Sunday, July 1st, 2018

Andries du Toit is a professor at the University of West Cape in South Africa. He posted this series of chilling tweets on 6/27/18:

Thread. Some thoughts from a white South African, directed at friends in the USA.

I have been thinking about the Kennedy resignation, and what it looks like from here.

I know that historical analogies are dangerous, but here goes.

I grew up in Apartheid days. My family were what these days would be called dissident Afrikaners: opposed to the government. We were white, and therefore privileged, and protected by that, but also to some extent outcast from our community, living each day in a contested reality

I often think back on what those times felt like: to hear of my parents’ colleagues or friends detained or banned, or even murdered. To know that what was happening was evil, even while the surface of everyday life appeared normal, civil, suburban.

Above all, I remember what it felt like to know we were at odds with the state: its police, its soldiers, its spies, its laws; and to know that it could use that might against us.

In my case it was quite personal. I was by law conscripted to the SADF. Those who refused to fight and kill for Apartheid were threatened with six years of jail. I was one of those who refused.

I did not go to jail – long story – but I remember just how scary it was to face the potential of the state’s reprisals. But you know what was even scarier? That all along, most of white society was trying to pretend it was not happening.

You’d go through road blocks, or find riot cops on the street, and on the radio, Bobby McFerrin would be singing ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’. That song was number one on the South African charts for the longest time.

So, Trump. As I said, historical analogies are dangerous. But what I keep thinking about was the 1948 election, the one in which the National Party first got elected. Seventy years ago. 26 May. That was the turning point for South Africa.

Thing is, if you go back and read the papers at the time, what is so shockingly clear is that no-one realised what was in the process of happening. They all thought it would blow over soon.

You see, the National Party never won the popular vote. They had barely 37%. They only got in because of the electoral system. Rural votes were more heavily represented in Parliament. They barely squeaked in. It was never meant to happen. It was a glitch.

And Apartheid? Read the newspapers of the time. Very few in the English press took it seriously. It was a word and a couple of incendiary and racist slogans. Even the National Party itself did not have any detailed policies. It was clearly impractical, doomed.

In 1953, the NP achieved a solid majority. Still, people did not think they would last.

In those days, coloured people in the Cape still had the vote. The NP passed an act taking them off the voter’s roll.

The Appelate Division struck it down as unconstitutional.

So what the NP then did was to pack the Senate, to ensure a two-thirds majority, and they changed the Constitution. That was 1955. That was the first time that it really became clear that big trouble was coming. Seven years after they got in.

It took 40 years to get them out.

When I was doing my history degree, reading the mainstream press from the 1940s and 1950s, it seemed to me I was seeing people sleepwalking into a battlefield. Floating down the stream of history, not seeing what was right in front of their eyes.

It’s hard to look at Trump’s America, and the GOP’s deliberate obstruction and exploitation of the SCOTUS nominations, and the deliberate galvanisation of all the most racist and violent segments of American society, and not to fear that you all are going down a similar road. [emphasis added]

What that means in practice for your choices, I don’t know. The one thing I am sure of is that it is a big mistake to wish for normalcy to return. It won’t. It hasn’t here.  25 years after freedom came, it looks as if our biggest changes still lie ahead.

A follow-up question in the comments:

Q: Am I reading this thread incorrectly, or do you in fact believe that apartheid (largely) crept up on the white voter unawares? That conscious support for the policy was not widespread, as indeed the narrative seems to suggest now in the memories of our white compatriots?

A: Good question. It’s complicated. Remember that the UP’s policy was segregation. Thus also white supremacist – but inconsistent, paternalistic, ‘civilised’. Many English whites did not like the Nats, but they feared black majority rule more. At most they wanted only gradual change.

If you look at South Africa in the 1940s, it is clear that some whites realised the country was at a crossroads. Urbanisation was gathering steam. There was a sense of historical progress. The inclusion of black people in the democracy seemed inevitable … in the long run.

In the late 1940s, liberals thought South Africa was on a progressive path. Genl Smuts had helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights! Progressive business was calling for black workers to be given more recognition. Change was afoot. Then the Nats shut it down.

Again, the parallels with the USA today are striking. The Dems seem secure in the inevitability of the demographic dividend. The whole establishment, including Sanders and Obama, seems to think that progressive change will come gradually. ‘Civilly’.

I think that’s an illusion. Thoughts about ‘the arc of the moral universe’ are not much help here. When things change, they change quickly. And often you don’t even recognise the critical moment when it appears.

Q: Thanks. What [your] response does is confirm my increasing persuasion that liberalism, historically & at present, has not had the ethical force & single-mindedness of moral conviction & has, in the hands of those who benefit from systemic oppression, been a very poor ally in struggle.

an apartheid story | 3:26 pm CST
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Add “cash and prizes” to the long list of euphemisms for male genitalia, thanks to Dwayne Johnson, who used the phrase on The Graham Norton show:

Graham Norton: “Is it true that in Moana, your character was based on him?”

[photo of a Pacific islander in traditional dress]

Dwayne Johnson: Sure. Correct. So, a lot of the details of that character, Maui, was based on my grandfather with the long hair and very big build, and tattoos. In Polynesian culture and Samoan culture you, to become a high chief you have tattoos three hundred sixty degrees from your knees all the way up to the bottom of your chest. Everything. And it’s hard core, I mean, they do it with a tap.

Guest: Everything everything? Nah, not everything?

Norton: Yeah, that’s what I heard. Everything.

Johnson: Well, ah. Yes, when the cash and prizes is lifted [mimes lifting his junk out of the way WITH BOTH HANDS] and then you —

Host: Awwwohh!

First time I heard that.

cash and prizes | 2:43 pm CST
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Monday, June 25th, 2018

Tim brought me a bottle of Islay scotch for father’s day last weekend.  He was a little embarrassed when he realized that Father’s Day was the weekend before last, but he brought me a bottle of scotch, so who am I to quibble?


father’s day | 6:32 am CST
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Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

There was an old Carver motor boat parked in the lot out front of a local auto supply store two weeks ago. Even though it was half-covered with a tarp, I recognized the make of the boat as we sped past at thirty miles per hour because Carver’s logo is unmistakably stylized; the oversized V in the middle makes it look a lot like two words butted up against each other: CarVer.

My Dad used to have a Carver sixteen-foot runabout. If memory serves, he bought it from a farmer who’d kept it in a barn for years, or maybe that was the army jeep Dad bought for no really good reason other than he liked that jeep a lot.  Coincidentally, I believe that’s the only reason he bought the boat, too, although, really, what other reason is there for buying a boat?  He used fishing as a plausible excuse, but really he just liked racing around in a boat.

I know this because when he bought the boat, it had an antique outboard motor that would putt-putt along the river at a top speed of maybe twenty miles per hour, a perfectly respectable speed if all you want to do is fish. Dad ditched it at the first opportunity he got and replaced it with a sixty-five horse motor that made that little boat FLY.  And many times we went out on the river, that’s all we did: Put the boat in at Fremont and fly down the river until we got to Lake Winnebago, then come flying back, with brief stops along the way for gas and maybe lunch.

One year, after the summer ended, he backed the boat into the garage and spent all winter refurbishing it. I remember helping him by doing little things like unscrewing all the cleats and lights and things and helping to sort all the screws and fixtures in coffee cans. He sanded off the old, peeling varnish, re-stained the wood, and laid on a new, thick coat of glossy varnish that shone.  He fixed up a broken seat, and he installed a folding vinyl top to give us some relief from the sun.  It was really a very pretty little boat after he was done.

We took that boat everywhere, and I mean everywhere.  We even went fishing on Lake Michigan in that boat.  On one trip, the waves were so high I couldn’t see over them.  I had to spin the wheel like a dervish to keep it pointed in the direction dad wanted to keep it going, while he and his uncle Adrian calmly fished off the back.  Apparently, Deenie did this all the time in his little sixteen-footer, but my experience was on calmer waters.  We were pitching and rolling so dramatically I was sure they would go over the side.

