rear view mirror

August

Or to quote Col. Kurtz, The horror! The horror!

If you're looking for something even older, it's down below.


August 29

It's the penultimate day of August. Soon, school will begin again, traffic will get congested, and we (the inmates of this particular asylum) won't care, except for vague concern for the health and safety of all those engaged in the enterprise. Take care.

A note to the Freedom flavor of anti-vaxxers, and other COVID-19 oddities.

Yes, you are an American. Yes, you have guaranteed freedoms. I will grant your right to not be vaccinated. But if you follow that path, your employer has an equal right to point out that you are free to work someplace else. Insist on it, even.

The latest twaddle about cures for COVID that do not include vaccinations revolve around something called ivermectin, a prescription drug for treating head lice, which is being heavily promoted by Facebook, Reddit and Tik-Tok. A news report I heard last night claimed prescriptions jumped from 3,500 a week or so to 88,000.

So who are the doctors writing these prescriptions? Just just to keep perspective, those 88,000 represent 0.02% of the American population. Should they be driving the discussion? For comparison, the city of Nampa, Idaho has a population of just over 100,000.

By the way, a shout-out to whomever at Delta Airlines came up with the idea of giving employees a choice: get vaccinated, or pony up a couple hundred bucks in additional health care costs a month.


Word of the week.

Luxurious. If you must use it, you can use all variant forms, like luxuriate, luxuriant and, uh, I forget.

Random bonus factoid: There used to be a bar soap called Lux, available on store shelves right next to Ivory, Dial, and Palmolive. It's now mostly sold in South Africa and Brazil, as well as online from Walmart.


Today's earworm.

I've been having a recurring dream the past couple of mornings. I'm moving into a dorm room, there's the usual general melee, there are parents around like it's open house, I'm trying to get to the shower, the roommates are already borrowing things without asking, and every now and again some idiot a couple of doors down decides to play In the Jailhouse Now at random times but always at top volume. Mercifully, I can't remember if he sings along.

As usual, I woke up before resolution.


R.I.P. Charlie.

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts died at age 80. He was best described as low-key, elegant, almost formal, when he was drumming even on hard-driving songs like Satisfaction.


Simple life lesson.

My friend Fran went to a new hairdresser the other day. I am told the trip was a disaster. Fran claims she gave instructions, but the hairdresser apparently had a vision, went off her own way to the point where Fran said, I don't even recognize myself, and had to go back for remediation. It was salvaged but not saved or restored.

The incident did provide me with a truth takeaway: If a personal service provider (barber, massage therapist, doctor, car salesman)feels the need to ask, do you trust me?, especially on first contact, the answer should probably be, no, not really...


On the plus side.

On the good news side of service, we had to have our dryer vent replaced. The company sent a pair of installers, who were polite and efficient. They explained options and recommended the minimum work needed to get our dryer functioning again (with no upsell). When it came time to pay up, they gave a price. We asked about the $39 appearance fee, and they said, no, that's only if they come and don't do any work. So the work, including parts, cost only like $10 more than we thought it would. All told, a most pleasant interaction event.


On Being Dead.

The Big Think wants to let us know about The strange case of the dead-but-not-dead Tibetan monks who, because their bodies decay more slowly, other monks believe are in an advanced meditative state, and so not quite dead yet.

Well, that's actually more common than you think. Consider:

  • Cincinnati. Mark Twain said if the world came to an end, he wanted to be in Cincinnati, because every thing happened there two years later.
  • NBA games. The last two minutes of a game suspend all connection to life and time as we know it. If it was dark outside when you went in to the arena, don't be surprised if it's dawn the next day when you emerge.
  • Norwegian parrots. Unique among fowl, when Norwegian parrots sleep they achieve a state resembling rigor mortis. They can even be pounded on a counter with no adverse effects.
  • Being placed on hold by customer service reps. You don't dare hang up, because if you break out of the spell, the Second Coming might just segue into coming now.
  • Rob Schneider, or at least his career.
  • Vampires, zombies, and other paranormal activity. Hey, it happens all the time on TV, but also in real life. Think of teenagers, especially boys, who seem to spend a lot of time in a state of suspended animation. Or people woking in the DMV or other Government offices, or people waiting to talk to said people.

On being deader.

According to Yahoo!, Every hotdog eaten shortens life by 36 minutes.

Let's see, for me that's 2 x 36 x 52 x years eating hot dogs, subtract from total anticipated life minutes. Hm, OK, carry the seven, add 150 per year to account for picnics and other random hot dog eating like in beanie-weenies and cocktail hors d'oeuvre sized pigs in blankets and carnival corn dogs, convert that into month an years and we get...that I died sometime in April, 2019.


So many gifts.

Regular readers (what is wrong with you people!?!) know that I rely heavily on news and entertainment sources to provide a springboard for much of what appears here.

Well, the Wall Street Journal's Off Duty section made it Christmas in August (designed to bridge the gap between the Hallmark Channel's Christmas in July and the now-September 1st to December 25th retail event). Such a wealth of material! There's an ugly shoe for you! (sugarcoated as enchantingly weird shoes). Dan Neil says, Not to brag but I've seen a lot of car paint. A recipe for ketchup (I have one, thanks. 1) Go to store. 2) Find condiments aisle. 3) Buy ketchup.). Bob Costas shares that he still has a flip phone. A wardrobe to weep over. And the puns! The sipping point (on an article about wine). Flapper dresses are roaring back. And finally, an article by/about professional dorm room designers. Comedic gold, all of it.


For fans of irony.

I'm trying out a new browser that promises greater privacy and security by, among other things, blocking tracers (pixels that lock onto your information to create/build a profile of your browsing activity).

I tested it on a couple of websites I visit regularly, like Fast Company, where DuckDuckGo blocked 24 tracers from the FC website. 24 is a very big number, by the way.

The article I read? The incredibly sneaky way websites sidestep privacy tools to spy on you.

Update: I checked a couple of other news sites. Our new winner in the tracker wars is Recode, a VoxMedia company that served up 50 (that's right, 50! fifty! L!) trackers. Oddly, its sister publication, The Verge, only has 11 trackers.


Signature block.

When I send an email, there's a signature block, sort of boilerplate text. Mine has name, phone, website, and catchy phrase.

I'm thinking of adding another line, Back to doing what I promised myself I would do but don't want to.

August 22

Instead of changing up the website all at once, I'm doing a slow roll on a new look. Cleaner, more graphically inclined. There will be a few tweaks to this page and redos of the back pages. Hope you like it.

Today's earworm.

Yellow Submarine. I didn't like it when it came out, I really don't like it now that it's on a seemingly endless loop in my head.

Oh, I probably should have mentioned that some of these earworms are highly transmissible. Exercise caution.


Thinking about thinking.

It's fun, but it can hurt your brain. Take, for example:

As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know.

You know, Donald Rumsfeld caught a lot of flak for some of his metacognitional pronouncements, particularly this one, but the more I look at it, the more sense it makes.

I don't think anyone has problems with known knowns. The second part is the basis of science. We know people get cancer. We don't always know how. Hey, the scientists say, let's find out!, moving the cause of cancer from known unknowns to known knowns. The third one? It's tough to come up with an example, since we don't know.

One known unknown is why Rumsfeld didn't fill out the chart (see figure). Is there such a thing as an unknown known? Well, I'd say I forget, but that seems too easy.

known-unknown

But if forgetting is a part of the chart, it also shows how fluid the elements are, moving from k.k. to u.k., or from k.u. to k.k.

And related: Simply because you do not have evidence that something exists does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn't exist. Again, this takes some pondering. I'm trying to think of an example. But I do know if you flip the statement on its head (Simply because you do not have evidence that something doesn't exist does not mean that you have evidence that it does exist), you would destroy the premise of every alien encounter show ever made.


According to J. Peterman.

From the recent catalog: According to research, flirting is good for you. That's right: it's healthy.

Unless, of course, the spouse of the object of your flirtation is a current or former NFL linebacker, or a recently released violent felon given to fits of homicidal rage. I bet your spouse takes a dim view of flirting, too, even (or especially) if flirting was a part of your courtship.


Oh.

The Wall Street Journal Opinion page: Democrats will ruin the climate.

Democrats will also cause 92 percent of bad breath, the Cubs not winning the World Series this year, and that traffic jam at the junction of I-71 and I-75 last Thursday morning? All on the Democrats.


That much?

From Fox News by way of Business Insider: Woman sues McDonald's after complaining that a cheeseburger advert was so irresistible it caused her to break her fast during Lent.

The woman is seeking $14 as compensation for sustained moral damage.

I hope McDonald's at least gets court costs. If I was the advertising firm, I'd pay ten times that, as long as I could use one of those huge promotional checks.


Another first.

A few nights ago, we received our first phone call from Vietnam.

They didn't leave a message. That's all right. We probably wouldn't have understood them, or they were just calling to remind us we owe the IRS money that we can pay with Apple gift cards.


Speaking of firsts.

This morning, part of breakfast included one of those individual yogurts with 'real fruit' in the bottom. I found three whole and one half blueberries, in addition to the usual puree.

It's going to be a good day for me with that start. I hope someone in the yogurt processing facility doesn't get in trouble, though.


Messages, mixed.

My wife's Fall sumi-e society newsletter came the other day. Prominently displayed on the front cover: Coming in the Winter Issue.

Way to sell the contents of the fall issue, gang.


Conspiracy Theorist.

The Conspiracy Theorist is in serious awe of whomever came up with the theory behind this Bloomberg Businessweek headline: Did Avocado Cartels Kill the Butterfly King?


It's OK if you just 'escape from sanity.'

Reuters: New York's $200 french fries offer 'escape' from reality.'


Experts underselling it.

San Antonio Express News: Man killed by bees in South Bexar County; experts urge caution.


Sign o' the times?

Or maybe it's a warning. We have been experiencing an extended heat wave, with temperatures running in the mid-nineties, above average even after the recent adjustment to average (we're a couple of degrees warmer). Now, I'm not complaining–many have it worse. But I do wonder when a weathershaman announces a break in the severe temperatures, as one did the other day, claiming that highs in the low 80s is a 'preview of fall.'


Unlearned lessons of history, part (insert a number just short of infinity).

One thing that archeology tells us (presuming they're not just flat out lying to us, confused, or seeing all ancient monuments through the same it's a solar observatory filter, like builders who only have a hammer think everything is a nail), is that ancient cultures were very connected to the world around them, and were intimately familiar with seasons, movements of heavenly bodies, growing cycles, and the mysterious powers that governed life in all its aspects. They understood that there was an organic unity (what the medievals called the music of the spheres).

Well, the Scientific Revolution and subsequent Industrial Revolution fixed all that. No longer were we dependent on gods or natural cycles for food. No, we were given dominion (in Genesis) over the creatures of the earth, and by extension, the plants and the earth they grew in. We were the gods. If there wasn't enough water in one place, move it someplace else. Make the deserts bloom! Build higher! Dig deeper! Pave that highway!

Maybe we weren't as smart as we thought.


Customer for life.

Back when I lived in Houston, my two favorite grocery stores were Fiesta Mart and Foodarama. Fiesta was a larger supermarket, and Foodarama reminded me of the neighborhood grocery stores when I was growing up. One thing that they had in common was they were both set up to serve their local constituencies, often poorer minority or ethnic populations.

Fiesta took this service model to seeming extremes. When other stores were putting wheel locks on their shopping carts to keep them on the property, Fiesta had no locks. They expected that shoppers without cars (a significant part of their customer base) were going to need a way to get the groceries to their homes. So, by plan, the grocery carts would stray, and a couple of times a week the Fiesta store manager would send a pickup truck through the neighborhoods to corral the wayward carts and return them to the stores.

Of course Fiesta lost some carts to street people, but I guess they figured it was a form of advertising or something. Sooner or later, they knew they'd get 'em back.

I was reminded of this when I was shopping at my local Food Lion, and pushed the cart full of purchases to my car. About ten feet short of my car, and well short of the edge of the parking lot, the wheel lock well, locked. I was able to shove the cart close enough to the car to unload it, but I was not kind when I pushed/shoved/toppled the cart out of the way.

Now that I know what my local Food Lion thinks of me, I'll try to pass along what I think of them when I drive past the store to do my grocery shopping elsewhere.


But will it play in Peoria?

A Particle Just Did Something That Changed the Nature of Reality, Popular Mechanics tells us.

Not feeling it. Still hot. Still humid. The IRS is still expecting us to pay taxes. News outlets, the CDC and weathershamans are still trying to scare the living daylights out of us. The Baltimore Orioles are still the worst team in the American League. The front lawn needs mowing.

Maybe I was expecting too much. After all, it's just a particle.

August 15

Today in the Catholic Church is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation. For the heathens among you, that means that Catholics have to go to Mass.

For you non-practicing Catholics (a.k.a. lapsed) you get to spend the day feeling guilty about not going to church.

If there was a poll taken of the most popular holy day of obligation, the Feast of the Assumption would come in last. Lots of Catholics aren't quite sure what we're celebrating. For kids, all the other feast days were during the school year when we were already dressed up. The Assumption came when we had spent nearly two months in shorts and T-shirts. We already had dressed up on Sunday. It was so unfair!

Except for 1965 (and this year yay!), when August 15 fell on a Sunday. We got to use one Mass to cover two events. Very cool.

It was really bad if we went on vacation the week of the 15th. We had to pack church clothes, and then go to a strange church. Not a good experience.

I asked my mom one year if we could skip Mass since we were on vacation. Our pastor back home wouldn't know. She said, God would know. He's not on vacation.

So who died and gave God the powers of Santa Claus? Sounds like double jeopardy to me.

Normalizing it.

The United States is going back to a post-pandemic normal, we are told. Except there ain't no back and there ain't no normal.

One common topic of discussion is going back to work. We hear how a lot of people are not going back to work, and there's a lot of back and forth between employers and employees about how much they should go back to work, where they should work, and so on.

Fast Company magazine takes a stab at explaining why people don't want to go back to work, from the viewpoint of some workers who want to keep their jobs and are lining up compelling arguments using cost-benefit analysis to use on their boss..

Now these are all compelling arguments (especially the commuting), but I'm willing to bet that a lot of real reasons for not going back to the office are never going to be voiced. But as a former wage slave, I can say them.

  • coworkers. Let's face it–not all coworkers are paragons of niceness. You've got your bullies, your needy, your unwashed or over-cologned, the clueless, the politically vocal, and Janet in Accounting who is always raising money for something in spite of company policy to the contrary, to say nothing of whoever it is who heats uncovered tomato soup in the microwave and refuses to clean up after themselves. How much better can life be if those people are not in it, or have severely constrained access?
  • personal space, or lack thereof. I don't like background music. My coworkers do.
  • schedule control. I'm going to get a haircut at 2:00, and do the &#@%%! report tonight. Is anyone's world going to spin off its axis if I change it up?
  • cats. or dogs. I am typing this on a tablet held above a cat sleeping on my lap. I admit the typing is a little slower, but that also gives me more time to think about content, so I spend less time revising. Also, the cat makes me happy. That has to be worth something.
  • teambuilding and the prefunctories. Lots of time is spent on stuff that doesn't get stuff done, like on or off-site retreats, potluck lunches, birthdays, all-hands meetings, and so on. Lots of pretense for not many results.

Someday we'll figure out how to get it all straight.


That's not the reason.

From the BBC News: China: Backlash over marriage question in Olympian's interview. One typical comment: 'Is marriage the only thing that can be talked about women?'

The problem, as I've pointed out before, is lazy journalists with pre-assembled, one-size-fits-all questions. It's a lot easier to ask So, any suitors back home? than it is to actually do research and ask a question that is remotely connected to why that person is sitting in front of you.

Of course, for all we know, maybe the young woman had just gotten engaged before the Olympics, was very excited, and asked the interviewer to ask her that question.

On the job.

Also from the BBC: US border agents seize 15 giant border snails.

Oh, great, now even snails are able to get past Trump's wall.


Too many words.

Buzzfeed reports: Billie Eilish Is 'Literally Furious' About Celeb...

It literally doesn't matter what she's literally furious about. I want to know what literally is bringing to the party. Is it supposed to be an intensifier like very, so, or really? The way it is, it's just dumb.


Having a huh? moment.

A review of Half Waif's new album included this comment, which I'm taking as praise: Some of its best songs, like the single 'Swimmer,' explode into new levels of catharsis.

My head hurts from sorting out contradictory ideas. But, as Dave Barry might used to say, 'Exploding Catharsis' would make a great name for a rock band.


New terms and conditions.

No, not for the website. Those remain the same (although we do have a new privacy policy): Read the posts. Enjoy them. If you don't enjoy them, read something else.

No, I'm talking about the talking about writing. 'Idea generation' and 'research' will be rolled into 'pre-production.' 'First draft' will become simply 'draft.' Revision, editing, proofreading, worry and fretting will be placed under the general rubric of 'post-production.' Obviously most of the changes will be 'under the hood,' as they say, but you should still see generally improved writing, smoother transitions, more cheerful content, and better gas mileage.

Like that's ever going to happen.


Paranoid? I don't think so!

Apparently some malevolent DMV employee declared today Truck drivers! Practice backing up in front of John's house and making sure your backing alarms work! day. Special invites were apparently issued to trucks with bad mufflers and worn bearing joints.


What we've come to.

ESPN2 recently featured competitions from ESPN OCHO 2020: Tetris World Championship, the Pogoland 2020 Championships, as well events like stone skipping.

I don't know which is worse: being play-by-play/color commentator, or watching these events on TV. Either way, you are in serious need of a life. Get out of the house. Maybe go to a local lake or pond, find some kids, and watch them skip rocks, the way God intended if you have to watch rocks skipping across a pond. Much better to do the skipping, though.


And we had so much hope for them.

The new L.L. Bean catalog arrived recently. It has the usual selection of apparel, very close to being reasonably priced. What provoked discussion was the front-cover tagline: Summer's Never Felt Better.

Discussion was not about the irony of juxtaposing 'never felt better' with a hugely hot summer (we are currently sitting on an 'urban heat island' with nary a margarita or pina colada in sight). It was about that randomly floating 's (English majors, am I right?). It didn't feel good, much less better, so we explored what went wrong and what would make it right.

Choice 1: Summer's Never Felt Better. With the presumption that 's is a contraction of has, it's technically correct, it just isn't breezy and unstructured like the clothes on the cover. Not wrong, just not right. Fastidious always leaves that taste in your mouth.

Choice 2: Summer Never Felt Better. I like this better. It has the same simple, casual, and wrinkled feeling as the clothing, and does not flaunt its status as a complete sentence, and thus is grammatical correctness.

Choice 3: Summers Never Felt Better. This is the best of all. It has all the features of Choice 2, and the plural 'summers' subtly reemphasizes the comparison inherent in 'better.'

(Sidebar disclaimer: I have visited the L.L. Bean mothership in Freeport, Maine as well as outlet stores in Ellsworth and Portland, Maine; and a regular store in Virginia Beach. About half my wardrobe comes from Bean).


Best one-liners ever.

If I put this on Facebook or someplace, it would provoke discussion, no doubt. Here, it's quiet, which is best. I hate people telling me I'm wrong.

Steven Wright: You can't have everything. Where would you put it?

Henny Youngman: Take my wife. Please!

I'll let you figure out why they're funny, the science behind the laugh. Unless you're an anti-laugher, in which case comedy is a plot by the government or Hollywood elites to keep us doubled over with tears in our eyes, unable to protect our guns.


So why'd we stop?

I like this quotation from Thomas Bulfinch, in Mythology: The Romans believed that every man had his Genius, and every woman her Juno: that is, a spirit who had given them being, and was regarded as their protector through life. On their birthdays men made offerings to their Genius, women to their Juno.

Growing up Catholic, we had God who gave us being, and the aptly-named guardian angels who protected us. I'm not as smart on this, but I believe American Indians also had some concept of a spirit protector.

I think we should get back to those concepts of an individually infused spirit or being, and I also like the concept of having a protector. However, I don't know what a proper offering is. Maybe like a tip, say 15 percent, but I'd have to figure out 15 percent of what.

More math, alas. That's one of the things I'd like to be protected from.


olympics update

If you are over the Olympics already, click here to get over it to the good stuff.

Olympic memes and soundbites.

Some random disjointed thoughts. Such a strange Olympics. No fans. Athletes who passed all multiple, preliminary screening tests test positive. Japan lied to the Olympic Selection Committee about the weather, and in a nudge, nudge, wink wink moment, the OSC let them.

It's no surprise that there are upsets and surprises.

The best are the surprise upsets, like Anna Kiesenhofer, an unknown who won the 137km road cycling race at the Olympics with a lead so great that nobody knew she was ahead, including the presumptive, anointed winner (does anybody think Kiesenhofer will not be tested for drugs over and over and over again? Congratulations, by the way).

Anna Kiesenhofer

And in a throwback to the days when Olympians were amateurs, Ms. Kiesenhofer has a day job: post-doctoral mathematician.

Many of the upsets were not on a court or field.

In fact, the greatest upsets are probably to NBC and the other reporters who had come to Tokyo with their memes and soundbites as carefully crafted as a commentator's upswept coif. All the American athletes had to do was follow the script.

Truth teller.

One NBC commentator even admitted (on Thursday night) that Biles' withdrawal had forced the script to be rewritten.

Simone's plight.

There used to be something called the Sports Illustrated Cover Curse. Successful players or teams would appear on the cover, and then they would lose their next match.

The same thing, I think, is happening to Simone Biles, with all the talk of perfection and being the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time). In every interview I saw, the interviewer asked her about it. You just knew that something would go wrong, and it did, in front of a global audience. It wasn't just a tiny slip. I don't watch a lot of gymnastics, but when have you ever seen someone at that level step onto the out-of-bounds part of the mat, much less miss the mat completely?

I chalk it up to all the goating going on. All those people asking Simone about what it means to be the best ever, to do things nobody else can and to keep raising the bar, sooner or later it has to get in her head. Not go to her head. At a certain point, competition is as much in the head as it is a physical activity. I can't really say, but I'm betting the whole goatery was a significant factor in Simone's getting the twisties. Other gymnasts also report catching the malady. You can't help but thinking I can't screw up and I can't let people down.

It's not just gymnasts. Golfers get the yips. Infielders (exhibit A: Steve Sax) suddenly can't catch routine grounders (also known as the yips). Writers get blocked. Having a name for something is an indication something happens a lot more than we may think. So more power to those who inspire, thrill, and entertain us, but shut down when we all get in their heads. We appreciate the effort.


Degree of Difficulty.

How hard something is to do is part of the scoring in a number of sports, like gymnastics, diving, and figure skating.

It applies to life, too. Simone Biles is an example. So of all the things in Simone's life, which of the following do you think it was hardest for her?

  1. Developing perfect unique, gravity-defying routines.
  2. Having judges arbitrarily cut her scores because they didn't want other competitors hurting themselves trying to match her moves.
  3. Competing with broken toes and other various strains and sprains.
  4. Being molested by convicted pedophile Dr. Larry Nasser and keeping it to herself.
  5. Finally coming forward about the abuse, and becoming the face of the abused.
  6. Constantly being called the G.O.A.T., knowing she had to live up to that on a world stage.
  7. Getting the twisties and screwing up her routines.
  8. Having to withdraw from competition.
  9. Having to admit to mental health problems.
  10. Staying in the public eye to cheer on her teammates.
  11. Re-entering the competition and scaling back her routine to ensure she could do it and didn't kill herself.

Reload.

One of the more curious aspects of qualifying for the Olympics is the two per nation rule. You can be the third-best sprinter in the world, but if the two best sprinters in the world are from your home country, well, you're just SOL. And we're left to wonder if the best athletes in the world are really taking home the hardware.

Well, the withdrawal of Simone Biles left a lot of Americans worried that we wouldn't get our expected haul of medals. But the other American gymnasts showed that they had every right to be there, and should have been there anyway.


Jealous?

Texas Deputy Attorney General Aaron Reitz called Simone Biles a national embarrassment for withdrawing from some Olympic events. He's upset because he's an embarrassment only to the State of Texas. He has greater ambitions, and Biles is in his way.


Week of August 1

I don't know why August 1st falling on a Sunday strikes me as being very, very wrong. It's inevitable sometime, like there having to be at least one Friday the 13th each year. I have no problem with other months starting on Sunday, and I'm sure I've lived through other Sunday, August 1sts before. But this time, though, it feels like a sneak attack. Maybe even by alien forces in huge spaceships that block out the sun. Which would be a really cool way to stop the western wildfires and global warming in general.

This post is brought to you by John, who obviously didn't major in anything scientific.

John also did not intend that really cool pun. It is beneath even his naturally low standards. (follow-up: a while back, John pointed out that anytime someone says 'pun unintended,' they totally intended it, and 'p.u.' is just a way of pointing out the pun in case you missed it.

And for those of you wondering either a) who the heck John is or b) why John is referring to himself in the third person, well a) please try to pay more attention, and b) John doesn't know. But John will stop now.

Word(s) of the week.

hippodrome.

hippocampus.

You are free, of course, to use either. Bonus points to anyone who can use both correctly in the same sentence.


And a shout out to...

Me!, for not going for the obvious joke about what a hippocampus is.

Today's earworm.

There isn't one, because the voices in my head have been squabbling for the last two weeks about whether Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan or Star Trek: The Voyage Home was a better movie.

I occasionally stir the pot by quietly sneaking in and suggesting the best film is Star Trek: The Voyage Home. It's like kicking a hornets' nest: great fun, as long as you can get out of the way quickly enough.


Firsts.

We have a couple of aloe vera plants. The one in the kitchen gets a regular pruning from when I burn myself on the toaster oven. But I wonder who the first person was who burned themselves and thought, I'll rub some of the sap from that plant with the little stickers on my wound. That'll fix it!

Right up there with the first guy who ate a raw oyster, or looked at a spiny sea urchin said said, I bet that's good eats!


Unnatural limitations.

An article in the Wall Street Journal about making teen drivers safer included the helpful sidebar, Research is emerging that shows positive reinforcement works best with drivers.

Uh, guys? I bet if you expanded your subject group just the tiniest little bit, you would find that 99 percent of the population of the planet works best with positive reinforcement.

I'm not even going to get into that research is emerging part.


Antiques Roadshow.

I've been interested in watching Antiques Roadshow deal with restrictions and limitations placed on the show by the pandemic. As you would expect, they came up with some innovative solutions that I hope they continue when it's OK to come out of our burrows.

One is shows where one estimator visits a semi-celebrity–someone well-known in a limited circle (for example Mo Willems or Christian Soriano. They will talk about the person's life, and evaluate some treasures the celebrity selects. What's nice is not the value of the piece, but why the celebrity chose the piece.

The second group is reruns, but where items are re-evaluated. They run the segment, show the estimator going bonkers over a Civil War Persian carpet, get assurances that it's a family heirloom and will never be sold, and give a surprisingly high estimate. Twenty years later, in the cold light of day, the value has dropped in half. Or gone up by a third.

What I find interesting:

  • the difference between value and worth. You can see the disappointment in some attendees' faces when the appraiser delivers a dollar value much less than what the owner thinks Great-Uncle Hans' spittoon should fetch. Or the family Bible from 1703. The value is the relationships, the personal provenance, the memories and lineage, not in the item itself. Relationships won't be reflected in the dollar value.
    The flip side is the people who say, after hearing a very high number, I guess I'll have to bring it up from the basement.. No, leave it in the basement. It's ugly and probably reeks of cat pee. Or sell it. It has no value to you.
  • there are fashion trends in the antiques business. For most of this century, brown wood was out. Now it's making a comeback.
  • old does not mean valuable. Value is set by the buyer, and by quantity. I have a couple dozen Tom Swift from before 1920. They printed thousands of them. Nobody wants them. No value, some worth.
  • the condition thing. To fix or not to fix, that's the question. Basically, anything that's not furniture (toys, paintings, watches, fabric, for example) can have its value raised by making the item whole, or cleaning it. Furniture however, can have its value destroyed by dusting it. I'm glad my great-grandmother is dead. If she got close to someone who suggested she lower her housekeeping standards, well, they'd need a coffin-sized piece of land in a cemetery for their new home.
  • family stories versus reality. Most items that have been in a family for a while have a story. This bowl (we think it's Ming Dynasty) was given to my great-grandfather by a grateful opium addict who he helped get clean, only to hear the appraiser say, thus bowl was made in Kentucky in 1953.

I wonder how many of those priceless family heirlooms are being shopped around when the estimate is much higher than anticipated?

I wish the appraisers would stop saying, now, if this had the original lid, was in green, in perfect condition, and signed by all of the 1927 New York Yankees, it would be worth three times what this is. It never was, it never will be. Why are you spoiling the pride/joy/excitement the people are feeling right now?


Whatever happened to...

Hot girl summer 2021? Maybe it got too hot. Maybe they're too busy being hot to take pictures and post them the social media.

Excuse me, I got a little woozy and light-headed there. I thought I said something about young people not taking pictures of themselves and posting them on the social media. Oh, I did. I should probably go sit down in the shade over there until the fever passes.


Battle of the Sexes.

The July 19 Wall Street Journal has a review of a new show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: The New Woman: Behind the Camera, which displays work by women photographers from the 1930s and 1940s, with a goal of carving out a larger place for them in the artistic universe. While generally complimentary, the reviewer, Richard B. Woodward, questions some of the curator's choices (I think that's required for reviewers so they can keep their street cred) but he then suggests that male photographers were equally responsible, if not more so, for creating the image of women in a modern era, and says the show is incomplete without the inclusion of the male photographers.

Dear Richard. So trite. So predictable. So clueless. So neanderthal (with apologies to Neanderthals ). Please try to keep up.


Didn't know, but do now.

If you're a fan of the funnies, you may have wondered why the Sunday funnies were different. Longer comics (eight panel), color, different storylines. Well, it turns out that length and color were due to the comics having their own section, which were called full pages. The different storylines were designed to accommodate differences in the subscriber base. Readers could subscribe to the Sunday paper, the weekday paper, or the entire week (see Venn diagram below, the first time I have used a Venn in the real world where it might really help). So to not disappoint or frustrate customers, the Sunday and daily comics were kept separate, content-wise.

venn comics

For those of you wondering why the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal don't contain comics, I always thought it was because they didn't want competition for the editorial page.


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Signs o' Maine.

Two way.

Supports bilocation.

Three way.

You can go anywhere you want, unless it's south, in which case you can't get theah from heah.

No way.

