May 2009 Archives

the sweet spot

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Maters: julietWe're in that marvelous weather period I call "the sweet spot": warm enough to leave the door open for the dog even early in the morning, not so hot that we need the a/c. Warm enough for t-shirts and dinners outside at our favorite restaurants, not too hot for me to wear knee socks with my comfortable shoes. Most importantly: prime gardening weather, with almost no mosquitos as yet.

In another week or so it will be blistering hot in the afternoon and I'll be eaten alive by mosquitos every time I leave the house. For now I'm enjoying the sweet spot and spending every minute I can outside.

Spent about an hour this morning pulling vines and cleared a respectable area. The vines are just beginning to show new growth after the goats ate them down to bare vines. Which is sort of alarming, that we have so much to clear and it's starting to come back already. On the other hand it's good, because it's much easier to tell which is english ivy and which is poison ivy. And the leaves are still few and tiny, easy to avoid exposure to the poison ivy. I wonder if poison ivy causes more of a reaction when the leaves are small? Is the oil more concentrated? That's true of most edible plants: the flavors are more intense on new growth.

I bagged the vines and put them in the trash can rather than the yard waste bin. Paul James said to do that, and last weekend a friend told us that a friend of his had caught a terrible case of poison ivy from municipal mulch. I want to be careful about not sending poison ivy to the landfill where it will end up in someone's mulch (maybe even my own). Still, the area I cleared this morning was about 90% english ivy, 10% poison ivy. And it's going to fill up our trash bin pretty fast. Maybe from now on I'll try to separate the two vines and put the english ivy in the yard waste, the poison ivy in a trash bag. Except for the area under the dogwood with the really high concentration of poison ivy. There I think I'll keep bagging everything.

Georg staked up the tomatoes yesterday. They're looking good! We have little green tomatoes on all of them except the Arkansas Traveler. Which is looking kind of pathetic actually, compared to the robust growth of the others: Super Sweet 100, Better Boy, Juliet and Sun Gold. Juliet is a sauce tomato which I hope will produce well.

strawberry success

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The strawberry sorbet turned out great, if I do say so! It was still a little soft but I had to have some anyway. The recipe was the easiest thing: four cups (two containers) of strawberries, a cup of sugar, a cup of water, the juice of two limes, a blender and an ice cream maker. That's it! I think the lime juice was the secret. It made the strawberry flavor really pop. Here's the recipe. I didn't bother with the shortbread; maybe if I'm feeling ambitious I'll make it tomorrow.

nap time is the best time

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Snapdragons, verbena & yarrowToday we chipped the big pile of wood in the front yard. That's two down, and one to go! I think the blade in the wood chipper is starting to dull. It used to chop the entire stick cleanly, but by the time we were done it was leaving a strip of bark on the end. Like when you cut slices off a piece of cheese with a tough rind, and the rind stays attached on the bottom. I wonder if there's a way to sharpen the wood chipper blade?

We had a nice lunch at Rick's Diner. We used to go there all the time, and then got out of the habit, and just started going again a couple of weeks ago. The manager still remembered us. They play my favorite radio station there: The 40s on 4 from Sirius.

In the evening I did a little bit of vine clearing, and planted an annual vine under the old clothesline post. We decided that the posts would be too much of a pain in the ass to remove, so we're going to plant vines on them instead. Probably a climbing rose on the sunny one, but it's too late in the year to plant roses so we put in an annual vine just for this year.

We also made strawberry sorbet, which tasted great but didn't set up like it should have in the machine. I followed the recipe exactly; maybe the ice cream machine wasn't chilled enough. We stuck it in the freezer & hope it's ready to eat tonight.

bluestone annual sale

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Good news for plant lovers: Bluestone Perennials is having their annual sale now! Everything in their online catalog is half-price until June 1. They ship three-packs of teeny-tiny plants, and receiving them in mid-June it can be hard sometimes to get them all through the first year. But the prices in the June sale are so good that I don't mind losing a few. And they always send a big coupon book, and they used to have this special where if you sent back your box and styrofoam peanuts, you'd get free shipping on the next order. They seem like a nice company.

We did so little gardening last fall, and we have that whole huge area the goats cleared to fill, that we went a little crazy with our Bluestone order. Almost all plants relatively common species, but unusual varieties we don't see locally.

For shade we ordered:
AJUGA Burgundy Glow (nice bi-colored leaves)
AQUILEGIA Melba Higgins (a pretty dark purple columbine)
ASTILBE Peach Blossom (supposedly more tolerant of dry conditions, which we need)
HYDRANGEA quercifolia Little Honey (a "dwarf" oakleaf hydreangea, only grows 4' tall and 4' wide)
TRICYRTIS Taipei Silk (I love toad lilies!)
TIARELLA Sugar and Spice (foamflower)

And for sun:
ARTEMISIA Powis Castle (this exact variety is commonly available, but we love it, it will grow fast and the price was fantastic)
ECHINOPS Platinum Blue (aka "globe thistle," gorgeous blue flowers)
EUPHORBIA Excalibur (I'm so crazy about euphorbia I had to get two, a big one and a small one)
EUPHORBIA x martinii Tiny Tim
OENOTHERA Tetragona Summer Solstice (bright yellow flowers)
CALAMINTHA Nepetoides (white catmint)
RUDBECKIA hirta Solar Eclipse (a bicolored black-eyed susan)
WALDSTEINIA Fragarioides (some kind of non-fruiting strawberry that forms a "weed choking carpet." We sure need that.)

Looking over the list it's mostly blue and yellow flowers in the sun, and mostly white flowers in the shade. I'm excited about the shade plants! We haven't had much space in the shade to plant before. I've been wanting astilbes and an oakleaf hydrangea for a long time.

wake up with a bang

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Had a rather rude awakening this morning: Jane was outside (we've been getting up around 6 and opening the door so she can sit outside, then going back to bed), and there's a big pile of choke cherry branches out front waiting to be chipped, and Jane must have chased some poor animal into the pile and gotten herself caught on a branch. Maybe it went into her collar or something. Anyway I awoke to this colossal racket coming into the house, then into my room. From my position lying in bed all I could see was branches and leaves going this way and that as the noise headed into the bedroom.

