Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Those Who Flee in Their Underwear

The terrible tragedy in South Korea in which hundreds of people, many of them school children, were killed when their ferry sank took a bizarre turn this past week when images surfaced of the ship's captain - in his underwear - fleeing the sinking ship and abandoning the drowning passengers.

There have been a number of articles written and stories broadcast since then about whether or not it's a captain's duty to "go down with his ship," as did the captain of the Titanic. There are legal issues involved that deal with salvage rights, but there are far more important moral issues ... a ship's captain is responsible for everything that happens on his vessel, and the protection of the people who have placed themselves in his hands in the expectation of safe transport is first among them. By any measure - legal or moral - the captain of the South Korean ferry behaved in an utterly despicable fashion, abandoning his passengers to save himself ... and ensuring that he will always be remembered as the man who fled his duty in his underwear.

I think that this provides a useful metaphor for those who shamelessly abandon their responsibilities and act in a completely amoral and self-serving fashion.

Wall Street bankers and traders ran away in their underwear from the economy they helped to destroy ... and not a one of them went to jail or suffered anything worse than a government bailout. World leaders have fled in their underwear from Syria and Ukraine. Hard-core gun advocates flee in their underwear from the effects of their single-minded focus on absolute gun rights and avoidance of responsibility for the carnage on our streets. Congress flees in its underwear from its responsibility to deal rationally and forthrightly with the nation's problems. And a person I once thought I knew, trusted, and even loved not only ran in his underwear from his responsibilities to his wife and family, but sees nothing at all wrong with his reprehensible behavior and thinks his fecal material smells like Chanel Number 5.

Accept your responsibilities. Don't be remembered as the one who ran away in your underwear.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Generic Video

I wrote a pretty long post yesterday to tell the story of our Great Dance Adventure, so I think I've earned the chance to do a short post today.

Over the years, I've amassed a pretty large collection of YouTube videos. A large number of them are my favorite dance routines from Dancing with the Stars, others are really funny comedy routines, and others are just things that have caught my eye over time ... like this one. If you haven't seen it before, I think you'll appreciate it: the Totally Generic Video ...

Have a generic day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, April 28, 2014

An Unlikely First Place

In last week's discussion of how to be interesting, one of the suggestions was to "have three good stories to tell." I mentioned one of my own good stories, which involved a mishap at a dance competition ... and, sure enough, Peg wanted to hear the whole story. It's actually better if it's told in person, but I'll give it a try ...

Some years ago, Agnes and I were participating in the annual Inter-City Amateur Dance Challenge*, along with a bazillion or so other dancers from around the Northeast. We'd gone through several heats already, and we ready to dance our tango routine ...

If you've never been to a ballroom dance competition, you need to know that a typical heat only lasts about 90 seconds or less ... just long enough for the judges to quickly evaluate and score the couples on the floor. For this reason, the average competitive routine is designed to pack the maximum amount of material (required steps and show-off patterns) into a 45- to 90-second package, and if the music is still playing when your routine is done, you simply blend back to the beginning and keep going. An average amateur dancer might compete in 20 or more heats representing the various dances and skill levels, so there are always a lot of routines to keep sorted out in one's head.

Okay, on with the story ...

Even if I say so myself, our tango routine was awesome. My teacher and Agnes had choreographed a dramatic and complicated routine that was a proven crowd-pleaser and we were pumped and ready to go. We waited in the on-deck chute and, when our heat was called, took our places proudly on the floor, ready to give it our best. The announcer read out the competitors' numbers, the judges checked their score sheets to make sure the right people were on the floor, the music started ... and we were off!

The music we got (you never know what specific piece of music will be played - only that it will be at the prescribed tempo for your age group and competitive level) was great, and our routine went flawlessly. Our friends in the audience were all cheering and screaming out our number as we sailed around the first three sides of the floor ... and then we ran out of routine and the music was still playing! So we did as I'd been trained and blended back into the opening sequence of our routine, which was a series of tight, fast Viennese-style turns that whirled down the floor to end in a dramatic contra check ... something like this ...

Well, we had made the turn onto the fourth (short) side of the rectangular floor, and were whirling through those Viennese turns straight toward the announcer - whose position was just off that corner of the floor, with a judge standing right in front of him. We were about halfway through the turn sequence when my heel caught on a ridge where two sections of the prefabricated dance floor had been bolted together, but not hammered down flat ...

... and you can probably guess the rest.

When my heel caught that seam I lost my footing, and the combination of forward momentum and fast rotation ensured that we were going to go down in spectacular fashion. I realized I couldn't save the situation, so I tried to twist as we fell so that Agnes would fall on top of me ... and we hit the floor in a great cloud of tango dress as a collective gasp went up from the crowd.