Not here

The Attic

July 25

I've either got to start paying more attention, or less. Not to important things like people I know, music I select or is curated by a respected radio announcer, oven timers, or birdsongs. No, what I'm talking about are the background-noise yapping terriers of influencers, the opinionated, and voices appearing related to the news. On the other hand, they do provide low-hanging fruit for me to mock (Hot Dog and Word of the Week). On the third hand, I'm not paid enough to let more crazy-making stuff into my head. I'll stop now–otherwise, I'll need to borrow another set of hands.

Oh, happy event!

I am pleased to announce that last Thursday, I turned 71 and 3/:4. A signal accomplishment. It was a small celebration–I had an extra meatball with my spaghetti. And a couple of extra antacid tablets before I went to bed.


News beat (or beaten news, I'm not sure which).

In the Heartwarming Story Section, CNN lets us know A woman was looking to adopt a new pet. Then she found the dog she lost two years ago.

I bet it was under the bed. I also bet it was really, really skinny.

We hope he used it wisely.

The Guardian: ‘I’ve outlasted them all’: the spectacular life of the world’s most powerful crossword editor.

I think for a while during the Cold War he had a red phone on his desk. Also, he gets to determine the daily Blue Plate Special at the Sterling Diner in Fargo, ND. Now, that's power!


Random scary thought.

Dick Sargent didn't replace Dick York on Bewitched. Rather, Samantha wanted Darren to have a less assertive chin, so she wriggled her nose and, well, you know. Same Darren, new look.

Semantic question: Is it wiggled or wriggled?


Hot Dog!

Cnet (among lots of others) thinks it's important for us to know about this publicity stunt: Heinz starts petition to make hot dogs and buns come in equal packs.

Well, I don't know where Heinz is buying their hot dogs and buns, but where I buy mine, they are both already sold in packs of eights, most likely courtesy of a previous public outcry. Maybe they're buying those exotic kosher gourmet hot dogs or something, to which I say, <>you made your bed of sauerkraut, now go garnish it.

Plus, I've got two (more) words to say: homemade Beanie-Weenie (OK, maybe three words. I've never quite gotten the hang of hyphenated words when counting). Adding a dog or two to a can of pork and beans is a guaranteed way to knock off the count and Heinz' push for equality.

Plus, why is Heinz so concerned about hot dogs and buns? Everybody (everybody!) knows you put yellow mustard (and sweet pickle relish) on hot dogs, and there is only one brand of mustard for the job, and it ain't Heinz.


Word of the Week.

exotic.

The sharp-eyed among you may have noticed that we now have a word of the week. Why, you might ask? Well, it alliterates, always a benefit. And exotic has all the hallmarks of a wow. It is fun to say (really, that's the only thing that makes a word a wow. A word like 'stud,' even though it has an 's' in it, will not make the list, no matter the context). Plus there's commentary, so we're giving you more time to read.

And now for something different–a dissertation on the word of the week, called exotic: a defense.

You know how you can commit micro-aggressions, even when you don't know you're doing it? Well, you might be unconsciously racist, even xenophobic, whenever you open your mouth to speak or eat and the word exotic comes out, a food writer from the <>Washington Post tells us in a piece (Stop calling food ‘exotic’).

I admit I only half-read the article. That's unusual for me–I even hung on all the way through The Ambassadors and Moby-Dick (full disclosure: they were both required reading. Also, I did not make it even part-way through Ulysses.).

I think the problem is the author's definition of exotic, which, since you can now buy nearly any spice or foodstuff at your grocery store, or on the internet, it's not exotic, you are no longer allowed to use exotic, those of you with your neo-colonial xenophobe and your racist, Western superior attitudes to oppressed subjected peoples! Sorry, maybe my reaction is so strong because my local supermarket isn't stocking piri-piri, tikka masala sauce, or yak chops.

Here's my definition of exotic: things I didn't grow up with. Exotic means distant, interesting, unusual, special, and a bit mysterious. I encountered exotic in the pages of the National Geographic, which never wrote a story about my hometown, so all its content qualified as exotic. Grit magazine is exotic. Agriculture is exotic. I have eaten rabbit and goat a few times, but every time the resident bunny is out in the back field, I watch it because it's exotic. Boiling garlic with potatoes is exotic, as is melting cheese into mashed potatoes. It's exotic, even though my last meal will include a large helping of mashed potatoes. A Jaguar XK-E is exotic. I have been fortunate enough to dine in some fine French restaurants, but I still consider the cuisine exotic. Growing up inland, I consider shellfish exotic, even though I've lived half my life near a seacoast. Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Circus: exotic. Green peppers: not exotic. Red peppers: sorta exotic. Yellow peppers: exotic. Hula dancing: exotic. The twist: not exotic. Marching bands, football, cheerleaders: exotic when you're not in North America. The VW Beetle: exotic. Chevys: not exotic.

I think exotic is admirable and sometimes fun. It signifies adventure and a unique adaptation to the local environment, becoming accessible to us through the spices and foods from foreign lands.

Am I practicing unconscious racism, xenophobia and advocating colonial-era oppression? Maybe, but then I think that maybe I'm learning to appreciate other cultures and their uniqueness. And maybe there's someone in the world who thinks I'm exotic. And that's all right.


Breaking from tradition.

Ars Technica updates chronology in an article entitled Archaeologists 'flabbergasted' to find Cerne Giant’s origins are medieval.

There's some sort of broken tradition. I read the article, which starts The Cerne Abbas Giant is a 180-foot-tall figure of a naked man wielding a large club,

If you look at the picture, the response is, Uh, yeah. Maybe two.

The article also notes that the first recorded mention of the figure comes from a 1694 warden's account from St. Mary's Church in Cerne Abbas, recording the cost of three shillings to repair 'ye Giant.' This quotation was provided for fans of irony.

cerne giant

Location, location, location–Are you in the right one?

My mother lived her entire life within five miles of where she was born. My brother, on the other hand, left for college and never came back.

If you're feeling off center, it could be stress, it could be be job-related, it could be a bad relationship, or if it's a vague, unspecified underlying unease, you could just be in the wrong place, and your ley lines are not laying flat for you. And it may not be the big lines–you may have your own set of lines that match up with your personal mission and goals.

It's worth a thought.


And then...

at the bottom of the referenced article, there was a link to an article entitled Are meteorites full of star jelly?

Begging the question, what flavor is it? And if grape, is there star peanut butter?


July 18

It's that time of year when life plods along. The only break in the relentless beat-down the sun gives us is a small plane dragging a banner behind it, which I cannot read. It's nice to be reminded of a time when an airplane dragging a banner could stir interest. Another way of saying that is It's nice to be reminded of ten minutes ago.

Wait an hour after eating, too.

From the CDC, by way of CNN: CDC warns not to swim with diarrhea...

There was more headline, but it's irrelevant. I can think of a lot of things that you shouldn't do when you have diarrhea. Like, anything that's not sitting on a toilet.

I notice they no longer warn not to swim with sharks. Maybe the diarrhea keeps them away.


There's a reason, at least around here.

The Verge did research, and found Apple’s weather app won’t say it’s 69°.

In these heah parts, the temperature never gets to 69°. Tonight, it's getting down to 77°. In the winter, anything above 55° is a surprise. I'm sure they took those unused numbers out as a convenience to users and to lessen the overall weight of the phone.


Wordsmith.

I think irrevelant, a mash-up of irreverent and irrelevant, would be a great word. I just don't know when or how a person would use it.


Funny in unexpected places (speaking of words).

I was writing an email in which I mentioned I didn't know if I refused as much as was confused, and then wondered if refused and confused had the same root. After I sent the email, I decided to find out (it was still early in the day, and I was enthusiastic). So off to the Online Etymology Dictionary I went.

Short answer: they're not. But I was totally charmed and amused by this part of the history of confused: The Latin past participle also was used as an adjective, with reference to mental states, "troubled, embarrassed," and this passed into Old French as confus "dejected, downcast, undone, defeated, discomfited in mind or feeling," which passed to Middle English as confus (14c.; for example Chaucer's "I am so confus, that I may not seye"), which then was assimilated to the English past-participle pattern by addition of -ed. By mid-16c., the word evolved a back-formed verb in confuse. Few English etymologies are more confusing.

It's nice when people enjoy their work.


How did that happen?

As I've worked my way through the ol' home library, and the City of Norfolk has not yet seen fit to reopen the real libraries, I've been looking for book recommendations to keep me occupied and off the streets. Some come from friends. Others come from newsletters or other remote but trusted sources. Many of these include a link to Amazon, which I will follow. I'll take a look, and then decide if this is the type of thing I want, and then if in e-book or paper format.

So far, so good. But what I've been noticing more and more on Amazon is that the e-books cost more than paperbacks, sometimes by as much as 20-25 percent. Same words, same author, same information/entertainment value. Paper has to have higher inventory costs, doesn't it? The whole logistics-delivery system has to have more cost built in, too. So why?


Speaking of Words.

The Daily Mail reports on a school in Edinburgh that proposes removing To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men from the curriculum because those novels are dated and their lead characters are not people of colour. Oh, yeah. And colonialist.

A couple of notes:

  • Some people in the article claim that this is censorship. It is not. The school is simply replacing some textbooks with other textbooks that better meet the school's needs. It happens all the time.
  • It may not be censorship, but it is stupid and short-sighted. I mean, where do you stop? Is there an automatic sell-by date for dated books, like voting in the baseball Hall of Fame, where after 15 years players get thrown into the old guys bin?
  • Why use racism as the criteria? There are many bad things in the world that we would like to keep from children as long as we can. In this school, they're drawing the line at racism. (Totally personal political comment: Why does it seem that many of the books found to somehow 'promote' racism, like Mockingbird and Huck Finn, are promoting the one thing that can defeat racism, that is, developing strong relationships on a person-to-person basis?). Why not sexism, violence, dehumanism, witchcraft and ghosts, war, environmentalism. I'm sure there are a lot I'm missing. Why aren't the voices 'promoting' those things being silenced?
  • One goal of the school committee is to reduce the brutal hand of colonialism in the curriculum. It will be interesting to see the fate of works written by Daniel Dafoe, Joseph Conrad, and Rudyard Kipling, to name a few.
  • One person in the article suggests that kids choose what they should read. Well, they do that now, if sales of Harry Potter are any indication. But many kids are going to want to read what they know already or what other kids or people they respect read. So at the most basic level, kids will read Instagram threads, Star Wars fanfic, Captain Underpants (all modern/contemporary),, and books that often have already been banned in a different context, such as Go Ask Alice or Looking for Alaska, because they fill a need. If one of the goals of education is the expansion of young minds, letting them choose might not be the best way to achieve that goal. Or we have to put up with the students' choices when they choose something we don't approve of.
  • Why are we teaching anything other than readin' and 'ritin in English class anyway? Once upon a time, English teachers taught rhetoric and composition. Any models that found their way into the classroom were invariably nonfiction, including works by Greek and Roman philosophers, John Bunyan, John Milton's prose, and other thoughtful works. Their primary purpose was to provide models for the students' writing, and along the way provide moral and civics lessons. Also along the way, more contemporary fiction, drama and poetry crept into the curriculum. Reading and writing take second place to analyzing a character's motives.
    It's fiction, for crying out loud! Made up stories! For whatever reason, some writer shaped a small piece of the world and had it printed. People read it. Some liked it, some didn't. With some texts, we decide for whatever reason to have children read them, and talk about them in school. Shouldn't children in our contemporary world be reading corporate reports, legal briefs, SEC 10Ks, coding manuals, nutrition information, medical charts, repair manuals, instructions for assembling IKEA furniture, and the fine print in advertisements, the kinds of literature they'll be dealing with for the rest of their lives?
  • If the literature we teach in English class is doing double duty as moral, ethical and world-view shaping material, the last people we should be leaving in charge is English majors. We need a whole range of specialists including historians, psychologists, theologians, metaphysicians, ethnographers, biologists, philosophers and sociologists. They may not clarify the text, but it will make for excellent career days.
  • If you want to kill interest in something, teach it. We've seen what years of teaching geography and mathematics has done. Students who can't add a string of numbers, or find the United States on a map of the world. So if there are books we don't want students reading, then they should be put front and center in the curriculum. Problem solved.
  • What I read, or watch, or listen to, is not who I am. I am not a racist because I read Tom Swift and Little Black Sambo or watched Amos & Andy or The Jack Benny Show.
    Those books and media did not create my world view, ethics, or how I treat people. They may have informed them, but my approach to life was developed in a context of school, church, family, friends, reading, culture and I'm sure a whole bunch of other things. But the thing is, I'm sure some of the inputs got rejected, too. Things came in and left pretty quick, too. To think otherwise, that we are all slaves to anything that comes in does a disservice to anybody who has taught, or read, or been a student. I read an article once about an aunt concerned that her eight-year-old niece's positive body image was being warped by Barbie. One day, the aunt approached the girl and asked about Barbie. The girl looked at her like she had grown an extra head, and said, with withering scorn, It's a doll.

To sum up: On Northern Exposure, in season 5, episode 16, Chris in the Morning had a listener write a letter that claimed that Chris' music choices led to his suicide. Chris began to cull his song choices to remove songs that could make people sad or depressed, and ended up with only Red Rubber Ballon his playlist. The townspeople complained, and convinced Chris that he was not responsible for the suicide, but in fact was making them crazy with the reduced playlist.

Yeah, life is like that.


Two questions.

Who first said, You do you?

Can we have them shot?


Responding to Design.

Each Friday, The Wall Street Journal has a section called Mansion. I look at it for design ideas. I especially like it when the design ceiling is around a million dollars.

Last week, they featured a $2 million, two-year renovation, where the sidebar noted the owner's family lived there [in the final stages] without a fully functioning bathroom or kitchen.

How does one react?

admiration for the owners, emulating the hardships of their sod-busting pioneers?

poor planning either on budget or schedule?

feel sorry because they have to eat out? Oh, dear! Not Chez L'Moleskine again!

Wonder about hygiene, like, where do they shower?


Stranger than stories.

One of those interchangeable shows on the so-called Discovery Science Channel was discussing giants, and some bones of giants found on Sardinia. We learned that giants were entombed in giant graves.

Of course they put them in giant graves! They wouldn't fit in pygmy graves!


How about a unicorn loan instead?

One of my credit unions just told me I'm pre-approved for a car loan, new or used. My confusion comes in being offered assistance in buying something that is at best in short supply, if not non-existent, and at a high price, at a time when I'm perfectly happy with the current vehicle.

Timing is everything.

July 11

We have now entered the dog days of summer, which will extend until August 11. This parallels that looong stretch of time between holidays. Some countries like (I believe) Canada, have a holiday every month. In August, for lack of anything else to celebrate, Canada has Civic Holiday. That's why I'm glad we added Juneteenth to the holiday calendar. Now, if we can only give St. Patrick's Day and Halloween the official recognition they deserve, we'll be down to April and August needing holidays. Unfortunately, April Fools' Day just isn't what it used to be. Maybe one could have two celebrations of the month that begins with 'A' Day.

Today's earworm.

Joni Mitchell's Woodstock, but only the first two lines and the last two lines of the refrain. Lots of humming and an occasional remembered word between.

Weird factoid: Woodstock has been covered 379 times, including by Led Zepplin, John Legend, and Muruga and the Cosmic Hoedown Band.


So many responses, so little space.

Newsweek reports: QAnon Followers Think They See Donald Trump in White House Window Reflection.

No, No, No, Newsweek! It's Jesus and a tortilla!

Mr. Trump, we've told you over and over. You don't live here any more. So please get out of the petunia bed and go back to Florida.

It was an electric python.

And from Reuters: Austrian gets shock of his life as python bites him on the toilet.

Sorry, I forget. Is the toilet bone the one between the shoulder and elbow, or between the elbow and wrist?

Consistency.

The Atlantic says: We’re Not Ready for Another Pandemic.

Well, we weren't ready for the last one, so yeah, totally believable. Also consistent.


Speaking of music...

At one point, Stairway to Heaven was the most played song on the radio. You can bet it wasn't this version.

And in the I-hate-it-when-people-are-funnier-than-I-am department, check out Menopause Rhapsody.


Nothing new.

NBC News reports You're not the only one who's had enough — 95 percent of workers are considering quitting.

This is not news, really. Only in degree. As far back as 2004, Marcus Buckingham and the Gallup Organization reported that 80 percent of workers were dissatisfied with their jobs, and felt unfulfilled. I'd be willing to bet that people were dissatisfied a lot further back than that. A fifteen percent rise over nearly two decades isn't that big a deal.


The adult mind.

Jocelyn Glei, by way of her newsletter, passes along Why Adults Lose the Beginner's Mind (which is a transcription of The Ezra Klein Show podcast). Bottom line: kids have an exploratory approach to life–they're in learning mode. Adults process and focus and organize things.

Short takeaway: as various Hallmark movies have shown us, you can't follow in your parents' footsteps, because you already haven't. You've taken so many exploratory steps to organization that your parents didn't take. So you will always be unique and on your own path. Said it in 59 fewer minutes than Ezra and 89 fewer minutes than the movie.


Hey! Fans of WKRP!

If you are also a fan of WKRP in Cincinnati, you've probably wondered about the closing song, whose lyrics go something like Hey Bartender, mumble mumble screech yip yip small howl. Well, it turns out it was a melody check, and they used gibberish placeholders, which were never replaced.


Random factoid.

Basil is the 1,346th most popular name for baby boys in the U.S. in 2021.

A second factoid: the herb is pronounced BAY-zil, the man's name BAH-zil. Not that you'll probably ever have to know that, considering how few Basils there are these days.


Change.

Microsoft is in the process of introducing Windows 11, the newest iteration of its PC operating system. As is always true of change, there are confused, concerned and upset users.

Microsoft tries to make changes that are meaningful and cause the least disruption. This can be seen in their moving the start button from the lower left corner of the screen to lower middle of the screen. I'm sure the button, which has been in the lower left of the screen since 1995 (footnote: Microsoft licensed the rights to Start Me Up for the initial marketing campaign, which caused quite a stir for some reason), was apparently causing problems for users, thus necessitating the change.

Another change is the system failure screen, known to the really old as the Abort, Retry, Fail, or ARF. I never could figure out what the difference was between abort and fail. I did know that we had three choices, and two of them were bad. Anyway, the new system failure screen after ARF became known as The Blue Screen of Death, or BSoD, for its blue background. In Windows 11, the screen has been revised so it now features a black background. Please note that Microsoft kindly selected a color that allows users to continue to use the BSoD acronym.

Images I'll never get out of my head.

Prince Charles reveals the songs that give him 'an irresistible urge to get up and dance'.

I'm picturing a sort of less shiny C-3PO. If for some demented reason you want to know what gives Prince Charles irresistible urges, it's here.


Ants.

I was torn between writing a poem and doing a post about this. Maybe I'll do both, starting here.

I was looking for a hanging basket for a new plant. I spotted a couple of likely candidates, and tipped them over to get rid of some dirt left in the bottom from the last plant.

I was not expecting the explosion of activity that followed. Little ants were everywhere. On the pots. On the potting table. On my arms. They are fast, and I think they are capable of Superman-quality jumps. But I didn't check. I was too busy backing up and brushing them off me.

Once I had brushed all the ants from my arms and anyplace I thought I was feeling them (and believe me, you feel them even in places you don't know you have), I took a closer look at all the activity on the table. I figured the ants would have scattered to safer, shaded places by then, but they were still scurrying quickly around the tabletop. Most were carrying little white pill-shaped sacs about the same size as the ants carrying them. Those that weren't carrying sacks were rushing around a pile of white sacs. That's when I realized I had not only knocked over an ant house, I had knocked over an ant nursery. I watched for a couple of seconds, wondering if there was any sort of rhyme or reason to the activity, and what if anything was providing the direction to save the eggs. I wandered off for a bit, and when I came back, it was like the ants had never been there–no ants, no eggs, just the overturned pots. All sorts of deep-thinking material there. What was that primal instinct inside each little tiny ant that moved them to save the kids? How did they know where to take them where they would be safe? Did they all end up 9in the same place? And how did they communicate all this to each other? I doubt if these ants had ever suffered this kind of disaster before. How did they know?


Timing is everything. No, wait. Location. No, timing and location. That's everything.

I have a link to a webcam in Churchill, Manitoba, set up to show the Northern Lights. It's live, but will let you check the last day. I've seen some impressive displays, and when I saw the link, I decided to check, forgetting that at latitude 58.768410 in July, there's not a lot of night time for a really good northern lights display. In short, all blue sky, except for on impressive cloud bank. I'll have to check back in December.

July 4

Before we get into it, I'd like to step back to July 1st and give a big shout-out to our neighbors to the north as they celebrate their Independence Day. It's not nearly as exciting as the American origin story (no wars, no John Hancock), but very, very Canadian. We used to share the longest undefended border in the world, but it seems pretty defended now, less easy to cross than the southern border, apparently, in spite of a wall and troops in Texas. Sad.

It's the day between the two days (the second and the sixth) that were much more instrumental in the foundation of our country than this day actually was. But still, you've got to celebrate sometime, so why not? The Fourth sounds much more authoritative than The Second or The Sixth, with their initial sibilants leaking and slobbering all over the place. One other thing the Fourth has going for it is a clear image–fireworks, birth of a nation, flag, food (hot dogs, hamburgs, cookouts) music, and the start of the NBA Finals. So enjoy.

Staying sharp.

My wife was cleaning off a table in the sun porch the other day, and came across a book of puzzles and brainteasers that our financial advisor (side note: I still can't believe I can put the words our financial advisor together without giggling) gave us. It's supposed to help us keep our brains sharp as we enter our senile (sorry, senior) years.

As we did one set of puzzles, I realized I've been doing this for years, ever since I first set my alarm clock ten minutes ahead. I know I set it ahead, and every time I look at it, I automatically subtract ten minutes to get the real time (if any time can be said to be real), so I don't know why I bother. But it turns out it's a mathematical brain teaser, helping me stay razor-sharp, gray-cell wise. So I guess I'll keep the time where it is in the name of good mental health. Plus, it's much harder to reset the clock than do the math. So math for a stronger brain it is.


Word of the day.

Shilly-shally.


In defense of dullness.

You'll notice I cleverly used sharp in the headline above as an indicator of mental acuity, creativity, awareness, and all those other good things. While sharp usually gets all the good press, sometimes dull is the way to go. Take, for example, a cocktail party. If you're sharp, people will gather around you and expect you to entertain them. If you're dull, nobody will want to hang around you (even other dull people), which means you can lurk around the food table unnoticed and scarf up all the good bits of grub. The only danger is someone sees you standing there and takes pity on your solo state, and comes over to talk, blocking the buffet table as they do so.

If you wake up dull-witted, you have set no expectations for the day, and so the only way the day can go is up.


Still a thing, I guess.

When I was a kid, on a very hot summer's day, one of the local TV stations would send out a hapless reporter to film an egg frying on the sidewalk or the hood of a car. It got old, I guess, or cooler, and it kind of disappeared as a thing.

Well, it's happening again. AccuWeather wants us to Watch as record-breaking heat in Oregon cooks an egg.

One big difference that shows us it really is hotter: unlike back in my youth when the egg was fried directly on the pavement or the car hood, this egg seemed to be fried in a cast-iron skillet. It takes a long time to get one of those puppies up to speed and ready to cook something. Or they had a reporter with nothing better to do and lots of extra time to do it in.

Well, it may not be hotter, but at least it's more sanitary.


Give me a break, please.

Growing up, I lived in New York during the Nelson Rockefeller as Governor era. Generally, it was OK. People complained about high taxes, but we at least saw results–roads, a viable university system. One year, he faced a challenge from a well-known Democrat, and Rockefeller campaigned hard, which, in the way of rich people, means he spent a lot of money, approximately $8 million. A friend of mine (called a wag in the then-contemporary jargon) suggested that we should all vote for him if he just promised to donate his campaign spend to the state's coffers, and lowered taxes.

I am reminded of that because we have such a candidate here–a wealthy businessman who takes great delight in reminding us he's a political outsider every chance he gets. Which seems to be every ten minutes, or every commercial break.

What this means for us poor Virginians is we've been subjected to politics non-stop for well over a year now, a string which will apparently last until the November election (or horrors, after). It used to be that we could expect a break after the Presidential election, but that got sucked up with the Trump endless whine about having the election stolen, which segued into the primaries. In normal years, everybody would take a break for a few months to enjoy summer without having to think about civic responsibilities. I want–need–that time off. It's enough to make a person think seriously about subscribing to an ad-free streaming service and/or living someplace out of reach of a TV signal. Maybe it's time to get out the ol' reading glasses and giving books another shot.

Anyway, I need a break, Candidate Glenn. You're on notice. I've been known to vote against candidates for far less reason. Actually, I've been known to vote against candidates for exactly this reason. Capice?


The local scene.

Our Arboretum is offering a seminar on the Wonderful World of Rose Diseases. I can only hope that they were going for the alliteration and meant it in a world full of wonder sense. I can't see where it's very wonderful either for the roses or for those who care for them, to see them infected and dying on the trellis. Sort of like giving a lecture on the joys of COVID-19.


Turning bread brown.

Every now and again, I see kitchen equipment reviews and comparisons. Recently, one looked at toasters, the kind that have slots and provide cheap jokes on sitcoms when the device launches bread into space. The conclusion: toasters haven't made a lot of progress since their invention in 1909. Bread isn't evenly toasted, it sometimes gets stuck in the toaster (if not launched), there's often a limited range of thicknesses that can be accommodated, and they're a pain to clean. Oh, and they're dangerous.

I don't know why anyone would have a toaster, especially since the invention of toaster ovens. They're much more versatile, toast bread evenly, can handle different sizes of bread, and toast four and sometimes six slices at the same time. And you can make cheese toast! Try that in a toaster!


Uh, OK.

A Fresco's Relocation Is Handled With Care, the New York Times tells us.

I'm just trying to picture why the movers might not want to handle with care.

And just to be perfectly clear, a fresco is not the same thing as al fresco, a mistake I've made many times. OK, only once, but that's still one time too many.


Reference, please?

From something called NextShark: Australian Woman Who Woke Up From Surgery With Irish Accent May Be Stuck With It for Life.

I'd like the name of the surgeon and where the surgery was performed. That sounds fantastic. As would my post-tonsillectomy accent. Sure, and I've begun practicing my begorras already.


The new earnests.

PBS, at least one of the local incarnations, is now billing itself as America's home for documentaries. Now, I don't know the first thing that pops into your head when you hear documentary, but for me, words like fun and entertaining have done their Elvis imitations and left the building. And there has to be at least a little taste of f&e if you want me to stick around for the hectoring and microaggression part of the program.

Also in the running for the earnestness prize, smug self-righteousness category: the BBC News app, which on the U.S. & Canada news and features page has devoted half the page to stories of sins against blacks, Asians and Native Americans for most of the year, it seems.

Makes you want to check on your definition of news.


Sales talk.

From a description for the Stella Maris Hotel outside Ballycastle in County Mayo: The beach is 500 metres away and the accommodation is 1 km from the centre of Ballycastle and 22 km from Enniscrone. The venue places you within 0.5 km of Ballycastle Beach. This hotel is located close to the Atlantic Ocean. Doonfeeny Cemetery is nearby.

So is including the proximity of the cemetery a warning about the food or some other factor that makes the hotel dangerous to visitors? Or is it trying to appeal to people who are really seeking quiet?

June 27

Things I'm too lazy to look up, Dr. Seuss edition.

Where did Ted Geisel get the Dr. Seuss name, anyway?

And what happens if/when someone finds casual, low-level racism in a book like Green Eggs and Ham or How the Grinch Stole Christmas?

Should't that title be something like How the Grinch Stole Christmas (but then brought it back)? Otherwise, it's another example of our sensational rush-to-judgement culture at work, where the accusations fly fast and furious on the front page, but later, when things are cleared up and we find out no, it didn't happen, that's buried on page 17 (think Duke University lacrosse team).


Random scary thought.

What if Elvis is still in the building?


And the random thoughts/questions just keep coming.

Why doesn't a cat's hair turn gray as it gets older?

When a person dies, do all the independent organisms inside like bacteria die too?


Earworms aaraugh!

Saw a post on Facebook that mentioned Ellen was getting emails for a Gloria, and now the two different Glorias (Laura Branigan's and Van Morrison's) are competing for space in my head. As an extra added attraction, instead of picturing Laura Branigan, I keep picturing Lieutenant Branigan from Guys and Dolls.


First world problems.

It's a beautiful morning. I'm standing at the kitchen door listening to the birds sing, when the refrigerator behind me starts making breathing sounds, almost like it's sighing. So we have progressed past smart appliances to living appliances, and it's just my luck to get stuck with one that's depressed.


Not to worry.

I write poetry. Sometimes, I think I should (or people encourage me to) publish some, even if just electronic publication.

But I stop and consider. If I do that, someone might read it, and it might become popular, and then they'd want to know more about me, and then someone would want to write a thesis or worse, a biography. I also have Kathy-Bates-in-Misery nightmares. So unpublished I stay, unless you consider this collection of bad typing publishing.

I suppose I could take comfort in the fact that if people look, they will discover I didn't lead a very interesting life, so not worth chronicling. Also, in the unlikely occurrence it happens, I'll most likely be dead, and won't care–or at least inconvenienced.


Old news/Not news, apparently.

I apologize–I saw this a week ago, but just now am passing it along. BBC News reports: Chinese astronauts dock with country's new space station.

I say congratulations to China on this singular achievement. I also wonder when they got a space station orbiting the earth. I try to keep up. How did I miss that? They must have hired one of those James Bond villains who specialize in building humongous structures without anybody noticing.


A new listen.

After Apple managed to muck up the Podcasts app/player in ios 14.6, I went rummaging around and found the Overcast app. The good news is it's clean and well-ordered. The bad news is it doesn't have all the podcasts I listen to, so I'll have to muddle along with the Apple app for some things.

Anyway, the rummaging included looking for things to listen to in Overcast, and I bumped into Have You Heard George's Podcast?. If you're a fan of the original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio show, you'll feel right at home. It's like that, only on steroids or some other drug. As a bonus, it's only in episode 20 or so, so it is possible to get up to speed, unlike some other podcasts that are already in episode 243 or something, and you despair of ever being considered one of the cool kids, because you always find out about things after they've stopped being a thing, much less cool. You will never not be cool if you listen to George the Poet.


Huh? moments.

Why was the Daytime Emmy Awards telecast on at night? And why wasn't it any fun?


Whatever happened to...

the mysterious monolith in Utah?


Our wacky English language.

From CNN: Alaska hiker reported missing was found alive after being charged by bears.

