Off the Top of My Head

March 31. This week, we'll have one big chunk o' prose goodness–everything served up all at once. I thought I was going to do a thoughtful piece, but that may have to wait, as I have to think about it a little more. Too much thought involved–three in the last two sentences–I'm all thought out. In the meanwhile, you get the same tasty stew of silly to sillier. Not real nutritious, but boy o boy, can we pack in the useless calories that go straight to the brain!

Totally unrelated: I have some new poems on the Poem page. Take a look!


caulliflower in bloom

In the fall of 2018, almost as a joke, we bought a 3 cell box of cauliflower plants at the garden store. We planted them, with no expectation of their ever amounting to much of anything. One plant lived up to expectations–it disappeared almost before we got in the house. The other two, however, not only survived, but thrived in their own way. We saw the distinctive white floret form in the center of the plant. Unfortunately, we had a touch of cold weather that was enough to ruin our crop. Tne plant stayed healthy, though, and we just sort of left it there. In the spring, it was gone.

That is, in the spring of 2019. In the fall, we saw the cauliflower plant growing again. The leaves have a nice gray-green color, so we left it. Then, this spring, we saw another vegetable forming. We left it alone, as it was too small and also had a slightly unappetizing yellow color (not that I find cauliflower of any color appetizing) Then after a bit of warm weather, we suddenly had this lovely three foot tall flower in the yard. If nothing else, I found out why it's spelled cauliflower and not cauliflour, my preferred spelling. Very pretty. That's it up above.    top


The CDC Says

from the CDC

We got this card from the CDC last week. Without getting into the politics of the CDC apparently stumping for the President's re-election campaign, and considering some of the contradictory advice that the President and his coronavirus panel had been giving, I was very interested in seeing what those guidelines were.

I was really surprised when I read Number 1: Listen and follow the direction of your STATE AND LOCAL AUTHORITIES. Numbers 2 through 6 were variations of stay home,, numbers 7 through 10 were stay away form other people, and finally, we should always practice good hygiene.

Final card takeaway: No news is not always good news. Sometimes, no news is just no news. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Quack-Quack here.


I was wondering why I was thinking Daffy or Donald or Uncle Scrooge when I've seen pictures of hospital workers recently. Turns out one version of the facemask is called the duckbill, apparently the choice of health professionals everywhere when fighting a pandemic, or even just a nasty virus (I made that up. Sorry). No explanation why it's shaped that way, although the shape can be traced back to 1619, and was used during a plague in Italy in the 1600's.

I've also seen people wearing masks that cover their mouths but leave the nose exposed. That's a waste of a perfectly good mask in so many ways.

Let me add my thanks (again!) to all those from hospital workers to grocery store clerks who are working to keep us safe and fed, especially those working without protective gear.

Mapping It.

It's surprisingly hard to get simple, clear information about the progress of the coronavirus. The CDC has tons of information, which is navigable only by CDC statisticians. I keep forgetting that at the end of the day (and the beginning) the CDC is a government agency. They let us know how hard they're working by putting everything out there. More data than information.

So in looking around, I came across a couple of news sites that provide accessible information about the spread of COVID-19. My favorite site is this one, apparently some subsidiary of Gannett/USA Today (CNN also has a good map). The infographic shows the locations of the virus by state. The size of the orange circles shows how severe the contagion is. Hovering on a circle results in a pop-up box telling the number of total cases, active cases, recovered cases, and deaths. The CNN map also has a table that shows cases per 100,000 population, a useful statistic. No matter how you slice and dice, New York and New Jersey are way ahead of the pack in cases per 100,000 people.

It used to be that if you expanded the map, it would show cases by county. No more. I don't know if it was too hard to keep up, or if I'm looking in the wrong place. Overall, though, still handy for a quick comprehensive look.

Penobscot County.

As of when I looked at the map last (when it still had county information), Penobscot County in Maine (I used to live there, so I check) had six cases of Coronavirus–three were active, and three people had recovered. I think of all the places I had looked, that was the only one that had any recovery rate, much less a 50 percent recovery rate. Good news indeed.    top

Scaling the Heights of Useless

There's lots of collateral damage to coronavirus. Restaurants close, but we don't think of all the suppliers and small local wholesalers who supply them. We don't think about the florists and photographers who derive a big chunk of their business from weddings. And all the sports reporters who now have nothing to do since there are no sports to report on.

