Something to see

Ye stars, that are the poetry of heaven! — Byron

Three of the brightest luminaries of the night sky, visible to the naked eye and all together in one place? Yes:

WASHINGTON — It’s not just families that are getting together this
Thanksgiving week. The three brightest objects in the night sky —
Venus, Jupiter and a crescent moon — will crowd around each other for
an unusual group shot.

Starting Thanksgiving evening, Jupiter and Venus will begin moving
closer so that by Sunday and Monday, they will appear 2 degrees apart,
which is about a finger width held out at arm’s length, said Alan
MacRobert, senior editor at Sky and Telescope magazine.

Then on Monday night, they will be joined by a crescent moon right next to them, he said.

Look in the southwestern sky around twilight — no telescope or
binoculars needed. The show will even be visible in cities if it’s a
clear night.

“It’ll be a head-turner,” MacRobert said. “This certainly is an
unusual coincidence for the crescent moon to be right there in the days
when they are going to be closest together.”

The moon is the brightest, closest and smallest of the three and is
252,000 miles away. Venus, the second brightest, closest and smallest,
is 94 million miles away. And big Jupiter is 540 million miles away.

The three celestial objects come together from time to time, but
often they are too close to the sun or unite at a time when they aren’t
so visible.

Huffington Post

The November issue of National Geographic has a great article on light pollution, Our Vanishing Night,
which points out that most city skies have become virtually empty of
stars. So being able to see this event is a rare pleasure that city dwellers
will want to enjoy. Check out the photo gallery from the article here.

Lift your eyes

Don’t’ miss it! The next time the three will be as close and visible as this week
will be in Nov. of 2052, according to Jack Horkheimer, director of the
Miami Space Transit Planetarium.

Let your eyes dance over this beautiful sight.

the night shop
Annette Marie Hyder

the night sky, a pawn shop
filled with broken dreams
and dazzling deals
blinking in its deep display case
is promising all your hocked stuff
back for free
every wish you ever made
on every star you’ve ever seen
will be given back with interest
if you still have your ticket

you do have it
don’t look in your pockets
look up

Black Friday

Everyone loves a bargain

Retailers have been pushing back the opening time for their Black Friday after-Thanksgiving-day sales, some opening as early as 10:00 PM Thanksgiving night and many adopting midnight openings.

An estimated 250 people were waiting in line when the Mall of
America in Bloomington opened its doors at 6 a.m. The outlet stores in
Albertville opened at midnight, and that also drew good crowds.

Dan Dolezal lined up around 5 p.m. Thursday, hoping to purchase the
family’s first home computer. His wife and daughters, ages 4 and 8,
came about 2 a.m. and took turns napping in the car and standing beside
Dolezal in the dark.

For retailers desperate to turn a profit in these increasingly recessionary times, this sounds like a winning situation. For the workers who have to accommodate these early-bird shopping schedules, it’s an imposition to say the least. Having to curtail celebrating with friends and family in order to be at work at midnight leaves many feeling cheated:

“I feel like I got cheated out of time with my family on Thanksgiving this year,” said Shirley Buchanan, of Fredericksburg.

Buchanan just returned from a Thanksgiving trip to Norfolk prior to
starting her shift at a women’s clothing store she has worked at for
more than 20 years. She said she only agreed to work at midnight as a
favor to her district manager she has known for so long. She won’t do
it again next year, she said.

But at what price?

Who doesn’t like to save money? But money spent on an item is not the only measure of its worth. For many, myself included, the hassle and crush of obtaining that deal is just not worth the money saved. My time is more important to me than the money and I figure the time spent right in with the money when calculating the cost.

Huge sales can be unsafe as well. It’s easy to forget just how dangerous crowds can be when they are out of control. This morning a man died after he was knocked to the ground after shoppers broke down the doors to  Wal-Mart at the Green Acres Mall:

A 34-year-old Wal-Mart worker died Friday morning after he was knocked to the ground after “a throng of shoppers physically broke down the doors,” pushing their way into the store at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, Nassau police said.

The man was knocked down at 5:03 a.m. and was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead at 6:03 a.m.

As of Friday morning the cause of death was described as “undetermined,” police said. An exact cause of death will be determined by the county medical examiner’s office, police said. The man’s name was not immediately made public by the police, and the store was closed.

A 28-year-old pregnant woman was also taken to an area hospital for observation, and three other shoppers suffered minor injuries and were taken to hospitals for treatment.

