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September 2011

This and That

For everyone else, the first week of school is short. For me this year, it is especially short. I am going to a wedding in Seattle, as the daughter of a family friend (one of my wife's best friends in high school) gets married in a park near Seattle. School began Wednesday. Missing the first Friday and the first Monday are painful, but the job doesn't always come first. The young woman in question has been a guest in our home and a presence in our lives, and we are pleased and honored to witness this important step in her life.

Besides, it gives me an extra couple of days  to savor that all-too-brief period at the start of  the school year, during which the students are so cowed, wowed and confused that they are quiet and compliant. Soon enough begins the daily struggled for control of the classroom between me and a handful of miscreants. Some years, the moment of peace is gone by next Monday. That's as may be, but my sub will have to deal with it.

Anyway, that's why I'm filing early this week.

Deliberately And Illegally Closeau Rather Than Columbo

Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes? 
"During the past decade, the SEC routinely began allowing financial firms to investigate themselves. Imagine the LAPD politely asking a gang of Crips and their lawyers to issue a report on whether or not a drive-by shooting by the Crips should be brought before a grand jury – that's basically how the SEC now handles many preliminary investigations against Wall Street targets." 

Crazy, Stupid, Love

3.5 stars
(I am agreeing with Neal's review)

We were going to give this film a pass, based on the previews. We are tepid about Steve Carrell, and have mixed feelings about Ryan Gosling. We love Julianne Moore and  Marisa Tomei, but this is America, so obviously they get five minutes of screen time between them. Turns out this is a nice little movie, with a very few seconds of raunch (much less than most movies these days) and a lot of thoughtfulness, plus the best single line you'll hear in the movies this summer, when Gosling takes his shirt off,  and Emma Stone says, "Seriously, you look photoshopped!" And the funny thing is, he does. The film manages to be amusing and touching and is worth seeing.

Nilson on last week, Peterman on ideas, Dan Grobstein File

Bob Nilsson sent along this note about last week's You Can't Step In The Same River Twice

It may be a little different tone than you were evoking, but there was a good Twilight Zone episode about not being able to go back home: Walking Distance

Kent Peterman, who enjoyed the same item, was impressed by Atlantic Monthly's The 14 Biggest Ideas Of The Year self-described as a guide to the intellectual trends that, for better or worse, are shaping America right now. (Plus a bunch of other ideas, insights, hypotheses, and provocations.)

Dan Grobstein File

  • U.S.   | August 18, 2011
    Transit Agency Study Finds Fares Up and Service Down
    The economic downturn is playing havoc with the nation's public transit systems, with 71 percent of the nation's large systems having cut service while half have raised fares.

Mali Journal

My older daughter M is a volunteer with the Peace Corps in Mali. She had access to the Internet this week, so here's the latest:

So, I've been reading Monique and the Mango Rains at site, about a volunteer who served in Mali at some point in the past when volunteers were not only allowed to ride motorcycles, but were given them by Peace Corps. She was a health volunteer and worked at a maternity. Her experience is incredibly easy to identify with. I think I've recommended several books already, but if you want to know more about what my day to day looks like, go ahead and read this book, but subtract the boyfriend, change Miniaka to Ghanakan, and ignore all the birth stuff which I'm happily not dealing with in my own service. I have been starting every other sentence since I got together with T yesterday morning to take the bus in with "Well in Monique and the Mango Rains, ..." She's being a good sport about it though. Since everything I can verify is right on, I assume the stuff I haven't personally experienced yet, like conversations on excision, are also accurate.

On a side note, while I was doing some self-tutoring with my Bambara-French, French-Bambara, French-English dictionaries at site I made an unfortunate realization. I was reading a story about blacksmiths, since I myself am a blacksmith by last name, and so while I was in the "numu" (blacksmith) section of the Bambara-French dictionary, I confirmed that numuke is a male blacksmith, who can make anything out of iron or other metals, but also who performs circumcisions... and then sure enough numumuso right below it is a basket weaver or someone who does pottery, but who also performs excisions. Ouch. I go around proudly proclaiming myself a numumuso all the time. Now I'm going to twinge a little when I do it. Another book I finished this week was The Race for Timbuktu I think Dad might like this one. It is a series of historical accounts of British explorers, most of whom die on the coastline of Benin or Nigeria, but it also follows the one explorer who successfully makes it into the heart of Mali, before there was a Mali obviously. Most of the novel is reconstructed from correspondences either by the explorers themselves, or the Colonial Office in Tripoli, and it is full of dry British wit. It is a fascinating story of intrigue, which might actually be slow-paced when read in America, but here it seemed to skip right along.