On a camping trip to upper Michigan, we took the boat to Fayette.  The boat launch was a steep incline down to the water, but the gravel bottom of the shore was much less so, requiring dad to back all the way down until the rear wheels of the truck were in the water.  We had a truck-top camper that was about the size of a big-box Wal-Mart store.  To launch the boat from such a steeply-inclined ramp, the prudent thing to do would have been to dismount the camper, but apparently dad was in a hurry, or he didn’t feel prudent on that trip, because he backed that big damn thing all the way down the ramp until he dipped its ass-end into Lake Michigan.  We got the boat into the water okay, but as he began to climb up the ramp, the rear wheels of the truck repeatedly broke traction until I was sure he would never get back up into the parking lot.  I don’t remember my father as a very patient man, yet he very patiently inched his way up that ramp.  Not only that, but he repeated the performance when we took the boat out of the water later that week.

I took some friends out for a weekend ride in that boat, an act of trust that still sticks in my memory, especially as I came close to drowning every single one of those friends when I crossed the wake of a bigger boat that met us coming down the river.  I’d crossed wakes with other boats dozens of times, but somehow misjudged this one.  When our boat crested the wake and dove into the trough on the other side, the back end of the boat flipped into the air so quickly that for a few moments everyone seated back there was airborne.  By sheer dumb luck, the boat was still under them when they came back down, and they all landed upright in their seats.  I don’t know how I didn’t shit my pants.

I prefer much slower boats, the kind you paddle, these days.  But I have to admit we had a lot of fun in that little runabout.

Carver | 8:45 am CST
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Friday, June 22nd, 2018

Did you have a bad day?  Do you think so?  Oh, no.  No no no.  Your worst day is barely a patch on the worst day the earth ever had.

“The meteorite itself was so massive that it didn’t notice any atmosphere whatsoever,” said Rebolledo. “It was traveling 20 to 40 kilometers per second, 10 kilometers — probably 14 kilometers — wide, pushing the atmosphere and building such incredible pressure that the ocean in front of it just went away.”

These numbers are precise without usefully conveying the scale of the calamity. What they mean is that a rock larger than Mount Everest hit planet Earth traveling twenty times faster than a bullet. This is so fast that it would have traversed the distance from the cruising altitude of a 747 to the ground in 0.3 seconds. The asteroid itself was so large that, even at the moment of impact, the top of it might have still towered more than a mile above the cruising altitude of a 747. In its nearly instantaneous descent, it compressed the air below it so violently that it briefly became several times hotter than the surface of the sun.

“The pressure of the atmosphere in front of the asteroid started excavating the crater before it even got there,” Rebolledo said. “Then, when the meteorite touched ground zero, it was totally intact. It was so massive that the atmosphere didn’t even make a scratch on it.”

Unlike the typically Hollywood CGI depictions of asteroid impacts, where an extraterrestrial charcoal briquette gently smolders across the sky, in the Yucatan it would have been a pleasant day one second and the world was already over by the next. As the asteroid collided with the earth, in the sky above it where there should have been air, the rock had punched a hole of outer space vacuum in the atmosphere. As the heavens rushed in to close this hole, enormous volumes of earth were expelled into orbit and beyond — all within a second or two of impact.

“So there’s probably little bits of dinosaur bone up on the moon?” I asked.

“Yeah, probably.”

Excerpt from “The Ends of the World,” by Peter Brannon

a bad day | 8:25 pm CST
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“I’ve got a stupid Abba song stuck in my head,” I redundantly said to My Darling B the other morning.

“The song stuck in my head is worse,” she answered.

“I doubt that.”

She began to sing: “I’m all out of love, I’m so lost without you, blah blah blah blah …”

“Okay, yeah. That is worse.”

air supply | 6:37 am CST
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Thursday, June 14th, 2018

The use of George Orwell’s name to describe changes in our country got quite a workout today:

This morning, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee tweeted, “Complacency is our enemy. Anyone that does not embrace the @realDonaldTrump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake.”

Then this afternoon we were all treated to the revelation that the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, justified separating children from their mothers by citing the same bible passage used to justify the American institution of slavery: “Persons who violate the laws of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”

Finally, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to the question, “Where in the bible does it say it’s moral to take children away from their mothers,” by answering, “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

it’s been swell | 8:15 pm CST
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Friday, June 8th, 2018

We’ve been living in our little red house for almost fifteen years now, yet somehow My Darling B still can’t remember which pull chain turns on the overhead fan, cooling the muggy bedroom on a warm summer night, and which chain turns on the light, abruptly waking her dozing O-Man, who went to bed before her because it’s late in the week and he’s a lightweight when it comes to staying up late.

pull chain | 6:29 am CST
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Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Last Tuesday night, I bought a pair of pants that were not khaki, so if you felt the earth tremble at about six pm central time, that’s why.

I have been a khaki-pants-wearing guy for about fifteen years.  If I wasn’t wearing dress pants, I wore khakis.  Haven’t owned a pair of jeans for so long, I can’t remember the last time I wore them.  After I’d made up my mind that I’d wear khakis forever, I stopped buying them.  I think  I bought my last pair of jeans in the mid-80s.

But last Tuesday after work, I broke down and went to Kohl’s to buy clothes because all the pants I owned were so old they were fraying at the cuffs and wearing thin in the butt.  Added to that, I needed some short-sleeved shirts to wear on the hot summer afternoons we’ve been experiencing lately, but I didn’t have any that would make me look presentable in any setting except maybe if I was stirring a pot of beans in a hobo camp.

For once, shopping took less than an hour and I found everything I wanted, even pants, which are almost impossible for a guy like me to buy off the shelf.  If I were six inches shorter and had a thirty-two inch waist, or six inches taller and had a beer gut that stuck out like the belly of a woman who was no more than five minutes away from giving birth, I could easily find pants.  Most of the pants I see on the shelf are for the beer gut crowd, which makes a certain amount of sense:  I live in Wisconsin, land of men who proudly bear the most well-developed beer guts in the nation.  Either Kohl’s routinely chooses not to stock pants that fit me, or there are a lot of people out there built like me who snatch them off the shelf the moment they’re available, but I think the former is more likely than the latter, because, again, beer gut guys.

But I found two pairs of pants that were close enough to my size to say, “eh, fuck it,” and toss them into my shopping cart.  They weren’t khakis, though, which was the first thing My Darling B noticed when I brought them home.  “OH MY DOG!” she said, or something like that.  Can’t wait to see how she reacts when I bring home a pair of jeans next time I go shopping.

summer wardrobe | 6:24 am CST
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Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

I bought my first hedge trimmer from a second-hand shop last weekend.  The lilac bush out front was getting out of control and I was looking for a quick and easy way to get it back under control.  Ideally, I would have preferred using explosives or, at the very least, FIRE, but ever since I decided to live inside the city limits, I have had to accept that that sort of thing is frowned upon.

There are, however, power tools designed to rapidly disassemble a tangled mess like a lilac bush that are almost as satisfying to use as a flamethrower.  I’ve never owned a hedge trimmer before, but that long serrated cutting blade with about a hundred opportunities to lose a finger make it look like a tool I should have owned for many years.

I didn’t want to pay full price for a hedge trimmer without taking it for a test drive, though, because I’m cheap that way.  Lucky for me, I knew where I could get one for a reasonable price.  The resale shop down the street has a basement full of equipment made for yard work.  I was out running errands Saturday afternoon, so I stopped by on the way home, scrounged through the pile of hedge trimmers until I found the cheapest one, paid a price Scrooge McDuck would’ve been happy with, and took it home.

Guess what?  It turns out, you get what you pay for.  I plugged it in and revved it up at the store and it seemed to work fine, but that little test drive didn’t take into account that the bad bearing in the motor didn’t make warning noises until it warmed up.  After three or four minutes, it screamed like a cat after its tail gets stepped on.

But the five minutes or so I could put up with the noise gave me enough time to whip one of the lilac bushes into shape so easily that I knew I WANTED ONE.  So now my inner McDuck will have to do battle with my gadget-loving guy brain, a battle that it will lose.  It’s only a matter of time.

hedge trimmer | 6:00 am CST
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Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

We heard an advertisement on the radio this morning from a local “health clinic” for a procedure they called a “laser peel,” which I had to google as soon as I got home to see if it’s a real thing.