Such is the case of Harry Lyles, Jr., of SB Nation, a large sports blogging conglomerate.. In our curious times, Harry is reduced to more frivolous pursuits, such as reordering the alphabet. It's kind of stupid, totally without any redeeming social value, and I can see Harry's tongue in his cheek from here even without squinting. I sympathize–I've been there.

Spoiler alert: The #1 letter is R. Personally, I always found the capital R a little top heavy. I refuse to speculate if that tells us something about Harry's preference in women, too.    top

Good Stuff to Read

I've recommended (and linked to) The Oatmeal for quite a while (quite a while: at least two weeks). To celebrate its tenth anniversary, the writer came up with a very useful and entertaining post, which you can see here. it's almost a must read, a show and tell for creative types. As Ferris asked, What are you still doing here? Go read some good stuff already!    top


Fred the Flower

Fred pens the start of his opus magnus.

Fred the Flower

Fortnightly T-Shirts

Sometimes it's a mug, sometimes a meme, sometimes it's funny. But the price is always right.

T-shirts you just can't buy.


Poetry Corner

Number 8 in the series.

Saturday Morning Poem


I hear rain

Beating against the window.

No lawn mowing today.

Something for mañana.

I love mañana.

Mañana never comes.


We're back to business as usual

Ms. T faces a harsh reality

Big Think has some interesting, thought-provoking articles. I do a lot of I didn't know that when visiting.

Newest comic I'm following is Eric Scott's 1 and done. Be sure to check out the January 13th 'toon.

Shawn Girvan is getting some content on his website. Click on Vestiges when you go to Girvanaca

My brother-in-law Harvey's academic-politics cartoon: SNAF-U

My sister Mary Pat's occasional musings: LaBrea Rambles

Suzanne's blog: The Tabard Inn. Suzanne's posting again.

Austin Kleon's blog

Gary Larson and The Far Side are back! Replays now, new comics to come. You might want to give that we're going to foul your browser with third party, fourth party and known bad guys' cookies disclaimer a quick read before you click I agree. And then clear your cookies.

More quirky cartoons at The Oatmeal

Last Week

March 22. ESPN has been reduced to airing segments like Ten Greatest Upsets in Tournament History and setting up their own mythical The Top All-time College Basketball Playoff Players in each of the four NCAA regions. They have Jerry West as a number 13 seed, Funny, outside of people who make their living from sports, I haven't heard anybody complaining about a lack of televised sports. Of course, I didn't hear that much before the lockdown, either. About sports generally.

Collateral Damage

It's not so much that I dislike barbers (I mean, it's not like they're dentists or anything), it's just that I don't think of them much. My philosophy is, I get a haircut every three months, whether I need it or not. My usual trigger? One day I'll be shampooing, and notice it's taking longer to do my hair. Or I have hair in my eyes. Or my ears have disappeared. I'll say to myself, Self? It's time to get a haircut. Then, two weeks later or so, I'll make it to the tonsorial palace (which I've always thought should, but oddly enough, has nothing to do with tonsils).

no haircuts, alas

I reached that go to barber point at the beginning of the month. So, now it's really time to go to the barber. Instead, long hair rules here. Another month of lockdown and I'll be reliving the sixties. I guess I'll have to dig out the bellbottoms, tie-die and see if I still have that hand-embroided vest from Greece or Romania or wherever. The good music has always been out.

I bet I'm not alone in avoiding salons as non-essential travel. (Or maybe not–the governor of North Carolina just ordered salons and barbers to close, indicating people were not hunkering down. ) So I guess that we can add stylists and barbers to the list of the COVID-19 collateral damage, along with waitstaff, bartenders, gym and fitness workers, athletes, airline employees and anybody else who has lots of close contact with customers but doesn't work at a grocery or pharmacy. I'm sure the list is large.

I'm thinking of you guys. I'm just not quite ready yet to stop by and say hi.


A fundraising ad for Joe Biden popped up on my Facebook news feed the other day. I was going to ignore it, but thought, I don't need this. If I ignore it, they'll just be back. So I went to block it and ads like it, but one of the options was already purchased. They didn't specify if I had purchased a Biden or if a competing product would qualify, so I figured I was being truthful in checking already purchased.

