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Updated: 2018-02-14T16:48:33.977-06:00

 



L'Envoi

2007-11-19T20:48:27.208-06:00

Three years ago today, more or less by accident, I started blogging. Wednesday before last it struck me, within a brief span of hours, that I am through with blogging. I thought I'd wait a week or two and see if the prescript reversed itself; but it hasn't.Several factors came together into alignment. Main factor is, it's getting harder and harder for me to find anything new and fresh to blog about. In my very first blog post I expressed reservations about eventually running out of things to say and falling into repetition. So. After five years in the blogosphere, three years blogging, and 951 blog posts, I reckon it's time to hang it up.In the often uncivilized Wild West of blogdom, I've been unusually blessed in the caliber of readers and commenters my blog has attracted. Good, decent, intelligent, civil people, every one of you. I want to thank you for making these past three years worth all the effort. It really has been a joy.Thanks to my commenters, regular or occasional. Thanks to Ben, Lucy, Trey, Jay & Deb, Richmond, Bill, Sam & Jeremy. Thanks to Dean, Mark, Casey, Fran, Travis, McGehee. Thanks to David in Madison. Thanks to Richard. Thanks to David in Japan.Thanks to my lurkers, and that means first and foremost thanks to Refugee from Houston, who's been with me from the very beginning. Thanks to my brother Steven. Thanks to Greg in Madison, and John in Las Vegas. Thanks to Eunice and Val and Norlin.Thanks to those lurkers, regular or occasional, whom I've come to recognize in my stats, even if I can't put a name to them: Netscape 4 ("OS Unknown") from Dublin; Opera 9 from Zionsville, Indiana; Firefox for Linux from San Jose; Cleveland, and Boulder, and Seattle, and Tampa Bay, and Phoenix, and Arlington Virginia, and Springfield Illinois, and Hillsdale Michigan, and Vancouver BC; those two cohorts from Emeryville California and Dublin Ireland; and Konqueror from Paris, and Google Reader from Berlin, and Feedchecker from Japan; and Cambridge and Nottingham in the UK.Once upon a time, about 45 years ago, a young grade school boy was leading an intolerable existence. There were school bullies. The boy also was radically undersocialized, which didn't help. As a matter of survival the boy turned within, and drew the cadmium control rods out of the reactor core of his imagination. He underwent a radioactive core meltdown of the imagination. A meltdown that spilt through the doors of perception, spilt over on several fronts into something rather akin to synaesthesia, spilt over into an entire constructed language of his own. And that radioactive imagination has never really let up since.Poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge argued that perception and conception can be bound together, the gap between them mediated, only through the tertium aliquid of imagination. I know what he meant. I've been living it in spades, for most of my 51 years. And I think I fathom it somewhat more deeply after blogging it these past three years. Hope you've enjoyed being along for the ride.[...]



One Last Post as I Head Out the Door...

2007-11-14T15:18:54.918-06:00

Okay, long as I'm on my way out of here, I'm posting one final piece I've just got to get out of my system. It's about a board game I've been working on for over 30 years now.

And if I had the energy, I might write up a short story that's been rattling around in my head for much of the life of this blog. "On the Banks of the Oneota" is set right here in northeast Iowa, only a few miles from my home. It takes place in an alternate history where long ago the Civil War fragmented the United States, and the white man lost his hold on the interior of North America. Imagine a world where it's 2008, Ioway nation has returned, has returned, has returned, HAS RETURNED, HAS RETURNED... and the braves of Ioway are rallying for war with Missourah!

Eh, maybe it'll turn up one of these days over on my personal website.

But believe me, there's a lot less like that left in my head than you might imagine. If it were otherwise, I wouldn't be bowing out of blogging.



