Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bad guy does something right

There is this fellow named Jonathan Papelbon, a relief pitcher for the Washington Nationals.  He's been around for a while, pitched for some good teams and some bad ones, and what he can do while gripping a baseball with his right hand will pay him $16 million for next year alone, no matter where he plays.

And it's quite certain that he won't be playing for the Nationals, since this past Sunday, when he used his left hand to wrap itself around the neck of their star slugger Bryce Harper, as irritating a man as there ever was.  The best pitchers never use their throwing arms for mundane tasks such as cutting celery or throttling outfielders.

It was a bad week for Papelbon.  On Wednesday, after our Oriole star Manny Machado clobbered a home run to put the O's ahead in a game against the Nats, Papelbon threw a baseball toward Manny's head, and was suspended for that action.  Then came Sunday, a lazy afternoon game for the Nats.  Harper popped out to left field, and failed to hustle down to first.  I mean, I could have beaten him in a footrace, although it would have meant having to drive to our nation's capital to do so, and the roads were still filled with papal stragglers.  Returning to the dugout, Harper found himself publicly chastised by Papelbon for dogging it, and the two soon found themselves in a dugout tussle, or fracas, or donnybrook, or brawl, as it always says in the sports pages.
"What do you mean? Of COURSE I love myself!"
Young Mr Harper is already raking in long green for his lazy style on the field and will doubtless earn more than brain surgeons or plumbers in the next few years. And he is an excellent baseball player when he wants to be, or in sports writer terms, a "helluva player."  But when he says things like, "I mean, it’s just some of the things I do. I’m very genuine with what I say. It’s not like I go out there and I’m an ass. Maybe on the field and between the lines I am. Walking out of the clubhouse, I feel like I’m one of the nicest guys you’ll meet" to Sports Illustrated, and when he fails to exert a little effort running to first base, when he takes his spiked shoe and obliterates the other team's logo behind home plate, and when he acts like a guy who became a millionaire as a teenager for playing a little boy's game, well, you have to give a little nod to Papelbon for pointing out what a butthead young Mr Harper is.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tangled Web

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive..."  - Sir Walter Scott

The history of the Volkswagen car and truck is interesting, since very few other cars on the road can trace their lineage back to an insane Nazi dictator bent on the slaughter of an entire religion, world domination, and the promotion of a master race. Adolf Hitler was just beginning his rise to power in 1933 when he decided that every German should have access to a economical car to haul the family around, and so he commissioned "the people's car" - Volks wagen. 

Following World War II, Americans who just a few years ago had been in bloody combat with Hitler's Germany started buying the exported model, the early "Beetle." It was good on gas, cheap to buy, seated four, and so they sold like hotcakes over here, although you'd think there would have been more of a Fuehrer made over it. Horrible pun intended.

They're showing Adolf that the motor is in the back
I think that my father and the millions of others who bought those Beetles just had enough of fighting, I don't know. Not for me to say; I wasn't over there. But the rise of the VW at the time that it was just about the only "foreign car" on the road certainly contributed to the reputation of Germany as a technological paradise where machinery of immaculate precision is designed, built, and shipped over here.

With that fact in mind, was it a surprise to anyone that Volkswagen was recently caught in a little deception?  Their diesel cars, sold as being energy efficient and ecologically-wise in exhaust, was rigged to operate that way only when the vehicle emissions test machinery was hooked up to it, so it would meet government standards, and then it was off to the speedy races as soon as the unsuspecting driver drove off.

The number of vehicles affected worldwide is close to 11 million. VW has banked $7.2 billion to fix the problem. Volkswagen’s CEO, Martin Winterkorn, had a can tied to him as soon as the board of directors met over this. Some 30 class action lawsuits have been filed from car owners all over, and plenty more are sure to come from people who plunked down money on a VW, believing it to be highly fuel-efficient.  Now they're stuck with a car that will be hard to trade or sell. 

The discovery of the deceit is attributed to a small lab at West Virginia University. In 2012, researchers there got a $50,000 grant to investigate the claims of emission efficiency made by "clean" diesel cars.   They found discrepancies of 35 times the readings that VW had claimed for their cars. 

The researchers suspected cheating, and the California Air Resources Board got involved, lending a little weight to the proceedings. Soon the Environmental Protection Agency was threatening to block the sale of all 2016 VW diesels in America. Then and only then did VW confess to the scheme, and they have seen their stock value drop by 30 percent.

I'm sorry for those who own the affected cars, and even sorrier for those who work for VW dealerships.  And of course, there's always the possibility that other car manufacturers were up to the same rotten trick.

I guess it's universal, this urge to make money at all costs, no matter who gets lied to or cheated.  Maybe that's the saddest part of all this. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

I wouldn't be without one

People are always surprised when I pull it out of my pants, reacting with shock, and shaken heads.

I'm talking about my bandana, whichever one I happen to be carrying in my pocket that day.  It might be red, blue, brown, grey or green, because I have them in a veritable rainbow of colors, but I always have one.  Count on it.

Only when I can't find a free Kleenex will I use a bandana for wiping Mr Drippynose. There are hundreds of other reasons to tote a piece of cloth 18" x 18" everywhere, a cloth which takes its name from the Hindi word bandhnu, which refers to the method of dyeing cloth using “binds."