First thought: Bears take Visa and MasterCard?

Second thought: I wonder what the charge was: Littering? Trespassing? Fishing without a license?

Third thought: So what was the order of events: charge-missing-found? Missing-charge-found? I mean, maybe the bears did a good thing and the guy was resisting coming out of hiding.

Bears will do that to a person.


Shocked, I say. Shocked!

BGR reports: Google might copy Apple's newest hit product.

You can 99.44 percent take probably out of that sentence. The shock, of course, is that it's not Samsung or some Chinese company borrowing the feature. Maybe they already copied it.


Headlines.

From Entrepreneur: Baby was playing with an iPad and accidentally bought a $10,000 upgrade from Tesla.

I bet it included the really plush cashmere car seat with extra butt padding, automatic diaper changer, built-in surround sound and 4K video screen.


Funny things to say.

If you want to be thought a master wit, you have a choice:

a) you can immediately come up with a witticism that meets the moment, a la Oscar Wilde or Winston Churchill. If you choose this route, be prepared to have people get angry with you, because often the wit is directed at a particular person, who may not appreciate it.. Also be prepared to be called an aphorist, which isn't as unpleasant as it sounds. It just means the person thinks you keep bees.

b) you can collect phrases or sound bites that cover a host of everyday situations. They do not have to be originally funny. It's probably better that they not be. The trick is to strategically decontextualize them. Saying we've got to stop meeting like this or Come here often? is funny if you say it just before a meeting starts. It's weird if you say it in a washroom.

Here are a few:

What a world, what a world.

I'll get you, my pretty, and you little dog, too!

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

Learn to live with disappointment.

OK, that last one may not be all that funny, but boy howdy do I give it a workout. Even when I'm the only one there.


Things I learned this past week (that I will add to the Museum of Useless Data and Precambrian Antiquities I keep stored between my ears).

Oscar Wilde's full name was Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde. Always a man of excess.

June 20

Today is the first day of summer. More accurately, in the eastern time zone, the first half-hour of summer, as it starts at 11:32 pm. Many people (people who should know better) will say that this is the longest day of the year. It is not. All days have 86,400 seconds, even in leap year. What we have here is the most daylight in a day, or 52,881 seconds of daylight, or one more second than on June 19. (The perceptive among you no doubt noticed that I am employing The Rule of Big Numbers, which holds that large numbers give more authority and scientific credibility to the speaker/writer, while making the topic less comprehensible, a win-win in my book.)

Today is also Father's Day, a day on which kids and spouses try to come up with gifts for the person who, if he needs something within a kid's budget, will just go out and buy it. One benefit of being a dad is you probably don't have to put up with breakfast in bed. I'm sure that whole tradition goes back to the Royal Courts of Europe, where the Royal Bedchamber was actually a place of business, and they had the staff and equipment to do it right. So happy Father's Day, no matter what the offspring may throw at you, present and activity-wise. Even breakfast in bed.

Earworm of the day.

Yusuf Islam's (AKA Cat Stevens, Steven Demetre Georgiou, and Yusuf) Wild World.


Father's Day: Now no longer worth it.

NBC News opines: Opinion | Dads need to earn Father's Day.

So if dad doesn't? Does he not get the tie or the smelly cologne? Will children no longer ask for money or to borrow the car?

I'm looking for the downside, but having trouble finding it.


Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Just Sayin'.


A special invitation.

I have a solitaire app on my phone. It's free. My payment is to receive an ad when I win. I don't pay much, trust me. However, I recently won two games, and was invited to bid in a Sotheby's of London auction to be held at the end of the month. Darn! Wouldn't you know it? There's noting in the catalog that I'm interested in.


Strange relationships.

From the Guardian ‘I rip off my skin and give him the guts’ – Lisa Dwan on her approach to Beckett.

I'm sure there are less appealing images to start the day with, but I have no idea what they may be.

Never answered: does Beckett even like guts? Who handles cleanup? Who are these people?


Was it for three days? Tell me it was for three days!

Of course it's from the Guardian: 'Everything went dark’: humpback whale swallows and spits out diver.

Was his name Jonah? Don't tell me his name was Jonah!

I suspect many psuedoscientific TV shows will claim this is more empirical, scientific proof of the veracity of Old Testament stories.

I will pass along part of the subheading only because I like to inflict pain: Experts say the encounter was a fluke.


Unclear on the concept.

Also from the Guardian: Star swimmer Maddie Groves withdraws from Olympics as lesson to ‘misogynistic perverts.’

I'm going to punch myself in the face. That'll show em!


At last.

The Big Think speculates, Is Human Consciousness Creating Reality?

Finally, somebody scientific has caught up to poets, fiction writers and other dreamers and figured out how the universe works. We're building it as fast as we can.


Translator error?

Austin Kleon discusses what Horace meant when he wrote carpe diem. A more correct translation, he argues, is Pluck the day, as opposed to our more robust, gustatorial, even violent Seize the day.

Kleon has an excellent discussion of why we really should consider implementing plucking the day, which you should totally read, and incorporate into your dealing with the world around you toolkit.

However, I don't know if this is the right battle to fight. Let's face it–after 1,500 years of seizing days, there's no going back to a kindly, gentler time in the Roman Empire. If nothing else, seizing is a more American approach. So carpe away, friends, in whatever fashion you choose.

Kleon admits that the phrase probably wouldn't have survived without its misinterpretation. And now, after all this time, we get to layer meaning on meaning and fine-tune our relation with the world.


On going back to work.

No, not me. *chuckles*. Do I look stupid to you? O.K., that might not be a good evaluation criterion. I'm thinking of all those people who are slowly going back to work now that the pandemic restrictions are being lifted. Or, more specifically, not going back to work.

Labor shortages have been appearing in lots of industries, including manufacturing, transportation, education, and logistics, but the most visible (or audible) are in customer-facing service industries, notably restaurants. Traditionally, these are considered entry-level jobs requiring minimal job skills. Often, we have a perception of who's filling those jobs: college students, people between real gigs, people looking to supplement their income with a second job, people without skills or an education, housewives and others with flexible schedules.

Yet, as we open up, many employers go on TV and complain that even though they've put the Help Wanted sign in the window, people aren't tearing them down, rushing into the establishment and handing the sign to the owner, saying I'm your boy!, like they did in movies of yore.

That's not happening. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Normal isn't coming back. Lots of people have (quietly) decided they liked pandemic life, and are going to stay with it. Which is part of:
  • Fewer people in the workforce. A lot of baby boomers were working past traditional retirement age. When the lockdown came, and gave them a taste of retirement, I think many decided to stay that way. So space higher up opens and everybody gets to move up the ladder a rung.
  • Hey, there's still a pandemic going on, and people are dying. Contact with strangers can be and is dangerous, if not deadly.
  • So this is what a living wage looks like! I like it!
  • New competition. Walmart and Target have been quietly raising their wages and benefits. Other companies not in the service industry also have a number of openings in entry-level positions and are aggressively pursuing jobs more fitted to skills and desires. A business owner planning on paying minimum (or less) is going to find a much smaller pool of available employees.
  • Cr*ppy jobs and customers. Working in a restaurant is hard work in the best of times. Heavy lifting. Dealing with customers and co-workers. Constantly changing schedules. Now, though, with cell phones and social media everywhere, we all get to experience every nasty note left on a bill and every physical altercation and outburst. It has always happened, but now it's front and center, featuring every crazoid who has crawled out from under a rock.
  • Cr*ppy bosses. Usually you have to be a ways into a job before you find out a boss is a jerk. Now, they go on TV and complain that they can't find anybody to work for them because potential employees don't want to work because they make more on unemployment. Translation: lazy buggers. I've got 99 percent certainty that these folks dumped 99 percent of their staff with no warning when the pandemic started and now expect staff to come rushing back to earn most likely less than minimum wage (which makes it half of a living wage) without benefits to work for a boss who has no respect for them.

It's no longer just about money. People want something else from a job, like a sense of fulfillment and respect, and a chance to grow and achieve. Articles are beginning to chronicle people quitting jobs because they don't like the fit, or think this is the time to go after the dream job.

More power to 'em.


Yore, indeed.

Someplace up above I used the word yore. I was going to look it up the way I used to (fire up the browser and open a dictionary, or even find a paper dictionary) but then remembered I could right click and the program I was in would do the looking up for me. It's tough to remember that.

Ah, our brave new world of technology.

Oh, and I used yore correctly.


June 13

The Official Summer (accept no substitutes!) is still a week away, but Ma Nature missed that memo. We went directly from jacket weather to hot and sticky, with pop-up thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening.

In these parts, it's the last week of school (your parts may vary). In a couple of weeks the little kiddies will be packing up their book bags and getting ready to go back to school. For some kids, that will be the first time this year they'll be back in the building. In the summer. A fitting conclusion to the school year and the year, indeed.

Today's scare (according to the 6:00 news): ticks! That's right, friends, millions of those nasty, disease-ridden vermin are in your back yard even as we speak, waiting for you and your pets to emerge with exposed skin so they can bite you and kill you! There is absolutely nothing you can do, friends, except huddle in terror indoors, and watch TV.

Some days, it's like that for all of us.

'They're the chosen ones,' [Jacquie] Joseph said, referring to the women's basketball teams, 'and they're treated like afterthoughts. What's lower than an afterthought? That's us.'


Whatever happened to...

  • The pandemic crisis in India? And Brazil? And all the other countries currently seeing significant upticks in coronavirus cases? They were soooo important last month. Or last week.
  • Vaccination testing for children?
  • NFT (non-fungible tokens)?
  • Adam Rippon?
  • Amanda Gorman?
  • Pharma Bro?

Complaint.

To: Avian QC.

From: John

Re: Recent windshield event.

I recently had cause to use my vehicle, which was parked outside. While I was getting in, I observed a recently placed gift of guano from one of your operatives. It checked all the boxes for volume, opacity, and distribution. In fact, the deposit was almost a perfect circle, an impressive feat when conducting a mid-air delivery. When I tried to clean it, the wipers left a sticky smear across the entire driver's side of the windshield.

However, while otherwise impressive, the offering was not placed on or near the spot on the windshield where it would most interfere with my (the driver's) line of sight, and in fact I was able to drive the car without having to stop and remove the blob.

This lack of attention to detail has been noted. I expect you will address this matter so that the next time I am in a hurry to get somewhere, I will be suitably delayed by a perfect deposit.


Money, money, money.

PBS is raising money this month, and in typical PBS fashion, they abandon their regular schedule and viewers in favor of shows they think will bring in more donations. So there are a lot of shows about health and aging, financial planning, and musical events featuring singers from the 50s and 60s (the years they were popular, not their ages), with equally dubious provenance (the Tina Turner special, for example, is from 2000, but you have to look quick to see the date), but, now that I think about it, that's true for a lot of the comedies PBS imports from England–they're at least that old.

Every now and again, they broadvast a program that shows promise, but through the magic of earnest documentary/tribute show, manage to suck any life out of it. So it was with Monty Python: A Celebration. The only good thing was the clips from movies and shows, which were not shown in their entirety. The clips were surrounded by very good comedians who weren't funny, as they bore the ponderous weight of enshrining the troupe in the comedic pantheon. Translation: they were all as funny as a heart attack, especially when talking about how Python had influenced them. Only Paula Poundstone and Stephen Wright were able to say something resembling funny, but they couldn't save the show, which could have replaced the Liberty Bell March with Song of the Volga Boatmen, it was so pretentious. This whole mess was of course wrapped in fundraising led by enthusiastically unfunny spokespuppets who claimed only to have watched Python, but didn't necessarily get the joke. And they sure weren't spreading them. For them it was all they could do to say nod, nod, wink, wink every couple of minutes to make them Python experts and keep the comedy flowing.

Insert fart noise here.


Hydrangeas.

Hydrangea is a very silly word, but fun to say. It was a good year especially for hydrangeas, the flower. The flowers are big, beautiful, and bluer than the sky. Here are a couple of plants in the back yard.

hydrangea

For those of you who are about to launch into an incredibly boring explanation of how minerals in the soil are responsible for the colors, kindly zip it and just stare at the flowers in awe.

money money money money.

The good news: To Kill A Mockingbird will reopen on Broadway on Oct. 5. The bad news: the New York Times felt it necessary to tell us how long it took for the play to recoup its original investment when it announced the reopening.


Endtimes.

Yes, I know survivalists have mostly gone underground (pun intended) from their heyday in the late '00s, and could easily be added to any 'whatever happened to' list, but I just had a wandering thought about them. Survivalists put all these food and medical supplies in the bunker, but what do they do if someone gets sick? I mean, what happens if someone's jaw just freezes up one day? Or an appendix bursts? Or they get an abscessed tooth? Or toenail fungus?


Things you don't want to know how they found out.

The Atlantic offers up this headline: Cicadas Are Fine Until One Explodes in Your Mouth.

Boy howdy, but ain't that the truth! I remember one invasion–not the last one but the one 'fore that, the monster invasion of '87. I was in Ohio, outside of Cincinnati, visiting my uncle Gary. The cicadas chose exactly that time to pop out of the ground and start singing their little songs. At least they were in tune. One would start, a couple more joined in, and pretty soon they all felt a compulsion to harmonize. It was so loud, dogs and cats were trying to chew their ears off or took to hiding in libraries. Anyways, the noise was enough to drive a person crazy, but I figured if that was the worst of it, well, bring it on. But then, a couple days later, darned if one of them vermin didn't up and hop right in my mouth, and then jes' go and explode for no good reason. It was like a pop rock grew legs. Right you are to say 'eew!' It was really a two eew! moment. In case you were wondering, it tasted exactly like you would expect a cicada to taste–kinda like chicken. I figured that was it, that the little varmints had done their worst, but it wasn't a day later that another one of those critters did it again, just jumped into my mouth and exploded, like they was Juliet and Romeo and my mouth was their crypt. Well, I figured I better get this checked out and it was a good thing I did 'cuz the doc extracted a couple of legs that had poked into the roof of my mouth. The doc said they could have caused an infection, and seemed sympathetic, but he kept muttering 'damn mouth breathers' while he was working on me. Charged $40, too, which seemed a little excessive–the legs weren't all that long. Anyway, the pestilence subsided, but even to this day, I think Hollywood is missing out on some great horror film opportunities, like Invasion of the Exploding 17 year Cicadas and Exploding Cicadas vs. the Mouth-breathers. Sure fire hits, both of 'em.

And that's why I've lived south of the Mason-Dixon Line to this day.


American politics.

Headline from Politico: Republicans, Democrats battle for high ground after McGahn testimony.

On a flat, featureless desert, two groups are seen approaching an ant hill. A few are trying to scale it, some others are trying to keep the other guys from the top, but mostly, they try to keep everybody from the top.


My sense of humor (con't.).

Prepare for rimshots ahead.

People who know me and my family think I got my sense of humor from my father. Actually, I got it from my mother–she wasn't using it and wouldn't miss it.

My humor is a combination of quick, sharp wit and remembered jokes and humorous stories. Even when I was a child (i.e., in my thirties) I would tell jokes and stories, and people would say you should write jokes for Johnny Carson. They meant it as a compliment.

Now I'm not so sure. At this distance, Carson doesn't hold up well. Jokes are tired, with celebrity cardboard cutouts for targets, and obscure insider or L.A. references that people didn't get even then. Sometimes the jokes seemed unnecessarily mean. I mean, other comedians who also fell back on a weak schtick have held up well over the years, like George Burns, Groucho Marx and Jack Benny. Who woulda thunk it? Comedy goes through fashions, just like clothes. It's interesting to watch the evolution of George Carlin, for example.


Kardashimania.

Bad news for Kardashian fans. The final episode of KUWTK (as it's known to the cognoscenti) aired on June 10. But not to worry, stout-hearted fans. BBC News reveals there will be a two-part reunion special shown later this month.


June 6

Now that we are officially into June, we have been getting all the rain we were supposed to be getting in May. April is not our rainiest month–May is. All the flowers came and went in April. That's not the only backwards thing around here. I've been trying to tweak the website to be prettier and more efficient, a process I've been doing almost since I started the website mumble-something years ago. Well, this time around, nothing is working, even the stuff I've done before. You know that old build on experience and what you've already done? Study, work hard, execute, and you will succeed. Well. there's a word that sounds like the name of a Russian ballet troupe. I'm applying it liberally. On the plus side, frustration has driven me back to working on new cartoons. Expect those in a little bit.

Earworm of the day (only, I hope).

I was playing one of those stupid, time-wasting, all-empty-calorie 50s TV trivia games (I scored 100%, which tells you I misspent my youth as well as my elderliness, as well as all the time between), when one of the questions asked about Perry Mason. Immediately, the opening theme jumped into my head. I don't know when it'll go away.


Oh, doctor!

As things get older, they're more prone to breaking. People are like that, too. Every morning, it takes a little bit longer to get the knee joints to respond and the eyes to focus. I'm not complaining–I've led a blessed (or charmed, depending upon your belief system, or had a good run, if you want to get all casual about it.) life with good health. It's bound to change. My friend Fran is a case in point. She's spent her life as a productive, contributing member of society, while pursuing world travel and giving expression to her artistic side as a painter, author and preacher, all with limited health issues.

A month or so ago, she ended up in the hospital for a week, and two weeks ago, she was sidelined by a different ailment.

She's fine now, I'm happy to report. But my question–:Was there a connection?–will go unasked, because I'm afraid she may not be able to answer it. Why? Medical specialization.

Now, don't get me wrong. America has a fine health system. My own primary physician is excellent, and I trust him. As much as possible, I keep him in the loop on outside procedures (I'm always surprised by those ads that warn you to tell your doctor about all the medications you're taking. My doctor prescribes everything I take.). Some one person besides me should know what's going on. Preferably, besides me. I don't know what's going on, or how to fix it.

But even my doctor is part of an elaborate system built on referrals. So when the doctor notices something going on, he will almost invariably suggest follow-on with a specialist, unless, of course, he dips into the comedy classics vault:

Man (sitting on examination table, raises arm): Doctor, it hurts when I do this.

Doctor: Then don't do that.

The problem is there are so many specializations. We're constantly spinning off new subcategories. I'm expecting any day now that the man in the doctor's office will raise his arm, and the doctor will say, I'm sorry, I only do right arms.

Here are a few of the more common medical specializations where people consult the practitioners. (there are a lot of others who are on the scientific or laboratory end of things.):

Allergy and immunology

Anesthesiology

Cardiology

Clinical

Cosmetic and reconstructive surgery

Dermatology

Dentistry

Endocrinology

Gastroenterology

Internal medicine

Medical genetics

Neurology and neurophysiology

Nuclear medicine

Obstetrics and gynecology

Ophthalmology

Orthopedics

Otolaryngologics

Pathology

Pediatrics

Physical medicine and rehabilitation

Podiatry

Psychiatry

Radiation oncology

Respiratory medicine

Rheumatology

Surgery

Urology

Vascular surgery

 

I'm always tempted to say collect them all! when I see the list.

Now, I don't know how to fix the entire system, starting with the doctors who have worse bedside manners than a bedpan, the factory model used in some medical practices, the do what I say and don't ask questions school of doctor-patient interactions, and so on.


Understanding politics.

Republicans in the Senate have effectively blocked setting up an independent commission to study events at the Capitol on January 6. I can understand this–it would mean taking time and resources away from investigating what happened at Benghazi.

I wonder if they treated Machiavelli that way.

OurTopNews lets us know Principal Escorted Off School Premises After Graduation Speech: ‘Effective Individuals Stomp On Each Other’.

I forget was that the third or fourth habit in Stephen Covey's book?


Yep.


Annoyance.

For some reason, I found this headline from Inc. magazine really annoying: This Co-Founder Hates Wasting Time. Here Are His 3 Pandemic Productivity Hacks to Beat Burnout.

First, there's that whole hack thing. It's so 2017, Inc. You might want to trade it in on a newer model cliche. Second, what exactly does wasting time mean? Right now, I'm sitting on the porch with a cat in my lap, trying desperately to figure out how I'm going to get someplace near a thousand words or so this week. As far as the cat is concerned, I am fully occupied fulfilling my primary purpose. The part of me not supporting the cat is either typing or thinking about things to type. This last is something that creative types do a lot of so they have something to share.

Unfortunately, lots of people think that just because I'm staring into space I am wasting time, when in reality they aren't seeing the gears turning in the background. Well. mostly. Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.

Oh, yeah, productivity. If you aren't being productive, you're wasting time. We're supposed to be productive, productive, productive. Uh, not really. We're designed to be non-productive for large chunks of time. We sleep (on average) eight hours a day. Even when we're awake, we build in slack or down time. And when we're productive, what are we doing? Right now, Virginia schools are going through the annual paroxysm of SOL (Standards of Learning) tests, during which time teachers stare at students to make sure they don't cheat. So all across the state, you've got thousands of highly educated, talented people staring at other people. I'm sure there are definitions of productive that would include this sort of behavior, but I'm going to have to sleep on it. In the meanwhile, don't judge if I'm being productive. I'm sure there would be some kind of measurement, and if so, don't be surprised if the measuring device ends ups being placed someplace uncomfortable.


Clichery.

I'm sure there's somebody who will chide me for not putting the correct accent mark (the aigu) on the e in cliche. It's French, they'll sniff, expecting me to be all apologetic or something, and rush off to fix it, or at least commend them for their attention to detail, and wide breadth of knowledge about language.

Well, I'm not apologizing or fixing, cuz:

  1. English is a thief, and appropriates words as it needs them.
  2. There are no accent marks in English. Like in the Wild West, when someone rustled cattle, they often put their own brand on the cattle, so too words taken from other languages often have identifying marks removed, like accent marks.
  3. I'm writing in English (you may dispute the quality of the content, or the loosey-goosey style, but it's English). (:aside: There was a character called Goosey-Loosey in Disney's Chicken Little film.)
  4. Even in French, accent aigu (or acute) is used only on e. Makes it kind of useless. IMHO, as the kids like to say.
  5. So anyway, if you want an accent aigu, feel free to draw one on. Me, I'm going to sit and think some more.

    May 30

    It is now the end of May. I'm looking forward to June, 'cuz there's not a lot of options. I'm not going to talk about weather, because, if you're from up north, weather is whatever is around you, as opposed to the Southern view, where weather is a loose synonym for precipitation. Plus, as Mark Twain pointed out, talking does not imply that anything will change, weather-wise, unlike the weather around here, where it does, as witnessed by the 30-degree drop we experienced from Friday night to Saturday evening. Annnd, there' a lot more interesting stuff to talk about.

    Memorial Day.

    I never know quite what the correct greeting is for Memorial Day. I know happy is not right, but how do you incorporate a holiday into a salutation? We're all set for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's, but I'm SOL (not the test) for all the others.

    Anyway, I extend all the proper sentiments for Memorial Day, as I remember all those who died fighting for freedoms for all Americans that we too often take for granted. Celebrate responsibly!


    Word of the day.

    Bucolic. It's a good word for the end of May.


    Things I didn't know.

    Dander: it's not just for cats any more. No, it also means a stroll. Thanks to Seamus Heaney for contributing to the Museum of Curious, Random and Mostly Useless Knowledge.


    Back, I say! Back!

    There's been a sudden spate of 50s flashbacks in the past couple of days. We discovered that one of the cable channels rebroadcasts The Ed Sullivan Show. It's interesting to see what passed for quality entertainment back in the day. Like Jim Nabors singing. Topo Gigio. Plate spinners. Robert Goulet lip-synching. Comedians like Wayne & Shuster and Myron Cohen. Opera singers. The top half of Elvis. Ed didn't like them, but there were a number of rock 'n rollers who graced Ed's stage, including the Beach Boys (who had discarded their signature matching striped shirts for matching white suits) performing a strangely semi-psychedelic rendition of Good Vibrations.

    Then, on Monday morning, the classical morning drive-time jock made a reference to Jimmy Durante, with a comment to the effect that probably many (most?) of his listeners didn't know who that was, so never mind.


    Sticker shock.

    I don't know if kids still collect stickers, but if they do, they can now add stickers from fast food packaging. Subway puts a sticker or stickers on each sandwich, while Taco Bell is putting them on the bag. So as nearly as I can tell, the customer orders the food, the food is prepped, wrapped, put in the bag, stickered, and then handed out the window to the customer. Or the customer watches the food being prepared every step of the way. Don't know what contamination or nefarious deeds the sticker is protecting the food from, but it seems to be doing a fine job.


    Bigfoot!

    An Oklahoma legislator is promising a $3 million bounty to the first person who presents a live bigfoot that (who?) was captured (apprehended?) in Oklahoma. No reason was given, but really, do we need one?

    No word if the program will be extended to space aliens, ghosts, or all the other critters that inhabit The Travel Channel, now known as TRVL.


    Conversations with the cat.

    Most people will 'fess up to watching cat videos on their computers. Some have even bookmarked cat-shelter-rescue rooms on their electronic devices, and visit regularly. Me, I prefer the up-close-and-personal approach of communing and conversing with an in-person cat. As in:

    Cat: (jumps on lap and settles in)

    Me: So nice of you to join me.

    Cat: (fifteen minutes later) rubs chin on edge of tablet)

    Me: Stop that!

    Cat: (stares)

    Me: (an hour later) OK, we have to get up now.

    Cat: (looks at me using sad eyes, digs in claws)

    Me: No really, I'm getting a cramp in my leg. (tries to dislodge cat)

    Cat: (turns on gravity suck and renders all limbs inoperable)

    Me: I have to get up now. Let's go! (finally pushes cat off lap).

    Cat: (rolls off lap with much flailing, in a performance worthy of a NBA player trying to draw a foul)

    Me: OK, let's go check your food bowl!

    Cat: piteous mews.


    Whatever happened to...?

    Andrew Cuomo.

    Next week, I'll probably be asking whatever happened to Bill Gates.


    Culinary poltergeist.

    Most foodstuffs, including canned goods, have a use by, sell by, or best by date. Even Coca-Cola added best by dates, not that the sugary water they sell goes bad, or flat, or changes flavor, but as a subtle way to encourage people to buy (and presumably drink) more fizzy water.

    Anyway, I have a small supply of canned goods in the basement. Mostly, it's foods that are staples or ingredients–beans, tuna, corn, pineapple, condiments, and soups. They get replaced as they're used.

    For canned goods, I tend to ignore the by dates. I rotate, so food gets used in a timely fashion.

    But one can fell out of consciousness, apparently. I picked up a can of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup, and it was–empty. At least it didn't weigh its listed 10.5 ounces. (Aside: In the 1950s, if not before, Campbell's found itself on the horns of a dilemma. Its soups became essential ingredients in many recipes. At the same time, when other food manufacturers were able to shrink the size of their products while still maintaining price points, as chronicled by paleontologist Stephen Jay Gouldin Phyletic size decrease in Hershey bars, Campbell couldn't. Cooks were depending upon there being 10.5 ounces of soup in each can, and so Campbell had to eat increased costs or raise the price of soup. End aside.). I didn't see any dents, dings or holes in the can. I wasn't about to open it to find out what happened, or if any clues were left explaining the whereabouts of the missing soup, fearful of unleashing another plague on us. So someplace in a local landfill, there is a ticking biological time bomb that will kill us all. And it's my fault.

    Come to think of it, I was going to use the soup in a recipe for something called Crab Meat Mold, which I'm pretty sure was popular in the 50s, so coincidental serendipity strikes again.


    Is there a correct answer?

    Scientific American wants to know Are we doing enough to protect the earth from asteroids?


    Yes, they said it. I'm just not sure what they said.

    I've always been told that writing should be clear and concrete. This never-before-read-by-me sentence failed that test as it did nothing to put pictures in my head: AssistiveTouch for watchOS allows users with upper body limb differences to enjoy the benefits of Apple Watch without ever having to touch the display or controls. Thanks to John Gruber for passing it along.

    Now, if I only knew what upper body limb differences are, we'll be good to go.


    So. far. behind.

    I don't do a lot of text messages. So a lot of the features and functionality are lost to me. I was pretty proud when I figured out that blue messages I sent were going to other iphones, and green messages to people who had embraced the dark side of cell phonery.

    I was sending a message the other day, when I noticed a row of buttons below the input window. Some of them I recognized: Photos. Apps. Music. Pay. And a couple I didn't, including the link to animated gifs (what the hip young kids refer to as giphys). Some subjects were old, like Shirley Temple. Most were new, like the Obamas. None were from the 50s, except maybe Fred Flintstone.

    As I looked at them, I wondered if I wanted to be a giphy, and have my face immortalized forever. Not that there's any danger of that, but still an interesting question.


    May 25

    It finally got hot. Oddly, some northern climes (upper peninsula in Michigan, for example) is equally warm. Although welcome, I'm sure it's messing up something somewhere. Anyway, I'll be out in back soaking up the warmth, no doubt sipping on a cooling beverage.

    Word of the day.

    Besotted. It's a good word for use in May.

    Being old, benefits of.

    There might be exciting things that the young'uns of today might be able to experience for the first time ever by anybody, but it will be tough to match that moment in 1977 when people saw the opening crawl scrolling up the screen to John Williams' theme for Star Wars. In a theater. Not only was the visual effect awesome, but Dolby sound was new, too, contributing to full sensory overload. I was in the theater, and was totally blown away. Even though I knew some of the stuff about the film, there was so much cool stuff to talk about that people who had seen the movie forgot about the opening credits, and so didn't issue a spoiler. I don't think spoilers were a thing then, anyway.

    To those who came along later who have only experienced that moment knowing about it already, see it everywhere including second-rate blog pages, and find old people prattle boring and tiresome, let me regress for a moment and say nyah, nyah! Saw it first! It was awesome!


    Dave's back.

    Actually, it's David. I've never heard him called Dave. As you may have noticed (or will when you get there), the quotation is from David Sedaris, and is taken from his essay Pearls in the current New Yorker. It blends his classic personal confession, insight, and slightly askew humor. I'm glad that (at least for the moment) he's abandoned that dark, bleak and somewhat ugly and mean persona he adopted recently.


    Punctuation!

    People have suggested !do you like what I did with passive voice there! attributing the following sentiment to someone! probably an authority! without actually naming that authority! or anyone for that matter! that all a native speaker needs to know what word is intended is have the first and last letters of the word and a fair approximation of the number of letters between! We easily !although sometimes noisily! correct mistakes in writing! including spelling! homonyms! and make sense of a text! without having the !real! word on the page! I wonder if the same is true of punctuation! After all! what is punctuation but a graphic representation of a break in the flow of text! And the rules! The are 14 punctuation marks! I didn't count! but I'll bet there are at least 2744 rules !or 14 cubed! governing the use of punctuation marks! Quick! who can tell the difference between an en dash and em dash! Or when to use a colon or semi!colon! Be careful! If you answer !yes! to either question! you may be declared a witch and burned at the stake or consigned to teach a fifth!grade English class! whichever is more painful!