The Quintuple Arcana

2007-11-13T15:51:17.407-06:00

Fig. 1  The Quintuple ArcanaGiven my lifelong fascination with games, it should come as no surprise that I've made up a number of games of my own. I've got one game, in fact, that I've been working on for over 30 years, and I'm not finished with it yet.It's called the Quintuple Arcana— in my own Hermetic language, Mna Jondir-Pantho Zinisa. The Quintuple Arcana is one of the chief board games played by my Hermetic people, though the game was originally created by an alien race called the Esloniki, in the science-fictional future history I was writing back in my teens. I've got to be careful here— in my mind, much of the terminology for the game is in Hermetic. Will try to render it into English as I go.The Quintuple Arcana is a game for two players, played with tiles which are entered and moved around on the board. Each player tries to move so as to form certain melds, or combinations, with his tiles. It's sort of like playing Pinochle, or Mah Jongg, only it's a board game. Some melds enable capture of an opposing tile (think Nine Men's Morris). Some melds score points. Some melds hedge in or block the opponent. Some melds open up transitions to new states or levels of the game.And then there's all the extra, incredibly intricate rules and exceptions to rules. The rules of the Quintuple Arcana are so mind-bogglingly complex, they make Chess seem like Tic-Tac-Toe; though after a while you can see how the rules all have a certain "feel" to them.I started working on the Quintuple Arcana at age 18. At first it was just vague wisps drifting across the back of my mind, like colored tissue paper wafting on the breeze. Bits and pieces and dimly-beheld snatches of the way this game of games ought to be. I had to get into just the right meditative frame of mind, into a state of flow; and even then I couldn't force it, the game just came to me, a detail here, an exception to the rule there. I must've been doing something right: after a while magic squares and other mathematical surplusage began dropping out of the rule structure unbidden.Fig. 2  The Quintuple Arcana BoardThe board for the Quintuple Arcana is made of yellow leather, marked in green and black and red. In the middle of the board is a cross-hatched area, called the Confluence (think Chinese Chess). The two players are known as Red and White, and each player stays on his own side of the Confluence.Each player has eighteen points on which to play and move his tiles: fifteen points of intersection, a three-by-five grid known as the Quinquedecade; plus three other points known as Stations, one in each corner and one off to the right-hand side.The points of the Quinquedecade fall into five metals and three colors. The metals, starting from each player's left hand and moving across to the right: quicksilver, silver, copper, gold, and iron. The colors, starting closest to the player and moving up toward the Confluence: green, blue, and red. Silver and gold are the stronger metals, and red is a very strong color. A meld formed on red is very powerful, but also more vulnerable. The specially marked point on gold at blue is also known as the stone point: associated with it are certain privileges and restrictions of move.Note how Red's quicksilver is located right across from White's iron, and Red's silver right across from White's gold. Red's copper and White's copper stand across from each other, which leads to special rules for when one player already has a certain tile on copper, and the other player tries to move an identical or similar tile to copper.The two corner stations, indicated by large circles, are known as the yellow stations. Tiles moved to the yellow stations tend to alter rules and rankings across the board. The color of these stations is yellow, the metal of these stations is wood. For purposes of tile movement, these stations are not considered as being diagonally behind the Quinquedecade, but rather as the color behind green, or the metal next beyond quicksilver or iron.The station to[...]



Iridicide

2007-10-31T07:00:58.175-05:00

Cook a rainbow, and see what you've got left.



Halloween Candy

2007-10-31T07:00:35.510-05:00

I've got Halloween candy. In fact I picked up two more bags when I was down in Lansing yesterday afternoon. Just hoping I'll have enough for this evening, enough for my two Confirmation classes plus any stray trick-or-treaters. I find I'm eating the stuff almost as fast as I can lay it in stock.



Secret Menu Items

2007-10-29T06:27:11.921-05:00

Now, here's something I never knew before. Many restaurants and fast food joints have secret menu items. Items not listed on the menu, but you can order them, and they have their own entry to be rung up on the cash register.

At Wendy's you can order a Grand Slam, which "would otherwise be called a Classic Quadruple, were it on the menu." Jamba Juice "has an entire secret menu of 'unhealthy' smoothies named after things that would involve copyright violations were they to be included on the menu," including White Gummi Bear, Fruity Pebbles, Skittles, and many, many more. As for Dairy Queen, "there is a huge book every DQ has to have, you want it, it's in there. It may not be listed as a item, but the instruction on how to make it and what to use are in there as well as how it is rung up."

All this and much more here.