I don't know the first thing about Hindi words, or about dyeing cloth, but I know what to do if I need a tourniquet or a sling in a hurry. People used to rob banks using a bandana to cover their faces, but so many of them tripped while making a getaway that they started just covering the lower half of their faces. Cowboys used them like a scarf around the neck for protection from the sun and the dust out there on cattle drives.  They make great helmet liners for motorcyclists, and, of course, gangs use them to identify and represent Bloods (red) and Crips (blue).

People use bandanas for as cords to tie things up, as water filters, trail markers and shelter flags.

Hobo with bindlestick
You can wrap up your personal items or your lunch in a bandana, and tie it on the end of a stick. That's called a bindlestick, and they were traditionally carried by hobos. (When is the last time you heard someone called a hobo? Today they are "people on a journey to find themselves.")

People have been known to use their bandana as a potholder, earmuffs, sweatband, or belt. How about a firestarter? Facial towel? Seat cover? Signalling device? Doggie decoration?

Charmin replacement?

There are more uses for a bandana than there are stones on the beach. And if you want to collect some of those stones to bring home for the aquarium, I think you know what to carry them in!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday Rerun (from July 2014): That Rendezvous

Alan Seeger, Harvard-educated, was killed in war.  He wrote the masterful poem "I Have a Rendezvous with Death" before joining the French Foreign Legion to fight in World War I.  I don't often share poetry here, but I would like you to read this one.

"I Have a Rendezvous with Death"

I have a rendezvous with Death  
At some disputed barricade,  
When Spring comes back with rustling shade  
And apple-blossoms fill the air—  
I have a rendezvous with Death       
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.  
It may be he shall take my hand  
And lead me into his dark land  
And close my eyes and quench my breath—  
It may be I shall pass him still.   
I have a rendezvous with Death  
On some scarred slope of battered hill,  
When Spring comes round again this year  
And the first meadow-flowers appear.  
God knows 'twere better to be deep   
Pillowed in silk and scented down,  
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,  
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,  
Where hushed awakenings are dear...  
But I've a rendezvous with Death   
At midnight in some flaming town,  
When Spring trips north again this year,  
And I to my pledged word am true,  
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Seeger mentions pretty Spring days with apple-blossoms, little signs of new life returning in the flush sunny afternoons of April and May, and he mentions midnight in some flaming town.  We don't get to choose between the two.

My mother's recent death came between the deaths of two other people, two friends who left entirely too early...In April, a friend was taken in a house fire, and just the other day, a young woman very dear to us succumbed to meningitis.  As opposed to Mom's passing, which came after years of battling several debilitating conditions and four-score plus years of a sweet and happy life, both of the others were taken by foes that came out of nowhere, like thieves in the night, carrying away lives, loves and futures.

We don't get to choose.  It just doesn't seem to matter how many times we get a reminder that when we bid a friend or loved one goodbye, it might be the very last chance we ever get to do so. We'll still fret about stuff that won't mean doodly in two weeks or two minutes, or get steamed because someone butted up in line at the carwash, or envy the neighbor's new vacation getaway in the Gilligan Islands.  A precious child is killed in a freakish wind-and-rain storm,  while at the same time, people are spending time arguing about some stupid political matter.

We don't get to choose. We'd all like to go in our sleep, or just after a great round of golf (Bing Crosby) or just dashing through a field of a field of forget-me-nots on a spring day "when the first meadow-flowers appear."

We don't get to choose. We have no options as to the time of year or the time of your life, so you might as well go have the time of your life right today. That's the message I keep getting from beyond.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, September 26, 2015

This is a seaside scene from Dorset, England.  The waves were combing the beach so much, it looked like a real comb!
This would make a pretty wallpaper for your mobile device or lap.
 It really is a simple game, isn't it?  Just do what you're supposed to do and try to be nice about it.
We have contracted with a tree service to trim the ash trees and the pear tree so that my neighbors will be spared seeing me up on a ladder like this goof.  He is opening a new branch office.
Imagine a life without books.  Remember the wise words of Emily Dickinson: "There is no Frigate like a Book, To take us Lands away."
On September 24, 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers played their last game ever at Ebbets Field, and moved to a small town in southern California.  This usher's uniform hat and untorn ticket are among the remaining souvenirs of a great time in baseball.  "Brooklyn, " the borough of New York City, derived its name from the Dutch Breukelen, meaning "broken land."  As a first name, Brooklyn is now #26 in popularity for little baby girls, edging perennial favorites "Agnes" and "Mildred."
Thank heaven for pretty gulls.
Free Wallpaper Of The Week is this future cider!  Have a great weekend, and try to get out and enjoy a nice Fall!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Not a stand-up guy

It's another sign of my unfortunate out-of-the-loopness that I have never heard of Steve Rannazzisi, who apparently forged a nice little career for himself as a stand-up comedian.  His story was, he was a guy who gave up a nice career working for Merrill Lynch after escaping from the 54th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11, and now shares his wit with an awaiting world.

There's just one problem with this scenario.  It's all a lie, including the part about him being witty. Rannazzisi never worked for Merrill Lynch, and was not near the WTC on 9/11.

Other than that....

Normally, I would use a picture of the subject of my
blog, but I don't want to give this goofball any free
publicity, so here's a picture of some cute
kittens instead
Rannazzisi and his wife moved to Los Angeles in 2001 so that he could get into show business. His act consists of telling jokes about his wife, and about coaching Little League.  He taped a Comedy Central special called "Breaking Dad" before the truth about him came out, and Comedy Central went right ahead and ran it last weekend anyway, because that channel has almost as many viewers as the average traffic accident has rubberneckers.