I thought Jane had chased an animal into the bedroom and, okay, I screamed like a little girl. In fact she was scared by having a branch attached to her, and ran into the bedroom because that's her safe spot. The hideous din was caused by her being freaked out and not able to see that well around the branch, so she was bumping into things and her claws were scrambling against the floor. When she finally stopped moving, Georg got the branch off her and then it was all over. Except for my heart palpitations; they haven't stopped yet.

movie laws

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When a soldier removes his helmet in a combat situation, it means one of two things:

  1. He's the star and he has nice hair.
  2. He's about to die.

We've watched a lot of war movies this past weekend and it always turns out that way. The helmet comes off and he either tousles his thick wavy hair, or dies. Whenever a character actor or old guy took off his helmet, I was shouting at the screen, "No, don't do it!"

fastest pie recipe ever

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  1. Buy two pie crusts already in tins.
  2. Make pie filling.
  3. Pour into one crust.
  4. Lift the other crust out of its tin and set it on top of pie. Press crusts together.
  5. That's it! Easiest pie we ever made. If it tastes good, I may never make pie crust again.

on air 1-4pm

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Looks like the scheduling confusion is resolved & I'll be on from 1-4 today, playing songs in honor of the troops. I may start with a half hour radio program and then switch to music. 88.7 if you're local, "": if you're not.


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I should be sleeping right now. I didn't mean to stay up so late. Several hours ago I started listening to episodes of those old radio shows to pick out songs I wanted for tomorrow, and the shows are all so good that I just kept listening, and here I am.

The DJ before me needs a sub and can't find one, so I may end up doing four hours tomorrow. It would be hard to fill that much time so I'll probably pad it by playing an episode each of Command Performance and Jubilee in the first hour. It was hard to pick an episode of Jubilee because first of all, though the music is outstanding, the sound quality is not great. Second, each show includes a comedy segment, and they tend to be, well, objectionable to the modern ear. Amos & Andy cracking jokes about being lazy and Butterfly McQueen cracking jokes about being desperate and man-crazy were two favorites. I finally found one where the comedy was much less offensive, Burns and Allen cracking jokes about how Gracie doesn't understand jive talk. The show also featured Cab Calloway and the King Cole Trio, great music.

I had also picked out the special VJ Day program of Command Performance because it included 1. a speech by Truman to the troops and 2. no offensive comedy. On reflection I think the program might be too serious for a whole half hour. Then again, Memorial Day is a serious event so I guess it's good to balance out the irreverence on Jubilee. And who knows, I might get lucky and not have to do the extra two hours, if the dj before me finds a last-minute sub.

Besides show prep we had a great day. Fun time at the farmer's market this morning. It's gotten so busy! Tons of vendors and crowds of people. We bought strawberries, plants and doughnut muffins, and then we ran out of money because I had stupidly left my wallet in my other purse.

We took Jane with us as part of our ongoing effort to get her used to being around people. I have to say, Operation Socialize Jane is going well. She's getting so much more comfortable around a crowd. She even let a little boy come up and pet her head. She wouldn't make eye contact with him, but she didn't flinch or try to get away. He was a nice kid, politely asked permission before petting her.

The rest of the day we did yard work. Digging up brambles in the front and vines in the back in the morning, which is going well! There's an area near where we park the cars that's almost totally cleared and ready to plant. Unfortunately it's right under a tree we need to take out, and we can't plant until that's done. Removing the tree is already going to be a chore because it hangs over a phone line. It will be that much harder if we have to avoid stepping on plants right next to it.

Then in the afternoon we got out the wood chipper and went to work on the branches left behind by the goats. We have a wood chipper, a small electric one. In retrospect it might have been better to rent a big gas model when we needed one. This one jams up immediately on leaves, so we spent a lot of time stripping leaves off branches, and clearing the jam if any leaves do get in. On the other hand, the motor is quieter, cleaner, easier to maintain (aside from the jamming) and does well chopping sticks up to about 1" thick. Thicker than that and we'll cut them up and save them for firewood.

We got the entire pile of wild rose bushes chipped, woo! That pile was blocking the path up to the shed and I'm so glad to have it gone. It's kind of amazing how this giant pile of brush creates a tiny pile of wood chips. You can't put freshly chipped mulch like that on your plants, because the wood releases toxins as it begins to decompose. But we have plenty of areas to mulch with no plants we want to keep, so this is a feature, not a bug. I might have even put it into the compost bin, except that we're going to have to move the bin (alas, it is right in the way of the natural place to put a path in our newly spacious yard) so I don't want to add any more to it than necessary.

The pile of non-thorny shrubs and saplings is bigger but will be much easier to deal with, since the branches won't stick to each other or attack us. Maybe after the show tomorrow we'll go to work on it. Though if I have to do four hours on the air, maybe not.

the best meat, and plenty of it

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Just received a huge order from the Old Time Radio Catalog. I had been thinking about ordering from them forever, and finally did it so I'd have more WWII material for this weekend's Memorial Day show. Their prices are incredible: $5 per MP3 CD, with sometimes dozens of programs on one CD.

For this weekend's show I ordered the discs for Command Performances and Jubilee. Both were Armed Forces Radio programs which seemed to have the same basic premise: servicemen would write in requesting specific performers, and the show would get the performers to appear and mention the servicemen by name on the air. This afternoon I cracked open the disc for Jubilee. It's great! It was aimed at black servicemen and the talent was incredible. I listened to 4 episodes and heard Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, Fletcher Henderson, Gene Krupa and Ethel Waters. Plus a host named "Bubbles" who used so much jive lingo that I had no idea what he was saying half the time.

I also got a CD of wartime commercials and PSAs, which are fantastic. Short radio messages about rationing, war bonds, home canning and victory gardens, loose lips sinking ships, etc. My favorite so far is a PSA for the "Share Meat" program, which I gather was a government program encouraging people to voluntarily cut back on red meat consumption before it was rationed. The slogan, repeated at the beginning and end, was "Our fighting men need MEAT! The BEST meat! And plenty of it!" I also really liked one called "Is This Trip Necessary?" which encouraged civilians not to travel so there'd be room on the trains for servicemen on holiday leave. I'm going to drop the PSAs in throughout the show. I think it will be a nice fun addition.