Fry Pan

2007-10-27T15:38:26.986-05:00

I'm trying to think when it was that I first saw a frying pan referred to as a "fry pan." Because they are, you know, frying pans. "Fry pan" has an oddly unidiomatic sound to it, as if coined by a non-native speaker of English. Yet in recent years I often see these common kitchen items referred to as fry pans.Then there's swimming suits, which are, you know, swimming suits. Only in recent years I often hear them called "swim suits." What in the world is a swim suit, and why should we call it a swim suit instead of a swimming suit?The only comparison I can think of is the Superman costume I had when I was a kid. That was long before the days of idiot lawsuits, and yet the Superman costume had this idiot warning along the bottom hem of the shirt: "WARNING! This costume will not enable you to fly. Only Superman can fly."Yeah, right, in 1965 I can hardly think of a kid so stupid, or a lawyer so avaricious, as to think that jumping off the roof of the shed in your Superman costume is going to lead to anything other than a nasty mishap. Of course nowadays the lawyers would be lining up to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of every kid who's ever even dreamed of wearing a Superman costume, "Hey, lawsuit this! The costume didn't have a warning label on it, so how were these kids supposed to know that the costume didn't enable them to fly?"Result, a judgment for umpteen billion dollars against DC Comics, every costume manufacturer in the country, plus McDonald's, the tobacco companies, and the builder of that shed, all thrown in for good measure. From now on all costumes will come with 40 or 50 large warning tags attached, "Don't lawsuit us!"Somehow in my paranoia I suspect there's a similar story behind the emergence of terms like "fry pan" and "swim suit." Somewhere in this benighted land there was a dim bulb who thought that a frying pan must naturally be a pan which will fry food placed in it, all on its own and unaided, with or without benefit of a functioning stove to supply heat. Or that a swimming suit will somehow enable you to swim and not sink, irregardless of whether you actually know how to swim or not.On discovering that a frying pan sans stove will not fry food all by itself... on learning that a swimming suit of itself will not enable you to remain afloat if you don't know how to swim... the inevitable lawsuits were filed, and in due time won, with vast fines extracted from the hapless manufacturers of swimming suits and frying pans.This led to a change in name. Now it's fry pan: "WARNING! This pan by itself, without a stove, will not fry food." And it's swim suit: "WARNING! This suit by itself will not enable you to swim. Only people who know how to swim can swim." And if you can't obey the warning label, and the lawyerly-altered new names of the products, hey, don't lawsuit us!Look around and you'll find many examples of this bizarre and unidiomatic trend in renaming common, everyday items. It's no longer jogging suit, but jog suit: "WARNING! This suit will not enable you to run without effort, like some damn bionic exoskeleton. Some running effort required."And now instead of ironing board, it's iron board: "WARNING! This board will not iron clothing by itself unattended. Human operator and clothes iron required, not included. Caution, iron can be HOT! Not to be used except under adult supervision, do not use while asleep."And then there are paring knives, nowadays known as pare knives: "WARNING! This knife will not cut fruit, vegetables, or other items unaided. Requires a human user to make it cut things, CAUTION! Knife is sharp! Improper use can lead to serious injury or death!!!"Google around, you'll find search results for carve knife, teethe ring, run shoes, and even roll pin. You know, instead of carving knife, teething ring, running shoes, and rolling pin. All in the interest of "Don't lawsuit us! These items will not perform, magically an[...]



The Cat: Sequel

2007-10-25T07:21:54.894-05:00

Well, it turns out that the cat belongs to a neighbor. How it managed to wander two miles up the road I don't know. The neighbor says he thinks maybe the cat hitched a ride on his pickup and got off here. At any rate, the cat is now back home with two little girls who were missing their kitty.

I dunno, for the most part I'm relieved to be relieved of the cat. I mean, I love animals. I love dogs and cats— actually I'm more of a dog person than a cat person. But I realized long ago that, living alone and with a schedule like mine, I just wouldn't be able to take proper care of an animal.

