Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sunday rerun: Up, Up and Await

We were talking about George Plimpton the other day, and of the sort of things he did, and here's a time when he played a more traditional role in journalism and wrote about someone else doing something, as opposed to the sort of participatory journalism he more or less created.  Plimpton was the man who pitched to major leaguers and quarterbacked an NFL team and rode with firefighters and had all these adventures we would all like to have, and then wrote about them.

But in 1998, George wrote about this fellow Larry Walters, who, in 1982, attached forty two helium-filled weather balloons to one Sears Roebuck folding lawn chair and lifted off into the skies above Southern California.  Before you go to thinking that this idea seemed sort of 1/2-baked, Larry would have wanted you to know that it was, in fact, completely baked.  Or, he was.  Anyway, he planned to regulate his altitude by bursting the balloons one at a time by shooting them with a bb gun. And that would have worked, most clearly, except that a gust of wind tilted the chair and the gun plummeted earthward, leaving Larry aloft with plenty of extra bb's and nothing to shoot them with.

Imagine being the pilot of the TWA plane who saw this fellow and his chair flying over SoCal.  Imagine being the air traffic controller who got the radio message from the TWA jet, "We have a man in a chair attached to balloons in our ten o'clock position, range five miles."  Imagine that happening today; people would immediately suspect terrorism was afoot.  Or afloat.

Larry Walters was a former Army cook who never quite got ahold of the handle. He quit his job after the flight (he landed in some wires above the house of a startled off-duty pilot) and worked for a time as a motivational speaker, apparently speaking to groups who wanted to be motivated to foolhardiness. There was a play about his adventure, called "The Man In The Flying Lawn Chair" but this last burst of fame was posthumous; he committed suicide in the San Gabriel mountains in 1993 and the play was produced nine years after that.

Today, of course, he would have his own reality show and be a featured guest on sixteen different talk shows, and Sean Hannity would holler about how unfair it was that he was investigated and fined for his goofy flight, and his tell-all book "Beyond Earthly Bonds" would sell tons of copies and bump Bill O'Reilly's "Let Me Tell You The Truth Or Else" from the New York Times best seller list.  

Timing is everything.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show November 29, 2014

Can you even imagine seeing a stage show this great for two bucks? Sure, $2 was a lot more money in 1956, but what a lineup!

Beer manufacturers have always had to deal with the image of their product being seen as somehow déclassé, in comparison to wine and hard liquor. I happen to like the taste of the stuff and have since I was 13 21.
 If you missed the 70's, you didn't miss much. It was a decade in which people said, "Here's a nice shirt! I think I'll buy it and wear it." And then, this is look how they looked.
I've seen staircases with railings made of old baseball bats, but you have to give it to the chair with ax legs.
I love doing the grocery shopping, and I really loved it back in the days when Metro Foods had Taco Bell kiosks right in the store.  I could combine lunch with shopping! But this is an idea whose time has come somewhere...a bar inside a supermarket!
Some creative stone masonry on display!
"See? I TOLD you it would be OK to park here!  The sign says so!"
For those of us who love winter, here's a sneak preview!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Nothing to kick about

The Iron Bowl is the annual football game pitting the clearly superior University of Alabama and the woeful, makeshift team from some college called Auburn.  In all honesty, I can't even tell you how I became an Alabama fan, but there is something about college football, and when you connect with one team and go for the ride, it's a thrill a minute all through the fall.

This year's installment will be played tomorrow night at 8 on ESPN and I will be sure to watch and will also be sure to have dinner first.

Here's why:

Griffith (99)
Last year, the game came down to the final second in regulation play.  The score was tied 28-28 and Alabama asked freshman placekicker Adam Griffith to boot a 57-yard field goal and win the game.  We all know how that turned out.   You can watch the CBS coverage here if you really want to.  The kick fell just a bit short, and Chris Davis from Auburn ran it back for a winning touchdown and while I stood in the kitchen at home, staring at the TV in dumbstruck disbelief, the cream of mushroom soup I was heating for dinner boiled up and out of the saucepan, resulting in a mess that took quite some time to clean up.  It was awful. I don't think I've had mushroom soup at home since.
They showed this guy on TV and he symbolizes the despair of 'Bama fans everywhere

But here's something about that kick, and that kicker.  Seven years before that game, there was a young man then known as Andrzej Debowski, living in a sad Polish orphanage.   Life there was miserable, to put it mildly.  But in Calhoun, Georgia, a married couple of math teachers, Tom and Michelle Griffith, figured that 2 + 1 would = a good 3, so they adopted Andrzej and brought him to America, where he chose the first name "Adam" to go with his new surname.  He kicked for his high school team, won the state championship with them, and walked onto the Alabama team and kicks for them, wearing number 99.