Someone found out about his desperate lies, and he was forced to come clean, so he had his publicist tweet a series of contrite tweets, including this mea culpa

“It is to the victims of 9/11 and to the people that love them — and the people that love me — that I ask for forgiveness.”  

Rannazzisi, 37, added that for years, he wished that silence “could somehow erase a story told by an immature young man.”

“Saturday Night Live” cast member Pete Davidson, who lost his firefighter dad Scott, a member of FDNY Ladder 118 who died in the tower collapse, tweeted a slam that Rannazzisi didn't quite get.

“It's ok @SteveRannazzisi people make mistakes,” wrote Davidson. “Can't wait to meet my dad for lunch later.”

Rannazzisi, unaware of Davidson’s story, tweeted back thanks. 

“I think you missed the point,” replied Davidson, who was 7 when his dad, along with five other firefighters, ran up the stairs to their sad fate.

Pete Davidson went on a radio show to say that Rannazzissi is not sorry, but is sorry that he got caught.

Amazingly, there have been others pushing this lie. Tania Head, a Spaniard who was never in the US until 2003, concocted a story of her escape and even became the leader of the World Trade Center Survivors' Network before her hoax was revealed in 2007.

On the other hand, Brian Williams.

As a young man, I learned something I never forgot.  Just as hoping that a broken-down car engine will somehow heal itself, the passage of time does nothing to heal a lie.  It only makes it worse, and this alleged comic ought to find a way to repay society for having cashed in on the unspeakable misery of others.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Song's Wrong, but...

Mr Richards believes in frequent naps.
The other day on Teri Gross's radio show "Fresh Air," they re-ran an interview she did with Keith Richards in 2010, and as always, Mr Richards was a font of fun and facts, such as...did you know that his guitar parts to "Street Fighting Man" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" were not played on electric guitars, but on acoustic guitars jacked into early-model cassette recorders, with all the overmodulation and audio compression and so forth? This is why I try never to miss "Fresh Air."

People are always dancing at weddings to "Crash Into Me," by that Dave Matthews Band. Check the lyrics next time! "Afternoon Delight" is not about a snack and a nap! "Turning Japanese" and "Summer of '69" are not innocent either. Yikes!

During the interview, Teri remarked that the song "Under My Thumb," a song that's sexist and chauvinistic and awful in its depiction of the role of the woman in a relationship was just that....a horrible song lyrically, yet such a catchy tune that she would find herself singing along it! She chuckled, he laughed, and quickly pointed out that he did not write the lyrics. Mick Jagger did.

It got me to thinking about songs I like that are wildly inappropriate in text or context. Such as the time in my country deejay days, when a listener called and asked for a certain song to be played. "It's really important," he importuned. It was a special day, the 25th anniversary for him and his sweet pooh-bear, the love of his life, the lucky lady who shared his hearth and heart. I said ok, what's your special song for your special lady?

"Your Cheatin' Heart"! he proudly crowed.

Somewhere, those two crazy kids are together today, I just know it.

Speaking of kids, you might want to ask yours if they know what some of those songs they sing along to are all about.

People are always dancing at weddings to "Crash Into Me," by that Dave Matthews Band. Check the lyrics next time! And, "Afternoon Delight" is not about a snack and a nap! "Turning Japanese" and "Summer of '69" are not innocent either. Yikes!

The only Pistols I carry around
People who pick up my iPod and set it to shuffling are often wont to remark that there may not be another music player with songs that jump from Andy Williams to Hank Williams to Paul Revere and the Raiders to AC/DC to the Sex Pistols. People remember the Pistols as being in the forefront of punk rock in the late 70's, and there are three songs on their first album "Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols" that still play nicely for me: Pretty Vacant, God Save the Queen, and Anarchy For the U.K.  Well sir, I am not vacant, I am actually thoroughly here. I have nothing against the Queen as a person, and the British are certainly entitled so spend their money on royal trappings if they see fit. And I despise the notion of anarchy anywhere at any time. There are rules in a decent society.

But there's no rule that says I can't love the music! Those tunes just soar! So if you see me walking past with headphones on, you have to wonder why I'm smiling!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"It's not personal, Sonny. It's just business." - Michael Corleone

When I was a child in the 50's (the 1950s, that is) there was nothing more respected in America than The Businessman.  Oh, he (and it was almost ALWAYS a male, white, with a white dress shirt and a tie in a Hart Schaffner Marx dress suit) was the object of veneration.  It was assumed that he had Made It when he was seen tooling around town in a Cadillac, shopping at all the right stores, golfing at the right course, sending his 2.3 kids to the right schools.

That .3 of a kid was tough to teach, though.

It was all part of the comfortable environment of those days.  We kids went to school, learned math and science so we could beat the evil Russians to the moon, participated in atom bomb fallout drills (we were assured that getting in the school hall and covering our heads with our elbows would keep us safe from the effects of nuclear detonation) and did all we could as young citizens to make the world better.  The businessmen built and developed huge corporations to employ our dads, feed us, sell us cars and all was good.  We watched "Leave It To Beaver" and we felt good about things, because things that were out of the norm, such as alternative lifestyles, were swept into a corner as being only for "weirdos."  Just picture Red Forman from That 70s show.