Still, if an animal were dropped in my lap, I'd probably feel a lifelong responsibility to take care of it and look after it, no matter what. By temperament I'm just not a person who can take that kind of a responsibility lightly, or lay the responsibility aside once I've assumed it. That's part of what was so disconcerting about this cat, I could see the situation was rapidly burgeoning in the direction of lifelong responsibility no matter what. After all these years that I've been telling myself, you can't take proper care of a pet, you're not in a situation to take proper care of a pet, you wouldn't be able to do it right, don't even think of it...

Nonetheless, it was a very nice cat. And tempting. Yesterday I was sitting with the cat out in the sun, and the cat would climb up in my lap and settle down in the crook of my elbow. Then after a while the cat would climb up on my shoulders, and settle down and take a nap in the sun while draped across the back of my neck. A very nice cat.

However... the bottom line is, living alone and with a schedule like mine, I just wouldn't be able to take proper care of an animal. One of my ongoing minor nightmares is the prospect of someone "surprising" me by giving me a dog or a cat. I don't know what I would do, and I hope nobody ever puts me on the spot by giving me an animal. Like I say, given my situation I just couldn't take proper care of a pet. Nonetheless, if the responsibility were dumped on me, I doubt I could in good conscience lay it aside. Though I'd be kicking myself all the way, for years to come. Or I'd have to give the animal away immediately, and then I'd be kicking myself for years to come over that...

I don't take these matters lightly. Not when it comes to the likes of a dog or a cat. Best the matter be resolved by serendipity and circumstance, as happened this time around. And here's hoping there ain't no next time. I don't know if I could deal with it.



The New Cat

2007-10-24T07:52:19.651-05:00

(image)
Looks like I've been adopted by a cat. Yesterday morning I stepped out the front door, and this young little orange and white cat came quickly padding up to me, rubbing against my pants leg. I scratched its ears and it started purring. It arched its back and I scratched its back. Then the cat rolled over on its back and lay there at my feet.

All day long, every time I set foot outdoors this cat would materialize out of nowhere and come padding up to me. It kept following me everywhere I went, after a while learning not to get tangled up in my feet. The cat wanted to follow me indoors, though I managed to draw the line there, except for once or twice when the cat did manage to slip inside the garage and I had to shoo it out again.

The cat was such a beggar, and so tiny and scrawny, that it persuaded me at last to bring out some tuna salad, which the cat hungrily ate up. I also brought out some milk in a plastic yogurt cup and the cat lapped it up with its tongue. Well, okay, I admit that when I went grocery shopping yesterday, I did pick up some cat food. The cat seems to like the salmon with crab meat just fine. It eats the food, then it comes up to me and wants me to scratch its ears.

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I don't know if this cat is going to hang around here. But if it does, I suppose I'd better feed it. Only it had better stay outside. Until the colder weather, when I suppose I could rig up for it in the garage some sort of an insulated cat shelter.

*Sigh* As you can tell, this is a losing battle. The cat has already won.



Books and More Books

2007-10-28T08:10:54.502-05:00

I've been over visiting my folks in Wisconsin. My Dad is weeding out his books, so I came back with four grocery bags full of books. The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle. Dwight Eisenhower's memoirs of World War II. Charles de Gaulle's memoirs of World War II. A biography of the Emperor Constantine. Worlds in Collision by Immanuel Velikovsky. And a whole stack of Doctor Doolittle books...

Now the only question is, where to put all these books. I need to get another bookcase for them really. Though then the question is, where would the bookcase go in a house already full of bookcases?

Oh well, 3000 books in this house already, another several dozen isn't going to do me in.



Overheard on the Radio This Morning

2007-10-23T07:14:38.850-05:00

"...and Iowa State is coming off their best loss in years..."



