Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday rerun: I think it's time we leave

Every year at about this time, I get the same question from friends and family.  It's always a variation on the same theme, but the question boils down to, "What the hell is the matter with you, anyway?"

No, just kidding.  You know I get that question all year long.  The question that pops up as the nights grow longer and people start looking around for the blankets and quilts they put away in May is, how come the leaves change color every year?

And I thought I ought to look it up, because until I just did, I would have to tell people to ask my friend Mr Damifeyeno.

I got this scoop from and, as with all things scientific, it wasn't quite simple enough the first time I read it, but after a couple of passes, it cleared up somewhat.

Here 'tis...

All spring and summer, plants (which trees are, after all) take water out of the ground through their roots, and they take carbon dioxide through the air. Through photosynthesis, the process we were supposed to learn about in high school science while we were trying to figure out how to get a date with the girl at the next bunsen burner, the trees use sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose. Like Jumpin Jack Flash, Oxygen is a gas gas gas in the air that we breathe.  Plants use their glucose as food for energy and for growing, as they are not able to shop for food on their own, and very few pizza places will deliver to "The Third Elm on Maple Street."  Chlorophyll is involved in this photosynthesis, and it's chlorophyll, along with envy, that turns plants green.

When autumn is on its way, days get shorter, and the trees get less sunshine, so they figure it's time to put on the winter clothes.  Meanwhile, we have people driving cars and owning property who can't figure out that it's not tank top weather anymore.

Photosynthesis takes off all winter, without light or water to operate, so trees live off the glucose they put in their little wooden pantries all summer long and stop preparing food. Well, there goes the chlorophyll!  And the leaves become yellow and orange.  It's not so much that the leaves turn yellow and orange; they lose the green when photosynthesis ends, and with the green pigmentation that used to cover up the golden colors no longer there anymore, we get what we get.

Red leaves, such as on maple trees, occur because glucose is trapped in the leaves when photosynthesis stops, and a combination of sun and cool nights turn the leaves red, just as reading The SUN on a cool night makes Robert Ehrlich turn red. For the same kind of reason, oak leaves turn brown from what's left in them when photosynthesis ends. We just don't know why a tree with like 200 leaves on it will drop 200,000 leaves to be raked up.

And that's what I got from the article.  I hope it sheds some light on the amazing natural process known as the changing colors of leaves in autumn.  Next week here on Science Corner with Uncle Mark, let's try to figure out whatever happened to Axl Rose.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, August 30, 2014: Special "Things For Which I Am Grateful" Edition

Things for which I am thankful: my relatively good health, which means that most of my relatives are quite healthy and so am I. Access to good health care is a good thing, too.  Just look at the "D" section in my phone contacts...doctors from head to toe, literally!
I am very thankful for my home, seen here posing in all its winter finery.  The best part about it is that my Peggy lives here with me.  I would put more pictures of her on here, but she is modest and shy, and would only say, "What's with all these pictures of me? Who am I, Jennifer Aniston all of a sudden?"
Like any former DJ, I have a basement full of old 45s and album and cassette tapes of my playing old 45s and albums on the radio. My records are not this neatly organized, but give me a while and I'll find what you want to hear.  In the meantime, listen to this by T. Rex...
The joy of watching the Orioles play baseball is a treat.  I've been a fan since the days when Gus Triandos was lumbering around the bases, and I've been a fan through the great years and the lean years.  I know that football is the bigger deal now, but baseball is the thinking person's game, I think. Plus, as opposed to the hebdomadal scheduling of football games, as Earl Weaver said, in baseball, "We do this every night."
 I love Baltimore winters.  Sights such as this fill my heart with glee. I know they don't for many people.
As we come closer to the end of a week of things we're grateful for, I realize that the hard part for me was cutting the list down to a few each day.  I am a thankful person, grateful for so many things. One of them is the the ready availability of dictionaries. I like to just pick them up and rummage through them, learning new words and finding out the etymologies of others.  Many a person who looked up "greatful" in a dictionary was grateful that they did!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gratitude, Three times Seven, #5

We have friends up in Canada who just adopted a doggie from a rescue agency. You ought to see this little guy, whose name is Mocha!  He's cute as a bug, with a great big grin.  He's really the ant's pants, and they love him.  But he was abused by his former "family."  He was abused, and the abuser's wife, happily, decided to find another, better, home for him, and so they have.  I am grateful that animals, many times more that humans, have the ability to forgive one abuser and trust other people not to treat them like footballs.

And of course I am also grateful for the people who take in a dog such as Brittany and Justin did, knowing that the pooch might need a little extra TLC because of his past.  They are giving him the love he needs and has deserved all along.

