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 Japan 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.

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.

Yay, 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 you won't believe the great language of baseball post coming up this weekend!)

Midnight, Squeaky and jeebus!

I find this clip bizarre. This is from the old kids TV show from the mid-1950s -- Andy's Gang. It shows Andy's tortured cat, Midnight, and Squeaky the hamster singing the dirge from hell. It is the most lifeless, strange and deadening version of "Jesus Loves Me" ever.

I loved this show when I was seven. There was no other choice, of course, but still. It excited me and got me up early on Saturday mornings. In fact, I'd always get up too early and have to sit through the damn US Farm Report at 5 am. But Andy's Gang was coming on! Wow, did I love this incredibly stupid show. I can still remember sitting in front of the TV in my pajamas, waiting impatiently for it to begin.

Anyway, I had to post this because it's so strange. The clip is long but the song is the first thing on it. Weird!

March 29, 2011

The Swallows

Swallows team logo.
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.

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".)

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.

I had to have it

Now that Levenger has finally come up with Rhodia paper for their Circa notebooks, I'm back in the fold. I adore the paper (though it's much too expensive).

Since I don't trust Levenger to keep selling the paper, I had to go into hock to order a whole bunch of it. I've got four packs of 300 pages (at $41 bucks each; yeesh). By the way, they only make the good paper for the larger (letter-size) Circa notebooks. If you buy a junior-size Circa notebook, you're out of luck. All you can get for the small one is the awful, fountain pen-unfriendly Levenger paper. It's garbage; don't buy it.

To celebrate, I also bought a leather Circa notebook in their new color. That's it in the image above. Mmmmmm. Here's a link to the notebook if it strikes your fancy. I now have seven leather-covered notebooks on my desk and I'm dead broke.

But it's totally worth it. It just is. Stationery makes me inordinately happy.

March 27, 2011

What's goin' on?

Since we're now bombing yet another country, I thought this song was in order.

The clip below is a nice fan video showcasing Marvin Gaye's "What's Going on". It shows, of all things, what was going on when the song was released. As I watched it, it wasn't a stretch to think that Marvin had written the song for our times. The only difference now is that the boogeyman has an Arab face -- any Arab face. Why do we never learn from our mistakes?

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!

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 last 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.

Birds update

3 in 1. Find Waldo.
I've advanced to bird feeders and it's great fun. This first image shows three things. The blurry, clear thing on my window is a feeder for cardinals. It has seed that they like in it. If you click the image, it will grow larger.

If you look through the clear feeder, you'll notice a male goose in the background. He's a ton of fun. We sometimes have up to 80 geese on the property, but that's only at the end-of-the-season party that they all come to. At this time of year, each pair gets its own pond and this is the male from our pond's couple. Yes, I've been feeding him. He noticed all the others getting fed, and wanted in. I am now at the point with him where he comes over to me when he sees me. He'll stand right by my side as I pour the feed out. He's huge and it's a little scary because he's on edge, what with it being breeding season. I love feeding him, though. I suspect he has a mind like a dinosaur; I think this each time we interact.

And you can also see the main feeder on the left. If you look closely you'll see a little guy, a vesper sparrow, hanging onto a perch at the bottom. I've seen up to 12 birds at once at that feeder. They come in groups of one species, it seems, spacing themselves out over the day so each species gets a chance to eat. Nature works things out so well. 

Vesper sparrow.
Here's a close-up of the little guy. As I say, I think it's a vesper sparrow. Ain't he cute?

Plus, the other little guy at the bottom stopped by the clear feeder. I think he's a tufted titmouse. It's going to be a great summer, watching all these guys. I sit by my window for hours lately and it's like a show. I've always had a soft spot for birds, ever since I was a kid. They're so decent and understandable, and they fulfill all their duties in life like soldiers. I admire them so much. And as far as parenting goes, they are much better than humans. Just saying.

With a magic mix of baseball, birds, books and blogging, I'm thinking this is going to be a hell of a good summer.

Tufted titmouse.

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.

Ralph & Liz

One of the great things about Mets broadcasts is having 89-year-old Ralph Kiner as an occasional announcer. He often visits for a couple of innings, says astute things about the players, and tells great stories about the old days of baseball.

He's been a Mets announcer for as long as the Mets have been around, and played in the late 40s and early 50s. Though his career was short, his bat landed him in the Hall of Fame. He's our very own baseball geezer, the voice of history who can tell us what Babe did at his locker, or what Sandy Koufax really thought about the game. His voice is frail and old, and he's sometimes hard to understand. But I think I speak for all Mets fans when I say we love having him around.

Anyway, during yesterday's game against the Cardinals, I was surprised when Keith Hernandez showed this photo of Ralph Kiner taking Liz Taylor to the Oscars. Ralph! Who knew? And while looking this photo up, I found photos of him with Esther Williams and other "starlets". Our Ralph was apparently Jack the Lad. I'm glad for him. As Keith pointed out, Kiner's had quite the American life. And as a tag-on note to Liz's passing this week, I thought it was very nice that they included it in the broadcast.

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!

March 24, 2011

Speaking of words

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.

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. 

Mom in the newspaper

Click to view.
Long ago, in a distant galaxy far, far away, my mother was approached by a news photographer. Artie Aidala was a photo-journalist who roamed New York City's streets with a camera, asking people the reader-submitted question of the day. Then he'd snap their photo for his column in The Daily Mirror (which went out of business long ago) and the next day the people he interviewed could see themselves in the paper. This was hugely exciting for the people of the day. Newspapers were a hot commodity back then. Everyone read them.

The column, as you can see from the image at the left, was called "You Said It!" I believe it's from the early 1950s. (You can click the photo to see a slightly larger version.)

My mother is always up for anything so she happily responded to the question. Her answer is brief and, because I know her so well, I find it funny. It's so Norma. 

