Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Whom the Gods would destroy...

... they first give teleivison." --- Arthur C. Clarke

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fiction Friday: July 27, 2012: Midsomer Murders Vs. Agatha Christie's "By the Pricking of My Thumbs" Vs. "T is for Trespass"

Madame L has recently read one of Agatha Christie's classics, "By the Pricking of My Thumbs," in which Tommy and Tuppence Beresford find that Tommy's crotchety old maiden aunt was right about the murders going on in her nursing home.

Madame L bought a very used copy of "By the Pricking of My Thumbs" at Half-Price Books for one dollar. It's also available at for a lot more than one dollar ($6.99 for the Kindle version and $11.50 new for the paperback). Madame L would never recommend paying more than a dollar for this book, even though she's a big Agatha Christie fan. It's just not one of her best.

The story felt very familiar, and Madame L finally realized why, when she saw it repeated very closely on PBS's series "Midsomer Murders," in which Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby solves murders in the sleepy little English villages where former, future, and current criminals reside.

In this one, Barnaby's old aunt has been put in a nursing home where she suspects the recent deaths are murders, not natural deaths. At first Barnaby doesn't believe her --- after all, she's old and doddering, and she talks too much, and who wants to go into a place like that to deal with the other doddering old ladies and pathetic old men? Certainly not his sergeant, who barely survives tea with the residents one day. The plot is different, there's some cute humor, and the characters are recognizable and very human...But it's hard for Madame L to believe that every little village in the Midsomer area really has that many criminals.

The Midsomer Murders" series is available on PBS stations nationwide and parts of the series can be bought on DVDs. Madame L enjoys DVR'ing them and watching them on lazy Sundays, but will never go out and buy the DVDs. 

Does that mean the charming (or crotchety) old lady and country village and nursing home stories are outdated or not worth their price in general? Madame L thinks not; but she's not sure.

After reading the Agatha Christie story, Madame L thought she'd remembered reading a more modern version of the old-lady-nursing-home story, and then she remembered it: Sue Grafton's "T is for Trespass."

This story is set in the 1980s, so it's not the absolute most current version of the theme, but it deals with a more realistic view of the world, has more recognizable characters, and treats the very modern issue of elder abuse with concern and depth.

Madame L does recommend this book, and she sees it's available used from for one penny. Even with the $3.99 for shipping, that's a bargain. Madame L bets it's also available, used in your local independent bookstore, and hopes you're supporting these independent stores as much as possible. And, of course, it's available free from most any library, and those that don't have it can request it from another one.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride

...are two of my great heroes.

Google commemmorated Amelia Earhart's birthday today with this:

And here's Sally Ride, first American woman, and youngest American astronaut, in space:

Here's the company Sally Ride founded to encourage girls to become scientists.

And here's the organization that's trying to find the truth about Amelia Earhart's disappearance.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Spices From A Million Flowers

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don't they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.” 


― Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fiction Friday: July 20, 2012: The House Above the Trees

Madame L ordered this lovely book, by Ethel Cook Eliot, from Chinaberry, one of her favorrite places for books and toys.

Madame L trusts and supports the people at Chinaberry, so she figured she would enjoy the book even though she'd never heard of it before. And she was right.

"The House Above the Trees" was first published in 1921, which must account for the lovely black-and-white and color-plate illustrations. It was reissued in 2003 with a few changes made by the grandchildren of the author (based on penciled-in notes made by the author in a copy from the first printing).

But enough background. The story begins with Hepatica (same name as the beautiful blue and tiny early-blossoming flower Hepatica  nobilis), a poor, motherless girl who is being teased by spoiled rich children.

Hepatica tells herself not to cry so that her tears won't keep her from seeing what most people can't see. And then she sees a Wind Creature, who, surprised at being seen by a human child, runs into the woods. Hepatica knows she must go "around the edge of the light" to find him.

She does find him, as well as Tree Mother, Tree Father, and a host of other beautiful and kind creatures of the woods. She also finds some bad creatures and learns to protect herself and her new friends from them.

What happens at the end? Madame L won't give away that secret. But she'll be happy to let her Dear Readers who are interested borrow her copy of the book and encourage them to order the book themselves from Chinaberry, where it's now available on sale at a better price ($7.97) than any other online bookstore Madame L has seen.

Madame L's Dear Readers will also find there another book by Ethel Cook Eliot, "The Wind Boy," as an audio book for a ridiculously low price ($7.97 for a 3-CD set), and more.

Madame L will be writing more about some of her Chinaberry finds in coming weeks.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Quote for Today

A line is a fuse
that's lit.
The line smolders,
the rhyme explodes –
and by a stanza
a city
is blown to bits.

by Vladimir Mayakovsky
(found on Goodreads)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ex-Slave to Former Owner: As If!

