Thursday, September 3, 2015

This time you gave me a mountain

That's quite a trip
Alaska, the state from which you can see Russia from your kitchen, is also the home of North America's tallest mountain peak, which has always been known to native Alaskans as Denali ("the high one," in the Athabascan language.) The mountain is in Alaska, so you wouldn't think that the people of Ohio would have a nickel in the argument about what the official name of the mountain would be. In fact, I looked it up, and it's a journey of 3,133 miles from the mountain to the lovely town of Cincinnati, home of both Jerry Springer and putting chili on top of spaghetti. The city was originally named Losantiville after the Licking River, which is a tributary of the mighty Ohio River. The name Losantiville means “opposite of the mouth of the river.”

So the only reason that people in Ohio have anything to say about the mountain which was known as Mt McKinley since 1896 is this: It was named Mt McKinley by a gold prospector who supported the presidential campaign of Ohioan William McKinley, who won the election that fall but was assassinated in 1901. Mt McKinley became the official name in 1917, but this, as with so many things in our history, completely ignored the feelings, history and culture of the native people who lived around the mountain. To remedy this, the Alaska Board of Geographic Names changed the mountain's name to Denali, to reflect what local residents called it anyway.  But in 1975, when the Alaska state legislature asked the United States Board on Geographic Names to make the change official, the request was blocked by Ohio congressman Ralph Regula.  Coincidentally or not, "Ralph Regula" was the name on the first fake ID I ever owned.

President Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, two people who realize that the people of Alaska ought to have the final say in what their mountains are called, have officially changed the name of the 20,237-foot peak to Mt. Denali.

Meanwhile, people back in Ohio, who were so thrilled when Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson changed his name legally to Chad Ochocinco to (improperly*) reflect his uniform number, should just busy themselves naming their own mountains, if they have any.

The 2017 McKinley 4x4
And if they do, to even things up, General Motors might rename their Denali truck line the "McKinley."

 *  Johnson's number was 85.  Ochocinco means 8-5. "85" in Spanish is ochenta y cinco.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Just do your job!

On Monday, the US Supreme Court denied the request of Rowan County (KY) Clerk Kim Davis for a stay of an order that she issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Her appeals are exhausted, and as of now, her choices are either to do her job and issue marriage licenses to all who seek them under the law, or face being held in contempt.

Now, I happen to think that any two humans who want to live together as married people should be able to do so, and nothing anyone can say would change that opinion, just as nothing is going to change the minds of those who feel otherwise.

Which is fine!  No problem if you don't agree with the Supreme Court.  Lots of people don't agree with lots of Supreme Court decisions.  In Korematsu v. United States, in 1944, a 6-3 decision upheld internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. But 1954's Brown v. Board of Education ruled that separating black and white students in public schools is unconstitutional. That was a unanimous 9-0 vote.

More controversy?  Right here:   Loving v. Virginia, 1967, was a 9-0 decision invalidating state laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

To put that in modern terms, 48 years ago, states still had laws saying that black people and white people could not be married. Think that over for a minute. 

And the case that gets dragged out every so often: Roe v. Wade, the 1973 7-2 decision that said women have a constitutional right to an abortion during the first two trimesters.

Certainly controversial, and likely to stay that way.

But I understand that schools are not much for teaching civics as thoroughly as they used to, so many people (including some people who wish to be president) do not know that in the legal system of the United States, the Supreme Court is the final interpreter of federal constitutional law.

It's like a baseball game:  they can go to the replay, but when the umpires watching the tapes at baseball headquarters call someone safe or out, the argument ends there. 

Ms Davis is paid by the people of Rowan County to issue licenses, including marriage licenses.  

She happens not to agree with the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

She says that as a Christian, she is following God's authority, so she has been refusing to issue marriage licenses.

If you happen to agree with her stance on this, then surely you wouldn't mind if called 911 to report your house being on fire but the operator said that his Zoroastrian faith included fire worshipping, so he could not countenance putting out the fire... called the local Recreation and Parks office to reserve a soccer field for your child's coed soccer league, only to be told that the local rec supervisor belongs to a faith that forbids mingling between the genders, so no field for you... call the Health inspectors so you can get clearance to open your pork bar-b-q carryout, but the inspector who comes out is opposed to the consumption of pork for reasons owing to both her faith and her belief that pork is unhealthy, so too bad...