Chess

2007-10-19T13:56:46.688-05:00

Most of my young adult years, age 18 to 35, I spent in academia living under the poverty of student life. Ramen noodles. Ragged blue jeans. At one point I neither had nor could afford a bed, and so for a year I slept on a rubber mat on the floor. Once I finally bailed out into the real world, I was astonished to discover that I could actually purchase non-necessities. You know, more than just an ascetic budget of food, clothing, and shelter. I started buying items I called my gear. First piece of gear I ever bought, back in 1993, was a Swiss Army knife which I still have and use. Second item was my old Hudson's Bay point blanket. And my third piece of gear was a Chess set.I've always been a fanatic about games. I got a big, solid wood chessboard, 21" on a side. I got ebony and boxwood chessmen, Staunton, lead weighted, leather pads underneath. That aweful Platonic light that burns at the heart of all games burns especially hard and bright from within the game of Chess. To see into Chess is to see deeply into a transcendent mystery. I wanted a Chess set that said all this eloquently. Chess set, Chess set, burning bright, in the forests of the night...Chess and I go back a long way together. I learned the moves of the pieces at age three, enough to play a rough Chess game, more or less. I learned the finer details at age nine— castling queenside, capturing a pawn en passant, 50-move draw rule, etc.— to be honest, I was a little disappointed that there weren't more such irregular rules, I had imagined an endless cloud of little exceptions and irregularities. I played Chess whenever I could. For some reason I preferred to play black. My favorite chessman was the Knight.In high school we organized a Chess Club, with Mr. Hansen as our advisor. We attended one Chess tournament, then the principal told us the school couldn't afford the gas money for the van. Hunh, I was on the cross-country team, which took the van to every away meet, and gas was no problem. We planned to hold a school Chess tournament, wondered if we could get a Chess trophy to be engraved and placed in one of the three huge ceiling-to-floor glass trophy cases in the lobby of the high school. The principal said a trophy would cost too much, never mind that they spent twice as much on the uniform of a single football player. We scheduled a meeting of the Chess club in the business room during homeroom, then after the regular announcements that morning the principal came on the intercom to announce that the meeting of the Chess club was canceled. He did this on his own say-so, since (if you hadn't figured it by now) he hated Chess and thought that pursuits of the mind were stupid.There was a lot of petty anti-intellectualism like that in the culture back in those days; they called our high school the "Sports Academy," anything but sports could go hang.But then Chess has often been something of a countercultural pursuit, hasn't it? Longhaired players in coffeehouses. Crazy Paul Morphy. Crazy Wilhelm Steinitz. Crazy Akiba Rubinstein. Crazy Bobby Fischer. Chess as a pursuit that absorbs all your energies and renders you unfit for any other serious pursuit in life. Alice, the Red Queen, Through the Looking Glass.At one point there, late teens and early twenties, I was beginning to get middling good at Chess. Knew what I was up to when I made a move, not just a pawnpusher. I was even learning various chess openings, Ruy Lopez, Giuoco Piano, King's Gambit, Sicilian Defense, Caro-Kann, King's Indian Defense, Queen's Gambit. But I let it go, I could see that the only way to get really good at it was to let it become an endless sinkhole for my energy.Chess is one of the deepest games ever devised. Only the Game of Go has a reasonable claim to be deeper, though the [...]