My only complaint is that this evening, the same day I got my CDs, I also got an email from the company with a special offer ... 20% off all WWII CDs. Anyone reading this who runs a small business, here's a tip: don't ever do this! Never, ever send someone a coupon for something they just bought at full price. Now instead of basking in the enjoyment of my massive new stash of music, I'm having to convince myself that I didn't just get ripped off.

I really didn't: the price is great, even at full price. And if he had told me to wait because WWII CDs were going on sale in a few days, I wouldn't have been able to because I needed them for the show this weekend. Knowing that doesn't change my annoyance at getting that coupon just a few hours after receiving the order I paid full price for.



May 6 movie: Bataan. Excellent wartime movie set during the evacuation of Bataan. Robert Taylor stars as commander of a small group of men holding a bridge as long as they can against the oncoming Japanese. Great ensemble includes Desi Arnaz, Thomas Mitchell, Robert Walker in one of his first roles, George Murphy, Alex Havier as a Filipino soldier, and especially Lloyd Nolan as a man whose path had crossed Taylor's in the past. There's a grim exhaustion as the movie goes on, which makes their determination seem that much more courageous. Of course I have no idea whether that's realistic or not, never having been in a war zone myself. But it seems realistic, compared to some war movies where everyone is brave, energetic and fresh-faced no matter what happens.

Major spoiler behind a cut.

three comrades

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May 9 movie: Three Comrades. Melodrama starring Robert Taylor, Robert Young and Franchot Tone as three friends in early 1920s Germany, and Margaret Sullavan as the woman Taylor falls in love with.

the big clock

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May 11 movie: The Big Clock. Excellent thriller starring Ray Milland and Charles Laughton. Milland plays a crime reporter put in charge of investigating a murder for which he himself is being framed. I looked it up on IMDB and discovered that it was remade in the 1980s as No Way Out. Wow! The best Kevin Costner movie I ever saw. (Come to think of it, that may be the only good Costner movie I've ever seen. I'm sure if I think hard I can come up with another.)

The two stars of The Big Clock are terrific, good actors who are cast to their strengths. Also features great supporting work by Elsa Lanchester as an eccentric artist and Harry Morgan as a menacing hired thug.

May 15 movie: Somewhere Over the Rainbow: The Harold Arlen Story. I tried to get this movie from Netflix before the Harold Arlen tribute show back in February, but it was on "long wait" for ever. I think they must only have one copy, and some asshole music lover hung onto it for months. After the show I forgot to remove the movie from my queue, and it finally came available!

It's a great movie. Insightful comments from people who knew Arlen, biographers and historians, and home movie clips of Arlen. Plus lots of performances, by stars and by Arlen himself. Just what I want from a musical biography. So much better than that Beny More movie we watched a couple of weeks ago. If you're interested in Tin Pan Alley I can't recommend this enough. Arlen had such range: the man wrote both "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Kicking the Gong Around."

it's a big country

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May 15 movie: It's a Big Country. This was a series of short vignettes about life in America. Some were funny, some serious, all sentimental. You could even say cornball; if you're inclined to say that then you really should not watch this movie. Definitely put your cynicism hat away before watching this movie.

Lots of big stars: Gary Cooper, Ethel Barrymore, George Murphy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly, Janet Leigh, William Powell, Van Johnson, and more. One of the segments was even non-fiction: a series of clips of prominent African Americans with a voiceover saying "And here's another fine American!" and then identifying who they were. Celebrities like actors and athletes, and also private citizens like doctors, lawyers, politicians. It was touching, like the whole movie.



StalkerMay 15 movie: Stalker. Jumping ahead a bit because I watched this movie last night and I can't stop thinking about it. I had read that it was Tarkovsky's magnum opus and wanted to see it because I had loved Solaris. so much. And I have to say, if your reaction to Solaris was "that was too easy," then Stalker is for you. Watching it was full of contradictions: first of all, it's described as a science fiction movie, and has almost no science fiction content. It's gripping, and almost nothing happens for the entire (very long) movie. It's thoroughly engaging and thoroughly confusing. It uses some of the ugliest locations to create one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen. Stalker is hard to pin down. I think I didn't really get the word numinous until I saw this movie.

The basic plot is that, long before the movie started, an asteroid crashed into a village. (The mention of an asteroid would be the sole science fiction element. I understand the story it was based on had more science fiction to it.) The government has cordoned off the village, now called "the Zone," and won't let anybody in. Rumors abound that deep within the Zone is a place where anyone's deepest wish will be granted. A guide called the Stalker (the meaning is more like "guide" or "wayfinder") leads two men, known as "Writer" and "Professor," into the Zone.

I don't want to say much more because I don't want to give anything away. And I definitely don't want to get into trying to decode Stalker, break it down into "what did this or that represent." Because first of all, I don't think I understood it well enough to do that. Besides, that would just feel like ... I don't know. Diminishing it as a work of art. So I'll just say that this is one to see if you like movies that give you a lot to think about, and movies that create intense mood & atmosphere, and you don't need movies to be crystal clear and wrap everything up in a neat package with a bow on top. Because Stalker is going to rip up that neat package, throw the bits everywhere, then piece it back together as some deranged collage and drop it under inky water and pan across it really slowly. And it will be incredible.

One last note: BOO to Criterion for not putting a commentary track on the DVD. By the end of the movie I really wanted a film historian with a soothing voice to go through it with me. [eta: the DVD is not by Criterion, it's by Kino. Boo to me for not checking before I shot my mouth off!]

One more thing: the tree frogs just started singing in the past couple of days. And they add a lot to the soundtrack. I wouldn't want to watch Stalker without them.

apres goats

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I kind of miss the goats! It was fun having them around, eating and bleating. I think Jane liked them too, though by the end of the week she didn't pay them much mind. That's just how she is, a mellow girl.

