Thursday, March 31, 2011

Katrina all over again

If I read one more story about the 50 workers in the Fukushima Dai'ichi plant who are bravely giving up their lives for their country -- yet don't have food to eat -- I'll scream. Every story about these workers says they have no food (only crackers) and are forced to sleep in the cold with "one blanket". This is insane.

They can drop endless tons of water on the plant but they can't send down a little parachute with some basic supplies? These people are giving up their lives and they don't have food or blankets? And none of the news reports on TV or stories I've read online ever mentions why they are in this sorry state. These are heroes -- and they're not being fed or kept warm?

What's wrong with this picture? It's driving me crazy, just like those images of people without water after Katrina -- day after day after day.

Drop some supplies down to the workers now!

More strange science words

Today I happened upon two science words that made me smile: toponium and bottomonium. Way to go, guys.

Toponium refers to meson particles that interact with the top quark and its anti-quark.

Bottomonium refers to any hypothetical meson that forms from the bottom quark and its anti-quark.

Never name particles when you're not feeling creative. Never. Sleep and name them tomorrow.

NOVA earthquake show

Annie tells me that although her local listings said there would be a NOVA episode last night on "Japan's Killer Quake", when she tuned in, the show was about birds instead.

I don't know why this happened because in my area the Japan quake show was indeed aired. It was very good, too. It hardly focused on the nuclear repercussions, instead centering on the quake and tsunami. There was quite a bit more footage than we've seen on the news and it made me understand the violence of the quake itself, which never really came across in the news footage. Same with the tsunami. They covered the effect on various villages and you got a good sense of how unstoppable the water was. There was also some, but not that much, coverage of the human devastation. Mostly it focused on the physical aspects of the quake and tsunami. There's only so much you can show in an hour.

If the show wasn't on in your area last night, keep an eye on your listings. It's bound to air soon and you don't want to miss it.

Words, words, words. Hooray!

Welcome to word and phrase origins Thursday. Up today, a few facts from John Ciardi's "A Browser's Dictionary: A Compendium of Curious Expressions and Intriguing Facts." Here are today's words.

Sweep (slip) under the carpet. Though it now suggests a lazy housemaid hiding her sweepings under and edge of the carpet, it originally meant "to remove from official consideration" by slipping papers under the cloth covering of the desk; in French, mettre sous le tapis.

Ham, ham actor. A strutting, bellowing emoter. Heavily blackfaced clowns of the minstrel show are said to have removed their make-up with lard, which they slanged as hamfat. Or hamfat may have been their slang for the face cream they used. In any case, the term emerged c. 1900 in a popular minstrel show song, "The Hamfat Man" . . . Minstrels were, of course, clowns, and the shift to ham, ham actor is an easy adaptation.

Limerick. A popular five-line form of light verse rhymed AABA, the A lines trimeters, the B lines dimeters. [Note the following are all Ciardi's words, and he is a master of the limerick.] I have been a passionate limericker in my time and there is no way to stop me from quoting myself by way of example, if only to prove that the limerick can be innocent:

There once was a lady named Wright
Who simply could not sleep at night
Because of the ping-
Ping-ping of her spring,
And the glare of her little red light.

Though the limerick is a recent form, its name and origin remain a bit obscure . . . yet the name is from Limerick, Ireland.

Werewolf. Count Dracula's dog. In spook legend, a man who changes at night into a ravenous wolf that eats men, usually under compulsion of the full moon, resuming human form by day. Probably a semi-mythological figure personifying rabies. Based on vir (man) and the German vulf (wolf).

Halo. In religious art, an aura or nimbus around the head of a saint. Based on the Greek halos, threshing floor, because the dust of the threshing diffused the sun's rays. 

Now, wasn't that refreshing? I know I'm going to think of threshing floors every time I see a halo. Word derivations expand your feel for language. Here's hoping you enjoyed today's entries.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Heads up

I just saw that NOVA tonight at 9 will be about "Japan's Killer Quake". Gotta tune in.

When a problem becomes a solution

It's wonderful when it happens. You have this huge problem on your hands and no idea how to deal with it. Then suddenly science points the way: your problem is the solution to another problem.

For a long time, industrial smokestacks used to shoot particulates (fine soot and dust) into the air and of course a lot of this ended up in people's lungs. New rules changed this, forcing industrial sites to collect the substance, referred to as flyash. We now collect 130 million tons of it every year. Problem is, no one had any idea what to do with it so we've been shoving it into landfills. And if you've been following the landfill situation, you know we're running out of room.

But in walks a simple solution in the form of another problem. Concrete is used to construct all sorts of things and yet it breaks down very quickly. It's always crumbling and cracking. Just walk over to anything made of concrete and check how intact it looks. It literally starts to crumble immediately after it goes up. For this reason, we spend huge amounts of money each year repairing concrete structures such as bridges and highway supports.

Enter flyash. A story at physorg today reports that flyash, when applied to the rebar within concrete structures (the metal you see within broken concrete, usually rusting), protects rebar and prevents rusting. Not only this, but when you apply flyash to concrete it makes it much, much stronger. For a year, they observed concrete coated with flyash and exposed to the elements -- there was no degradation at all. This is unheard of for concrete.

The US Environmental Agency estimates it will cost $1.3 trillion dollars to replace our deteriorating concrete infrastructure by 2020. After that date, if we have not performed the reconstruction, the country will see many more disasters like the collapse of the bridge in Michigan. But if we coat everything with flyash we won't have to pay that money again anytime soon. It will save hundreds of billions of dollars. And hey, it gets rid of the flyash.

I love when two things dovetail like this. It's beautiful.

It's here!

My new copy of John Ciardi's "A Browser's Dictionary: a Compendium of Curious Expressions and Intriguing Facts" finally arrived -- and it's even better than I remembered.

If you love words, you will cherish this book. Ciardi is a knowledgeable, creative and funny man, which makes his explanations a joy to read. The preface alone is worth the price of the book. (And in that preface he mentions my favorite word origin story: where the word nasty comes from.)

Ciardi isn't a one-trick pony, either. Another of his books is "How Does a Poem Mean?" -- an introduction to poetic structure and meaning. And he wrote a book with Isaac Asimov called "Limericks: Too Gross". The man gets around.

You'll get a chance to read some of Ciardi's explanations of word and phrase origins right here tomorrow. (And get ready for a great language of baseball post over the weekend!)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Japan is not China

If the series of calamities that happened in Japan had instead occurred in China, we'd be in deep trouble -- because for the next 50 years, China would be selling us irradiated children's jewelry. At least in Japan, there's a good chance that the radiation will be contained in a responsible manner.

There is a huge difference between Japan and China. But I find myself wondering if today's Americans even know this. Are they all just Asians to GOP types? (Nah, they'd call them "Orientals".)

The Swallows

I wrote the green-highlighted post below just before Japan turned into the bible's Job. Naturally, I didn't want to put it up after that. But as I was reading all the latest terrible news, I chanced upon the fact that the cherry blossoms are blooming in Tokyo. This will provide a major lift for those living with grief and saddled with the extra burden of radiation fears. This simple annual occurrence will remind the survivors that life goes on.

So, in the spirit of believing that Japan is strong and will survive these disasters, and that rebirth lies not too far away, I'm putting up the silly post. It's about one of Japan's biggest virtues: their baseball teams. Here it is:
I'm so disappointed! A few times over the years, I've heard baseball announcers say that a player was successful in the Japanese baseball leagues, and they often mentioned a team with a really great name. I loved the name, or what I thought was the name. What I heard was the Occult Swallows, which sounds so cool. Wouldn't you like to be a famous hitter for the Occult Swallows? Woo, eerie! 

Unfortunately, I just bumped into the correct spelling of the team name. They are the Yakult Swallows. Awww, I'm so disappointed. Yakult is just the name of a city, so it's like they're the St. Louis Cardinals. Dull, baby, dull.

I still hope that I will one day see a game played by the Occult Swallows. But it's not looking good.
I hope reading this wasn't too jarring, given what's going on in that beleaguered area of the world. Japan's people will survive this -- and thrive. And then silly things like the above post will seem normal again. For the sake of the Japanese, I hope that time comes soon.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Something new: rocks

I love when science tells us something that changes how we see the world. Today on there's a story about how the rocks in our solar system were created.
( -- The earliest rocks in our Solar System were more like candy floss than the hard rock that we know today, according to research published today in the journal Nature Geoscience.
This changes the way I see our planet. Just think -- there was a time when rocks weren't hard. They were a webby, fragile, gossamer thing and only turned to "rock" when they were smashed together, or compressed by gravity.

