Saturday, February 20, 2010

Blog # 128: The Cold and the Hot

What’s Cold: Skiing From the Top of the World

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Cold on the Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics is going on all over the cable spectrum, but I have yet to watch one feat. For one thing, I’m from Houston, Texas. We don’t get an awful lot of snow here (in fact in Houston legend has snow falling once every 10 years, and Houston is filled with 9 year olds who have never yet seen a real live snowflake), and so I am just as happy to ignore the games that are played in one of the world’s largest outdoor freezers. I start to shiver just by looking at them.

This was not true with the regular Olympics two years ago. It was a little overwhelming to find just where a certain event was to be carried, as NBC distributed the games equally among its many cable channels, and I ended up missing some of games I had wished to see, but I did end up catching a lot of the events, and especially basketball which is my favorite. But the games of the winter Olympics leave me cold, if you will forgive me the rotten pun.

So what? you might well ask? So that’s what we do here in the world of blogs, discuss our likes and dislikes, as if anyone else on earth cared a tinker’s dam about what we like or dislike, and why. (For the origin of the expression “tinker’s dam” go here!)§

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What’ Hot: Rocket’s GM Darel Morey talks Trade

Twittering Your Life Away

At least we bloggers don’t practice the trivial excesses that Twitterers are known to practice, and that is share our innermost accomplishments, i.e. meals, and natural events with their followers in short “tweets” as they happen. Up to the present time, at any rate, twitterers are sparing their followers blow by blow descriptions of their sexual proclivity and/or bowel movements, but knowing the world-wide-web as we do, can that be far off?

However as a result of the large number of people with wireless cellphones being hooked up to Twitter at any given time, it is becoming the place to go for first news on phenomenon like earthquakes and other natural disasters. In fact, a couple of years ago several passengers on that ill fated airliner which crash landed into the Hudson river, were twittering about the event as they were standing precariously on the wings of the still floating aircraft anxiously awaiting rescue. And Twitter followers (Twitter-ites?) were the first to know about the aircraft’s ditching well ahead of the AP and the established news media.

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Playing Web Cam Roulette

One of the latest web sensations is a program called chatroulette.

From Time Magazine: I spent 15 seconds at work on the computer watching a man dance around his room in a gas mask while wrapped in the American flag. He was watching me back, and when he saw that I wasn't laughing, he danced over to the computer, clicked his mouse mid-beat and (I can only assume) continued performing for someone else. As for me, it only got worse from there; my video suddenly changed to a live stream of someone masturbating.

"Are you writing about all the masturbating guys on here?" one chatting partner, a high school student, asks when she learns I'm a journalist. "GROSS."

The N.Y. Times tracked down the source of the website, and it turns out that it’s being run by a 17 year old Russian teenager (who does all of the coding himself, and which he is running off of seven servers based in Germany), and evidently if you have a working web cam, microphone, and internet connection you can connect to it and the program randomly connects you to someone else who also has their web cam and mike likewise turned on. Imagine if you will in this day and age of random sex chatting and web exhibitionism, what that could mean? The lad claims not to like some of the situations his roaming program can put you in, but don’t you know that secretly he gets a kick out of the fruits of his creation.§

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Sunday Talk V.P. Wars

v.p. Joe Biden

And back in the USA, during the Sunday talk shows last weekend the Cheney vs. Obama wars escalated as present day vp Joe Biden took on the last administration’s vp, Dick Cheney. People are wildly speculating why Cheney is continually going public with his ongoing attacks on the Obama administration’s security programs, but it should be obvious.

ex-v.p. Dick Cheney

The flagrant use of torture and other highly illegal and immoral practices which were heavily promoted by Cheney during the first four years of the Bush presidency, are potentially punishable by incarceration, and so Cheney goes merrily on about how torture and other illegal practices were a very necessary part of the Bush administration’s fighting terrorism, and that Obama’s rejection of same shows he is being lax and endangering Americans one and all.

Of course, Cheney says nothing about how our use of such inhumane techniques enrages Muslims the world over, inspiring them to hate Americans enough to dream up and execute attacks against us. And not a single assault was prevented because of information derived from torture.

But if Cheney can prattle on loudly enough, and if enough torture wags pick up his call, perhaps he can keep himself out of the jail cell which is where he ultimately belongs, and thereby continue living among the wild and the free. Besides, Mr. Cheney is the ultimate “my way or the highway” kind of guy, and so given the present Republican’s current leadership vacuum it is not too surprising to hear Cheney beating the drum for the ear of the party.§

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”It’s Always SOMETHING,” the late Gilda Radnor’s only slightly obnoxious character Roseanne Roseannadana used to lament in the early years of Saturday Night Live. Yes, it is true. We do all have our little somethings, that quality which makes us different from all others.