Today we spent lots of time in the yard. In the morning Georg cut down saplings, he got them all except the really big choke cherry. It overhangs a phone line so it's going to have to come down in pieces. And I got to work pulling up ivy. There's so much of it! Though it doesn't seem as daunting with all the leaves gone.

We took a break for lunch at Nosh, and to see the duck race. We timed it perfectly: got to the race just as it was beginning. Afterwards we drove out to Hillsborough to pick up the truck, which we had left there at my office so there'd be room in the back for the goat trailer. I took the truck to Lowe's to get concrete blocks. We want to start a new woodpile and do it right this time: up on blocks and covered with a tarp so the wood won't rot. We picked out a spot near enough to be easy to get wood in cold weather, but not too close to the house. I also got a "double edged weed cutter" to help chop up the ivy, and couldn't resist a white euphorbia. I love euphorbia! And some birdseed, which we were almost out of.

By then it was the hottest part of the day so we took a rest break. I had stayed up really late last night watching Stalker by Tarkovsky, then was up even later thinking about it & trying to figure out what it meant. So I was glad for a nap. In late afternoon we went back out into the yard. Georg dug out most of the evil yucca which grows along the path to the big shed. I planted a rose we bought a year ago, which I had never gotten around to putting in the ground. It's a climbing noisette called "Mount Vernon." I planted it under our bedroom window; I hope it has a good fragrance!

I also did some more pulling up ivy, and then we both worked on cleaning up the old shed remnants. This part is kind of embarrassing. (And considering I posted "before" photos of our jungle of a yard, you know it takes a lot to embarrass me.) We used to have a small potting shed beside the house. It looked handmade, corrugated plastic over a wood frame. Gradually the wood frame rotted, and then a big limb fell on it, and the shed collapsed. We hauled it away to the dump, and most of the contents of it, but apparently not all. There was still some stuff -- empty flowerpots, bags with a little bit of soil, an old piece of downspout, some wooden stakes, that sort of thing -- which the ivy grew completely over. I sort of almost forgot it was there. Then the goats came and ate the ivy, and voila, all this stuff emerged!

Well we picked it all up, salvaged what we could and made a pile of the rest to go to the dump next week. The only thing left to move is a section of fallen picket fence which, again, had been completely covered by ivy and I had kind of forgotten was there. It's so overgrown with ivy that we'll have to cut the ivy away before we can move it. There was a gravel floor in the shed, and I think we're going to use the gravel under the trash bins, instead of mulch. It will be a pain to move the gravel, but on the bright side there probably won't be as much ivy in that spot. Plus, free gravel!

A sudden rainstorm put a stop to our work, and by then we were pretty beat anyway. We got cleaned up and went to that new George's Diner on Hillsborough. They were having some service issues, clearly due to just having opened, and the staff were so nice and so eager to please that I couldn't hold it against them. The hamburger was not as good as Cookout which is about a block away. Next time I will try the reuben. I am always searching for a good reuben.

the goats' last day

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sweetening the ivyLooks like today will be the last day for the goats. They're down to the english ivy, which is tough and less palatable. Alix (the goatherd) sprays a solution of diluted molasses on the ivy to encourage them to eat it. She said, "which would you rather eat: shredded wheat or frosted shredded wheat?"

They're going to eat as much ivy as they can today, and then we'll wait and see if they need to come back. That gives the ivy a chance to spring back and start to grow again. That way they do much more damage to the ivy, than if they came back tomorrow and continued to work on the bedraggled, trampled vines.

It took Jane 2 days to get used to the goats; by yesterday morning she could not have cared less about them. She spent the morning laying in her usual spots, watching for squirrels and staring at the road. Occasionally she would walk over and sniff at a goat; the goat would sniff back and then both would go on their way. Alix said that the goats aren't usually so tolerant of dogs. Apparently Jane is so laid back that they don't see her as a problem.

Feeding the goatsThe girl next door had some fun with the goats when she came home from school. They were already standing up against her fence to eat some wild grape vines which grow along the top of the fence. The girl started feeding them leaves from a tree branch which had fallen in their yard. The goats loved it, and it was so cute to see them gather around her. After awhile though, I started to become a bit annoyed. She fed them so steadily that they were all clustered around her and weren't bothering with the ivy. Eventually Alix moved into a different part of the yard, the goats followed her and went back to work eating the ivy.

We had some excitement yesterday, when Alix found a copperhead snake in the yard. She had it trapped under a stick but it got away into a pile of leaves. This was right as she was getting ready to go. She said that in general she did not favor killing snakes, but that she didn't want one of her goats to be killed by the copperhead. So she wanted to know what we did about the snake.

I called my vet and the Piedmont Wildlife Center. Both said that a goat (or a dog Jane's size) could be killed by a copperhead, but that it's unusual. My vet said she'd only ever seen one dog killed by a copperhead, and that was because the owners were on vacation and it took several days for anyone to notice the dog had been bitten. They said that copperheads like to nest in piles of brush or rotten wood. Of which we have plenty in the yard! The goats must have disturbed the snake's home and driven it out, and that's why we saw it.

To add to the excitement we had a brief but intense rainstorm just as the goats were getting ready to go. After the rain ended Georg and I beat the brush with a broom but the snake was long gone. After the goats go we'll break up that rotten wood (making sure to protect our ankles!) and I hope we'll drive the snakes away. We used to have a big black rat snake living in the yard, which was great. I'd much rather have them than copperheads.

Here's another set of before/after photos. We moved the red car so it looks like it isn't the same view; if you look at the two slim trees on the left, and the white shed behind them, you can see the perspective.
before the goats after the goats' third day

goat progress report

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After two days of the goats we're seeing a huge difference. Here's a quick before and after of the area they've cleared the most:

before the goats after the goats' first day

That was after one day! That area in front of the shed, to the left of the path, is done pretty much. Alix moved the fence so the goats won't go in there anymore, and uncovered the fig. (That's the red swaddled thing right in front of the shed.) Now the fence is opened up towards the side of the house; they weren't allowed up there before. She said that if the goats have too large of an area, they spend too much time walking back and forth and don't eat as efficiently. Keeping them penned in keeps them focused.