And for a third thing for which I am grateful today, how about LOVE?  The love of my wife is a greater gift than any I could dream of.  We have a friend who was patient enough to wait for love to come her way, and she is now living the dreams she had only dreamed of before.  And there are people who love their jobs, their hobbies, their baseball takes many forms, but we ought to spend more time enjoying it and seeing others do the same, and less time deciding if a certain love is right for a certain other person.

I'd really love that.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gratitude, Three times Seven, #4

It's a lot easier to find my way to places I have never been with a GPS device, and with Google Maps on the cell phone, I get turn-by-turn directions to any place I want to be...around the corner, or around Eugene, Oregon, if need be.  Our new phones have a new female voice giving out the advice, and she is sort of, well, breathy, in that way that certain actresses use instead of acting. Which is ok by me; it's sort of entertaining, but what happened the other day with the GPS never happened to us before.  We were looking for a house on a block where the numbers ran in the opposite direction of the next block, and there was a left turn to make that left us on the same street even though we turned, and it was too much for the GPS, which then said, "You have ARRIVED." It said this as we sat in the middle of an intersection, waiting for the light to change, so I was pretty sure that my cousin and his family did not live in an invisible house right on the street.  We found it the old-fashioned way -we called them, and a real live nice human voice directed us to the house, where we had a wonderful brunch.

I'm grateful for the people who run the UK 1940s Online Radio Station, which is on the net 24 hours a day, serving up the music that the world at war listened to, and more.  They not only play the authentic old music of the era, but also news broadcasts and relevant speeches.  I recommend it to anyone who runs around today with their arms in the air, fearing the end of the world could come any day.  We've been at that precipice before.

Image from the Cape May beach camera
I'm grateful for beachcams and webcams  that take us worlds away. I'm no voyeur, not at all interested in watching what people are doing in Hong Kong, Baluchistan or Nome, but I like those live webcams that allow you to see traffic in Scotland, a giraffe preparing to give birth somewhere in Europe, the beach at Cape May NJ, or a water cooler in some office someplace.  We Skype with our friends in Canada and that's about it for us appearing on camera.  Hollywood has yet to devise a reality show that would feature us...but there's always tomorrow!  Hear me, The Learning Channel?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gratitude, Three times Seven, #3

Continuing the Seven Days of Gratitude...

The last big picture he made
I love winter, and all that comes with it...the chill, the downright cold, the need for wool sox and long johns and scarves and stocking caps and gloves and all that.  You can always put on more clothes if it's cold.  This also entitles me to dislike summer like Nick Nolte dislikes having his picture taken. I do not like heat or humidity or gnats or mosquitoes or any of the 101 horrible things about the season that everyone else loves, leaving me alone to love winter, the ugly stepsister of all seasons.  Therefore I am grateful to Willis Haviland Carrier (November 26, 1876 – October 7, 1950), father of modern air conditioning, and the man who made it possible to survive summer south of the Yukon. Not that I would want to make this choice, but if it came down to having a stereo in the car or A/C, I'd do the singing for myself, windows up and cool.

Farnsworth in 1939, looking miffed
because nothing good was on TV
 that night

While we're thanking great people of industry and invention, let's mute the TV for a second and give it up for Philo T. Farnsworth (August 19, 1906 – March 11, 1971), holder of some 165 patents, many of which were crucial to the development of television. Without Mr Farnsworth, what would we know of the magical world of professional football, giant spinning wheels of fortune on game shows, and news accounts of "people who make a difference" in their communities? Television makes it possible for an entire nation to be terrified of the same things at once!

And we all can be proud to live in the land that was home to Henry Ford, inventor of the new car smell! Fun fact: when you load up the briquets in the charcoal grill this Labor Day, remember that the charcoal industry was started by Henry and a distant relative named E.G. Kingsford as a way to get rid of the wood scrap generated in the Ford Motor Company plant in the 1920s. Ford hated waste, and when he saw wood chunks being tossed out from the assembly line, he said, "Let's scorch the wood and grind it up and add coal and sawdust and borax and I don't know what-all else and make little briquets that will burn in a bowl-shaped metal tub, so that everyone can enjoy a smoky hamburger outside." Henry is also thought to be the first man ever to say, "Don't be getting all up in my grill."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gratitude, Three Times Seven, #2

