed knot."
Jeff: Oh, how funny! Ha Ha Ha. I may split my seams…. NOT!!!
Mutt: Okay, your turn.
Jeff: To pull one off the scrap heap? This mushroom walks into a bar and starts hitting on this woman. She, of course, turns him down.
Mutt: I love this one.
Jeff: Not willing to give up, he pleads with her, "C'mon lady, I'm a fun guy."
Mutt: That’s it?
Jeff: All you get.

December 10, 2010

Are You Are What You Read?

These are the books I read for pleasure (I read lots more for research) this year. Do the books you like define you? Would two people with the same tastes in literature naturally get along? That sounds like a stretch, but the bookstores and libraries seem to be full of people looking for their similars. Or is that just my fantasy? I learned a poem by Ogden Nash when I was a boy:
"Boys never make passes,
At girls who wear glasses."
Yet there are folks wearing spectacles, instead of varsity jackets or Barbie outfits, and each would have her/his own list of the volumes that sucked them in temporarily. Or that they dove into willingly. Each escape an adventure. Alley-oop.
A Thru-Hiker’s Heart, Ray Echols
A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson
Ambrose Bierce and the Ace of Shoots, Oakley Hall
Ambrose Bierce and the Death of Kings, Oakley Hall
Ambrose Bierce and the One-Eyed Jacks, Oakley Hall
Ambrose Bierce and the Trey of Pearls, Oakley Hall
Beyond the Post-Modern Mind, Huston Smith
Blix, Frank Norris
Confessions of a Barbarian, Edward Abbey
Gutted, Justin Chin
I’m a Stranger Here Myself, Bill Bryson
Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
Kosovo/Kosova, Mary Motes
Mama Grace, Dana Bagshaw
Mutt and Jeff are the Funniest Guys on Earth, Mutt and Jeff
National Audubon Society Field Guide to California
Negotiating with the Dead, Margaret Atwood
On Teaching and Writing Fiction, Wallace Stegner
Orchid Territory, Mary Motes
Sarah Canary, Karen Joy Fowler
Song-Writers on Song-Writing, Paul Zollo
The Alienist, Caleb Carr
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon
The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Andrew Sean Greer
The House of Arkhangel’sk (unpublished), Jane Kindred
The Human Line, Ellen Bass
The Optimist’s Daughter, Eudora Welty
The Western Writings of Stephen Crane, Stephen Crane
The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Wit’s End, Karen Joy Fowler
Writing from the Inside, James D. Houston
So here I am, and here you are. Your list may be longer or better than mine, but it's not the same as mine. My list, my thrills.

Is one a superior person because one reads books? Nah, come on. In fact: DON'T READ ... unless you like to. Then don't let the cotton candy of life keep you away from healthy real food.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Shakespeare walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a beer. "I can't serve you." says the bartender. "You're Bard!"
Jeff: One day an English grammar teacher was looking ill. A student asked, "What's the matter?" "Tense," answered the teacher, describing how he felt. The student paused, then continued, "What was the matter? What has been the matter? What might have been the matter... ?"
Mutt: I used to be a teacher, but found I didn't have enough class.
Jeff: Old students never die, they just get degraded.
Mutt: Old deans never die, they just lose their faculties.
Jeff: Well, yeah, but speaking ill of the dead is a grave mistake.
Mutt: Yes, but as you know the pun is mightier than the sword.
Jeff: And as the great Jedi English teacher said, "metaphors be with you."

December 2, 2010

Killing Godzilla

Where Godzilla is the Italian public university system, and the killer is the Italian government (or vice versa). That may not make much sense, but truth is stranger than science fiction.

Berlusconi and his yes-men, in this case a yes-woman named Gelmini, are dismantling all things public to favor his/their own private interests. It’s not very complex or secret if you can see through the smog of lies and scandals. The sense of the public good that most governments follow (more or less) is nonsense to our Fearless Leader.

I can almost hear the Filthy Rich, during a break from wild partying (drugs, underage girls, mafia friends, etc.), “Let’s destroy the public school system, the universities, the courts, the public health system, and so on and replace it with our own pseudo-institutional inventions. We’ll just make it all up as we go along; hell, we already control television! Then the suckers will have to pay us directly in blood from cradle to grave.” James Bond villains were never this devious.

Well, the protests have had little effect so far, and the law passed in the House. I have mixed feelings about the whole affair, not because the reactionary cuts and power concentration could have a good side, but because the university was not okay before. There’s no better world to return to. It’s not like cutting a gangrenous leg to save the otherwise healthy patient. The patient was already moribund before the Gelmini gangrene made it critical. So what is there to defend? Godzilla? One’s own little paycheck? Looking forward to retirement like an oasis in the Sahara?

I’ve decided to defend my emotional stability. I can’t live in constant anger over the surrounding twister of injustice. That way they win. It’s hard to find the moving eye, but where else can you go to save yourself?

Here’s a bitter paper one of my students wrote:

University Study: most of the time may not help to build your future.

University study is not the best choice a student can make for his future, because it’s difficult, at this time, to find a university which gives good results after the degree. In fact many new graduates can’t often find a good job which is related to their degree, so the effect, in the society, is the increase of unemployment. Besides, most of the teachers at the university are corrupt, so they don’t give an example of good behavior in the society to their students. They just teach them how to prevail on the other colleagues and to give more importance to the wealth. So bad students easily find an important job which satisfies their aspirations, living their lives in the absolute luxury, and in the case of the doctors, killing innocent people; while the good students probably won’t have a good job, and they spend their life in misery. This is the bad side of university study, where all the rich can have a future and the others should stay at home without wasting years and years behind books which will never repay them.
Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: And now they expect us to be funny?
Jeff: Don’t worry. The expectations are extremely low.
Mutt: Well then, let me tell you about a very mean witch in England who was terrorizing the local population. They finally called a wizard to see what could be done about her. The wizard gave them a potion that would turn the witch into a statue. The townspeople managed to put the potion in the witch's food. When she found out about this, she turned green with rage, but it was too late and the potion worked as expected. The jubilant population had a big celebration and parade, and placed the petrified witch in the park as a public example.
Jeff: I can’t bear to hear the rest.
Mutt: Pretty soon, people discovered that the witch had been frozen in a position that made her a perfect sundial, and started using her to tell the time of day. The custom grew and even today …
Jeff: Here it comes!
Mutt: … people often refer to Mean Green Witch Time.
Jeff: Oowah.