We lay there for a moment waiting for other dancers to pass, and then quickly scrambled back to our feet, went back into dance hold, and started the sequence again (there being nothing worse than not trying to recover unless you have a compound fracture). We were about halfway through the Viennese turns again when the music stopped, signaling the end of the heat. We took our bow and walked off the floor to a round of sympathetic applause, completely uninjured except for fractured dignity and bruised egos.

Now, fast-forward about a half-hour or so to the awards ceremony at the end of that segment of the competition.

We joined all the other couples who had danced in that section of heats in a great semicircle on the dance floor to await the announcer's rundown of the results. Three of the judges stood before us, holding the First, Second, and Third Place ribbons to be awarded as the announcer began to call out the scores. As each heat was announced, the first, second, and third-place finishers walked forward and received their ribbons to the loud applause of the crowd. Soon, it was time for our ill-fated heat ...

"Heat number one-four-seven, American Gold Tango: first place to Bilbo and Agnes!"

How 'bout them apples?, as my dad would have said.

It turned out that the judges had already finished scoring our heat and had turned their completed score sheets for tabulation before we took our tumble, and the music director was just letting the heat music play out!

And that, Dear Readers, is the story of how Bilbo and Agnes took first place in a competitive dance heat in which we actually fell down right in front of a judge and an entire ballroom full of people. Looking back on it, it was probably not a bad thing: an embarrassing fall like that teaches humility. And besides that, once you've actually fallen down in front of a large audience ... what's the worst that can happen? It gives you perspective.

Agnes and I pose at the corner where we took our famous dive. I was thinner, then, and still had brown hair. 

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* It's now called the Washington Open Dance Sport Competition, organized by our friends Dan and Silke Calloway, and it's being held this weekend. No, we're not competing this year.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Poetry Sunday

On Wednesday of this past week, we celebrated the birthday of actress Sandra Dee, the star of many films of the 1950's and 1960's. She was often cast in wholesome ingenue roles, and is frequently thought of as a metaphor for a simpler time, when life was supposedly better and much less complicated than it is today.

Sandra Dee was the inspiration for a poem which has been attributed to poet Leland Waldrip, but which he himself claims was anonymously written and sent to him by a friend. Regardless of its true pedigree, it provides a cleverly nostalgic look back at a time that probably never really was.

In the Land of Sandra Dee
(anonymous, but attributed to Leland Waldrip)

Long ago and far away,
In a land that time forgot,
Before the days of Dylan
Or the dawn of Camelot.

There lived a race of innocents,
And they were you and me,
Long ago and far away
In the Land of Sandra Dee.

Oh, there was truth and goodness
In that land where we were born,
Where navels were for oranges,
And Peyton Place was porn.

For Ike was in the White House,
And Hoss was on TV,
And God was in his heaven
In the Land of Sandra Dee.

We learned to gut a muffler,
We washed our hair at dawn,
We spread our crinolines to dry
In circles on the lawn.

And they could hear us coming
All the way to Tennessee,
All starched and sprayed and rumbling
In the Land of Sandra Dee.

We longed for love and romance,
And waited for the prince,
And Eddie Fisher married Liz,
And no one's seen him since.

We danced to "Little Darlin',"
And sang to "Stagger Lee"
And cried for Buddy Holly
In the Land of Sandra Lee.

Only girls wore earrings then,
And three was one too many,
And only boys wore flat-top cuts,
Except for Jean McKinney.

And only in our wildest dreams
Did we expect to see
A boy named George with lipstick
In the Land of Sandra Dee.

We fell for Frankie Avalon,
Annette was oh, so nice,
And when they made a movie,
They never made it twice.

We didn't have a Star Trek Five,
Or Psycho Two and Three,
Or Rocky-Rambo Twenty
In the Land of Sandra Dee.

Miss Kitty had a heart of gold,
And Chester had a limp,
And Reagan was a Democrat
Whose co-star was a chimp.

We had a Mr Wizard,
But not a Mr T,
And Oprah couldn't talk yet
In the Land of Sandra Dee.

We had our share of heroes,
We never thought they'd go,
At least not Bobby Darin,
Or Marilyn Monroe.

For youth was still eternal,
And life was yet to be,
And Elvis was forever,
In the Land of Sandra Dee.

We'd never seen the rock band
That was Grateful to be Dead,
And Airplanes weren't named Jefferson,
And Zeppelins weren't Led.

And Beatles lived in gardens then,
And Monkees in a tree,
Madonna was a virgin
In the Land of Sandra Dee.

We'd never heard of microwaves,
Or telephones in cars,
And babies might be bottle-fed,
But they weren't grown in jars.

And pumping iron got wrinkles out,
And "gay" meant fancy-free,
And dorms were never coed
In the Land of Sandra Dee.

We hadn't seen enough of jets
To talk about the lag,
And microchips were what was left
At the bottom of the bag.

And hardware was a box of nails,
And bytes came from a flea,
And rocket ships were fiction
In the Land of Sandra Dee.