My dear late mother’s thing was bowel movements. Or rather, her fear that one would not be forthcoming. She was obsessed with them and elevated them almost to the height of a religion, and as a child growing up everytime the road to my elimination was blocked, I got fed the gamut of laxatives. Milk of Magnesia, Oil of Citrenella, Ex Lax, you name it, I took it. Even those fake chocolate pills which almost, but not quite, cost me my love of chocolate.

This became almost humorous at times. Ma would leave orders with my Aunt Offie (whose real name was Ethel Forman, but whose nickname “Effie” I mangled as a toddler into “Offie,” a mangle which stayed with her throughout her life), who used to take care of me while Ma went to work, that I wasn’t to get up from my portable potty to go out to play until I had filled the potty up with my daily contribution.

One day when I was about six years old and pantslessly squatting on my portable potty, three of my neighborhood buddies, Jocelyn (5), Doodie (5), and Jimmie (5) came over to play. Offie thought it unfair to deprive me of company, and so she let them come in and play in my room for at least an hour, me perched on my potty sans covering below the waist, and the girls especially contriving reasons why they should play up close to me.

Finally, little Jimmie who could stand it no longer, announced to all that he needed to pee, and had me get off my pot long enough for him to peel down his shorts and spray in his contribution. The girls watched Jimmie with interest, but made no comment or comparisons on our respective endowments. Jocelyn then reflected for a moment, and seemed to have a strong compunction to add her own contribution to Jimmie’s, and so flipped dress up and panties down, and after making sure each of us got a good view, sat down adding her contribution to sweeten the pot. And Doodie, being a noted follower, soon followed suit. At least my pot ended up with something to show for my morning’s effort, although it was not what Ma had ordered. And the spirit of democracy ruled the day.

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I need to finish this little anecdote with another, quite a different one. Some years later when I was 18 I went into the Army Air Corps (I had enlisted in the Air Force rather than be drafted into the Army as a foot soldier) and I was sent from Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio to take my basic training at the Air Force base in Amarillo, Texas. The army was such a shock to my system that once there, as unbelievable as it sounds, I went the first 16 days of my Army basic training without having a bowel movement. I know it was 16, I was carefully counting.

When my inner hoardings finally saw the light of day it was a mighty log indeed, but its passage though proving a painful one, was nevertheless delivered completely laxative free. But the incident, at least in my eyes, completely shattered my mother’s pet myth than anything short of a daily passage would be highly injurious to your health. As a result to this day I have never taken another laxative, and I can’t say I miss them the least little bit.§

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I Get a Sad Email

Tuesday, Feb, 16, 2010, I got an email from Bob Stein, who I had worked with at Camp Killooleet many long years ago, and who along with Joannie Lerner, my sister Mary, and myself, had sung on the Songs of Camp album I recorded for Moe Ash’s Folkways records. Bob wrote to tell me of the passing of John Seeger and to report on a memorial service that was held for him.

John Seeger – Feb. 16, 1914 – Jan. 10, 2010

Googling John Seeger brought up a news story from the Bridgewater-New Milford Spectrum.

John Seeger, 95, for decades a Bridgewater resident, died Jan. 10, 2010, in New Milford after a short illness.

Mr. Seeger was born Feb. 16, 1914. He was a popular teacher at the Dalton School in Manhattan in the 1950s and served as principal of the Fieldston Lower School in Riverdale, N.Y., from 1960 to 1976.

Mr. Seeger and his wife, Eleanor, purchased Camp Killooleet, a residential summer camp in Hancock, Vt., and ran it together for more than 50 years as a place where they could implement their philosophy of education and child development.

Mr. Seeger retired from teaching in 1976 and divided his time between Bridgewater and Hancock. Mr. Seeger inherited the Bridgewater house his father and aunt had lived in since 1959, and, like them, enjoyed walking the roads and pathways of town.

I quote from Bob Stein’s email, “Yesterday, in a white, clapboard New England style church, there was a memorial service for John Seeger, who died Jan 10. The little church was nearly full (well over 200 people). My wife Roni and I drove up with Jim Neuberger and his wife.” The email went on listing a lot of names of many of the people who were there, many of whom I had worked with lo those many long years ago.

Bob has an interesting observation about John’s younger brother, Pete Seeger. Bob remembered: “I recalled a day I had spent cutting wood at their house near Beacon, and Pete said, "That was a VERY long time ago. Now I have an electric saw, but I still split the wood by hand." Knowing Pete, the day he quits splitting the wood by hand will be the day he has no further need for heat.

When I recently got reconnected with Killooleet after calling Kate Seeger to get her email address, she told me that John eschewed computers, didn’t own one, but she further said she made printouts of my camp reminiscences of those of my blogs that she felt would interest John and she sent them to him by snail mail, and shortly thereafter I received a handwritten letter from John, which among other things, encouraged me to continue my writing up my camp memories. John was indeed a remarkable man, and working at his camp was certainly one of the high points of my camp working career.

