Friday, July 31, 2009

Hospice Auspices

That was fun wasn't it Dave? Writing a 3500 word story about a deeply personal incident in your life, sending it off to strangers with an implied, "Gee Mister, would you print this? It's about really important things!" Yeah, that was fun wasn't it?

Ummm, HELL NO! Writing for publication is about like being a piano delivery guy.

Any english speaker's conversation is full of redundant words, regional idioms and metaphors not widely understood. That's fine, but effective writing requires an entirely different skillset than effective talking. Added to that, when we communicate verbally we're aided (or sometimes hampered) by eye contact, vocal signals, body language and yeah even odors. Most of that stuff doesn't even register in the conscious brain of the listener, but the data is recorded and is part of verbal communication. So being able to keep one's fishing buddies in stitches does not automatically render one the next Mark Twain.

Well thanks for sharing Dave! Now I have a harder question. Is it immoral to be a hospice volunteer? Consider this. A person qualifies for Hospice services by refusing any further life extending treatment. So they've decided to stop trying to live. Isn't that a passive form of suicide? Granted, one's motives could be noble, like they're bankrupting the family as odds against survival grow higher. Or the motives could be very human, like weariness of getting poked with needles and being carved up like a turkey every few months. I have sympathy with both motives.

But isn't the point of objective morality that an act is either right or wrong, and motive is irrelevant? So is passive suicide morally right? Nope, I don't think it is. And while each individual has freewill and so ownership of their moral choices, extend that to outsiders who aid them.

Formal participation in an organization that facilitates passive suicide. Doesn't that confer approval of the dying person's decision? I'm not convinced that objective morality permits a distinction between passive and active. Hospice volunteer, Dr. Kevorkian, receptionist at an abortion clinic.

Well you're not a hospice volunteer anymore, so you don't have to think about it. Oh, but you will won't you? That little weasel brain of yours gets ahold of something and it's like conjugal visit day at the Big House!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

FMEA for I-phones

No, I'm not a bit surprised to learn the hottest selling app is one that gives info on convicted sex offenders living in the area.

In Failure Mode Effect Analysis, a bunch of people sit around in a room. Admittedly, at least half are really thinking about what they'll have for lunch, but what they're supposed to be thinking about? Some new product or process is about to be launched. In this phase you mostly brainstorm what's the worst that could happen, and how bad would it be?

By numerical rating, an outcome that'd be very unlikely but horrible if it happened can rise to the top of the list for attention.

People really don't need bald hillbillys to impose the structure on them; we do FMEA informally all the time in our lives. This very popular I-phone app demonstrates that.

About three things are working here. First, it's statistically very unlikely any one child will ever be scooped up by a stranger, tortured and killed. Second, to the parent who loses a child like that, it ain't really 1 in 179,000 really, is it? More along the lines of 100% from their perspective. Third, we parents realize the world we raise our kids in is vastly changed from the world where we grew up, and we've a lot more media now, hammering that point.

So yeah, FMEA happens inside the head. Maybe the media hypes what are really rare cases, but the horror of the cases has numerical weight too. One can argue about the percentages, but it's pretty clear some percent of our population have no shame, no inhibitions, and very little ability to disobey their inner demons.

One of the most chilling stories I ever heard about the very hard job of catching child molesters? Yeah Dave, I know the technical term is pederasty, now shut the hell up? A police run internet sting. A cop arrives at a park at night, spots the van described by the middle aged man who thinks he's waiting to have sex with an adolescent boy. Walks up and arrests his son's Little League coach.

I'm not the only person in America who read that story. Yeah, maybe it's 1 in 179,000, so how many kids do you have? It's FMEA, this hot selling I-phone app. It's a crazy, strange world in many ways. It's changed, this world, but the job of being a parent hasn't changed. We're supposed to protect them from all monsters, and get them to the age where they tell us we're wrong about everything. This is the circle of Life. (Cue Elton John song)

So sure, people do FMEA in their heads, and want to know if there are dangers to the kiddos living just down the street. Again, this is a substitute for community. There was a time when tech fixes weren't required. People knew who lived in their neighborhoods. Yeah, you can call it gossip, but everybody's biz was everybody's biz. We don't have that anymore. So we have I-phone apps.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Movie review: Hysterically historical

Hey! Somebody unsolicited brings you some book/movie that means a lot to them. You should check it out. Often, unexpected blessings hide in ambush with things like that. If there are such blessings in "Valkyrie" they couldn't sneak up on Stevie Wonder.

In execution it's a pretty fine movie. Cast is competent, period details are precise, and all the explosions are believeable. I just can't figure out why anybody wanted to make such a movie, no matter how expertly.

It's an old problem in movie making. Tell a historical story where the outcome is already known. Generally what one does is spin off side stories. Sure, the ship is gonna sink, but here's these people here. Keep the audience guessing about their fate. "Valkyrie" doesn't give us a young German officer throwing his lot in with the conspirators while his pregnant wife frets. Nor does it give us some middle aged Chemistry teacher building the bomb, knowing if he's caught it could mean death for his wife and kids too. What it does give us is Tom Cruise in nearly every scene.