    I bet we could pare punctuation back to one !or maybe two! marks! without losing a lot of meaning or having to do more work!

    I think there are benefits! People would become more confident writers! The market for Gotcha! Grammarians would disappear! Discussions of the Oxford comma would be rendered moot! as would the comma! Peace would reign in the land!


    Comic relief?

    The BBC lets us know The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged people to refrain from kissing live poultry amid an outbreak of salmonella. First it was going maskless, now no chicken kissin'. It's like the CDC doesn't want us to like them.

    But Darn. I was so looking to finally getting out to see some live entertainment, but I guess this puts the kibosh on the Puckerin' with Poultry event that Carla's Chicken Coop & Roost was gonna hold.

    I wonder about this. I doubt that people who engage in chicken bussin' are reading BBC News. Or paying attention to the CDC. Strikes me that folk who do that sort of thing are prime candidates for a Darwin Award, and not noted for deep thought.

    And why is the CDC getting involved? OK, sure, there's disease involved, and they're trying to control disease, but I can think of so many ways I and millions of other people can get sick besides kissin' cluckers. Are they looking for something to relieve the humdrum of the pandemic? Or did they figure their credibility was already in the dumper so they might as well cement the impression that they're incompetent?


    Bots.

    Humankind has a love-hate relationship with robots. They are pictured as benign helpers (think Robbie, R2D2 or Roombas), or evil (think Daleks, vending machines, or any computer still running Windows Vista). No matter the purpose or intent, we view robots with a certain suspicion, even when friendly.

    It's gotten to the point where robots are discriminated against. On certain websites, if you want to receive a newsletter or proceed beyond a certain point, you are confronted by a captcha, a computerized gatekeeper. One part of the gauntlet is a checkbox that wants a declaration that I am not a robot. Leave it unchecked and prepare to hear a lot of Ni!.

    Totally useless footnote: Some have suggested that Sir Bedivere's inability to say Ni! is a commentary on the Great Vowel Shift that took place from 1400 to 1700. Please note that's vowel with a v, not a b, as most young boys would have you believe so they can giggle when you say bowel. Related: I don't think it's a coincidence that the young male Simpson is named Bart.


    Things I know now.

    I have been writing a series of poems about Adam & Eve (estimated time of appearance on the poetry page: never). I was working on one poem that features the genus canis. This one quest led me to these amazing facts:

    • The short-eared dog (also known as the Zorro dog), is native to the Amazon basin, prefers to eat fish, and also eats fruit. They are partly diurnal.
    • Back in the day when continents felt freer to move around, one such movement was dubbed the Great American Interchange. This resulted in the formation of the Isthmus of Panama, and is not a reference to where I-10W and the Sam Houston Tollway meet in Houston.
    • Supposedly, the first witch to confess to riding a broom was the Rev. Guillaume Edelin, in 1453. Witches may have invented the underarm deodorant.

    Metrics I didn't know existed.

    Food Network wants us to know This Cherry Pitter Can Work 6 Times Faster Than Your Average Pitter.

    Except for Comstock, I don't know who has enough cherries to pit to need such a device. Also, who determined what is an average pitter is?

    My greatest fear: the brand name for the new device will be patter.


    More metrics.

    NPR has talked to some scientists: It's Time For America's Fixation With Herd Immunity To End.

    Yeah, cut it out! Americans are individuals! They should be free to pursue their own goals and dreams! They shouldn't be grouped into herds!

    Yeah, we scientists are tired of talking about the pandemic. We want to talk about other things now, like Hale-Bopp, Higgs-Boson, ketones in craft bourbons, whether there really is a connection between UFOs and Sasquatch and if Kim Kardashian is serious about law school.

    Innovation, thy name is Netflix.

    Netflix has long been a company known for using innovation to slay competitors. First, it was DVDs by mail. Oh, by the way, you can keep the DVD as long as you want without paying a late fee. Then it started sending movies and TV shows out over the internet, inventing bingeing. When studios started restricting content, Netflix started making its own content. Lots of trash, but also award-winning content.

    Now, when every entity seems to be promoting a wine club, Netflix is doing designer loungewear, suitable, no doubt, for a lille Netflix and chill.

    (Whatever happened to Netflix and Chill, by the way? And while we're at it, whatever happened to clowns? And those spinner things? As a founding member of the Tin-Hat Club, I think that the sudden appearance of all the Karens and other act-outers is because a couple of years ago, all those people were neutralized by spinners provided by the Government. And then, the spinners were taken away, leading to chaos, anarchy, and boring awards shows.

    May 16

    'Tis the middle of the lusty monthe of Maye, when normally reasonable people go all cattywumpus arse over teakettle about something. We delight in peeling off layers of sweaters and coats to go outside in the sunshine. For foodies, it's fresh tender greens and local strawberries. For college students, it's the end of the semester. And over at ESPN, it's time for everyone to huddle over the 2021 NFL schedule and exhaustively dissect it, the same way witches consult a sheep's entrails, or Fox News hosts analyze a Donald Trump tweet.

    So whatever your springtime pleasure is, pleasure away! Not that you need my permission or anything.

    On books, free and otherwise.

    Books have been a major part of my life. The only problems I have with reading are that it often distracts me from things I should be doing, and books take up space. When I'm done, I've captured the important things a book has to offer, and now I have figure out what to do with the phoenix–a paper carcass that I've sucked dry but will magically spring back to life once it touches the hand of a new reader.

    E-books solve some of the problem. They don't take up space, but the satisfaction of touching and smelling the book is lost.

    Libraries are a fantastic option. You get a library card (I got my first card when I was seven), get to check out books, and even better, go into the liubrary and just hang out in a space where you are surrounded by books. You can browse, and when you're done reading, you get to take the books back and get more. Unfortunately, the local library system shut down in March of 2020, and even though every local bar and restaurant seems to be mostly open again, the libraries have only opened their doors a tiny little bit, allowing pre-reserved books to be picked up. But they show no inclination of opening up again anytime soon.

    Recently, a third option appeared–a book giveaway store. It opened in a local mall before Christmas, its mission to give new books to kids. They think it's important that kids have books of their own. Rules are simple. Come in. Select two books. Walk away with the books. Optional step: come back.

    I just found out they are now also offering books to adults, and will take donations of lightly used books. Very nice. Worthy of support.


    Promises, promises.

    I just got another voicemail about renewing a non-existent auto warranty policy.

    Granted it's a first-world annoyance, but it's exacerbated but the start of the message: Our final courtesy call before your warranty expires. It doesn't inspire confidence in the quality of their responsiveness and service when they can't even keep a simple voicemail promise.


    Sorry–I'm going rogue.

    Food52 provides us with The Chrissy Teigen–Approved Method to Organize Your Fridge.

    Little-known fact: Chrissy has a master's degree in closet and appliance organizational design from the White Sands Missile Range College of Engineering and Gaming Theory.


    However you &#@$%/+ want.

    The Guardian (which should know better) lets us know: How to eat: smoked salmon.

    I would suggest placing a suitable portion in your mouth, enjoying the flavor and texture sensations, chewing until the salmon reaches a consistency that will allow it easy passage to the stomach. Repeat as desired.

    I would also suggest not reading The Guardian while eating, as it can lead to indigestion.


    !Hefty, Hefty, Hefty.

    Reuters reports a warning: 'Do not fill plastic bags with gasoline' U.S. warns as shortages grow.

    Also, do not run with pointy sticks, and exhale before inhaling again.

    Other things you shouldn't put in plastic bags: flaming dog turds, bald eagles, paintings by Michelangelo.


    Quartz: The US does not have a gas shortage.

    Interesting answer to the question does the US have a gas shortage?

    Their answer (I presume) a: there's lots of gas in the U.S., b: there's a temporary shortage on the East Coast.

    But here's a different question: If there's a problem with balancing demand and supply, no matter the footprint, isn't that a shortage?

    And there's another question: Do Americans panic too easily? If yes, how do we make them (us) stop?


    Crap shoot.

    The Hollywood Reporter has the down low: Disney+ Misses Expectations With 103.6 Million Subscribers.

    Someplace in a basement on Wall Street, guys in expensive suits roll dice to determine what they expect companies will make three months from now. Or cut cards. Or spin a roulette wheel. Or maybe they've done up the room to look like an English pub and they throw darts.

    Three months later, they bitch and moan when their expectations aren't met.

    Maybe it's time to start checking into the predictors' track record. Or just ignore them, like they're a weatherperson who talks about hurricanes even when they're never coming anyplace nearby.


    Word of never today.

    Every now and again, a word strikes my fancy (which is OK 'cuz it doesn't hurt but if it was just a couple of inches to the left, well, boy howdy, that would sting like heck and I would say a bunch of things I can't say here but they all start with $&#), and that becomes a word of the day. No, not &$#&–the original word (like surreptitious).

    Surprisingly, I occasionally come across a word that causes an ewww! moment and I make retching noises. They're not swear words–a well-placed swear word can be highly effective in capturing a moment. It's words that don't mean anything, but should.

    Such a word is evocative, especially when not followed by of. Sloppy writing all the way around. What's doubly sad is evocative is mellifluous, and should be a fun to say word. Too bad it's been hanging around with unsavory characters like book blurb writers. I guess its mother never told it you're known by the company you keep.


    Quirks of the world.

    In the United States, we have standard time and daylight savings time. In Ireland, they use both times, called IST (either Irish Standard Time or Irish Summer Time). Wintertime is noted as Greenwich Mean Time, or GMT.

    I think. Sources vary. It doesn't matter–I'm not going there in the winter anyway. Too wet and gray. Total ick. But it strikes me that summer time should be standard time.

    May 9

    It's been a busy week, what with Stars Wars Day and Cinco de Mayo, on which days we respectively get out our telescopes to watch Orion do battle with Ursus Major (my money is on Orion), and celebrate America's favorite white condiment by drinking margaritas until we get head-spinningly drunk, to the point where we almost can't celebrate any of the wonderful holidays that fall on May 6. I did make it up to celebrate No Diet Day with a couple of platefuls of crepes suzette, which did nothing to fix my hangover.

    I really got up to celebrate Willie Mays' birthday. The Say Hey kid turned 90. He was my favorite ballplayer, which means he was the best. He made the game exciting, and, like Steph Curry in basketball, when he was playing, he was always happy to the point of being celebratory. It was contagious.

    And today is Mother's Day. For the cynical among us, it's another invasion of American pockets by crazed retailers, and designed to separate consumers from their money, on average $124 in 2019. I don't recall ever spending anything close to that, even when factoring in that I was spending old money that is now worth a lot more, consumer-spending wise.

    Anyway, happy Mother's Day to all who are celebrating it (as mother or as child/grandchild [it's another stress inducer]). Remember: breakfast in bed is never a good idea unless you have a retinue of trained chamberlains.

    We'll be having a moment of silence for those who may have lost mothers this past year, for whatever reason.

    A contest!

    I have noticed that more and more websites and newsletters have been engaging in direct address within the body of the text. So the astrology webpage (I found a poem in a horoscope. It's off to the right) I consult will say dear (astrological sign). A newsletter says valued reader.

    I was wondering if this is something I should do, to remind myself that I actually have readers, and to acknowledge and honor the role you, the reader, play in the development of this miscellany. So, which do you prefer?

    • eeew, get away from me you creep!
    • you don't know me!
    • I ain't your dear nothing
    • dear idiot-savant
    • valued reader
    • sentient creature
    • Shoeless Joe Jackson
    • Queen of the universe
    • calorie-free
    • cuddles
    • architect of doom
    • Elvis impersonator

    Voting will be open until 6 pm on May 9.


    Influences.

    A couple of years ago, I mentioned that after a PechaKuchaNight presentation, Malcolm Massey asked what my comic influences were. I rattled off a half-dozen or so (Mark Twain, Woody Allen, Garrison Keillor, Bill Cosby), and realized they were all on somebody's cancel culture list. I still think they're funny, and can't take back the influencing. Anyway, I realized the list didn't include some important, influencer folk–Robert Benchley, Mad magazine, Rita Rudner, Mel Brooks, Dave Barry.

    For some reason, I was thinking about Malcolm's question again, and realized there are a couple of other people who can be added to the list, including Terry Pratchett, Stephen Wright, Chris Rock, Paula Poundstone and Aaron Sorkin (but inly when he was writing Sports Night). And of course, who can forget dear ol' dad? I could have held this post until it was closer to Father's Day, but I'm just going to do like my father taught me: keep repeating the joke until someone laughs or says, I want a divorce.

    Speaking of Stephen Wright, he wrote the single funniest line I know: You can't have everything. Where would you put it?

    This line is an example of a Paraprosdokian. You've probably seen it if you've ever visited the Acropolis. It's two structures to the left of the Parthenon.


    Fealty.

    The city just sent us a note saying they would be repaving the street sometime in the near future. They mailed the notification to Loyal Postal Customer.

    So many questions. What is a disloyal postal customer? How does one become a disloyal postal customer? And if I've just been posing as a loyal postal customer, but I'm not really loyal, will they still pave the street in front of my house?


    Headlines.

    Food Network wants us to know What to Make with Chickpeas.

    Just hook them up with dudepeas, and, left to their own devices, they will make baby peas.

    And boy, are the beavers ticked off.

    Vox News: Lumber mania is sweeping North America.

    So how does a lumber mania manifest itself? Chain saw art? Caber tossing? Sniffing pine-scented car deodorants? Cledis and Bandit running a load of loblolly from the Texas Big Thicket to Georgia to win a bet?

    Can you do that without a war?

    BBC News: Belgian farmer moves French border.

    Downside: we'll probably end up with more endive.

    All together now: Groaaaaan!


    Things I didn't know were things.

    Well + Good: ‘I’m a Cardiologist, and This Is Why You Need To Stop Dry Scooping Your Pre-Workout Powder’.

    This is something the medical community has been doing a lot recently: making ethical appeals, or appeals to personal authority. It's not based on science at all. It's a do-what-I-say-just-'cuz-I-can thing. I could as easily say, 'I'm a blogger, and this is why you need to stop mixing your pre-workout powder with water.' I suspect the cardiologist's statement has more weight, mostly because he took the time to capitalize the important words.


    Wait, what?

    Many people are surprised that Bill Gates and his wife Melinda are separating after a 27-year marriage.

    I'm old enough to remember when they got engaged, and the comments were more along the lines of who told the geek about girls? and does the geek know what to do with a girl?

    The world is a better place for their presence, and I'm sure their good work will continue.We wish them all the best in their transition.


    Missing it (big time).

    If you're going to miss an anniversary, miss it big time, I always say.

    That's what I seem to have done with the hundredth anniversary of the invention of the hard-boiled hat, which was patented in 1919. Congratulations to Mr. Bullard, the inventor!

    original hard hat

    Great moments in word processing.

    • cut, copy and paste. Popularized by WordStar in 1979 with its famous keyboard diamond, still found in most programs today.
    • standardized mnemonic keyboard shortcuts. You can perform standard non-typing functions without removing you hands from the keyboard, a feature going back to the CP/M and Apple II days and still mostly available today. My personal faves are Ctrl- (Cmd on a Mac) S, A, W, Q (on a Mac), X, V, P, F, H (not on a Mac), and Z, also known as the oops! key around my keyboard.
      With the lack of non-character keys on tablets and cell phones, these are no longer such a big deal, but I miss having them when I'm typing on glass.
    • integrated spell checkers. Spell checkers were first incorporated into WordStar and WordPerfect in the mid-1980s. Apple introduced a spell checker into the operating system in the early 2000s.

    Everything else is window dressing.

    Mascots.

    My wife teaches at two elementary schools, neither of which have sports teams. They do have mascots, though. Both are animals: the Cougars and Koalas. If the students are supposed to acquire qualities from their spirit guide, one would be cute, cuddly, nocturnal and solitary; the other a predator, sleek, and also solitary.

    High schools and colleges, as well as professional sports teams have a wider range of choices, including dipping into colors, stranger critters (spiders, fighting sand crabs) and adding people/occupations. Usually, the occupations chosen are meant to convey fierceness, bravery or strength.

    So there are generals, colonels, knights, kings, miners, steelworkers, Trojans and Spartans. Oddly enough, some mascots represent people in illegal occupations, like pirates, raiders, and buccaneers. Others are losers (Trojans and pirates), or engaged in dicey occupations, like gladiators.

    What's really odd is I can't think of any teams using a Roman as a mascot. They were big time winners.

    In a way, avatars may be seen as personal mascots. I don't have one, and I'm not sure what I'd choose. Maybe that's why my life is so dissembled–no focus, no model to follow.


    May 2

    Earlier this week, I put out a hummingbird feeder, because we had once seen a hummingbird buzzing around a regular bird feeder we have in the front yard. We got a hummingbird feeder, mixed up some hummingbird elixir, and put it out. Nothing, for two or three migratory seasons. We took it down. I found it last week, and decided to give it another shot. So I filled it, put it out, and today were rewarded with our first view of a hummingbird. White throat, and gray feathers, which is like no hummingbird that hangs around here. I guess we'll have to keep watching.

    We had our annual snacks for the Kentucky Derby rest yesterday. It snuck up on us this year, so I had to scramble for snacks. The race itself turned into the Academy Awards: big field of horses we didn't know ( not that we normally do), All told a less than satisfying experience.

    Dilemma, Caught on Horns of a.

    Would it be evil if I hoped that in the current surge of COVID-19 cases in India the virus confined itself to the spam and phishing call centers?


    Whatever Happened to...

    • Dr. Kevorkian
    • Andrew Dice Clay
    • Paulie Shore
    • Swedish Bikini Team

    Recommended read.

    I've mentioned Austin Kleon before. He's very creative, and inspires others (like me) to give it a try, too. His post of April 21 is noteworthy not only for its depth of thought, but for the breadth of references he makes. Well worth the time.


    Speaking of references...

    The phrase truly you have a dizzying intellect can be considered a compliment unless you've seen The Princess Bride, in which case you know it's not.


    Taking my time...

    I'm not goofing off. I'm a magicicada rancher. We're getting into the busy season, and I'm fixing to be busier than a chaperone at a high-school prom. Figure this will be my last roundup, and I'll hand the ranch off to one of the kids. Pretty soon, I'll be out there gathering up husks, thinking of the glory years, back in aught-four, and who could forget 1987, when hospital emergency rooms in Ohio were flooded with record numbers of people with punctured eardrums?


    Did you know...

    that it's not National Finish a Headline with an Ellipsis Week? You might not be able to tell if you were actually paying attention to the headlines here. There's no reason why you should be, but still...


    Personal development.

    I am a creature of habit, I'm afraid. Take breakfast. I have either yogurt with bran and a couple of drops of balsamic vinegar, or toast with cream cheese with a hint of jam. Coffee and pills round it off. The down side is the jam often slides off and lands on my shirt. That's not the best way to start the day.

    Recently, I started putting the jam directly on the bread, and then adding the cream cheese. It works–now all I have to worry about is stray bits of cream cheese escaping the schmear, but so far, so good. I'm sure the same trick would work with peanut butter.

    The sad thing is, it took me like 60 years or so to figure this out. The good news for you is I didn't call it a hack. I save hacking for tree limbs and other wayward pieces of shrubbery outside. Also, that I can break from routine, even at an advanced age. Old dogas and new tricks and all that.


    Of course it is.

    BGR headline: Earth is wobbling, and it's probably our fault.

    Why not? Everything else is our fault.

    FYI: BGR began life called Boy Genius Report after repeated demonstrations that the writer was no such thing. Doesn't matter, but I'm trying to move useless clutter from my head to someplace else. So if you need filler, here's some.

    Teaser headline

    from some ad site: the US built a submarine that the world is afraid of.

    Isn't that the idea?

    From the grave.

    Inc. magazine headline: The 5 Biggest Mistakes That Make You Unlikeable, According to Ben Franklin.

    Yes, that's right, he came back just to scold you.


    From Hollywood...

    We watched some of the Oscars last Sunday. The end of it was well past our bedtime, but even before then we had switched over to reruns of home repair shows. The last things I remember was Gayle King repeating We're still on schedule, and the voiceover guy saying yes Brad Pitt will show up soon.

    I wouldn't blame Brad if he had bailed. The whole show was so... earnest. The announcers told us they were having fun. I didn't see much fun, only tension. Much like the music one of the pre-party hosts referenced that we weren't hearing.

    Some differences were apparent. The long speeches were not interrupted. The social spacing and limited crowd size made things a lot less energetic. The stars were MIA (:thus the emphasis on Brad Pitt). They couldn't hide that the nominees for minor awards were in the cheap seats. There was much less panning of the crowd to pick out notables, even in the preliminary happy hour. In fact, I don't recall much random or casual camera scanning of attendees. There was much less emphasis on introducers. A lot of the hosts spent a lot of time saying how much fun everyone was having, but they showed very few people having fun. Even with a whole new crop of attendees, the whole aura of self-congratulation was still evident.

    Apparently, the whole event was supposed to resemble the first Academy Awards, which was a dinner format where industry insiders gave each other awards. If that's true, it might be a symbolic moment to indicate a massive industry reset. The crowd was more inclusive, indicating the importance of minorities at the box office, as well emerging international audiences. Another moment showing that the the relationship of producers and how consumers receive product was changing, as well as the blurring of lines between what movies are and TV and things like You Tube actually are.

    The industry has survived crises before–movie companies stripped of theaters; the Hays Commission; various wars; TV; and any movie starring Paulie Shore.

    Interesting times we live in.


    Dream state.

    I didn't used to dream much. I would wake up at 5:00-5:30, and my muse would stick things in my head. I would mull them (fun fact: the Isle of Mull is the second largest island in the Inner Hebrides), develop them, and sometimes get a pretty good poem. Self-satisfied, I would fall back to sleep, and when I awoke again, I had a memory of having an idea about a poem.

    I guess Gabriel (the muse) got annoyed with my cavalier treatment of his gifts, 'cuz now I mostly just dream, images on the edge of nightmare. The good news is that, like poems, they disappear from memory when I wake up.

    I have a vague recollectIon of themes, like having to be two places and being late to both, with many roadblocks and misdirections thrown in. The dream I had last night was a little different. With a couple of other people, I was supposed to transfer CP/M AND MS-DOS games from 5 1/4 disks to well, I'm not sure. Maybe cloud storage, maybe memory sticks. Anyway, as far as I can tell, it didn't happen.

    I am such a failure, even in my dreams.


    City boy.

    While I was in that half-awake state, I wondered, Do chicken eggs get fertilized before (like people) or after (like salmon) they leave the chicken?

    foghorn leghorn

    Hey, I'm a city boy who went to a Catholic school with an inadequate STEAM curriculum (it had the math part down, but the rest was well, non-existent):. So I get to ask questions like that.

    Don't judge me.

    In case you went to a Catholic school with an inadequate STEAM curriculum, it's inside. Thanks to The Happy Chicken Coop for the info.


    April 25

    This past week, I got to sign up for my second COVID-19 vaccine shot. So then, I'll be all vaccinated up, and get to sit around the house watching the world go by, but won't have to wear a mask doing it! I'll still wear a mask outside, though. It's the safe thing. So, basically, it will be more of the same until the library opens up again.

    I notice the states are generally doing what they think is suitable to balance safety and sanity. The experts have generally been quiet about this, as the last running around waving their hands in the air event sort of fizzled out–the wave turned in to more of a ripple, and the states that were most egregious in thumbing their noses at the CDC warnings and had events like spring break were also the states that didn't have mass outbreaks. It was northern states.

    Some doctors are now warning of a new, improved deadly strain of virus in India, but that seems to be generating the same response that all the other variants have. That is to say, yawn or a shrug.

    You know you're old when...

    'ARF' is not just the sound of a dog barking, but the acronym for what showed up on the screen(Abort, Retry, Fail) when a MS-DOS program crashed.

    Those three choices also provide a lot of insight into how programmers' minds work and why they didn't get many dates.


    There's always something new, isn't there?

    To learn, that is. At Lascaux, the earliest example of art, there are seven caves. The most famous is the Cave of the Bulls. The last cave is known as the Feline Diverticulum, or Cave of the Felines. It's the smallest and hardest to reach, as seems only appropriate for a hall honoring cats. Cats are the only ones who can easily access it, and may also explain where cats go when they disappear into thin (or thick) air.

    Lascaux

    I'm not going to tell Belle, the cat-in-residence, about my newfound knowledge. She already has an outsized view of her own importance, what with the whole Bastet and Li Shou things going on, and a long line of familiars on her mother's side of the family tree.

    Besides, she probably already knows, and is lying on my lap wondering what took me so long to find out.


    Bernie

    Bernie Madoff died a little while ago. I have no particular liking or antipathy toward the man, but he keeps generating such curious but truthful comments. The headline in Reuters is one such example: Disgraced Ponzi scheme architect Bernie Madoff dies in prison at 82. Now, is the disgrace in running a Ponzi scheme, or is the disgrace in getting caught?

    I'm also reminded of an exchange between two talking heads (I remember the exchange, not the names of the exchangees. Apologies–that's always been a problem). One said, A 150-year sentence is a death sentence for a man his age. The other pointed out that a 150-year sentence would be a death sentence for a person of any age.


    Uptick?

    I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that one of the signs of a return to normalcy was an increase in incidents of mass murder. So far, we have counted 162 victims of random shootings. If that number holds steady, we will end the year with 486 deaths, as opposed to 446 mass shootings in 2020. So we're only slightly ahead of last year, although I'm not sure if only is quite the right word in this context.


    Speaking of crime.

    Local authorities are trying to figure out why there was a significant downturn in all forms of crime involving teenagers in 2020 throughout the Hampton Roads region.

    I have no idea, but good news like this deserves recognition. A pat on the back, then, for all the yeuts who didn't commit crimes last year. You know who you are. Keep up the not bad work.


    Punctuation headlines.

    Like a kindly grandmother, the NYT tells us Boba Tea Without Boba? Try Not To Panic.

    Unlike the kindly grandmother, the NYT did not then make us some chamomile tea to calm us. But even with tea, we see an opportunity to use a bunch of those question marks that have been lying around doing nothing. As in Boba???? Or what the ??????????? is Boba?

    The question Do you really need your period? appeared in Elle magazine.

    Yes, of course I need my period! All of them! I can't rely only on question marks and exclamation points! Just look at all the periods I've used already! Why without periods the sentences would get all tangled up and I know from experience what it's like to try to untangle that mess!

    Oh. Women's periods. Never mind.


    Unassailable logic.

    John Gruber notes: So seven people get blood clots after getting the J&J vaccine and we pull it, but eight people get killed by a crazed gun owner and it’s just another Friday in America. Makes sense.


    Lapse.

    The NWS, which I've called out before for not speaking English at taxpayer expense, slipped on Wednesday in a storm report, when they noted atmospheric activity will be sufficient to erode inhibition across the region.

    I can envision people running around outside, tearing off their masks, and standing three feet apart. The Devil's playground indeed.


    Curiosities.

    ABC News wants us to know 'Godzilla' shark discovered in New Mexico gets formal name.

    So there's a formal name, the informal name 'Godzilla,' and the name his wife gave him: 'Mr. I don't need directions Smith.'

    Qualifications for US Senators.

    According to The Guardian, one of those may not be maturity: Ted Cruz threatens to burn John Boehner’s book over criticisms.


    Not the headline, but...

    Fast Company asks the question, A slew of new companies is finally addressing the estimated 6,000 women a day who enter perimenopause. What took so long?

    1) We didn't know it was a thing. 2) We were waiting for a new dictionary to define what perimenopause is. 3) It was tough working our way through the 39 symptoms. 4) All of the above.

    Additional, unasked for and probably useless information.

    39 is not only the number of symptoms in perimenopause, but is also the number of lines in a sestina.

    39 is not a prime number.


    Adventure.

    Jack Handey, of Deep Thoughts fame, published a short piece in the April 19 New Yorker. It is very funny. You should read it.

    Actually, I'm going to make it easy for you. Here is a sample quotation: He had a wicked sense of humor and would crack many jokes during his adventures–jokes that smart people would laugh at and stupid people wouldn't get. I mean how profound is that? It's always true!

    Back to reading. As so often happens these days, my mind drifted while reading, in this case to adventure, the subject of the pieceMy mind didn't drift didn't drift very far, as I've been trying to keep it on a short leash. I'm tired of chasing it across dog parks and into traffic. What does adventure mean to me? I asked myself. (Since I was alone, there was nobody else around to answer. That's OK, since I usually find my answers to my own questions much more satisfying than other people's answers. The downside is there's the same number of Let me get back to you on thats, which is disappointing.)

    First, I decided I would have to decide what I meant by adventure. Turns out the the definition is related to age, and temperament. For example:

    • From 0-3: anything I haven't done a dozen times before, like discovering toes, discovering if crying volume has any effect on how quickly a parent appears, and escaping the clutches of a grandparent.
    • From 3-7: First, going to school. Second, while at school, going to the bathroom by myself. Third, being allowed to walk myself to school. Fourth, learning to read. Fifth, getting a library card.
    • From 7-12: Going to sleep-away camp, and peeing against a tree. Cutting school to go to opening day (parent sponsored, but still...). playing basketball during lunchtime. Going into the young adult section of the library, and bringing a large print of Monet's Houses of Parliament home from the library (still my favorite work of art).
    • From 13-17: Taking the bus to high school. Girls. Starting to write my own stuff. Bringing unapproved books into the house and explaining to my Mom why it was OK for me to be reading them.
    • From 17-45: College, drinking beer, long distance trips by bus and train. Teaching. Girls.
    • From 45-65: Going on trips without a defined route or ETA. Work. Beginning to write in earnest. Marriage.
    • From 65-???: Going to the grocery store. Marriage. Breathing through both nostrils.

    Of course, there are unpleasant and scary adventures, too. We don't have the time to cover those, and I'd hate to have to choose.


    April 18

    It's five days after the Ides of April. What–you didn't know that every month has an ides, which is just a fancy Roman way of saying middle? It's also three days after tax day in the United States, on which day most Americans don't actually pay any taxes, but rather tell the revenuers how much they've already overpaid in taxes and how much they would like back.

    Todays's earworm is One in a Million from the soundtrack to Miss Congeniality, not the fun one from Charlie Robison's Step Right Up, which is a shame.

    Way of the Cat.

