Friday, April 25, 2014

Say Again?

It's been two weeks and it's Friday - time for some more odd editorial gems ...

Sometimes, it's not the headline itself that's bizarre, but how it's arranged on the page in relation to other headlines, as in these two examples:

and ...

Speaking of breast exams, here's something I've always noticed ...

You may think you've drunk in some tough bars, but ...

From the Department of 'Well, Duh' ...

They should have seen that one coming ...

Yes, there's a reason your English teacher stressed the importance of sentence structure ...

At my age, I celebrate this, too ...

Well, he probably died happy ...

This one's for my nephew Eddie, who is a professional ride operator at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh ...

And that's how it is for the last Friday in April. One more day of work this week, and then on to another exhausting weekend. Oy.

Have a good day. See you here tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. Be ready.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

How to Be Interesting

Recognize this fellow? ...

In the Dos Equis beer commercials, he's the Most Interesting Man in the World. 

Have you ever suffered through a long flight, bus trip, or even local transit ride while sitting next to the least interesting person in the world? Don't you wish some people could be more ... interesting? Don't you sometimes wish that you could be more interesting, if not the Most Interesting Man in the World?

Take heart, Dear Readers, for this article by Eric Barker offers you seven handy hints to help you be more interesting. Here are the seven hints, with my commentary, of course ...

1. Don't be boring. If you see your conversational partner beginning to doze off, or if his or her eyes are desperately wandering about in search of relief, it's a good sign that you're boring that person to tears. On the other hand, if the person is maintaining eye contact and asking questions about what you're saying, it's a good sign that you are not being boring. Be brief, upbeat, and to the point and you'll almost always be good company. If you're getting negative signals, it's probably time to change the subject or ask the other person a question to draw him or her into the conversation.

2. Be a good listener. Let the other person talk for a while. People love to talk about themselves and they enjoy a good listener. By listening carefully to what the other person is saying, you'll pick up on topics of mutual interest that will help you advance the conversation.

3. Talk about the other person's interests. Ask people where they work, what they do, and what their their hobbies are. Ask about their children or grandchildren. This follows from the previous hint.

4. Have three good stories to tell. You should always have at least three good, preferably brief, stories on hand, ready to pull out and insert into the conversation. They should be entertaining, informative, tell people something funny or interesting about you, and be useful as springboards to further conversation. My father was great at this, and I've got lots of good stories, all of which poor Agnes has heard far too many times ... but they're interesting to other people*. A version of this was presented in a marketing class I took some years ago, in which we were told to always have three versions of an answer to the question "What do you do?": the elevator version (very short and to the point), the lunch line version (that can be pulled out when you have a little more time available ... as when you're stuck in a line), and the formal version (to use in a sales presentation, for example).

5. Try to be charismatic. Not everyone is naturally charismatic (think John Boehner). However, if you laugh, smile, use gestures, and avoid speaking in a monotone, you're halfway there. It's not just what you say that's important, it's how you say it. Practice in front of a mirror.

6. Be somewhere interesting. Where you are has a lot to do with how interesting you can be. If you have a choice of venue (where to take your date, or where to host a meeting), pick a place where you are comfortable, or that means something to you or inspires you. If you're comfortable and engaged in your surroundings, it will reflect in how you present yourself.

7. Live an interesting life. Most of us will never live lives like Indiana Jones or James Bond, but there are always things we can do to make our lives more interesting. Read widely. Spend time with interesting people. The best way to improve particular qualities in yourself is to spend time with people you admire who are already have those qualities. And always apply hint #2.

Follow these seven simple hints and, although Dos Equis may never hire you to be the successor to The Most Interesting Man in the World, you can easily be the Most Interesting Person in the Room.

Have a good day. Tell me a story. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Ask me sometime about the dance competition in which Agnes and I took first place in a tango heat in which we actually tripped and fell down in front of one of the judges.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Please Be Quiet ... We're Shooting!

The other day in this space I wrote about the way that the language of firearms has permeated American English ... shooting my mouth off, as it were. We return today to the subject of gun worship as I draw your attention to this article from CNN Money: Gun Silencer Sales Are Booming*.

Yes, Dear Readers, it's no longer enough just to have a gun powerful enough to bring down an elk in the next county - you need to have a silencer so he never knows what hit him.