When you read about the young man's earlier days, and how the love of his new parents changed everything for him, you'll see that losing a football game is not the worst thing that can happen to a person.

Still, I hope he is much happier this time Sunday morning!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ivy League for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows....

In the middle of the sprawling campus of Towson University just outside Baltimore there lies a twelve-acre glen called "The Glen" by literal-minded students.  Within the glen are 94 of the 120 tree species native to Maryland.

These are everywhere!
You know that one of those tree types thriving in Towson would be the Ailanthus altissima, the tree originally from China that some people call the "Tree of Heaven" and some call the "stink tree." Ailanthus would grow in a paved schoolyard or a crack in a sidewalk. Or in a sidewalk without a crack, I don't know.  They're everywhere around here.

And so is English ivy (Hedera helixwhich has been threatening to take over The Glen.  This rampant green invader can show up out of nowhere and, in no time at all, take over everything in sight, like your uncle from Cincinnati who showed up that time and just stayed and stayed, and ate all the scrapple and almond bark that Nora gave you for Christmas. 

English Ivy sounds very nice, like a nice tower at a college where people wear tweed suits and read Wordsworth and sip Darjeeling, or the other way around.  But once it takes over a garden or glen, it's curtains for the other will take over and choke everything in a curtain of green.  Even the ailanthus!

Getting your goat
So, bring in some fauna, figured the University brass, and they did, in the form of a herd of 18 goats from Harford County, who arrived by truck, entered the woods and commenced to chowing down on the ivy and I don't know what-all else...leaves, tree bark, probably some empty beer cans. This is a trial, but if the goats eliminate the ivy from this part of the campus, they will get to dine on all the overgrown sections.

It's more earth-friendly than herbicides and cheaper than hiring people.  And there is one other benefit...people get stung by bees and suffer reactions to poison ivy.  In my Opie-like childhood, when my parents moved to our long-time home outside Towson, the front yard had been allowed to run riot, and was full of poison ivy.  A friendly neighbor brought over his goat, who made a brunch of the problem, no problem.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

We (finally) Gather Together

It's Thanksgiving Week, and what better time to watch "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," the 1987 movie starring John Candy and Steve Martin that shows how much fun it is to travel this week.

"Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother's house we go, the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow..." was the opening line in a song we always sang in elementary school as Turkey Day approached.  Maybe a horse and sleigh would have been an easier way to get around; certainly it would be a preferable mode of transport to the methods Candy (as Del Griffith) and Martin (as Neil Page) tried.

And of course, following a Monday that saw near-record setting temperatures in our part of the world, the forecast for T'Giving Eve tomorrow is for a coastal storm, bringing rain or snow to the Eastern United States, and the airline industry to its knees, or whatever an airplane has.  The TV news will show people sleeping in airports, or getting off a plane that sat for 27 hours on the tarmac with only a bag of Corn Nuts and a 3-liter Diet Sprite for the passengers, and those of us already where we are supposed to be will shake our shaggy heads and say, "You ain't gonna get ME up in one of those things!"

Good luck to all who take to the highways, the rails or the roads! Have a great trip and a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2014

How about Jonas, brothers?

Even if you don't watch NFL football, you probably know the visage, and maybe the name, of Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots.

You know, the guy stomping along the sidelines as a late Sunday game ends and you're waiting for "60 Minutes" to start tick tick ticking...and he's wearing the same ratty hoodie, the one that looks like he's going to patch the shingle on the roof as soon as the game is over.

He's not an enjoyable personality, not a happy-go-lucky fellow, but what he is, is a very successful coach.  And part of that is that he has rules, and they are to be followed, or this non-happy-go-lucky guy will be happy to tell you where to go.

Take running back Jonas Gray, a Notre Dame product who made the Patriots this year after kicking around with the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins in 2012 and 2013. The Sunday before last, he became the first NFL running back since 1921 to score four rushing touchdowns in a game, when he had never scored at all before that game.  Gray and the Patriots beat the stupid Colts that day, he ran for those touchdowns and for a total of 201 yards, and he made the cover of last week's Sports Illustrated.*

Looking for the
hot dog guy
Four days later, last Friday, as his team had one of their final practices before playing the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Gray failed to show up on time, using the "my cellphone battery died so my alarm failed to wake me up" defense.  When he did finally stroll in to work that day, Belichick sent him home, and then when his team took the field against the Lions, Gray took a seat on the bench, and we hope he got a good view of the game from where he was, because he didn't play in that game any more than you or I did, and that's "not a bit" in my case.

Reporters asked later why Gray did not play, and coach Belichick gave one of his standard terse replies: "We do what we think is best. That's what we did today."