(By the way, candy floss is British for cotton candy. Those Brits sure are weird, huh?)

Figuring out my life

When you're high for most of your life, you really have no clue what happened to you during all those years. The past is a blur. I don't know people that I know; I don't remember things that I did. I don't remember much of anything. So when I was in my 40s, I decided to map out the terrain by writing my life story. This wasn't easy but I had to clear away the blur. It was really irritating me.

What I did was take random memories and then try to line them up in time. Writing it on a computer really helped because I could write several memories down and then jiggle their order until they seemed to be in the right place. Little by little, I added more memories until I filled the years out. And I used real-life events (like Woodstock, or when a movie came out) to nail the memories to dates.

In the end, I got my life story down on paper -- though to this day, I still run into memories that make no sense and which I can't place in time. It was rewarding to finally sit down and read the finished thing. Afterward, I almost cheered -- "So that's what I did!" It was strange too, almost like reading about someone else. Still, I assume this must be the record of my life, as well as it can be reconstructed, anyway.

I've been thinking of serializing some of it here -- stuff like a wild trip cross-country with other hippies in a broken-down vehicle that said, "California or Bust" on the side. Eluding the cops; getting caught by the cops. Fun stories that bring the hippie days back to life. Anyway, if I can't come up with an idea for a post sometime (an eventuality that seems highly unlikely) I may put some of it up here. It won't be boring, I promise. I've had a mighty strange life.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

You have no idea

In my family, many remarks are preceded by this phrase. As my mother offers a platter of food, she says:

"You have no idea how delicious this is!"

But it's not restricted to her. The whole family does this.

"How was the party?"
"You have no idea the fun we had!"

You'd think the phrase always introduced something positive. Unh-uh.

"You have no idea what happened to me last night! Help me into that chair." 

Like some people, the phrase swings both ways.

Now, this might be amusing if it only affected others. But the awful truth is that we end up saying the things we hear. And yes, the confession: I hear these words come out of my mouth at times. It makes me hang my head in shame. But what can you do? Some phrases are like a virus. They latch onto your soul and claw their way into your thoughts. You have no idea how this upsets me.

I'm not sure when my family started saying this. Maybe I've been hearing it from birth but I suspect this is a recent viral invasion. Is this perhaps a countrywide epidemic, a virus the citizenry picked up while watching TV? Do people in your area say it too? A lot?

Maybe it's like that dreadful Uplift Virus that took over the country in the late 90s, making everyone end their sentences on a high, questioning note -- guaranteed to make the person sound like an imbecile. We're finally recovering from that, and now this.

Let's make the topic larger. Is there some idiotic phrase that has worked its way into your language because you hear it so often? Are you infected with a language virus? Lordy, I hope not!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A suggestion for Markos

At DailyKOS, when they have an open thread, they invite readers to participate by saying, "Jibber your jabber". I've grown very tired of this, and at least one substitute comes to mind. Surely there are more. Perhaps my brave readership will plunge in and come up with even better suggestions. Then we can pack them up and ship them over to KOS for use. Here's mine:

Chatter your class.

PS: This reminds me of the way TV stations come out with promos for their Halloween horror movies, to be shown throughout October, and inevitably refer to the month as Shocktober. They do this again and again and again. C'mon guys, move on. The next step is Octogre. 

Bob Herbert's final New York Times column

In his last column at the New York Times, featured in the paper today, Bob Herbert discusses the American decline. An excerpt:
When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.
I hope we end up hearing more rather than less from Bob Herbert in the future. I wish him luck in his new career. He will be greatly missed, and his departure leaves a gaping hole in the Times' roster of columnists.

Friday, March 25, 2011

First Rich, now Herbert

There's a notice in the NY Times today that Bob Herbert is leaving the paper. This comes on the heels of Frank Rich's departure. Truly, what will the Times have to offer without these two pillars of the paper? As far as I can tell, the only two sane voices are leaving. This does not bode well for the paper's future.

Here's an excerpt in which Herbert states his reasons for leaving:
“The deadlines and demands were a useful discipline, but for some time now I have grown eager to move beyond the constriction of the column format, with its rigid 800-word limit, in favor of broader and more versatile efforts,” he said. “So I am leaving The New York Times and the rewards and rigors of daily journalism with the intent of writing more expansively and more aggressively about the injustices visited on working people, the poor and the many others in our society who find themselves on the wrong side of power.”
I will miss Bob Herbert dearly, and Rich as well. They weren't just window dressing for the Times -- they were the only rational columnists the paper had.

Breathtaking stupidity from Timmy Dolan

From an article in the Orlando Sentinel. Hat tip to Joe.My.God.
Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan — “America’s Pope” — appeared Sunday on 60 Minutes Overtime to discuss some of the most critical issues facing the church, including gay marriage, celibacy for priests, and the ordination of women.

On his opposition to gay marriage, Dolan said, “I have a strong desire to play shortstop for the Yankees. But I don’t have a right to because I don’t have what it takes. And that’s what the Church would say about marriage.”
Truly breathtaking stupidity. What an appalling sense of privilege exists inside this disgusting man. He is a stinking pile of hatred -- and always wears a beguiling smile as he harms his latest target. We can only hope that Dolan becomes the next popey guy because an evil person like this, wearing all the festive popey hats and outfits, will cause a swift and calamitous collapse in what remains of the reputation of the roman catholic church. Go Timmy!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

More word fun, this time from the Times

As I read an article in the NYT this morning, about veggie burgers, I burst out laughing. Now, this might not cause guffaws from all readers, but it got me. Here's the chef speaking:
“And I don’t think somebody should feel like they’re eating an inferior burger. If you’re going to do a veggie burger, it should have that richness and mouth feel and overall texture. When you pick it up, it should eat like a burger.”
(Emphasis mine.) I love that wording. It's so American. It should eat like a burger. If that doesn't make you chuckle, you're not a word maniac like me.

It's that time of the week again

The following is taken from "The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson. My copy of "A Browser's Dictionary" still hasn't arrived. Tune in next Thursday for words and phrases from the new book. Here are today's selections.

Desultory. Circus riders in ancient Rome jumped from one horse to another during their acts, which led to their being called desultors, or leapers, from the Latin salire, "to leap." They were soon compared to people who fitfully jump from one idea to another in conversation, which resulted in the word desultorious, "to be inconsistent, aside from the point," the ancestor of our English word desultory.

Fata Morgana. Mirages of houses, ships and mirror images, often seen in the water as well as in the air, and often doubled -- inverted above each other -- have frequently been reported in the Strait of Messina and other places. They are named Fata Morgana after Morgan le Fey, a sorceress in Arthurian legend, the words Fata Morgana being an Italian translation of Morgan le Fey.

Paeans; peony. The gods wounded in the Trojan War were cured by the physician Paean, according to Greek mythology. Thus many plants once prized for their curative powers were named for Paean, including the flower called the peony. Because they believed their god Apollo often disguised himself as Paean, the Greeks sang hymns of thanks and tribute to him that came to be called paeans, these the source for our paeons of praise.

To buttonhole. "Barricade your doors against the button-holding world!" a British magazine warned its readers over a century ago. Button-holding, "grabbing a man by the top button of his coat and holding on with all the strength of the boring until you sell him one thing or another," was so common in the 19th century that button-holder was defined in many dictionaries as "one who takes hold of a man's coat by the button so as to detain him in conversation." People must have been button-holding and wearying people in France, too . . . for the French had a similar phrase. In those days men's coats had buttons all the way up to the neck, including one on the lapel that could be buttoned in cold weather. When fashion decreed that upper buttons be eliminated, button-holders didn't suddenly reform. Instead, they began grabbing people by the buttonholes designers (for no good reason) left on the lapels, and the phrase became to buttonhole.

Every Thursday you'll find word and phrase derivation stories here. If you're just discovering the blog, click on "phrase origins" in the tags below to see other derivation posts. I haven't been doing them for long, but they'll pile up soon enough -- because I don't intend to stop.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The unspeakable condescension of straights

Leonard Pitts, Jr. has a great column today about the incredible condescension of straight people. You can read the whole thing here: "Gay marriage a right -- not a poll question" Here are some excerpts from the column:
It seems a majority of the American people now favor allowing gay men and lesbians to wed . . .

But lurking at the edge of celebration there is, for me, at least, a nagging, impatient vexation. That vexation is based in what is arguably an esoteric question: In extolling the fact that the majority now approves same sex marriage, do we not also tacitly accept the notion that the majority has the right to judge?