It is.  Real people really pay real money to have a “health clinician” point a LASER at their FACE on PURPOSE!

Here’s how one of the web sites you probably visit to see if your mildest symptoms are your worst nightmares describes it:

Laser resurfacing is a treatment to reduce facial wrinkles and skin irregularities, such as blemishes or acne scars. The technique directs short, concentrated pulsating beams of light at irregular skin, precisely removing skin layer by layer. This popular procedure is also called lasabrasion, laser peel, or laser vaporization.

I have believed, pretty much since birth, that lasers are about the coolest thing scientists ever came up with.  I have also always believed there are some people in clean, white coats who use lasers in ways that are, at best, sketchy.  Like the guys who propose shooting lasers into my eyes with the less-than-ironclad promise that I’ll be able to see more clearly for an unspecified length of time after the procedure.

Peeling me like a freaking onion is likewise one of the sketchy uses of a laser that I will never voluntarily submit to.

Did you catch the part where they referred to a laser as “short, concentrated pulsating beams of light,” which is technically correct but makes it sound as mundane as a disco ball when it is, in fact, A FREAKING LASER.

I can think of a lot of ways to use a laser that I would describe with the words “laser vaporization,” and the only ones that involve pointing a laser at anybody’s face are also coincidentally war crimes.


laser peel | 6:00 am CST
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Monday, June 4th, 2018

A song was playing on the radio as we drove into town this morning, with a refrain that went like this:

I would climb every mountain
I would swim every ocean
Just to be with you

Dude.  Every mountain? Every ocean? I don’t know how to break this to you, but you’re going to be climbing and swimming all your life, which means you will never get any time to be with him/her/them.  I mean, I have to say in all honesty that I feel it’s not possible, these things you’re saying you will do.

Let’s start with just the mountains.  Do you even know how many mountains there are in the world?  I sure don’t, but I’m pretty sure you can’t climb them all in one lifetime.  I used to live in Colorado, where it was considered no small accomplishment to climb the 54 mountains known as The Fourteeners.  Those were only the mountains that were fourteen thousand feet tall.  There were lots more mountains in Colorado, but climbing those 54 mountains was considered a big deal.  And that was just in Colorado.  There were more mountains to the south of Colorado, and one hell of a lot more mountains to the north of Colorado.  And there are mountains in California, and in Tennessee and Kentucky and Pennsylvania.  And there are the Himalayas in Asia, and the Pyrenees in Europe.  I mean, they go on and on and on.

And the oceans.  Has anybody swum across even one ocean?  I’ve heard of people swimming across the English Channel, which is 21 miles, and I think I remember somebody swam from Cuba to Florida, which is maybe 100 miles, but I’m pretty sure nobody has swum the 12,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean.  I’m pretty sure that would kill you.  But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that you announce you’re going to do it.  Who’s going to believe you, really, much less wait the 143 days (with no stopping to eat or sleep) for you on the other side?

If you want to show somebody you love them by doing something really heroic, my suggestion is to at least set some realistic goals.  Find one of those fundraisers where they climb the stairs of a really tall building.  Or a 10k walk/run.  Or, if you’re already in pretty good shape, sign up for an Iron Man.  It doesn’t sound nearly as romantic, but at least there’s an end that somebody would believe you were going to reach.

But swim every ocean?  C’mon.  Nobody’s falling for that.

extremes | 6:00 am CST
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Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

Prewitt loved the songs because they gave him something, an understanding, a first hint that pain might not be pointless if you could only turn it into something.

— James Jones, From Here To Eternity

pain | 6:22 pm CST
Category: Big Book of Quotations, books
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Few people in the history of written advice have actually been qualified to give it.  There’s no Ph.D. program or certification course or license for the role.  Which means that nobody is ineligible to give advice, either.  … Take Ann Landers and Dear Abby.  Those columns were written by a pair of twins whose parents named them Esther Pauline and Pauline Esther, which establishes off the bat that good judgment isn’t hereditary.  Initially the twins answered letters together under the Ann Landers name before Pauline went rogue and pitched her own advice column to The San Francisco Chronicle.  … For decades the sisters competed viciously, tracking the number of newspapers syndicating their columns and sniping publicly about one sister’s nose job and the other’s writing abilities.  Isn’t it funny to think that decades of Americans relied for behavioral guidance on a single pair of unsportsmanlike twins with inverse names?

— Molly Young, reviewing Asking For a Friend, Three Centuries of Advice on Life, Love, Money and Other Burning Questions From a Nation Obsessed, by Jessica Weisberg

advice | 8:39 am CST
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Saturday, June 2nd, 2018

“The Shovel Man” is probably my favorite Sandburg poem. He wrote lots of others that come close, but the last four lines of this score a bull’s eye right in the center of my heart.

   On the street
Slung on his shoulder is a handle half way across,
Tied in a big knot on the scoop of cast iron
Are the overalls faded from sun and rain in the ditches;
Spatter of dry clay sticking yellow on his left sleeve
And a flimsy shirt open at the throat,
I know him for a shovel man,
A dago working for a dollar six bits a day
And a dark-eyed woman in the old country dreams of
him for one of the world’s ready men with a pair
of fresh lips and a kiss better than all the wild
grapes that ever grew in Tuscany.


The Shovel Man | 9:02 am CST
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No matter how much Kim Jong Un insults Donald Trump, Trump is determined to have a meeting with Kim to make it look like he’s forcing Kim to give up his nuclear weapons, even though Kim will never give up so much as a single bomb without a fight. But the summit’s got to happen, to make Trump look like he’s doing something. And who’s going to pay for this dog and pony show? According to a story in The Washington Post this morning, we will:

At an island resort off the coast of Singapore, U.S. event planners are working day and night with their North Korean counterparts to set up a summit designed to bring an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. But a particularly awkward logistical issue remains unresolved … Who’s going to pay for Kim Jong Un’s hotel stay?

The prideful but cash-poor pariah state requires that a foreign country foot the bill at its preferred lodging: the Fullerton, a magnificent neoclassical hotel near the mouth of the Singapore River, where just one presidential suite costs more than $6,000 per night.

When it comes to paying for lodging at North Korea’s preferred five-star luxury hotel, the United States is open to covering the costs … but it’s mindful that Pyongyang may view a U.S. payment as insulting. As a result, U.S. planners are considering asking the host country of Singapore to pay for the North Korean delegation’s bill.

Not only will we pay to set Kim Jong Un up as extravagantly as they require us to, we will also ask a proxy to pay the bill for us, because Kim would be insulted to take money directly from us. But wait! That’s not all!

Figuring out how to pay Pyongyang’s hotel tab won’t be the only unusual planning obstacle … the country’s underused Soviet-era aircraft may require a landing in China because of concerns it won’t make the 3,000 mile trip … alternatively, the North Koreans might travel in a plane provided by another country.

We’ll also send a plane to deliver them to their five-star accommodations, because their fossilized planes can’t make it all the way to Singapore without breaking down. I’m sure it’ll be the biggest plane with nothing but first-class seats from front to back.

scammed | 7:50 am CST
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We saw Hari Kondabolu at the Comedy Club on State Street a few weeks ago. He was hilarious, as he always is, and we really enjoyed the night out.

At one point in his performance, Hari used the term “depression beard” to describe a time he let his beard grow out.  I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that term before.

depression beard | 5:09 am CST
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Friday, June 1st, 2018

The song playing on the radio as we ended our commute to work yesterday morning included the refrain, “Hey, pretty thing, let me light your candle, ’cause, momma, I’m sure hard to handle.”

Yet another pop song that refers to a woman as a thing.  *sigh*  Why’s he say “thing,” and not “woman?”  Leaving aside the misogyny of calling women “things” for just a moment, wouldn’t it scan better if it was “woman?”  The cadence of “hey, pretty woman” keeps on bopping along, but “Hey, pretty thing” comes to a screeching halt at the end.  And, as a bonus, you wouldn’t be referring to a human being as a “thing.”  Just saying.