"You're never too old to learn," someone said to me, probably someone who was about to deliver a painful lesson.  But the point was well taken.  You know the old expression attributed to Mark Twain: "When I was sixteen, my father was the stupidest man I ever met.  Now, five years later, I'm amazed at how much the man has learned."  When we're sixteen, sure, we think we know everything.  That sort of youthful zest and zeal sounds like an Italian salad: Bravado à la Braggadocio,  but we need it to deal with being sixteen.  Face it, the time you're in your late 40s, you don't have to worry about zits or having your voice crack, so you can settle down a little.  This summer,  I learned lessons about mourning, lessons that I should have learned earlier in life, I suppose, but "what's learned last is learned best," as Ralph Waldo Emerson never said.   What Pastor Bruce Wilson said at my dear Deanna's funeral got past the veil of tears I wore.  He told us that her work on earth was done, admittedly much sooner that we would have liked or expected, but she wouldn't trade places and come back from the Kingdom of Heaven for anything.  Glory be, she has reached the mountaintop, and no matter what I used to think, I'm grateful to have learned to appreciate a loss in a new way. 

I put a picture in every blog entry.  This place has
nothing to do with anything in this page today, but if
 you ever find yourself a) hungry and b) in Lusby,
 Maryland, may I suggest the Frying Pan Restaurant? 
And I'm grateful that a wonderful woman named Holly Jackson happened to read my blog entry about an odd woman who taught me and a whole roomful of baby boomers in third grade. Holly had just been to an estate sale of the belongings of a woman with the same name. Was she the same woman? We don't know. But Holly wrote to me and therefrom sprang a friendship which, not even a year old, has already seen us share ineffable loss and sweet joy in dizzying turns of fate. 

And I am grateful for the online Merriam-Webster dictionary . which reliably informs me that the word "therefrom" is, indeed, a word, but it is archaic, along with most of my vocabulary. Consarn it all! 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Three times seven, take 1

I liked being a teacher; I taught DJ Techniques, Radio Production and Current Events and, as most people do when they teach, I found that I learned a lot from my students, as I hoped they learned from me as well.

Because of this Facebook thingamajig, I find that I still learn from them.  One of them, a fellow from one of our favorite towns, Havre de Grace, MD, is named John Gross, and he recently challenged me to dump ten gallons of ice water over myself  list daily three things for which I am grateful, for seven days.

Easy as pie. In fact, easier than pie, since I won't have to make a crust for this daily list.  Three times seven is 21, and if I can't list 21 things I appreciate, then grits ain't groceries, and they're on my plate for sure.

THIS Phil Harris, voice of Baloo

We'll start with Peggy, my teenaged wife of almost 41 years.  I won't go into a dissertation about how I fell in love in the first three seconds of a blind date that's still going on, but let's just say that I'm a lucky man in that my wife and my best friend are the same person, so when I want to tell my best friend how much in love I am, she's always right there!  How convenient!  And, I will hasten to point out that I realize that life with me is not easy.  Just the music that pours out of my den (Phil HarrisPerry Como with the Fontane Sisters! Kris Kross!  The Fralinger String Band from Philadelphia!) and the jokes that pour out of my den ("Conjunctivitis.Com is a site for sore eyes!") and the books that are stacked in my den, and my projects down in the basement workshop ("I need two parts Hydrogen, one part Oxygen, and I'll be swimming in free water!)  None of that bothers her, as long as she has our lovely home to share with the man she has loved since that blind date many Junes ago.  I love Peggy above all.  But I need to list more things for which I am grateful.

Young Frank Zappa
I'm grateful for my new iPod, with the capacity to hold a lot, an awful lot, of music and podcasts, which means if you drive through our neighborhood, you might see a man walking along with earbuds in his ears and a happy smile on his face.  It's I, strutting to the oldies! And the "random" setting means hopping from Slatz Randall and His Orchestra ("Let's Not 'n' Say We Did") to The Beau Brummels ("Laugh Laugh") to Frank Zappa ("Holiday In Berlin, Full Blown").  I love my music!

And for the third thing today, let's say I love the world and almost all the people in it.  We spent Saturday dinner and Sunday brunch with my cousin, second cousins and third cousins and it was wonderful fun to chatter about this and that.  I've been blessed with lots of good friends in this happy life, and the chances are that if you're reading this, you're one of them, so thank you for that, too!

More tomorrow!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Rerun: Boss Tweeds

I guess it's reality TV, if you need to specify the genre, but it doesn't have any Kardashians, and hardly any fishing, and no icy roads at all, so I like to watch "Undercover Boss" when someone interesting is on.

The premise of the show is very simple.  The head cheese of some big company puts on a disguise and works among hoi polloi, so as to get a little taste of life on the other side of the assembly line, pizza oven or fish nets.