One assumes that Mr Gray stopped at Try 'N' Save on his way home to purchase three alarm clocks and a rooster.  And as a longtime punctuality fanatic, I applaud Bill Belichick.

Maybe that sort of discipline explains why his team wins so often!

*Gray is only the latest in a long line of victims of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, November 22, 2014

So this time of year as the fields lie fallow and await a spring planting - it's my favorite time of year!
I'll tell you, I couldn't pick Tom Hiddleston out of a police lineup...not that I think I'll be called upon to do so.  He's an actor, and he is shooting a picture now called "I Saw The Light," in which he plays Hank Williams, Sr. And just from the way they have him dressed and wearing that Stetson, it's clear he's got the moves like Hank. I can't wait to see this movie.  But for all I know, Hiddleston will be the guy standing in the lobby and I will walk right past him because I don't know him from Hank.
Because I watched Jackie Gleason all the time, I can never meet someone named Norton without hollering "NAWTON!" right back, to their complete surprise.  And because I read "The Catcher In The Rye" all the time, I can never see a picture of The Rockettes without saying, "You know what that is?  That's precision!"
Some time ago, we shared a picture of a NASCAR fan with his baseball cap on backwards, using his hand as an eye visor to shield himself from the hot sun of Talledega.  Now we see a kid who wants to bowl, at a bowling alley, playing a bowling video game. It's a wonder he's not wearing a backwards baseball cap.
It was 51 years ago today...
This nice stack o'logs won't do anyone any good this year, being unseasoned and fresh, but this time next year, someone will hear it snappin' and cracklin' on the hearth.
"When there's no future
How can there be sin
We're the flowers in the dustbin
We're the poison in your human machine
We're the future, your future"
What a powerful metaphor for a disaffected generation - flowers tossed into the trash by unappreciative old men and women. Remember being 17 and thinking you knew it all?  Some people at that age are closer to knowing it all then many of us will ever be. So why not listen to them?
Hey, you Buffalo hooligans!  You can't steal those chips!  They don't belong to you!  They're nacho chips!"

Friday, November 21, 2014

Droning on

We went out and bought one of those little red laser pointer light doohickeys. Everyone said that everyone who is a cat enjoys chasing that little red dot all over the house.  We will see about that.  We've only had the cats for a week The cats have only owned us for a week now and maybe it's best to wait before we get them all worked up with gizmos.  We'll let you know how it goes!

Laser pointers have worthwhile uses outside of the cat world. Imagine going to the observatory and finding Ursa Minor without one! (I dated a girl by that name, and once found her in the cloakroom with some random guy, but anyway.) They can also be used for emergency signals for people lost in the woods, they can be rigged up as substitutes for chalk lines in drywall work, and the truly creative can make a burglar alarm out of one, using the beam as a tripwire.

I don't own a drone, although that could be the first line in a poem. But drones can have cameras attached for surveillance.  For instance, they can send instant reports about fires, traffic, and what-have-you.  There are firm plans to have Domino's deliver their mediocre pizza by drone, and their drones will have to avoid the Amazon book-delivering drone above your house.  Even Martha Stewart has one flying over her sprawling estate in New York state so she can see how things look from above.  She is an innovative woman.  Longtime fans will remember how she showed fellow inmates how to fashion a makeshift kitchen knife out of a tuna can lid.

So, with all the good that can come from lasers and drones, why are there fools standing around in their backyards pointing their pointers at the cockpits of airplanes and helicopters, the intent of which action can only be bad?

And who are these rakehells who fly their drones to within a foot of a landing jet airliner?  It's happened three times.  This week. At one airport - JFK in NYC.

And we can only expect both of these abuses to become more common as the holidays approach, and more people celebrate by giving drones and lasers.

It makes me miss the days when people called 911 to report that their neighbor got a jetpack for Christmas and was hovering over the neighborhood, just as Rudolph had done the night before.

But let's try to be as sensible as a child would be with our toys this year;
how would that be?

Thursday, November 20, 2014


There's a Baltimore connection to the Jada Pinkett Smith / Will Smith family, in that her stepfather is Warren Brown, a local attorney who pops up about this time every year with a gun buyback program aimed at lowering the gun ownership rate in Baltimore to a more manageable level, like 26 per person.

Jada graduated from high school here and headed west to fame and fortune, and she has been married to the former Fresh Prince since 1997, so you have to say their marriage seems to be working fine.  The union has produced two children: Jaden, male, 16 and an actor and musician, and Willow, female, 14, a musician who had a fairly big hit with "Whip My Hair" a couple of years back.

All of us who have lived past the age of 16 have been the same ages as these kids at one time, so maybe we should look back at our own teenage excesses of unformed ego and uninformed intelligence before we read this interview with the Smith children and judge them too harshly.