I loved reading this letter, written by ex-slave Jordan to his former master, a Col. Anderson.

Here's an excerpt:

"As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you... I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to... Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire."

Is it for real? Apparently so. From this Denver Post article:

"'Regarding questions about whether the letter was really Anderson's, Finkenbine says: 'It's kind of a racist assumption ... that when someone is illiterate, we make the assumption they're stupid.' Enslaved people had deep folk wisdom and a rich oral culture, he adds. 'I think the letter is clearly his ideas and, for the most part, his own words.'"

"From documents compiled by the AP and in interviews with scholars, Anderson emerges as a very real person and the very real author of his story — though, from the beginning, it was reported to have been 'dictated.' His letter is an outstanding testament to the ability of slaves to turn horror into humor...

"According to available records, Jordan Anderson was born in Tennessee about 1825 and by age 7 or 8 had been sold to a plantation owned by Gen. Paulding Anderson in Big Spring, Tenn. Patrick Henry Anderson was one of the general's sons and by the mid-1840s owned Jordan and other slaves. Jordan Anderson married Amanda McGregor in 1848 and they apparently had 11 children.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Dark Knight and 60's Robin

Really funny---Spoiler alert: might be rated "R" for simulated violence (though it's obvious that it's fake, just like in the movies) and one vulgar word.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fiction Friday: July 13, 2012: Nora Ephron, Rest In Peace

Madame L remembers Nora Ephron's 1983 novel "Heartburn," which left Madame L laughing and crying at the same time. It was so real, true, painful, and, yes, excruciatingly funny. How did Nora Ephron do it? Even thinking about the way she'd been treated by her lying, cheating husband would be beyond the ability of most women, let alone writing about it so brilliantly.

(This book was made into a movie, which Madame L declines to see because of one of the actors in it. If any of Madame L or Aunt Louise's Dear and Kind Readers who have seen the movie would like to review the movie, please let Madame L know. [ellemadame {at} gmail {dot} {com}])

But what Madame L will always remember best from Nora Ephron are "Sleepless in Seattle," "When Harry Met Sally," and of course "Sleepless in Seattle." Here's one of the most famous scenes from "When Harry Met Sally."

Note  the comment at the end of the scene by the older woman, who happens to be director Rob Reiner's mother: "I'll have what she's having." 

Another interesting thing about this scene is that Nora Ephron and the actors and directors came up with it together, according to the Guardian:

"Ephron herself said that the scene evolved through collaboration during a read-through with Ryan, her co-star Billy Crystal, and director Rob Reiner. Ryan suggested that the scene would be funnier if set in a restaurant, and then Crystal came up with the famous line said to a waiter by a nearby customer after Sally's noisy faked orgasm: 'I'll have what she's having!'"

Madame L supposes, though, that Nora Ephron is solely responsible for this speech by Billy Crystal at the end of the movie:

“I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

That's why Madame L loves Nora Ephron's work. She knows what the really important things are, and she shares them with the rest of us, all of us who are too tongue-tied or incoherent to say them ourselves.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Piper Takes a Bath

I know she wants a bath because she comes to my shoulder while I'm drinking water at the sink, dips her beak in the glass for a sip, then tries to climb in. So I get her bath ready.

Here she goes:

Then she flies back to the top of her cage to preen and dry off, and I clean the counter and floor.

Monday, July 9, 2012

This Is Not an Endorsement

...of an airline.

I don't mind "endorsing" the beautiful moon, though.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Playground, Hot Summer Day

On a very hot day (temperature close to 100, humidity likewise), still having fun:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Kanesville Tabernacle

Kanesville Tabernacle at Council Bluffs
Those early Latter-day Saints "crossed southern Iowa and settled temporarily on both sides of the Missouri River. The Mormon Battalion, who completed the longest infantry march in U.S. history, left from the site of the Grand Encampment six miles southeast of Kanesville in July 1846. After the first groups of pioneers left Winter Quarters (now Florence, Nebraska) for the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847-48, Kanesville (now Council Bluffs, Iowa) became the headquarters of the Church in the Midwest. In December 1847, 200 men under the direction of Henry W. Miller constructed a large log structure in less than three weeks. It was built to accommodate about 1,000 people. Here Brigham Young was sustained as the second President of the Church on 27 December 1847. Kanesville became a major outfitting place as pioneers continued to move west. The tabernacle deteriorated and was eventually dismantled. The replica, built in 1996, stands near the original site.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fiction Friday: July 6, 2012: The Bechdel Test

Dear Friends of Aunt Louise,

Rather than review a movie or book this week, Madame L would like to bring to your kind attention the Bechdel Test, what it is and why it matters, as explained in this article.