“Let me light your candle” is a euphemism for sex I hadn’t heard before.  The mental image is confusing.  Wouldn’t he be the one with the candle?  It would make more sense to me if he said, “Hey, pretty woman, won’t you light my candle?”  It would still be crude and obvious, as pick-up lines go, but the image would be a lot less clunky.

Is he saying he’s “hard to handle” because he’s a bad boy, or because he’s got a boner?  As a double entendre, it seems kind of obvious, now that I think about it.  Maybe every double entendre that seemed clever was really kind of obvious.

hard to handle | 6:00 am CST
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Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

ee cummings is one of my favorite poets (who are yours?), but this poem used to drive me crazy because I never could figure out what the third line meant, and neither could anybody I asked.

What does little Ernest croon
In his death at afternoon
(kow dow r 2 bull retoinis
wus de woids uf lil Oinis)

I was re-reading some of my favorite poems the other day and, when I came across this one, I realized you can look anything up on the internet now, so I did.

Ernest is Ernest Hemingway, and his last words, according to Cummings, are: “Cow thou art, to bull returnest,” a parody of a line in Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life”: “Dust thou art, to dust returnest”

And now I’m stuck with trying to figure out what THAT means.

ernest | 6:27 am CST
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Sunday, May 27th, 2018

For years, my mother had this hanging on the bathroom wall of our family’s ancestral home:

Finish each day and be done with it.  You have done what you could.  Some absurdities and blunders no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.  Tomorrow is a new day.  You shall begin it well and serenely. — Emerson

The quotation was printed over a photo of a golden sunset backlighting a tree on a hill.  It was hanging over the toilet, so I couldn’t help but read it to myself every single time I had a tinkle for the ten years I lived in that house, which explains how it became etched into the frontal lobes of my adolescent brain as permanently as the lyrics to the theme from Gilligan’s Island.

I carried that quotation around in my head for decades, sometimes reciting it to myself when I became so stressed I had to pause for a moment to take a deep breath, empty my mind and lungs, and sit for a few minutes to decompress.  But, I never saw it in print again until about five years ago when I stopped by a coworker’s desk to ask a question and saw this quotation on her wall:

Finish each day and be done with it.  You have done what you could.  Some absurdities and blunders no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.  Tomorrow is a new day.  You shall begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

That ending was like hitting a mental speed bump.  It had never occurred to me that the quotation I learned from the resale shop nicknack my mother nailed to the bathroom wall might not have been complete but, apparently, someone thought it was a dozen and one words too long and they did a quotectomy on it.  Who would be so vile as to alter the words of Emerson?

The abridged quotation is fine, I guess, but the complete quotation is much more engaging.  In a letter dated April 8, 1854, Emerson wrote to his daughter Ellen, who was away at school, telling her to prepare to come home.  “It is quite time to think of bringing you home,” he began; wrote a bit more about making arrangements with Mr. Wheeler, who was apparently her teacher; advised her to pay her debts; named a few people who were looking forward to seeing Ellen; and then, toward the end of the letter, he dropped these familiar lines:

You must finish a term & finish every day, & be done with it. For manners, & for wise living it is a vice to remember. You have done what you could — some blunders & absurdities no doubt crept in forget them as soon as you can tomorrow is a new day.  You shall begin it well & serenely, & with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day for all that is good & fair.  It is too dear with its hopes & invitations to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays.

Polonius couldn’t have done better.  He was practically lecturing Laertes; if he were in a cap and gown behind a lectern, he wouldn’t have looked out of place reciting his lines.  Emerson, on the other hand, casually, almost effortlessly scribbled a few dozen words to his daughter that became as iconic as, “Neither a borrower, nor a lender be.”

“Scribbled” was not meant to sound dismissive, but I honestly get the impression, by the way he sprints through the third sentence without bothering to punctuate it, that he was dashing off this letter as quickly as he could write it.

I love how freely people used ampersands back in the day they used to write letters to each other, in spite of how hard they are to make.  I’ve tried to teach my clumsy hand to make them and eventually got good enough that maybe one in ten was recognizable as an ampersand, but the rest were twisted scribbling.  I keep trying, though.

finish each day | 12:22 pm CST
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Saturday, May 26th, 2018

A little more than two months ago, B and I stopped at one of our favorite local restaurants for dinner, and when I say “favorite,” I mean we go there a lot.  They don’t know us on a first-name basis, but they know us by sight.  The guy who served us that evening has served us many times before and has never given us any reason to cast a stink eye on his service, until two months ago.

When the time came to pay the check, B left her credit card on the table, right beside her.  The waiter picked it up and brought it back to the table about five minutes later, tucked into the customary black wallet with the check.  I was sitting in the chair farthest from the aisle; B was sitting on the aisle.  The server reached over her, handed the check to me and said, “Thanks, and have a good rest of your day,” even though B’s name was on the credit card and she would have to sign for it.  I guess it’s still assumed, even by servers who live and work in the twenty-first century, that the man always gets the check.

Was B just a teensy bit cheesed off by this?  Oh, a tad.  But she didn’t trust herself to say anything about it while she was still fuming, so she let it go that night, resolving to say something to the management if they didn’t it again.

Unbelievably, it happened again last night, and this time the server was a woman.  We were at a different place this time, but still, it was a place we visit quite often.  The server was relatively new, though; we have never seen her before, although we haven’t been there in a couple weeks.  After we finished dinner, B set her credit card on a corner of the table closest to her.  The server picked it up and returned it about five minutes later, stepping past B, who once again was sitting on the aisle, to hand it to me, the man, who was sitting against the wall.  “Thanks, and have a great rest of your day,” she said to me, before leaving.

“DAYUM!” I said to B. “Dissed by a woman this time!” She was not well pleased.

How does this even happen in 2018? I mean, we’re not eating at high-end, four-star restaurants, but still, I would think that, in the interest of getting the biggest tip for the best service, the server would take the extra half-minute to look at the name on the card.  I don’t look much like a Barbara, or at least I don’t think I do.  It wouldn’t take much to figure out I’m not the one who has to sign the card, and return it to the right person.

check please | 2:42 pm CST
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Friday, May 25th, 2018

B and I got on the elevator down from the top floor of the parking garage yesterday morning; three other people got on with us.

The elevator stopped at the next floor down, where three more people got on.

And it stopped again at the next floor, where we picked up two or three more people. By this time, it was feeling a little tight in there.

When it stopped at the next floor and the doors opened, the two people waiting outside the door took a quick look inside, smiled and said, “We’ll wait.”  Everybody chuckled.

We stopped again at the next floor.  Same thing happened: Doors opened, waiting people looked in, shook their heads, doors closed.  Chuckles all around.

“It says we can hold twenty-one people,” somebody said, pointing out the official capacity on a plaque.

“I don’t think they were counting on Wisconsin people,” someone else fired back, “or any society based on cheese, beer, and bratwurst.”

capacity | 6:21 am CST
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Thursday, May 24th, 2018

This video clip from Fox & Friends yesterday is really bizarre:

Fox and Friends: Why do you think he [Kim Jong Un] agreed to this meeting?

Pete Hegseth: I think he wants a picture with the America president. The sanctions are having massive effect there, there’s no doubt.  The Chinese have put the screws to them on that, the Chines are playing a double game, absolutely.  And then I think there’s probably a point at which the guy who wants to meet with Dennis Rodman and loves NBA basketball and loves Western pop culture probably doesn’t love being the guy who has to murder his people all day long, probably wants some normalization, and let’s give it to him if we can make the world safer.