Something happened somewhere along the line, though.  The line itself was blurred and people were hopping along either side of it. Just yesterday, I turned on the news in the morning to see that:

  • The head of a peanut business in Georgia, knowing that his product contained salmonella, told his subordinates to ship it anyway so he wouldn't lose out on the sales.  Now he himself is being shipped off to the stony lonesome for 28 years, and his lawyer whines that that is like a life sentence for a 61-year-old man whose foul peanut butter killed nine and sickened hundreds.
  • A company called Turing Pharmaceuticals jacked up the price of Daraprim, a medicine used for treating a food-borne illness suffered by AIDS patients and others with compromised immune systems, from $13.50 per pill to $750 overnight. That's a rather large markup, but Turing chief executive Martin Shkreli dismisses his critics as "people who don't think logically," and, when asked via Twitter how he manages to sleep at night, replies, "You know. Ambien."
  • Pharmacy Boss celebrates himself
  • Just a few years after Hitler and his atrocities threatened to obliterate the world, the Volkswagen car he had commissioned became popular the world over. Plenty of men who had fought World War II were driving VWs to work by 1960, little suspecting that in 2015, that corporation would be found to have cheated emissions control tests on 11,000,000 vehicles that were sold to people who thought they were environmentally sound.  
Don't get me wrong.  There are plenty of businesspeople doing honest business and improving the public weal.  Bill Gates, without whom I would be writing this with a pencil (and you'd never see it) is not only the richest man around but also the most generous, and companies large and small live in harmony with the world and its people and its environment.
Volkswagen stock prices took a slight dip when the news came out

But reading about those horrible people who sell poison food, raise the price of life-saving medicines by 1500% and sell cars geared to cheat on emissions tests makes me shake my head in sorrow for the way we used to think things were.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tip Top

I'm not giving away any secrets by sharing this list, which I first saw someone else share.  It's from a site called Tickld, which I never heard of, and it proposes to give some hints for success as a man. But, I say a lot of them are useful advice for either gender, any age, whatever.  Let me tell you what I mean.  I'll add some comments of my own in redso when things stop making sense, you'll know why.

Go for someone you perceive to be "out of your league." You'll surprise yourself. Single people! You always hear that the really great looking person you're angling toward is sitting home on date night because everyone assumes they are already busy, so they don't ask them out.  This is a rumor started by extremely good-looking people so they can be left alone with their fabulous jet-set lifestyles.

Never hit anyone unless they are an immediate threat. I'll add the words of Harold Ramis in "Stripes": Never hit anyone unless you're absolutely SURE you can get away with it.  

Every hat should serve a purpose. This is why I have no berets. They have no sun visor, and don't protect your ears from the sun. 

Never go to the movies on the first date. It's good to try something a little different, a little quirky.  Why not go down to the BagUrSelf Supermarket and watch them unload the freight truck?  

Always look a person in the eye when you talk to them. Absolutely! What's worse than someone looking at your feet while you're trying to talk to them?  Except if you're a shoe salesperson.  Then check out their Birkenstocks and try to move them up to Steve Maddens, or at least, John Maddens.  

Buy a plunger before you need a plunger. You'll always be glad when things are backing up and running down the hall that you have the tool to deal with it somewhere...somewhere...but where? WHERE?  

Never wear a clip-on tie. This is not good advice for people in occupations in which other people might want to grab them by the necktie and throttle them, such as police officers, jail guards, and oral surgeons.  

Give a firm handshake. I heard this advice a million times: "Don't give someone a wet fish to shake hands with" and finally I realized that fish don't have hands anyway.  

Compliment a love interest on their clothing choice. I used to have an old pair of yellow sweat pants, cut off at the knees, that I used for painting so often that they looked like Joseph's Pants Of Many Colors. I left them right downstairs. I haven't seem them for years.  

Keep a change of clothes at the office. Heck, if you can, keep another shirt, jacket and pants in your trunk.  It can't so any harm, but you just might be glad to have backup pants one day.  That doesn't sound right.  

Buy high quality tools, so you only have to buy them once. Good advice for the most part.  But there are plenty of tools you can get for a dollar at Dollar Tree that are just as good as what you'd pay top dollar for at Costington's, so there you are.  

When you walk, look straight ahead, not at your feet. I used to see people wandering around the cubicle farm where I worked and not paying attention to anything but their own shoes.  Oh, what a surprise, when someone crossed their path.  

No matter their job or status in life, everyone deserves your respect. What other people have learned or accomplished or helped with or seen might surprise you, and religions other than your own have millions of believers.  It doesn't take a brain surgeon to understand that.  Oooops.  

Do what needs to be done without complaining. It won't help speed things up.  It's good to see people who approach massive tasks - clearing rubble and rebuilding small midwestern towns devastated by tornadoes, cleaning dishes and putting everything away after a Turkey and Oyster Dinner at a firehouse, or helping tens of thousands survive after fleeing a civil war in their homeland - who turn to those tasks with a minimum of handwringing and a maximum of hands-on work. 

Never stop learning.  I once heard of a man of a modest station in life who had been in England during World War II and became interested in the days of the Roman Conquest of England. He read everything he could find about those days and saved his money to go to historic sites to explore.  You never know everything, but you can learn almost everything.

Don't change yourself just to make someone happy, unless that someone is you.  The people who wrote this list put a star on this tip to designate it as the most valuable one. I agree, this is good, and I see young people willing to do anything to try to please some dude or dudess who wouldn't offer them a Kleenex if they sneezed. So, don't.  Be you, and be the best you can be you.  