The Republic of New Netherland

2007-12-10T23:42:59.728-06:00

Fig. 1  Map of the Republic of New NetherlandOnce upon a time in an alternate history, the Dutch did not lose their North American colony to the English. On today's East Coast, between New England and the rest of the United States, stands the Republic of New Netherland. Or, as its own citizens call it in Dutch, de Republik van Nieuw-Nederland.This is yet another fruit of my "radioactive core meltdown of the imagination." Actually I started working on New Netherland late, going into my mid 20s. I continued to work on it for ten years or more. Can't claim I've worked on it much since the early 1990s.But talk about detail! I've got a list of every radio station in New Netherland, location, frequency, call letters, daytime and nighttime transmitter power. All the major highways, all the railroads. The 1980 census. The major league baseball teams of New Netherland's Knickerbocker League. A detailed history of the country. Reminiscences of the best (and worst) spots to smuggle goods in across the border from the United States. For New Netherland, you know, is a country unto itself.Fig. 2  Flag of the Republic of New NetherlandTo this day, hanging on the wall, I've got an actual full-sized flag of the Republic of New Netherland. Orange and white and blue, the old flag of the Prince of Orange, with a rising sun emblazoned on the middle stripe. I even composed the tune of New Netherland's national anthem, Onze Patrie (Our Fatherland): I've been known to astound friends by whistling it clear through from beginning to end.The history of New Netherland begins, as in our timeline, with Henry Hudson exploring on behalf of the Netherlands, sailing up the Hudson River as far as the site of the present day Fort Orange [Albany]. The Dutch West India Company made a settlement in 1624, and in 1626 New Amsterdam was founded on Manhattan Island.My alternate history diverges from our timeline in 1638, when David Pietersen de Vries (and not Willem Kieft) was appointed Director-General of New Netherland. As one history book puts it:[In choosing] de Vries for the post... the States-General at a single stroke almost certainly prevented the Dutch colony in North America from eventually slipping out of their grasp...De Vries had been a merchant skipper before coming to New Netherland. He was by all accounts a remarkable personality: shrewd, clear-headed, conciliatory but firm. De Vries was humane but unyielding in pressing forward to his goals... De Vries' first measure was to press for ending the fur trade monopoly of the Dutch West India Company. At the same time, he launched an intensive and successful campaign in Europe to draw a greater number of settlers to New Netherland. De Vries saw that the Dutch colony in the New World, if it was to survive, must become a true colony, and not just a station for a trading company.De Vries established good relations with the Five Nations of the Iroquois. He fostered a degree of self-government in the colony with the setting up of the College of Twelve, which was the forerunner of today's New Netherlander Parliament. He pressed for the Connecticut River [Varsche Kill] as the boundary between New Netherland and the English colonies in New England, and he annexed the Swedish colony of New Sweden, along the Delaware River [South River, Zuid Kill] as the Dutch colony of New Amstel.Most importantly, when the English sent four frigates in 1664 to take the chief colonial city of New Amsterdam:They found a well-fortified city of eight thousand souls; de Vries had ordered the city prepared for the defense. In the ensuing battle, Dutch cannon sunk two of the English frigates, and the remaining two fled amidst fearsome volleys from the shore. The English attempt to seize the Dutch coloni[...]



Kether

2007-10-16T06:59:13.288-05:00

And when you call me "Godthåb"— for "Greenland"— both to be drawn out long and low, as if an electronic voice through a loudspeaker— it is as if you were to call me "crown of the head"— in place of my proper given name— both to be spoken in that electric loudspeaker voice— as if expecting me to react just because it is in the same tone of voice as the sound of my name...



Homer Never Nodded Like This

2007-10-16T06:58:43.415-05:00

They were having some Sunday afternoon readings at the bookstore, with a painfully earnest audience, necks craned diagonally, sitting in plastic-and-tube-metal chairs, while earnestly painful speakers declaimed their way through short story and poem, like your high school forensics meet. I would have been glad not to be there. No doubt these people, English majors and public radio pledgers all, fondly imagine they are recreating some scene from around a Bronze Age campfire, "Listen to the storyteller!" I got news for you, baby: Homer was never like this. Homer was never leadfooted. Homer was never dull.



Overheard in a Hospital Waiting Room

2007-10-16T06:57:57.232-05:00

"...and then she flew to Kansas City, and she ended up dancing all night..."



Losing Weight

2007-10-15T06:59:15.890-05:00

Well. I seem to be losing weight. I steadfastly refuse to keep a set of scales in the house. But at the beginning of this year, my belt was on the second notch. Now my belt is on the fourth notch, and even that is becoming loose.

People who know me out here in meatspace would find it hard to believe that, up into my mid-twenties, I was fairly thin. With some minor ups and downs. But as late as age 25 I weighed 140 pounds, same as when I graduated from high school.

Then slow steady gain. By age 31— 1987— when I moved from Illinois to North Carolina, I was brushing 200 for the first time. Living the poverty of student life in North Carolina brought that way back down again: a diet of rice, dried beans, potatoes, oatmeal, and ramen noodles will do that. I returned to the Midwest several years later somewhere near average weight.

Until late '92 and early '93, when I spent six weeks lodging in a bed and breakfast (long story). Rich food for breakfast every morning, my weight shot way back up again. Didn't succeed in shedding the excess pounds until around 1997, when physical activity working in wholesale sports merchandise did the trick.