The goats eat all the leaves but they don't eat the vines. So the area where they're done is covered with bare vines. It doesn't look as neat as it would if landscapers had come through and chopped it all down to the ground. But in terms of the work for us, it's basically the same. Because we'd have to dig out the roots either way. I spent a little time pulling vines this evening after the goats left. It will be easier when the ground is wet. And it's wonderful to see the structure emerge. There's this low stone wall at the bottom of the slope which I had forgotten was even there.

total goat count: 16

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goat on a compost binToday the goats seem much calmer than when they first got here yesterday. The honeysuckle and wild roses they really love are pretty much gone. Now they're meandering around the yard, eating this and that.

Jane has calmed down too. At first she ran back and forth along the goat fence. Then she just sat and watched them. Jane is normally pretty shy around new people but she really likes Alix, the goatherd. Jane has been dividing her time between sitting near me and sitting near Alix. (should I be jealous?) Now I don't even see Jane. I think she might have gone around front to watch for squirrels, the crazy dog.

jane likes goats!The goats seem to like standing on top of things. They stand on the front steps of the shed and on the compost bin. I guess it helps them reach leaves that are up higher. They have a clever technique for eating taller plants: one goat will rear up and knock it down with its hooves. Then the others all rush over and grab it before it can spring back up.

They've been trying to eat the bamboo but they can't really get anywhere with it. They eat a few leaves and do basically no damage to the plant. I think the stalks are too tough. Oh, looks like they found a patch of honeysuckle growing in the bamboo. No wonder they're trying to pull the bamboo down.

the goats arrive

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The goat fenceThe goats are here today! They arrived early too, about 8:15. I guess she had to come early to set up the fence. There were actually 2 people: the goatherd Alix, and a photographer who said she's working on a story for a magazine. I didn't quite catch the name; Our State maybe? Anyway, it's kind of cool and also kind of mortifying that my wild overgrown backyard will be appearing in a magazine.

Jane did really well. She never barked at them, even when they first came out of the trailer. (She didn't even know they were inside the trailer; what a surprise it must have been for her when a dozen animals her size popped out!). I held onto her at first, and then when she seemed calm enough I walked her over to the goat fence and let her check them out. After I let go of her she entertained herself running back and forth along the goat fence, trying to see them all. Once she yelped with excitement, but she never barked or tried to get through the fence. Good dog!

One of the goats was raised with dogs, as sort of a pet I guess, and that goat seemed to like Jane. It would approach the fence to get close to her. The others pretty much ignored her. They were too busy eating!

Goats are here!Today I work away from home all day, so frustrating that I couldn't stay home and watch the goats! For the few minutes I was there, they were eating voraciously. The goatherd said we have a good mix of plants for goats: honeysuckle and wild roses are particular favorites, and they also like poison ivy, of which we have plenty! (By the way, three days and no rash. I think I'm in the clear.) She said that when they first encounter a new area full of plants, they get excited and eat so fast they barely chew. Then they slow down as they start to clear the area.

I forgot to ask her how many goats were there. Looking at my photos I guess about a dozen. I have to remember to ask her tomorrow. She estimated they will be in our yard until Friday & maybe Monday as well. Good thing the forecast is clear for the rest of the week. She told me that goats are prone to get pneumonia so she can't leave them out in wet weather. And besides, they just don't like rain.

Poor Jane, cooped up in the house all day while the goats roam around in her yard. It must be driving her crazy. I bet she's spending the entire day standing in the window staring at them. Tonight we'll let her into the goat area so she can examine the, um, evidence they leave behind. And tomorrow she'll get to be outside during the day and check them out up close.

no goats today

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The Goat Patrol just called to postpone until tomorrow; apparently goats don't like rain. The forecast says it's supposed to rain until about noon, and then be clear for the rest of the week. She said she would come today and get the electric fencing set up. Tomorrow is my day to work at the office, and I'm a little bummed about missing the goats' first day here, but I'll get to see them on Wednesday and Thursday.

ten o'clock and all's well


No rash yet, about 36 hours after the first contact with poion ivy. Knock on wood, I think I'm okay. Maybe I'm immune, or maybe just careful enough about protection and cleanup.

I think I was exposed a third time yesterday: I mentioned that I tucked my pants into my socks, and afterwards just peeled the whole thing off and threw it in the washing machine. Well the socks went into the machine turned inside out. I was folding the laundry, absent-mindedly turned them right side out, and discovered they felt tacky-sticky, like an oil residue. Realized the stickiness must be poison ivy oil, which was now all over my hands, and freaked out. I must have washed my hands over a dozen times, alternating between the Tecnu, rubbing alcohol and hand soap. I guess it worked because my hands don't itch.

The last thing we had to do was make room in the parking area behind the house. We took the truck to my office in Hillsborough, I'm sure they won't mind me leaving it in the parking lot for a few days. Georg moved the old Prelude back so it's out of the way until we can get someone to tow it away. And we'll park our cars either out in front or around the corner.

And now we're ready for the goats! I don't know when they'll arrive tomorrow, or how many there will be. I wonder if they like people? Of course they must like their handler, but I wonder how they feel about strangers. I want to take pictures & I hope I'll be able to get relatively close to them.

more poison ivy


This afternoon I dragged out the wood chipper and tried to shred the chokecherry branches, but the chipper jammed up immediately. I vaguely recall that we had trouble with it jamming before, and I can't remember what we did. Maybe the leaves have to be dried so they don't gum up the blades. Anyway, the chokecherry is in a big pile outside the goat area, so I guess it's okay if we don't get them shredded before the goats arrive.

Then I decided that since I was outside already, I might as well dig up that azalea. I give it a pretty low chance of survival sitting in a pot for a week. Then again, we never liked it and were thinking about digging it out anyway. So I'm not willing to go to any effort to preserve it.

While digging out the azalea I noticed more of those blasted chokecherries! So I got the loppers back out (hard to find them, Georg had put them on top of the truck and I can't really see that high up) and spent some more time wading around in the poison ivy, cutting down choke cherry. Then I decided that I might as well take advantage of being all suited up, so to speak. So I went around the yard pulling up poison ivy that wasn't in the goat area. It comes up pretty easily, though occasionally I found one with a deep root that was hard to pull.