Buicks came with portholes,
A side show came with freaks,
And bathing suits came big enough
To cover both your cheeks.

Coke came just in bottles,
Skirts came to the knee,
And Castro came to power
In the Land of Sandra Dee.

We had no Crest with fluoride,
We had no Hill Street Blues,
We all wore superstructure bras
Designed by Howard Hughes.

We had no patterned pantyhose
Or Lipton herbal tea
Or prime-time ads for condoms
In the Land of Sandra Dee.

There were no golden arches,
No Perriers to chill,
And fish were not called Wanda,
And cats were not called Bill.

And middle-aged was thirty-five
And old was forty-three,
And ancient were our parents
In the Land of Sandra Dee.

But all things have a season,
Or so we've heard them say,
And now instead of Maybelline
We swear by Retin-A.

And they send us invitations
To join AARP,
We've come a long way, baby,
From the Land of Sandra Dee.

So now we face a brave new world
In slightly larger jeans,
And wonder why they're using
Smaller print in magazines.

And we tell our children's children
Of the way it used to be,
Long ago and far away
In the Land of Sandra Dee.

Sounds good to me. I grew up in the Land of Sandra Dee ... and even if it never really existed, I still miss it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Cartoon Saturday

As April crawls slowly and agonizingly toward May ...

Ultraconservative Republicans scrambled to distance themselves from their latest hero, proud scofflaw Cliven Bundy, when he turned out to be an unrepentant racist; a 16-year old girl in Connecticut was murdered by a classmate, apparently after she turned down his request for a date to their high school prom; North Korea claims to be holding an American man who, the government news agency said, was seeking asylum in the workers' paradise*; bodies continue to be found in the wreckage of the South Korean ferry that sank last week; and Pope Francis again stirred controversy this week when he cold-called a married divorcee and implied that her sin in marrying a divorced Catholic man could be forgiven.

It's a strange world.

It's also baseball season, and our collection of theme cartoons for this week deal with the national pastime ...

Baseball keeps up with the times ...

Even the times in galaxies far, far away ...

Some people just can't avoid bringing work home with them ...

The stats change with the times, too, as we see in these two cartoons ...

and ...

Moving on to our other cartoons, you not only really need to be careful when you order in some restaurants ...

but you also need to be careful when you check your wraps ...

There's been a lot of criticism of the movie "Noah" for its alleged variations from the biblical story of Noah and the flood. But there are some other biblical stories that can get an odd Hollywood treatment, too ...

It pays to have a well-rounded resume ...

People Magazine this week named actress Lupita Nyong'o as the most beautiful woman in the world. They came by my place looking for the sexiest man, too ...

And that wraps our last Cartoon Saturday for April. Now it's time to knuckle down for a busy weekend ... a day spent with the local grandchildren today, and emceeing the Spring Showcase tomorrow at Dance Studio Lioudmila. I'll be ready to go back to work on Monday to relax.

Have a good day. See you back here tomorrow for Poetry Sunday.


* Yeah, good luck with that.

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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ink? Think!

I don't think I've ever made a secret of the fact that I don't think much of tattoos, especially big, garish tattoos on ladies. To me, putting a tattoo on a lady is like painting a handlebar mustache on the Mona Lisa, but worse. Ink is something you should apply to paper to create a nice letter to ol' Bilbo, not something you should inject into your skin.

Of course, not everyone thinks the way I do. For instance, I always thought of librarians as elderly ladies with white hair pulled back into a bun, granny glasses suspended on a chain over their cardigan sweaters. I never thought there was a whole set of tattoos that would appeal to librarians ... until I ran across this article on Mental Floss: 24 Awesome Librarian Tattoos. Who knew?

But I digress.

To help answer the question, "what were you thinking??", here's a decision chart on whether or not you should get that tattoo ... click it to big it ...

And if, after all that, you still want a tattoo, try this one ...

Or listen to Jimmy Buffett's great song, "Permanent Reminder of a Temporary Feeling."

Or go back and read my July 2008 diatribe about tattoos, The Straight Skin-ny

Just think before you ink. Please.

Have a good day. Preferably without epidermal art. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, April 14, 2014

I Spoke Too Soon ...

One of my readers gently criticized me some months ago for naming the Ass Clown of the Month too early, an action which might discriminate against better candidates that might emerge in the later days of the month. While I recognized the strength of the argument and have since tried to wait until at least the middle of the month to name the dishonoree, I sometimes make the call early ... as I did this month (see the announcement, made on April 4th, here). It seemed like a good idea at the time.

But another candidate so outrageous has emerged that I'm tempted to announce a second* award for the month. And since it's my blog, after all, I think it's within my power to do it.