Public Service? are in the throes of cardiac arrest but the paramedic who arrives states that as a male he cannot administer life-saving CPR to a person of the opposite gender...

All ludicrous examples, I know, and don't think for a minute that any of those made-up scenarios take place.  They don't, because 911 operators, Rec and Parks staffers, Health inspectors and paramedics are civil servants, who understand that their job is to SERVE CITIZENS, not to impose their religious beliefs, no matter how deeply held, on others.  

And anyone who encourages Ms Davis to continue her foolish, illegal behavior is encouraging foolish, illegal behavior, and that's foolish.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The sad side of sports

There are few things more enjoyable on a summer evening than to watch a major league baseball game.  Baseball is probably the greatest game ever devised, and when you're watching big leaguers do their stuff, you're seeing the most talented people in the world play the American game.

Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium used to sell bleacher seats for a dollar, and we would often see Johns Hopkins students and other young professionals camped out in the cheap seats, sometimes even reading a book or newspaper while enjoying a ballgame on God's green earth in front of them on a pleasant evening.

The secret to enjoying baseball is knowing how the game works well enough to think along with the managers and players as a game unfolds.  And then see if the manager calls for a steal or sacrifice bunt when you do.  

You go out to a ballgame, you can have some food ranging from hot dogs and popcorn to pit beef and crab cakes, and a beer or a soda, and just have a whale of a time. Enjoy the game!

However, it's best to stay calm.  It was sad enough to hear that a spectator at Saturday night's Yankees-Braves game in Atlanta fell over a barrier some 50 feet and was killed in the accident, but as reports emerged that he had been at the barrier hollering down on the field at Alex Rodriguez, the tarnished Yankee slugger, and lost his balance in his agitation, leading to the fall, it became too tragic for the sports news, often referred to as "the toy department of life."

“When they called A-Rod coming to bat, he got all excited, and his momentum took him over (the railing),” fan Marty Burns told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"You pays your money and you speaks your mind" is an old slogan around ballparks. Within reason, a fan may holler as he or she sees fit to encourage their team or deride the opposition.  This alone is enough to make baseball a much better sport to watch than tennis or golf, sports in which so much as an ill-timed sneeze can get one banished or hollered at by Eldrick "Tiger" Woods.  As long as the fans keep their language somewhere on the civil side, and don't interfere with others, baseball fans can give vent to their emotions.  
Stunned shocked faces of the crowd

But safety and common sense have to be kept in mind!  The reports say that the Atlanta fan, 60-year-old Gregory Murrey of Alpharetta, Ga. The Braves say he was a season ticket holder for 23 years.

It's often said of avid fans that they live and die for their team. It is simply too sad when that becomes the literal truth.

Monday, August 31, 2015

You're damn Skippy!

Cheapskate that I am, I am always looking to save a dollar so I can double my vast fortune.  And we love peanut butter around here, so I make sure to buy the BA jars of Skippy (there might as well be no other brand).

The cheapskate part comes in when the peanut butter is gone.  I don't throw the plastic jar away, no sirree.  I rinse it out, and clean it in the dishwasher (making sure to use the "air dry" setting, not "heat dry," which melts the plastic into an amorphous blob resembling the Orioles' vanishing playoff hopes.) 

And then I reuse the empty jars for storing grits, flax seeds, sesame stix, peanuts, Wasabi peas, pretzels, nuts, bolts, pencils, glue sticks, touch up paints poured out of a gallon can, and 1,001 other things.  I am careful to label each jar if there's a chance of confusing Kitty Treats with Uncle Sam Cereal, just to avoid gagging either myself or the cats.

I use plastic because I have no clay jars.  (That would make a great DJ fake name, though:  "Just about 5 o'clock on your way home with The Beatles on WXXX!  This is Clay Jars with ya...") They had clay jars way back in the day, though.  Let's go back to the days of the Kingdom of Judea, some 3,000 years ago, when Judean date palm trees were abundant in that part of the world, cooling the desert with shade and yielding that sweet fruit called dates.