This week I had terrible hay fever. I took some Benadryl, but then I ended up just sleeping through a couple days. When it rained that cleared the air and I could breathe again.

We had a big mobile bank meeting on Friday. It went reasonably well. Since the ladies have been making change out of the safe we now only have very large bills, which makes it hard when people want to take money back out.

M, my Malian boss as the head of Small Enterprise Development, was supposed to come for a quick visit on a drive between Bamako to Sikasso to visit another volunteers service but he sent me a text the day before, Saturday, saying he wasn't going to make it after all. I was pretty disappointed. When I had talked to him in Bamako he had sounded very enthusiastic about helping me with the library project which I have, for the most part, abandoned for now since I couldn't get the school director excited about it. M, as a child, was in a household with a Peace Corps Volunteer. Their volunteer read all the time, and M's dad saw that, and assumed reading must be important, so he always made books available to his kids, who went on to not only finish high school, which is already a huge achievement here, but also to go on to college, virtually unheard of, and then go on to get a further degree in America, the rarest of the rare. So literacy has a special place in M's heart. M is almost magical in his ability to clear obstacles away, so I was excited to have him come to village. I had spent whatever time I was able to breathe and move preparing my hut and my yard to entertain, even if he was only going to drop by. Nothing was wasted per se, since cleaning my living space was needed after the long stay in Bamako, but I still felt deflated when I got the text. He did say he'd come later though.

Since he didn't come, I was able to meet up with T in Niena for market day on Sunday. We got the keys to A's old house last week, and we had the neighbors weed the yard. The house is perfectly empty, but it is nice to have access to a clean negen and a shady place to wait out the hottest part of the day. Extremely nice. We took naps, read, and I used the occasion of being in a quiet place with reception to actually call some other volunteers I have fallen out of touch with and who I didn't see in Bamako.

I've already bought toilet paper, "cheese" (vache qui rit), nutella and oatmeal here in Sikasso. I'm hoping to go fabric shopping and hit up the ATM again. I'll have nothing to do Saturday but goof off, and Sunday T and I are going to hit up the market (Sunday is market day here too, on a x20 level from Niena) and grab produce before getting on the bus to go back to village. There are crazy things here you can't get in Niena like fresh green beans, potatoes, coconuts, and avocados. The biggest challenge is going to be not overburdening myself to the point I can't bike my loot back in the 7 km.

Last night T and I made honey-mustard carrots, green beans and mushrooms (from a can, but still, mushrooms!), and rosemary potatoes. Everything was a bit off since the ingredients weren't exactly American, but I was very happy with the results.

You Can't Step In The Same River Twice

When I was young, I learned the saying "you can never step in the same river twice." I believed than (and still do) that it was mostly about the fact that the river is constantly changing. But recently I read an article that included a casual reference to the fact that "you" can never step in the same river twice either, because the "you" at 25 is not the "you" at 30, or 58. For that matter, the "you" on Monday isn't the same as the "you" on Tuesday.

This was brought home to me extremely clearly as I went through my journals from 1976 and 1977. The guy who wrote those journals lived in the places I lived, and went through the experiences I went through, but I recognize almost nothing of his dreams, plans and emotional state. He was a very passionate, enthusiastic, insecure and driven young man. I'm not sure I'd enjoy meeting him.

Versions of this trope appear in literature as well. Leslie Poles Hartley began his novel The Go-Between (1953), "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." That trope has been around my whole life. It is true. As Thomas Wolfe put it in 1940, You Can't Go Home Again.

The 2010 BBC/PBS television series Any Human Heart (based on the William Boyd novel) dealt with the same issue visually: the older Logan Mountstuart stood by a river and saw himself at 5, 20 and 30 on the opposite shore, each prior self standing next to the other. It really brought home the idea, and I have been thinking about it regularly ever since. 

Dan Grobstein File

Dan Grobstein File