Sunday, January 31, 2016

Poetry Sunday

Today being Sunday, January 31st, it seems appropriate that I take the last chance this year to offer up this timely poem from Baron Wormser ...

by Baron Wormser 

“Cold as the moon,” he’d mutter
In the January of 5 A.M. and 15 below
As he tried to tease the old Chev into greeting
One more misanthropic morning.
It was an art (though he never
Used that curious word) as he thumped
The gas pedal and turned the key
So carefully while he held his breath
And waited for the sharp jounce
And roar of an engaged engine.
“Shoulda brought in the battery last night.”
“Shoulda got up around midnight
And turned it over once.”
It was always early rising as he’d worked
A lifetime “in every damn sort
Of damn factory.” Machines were
As natural to him as dogs and flowers.
A machine, as he put it, "was sensible.”
I was so stupid about valves and intakes
He thought I was some religious type.
How had I lived as long as I had
And remained so out of it?
And why had I moved of my own free will
To a place that prided itself
On the blunt misery of January?
“No way to live,” he’d say as he poked
A finger into the frozen throat
Of an unwilling carburetor.
His breath hung in the air
Like a white balloon.
Later on the way to the town where
We worked while the heater
Wheezed fitfully and the windshield
Showed indifference to the defroster
He’d turn to me and say that
The two best things in this world
Were hot coffee and winter sunrises.
The icy road beckoned to no one,
Snow began to drift down sleepily,
The peace of servitude sighed and dreamed.

I'm not sure that the two best things in the world are hot coffee and winter sunrises, but certainly beautiful sunrises and sunsets are high on the list, after the love of children and grandchildren.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Cartoon Saturday

Thank you, but we have all the snow we need.

In the final GOP "debate" before the Iowa caucuses, Donald Trump petulantly dropped out and staged his own event after Faux News rejected his demand to remove anchor Megyn Kelly from the moderating panel; the State Department has decided not to release 22 e-mails from former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, claiming they contain Top Secret information; according to Pentagon sources, a Russian fighter jet came within 15 feet of a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane over the Black Sea in what the Pentagon is calling an "unsafe" incident; the occupation of a remote Oregon bird sanctuary by self-styled anti-government militants heated up this week when one of the militants was killed by police and a number of others were arrested; and Paul Kantner, a guitarist and one of the founding members of the 1960's psychedelic rock group Jefferson Airplane, died this week at the age of 74.

As we continue the recovery from Winter Storm Jonas - otherwise known as "Snowzilla," it seems appropriate to feature cartoons about snowmen ...

Punk snowman? ...

Criminal Minds meets a chilling new villain ...

One-upmanship applies to snowmen, too ...

Weight Watchers for snowmen? ...

Suuuuurrrrreeee it is ...

Ouch ...

You can't be too careful ...

The cold, hard figures ...

Would that be a rhinocarrotoplasty? ...

You can't be too careful, part 2 ...

And so goes our last Cartoon Saturday for January, 2016. This weekend promises to be considerably different from last weekend ... one week ago today, we were hunkered down in blizzard conditions; today, the temperature will be in the 40's, headed to the 50's tomorrow and possibly into the 60's on Monday. You've gotta love NoVa weather. Actually, no you don't.

Have a good day, enjoy your weekend, and come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday. More thoughts then.


Friday, January 29, 2016

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for January, 2016

As the first month of the new year draws to a close, it's time to name our

Left-Cheek Ass Clown
January, 2016

As always, there are plenty of deserving candidates, but in my opinion (it's my blog, so my opinion is the only one that counts) there is one clear standout choice ...

No stranger to controversy, Governor LePage has gone out of his way to antagonize various groups, as when earlier this month he said of drug dealers plying their evil trade in Maine,

"These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty ... They come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, then they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave."

This week, Governor LePage continued his one-man war on drug dealers. He first suggested that an appropriate sentence would be to inject them with the same substances they sold; later, he opined that the death penalty alone was not good enough for drug dealers ... that he recommended bringing back public executions by guillotine.


For his  ... um ... unusually direct approach to solving the drug crisis, Maine governor Paul LePage is named as our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for January, 2016.