The tree is mentioned in the Bible several times.  The Hebrew name for the tree is "Tamar," and that is what King David named his daughter.

But when the Romans invaded Judea in 70 AD, there were vast forests of palms, and then just as now, people, in their inexplicable urge to pave over earth's bounty, destroyed the palms.  They were extinct.

Or WERE they...?

In the early 1960s, explorers who really dug Herod the Great were rooting around under his palace in modern Israel, and these archeologists found a clay jar with an expiration date of 2,000 years ago, which was far too long ago to take the contents - a pile of seeds - back to the ancient supermarket.  So the seeds sat around in someone's desk drawer at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, until ten years ago, when a botanist named Elaine Solowey planted one of them, expecting nothing all the while.

"I assumed the food in the seed would be no good after all that time. How could it be?" - Elaine Solowey 

Not seedy anymore
The old seed sprouted, all right, and it flowered in 2011. And now it seems to be flourishing.   

So, they might cross it with another tree and see what fruit it bears, or they just might let nature takes its course.  

But if it goes to seed, I will be more than glad to send over some empty Skippys so that your grandchildren's grandchildren's great-great-great grandchildren can find those seeds centuries from now!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Rerun: I still have my name tag somewhere

Everyone drove Mustangs to the A & P
In the spring of my senior year, just before my graduation from the exclusive Towson High School (admission by zip code only!) I went to work for The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, also known as the "A & P," and that's pronounced "Ann P" around these parts.  I had hoped to start out as District Manager or Vice-President of Sales, Grocery Division, but it seemed that the only openings they had were for "clerk," so I took that, figuring on biding my time for the inevitable promotions that never came.

Rat Fink t-shirt decal
Some interesting facts about that job: we had to wear a white shirt and tie and pants that could be any color but could not be jeans of any fabric.  We got around the shirt thing by wearing t-shirts underneath with various slogans and depictions of cartoon characters.

My starting salary was a whopping $2.15 per hour, not bad when my classmates worked at Gino's or McDonald's for fifty cents.  In fact, top pay on the clerk scale was $3, and there were full time guys there, working 40 hours, grossing $120/wk, and raising families and buying houses, cars and cheap beer on that pay. We wore red aprons and name tags. The store sold all the national brands, of course, but we had our own - in fact, the tea bags were called "Our Own" tea bags - brands, such as Jane Parker baked goods and Ann Page canned foods.  I used to wonder about the people who worked in the packaging end.  Working the early shift, I would be stocking the bread aisle and found it endlessly humorous that Jane Parker's Old-Fashioned Home-Style Bread carried the description "A hearty, firm-type loaf."  And one of my best buddies on the crew, Charlie (known as "Cholly" in BalMoreEse) had a younger brother whose detestation of cole slaw was so thickly ingrained in his diet that he carried the sobriquet "Slaws-A-Balls."

Please don't try to understand that nickname unless you are 18 and male.  That's the only way it's funny.

Tool of the trade
We would set this to 2/69¢!
I didn't usually work a cash register, so it was not to be my fate to have experiences like John Updike wrote about in his short story "A&P," but I would never have acted like the guy in that story anyway.  We had our share of pretty girls parading through the store in various states of deshabille and decolletage, and there was lots of ogling going on in the time-honored manner of adolescent males.  I spent a lot of time unloading freight trucks and placing items on the shelves for sale, so I always had one of those box-cutter knives and a Garvey price kerchunker ready for business.

Sometimes in the evenings, taking the trash out, or having a smoke break, we would see two cars pull up and park, and then a woman would get into a car driven by a man, and they would drive away, casting furtive looks as they left.  Of course, as major-league suburban sophisticates, we knew something was up.  We just didn't know what, to tell you the truth.  And in the apartments behind the store - now torn down and replaced with apartments - I don't know why either - there lived a woman who was quite uninhibited in her manner of dressing, which is to say that she paraded around naked and stood in the bathroom window, providing endless amusement for the easily amused.  We don't know where she got her groceries, because she did not come into our store.  We did know that she got her clothes at the same place The Emperor did!