She's still kicking at 85 years old, happy, healthy and always moving. You cannot stop little old Italian ladies; they just keep going and going. She cleans and fusses and cooks all day long, not stopping to rest until it's time for bed. It's her way and it seems to make her happy. We've tried to stop her, tried to say "rest!" -- but it doesn't work. To my mother, life is work and a day without work is an utter waste of time. As I say, this makes her very happy.

We love ya, ma. (She knows.)

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

Hawk Harrelson
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.

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.

A little help from some fab guys

Something tells me we need a song to begin the work week. Given everything that's going on, this one seems just right.

March 20, 2011

What to thank when things go right

I thank the sun for not going nova.
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?

Sunday music: Mad World

Gary Jules' Mad World is the best depressed song ever. I would say it's depressing but you can't even go there, you're so taken with the singer's own depression. No, it's depressed, not depressing. It's from the movie, Donnie Darko, a favorite of mine. I love this simple, elegant song.

Still, it is an exercise in depression. The latest comment under the video at YouTube said:

"this song makes me want to kill myself, in a good way."

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 it came from a closed, properly sealed receptacle. You didn't ever put your drink down when Owsley was around, not even for a moment. The man sprinkled acid everywhere. Then again . . . on such nights some of us made a point of drinking and eating any old thing, hoping for an Owsley high.

After attending a Fillmore concert that Owsley also attended, although I didn't knowingly take any drugs, by the end of the night I was zonked. I felt like I'd taken six tabs of acid, making it highly likely that I had 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 with him. Part of the era was permanently removed from the landscape. The only way we can access the man 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.

I'm not sure who to attribute the photo to. There was no link or message where I found it. If anyone objects to my using the photo, please let me know and I'll take it down.

Links to the NY Times after 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!

Jorma again. I love the guy.

This is essentially a promo for an instructional video by Jorma Kaukonen where he teaches the viewer to play "Water Song" on the guitar. Luckily, the first thing he does in the video is play the whole song. Give a listen. It's lovely and his playing, as always, is magical.

Indeed, popey guy. Indeed.

The evil popey guy.
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.

March 18, 2011

At, in 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?

My sad radio graphic.
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?

I found that baseball graphic

Baseball fan nirvana!
This is the baseball-score graphic I mentioned recently. It's very cool because it takes up only a tiny portion of the screen yet tells you everything you need to know.

Those small green circles are balls, the next two yellow circles are strikes, and the orange circles on the right (which are actually red) are the outs. You can see the score, the inning and who's on base (no one in this image). Plus the pièce de résistance is that the pitch speed doesn't replace any of the balls, strikes, outs or score info -- instead, it temporarily replaces the occupied-bases graphic (the three diamonds).

This is the ultimate TV baseball-score graphic. I snapped this pic from an ESPN broadcast, by the way. Perhaps they have exclusive rights to the design because I'm not seeing it on other networks. I hope it spreads to all of them -- it's that good. And kudos to whoever came up with the design. Excellent work.

March 17, 2011

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.

Back-up saves the day

LaCie 1 Terabyte.
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.

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.

And the worst part of all this 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.

March 15, 2011

Nifty Neanderthals

Not so dumb, after all.
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

The only light we've got..
You 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.

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!

They 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.

Could anything be more boring than William and Kate?

Dullness times 2.
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.

March 13, 2011

Italian-American nicknames, NY-style

Zeppole. Quick, get the powdered sugar!
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.

"Bon Iver blew my mind," says old hippie.

Justin Vernon/Bon Iver
I've posted Bon Iver video here before. I adore this man and find him to be unlike anyone else in music. The video to the song, Lump Sum, is below -- but first check out his lyrics.

Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) uses words like paint, without letting their meaning get in his way. There is little logic to the lyrics he sings. Each word seems to exist in its own universe, hinting at a ghostly meaning while providing a hook for his voice. Take this song, for instance.

Lump Sum

Sold my cold knot
A heavy stone
Sold my red horse for a venture home
To vanish on the bow --

Settling slow
Fit it all, fit it in the doldrums
So the story goes
Color the era
Film it, it's historical

My mile could not
Pump the plum
In my arbor 'till my ardor
Trumped every inner inertia
Lump sum

All at once
Rushing from the sub-pump
So the story goes
Balance we won't know
We will see when it gets warm

How can you not love a guy who writes lyrics like that? You gotta. Words, schmerds! Now, here's the video but it isn't the official, full orchestra version. Instead, it's Justin all alone in a recording studio, singing the song and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. It's one track to the song, in other words. And oh, yeah. I want to marry this guy.

PS: After listening to the video, you might want to hear the full version he released. You'll find it here. And by the way, who knows if these are the lyrics? It's hard to tell -- and he's very vague when you question him about anything. He's not even sure how to pronounce "Bon Iver". Andy Warhol would have loved this guy.

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. Still, it's 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.

March 11, 2011

Queer Eye: a belated complaint

This is style?
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. Would you look at what they're wearing in that picture! It's like they haven't got one stylish bone in their collective body. The clothes look like they came from Wal-Mart!)

Elixir of the gods is good for us

Coffee is always getting a bad rap, so it's nice to see something positive said about it. Here's an excerpt from a story at physorg today:
Drinking more than a cup of coffee a day was associated with a 22 percent to 25 percent lower risk of stroke, compared with those who drank less, in a study reported in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Kids wearing dumb hats

Skeeters ripe for swatting.
There's a story today about Annette Funicello surviving a fire. Have no fear, Annette is fine. But reading her name today 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 guy?!

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

The venerable Star Trek transporter.
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.

March 10, 2011

Headline at CNNmoney today

"Oil falls below $103, still at 2-year high"

Duh. If it fell, how is it still at a 2-year high?