Luck favors the prepared. Branch Rickey, who brought Jackie Robinson to the big leagues, had a saying: "Luck is the residue of design."  Ever notice how the "lucky" people are also the ones who aren't sitting around watching "Gomer Pyle" all day long?

No one is on their deathbed wishing they spent more time at work. Enjoy your life. Think of Ebenezer Scrooge all year, not just on Christmas Eve.  Do your work, whatever it takes to put a meal over your head and a roof on the table in front of you.  Or the other way around.  But enjoy the meal and be thankful for the roof, and go live a little.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Keep on truckin'

"If memories were all I sang, I'd rather drive a truck"
                                   Rick Nelson, "Garden Party"

Fig. A
It's not easy, pushing a big truck across the nation's highways.  I see guys wheeling 40' tractor-trailers through city traffic and around suburban roundabouts, and I marvel.  Some people have a hard enough time getting their Kia Rio from home to work without riding up over a curb or plowing over a fire hydrant (figure A).

Fig. B.
But lately we have seen a spate of truck driver problems in which the driver does fine out on the road and all hell breaks loose at the end of the trip.  Consider this one:  earlier this month in Hermitage, PA, Thomas Young, 58, of Cass County, IN, was steering a milk tanker truck that he drives for Neimeyer Milk Transfer.  He was almost finished his run, and was taking the last pull on a can of Dr Pepper when he began to choke on the soda, and ran off the road into the parking lot of a car dealer.  

He wrecked 23 cars in the process, which had to be a new record for destruction done by Dr Pepper, eclipsing the old record of destroying my appetite with its odd cherry-cola-root beer flavor. 

Imagine how Mr Young felt, choking on the official soft drink of Texas as his milk tanker careered 600 feet through a grassy area, eventually smashing into a building (see Figure B) at Montrose Buick-GMC-Cadillac.  22 cars were wrecked outside, and one was pushed into the showroom.

I've always wondered how they get those cars into the showrooms!

And then...

Fig. C
A firefighter with the Weirton WV Fire Department was driving the engine out of their Station 3 on Pennsylvania Avenue the other night, and a compartment door was left open. He was only pulling up to do a little maintenance on the engine, but that flapping door caught the support beam between the bay doors, and, well, look at figure C.

Firefighters call moments like this "Dear Chief" moments, as the driver involved writes a memo to the boss about a) What Happened (I smashed up Engine 3 and Station 3) and b) How This Could Have Been Prevented (I could have taken the day off.)

 Accidents will happen, just not always out on the road!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sunday Rerun: Brakin' The Law

Hello, there. I'm the guy you glare at, because I get to the intersection of Northern Parkway and The Alameda at about 7:05 AM, and the sign says "No right turn on red, 7 AM - 4 PM, so I don't turn right on the red light.

So honk at me all you will and give me all the fingers you need to. I don't like to break the law. For a liberal, I take a most illiberal stance on breaking the law.

I don't even like to patronize the farm stands who break the law. In our county, farmers are allowed to pack up their produce in the ol' pick-'em-up truck and sell it along the streets and roads, as long as they keep moving. Setting up a permanent roadside sales venue is not allowed, because it's not fair to the guy who built a brick-and-mortar produce stand or grocery store and has to pay taxes and so forth. But on the other hand, I'm not the one breaking the law if I stop where the farmer has pulled her pickup over on Putty Hill Avenue (if you're reading this in Kankakee or Keokuk, do you think we have oddly-named streets?) to get some sweet corn and tomatoes. I just hope that if the police dept. sends around their undercover Produce Squad, I don't get busted and wind up with my name in the newspaper ("....also being held at the Towson Precinct and charged with patronizing an illegal roadside stand, and violating the Taft-Hartley Act, was...") because they always put in your mug shot and I don't look my best in this heat.

I didn't look so great in the cold last winter either, if you want to know the truth.

But I am really on my high horse about this thing, this Stretch Spelling. When I first heard of this, I thought it must refer to Tori Spelling's really tall younger brother, for surely we know that there is no way to strrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeettttttttttttcccccccccccchhhhhhhhhhhh the correct spelling of a word. Click on that website and find out what they are saying...stretch spelling is inventive spelling, Kid spelling, phonetic spelling, temporary spelling. Now this really rankles me, the more I read about it. I keep reading this sentence over and over, and still, I am rankled. Stick with me for a second:

"As children are encouraged to express their thoughts and ideas on paper, stretch spelling allows children to experiment with written language without feeling the restraints of the correct rules of punctuation, capitalization, and spelling."

Oh for the sweet love of all that is good and holy! The words of Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats, Byron, even Mickey Spillane and, heaven forbid, Vachel Lindsay are to be cast aside so that the class can learn more about how young Marmaduke or Mildred feel. Good-bye, Ernest Hemingway! Farewell, Garrison Keillor! Ave atque vale, John Milton! We have entered that Brave New World! Orwell, we knew it was coming. Written language is now a place to experiment. If you don't feel like spelling words correctly, pheel phree 2 mayk upp ur oan wayz too wright. Wee R pleezed 2 hav a chantz 2 cher ur pheelings. And punctuation? Why bother? Capitalization, sorry, go join spelling and pronunciation on the unemployment line. And be quick about it so that wee Wilberforce here can give us his thoughts on this one time when he went to the meadow and there was this cal and the hoarse chased the cal and we went for a hey ride.