It’s not unusual for Fox & Friends to be bizarre, but making a ruthless dictator sound like he’s just an average guy with a heart of gold who is just so, so tired of having to murder people is way out there.

such a nice boy | 6:35 am CST
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Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

I hate mowing the yard.  Hate it.  Hate hate hate it.  Before last night, I thought there was no way I could possibly hate it more, but when mosquitoes are swarming me while I’m mowing, that makes it so much worse.  I got a few bites while I was mowing the front yard, but the sun was behind the house by the time I got to the back yard, throwing the yard into shadow, which is the signal for the blood-sucking zombie bugs to rise from their graves and zero in on any warm-blooded mammals foolish enough to be out after darkness begins to fall.  So if the doctors are scratching their heads over my comatose body, remind them to test for zika, west nile, and malaria.

bled | 6:27 am CST
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Monday, May 21st, 2018

It wasn’t a bad Monday, as Mondays go.  There was still a chocolate chip cookie in a knotted plastic bag on top of the file cabinet where our supervisor leaves treats for us.  She doesn’t do that so very often but, when she does, she brings the good stuff. This one was my favorite store brand, thick and packed full of chunky chocolate chips.

She bought this particular cookie last Monday or Tuesday; can’t remember exactly which day, but it had to be one of those two days, because I left town on Wednesday morning and didn’t come back until Saturday, and I know I ate at least two chocolate chip cookies from that bag.  This last cookie somehow survived the week.  That’s really unusual.  The people I work with are more ravenous than a pack of starved dogs, especially when it comes to sweets.

After I said good morning to Romona and exchanged a few pleasantries, I eyed the bag and said something like, “Thanks for saving a cookie for me.”  She wrinkled her nose and expressed some doubt that it was any good after a week.  Pfft.  It passed the sniff test, and it didn’t have any visible mold growing on it, so I took it back to my desk and wolfed it down.  Happy Monday.

Monday | 8:41 am CST
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Thursday, May 17th, 2018

I wonder if anyone else feels as I do that trucks should not be allowed to pass if they can’t go at least 70 mph. Science has not invented numbers high enough to count the times I’ve been stuck behind a lumbering semi that’s barely moving faster than the truck it’s supposedly passing. I understand that truck engines are built to generate torque instead of speed, and I’m fine with trucks that can’t go faster than 60 mph uphill against the wind, as long as they stay out of the left lane!

Any vehicle in the left lane that isn’t passing a vehicle in the right lane should be immediately impounded and its driver left on the shoulder of the road, preferably with a sign hanging from his neck that reads, “Doesn’t know what ‘passing lane’ means.”  No exceptions.

Road rage | 8:11 am CST
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Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

I am Scooter’s butt-patter.

He is the kind of cat who demands that I show affection toward him by patting his butt.  Spanking it, really.  Some cats like this, I guess.  I’m not into it, but I seem to be the one in our little family he prefers to get a spanking from.  He cuddles up to B and lets her pet him the way most people pet cats: stroking his head and his back, scratching his shoulders, that kind of thing.  But from me, he wants a spanking.

He starts out by rubbing against some part of me, usually my leg, to get my attention.  Not at all unusual for a cat, right?  Most cats do something like this.  Then he’ll duck his head under my hand or my arm to get me to pet him; again, entirely within the behavioral profile of most cats.  When I start to pet him, though, he’ll almost immediately wheel around, stick his butt high in the air, and back into my hand.

It’s not that I’m unwilling because it seems like a weird kink, even though it does.  Full disclosure:  It feels weird to spank a cat as a way of saying, “I like you.”  But honestly, that’s not the problem I have with him.  It’s more than I don’t want to have to look at his butt.  Way more.  In my opinion, it’s not his most endearing feature.  No cat’s butt is.  Again, just my opinion.  Other people may think their cats have lovely butts, and that’s okay.  Others like every part of their cat.  I am not into cat butts.  And I don’t want to see them or touch them all that much, and I really don’t want to spank even just one cat butt every day.

I’ll pet him when he comes around, and even pat his butt a few times, or more than a few times if he points that thing away from me, but if he insists on shoving his butt straight at my face, I have to get up and walk away, and that’s when he starts to act out, knocking stuff on the floor, like my glasses or my phone, or jumping up where he knows he’s not supposed to go, like the dining room table or into the kitchen sink.  This has strained on our relationship to the point where I’m ready to sell him to a cosmetics lab for experimentation.  My Darling B scoffs when I suggest this, because she thinks I’m just kidding around, and I am, mostly, but there’s a teeny-tiny part of me, the part that stores the memories of looking at Scooter’s butt, I think, that would really like to trade him in for a cat that’s a little less anally fixated.

butt pat | 7:58 am CST
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Monday, May 14th, 2018

About a half-dozen of my neighbors were mowing their lawns when we got home from the office this evening.  The guilt was so overwhelming I had to consider mowing, especially because our yard looked like a wild prairie after a week of rain.  I like the look, but it doesn’t exactly fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.  Someday I’m going to plow it all under and plant begonias, or hostas, or something that doesn’t need mowing.

But tonight, I got the mower out of the shed and gave the front yard its first rough cut of the season.  The first cut will never look good.  First of all, our yard is not a lawn, by which I mean it’s not just Kentucky bluegrass, or whatever the grass of choice is these days.  Our yard is a mix of grasses, flowers, vines, saplings, and whatever came fluttering down from the sky and took root.  I don’t weed & seed our yard.  I mow it about once a week, and that’s all I do to it, because I hate yard work.  I think I may have mentioned that once or twice.

Mowing tonight was particularly grueling because it was relatively hot (for Wisconsin) and muggy tonight.  And, I’m a lazy slug, so mowing the yard is like an hour of cardio to me.  But, if I’m very lucky, I won’t have to mow it again tomorrow night.  There’s no guarantee, though, after all the rain we got this past week.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see knee-high dandelions when we pull into the driveway tomorrow evening.

lawn yawn | 6:47 pm CST
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I was a huge, HUGE fan of the Irwin Allen television show “Lost In Space” back when I was a tyke.  Every kid I knew was a fan, because all the kids I knew figured it was more or less inevitable they would grow up to be astronauts.  We were all born in the sixties; of course we were going to be astronauts!  And what was Lost In Space about?  Spaceships, aliens, a talking robot, and a kid who was an astronaut!  We all eagerly and uncritically watched every episode, even the one with the talking carrot, and when it was over, we counted the minutes until next week’s episode.

Then there was the 1998 theatrical reboot starring William Hurt, Gary Oldman, and Matt LeBlanc.  I paid good money to watch that stinker.  As a grown-ass adult, I should have known better than to mess with nostalgia.

So it was with no little trepidation that I sat down to watch the first few episodes of the Netflix reboot.  It wasn’t awful.  But I have quibbles.  Just as a for instance:  In the opening scene of the first episode, as the Robinson’s space ship is about to crash, a computer voice tells them they’re at 5,000 feet and falling fast, but the display they’re looking at indicates their altitude is 5,000 meters.  It’s a little thing, but it’s such a needlessly stupid mistake that I saw that and my immediate reaction was, “Really?  Come on!”  Sort of takes away from the rest of the episode when the opening scene makes me go, “hmmm.”

And I was a little weirded out by the robot, who was not part of their crew when they left earth in this reboot.  Instead, the robot is the only apparent survivor of an alien ship that crashed on the same planet, in almost the same place, where the Robinsons crashed.  What are the odds of that, eh?  Wait, it gets better.  The robot happens to be on the same branch in the same tree Will climbs to get away from danger.  Of course they bond, because Will’s pure heart wins the robot’s loyalty, so the robot saves Will from danger and, a little while later, it saves Penny from being frozen, too, so the Robinsons accept it into their family.  Just like that!  An alien robot!  That they know nothing about!  Other than that it can melt glacial ice with a wave of its hand!  What could possibly go wrong?

And Dr. Smith is a psychopath this time around, a straight-up amoral killer, which I thought was unnecessarily dark.  I guess the show’s writers thought Smith was way too warm and fuzzy the last time around.  I’m thinking here of the comic delivery of Jonathan Harris, not Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Smith.

So I think after three episodes that I’ve had enough of this year’s gritty reboot of Lost In Space.  I may have to finally re-watch the original series again, just to cleanse my memory banks of these last two reboots.