Then, life in Iowa, eat as you please, little exercise, I really don't want to think how I've packed on the pounds since the turn of the century. At one point, two or three years ago, I had reached well over 200, and my belt was on the first notch. Like I say, I refuse to keep scales in the house.

Now, since the beginning of this year, I've been dropping the pounds again. If this goes on, I may have to move from XXL to XL shirts. Hard to say just what has done the trick. Exercise? Not like I ought to, and my exercise bike, sad to say, pretty much just sits there gathering dust. Diet? That seems to be a large part of it. Key principles: cut out all candy; cut out most if not all pop; avoid french fries; pizza not so often; six-inch rather than foot-long sandwiches at Subway. Lately I've been eating smaller suppers, so that I usually arrive at the next morning with noticeable hunger pangs.

It really is weird to feel my clothes getting loose on me. For several years there, I had pretty much given up any thought of losing weight. Now... well, I can look down at my stomach and see the difference.



Via Crucis Triptych

2007-10-12T08:44:38.150-05:00

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All the items I've been ordering online lately, and here's yet another that arrived the other day. It's a small triptych, with the stations of the cross on it. Via crucis. The way of the cross. O crux ave, spes unica!

Small, only about 4½ inches tall. Black leather, with embossed panels of oxidized silver. Gold trim. It unfolds to stand on a tabletop, or you can fold it up to just about the shape and size of a billfold. Literally pocket sized, and exquisite workmanship.

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This is another one of those items that is so wondrously low-tech, and just such a funky idea. I mean, who would ever have thought of such an item? But once you think of it, it seems like a natural. And timeless: I can almost imagine some English merchant, some Italian noble, some German hawksman, carrying it with him circa 1597.



Motorcycle-Taxi

2007-10-12T07:38:07.337-05:00

Last night I had a dream that somehow I was a student again at age 51, and I was back in North Carolina, this time not in Durham but in Chapel Hill. And I was going to catch a taxi out to some shopping mall, and I hailed a fellow driving a motorcycle-taxi.

And in this motorcycle-taxi, the idea was that I, as the passenger, would sit on a seat right on top of the front wheel, up in front of the driver. I can't imagine how he could see where he was going, with me perched up there in front of him. And I was fastened into the seat with a body harness to keep me from falling out. And we went roaring off down the street through heavy traffic.

And it was hard for me to describe to this guy where I was going, after more than 15 years I had forgotten the names of many of the streets. But I said yeah, going to the mall, and when we got there we went roaring right inside the mall and tearing down amongst pedestrian shoppers with a loud roar on the motorcycle-taxi. And it was a split-level mall, more like one I remembered from over in Raleigh.

And I was looking for a place that served Greek food, which was on the upper level, though we were on the lower level. But we got there at last, the motorcycle roaring right in amongst people sitting at tables and eating Greek food. And the taxi driver told me my fare came to $2.60, so I gave him a five and said, "Keep the change."

And then the owner of the Greek joint came out from behind the counter, and I told him I wanted a gyros plate, pointing at some picture on glass lit from behind up on the wall. And he was asking me what I wanted to drink, pointing to another picture on glass up on the wall, and explaining to me the difference between two kinds of Greek drink and which went best with a gyros sandwich.

And then I woke up.



Elvis TV Special

2007-10-11T07:35:38.351-05:00

ELVIS: THE REAL TRUTH, PART 2 [17] [27] [36] (Documentary; 1992) Bill Bixby hosts a sequel to the 1986 inquiry into the fate of Elvis Presley and his mysterious alleged "death." Featured: a tape recording purported to be from Elvis in hiding. Leads up to the dramatic climax of a grainy black-and-white video of a man striding toward the viewer down a narrow hallway, with the sun just behind his head so that his features are drowned out in a nimbus of light: "And as for Elvis, some folk say that he may some day soon re-turn." (A woman sitting on a couch watching the show breaks out weeping.) To lend credibility to the narrative, halfway through the show Bixby metamorphoses into the Incredible Hulk.



What Did the High Step Say to the Low Step?

2007-10-10T13:48:50.549-05:00

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When I was five years old, I came up with a joke which I thought was just hilarious:
Q: What did the high step say to the low step?