And you thought Stephen King was the weirdest resident of Maine ...

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Things We Learn in Time

One of the things we learn as we grow older is that we missed a lot of things when we were younger. One of the things I've learned is that I now count as friends a lot of people that I only vaguely knew back in high school, if I knew them at all ... back then, we moved in different circles and belonged to different cliques that tended to limit or prevent our contact. Now, though, through the magic of nostalgia fueled by Facebook and the occasional reunion, we're finding each other and realizing that we missed out on a great deal.

At our 40th high school reunion back in 2009, I reconnected with Debbie - a lady I'd worshiped from afar all those years ago. We discovered that she'd also had an interest in me back then, but that we were both too shy to do anything about it. We became good friends, and I was greatly saddened when she passed away not long after the reunion.

When my father passed away last year, I was astounded when Bill ... one of the football stars from my old high school ... appeared at the funeral home to pay his respects. We'd sort of known each other back in the day, but I was part of the geek group, and he was one of the jocks, and never the twain shall meet. He was pleasant and gracious, and it warmed my heart that he came out in such terrible winter weather to help say goodbye to dad.

And through the magic of Facebook I've come to know Gail, a lady I knew back in high school only in passing ... but it turns out she and I share a fondness for many similar things, like Rudyard Kipling's "Just So Stories," the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and the poetry of Robert W. Service ... and on top of everything else, she knows the lyrics to "Sixteen Tons." Had I but known ...

And then there's Pepper, who was a majorette back in high school - a class of demigoddess that lived well above the level of the Common Nerd. And today, she's a speech therapist with a fun and quirky sense of humor with whom a linguist and semanticist can enjoy trading terrible puns.

And let's not forget Marilyn, another of my re-found friends, whose love of crafts - particularly quilting - has made her a soul mate to Agnes, and led to my fear that the two may eventually meet in person and deplete my savings in the nearest fabric store.

The musing here is just that we have friends in places we didn't always expect or completely understand. And it's sad that it takes so long to realize it.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for the naming of our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for January.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

After the Storm

Things are slowly getting back to normal here in the National Capitol Region as we continue digging out from the storm that has been nicknamed "Snowzilla." The federal government and most school systems are are slowly coming back to life; most main roads are drivable, but many of the side streets that connect to them are still either snowed in or barely passable (my street is officially passable by Virginia Department of Transportation definition*); buses are still hit-or-miss (mine isn't running, the only other one I can take is running a Saturday schedule, is about a mile's walk to the next stop, and just delivers me to the Metro station); and the Metrorail system is more or less back in operation. We were supposed to get some rain yesterday, which would have helped to melt some of the accumulated snow, but it didn't arrive and yesterday's melted snow froze overnight, which adds the danger of black ice to the usual misery of the morning commute). I think that by tomorrow, most of us will be back at work and Congress will be able to resume screwing up the country without Mother Nature's help.

But here's a question that isn't always considered in the wake of a major snowstorm: what do you do with all the snow?

Consider that Washington, DC, measures about 100 square miles, with the NoVa and MD suburbs adding another hundred or more square miles ... and that an average of, say, 18 inches of snow fell across that entire area. That's what scientists would call a butt-ton of snow. Plowing it is one thing, but where do you put it once the plowing's done?

This was the subject of an interesting article by Joe Heim in the Washington Post. In short, it seems that huge fleets of giant dump trucks pick up loads of snow plowed out to designated intersections, bring it to the parking lot at RFK Stadium and dump it in enormous mountains

that will later be melted by the Snow Dragon, an enormous snow-melting machine,

filtered, and then fed into storm drains. They should be done by, oh, next Christmas.

And here's another interesting aspect of the recovery from the storm: many modern kids don't seem to want to go out and earn money by shoveling snow. Washington Post reporter Petula Dvorak wrote about this today in an article titled "Kids Choosing Xbox Over Snow Bucks."