The setup never varies.  The show opens with a look at the company involved, and then we meet the HPIC* who talks a bit about how well the company is doing, but he/she thought it would be a good idea to leave the home office for a couple of days and work with people who actually do the work.  So the boss gets fitted for hair extensions, or a toupee in the case of a man experiencing baldness, and they add or remove facial hair, glasses, and color the hair.  Slip Mr or Ms Big into a company uniform or whatever mufti they wear delivering pizzas, and away we go!

They always come up with a cover story for the people on the job site, lest they become concerned as to why there are 27 cameras pointed at them.  They say that they are part of a reality show where one lucky guy just won his own Domino's franchise and is learning to make pizzas and drive real fast with pizzas in his car so as to run the place.   Or that they are shooting a reality show about people whose businesses went under and are trying to get back in the game in this new line of work.

The hitch is, it has to be a huge company for this to work.  I mean, if you're the head sandwich maker at Nick 'n' Tony's Deli, and you come to work one day and neither Nick nor Tony are around but you see someone who looks a lot like Tony prowling around trying to slice prosciutto, you're gonna get wise in a hurry, you know what I'm saying to you here?  But if you are one of 83,000 burger flippers working for Checkers, and the boss looks like the guy on the left above, and then one day a guy in a red shirt and vest is introduced to you as a new trainee who used to run a Blockbuster, you'll go for it, sure as heck.

So, the tycoon reports to work and there's always a problem, always a complaint.  Working conditions are awful, the equipment is so bad that "I have to bring in my own cleaning supplies from home" (Popeye's) or "I can't hear the customers in the drive-thru line" (Checkers.)  We get to hear the personal problems of the people tasked to work with El Supremo, and that comes in handy later.

As does all the pointing-out-of-problems, because like in last week's episode about Oriental Trading Company - America's #1 source for inflatable golf clubs, giant gag eyeglasses and pink lawn flamingos - the guy loading the truck on a day when the temperature hit 103° told the cheese that they used to get free sports drinks when it was that hot.  The boss is then shown in deep remorse as he realizes that it was his idea, when the economy hit the skids, to cut back on the free electrolyte replacements.  Hey, it's never 103° in the boardroom!

Then all the employees are called to the home office, and the big shot prances in and watches the dawn of recognition break across their furrowed brows.  He/she then earnestly avows to take their suggestions and complaints to heart, hands out money for cars, scholarships and medical bills, and there you are for another week.

Peggy was asking what percentage of the promises of sweeping reform benefiting the working person I thought were actually carried out.  I guess 50-50, but maybe that's high. Or low. I have to figure that at least once, as soon as the camera crew drove away, some boss said, "That guy in Omaha who said I made pizza like a drunken aardvark...get him in here...NOW!"

Tune in next week for our new hit series "Unemployment."

*HPIC= Head Person In Charge

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, August 23, 2014

Let's start for today by thinking about the wisdom of purchasing false teeth from a DDS in Chicago who hasn't seen the interior of your mouth any more than he's seen mine...and that was never. He said he would send you impression plates for you to chomp down on and then you could hang around the mailbox for a month or so, waiting for those chompers to come by mail.  I wonder how people could bite on a deal like that.
Someplace on this earth is an airport that shares its runway with a highway, to which I say, "No way."
Well, here's a great idea that's only halfway finished.  Sure, take an old railway car and turn it into an instant bridge.  But why not go all the way and turn it into a diner?
The amazing beauty of nature, its colors and infinite geometry, as demonstrated by half a head of purple cabbage.
Before glue sticks, Elmer's Glue and sticky notes, there were sticky pants, the results of office pranks played with Stick-Phast glue.
"I love you and your nutty heart!"
Cool old things stay cool even when they're not functional anymore.  Take this rusty old kerosene lamp.  Why, you could run a wire and a lightbulb socket in there and hang it up on the porch as a lamp!
We leave you today with the hopes that you will take the advice of this otter cub and take a nice nap when you get the chance.

Friday, August 22, 2014

It just doesn't suit me

If you know me or ever have seen me strutting around someplace like I own the place, you know darn well that I am no fashion plate. I'm more of a dinner plate.

My standard garb in summer is ankle length black socks, cargo shorts (a man purse you can wear !), a t-shirt and a ball cap.  For formal, dressier occasions, I'll swap the t-shirt for a polo shirt. In winter, it's khaki cargos, a sport shirt and a hoodie.  

It takes something along the lines of a funeral, wedding or supermarket opening to get me into one of my suits. 

I'm going to level with you.  We don't like to wear suits and tie, but we do it when the times require it.  Also, most guys have a time when they are the same size as their father.  For me this occurred when I was 16, and I could wear his jackets and sweaters for about a week until I got taller.  That was the year that my back-to-school pants, whose hems gracefully broke over my Weejuns in September, became high-water pants by Thanksgiving, leading to the heartbreak of sockgap.