As you can easily see, my memories of John Seeger will permeate this week’s camp memories. As I have written before, I knew Pete and Toshi Seeger, but I had never met Pete’s brother John. The Settlement Camp had been my first experience in working in a children’s camp, however, and when in my third year I became disillusioned over what I considered arbitrary disciplinary actions taken by the Settlement Camp’s director, John and Ellie’s camp near Hancock, Vermont came immediately to mind, and I wrote to them seeking employment. And I had myself a job.

In last week’s blog I told you of my first summer there, working with 14 seven year olds who were testing out the possibilities of profanity and its effect on the greater camp family. Our solution, worked out with John and Ellie, was to form them into a swearing club, but they could practice their preoccupation freely, but only deep in the woods, far away from the other campers. They were gleeful at first, but within days realized it was no fun cursing when only their own group was able to hear it, and so they willingly sanitized their language so as to be able to rejoin the rest of the camp.

John and Ellie were enchanting singers. They sang Broadway show tunes a cappello, John in his sweeping tenor and Ellie in her alto. As I remember Ellie mostly carried the melody while John soared above her with classy harmonizing. In spite of my coming up through the Pete Seeger/folk music regime, for me John and Ellie’s song stylings were always a highlight of every Camp Sing.

Camp Sings were held at a campfire every Friday night, and there was a couple who was leading the singing when I first came to Killooleet. However, they graciously introduced me to the camp, and playing my 5-string banjo I launched into my stock of camp songs, songs like The Ship Titanic and Sipping Cider Through a Straw.

After about a quarter of the summer had gone by John and Ellie announced a change in the campfire sing not by calling attention to a change, but by quietly giving the couple who had been leading the singing Fridays off.

However, sings were in no way limited to whoever the designated song leader might happen to be. I remember a lot of counselors contributing to Killooleet sings, including Rusty Simonds, George Ward, and many others. Years later when I had in turn given up song leading for photography, John and Ellie gave me Fridays off so’s I would not rain on my successor, Rusty Simond’s, parade. I have to confess, ham that I am, I missed participating in those weekly sings.

The first year I attended the camp John and Ellie were spending their winters teaching at the Dalton school in N.Y.C. Within the six summers that I worked at Killooleet John had gotten the position of Headmaster of the Ethical Culture School in the Bronx, N.Y. And after my sixth summer in camp he had me bring my camera to the school and take a lot of pictures of the students.

John and Ellie did not found Killooleet, that was done by another Dalton teacher, Margaret Bartlett, but the Seegers took over the camp from Margaret when her health would not allow her to continue, and they built the camp up considerably from its modest beginnings.

Killooleet took campers from 7 through early teens. Cabins usually consisted of 14 campers and two counselors. Camp had a large fresh water lake, complete with row boats and canoes. It even boasted a couple of handmade birch canoes crafted by a local Indian chief of the region, whose name I seem to remember as being WadJoe. He built the canoes in front of older groups of campers so that the ancient art of canoe-building would not be lost to the world.

There was usual art building, a riding program with a full complement of horses (beloved by many of the little girls), and various other programs you would expect to find in a children’s camp, including archery, shop, and the like. Campers went to activities with their own group except when they received individual instruction. I spent my first four years there spending mornings teaching guitar and banjo to individual students who wished instruction.

Although the camp had a regular routine it followed, there were special days in which the entire camp was focused on. One of these special days was “Capture the Flag,” a game which can be found in many camps. At Killooleet a pre-capture trip was taken to procure talc from a local talc mine.

The morning of the game the talc was wrapped into small pieces of torn bed sheets to serve as bullets, and larger amounts were put in paper sacks to act as bombs. The camp was split into two equal groups, each one with the purpose of trying to capture the flag which was placed in an area between the two groups. If you got hit by a bullet or a bomb you were marked in white and had to go sit in the other side’s jail for a specified amount of time. And of course, the first group to successfully steal the flag was the winner.

Later attending a Children’s Camp Convention in Washington, D. C. I came to find out that most camp directors weren’t a bit like John and Ellie Seeger. Killooleet was run on pacifist principles which believed in and strove to bring out the inherent best in each individual camper.

Children were not repressed, but were worked with by patient, talented counselors skilled in making sure groups got along as harmoniously as was possible. Discipline was virtually unknown. During my six years of working there I can remember no case of a camper ever being disciplined for bad behavior, which I attribute to counselors establishing understanding relationships with their charges.

Occasionally though, a child would have a homesickness problem or have a problem relating to other kids. After all, campers were people, just like the rest of us. Their problems might be discussed by the counselor group, in an attempt to find different ways to help the child.