Therefore, with a roll of drums and a sad shake of the head, I announce the second Ass Clown of the Month Award for April 2014 to

Mike Huckabee

While addressing a red-meat conservative crowd at the inaugural New Hampshire Freedom Summit, Mr Huckabee was quoted as saying, "My gosh, I'm beginning to think that there's more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States." He went on to complain about security requirements at airports, claiming that they imposed more ID requirements than voting.

For his inability to distinguish between transportation security requirements and legitimate concerns on both sides of the voter identification controversy, and between both of those and the actions of a despotic government that imprisons tens of thousands of its citizens in labor camps and regiments the remainder to a degree unmatched anywhere in the world, Mike Huckabee gets the nod as our second Ass Clown of the Month for April, 2014.

And this guy wanted to be president.


Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Third, actually, since this month was a dual award.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Poetry Sunday

This has been the sort of absolutely glorious weekend (weather-wise) that we don't get all that often here in NoVa. Yesterday my daughter and I took Leya and Elise into DC to see the cherry blossoms (now at their spectacular peak) and enjoy the Japanese street festival, and in addition to allowing the girls to have a fun time, it gave their grandfather a chance to see all the beautiful ladies who've spent the last few months hiding themselves under multiple layers of heavy clothes. And with that introduction ...

Gavin Ewart was a British poet noted for his witty and humorous commentaries on human behavior. Many of his poems were irreverently erotic, and this led to one of his his books - The Pleasures of the Flesh - being banned from sale in the shops of British retailer W. H. Smith. This somewhat racy poem by Mr Ewart seemed appropriate for this weekend's glorious weather ...

Young Blondes
by Gavin Ewart

A religious poem

Young blondes are tempting me day and night.
Young blondes in dreams trouble my restless sight.

With curly heads they rampage through my thoughts,
Full-bosomed in their sweaters and their shorts.

Or lie sunbathing on an impossible beach
Naked, aloof, continually out of reach.

On the mind's promenade, above the rocks,
Young blondes go sauntering by in cotton frocks

Or flatter cameras with their negligent poses
Or drenched in moonlight gather midnight roses.

While I am eating, smoking, working, talking
Through long romantic gardens they are walking.

Protect me, Lord, from these desires of flesh,
Keep me from evil, in Thy pastures fresh,

So that I may not fall, by lakes or ponds,
Into such sinful thoughts about young blondes!

As comedian Sam Levenson once said, lead us not into temptation ... just tell us where it is and we'll find it.

Have a good day. Watch out for blondes. And brunettes. And especially redheads. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cartoon Saturday

Three more days to tax day. Oy. How about some other news ...

A man wanted for causing a horrific traffic accident at a day care center in which one child was killed and 14 others injured has turned himself in to police; a virulent stomach virus sickened 83 persons on board a cruise ship; a 16 year-old Pennsylvania boy faces four counts of attempted homicide and 21 counts of aggravated assault after he went on a rampage at his high school, stabbing fellow students with a pair of kitchen knives; security researchers discovered a fatal flaw in a key Internet safety feature that keeps email, banking, shopping, passwords and communications private; and newly elected (and married) Louisiana Representative Vance McAllister asked for forgiveness from God, his family and his constituents after being caught on video making out with a female staffer.

Someday, we'll have a week when we don't need the cartoons. This one isn't it. Let's get going ...

We have an eclectic mix of cartoons for you today, leading off with our theme set for the week: cartoons related to language and reading ...

Sometimes you don't want the other person to use the right word ...

If you've worked in government or big business, you'll sympathize with this one ...

When you get to be a parent or a grandparent, you need to be careful what you say ... you never know who will repeat it at an inopportune time* ...

If you can't write well, there are always ready-made cards with the right message for the occasion ...

As we get older, we sometimes need help with our reading ...

And you really need to read the words carefully to avoid misunderstandings ...

There's an old florists' ad that tells you to "say it with flowers," and I wrote a post last year about the language of flowers. But you still need to watch your language ...

Perhaps Kathy and The Scholastic Scribe can tell us whether their weddings went like this ...

Moving on to other topics, one wonders how some celebrities do their charitable giving ...

And finally, I think most of the ladies can relate to this one ...

It looks like it's going to be a glorious day here in NoVa. We'll be setting up a Skype call in a little while so that granddaughters Leya and Elise can talk with Agnes and her dad in Germany, and after that I plan to spend the rest of the day playing the Marquis de Sod and whipping the yard into shape. Tomorrow should be beautiful, too, with clear skies and temperatures nearing 80 (that's 26 degrees for those of you who think in Celsius). We've gone from heavy snow and polar vortices to the weather we usually expect in August**. Go figure.

Have a good day and a great weekend. Don't forget the sunblock. See you tomorrow for Poetry Sunday.


* You can trust me on this one!

** Nevertheless, the advice I gave my friend Rie still stands: don't put your winter coats into storage just yet, or we'll have another blizzard for sure.