For the life of me, I look at the suits worn by hipsters and I cannot figure out why they want to wear clothing that looks like they stole them from their younger brother or older smaller father.  It reminds me of those dumb merry-mixup situation comedies in which a dude is supposed to be given a plaque as Rotarian Of The Year, but at the last minute his well-meaning wife accidentally gives his suit to the church rummage sale, so he has to show up at the Rotarian banquet wearing his son's suit and an embarrassed grin.  

I know the men's fashion designers of the world are sort of stymied, in that pants, shirts, jackets and ties have already been invented, so there's not really much for them to do except to decree that this year, men will wear those skinny ties that look like shoelaces, and next year, it'll be those wide ties that look like crime scene tape hanging around their necks.

The real crime was in talking men into wearing suits that fit like the suit on a circus monkey.  And if you forced these guys to dress like this, everyone would call it cruel and unusual.  

But it's their choice! So what the heck.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

He'll be working at the Pearly Gates, calling names of new arrivals

Most people, when they think of the late Don Pardo, who passed away this week at the age of 96, think of his intro to "Saturday Night Live," in which he would introduce the comedians, guest host (love that oxymoron!) and musical guest like this.  Don worked as a staff announcer for NBC from 1944 until forever caught up with him, but to me, the best Pardo was the game show Pardo.

I always felt there was no higher calling for mankind than to be the host of a game show.  Bob Barker!  Bill Cullen!  Jack Narz! Richard Dawson!  Peter Marshall! Jim Lange!  Tom Kennedy! Allen Ludden! Bob Eubanks! Chuck Barris! Gene Rayburn! Don Francisco from Sabado Gigante!

Not to mention Pat Sajak, so I won't.

Being the quizmaster was the ultimate honor, but I was also a big fan of what I called the "Be Glad To" guy.  Those guys were guys like Don Pardo, Jay Stewart, Johnny Jacobs, Rod Roddy, Johnny Gilbert, George Fenneman and Art James...the guys who came on in booming baritones (all baritones are "booming," just as all left-handed pitchers are "crafty") when someone from Dubuque solved the puzzle or spun the wheel or got the price right.  The glib host (always "glib") would say, "Tell her what's she won, Don!" and the announcer would boom..."Be glad to, Bob! It's a twenty-volume set of The Encyclopedia Brittanica! A case of Turtle wax! A year's supply of Rice-A-Roni (the San Francisco Treat!) and a new gas range from Tappan!  (Tappan - the leader in kitchen appliances since 1881!")

This was why sick days and snow days were always so great when I was a young 'un.  After the game shows, after a soup-and-sammy lunch, after "Search For Tomorrow," along came Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin and Pete The Pirate.

It says here that our deductive and memory skills were sharpened by watching "Concentration," our ability to make wise consumer decisions by "The Price Is Right," and our ability to discern between Alexander the Great and Alexander the Graham Bell by enjoying "The G.E. College Bowl."

Thanks and farewell, Don.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

While you were sleeping....

Just down the road apiece from the Lazy 'C' Ranch where we live is a road called Cromwell Bridge Road.  The old Ma & Pa (Maryland and Pennsylvania) Railroad used to run through there, and you still can see mighty remnants of the old bridges that the trains ran along.  It's a pretty area, it runs to the Loch Raven Reservoir, and the stories we could tell about that site would fill a whole 'nother blog.

Along Cromwell Bridge Rd, someone got out of his or her car and painted a perfect little white heart on the macadam.  As you see, there is no shoulder along the road whatsoever.  In fact, I wanted to get a picture of the painted heart, but there is no place to park the car and get out to snap a photo.  Walking or jogging along this road is a risky proposition.  The cars and the trucks, they do whiz right on by.

That's why I deduce that whoever painted that heart did so in the middle of the night, the only time when you're not about to get "runned over" while trying to get the picture.  He or she pulled over, hopped out with the can of spray paint, and did his or her thing.  And it's been there a couple of years now, so someone came back and refreshed the heart not long ago.

It makes me wonder what else happens in the night. Take those real estate and "O'Hoolahan for Sheriff" signs you see along the medians and sidewalks.  Have you ever actually seen anyone pounding those staked signs into the ground?  Nor have I.

Fresh bread and milk get delivered to the Bag-Ur-Self and you never see the trucks.  For that matter, you never see the trucks leaving the dairy farms, shiny tankers full of raw milk, and you'd have to get up pretty early to drive past the bakery to whiff on the rye and whole wheat loaves.