It wasn't really hard work, but being in long sleeves in the middle of the day pretty well wiped me out. And here I thought the point of the goats was that I wouldn't have to handle the poison ivy, they would take care of it. It didn't quite work out that way.

Meanwhile Georg had gone out and bought me some Tecnu. I used it to clean off as thoroughly as I could. I still don't even know if I'm immune or not. I'll know if I wake up with a rash tomorrow.

my poison ivy nightmare


Just spent over an hour cutting down chokecherries. I had no idea there was so much poison ivy back there. It's everywhere. And brambles too. Not exactly my idea of a fun Saturday morning: wading through thick poison ivy, trying not to get caught on brambles, lopping down those damned chokecherry saplings and dragging them out, all the while muttering "don't touch my face, don't touch my face..."

If I get poison ivy I'm going to get it on my face and neck; those were the only parts I couldn't cover. I tried really hard not to touch exposed skin but it's possible I forgot. And it's also possible that while I was bending over trying to yank loose a small choke cherry, a poison ivy plant higher up the slope might have brushed against my head. I guess my arms might also have been exposed when I pulled my shirt off. My legs are probably fine: I had tucked my pants into my socks and just peeled the whole thing off afterwards. I washed off with cold water, then poured rubbing alcohol on a washcloth and cleaned off with that too. (A suggestion from our friend Allison, who we saw on Thursday night and happened to discuss poison ivy with.) And by the way, cleaning your face with rubbing alcohol is not an experience I recommend. I turned the fan on the bathroom to cut down on the fumes and I still had to cover my eyes with a damp cloth. Then after I had cleaned off all the exposed areas as well as I could, I took a shower with lukewarm water. You're supposed to wash off poison ivy oil with cold water, as hot opens the pores and can make it worse. But I hate cold showers; lukewarm was the best I could manage.

Guess I won't know until ... how long before a poison ivy rash appears, anyway? In any case, no point obsessing now. Especially since I'm going to have to do it all over again. I just remembered that I forgot to dig up the azalea, which is also toxic to goats and is also in the middle of the poison ivy field. Tomorrow for that! In the meantime here's a photo of one of the more pleasant parts of the yard:
Catmint and verbascum

goat patrol

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We hired the Goat Patrol! From Monday to (probably) Thursday goats will clear the out-of-control overgrowth in our backyard. We've got english ivy, honeysuckle, wild brambles and tons of poison ivy, and the goats will eat all of it. They cost less than the quote we got from landscapers, and no fossil fuels!

The goats' handler came by yesterday to check out the yard. She said she would use electric fencing to contain the goats in the area we want them to clear. There's only one plant we need to protect inside the goat zone: a small fig near the shed. Otherwise it's all wild growth back there. She said that if they have too large of an area to roam in, they'll just wander around, nap in the driveway and so forth. If she keeps them in the area with the overgrowth, they'll stay focused on the task at hand: eating.

She saw a couple of toxic plants that will have to be removed: an azalea which we'll dig up and stick in a big pot, and a volunteer tree called "chokecherry." She said that when the chokecherry leaves wilt, they form cyanide. So if the goats eat the chokecherry, at first it's okay but as they damage the plant it wilts and becomes toxic. We have to go around the yard, find all the chokecherries, limb up the big ones so the goats can't reach the leaves, and cut down all the small ones. And be sure to remove all the branches we cut, we can't leave anything lying on the ground.

Unfortunately the azalea and the chokecherries are in the middle of the poison ivy thicket. Georg is already sporting a severe poison ivy rash on his legs, and I may be immune (as far as I know, I've never had it) so I get poison ivy detail tomorrow. I'm going to wear long pants tucked into socks, long sleeves and gloves, and hope for the best. Fortunately it's all in shade, and I'll try to do it early in the day before it gets too hot.

Also we have to move Georg's old car, which has been sitting in the backyard forever. We've been trying to get someone to come tow it away for months, but no one ever comes through somehow. Well the car is right in the middle of where the goats need to be. She can fence around it, but then they won't be able to eat the brush right around it. So we're going to have to try to push it out of the way until we can (finally) get someone to come get it.

I wonder what Janey will think of the goats! My suspicion is she'll be excited and bark for a few minutes, then be all "eh, whatever. I have to go watch for squirrels."

rainy day people

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Rainy weather is the best for weeding. I don't know why, but when the soil is wet weeds just lift right out of the soil, root and all. We've been taking advantage of the afternoon rain storms to work on the evil brambles. They look like blackberries but they never produce fruit. Just thorns, lots of thorns. The brambles owned the bank along the driveway before we turned it into a flowerbed, and now they want it back.

The brambles have a woody root that runs about 3 inches underground, and sprouts up all along its length. It's impossible to dig out when the soil is dry. When it's wet you can sometimes pull several feet of it out in one go. Georg and I both had the experience of pulling on a root and seeing a bramble over a foot away disappear into the ground, then pop out attached to the root we were pulling. It's hilarious, like something out of a cartoon.

After weeding I planted seedlings which really should have been in the ground a couple of weeks ago. Snapdragons to replace the ones that died during the cold snap, calendulas and gazanias. The bunnies found and ate about half the calendula, along with every single parsley seedling. The rabbits! They eat my plants and then they get killed by Jane and make me cry. Damned nuisance.

tcm alert

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Starting tonight TCM is running a series on Latinos in Hollywood, every Tuesday and Thursday for the whole month. They're showing the original The Mark of Zorro right now. Check it out!

he ran all the way

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March 4 movie: He Ran All the Way. Tense crime drama about a robber/murderer who hides out in a girl's apartment, terrorizing the girl and her family. Worth watching for the strong performances by stars John Garfield and Shelley Winters. Garfield especially created a compelling character.