Many years ago, when the solar system was still forming and I was a strapping young lad, there was big money to be made in every season: spring was for weeding new gardens, summer was for mowing lawns, autumn was for raking leaves, and winter was for shoveling snow. Unfortunately, a lot of young people nowadays aren't into manual labor. Most of the people who are shoveling snow for money seem to be older, homeless, or low-wage workers ... I saw not a single young person out hustling for money to shovel out driveways and sidewalks - other than their own - in our neighborhood. Over the last three days, I probably shoveled a ton or more of snow, with the fear of hernias and heart attacks looming over my 64 year-old carcass ... it would have been worth it to me to pay a younger version of myself to do at least part of it.

Oh, well ...

Just as a last comment before I go and do some chores, here's a look at the new Winter Storm Threat Level System that will be going into effect for the next round:

Have a good day. Stay warm and dry, and just remember that last summer was the hottest ever recorded ... it won't be long before we're thinking that some snow wouldn't be a bad thing.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* VDOT’s goal is to have an 8-10 foot wide drivable path (the width of an average plow blade), but warns residents that streets considered officially passable may have patches where the plows couldn’t scrape away a layer of ice.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Diagramming Things

Back in grade school, many years before I learned that I loved linguistics, one of the things I hated having to do was diagram sentences. I don't know if diagramming sentences is still taught in grade school English classes, but if it isn't it should be. It's a useful skill for learning good grammar and sentence construction, even if it's a pain in the neck. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Here's an example of how we might diagram the sentence "The thought of getting up and working is alarming":

Sometimes, diagramming a sentence can be more of a challenge than usual ...

And sometimes it can be applied to more than just a simple (or Palinistically complex) sentence ... a song, for instance. Here's an example, using the Beatles' classic "Hey, Jude"* ...

Grammatical diagramming. Linguists kick butt.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* As it happens, I'm famous at work for my rendition of "Hey, Jude" with a heavy German accent. My co-workers are easily amused.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Musical Monday

Last Friday we celebrated the birthday of soul singer Sam Cooke, whose beautiful voice and smooth, effortless delivery gave us a long playlist of beloved songs, including this one - "Wonderful World" - which has always been one of my favorites.

Sam Cooke was killed in 1964, depriving us of one of the finest singers of his - or any other - time. Nowadays, we're stuck with the Justin Biebers and other lesser talents, which is too bad for new generations of music lovers.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Poetry Sunday

If ever there was a poem appropriate to the day, it's this one ... I think I'll be shoveling for days ...

Shoveling Snow
by Kirsten Dierking

If day after day I was caught inside
this muffle and hush

I would notice how birches
move with a lovely hum of spirits,

how falling snow is a privacy
warm as the space for sleeping,

how radiant snow is a dream
like leaving behind the body

and rising into that luminous place
where sometimes you meet

the people you've lost. How
silver branches scrawl their names

in tangled script against the white.
How the curves and cheekbones

of all my loved ones appear
in the polished marble of drifts.

Have a good day, and if you're shoveling snow, do it carefully. More thoughts tomorrow when Musical Monday warms us up with some vintage Sam Cooke. Be here!


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cartoon Saturday

Want snow? Let me know, I'll send you all you want.

The east coast continues to suffer blizzard conditions from a monster snowstorm that is pounding the region and leaving two feet or more of snow driven into huge drifts by high winds; the city of Flint, Michigan (where I have relatives) continues to grapple with a public health disaster caused by the decision to switch the city's water supply to the contaminated water of the Flint River; self-styled defenders of the Constitution continue their occupation of a remote bird sanctuary in Oregon, and are quickly exhausting the patience of local residents; in the town of Renton, Washington, a young woman was shot and injured by a man fumbling with his handgun in a crowded theater; and an inquiry in the United Kingdom has concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin probably approved an operation by Russian agents to kill former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

This past Wednesday, January 20th, was Penguin Awareness Day ... and so, to make sure you remain aware of penguins, this week's cartoons are dedicated to everyone's favorite formally-attired birds.

I wonder how she knows ...

Who, indeed?

Small talk with the date ...

It's probably more fun than herding cats ...

Penguin implants? ...

CSI: Antarctica ...

Oops ...

Well, that's true enough ...

You had to see this one coming ...