Chicago Tribune

Siren song

If the thrill of a bargain is like siren song to you and you simply must join the estimated 49 million Americans who will hit
the stores looking for bargains over the weekend, here’s some advice:

  • Don’t bring young children or infants with you. They wont enjoy the press and crush, the noise and the frantic atmosphere and you could be putting them in danger.

  • Take public transportation if possible. You’ll be glad you did once you see the never-ending loop of vulture-like cars waiting to swoop in on the first sign of a coveted parking space. You’ll save yourself the frustration that comes with thinking about all the shoppers who are beating you to the deals as you stall indefinitely in parking-spot search mode. And—bonus–you’ll be making your travel experience green.
  • Do bring refreshments, something to drink and a snack. The food courts in malls are so packed on Black Friday that most retailers arrange lavish in-store meals for their workers so they don’t have to leave to get something to eat and vanish–never to be heard from again–once they hit the black hole that is the food court.

  • Bring your patience and your smile with you. And spend them freely on not only the other shoppers, but the clerks and salespeople who have left their turkey and their wine to serve up some delicious deals for you.

  • Be safe.

At least 100 dead in India terror attacks

Image courtesy the New York Times

Coordinated terrorist attacks struck the heart of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, on Wednesday night, killing dozens in machine-gun and grenade assaults on at least two five-star hotels, the city’s largest train station, a Jewish center, a movie theater and a hospital. The full New York Times article can be read here.

BoingBoing has links to live streaming TV coverage, Twitter,  photo uploads and discussion threads.

FBI Warns of Possible Terror Plot Against New York City Subway During Holidays

According to news reports, federal authorities are warning of a possible Al Qaeda-orchestrated terror plot against New York City subway and other transit systems during the holidays.

The potential threat — described in an internal FBI memo as “plausible but unsubstantiated” — does not extend beyond the New York City area. Commuters could see security tighten across the country.

The Washington Post is reporting that federal and state authorities are working “to follow every possible
thread,” and a federal law enforcement official said no arrests have
been made.

Link to Washington Post article

Time of Darkness
Annette Marie Hyder

When the world
closes its eyes
plunging itself into a time of darkness
for the last time

turns on side
and curls in on itself
before dying for real in its own bad dream
when everything ceases and desists
for all and every and ever

I want to touch you on your shoulder
lead you away
to other dreams that are just as true
if only some believe
even just we two.

Thanksgiving a loaded holiday for many Native Americans

Copyright Annette Marie Hyder

American Indian Thanksgiving

The Wisconsin State Journal has an interesting article about the roots of the Thanksgiving holiday in the early encounters
between European settlers and native populations. The article points out that there is a
multiplicity of viewpoints among American Indians about Thanksgiving:

When Bobbi Webster, a member
of the Oneida Nation, talks about being thankful, she mentions the
strawberry harvest, tapping maple trees for syrup, the summer solstice
and seasonal change. Feasting, family and giving thanks are the root of
multiple thanksgiving celebrations spread throughout the year for the
Oneida and other American Indians.

And on this fourth Thursday in
November, Webster, like millions of Americans, will gather with her
family for a feast, make her mother’s recipes for chocolate cake and
cranberries, talk about gratitude and celebrate Thanksgiving.

time of year we all celebrate Thanksgiving, but we have 13 ceremonies
of thanksgiving ongoing throughout the year,” Webster said. “Sometimes
you have to take the best of the worlds around you, draw from all the
cultures. Thanksgiving is a time we see what we have in common.”

Read the entire article here.

Pumpkin pie, I love you

Photo courtesy faerikat

I know, already, what I’m going to have for breakfast on Friday: a slice of leftover pumkin pie and a cup of coffee.

Although pumpkin pie is a traditional part of Thanksgiving, it probably was not eaten at the first Thanksgiving dinner. Even so, it’s a favorite part of the meal for many (like me) and you can follow the steam of delicious baked pies back through history all the way back to ancient times. Ancient Egyptians kept records of their pie-making practices (honey and nuts were favorably involved). The Romans loved pies so much that they offered them to their deities. And in medieval England they went all out:

In medieval England, they were called pyes, and instead of being predominantly sweet, they were most often filled with meat — beef, lamb, wild duck, magpie pigeon — spiced with pepper, currants or dates. Historians trace pie’s initial origins to the Greeks, who are thought to be the originators of the pastry shell, which they made by combining water and flour. The wealthy Romans used many different kinds of meats — even mussels and other types of seafood — in their pies. Meat pies were also often part of Roman dessert courses, or secundae mensea. Cato the Younger recorded the popularity of this sweet course, and a cheesecake-like dish called Placenta, in his treatise De Agricultura.