A good way to have gone with this movie, while still obeying whatever contract clause mandated Tom Cruise in nearly every scene? Explain what turned him against Hitler. That'd have been a very good film. Cruise/Von Stauffenberg could be schlepping around with his conspiracy to kill Manson, I mean Hitler, while it kept jumping back to his journey from goosestepper to patriotic assassin.

Tough stuff, these movies where the outcome's already known. Demands a deft touch. That said, well? The movie is historically accurate. Much of the moviegoing public don't even know there were high ranking Germans who tried to kill Adolf during the closing days of the war. It's good that folks find out about such stuff.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Good ol' Harvard

Everybody sure is having fun though, huh? Dozens of articles, and I imagine the TV talkers are going at it too. You can tell who each author voted for, by their take on the story. What's the important thing though Dave?

A black academic arrested for disturbing the peace in Cambridge, MA. Charges later dropped. Hmmmm, what's really important?

Is it important President Obama looked very un-presidential in commenting on it? Naw, not really.

Is it important that Harvard has a department devoted to African-American studies? Naw. It's hilarious, but not important.

Professor Gates, would you like to see your behavior copied in the very worst parts of Memphis? Cause that's what's really important. Many things that look fine to Harvard develop very badly in the real world, and your reaction to a policeman is one of them. If you're taken as an example, it's going to get some people killed.

In Memphis, where we have shootings every weekend, police arrive in a very tense situation. Adrenaline is high and things can escalate quickly. My advice to people at the crime scene is be cooperative.

No sir, you're mistaken. You are giving people advice about how they should behave at crime scenes. Your "private citizen" gambit just gets so far with me. I'd argue that a Harvard faculty member is always on the clock. With privilege comes responsibility, and you live a very privileged life sir. So you've never really been a "private citizen" in Cambridge, MA. Beyond that though, you're out on stage now and national spotlight has caught you in its glare.

It's morally incumbent on you now to feel the full responsibility. Your actions now will contribute in some way to defining cultural norms for those of your ethnicity. Here in the real world, we deal with lots of blowback that can be traced back to places like Harvard. For instance? Back in the 60's what did it really matter if a bunch of trust fund babies smoked grass? It matters because it helped define a cultural norm of self-medication. Now we have meth, crack and who knows what else?

So I say your behavior surrounding police officers responding to what they thought was a crime, well? I don't want that behavior copied in the worst neighborhoods of Memphis. It'll eventually lead to some people getting killed. Even if not, it'll make police work more difficult. You should act now, mindful of your moral responsibility.

Call a news conference and apologize for being un-cooperative with the police. Explain you were upset, frustrated, but you understand in retrospect the lads were just trying to do their job.

Professor, it doesn't matter if you feel entirely justified in your indignation. Maybe you were, I've no idea. I'm thinking of a Memphis crime scene, some Saturday night in the future. It could get bad if everybody wants to give the police a bunch of sass. Lots of things that look cool at Harvard, well they go very badly in the worst parts of Memphis.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Again with the worms?

A skeptical reader has challenged my claim that worms under a farm may actually weigh more than the stuff up top.

First, I observe that skepticism is a more powerful tool for honest scientific inquiry than all the microscopes and telescopes ever constructed. God bless and keep you Charles Fort.

Second, the nerve of that guy! Ain't I after all, the never to be challenged owner of all information that isn't worth knowing? Doesn't bode well for our culture, somebody just wandering in and politely asking if something I said is really true. I fear for our country.

Third, it wasn't my claim at all really. I just quoted the Worm Digest. Still? One has a certain ethical responsibility for the accuracy of advocates they quote. (HEY? Fox news, CBS, NY Times? Did ya'll pick up on that?) So sure, I'll go for an independent inquiry of this worm thing. I don't mind digging into it.

Well, seems pretty simple. I need to know how much a worm weighs and how many are in an acre. OK, I'm gonna need tweezers, a bulldozer, and a set of bathroom scales. Wait Dave? Maybe there's an easier way? I'm just saying?

Darwin spent twenty years studying worms on his farm, and concluded fertile land could support 53,767 worms per acre. I so admire precision in the stupid. Not like he was gonna round off or anything, right? People at the Rothamsted Institute think Darwin was wrong. WHAT? Somebody says Mr. Darwin made careful observations but drew flawed conclusions? Who are these upstart blasphemers at this Rothamsted place?

They're privately endowed group of scientists who check each other's math. Been in biz at least 160 years. Their focus is to learn as much as possible about everything pertaining to agriculture.

Well, I guess that's OK. Don't seem to be aligned with some organized religion. So according to them, how incorrect was Darwin the Great, about worms I mean?

Only by 32 really. As in take the number he came up with and multiply it by 32. According to the latest research, a healthy acre of land might have up to 1.75M earthworms. Well, anybody can make a mistake, I guess.