There was a tremendous burst of gun purchases, particularly of military-style assault rifles, after the massacre of children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012, because gun enthusiasts were terrified that public outrage would lead to the enactment of a ban on many types of firearms, particularly assault rifles. But, this being America, the outrage over something as minor as the slaughter of children quickly blew over, and gun sales slowed again. Now, according to the CNN article, the owners of all those guns are customizing their weapons with "... 'a dizzying array of accessories,' including silencers, flashlights, laser scopes, stocks, pistol grips, and rail systems for attaching even more accessories**."

Silencers***. Who doesn't need a silencer for his gun, after all? A gun industry analyst quoted in the article explained one of the major reasons for needing a silencer: it "give(s) the hunter multiple shots without frightening the game."

Heaven forbid you should have to wait until you have a clear shot.

I read another article on the growing popularity of silencers some time ago in which a gun enthusiast claimed that silencers were very important to protect the hearing of children at shooting ranges. I guess traditional ear protection is a lot less sexy than a silencer that can be fastened onto your weapon to make it look even more badass. The idea is evidently to make your weapon look so fearsome that bad guys with less awesome guns just give up and meekly go to jail, or game just jumps resignedly into the stockpot, saving you the expense of actually having to buy ammunition.

The sale of silencers has been regulated since 1934+, when the Big, Bad GovernmentTM and its Jack-Booted ThugsTM restricted their manufacture, sale and ownership in response to their use by criminal gangs. Nevertheless, they are legal in 39 states, and legal for use in hunting in 29 of those. Take heart, hunters - that elk will go down with his hearing unimpaired.

Got enough guns? Accessorize them! As a gun industry analyst quoted in the CNN article remarked, "It's like Barbie for men."

Silencers. Because you never know when you'll need to shoot someone in the library.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* That's one pun you can't pin on me ... blame the author of the article.

** Real men hunt deer with grenade launchers, after all.

*** The actual term is "suppressor," as I learned from reading the article, since "the noise of a chambered round being fired is never silent, only suppressed or dampened." That's why you get that sexy "pfffttt" noise when James Bond cuts loose with that custom Walther PPK of his.

+ The National Firearms Act of 1934.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Re-Greening My Thumbs

Agnes and I both enjoy cooking, and we especially enjoy cooking with fresh herbs ... there's a flavor that fresh herbs lend to your food that nothing else can match. And there's the wonderful smell that permeates the house when you're chopping the herbs. And there's the wonderful experience of using a big, heavy chef's knife to chop the #%$& out of those herbs, imagining that it's the last person that pissed you off lying there on the chopping board. It doesn't get much better than that.

But there's a problem with using fresh herbs ... they cost a fortune. Our local supermarket sells little plastic boxes of fresh herbs for $2.99 or $3.99 or more each, which is nuts. When we can, we drive a bit farther and go to the international market where the herbs are much cheaper, but still pretty expensive.

The obvious solution to the problem is to grow our own. We've done that in years past, and I figured it was time to get off my pasty white backside and do it again.

Over the weekend, I went to the local garden center and bought my first set of bedding plants ... we now have parsley, basil, thyme, sage, dill, chives, and mint (for mojitos, of course) growing in pots on the deck. I also put in two rosemary plants in a sunny spot in the yard ... since they can grow large and bushy, I thought it would be best. In the past, I'd cultivated two plots on the sunny side of the house, but the layout was a bit awkward for getting access to all the plants ... plus, I was tired of the deer and the rabbits thinking of my garden as their own personal all-you-can-eat salad bar. The pots on the deck seemed like a good idea, as the deer are unlikely to climb the stairs and the squirrels don't usually bother herbs. We'll see.

I've tried to grow vegetables in the past, with mixed results. The deer ruined many of the plants and the vegetables, and insects and birds did their thing as well. We'll probably have some tomato plants come in along with the herbs, growing from the seeds in my compost pile ... if that happens, I'll just re-pot the healthiest ones that come up and see what happens. I also have some acorn squash seeds I may try to plant, just to see what will happen. The last time I planted acorn squash, I reaped a harvest of exactly one beautiful squash, which we stuffed with sausage, brushed with molasses, and baked for a wonderful dinner. Maybe we can do it again. More than once.