The paper gets tossed into the driveway, cars get repossessed, great truckloads of Pepsi and cat food are hauled in giant trucks. Insomniacs wrestle with their pillows, police maintain their vigils, bartenders and all-night servers wipe down the same table for the millionth time, and new parents sleepily pad down the hall for the 4 AM feeding.

A little world of its own takes place overnight in the darkness, and when the sun climbs over the horizon at dawn, day side people should take a minute to appreciate what got done as they slumbered and snored.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

All Day I Dream About Shoes

7-eyed Jacks
Time was, if you left the house wearing sneakers, or "tennis shoes," (even though you weren't going to be anywhere near a tennis court) you had to be wearing Jack Purcells, or hide your feet in shame. And that's not so easy, especially when you're walking.

I never cared for that sort of forced-fashion-conformity, yet I followed the crowd until one day, while sitting in a college classroom in which transcendental poetry was being discussed at great length, I deduced that I should wear what I wanted to, when I wanted to, and since that day I have paid little attention to what other people thought about my wardrobe, and to transcendental poetry, except for those poems beginning with "There once was a man named Thoreau..."

How they look best
But, no matter what sort of tennis shoes you like, there are two camps among wearers...those who feel that their shoes must be kept pure white and pristine, free from dirt and wear, and those who like that lived-in look for their footwear.  It was a rite of late August to get new Jacks and run around the baseball field a few times so they would pick up that nice dusty beige color, the better to wear while parading into school. 

Well, son, this is 2014, and we don't have time to get our own shoes dirty.  Adidas - the brand name that we all know to be an acronym for "all day I dream about sex" - has come out with their X KZK ZX 750 RG 84-Lab model shoes.  The RG stands for Really Grubby, I guess, because if the shoe seeker is too lazy to go out and get his or her shoes dirtied up a little, these babies come to you pre-muddied.

Oh well, now I mean, really.

Monday, August 18, 2014

All In The Family

There seems to be something about history, how it loves to twirl itself around a story like a kudzu vine, or even a creeping phlox.  

And if your phlox ever crept up on you, you know that awful feeling.

There are twists and turns to almost every story, and this is why we say that "truth is stranger than fiction."  Other things thought to be stranger than fiction include deep-fried Snickers Bars, the listing of side effects from every prescription medication (you take Lexapro for depression and then you get to deal with "Nausea, dry mouth, trouble sleeping, constipation, tiredness, drowsiness, dizziness, or increased sweating," many of which sound like symptoms of the very thing you are trying to get rid of) and the continued popularity of "reality" shows that show American culture at its loathsome perigee (we know that families such as the BooBoos of McIntyre, Georgia, live among us, but is that reason enough to glorify their dreadful existence?) 

Right up Harford Road from where we live is Harford County, Maryland, home to many fine citizens and businesses.  We like to drive up there to shop, buy cars, dine, and spend time in the rolling hills of Bel Air, Abingdon, Forest Hill, and Havre de Grace, among other towns there.  We know a lot of people who have moved up there and found happiness and joy.  

In 1822, an actor named Junius Brutus Booth, who had only the year before sailed to America from his native England, moved to Bel Air and founded a family. (The fact that he left a wife and child back home to come here with his pregnant girlfriend Mary Ann Holmes only amplifies the point that libertine behavior didn't just start last week.) Booth and Mary Ann got busy right away and raised eight of his ten children in a log cabin.

Hmmm. Are there any other famous Americans noted for having been born in a log cabin?  

Two of the Booth kids became famous actors in America, and they were named Randolph Mantooth and Benedict Cumberbatch.  No. They were Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth.

John Wilkes Booth, villain
On John Wilkes Booth's 13th birthday, his father celebrated by marrying Mary Ann, having been granted a divorce from his English wife, Adelaide.  John Wilkes Booth thereafter became a well-known actor on the legitimate stage, and also a rabid secessionist during the Civil War.  He hated Abraham Lincoln, so, gun laws being what they were before we knew better, he got a handgun and shot the 16th president dead during a performance at Ford's Theater in DC. Ever the performer, he leapt from the loge in which Lincoln had been sitting onto the stage, but caught his spur on the red-white-and-blue bunting surrounding the presidential box seat, so he landed awkwardly and broke his leg, impeding his getaway.  He was caught in Virginia, trapped in a barn hideaway.  Union forces set fire to the barn, but still he refused to surrender, and was shot to death for his trouble.

Edwin Booth, hero
Edwin was the more famous of the brothers, having starred in Shakespearean productions, and also having played Al Bundy in the theatre production of  "Married: With Children."  (No, that was Ed O'Neill.) A Union loyalist, he supported Lincoln, and, the year before his brother committed his heinous assassination, he saved the life of one of Lincoln's children!