Time Magazine

Coffins and live birds

Image courtesy Gutenberg project

Sing a song of six-pence, a pocket full of rye
Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie
When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing.
Now wasn’t that a tasty dish to set before the king!

“Raised” pies, pies in which the pastry is shaped by hand into a freestanding crust, were originally considered to be disposable containers:

Its sole purpose was to enclose tough meat such as venison so that it would become tender by dint of slow, moist cooking. The most important characteristic of such a crust was its sturdiness; that it later evolved into something marginally edible was quite an unexpected development. Even as late as 1861, a recipe for Common Crust for Raised Pies ends thus: “This paste does not tastes as nicely as the preceding one, but is worked with greater facility, and answers just as well for raised pies, for the crust is seldom eaten.”

Lobscouse & Spotted Dog By Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the crust for a raised pie was frequently called the “coffin” with typical recipes directing you to “raise your coffin on what fashion you please.” Extravagant ingredients for these pies could include Peacocks or live birds like the birds in the English nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence.

Here’s a recipe , from Cindy Renfrow’s book, Take a Thousand Eggs or More, for how to ‘make Pies that the Birds may be alive in them, and flie out when it is cut up.’

Whether you go traditional or vegetarian tomorrow — celebrate Thanksgiving Day or don’t celebrate it for religous and/or personal reasons — I hope you get your slice of the pie and have much to be thankful for.

‘I’ll continue my schooling even if they try to kill me.’

Kandahar’s governor said
Tuesday that authorities had arrested 10 alleged Taliban militants for the Nov. 12 attack on female teachers and students in Southern Afghanistan.

Under Taliban rule, girls were banned from school and were only allowed
to leave the house accompanied by a male relative. The Afghan
government has accused Taliban militants of attacking dozens of schools
and teachers.

Several of the girls suffered grievous facial burns and had to be hospitalized as a result of the attack. If the men who attacked thought they would intimidate these young
women, bludgeon their love of learning into a twisted heap of
acquiescence and cowering, Shamsia shows how wrong they were:

Speaking from her bed at Afghanistan’s main
military hospital in Kabul, Shamsia, the girl who was the most seriously
injured, said “I’ll continue my schooling even if they try to kill me. I won’t
stop going to school.”

Reuters article

the men hoped to extinguish the independence of these young women and transform them into
meek recipients of tyranny, Nuskall, gives a surprising answer:

Nuskaal, a 23-year-old teacher burned in the acid attack on
15 schoolgirls and instructors wants the Afghan government to throw
acid on her attackers and then hang them.

Read the Associated Press article.

Email habits, rational or random?

Are you wondering how soon you will get a reply on that important email
you sent out yesterday? Maybe, you are wondering why it’s taken so long
to hear back from a friend that you sent your awesome vacation pictures
to? Why do you get a response on some emails immediately while for
others it seems to be taking all the time in the world?

Rational or random?

Do you answer the most important emails first for optimum efficiency? Or are your replies based on whim and mood? A new study based on a mathematical model shows people reply to emails randomly, but in cycles. Luís Amaral, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University, talks about it in this Science Daily article.

The study shows people respond randomly but with a probability of sending them during a given period. And, timing your emails to arrive when recipients first arrive at work optimizes your responses.

Good to know.

Email and poetry

In case there’s not enough poetry in your in box, here’s a link to Poem-A-Day from Beginning April 1, sends one new poem to your in box each day
to celebrate National Poetry Month. The poems have been selected from
new books published in the spring.

 And here’s a link to Daily Poems.

‘As a life lesson for teenage girls, Twilight (excuse the pun) sucks. As a parable for the dark side of female desire, it’s weirdly powerful.’

Can a movie that is marketed to tweens and revolves around vampires and teen lust appeal to a grown woman?

Having a tween daughter who read the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyers, I read them too. I enjoyed the books and appreciate them for what they are. And my daughter, having read the books had to see the movie. We saw it together over the weekend. Would the movie version live up to her expectations, would it live down to mine?