Ring Lardner wrote like that as a parody, to show how the unlettered would express themselves. He did not mean for people to start writing like that for real!

Kids, if you are within the sound of my voice, run as fast as your little legs will carry you away from this madness. One day you will leave school and be out in a world in which people will expect you to punctuate, capitalize and spell properly. There is no stretching here in the real world; there is only the right way to punctuate, capitalize and spell. If you fall short of these standards, your words will be regarded as those of lesser import.

And I don't even blame the kids. They are the unwitting victims of a society that has forgotten what made it great. We worked, we learned, we earned the right to use the English language that was our inheritance from our forefathers. I was encouraged to express myself in writing (people seemed to prefer it to hearing from me vocally). But no teacher of mine ever encouraged me to use creativity in punctuation, spelling, grammar or pronunciation.

Ask your teacher, if he or she says it's ok to spell things wrong as long as you're expressing yourself, if it's all right to say that 4 times 5 is 19. Really, how close can you get?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, September 19, 2015

It's a perfect day to take a walk in the woods!  Lovely weather, gorgeous scenery.  (Of course, I wrote this two days ago, so in case some bad weather rolled in, sorry!)
Colorful, whimsical piñatas, stuffed with candy and treats and vague promises of great and wonderful brilliant magnificence, are popular games for children's parties, but not so much for adults, who know a big empty papier-mâché effigy when they see one.
Even Bo and Luke need a lift from time to time.
It was just over 20 years ago that, once again, Cal came out to play...
 Pencil shoes.  Get the point?
If you remember the Seinfeld episode "The Jacket," with tough guy actor Lawrence Tierney as Alton Benes...well, his brother was tough guy actor Scott Brady, here demonstrating the family grimace 'n' grunt in a 1950 movie with Baltimore's own Mona Freeman. "Anthony" Curtis, né Bernard Schwartz, later became Tony Curtis, to the delight of millions, including Tony Curtis. I wonder if anyone ever shoplifted this DVD.
No bones about it, these are the sticks that hold us together. This could have been the poster for the movie "Murder Of An Anatomy."
You heard the story the other day about the young man in Texas, Ahmed Mohamed, whose amazingly obtuse teacher mistook the digital clock he so proudly made for extra credit and so proudly displayed to her, only to be handcuffed, arrested and suspended from school, because Texas?  Well, the night the story broke, there was a media swarm outside the Mohamed family home, and Mohamed's parents treated the reporters and camera people to pizza for dinner because kindness trumps stupidity.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Purple Haze

When Chun Hsien Deng was graduated from the prestigious Bronx High School of Science, his yearbook photo caption said, “If people are doubting how far you’ll go, go so far that you can’t hear them anymore.”

None of us can hear Deng anymore, because he was killed by fraternity brothers from Baruch College's Pi Delta Psi chapter during a hazing ritual.  Five young men from the frat are being charged with murder.

It was 2013 when Deng, 19, was beaten unconscious in a frozen field in the Poconos, in Pennsylvania.  Baruch College is on the east side of Manhattan, and is part of the City University of New York, a school named for philanthropist Bernard Baruch, who certainly never envisioned the lethal play of these students.  Who could have?  The school counts among its graduates people such as Jonas Salk and Upton Sinclair.

Pocono Mountain Regional Police are charging the five men responsible with third-degree murder. And, 30-some other participants will face trial for assault, conspiracy and hindering apprehension in connection. A grand jury investigated the entire horrifying incident for a year before handing up the charges. 

Deng was known as Michael.  He joined Pi Delta Psi and was on a retreat far from the campus, playing a game called "The Glass Ceiling."  Blindfolded and wearing a weighted backpack while making his way across a field, he was assaulted and tackled repeatedly by his fraternity "brothers."  At some point in the evening's "fun," Deng lost consciousness.  That'll happen when you are being beaten about the head and neck by a pack of frat boys. 

And as if knocking a man out is not a reason for some of these men to go to jail for a long time, this is:

The others did nothing about his condition for too long a time. Some ran off, as some people will. Some called a national Pi Delta Psi representative, one Andy Meng, who told them to hide fraternity items and marked clothing. And some went online to one of those doctor websites to diagnose Deng’s condition.  After a debate about how much it would cost to call an ambulance to transport and care for the still-unconscious victim, three students loaded him into a car and drove to a hospital, where they claimed Deng had passed out while playing in the snow.

Deng was suffering major head trauma in addition to bruises and contusions, and was placed on life support, succumbing the next day.  The coroner of Monroe County, Wayne Ross, told the local news that the delay in treatment contributed to Deng’s death. 

Of course it did.  And so did getting beaten on the head, which led to "multiple traumatic injuries," including "at least three clear impacts to the head" and a "massive bruise to the back … due to repeated blunt force impacts which resulted in traumatic asphyxia."   That's what the coroner said.  It's the fancy way of saying that the man was beaten to death and denied treatment for far too long a time.

The five facing murder charges are Charles Lai, Kenny Kwan, Raymond Lam, Daniel Li and Sheldon Wong.  

Hugh H. Mo, an attorney for one of the 37 students charged, said in a statement to NBC that the “across-the-board charges against all the young men in the house and outside in the backyard is not justified nor provable,” and added that 36 of the 37 students were “overcharged.”