    I've mentioned before that we have a cat. For the most part, she is a pleasant enough cat, except when she decides 3 AM is playtime and our bed is the playground. Belle has reached that age where she has settled into certain routines, which means we (the humans) have also settled into certain (i.e., the same) routines.

    One that intrigues me is the way she has to accompany us when we go, let's say, to the kitchen or bathroom. She makes sure we're actually going to stand, then has to be in the front of the parade, and proceeds slowly, befitting our advanced years I guess, guiding us to the destination, often stopping to rub her chin against a chair leg or door frame. If the human following tries to move more quickly, or pass her, she will bob and weave to stay in front and maintain the steady pace. If you tracked us from overhead, the path(s) would best be described as erratic, quixotic, or drunken. I realized there is a reason why there is no phrase like as the crow flies (denoting straight or direct) that involves cats. Unless the destination includes a food bowl or an invisible intruder at the front door, at which time our cat is a study in speed and economy of motion, cats just don't do straight lines.

    I also realized that this is what my life has devolved into entering month fifteen of pandemic lockdown–following a cat, or worse, ruminating on following a cat.

    And to think a year ago, I coulda been a contender.


    Speaking of the critter.

    Belle has a lush, thick, very soft coat of fur. Since it's spring, she's generating a lot of excess hair, and we've been combing her out more. She's on the smallish side, but I still think we already have enough hair to knit a small kitten.

    Back to Headlines.

    BBC News: Driver found with corpse on wrong side of highway. So many questions. And it got weirder, and may in fact have been a sad love story. Read here, and be sure to read the last sentence.


    Teaser headline in Recode: Do you need to keep testing after your COVID-19 vaccination?

    Since I never got tested before my vaccine, for me, the answer is no. It pays to be consistent, I believe.

    Their answer, of course, is testing is more important than ever. We will accept any positive answer, including a shrug-of-the-shoulders Why not?

    For those of you who answered with any variation of no, you have won a one-way ticket to your choice of Dumbtown or Stupidville. And as should surprise absolutely nobody, it took approximately 2,250 words to say yes, or roughly double our entire April 18 offering here in TomatoPlanet!!


    Judging Movies.

    Now, of course, you can try to judge a film all by itself as it measures up to some abstract criteria, such as how the film advances our understanding of the plight of a minority population, or how many times Curly gets poked in the eye by Moe or Larry.

    Or you can ignore film altogether and compare movies to each other. It's much more fun. For example:

    A Hard Day's Night v. Help!: Extra points to HDN for long shots of normal people. A plot line. Energy. Less studied banter and irrepressibility. Soundtrack includes Ringo's Theme. Help!: color.

    Star Trek Original series vs. itself: In a stunning reversal of what usually happens (see Oceans films, below), even-numbered films are better than odd-numbered films.

    Ocean films (George Clooney): Odd-numbered films. Or maybe Oceans 12 was just that bad, to the point where even renumbering wouldn't help.

    Also no help.

    Did you know that if you insert a 'l' in 'even' in just the right place, spell check won't help. Ditto adding 'le'.


    Made you look.

    This is a post with two (wait, now three, darn it) openings. This is now the new (originally third) original opening.

    Original first opening: My current reading includes Less (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize) by Andrew Sean Greer. I'm enjoying it very much. In it, he makes a reference to a World Heritage Intangible.

    Original second opening: When I was a kid, we used to play a game called Made You Look. The odd thing about the game was that only one player knew we were playing until we were in the game. The original player would say something like Hey! There's Mrs. Wooson wearing a witch's hat! and invariably a head or two would swivel towards the Wooson house. Then the original player would yell mockingly, Made You Look! Made you Look! Losers would usually try to deny that they had looked. Smarter players would on occasion point out something that was actually there, to establish credibility. Losers were deemed suckers or chumps, and as pointed out by Miss Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls, being a chump is never a good thing.

    So when Greer made a reference to a World Intangible item, I wondered briefly if he was playing Made You Look. Turns out he wasn't. In case you were wondering why you haven't heard of this, it might be because, of the thousands of items on the World Intangibles list, not one comes from the United States or Canada, at least that I could see.

    Back to reading.


    Proof positive.

    Proof of the existence of God: The number of teenagers that make it to adulthood.

    Proof that God has a wicked sense of humor: Teenagers.


    Cleaning the clog.

    Inspired in part by the example of our Predecessor-President-in-Chief, fixing things by filing a lawsuit is hugely popular, to the point where in some jurisdictions' cases may not be heard for upwards of two years. Even when events render a suit moot (a word of the week in June 2018), as in the recent case regarding the departed Prez no longer being on Twitter so therefore say good-bye to suits about his blocking followers (who were probably all nasty), there are still thousands of cases brought every day, I'm betting at least one for every lawyer ad on TV.

    It turns out the American system of jurisprudence is getting international help in being buried in lawsuits. Epic Games has been filing suits against Apple Inc. all across the globe because apparently Apple is keeping Epic from making hugely obscene amounts of money. In the case brought in Australia, the judge turned the case over to the American court hearing the case, and the American court will decide the case according to American law, and the decide by Australian law.

    Maybe all the cases should be grouped into one, the same way they group class action suits. I'd suggest it, but it probably makes to much sense.


    April 11

    April 11 is in the sign of Aries. In history on this day, the Lama Deshin Shekpa visited the Ming Dynasty capital at Nanjing and was awarded the title of 'Great Treasure Prince of Dharma.' It's no big deal in the historical context, but 'Great Treasure Prince of Dharma' is a totally awesome title that I would accept any day. I wonder what the responsibilities are.

    More prosaically, The Great Gatsby was published in 1925.

    Maybe something notable will happen today. Maybe I'll assume the currently unoccupied position of Great Treasure Prince of Dharma. I'll grow into it.

    Access Denied?

    From The Guardian: Sharon Stone: cosmetic surgeon enlarged my breasts without consent.

    My questions: How? Why?


    Current Events.

    For Christmas, my sister gave me a gift certificate to Goldbelly, which delivers foods from local restaurants by mail. We haven't pulled the trigger yet.

    In the meanwhile, Goldbelly sends us regular newsletters touting different restaurants in their family. And they are not averse to touting certain foods associated with soon-approaching holidays. And there have been a bunch. Christmas. New Year's. Award shows. Super Bowl. Valentine's Day. Mardi Gras. March Madness. St. Patrick's Day. Easter. We've gotten e-mails for all of 'em.

    But there are other events and newsmakers that provide inspiration. Take, for example, the recent spate of unprovoked attacks against Asian-Americans, heavily reported in the press. Abhorrent, despicable, cowardly.

    Today's newsletter featured offerings from restaurants featuring various cuisines from Asia.

    Now, for all I know, Goldbelly could have a schedule for newsletters that runs through the Second Coming, or at least the end of the year. So coincidence? Probably. But you still gotta wonder.


    The Mars Report.

    We have had to expand our news coverage to include other planets. It's just the kind of people we are. Smart. Charming. News You Need to Know. Cutting Edge, at least when the edge has dulled just the tiniest little bit.

    Two items piqued our interest:

    Odd rock found on Mars surface. It looks like this: Mars rock

    My first thought was it looked like some kid's abandoned Play-Doh. My second thought was it was left behind after some film crew wrapped a cheesy 50s style Martian science fiction film. Either way, it'd be quite the conversation starter on a coffee table.

    Mars Helicopter preparing for first flight. This one I find a little perplexing. It was my general understanding that aircraft are held aloft by displacing air, or using loft generated by different air temperatures or air speeding up over curved surfaces to stay up. No matter the exact description, the operative word is air, of which, I have been led to believe, Mars has none. Maybe it's actually an anti-gravity device, which would be really cool. Whatever technology it uses to stays up, I hope it takes a selfie with the Mars rock, or even better, photobombs the Mars rock at a family gathering, like a wedding.


    George Carlin

    When George Carlin first broke into prominence, I can't say I was a fan. This is surprising, as George was a fan of playing with words, much as I am. I thought Al Sleet, his best known character, was weak at best, much like Johnny Carson's Art Fern. Too much mugging, and I wasn't quite sure where the social satire was. But then, I started to come around, probably under the influence of sketches like Stuff, Football and Baseball, and Euphemisms.

    I don't know if George ever did anything with stand, but I'm not going to look, because I'm having too much fun with it. If I am channeling George or somebody else, apologies. They probably did it better, anyway.

    Certain elements of English prove problematic for non-native speakers. The way we show tenses, or that we have tenses at all. The order of adjectives. Plurals. Homonyms. Prepositions. Firm rules and soft rules. I before E, and actually most spelling. In general, show how undisciplined and unruly the language can be, especially when spoken in outlying areas of the Empire, like Australia and the United States.

    Take, for example the word stand, which means to support oneself on the feet in an erect position.<./q> Unless, of curse (yes, I know, a typo, but it seems appropriate, so I'm going to let it go), one refers to an easel or device designed to support a book or other object, not to be confused with a newsstand or hot dog stand, or when used in the legal sense that someone has a position in a legal case or court, or when attached to committee and it means permanent. Unless it is a large rock in a circle in England or Ireland.

    Stand gets really interesting when it comes in contact with prepositions, as in standup, stand-in, standout, standby, standoff, stand about or stand-down.

    No wonder English (or maybe Chinese) is the hardest language to learn. And yet, we somehow manage to juggle all of this in our heads, mostly. Which, considering all the day to day simple things we can't juggle, is a marvel.


    via Kelly.

    For some reason, I was drawn to an article about the one song Kelly Clarkson wouldn't cover. I say for some reason, because I'm not a fan. Don't dislike, but I'm not rushing out to buy her latest, either.

    Anyway, the song she won't cover is Despacito. Somehow, that song slipped through the cracks–I must not have been paying enough attention to Latin club music in the summer of 2017, which is too bad because it's a great summer song–infectious, even. It will probably achieve earworm status sometime in the near future.

    So off I go to iTunes to give it a listen for my allotted 90 seconds. As it plays, I notice there's a Mandarin version, which is interesting, but the real action is in ringtones, which features marimba, salsa, trap, guitar, violin, and a cover by Alvin and the Chipmunks. One really fun thing is that some of the ringtones start with Opening, the default ringtone on the iPhone. I love that sort of building creatively on things, with a little bit of humor.

    If I bought ringtones, one of those would be on the list.

    Except for Alvin. Like everything Chipmunk, that's a one-time listen.


    Random Thought,

    prompted by the cartoon 1 and Done.

    What would the world look like if, instead of Taco Tuesday, we had Taco Thursday?

    And then, what if every day became a specific food day? Manicotti Monday. Taco Tuesday, Waffle Wednesday. Tortellini Thursday. And then I got to Friday, and realized the Catholic Church had beaten all of us to the concept with Fish Friday.

    I will admit the current list is a little heavy on the carbs, but hey! You only live once, and I hear this may be it.


    Tradition.

    When I was growing up, it was buttered toast. If bread was cooked, it had butter on it. Sick? Buttered toast. Sunday brunch? Buttered toast alongside the scrambled eggs. The only exceptions were chipped beef on toast (if you were in the military, it was known there as sh*t on a shingle, and frankly, it doesn't taste any better in its civilian incarnation) and french toast, which is a different food group altogether. The other exception was toast covered in cream cheese and jam. Even though we would have jam on plain ol' buttered toast, there was something exotic about the cream cheese version. Maybe it was the rarity–Mom didn't give it to us very often. Or just the fact that it wasn't butter, or we were having it for lunch, sometimes as a sandwich. When you're eight, your definition of exotic is very different.

    Well, now it's mumble-something years later, and toast with cream cheese (and sometimes a bit of jam) has become a regular on the breakfast menu. I think it's because cream cheese has less of something, like fat or carbs, than butter.

    Doesn't matter. It's just not the same. Familiarity? I have to make it for myself? It's nourishment? Not sure, but I'll bet it has something to do with it not being Manicotti Monday.

    Which, I know, makes no sense, but then, what does around here?


    April 4

    Today is Easter, the most solemn celebration of the year. The feast, and the events leading up to it, are the ultimate contradiction of human existence–life coming out of death. Something out of nothing.

    But it happens all the time. Cycle of the seasons. All the imagery of birth, rebirth, and growth from all sorts of cultural and religious systems have gathered around the Easter season. Dyed eggs and chicks, easter bunnies, flowers, especially daffodils, tulips, lilies, hydrangeas–bulbs, further emphasizing the cyclical and regenerative nature of retreat and growth.

    Spring and Easter are times of abundance. If you've lived with a maple tree in the yard, you know how many of those spinner seeds a mature tree can produce. With the warming air, it's a good time to be alive.

    maple spinning fools

    Today in the world.

    today's word: is actually a phrase. sylvan glen. I'm supposed to work this into my everyday conversation. I'm not seeing it, unless I plan on hanging around with poets today. Or maybe arborists. Or guys named Glen. Or Sylvan. In short, I'm going to spend the day alone, muttering sylvan glen to myself.

    today's earworm: Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree in the original Brenda Lee version. No, I don't know why. It's what's there. Have pity.

    Whenever I think of commercial Christmas music, I think of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, the world's most ironic song, possibly the world's most ironic anything.

    today's longitude and latitude: holding steady at 36° 51' 2" N / 76° 17' 9" W.

    today in things natural: sunrise, 6:44; sunset 7:28; predicted high: 69°. That's all local. Your mileage may vary.

    today in nasal passages: we are under a high alert for tree pollen, so continued blocked.

    today in shaggy dog jokes: It's the last day of school for Miss Smith's 3rd grade class before Easter, and so she asks, what do we celebrate on Easter? Hands shoot up all over the room. She calls on one little boy, who says Easter is the day that we carve pumpkins and go trick or treating. No, Billy, she says. That's Halloween/q> She calls on Mary, who says, Easter is the day we have a parade, eat hot dogs, and watch fireworks. I'm sorry, Mary, but that's the Fourth of July. Hands start dropping. Miss Smith calls on Mike. On Easter, we decorate a tree in the living room, and Santa comes down the chimney to leave presents for us. That's Christmas, Mike, Miss Smith says. By now, all the hands have gone down but Susie's, her star pupil. Miss Smith says, yes, Susie? and Susie replies, Easter is the day when Jesus rises out of His tomb. Miss Smith thinks Finally! and is about to congratulate her but then Susie adds, and if He sees His shadow, we'll have six more weeks of winter.


    Dance Fever.

    I saw this picture in yesterday's New York Times, and just had to share:

    cowboy ballet

    Those are quite the heels on them thar' ballet slippers. Mus' make it tough to do your peer o'ettes and grand jets (grand jeh tay), which the honchos at the Atlanta Ballet tells us is a big jump from one foot to the other in which the working leg is brushed into the air and appears to have been thrown in them. Wonder if it's harder to do than yore bareback riding and calf throwing.


    Back to normal redux.

    At the grocery store, people are still very good about wearing masks. I think it'd be nice if that became part of normal.

    But otherwise, things are returning to what used to be considered normal. In spite of Dr. Fauci and the CDC continuing to hector people about masks and distancing, people are ignoring recommendations and the chidings, now that we're making progress on vaccinating people. Local news shows spend much less time on daily updates of new cases and new deaths related to the coronavirus. Now it's the number of vaccinations, delivered with the same and vigor as displayed during the later stages of a Jerry Lewis telethon (note to self: update reference). All we're missing is the thermometer. The CDC and Dr. F. are now left to approve what the American people have already decided for themselves is the right and safe thing to do. It's safe to travel. It's safe to gather. Kids in school don't have to maintain the same social distancing as adults. You don't have to scrub fruits and vegetables after you buy them.

    I mentioned last week that Tony the Traffic Dude has backups and accidents to report. Airlines are allowing passengers in the middle seats, and charging again for rebooking a flight. This past couple of weeks, there were three mass shootings, and almost a fourth in Virginia Beach. Fans are in the seats for sporting events. Kids are back in school. There have been far fewer Karen sightings.

    There are probably a lot of reasons why this happened this way. It could be the legendary American antipathy to being told what to do. How many people do (dangerous) things just because someone told them not to? Or maybe there's some sort of signal that got sent, the same signal that bears get that tells them it's time to stop hibernating (we interrupt this charming narrative for a useless factoid: polar bears do not hibernate like black or grizzly bears). Maybe it was just the visuals. After a year of nobody wearing masks in ads, TV shows or movies, you sort of get the idea you don't have to, either.

    Personally, I think it's because the CDC never got its act together, gained control of the narrative, or communicated effectively. Instructions were all over the map. I saw social distancing instructions ranging from three feet to twenty-four feet; how much to wash your hands, cell phones, and car door handles; and how many masks to wear. Too many experts were spouting nonsense, or contradicting each other. Graphics were infrequent, hard to find, or useless. Bar charts showing trends were popular for a while, but then disappeared. I think I saw one graphic showing the trajectory of a coronavirus from the mouth of an infected person when they're breathing normally, coughing, or sneezing. Do you know how long coronavirus lives outside of the human body? Neither do I.

    If a marketing team for a consumer products company put out this quality of work as a presentation to investors, the company would be looking for anew marketing team. And investors.

    Fauci and the CDC claimed to be all about the science, but they lied. They were anything but. Instead of treating us as intelligent people capable of making intelligent decisions based on the science, and making information easily accessible, they treated us as children, demanding that we behave and do as they say. In rhetoric, it's called an ethical appeal, or an appeal the the known good character of the speaker. Logical appeals (appeals to the head) were few and far between.

    No science, fragmentary proofs, contradictions. At the same time in the past few weeks as the CDC was waving it hands in the air lamenting that travel and spring break and opening up in Florida and Texas was causing an increase in cases, news broadcasts showed maps of the growth of COVID–in Maine and North Dakota. Almost all state increases were above the Mason-Dixon line, in states that weren't opening up, or hosting spring break, or doing all the things that were making the CDC-ites so crazy.

    And that's when they lost us. Or at least me, a nice guy who was waiting to be convinced by the science.


    The Conspiracy Theorist says...

    That was the plan along, to keep everyone in a state of confusion.


    March 28

    Why, it seems like just yesterday that I was prattling on about St. Patrick's Day and Pi Day and suddenly it's the end of the month. It probably helps that the days are longer, generally warmer, and I can nap in a chair in the back yard. The importance of good napping, especially in the sunlight, is something that I cannot overstress. In fact, I should probably be doing it now, except of course I have to write this introductory piece. If a tone of resentment creeps in, or some typos, well, I have an editor to fire.

    I'll probably find him in my chair in the backyard.

    Kid Stuff.

    When I was a kid, we were enmeshed in rules and had lots of opportunities to be sinners and/or criminals. Growing up Catholic, sinning, even if just venial sins (although we didn't call it that, we had already been set up for severity of crimes–misdemeanors and felonies) was much worse than criminal activity. First, there were so many things that were put in the sin bucket, including not folding your hands correctly on the desk in school (hands should be folded, with right thumb over left and the wrist crease resting exactly on the edge of the desk, a position that should be assumed whenever hands were not being raised to ask/answer a question, wrapped around a pencil or crayon, or folded in prayer, a prime example of what we later referred to as sister-says theology), through real sins like eating meat on Friday, breaking one of the Ten Commandments, and on through a nearly infinite list of things that were sins or could lead to sin (guilt by association), whether by omission or commission.

    Some of our more spirited discussions in religion class revolved around martyrdom or sin, especially after we had reached the age of reason, or reasoning. We were able to tell as early as fifth grade the students who were destined to be lawyers. I remember one discussion concerning stealing. We wondered if stealing was really a sin if you stole bread and other food for a poor family if they were starving and had no food and you had no money (the greater good argument). I think the store owner got involved somehow. We also wondered how much money a person would have to steal to move the crime from a venial to a mortal sin. I think we arrived at $75 (in 1961 dollars) as the tipping point.

    This line of thinking is still alive, as seen in this March 19th headline from USA Today: Do Catholics need to abstain from meat on Fridays in Lent when it's a feast day? (March Madness: it's not just for basketball anymore.)

    Now stealing is both a crime and a sin, as are a lot of things. If you listened to our parents (and the nuns), anything that was sinful was also illegal, although if you missed Mass on Sunday you only got called into the principal's office, not slapped in handcuffs. Guess which was worse.

    But we were surprised on a regular basis, like when we found out that smoking marijuana was not a sin. It was a crime, and you'd have to be pretty stupid to smoke grass, but being stupid is neither a sin nor a crime. Neither was smoking cigarettes a crime or sin (Dad smoked two packs a day, so good thing for him), but taking one from the pack your grandfather left on the coffee table was (at least it was a small venial sin, as a cigarette cost about 2/3 of a cent), and probably disobedience, as the folks probably said at some point not to do it.

    So why was sinning worse than criminal activity? That's easy. You can break the law, but you have to be caught and tried. Jail is immediate, but you get out sometime. The odds are in your favor, especially if you have a good lawyer. If you sin, God knows, and God doesn't forget (unless you repent of your sins and go to confession, at which point the sin disappears behind a heavenly cloud [or somewhere]). And punishment, although delayed, lasts forever. Much like the times you were called into the principal's office.

    I guess the moral of the story is, although we think of kid stuff is frivolous, it's very important when you're a kid. Also you remember it forever. Maybe that's the eternal punishment–we just thought it was fire.


    Speaking of Sin and Repentance...

    Lots of non-Catholics wonder what goes on in confession (now reconciliation). Frank O'Connor lifts the curtain on the practice (sort of$#41; in his short story First Confession. It provides a lift to any day no matter your belief system.


    Wait, what?

    According to The Information, Apple is trying to cut back on leaks of details of future products. How does it know this? It said on Wednesday that it obtained an internal document from Apple which outlined changes being made to its factory security guidelines for every manufacturing partner.


    Leave it to Elon.

    Once again, Elon Musk has done the impossible, The Independent discovered. Elon Musk has proof aliens don’t exist.

    I bet the aliens told him to say that.


    T.T. Ching.

    I've been working my way through the Tao Te Ching, a classic of classic Eastern philosophy. The passages are short, so I read one a day as a sort of springboard to meditation, thinking deep thoughts, or just letting the mists of pseudo-thought flow over me (aside: today is National Bad Fingers Day [not to be confused with National Mush-Fingers Day, which happens on Thursdays], during which my fingers forget everything I ever knew about using a keyboard, and by extension, standard spelling in English. I mention all this because in the non-parenthetical part of this sentence, I originally typed mints of time, not mists. That would be O.K. if they are those little chocolate-covered mints, but not pleasant if they're those round pinwheel mints. Now back to our original train of thought.). The Tao offers a guide for contented living and achieving wisdom, and the way to get there is through self-effacement. But every now and again, Lao-Tsu throws a spanner in the works, as the Brits like to say, with thoughts like this: When one recognizes the presence of Tao he understands where to stop. A strange thought, at least for Western ears, as the whole focus or point in our way of living seems to be to keep pushing. No stopping. No where to stop or when to stop. Something to think about, thus bringing us back to the beginning. And for those of you who are reading this week's post right from the beginning, and are fearing for my immortal Catholic soul by reading heathenish texts, the general approach (self-effacement, self-abnegation) is very similar to that found in The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis, beloved by my dear sainted mother, so I'm good, in both senses of the word.


    Speaking of thinking...

    Yes, I've said it before, thinking is a behavior I try to discourage, and I lead by example as best I can, but there is one exception. I am generally lousy at multitasking (spoiler alert: everybody is. Those who claim otherwise are a) fooling themselves and b&41; doing many things badly at the same time) but I have always been good in one area: thinking deep thoughts while staring out of a window. (I have recently, as my more advanced years sprint past me [no creeping up here!] developed a talent for walking and farting, but that's a different story). I can hear naysayers saying, nay, that's called daydreaming, not multitasking, but I'll have you know I don't need any steenkin' weendow to daydream. I don't even need day!

    Proof? I was just schlumped here (someplace between sitting up and lying down, a position enforced by the cat) and noticed that the oak tree across the street has swelling buds, the stage before the tree leafs out and drops enough pollen to coat a container ship a half-inch deep, a sign that spring is upon us. At the same time, I can see three other trees with branches still bare, a reminder that winter is still with us, reinforced by the two women who walked by bundled up against cold but stopped to look at the daffodils in the front yard. In deep-thought state, I reflected on the endless cycle of the seasons. I was also was reminded of the oak tree across the street that was cut down a couple of years ago, a reflection on the cycle of life being interrupted, a junction of the linear (birth to death) and the circular (cycle of the season). Not only profound, but geometric.

    See? That's not daydreaming, that's multitasking. Daydreaming is an aimless drift, most often into future, alternate universes, rearranging this world, or no place. Multitasking, at least the way I practice it, is about recollection. There's a difference. Lot of recollection going on here.


    Normalcy.

    This morning, Tony the Traffic Dude reported a back-up at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, as well as three accidents causing difficulties. This is high on my list of ways you know the world is getting closer to what we used to think was normal.


    A Way with Words.

    Somehow, when I was a technical writer for a civil-engineering construction company, I ended up on a newsletter mailing list from a company that sells sheet piles (if you don't know already, you don't need to know). Why it's coming to my home email address and why I haven't gotten off the list are two questions that I can't answer.

    Anyway, this month's featured article is Frequently Asked Questions on Driving Vinyl Sheet Piles. Apparently that is a thing, one that I'm having trouble wrapping my head around. I never thought I would see that combination of words in that order.

    If you were wondering, there are four questions that are frequently asked, none worth repeating here.


    Why can't we have nice things?

    MacRumors reports that Apple is preparing to launch a new iPad mini with a larger screen, supposedly about 8". There are people who do not think bigger is better, so why?

    You miss the target audience, and at some point it stops being mini. Does it then become the tablet formerly known as mini?


    March 21

    This is a very slow week. The weather has been seasonal, except for a wind storm that came through at night and caused no damage, my wife has settled into school and I have settled into my old, pre-pandemic routine which is actually my pandemic routine, except for for my wife taking up the dining room for her classroom. The entry of spring passed unremarked, as did St. Patrick's Day, which had mostly become an external holiday (i.e., watched it on TV, and we didn't even have that this year.). Ditto for the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 disruption. Anyway, slim pickings, not to be confused with Slim Pickens, a great character actor best remembered for riding the bomb down in Dr. Strangelove.

    slim pickens

    Headlines without Stories.

    Inc. magazine proclaims: You're Having Conversations All Wrong, Harvard Research Shows. Here's How to Do It Right.

    I'm an introvert. If I'm having conversations, it's wrong.


    Quartz magazine: What to do if you're worried about drinking too much alcohol.

    Have you considered stopping? Or select another beverage.


    Also Quartz magazine: Walmart is hiring a favorite designer of Lady Gaga to boost its fashion cred.

    Walmart has fashion cred? And the guy that designed the meat dress is going to improve it.


    Washington Post: Asian woman, 75, beats back man who punched her in San Francisco: ‘I am amazed by her bravery’

    I thought that was sorta the main point in The Joy Luck Club: don't tick off a Chinese granny.


    This time, we don't get to blame Canada.

    CNN tells us: Mexican dust found in Colorado blizzard.

    It's all because of Biden's lax security on the southern border.


    Trust the New York Times To Be First.

    New York Times Cooking has released its first cookbook, something called No-Recipe Recipes.

    I cook, and I have a lot of cookbooks and recipes, ranging from a reproduction of a colonial cookbook (measurements include gills and knobs), my Mom's primary cookbook (sort of the definition of home cooking for me. Hint: if you use modern recipes and want that taste, replace butter with shortening), and modern compendiums of world cooking (world cooking=contains ingredients that I can neither pronounce, nor that I have in my pantry).

    My first thought was Who is going to buy that? After all, don't we buy cookbooks to have new things to cook? And to find out combinations of ingredients?

    But then, I realized that there are three, maybe four kinds of cooks. I'm making up the names.

    1. intuitive cooks. These are people who grew up around cooking and paid attention to what was going on, and actually participated in cooking. They go by feel, color, smell, texture, and hearing to prepare foods. They have what is sometimes called finger knowledge and know things like when onion is medium and when it is large. They may use a recipe, but only as a general guide. These cooks are the ones who accept handful and some as legitimate measurements. They know good substitutes are, or whether you should add nuts to something.
    2. principled cooks. Some cooks understand the principles behind cooking. Not necessarily the chemistry, but based on the volume, how much ginger or hot sauce to add, what the proportion of starch, sugar, protein, leavening and fat should be in baking, how to make a recipe a third smaller, and whether a cook gets the same same results by lowering the temperature and increasing the time.
    3. precise cooks: These cooks are the by-the-book gang. They have the recipe, all the ingredients are placed on the counter. When measuring, they use a scale, or if measuring by volume, dry ingredients are carefully leveled off with a straight edge, and liquid ingredients are put at eyeball level to ensure they are correct, and have crust rulers to make sure crust are the desired thickness and evenness. They have instant read thermometers. In short, they avail themselves of the mantle of engineers, using all the tools that engineers can design for them.
    4. anal-retentive chefs. Best demonstrated, not explained.

    So who are the cooks who will potentially buy this book. If anyone, I think they will be coming from group two. Other than that, I can't say. Probably not three, as they have to be thoroughly familiar with ingredients and proportions before venturing out without a recipe.

    Where do I fit into all this? I like to have the comfort of a recipe, but I will deviate from it if I need to make an ingredient substitution or have so something that I think will go nicely into the dish. So I guess I'm a little bit of 1 and 2, but mostly 3, without all the precision.

    I wrote a poem about cooking that sort of fits. It's over on the right.


    March 14

    So it's PI Day. The only thing I like about no e Pi Day, is that it is never accurate– mathematicians keep adding numbers to the end. For people who pride themselves (without justification) on their accuracy and precision, this must be breaking them up.

    It breaks me up, too, but in a different way.

    In the Roman Catholic tradition, there are things called octaves–eight days when a major holiday is celebrated. The most notable are Christmas and Easter. I think we should declare an octave for St. Patrick's Day, too. I'm starting today, and carrying through to next Sunday. You are welcome to follow along.

    Today's earworm.

    Beethoven's 5th Symphony.

    Honest. The local classical music station was playing it the other day. I guess it stuck.

    Great music does.


    So does not-so-great.

    One of my wife's Facebook friends rick-rolled her, but the destination song was MacArthur Park.

    You were warned.


    Did You Know?

    Amazon's publishing houses refuse to sell e-books to public libraries.

    Some representative of Amanda Gorman (or her publisher) is demanding that the translators (into Catalan and Dutch) of her inaugural poem be young, black activist women.

    I notice we aren't putting the same constraints on readers or, more particularly, buyers.


    .

    Promises, promises.