A typical adult earthworm weighs .46 grams, according to National Geographic. That's about 973 worms per pound. So do that math thing David?

OK. Under a 400 acre farm, maybe 720K lbs. of earthworms thrive. That's more than the weight of two Boeing 747's. There's just a lot more going on around us and between us at any given time than any of us are capable of realizing. I sure would like to say more, but I'm seized with an unexplainable hankering for a delicious Colt 45. WORKS EVERY TIME! Why did I just say that?

Correct and dishonest

Went by faster than one of Madonna's boyfriends. "Economists predict this increase in minimum wage will mean an additional $5.5B in consumer spending."

It's good that news anchors don't understand the meaning of what they're reading. It could lead to career ending laugh line wrinkles otherwise.

So where actually is this $5.5 billion dollars right at this moment? Not that I don't trust you or anything, but can I see it?

Are there, all over this country, piles of cash stacked in storerooms at American businesses? Cause that's the only way the statement could be honest.

No Dave, you're over-simplifying again towards your evil Conservative ends. It's that business owners will have to accept a slightly lower profit margin, and the workers will benefit. Just a kinda government mandated profit sharing plan for low wage workers is all.

Well all right, cool. I'm just asking somebody to show me where the $5.5B comes from is all. Like I'm a business owner, and I'll just have to get by with the old yacht for another year. So money comes from my pocket, goes to the workers, I get that. But wasn't I already part of the consumer spending thing? If you take money I was going to spend and give it to somebody else to spend, how is new consumer spending added to our economy?

Now you're over-complicating things! Why don't you just tell me Mr. Smarty Pants, where you think this $5.5B is right now, since you seem to know everything, and don't want McDonald's workers to have decent lives?

OK. That $5.5B is right now in our pockets, and the pockets of McDonald's workers too. It's probably correct to say consumer spending is about to increase by that dollar figure. Also?

Economists say boost in minimum wage will cause $5.5B increase in cost of living. That'd be true too. What's going to happen is every product and service with a significant domestic minimum wage labor component, well prices are going up kids.

Business owners aren't really famous for apathy about slipping profit margins, oddly enough. In some market sectors they'll have to cut cost or close. Most of them will raise prices though.

Probably won't affect airline tickets, or the cost of a flatscreen TV. Likely will impact cost of daycare and groceries though. I'm still trying to figger which of these options are usually the end point for the spending dollar of an unwed mother working a drag job. Hmmm, beats me!

It will be at least a $5.5B increase in consumer spending. But that doesn't mean more camels will be purchased. Only means the price of camels just went up.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Good morning Mr. Phelps

There's a special place in the heart for stuff that's unintentionally funny. So I'll always remember being a little kid watching American Bandstand that Saturday. Teenagers trying to dance to the "Mission Impossible" theme. Dunh dunh dunh dunh dunh dunh dunh dunh, doodle loo, doodle loo... now how on Earth is anybody supposed to dance to that? It was very amusing to watch.

"Mission Impossible" was a quite popular TV show and I really enjoyed it, but even as a child I found unintentional humor in the very implausiblity of the whole thing.

Neglecting the show always started with top-secret guy getting his top-secret info, i.e. photos and the tape recorder that self-destructs in thirty seconds (Wal-Mart now sells many appliances with a comparable service life) in places that didn't look like first place I'd choose to leave top-secret stuff?

"Good morning Mr. Phelps. Your mission, should you choose to accept it"...that always got me laughing. Even then I sensed there couldn't be a job in the world, not even in the US government where, "Naw, what else ya got?" was an acceptable answer. And that's just the first two minutes of the show. It got a LOT funnier after that!

The mission was always some third world guy either already doing the bidding of the evil Ruskies (who were never mentioned by name, but we knew) or about to be. Take the bastard down, in the name of all that's pure & sacred!

Mr. Phelps and his talented co-workers would approach the mission something like this usually? Make the bad guy think his dead grandfather is sending him messages about where is some fabulous buried treasure. He'll discredit himself, look like a total nut, and it's off to the salt mines for you buddy! Then his replacement will do exactly what he was gonna do for the evil Ruskies, I imagine.

I recall thinking as a kid, how odd! Couldn't we just send a lone sniper in, take the guy out from a quarter mile away? Certainly the killing would be blamed on a rival. Instead we get people crawling through ventilation shafts and Martin Landau peeling off plastic faces? Hmmm.

As an adult, I wonder were there missions that didn't go so well, and Mr. Phelps had to report to Nixon on?
"Well Mr. President, our plan was to get Pol Pot to believe extraterrestrials were communicating with him, telling him where was a fabulous buried treasure, but Martin's plastic face fell off and it was all downhill from there really."
"What is it with you freaks and this buried treasure crap? You're against me, you're all against me. Henry, put his name on the list, and I mean right now!"

dunh dunh dunh dunh doodle loo doodle loo...I still say it's an Impossible Mission, trying to dance to that tune.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Why do I have to always be the one to say this stuff? It's because everybody else on both sides is making big bucks for acting like constipated dinosaurs, that's it, isn't it?