Try to imagine for a moment the consternation upon some woman’s face if a story in the paper announced that “X” percentage of Americans now favors allowing women to work outside the home. Try to picture the brisk dialogue that would ensue if you informed some Jewish man that you now supported his right to practice his religion.
That's it in a nutshell and it's the thing that drives me crazy. How dare anyone other than gay people think they have the right to decide if we can marry?! It's the most outrageous thing imaginable. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Work update

As planned, I wrote the synopsis for Xmas Carol yesterday. And today I wrote the cover letter. Now all I have to do is edit them to death and the book will be on its way to the publisher. I'm going to send it to Tor Books. Among horror and sci-fi publishers, I find Tor the most appealing. Here's hoping.

The language of baseball

In order of approval, my three favorite teams are the Mets, the Red Sox and the White Sox. So most of the baseball language I hear comes from the announcers who work these games.

A favorite is Ken Harrelson, who announces the White Sox games. He was known as Hawk Harrelson when he was a player. How can you not like a guy who begins every show with, "So sit back, relax, and strap it down! White Sox baseball coming your way!" You gotta. (But what is he telling us to strap down, exactly? I can't figure that out.)

Harrelson was the first announcer that I heard using a phrase that was entirely new to me. When there's a nice, high fly ball to the outfield and it's easy for the fielder to catch, he says, "Can of corn!" I thought that was so odd. And then I heard Ron Darling, one of the Mets announcers, say the same thing.

What could they mean? The only thing that comes to mind for me is an image of two people in a kitchen and one throws a can of corn to the other in a very slow, deliberate way, knowing it's not a safe thing to toss around and must be handled gently. So it's like a baby throw, done in a way that almost guarantees the person can catch it. Is that the connection? Chime in if you have another idea.

(And only now will I peek at the Intertubes to see what they say. I found this: "The most accepted theory is that the phrase, 1st used in 1896, makes reference to a long-ago practice where a grocer would use a stick to tip a can off a high shelf, then catch it in his hands or outstretched apron." Well, whoopee. This answer does nothing for me, although it does arrive at the same image: a can or corn easily falling, easily caught. Chime in, readers.)

Moving right along, in a game Hawk Harrelson called last week, a pathetic ball -- a pop-up that didn't pop up much, stayed in the infield and was easy to catch, he said, ". . . a little duck-snort falls in." Dog only knows what the man meant with that one. Do ducks snort gently?

And in another game, a Mets game, I think, the announcer called one hit "a cue shot". And sure enough, if you looked at the field from overhead, you saw the ball do the little bounce like a pool ball hit by a cue, and then head toward the far field with another little bounce. It looked just like a pool shot. I love that they have these highly descriptive phrases for the ball's movement.

And finally, I want to mention the cultural undercurrents in baseball. There is this ironclad idea that a player is straight, youngish, married, and has kids. They love to talk about the wives and what a great father the player is, and that's fine. But they also push a strange, male role-model image.

For instance, Ron Darling was explaining what players were doing during a Spring training exercise. They were showing footage where a pitcher purposely threw the ball in the dirt, right in front of the catchers crotch, to teach him to handle plays where the ball comes in like that. Darling said, "And of course, if you were doing this with your brother, you'd try to hurt him." This was just an idle statement. No one commented on it because that's the way it is. Of course you'd try to hurt your brother if you were the pitcher, he was the catcher, and you were doing this exercise. Almost goes without saying. There's a lot of this in baseball, and usually the values are warped.

Okay, that's it for today's baseball-language post. More coming soon -- throughout the season, in fact.

Monday, March 21, 2011

I wish . . .

I wish I was a juror on Barry Bonds' trial so I could make sure he's not convicted of anything, no matter how minor. 

I also wish I was on Roger Clemens' jury so I could do everything possible to put him in jail for the rest of his life.

Time to write the synopsis

When you submit a manuscript to a publisher, you send it out with a cover letter and synopsis. Today I plan to write the synopsis for Xmas Carol.

As I understand it, a synopsis is basically the same as a blurb -- the paragraph or two on the back of the book that catches your attention and drags you to the cash register to buy the book. But with a synopsis, the blurb isn't just a tease -- you tell the entire story of the book -- and do so in just a few pages.

Sounds easy, right? I hope it will be. I did this for another of my books, The Worlds, the first sci-fi book I wrote. I never sent that out because I still want to rewrite parts of the book. But I did complete the cover letter and synopsis. They sound pretty damn good, too.

So that's the plan. By nightfall I hope to have a compelling, punchy description of the book. Then I'll write the cover letter tomorrow -- and that's it. Then it's time for Xmas Carol to visit a publisher.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What to thank when things go right

This is a tough one for rational humans. Religious fools thank god for everything, of course. But they're not alone in this impulse. It seems all humans feel thankful when things go well. Even we evil atheists feel this emotion now and then.

Perhaps we've been trained to do this by a society that is so heavily influenced by religious nitwits. But on the other hand, it could be part of our evolutionary heritage. Maybe animals tend to be thankful. Seems to me I've seen some mighty thankful animals in my day. I don't think we've got the market cornered on this one.

So what is a rational atheist to do with all the damn thankfulness she feels? Who or what should she thank when good fortune comes her way? Well, let's see . . . she could choose to remain trapped within this "thankfulness" meme and look around for something or someone to thank. Or she could step outside the boundaries and merely be thankful. Why does there have to be an object or agent involved in thankfulness? We are thankful; period. That pretty much does it for me. No need to whip up some spooky being and kneel on thumbtacks in front of a statue of it.

Yet I must confess that at rare moments, even I want to thank something. So what I do is thank the universe.

I try to envision everything that exists, and I tip my hat to it. But I don't thank it for being benevolent; the universe is not some kind, caring creature that watches out for us. On the contrary -- it's a harsh and violent place with not a whit of kindness in its nature.

I thank the random events that gave us a sun that hasn't gone nova (yet). I thank the vagaries of chance that have allowed us to escape extinction for so long. I thank luck for enabling life to thrive on this lovely planet that's not too warm and not too cold. And I feel intensely grateful to be here, to be allowed to exist. This last item is the greatest prize of them all.

Works for me. How do you handle thankfulness in your life? What do you do with it?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Owsley is dead

This week, Augustus Owsley Stanley died in Australia in a car accident. He was synonymous with the 60s and I'm saddened by his passing.

He was basically the one-man operation that gave us the best acid of the 1960s. Believe me, it was good. The memory of him that sticks with me is this: When we were at the Fillmore East and Owsley was in town, no one would drink anything unless they saw it poured from a closed bottle. The man sprinkled acid everywhere. But of course, on such nights there were always some who made a point of drinking and eating all sorts of stuff, hoping for an Owsley high.

After attending a Fillmore concert that Owsley also attended, although I didn't knowingly take any drugs, I was zonked. I must have ingested something via Owsley's ministrations. After the concert, I walked home to Queens from the theater on the Lower East Side. For non-New Yorkers, this is a very, very long way to walk. I was way too high to take a subway. Seemed sensible at the time, and what an interesting walk it was! Go, Owsley!

When he died this week, something else died along with him. Part of the era was excised from the landscape. The only way we can access Owsley now is through memories, photos and writing. Speaking of which, there's an article about him in the NY Times today. Interesting, though the writer is really pushing it with the Jobs comparison. Jobs is so not-Owsley. Still, you can learn a bit about Owsley by reading it.

Linking to the NYT after the paywall goes up

This is interesting. I found it on Paul Krugman's blog:
Can I still access articles through Facebook, Twitter, search engines or my blog?
Yes. We encourage links from Facebook, Twitter, search engines, blogs and social media. When you visit through a link from one of these channels, that article (or video, slide show, etc.) will count toward your monthly limit of 20 free articles, but you will still be able to view it even if you’ve already read your 20 free articles.

When you visit by clicking links in search results, you’ll have a daily limit of 5 free articles. This limit applies to the majority of search engines.
Hmmm. It sounds like posting links from the blog will still be doable. Good!

Indeed, popey guy. Indeed.

AP headline:
Vatican Praises EU Decision on Crucifixes in Classrooms
Indeed! So let's see what made the popey guy smile. The Vatican is happy that the EU decided (insanely) to allow crucifixes to be displayed on the walls of public school classrooms in Italy. So much for the separation of church and state. Popey guy likey.