That aside, the interview is a fascinating look at how some people live and teach their children, and how movie stars confuse the roles they play with real life. Ronald Reagan, who had a career of sorts in politics after his movie-making days ended, told former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and writer, Nazi hunter and Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal that he himself had assisted personally at the liberation of the Nazi death camps.  A glance at the Reagan military record will tell you that if he did such a thing, it was a miracle to all involved, as he served his World War II time in the dangerous battleground known as Culver City, California.

And Will Smith himself has been known to say that he could be president (well, if Reagan could do it....) and a physicist and beat Mike Tyson in a fight.

You add in a healthy dose of Scientology and take the kids away from school, and here's what you hear from the kids:

Jaden: “The only way to change something is to shock it. If you want your muscles to grow, you have to shock them. If you want society to change, you have to shock them.”

Willow: “Breathing is meditation; life is a meditation. You have to breathe in order to live, so breathing is how you get in touch with the sacred space of your heart.”

Jaden: “School is not authentic because it ends … Kids who go to normal school are so teenagery, so angsty.”

Willow: “I went to school for one year. It was the best experience but the worst experience.”

On how they experience time out there in California:

Jaden: “If you are aware in a moment, one second can last a year. And if you are unaware, your whole childhood, your whole life can pass by in six seconds.”

Willow: “I can make it go slow or fast, however I please, and that’s how I know it doesn’t exist.”

We could go on all day, but you have to hear about their favorite novels:

Willow:  "There’re no novels that I like to read so I write my own novels, and then I read them again, and it’s the best thing."

Jaden: "Willow’s been writing her own novels since she was 6."

In a world where you can bend time to fit your will, and there are no novels worth reading, at least these children have learned that we all need to breathe.

My favorite part of The Fresh Prince on TV was always when Uncle Philip tossed DJ Jazzy Jeff headlong out the front door for saying foolish things.

Sometimes that's how we learn.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Love, American Style

If you need something to take your mind off the courtship rituals among the Duggar family, here's good news from the field of romance.

Love has found its way to Charles Manson.

The Duggars, of course, are the people from Arkansas with 107 kids and a family tree that goes back to early America, and a sofa that goes back to Sears next week.

Charles Manson, of course, is the unhinged psychotic who led others on an L.A. murder spree, and he's been in California prison since his conviction for that mess in 1971.  His next chance for parole will come shortly after Barack Obama is elected governor of Texas, a delay which will come as a big disappointment to Afton Elaine Burton, 26, from Illinois, who moved to California to be closer to her intended.  It will be Manson's third marriage, and her first, and every girl dreams golden dreams of magic nuptials taken in the day room at Corcoran State Prison, Manson's home until he moves to Hell.

They're registered at Crate & Barrel, which
are two things he'd probably like to pack
 her into
At least the people who marry Duggars, who are not allowed to hold hands or get frisky in any way whatsoever until they have walked back down the aisle, get to do the horizontal hula at some point. Mr and Mrs Manson will have the sum total of their intimacy at the makeshift altar, where she will enjoy seeing her grizzled 80-year-old husband lean in and plant a nice kiss on the cheek of his mysterious Mrs.  People in Manson's category get no conjugal visits in Cali; there will be no four-legged fox trot in either of their futures.

Which is for the best. I mean, what if she got pregnant?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

To a Tea

I'll drink coffee when we're at Friendly Farm, because they serve Ellis Coffee, the finest coffee of them all.  But keep the Keurig, fling the Folgers, toss the Taster's Choice and discard the Dunkin', because I'm a tea man from long ago.

I like hot tea, and I keep it simple.  I don't care for Earl Grey or herbal or chamomile or lavender mint tea, although I will have a cup of Asian tea at a restaurant if it doesn't take oolong to get it.

(In the interest of recycling, I drag that joke out every few months.)

Just plain old black tea, please, no decaf and no lemon either. A little bit of milk and I'm good to go.  I don't even need a tag on the bag, either, because my favorite English tea is just in a round bag which I let swim in hot water for a few minutes before it joins the orange peels, used Ziploc bags and eggshells in the trash can...

But just when you think you had seen it all, here comes a new kind of tea bag that will turn your teacup into an aquarium!  These fish-shaped tea bags made by CharmVilla are sure to please both the tea drinkers and the fish fanciers on your Christmas list.

I don't know where to buy them as of now, but look for BJs and CostCo to sell the convenient box of 5,000 tea bags soon!

Monday, November 17, 2014

I can't get behind all this fronting

In Baltimore, the Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, has heard the concerns voiced by interstate travelers who crawl through our town on I-95, the clogged artery that runs through the BoWash Corridor.  And the voices of train travelers zipping through town on Amtrak's Casey Jones Express get added to the cry, which is that Baltimore is not such a good-looking town from the interstate or from the train tracks.