Lost In Space – Netflix reboot | 4:59 am CST
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Friday, May 11th, 2018

My Darling B picked up a copy of 1,000 Places To See Before You Die: A Traveller’s Life List, by Patricia Schultz.  I’m assuming Ms. Schultz means these are places you must see before you die because she considers them unmissable, and not merely rando places to see at some time before you die, the distinction being, to a literalist such as myself, that the list of places to see after you die would be, literally, a blank page.  Unless you’re a believer, in which case you would have a list of 1 Place To See After You Die, the place being whatever version of heaven or hell you subscribe to.  I’m trying to be all-inclusive here.  Work with me.

The list of must-see places includes such exotic-sounding places as The Tasman Glacier, Canyon de Chelly, Kilimanjaro, the Island of Rhodes, and the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings.  Thumbing through the 970 pages of the paperback copy that B picked up, I noticed it was organized by nation, and that each of the United States was featured, so I flipped ahead until I found Wisconsin to see what Ms. Schultz considered to be the must-see places of our fair state.  Here’s what she said you absolutely must see in Wisconsin before you die:

The Apostle Islands.  Okay.  Yes.  I’ve never been, but I have seen the Lake Superior shore from nearby Ashland, and it was quite a scenic wonder.  I easily believe that Ms. Schultz considered this chain of islands off the shore of Bayfield to be a treat.

Her second pick of places to die for in Wisconsin was Canoe Bay, a swanky vacation retreat in Chetek where a night in a double room will set you back a week’s pay in the off season.  Ms. Shultz’s writeup highlights the seclusion, the nature trails, and the breakfasts in bed, and I’m sure it’s very nice, but honestly I can’t help thinking there are lots of places in Wisconsin, or really anywhere in the United States, where you could enjoy the hedonistic pleasures of a retreat like this one.  And really, is a resort with room service and a wine cellar something you would consider a place you have to see before you die?  I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to visit Canoe Bay, I’m just saying that maybe there are more scenic vistas to feast your eyes on in Wisconsin.

Then there’s Ms. Schultz’s third place she thought you had to see in Wisconsin before you die: The American Club, a “mega-golf complex” in Kohler.  A golf course.  Wait:  Not just one, but two golf courses, crammed into one resort.  You have to see this golf course.  Before you die.  Because your life would not be complete without seeing this … golf course.  I don’t know what I hate more: The idea that anyone would think they had to see a golf course before they died, or the idea that someone would tell me I had to visit a golf course before I died, lest my life feel empty and awful.

Washington Island is something you have to see before you die.  Any part of Door County is a must-see destination in Wisconsin.  The Chequamegon forest.  The Chain O’ Lakes or the Wisconsin Dells.  There are a hundred and one places in Wisconsin I would recommend that you see in Wisconsin, even if you weren’t about to die, before I would tell you that you absolutely must see a golf course.  Unless you’re one of those people for whom golf is your whole life.  And I’m not making a judgment about that; you do you.  See the golf course, if golf is your life.  But if seeing the wonders of the world is your life, any cheesehead could recommend better sights to see in Wisconsin than a golf course.  Just ask one.

just die already | 9:13 pm CST
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White House chief of staff John Kelly tells NPR:

The vast majority of the people that move illegally into the United States are … not people that would easily assimilate into the United States into our modern society.  They’re overwhelmingly rural people.  In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm.  They don’t speak English; obviously that’s a big thing.  … They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills.  They’re not bad people.  They’re coming here for a reason.  And I sympathize with the reason.  But the laws are the laws.

I hardly know where to start when trying to think of a response to racist bullshit like this.

For a start, the vast majority of people who move to the United States are doing it because they’re desperate.  Desperate to get out of a country where gang warfare threatens them or their family, desperate to climb out of poverty, desperate for something better.  I can’t think of too many other reasons that would motivate others to travel hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, often at great peril to their personal safety, to risk arrest crossing illegally into another country.  I don’t have a citation; I’m only using common sense to figure this out, but if John Kelly can spout his own made-up bullshit on the radio, I’m not to worried about spitballing.

“Not people that would easily assimilate” is a cute euphemism for pointing at “those people” with a smirk.

“Overwhelmingly rural people” describes a lot of people from communities in the heart of America.  I can’t believe this comment alone didn’t get Kelly buried in hate mail before the sun set.

“They don’t speak English; obviously that’s a big thing.”  As genealogist Jennifer Mendohlson pointed out today, at least two of Kelly’s ancestors lived in the United States for decades without bothering to learn to speak English.

“They don’t have skills.”  Those ancestors of Kelly were a wagon driver and a day laborer.

vast majority | 4:24 pm CST
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Thursday, May 10th, 2018

I’ve got a copy of the Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English by Eric Partridge on a shelf next to my desk at home, which I pull down and leaf through if, for instance, I’m in the middle of writing some drivel when my laptop decides it’s time to update the software without asking me. So frustrating.

Anyway, I’ve got nothing but respect for Partridge, and this dictionary is a fascinating book for word nerds, but I sometimes have my doubts there was an English-speaking person anywhere in the world who ever spoke the words or phrases in this dictionary. I’ve never come across them in any book or movie.  Just a few examples:

“call for a damper” – to break wind.  Never heard anybody say this.  Ever.

“all China to an orange” – the longest possible odds; a virtual certainty.  I’m pretty sure he made this up.

“get Jack in the orchard” – to achieve sexual intromission. I had to grab another dictionary to figure out what the slang dictionary was trying to tell me; who has ever used the word “intromission” to mean “penetration?” Nobody I ever met.

“muffin-walloper” – a scandal-loving woman delighting to meet others at a tea-table. I’ve never heard this phrase before, but I’m going to try my damndest to use it as soon and as often as possible.

that foreign language English | 6:26 am CST
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Most of the songs I ruin are songs that I like a lot, or used to like but don’t make a lot of sense to me, or sounded like great songs until I listened closely to the words.

They Call The Wind Mariah is a song I never liked in any way. I thought it was a plodding tune with dopey lyrics from the very first time I heard it, which was maybe forty years ago, and I haven’t changed my opinion one teensy-tiny little bit in all the years since. I never thought the music was all that great, and it’s one of the few songs I heard on the radio and understood all the words.  Far from helping me like the song, I disliked it more with every word I understood.  A cloyingly, wretchedly sentimental song.  And every time I hear it again I think, Dammit, I thought I was finally rid of that song from my life.  So, not a fan.

another song bites the dust | 6:24 am CST
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hedge n 1a; a fence or boundary formed by a dense row of shrubs or low trees b: BARRIER, LIMIT 2: a means of protection or defense (as against financial loss) 3: a calculatedly noncommittal statement

hedge vt 1: to enclose or protect with or as if with a hedge : ENCIRCLE 2: to hem in or obstruct with or as if with a barrier : HINDER 3: to protect oneself from losing by a counterbalancing transaction <~ a bet> ~ vi 1: to plant, form, or trim a hedge 2: to evade the risk of commitment esp. by leaving open a way of retreat : TRIM 3a: to protect oneself financially; specif: to buy or sell commodity futures as a protection against loss due to price fluctuation b: to minimize the risk of a bet  — Webster’s Seventh Collegiate Dictionary, 1969

hedge  hedge off  v.i, v.t. To be indecisive or act indecisively; specif., in gambling, to bet on one team, number, or entry and then to make a smaller bet on another or the other team, number, or entry, so as to recoup part of one’s loss if the larger bet loses; to transfer part of a bet one has to another, to reduce possible loss.  1956: “HEDGE OR HEDGE OFF — a bookmaker’s term, primarily; to hedge is to transfer part of a large bet to another bookmaker or to the mutual machines.” T. Betts, Across The Board, 316. Cr. dynamite.  — Wentworth & Flexner’s Dictionary of American Slang, 1960

hedge, a covering bet, and hedge, to bet ‘opposite’ for safety, are, despite F. & H. [Farmer & Henley’s Slang and its Analogues], ineligible, as are the figurative senses.  — Partridge’s A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 1961

hedge, n. A row of bushes or small trees planted close together to form a fence or boundary; any similar row of bushes or small trees; hence, any barrier or boundary; also, an act or a means of hedging a bet or the like. — The New Century Dictionary, 1946

hedge | 6:18 am CST
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If politicians had to work in the same tiny cubicles in featureless office buildings that government workers typically have to spend their days toiling away in, there wouldn’t be any politicians.