And no surprise. If the EU had decided it was fine and dandy to display Coca-Cola signs in Italian public school classrooms, I'll bet Coca-Cola's chairman would be pretty happy, too. At no cost to them, their image could now be burned into the minds of all public school students in Italy. You can't get better branding than that.

And so the evil popey guy is pleased. As the CEO of the sleazy Roman Catholic church, he damn well should be.

The EU has made a stupid decision with wide ramifications. Like blasphemy laws, this sort of thinking belongs in the Dark Ages. It is the opposite of democracy. Today the popey guy is laughing in some dark and airless corner of his palace. He is one happy popey guy. And that's a very sad thing.

Friday, March 18, 2011

In, at and on: weird language

A story at today begins like this:
"As Spring continues to unfold at Saturn . . ."
At Saturn? Not on Saturn? This sounds so strange and wrong to me. What's with the "at", guys? I even see this in reference to places on Earth (note I didn't say "at Earth"). People will say, "He was at England when he . . ." At? 

I don't get it. Storms occur on Saturn, not at Saturn. And one is in England, not at England. Language has gotten very odd in this area and I'm not sure why. Any suggestions?

Why are there no good songs on the radio?

Radio in NYC was pretty good. There were stations I loved, particularly WBLS. Way back then (about 18 years ago), I could always spin the dial and find some good music.

So when I moved to upstate New York, I wasn't expecting to find myself in a radio wasteland. Up here, you can turn on the radio and spin that dial all day without ever hearing a song you like -- or anything new, for that matter. They just play the same, dead songs over and over and . . .

I blame empty-headed companies like ClearChannel for the dearth of good music. They are the white bread of radio stations and lately it seems every station has jumped on that bandwagon. What ever happened to all those fresh FM stations that played new music?

It seems the only requirements for "artists" to be played on local radio is that they be white, heterosexual and talent-free. And yes, it's always white people. I call this idiotic brand of music "het-rock". They can't sing on key and the lyrics are always mundane boy-girl stuff. Talent? These folks offer nothing.

It's like it was planned. You almost expect that if one of these stations accidentally played an innovative song, they'd pull it off the air in mid-play, exclaiming, "How dare anyone show talent?! Don't they know this is a ClearChannel station?!"

It makes me long to be back in the city, though perhaps things are the same there by now. Maybe a reader from NYC can enlighten me on this point. And no, I don't want to pay for radio. It seems obscene. Still, I don't get it. If there's a great new song, why wouldn't a non-pay radio station play it? Isn't that in their best interest?

I know: the elephant in the room. Maybe there are no more good songs or talented artists and musicians. Maybe the only music that exists now is het-rock. Has mediocrity extended its greasy fingers into every aspect of our country? Is musical talent a thing of the past? Or do I just live in a radio wasteland?

How are the stations near you? And when was the last time you heard anything new and interesting on the radio?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Back-up saves the day

Two days ago, I had a nightmare experience. After completing Xmas Carol, I was noodling around with the format when I somehow lost a huge part of the book. Can you imagine? I was aghast.

But since I'm a good-good person, I had just backed it up. I roll with one inviolable rule: if you've done work that you don't want to repeat, back it up. Having just finished Xmas Carol, I certainly felt there was something worthwhile to back up, and I did so immediately.

For this reason, I was able to restore the book completely from the back-up drive. Do it, kids: back-up. One day it will save your ass. Never skip a back-up after putting in a big day of work. And send a copy of your work to another site. If your house burns down and the only place your book exists is on your computer and the back-up drive sitting right next to it, you've lost the farm.

My books exist in three places at all times. And I back up constantly. If you value your work product, you will too.

It's Phrase Origins Thursday!

Word afficionados, rejoice! You held your breath, you waited and hoped and finally it's here -- Phrase Origins Thursday! But I digress. Here they are:

Coney Island; coney. The Coney in Coney Island should really be pronounced to rhyme with honey or money. The word derives from cony (or coney or cuny), meaning the adult long-eared rabbit (Lepus cunicula) after which the Brooklyn, New York community was named. However, cony, pronounced cunny, became a term for the female genitals in British slang, and proper Victorians stopped using the word, substituting rabbit, which previously had meant only the young of the coney species. The only trouble remaining was that cony (pronounced cunny) appeared throughout the King James Bible, which had to be read aloud during church services. Proper Victorians solved this problem by changing the pronunciation of cony (cunny) to coney (rhymes with boney), which it remains to this day in Coney Island as well as the Bible.

Cook your goose. The Mad King of Sweden, Eric XIV, was supposedly so enraged because residents of a medieval town he had attacked hung out a goose, a symbol of stupidity, to "slyghte his forces" that he told the residents "[I will] cook your goose" and proceeded to burn the town to the ground. This story is generally disregarded . . . Attempts have been made to relate the phrase to the old Greek fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs. The peasant couple to whom that goose belonged, you'll remember, killed it (and perhaps cooked it later) because they were eager to get at the golden eggs within its body, which turned out to be undeveloped in any case. The first recorded use of the phrase cook your goose is in a London street ballad condemning "Papal Aggression" when Pope Pius IX tried to strengthen the power of the Catholic Church in England with his appointment of Nicholas Wiseman as English Cardinal:

"If they come here we'll cook their goose,
The Pope and Cardinal Wiseman."

It's a naive domestic burgundy without any breeding but I think you'll be amused by its presumptions. This originated as the caption under a James Thurber drawing of a pretentious oenologist offering a glass to a friend. It is an expression that has been used jokingly by many a host pretending to be a "wine expert" while dispensing a $3.99 special.

The above is excerpted from an excellent volume called "The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson. I'll be branching out soon -- I just sent for a new copy of my long-lost "A Browser's Dictionary: a Compendium of Curious Expressions and Intriguing Facts", by John Ciardi. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Uninsured rate skyrockets

From Medical News Today:
During 2010, some 52 million Americans went without health insurance, compared to 38 million in 2001. 
There are only 309 million people in the United States. This means that one-sixth of the US population went without insurance last year. Something is very, very wrong with this picture.

American decline picks up steam

The most depressing aspect of our economic situation is how our leaders are handling it. Everywhere you look, governors and mayors are cutting funding for schools, firing teachers, eliminating or combining schools, shutting libraries and closing senior centers (and often blocking Medicaid, refusing to authorize life-saving surgical procedures, etc.). And on the national level, many in Congress are trying to remove every safety net that protects the citizenry.

The thinking seems to go like this: when times get rough, throw kids and seniors to the curb. Do not hesitate, just toss 'em out. And no matter what, don't focus on the money-grabbing by corporations and individuals that is occurring at the exact same time. No, no, no. Keep your attention narrowly focused on harming kids and old folks.

How does this make sense? At senior centers, many older people obtain their only meal of the day. Without it they'd be in real trouble. Plus, this is their only opportunity to socialize because there is no one in their lives who visits them. Most are utterly alone in the world. The centers are also a precious source of warmth in the winter and cooling in the summer. They're a vital lifeline for these people. Take the centers away and you leave seniors without food, friends or support. How could this be a good idea?

And as for de-funding schools and firing teachers, there is nothing more shortsighted. Legislators and elected officials are eating the future of our country. Depriving kids of a good education is the last thing we should do in bad economic times. Where will our new, educated workers come from? Who will pick up the pieces of our shattered economy? And as for libraries, they are places where dreams are born. Libraries not only nurture kids' minds, they provide a safe harbor away from the threats of the streets (and sometimes, their own homes). It is utterly insane to cut educational services for young people. It is an act of national suicide.

Yet you never hear this in our public discourse. We only hear that more and more of these attacks on our future are taking place. And people seem to accept these actions, like lemmings. This is such a simple thing to understand. Maybe it would help if we transform this into personal terms and see how it really looks.

When a breadwinner loses a job, the family takes the youngest child, stabs her and tosses her out the window. If they're really under pressure, they then take grandma, drown her in a tub and bury her in Potter's Field. Because that's the American way. It reduces costs and that's all that matters.

It's funny how when you make it personal, you see the lack of sense in this way of thinking. But on a grand scale, our attitude seems to be, "Who the hell cares?" Wake up, folks. Bad things are happening right now.

If we don't take a look at ourselves and right the ship immediately -- and I don't think there's any chance that this will happen -- then we won't be able to come back from this, at least not for several decades. Our country is in a period of runaway mental and moral decay. Every civilized society cares for its young, its elderly and its infirm. If people don't understand this today then the country is no longer civilized. It's that simple.