I'm not much of a traveler, but if I were, I would enjoy seeing everything about a town.  Yes, the mansions and plush lawns where the fat cats live are nice to see, but so are the factories where the shoes and hamburgers and beer and paper cups are made. It's all part of this crazy little thing we call life, and if it bothers you so much to be down by Baltimore's Harbor Tunnel and see a couple thousand foreign cars just off the boat, ready to be taken to dealers, in giant parking lots near the docks, well, how about just looking at the road ahead of you for a change of view?

For the passengers, there is always the possibility that I hear Herhonner and the city bigwigs are thinking of.  They want to plant some hollyhocks and maybe slap a coat of paint over the gritty industrial neighborhoods that people from Newark, NJ, are forced to see on their way to Miami.

There is also this.  Ever heard of a Potemkin Village?  Let's go back to 1787 in Russia's gritty Southern Ukraine and Crimea section. The Russian Empress, Catherine II, was traveling to the region just after a lot of destruction had been done there by warfare. A man named Gregory Potemkin was romantically involved with Catherine II. For several reasons, not least of which was that he was romantically involved with the Empress, Potemkin became governor of the region. How about that?  

Well, old Gregory was supposed to rebuild the region after around the Dnieper River and get people to move there - sort of like a modern Economic Development officer would do.  But instead of actually getting people to move there and having them build houses and factories and Subway sandwhich shops, Potemkin, who was nobody's fool but Catherine's, set up fake little mobile villages on the banks of the River.  As Catherine, accompanied by her court and ambassadors, journeyed to seek help with another war coming up, they saw the phony villages and villagers.  And then, at night, while the Empress slept, Potemkin and his men moved the false-front houses a little farther downriver and took the same "villagers" along, so that when Her Empressness sailed past, she would see them again and again and again, day after day after day. 

To this day, some people set up Potemkin Villages in their own minds, putting up a front to fool others while an empty hollow shell resides inside. But for a lot of people, that fronting is all that matters.  

Isn't that a pity?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Rerun: It's on the best-celler list

I have a bizarre fascination with prison life, mainly centered on making sure I never have to live it. I'm reasonably certain that I would not be a model inmate, and so I don't want to be any sort of inmate at all. When those iron doors clang behind you, it must be the worst kind of feeling.

A woman named Piper Kerman (can you not just picture her, having a Tom Collins after a tough tennis match with someone named Muffy?) got mixed up with drug lords as she left college, and worked with them as a money laundress. By the time the Feds caught up with her, she had already moved on past that career and had begun another. Perhaps she should have begun career #2 in some foreign land without an extradition treaty with the US, because she was easy to find in San Francisco, and went to the Iron Bar Hilton for a stay.

OK, it happens a lot. People go wrong for a variety of reasons, and she went off to the calaboose and did her time, and has now written a book about it all. Ah, another story of American redemption. But as I read the review of the book in "Entertainment Weekly," which is, I know, like looking for baseball standings in the Congressional Record, I see that while Ms Kerman was cooling her well-shod heels in the hoosegow, her grandmother died. That had to be tough, but as not tough as reading that she was "unable to penetrate the faceless bureaucracy to obtain a furlough."

Now. I have no children, but I do know that it's an ineffective punishment to send little Egbert or Ursula up to their room for two hours of reflective penitence, only to call them back down in fifteen minutes because there's a new episode of "iCarly" that they really ought to see. You do the crime, you do the time, as the expression goes. So, what kind of prison system is it that allows inmates to get out for a few days to attend the funeral of a relative? You're in prison. You did something bad. You are being deprived of your liberty to come and go as you see fit so that you can be taught a lesson. Sorry about your grandmother, and you could have gone to her funeral had you not committed felonies.

The review goes on to say that the horrible tedious humdrum life of a prisoner was occasionally broken for Ms Kerman when her fellow inmates made her prison cheesecake and prison enchiladas. Whatever happened to the old time prisons that we saw in movies with George Raft in them, where the silent prisoners walked through a cafeteria line and were given a ladle's worth of gruel, a piece of bread and coffee in a tin cup? And on nights when the gruel was not quite up to snuff, some con would stand and holler, "I ain't eatin' this slop" shortly before being bastinadoed by 127 guards.

I guess that in the modern slammer, an Inmate Grievance Committee would get text messages from some fish who thought the halibut not flaky enough tonight, and the coffee weak.