So now we just sit back, pull weeds, water as needed, and wait for all those fragrant herbs to come in. Perhaps the next time I need to make this recipe, we'll be able to use our own home-grown herbs ...

Fragrant Tuscan Herb Salt

- 4 to 5 garlic cloves, peeled
- Scant 1/2 cup kosher salt
- About 2 cups loosely-packed fresh rosemary and sage leaves, about a 50/50 mix or whatever proportions you prefer

     Cut each garlic clove lengthwise through the center, remove the green sprout (if any) in the center and discard.
     Mound the salt and garlic on a cutting board. Use a chef’s knife to mince the garlic, blending it with the salt as you work.
     Place the herbs in a mound and coarsely chop them. Add the herbs to the garlic salt and chop them together, stirring the mixture frequently as you chop, until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand.
     Spread the salt on a baking sheet or in wide flat bowls and leave near an open window for a couple of days to dry while the smell drives you nuts. Store in clean, dry jars and use in everything.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Speaking in Loaded Terms

I think I've written on this subject before, but my memory's not what it used to be, and I'm not sure. Bear with me if you've heard this discussion in the past ...

As you know, I'm a great lover of language. I read voraciously, have a bachelor's degree in Linguistics, speak German, recognize Russian two times out of three, and get by in English. One of my big fascinations in the larger field of linguistics is the area of semantics*. There are three major branches of semantics: formal semantics, which studies the logical aspects of meaning, such as sense, reference, implication, and logical form; lexical semantics, which studies word meanings and their interrelations, and conceptual semantics, which studies the cognitive structure of meaning. Today, I'd like to talk about an interesting topic at the intersection of formal and lexical semantics.

We all know that Americans have a love affair with guns that borders on worship. About the worst thing you can do in this country other than molesting a child is implying in any way that there should be any limitations ... or hypothetical discussions of possible limitations ... on any aspect of the Holy Right to Keep and Bear Arms, let me hear you say "halleluja!". And to many people, the latter is worse than the former. To a lot of Americans, the Constitution consists of the Second Amendment and a lot of other stuff nobody really understands.

Guns are so much a part of American life and culture that the language of firearms is deeply woven into our psyche and our language. In a very interesting article published in yesterday's Washington Post titled Loaded Language, Landon Y. Jones discussed the extent to which gun metaphors have permeated American English. Among the better-known terms and expressions he discusses are:

Bite the Bullet;



Silver Bullet; and,

Keep Your Powder Dry.

There are also a few terms that most of us don't usually connect with their derivation in the terminology of firearms, such as:


Flash in the Pan; and,

Offhand Remark.

How often have you seen some talking head on TV take a cheap shot at someone to score a political point? And if you use Microsoft's PowerPoint to do presentations for work (and who doesn't?), you know that it helps you arrange your thoughts in bullet points. William F. Buckley's Firing Line was one of the longest-running public affairs show in television history. The Washington DC basketball franchise used to be called the Bullets until concern over the city's skyrocketing murder rate led the owners to change the name to Wizards. When we really want to win in serious negotiations, we bring in the big guns or roll out the heavy artillery. We sometimes celebrate ... or, at least, participate in ... shotgun weddings. Someone really good at his job is often called a top gun. In heated arguments, participants will often deliver a broadside against their opponents, which can sometimes prove to be a dud if the speaker shoots from the hip without making sure of his facts**.

So, Dear Readers, what do you think the chances of a reasonable discussion of gun rights, responsibilities, and controls are likely to be when the subject is so fraught with emotion and so ingrained in the very language we speak? It's surely a long shot.

Have a good day. Don't shoot the messenger. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Would an anti-semanticist be a person who irrationally hates Jewish linguists? Discuss.

** Which happens quite a bit nowadays, let me tell you.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Poetry Sunday

If you've ever had the experience of studying Latin*, you know that one of the first verbs you learn to conjugate is amare, which means to love ... and the first and second person forms are amo (I love) and amas (you love). John O'Keeffe (1747 - 1833) was an Irish actor and dramatist who wrote more than 30 plays and comic operas, as well as a number of lyric poems, farces and various dramatic pieces. His short poem Amo, Amas has always been one of my favorites - for its lyricism, its appeal to my linguistic, semantic, and grammatical senses ... and its reminder of my struggles with Latin**.