    Last week, I may have suggested I would present a piece this week on pandemic theater.

    Well, I either lied or was just too darn ambitious. P.T. is going to have to get put in the future delivery category. In the meanwhile, please accept this small token as a promissory note of sorts.

    a round tuit

    Vinegar Pie

    I used to talk about cooking and share recipes on this website. Alas, the page went away, but I still like to cook and bake. While cruising through one of my cookbooks, I bumped into this recipe. I'm guessing it's along the lines of Mock Apple Pie. I had a eeeww! moment, but it's basically a spiced custard pie. Enjoy.

    Vinegar Pie

    >>Piecrust (top and bottom)

    >>2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for surface

    >>2 tablespoons unsalted butter

    >>1/2 cup light-brown sugar

    >>1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    >>1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

    >>1/6 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (hint: don't make yourself crazy. This used to be called a pinch. Yes, it's going to vary in size depending upon who's doing the pinching. Learn to live with imprecision.)

    >>1/4 teaspoon salt

    >>2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

    >>1 cup plus 1 teaspoon water, divided

    >>3 large eggs, divided

    >>1 tablespoon turbinado sugar or sanding sugar

    Step 1: Roll out 1 disk of dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate, and trim edge of dough to rim. Roll out remaining disk of dough to a 12-inch round. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and refrigerate, along with dough in pie plate, until firm, about 1 hour.

    Step 2: Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt butter in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water; remove from heat. Whisk in brown sugar, flour, spices, salt, vinegar, and 1 cup water. Lightly beat 2 eggs, and whisk into mixture. Return bowl to pan of simmering water, and cook, stirring often, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

    Step 3: Pour filling into crust, and place top crust over filling. Trim excess, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold under bottom crust. Press to seal, and crimp as desired. Beat remaining egg with remaining teaspoon water; brush top of pie with egg wash, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Use a sharp knife to slash 6 vents radiating out from center of pie. Bake pie until golden and surface has puffed, about 45 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack 45 minutes. Serve slightly warm with ice cream.


    Speaking of Pie

    Do not be misled by demented mathematicians claiming that this is Pi Day. Well. it is 3.14, the starting three numbers of the measurement of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, but it is not Pie Day, or January 23, when we celebrate all crusts filled with tasty things.

    As a suitable compromise, I will accept having this bogus Pi Day serve as a reminder to eat pie, especially if you missed January 23. It's never too late! Welcome back!


    The problem with words...

    ...is that, once you put two or more together, they require so much more baggage to be clearly understood. Things like context. Voice. Tone. Point of view. The speaker. Mood. Body language. Preceding or following language. Without a full exploration and knowledge of all these things, we can't determine what the speaker really meant.

    It gets worse when words are captured and pinned to a page like an unfortunate butterfly (I can hear you saying, Where did that come from? or Poor butterfly). And when the capturing is done by journalists, it just gets worse, because the only contextualizing words they are allowed to use are (s)he said. Humor, wit, irony, stupidity, pandering, introspection are all cast aside like last season's trendy bluejeans under the bootjacked heel of a particularly dull-witted, unimaginative representative of the fifth estate.

    He said.

    Take, for example, the following statement: Where questions of self-sacrifice are concerned, men are infinitely beyond [women]. This is a cue the outrage kind of statement. I can hear the moral righteousness gaining a full head of steam, loud enough to drown out the chirping of birds outside my window reveling in the first truly pleasant day we've experienced this year. Sexist claptrap, foisted upon us by a male-dominated society. How could someone propagate a distorted world view such as this in the 21st Century?

    Well, would it help to know:

    • that it was said by a woman (Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax)
    • at the turn of the century (1895)
    • in a play
    • that satirized comedies of manners, and along the way, society
    • where all characters are frivolous to the point of frothiness?

    The play? The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde.

    So–take one line of a satirical, intentionally light comedy out of context. Add she said. Wonder why people think you're pushing fake news, even though Gwendolen said it?

    And a related question. What happens if you attribute the words to Oscar Wilde instead of to his character? Is this an accurate representation of his beliefs?

    Ah, words. A wonderful thing. Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive, as Walter Scott says. It might be even worse when we try to tell it straight. Or maybe we should cite the character in Marmion who said it. See how complicated it gets?

    And yes, that was Walter Scott, not Shakespeare.


    Not that I care...

    ...but as someone who cares. If you don't have children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren under the age of four or so, you probably don't know that something called cocomelonhas replaced Barney the purple dinosaur and Baby Shark in the hearts, ears and every brain molecule of the toddlerareti. And of every adult who comes within ten feet of the toddler and a streaming device.

    It's not a terminal disease, but I expect that, like Barney, it will decrease the I.Q. of any infected adult by fifteen points, brain cells that will not be regained until after the child's adolescence, at which time you don't care anymore.


    School daze.

    Timing is everything, it seems. One year ago, the local school district was planning an ordered retreat, when the governor threw a hand grenade into the middle of everything and turned it into a rout. Teachers were allowed back into the school for one hour to pick up class materials and any electronics they'd need at home for remote learning. The same thing happened at the beginning of this year.

    Well, the school year is finally starting, for in-person learning. This week, my wife finally made it into her second school, which in some ways is more organized. The principal gave her a back to school pack (which has been sitting around since the beginning of the year) which included masks, wipes, gloves, and a lovely book on distance learning.

    I'm sure there's some very useful information in it.


    Note to Gov. Andy

    My daily horoscopeon Friday noted that Mixing work with pleasure is not always successful. Alas, Gov. Cuomo is a Sagittarius, not a Libra, but that seems to be generally applicable across signs. Would that he had heeded it.

    March 7

    Well, the good news is it didn't rain. The bad news is it's cold. Plus, all the problems are low level nonsense, like gnats flying around your head on a warm sunny day. Not enough to need action, just annoying. This is an interesting mix, but what you should be seeing is an in-depth expose of the whole COVID-19 mess on its first anniversary. Except I couldn't pull together the graphics in time. Also I had had trouble finding the statistics to make the charts. Expect that next week.

    Consider yourself warned.

    Late-Breaking News

    One of the local weatherpeople, who is apparently unclear on the concept, announced that next Sunday, we will have an hour more daylight than on Saturday.

    I despair for America.


    At Sixes and Sevens

    Sometimes in comedy shows, writers display a character's fussy, obsessive-compulsive desire for order by having them wear specific underwear or pajamas on a particular day of the week. They never explain how they navigate laundry day, when Tuesday is in the wash and it's Tuesday. The O/C can't have an extra pair of Tuesdays because then there would be uneven wear, and they can't have that, can they?

    Anyway, I've slowly become like that, except with coffee mugs and shoes. No, I'm not obsessing, and I'm not becoming like my parents (my parents never had any compulsive habits like that, and besides, I'm getting into the land where great-grandparents live, so allow me my little whimsies). Besides, I only have six mugs and six pairs of shoes. If I was going to obsess properly, I'd need one more of each.

    Let's do shoes first. If you count slippers, I have seven pairs of footwear, but they don't count, as they aren't shoes, and I can't wear them outside, not that I'm going outside much anymore, what with COVID-19 and that whole great-grandfather thing going on, and even though I don't go outside doesn't mean I might not want to go outside, and I want to be ready just in case I do. It's the same reason I carry my wallet and keys all the time, even though I really only need them once, maybe twice a week. Plus, that way I know where they are. They get lost so quickly if they aren't in the same place. When I wore glasses, I always put them on the nightstand, even if I had to walk through a few rooms to put them there. This is not obsessive/compulsive behavior. Have you ever tried to find your glasses when you're not wearing your glasses?

    I don't have assigned days– I just try to make sure each pair gets worn once a week. But that means I have to wear one pair of shoes twice, and besides, sometimes (sometimes=almost every week) I lose track of the shoes I've worn already.

    Mugs are a slightly different matter. I have coffee each morning, and there is an assigned order to the mugs.

    p
    • Sunday: A pretty thistle-shaped mug my sister Mary Pat gave me when I was in grad school. It's a perfect shape, with a large curved handle. It's a pleasure to hold.
    • Monday: A black mug festooned with the saying I am a professional. Do not try this at home. My boss Laura gave this to me when I started my first nonacademic job.
    • Tuesday: Tuesday's mug came from the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. My wife and I bought it on our first trip to the Big Easy together. At the Cafe du Monte, natch. After beignets and coffee.
    • Wednesday: For Christmas a few years ago, my wife gave me a cute sayings by Mark Twain mug. Mark Twain is my favorite author, and it has a wide bottom, which makes it less prone to tipping over. A fine mug
    • Thursday: A couple of Christmases ago, either Jay & Richard or Amelia & Jeremy gave me a white on black 'i' before 'e' except for a list of words where 'e' precedes 'i', concluding with weird. It's not that I forget who gave it to me, I didn't go to the party because I was sick, and the gift card got detached by the time the mug made it home.
    • Friday: My wife was given the same mug, except black on white. Since she already has a favorite mug, I have adopted it for Friday.

    That leaves Saturday bereft of mug. I had a Saturday mug once, a lovely Alamo mug that we bought at the Alamo gift shop on our second trip to San Antonio. I really liked the thumb rest on the top of the handle. Alas, it got chipped in cleaning, and has been repurposed to hold brushes and watercolor pencils. Important brushes and pencils, but still not seen once a week.

    So I can hear you saying, John, surely you must have other mugs you can use for Saturdays! Get a grip! It's only a mug! First, let me thank you for your heartfelt concern for my mug gap. Yes, there are other mugs (for example, a second Cafe du Monde mug), but there is always something not-quite-right about them. There are of course the physical flaws (too small, small bases, difficult to hold, just plug-ugly), but the main flaw is there are no memories attached to them, or worse, ambivalent memories (the MacTemps mug from when I transitioning from Act 2 to Act 3 of my life). I'll use them, but it's under duress.

    In the meanwhile, the search continues of the perfect Saturday mug, hampered by the fact that I'm not going anywhere where I can find a mug to which I can attach memories.


    But I expect change back from the $20.

    From Fox News: Man asks woman to refund the cost of food, drinks after relationship goes nowhere.

    Let's see, that was two Happy Meals and one all-you-can-eat buffet at Pancake Paradise.


    The Conspiracy Theorist

    The Conspiracy Theorist is understandably suspicious of the recent announcements by Dr. Seuss Enterprises regarding the suspension of publication of six of Dr. Seuss' books. The only one the C.T. is familiar with is And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street, and then only by title. Supposedly, this suspension of publication is due to racist images in the book. Cue the usual outrage.

    Here's what the Conspiracy Theorist believes. Dr. Seuss Enterprises noticed that sales of Dr. Suess books were slumping, particularly those six titles in particular. They noticed that a public school district had said those six books included racist images and were suspending use. Dr. Seuss enterprises announces cessation of publication of the six books (which the C.T. believes were going to get delisted anyway (delisting is a technical term that means we aren't going to print this book anymore, usually is due to poor sales). Someone at DSE had a bright idea, and announced the six books were being suspended due to content problems. Cue the outrage, cue the discussions, cue the sales and renewed interest.

    Mark Twain knew that better than anybody.


    At last, one I can answer.

    Why Nigeria is a global leader in Bitcoin trade.

    The prince and the former oil minister have such good deals. Tough to say no.


    First-World Problems.

    For the most part, I do the initial draft of blog postings on an ipad. Sometimes I use a bluetooth keyboard, but that's unwieldy when the cat is in my lap, which is pretty much all the time in the morning (lap=anything between my sternum and knees). So I hold the ipad and tap on a piece of glass. I use a text editor, which lets me type text without worryong about fancy and a cluttered screen. It's the type of program favored by programmers, bloggers and price conscious writers.

    There are tradeoffs, of course. There are features I like. You can choose a font and size of type. It works with cloud storage. It has left and right navigation buttons. It accesses the spell check, and has a word count.

    However. Blog postings are in a format called html, which uses special tags to provide punctuation and formatting. To put in those quotation marks above, I typed <p>punctuation</p>, which is fine on a regular keyboard, but to get to the greater and less than signs on the ipad, I have to dig down through three layers of keyboards to insert them. I use them a lot, for example to show italics, bold, quotation marks, and start and stop paragraphs. It's getting annoying. Also, the program can't open .html files. There are workarounds, but .html files are text files. You would think a sophisticated program like this would be able to handle this kind of thing.

    So I decided to to try another cheap (free) program. All the keys I need are on the first keyboard, and it can open .html type files, but there's no spell check, I can't adjust font size. Bummer.

    In short everything I like about program a is not available in program b.

    Like I always say, life's a beach. Well, not always. But enough.

    February 28

    Now that the impeachment is over, Super Bowl is done, the weather is sort of normal, and COVID-19 is receding, at least enough to let schools reopen, the little stories and headlines I enjoy so much can come out from behind the pieces of furniture and the nooks and crannies where they've been hiding.

    Word of the Day

    greige: for those of you who speak Pantone, it's 16-1109 TCX Greige. For HEX speakers, #978979. For those of you who speak visual, it looks like this:

    the color greige

    Put greige at the top of your need to know list, as it is the hot interior design color right now. It's so new and fresh that my spell check flags it. Plus, it's just a fun word to say, and lends itself to fun games like Substitution: The Color Greige, The Bridge over the River Greige, For Whom the Greige Tolls, Greige Eggs and Ham, Catcher in the Greige, Star Wars: The Phantom Greige.

    Also, it also breaks the i before e rule, which is cool. Also a little weird.


    Read the article this time.

    Reuters tells us Second time lucky? Stonehenge first erected in Wales, archaeologists say.

    Apparently the people who constructed Stonehenge moved (at least some of) the stones from a site in Wales known as Waun Maun to the Salisbury Plain.

    original Stonehenge?

    This will just raise up (pun intended) the whole how did they do that? discussion again. Me, I'm going with Merlin did it.

    I read the article. What I found interesting is that the descendants of the Welsh uprooters also later removed a timber circle they had constructed near Stonehenge, with archeologists unsure where they went with all those giant timbers. The Welsh who built and then moved the Pressli stones also disappeared. Very curious and also worth a followup.

    I'm supposed to say something vaguely amusing here. I asked the Conspiracy Theorist for help. He suggested that the Welsh circle was foreclosed upon. The builders were evicted, and since the bank couldn't find a buyer at that spot, moved the whole thing to a more central location where it became the center of a new religious/entertainment complex, like the Ark Encounter.

    Mt. Ararat in Kentucky.

    So where did these mysterious builders go? My guess is their astro-nomical/logical calculations showed them the end times were near, so they went to a mountaintop in Oregon to wait.

    It all makes perfect sense.


    TGIF

    Headline in Yahoo: How to Wear Your Ankle Boots This Spring: A Visual Guide.

    Sorry. In lieu of pictures, we will be providing all-text directions.

    a) on your feet.

    b) soles/heels on the bottom.

    c) toes go in first.


    Can they do that?

    IHOP cancels National Pancake Day. I thought that required at least a presidential executive order.


    In our time.

    I was filling out a survey for Fast Company magazine when I came upon a unique question: What is your current gender? I've never been asked that before. They had male, female, transgender, prefer not to say. I'm sorry they didn't have categories like between genders, not sure, or formerly. Some of those might be more accurate.

    And really, does it matter what gender I am when reading your magazine? The rag might be better informed if it asked if I was an angry white male, perpetual progressive, timid back of the theater sitter, addicted to cat videos, a propeller-head with a tangential touch on reality, or currently painting the kitchen greige.


    Warning! More Archeologists at Work.

    The Guardian tells us: 'Unique' petrified tree up to 20m years old found intact in Lesbos.

    That's a whole lotta rings to count.


    Global Fashion.

    A while back, my wife gave me a comfy fleece pullover. I've worn it enough that it's time for a washing. So I checked the tag in the bottom hem. It's in French and some Far Eastern language. I had better luck with the tag in the collar. It's in English, but looking glass English–I'm going to need a mirror to read it.


    Imponderables.

    Have you ever noticed that almost all of the drug stores designed as drug stores have their entryways on the corner of the building? Some even have aisles aligned on the diagonal. Not settling to the mind when you walk in the store. It also begs the question why. Is there some sort of benefit to the relationship that accrues only to pharmacies?


    Run and Hide: Enron's Back!

    By 1999, Texas had a) established competitive markets for retail energy and b) deregulated everything except the placement of transmission lines. This last was a major lynchpin in Enron's business plan and vision of the future, and the company provided significant guidance for Texas when it set up the system.

    Enron didn't have much if anything to do with the failure of the electric production system, but the second-coldest days in Houston were about a decade before, so you think someone would have remembered.

    I don't think they quite thought about this happening.


    Speaking of utilities and services...

    What do you plan for when you're building something? Is it the midpoint of projected use, (say traffic at 1 pm, or an average of the day), lowest use or peak use (3 am and 5 pm rush hour, respectively). Do you build to meet current needs or to meet inevitable higher demand in the future? How about weather extremes (roads buckle in really hot weather, or multiple thaw freeze cycles? At what temperature is it cheaper to let it buckle and repair, or suspend service)? Do you plan for 30 year extremes? 100 year extremes? 5 year? Any?

    Planners don't get enough credit, but always get blame.


    Yes, but...

    A headline in a blog I follow stated 500,000 Lives Lost.

    No, a half-million people died. It was not before their time. Everybody dies.

    The lives were lost only if we did not capture the deceaseds' stories, or if they were blocked from making the contributions they could and should have made. Many (I hope most if not all) of the lives lost weren't–those lives were captured and will be treasured. Some are lost because they never found their way, or never shared or developed the gifts they received. Every day, hundreds and thousands of people die from drug overdoses, car crashes, guns, and disease. Over 660,000 die from heart disease each year. But we don't talk about loss. Just because the 500,000 died from a new disease doesn't mean they were lost. That happened long before they shuffle[d] off this mortal coil.

    I think the loss comes in that so many of the people died without having at least a chance to see loved ones to say goodbye, to gain closure. I know–following my logical train, you could say the same about any sudden death, as from car crashes, suicide, or gun violence. I could say that maybe they said I love you before they left the house, but maybe it's just a reminder to say I love you and be reconciled to those you love every chance you get. It helps with the coulda shoulda for those left behind.

    All is not lost, then.


    February 21

    Another week of cold and rain, with one unexpected and very welcome warm and sunny day. Also a holiday, not that there was anything different I could see. Of course, if you don't get out of the house, you don't see much.

    Ted Talk.

    There's been a lot of it this week. I'm always amazed at the number of truly funny people out there.

    The worst part of the week for Ted was being put on standby for the trip back to Houston.

    In a general observation, I've often wondered what value politicians add when they tour a disaster zone. It mostly seems to be a photo op, with the politician standing next to a guy in a hard hat as they point and stare at something just off camera. There's absolutely nothing they can do there besides get in the way. Now if the picture showed them carrying a chain saw on day three, we've got something. For all his faults, Donald Trump at least spent time in Puerto Rico distributing paper towels.

    Still, I have a couple of questions questions:

    • Was this a planned trip, or did the daughters spontaneously think it would be fun to go to Cancun?
    • I mean, Cancun. Really? Really? Aren't girls that age supposed to want to go to visit Cinderella's castle at DisneyWorld? The high in Orlando was 80 degrees.
    • Did you really think leaving behind the dog was a good idea? Pictures of the left-behind-in-Houston poodle have been making the rounds.)
    • If the senator's daughters can push him around like that, shouldn't we be concerned that a U.S. Senator can be so easily bullied?

    Depends

    Headline in the Saturday New York Times: When will Travel Return?. For some of us, especially if we're going to Cancun, it's already begun.


    Writer Weird(er)ness

    A writer is the type of person who, when somebody gets their tongue stuck to a flagpole, asks How did it taste?


    Hey World! You Stink!

    Today's Earworm: Love Power, by Lorenzo St. Dubois, from The Producers.

    Double whammy: music and lyrics!

    Love Power

    Kicking the can.

    Nancy Pelosi has proposed a 9-11 style commission to investigate the events leading up to and occurring on January 6.

    If it is modeled on 9-11, the commission will take nearly two years to produce a report; have three chairmen in its first month; be badly underfunded; have the sitting President and Vice President and immediate past president and vice president testify in private and not under oath; and face charges of conflicts of interest.

    And remember the politics definition of commission: a body of distinguished citizens who are assembled to make it appear that we're doing something while in fact allowing us to maintain the status quo and pass the buck to a future generation. The commission will produce a long, mostly unreadable report that will provide inconclusive summaries; if there are action points, they will be ignored, and will occur when we've all moved on from the original incident.Nothing to see here, move along.


    Yerrrrr Out!

    It's Tuesday. An interesting imposed blast back to the past, in the days when mastodons roamed the great prairies and there was no cable or internet. The cable company is making upgrades to the equipment that takes everything–phone, cable, internet– off line, and so we can't get to the outside world. No news, no mail, no funny cat of the day, no weather. How can I find out what it's doing outside besides looking out the window? I need corroboration!

    Everything cable-wise is supposed to be back to normal by noon. I will keep a detailed journal, which I am sure will rival Robinson Crusoe in detail and popularity, but without Friday to clutter up the plot line.

    Maybe we can get Tom Hanks to play me.

    Update: Everything seems to be back on line, with a surprise outage around 4:30 in the afternoon. There is no discernible difference in quality, but at least we had a day with no telemarketers trying to get us to renew a car repair warranty that does not exist on a car that probably doesn't exist, or at least hasn't in our lives since about 2013.


    Humble semicolon;

    I've been reading a lot about semi-colons recently (OK, one article and one chapter of a book, and I only read part of the article because I already ingested the information it provided a long time ago).

    Neither piece mentioned what I always thought was the defining moment in the life of the semicolon, when typesetters, tired of getting colons and semi-colons confused (which in turn affected their salary), simply stopped setting semicolons, which in turn affected its use. Now we have this little thing that nobody knows how to use, except for the internet harpies of exactitude who will be more than happy to tell you when you're doing it wrong.

    All that got me thinking about the generally sorry state of language (actually it's not sorry at all it's very exciting out there with new languages being invented all the time, sort of written pidgins, but terms of the contract allowing me to brag about having a Ph.D. in English require me to tut-tut about the sorry state of affairs vis-a-vis standard written English and at least make it look like I'm making an effort to stick to the rules of proper English, and about which I've been warned a number of times and will probably be warned about this parenthetical, even though it's grammatical and makes as much sense as the rest of the post). The written language we have was an attempt to represent spoken language. Punctuation was a relatively late addition. Many medieval manuscripts have no punctuation at all. Spelling was (and is) erratic, as the six known variants of the 16th century playwright Willm Shukspeer's name indicates), to say nothing of orthographic perplexities like though and tough.

    But that has little to do with punctuation in general and the semicolon in particular. The problem is that much punctuation was developed about the same time as the printing press, or soon after. At any rate, things that made sense or were needed then aren't now, but new needs arise that aren't met by available punctuation. Sometimes someone will make an attempt to meet a need, as with the interrobang. It's apparently a real word since the spell check didn't flag it, and it has its own website but I dare you to find it on a keyboard. No positioning, no use. There are some other things I'd like to see that would be useful to readers:

    • something that indicates that a person is thinking. Right now, people use quotation marks, or italics, or indentations, but it's all arbitrary
    • something for reporters to show shading of speech. Right now, they have they said. This is very limiting, and even can make a story incorrect or make the subject out to be a jerk. I think some emoji could be put to good use here, like the laughing face and the emojit face and the angry face.

    Anyway, emoji are a good example of what's going on in real world English, as is /are abbreviations and whatever it is the youth of America are using on Instagram and Tik-Tok these days. Everything except the semicolon, which is apparently verboten in online circles, as is the ellipsis. Maybe they can be pressed into use for the list above.

    One other thing I hope gets a look-see and canonical incorporation into standard English is an area where I'm pioneering, replacing the apostrophe ' with k in contractions. First, it would end some of the confusion with the apostrophe in possessives (see? Another example to too many needs, not enough punctuation marks). Why k? Well, itks not a tricky question, as anyone who has typed on a keypad with autocorrect turned off can testify. AmIrightorwhat?


    Senioriitis.

    The AARP's new newsletter announces a new program that wants me to wake up and dance! Starts next week at, um, 11:00 east coast time. While on the one hand I fully support that as the proper order to do things, I'm not sure of he conjunction of time and activity is recognizing a new reality, or if they think it's going to take me 4.5 hours to get ready.


    I Say, Give it a Go.

    Headline: IKEA and the future of living.

    Yes, living has a future. and Ikea's probably a part of it. Next problem.


    You might want to rethink 'fate.'

    On a review of a new book: The murky fate of Roman Britain’s lost ninth legion.

    It's 1,900 years later. They're all dead. Nothing murky about it at all.

    How it happened might be a better question.


    No Surprise?

    From Reuters: Police discover first cannabis farm in London financial district.

    I'm guessing they just weren't looking hard enough.


    Oh, no. More Spam!

    From Axios: MIT researchers devised a way to allow spinach plants to send emails.

    I'd be OK with email from carrots. But email from spinach is just another way of saying 'spam.' To be fair (to spinach), I've received some email that didn't live up to what I expect are the standards spinach has for email.


    Speaking of rethinking

    From CNBC: 'It has never been tougher to be a young person,' Bear Grylls says.

    I think a hard look at any decade before oh, say, 1920, might disprove that, even if you discount diseases (presuming of course you lived through them).


    Ouch!

    From the Guardian: Smuggler found with nearly 1,000 cacti and succulents strapped to her body.

    Someone is either a real fan of prickly pears, or a glutton for punishment.


    Taking Away My Job.

    I'm supposed to be asking the questions here, but New York magazine got there first, leaving me to answer them: America Saw a Historic Rise in Murders in 2020. Why? 'Cuz 'Murricans be crazy, dude. 'Murricans be crazy.


    Having your secret and eating it too.

    Headline in Bloomberg: Warren Buffet's Berkshire Reveals Three New Secret Buys.

    But if you reveal them, they aren't secret anymore. So where are we here?


    Ethical Dilemmas

    Vacuolar tauopathy (VT) is a newly discovered form of dementia caused by an extremely rare genetic mutation. It's so rare, in fact, that it has been confirmed in only four people in the world—three in one family.

    For the whole article, link to Free Think.

    What should be society's response? Do we try to find the causes and a cure? What kind of resources do we put toward it, and at what priority? How much do we care about a family of three? Do we find out how it's transmitted? Or do we say, without cruelty, take care?


    Do we really need a new physics?

    A passage touting that a Magic number has been stretched out by physicists makes the claim that this is important because discrepancies between standard-model predictions and experimental observations may provide evidence of new physics.

    Frankly, I was just getting used to the physics we have. Hearing this evokes the same response I have in hearing there's a new Rob Schneider movie coming out.


    February 14

    Today, of course, is Valentine's Day, named after a third-century Roman martyr who became associated with courtly love. He is also the patron saint of epilepsy.

    I have absolutely no basis for saying this, but I suspect this will be a hard Valentine's Day, especially for those who have been locked up with the sweetie and kids for the year. Strained relations probably can't be totally repaired with a box of chocolate and flowers. And what about all those kids and the little candy hearts and tiny Valentine's day cards they used to give out at school (if they even do that any more).

    I notice that TV has been quiet about V-Day this year, except for the Hallmark Channel, where two holidays exist simultaneously in its head–Christmas and Valentine's Day. But other places that would normally have advice for those practicing courtly love would occupied with the pandemic, impeachment and lousy weather. Seems to be a giant meh!

    Well, we don't treat our readers like that here at TomatoPlanet!! Happy Valentine's Day to you all!. We even got you a gift. You can pick up your custom T-shirt in the lower right hand corner of the home page.

    Huh?

    Once we get done with Valentine's Day, we crash headlong into Presidents' Day, which my computer calendar informs me is a regional holiday.

    Last I checked, Presidents' Day is a US Federal holiday. So unless calendar people are counting the United States as a region, which is odd. in and of itself.


    Afterlife

    I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how I was enjoying reading one of my Christmas gifts, a brightly striped scarf.

    Of course I don't read scarves. Besides, I didn't get one for Christmas this year. Besides, I thought it was time to update my old strange looks classic, after buying something like a scarf and telling the clerk, no, you don't have to wrap it–I'll eat it here. But that top sentence makes as much sense as what I was going to write after the comma, Grammar for a Full Life. The usual response upon hearing that I'm enjoying a grammar book is English majors are weird. Why, yes, we are. Thank you for noticing.

    Earlier today, I read a post from Suzanne about events leading up to the passing of her mother earlier this year. Then this afternoon I tucked into the last chapter of Grammar, where I found a discussion of dying, and dementia, and language. Weinstein, in passing, comments In the end, of course–not just for my colleague with dementia, but for each of us–all distinctions vanish, unless there is an afterlife.

    Well, that put a full end stop to my reading (that's a period to you amateurs), since I'm absolutely no good at multi-tasking, and reading and heavy smoke-coming-out-of-your-ears thinking is multi-tasking of the highest order.

    I find the thought of not being able to read, to think, to communicate to be the scariest of futures. I would rather have to be helped to go to the bathroom than lose control of the functions going on above the neck. Of course, both fates probably await me.

    So anyway, I'm thinking about dementia, that all distinctions vanish, and that we lose control of our thoughts, recognition and expression.

    Unless you believe in an afterlife. Unless you believe in an afterlife. I figured that comment was just an offhand nod to Weinstein's (presumed) Jewish beliefs, but then I had the cosmos-shaking revelation. My usual view of the afterlife is the standard Christian heaven and hell dichotomy, the presumption that I will be climbing stairs, but once I get to heaven, I'll be met with more of the same, what I have here, only more so, with angels, God, music and lots of white added. But we're still in control, at least of our own life. There is still free will, the power to say yes or no, and cede control and power only by choice. We still have choice in our desires, and likes. If I don't like Shakespeare here, I don't have to like him in heaven, either, although I may be forced to sit through interminable performance of Coriolanus in hell.

    the universe

    But what if it's not a continuation? We don't know what's going on over on the other side. What if heaven (OK, the whole of afterlife) is a total lack of control and order, where we're not in control of anything? nothing there looks like anything we're familiar with. In this view, dementia becomes a preparation for the afterlife, a slipping into the next world, a preparation for the new order, a transition from this one? A test drive, if you will, or a learner's permit for living in a world with no rules, no boundaries, or a totally different set of parameters. If we are to believe physicists (and I can see no reason why we should, when they keep spouting their wacky theories about the nature of the universe), then the universe is playing by a whole different set of rules than we are in our finitude here on Earth. Just investigate what they have to say about dark matter,or, even better, string theory.