And the worst part of all this, of course, is that there is no hero on the horizon. There is hardly anyone in public life who speaks honestly because all the players have ulterior motives. It's a greedy grab all around -- and the people be damned.

It's all decline, all the time, everywhere you look. I think we've passed the tipping point.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nifty Neanderthals

In a story on today, called "Neanderthals were nifty at controlling fire: study", we learn that Neanderthals weren't dumb creatures. This goes against the incessant, traditional depiction of them as brutes who were "sub-human". Not so.

Apparently they used fire continuously from at least 400,000 years ago through the date of their extinction, only 30,000 years ago. I'm so happy to hear this. I've always thought it was a terrible loss when they went extinct, not only for them, but for us. Just think what it might be like to live alongside a similar but different population of beings, as intelligent as us (more intelligent?), but a different species. I find this inviting.

Alas, this never came to pass but I am delighted to learn that we have a bit of Neanderthal DNA in us -- not much, but some. We interbred at some point in our histories, and perhaps a small part of what "makes us human" actually comes from our Neanderthal DNA. Highly doubtful, but it's a fun idea. 

Aside: It drives me nuts that I can't recall the name or author of a sci-fi book that contained a Neanderthal character and was one of the most panoramic, time-spanning, mind-expanding adventures I've ever read. I'll post the title and author as an update here, if and when I remember this information. Grrrrr! (Maybe that's the Neanderthal in me, huh?)

City boy reports from wilds of America

ou know what's creepy about living in the country? Nighttime.

Unless there's a full moon, once night falls you can only go out in a car -- unless you just want to walk around your own property. That much you can do (but bring a stick).

The first of two huge problems is that there are no sidewalks. This seems insane to me. We're people; we walk. Therefore we need sidewalks. This is not optional. Alas, this bit of common sense hasn't reached my area.

It's bad enough walking around during the day, because the roads aren't level. Every single road either rises or falls because the area is built on hillsides. The problem for pedestrians is that when you're approaching the top of a hill, you have no idea what might be barreling at you from the other side. It's a bit iffy for the last few yards. Try this at night and you'll come back from your walk dead.

Not only are there no sidewalks, there are no lights -- not one streetlight anywhere. It's strange to walk off into a pitch black night. Even when you use a flashlight you can't see beyond the beam. And there are all sorts of animals roaming around in the dark. You don't mind the deer, which are absolutely everywhere, but there are also strange packs of animals, weird creatures, possibly from Venus. I've seen them. I know.

In the city, you can walk all night and see everything around you. That's something I miss living out here in the sticks. I like living here, don't get me wrong. I like it a lot. But there are drawbacks to this rustic existence.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Xmas Carol is (almost) done!

I have only three more scenes to edit in my horror book, Xmas Carol. I'm standing right in front of the finish line.

The reason I'm writing about this today rather than tomorrow is that as soon as I'm done, I'll be sad. It's difficult to part with a story, it really is. I live in the world I write about; it's my home. And I will feel sad when the day after tomorrow arrives, and I will no longer be working on Xmas Carol.

That's why I'm announcing the "happy" news today. By 5 pm tomorrow, you can shout it from the rafters: Xmas Carol is done!

Could anything be more boring than William and Kate?

Each time I see a mention of these two lackluster creatures in the news, I'm befuddled. Who cares what these two ordinary people are doing or what happens to them? Pushing a Disney fantasy about two drab humans by calling them "Royal" doesn't fly anymore. This type of news coverage is a relic. People today don't care about such nonsense.

"What?" you say. "People are wildly interested in this pair!"

There are indeed many stupid people who are excited by anything they see on a TV screen. If you don't believe this just take a look at the current crop of untalented and un-notable American "celebrities" revered by the public. But what idiots will watch and what the population at large finds interesting and meaningful are two very different things.

The same goes for the absurd level of TV coverage focused on the popey guy's visits to unsuspecting countries. Who gives a damn what this evil old man is doing? Sure, tell us the next time he buggers a child. But other than this sort of coverage the man should be ignored. I find it hard to believe that TV stations cover the vatican's front man in this day and age -- and with respect, no less!

The world is falling apart as we speak. This is a bit more important than the washed-out adventures of Willy, Katy and the popey guy, don't you think? Less nonsense and more reality. That's what we want -- and need.

The stayed on the case. Uh-huh.

I've already confessed that I watch shows like Forensic Files because they're a bit of fun, but mostly because I like to hear people speak without a script. Plus I get a real kick out of the language of cops. They lead such insular lives and speak in their own private language. It's fun to hear. But that's not what this post is about.

Today, I want to talk about those intrepid investigators who "didn't give up," who "never forgot the case," and "always kept working" on it, even decades after the murder was committed. Now, I'm sure there really are some investigators who were relentless and finally solved a case through brute force. But that sort of tale is rarely what we see on these shows.

Instead, you hear them say these things about the investigators during the show, but if you keep the little light on in your brain, you'll notice that the investigators usually do nothing. What cracks the case is a phone call from a witness who tells them who did it and where to find the evidence. Or a hit finally comes back from the DNA database. All the cops did was snort, fart and arrest the guy.

I'm so glad these investigators "never gave up." But in most cases this line of talk is a fairy tale. So let's tell the truth at least once: by and large, these guys sat on their fat asses for decades without doing any investigation at all. The answer was dumped in their laps.

Intrepid, bloodhound investigators, my ass.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Italian-American nicknames, NY-style

This news item caught my eye today:
"A man is in custody after police say he broke into an Arizona townhome and got stuck in a clothes hamper underneath the window he climbed through."
In the Italian-American sub-culture in which I was raised, this guy would have instantly and irrevocably become "Johnny Hampers". I always laugh about the way the old-timers would name people.

"But why do you call him Jimmy Cookies, dad?"

"Because he was eatin' cookies the first time we seen him."

It was an amazing New York culture and I'm glad I had the opportunity to experience it live. Those old guys left me with many good memories. I think they were well-intentioned men, by and large. That was my impression, anyway: innocent and goodhearted, with hardly a mean bone in their bodies. I miss them.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The language of baseball

I love the way baseball sportscasters talk about the game. They say such odd things.

For instance, they present a united front on this point: the singular of Red Sox is Red Sock -- "He used to be a Red Sock, didn't he?" You hear this all the time.

Moving right along, the plural of baseman is basemans. -- "He was one of the all-time great first basemans." (Though they probably would spell it "basemens", if asked. Me, I don't see the need.)

I also like the way they talk about young players. They'll say, "He's a good-lookin' second baseman, yup, a good-lookin' second baseman." The first time I heard this, I looked at the guy and thought, "Well, he seems good-looking enough. But it seems an odd remark." When, in a later game, I heard an announcer refer to a horse-faced young man as a "good-lookin' player," their intended meaning finally hit me.

Rather than put every one of these odd phrasings into a single post, I'm going to save a few so I can do another "language of baseball" post at a later date. In fact, I'll probably write several of them. It's a big field.

Do you have any favorite sportscaster language? Chime in.

Queer Eye: a belated complaint

I remember being excited when I heard the premise for what was then a new show, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy". And while it was fun in some ways, I was disappointed by what they did with it.

There are many, many things straight guys need to learn in order to start looking good. But as far as I can tell, our intrepid stylists never helped their clients to develop the ability to see themselves, or to understand basic fashion rules. The apartment makeovers were fun -- good work, Tom. But that's about it for pats on the head. In any case, I'm not here to dish the show. (It's hard to tell, isn't it?) My purpose is to impart a bit of news to straight guys.

I've seen so many guys at the gym who are trying to impress the ladies, as they ridiculously refer to them. But none of these guys had the slightest clue how to do it. Here's a news flash, guys -- and I'm directing my remarks to guys who believe women are attracted to muscular men. For the purposes of this post, let's accept this as true, at least for some women who frequent gyms. Your goal, then, is to look large and muscular. But is that how you look? Fellas, here's the thing: you gotta learn how to showcase the merchandise.

If you want to look muscular when you're working out, don't wear a dark-colored shirt. So many of you work out in black shirts at the gym and I don't think you understand the visual effect. Black does not make you look muscular -- and especially not with light-colored shorts. A light-colored shirt is what you want to work out in. It will make you look much more substantial. Do this simple thing and you might actually look like, you know, you work out and stuff.

Light colors = big. Black and navy blue = not big. Easy, right? Now that's the sort of thing Queer Eye should have told straight men during their shows. Just sayin'. 