I guess this vignette hits a note with me because my father lost both his father and then later, his mother, while he was away fighting in World War II. And neither time was he allowed to come home to mourn.
I know it's comparing apples and baseball gloves, and it might surprise some to find me taking an illiberal stance, but prison furloughs don't appeal to someone wordy as I am, who is so fond of long sentences.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, November 15, 2014

One day a year, at this memorial in Anthem, Arizona, the sun lines up exactly right to illuminate the US Seal on the pavement. That day is November 11 - Veterans Day.
The more I look at this picture of a barn in Norway, the more I like it. What beautiful, yet functional, design!
 To quote from an old Beatles song, "It Won't Be Long Now"!
This recently colorized picture shows the town of Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, in 1940.  Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk merged in 1953 and changed the town name to Jim Thorpe, PA, in honor of the Native American athlete whose career began 100 miles away in Carlisle, PA. They changed the name to attract tourists to the town where Thorpe never lived, but they did relocate his grave there. I don't know that anything has ever made less sense than this.
And in this picture, we see: a New York firefighter, a member of the best-trained fire department in the world.  And we see the Hudson River, and a window-washer rig, onto which cling two men, 69 stories above the ground.  Of course they are safe now, rescued by the FDNY, which removed the window and brought them inside, hypothermic but otherwise ok.
Don't you just know this pooch is saying, "Hey!  Hold it down out here, will ya?  I work at night!"
If there is anything cooler than a skeleton, it would be a skeleton wearing a top hat while riding a bike.

Sorry if this one is a little blurry, but I was riding in a moving tram at the time I took it.  We were up at Winterthur in Delaware, the giant home of the DuPont family, and the tram takes you on a ride through the grounds of the place.  This bush grows what appears to be lavender-colored blackberries.  Those multibillionaires of the 18th century really knew how to live.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The most wonderful time of the year

I saw this picture on the interwovenweb the other morning, and it is a perfect example of the old maxim about a picture being worth a thousand words.

But since when have you known me to just show a picture and save my thousand words?

Here are 328:   I celebrate Christmas along with several other billion Christians around the world.  I wish people a merry Christmas and have been wished one in return a million times in my day.  I have also wished, and been wished, a happy Hanukkah, a joyous Kwanzaa, a sweet Yom Kippur, and Eid Mubarak, the congratulatory greeting on the day of Muslim festival and celebration.
And what's wrong with any of that?  I was born and raised in the Christian faith, but when a Jewish friend died, I was honored to attend the services.  A friend put a yarmulke on my head and told me what was about to happen, and it turned out to be one of the most meaningful services I've ever attended.

And when I was a young kid, maybe 10, I got out of school early one day to join the family on a trip to Washington, D.C. to attend the wedding of a relative who was marrying a Muslim fellow.  We were welcomed in the mosque on Embassy Row with kindness and warmth.

I've made friends with all sorts of people with all sort of religions, and some who have no religion.  It's not my job to tell people how they ought to worship, but it is my job to stand up for people who get knocked down because they are of the wrong faith or skin color or denomination.

So, wish me whatever holiday wish you want to wish me, or don't, as you see fit.  I am sorry for so many people who want to feel so persecuted because not everyone in the world wants to walk through the world like they do.

Wasn't it the good folks over at Walt Disney who urged us to "let it go!"?  Sorry, folks, but the holidays aren't just for Christians. The moose out front shoulda told you.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

It's a grand old flag

Quick!  Name the four American state flags that do not contain the color blue!

All right, then, name one of them.  It's Maryland!  (Also California, Alabama and New Mexico.) And only one US state flag (Mississippi) still features the Confederate States of America battle flag saltire, for reasons that no one can quite explain. And you look at all of them, and some of the other state flags are just loopy!

But, Maryland!  I've looked over all the pennants from all 50 states, and there is not a cooler flag in the nation than the one we fly so proudly here in the Free State. There are two components, diagonally arranged: the black and gold is from the family coat of arms of George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore back in the 1600s, and the red and white is the coat of arms of the Crossland family, the family of Lord Calvert's mother.

It's been the official state flag since 1904, but for the first 107 years, the flag hung lifelessly in school classrooms from Oakland to Ocean City, and flew from the roofs of state office buildings.  And then!  Wow~!

Some say it started with the 2008 football season at the University of Maryland, when the U painted the state flag design on the end zones at Byrd Stadium. Suddenly, everywhere you looked, you saw the black and gold and red and white! The flag design is very cool now and can be seen on T-shirts, sunglasses, ties (both four-in-hand and bow), socks, car decals, and even sports jackets.  Very chic stuff here.

Here we see the flag as part of the bicep tattoo on a proud Son of Maryland... see it on the uniform jerseys of our baseball and football teams...and UnderArmour, one of the greatest success stories in our state's manufacturing history, dresses the U of MD football team in various flag-related togs.     
I happen to think it's a darn good flag, and it's good to see so many cool young people sporting it all over town.  My suggestion to use the design for contact lenses is still available for anyone who would want to look into it!

Contact lenses do bear looking into.  That's how they work!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Did you hear about the weather?