    Enough for now. Too many cosmic forces and beams bouncing around. Besides, it's getting harder to see the screen with all the smoke in the room.


    A Dwight Moment.

    I've mentioned before that Dwight Davis' voice is the first one I hear in the morning (unless you count the cat). He's the morning jock with a soothing voice who plays appropriate music for the time of day, unlike his vacation replacements who favor ominous pieces by John Cage or anything by Alexander Borodin, and feel they have to tell us everything they know about the recording they just played or are about to play, or both.

    One of the things I like is that, in spite of his starting his work day at 5 AM (I'm told), he is not a morning person, as he demonstrated this morning. A song came to an end, there was maybe ten seconds of dead air (so little I thought there was just a soft passage or fade at the end of the piece of music). Then Dwight came back and brightly announced he had dashed out of the studio to get coffee, but then managed to lock himself out of the studio.

    That's the problem. There are certain things you need coffee for, including making and getting coffee.

    And it's alright, Dwight. We understand., sympathize, empathize. Pick which one you like best.


    Totally useless and unpleasant fact.

    If you dislike Prince Igor as much as I do, you will no doubt be dismayed to hear that Borodin died before he completed it. Who knows what pain we would have suffered had he finished it off.


    The weatherpeople are pushing their luck. On the one hand, they're trying to convince us that a week of highs in the mid-40s are normal (real normal is 50), that it is going to snow again on Sunday morning (giving them a whole week to talk about snow when we all know it's not going to happen), and that they know what they're talking about.

    On the other hand, we only have to listen to sportscasters talk about the Super Bowl for oh, until it snows again here. C'mon, snow!

    RIP Hal Holbrook

    Hal Holbrook, the actor known for amazingly accurate portrayal of Mark Twain, dies at 95.

    I saw Holbrook portray Twain in Houston, in a 3,000 seat theater. While I already loved Twain, his performance cemented the relationship. I especially liked Grandfather's Old Ram, a classic shaggy dog story. Or should I say shaggy sheep?

    No, I shouldn't.


    Do we care?

    Newsweek: Pro-Trump Lawyer Lin Wood Fired by Covington Catholic Grad Nicholas Sandmann.

    No, we don't.

    CNet announces Astronomers just found the oldest supermassive black hole yet. This is not a good look for astronomers, missing an old, huge black hole all this time. It's sort of like geographers announcing discovery of largest Great Lake north of Michigan.

    And, since it's not visiting anytime soon, it's getting a '0' on the Do we care? scale.

    People Gets a 'Huh?'

    for this headline: Texas Uber Eats Driver and Mother of 3 Killed While Dropping Off Food Delivery. It took three reads, which is two too many, to read this headline.

    CNN: Real reporting done right!

    CNN asks the hard question: Why do wombats poop cubes?


    Mary Barry on Conservative Values.

    It's different. I don't think I like it.

    If Mary held bogus conservative values.

    It's different. It's not good. I think we should outlaw it.


    New Phone.

    Exciting news: the new phone has a speech-to-text feature for voicemail, so I can read messages instead of listening to them.

    The not-so-exciting news? Nobody phones anymore, except telemarketers, who don't leave messages. I've gotten to use the feature twice in the months I've owned it.

    Moral: Every silver lining has a gray cloud around it.


    Shoes.

    When I was in high school (all-male Catholic) there were annual shoe fashions. One year it was desert boots. Another, wellingtons (a waxy dark-brown ankle boot with a raised welt around the edge, not the British muck boots). One year, wing tips. The sartorially correct wore these with white crew socks, and of course the school-required dress shirt, tie, suit or sport coat dress pants.

    Style does not imply attractive, as my cohorts proved, and runway designers prove every year.

    I hit only one of the fashion statements–the wing tips. Black, little indentations, waxy laces that refused to stay tied. They were hard to polish. It was a challenge to get the polish into all the little holes and then to get it out and make them shine. As needed, I replaced the heels, and maybe once the soles. These were shoes made the way shoes used to be: heavy, built for the long haul.

    The wing tips were nice enough (although I don't think I've ever owned another pair), but the shoes I lusted after were the desert boots. But I never had a pair.

    Then, about ten years ago, I saw them on sale in a Clark's store. I thought about them, but, even on sale, they were still more than I usually pay for shoes. My wife said, if I wanted them, I should get them, so I did. They were beautiful. The salesman gave me some care instructions, which I ignored. I wore them everywhere, including, based on tiny spots still on the suede, to paint my office.

    They're tough. Last year, a lace broke. I was finally able to get replacements on the internet (another adventure in the failings of the American retail system tht I had to a pair of shoelaces sent by mail). Like Ralphie's Red Ryder, they are the best gift ever.

    One of my shoe criteria is that the shoes be light, and when I bought the desert boots, they were feathers. This morning, though, when I picked them up, they were much heavier than I remember. I find this puzzling, as the heels and soles are worn down, and so they should weigh even less. But someplace along the way, they've been picking up weighty essences of some sort.

    Which, now that I think about it, I don't want to think about.

    But I still wear them–discolored, stained, heavier, run down at the heels, still the faves. In fashion after all these years.


    Retail–the (missing) experience.

    When I got the wing tips, there was a whole ritual. You'd go into a shoe store, take a sniff (shoestores had a unique smell&341; look at shoes, maybe take a shoe off the display something that you liked or wanted. Someplace in these preliminaries, a clerk would attach himself to you (and it was always a him). When you sat down, the clerk would sit on a low stool with an angled footrest in front, the shoes you wore in were removed, and the clerk would check the size.

    the brannock device

    Then came the fun part. The clerk would produce a foot measuring device, a long, heavy metal gizmo with knobs, cups and sliders. The clerk would place your foot in on one, make sure your heel was firmly settled in the cup, and then adjust sliders in front and on the sides. He would ask if that was comfortable, your mom would say you were still growing and to leave room. After the second foot was measured, the clerk would ask about styles and color, and then go into a mysterious room behind a curtain. When he emerged, he would be carrying three or four shoe boxes, which he would put on the floor, and the start the ritual of preparing for the try-on– removing the paper from the toe, lacing the shoe, putting it on your foot (using a shoehorn, tying the shoes, pressing on the toe of the shoe to see where the human toe was, and pressing both sides of the shoe to check width. If the assessment was satisfactory, you would then walk around the store for thirty seconds to see how they feel (like thirty seconds could tell you anything).

    Selection made, the clerk would escort you to the cash register, and then return to clean up the mess and put everything back behind the curtain.

    But there was one last treat. When you got home and unboxed the shoes, you'd find a store-branded metal shoe horn that had been unobtrusively slipped into the box. Someplace, I still have a The National metal shoehorn in a drawer. I wish I had it this morning when, for whatever reason, I was struggling to get my shoes on.

    Anyway, there is no way to get that ritual and experience online.

    Random aside. That foot measuring thing is known as The Brannock Device®. I mentIon this only because usually companies try to protect their brand names (photocopy instead of Xerox, tissue paper instead of Kleenex). Here, though, they almost lament that people don't know (or use) the proper name of their product.

    Suggested motto: The Brannock Device®. Ask for it by name.


    Ritual Survives.

    One place the ritual experience survives is in tonsorial palaces, aka haircutting places, aka barbers. I was reminded of this when I was getting a haircut the other day (my motto: a haircut every six months whether I need it or not).

    I'm sorry to announce they no longer use those little paper strips they put on before fastening the cloth around your neck. But otherwise the ritual was good–flapping of the cloth, fluffing of the hair, asking how you want it cut &#standard joke: shorter), much scissor noise, and so on.

    Until it came time for the ceremonial viewing of the back of the head. Apparently my stylist had misplaced her mirror. So I didn't get the semi-annual look at the back of my head. Now, I don't care what the back of my head looks like. I never see it. If people form an (adverse) impression of me based on how hairs look on my neck, so be it.

    But the break in the ritual distracted me enough so I forgot to ask the barber to trim the hair on/in my ears, the fastest growing hair anyplace on my body.

    My motto (which I do not follow): It's heck growing old. Don't do it if you can.


    < id="jn21">January 31

    The big story is the weather. There's some white stuff outside. The weather people have been predicting it for weeks (story below). I guess it's good. If it wasn't for weather, there'd be no news at all. I hear that there's a big storm predicted for the northeast a couple of days from now. That might keep Phil in his hole for the second. I'll take it. I'm looking forward to spring.

    Meteorology 101

    Sometime in early January crazed weatherfolk began predicting snow for that week. On Monday. It was coming on Thursday. On Tuesday, Friday. On Wednesday, Saturday. On Saturday, the flapping faces pretended they hadn't said anything at all about snow. On Monday, they started again. And then again. If we had a quarter inch of snow for each minute they spent predicting it, single story houses would have disappeared.

    Well, darned if it didn't finally work. It snowed last night. While it didn't impress me, there was enough snow to have school called off. That itself isn't exceptional, but the local school district is still all virtual learning.

    This is what terrorized the village:

    Jan snow 2021

    So, if you're a breathlessly bloviating prognosticator (remember these are professionals. Do not try this at home.), what do you do? You double down. Now the prediction is we're going to have snow on Sunday. And Tuesday.

    I hope it doesn't snow–it'll just make the precipitation people impossible to live with. Which, frankly, is tough enough now. So much time wasted waiting for something to happen when I could have been learning Urdu or doing something useful.


    Writer gets strange(r).

    Normally I try to keep the worlds of TomatoPlanet!! and Facebook separate (fear of 'worlds colliding' and all that). But I'm going to make an exception, because TomatoPlanet!! is the land of the absurd, and I may have put together four absurd words over there that deserve to be here, too.

    One of my more activist friends was publicizing a conservation effort involving forests. We are supposed to importune our Delegates in Richmond to improve conservation efforts by letting them know I stand for trees.

    I commented I brake for trees. Even I'm not sure what it means.


    Today's earworm.

    Sometimes it's a livable moment: Somebody to Love, by the Jefferson Airplane.


    Follow the money.

    President Biden pledges to convert the 645,000 vehicle Federal fleet to electric vehicles.

    If you want to make money on this: the government is going to need at least 645,000 charging stations, probably more since some vehicles, like long-haul mail trucks, will need multiple chargers. Add in the wiring and other infrastructure to get electricity to the chargers, and things like portable batteries to charge cars that unexpectedly die, you're talking some good pocket change.

    You're welcome.


    Question(s) for the Makers of Laundry Soap.

    .

    Why do you think your soaps labelled Fresh should smell like a florist's dumpster that hasn't been emptied in a week?

    Why is it the only thing your soaps won't wash out is the stench your product leaves in already-worn clothes?

    Why do you think that we want to smell like a florist's dumpster? Or is this your way of supporting social distancing?


    Speaking of Longing.

    The house across the street has a mail slot next to the front door. Ever since I was a kid, I thought that was the coolest thing ever. We didn't have a mailbox or mail slot. Our mail was put in a milkbox, a square passthrough that in itself was pretty cool, although I didn't think so at the time.

    Anyway, I'm still waiting to live in a house with a mail slot.


    Honestly Don't Care.

    For some reason, People magazine thinks I want to know What stars from Geraldo Rivera to Chrissy Teigen are saying about Trump's second impeachment.

    No. Just no.


    Gifting, (Re-).

    First, a warning: I am probably not the best person to write a piece about gifts–giving or receivIng. I'm told I'm very hard to gift. I don't have good responses when asked what I need or want. Still, here we are.


    I've been posting poems on Facebook for nearly a year now. One of the Christmas series poems mentioned returning gifts, which prompted one of my readers to comment about how disrespectful, despicable, and just plain not nice the practice is.

    I thought her response odd, considering how a) a fictional narrator can't do gifting or returning or re-gifting, and b) the poem that she was taking me to task for was itself a gift, unless you consider the minute or two spent reading a form of payment. Is criticizing a form of return?

    But it did get me thinking about the whole complicated dynamic of giving gifts, starting with why we give gifts (in general and in specific), through the response and ultimate disposition of the gift. As I go into detail, I'm sure I'm going to miss stuff. Like I said, it's complicated.

    A lot of the dynamic is captured in the movie A Christmas Story. Two gifts stand out: Aunt Clara's bunny pajamas, and the Red Ryder. Ralphie didn't like the pajamas, they weren't right for him, but he was expected to thank Aunt Clara for them and wear them at least when she came to visit. For Aunt Clara, they may have been a labor of love, been a reflection of what she thought Ralphie was, or may have been a last-minute what do I get the ungrateful little bugger this year? Ralphie's needs and happiness were probably the last thing on Aunt Clara's mind, so should we be surprised when Ralphie is less than grateful (although at some point she probably did think Ralphie will like that)? Do we favor intent or happiness in determining the success of the gift transaction? And what did Ralphie get his aunt? I bet it was dusting powder. I gave away a lot of dusting powder when I was a kid. Soap, too.

    We still have the problem of what to do with the bunny pajamas in Ralphie's closet. They can stay there, taking up space, worn only while they still fit and Aunt Clara visits.

    (Totally random aside: Why is pajamas plural? No one says go put on your pajama. Even the diminutive 'jammies' is plural. I thought maybe because there are two pieces [tops and bottoms] but they're plural too. End of aside.)

    Or they can be to someone who can use them, although I struggle to think of who that might be. They could be altered for Randy, but that would be double humiliation: ugly and demeaning hand-me-downs.

    Of course, what was Aunt Clara thinking? could be a factor. People give gifts because they have to, because it's something they know the recipient wants or needs, or because the gift signifies our vision of what the recipient's life is or what the giver thinks it could/should be. I have a niece who used to give us things like fondue pots and margarita trees. They were very nice gifts, but I can only surmise that my niece pictured us traveling in exotic, jetting-setting circles. That, or she wanted to be invited over for margaritas and fondue. Whatever the image, it was very different than the life we were leading.

    Aspirational gifts tell the recipient what we would like them to be. So the gift of a doctor's kit to a child might be saying we want a doctor in the family, and you've been selected. I have no idea what Aunt Clara's gift was suggesting to Ralphie.

    On the other hand, the Red Ryder is a real gift. It is given in understanding (Ralphie's dad, by way of explanation, says he had one as a kid), without thought of potential danger or harm. It has a certain impracticality–socks are not good gifts. And Ralphie worked for the rifle–writing the essay, putting ads in his mom's magazine, visiting Santa.

    And the real tell, older Ralphie announcing it was still the best gift ever. That doesn't happen often. Usually, gifts have a greatness shelf life.

    There is one universally awful gift–the a gift has been made in your name to the donor's favorite charity. Bonus awful points if the donation was made to a charity/cause you actively don't support.

    So anyway, to get back to the original question. I think re-gifting is OK, as long as you think the gift is something the new recipient will truly like and maybe even treasure.

    Sorry for taking up your time. I'm betting that after reading this, the whole gift-giving mess is no clearer for you. I know it's not for me.


    January 24

    Today's Earworm.

    The Love Theme from Mystery Science Theater 3000.


    This Week's Winners And Losers.

    Winners:

    • Joe Biden
    • poetry
    • makers of Bernie Sanders memes (although I'm still waiting for the Bernie Sanders on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise meme).
    • Melania and Barron Trump.

    Losers:

    • CNN, MSNBC, OANN, Fox News, and the flapping faces who pollute cable TV.
    • Donald Trump, Melania, Ivanka, Jared, Eric, Don Jr.
    • The lawyer in Texas who was arrested in the Capitol incursion and filed a lawsuit in Waco asking the judge to dissolve Congress because all the votes cast in the 2020 election were fraudulent, and to restore Donald Trump as President because 2016 was the last legitimate election. Oh, and he asked the FBI not to arrest him.
    • Congresswoman Marjorie Greene, who was going to file an impeachment motion against Joe Biden on January 21. She later claimed in a video post from the Capitol Basement that she had filed the notion. One of her claims is that Biden is guilty of blatant nepotism.

    Amanda Gorman.

    I write poetry. Some of it is good, most not.

    I watched the Inaugural, and heard The Hill We Climb. I imagine my reaction was sort of like Tom Brady's and Aaron Roger's on seeing Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen coming up in the next wave of great quarterbacks–a mix of envy, anger, respect and joy. Except, of course, poetry is not a competitive sport. And I am not Tom Brady or Aaron Rogers. And poets get paid peanuts. Otherwise, the analogy holds.

    Hooray for poets.


    Today's Scripture.

    There are a few passages in Scripture that intrigue me, because they're just dropped in, with no follow up, The giants in Genesis. Joshua making the sun (and moon) stand still. The story of Gamaliel the Pharisee from the Acts of the Apostles, as follows: Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, 'Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up,  claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of  the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.


    Design Flaw.

    For people of a certain bent and training, God is the greatest designer, engineer, etc. the world has ever seen, and man is his greatest accomplishment. Some go so far as to say perfect.

    Well, I'm not going to go that far.

    After having used a late-model male chassis for nearly three-quarters of a century, I agree it's a pretty good design, but certain things weren't completely thought out, to wit:

    • eyes: I like the 3-D vision and color, but we're limited to a maximum 180° scope without turning our heads, and 270° when we do turn our head. Someone once suggested putting a third eye at the tip of the middle finger under the fingernail (for protection). That way, you get 360° and up and down. That seems good.
    • eyes: while we're focused on this part of the body, it would be nice if eyes adjusted to lower light, like a cat's eyes do at night. The technology is available–why not extend its use? I'm sure furniture and walls would approve, since they wouldn't be the target of assault as often.
    • ears: why no volume control? Sometimes, I want my ears to go to zero and then back to normal. Some people seem to have this zero-volume feature already built in, judging from all the various sirens and horns they have to keep adding to fire trucks and ambulances so they can get attention. And at least as far as human voice cancellation is concerned, the technology is available to cats already. Spread the love.
    • toenails: no matter how much we shrink over the course of our lifetimes, toenails never get any closer to make it easier to clip them.
    • hands: while the opposable thumb is award-winning design, the whole handedness thing is not. Give them both the same utility and ability.
    • knees and elbows (and wrists and ankles): hinges are good, but ball and socket joints like the shoulder and hip provide a greater range of motion. Greater skin stretchiness around all the joints would add utility, too.
    • hair: either go all in and cover the entire body, or lose it altogether. And what's with the whole growth thing? I'm getting tired of having to go to the barber every six months.
    • you know that spot on your back–the one that itches first–that you just can't reach? Full ball and socket joint systems might fix it, but adding an inch or so to the arms would, too.
    • sinuses: Definition: an empty space in the head that continually fills with mucus that drips into the nose, lungs and stomach. Surely there is some other use for that space, and something besides mucus to fill it. Or if it has to be mucus, make it solid. Or give us easier access to the space to make cleaning easier.

    Faster! Faster!

    A headline in 9to5Mac announced that Apple was extending the free trial period for Apple TV+ to July 2021. I thought, Gee, that's a long time! We might consider signing up for that! Until I realized that this is already 2021.


    Stating the Obvious.

    Buzzfeed News tells us, The Man Arrested At An Inauguration Checkpoint With A Gun And Ammo Says It Was A 'Mistake ' And That He's A Security Guard.


    What! No decimal point?

    From the Washington Post: Misinformation plummeted by 73 percent the week after Twitter banned Trump.


    Inspiration, Huh? Who or What? And How?

    World's Oldest Orangutan Euthanized at Oregon Zoo at Age 61: 'She Inspired Generations.' I have to ask because this headline comes from People magazine.


    Return to Normal.

    OK, the normal I would like to return to is a normal that includes civility, less screaming, owning our own actions, maturity, and a world-class infrastructure that can produce, distribute and dispense whatever we need on a short turnaround schedule, from toilet paper to vaccines. It's embarrassing, considering how far we've fallen from oh, say, 1943, when we were able to complete three Liberty ships and build 84,853 aircraft (or 232 airplanes) a day. If we want to be a world leader, we have to start acting like one, and do things the rest of the world wants to emulate. Getting the vaccine distributed might be a start.


    AnswerPerson.

    Q: I'm 37. My microwave has a special Kids Menu with buttons for hot dog, pizza, oatmeal, and baby food. Can I use the kids menu if I'm preparing food for myself?

    A: If you have received proper training from a kid, yes.

    Q: Ca I let my baby use the baby food button without supervision?

    A: If your baby can reach the button, open the door, take the lid off the baby food jar, put it in the microwave, cook the food, and take the food out of the microwave, your baby can do anything it wants, including driving a car.


    January 17

    In the Catholic Church, there are major saints, minor saints, and all the rest, whose existence, presence, and motivation in our lives we recognize on November 1st–All Saints Day, which is a holy day of obligation.

    I'm going to treat Martin Luther King Day as an All Saints Day. In addition to King, I will also be thinking of all the people who have worked towards equality, up to and including giving their lives in the pursuit of justice and freedom (even though they may not have been aware that's what they were doing), as well as as well as the people who worked diligently for the cause. We should remember all these people as we honor the memory of Dr. King on January 18.

    So Says Carl Sandburg.

    I'm sure it was just a coincidence (even though we all know there is no such thing as coincidence) that I've been reading Carl Sandburg's Chicago Poems, and came upon two that seem relevant in the current times: I Am The People, The Mob and Government. Carl could be a little cynical at times, although some think of him as a realist in the tradition of Edward Hopper and Theodore Dreiser.


    Freedom

    Another Sandburg poem, Gypsy contains these parade-stopping lines:

    Snatch off the gag from thy mouth, child, / And be free to keep silence.

    Funny how we forget that freedom of speech has a corollary: freedom to remain silent. Not explicitly protected by the Bill of Rights, but I'm sure strongly encouraged by the Founding Fathers.

    Followed by these: Tell no man anything for no man listens, / Yet hold thy lips ready to speak.


    Affirmation.

    Not only was Jeremiah a bullfrog, he was a good friend of mine.


    I/O.

    My primary reading this week has been a Christmas gift from my wife, Grammar for a Full Life by Lawrence Weinstein, whose primary thesis is awareness of and modifying language and structures can serve a means to modify life and our approach to it. He uses examples from his own life, including one from his grammar school principal, which influenced his whole approach to life, one that pretty much boxed out creative or spontaneous activity.

    So the question is: What one comment made by a parent, teacher, relative, or other authority figure, set you (consciously or unconsciously) on the way you approach life? It's not so much a you should be a [insert specific career], but along the lines of Johnny is very detail-oriented, or Jenny is very artistic, so Johnny becomes an actuary, accountant, research scientist or engineer and Jenny becomes a designer, teacher, or singer.

    I'm enjoying the book, not only because I enjoy reading about words and language, but also because the author is so passionate about the subject, and posits that the way a person speaks and writes says something about personality and approach to life.

    Chapter 2 (where I am now. I'm reading slowly). discusses active and passive voice, with discussion of transitive and intransitive verbs. Weinstein has a chapter on imperatives, which reminded me of my favorite paragraph in a writing textbook. It comes from Donald Murray's Write to Learn, 2nd ed. It starts Chapter 5. In its entirety: Wait. Don't write yet. So many rules broken. A one word sentence. Two imperative sentences. A four word paragraph. And the very idea that a teacher would write a sentence that tells students to not write, well, breathtaking.

    Speaking of rules, how many did I break in that last paragraph?

    Which also reminds me of a section from Joseph Williams' Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. (1st ed.). He makes a distinction between RULES, Rules, and rules. A RULE is nonstandard English, never broken by a native speaker, unless the speaker/writer wants to look stupid. An example would be a double subject, like These rules they be good for you, A Rule (also called an optional rule, is something that complements the RULES. Think of a sentence that starts with a conjunction, splits the infinite, and ends with a preposition. All optional, all ignored, but the source of much angst amongst the grammatically prudish. A rule is a convenient convention that isn't a rule at all They're sort of like what we used to call Sister Says Theology in Catholic school. Williams also refers to them as folklore, RULES broken: 0. Grammar mavens irked: all of them.

    More from About Grammar as it inspires me.


    Quelle Surprise!

    Vanity Fair lets us know, in its own inimitable way, that Ivanka Trump reportedly won't attend Biden's Inaugural &340;after maybe not being invited in the first place?) I can hear the discussions at the Inaugural Committee now. Did you invite her? Of course not. Maybe she's coming as somebody's plus one. No, Hunter's already told us who his plus one is, and she ain't it. Do you think she got a gag invitation, like from one of those places that will put your face on a Time Magazine Man of the Year cover? (chuckles all around).

    Actually, invitations have nothing to do with it. I'm betting Daddy changed her curfew time. Maybe Mike Pence's, too, but Mike's being rebellious.


    Transportation Update.

    Unnamed female (hereinafter referred to as she) will no longer be coming 'round the mountain. She will instead be availing herself of regularly scheduled flights into local airports, and consequently going over the mountain.

    The six white horses have been placed in a rescue facility with lovely pastures and paddocks, and are being well cared for.


    Sometimes it's as much fun with the picture off.

    My wife was watching The Great British Baking Show in the other room. One of the contestants was running out of time in a particular challenge, and one of the hosts (Mel Giedroyc) noted she was over-multitasking, trying to commit blending, stirring, measuring and baking at the same time.

    It was then that I realized that there are different levels of activity in participles. You can be baking, but in reality you're doing nothing to further the process. Baking is a sort of umbrella term, under which you perform a lot of other things. Baking, i the narrow sense of in the oven is not as taxing as stirring, or example.

    Funny language, English. Especially when you hear it spoken on TGBBS.


    Staying in touch.

    Frankly, I'm not. I just found out I'm cisgender. All this time, I thought I was a guy, and If you want to get technical, heterosexual.

    Next, I'll probably find out that I'm heterodox.

    And I also just found out, listening to the latest episode of Where's all the vaccine? that I'm also in Group 1b because I'm over 64 and comorbid. Here all this time I thought I was very cheerful and upbeat.


    Did you know?

    Princes kept the view all along the watchtower. This was right after the joker told the thief that there must be a way out.

    I'm sure the joker was kidding. After all, the princes were keeping the view, and probably watching, too. All avenues of escape were cut off. But then, that's the joker's job, isn't it?


    January 10

    Well, that was an interesting week. The weatherpersons spent the entire week telling us how it was going to snow on Friday and/or Saturday morning. Large blocks of wasted time. See the Saturday morning Poem, below, for a longer reaction. And There was the gafuffle in Washington. I'm still trying to figure out what the goals were. There would be no overthrow, no Trump continuation., not even an extended discussion. Based on the way some of the people were dressed, it looked like either street theater or a bus going to a Renaissance Festival lost its way.

    The Wall Street Journal confuses Right Now with Not in my lifetime.

    The headline: Why radicchio is the ingredient we need right now.

    Uh, they didn't score as many points?

    Headline in Fansided: The real reason [the Chicago Bears] lost to the Green Bay Packers.

    Beer: Australians' solution to everything.

    From an article in The Guardian about a fugitive found in a tree in a swamp in Western Australia: Faust said he stripped to his underwear and handed Voskresensky his shorts and a beer as the trio made their way back to Darwin. 'He looked like he needed a beer, although he was in a bad way,' Faust said.


    New Year Monday.

    We have the usual kinds of noise in our neighborhood. Lawn mowers. Trucks. Minor construction. Recently, though, it seems to have been pretty quiet, enough so we can hear birds and things. Today is different. In the middle distance, we can hear chain saws, generators, and all sorts of mechanical devices. I don't know if I'm drawing an unreal line, or if somebody said, it's the new year. Let's get back to work.

    2021: the year of sick but tidy.


    capitol

    More proof that time is going fast.

    It's the fifth anniversary of David Bowie's death. Speaking of, I saw a couple of the year in dead people tributes. Maybe it's just me, but a lot of famous (and semi-famous) people, especially Hollywood types and musicians shuffled off their mortal coils in 2020.


    The Conspiracy Theorist.

    The Conspiracy Theorist saw a headline from People magazine: Ivanka Trump Mistakenly Tags Meat Loaf in Photo of Her Dad.

    No mistake about it at all, the Conspiracy Theorist believes. He posits that the mistakes made in tweets and other messages by the Trump family and other officials are actually code for other activities. MeatLoaf instructed the faithful to march to the Capitol after Dad's speech and try to gain entry. Covfefe was a notice to international hackers to start working to infiltrate U.S. Government financial institutions, like the Department of Commerce.


    Whaaat?

    Vanity Fair: More Hillsong pastors resign as Justin Bieber confirms he's left the church.

    I don't know if the headline writer is implying a false causality, but if true, we may be witnessing either the end times or the second coming.

    Or it's just Vanity Fair's known penchant for name-dropping and claiming celebrities are responsible for everything.


    Resolution.

    O.K., I said I wasn't going to do New Year's resolutions. This is a resolution that coincides with a new year. Also, it will stay in effect only so long as it seems useful.

    To wit: I will no longer pay attention to the forest. I am going to pay attention to a few trees–a sapling or two and a mature tree, and make sure they're doing well.

    Other resolutions, short and sweet.

    • Think more.
    • <;i>Thank more.
    • Compliment more.
    • Complement more.
    • Ignore/avoid anything that uses the phrase clever hack (or synonyms like clever, ingenious, brilliant, or genius). Don't read about or do hacks.

    Not a New Year's Resolution.

    I thought about it for about two seconds, but I am not going to swear like an Englishman. Too much research.


    Profundity.

    Reading is like fertilizer for my life.


    Random Thoughts: Pottery.

    I was getting coffee this morning, and reached to get my favorite Sunday mug. My sister gave it to me back in 1984 or so. It's handmade, got a peasant shape, and a nice color combination, As I started to pour coffee, I also thought about the other mug that she gave me at the same time, but which broke less than a year after she sent it (an encounter with a one-year-old). This is an old mug, I thought,

    But then, I realized that, as pottery goes, well, it's not really all that old. Archeologists are finding much older pottery all the time. They get really excited when they dig up pottery, even if it's only shards. They can tell, just by shape, decoration, type of clay used and the amount of pottery, how old it is, what it was used for, where it was made and how big the site was, to piece together a story of the people who lived there.

    Then I realized that potters are really story-tellers, and history makers. Some other remarkable things about pottery are that archeologists find it almost everywhere. Very few civilizations didn't make pottery (Eskimo and hunter-gatherer civilizations come to mind).

    Another thought: Broken pottery is as useful to archeologists as a complete piece. So the mug I tossed over 35 years ago is as useful to them as the mug I was holding (unless, of course, they're planning on drinking coffee.

    A final, totally random thought. When archeologists excavate, they mostly find things of the earth–pottery, glass, metal, and stone. They don't find as much wood, paper, skins, animal parts or other organic materials (this conclusion is based on totally random watching of shows about archeological digs)

    Mother Earth takes care of her own, it seems.