Dude, Mr. President? I honestly wish you well and pray for God to guide & protect you. Now let's get to the part about you being a dumbass.

Why do you want to create a massive new Federal health structure, when you already got two? Well, three really. I guess you want to do it so you can say you did it, and I understand this alpha male deal very well. Trust me, it's a double edged sword. Me, I've nearly always tried to instead find the quickest path to clear-cut victory. But yes I too am slowly dying from testosterone poisoning, so I've made a few bad calls along the way.

As I understands it, your plan predicts additional costs of $1.7 TRILLION to all US taxpayers over the next decade, so 45 million Americans can be insured. I'm not even reaching for my calculator. You could probably buy each of those citizens a Porsche cheaper (and I ain't so sure all these Americans you're talking about are citizens) but the focus? Tell me ONE time when the Federal government has under-predicted the cost of a program? Take your time, I have all day. All I have to do is colorize surgical instruments and implants at the moment. The answer is never.

Why don't you get 'em on Medicaid? Yeah, that looks easy to me. Expand the eligibility requirements, charge the working poor some for joining the system. Sure, tax the rich some, since your heart burns with a fire hotter than the sun for income redistribution. And you've got it.

A GOP guy said today, this health care initiative of yours would be your Waterloo.
You said today, it's time to move past the politics of the moment.
Both comments were equally stupid, my opinion.

You want to fix something, fix Medicaid, that's bleeding money like a stuck hog. Add these 45 million pour souls who apparently keep you awake at night to the Medicaid rolls. As a Conservative, I see you as a big government Liberal and I want you to fail. As an American, I support my President, but only when he's right.

So do that dude? Relatively easy and quick.

Hey Mister, Hey Mister!

I won't think I've measured your dreams just by looking at your face.

I'm just saying? Next time you're on the patio and a mosquito lights in your crotch area? Before swatting good & hard, consider; this may be a date with destiny for both of you.

So what is it about Mike you find so endearing? Well, he challenges my assumptions, and his exuberance about his passion.

Like today he walks up to me, no "Hi, how ya doin" just straight into it. "You ever seen that movie Valkyrie?"
"No I haven't, have you?"
"Yeah, it reminded me of Battle of the Bulge movie."
"You mean it's got a semi-documentary feel to it, and keeps switching back & forth, showing what the two sides are doing?"
"Naw, there ain't really two sides. It's about trying to kill-"
"Yeah I know, Von Stauffenberg plot. So why's it like Battle of the Bulge to you?"
"Ah, the costumes and sets, realistic feel to it. These modern war movies they usually skimp on details like that. I bought the DVD if you ever wanna borrow it?"

This wouldn't be odd conversation if Mike looked like a Jeapordy contestant...OK I don't know what a Jeapordy contestant looks like, but I know what they DON'T look like; Mike. He looks like a rapper's body guard. Bet when he crosses a street, he hears car doors locking. 6'3" and 320 lbs. of mostly muscle. He could probably without much effort wrench my arm from its socket. But he's a gentle giant who means me no bodily harm, except for talking my ears off of course.

He just started in on me one day, with a stream of concsiousness thing I can only describe as "Jack Kerouac teaches history." Something like...
"WWI was just the dumbest war ever not only didn't it solve nothing but it made stuff worse the way Germany was treated after the war just set up the conditions for Hitler to get power and there wouldn't have been a Bolshevik revolution and the USSR except for WWI and the Czar wasn't really that bad and they even killed the Czar's little children poor little kids they hadn't hurt anybody that was just cruel nothing but cruel all of WWI was just stupid and cruel you know they even used poison gas in that war?"

I said, "Yeah, first time was Battle of the Somme." And he smiled, realizing he'd just accidentally found the only other person in a five mile radius who knows as much history as he does.

But I wonder why he started on WWI with me in the first place? Sure, people know I'm intelligent. This because I had business cards printed saying, "Dave's REALLY REALLY smart." And right under that in parentheses, "except about swatting mosquitos." Still, even without the cards, language is a way we form impressions of people, and I've got a large vocabulary. So maybe Mike figured a smart guy like me would enjoy learning about WWI?

Or maybe he's sensitive to the stereotype that big, strong guys are dumb. A fellow smart guy enters his range, and he wants to let me know he's got something under the hood too.

Perhaps he just goes around telling everybody he meets about WWI, the Great Depression, and how Patton got a raw deal, Patton was the best general we had (Mike really likes General Patton).

You'll never know which Dave, so you get to make up your own narrative! What's it gonna be dude?

Well I'd like to think I radiate inclusiveness, and people sense I'm a safe place to bring the trinkets of their secret joy, that they won't be made to feel foolish for their effort. Gosh Dave, soaring prose there buddy! What's that somewhat more compact term for this vibe you radiate, the one April uses? Oh Yeah! "Weirdo Magnet."

But I find something achingly beautiful in imagining Mike going around telling everybody he meets, all about historical stuff. Throwing his joy against so many human walls, hoping it'll stick eventually. It bespeaks a passion so great its bearer senses the weight is too much for one to carry.