I hate to be the one always bellyachin' about the Good Old Days, but I need to know just when it was that this country became so doggone wimpified.

I'm talking about the panic that grips many of us when the weather forecast calls for the temperature to drop below 60°, or for rain to fall from the heavens, and God forbid that it should snow on us.

I don't happen to believe that the TV news sets the trends for this, but the people at the local TV stations and networks do research all the time to find out what people are thinking and how they react to things, and they are clearly getting information that almost all of us out here in "TV land" are scared to death to go outside in the rain or the cold or the snow.  What else to explain the rush to the grocery store when snow is in the offing?  (The Baltimoreans among us know the chant:  "Bread!  Milk!  Toilet Paper!") Why all the texting from person to person about how it might be GOING TO RAIN on Sunday evening and there goes the whole weekend! And what office water cooler hasn't been the site of conversations on the topic of the Polar Vortex, which no one outside of meteorology school had heard of before last winter, when the term rode into town in a brand new Dodge Derecho?

Just for the record, 45° is not all that cold. I'm fairly certain the Pilgrims we so adore made it through the early days of colonial America in temperatures below 45°, and they did it without furnaces and Ed E. Bauer Duck Down Clothing.  (In early America, "Duck down" was only used as good advice for when the Redcoats commenced shooting.) 

Rain deposits a good deal of the fresh water we get on this 99% of it. The other 1% comes courtesy of the guy down the street with his hose and sprinkler. We need rain, if only to wash away all the sidewalk chalk.

When it snows, the county comes along and plows it.  You can shovel your driveway, or hire a dude to plow it (ask me for the number of a great guy!) or simply wait until July, at which time the snow is gone.

With a little prudence and management, we can learn to stop complaining about the weather and go back to worrying about contracting Ebola.  You will notice that this country is now 100% Ebola free, thanks to people who know what they're doing, doing what they do so well.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"How about 10? Does 10 work for you?"

A few more folks from my beloved 911 family have retired in the past couple of weeks, and like everyone else who has made the journey to The Other Side, they are learning the new pace of life AW.  That's "After Work," you see.

You'll see retirees everywhere you look, enjoying life in a new way.  We don't have to go to meetings, and if nothing else makes retirement worthwhile, there you have the best reason.  Meetings at work were always the same...8 or 10 people who would have given anything to be anywhere else on this earth, sitting around a boat-shaped conference table, wishing they were on a conference table-shaped boat, floating down with the barges and scows.

The meeting would always begin with the reading of the minutes, which seemed to take hours. Then there would be an agenda, a word we get from the Latin, the neuter plural of "agendum," meaning "list of items to be discussed until the cows come home." And the head cheese would roll out the list of items for discussion, which all fit into the category of things that could have been solved by two people sitting at one desk for 10 minutes, but no, let's drag this out until lunch.

And because the process of meetings does not involve conclusions, but, rather, continuances, committees will be formed. Let's say that one item on the agenda is that people keep leaving the break area and kitchen messy after lunch.  The quick solution would be to appoint a different workgroup to police the area every day around 2, making sure that it was cleaned up.  One week it would be the the people in Sales, the next, Accounts Receivable, and then Engineering, and so on down the line. Problem solved!

But no.  In the Meeting Method, a committee is appointed to look into the matter, and the person at the head "of the committee appoints several of his or her least favorite people to run subcommittees.  One subcommittee will meet with everyone at lunch for three weeks, "seeking input" which will be immediately discarded.  Another will take field trips to dine with other businesses that have similar lunchrooms, so as to see how they work the cleanup.  Yet another will contact nationwide firms such as "WeKleenIt.Com" to get estimates on sending three or four part time people around every afternoon with Swiffers and Mr Clean in spray bottles. 

Later on, it will become apparent that if people had just been told they were expected to be neat about their workplace, there never would have been a problem to begin with. 

In the meanwhile, all the big head cheeses in all the big businesses and government agencies should take a minute to see if they can't get more done with fewer meetings.  They'll probably need to have a meeting to decide.

And retirees know, no schedule is the best schedule!

Monday, November 10, 2014

One for the road

We went up to one of our favorite getaway places the other day, the wonderful Amish Country area in Pennsylvania.  We spent a couple of nights at the Amish Country motel, took a bus tour with a lady who spun story after story about the area as she drove a minibus full of us around, we shopped at outlet malls and antique stores and craft shops, and we dined at smorgasbords that, shall we say, fed us like a king and queen.  It's a wonderful place to be. The people you meet on the streets and in the stores and eateries are as friendly as any you've met anywhere, and the question keeps coming up in my mind: why didn't we move here 40 years ago?