(And don't get me started on the dreadful fashion sense of these guys -- and most especially, Carson. The clothes they wore and the clothes they picked for clients looked like they came from Wal-Mart.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Kids wearing dumb hats

There's a story today about Annette Funicello surviving a fire. Have no fear, Annette's fine and I'm glad she's all right. But it brought back a memory.

When I was about six, the kids at school were talking one day in the schoolyard about the Mickey Mouse Show. They were insanely excited about it. At that age, I somehow misunderstood and thought they were talking about Mighty Mouse. I was thrilled! I'd heard about that stalwart mouse and wanted to see him on TV. So they told me when the show would be on, and I watched it.

Lordy, was I bored! It was the stupidest thing I had ever seen. I think even at six years old I saw it exactly the way we'd see it today -- as naive and boring. I remember being angry at the kids at school for being stupid enough to like this thing. And where was that fabulous Mighty Mouse show?!

This was the first time I remember myself looking down at people, an activity that would give me tremendous pleasure later in life.

Popey guy beyond irony

This, from the head of the organization that brought the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition to the world:
Pope Benedict XVI . . . insists that violent uprisings must never be carried out in God's name in a new book being released Thursday amid great fanfare at the start of Lent. 
 And later:
"The cruel consequences of religiously motivated violence are only too evident to us all," he noted in the book.
Truly beyond irony.

Identity is a curious concept

I want to play with the idea of identity in this post. Let's begin by considering the familiar Star Trek transporter.

You are an officer aboard the starship Enterprise and it's time to beam down to the planet. You step onto the transporter pad and O'Brien jiggles his levers, and the transporter beam surrounds you . . . but there is a malfunction. Although it does transport you to the planet, as planned -- it also leaves "you" still standing on the transporter pad. For some reason it copied rather than transported you.

Since you're still on the ship, you consider the "you" on the planet to be a "copy". Although it's you in every way, you believe you reign supreme because you were there first. If it comes down to who owns that iPad-49, it's yours, baby. No doubt about this -- at least, as far as you're concerned. The guy on the planet may feel differently.

So although there are two of you, identical in every way, you are convinced that you're the "real" one. But really, what has happened here? If the machine had worked properly, it would have put you on the planet without leaving you behind. It did put you on the planet. The problem seems to lie in the continued existence of the "original" you. Unless that original is destroyed, you can't believe that the transported being is really you. I call this the "destruction principle".

Let's consider this question with a different example. We're told that we will be able to "download our minds into computers" within a few decades. The way it's spoken about, the downloaded being will be you in every way, except it won't have a body. But here's the thing -- after you've "downloaded your mind", your old self will still exist. And you know that will make you consider the "original you" to be the "real you".

But let's apply the destruction principle here and see what happens. If the process of downloading your mind killed you, it would indeed seem like you traveled into the computer. It's the destruction that accomplishes the trick. As long as the original you disappears, the new you will seem to be you.

So the rule seems to be -- Kill the original if you want to perceive the new being as having the identity of the original "self". That's the winning formula. But what does this say about the reality of our "selves"?

It's weird, isn't it? This is fodder for hundreds of stories and I plan to write a few of them. I want to blast this concept into people's brains. The lesson here is that our "selves" are malleable. Identity is a matter of perception, or it soon will be. The truth is that we are infinitely adaptable; we can change and become all sorts of things, and in the future this is exactly what we will do.

Our flesh bodies are merely our current "ride". And I don't know about you, but I'm ready to move on up.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Only cowards kill women and children

Even in a world filled with terrible news stories, the ones that upset me the most are about men who kill wives, girlfriends or children. There are so many of these sickening, cowardly men running loose in the world. It makes me ill, it really does.

Yesterday in the New York Times there was a story about the sentencing of a creep who beheaded his wife. An excerpt:
Muzzammil Hassan, who'd claimed his wife abused him, stood with his head bowed as the judge told him that even his own children had nothing but contempt for him. He scoffed at the idea that Hassan stabbed Aasiya Hassan more than 40 times and decapitated her because he was afraid of her.
"You bought two hunting knives, you tested them for sharpness, you laid in wait in a darkened hallway for your unsuspecting wife and you butchered her," Judge Thomas Franczyk said. "Self-defense? I don't think so."
I don't think so, either. Men like Hassan are selfish psychopaths who care nothing for anyone but themselves. If only we could push a button and remove them from the world. It would be a much better planet without them.

The story has extra, added irony. Read on.
Hassan, who killed his wife inside the offices of the Muslim-oriented television station the couple started to dispel negative cultural stereotypes . . . painted himself as a victim in an eight-year marriage filled with arguments and threats. He said God sent him the courage to kill his wife and that he felt as if he'd escaped from a terrorist camp afterward.
Yes, Hassan, undoubtedly god gave you the courage to be the murderous, cowardly swine that you are. I expect no less of gods. And the Times writer adds this postscript to the story:
But there was no denying the irony in the case that involved a couple who made it their life's work to improve the image of Muslims in a post-Sept. 11 world and the worst possible stereotypes their television station was meant to counter.
Indeed. These men are all cowards who would never think of attacking another man. They might get hurt! Murderous, cowardly swine -- that's all they are. I hope each of them is persecuted in prison.

Woot! It's word derivation day!

I like today's words and phrases. As always, the information is from "The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson.

Tantalize. Tantalus, the son of Zeus in Greek mythology, divulged the secrets of the gods to humans. The Lydian king was punished by being submerged in a pool of water in Hades, a tree laden with fruit above his head. Whenever he attempted to drink the water or eat the fruit, they moved just beyond him -- the water receding and the fruit tree wind-tossed -- causing him agonizing thirst and hunger. This punishment gives us the word tantalize.

Rigmarole. Often spelled and pronounced "rig-a-marole," this word means confused, incoherent, foolish or meaningless talk, or any complicated procedure. It derives from a roll of names called the rageman, which originated in the 14th century. The name of this roll was altered through mispronunciation to ragman role and finally to rigmarole in the 18th century. Because the names and addresses on it were often changed or deleted, the rigmarole came to represent any confused or disconnected, incoherent statement.

Ring hollow; ring true. In the past, counterfeit coins could be detected by the dull, flat tone they produced when dropped on stone, in contrast to the clear ring of true coins. The test was called ringing or sounding a coin . . . The practice was so common that it inspired the saying to ring true, to impress one as genuine or good, as well as its opposite, to ring false or to ring hollow, the last a phrase that Ben Jonson used. Today . . . "silver" coins don't give off a clear ring anymore.

As you were. Carry on.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Trashing Ash Wednesday

I was going to write something vicious, but why bother? PZ has it covered. I won't ruin the fun by telling you what he said but if smudges on foreheads are ticking you off today, by all means, visit the link.

Ecologically sound burials

Recently, I wrote about the wasteful ways we dead with our dead. Well, it seems a woman has come up with a way to freeze-dry bodies and turn them into compost, lickety-split, with no harm to the environment. Sounds great to me. Here's the link.

Hopscotch research

There's a scene in one of my books where two little girls are playing hopscotch. Though I racked my brain, I couldn't recall what girls used to chant when they played this game. So I used the Intertubes to find out.

I found a lot of rhymes that were familiar to me, but they seem to be jump-rope rhymes, not for hopscotch at all. I'm hoping for reader input on this. Are any of the following used in hopscotch? And if not, can you tell me what girls say when they play this game?

(I'm not being sexist here by saying "girls" rather than "kids". Let's face it: no boys played except us gay boys. In elementary school, I always wanted to play with the girls when they were jumping rope or playing hopscotch. And I did play with them, after which the boys hated me. Since I'm huge this did not present a problem.)

Anyway, here's what I found on the Intertubes:

Miss Lucy had a baby

And she named him Tiny Tim.
She put him in the bathtub
To see if he could swim.

He drank up all the water.
He ate up all the soap.
He tried to eat the bathtub
But it wouldn't go down his throat.
Miss Lucy called the doctor,
Miss Lucy called the nurse.
Miss Lucy called the lady
with the alligator purse.

Rooms for rent,
Inquire within.
As I move out
Let Jenny come in.

A sailor went to sea sea sea
To see what he could see see see
But all that he could see see see
Was the bottom of the deep blue sea sea sea.

As I went down to my grandfather's farm.

A Billy goat chased me around the barn.
It chased me up a sycamore tree,
And this is what it said to me:

'I like coffee, I like tea,

I like _________ to jump with me.

All I have to say in closing is this: what's with the alligator purse? Everybody knows it's the lady with the "big, fat purse". Any feedback from the peanut gallery?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Alcohol kills; guess what doesn't?