If politicians were bound by the ethics rules that prevent all other government workers from accepting gifts or payments for services, they wouldn’t bother being politicians.

If politicians were bound by irrevocable law to spend no more on their campaign than one dollar for each person they sought to represent, there would never be any more politicians.

Dream world | 6:17 am CST
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Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Tim was helping me clear the jetsam of our lives off the kitchen table where it tends to collect.  One of the items was an old-fashioned coffee mill I picked up at a second-hand shop for ten bucks.  I used to collect old-timey coffee making stuff until it started taking over a lot of the free space in the kitchen and dining room and wherever else I could find a spot.  I finally got rid of almost all of it, except for the coffee mill.  I kept it mostly because it was decorating the top of the china hutch.

Then the coffee mill I had been using wore out.  It wasn’t made to last.  First of all, it was almost entirely made out of plastic except for the burr, the shaft and the crank, so it was more or less inevitable that it would break long before I was ready to get a new one.  And I would never be ready to get a new one, because a coffee mill that was built to last would run me a couple hundred dollars, which is why I bought the cheap plastic one in the first place.

When I accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to fix what was broken on the plastic one, though, I started thinking seriously about investing in an expensive one, because there was no way we were going to go without coffee and I figured we might as well splurge on a really good coffee mill that would stick around until we both keeled over from caffeine-induced coronaries, or the revolution began and we had to grab our go bags and head for the hills, whichever came first.

But on that particular day that the cheap plastic coffee mill broke, I had to make coffee, and I had no way to grind the beans.  Well, I had an old blade grinder, and I considered breaking it out of storage for this one-time use, but then my eye fell on the decorative coffee mill.

When I say “decorative,” I mean it looked pretty to me.  I’m not sure that anybody else would think of it as particularly decorative.  It had a body made of an unidentified blonde wood, finished in a still-shiny lacquer and a thumbnail-sized decal bearing the trade mark of a Dutch coffee nobody has heard of in decades.  It had a shiny chrome crank with a wooden knob on the end, and a chrome dome that opened with a twist.  I believe I may have thrown a tiny handful of beans into it after I brought it home, just to see if it would work, but I never used it to make an actual pot of coffee.  Until this morning.

I mean, what did I have to lose, really?  Not much.  I measured out the beans, spooned them in through the top, cleaned out the little drawer that catches the grounds, and cranked away at it until I could hear the last of the beans had gone through the burr.  Slid the drawer open again and TA-DAH!  And it made a great pot of coffee.  Been using it every morning since.

Tim doesn’t drink coffee and he might not have recognized a coffee mill even if he did.  And this isn’t the first time he’s pointed at an anachronistic appliance in our house and asked me, “What’s that?”  Back when he was just a toddler, I found a rotary phone at a second-hand store, brought it home and plugged it into the jack in the living room.  (This was back when you could still do that.)  Then I dialed the ringback number (it grieves me to realize I don’t remember that number anymore) and, when it run, Tim laughed and said it was “Neat!”  Then he asked, “What is it?”  Until then, a telephone to Tim was the push-buttoned Princess that hung on the wall in the kitchen that bleeped with an electronic sound instead of going rrringgg like a bell.  I didn’t expect there would ever be another occasion I could stump him with a gadget that was easy for me to recognize but looked like a museum exhibit to him.


what’s that | 5:45 am CST
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A jar I opened this morning had the slogan “Sealed for quality and freshness” printed on the lid, and I had to wonder:  Is there a demographic out there that doesn’t care about quality but demands freshness in their no-quality garbage product?

quality | 5:41 am CST
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Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Is it just me, or do the two top options mean the same thing?

expectations | 9:46 pm CST
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A white cat jumped out from behind one of the trash cans when we pulled into the driveway of Our Humble O’Bode this evening.  My Darling B said something like, “Hey, that cat looks a lot like Scooter!”  The cat ran to the front of the house and jumped through an open window into the living room, then looked back at us from the window.  It was Scooter!

Why was there an open window to the living room?  Because we changed the storm windows for screens last weekend and apparently didn’t swing the arms into the upright locked position.  I’m guessing one of the cats was sitting in the window watching chipmunks run back and forth as they always do, and when one got too close, the cat jumped at it and ran face-first into the screen, as they always do, except this time the screen swung open and the cat, after freaking out at least a tiny little bit, suddenly realized he was finally going to be able to get his claws on that goddamn chipmunk this time, and off he went!

What really surprised me was that Scooter jumped out, but Sparky didn’t.  Here I thought Sparky was our little ball of trouble, but Scooter’s the one who bolted for the outdoors while Sparky sat in the window and watched.  I suppose it’s possible Sparky went out, then came back in when he heard the cat feeder crank out some food.  That’s absolutely something Sparky would do.  “I could stay out here, having fun chasing chipmunks, or I could go back in and have all the kibble to myself.  Hmmm.  Seems like a no-brainer.”

Boo went outside, too, but she’s done that before, so I kind of expected that of her.  She doesn’t give a shit what we think she should do, and if she wants to go outside, she’s going to go outside.  She’s not going to do anything when she gets there, though.  I found her sitting in the middle of the back porch, glaring at me through the window as if to say, “Are you going to open the door for me, or what?”  Because that’s exactly how she is.

escaped | 9:01 pm CST
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Monday, May 7th, 2018

Saturday would’ve been a great day to go for a paddle in the kayak, if I’d left the house earlier, but after I had my morning coffee and read the morning news and we went to the farmer’s market, I didn’t end up leaving the house for a paddle until about half past twelve.  By that time, every goddamn powerboat in Dane County has been launched, and most of them are racing back and forth across Lake Monona as fast as their drivers can make them go.  And there’s some kind of music blaring from almost ever other boat that goes past; some boats have hundred-watt speakers mounted on a roll bar over the seats, blaring as loudly as their amplifiers can push them.  In my wildest fantasies, I roam the lake in a Fletcher-class destroyer, expertly dropping five-inch artillery shells right through the engines of the most obnoxiously-loud powerboats.

The lake is not a place of quiet contemplation at that hour of the day.  Note to self:  Go right after you make the coffee.  Put some in a travel mug and take it with you.

a Saturday kayak run | 6:44 am CST
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Yesterday the weather was perfect for a bike ride around the lake. That’s my usual cycling route and sort of a standard: It’s mostly flat, though there are some hills at the beginning and end, and it’s a little over twelve miles, ten miles being about as far as my butt can go and still feel comfortable on a bicycle seat. I had a short break in the middle when I stopped at Machinery Row bicycle shop to buy a pair of overpriced cycling gloves to replace the very old pair I can’t find. Everything seems to be overpriced at Machinery Row, but the service is very good.

Just about everybody with a bike was out on the roads yesterday.  They can’t help themselves when the weather is so good.  My route runs past about a half-dozen parks; people were stretched out on blankets in the smaller ones, some reading or sitting together with a friend, some just basking in the warm sun.  One guy was out with his cat, which sat obediently next to him.  In the larger parks the people were teamed up to play soccer or volleyball, basketball or Frisbee.

Most of the cyclists I see dress in racing togs when they’re cycling.  I do not.  I used to have a pair of cycling shorts, the kind with padding in the crotch, because I thought it would be make the longer rides more comfortable, and it did, but only as long as I was on the bike.  When I got off the bike to take a break or to visit a store, I was never unaware that I had a thick pad of chamois wedged in my crotch.  There was no way I could wear those shorts and not walk funny.  And I was always self-conscious about my ass being on display under a thin layer of skin-tight Lycra, until I started to wear a pair of street shorts over the biking shorts, which sort of defeats the purpose of wearing a breathable fabric.  I haven’t worn biking shorts in a few years but I may have to get another pair as my butt becomes bonier in my old age.

a Sunday bike ride | 6:01 am CST
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Sunday, May 6th, 2018

Ninalee Allen Craig, the woman at the center of an iconic photo by photojournalist Ruth Orkin, “American Girl in Italy,” died last Tuesday in Toronto of complications from lung cancer.