The thing where I'm a welcoming spirit, some hollow tree where all the Boo Radleys crossing my path can safely hide their what-nots? That's ego food of course, but your ego could do with a couple weeks in Somalia, if ya know what I mean?

I prefer the prettier image. A big man going through the world trying to let all know, "I'm not what I appear, I'm what I am." Exercising the sacred right of self-definition that's denied to all of us by all of us. Because we're petty and mean, or just too busy with our problems to stop & listen. Labels are cheap, listening is expensive.

Really I don't know which it is: Either I'm a hollow tree, or Mike's out there throwing his passion at every human wall that comes along. I know one thing for sure though? In the near future I expect to hear a LOT about General Patton.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Weakest Branch

Howdy Sonia! Now we're just one appointment away from discovering a Constitutional right for same sex marriage. Turns out that's the whole reason they wrote the dang thing actually.

And it's American to the core that the people who interpret our Constitution do so with any Constitutional authority. Article III has nothing in it granting the Supremes right of nullification over Exec and Legislative branches. Marshall grabbed that in Marbury v. Madison, and we never looked back.

One of the snags in weilding extra-Constitutional power is there's nothing written down about how exactly you're supposed to enforce your stuff. That makes you the weakest branch of the Federal Government. Yet the Supremes have wrought sweeping cultural change over the past fifty years. How DO they do it? Oh same as many other functionally impotent political entities have managed, since the dawn of recorded history. Shrewd alliances, exploiting fear of the unknown, and being a useful excuse at times.

If a Pres ever said, "They've no authority really, I'm gonna do it anyway" Impeachment proceedings would soon follow. If a Congress ever responded to SCOTUS nullification of some legislation by directing they be ignored? Well no Federal Law can be administered without cooperation from some Fed body that answers to the Pres. He/She would laugh at Congress, and side with the Supremes. The SCOTUS relies on the envy between the two strong branches. Shrewd alliances serve a weak political entity.

If it ever came to where the Nine handed down something so loony, both the strong branches combined forces against SCOTUS? It's the end of the game as we know it. Powerful people in Washington like a set of basic ground rules. Without rules, how on Earth can you cheat? Break the power of the Supremes, there's no third player anymore you can hope to leverage for extra juice at times. It's just a two player game now with rules nobody knows yet. Exploit the fear of the unknown.

The Nine, by virtue of not having to stand for election, have often done work the strong branches found too radioactive to even mess with. They're like treaties were in 18th century Europe at times. Gives you excuse to do what you wanted to do anyway. Other times they're deciding something that's been bleeding your main agenda, so you can focus on your stuff, claiming it's out of your hands. Then later, maybe you can even turn the SCOTUS decision in the face of your indecision to political advantage. Be a useful excuse at times.

That's how the weakest branch keeps power. Because in the odd way things work in this crazy first ever experiment with semi-self governance, nine old people with nothing more than black robes and a pretty office building can rule the strong with the implicit threat of their absence.

One more appointment and I'm hearing wedding bells for Siegfried and Roy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Now that's funny!

Way to go NPR! A good story took a hairpin turn onto Greatness Avenue.

"Help...incarcerated 13 years...miscarriage of justice." Well of course the journalist was gonna visit the guy. He found an intelligent, articulate, charming man with a true story.

Street punk teen, sorta Johnny Rotten type, awaiting trial on Assault charge. Older cellmates urge him to beat the rap by playing crazy. They'll send you to a comfy hospital for a few months. So he did, but "they" didn't. They sent him to Broadmoor, and now 17's turning 31 (thanks Jackson Browne!) and nobody listens when he tells them he was only playing crazy.

Broadmoor is the maximum security insane asylum in England. They got people so crazy, Stephen King wishes he could write that scary. Sounds juicy, huh? Forgotten little cog lost inside the big faceless Gulag/Labryinth thingy. Not to be confused with Labryinthitis which is a disease of the ear, and the inmates at Broadmoor, trouble is a bit past the inner ear. But I digress.

So the journalist is intrigued. He gets to see head Psychiatrist, after forms granting Johnny Rotten's permission for third party discussion of the case, and waiting months because hey, he's a busy Psychiatrist OK? There's a LOT of crazy people on this planet all right?

He finally sits down and gets to parrot Johnny's tale of woe to the head man. Instead of giving the journalist a cracker and calling him "pretty bird" the Doctor nods throughout the narrative. Then he blows the doors off the whole thing.

Something like, "None of us were ever fooled by the patient's antics. We don't send people to Broadmoor for doing Jack Nicholson impressions." The Doctor went on to explain that Johnny is a psychopath. Nobody ever thought his clumsy faking of abnormality was interesting. It's what he thinks is normal that got him to Broadmoor. That Assault charge? He kicked a homeless man nearly to death, pretty much for the fun of it. Quite likely he'd been doing stuff like that all through childhood, working his sadism up the food chain until he arrived at humans. Johnny pretended to be a person confused about reality, when in fact he has an iron grip on reality. It's just that in his reality, he sees other humans as prey. He's functionally unable to feel empathy for any other human.