    Also, I have to start pouring and drinking coffee faster. That's a lot of thought for so early in the morning.


    no apology.

    I may be wrong about doing this, but I have not been practicing social distancing with my invisible friend.

    At least, I don't think I have.


    Another contest.

    I've used the name TomatoPlanet!! for this collection for probably 15 years, and I've been mulling changing the name, which I do when I get bored. A few possible candidates, but with problems. First candidate: RunningonEmpty.com. Short, descriptive, accurate. Problem: it's already taken. Candidate number two: RunningwithTypewriters.com Pros: Available, quirky. Problems: I already have a quirky website name. Half this stuff couldn't be done with a typewriter, and none of it is. We'll leave it to Tom Hanks, who already has the strangely obsessive relationship with typewriters market sewn up. The third entry: If_Steve_Martin_Wasnt_Talented_This_Is_What_He_Would_Produce.com Problems: Steve Martin's flotilla of highly paid legal beagles won't look kindly at unapproved use of Steve Martin's name. And really, who is going to take the time to type www.ifstevemartinwasnttalentedthisiswhathewouldproduce.com? It looks like the name of a friggin' Welsh town. Upside: Accurate, unless you believe there is no way Steve Martin could sink to this level of dreck, even after a full frontal lobotomy.

    TomatoPlanet!! it is, then.


    January 3

    Detritus 2020.

    At the end of December, McDonald's began advertising the McRib sandwich as the most important sandwich of the year. And that, my friends, is the grand finale for 2020. First, that it would have an important sandwich. Second, that it would be the McRib.


    Good News to Start 2021.

    It's been a long time since I've had a destination, must watch TV show. On January 3 (AKA today), BBC America will begin a six-part series based on Terry Pratchett's wildly popular Discworld series. I've read maybe 30 of the 41 novels (OK, I can hear you asking, if these are so popular and so good, why haven't you read them all? Two reasons: a)since the pandemic killed the libraries, and maimed in-person retail, my sources have dried up. 2) frankly, I've sort of lost track of which books I haven't read). and so I'm looking forward to this series, which will be featuring one of my favorite characters.

    However, as always, I have one worry. I have a mental picture of the characters that inhabit this world. What if these people are nothing like the people who live in my head?


    Credit Where Credit and All That.

    I've been posting a lot (it seems) of call-response pieces. Call out a headline, don't read the article, make a supposedly humorous comment. It's cheap, easy and I don't have to leave the house.

    I should probably give credit to my literary progenitors. There are many, but credit should definitely be given to the folks behind Texas Monthly's Bum Steer Awards. Fun for all, heartier laughs if you've done time in Texas.


    Notice.

    Hallmark Movies in search of: a)small European countries with a photogenic castle and handsome, unmarried prince who speaks impeccable English. Ideal candidates should be unknown to American audiences and not used as a setting for a Hallmark movie before. b) small to medium sized towns with charming central cores that have not had their Christmas festival/show )chorale already organized to perfection by hot-shot career-driven designer who came home for the holidays. Will consider local bakery/bookstore owner sin place of designer. Prefer town with Black mayor. c)Condo/Resort developer looking for quaint, charming town as site for a project that will destroy the charm of the town. Prefer company with tough, no-nonsense CEO with a soft heart.

    Just a reminder: all Hallmark movies are some variation of The Wizard of Oz or a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland film.


    Defying Physics.

    The Food Network suggests 3 Things You Need to Make in Your Instant Pot First.


    Scam Likely

    My iPhone has started identifying suspicious calls as scam likely. I think that would be a great name for a character in a story. I just don't know if it would be a hero, a villain, or a sidekick. For some reason, I think genre fiction would work best, either science fiction or a western.

    Test Admin would be a good name, too.


    Speaking of...

    We upgraded phones, and so the hunt is on for the on-off switch, which moves from model to model and device to device. Great fun.


    Three Theological Virtues

    I haven't thought about these in a long time. I do now because I suspect that this end-of-year into new year we'll be hearing a lot of I hope this year things are better/get back to normal kind of thing, said in a way that indicates hope is bestowed by some sort of power out there somewhere.

    It's not. Believing, hoping and loving are all susceptible to modification, or more simply, you have it in your power to alter faith, hope and love. They're active verbs. Someplace along the way, for example, non-believers made a conscious decision to not believe, if not in God, then something, like the Buffalo Bills winning the Super Bowl. But then people began to believe, and some of the believers worked to get the right coaches and players.

    So faith, hope and love all work together, but more importantly, it's in our power to bring them to life.

    Might be a good thing to remember in the new year.


    Stupidities

    Famous (or semi-famous) people can't just die anymore. Their death has to be connected to some life marker, usually something in the relatively near future. So-and-so died three days before her 53rd birthday. Yeah, so? Yeah, Bob was nominated for more Higgldy-Piggeldy awards than anybody else, but he died 363 days before his 93rd birthday, with no explanation of whether this future event was important to Bob or whomever. What did they do, and even more importantly, what were they planning on doing/accomplishing and now won't that might have been important to them–or us? That's what I want to know. There's always something that you can draw a line to. Make the line something significant.


    Speaking of the Bills

    I lived in Houston in the mid-seventies, when the Houston Oilers were truly bad. They had some good players, but something was perpetually going wrong. It was always easy to get tickets for Oilers games. Then I moved away, and the Oilers got better, to the point where they were arguably the second-best team in the NFL.

    Unfortunately, the best team was the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were in the same conference as the Oilers and blocked the way to the Super Bowl. Great rivalry, great football, but the Oilers never made it to the Super Bowl.

    I sincerely hope (there's that word again) the same thing doesn't happen to the Bills with the Kansas City Chiefs.


    New Year's Greetings.

    Happy New Year!

    Yeah! Same to you. You can't imagine how happy I am to put 2020 in the rear view mirror. (Looks around.) Does anything seem different to you?

    (Looks around.) No, not really. Wait. All the leaves finally fell off that tree.

    That happened last year. In November, I think.

    Oh. It seems colder than at this time last year.

    A little, maybe.

    (A pause.)

    Make any New Year's resolutions?

    The usual–diet, exercise, talk to myself less, or if I keep talking, listen less. You?

    (chuckles.) Sounds about right. No, no resolutions. Woulda broken them by now anyway, so I don't even try anymore.

    (A pause.) Well, I guess I'll be heading back inside. The mask is beginning to itch.

    Yep, mine too. Good talking to you. Happy New Year!


    Praise.

    There's a bird somewhere nearby screaming You're pretty, You're pretty over end over. It may be one of those things like on the TV ghost shows where the investigators claim the grating sound they heard is the purported ghost saying Be sure to drink your Ovaltine, and I'm just reading into it. Also, I have to remember that many people are hearing this. Plus the over and over and over aspect is beginning to get on my nerves, and do I want to accept compliments from an annoying creature?

    Ah, heck. It's been a bad year. I'll take it. Thank you, bird.


    Message to the Messenger

    (Courtesy of Gil Scott-Heron.)

    Four letter words or four syllable words won't make you a poet/It will only magnify how shallow you are and let everybody know it.


    < id="d20">December 2020

    December 27

    This will be a light week for comments, as my brain has been occupied by visions of flour, sugar, butter and eggs that come together so beauteously as to win the gingerbread house competition in a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie, even though none of them are housers, and only one is gingerbread.

    The Year in Review.

    There's generally universal agreement that 2020 was the mist sucky year in memory. That would be a more compelling statistic if we could remember much before 2017. However, as we're about to put the year behind us, I've noticed some stuff that, if only for a moment, we could be thankful for.

    For me, the year in thanks breaks into two parts: January through, oh, mid-November, and from then to now.

    • When social structures are removed, people go crazy. Lots of meltdowns. I'm thankful that mine (and me) know how to deal with isolation ad disruption, but feel for those who can't. Very fragile.
    • Just because I'm forced inside, it doesn't mean that I'm going to do more things. Like vacuuming. Or cooking. I did do more writing, but that's more a function of doing more writing. It feeds on itself. It does not mean that the quality of the writing rose, however, either in proportion to total writing or in sheer quantity (I offer this sentence as an example). I'm thankful for the knowledge and can now build it into my routine. Most likely, it will be combined with a nap somehow.
    • This past month, since Thanksgiving, things smoothed out some. Fewer and fewer companies, through advertisements, started their pitch by telling me we're all in this together, or that we're in difficult (or unprecedented) times, or all the other cliches that got spewed out. I think most Americans have figured out that the correct responses are No we're not and they always are and we already knew that. In November, politicians and their lawyers brought their comedy A game to the table, but thankfully faded slowly into irrelevance.
    • Speaking of politics, why were there no investigations into vote-stealing and fraud in states like Texas and Nebraska? Or, for that matter, New York or Virginia?
    • There's still the odd Karen or guy insisting on not wearing a mask, but they, too, seem to have mostly faded with the summer heat.
    • This year's crop of Hallmark Christmas movies were mostly bloodless, a little grim, and not a little desperate. The good news is that freed up a little time to do other nothings.

    But there are solid year-long good news stories, too. Like food banks always seem to respond to people in need, no matter how stretched they are. Or nurses and hospital staffs who complain about being stretched to the breaking point, but still show up to do the job. Ditto all the essential workers who were invisible in February, but now have some visibility. I hope all that recognition continues. And finally, no matter how much some people will say we have to get back to normal, they're not well. The old normal was not a good healthy place.


    Read the article.

    The BBC reports that a mysterious monolith made out of gingerbread appeared in Corona Heights Park in the US city of San Francisco on Christmas Day.

    I read the article and was rewarded with this finale: the city's Recreation and Parks Department's General Manager, Phil Ginsburg, told Californian news company KQED: 'We will leave it up until the cookie crumbles.'

    I wonder if they found the remains of a yet unseen Hallmark Christmas movie? Also, kudos to Phil for bringing his best Dad-joke file to the party.


    Oh, dear.

    A Boeing 737 Max was being moved from storage to deployment in Montreal. It took off, but mechanical/instrumentation difficulties forced the pilots to abort the trip. In Tucson. Not encouraging, or a good look.


    Updates.

    Last week (?) I wrote about how surprise should be added to the inevitabilities of death and taxes. well, I forgot one–software (especially system) upgrades. The are two rules governing their behavior. They will appear, demanding to be installed, when you least want them to. When they are installed, They will break something, usually once you've learned to rely upon your customization, and once you've learned to live without the customization, whatever you did will mysteriously reappear of its own accord.


    More casualties?

    I didn't think about it much at the time, but my wife pointed out that she hadn't seen It's a Wonderful Life on TV anywhere (it finally showed up on Christmas night). I didn't recall any showings of he original Miracle on 34th Street, either. We had to make do with two marathon days of A Christmas story and multiple showings of White Christmas.

    No comment.

    According to The New York Post: Keith Richards gets cockroach named after him for 77th birthday.

    The Keith Richards roach was given its own guitar. As opposed to the The Keith Richards guitar was given its own roach, which happened many times during performances, I'm sure.

    I also wonder what they have planned for Keith's 80th birthday.

    OK, so maybe a few comments.


    Cat naps.

    This is probably one of those you're doing it wrong things, which I detest, but we are encouraged to take cat naps, which are normally thought of as being short.

    Our cat has been napping in my lap for over four hours, and will wake up only when I push her off my lap, which will annoy her no end. So if you're going to catnap, do it right!


    Finally, it's everywhere.

    The BBC has its own specialist disinformation reporter. I wonder if that means that now that the adults have latched onto disinformation, if the cool kids will have to do something else.


    December 20.

    Well, it's The Week, a time for anticipation. A large percentage of the population will be braving the elements and CDC warnings and travel over the river and through the woods. Weathermen anticipate snow. What will Santa be putting in my stocking? Will it be coal? And if so, where did Santa find coal? Some parts of the anticipation will be anticipating snow. A subset of that, like me, who know too much stuff, will be wondering if Santa brings anthracite or bituminous. Another segment wonders what coal is. and finally, Trump supporters wonder if Santa will bring Donald Trump 7,500,000 votes that were erased by fraud and by Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.
    Don't forget December 21 marks the reappearance of the Christmas Star. Right after sunset in the southwest is the best viewing time. It's also good of the sky is clear. If you want the best view, though, you're going to have to go to the Southern Hemisphere. Don't forget a swimsuit. It's summer there.

    De Colores

    Pantone announced their Color of the Year. Actually, it's two–Illuminating and Ultimate Gray.

    pantone 2021

    Pantone has a lot of reasons and research behind the choices, as well as having aspirational goals for the effect the colors will have. But you gotta wonder sometimes. Laurie Pressman, a VP at the Pantone Color Institute, said this about the Ultimate choice: We have to acknowledge that gray has been around forever. It's sort of like Labrador Retrievers–always one of the most popular dogs, but never a winner of the AKC's Westminster Dog Show.

    BTW, for you webweavers out there, the new colors in hex are #F8D948 and #939597. However, Pantone colors don't make good background colors, as I found out to my chagrin in, you guessed it, 2020.

    Explaining America

    Many people are shocked and horrified that the divisions in America are so deep.

    It's always been like that, frankly, and nicely encapsulated by Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. When it was published in The New Yorker in 1948,the office was flooded with comments. Many people who wrote in thought the story was disgusting and wanted to cancel their subscription. Another group wanted to know where the towns were so they could go and watch.

    Thanks to Garrison Keillor for the story around the publication.

    Another change-up.

    Just when I thought 2020 was going to go out with all the nastiness that it showed throughout the year, it goes and does something like this, as seen on the camellia bush in the back yard.

    camellia

    Gardeners tell me that camellias aren't necessarily all that strange this time of year, but that narcissus are, like these in the front yard.

    narcissus

    Too good.

    From NBC News. Former Israeli space security chief says extraterrestrials exist, and Trump knows about it. A 'galactic federation' has been waiting for humans to 'reach a stage where we will understand... what space and spaceships are,' Haim Eshed said.

    'Galactic federation,' huh? We don't 'understand space and spaceships,' huh? So I guess that would make us pre-Klingon. Not good news. Their ships are so icky looking.

    We can do better.

    The reason Trump hasn't said anything about knowing this is his team is scouting locations for the Trump/Galactic Federation Casino and Golf Resort, with ample parking for spaceships. These are aliens that Trump likes!

    Anyway, it proves what I've been saying all along–if there's intelligent life out there, they're most likely smart enough to not contact us.


    Conundrum

    If you write, you have to read. If you've begun writing something you've spent your life up to this point avoiding (oh, let's say poetry), you read more poetry. So, in this hypothetical, you probably read some authors that you like, and who influence the way you write poetry, say, folks like Walt Whitman, Carl Sandburg, Charles Bukowski, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and Gil Scott-Heron.

    Start Two: Being a writer can be hard, seeing as there are so many things to write, each with its own standards of excellence, and these change over time. Some require self-revelation (a current fashion in poetry); others promote a complete absence of self (as in technical writing). One universal across all forms (with the possible exception of some boilerplate text) is thou shalt not plagiarize. You can imitate/adopt tone, voice, rhythm, subject matter, everything, except thou shalt not lift a particular collection of words in a particular order from somebody else, unless you want to give credit to the originator.

    So imagine my shock/grief when I was reading Gil Scott-Heron's poem Coming from a Broken Home, and encountered these lines: She could take hers and outdo yours,/or take yours and outdo hers./ she may not have been in a class by herself,/ but it sho' didn't take long to call the roll.

    Now, they're not bad lines. In fact, I like them a lot, particularly when I first heard them, attributed to Bum Phillips, the one-of-a-kind football coach of the Houston Oilers in the early '80s. Bum was known for catchy turns of phrase. I don't know who copied who, or if they both copied someone else, but I do know (his'n/your'n) can be tracked to 1960. On the (class by himself) the first citation I chased down is from Bum, in 1979. Gil's poem was first published in 1990. So I dunno. Enough sadness to go around.


    Did You Hear That?

    We were listening to NBC News a few nights ago (listening to: background noise and flickering images to accompany dinner, some of which surface into the frontal cortex, where they are are usually discarded quickly). When the broadcast was over, I realized that, for the the first time in living memory, Donald Trump was not mentioned in any context for an entire newscast.

    This may not be a big deal, as I am a charter member of the short attention span theater. Of course, lots of sports shows are willing to point out that xxx is the first player since 2019 to achieve this feat. Which deserves either a golf clap or a yawn. It's like Jim Thorpe or Abraham Lincoln was involved somehow.

    December 13.

    Already the middle of the month, and it's just going to get more frantic. Packages must be mailed now. Which means things must be wrapped now, bought now, selected now. That's my Christmas Eve routine–I don't appreciate having it pushed forward.
    I'm thinking it's time for us to emulate the Brits and the Canadians, who have Boxing Day on Dec. 26. But let's do our new holiday right–have a reception of the Christmas gifts day, maybe around the beginning of February. I know we have a lot of holidays then (MLK Day, Valentine's Day, Presidents' Day&341; but what better time of year to have an extra holiday than in the middle of winter? Maybe we could roll restocking and buying of the live Christmas tree to that day, too. I'll be darned if I'm going to be forced to rush out and buy a tree on December 1.
    It's an interesting concept to push the Christmas season back as well as forward. I'm sure retailers won't complain.

    There goes the Neighborhood

    The Big Think reports A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated. 2,000 light years closer, in fact. They don't tell us how how close we are now. The 20-year study also says Earth (and presumably the entire solar system) is moving faster–about 16,000 mph faster.

    Good news for those with a need for speed.


    Holiday Traditions

    For many people, travel over the holidays has become a Christmas tradition. Airports and highways are crowded as millions of Americans travel home, metaphorically over rivers and through woods, or jet off to warmer climes sometimes to visit an aged parent in a Florida or Arizona senior city, or sometimes to get to Cabo or Vegas to dislax themselves.

    It's nice to see old traditions being continued. After all, travel around the celebration of the birth of Jesus is the only thing we know that the Holy Family did, first from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and then from Bethlehem to Egypt. All the other stuff is just pasted on.

    I have no explanation for Thanksgiving travel, though.


    More mud time.

    No, not the slinging kind, the clear as mud kind. From the National Weather Service, in supporting a slight severe storm risk for this area: A shortwave trough over the Mid-South will amplify and become negatively tilted as it reaches the Lower Mid-Atlantic Coast towards 12Z/Saturday.

    Before you laugh, remember you're paying for this stuff.


    Ha, ha, indeed.

    I just saw one of Buzzfeed's lists of things that you do that show you're adult (AKA old). I hit a bunch of them, but one was interesting, about the adjusted value of a hundred-dollar bill.

    That didn't particularly interest me, but I started thinking back (which is much more predictable than thinking forward). In my lifetime (let's just say it started sometime in the Truman administration), I have possessed perhaps three $100 bills. The money wall gives me $20s, and so for me that's the high end of the American currency system. If I recall, I was able to use one to actually buy something, but the other two I had to deposit in the bank to make them usable. So if you're looking for a drug dealer or money launderer, I'm probably not your guy.


    Random Thought (based on the last random thought).

    Whenever police conduct a raid, they list the things taken, and it almost always includes a large sum of money. Two questions: what exactly is a large sum of money? Right now, I'm carrying a sum approaching $100, and I think that's a lot of money. And two: why is having a large sum of money at hand a sign of criminal activity? I thought that was the way America worked. Have a dream. Work hard. Get rich. Have lots of money. Run for President.

    Maybe the large sum is all in $100 bills, and, like me, the cops never saw any growing up, and figure they had to be acquired through nefarious means. Or maybe all the cash is in wrappers marked Mike the Money Launderer or Doris the Drug Dealer.


    Lawbreaker.

    It's amazing how easy it is to be a lawbreaker. Pretty much every time I get in a car, I'm going to speed. Not much–five miles an hour, but still...

    Every Thursday, the city where I live collects the trash, and insists that for them to do the job, I must put the trash cans at the curb between 6 pm Wednesday and 7 am Thursday. I have had weeks where the trash was put on the curb as late as 9:30 am.

    This life of crime is very exciting. I wonder what I should try next. Maybe walking in the street, and walking with traffic instead of against traffic.

    Then I'll rob a bank, and take only $100 bills.


    Today's homonym

    I've been noticing a lot of webpages are screwing up grammar and word choices, especially homonyms (words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean diifferent things. Today's group is sight, site, cite.

    What, you want more? Greedy buggers.

    • Sight has to do with seeing. Your eyes are working, and/or something entered the area in front of you eyes. Sight can be used as a noun or verb, or metaphorically. Snowfall is a depressing sight qualifies.
    • Site is a place where you put a building.
    • Cite is something you do in a courtroom, or when you reference somebody else's words, so everybody knows you've got backing for your words.

    Ghost!

    Sometimes, the only things that are remotely palatable on TV are ghost shows. Sad commentary on the time we're watching TV, I guess. Anyway, there are three things that intrigue me.

    How do old ghosts, like from say the Civil War or 17th Century, manipulate new technology? How does a ghost from 1650 know how to make a flashlight turn on and off, speak through a radio or make a TV or ceiling fixture go crazy? I'm surprised a ghost hasn't reformatted a hard drive yet.

    can you...? Lots of shows have investigators who ask the ghost to answer a question, or manipulate an object–a light, a door, or perform some activity–bake a cake, sing a song. Why would the ghost want to do that? I mean, what's in it for them?

    professional human response. Actually, if they like a laugh, the ghosts will comply. There's nothing funnier than when one of these professionals gets the response they requested, and then runs off screaming like a child.


    Winners

    It used to be that someone who won a lot of money immediately acquired a lot of unknown relatives and people with sad stories to tell, the goal being to separate the winner from some of his winnings. But you had to be a big, famous winner.

    Nowadays, we all get to share in that tradition, as unknown relatives are replaced by telephone scammers. I got maybe a dozen calls yesterday, none of which were answered or left messages, but I bet they were going to tell me there was a problem with my Amazon account or my Apple device had experienced a security breach.


    Business Pandemickery

    A while back, I talked about businesses impacted by the pandemic. One industry I forgot to :mention was convention centers. I imagine they're getting hit pretty hard by group meeting restrictions. Of course, many if not most of those convention centers were funded by taxpayer bonds, and I'm sure many of the contracts have clauses making the operators whole if certain goals aren't met, so we're probably on the hook for that, too. I say probably because economic development and transparency are never uttered in proximity to one another, proximity in this case meaning in the same state.


    December 6.

    It's December. I mention that because in the flurry of post-election blues, continued covidity, endless Black Friday, and a not-really-Thanksgiving, you may have missed it. One day blends into another.
    Today is the feast of St. Nicholas, a third-century bishop of Myra who somehow morphed into Santa Claus. He was reputed to give gifts secretly, but that's still a stretch to fat guy, beard, red suit, North Pole and sitting in a mall. Nick is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, prostitutes, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, and students. Personally, I don't have any special celebrations planned, but you would hope in that list of motley folk, somebody will.

    Other Voices.

    So why am I always #2? I'm more popular–no one ever says You're full of #1. Does #1 have an emoji? Well, yes, but I dare you to tell me what it is without looking it up. I'm much more socially responsible. Do you ever hear of a guy walking casually up to a tree in the woods to take a dump? or off the end of a dock? No! Have there been entire episodes of South Park dedicated to pee? Don't be silly! Does #1 give you quality time alone to think deep thoughts or read a good book? Never! It's all about do, zip, and go.

    Even though I have a majorly recognized brand presence, just once, I'd like to be #1. Thank you.


    Yep, another headline.

    I think this is a positive sign. NBC News reports rapper quit his music career to start a cat rescue. The rapper TrapKing thinks it's a good career move, too.


    Oh, no.

    In another NBC News report, that monolith in Utah has disappeared and been replaced by a small stone pyramid and rock cairn. One visitor examined the original structure and showed it was more curved than straight, not at all like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, not what earlier pictures would lead us to believe. Also, informed speculation calculates the original might have been there over five years without being noticed, which means the suspected original prankster is off the hook.

    I'm not sure if I am disappointed or delighted that the trickstery continues. But if all the above is true, I admire the dedication and fortitude of whoever could have left it there that long without saying anything, and not just getting discouraged and removing it.


    The Vast Wasteland Revisited

    We are supposedly living in a Golden Age of television. If so, they forgot to tell our cable provider. Constant ghosts, Nazis, cooking contests, people fixing houses, alien abductions, strange creatures, archeology, and what all, all the same. There is no new programming, just renaming and repackaging and reshowing. It's trash TV at its finest.

    You can tell they're running out of ideas, so they're cross-pollinating, injecting aliens into ghost stories, mashing up architecture and Nazis, bigfoot and engineering and cooking shows and auctions with, well, everything.

    Still, it's got limitations. I'm here to help, with some outside the box thinking. To wit:

    • Haunted House Renovation. Imagine the hilarity when flippers buy a haunted house. All the changes they make during the day are undone by the resident ghosts at night. But the mood takes a dark turn when the poltergeist stops being michevious and turns malevolent.
    • Real Housewives of the Arctic Circle Gold Mines. Watch Stacy, Natalie, Dorene and Brit'tanny react as they are cut off from essential services–clothing boutiques, wine bars and backyard swimming pools. But those six-month winters give a whole new meaning to chewing the fat, and chewing each other a new one! Can you say meow in Inuit?
    • Sasquatch on the Titanic. Sasquatch is a marine archeologist who becomes obsessed with the Titanic after seeing the movie 23 times in 25 days. Each episode will feature interviews with actors from the movie, and Sasquatch tests various kinds of submersible equipment.
    • Cryptid Cupcake Contest! Caterpillar chocolate! Beet and beef broth! The taste treats are limited only by what cryptids eat. Special guest judges will grade not only the taste and presentation of the cupcakes, but the scariness and anonymity of the cryptids.
    • UFO Hot Rods. They're legal, and they're winners! Nothing can outrun these dream machines from Alpha Centurion on the streets of Memphis or lonely highways in western Nebraska. The aliens add a whole new dimension to trash talking. Nobody can beat an Andromedan in colorful descriptions of the failings of an opponent.
    • EMS Zombietown. Don't push–there's more than enough brains for everybody once these meat wagons of comedy get rolling!
    • Shark Psychiatrist.. The tension mounts as Dr. Mike probes the id and ego of various big sharks. Will Mike make his diagnosis before the Great White swallows him whole? Will Nurse Remora be able to distract the tiger shark twins while Mike prepares the anesthetic hypodermic darts? Will viewers be able to tell if this Mike is the same as last week's Mike? The only way to find out is to tune in every week for another suspense-filled episode!
    • Bigfoot, Knight Templar. Who's going to suspect Bigfoot of knowing where the greatest treasure in the history of the world is hidden, much less responsible for protecting it? Hint: it's not where you expect it. Neither is Bigfoot, a master of the red herring and staying out of sight from even the most dedicated trackers.
    • Dancing with Alien Bachelorette Survivors. You haven't seen dancing until you've seen our handsome bachelors sashaying and fox-trotting with the vivacious, four-legged hotties of Vandalagorda. Or the armless refrigerator-sized Puntaladaormans. Or AAARNDALBIAMS, whose 203° skin temperature gives a whole new meaning to hot chick. There's a fresh challenge from a different alien race each week. And you don't want to see what happens when a bachelor is voted off the island and into his partner's digestive system!

    November 28

    The Computer Chronicles continues. Last week, the program I used to upload files to the internet server broke. This week, Dropbox has started eating files, including a number of poems for a class assignment, and (drumroll, please) snippets and tidits I was collecting for your delight and delectation. So if this is shorter than you might anticipate, well, that's the reason.

    The Naming of Names.

    If you happen to look up at the moon on November 30, you will be looking at a full moon variously known as the Cold Moon, Frost Moon, Winter Moon, Beaver Moon, Oak Moon, Moon Before Yule, Child Moon, Kartik Purnima, Karthika Deepam and Tazaungdaing Festival Moon, and Ill Poya.

    There's supposed to be an 80% eclipse then also, but nobody wants to tell me where on earth we can see it, which is OK, since it's supposed to happen around 4:00 in the hey of hem, so I'm not seeing it anyway, even if it was happening in my backyard.


    Maker's Mark

    The New York Times has a nice report on a metal slab that appeared in the rock canyons of Utah earlier this month. Nobody has taken credit for it, or knows how long it's been there.

    The picture in the Times shows the monolith in Utah with another picture showing a similar sculpture in a gallery in Manhattan. I think it looks a lot better in the desert.

    The suspected artist said something in 2002 about putting his art pieces in remote natural places. Unfortunately, he died in 2011, so we'll never know if he got around to it..

    According to authorities, and artist needs permission to place art on federal lands, so the sculpture is illegal. If that's true, that's the kind of regulation that should be repealed, not the stuff about clean air or continuing to protect birds or workplace safety.


    Really?

    From the U.S. Sun: Trump ‘furious’ at Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and legal team ‘fools that are making him look bad’ in election battle Now, I thought Trump was able to, and did, everything on his own, and didn't need help with anything. Strikes me that's the case here.


About TomatoPlanet!!

TomatoPlanet!! has been in existence (with a couple of name changes) since about 2003. It reflects the interests of its author/creator, John McCarthy. The sole purpose of Tomato Planet!! is to provide an outlet for my attempts at being creative. At various times, these interests have included writing (always writing–fiction, poetry, speculative essays, and humorous writing), coding (html and css) taking pictures, cooking, and cartooning. As interests waned (camera broke and was never replaced, cooking became more functional and simpler), pages devoted to these activities were phased out, to the point where TP!! was a single page. A lot of the writing and subject matter had a limited shelf life, and so instead of archiving it in an accessible fashion, it was just taken off-line and parked in the shed.

Some people missed things, and I put some things back. Most pages have been updated (Stories is a work in progress). Miscellany, which actually has a long history (one of the predecessors of TomatoPlanet!! was called McCarthy Miscellany.), has been rethought, and should be getting more love this year.

All work is based on observation of the world around me. Serious writing, the poetry and stories take a different approach to capturing these observations. Cartoons and speculative essays take very little seriously, reflecting the world. If you look long enough, you realize that the orbital pattern is random ellipses, not perfectly round. I try to capture the absurdity of that. Not all the way to dark absurdity like Camus and Sartre, or even like Samuel Beckett–I sort of pull up in the land of Douglas Adams and Joseph Heller. I should be so lucky as to write half as well.

If you view the world through absurdist-colored glasses, you will enjoy some of the material here. If you're not an absurdist, well, you haven't been paying attention.


TomatoPlanet!! is a random collection of writing, cartoons, and things that skew absurd. It's funny, or at least I think so. © 2003-2021, John McCarthy

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