Weekend blockbuster

Twilight won the weekend box office with a $70.6 mil debut gross, according to Sunday’s estimates. Twilight, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, is the top debut ever for a film directed by one woman. It’s the 29th best first-weekend show of all time (falling just shy of 300’s $70.9 mil and coming in just ahead of Transformers’ $70.5 mil). It stands as the fourth biggest premiere of the year — better than Quantum of Solace’s $67.5 mil opening, better than WALL-E’s $63.1 mil, and better than Hancock’s $62.6 mil.

The studio has announced that they’ll go forward with the sequel, New Moon, much to the delight of Twilight fans. It’s already in the works.

Twilight, the movie, has found its target audience and has sunk its teeth in. But where will Twilight go from here?  With its core audience sold and all the attendant buzz and positive word of mouth, I’m sure that Twilight will be able to build on its record-smashing start. It’s perfectly poised for the Thanksgiving weekend.

Twilight reviews

My daughter’s initial review of the movie can be summed up with one acronym, one word and two exclamation points:
OMG! Perfect!

My review? I found parts of this movie unintentionally funny. Most of the
scenes where Edward is fighting his desire for Bella affected me that way, but especially the
scene in which Edward fights his demonic drug-like addiction to the delicious Bella while sucking her wrist to remove poison from another vampire’s bite to her wrist. Robert Pattinson achieves an almost cross-eyed look  of soulful turmoil as he must simultaneously suck her
blood and fight the desire to drain her bloodless.

While the cinematography of the film was lushly beautiful, the storytelling was uneven and left me unsatisfied. The special effects were unimpressive and would have been at home in a made-for-TV movie.

From the larger issues mentioned — to little things like wigs and
teeth: I found the wigs that some of the actors sported distracting;
found myself wondering if weaves would not have been better. I was
especially distracted by Taylor Lautner’s wig. Taylor Lautner plays
Jacob, and does so charmingly. It’s too bad that whenever he is
onscreen, his bad wig and blindingly bright white teeth are trying to
steal the scene.

With the above considerations and having read the book , my five word summary? The book is infinitely better (and that is said with the caveat that the book itself is rife with objectionable messages and questionable modeing.)

Since our after-discussion of the movie, my daughter has (I’m happy to report) revised her opinion and actually agrees with me (happiness is mine!)

Other Twilight reviews

I agree with Justin Chang at Variety who says, “[Director Catherine] Hardwicke
can’t get inside the head of her young protagonist, Isabella ‘Bella’
Swan (Kristen Stewart); consequently, Bella’s decision to get hot and
heavy with a hot-and-hungry vampire, far from seeming like an act of
mad, transgressive passion, comes across as merely stupid and
ill-considered. The result is a supernatural romance in which the
supernatural and romantic elements feel rushed, unformed and
insufficiently motivated, leaving audiences with little to do but shrug
and focus on the eye-candy.”

Slate says “Twilight is a story about pining for the one person you can, and
should, never have, and who among us hasn’t at least once experienced
that vampiric craving? As a life lesson for teenage girls, Twilight
(excuse the pun) sucks. As a parable for the dark side of female
desire, it’s weirdly powerful.”

Here’s a review by Roger Ebert and here are opinions from critics around the country, via

“Twilight is silly and melodramatic and hard to dislike in much
the same way as its target audience, with a distinctly teenage sense of

” Not that Twilight’s fate hangs on intelligibility. It hangs on
fangs that aren’t bared, and on a bloodlust that isn’t indulged.”
Wall Street Journal

“Twilight works as both love story and vampire story, thanks mainly to the performances of its principals.”
Washington Post

“My advice: Focus on Pattinson and Stewart. They make you understand why the books sold 17 million copies.”
— Peter Travers Rolling Stone

Gothic wooziness stifles many of Hardwicke’s lighter impulses,
such as her knack for jiving humor in scenes among friends and family.
And some of the more cartoonishly gymnastic CG stunts look plain silly.”
— Amy Biancolli Houston Chronicle

“With its vapor-thin plot and goofy gimmicks (game of vampire
baseball, anyone?), Twilight seems best left to its impressionable
teenage fans.”
— Rafer Guzman Newsday

“Meyer is said to have been involved in the production of
Twilight, but her novel was substantially more absorbing than the
unintentionally funny and quickly forgettable film.”
— Claudia Puig USA Today

“Catherine Hardwicke’s choppy direction plays all this much too
seriously. The film lacks the clarity and cleverness that might have
ameliorated the campier moments.”
— Nancy Churnin Dallas Morning News

“Sometimes sensitive and often silly.”
— Rick Groen Globe and Mail

To hear human words curling from a bird’s tongue is entrancing

Painting of parrot: the claudia moss galleries

can bark, cats can meow, chimps can even use sign language, to
communicate with us. Communication that falls outside of human language
is complex and diverse, from the waggle dance of honey bees (video) to the chemical communication of  plants and trees (article).
But there is something marvelous about a non-human creature that can
speak to us with language, with our own language, with human language.
To hear human words curling from a bird’s tongue is entrancing. But do
those words mean anything? Or is it just mimicry? Is there intent
and/or emotion behind a parrot’s words and actions?