"GENEVA — Alcohol causes nearly 4 percent of deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence, the World Health Organization warned [in early February].

"Yet alcohol control policies are weak and remain a low priority for most governments despite drinking's heavy toll on society from road accidents, violence, disease, child neglect and job absenteeism, it said.

"Approximately 2.5 million people die each year from alcohol-related causes, the WHO said in its "Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health."

But you can buy it everywhere in the country, and the deaths march on. On the other hand, you can be sent to jail for marijuana possession, despite it being a harmless drug. What's wrong with this picture?

No one has ever been killed by marijuana. As we all know, people smoke marijuana and become, if anything, more peaceful. Drink alcohol and go out and stab people or hit them with your car; smoke a joint and listen to music. That's pretty much the spectrum, yet the first is legal and the second is not. Again, isn't something obviously wrong with this picture? Our country has a totally incoherent posture on drugs, particularly marijuana.

Am I just going to complain about this? Certainly not. I've taken pro-active steps to change public opinion. In each of my three books, marijuana is presented in a positive light. One of my goals for my books is to repair marijuana's reputation.

Mind you, I still caution that young people should avoid it. I've told my nephews this. Let your brain mature fully (which doesn't happen until your 25th year; sorry guys) and then you can smoke dope as an adult, if you choose to. It does not have a good effect on the adolescent brain.

But overall, in terms of common sense, marijuana should be available to the public. And we need to rethink our cheery view of drinking alcoholic beverages. Just saying.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Evil science names II

I just discovered two strange new words in science: putrescine and cadaverine. However, these refer to molecules that are pretty much what the names sound like. Thus they are not on a par with rhinoplasty, a truly evil word invented just so people could feel badly about themselves.

T-shirt slogans

Once in a while, I come up with a pithy line that seems like it belongs on a T-shirt. Here are a few of my slogans. I want all of you to put these on T-shirts and wear them to church.


You must be blogged in to leave a comment.

I understand and I wish to continue.

Religion is hatred with a halo.

Sin. It's good, real good.

If heaven is filled with Christians, it must be avoided it all costs.

Everyone who believes in god is a traitor to mankind.

Faith is the problem, not the solution.

No matter how hard we look, there is no evidence for God. 
This is called a "clue".

"We will smear our shi_ty asses across your sky."
 Signed, The Religious Right

Just say no to god. [Alternate version: "Just say no to faith."]

There is no god.
This message brought to you by the Department of Mental Health.

How goes the Xmas Carol edit, Keith?

Thanks for asking. It's going very well. Yesterday I edited seven scenes in chapter ten of Xmas Carol -- a big load for one day. I'm smack dab in the middle of the climax, which makes the editing fun.

It sounds good. The pace of the book is much better, after the series of edits. The story feels like one smooth movement that stretches from start to finish. Hopefully I've included enough attractions along the way to hold the reader's interest and pull her all the way to the ending. I think so; it seems to be an easy read, which is what I've been aiming for all along.

Pretty soon I'll be done, in about a week, I think. Now, tell me again why I should send this to a publisher? They give you, at most, about $18,000 for a book these days, and they keep the rest of the loot. Think about this: that's a one-time payment for your book.

But if you self-publish, you get the majority of the money -- forever. If your book sells, it will never stop paying you money. Doesn't this sound like going through a publisher is no longer a smart move? I'll have to make a decision within a couple of weeks. Sigh. The business end of writing is not at all interesting to me. (The business of anything bores me.)

But the book sounds terrific. It seems to me this should be my only concern.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Understanding evolution

A lot of people think they understand evolution but all they really understand are the headlines. Yes, they agree, we evolved from a long line of creatures, possibly extending all the way back to the very first life form. Well, it's great to agree that evolution happened, but does this mean you understand what evolution is? Today, I'd like to push aside a few incorrect notions that are floating around out there. I'm not a scientist, far from it, but I'll do the best I can.

Evolution is not a process whereby creatures morph into more splendid versions of themselves, in a nice straight line, over immense periods of time. That's the cute, slap-happy version of evolution. The thing people don't grasp is that evolution is equally about creatures dying because they cannot adapt to changing conditions in their local environment -- a climatic shift, the arrival of a new predator, a change in oxygen levels, an upgrading in the armament of their favorite prey, etc. Evolution is a bloody, painful story of survival and death -- lots of death.

Let's consider a specific case: primitive horse precursors that existed long ago. These creatures were happily trotting around for hundreds of thousands of years in a beneficent climate, eating food that was easy to chew and swallow -- soft, moist vegetation, in other words. But then climate change hit their world and as a result, the vegetation changed dramatically. Suddenly these horse progenitors had to rely on harsher, drier, more abrasive vegetation for sustenance. Now, here's the thing -- it's not that the horses magically developed new teeth that were perfectly suited to their new food source. They didn't morph into a happy new shape. That's not how evolution rolls.

On the contrary -- all the horses that had soft dentition died because they couldn't eat the new food. And of their young, only those few that happened to have harder chomping surfaces in their mouths, survived. They could obtain nourishment from the vegetation and were able to thrive and reproduce, passing harder dentition along to their young.

Evolution requires that massive numbers of creatures die when they cannot survive the changing environment of their world. Only those few creatures that develop a beneficial mutation (harder chomping surfaces, in this case) survive into the future. And in the case of our horse-like creatures, they survived all the way up to the current day. As a result, we see horses with nice, big, hard teeth.

Now let's take a simpler, more visual example. Consider a huge population of happy, fat, brown mice who are living far north at a time when even the Arctic is warm and inviting. This idyllic happy-brown-mouse period goes on for ages, and in that time the population doesn't change much. But then one day, climate change arrives and the north is suddenly snow-covered all year round. In this new environment, the brown mice are very easy for predators, especially avian predators, to see and catch -- so all the brown mice are eaten. And only their young that happen to be born white because of a mutation, can survive in the new, snow-covered landscape.

It's not that the mice suddenly morphed their fur from brown to white to survive -- it's that the brown mice died, and only their white or near-white descendants survived. In the end, all the mice in the area were white. If an occasional brown one was born, it would be eaten before it could reproduce. (And if conditions changed and it became warm again, the white mice would stick out and be killed --  and the group would soon be brown again.)

See how this works? Species that are ill-equipped to survive a change in their environment, die. Many times an entire species will go extinct because of environmental factors. In fact, most species do become extinct. Evolution eats up a lot of creatures. It is stunningly successful, but there's a sea of blood and suffering in its wake.

This process is what scientists mean by "selection pressure". Creatures with beneficial characteristics are selected by evolution to survive into the next generation and pass their genes on to their young. All this means is: the creatures are a good match for current conditions, so they survive while others don't. And as for the selection pressure, it's many things: competition for food, quality of air, strength of predators, climate, etc. This is the process of natural selection, which we refer to in our simple way, as "survival of the fittest." Yup, and the deaths of trillions of creatures who weren't as lucky.

Evolution isn't hard to understand but you do have to pay attention. It's not grasped in a minute. You have to actually look into it, read about it and then think about it. Most people don't do this and never come to understand how evolution works. It's not a morphing contest; it's not quick; and there is a ton of death and suffering that goes into it. (Which also tells us there is no god; if there was, and he allowed this bloody process to be the way life proceeds within "his" creation, he would have to be a sadistic monster, not a god.)

This post barely touches on the topic of evolution. It's a fascinating field. If you pick up a book on evolution, I don't think you'll be sorry. And it's a principle that, once learned, deepens your understanding of the universe. It's not just critters that evolve -- but that's a post for another day.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Gays come for hets

Hat tip to Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars for pointing me to this article in The Onion:

Marauding Gay Hordes Drag Thousands of Helpless Citizens from Marriages after Obama Drops Defense of Marriage Act

WASHINGTON—Reports continue to pour in from around the nation today of helpless Americans being forcibly taken from their marital unions after President Obama dropped the Defense of Marriage Act earlier this week, leaving the institution completely vulnerable to roving bands of homosexuals. "It was just awful—they smashed through our living room window, one of them said 'I've had my eye on you, Roger,' and then they dragged my husband off kicking and screaming," said Cleveland-area homemaker Rita Ellington, one of the latest victims whose defenseless marriage was overrun by the hordes of battle-ready gays that had been clambering at the gates of matrimony since the DOMA went into effect in 1996. "Oh dear God, why did they remove the protection provided by this vital piece of legislation? My children! What will I tell my children?" A video communique was sent to the media late yesterday from what appears to be the as-yet unidentified leader of the gay marauders, who, adorned in terrifying warpaint, announced "Richard Dickson of Ames, Iowa. We're coming for you next. Put on something nice."