Given the weather conditions outside my study window, penguins seem to be a good topic for today. And here's an extra bonus: your guide to the most important varieties of penguins ...

Have a good day. Stay warm and dry, and be here tomorrow for Poetry Sunday. More thoughts then.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Great Moments in Editing

Yes, Dear Readers, while we sit here in NoVa and wait for Mother Nature to bury us in snow, let's pass the time with another collection of Great Moments in Editing, shall we? ...

Well, that's one way to address the problem of religious intolerance ...

On second thought, I think I'll have the kale ...

I'm not too sure about that body sliming ...

Do you suppose the books come with the chair? ...

Somehow, I'm not surprised ...

There have got to be easier ways of making a living ...

When I was younger, I was sometimes hard up for dates ... but never quite this hard up ...

It's always good to diversity your clientele ...

At the intersection of bad grammar and inadequate grasp of mathematics ...

I certainly hope we don't have conditions quite this bad this weekend ...

And there you have it: our second offering of Great Moments in Editing for January. I hope you enjoyed them!

We are getting ready for our "historic" blizzard that's scheduled to move into the local area between 3 and 5 o'clock this afternoon and leave us with as much as 24 inches of snow. If you are living in a snow-deprived area, please let me know and I'll be glad to send you as much as you like. No charge.

Have a good day. If you're out driving in this mess, be careful ... I need you to come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday!

More thoughts then.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Culture of Anger

As you all know, Dear Readers, the state of political discourse in this country is wretched. There’s no gentility any more. There’s no rational give-and-take, no willingness to trade ideas and to compromise, no desire ... or ability ... to concede that one’s political opponents might just have a point.

Looking at this mess as a linguist and semanticist*, I think that one of the significant stokers of political ill will is the language our media uses to report on political issues. Consider this:

The main theme in political writing and reporting today is anger. Someone is always angry about something. The conservative base is enraged over the latest thing the government did, especially if it views Congressional Republicans as being complicit in it. Voting blocs are described as livid. Members of Congress are furious or outraged over the latest thing that President Obama did/said/thought, and many Republican voters loathe him and resent pretty much anything he does. Voters are “so mad they can’t see – or think – straight.” Members of both parties compare each other to Hitler and the Nazis**.

And it’s not just the verbs and adjectives of anger that contribute to a sense of violent disagreement. Consider the number of idiomatic expressions we have in American English that are based on the language of weapons – particularly the firearms we worship:

Something unlikely to succeed may be a long shot. A random comment may be a shot in the dark that’s fired for effect. We construct our speeches using bullet points and we aim high to ensure we hit the target. We had a TV politics show called Firing Line, on which guests fire off short answers to complex questions. We often fire a shot across the bow as a warning or to get attention. Tense situations are explosive.

Linguist Deborah Tannen wrote about this topic in her 1998 book The Argument Culture, in which she described "a pervasive, warlike atmosphere that makes us approach anything we need to accomplish as a fight between two opposing sides, (urging) us to regard the world and the people in it with an adversarial frame of mind (and assuming) that opposition is the best way to get anything done."

You can see Tannen's Argument Culture play out in the troll-to-troll bellowing in the comments section of any news article or opinion piece, and in the I'm-right-you-hate-America blather of media shouting heads.

Are you convinced that the Other Guy is either a fascist or a commiepinkoratbastard, with nothing to say that's worth listening to? Welcome to the Argument Culture and the language of anger.

And good luck with the election.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* One who studies semantics, defined as “the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning.”

** One of the more blatantly stupid comparisons.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

I've Found a Cause I Can Support

Every celebrity has a cause they support. I may not be a celebrity, but I've finally found a cause I could get behind if I ever got famous ...

I assure you I'm not being rasher anything, ha, ha.

Have a good day. If you live in the DC/NoVa/Maryland area, you might want to go to the store and see if they have any milk, bread, or lunch meat in advance of our expected Big Snowstorm. While you're there you can say hello to your 2.5 million friends who are all doing the same thing.

More thoughts tomorrow, in advance of the blizzard.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016


A paraprosdokian is a literary device in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected, resulting in humor or surprise.