Pet parrot saves choking toddler

a pet Quaker parrot in the Denver, CO area, is being credited with
saving 2 year old Hannah Kuusk’s life. The toddler was choking on a pop
tart when the parrot began screaming and repeated the words “mama baby”
and over. The toddler’s caregiver was able to respond to the warning
and save the 2-year-old’s life. Read the full news story, with video, here.

Pensive parrot

parrot in the news is Fred, from Somerset England, who has had to be
put on antidepressants because of depression after his owner died.

Helen Dance said the death nine months
ago of her husband, George, who had raised the parrot from a chick,
took a heavy toll on Fred, an African Grey parrot, The Sun reported

said experts told her the parrot seemed to be suffering from a deep
depression because he could not understand George Dance’s sudden
absence. The
widow said Fred had bitten off all of his neck feathers and spent most
of the day bobbing his head up and down.

However, she said the bird seems to be coming out of his inner
darkness now that he’s on a twice-daily liquid form of Prozac designed
for birds, known as Clomical.

Read the entire United Press International article.

Parrot perspicacity

about just how smart birds are abound. There’s also fascinating
scientific evidence delineating how bird intelligence works.

Alex the parrot, probably the most famous parrot ever, died this year at 31. Dr. Irene Pepperberg
bought Alex from a pet store in 1977. He subsequently became a research subject for scientists at Harvard. The scientists
were amazed by his ability to learn language. He could differentiate
colors and shapes and knew more than 100 words. . The New York Times wrote:

Alex showed surprising facility. For example, when shown a blue paper
triangle, he could tell an experimenter what color the paper was, what
shape it was, and — after touching it — what it was made of. He
demonstrated some of his skills on nature shows, including programs on PBS and the BBC. He  shared scenes with the actor Alan Alda on the PBS series “Look Who’s Talking.”

Alex’s last words to Dr. Irene Pepperburg were, ‘You be good. See you tomorrow. I love you.’

You can read about the remarkable relationship Alex had with Dr. Pepperburg in 
Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World
of Animal Intelligence — and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process
by Irene Pepperburg

And here’s an interview with Dr. Pepperburg at Scientific America.

Parrots in folktales and legend

Eighteenth century engraving of Kamadeva

Parrots feature in folk tales and legends from around the world.
One I particularly like is The
Parrot That Talked Too Much

the handsome Hindu god of love, rides a parrot as he wields his famous
bow and arrows. The bow is made of sugarcane and strung with honeybees
while his arrows are five flower tipped shafts of desire that overcome
the five senses.

Shuka Saptati, also
known as Seventy Tales of the Parrot and as Parrot Speak, is a
collection of stories originally written in Sanskrit in which a parrot tells 70
stories in order to prevent a woman from pursuing a disastrous course of
action. Full of erotic and taboo material, it was compiled in the 6th century
AD by an unknown author. It was translated into Persian during Ala-ud-din Khilji’s
time (1296-1316). It was later translated into Turkish, German and French and
finally into English.

Pretty Polly,
Appalachian folk tale, is a cautionary tale in which a woman named
Pretty Polly
is persuaded against her better judgment to go to visit three men she
knows of
limited acquaintance. When she protests that she will not be able to
find the
way, they promise to leave a trail of ashes for her to find her way.
They tell
her that if they are not there when she arrives she is to go right in
and help
herself to the plentiful food they will leave on the table. She follows
trail of ashes, finds that they are not at home, goes in and helps
herself to the food. She
finds a severed hand in her food, and realizes just what type of food
she is eating and that they want to murder her. A
talking parrot warns her about losing her heart’s blood. Polly hides just before the men return home
and while she is hiding another severed hand lands right beside her. It
is that of her cousin and Polly is present while this woman is
murdered, before
she escapes with the help of the parrot, and exposes the men.