Speaking of 40 years ago, that was when a car tire was mounted on a wheel and you put air in it when it started to look a little floppy, and it did not talk to you.  Now, of course, your tires send signals to your dashboard to let you know you need to insert some air, and some cars tell you when you're about to collide with a chestnut tree, and others allow the kids to watch "Frozen" for the 1,638th time in the back seat.  Let it go, I know.

But when it gets cold, your tires shrink a bit.  You men reading this know what I'm talking about here, things shrinking in the cold... So it was that the warning light on the dashboard, the one with the picture of a tire tread on it, lit up and demanded my attention.  I checked the tires that were on the car and all had 32 lbs of pressure, just fine.  So it was the spare, which hangs off the back of our RAV4, that was begging for air.  I pulled into Ronks Road Auto Service, catercornered from Miller's Smorgasbord, and the nice lady in the office sent a technician out to help me.  He rechecked all my tires and said it must have been the spare, so I removed the red jacket that the spare likes to wear and he pulled out the air hose and got me on the way again.

No charge, he said, but I still slipped him enough to get lunch on me.  And we went on our way thinking about the days when people actually took time to help another person.  It seems the smaller the town, the bigger the hearts.  

If you live in or visit that part of Lancaster County, I hope you'll take your auto repair needs to Mr Huber and his staff. I appreciate the help and I hope they know it!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sunday rerun: What do you get when you cross an overly licentious individual with an encyclopedia"

I might be opening a giant can of worms here, so I'll say right up front, I don't know how I feel about all this.  But I value what I hear from y'all quite highly, so here's what happened, and let's talk about it.

When Peggy and I were in an antique store last week up in PA, I was waiting to buy some old LIFE magazines when I saw four people huddled around an old book. Apparently, the book was a now-outdated volume on astronomy.  

Any book on astronomy is outdated as soon as someone with a telescope finds a new planet or asteroid flying around, anyway.

But in this case, a youngster, male, roughly ten years of age, was holding forth on the shortcoming and inaccuracies he had found in the book.  For one thing, I am quite certain that this young fella knows a lot more about what's up in the sky than I do.  I do remember the mnemonic device M VEM J SUN, which helped us learn the planets in order: Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune.  In those days, Pluto was a dog in the pre-frozen Disney era, and then it became a planet, and now it isn't again. But that is all I know, I'm telling you, and if this young man was discoursing on how and why the book was wrong, I'd have had to take him at his word.

But the man who ran the store was beaming! And the boy's parents were a-beam! And the boy beamed more brightly than the sun! They beamed all four, as he explained why the book was wrong.  And then he continued ranting about how much he knew about all this, and why didn't someone just let HIM write a book, and everyone else is just dumb dumb dumb, and the man who ran the store beamed no more.  The parents and the boy were the only three beamers left, as they turned to foray more deeply into the aged merchandise, the better for Einstein, Jr., to find more things that have changed since the day they were made.

And here comes the kicker:  As they ankled by me, triumphantly, I noticed that the boy wore a t-shirt with this printed on front:

 I was able to find the image at right through a quick Google search.  There are thousands of images for this, which I take to be the defiant slogan of the homeschool community.  These parents were definitely, defiantly, proud of their unsocialized little asteroid.

I look at it this way: people who are very smart and well-educated and sensible, and who have the time and inclination to do so, should, by all means, school their children at home IF they can also find a way to incorporate socialization into the curriculum.  Being unsocialized is one of four ways NOT to go through life, the others being (say it with me) "Fat, drunk and stupid."  

As to the education aspect, again, if you know what you're doing, go ahead.  It's just that I once talked to a person who said, "I don't want no kid of mine in no public school.  They don't teach 'em nothin'!" See, it's been my experience that people don't talk that way to me at noon, and then speak like John Gielgud when they get home.  Bad grammar sticks around, even when people try to bring out the good.  

And even people who use good grammar and teach it to their kids are not apt to be scholars in every field, which is why schools employ more than one teacher.  There are math teachers, science teachers, history teachers, French teachers,  physical education teachers, metal shop teachers, home ec teachers, fried shrimp, shrimp salad and...well, you know.  Being well-intended and following an approved curriculum guide: is that enough?  

And the socialization skills that come from being in a building with others of the same age can't be replaced by sitting at the kitchen table while mom cooks dinner and talks about the Peloponnesian Wars.  There's a real skill in asking out a girl during a class break and then, five minutes later, having to go to the front of the class and solve for 'x' in a complicated equation.  Depending on the girl's answer, the equation of your life may or may not have just become more complicated, and you still have to solve for 'x'.

So, again, I'd like some opinions on homeschooling from those who have tried it or even those who have not.  I can see that a capable parent or two would make a fine teacher, but there is more to school than readin', writin' and cipherin'.  There's socializin', too!