At about the time camp life was getting to be routine the campers would leave camp to go on sleep away trips. Trips were taken included hiking, traveling by bicycle, or even by canoe. They would last two to three days, during which campers were responsible for cooking their own meals, as well as cleaning up their cooking gear afterwards. Trips usually had a purpose, like biking back roads in French speaking Canada (where campers got to practice their French), canoeing a quiet river, or climbing a mountain. All campers went on two trips a summer, which since camp was virtually deserted also served to give the kitchen staff a couple of days off.

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As an example of the extraordinary success of the camp and its influence on many generations of children, I would like to reprint an email I got a few weeks ago from a man named Michael Brandon with whom I had driven from Houston to camp with one summer many years ago.

I had been working with his mother Elizabeth in Houston on some recording project, and she had told me of a writer’s conference in Middlebury, Vt. that she was attending the following summer, and she didn’t know what to do with her two children. I suggested she send them to Killooleet, which was in Hancock, Vt., only a short distance from Middlebury, and she proceeded to enroll them and I ended up driving up to Vermont with the three of them.

That was 46 years ago, and I had not seen or heard from Michael Brandon since that summer, until his email arrived on Jan. 18, 2010. It said:

The ripple effects of your talking to my mom about camp have been life long, 5 summers at camp and another year as a kitchen aide. Went on to school at Colorado Rocky Mt School outside of Aspen. Ended with a 30 year career as a child psychologist.

You never know the extent of folks who cross our paths. I’m glad you crossed ours. All the best, Michael Brandon, Ph.D.

District Psychologist-Pearland I.S.D., Child-Clinical Psychologist, Licensed Specialist in School Psychology & Registrant-the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology.

I thank Michael Brandon for his ringing endorsement of the element of chance in which I played a small part by suggesting Killooleet to his mother. His five year experience there obviously shaped his life and his future, but his email really stands as a ringing endorsement of the dream that John and Ellie Seeger made their life’s work. I could not possibly imagine adding another superlative to his well chosen words.

My sincere condolences go out to Kate and Tony Seeger, and to their spouses and their children, for the loss of their father and grandfather. I also send greetings to all of the counselors I knew and worked with during my six years at Killooleet.

John Seeger lived a long, 95 years, and fruitful life. His life’s dream, the children’s camp he and Ellie took over and ran so splendidly for fifty years, is still alive and healthy, thanks to the efforts of his and Ellie’s daughter Kate. And I can think of no greater tribute to a life well lived than having a legacy like Killooleet to mark your passing.

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The first thing I did upon receiving Bob Stein’s email announcing the memorial service for John, was to email my condolences to Kate and her brother Tony to her AOL email address, only to receive the following notice from the AOL Postmaster: : host[] said: 552 5.2.2 E4.12 seeger05748 MAILBOX FULL (in reply to RCPT TO command).

I can certainly understand the problem. Kate is obviously too busy at the moment to get around to checking her email, and I’m sure that with the passing of her father her box filled up pretty quickly with people offering their condolences.

Every time I send an email to Kate and all of the other non g-mail users I correspond with, Google reminds me to invite them to g-mail. I usually don’t, but at this time I would point out to Kate and all other non G-mail users that in G-mail you never have to worry about your email box not receiving a new message because it is full. I don’t think it is possible for a normal user to come anywhere near filling up a Google account. That, plus it being free and completely dependable, and the way it keeps spam at bay, are the best reasons I can think of for consider using G-mail.

You don’t necessarily have to completely abandon your present email client. You can keep using your current service for your present day correspondence, just adding G-mail for new correspondence, and the load on your inbox will soon lighten notably. However, everybody I know who adopts g-mail soon abandons their original client because of g-mail’s truly superior handling of conversations and spam and the like.

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Tiger Woods on Friday made a good first step in his road to a comeback. He spoke of getting more therapy, and even though he didn’t rule out a return to golf eventually, he made no mention of it in his immediate future. The one thing we got out of the press conference was the true extent of Tiger Woods’ shame and sorrow. The most touching moment came after the completion of his speech when he interacted with his mother, who had sat on camera, watching his every word, and at the end stood for an embrace.

And so we come to the end of yet another Little Eddy Blog. Don’t forget to take us up on our offer to publish your favorite memories of your days in camp, either as camper or counselor. Just write them up and send them to the email address listed in our bottom line.

Our blog gets posted Saturday mornings at around breakfast time in Houston (around 8:00 am) and hangs out there for the entire week, although once in awhile we may bring it up to date if something notable happens. We hope you can find your way back here sometime next week to see what we’re ranting about then.

Meantime, don’t let yourself think for one minute about voting Republican this fall. We take that back, you can think any way you want about how you’re going to cast your vote. It’s just that we hate to see you getting taken in by the same old lies and fears and distortions that kept us in near tyrannical Republican regime that we were forced to live under from 2000 to Jan. 20, 2009.. But that’s more than enough politicking for now. Bye now. See you next time.

The Real Little Eddy §

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