So that part of my career lasted through my college days and then I took a cut in pay to go into radio, but I am writing today because the A&P chain is done in Baltimore as of today.  All the stores are closed; some will reopen as Shoppers' Food Warehouses, and some as Shop-Rites, and some will remain empty, corpses of a company that shot itself in the foot time and again changing its name from A&P to WEO ("Where Economy Originates" - snappy, huh?) and then SuperFresh, where they tried to be all things to all people.  Gourmet foods? Sure! Cheapie no-name brands?  Aisle 5, I think! Sit awhile and have some pizza and a soda?  Steam that shrimp for you?  Power tools, aisle 16!

Back in the day, we addressed customers as 'Sir' and 'Ma'am' and we thanked them for shopping with us and the acceptable answer to any question about where an item was shelved was never, "Gee, I don't know!"   But I heard that a lot lately in SuperFresh, and while I am sad to see them go, I can tell you this about Baltimore:  we like to eat food,  and you have to be pretty lousy at running a food store to drive people away like this chain did.

Shame, too.  They did have tasty cheese rolls.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, August 29, 2015

Here's a great New Yorker cover that shows why I prefer using a camera to a paintbrush.  "Take a picture; it lasts longer!"
This is the burned-out ruins of the former Chapterhouse pub in Ithaca, NY.  They had a fire in April.  They used to serve popcorn with your beer (you know why!) and some of the kernels they had stored have sprouted since the fire.  I hope they reopen the bar and serve popcorn from some ears that grow right here!
Everyone is wondering where the huge sunflower fields will be this fall.  I'm keeping both eyes and both ears open; I'll let you know. Last autumn, everyone went out to Jarrettsville Pike to see that big field, but a wise farmer rotates his crops.
 Speaking of autumn, it won't be long now until we see this....
 And then, it won't be long until we hear this!
This is why Baltimore MD is the best place to live in all the world. Here are the amazing crabcakes from the splendid Friendly Farm Restaurant.  You'd have to taste them to believe them.
This is part of my home town, Towson, MD.  The big building is now the Senior Center; it used to be the elementary school and before that, the high school. The building to the right with the pyramid roof was the old high school before this one; it's now the county Office of Human Resources.  The newest high school, the one I attended so frequently (!) is down the road a bit, but every bit as dear to my heart.
Here are two of the great legends of Alabama football - the great coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant, and the great quarterback Joe Willie Namath.

Friday, August 28, 2015

People to care about

While so many people sit around reading about, and watching tv shows dedicated to promoting the wonderfulness of someone named Kylie Jenner, who just turned 18 and has accomplished so very much, another woman turned 18 this summer and has done something worthwhile. 

You remember the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012 for trying to become educated.  Since then, she's been working on expanding educational opportunities and was also the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize. She celebrated #18 this summer by opening a secondary school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, near the border with Syria.

Follow her!
Yousafzai was on a school bus in northern Pakistan with her classmates when she was attacked three years ago. She's been living in England with her family ever since.  

She has set up a nonprofit organization called The Malala Fund to help support the school, which will educated over 200 girls between the ages of 14 and 18. 

"I am honored to mark my 18th birthday with the brave and inspiring girls of Syria. I am here on behalf of the 28 million children who are kept from the classroom because of armed conflict. Their courage and dedication to continue their schooling in difficult conditions inspires people around the world and it is our duty to stand by them. On this day, I have a message for the leaders of this country, this region and the world — you are failing the Syrian people, especially Syria's children. This is a heartbreaking tragedy — the world's worst refugee crisis in decades." - - Malala Yousafzai
Not her.
This summer, in a speech in Norway, Malala said, "My life of being a child will come to an end. I think there's no limit of age ... to speak of children's rights," she said. "My father has been doing it as a teacher and I will continue to do it as a woman. As an adult, you can be the voice of children."

I remind young people, middle-aged people and my fellow old-timers that it's always the right time to do something good for others.  One way to start is to be more concerned with the activities of others doing good than with bosomy media personalities whose sole gift to the world seems to be continuing to breathe.