Was the Psychiatrist right? I don't know, he might be crazy too! But every detail doesn't have to be nailed down for a thing to be cosmic, y'know Dave?

You're walking around thinking yourself an X guy. You want to game the system by portraying a Y guy. You're about to dance out on stage in a theatre filled with folk who will say, "That's the biggest Z that I ever saw!" You're about to go to Broadmoor for the rest of your life. Via a series of random, impulsive choices you've delivered yourself to those who'll see in your antics neither Jack Nicholson, nor Johnny Rotten but a madness hotter than the sun & deeper than the ocean.

I don't know if they're right. Psychiatry is a very soft science. But you are screwed Dude, and you've no one but you to blame. In a larger sense, I wonder how many of us are walking around selling ourselves as one thing, while being bought as something else and we don't even know it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mealy mouthed

We don't say it every day but we've all said it at one point. It's another example of expressions commonly used when we have ZERO understanding why we're saying them. And that's totally right. English is an amazingly fluid tongue, quite different from the precise Greek or the martial Latin.

A language says a lot about the people who speak it. Know why Arabic is sparse in syllables? Cause if you keep your mouth open too long, the wind's gonna blow sand in it, that's why.

English is a nutty, idiosyncratic, grasping tongue, perfectly descriptive of the people who speak it. If a word will do service, we don't care what language we get it from. "Hammock" is one of few still known words from the now extinct Carib people. "Pajamas" comes to English via India.

Most of the phrases we English speakers regularly throw at one another? Most come from agriculture, navigation or warfare. That too describes us well.

"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" that's agriculture.
Words like "ballast" or "rudder" and "anchor" are regularly used by those who've never been on a ship.
"Keep your powder dry" is of course warfare. Comes from a time when your very life might depend on the moisture content in your gunpowder. There was a time when readying a firearm for firing was an arduous task. For instance? West Virginia was largely settled by a curious collection of orphan brothers with the odd talent of being able to re-load muskets while in a dead run, with rather perturbed Indians about 50 feet behind them.

So we all know what "mealy mouthed" means, but why do we have that phrase in our lexicon? Well first, because it's useful. Second, the expression is about five centuries old. It means to hold meal in one's mouth, neither choosing to swallow nor expectorate said contents. It's the 16th century equivalent of one who'll neither defecate nor get off the pot.

William Shakespeare had the exact same understanding of the meaning of "mealy mouthed" as do people today wandering around Wal-Mart with carts full of Chinese made junk.

Martin Luther used "mealy mouthed" in some of his writings. And that's how language can unite across centuries. In some cases, I suppose it's possible the tongue defines the people, I've an open mind. (Hell, there are tumbleweeds blowing through my brain!) Every case I know of though, the people define the tongue. The French had a good head start on English speakers, but English speakers came here to farm. Being from an island nation, English speakers do enjoy ocean voyages. Warfare? History proves the heartfelt desire of all English speakers is to murder other English speakers, but we can work with surrogates! We're flexible!

We're a crazy race. Despite folk currently circumnavigating the globe to apologize for English speakers, I still think the world's a lot better off, in the margins. We're just crazy people with a stupid difficult language and we seldom think of the past, or even the present for that matter. Always pushing on to the future, that's the obsession of English speakers for some reason.

Well, as Kreskin said in opening sequence of "Plan 9" we should all be interested in the future, since that is the place we will live. (Page 138 in Dave's ever expanding unabridged compendium of DUH!) And it's not so bad walking around saying things you have NO idea why you say that stuff, but you know what you mean, and others do too. It's English. The crazy language of a crazy people who've contributed to the world, albeit perhaps reluctantly.

Personally Dave? I think you were rather "mealy mouthed" with this one.

Big Ass Worms!!!

Some might argue a worm doesn't really have an ass, y'know? But these folk are too human-centric in their views of anatomy. Hmmmm, what you got on worms Dave?

A worm says, "Hello beautiful, do you come here often?" The answer is "You idiot, I'm your other end." This is entirely appropriate since worms are hermaphrodites.

"Why bury 'em? Buzzards gotta eat same as worms do."
Outlaw Josey Wales

The early bird gets the worm. This because worms are heavy partiers, and just getting home from Worm Raves around dawn.

Worms drink through their skin. You can get worms to come to the surface in a worm stampede, if you make a noise like a burrowing mole.

Is that it Dave? Seriously, this is the place where your Niagara Falls of absolutely useless knowledge withers to an impotent trickle???

Well, then it's a good thing giant worms in Idaho have finally hit the news, huh? A three foot long albino worm that smells like a Lily and spits when angered, that certainly is pretty weird! And so timely, since I was starting to miss Michael Jackson. (Tsk tsk, too soon Dave!)