American Girl in Italy

The photo was printed in Cosmopolitan magazine as an illustration for the article, “When you travel alone…”  and under it, the caption: “Public admiration . . . shouldn’t fluster you. Ogling the ladies is a popular, harmless and flattering pastime you’ll run into in many foreign countries. The gentlemen are usually louder and more demonstrative than American men, but they mean no harm.”

Craig, who said she was “used to” this kind of “admiration” from men, laughed off suggestions they were harassing her.  She said she strode past them with her head held high, as though she were Beatrice, the woman for whom Dante descends into hell to save from Lucifer.

I’m sorry to disagree with Ms. Craig, but I have never looked at her in this photo without thinking she was terrified, and rightfully so.

Photo via The Washington Post

Ninalee Allen Craig | 6:29 pm CST
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Friday, May 4th, 2018

Today is called Star Wars Day because it’s May the Fourth, as in, “May the Fourth Be With You.”  It’s a pun that lots of people say out loud all day long and somehow they don’t get punched in the face for it.  I still don’t understand how that works. Few people can get away with making puns on any other day of the year. The popular response to practically any other pun I can think of results in no less than public shaming, and the worst puns are often met with stony silence followed by shunning that can go on for days.  The reason Star Wars gets a pass is a mystery.

may the pun be with you | 6:39 am CST
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An NPR correspondent quoting Mark Twain said yesterday, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”  I’d never heard that quote before and, looking into it now, it turns out Twain never said it. The first time the phrase was attributed to him was in 1970, the same year that John Robert Columbo’s poem “A Said Poem” was published, which ended with the quote attributed to Twain: 

“I have seen the future and it doesn’t work,” said Robert Fulford.
“If there weren’t any Poland, there wouldn’t be any Poles,” said Alfred Jarry.
“We aren’t making the film they contracted for,” said Robert Flaherty.
“History never repeats itself but it rhymes,” said Mark Twain.

There’s a very good writeup at The Quote Investigator.

history rhymes | 6:29 am CST
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Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Dinner last night was a giant pretzel and a glass of beer at the Biergarten in Olbrich Park.  It probably wasn’t the healthiest dinner I’ve ever eaten, but it was one of the most enjoyable.  I shared the pretzel with My Darling B. They weren’t kidding when they used the word “giant.” I felt stuffed after doing my best to finish off my half.  It was the opening day at the Biergarten and there were maybe a dozen customers at the various tables, with about a half-dozen staffed. I think they were expecting more people for their opening day.  

Dinner tonight was leftover mac & cheese and a few slices of Italian sausage.  I think I’d better switch to salads for the rest of the week.

Demolition of the office building we used to work in has been going on for about two weeks now.  I’ve been watching it from my window. At first, there wasn’t a lot to see, but about a week ago they knocked holes in the walls on the fourth and fifth floors, and all this week I’ve been watching a couple of pint-sized bulldozers push cubicle walls and metal shelves and every kind of office appliance out the holes into a big pile at the base of the building, where an excavator scoops the mess up and loads it into trucks.  Today they were pushing chairs and couches and heaps of ceiling tiles out through the holes. By the time they’re finished gutting it, there’ll be nothing left but bare concrete.

in the garten | 6:43 am CST
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Monday, April 30th, 2018

Our office building has a multilevel parking garage.  We park in our assigned spot on level six and usually take the elevator down to the ground floor.  This morning B must have relied on muscle memory to press the button to go to the third floor; she works on the third floor of the office building.  It’s not connected to the parking garage on that level, or any level.  The Monday Monster got her good.  

third floor | 7:24 am CST
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Sunday, April 29th, 2018

The garage door failed catastrophically after I started the garage door opener as My Darling B and I stepped into the garage to go to brunch this morning.  I thought the door sounded a lot like it was being torn apart by the garage door opener, but no matter how long I gaped at it, it stayed in one piece and nothing seemed wrong with it.  Not until it was fully open did B notice the pulley on the floor at her feet. At the same time, I noticed the broken cable dangling from the corner of the door. It was the cable that helps pull the door up, and it had snapped, whipping around atop the metal garage door and flinging the pulley against the back wall (good thing B didn’t catch that with her face).  That and the cable flailing around is probably what made a noise like a thousand trash cans being dropped into an empty alley.

So fixing the garage door was one of my tasks this afternoon.  Lucky for me garage doors are surprisingly easy to fix. I bought a new cable at the local Menard’s store and installed it in about fifteen minutes by following the directions on the back of the package.  The door worked perfectly on the first try.

That left me the rest of the afternoon to do whatever I wanted, so I put the kayak on the little trailer and dragged it down to the beach at Frost Woods Park, launched it and paddled around the bay, then down the river and into Mud Lake where I took a left turn at Nine Springs Creek.  I’d taken this particular left turn last summer but got no farther than the train trestle that crosses the creek about 200 yards upstream. The water level was at least two feet lower than it was back then, though, so I could just squeak under the trestle by leaning forward and hugging the deck of the kayak.  After passing under the trestle, I could go another 300 yards upstream until the creek broadened and the water became so shallow that the kayak’s bottom scraped along the mud as I desperately tried to turn it around. And I did manage to get it headed back downstream, but not without a moment of panic that I might have to get out and drag it. 

cable snap | 7:31 am CST
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Saturday, April 28th, 2018

Last night we watched the first two episodes of season two of The Handmaid’s Tale, the Hulu television series based on the book by Margaret Atwood.  It’s a deeply troubling story about an ultraconservative revolution that overthrows the US government and, among their other bad attributes, literally enslaves fertile women, forcing them to bear children through ritualized rape.  

The series has been flashing back to the life the main character, June, had before the overthrow. The flashbacks are almost more troubling to me than the story of what comes after, because the characters couldn’t see the overthrow coming even though the signs of increasing, radically conservative thought that pervade their society seem so obvious to the watcher, and yet I see a lot of the same signs in our real world right now that make us shake our heads and say, “What the hell?” but we do nothing about it because we deny to ourselves that it can get as bad as the ultraconservative society portrayed in the television show.  When you’re living in a dystopia, at what point do you face reality and say, that’s it, I’m out? 

dystopia | 7:37 am CST
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Thursday, April 26th, 2018

I had hoped the weather yesterday would be warm enough for me to break the kayak out of its winter cocoon and take it for a paddle around the bay while B was at yoga last night, but alas, it was a bit too chilly for that.  Temps just barely crept up into what is considered warm in Wisconsin after a long winter but not warm enough for me to wander around in shorts and a t-shirt, much less sit in a kayak in what until recently was a frozen-solid lake.  

I took a walk down to Metcalf’s grocery during my lunch hour to enjoy their Wednesday sushi special.  All the people in the courtyard outside my office window were not wearing jackets or coats, so I left the building without mine and almost immediately regretted it.  

not warm enough | 7:39 am CST
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Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

I think summer came to Wisconsin yesterday, and maybe if we’re very lucky it will stay for a while.  It may even stay all weekend.

Yesterday was the first day I walked around outside in shirt sleeves.  Other people were doing it when temps hit the 40s and 50s, and I may have run from the house to the car in that weather but I wasn’t walking around comfortably in it until yesterday.  Yesterday I even had my sleeves rolled up and I dawdled, even strolled as I walked around in the sunshine. Yesterday was the day I remind myself of in the middle of January when it’s so cold outside that frost builds up on the hairs in my nose.  

It was so beautifully warm outside that we enjoyed a dinner of falafel and hummus on the patio at Banzo on the east side of town, across from the park, and revelled in every moment of it. After we went home, I got my bike down out of the rafters in the garage where it hangs all winter and took a short ride around the neighborhood, not too far, because I’ve been cooped up all winter and I didn’t want to overdo it.  

And now the sun is coming up and it looks like another clear day is on its way.  It’s going to be hard to keep myself from gazing out the window at the clear blue sky all day long.

dinner on the patio | 7:42 am CST
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