Amo, Amas
by John O'Keeffe

Amo, Amas, I love a lass
As a cedar tall and slender;
Sweet cowslip's grace is her nominative case,
And she's of the feminine gender.

Rorum, Corum, sunt divorum,
Harum, Scarum divo;
Tag-rag, merry-derry, periwig and hat-band
Hic hoc horum genitivo.

Can I decline a Nymph divine?
Her voice as a flute is dulcis.
Her oculus bright, her manus white,
And soft, when I tacto, her pulse is.

Rorum, Corum, sunt divorum,
Harum, Scarum divo;
Tag-rag, merry-derry, periwig and hat-band
Hic hoc horum genitivo.

Oh, how bella my puella,
I'll kiss secula seculorum.
If I've luck, sir, she's my uxor,
O dies benedictorum.

Rorum, Corum, sunt divorum,
Harum, Scarum divo;
Tag-rag, merry-derry, periwig and hat-band
Hic hoc horum genitivo.

You have to love a poem that includes the line, "If I've luck, sir/She's my uxor" ... uxor meaning wife in Latin.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* I studied Latin for three years in grade school and high school. Of course, two of those years were spent trying to get out of Latin I, but it all counts, right?

** Everyone who has studied Latin knows the old adage, "Latin is a language, as dead as dead can be. It killed the ancient Romans, and now it's killing me!".

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Cartoon Saturday

It's been a another heck of a week ...

At least 32 people are dead and more than 270 still missing after a ferry sank in South Korea; a magnitude 7.2 earthquake shook southern Mexico but, fortunately, didn't cause serious damage or casualties; Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez died at the age of 87; an avalanche killed 12 climbers on Mount Everest; and religious fanatics from the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram (the name means "Western Education is Sinful") kidnapped 129 schoolgirls, who are still missing.

Earthquakes ... ferry sinkings ... mass kidnappings ... boy, do we ever need the cartoons. I'm on it.  

It was a week that was for the birds ... so why don't we pick this week's theme cartoons to feature our feathered friends?

Even a bird enjoys a nice before-dinner drink now and then ...

Not tonight, dear, I have a ... uh ... never mind ...

I think I see my future ...

It pays to be sure what the severance package really contains ...

Do birds suffer from jealousy?

They say that home is where you hang your head ... uh ... hat ...

Moving on to other cartoons ... perhaps I should try this approach ...

Yep ... way too much information ...

Why I don't miss dating ...

And finally for this week, technology leads to new problems for ventriloquists ...

This is Easter weekend, and it looks like the weather is going to cooperate here in NoVa for the Easter parades, Easter Egg hunts, and other outdoor activities ... like mowing the lawn before the house disappears behind it. After the winter that's just passed, I think we've earned it.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday.

More thoughts then.


Friday, April 18, 2014

It Was the Best of Jobs, It Was the Worst of Jobs

Each year, CareerCast ranks 200 jobs, from the ten best to the ten worst, and this week they published the 2014 list. Want to know how your job ranks? Read on to learn what the ten best and ten worst jobs were, with my assessment of why the jobs got the ratings they did.

According to CareerCast, the ten best jobs for 2014 were:

1. Mathematician - low stress, generally high pay, quiet office environment.

2. Tenured University Professor - good pay, low stress, status and prestige, quiet office environment, job security.

3. Statistician - good pay, low stress, quiet office environment.

4. Actuary - low stress, quiet office environment, good pay.

5. Audiologist - very low stress, quiet office environment, good pay, sense of accomplishment.

6. Dental Hygienist - good pay, low stress, lots of openings. The downside: having to work up close with people who have nasty teeth and foul breath.

7. Software Engineer - high pay, low stress, generally low-key work environment.

8. Computer Systems Analyst - low stress, low-key work environment.

9. Occupational Therapist - low stress, sense of accomplishment.

10. Speech Pathologist - low stress, quiet office environment, sense of accomplishment.

The ten worst jobs were:

191. Corrections Officer - low pay, dangerous working environment.

192. Firefighter - low pay, high level of danger, risk of injury or death.

193. Garbage Collector - well, what do you expect?

194. Flight Attendant - relatively low pay, long hours, constant jet lag, stress of having to be pleasant and accommodating to jerks.