There is also this? The giant Gippsland worm lives in Australia, and grows to 10 feet in length. The Lumbricus badensis lives in Germany and only manages a pitiful 2 feet. Now, those pathetic puny worms around here Dave? Every day they eat their weight in dirt. What comes out the other end (Hellllooo beautiful!) is up to 70 percent higher in concentration of Nitrogen, a vital nutrient for plants. Here's another thing? On a healthy piece of land, it's quite likely the combined weight of the worms underneath is greater than that of the livestock, buildings and farm equipment above.

Wow Dave! You've suddenly become a worm expert! Are you some kind of idiot savant? While that statement is certainly half correct, I did what any self-respecting bald hillbilly would do. I readed the Worm Digest.

Yep, there's an entire magazine devoted to worms. Remember that bird that was "Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs"? Put an exponent on it and you got exactly the way some folks feel about worms. They even sell T-shirts, and I'm thinking about getting one, even mindful it could be misconstrued as a statement of my sexual orientation.

But ain't it just all so cool Dave? This world is such an quirky, wonderful place. It stubbornly resists humanity's best efforts to transform it into a smouldering, nitemarish landscape. You got worms longer than a coffee table, and even the little ones are doing amazing things, and you got people who are just crazy for worms. It's been a really fun ride, hasn't it man? Nothing so far has managed to shake your joy in just taking that next breath.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Watering plastic flowers

Yeah that's true all right. If Mr. Rogers and Rod Serling swapped places, both their shows would've been more interesting.

"Hello boys and girls. You're looking at a man, well sure you are."

What were you thinking before that though? Peach cobbler tastes really good, no I mean before that even? Oh yeah! Bedford Falls!!!

Twenty years in business management and I just have to ask, why was the Bailey Building & Loan always in trouble? It's not just that it flatlined with alarming regularity and here's another round of compromises, sacrifices and lowered expectations for old Georgey Porgey. Why is that exactly? Even in the best of times it wasn't a profitable biz.

Maybe cause it was a dumb idea, under capitalized in a town too small to sustain it? I dunno, not my project really. But this I know in the place where I live.

Hey George? Listen to me? We're spirit kin, you and I. Put on your big boy pants and start thinking about accepting? Maybe this is the time when you can finally see, this running around the forest, pushing with all your might against trees that want to fall? It's silly and pathetic.

The Building & Loan doesn't love you George, it never did. I don't blame the B&L cause it told you best it could. Don't invest your hope in me. I want to fall down. Go find yourself somebody who wants to stand up?

George? Do we have the guts to change our action, and let what ever wants to fall down just do so? Are you scared George? Cause I know I sure am. I reject the notion now and forever that it is my job to keep every dead tree in the forest from obeying gravity.

You got maybe just one watering can in this life? Will you use it on plastic flowers, and so prove what everybody already knows, that you're pretty much a walking dumbass with an exponent? Or will you find the courage to let every thing that wants to fall just fall, and give yourself unashamed to those who really want you?

I'm betting you'll find a way to screw it up George. It's all yours dude!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

787 Billion Dollars

As Beaver would say, "Gee Wally, that's a lot!" And that's about all anyone can say about the "stimulus" package and expect nearly universal agreement. Or is it?

Sources vary on exactly how much has been spent so far, and some percent disagreement is bound to happen with numbers so large. Somewhere around $100B. It wasn't widely assumed among the American people that things would move this slowly. The bill was written and passed with a heightened sense of urgency. "Shovel ready" was the phrase that pays. I think everybody can agree on that.

And how about this? Being kind to the new guy as is my wont, I'll take WH predictions of how many jobs created or "saved" by the end of the summer, while holding "stimulus" expenditures at $100B. That's darned nice of you Dave. So that's $167K spent for each job. Gee Wally... I think everybody can agree on that.

Those three starving orphans of general consensus should be heeded as we watch a very old drama unfold. No smart general ever attacks in force without first sending out scouting parties. So Paul Krugman, Nobel winning economist and powerful Obama ally, who just happens to write for NY Times, he's now talking about a second "stimulus" package. Joe Biden on TV this weekend (and I dig Joe, for reasons he wouldn't find the least bit flattering. Dinner with him and the guy who trains pigeons to be art critics, WOW that'd be cool!) was dutifully playing "good cop" and expertly exploiting his rep as loose cannon, but he was putting out feelers. Laura Tyson half the world away at economic summit plays "bad cop" and calls for second "stimulus" package.

OK, I'll take off my tinfoil hat now in the spirit of being kind to the new guy. They ain't gonna get another "stimulus" bill. They will rue the day they go any farther than these trial balloons. And that's another thing? I've watched "Law & Order" bunches and I'm pretty sure they don't allow balloons in court. There'll be no second "stimulus" package. It will galvanize the opposition and finally provide one focal point. A second "stimulus" package request will further awaken the common sense in tens of millions of Americans who've raised kids. Don't ask for dessert until you've eaten what's on your plate. Most parents have said this so often it's in our DNA now.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bird's eye view

That was always so annyoing about Mr. Spock. Everything was "fascinating" with him. Scotty's in the engine room yelling about Di-lithium crystals, the Starship's fixing to crash into some planet and Spock says it's fascinating.