Interesting trivia: writer Dalton Trumbo, director John Berry and star John Garfield were all blacklisted. Garfield died shortly after, making this his last movie.

night unto night

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March 5 movie: Night Unto Night. Dull melodrama starring Ronald Reagan as a research scientist with epilepsy. When the movie wasn't boring me, it was offending me by portraying epilepsy as something to be ashamed of.

nancy drew, detective


March 11 movie: Nancy Drew, Detective. I had never seen a Nancy Drew movie before. And I must say, if this was representative then I never want to see another. Nancy Drew was not a sympathetic character! She was a spoiled, rich little snot who goes around smirking all the time and making sure everyone knows how much smarter than them she is. And she's really mean to her poor boyfriend. Why that kid stays with her I don't know. The scene that pushed me over the edge was when she gleefully humiliates the local sheriff, makes a fool of him in front of his entire staff, just because he had the nerve to try and do his job.

Were the books this bad? By the end of the movie I felt like Nancy Drew was a pretty unpleasant girl.

hollow man

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March 13 movie: Hollow Man. Oh my god this was bad. Bad. Not even bad-good. It was so ugly, so spiteful and sadistic, that I felt kind of sick while watching it. (Until the end, which was so ridiculous I got over my queasiness.)


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March 13 movie: 21. I watched this because I had read the book. Bringing Down the House, a nonfiction story about a group of MIT students who developed a blackjack card-counting scheme and made millions in Vegas, until the casinos caught on and everything went all pear shaped.

Well, the movie was pretty incoherent. Having read the book I found that the movie made no sense, because nothing (the table games, the card counting scheme, the security company) worked right. It wasn't just different in the movie; it was changed in a way that made it make no sense. And I think that if I hadn't read the book, the movie would have made no sense because they do such a bad job of explaining everything. Really, if you didn't already understand the card-counting scheme you would never get it from this movie.

The only thing the movie did well was lots of good footage of Vegas. That's always fun.

reserved for ladies

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March 15 movie: Reserved for Ladies. I cannot remember this movie at all. I even read a lengthy plot synopsis on IMDB and I still have no memory of it. Did I even watch it? Or did I decide not to watch it and forget to remove it from the list?

It's too bad; it sounded like a good movie.

accidents will happen

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March 16 movie: Accidents Will Happen. Ronald Reagan plays an insurance adjustor who starts out an honest go-getter, then gets caught up in an insurance fraud gang who stage phony accidents. Gloria Blondell plays his grasping, venal wife. I must say, this may be the most I've ever enjoyed a move that starred Reagan. It was well plotted, they neatly put together the phony accident scam, and even kept me guessing about Reagan's character.

million dollar baby

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March 19 movie: Million Dollar Baby. No, not the boxing movie with Clint Eastwood and whats-her-name. This was a 1941 movie in which May Robson finds out her father became rich by cheating his business partner. She decides to make matters right by finding the partner's descendant (Priscilla Lane) and anonymously giving her a million dollars. Jeffrey Lynn plays the lawyer she hires to give Lane the money, and Ronald Reagan plays Lane's boyfriend. It was a cute movie.


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March 23 movie: Berserk! Late 60s Joan Crawford horror movie set in a traveling circus. If that description doesn't make you want to watch this movie, then you really shouldn't watch this movie. If, on the other hand, you read that and thought, "Wow! That sounds like crazy campy fun!" rent this now. Because that's exactly what this is.

the man in the iron mask

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April 6 movie: The Man in the Iron Mask. This was wonderful! Everything a swashbuckler should be. Louis Hayward, Joan Bennett and Warren William star. The plot focuses on Hayward in the dual role as the King and Phillippe, with the Musketeers in a supporting role. William (as D'Artagnan) has a tremendous presence considering he's mostly in the background. Also excellent work by Joseph Schildkraut as the King's evil advisor, and Alan Hale! He plays Porthos.

they were expendable

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April 11 movie: They Were Expendable. This John Ford movie has really grown on me. It's Robert Montgomery and John Wayne as PT boat captains in the Philippines. In some ways it's the anti-John Wayne movie: Wayne has to overcome his cowboy urge to be the hero and grab high-profile assignments, learning that every job is vital, even the unglamorous ones. I read that Montgomery was fresh off active duty on an actual PT boat and provided a level of realism to the film.

pennies from heaven

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May 3 movie: Pennies from Heaven. No, not the Dennis Potter movie with Steve Martin. This was the 1936 movie starring Bing Crosby. It's a sweet Depression comedy starring Bing as an amiable hobo who takes up with a grandfather & granddaughter down on their luck. Together they try to start a chicken dinner restaurant with Louis Armstrong as the house band, and the daughter is trying to evade being put in an orphanage, and Bing sings a lot. It was a lot of fun. The title song is especially good.

dr. no

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May 1 movie: Dr. No. Sean Connery is star of the month on TCM. Like fun! James Bond every Friday night. I am such a nerd.

my reputation

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May 1 movie: My Reputation. Barbara Stanwyck stars as a widow who fall in love with a military man (George Brent). She feels happy again for the first time in years, until everyone around her -- friends, her mother, her children -- openly condemn her for being such a slut. Doesn't she know she's supposed to live like a nun for the rest of her life?

It wraps up with a sort of, kind of happy ending, and it wasn't nearly as bad as movies I've seen with similar themes from the early 30s, but mostly this movie was depressing.

she couldn't say no

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April 30 movie: She Couldn't Say No. Eve Arden and Roger Pryor star in this romantic comedy about a pair of lawyers on opposite sides of a case. Nice to see Eve Arden as the star for once. Also features Cliff Edwards (Ukulele Ike) as Arden's assistant. He has some good lines and gets to do one song.

the doughgirls

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April 30 movie: The Doughgirls. Jane Wyman, Ann Sheridan, and Alexis Smith star as three best friends who hate each other. Also they're all newlyweds whose husbands hate them. Then on the same day, they all find out they're not really married. What's a girl to do?

I found this movie unwatchable. I hate those screwball comedies about married couples who loathe each other. Here's a typical exchange:

Wife: "Oh Arthur, I love you."
Husband (rolling eyes and smirking): "Couldn't happen to a nicer fellow."