Meanwhile, the national Pi Delta Psi organization has disbarred the chapter at Baruch, a commuter college with no frat houses, just an office that fraternities share in a classroom building. Meng said that this hazing trip was not a sanctioned frat activity "strictly prohibited by our organization." He is one of the people charged with hazing, hindering apprehension and criminal conspiracy, according to police.

Deng’s family, which has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Pi Delta Psi, had this to say about the charges:  

"Too many families have been devastated as a result of fraternity hazing, with at least one student dying every year from hazing since 1970. Fraternities and their members must be held accountable, and this step by authorities is an important one."
We've all had experiences joining groups, and certain rituals go along with making a new person one of the gang.  Playful, harmless initiation stunts can actually build fellowship and brother/sisterhood.  Felonious assault leading to death should cause us to question why some people went to college in the first place, and how long they should spend in prison, in the second.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Is that the best suit you have?

As a child, I wanted to grow up and become a fireman and a radio DJ.  The Fire Department appealed to me because it was a way to help people out, and the only other profession that regularly helps people out is obstretrics.

Ba ba BOOM!

Being paid to tell corny jokes while playing records - things I did around the house for free! - appealed to me, so I drifted into that work as a young dude, before it was time to hop on the pension-and-benefits train.

Radio isn't like it used to be, and DJs are told what to play and what to say and make it snappy, because there's another commercial to play.  It's just not what it used to be, and really, nothing is.  But some of the people plying that trade ought to report for a reality check.  

For example, take David Mueller.  He used to be a jock in Denver under the name "Jackson." (Please note that my parents outfitted me with a ready-made DJ name at my glorious birth.)  Old Jackson
has filed a lawsuit against singer/songwriter/pop goddess Taylor Swift in U.S. District Court, claiming that he was fired from his radio job after he was accused of grabbing the pop star's bottom at a 2013 concert. 

I once walked Loretta Lynn onstage to a wildly appreciative audience, and never once did it occur to me to touch her inappropriately.  It was a gentler era, I suppose.

Mueller says a picture of him and his oh-so-fortunate girlfriend posing with Taylor shows the three of them smiling happily, and proffers the photo as proof positive that he never touched anyone's ads.

This is a brilliant legal maneuver, and if I ever enter the lucrative field of bank robbery, I'll just get security footage of me walking into the bank and say here I am, no robbery has occurred!  Yet.

Only two people know for certain whether any grabola took place, and when you think about it, does Taylor Swift (2015 income projection: $80,000,000) need to file a false claim against someone like this?

"The radio station was given evidence immediately after the incident," a spokesperson for Swift said. "They made their independent decision [to fire Mueller]."

In any event, why chase after Taylor Swift because your employer fired you?  Wouldn't that be like suing water because you slipped on the ice?  

Make me a judge, folks, and you'll see a need for special jails for guys like this.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Making the best

Katelyn Pavey was born with phocomelia. “She was born with a half arm. Basically, it just didn't develop all the way in the womb," says her dad, Eric Pavey.  

16-year-old Katelyn Pavey, the pride of Lanesville, Indiana, loves playing softball, and is the leadoff hitter for her team, with a high batting average and high hopes of playing college ball.

I like that second paragraph better. 

“People that've never seen her before come to the fence to watch her play. It's almost a novelty to see a one-armed player, but when you see a one-armed softball player that can actually play, there's a little bit of a difference,” Mr Pavey added.

“They're just curious, you know,” Katelyn said.

“I've always seen her catch it, tosses the ball up, takes the glove under her arm and catches it and throws it,” teammate Rachel Ayer said.

You have to admire a person who says, " 'I can't' is not a word at our house," and that is how she was raised.  Katelyn and her father are working on an inspirational book about her life, to be entitled "Life Lessons from Lefty."

When I saw Katelyn's story on the news not long ago, I remembered two men who got to the major leagues of baseball with similar challenges.

Jim Abbott, whose motto is "Find something you love, and go after it, with all of your heart," was born without a right hand, and yet he spent 10 seasons in Major League Baseball (from 1989 to 1999) pitching for the California Angels, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, and Milwaukee Brewers.  As a Yankee in 1993, he pitched a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians.  

Pete Gray, born as Peter James Wyshner, only made it to the big leagues for one year, 1945 with the St. Louis Browns, but that was remarkable enough for a man with no right arm. True, there was a severe manpower shortage at that time, World War II being in its final year, but Gray managed to play the outfield for the Browns and get a few hits.  Like Abbott would learn to do years later, Gray would catch a ball with his gloved left hand, toss the ball in the air while shedding the glove, and then grab the ball to throw it.

One of the curious expressions of baseball/softball is that people will say that a particular fielder or pitcher who throws hard or for great distance "really has an arm" on him or her.  How wonderful when we see people who make that be more than enough.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

You don't have to live like a referee

Unless you're just getting back from the Cannes Film Festival or something else far afield, you have seen the video from Texas that shows two high school football players slamming into referee Robert Watts.  John Jay High School, named for our nation's first chief justice, was playing Marble Falls on one of those Friday night games down in the Lone Star State, a state in which high school football is regarded as almost as important as education itself. Remember, textbook publishers desirous of selling their products down there have to include misinformation and distortions in the books, or ring up a "NO SALE." For instance, they have to include Moses among our founding fathers, although there is no reason to believe that The Lawgiver hung around long enough to enjoy a stay in Colonial America.

The investigation is ongoing and may take some time. The players, who are not being identified, have been booted off the football team and suspended from school, possibly to face criminal charges. The players claim that the referee uttered racial slurs, a charge denied by his attorney. 