Robert Lincoln
The story is that Robert Todd Lincoln, a student, was waiting along with Booth and a crowd of others at a train station to buy tickets for sleeping cars when the train began to move. Young Lincoln slipped off the platform, onto the tracks, and Edwin Booth grabbed him by the collar and pulled him back to his feet. This was the 1864 equivalent of having Channing Tatum yank you back from the path of an oncoming jet airliner. Recognizing the actor, Robert Lincoln thanked him for his efforts, and wrote of the incident many times.  At the time, Booth did not know it was the son of the man his brother was to kill the next year whom he had saved. 

I thought that, Paul Harvey being gone, I should share the rest of the story.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday rerun: Dupree plus ça change

I watched a film on ESPN the other night; it was part of their "30 on 30" series of sports documentaries and this one featured the past of  Marcus Dupree, the high school running back with the can't-miss future.

Like so many of the best-laid plans, his went awry!  The show is called "The Best That Never Was," and I commend it to your attention.  Even if you're not the big sports fan, it will speak to you about how things can change...sometimes for the good, and sometimes not.

Dupree, out of Philadelphia, Mississippi, had an amazing ability to take a football and run with it.  In high school, it didn't seem to matter how many guys on the other team tried to tackle him.  Old game footage in the documentary lets you see Dupree shaking off would-be tacklers the same way that Sarah Palin ignores rules of grammar and diction - with a gleeful alacrity that defied "refudiation."

And for what happened to him in college and beyond, I'm going to let you watch the show, because I hate to spoil the ending.  But there is an interesting sidestory to all this.

You who remember or have read of the civil rights struggle in this nation will recall Philadelphia, MS, as the place in which the based-on-fact movie "Mississippi Burning" was set.  Three civil rights workers, on their way to help African-Americans register to vote in that state (yes, this was 1964, not 1864) were waylaid on "speeding" charges as they traveled down Highway 19, held for several hours, and then set free.  From all appearances, it seemed that the sheriff held them long enough for local Klansmen to marshal their forces, and once the hooded hoodlums were ready, the three were let go, only to be beaten and killed by local horrors.

The Law of Neshoba County on trial.  Cecil Price, left.
The nation sat stunned, watching as a three-month long search finally resulted in the young men being found dead.  The local cops - Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and his deputy, Cecil Price, went up on murder charges and finally went to jail on severely compromised verdicts.  (The presiding judge having referred to the dead men by the 'n' word, you know the trial wasn't exactly on the up and up.)

But after serving four years of a seven (!) year sentence, Cecil Price came out of prison a changed man, accepting finally the changes that had come to the nation.  His son Cecil, Jr., and Dupree went to school together, entering local schools in 1970 that were desegregated for the first time that year.  "Little Cecil" and Dupree played high school football together in the 80's, hung out together, and visited in each other's homes.

At the end of his career, Marcus Dupree called Cecil Price, the man who had gone to jail for killing black and Jewish civil rights volunteers, and asked for, and received, a huge favor.

Watch the show, please.  ESPN will be repeating it.  If you're a young person, remember: my generation lived through this when we were in our teens.  It's hard to imagine that sort of hatred could exist in America, isn't it?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

Nickel-and-diming him

Some people just don't think about the consequences of their actions.

Out in Los Angeles, a man named Andres Carrasco, apparently an upright clean-living citizen, retired bus driver, used to have his car insurance through Adriana's Insurance, but one day he went to their office to find out why they had dropped him.

An employee of Adriana's Insurance attempted to explain the situation to Mr Carrasco by bodily throwing him out of the office.

So Mr Carrasco went to the courts to sue the insurance company, and he won a settlement of $12,000.

So the good people over at Adriana's decided that the best way to shell out that kind of change would be to send over that kind of change.

Eight paint buckets full of American coins were delivered to Mr Carrasco by eight goons working for the Adriana firm.

His attorney, Anthony Gallo, said he can't even lift the buckets and he doesn't feel that Mr Carrasco, recently recovering from hernia surgery, should even try.

"I am disappointed by the way Adriana's treats their customers and the elderly," Carrasco told KNBC-TV. "We might be poor, but we are people too."

Even if he were not poor and elderly, and I wish he weren't either one of them, Mr Carrasco has a right not be assaulted by insurance agents.  It doesn't sound like Adriana's is a firm with which I would do business.  My car insurance company has a cute little gecko and Little Richard doing their commercials; Adriana's just doesn't seem to care how many people hear about their nastiness.  It cannot be good for their business to treat the gentleman this way.