I expect that paraprosdokian is not a word you'll be likely to use very often (unless you're a retired English teacher like Kathy, from whom I first learned the word), but you may from time to time use one in conversation. Here, courtesy of my brother Mark, are a few examples:

Where there's a will, I want to be in it.

The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on my list.

Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

War does not determine who is right - only who is left.

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

In filling out an application, where it says, "In case of emergency, Notify:" I wrote "A doctor."

Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.

You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not so sure.

To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a mechanic.

You're never too old to learn something stupid*.

I'm supposed to respect my elders, but its getting harder and harder for me to find one now.

Got any other good paraprosdokians? Leave a comment, and show the rest of us how erudite you are!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* And use it in a political argument.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Musical Monday

The biggest Powerball jackpot in history - more than a billion dollars - was divided by three lucky souls this past week. Or maybe they're not so lucky, because they'll be swamped with relatives they never knew they had, their phones will ring off the wall with calls from every charity on earth, and their junk e-mail boxes will explode. I've thought a lot about what I'd do if I won the Lottery, but it's all academic since I seldom buy a ticket.

Today, in honor of the Powerball winners, let's call up this catchy 1976 tune from the Swedish group Abba ...

Well, they're right ... it's a rich man's world.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Poetry Sunday

A few years ago, back when there was money to spend on such things, I did a great deal of traveling on business. Nowadays, with budgets tighter than a g-string on a hippopotamus, the only business traveling I do is from home to the office. Not that I'm complaining, mind you ... too much travel can be a pain in the neck. The best part of business travel for me was almost always the part about coming home ... a feeling memorably captured in this poem by Kenneth Rexroth ...

by Kenneth Rexroth 

You are driving to the airport
Along the glittering highway
Through the warm night,
Humming to yourself.
The yellow rose buds that stood
On the commode faded and fell
Two days ago. Last night the
Petals dropped from the tulips
On the dresser. The signs of
Your presence are leaving the
House one by one. Being without
You was almost more than I
Could bear. Now the work is squared
Away. All the arrangements
Have been made. All the delays
Are past and I am thirty
Thousand feet in the air over
A dark lustrous sea, under
A low half moon that makes the wings
Gleam like fish under water -
Rushing south four hundred miles
Down the California coast
To your curving lips and your
Ivory thighs.

Ah, yes ... curving lips and ivory thighs. What was it we were talking about, again?

Have a good day. If you travel, do it safely and enjoy the homecoming. See you back here again tomorrow for Musical Monday.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Cartoon Saturday

News flash ... Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have broken up! Film at eleven. In other news ...

Ten Navy sailors were taken prisoner and later released by Iran after their boats strayed into Iranian waters; Alex, the first Atlantic hurricane to form in January since 1938, rose in the eastern Atlantic and threatened the Azores; twelve Marines are missing near Hawaii after two helicopters collided during a night training mission; from the Sauce for the Gander department, Ted Cruz dealt with allegations that he is not a "natural born citizen," and is therefore ineligible to be president*; and today begins Florida's "Python Challenge," in which hunters try to capture or kill as many as possible of the giant Burmese pythons infesting the Florida Everglades**.

This week, in honor of the brigands of Wall Street, we feature cartoons about pirates ...

Everybody's gotta start somewhere ...

When pirates turn to an acting career ...

It's one way to keep the workers' morale up ...

Methinks he doesn't go anywhere quickly ...

Sometimes I'm not sure the benefits are worth it ...

It took me a minute to get this one ... but it was worth the wait ...

An understandable mistake ...

Occupational hazard ...

Oops ...

This just can't end well ...

And that's it for this week's edition of Cartoon Saturday. I hope you it helped to raise your spirits after a grueling week of bad news. I plan to spend a relaxing weekend cleaning out the crawlspace above the garage so that I can get all the Christmas decorations put away until next year. More fun than anyone should be allowed to have without paying taxes on it.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday. More thoughts then.


* Anyone who listens to Mr Cruz for any length of time will quickly realize that while he may indeed be a citizen, the man just ain't natural.

** Because invasive snakes are being intensively hunted during the Python Challenge, presidential campaigning has been suspended for the duration of the event for safety reasons.