The mad faces of Weegee

I used to have a book of Weegee photos. Alas, I lent it out and the book was never returned. (I could have a burning resentment against the person who didn't return it. However, I have two books on my shelves that I failed to return so I can't cast any stones. Too bad; I like casting stones.) Weegee is a sort of stage name. The man's actual name was Arthur Fellig, and he was a photographer and photojournalist in the early to middle of the last century. I don't think many people remember his real name, but Weegee will never be forgotten.

I don't know much about the man but I'll share what I do. Most importantly, he seemed to stay up all night. The man chased mayhem -- ambulances, police cars, fire engines, whatever -- and attended all the latest fights. Weegee's magic trick was that he pointed his camera not at the object of everyone's attention but at the people who were watching: the fight, the murder, the dead body, the accident, the crash, the explosion, etc. In a movie theater, his shots were of the audience. At a fire, same thing -- he would point his lens at the horrified onlookers. As a result, he captured the most bizarre, intimate photographs. And the photographs are of us

Weegee showed us as aliens, as wild, possessed creatures barely constrained by the customs of a civilized society. The mad expressions on some of the faces in his photographs are clearly out of control. And there is a joy in those faces -- a joy at seeing the horror. They like it.

The realization that hits us as we view his photos is that these are pictures of us. The weird images are merely the result of Weegee holding up a mirror. And we recognize this, we recognize us. That is the shock of a Weegee photo -- the moment when we see ourselves without a mask. There is a peephole element to Weegee photos; we feel we're seeing something we're not supposed to. The worlds Weegee captured are secret. And the secrets are ours.

A wonderful artist, Weegee left behind startling images not only of a lost time, but a lost people. Most of the subjects in his photos are gone from the world today. (The photos range from the 1930s to the early 1960s.) This large separation in time, and the consequent impression that we're seeing an ancient world, adds to the allure of the images. 

We can't touch this distant past, can't walk through the night of a Weegee photo. Yet he left us windows through which we can peer into that time. The view remains haunting today and there is a stark message in these photos for latter-day viewers -- we have not changed. These remain photographs of us.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hillary Clinton says what we watch is not news

You don't often hear American politicians say something that's, you know, true, but Hillary Clinton did today.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that Al Jazeera is gaining more prominence in the U.S. because it offers "real news" -- something she said American media were falling far short of doing.

Clinton was speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and she said the U.S. is losing the "information war" in the world. One of the reasons she cited for this was the quality of channels like Al Jazeera.

"Viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it's real news," she said. "You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners."
Now could someone please erase all our news stations and start over? It's easy: news, not tripe. Is that such a difficult formula to achieve? I sure wish I could get Al Jazeera on my teevee. But of course, I can't because that would allow real news to reach an American. Me.

About those dead Afghan boys

Found on CounterPunch today in an article by Patrick Cockburn:

One of my neighbors here in Petrolia is Dr Dick Scheinman, who emailed his address list Thursday thus:
“I recently read a horrifying article in the NY Times about Afghanistan and could not help writing my representatives. Maybe you can too. Tax time is coming up and tax resistance is an option.
‘May I call your attention to an article from March 2 in the NY Times entitled ‘Nine Afghan boys collecting firewood killed by NATO Helicopters’.
‘I live with my grandson, 12, and as part of our making a living we collect and sell firewood. Nathan gets paid 25 dollars for loading and unloading a cord of wood from our truck. When I read this story I could not get out of my mind the pure chance that made Nathan a healthy American boy who could collect firewood and earn money, rather than a poor Afghan boy whose life was destroyed by  NATO (American?) men (women?) in a helicopter thousands of miles from their homes. With rue my heart is laden.
‘David Petreus has “apologized.” Perhaps he has children and grandchildren. Perhaps he should send his children over to Afghanistan to collect firewood for these boys’ sisters for the rest of their lives to atone for this outrageous cold blooded murder.(‘they shot the boys one after the other”.) Maybe the men in the helicopter should do the same. Perhaps Barack Obama’s two daughters could help.
Perhaps they should put on  rags and kiss their feet and beg forgiveness.
But the least, the very least that YOU can do is to never, ever vote to spend any more money to continue this war.’”

Truly scary movies

There aren't many truly scary movies. This is my list of the scariest:

Dumplings. This Asian horror flick by director Fruit Chan is so creepy you won't believe it. I don't know if it's "scary" exactly but it's definitely one of the freakiest movies I've ever seen (and it makes you want to hold a pillow in front of your face). If you haven't seen it, toss this one in your queue -- but only if you have great intestinal fortitude. And then you too can wonder, "What's in Aunt Mei's secret dumplings?" Lotsa fun (and okay, it's disgusting too).

Carnival of Souls. This low-budget, black-and-white Swedish thriller from 1962 is excellent. It doesn't look fabulous, which is not a surprise given the almost nonexistent budget, and there are a lot of overexposed versions of it out there, but the movie is definitely scary. They took what little they had and ran with it to a very frightening place. To tell you what it's about would ruin the experience for you. If you haven't seen Carnival of Souls, do so. That is an order.

The Exorcist. This movie is so familiar to us that it's lost its horror luster. But it was certainly horrifying in 1974 when it first slammed the US population. This movie was an event, people. If you weren't there at the time, you can't imagine the aura that surrounded its release. I think I waited six or eight hours on line to see it. We hardly knew anything about special effects then, which was the key to our terror. Now, of course, people's heads spin around all the time. I just saw a woman's head do this at the Quickie Mart last Thursday. Still, it's a nice film, a well-made movie. All the actors are excellent, terrific music, great visuals -- you couldn't ask for more.

American Werewolf in London. This 1981 movie made its way onto two of my lists: weird movies and scary movies. Thing is, it's also a funny movie! This is the only movie I've ever seen that was both funny and scary. John Landis performed a miracle. But again, the movie was more startling when it came out because we'd never seen a guy turn into a werewolf right in front of our eyes before. (The Howling notwithstanding; that was just blowing up balloons, next to these transformations.) However, the movie's impact doesn't rely only on special effects. There are some genuinely scary moments here, like the little Mickey Mouse hello from Jack (for those who've seen it). Downright creepy -- and you get to watch Jack decompose as the movie proceeds. This is a special added bonus. Plus, the movie's hysterically funny. I don't know how Landis did it.

Dead of Night. This 1946 black-and-white movie is a treasure. It must have knocked audiences out, back in the day. It's one of those old movies that has several stories within it. At the time of its release, each of the tales contained in the movie would have been startlingly new to the audience. Many of its novel ideas have been copied since the film's release -- over and over and over, in fact -- making the plots in the various stories all too familiar to today's viewers. But the movie was wonderfully creepy and innovative in a time when audiences were more naive. The look, sound and feel are charming. It's like visiting long-gone days. (This one came out before even I was born. It's old.)

The Mephisto Waltz. Okay, so maybe this movie from 1971 isn't that scary. But it's so stylish that I want it on my list. It's a sophisticated, appealing tale of Satanism in Manhattan. What more could you ask? I don't want to reveal the story idea, in case you haven't seen it. A lovely movie, worthy of repeated viewings (and despite the inclusion of Jacqueline Bisset in the cast; they didn't know she was white trash yet).

Alien. This has to be on any scary-movie list. Alien broke new ground and though it's been copied to death, we need to recognize the incredible innovation that went into this movie. Not only does it have the best monster even seen on film, it's also got that great, organic-looking alien spacecraft. And the view inside certainly wasn't a letdown. What a scene! And the scale of the aliens in that huge chamber! Though we only saw them in death, their innate alienness was terrifying. A giant race of space-faring aliens -- and this was just the sideshow before our main alien decimates the crew. Amazing. Everything about this movie is a 10. I know we've seen it a million times but you have to admit it's the king of the scary movie pile.

(Of course, when making up this list I peeked at internet lists of the mostest-scariest movies, and boy, was that a joke! People listed garbage like "Children of the Corn"! On a "scariest movies" list! You know how frightening corn is. And "Stephen King's It"! One of the stupidest movies ever made. And let us note that both of these wildly bad movies are from the mind of Stephen King. As I said in another post, the man used to have talent. Anyway, people today are idiots. Just read lists to confirm this.)

Additions? Subtractions? I'm sure there are other scary movies out there. Enlighten me.