The one bright note in all this is that Mr Carrasco now has 8 paint buckets!  You can never have too many of them around the house.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

You've been!

Out of the following two things, I bet you have heard about only one of them...

....AC/DC's rock anthem "Thunderstruck"
....the Stuxnet computer virus

Freedom Fighters!
Because we AC/DC fanatics tend not to delve into the intricacies of computer malware and the dirty things that governments do to each other in the name of waging peace, I know the song, but not the bug.  

The Stuxnet virus was cooked up in 2010 with the specific intention of derailing Iran's nuclear program.  There has been talk that the hackers were, indeed, employees of the American and/or Israeli government(s), but who's to say?  

What we do know about it is that, in the middle of one dark Iranian night, 20% of Iran's nuclear centrifuges went berserk because the computers that control them told them to spin like a record playing at 45,000 rpm.  Used in a dairy, a centrifuge separates cream from milk, leaving us with tasty Almond-Pistachio ice cream cones for dessert.  Pistachios are grown in Iran, and until that night so were nuclear reactors, which require enriched uranium.  You get enriched uranium from nuclear centrifuges, but 20% of the Iranian centrifuges don't work anymore because "someone" put the Stuxnet hex on them, causing...

...the centrifuges to spin out of control, burning themselves up

..."Thunderstruck" to come blasting at top volume out of the speakers of the affected computers.  They couldn't turn the music off, either.  While it attacked the computers and the uranium spinners, it soaked the Iranian atmosphere with a good uncontrolled dose of Angus Young's guitar and Brian Johnson's vocal.

I have never loved the world's computer geek squad more in my entire life. 


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

This Ain't Vegas

Not to get into all the debate over Ray Rice and his weak punishment for assaulting his fiancee at a casino in New Jersey, but have you noticed that casino business up there in Atlantic City is not exactly booming?

The Revel
As a matter of fact, the Revel Casino-Hotel, the site of Ray's indiscretions, was supposed to be on the proverbial auction block this week, but at the last minute, several "Credible offers" to purchase it seemed to crop up.  That leaves two other casinos that might close down by the end of this year - the Showboat Casino Hotel, and the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.  Donald Trump, man of great modesty, is suddenly embarrassed to have his name on the Trump Plaza, and is suing to have it removed.  From a business he invested in, when things were looking good for that business.

I have to tell you, I've been in exactly one (1) casino in my life, and that was because we heard the buffet at Maryland's Hollywood Casino in luxurious Perryville was pretty good.  It was!  But you have to walk through rows and rows of people playing slot machines and other gambling devices, and if any of them were having a good time feeding money into those machines, they surely hid it well.  I don't see it as fun, but my tastes and choices often run counter to the popular.  

I don't know how the casino business in Maryland is doing. I know they're just about to open another huge pleasure palace down near the ballparks in Baltimore, and the one at the Arundel Mills Mall seems to be packed all the time - so much so that the people who hang around the attached parking garage to wait for winners to emerge with their pockets full of twenties so that they can hold them up at gunpoint are having a hard time finding parking, and often have to park at satellite locations and get bused in.

The television commercials show young, zesty, lusty people tossing dice and playing cards, raking in chips, sipping the finest liquors and just having one Big Night Out, and I wish them the best, for all concerned.  Up in New Jersey, the Atlantic City boom seems to be ending, and I'd hate to see that happen here before it even really begins.

...Keeps the doctor away

Here's a report from NBC the other night that tells about a study claiming that taking an aspirin a day has been found to be helpful in preventing certain cancers - esophageal, stomach and colon among them.  Years ago, we found out that taking an aspirin a day was good for preventing heart attack and stroke.

Now, I'm no doctor, regardless of what I told certain people when I was on dates with them at age 16.  But I know that an aspirin a day is fairly safe, although they say that one person in a thousand suffers stomach bleeding from regular aspirin use.  I'll take those odds.

Pop a Bayer
But, whenever I tell people that I "pop a Bayer" every morning, sometimes they look at me as if I had just said I shoot speed with my bagel.  (To be honest with you, I don't buy Bayer or any other name brand aspirin, since all aspirin ARE alike, except when you pay for them.  You can get five bottles full of many Dollar Tree aspirins for what you'd pay for one small bottle of the big brand.  But - go ahead if you wish!)  They're aghast!  "You take an aspirin every day?" they demand.

And think, what if I didn't take my daily 325-mg dose of acetylsalicylic acid  - aspirin - which is not only an analgesic to relieve aches and pains, but also an antipyretic to reduce fever, and also an anti-inflammatory?  I might have pain and fever and be all inflamed!  And one pill saves all that!