I'm hoping that's the last political ad I see. If it works, I'll let you know.

Coffee time.

It's time to reach into the depths of triviana, or stuff nobody needs or wants to know.

For the past year or more, I've been setting up the coffee pot the night before. I know that coffee purists will scoff, because the water will not be fresh, whatever that means.I'm already breaking the law by using a basket-style coffeemaker. In the morning, I don't care. I hit the brew button, continue stumbling around the kitchen, and when I come back there is coffee in the pot. It's magic, as far as I'm concerned.

Except Sunday morning, when I forgot the setup, but still pressed the button. To my surprise, I got a cup or so of a dark brown, foul-smelling liquid. I was surprised at how much stuff was in what I thought was an empty coffeemaker.

So the good news is I now have a clean-er coffeemaker. I guess that's a fair trade-off with having to make a pot of coffee in the morning. It's nice to know I still have part of the ol' skillset.

Thus concludes this post with no redeeming social value.

Hamlet, or Something That's Not COVID-19

As you might expect, we've been watching a little more TV the past week, and with my wife home, what we watch has changed (translation: she's controlling the remote). We watch more serious scientific stuff, borderline scientific/historical shows (The Discovery Channel and the History Channel), ghostly/paranormal shows, and classic movies.

That's how we ended up watching Hamlet (1946) yesterday. I had never seen it, but had heard about this Lud Larry Olivier version. So we watched. Some observations:

Lud Larry as Hamlet
  • Hamlet might be the world's longest deathbed speech.
  • Lud Larry might be a fabulous actor, but he does some scenery-chewing worthy of Shatner and Montalban in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
  • The staging (literally–they just pointed a camera at the stage) was very impressive. Also very film-noirish. Black & white, underexposed category. Fitting for a 1948 film.
  • It's kind of creepy. Very early on, Hamlet's mom consoles him about his father the king's death with a tonsil-sucking kiss. I know there are incestuous overtones in the play, but with Gertie instigating the action, well, eeeewwww.
  • They had a kick-tail horn section at Elsinore. The king couldn't go anywhere without a flourish from some serious brass with numbers of players comparable to a large Midwestern college marching band.
  • On the Rotten Tomatoes website, there are no approved quotations for Hamlet.
  • Blonde is not a good look for Lud Larry.

Blonde is a good look for Reese Witherspoon. Cf. Legally Blonde, which was also on yesterday, thus the reference point.

Speaking of movies.

The New York Times just published Book of Movies: The Essential 1000 Movies to See. I think it's purely coincidental that the book was published just as self-isolation became so popular.

So let's say I can read a half page of New York Times prose a minute. 1,296 pages multiplied by 2, so 2,592 minutes, or just over 42 hours, a work week. Let's say I decide to (re&41;watch all 1,000 films. I think 100 minutes is a good average run time. Plus it's easy math. So 100,000 minutes, or 1,667 hours, or 69 24-hour days (207 8-hour days). If I start now, I'll be done by October 22, or my birthday. Heckuva present.

I wonder if I'll be able to finish everything before Glinda starts singing Come out, come out, wherever you are to indicate the end of self-isolation. I certainly hope so. I also wonder if we will see a sequel, 250 Essential Films You Missed While You Were Watching 1000 Essential Films. And finally, I wonder if Legally Blonde will be on the list. I can only wonder, because I have a lot of other things to do that take priority over this quest. Like sleeping, and eating, and going to the bathroom. Maybe breathing. I don't know. Maybe I can multitask on that last one. besides, I'm not all that interested in movies. Except maybe Hallmark movies. But they probably own't be on the list, either.

A Break in the Clouds

I was talking to my neighbor the other day (we maintained twice the recommended social distance, or the normal distance two guys with Northern European ancestors maintain anyway), about the usual things–his beehives, the wives, trying to grow grass, of course the current state of things. We're both in good shape supply-wise, but both offered the if there's anything you need.... Bobby even offered toilet paper.

I don't know. I took it as a sign, a light at the end of the tunnel. We'll be OK.

TomatoPlanet!! is a random collection of writing, cartoons, and things that strike my fancy. © 2003-2020, John McCarthy

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