Madame L hopes you'll read the entire article. It's fascinating and, Madame L hopes, it will make you think about movies you've enjoyed and what movies you'd like to enjoy in the future.

1. The movie has to have at least two (named) women in it. 
2. They have to talk to each other.... 
3. About something besides a man. 

Here are a few bits from the end of the article:

"The Bechdel test is neither conspiracy nor theory: the largest survey of user-submitted films revealed that 88% of their 2540-strong database failed in one way or another. You’re probably still trying to think of a film that fails the reverse-Bechdel.

"It won’t tell you if any given film is bad or good, but it is an interesting tool to look at just some of the messages mainstream culture is feeding us. Despite the interesting initial data, it’s not scientific or comprehensive – but it is a great tool for questioning what you see, and why you are seeing it.

"And I’d like to challenge any writers among you to think about it, whether you’re creating novels or screenplays. Do you have two well-developed female characters? Are they important enough to the plot that they need to meet and talk? Do they have enough to say beyond just discussing the men in their lives? It’s cheating to stick in a token scene just to pass – their contribution must be as real and measurable as the men in your scenario.

"If you don’t want to do that, it might be interesting to consider why not. If you’re not comfortable writing female voices, then start listening in real life to the patterns and dialogue of family, friends and strangers. It’s far easier to get into the brain of a woman than it is of an axe-murderer. And if you’re sure it can’t be done, you’d better be writing a monks-on-a-mission submarine movie…"

Here's another blog with more information and links to other sites about the Bechdel test.

Madame L is aware that some of hers, and Aunt Louise's, Dear Readers may be bothered by the fact that the Bechdel test originated in Allison Bechdel's "Dykes to Watch Out For." 

However, Madame L doesn't think you have to be a Lesbian, a feminist, or a woman, to consider whether it matters that women in movies, books, and the media seem to have no voice, no interests other than men. 

Madame L just this past weekend enjoyed watching "Fantastic  Mr. Fox," based (loosely) on Roald Dahl's book of the same title. 

Seen in light of the Bechdel test, though, the movie fails: It has three "women," Mrs. Fox, who, however, apparently has no first name; a girl fox at school who has a crush on a boy fox in chemistry lab; and the wife (also with no first name) of one of the bad guys, Mr. Bean; but they never talk to each other, and their only concerns seem to be their respective husbands (or boyfriend).

Madame L wonders what kind of world we want our daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and friends to grow up in: 

Do we want a world in which women and girls are presented as actual participants? 

Do we want a world in which women and girls make up their own minds about their own lives? 

Do we want a world in which there are more than one or two or three women for every metric tonne of men---say, maybe a woman-to-man ratio closer to the actual woman-to-man ratio in the real world? 

Do we want a world in which women talk to each other about ideas (or even just talk to each other about anything besides men and how to attract/keep/whatever said men)?

Madame L hopes you will think and re-think this "great tool for questioning what you see, and why you are seeing it."

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Japanese Beetles

They're so beautiful as seen through a hand lens! The problem is getting the photo through the hand lens.

 But a certain three-year-old got this photo:

And, yes, I know they're not beautiful if they're in your own yard/garden. But where we saw them, they were beautiful.

Oh, and, yes, I know they're not beautiful to everyone even in a "neutral" zone. But just focus on the colors, not the gross anatomy. Beautiful, right?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Eating M&Ms (Having Nothing To Do With Independence Day, But Happy Fourth Anyway!)

I really hate orange M&Ms, so I eat them first. I don't think they have any sinister powers; I just hate the color orange---or at least that particular color of orange.

Next, I eat the green ones, because I hate that color almost as much---at least that particular color of green.

Then I eat the brown ones. I don't hate that color. I just don't like it. There aren't as many brown M&Ms in a package as other colors, anyway. Why? They've been in existence longer than any other color except green and yellow:

Remember when you couldn't get red M&Ms for awhile? (Because of concerns over the red food coloring in them.) Remember those light brown ones they had for awhile?

And I see from this graphic that orange M&Ms have only been around since they replaced the temporarily discontinued red ones.

Then I'm down to red, yellow, and blue. But I believe yellow (at least that particular color of yellow) must be my third least favorite color, and they look horrible with all that blue. So I have to eat them next. 

Now there are only oh-so-beautiful red and blue M&Ms left, but there aren't enough red to go along with all the blue ones. So I have to eat a lot of blue ones to even them out.

Ah, now I'm down to a better balance of red and blue. But I'm half sick. Urk.

I think the whole color issue has to do with some complex marketing decisions, but I still hate orange M&Ms. So there.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Yes, He Can Dance! (Asher Walker)

From the 2012 "So You Think You Can Dance" audition in Atlanta, Asher Walker: