Friday, June 30, 2017

Mark's Thoughts, June 2017

I do this every year around this time; it seems like a good time to take a break for a minute, like when you're picking crabs and you need to go wash your hands, visit Tinkletown and let your snout cool off a minute. As I sit here tonight and watch the cascading cavalcade of thoughts parade through my consciousness, I see that this is what I have in mind...
  • Sometimes I wonder what sort of doctor I would have been. Proctology, internal medicine, gastroenterology all make me ralph. I don't want anything to do with noses or ears or eyes or throats, and dermatology is just oogy. Then I realize I had a better chance of being elected Pope than of being admitted into a medical school of any sort.
  • Sometimes I wonder what sort of Pope I would have been.
  • Being 2/3 of the way through my 60s, it's been a long time since I was insulted by someone calling me "old." What's sad is seeing people my age wearing cheap toupees and dying their 17 remaining hairs and trying to dress cool. 
  • It's good that I don't care to go to the movies anymore, since it's a lot like being in a large living room filled with people whose living rooms you wouldn't want to be invited to. All these action-adventure movies with computer-generated whatsises interest me not one whit. Stuff I do want to see will be available on demand by the time you'd get home from Cinemania 27 anyway.
  • I do, however, regularly devote time to figuring out who would play whom in any movie they make of my life. Pretty well settled on Drew Carey On Stilts to play me, and of course Patricia Heaton will be Peggy. A lot of people ask me who will play them, and half the time they are very flattered ("Josie Bissett! Wow! Thanks! I've been TOLD she looks like me, but...") and 1/2 the time they are less than thrilled ("Helen HUNT! You jerk!") so it's a gamble.
  • I wonder who would ever want to make, let alone watch, a movie of my life. Certainly not the Pope.
  • Even the most ordinary store-brand granola can be made much tastier with the addition of a little coconut and some more raisins. The granola cartel is very stingy with raisins.
  • People in restaurants and stores are usually very happy to help you if you just ask nicely. "Excuse me, but do you have any Texas Pete?" works so much better than hollering, "Hot sauce!"
  • I have learned, by the way, that Texas Pete is the ne plus ultra of hot sauces.
  • People who work too much are just as wrong as people who work too little. Moderation in all things, including moderation.
  • 2 x 4s are not really 2 inches by 4 inches, and a Subway Footlong is maybe 11 inches. So, what to do, but deal with it. Measure twice, cut once. 
  • It's interesting to see pictures of men from 30 years ago, when their shorts were really short. Now our shorts are longs.
  • Ben Franklin is supposed to have said "A stitch in time saves nine," but who stitches anything anymore? If Ben were alive today, he'd wear cargo shorts to carry around his kite string, and if they ripped, he'd buy new shorts. When I was a kid, every mom had a Singer sewing machine, and today that space in the home is taken up with Mom's 3-D Printer.
  • If you remember reading "The Catcher In The Rye," and Holden speaking of a short story about a traffic cop in New York, it's called "There Are Smiles" and it was written by my hero Ring Lardner and it's online here and I recommend it highly.
  • Ring Lardner, J. D. Salinger, Tom Wolfe, Jack Kerouac, Joseph Mitchell and Truman Capote are my five favorite authors. Someone once talked me into reading a John Grisham book and I got halfway into it before feeling like it was all a horrible joke, that no one really liked this turgid prose, but what do I know? He writes like Steven Seagal acts, which is not praise.
  • Before Clint Eastwood totally went off his bran flakes and started talking to empty chairs, he made "Gran Torino," a movie of insight and meaning. 
  • I have learned that people who are afraid of hurdles eventually get over it.
  • Here I am at 66, and I still haven't been carried around in a sedan chair. But to be fair, I've never seen anyone else carried around in one, either.
  • I hate to mention it, but people will hurt you from time to time, leave you out of things, say stuff they didn't know would hurt you. Sometimes, this will be intentional, and sometimes, quite inadvertent. You have to hope that most of the hurts that come your way will be the accidental type, but no matter what, it's true that you are not defined by what happens to you, but by what you do about it.
  • I don't believe that college guy Otto Warmbier deserved to die, although what impelled him to a) go to North Korea and b) steal a propaganda sign from a hotel in one of the world's most notably repressive dictatorships, I will never understand.
  • I remain fascinated by the life and career of Isaac Hayes. Not only did he do this version of "By The Time I Get To Phoenix," he wrote songs, performed, acted in cartoons and the movie "It Could Happen To You." I love that picture because it did happen to me - love and happiness came to me when I met Peggy and it's been all songs and pretzels ever since!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

You buying this?

Image result for southwest airlines commercial treat you better
"Hmm? Yes. What???"
I like to listen to commercials on radio and TV. I love the one where the woman is at the Southwest Airlines terminal and the Shaun Mendes song about treating you better comes on.

But I'm no air traveler so I can look at that spot and not have a nickel in it. I do buy cars from time to time, but we always go to the same dealer, because it's a dealership that does not have commercials that say "We sell BELOW factory invoice!"

Stop and think a minute. They are asking you to believe that the dealer buys a Flitebird from the Crankmobile factory for $33,000 and is willing to sell it to you for $30,000 because they are stupid??!?!

Madman Muntz
There is a precedent to this claim. There was a man named Earl Muntz, who sold cars, and television sets, and car stereos. He made a fortune and his secret was reducing machines or electronic gimcracks to their very simplest parts and mass-producing them for the public to buy. And his sales pitches were unique, as well. When he came out with a 14" TV set (considered huge in the early 50s) his commercials invited people to come buy one, and closed with "I wanna give 'em away, but my wife won't let me. She's crazy!" 

History does not record which of the seven (7) Mrs Muntzes this was supposed to be. Muntz also dated, but never got around to marrying, Phyllis Diller, so maybe he wasn't a total loon.

A guy who peddled fakey jewelry on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland once told me the secret to getting the people off the planks and into his little store. "Just hang up a sign that says '60% OFF!!!!' and they'll break down the door to get in," he told me. "And not a single person ever asks '60% off what?'" he added, unnecessarily.

It's possible to sell anything to anyone as long as they think they're getting a good deal, or getting over on the seller. People will even buy stuff they don't need, if the bargain is glitzy enough.

I'll tell you more when you stop around to see my new electron microscope.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A fatal pleasure

This is one of those things that sound like a bad joke, but it happens to be true, and sad, and it didn't have to be.

A woman named Rebecca Burger, a fitness blogger from France who regularly posted on Instagram and YouTube, was killed by a home whipped cream dispenser.

I've seen these devices; I'm sure you have too. There's a nozzle and a holder for the pressured container of nitrous oxide that causes cream to emerge whipped, ready for topping desserts.  A pin inside the mechanism pierces the gas canister, and in this case, the damned thing exploded, causing the nozzle to fly off and strike Ms Burger in the chest.  She went into cardiac arrest when the accident happened in her home in Galfingue, France. Responding paramedics were able to restore her heartbeat, but she was unconscious upon arrival at a hospital, and never regained consciousness, dying the next day at 33.

Her family is now warning one and all against using these devices:

Here’s an example of the cartridge/siphon from Chantilly that exploded and struck Rebecca’s chest, killing her. Take note: the cartridge that caused her death was sealed. Do not use this type of device in your home! Tens of thousands of these appliances are still in circulation.

Ms Burger
Now comes information from a French magazine that two other people were seriously injured by these contraptions, leading the French economic ministry to warn against - but not ban - these "cream siphons." Further, reports are that the make and model of the dispenser Ms Burger was using had been recalled by its manufacturer.

In England, the BBC says that in 2013, another victim of an exploding cream siphon told a radio station that they "had six broken ribs, and my sternum was broken. At the hospital, I was told that if the shock and blast had been facing the heart, I would be dead now."

Whipped cream is, well, the whipped topping on the sweet dessert of life, and to think that a machine that produces it is lethal makes for a lot of head shaking. If you have one of these things, please consider donating it to the landfill, and switching to Reddi Wip.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

We're so sorry, Albert Einstein

After the first few times someone in elementary school hollers out "Smooth move, Einstein!" when we fail to conjugate the verb "machacar" (to crush or grind) correctly, or identify the man who shot Alexander Hamilton to death in a duel as "Raymond" Burr instead of "Aaron" Burr, or know the answer to 7 x 6, we learn that they aren't calling us that as a compliment.

But the BBC website recently had a list of the things that made the real Albert Einstein so doggone smart, and even though it's far too late for me to to wise up, this is a good time of year for those with kids still in school to share brain tips from the biggest noggin of them all.

I'll shorten the list and leave out things Einstein recommended, such as smoking a pipe, (I mean, really), and share the brain food that might not lead to diseases, stanky clothing, and tiny burn holes in your pants.

Image result for einstein
At staff lunches, they always made
Einstein figure out who owed what
and what to tip.
 - He recommended getting ten hours of sleep every night and taking little naps (known to the sleep community as "naplets.") Most Americans now get 6.8 hours of sleep a day, and even if you are smart enough to calc out how long .8 hr is, that's still not enough for the big E, who sacked out for ten and still dozed off for a bit during the day. Apparently he went to a lot of meetings.

See if this sounds Einsteinian to you. He would lean back in his armchair with a spoon in his hand and a metal pan directly below it. The minute he nodded off, the spoon would drop, the pan would clank, and he'd get back to work. 

The article also said that Einstein came up with his theory of relativity ("LS/MFT") while dreaming about cows getting electrocuted. 

 - Like me, Einstein went for a walk every day, often walking a mile and a half to his desk at Princeton University. He was known for driving to work, and forgetting that he done so, as he walked home.  Unlike me, Einstein got stuff done on his walk, noodling out the great secrets of the physical world. In my defense, though, if Albert had an iPod, as I do, he would have enjoyed hearing "Little" Jimmy Dickens and Hank Williams on his walks, as I do. When LJD starts in on "Take An Old Cold Tater (And Wait)", who can think of calculus?

It turns out that the very act of walking forces your melon to concentrate a little on the very act of putting one foot of the other and perambulating, and this allows the frontal lobes to relax and figure stuff out while we think left-right-left-right.

 - He carbed up! Some say he was a spaghetti fiend. And his brain needed a lot of fueling. I mean, what's on my mind right this second? What time the ballgame comes on tonight! And if Einstein were alive, he would have much more important stuff going on up in his loaf. The brain gets tired when blood glucose drops, and a tired brain won't help you figure out the quantum description of light, so bring on the San Giorgio! And pass the grated cheese.

-The last item on the list was something I did all the time back in the day and would not dream of doing nowadays. Going sockless. The Big "E" loved not wearing socks. He complained that his big toe always put a hole in his socks, so he gave up socks for sandals. That's the kind of brainpower that is killing the sock business, but it worked for him.

The BBC article closes with a quote from the man himself: 

The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing.

Which brings to mind the old gag about the two psychiatrists passing each other in the hall and the one says, "Good morning," and the other one goes, "I wonder what he meant by that." 

Curiosity is a curious thing. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

I had a braunschweiger called "The Wurst That Could Happen"

Unless you're of an uncertain age, the name Jimmy Webb doesn't mean much to you. But if you've ever ridden in an elevator, you have heard his music, or someone's version of one of his songs.

He wrote hundreds of songs way back when, stuff like MacArthur Park, Wichita Lineman, The Worst That Could Happen, Galveston, Up, Up And Away, Honey Come Back, By The Time I Get To Phoenix  and Where's The Playground Susie?

His own website modestly proclaims him to be "America's Songwriter," and invites you to subscribe to his emails on the "World Wide Webb."

So now he has published his autobiography, "The Cake And The Rain." The title, of course, refers to the line in "MacArthur Park" about someone leaving a cake out in the rain, and Webb took that allusion from poet W.H. Auden, who said that when he looks in the mirror his face looks like a cake someone left out in the rain.