Go through an ion storm, wind up in a parallel universe, and it's fascinating. You'd think a guy that smart could manage "Well this sucks!" every now and then? Still, sometimes "fascinating" is the only word that fits.

I'm not the least perturbed that researchers in Japan have taught pigeons to be art critics. This because:
A.) My tax dollars probably weren't involved (for once!)
2.) Already knew pigeons like art, mostly sculpture I thought.

But yeah they did it. Pigeons have been taught now to distinguish between poor and good painting techniques, and also identify whether a painting is watercolor or oil. Now me, I say nothing of the sort actually. Pigeons have been taught to peck at paintings correctly and get snacks is all.

To be kind, the research is about finding pigeons are able to discern shapes, color patterns and two dimensional textures, every bit as well as humans do. Professor Watanabe (shouldn't he be trying to destroy Mothra or something?) said, "This research gives valuable insight to the way a pigeon's brain works."

Now right here Mr. Spock, is where it is entirely appropriate. The situation fairly screams for it! Fascinating.

Much as I respect that pigeon brain mechanics are a vital concern to everybody I know, the research provides valuable insight to how human brains work.

How in the world did anybody come up with that grant request? And what proposed research got rejected? Did they originally want to teach pigs to fly an F-15 and pigeon art critics was the fallback position? Where Professor Watanabe lives, this is the crossroads of all that is best & worst about our species! We can think up some whacky shit to do!

Sure, I don't like the idea of pigeons wearing little berets and having loud arguments in coffee houses about whether Monet was a genius, hey who would? But I like Professor Watanabe! I find him, well, fascinating.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Awesome Billboard!

Right near the corner of Brooks and Democrat Road, can't miss it. And there he is, giant black man leering down at me. But what does it mean, "Works Every Time"? I presume money was spent in hopes of increasing sales of Colt 45, so what the HELL is that supposed to mean anyway?

Could it be lately there's been a trend where some alcoholic beverages fail to deliver a buzz, and the billboard wishes to assure loyal customers that Colt 45 remains consistently the best value for their inebriation dollar?

Could it be the advertisement itself "Works Every Time"? That somehow the mere sight of Billy Dee Williams arouses among a sizeable percentage of the population an overpowering thirst that can only be quenched by Colt 45?

Well, there's a beautiful young woman in the picture. Perhaps "Works Every Time" means to imply Colt 45 is an indispensable aid in removing female undergarments. That's a spurious claim. Might work every time for Billy Dee, but I foresee widespread disappointment for those of us who aren't Billy Dee Williams.

And that's another thing? What is the process explaining the enduring celebrity of Billy Dee Williams? Half the people driving past that billboard weren't even born the last time Billy had a starring role in anything! There are some people who reach a point where they've filled a niche, then they just go around being themselves. I guess Billy Dee is the black Hugh Hefner or something. Do we really need TWO of those? And if so, why don't we have a white George Hamilton?

Hey, I could do that! I'm not shy or proud. I'd work tirelessly to be famous for not having a suntan. Wonder where you go to apply for a job like that. Hmmm, I'll check that out later. Right now I have an unexplainable hankering for a delicious Colt 45.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Ideals and Interests

You're crazy for even trying. Often what we know deepest is hardest to express. But all this hand wringing about the internal politics of Iran, or now Honduras? And nobody ever says anything truly informative.

America is the first ever bi-polar nation. And we remain more intensely so than any of our many imitators. Everything we do is measured against the standards of interest and ideal. This is a relatively new thing in human history.

Every nation has always had interests. War happens when diplomacy, trickery, blackmail and bribery have failed to resolve conflicts among nations' interests in a tolerable way. A nation without interests has no logical reason for existence. In that way, the US is exactly like every other nation.

Our founders introduced to the world, the concept that a nation could also be motivated by ideals, both domestically and in foreign policy. They expanded on the writings of Adam Smith and John Locke, then took words from the inert page into the messy business of governing.

As such, our interests have often conflicted with our ideals. Almost always, ideals have lost the early battles. It was, "John Locke's ghost, sit down & shut up, cause we gotta march those Cherokees across the river, OK?" At some point though, we return to have our actions judged against our ideals.

A cynic would observe how convenient, this cycle of action followed by remorse. There's a lot more going on. For one thing, we actually learn and progress by acknowledging our past lapses. More importantly? See this nation as a vehicle for its ideals. First and foremost, the nation must survive. We can regret Japanese-Americans in camps AFTER we win the war.

A nation that will temporarily set aside its ideals is still far better than a nation with no ideals. Before this crazy experiment started, no nations had ideals. Now all of Europe and some of Asia proceed with the assumption that each human being has certain inalienable rights. That's in part due to imitation of good ol' bi-polar America, but also a side effect of the earthly ministry of Christ.

In the end though, this nation still has interests. The President isn't supposed to think so much about the plight of jailed protesters in Tehran, but how to leverage instability in Iran to advance American interests.