195. Head Cook - high stress, physically demanding, long hours.

196. Broadcaster - low pay, high stress (need to conform to rigid time schedules and generate good ratings), need to work odd shifts.

197. Taxi Driver - fluctuating pay, long hours, high stress, risk of death or injury.

198. Enlisted Military Personnel - relatively low pay and status, high stress, high risk of death or disfiguring/disabling injury.

199. Newspaper Reporter - high stress (constant need to turn up stories, meet deadlines, and scoop the competition).

200. Lumberjack - high stress, extremely dangerous work environment.

You can find some very interesting things in the list. One is that Military General came in at #179 ... a pretty low rating for people one might expect to have a pretty cushy and well-paid life considerably less dangerous than the Enlisted Military Personnel at #198. The reason for the low ranking seems based largely on the stress of long hours, great responsibility and the need to make - literally - life and death decisions. The Military Generals came in well below the occupation at #141 - Sewage Plant Operator - which ought to tell you something.

It's also interesting to compare the occupations in the bottom ten of this list with those on the top-ten list I offered up last month's post titled Where the Psychopaths Are. On that list Media (#2) corresponds generally to Broadcaster (#196), Journalist (#6) to Newspaper Reporter (#199), and Chef (#9) to Head Cook (#195). Police Officer (#7) could also correlate to Corrections Officer (#191) and is related to Firefighter (#192) I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

You can read the entire list of best and worst jobs here. And if you need musical accompaniment, here's Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass playing "The Work Song" ...

Looking at the list, the key determiner of what makes jobs good or bad doesn't seem to be the size of the paycheck (although that's important) - it's the amount of stress and degree of danger involved. My job? Not too bad, all things considered. It's a comfortable-enough office environment, with moderate levels of stress driven by high workload and the pressure of inflexible deadlines. On the plus side, my co-workers are intelligent and interesting people, making the environment an intellectually stimulating one.

How does your job rate? Leave a comment and let me know what makes it good or bad. Mike, no snarky comments about being retired, okay? And psychopaths need not reply.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Food for Body and Mind

Yesterday my son Matt sent me a link to a post at that he figured would appeal to me as a reader and a lover of good food - Fictitious Dishes: Elegant and Imaginative Photographs of Meals from Famous Literature. It's a review of a book by artist and illustrator Dinah Fried* that serves up a collection of photographs of gustatory high points from literature. Here are two examples ... the gruel that led Oliver Twist to ask, "Please, sir, I want some more":

And the tea party from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

Food and literature go together. One of my favorite novels is Es muss nicht immer Kaviar sein (It Can't Always Be Caviar) by German author Johannes Mario Simmel. It's the story of mild-mannered banker Thomas Lieven, who is framed by his business partner, coerced into becoming a secret agent for multiple countries, and turned into a professional criminal and a resistance fighter during World War II. Mr Lieven's hobby is gourmet cooking, and when he's faced with a difficult problem, he clears his mind by preparing a meal ... and all the recipes are included in the text. I read the book in German, but it's been translated into English as The Monte Cristo Cover-Up, which is a stupid title that has nothing to do with the story, but what can you do? The translation is adequate, but the original German is much better**.

Celebrate National Library Week by reading a good book while you enjoy a good dinner. Life doesn't get much better!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* And how appropriate a name is that for the topic, eh?

** Which is often the case when books are translated.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

National Library Week

I don't know how I missed it, but this week (April 13-19) is National Library Week. This is truly cause for celebration, particularly with the price of books - and even e-books - being what it is ... how grand is it that you can read just about any book you want, any time, for free*?

Here are a few thoughts and links in honor of libraries and the librarians who operate them ...

You may remember this link from yesterday's post - 24 Awesome Librarian Tattoos.

Nine reasons why librarians are awesome ...

It's a library! Turn off that cell phone, put away the iPod, and be quiet so that others can read ...

A library doesn't have to be huge, but it can always be beautiful ...

The ultimate wireless device ...

And your final thought for this celebration of National Library Week ...

Have a good day. Get thee to a library**. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Well, not totally free, because you're paying for it with your taxes ... but considering some of the other things our tax dollars are used for, I think it's a good investment.

** Sorry, Ophelia.