I don't think that I can take it.

I read the book because I am interested in popular music, but Webb should stick to writing lyrics, because the book is disjointed in the extreme. He jumps between vignettes from the 1950s and the 1970s, he talks of characters in his life without bothering to tell us who they are (there is one person present with him at many events who is only referred to as "the devil") and he leaves out many details. 

But two things he never fails to mention are what a genius he thinks he is, and how unfair it is that the "left-wing folkie exclusivity" fails to give him the respect he is due. Webb was a fine songwriter, no doubt, but that never meant that people wanted to hear him sing his own songs.  Time after time, he tried to mount a performing career, only to receive solid evidence that people preferred The Fifth Dimension and Glen Campbell singing his songs over Webb's weak-throated bleating.

I'm harsh on him because he has obviously had an interesting life but failed to tell us about it clearly. Reading this book, I kept feeling like I was trying to watch a movie on a bad DVD player that kept skipping and stalling. He has stories to tell but he didn't tell them.

He did mention that he consumed an awful lot of drugs, shoving pills down his throat and powder up his nose to ease the pain of his wealth and success. And time after time, he tells of how harshly and cruelly he treated women and fellow musicians. That sort of thing leads to karmic consequences, you know, Jimmy?

I can't recommend this book unless you have a kitchen table with one leg two inches too short.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunday Rerun: The Almighty Tired Man

I have made some promises in my life, and one of them is to avoid talking about sports too often in this blog.  The last thing I want to do is turn this into a forum in which people will feel like engaging me in a discussion of Who Is The Best Outfielder Available In A Trade For The Orioles or Whether The Ravens Can Repeat Their Super Bowl Victory or, worst of all, Here Is Why Nascar Really Is A Sport And All Its Drivers Are Too Athletes!

No time for all that. And any time I talk about sports, I try to avoid deep discussions of what happened in the games anyway.   The people who play the games know what they are doing, much better than "Joe from Overlea - first time caller!" who seems to be on every sports talk radio show in town.

It's the people inside the uniforms that are darting about the field that I like to think about.  For instance, one outfielder that I wish the Orioles could have added to their roster in the 1970s was the man born John Milton Rivers, but better known as Mickey.

I always wondered whether "Mick The Quick" was, indeed, named for English poet and polemicist John Milton. You have to be careful, though.  I once knew a dude whose first and middle names were Chester and Arthur.  I asked him if he had been named for the president, and he said, "Which one?"

Mickey Rivers, to get back on topic, was a pretty good leadoff hitter for the Angels, Yankees and Rangers during his 14-year big league stay (1970-1984).  He was not the perfect leadoff man, because he didn't get many walks, thereby reducing his on-base percentage, but he could steal bases when he did bat his way onto first, and he could dart across the field and catch long flies with the best of them.  

But why is he so fondly remembered?  He is remembered for the things he said, and for the jaunty nonchalance he brought to life. Teammate Sandy Alomar called him "The Almighty Tired Man," and can you imagine a cooler nickname than the one Mickey used for everyone whose name he couldn't recall: "Gozzlehead"?  A writer once said Mickey looked as if he had been assembled from spare parts; he had a way of walking like a string puppet, and he always seemed to be leaning forward, no matter whether he was running, walking or standing.  And, he claimed many times that his plan for how to spend his days once he was through playing ball was that he wanted to be a bus driver.  There is no indication that he achieved that goal, but take a moment and revel in the casual wisdom of the man who left us with these quotes:

"Me and George and Billy are two of a kind."

To Reggie Jackson, after Reggie claimed to have an IQ of 160:
"Out of what, a thousand?" 

"It was so cold today that I saw a dog chasing a cat, and the dog was walking"

"Pitching is 80% of the game and the other half is hitting and fielding"

On playing in Texas:  "I was brought up in Florida, so there isn't much difference between playing there and playing here.  The climax are about the same."

And, the greatest of them all, a quote that distills all the wisdom in every self-improvement book that Barnes & Noble ever sold:

"Ain't no sense worrying: If you have no control over something, ain't no sense worrying about it -you have no control over it anyway. If you do have control, why worry? So either way, there ain't no sense worrying."