Making the friends all loathe each other too ratcheted up the unpleasantness to a level I just couldn't stand. Also the movie was too stagey -- almost the whole thing takes place in one room, with people constantly running in and out of doors. They tried to make comedy out of the overcrowding in wartime DC, just like The More The Merrier, but it's hard to do when the whole movie is trapped inside one room.

Eve Arden played a sassy Soviet officer, and even she couldn't save this movie. That's saying something.

whistling in the dark

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April 20 movie: Whistling in the Dark. Red Skelton stars as "The Fox," the star of a radio mystery show, who gets tangled up in a real-life mystery. It was fun. Not cinema for the ages, but worth watching, genuinely fun.

here comes the bride

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Chauffeuring the wedding couple yesterday was fun. The photographer sat in the front seat and was all over the place -- she knelt on the seat facing backwards, and leaned far over into the middle to get good angles for her photos -- but she was pretty good at staying aware of me and moving out of the way when I needed the shift gears.

The bad part was afterwards -- I had promised them I would leave the car in front of the restaurant for about an hour so people could look at it. When we got there, in all the hubbub I accidently put my keys down on the hood of the car. Georg and I took off to get lunch, and when we got back, no keys. I had left the windows rolled down, and I spent about an hour in total panic thinking that I had left the cars inside and someone had taken them. Why anyone would take the keys and leave the car, I couldn't imagine. Still, it was a difficult hour of looking everywhere for the keys, then driving home to get the spare key, then driving back, meanwhile between waiting so long to eat and the stress I had the mother of all headaches. And then when we got back to the car with the spare key, Georg saw my keyring sitting on the hood, right where I had left it. Doh!

It's kind of funny now (though not at the time!). I think my car is the only car in Durham which you can leave your keys on top of for an hour in the middle of town, and no one will notice, not even yourself. I have a long history of leaving things on top of the car and driving around without them falling off. Usually things we were using to work on the decorations like screwdrivers, paint scrapers and rolls of masking tape. Once I drove all the way to Chapel Hill and back with a big pair of pruning loppers on the hood! I still don't know why they didn't fall off on the highway.

After all that excitement we had to make dinner (Georg) and tidy the house (me) before our friends Vicki and John came over. They used to live in Texas so we made pibil, rice and beans and Georg got really nice tortillas from Compare. Vicki and John have been all over the world and had all kinds of experiences. Looks like they may be moving to Australia soon.

der bingle

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I will be on air from 2-4 pm today with a birthday tribute to Bing Crosby. I learned a lot about Bing preparing for this show, and I'm really looking forward to it. If you like older music but you think of Bing Crosby as bland whitebread pop, tune in and find out how wrong that is. 88.7fm in Durham, webcast at

I was asked to drive a wedding couple from the chapel to the reception site this afternoon. Kind of cool, no one's ever asked me to do something like this before. We had talked about incorporating the art car into our own wedding -- either being married at the big art car parade in Houston (the head of the Houston Art Car Klub is a licensed minister), or road tripping to Vegas and going to a drive-in chapel. But it didn't work out for a variety of reasons, and I'm tickled that the car gets to participate in a wedding nonetheless.

So we've been working on the car. I had planned to deal with this over the past couple of weeks, but events beyond my control took me out of the state all last week and threw my schedule for a loop. I couldn't work on the car last week because I was away, and then I had to recover from the late night drive back (don't ask), and then I had to catch up on all the work I had missed because of going away unexpectedly, and here we are.

Yesterday we patched the carpet strips where they had worn off. It turns out it's harder to cut new pieces of carpet to match the old glue marks and fit around the other decorations, than it was to put the original pieces down when there wasn't anything on the car yet. I don't know why this surprised me. We also added a few toys to fill some empty spots & to replace a few that had gotten really gross. A casual observer probably won't notice the difference but it does look nicer to me.

This morning we've been cleaning the inside. Which, wow. The most frequent passenger in my car is my dog, and who knew german shepherd fur could collect like that. After vacuuming I feel like it's clean enough that I can say "sorry about the dog hair" with a straight face.

We're almost done cleaning and I don't have to be at the chapel for a couple of hours. Phew! I hate feeling rushed. Plus we're having friends over for dinner tonight which I haven't even thought about yet.

I have to say, working on the car last night brought back memories. It reminded me of when I first started creating the art car, how fun and exciting that was. There wasn't any burden of upkeep, just the thrill of seeing something new take shape. I'd like to try to recapture that. I've been thinking idly about doing major work on the car for a long time, but the enormity of the job made it seem overwhelming. Maybe I could start with one panel and see how it goes. Just scrape everything off and do something fun and new. If it turned out well that would motivate me to keep going.


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April 15 movie: Underground. I was deeply affected by this story about German anti-fascists who broadcast an underground radio station. Released six months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when a few Hollywood movies were out there trying to win American support for getting involved in the war. It was an incredible movie. Exciting, tightly plotted, suspenseful, sharp dialogue, strong performances. Stars Philip Dorn as the leader of the radio movement, and Jeffrey Lynn as his brother, a loyal Nazi soldier, were especially good.

I read later that many of the actors were themselves anti-Nazis who had fled Germany and the surrounding countries, for instance Dorn was Dutch. This lent the performances a visceral intensity. And .. okay, I can't continue my review because this movie has brought up some strong feelings for me. Maybe this was the wrong thing to watch the day before the torture memos were released. The movie is about people sacrificing everything to stop their government from committing atrocities. The movie never mentions the Holocaust, I'm not sure if the filmmakers would have known about it that early on. The crime the Nazis are shown committing is torture of captured resistance members. I know the movie is fictional, but people like that did exist. Tens of thousands of Germans were killed for resisting the Nazis. Well, we've just gotten proof of what we already knew: torture was the official policy of the US government for years. Why didn't the American people rise up in outrage against this? Why didn't I, where the fuck was I? Did I think sitting on my ass and hating George Bush was a sufficient response? Writing the occasional angry blog post, that was supposed to accomplish something? Eight years ago I would have called torture by the US government unthinkable. When confronted with the unthinkable, my reaction was so tepid. I'm deeply disappointed in myself.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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