John Jay officials say that 2004 graduate Mack Breed, an assistant coach for the team and a 2004 graduate of the school, allegedly made a suggestion to the team, a suggestion that the referee "needs to pay for cheating us."  This, of course, leads to the notion that the players took their foolish action in order to please the coach, who is also suspended while all this is sorted out.

Tarrant County sheriff Dee Anderson, who has refereed high school and college ball for over 30 years, said, "I had to play it back a couple of times just to believe what I saw. We all understand that you get hit out there, but this is so violent and so premeditated that I believe it deserves some very stern consequences."

Back in 1905,  President Theodore Roosevelt, a fan of the fairly new game of football, brought people from the major universities to the White House to discuss how their teams  could improve the game of football, "especially by reducing the element of brutality in play," The Washington Post wrote in an article in October of that year.

In 1905, at least 18 people died and more than 150 were injured playing football.  It's accepted as truth that, had the president not intervened at that time, the game might have ceased to exist, and then we would be facing life with an unemployed Terry Bradshaw on our hands, and we wouldn't like that at all. 

It will take a lot of testimony from a lot of people to get to the truth of all this, whether in fact the referee made offensive comments, or whether the coach was angered by some tough calls the ref had made or whether other factors were at play. We know what happened, all right, but we don't know why.

We could use another Teddy Roosevelt to straighten this all out.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Holding Back the Truth

There is a local angle to this story, but the focus of it should be worldwide.

Henrietta Pleasant Lacks was an African American woman from Virginia who moved to Turner Station, an African American section in southeast Baltimore County, in 1941. She came up here with her husband, who relocated after finding work at the Bethlehem Steel plant in Sparrows Point. Ten years later, she died at Johns Hopkins Hospital after fighting cervical cancer for many months.

While she was undergoing radiation treatments, doctors removed cell samples from her cervix - from the healthy part and from the cancerous section. I don't even pretend to know how this worked, but these cells became the "HeLa (named for her) immortal cell line," and were used in biomedical research - research that medicine used to develop the polio vaccine, in vitro fertilization, HIV/AIDs research, and other major scientific breakthroughs. Here is an article to help clarify what the cells were used for; suffice it to say they have been amazingly helpful in many ways for many years.

However, and this is a BIG however, the cells were taken from Mrs Lacks without her knowledge and consent, and it was not until just a few years ago that her family became aware of all that, and they are now being given some say in the matter of who gets to use the cells' DNA code, and for what. They also now receive acknowledgement in research papers.

Ms Sims
The latest wrinkle is that Jackie Sims, a mother in Knoxville, TN, whose 15-year old son was assigned to read the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks feels that the book is pornographic.

That's right. She went there. Ms Sims says that the sections in the book that describe the gynecological problems that led Mrs Lacks to seek medical attention are pornography.

"I consider the book pornographic," she told WBIR-Knoxville. "There's so many ways to say things without being graphic in nature, and that's the problem I have with the book."

The book is scientific in nature, written by a science writer named Rebecca Skloot, and is not on the level of the average Danielle Steel potboiler.  But Sims feels that the story should be told in a "different way."

Ms Skloot took to Facebook to say, "Just in time for ‪#‎BannedBooksWeek‬, a parent in Tennessee has confused gynecology with pornography and is trying to get my book banned from the Knoxville high school system...I hope the students of Knoxville will be able to continue to learn about Henrietta and the important lessons her story can teach them. Because my book is many things: It's a story of race and medicine, bioethics, science illiteracy, the importance of education and equality and science and so much more. But it is not anything resembling pornography."

Just so we're clear, here, pornography is generally defined as the portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purpose of sexual arousal.  The simple mention of one's nether regions is not pornography.

Ms Sims is entitled to feel the way she does, although she is probably considered foolish by those who understand a) education and b) the normal reading and viewing material of 15-year-old boys.

But it seems wryly sad to me that the Lacks family was treated so shabbily by the doctors and researchers in the days before biomedical ethics and racial discrimination became more than passing thoughts to most in the majority, and now, here is a woman trying to hold back the truth all over again.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sunday Rerun: You're in the picture

When a buddy told me about this website that shows real pictures that real
Daytime Armed Robbery
(Short-armed Robbery, to be precise)
people find on Google Street View, I had to stop and tell him that anyone who seeks the Street View of our palatial dwelling, the legendary Lazy 'C' Ranch, will see the house and grounds in all their glory...and our recycling, down at the end of the driveway.

it must have been a Tuesday when the Google Camera Car came by, because that's when we bundle up squashed beer cans, old newspapers, magazines, junk mail, yogurt cups and "tin" cans for the county to haul away.  We have single-stream recycling, and that's handy. 

What if I had been checking the mail while
wearing a ratty bathrobe or something?
But I like to use old cardboard beer cartons for packing up the goodies.  And so, when you look at the picture from the front of our place, you see
a couple of packed-up National Bohemian beer boxes and some other beer box, and a paper box full of who-knows-what.  Charming, I know.

But take a second and click on this site and see pictures from all over of people doing amazing things as the Google Camera Car lurched through their neighborhood.  They see everything! Including, as you see here, E.T. wearing a doo-rag and waiting for a parade to come by.

I know that many of you are at work as you read this.  This would be a great time for you to signal to your boss and invite her or him over to your monitor so they can see what's so dad-blamed funny!