Learned men and women have spent countless hours trying to get that point across to us, in words far too thick to understand.  They would have done better to just listen to Mr Rivers.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Saturday Picture Show, June 24, 2017

Baltimore is and always will be the greatest town in America, which is a country that is currently great, always has been, and always will be. This is a bus bench, and the reason no one was sitting there when the picture was taken is that the buses come along every three minutes without fail.
I assume these are more for decoration than for swimming with, but it's a way to fill the pool if not enough people show up for the party.
Maybe this is a sculpture in Venice, or maybe a giant was drowning in Venice and trying to get up on land. If that joke was too awful, please accept my gondolances.
Salvador Dali was that artist who painted clocks melting on tree branches and was always available to be photographed walking an aardvark. I don't see what's artistic about dragging this poor animal away from his uncles and ants.
Winston Churchill is said to have consumed 42,000 bottles of champagne in his life, and so in 1932 he needed a prescription from a doctor to keep the hooch around during America's unsuccessful period of Prohibition (which ended in December, 1933.) Churchill also is said to have said, "Reality is a hallucination caused by lack of alcohol in the blood." Born in 1874, he lived until 1965, so there you go.
Scrooge McDuck. People who love money this much should drown in it.
It's instinctive for mama cats to clean their kittens. Don't even try to get in the way.
This reptile recommends that you eat more citrus. I wouldn't argue.

Friday, June 23, 2017

"Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe" - The Hollies

If you heard the report on CNN that said that 7% of the American populace believes that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, please stop banging your head against the refrigerator. All that does is shake up the milk inside it, and then, if you live in a cottage, you'll have cottage cheese.

That 7% of America, by the way, comes to 17.3 million Americans.


The people who took the survey of Americans and found those 17 million gozzleheads told CNN they have no idea where this idea comes from.

I can tell you about a friend of mine who refused to eat corned beef because she believed that that tasty sandwich meat was produced by feeding cows nothing but corn.

Anyone who goes around the Petting Zoo at the State Fair when a bunch of city kids examine chickens that don't come in an eight-piece bucket knows they don't know much about critter life.

Dave Durian on WBAL used to talk about a woman in his home town who believed that we lost an hour of sleep EVERY NIGHT during Daylight Savings Time.

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 At 5.23.02 PmThere are plenty of people who believe that if they walk with a forked stick (a "divining rod") the stick will suddenly bend earthward, indicating a good place to dig a well, thus illustrating the well-known scientific principle of the magnetic effect water has on wood.

We already discussed the belief among basketball players that Earth is flat. They think that, because they are 7 feet tall and can see the distant horizon better than most.

And now, riding in on a strong gust of wind, come Akahi Ricardo and Camila Castello, husband and wife, mom and dad, and practicing "Breatharians." 

They claim that since becoming breatharians nine years ago, they have barely eaten, choosing instead to live off "the universe’s energy."

Castello and Ricardo have a 5-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter, and say that three times a week, everyone chows down on some vegetable broth or a piece of fruit. And that's it, except for all the air they can breathe. Camila claims not to have eaten at all while carrying and delivering the baby.

They really feel that food and water are not required to live a full and happy and healthy life, and that by not spending their money on Big Macs, Cheez Doodles and linguini, they have more money to travel.

This blog, which is always written after I have had a nice breakfast, exists solely to inform while amusing, or to amuse while informing, and so I urge Castello and Ricardo to avoid the following destinations this summer as they load up their Airmobile to See The USA:

  • Sandwich, Massachusetts.
  • Burnt Corn, Alabama.
  • Chicken, Alaska.
  • Cookietown, Oklahoma.
  • Coconut Creek, Florida.
  • Cream, Wisconsin.
  • Ding Dong, Texas.
  • Hot Coffee, Mississippi.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

It's all about understanding

There's a lot more to religious liberty, which is guaranteed to all citizens, than Mom and Dad singing "Bringing In The Sheaves" at the First And Foremost Congregational on Sunday.