A: "You're too low to step on!"
I dunno, demented as I am, I still think it's funny. You know? They're both steps! They're both made to be stepped on! Though it's one of those things, either you get it, or else you don't.

Anyhow, for my sixth birthday I was going to be a guest on a local TV show called Circus 3. A ventriloquist named Howie Olson, a dummy called Cowboy Eddie, a bunch of kids sitting in the peanut gallery on little bleachers off to the side, and some chit chat in between airing various cartoons. I insisted to my folks that I was going to tell that joke live on the show. And my parents, watching from the next room through glass, were terrified that I was actually going to find some way to break in and tell that joke on the air...



How to Make a Leftist Cry over a Flag Burning

2007-10-10T07:52:12.937-05:00

It just occurred to me. Leftists, ordinarily so blasé and so laissez faire over flag burnings, could be made to shed real tears (and not just crocodile tears) if you were to burn... a United Nations flag.

I can just see them now, shrieking, raging, sputtering, indignant, and possessed of a strange new vexillophilia.



Colder

2007-10-10T07:51:40.008-05:00

What's going on lately? After a string of highs in the 80s last week— Sunday it got up into the upper 80s, unbearable humidity— now these past couple of days it feels like October.

Currently 44°, forecast today is for a high in the lower 50s. I didn't even wake up this morning till seven. Huddled in bed beneath my Hudson Bay point blanket, warm in a chilly house.

Of course as usual there's no middle ground between highs in the 50s and highs in the mid to upper 80s. If you live in these parts, highs in the 60s and 70s almost don't exist.



Surreal Art

2007-10-09T07:26:05.141-05:00

Oh wow. It's the surreal paintings of Vladimir Kush, Part 1. And also Part 2.

While we're at it, let's throw in the surreal paintings of Jacek Yerka.

I think my favorite is the trojan rhinoceros. Or the gigantic dragonfly inside a huge hall. Or the swans swimming in a maze...

Far out, man!



"Use Only As a Tire Thumper"

2007-10-08T08:37:32.741-05:00

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Well, I'm on a roll lately, buying obscure but cool items online. Here's one that arrived the other day, a genuine Ozark Tire Thumper, 19 inches of cedar, weighted with a solid lead core. Grooved handle, super strong, leather thong. Tire thumpers are allegedly used by truck drivers to see if their tires are underinflated, you know, give the tire a good sound thump and you can tell by the sound if the tire is low on air.

Something shady about this tire thumper, though. You'll notice it looks like nothing so much as a sawed-off baseball bat. A sawed-off baseball bat weighted with lead: yes, the center of the "bat" is drilled out and filled with solid lead. Heavy! One might almost suspect this tire thumper of being sold for thumping things other than tires. Note, stamped on the side of the tire thumper it reads, Use Only As A TIRE THUMPER.

Oh really? What else might it be used as? Skull thumper, maybe? Kneecap thumper? On the package it says, sold for use as a Tire Thumper for checking tire pressure only. In other words, just because it looks like a lead-weighted sawed-off baseball bat, don't you go getting any ideas! Add to that how this Ozark Tire Thumper has a way of turning up for sale on "self-defense" websites. Oh, and shipping is prohibited to several states, plus all of Canada. I also find on some discussion forums that if the cops pull you over and find a Tire Thumper in your car, in some localities you could be charged with carrying a concealed weapon, even if you've got tires to be thumped.

Sounds mighty suspicious to me. Though this Tire Thumper is certainly not concealed, leaning against the wall right next to my bed. For years I've had a little souvenir Chicago Cubs bat sitting there, one of those miniature souvenir baseball bats that's skinny as a toothpick and weighs about three ounces. This Ozark Tire Thumper, 19 weighty inches of solid cedar and lead, will come much more in useful for me, should I ever wake up in the middle of the night and hear Mr. Burglar's footsteps creaking up the staircase in the dark.

Not that I'm saying it's likely. But just in case, forearmed is forearmed. And let the burglar beware!

Besides, I already am responsible for two or three out of the top 25 Google search results for "sawed-off baseball bat."