Other people, other faiths, make up the beautiful palette that is America. But as we grow into that palette, we need to understand things about the religions others practice.

Sikhs carry Kirpans
A kirpan
Here in Baltimore County, on the west side, county police arrested Harpreet Singh Khalsa on dangerous weapon charges. Khalsa was shopping, and someone in the store saw something and said something, that something being a call to 911 to say a man was walking around with a knife.

The knife in this case is more formally known as a kirpan. Baptized Sikhs carry them for ceremonial reasons. Mr Khalsa, 33, is a convert to Sikhism.  He is the owner of a catering business on that end of town and has been placed under arrest before for carrying the kirpan, which is carried to be a visual reminder for Sikhs to stand up for justice.

As a huge fan of rituals and of carrying things around, I take immense interest in knowing that Sikhs always carry five articles of faith, which they call they Five K’s or Kakaars. A baptized Sikh will have with him at all times the Kirpan (knife); a Kara (bracelet); a Kachehra (pair of cotton short undergarments); a Kanga (comb); and his Kesh (long hair). This is mandated by faith.

But to be fair, put yourself in the place of the police officer who responded to the call. Ostensibly, this item violates Maryland's deadly weapons law, and Mr Khalsa was taken to the local precinct, where presently the matter was cleared up, and he was released once police "confirmed that the knife was a kirpan and part of his religion and not a threat to the community," Baltimore County Officer Jennifer Peach said.

"The officer did follow all Maryland and county laws properly in this incident," Peach said, adding, "There is no known exception to the deadly weapons laws at this time."

While the law enforcers await that clarification from the lawmakers, the county police are providing training for their men and women about Sikh culture, according to Officer Peach.

There are 500,000 Sikhs in the US, and I don't know how many of them live in our county, but I am glad that our police force is doing what it can to allow them to live here in harmony.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Gonna need a whole lot of Stove Top

This might be a total fake news story, for all I know. I checked, and the dateline said "June 14," not "April 1," so maybe it's legit.

Here it is: According to this story, turkeys that were like the size of kangaroos once ran around Australia.  This took place about 2 million years ago, which is going to confound the segment of the population that believes life began 6,000 years ago with the birth of Betty White.

The whole thing came up in conversation among scientists at Flinders University in Western Australia, after someone found fossils in the Thylacoleo Caves on the Nullarbor Plain.

At first, everyone said, "That's cool," and went to lunch, but this all must have taken place on a Wednesday, because they decided to look further into the matter after lunch.  Had the fossils turned up on a Monday or a Friday, the proximity to the weekend would have meant letting it all go, but they dug deeper and took a look at modern brush turkeys and their ancestors. 

Image result for angus young duck walk
"Taxonomic review of the late Cenozoic megapodes (Galliformes: Megapodiidae) of Australia" was published several weeks ago by the Royal Society. I'm not going to pretend I know what they're talking about here (and you wouldn't believe me if I tried) but the point of the paper was that they figure that giant 3.2 foot-tall turkeys were running all over Australia, even before the arrival of Angus Young.  This was one big bird, and if all you know about turkey flight is that "WKRP In Cincinnati" rerun where the Big Guy says of a failed Thanksgiving promotion, "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!" these big huggers could fly!  A study of the bones reveals that the giant turkey not only flew, but also roosted in trees, because who was going to stop it?

Image result for giant flying turkeys
Police sketch of alleged huge turkey
This immense Butterball has a scientific name - Progura gallinacea - and wishes to be addressed by same. Paleontologists - people who make a living studying Sarah Paleon - are all over Australia looking into what they nicknamed "chunky birds." They figure these guys weighed 6.6 pounds to 17 pounds, but with a coupon and your Giant Food loyalty card, there was usually a buy-one, get-one deal.

Incidentally - one early spring afternoon, we looked out on the deck to see a wild turkey hanging around by the grill. He did fly away, but none too gracefully.  And the very next afternoon, a little red fox came up on the deck, but that's as much fox news as I can tolerate.