Saturday, February 28, 2009

Desiderata: not quite as old as we thought but still an inspiration

"You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here..."

The Desiderata is such a famous writing, for Americans, anyway, there is probably not one of you who haven't read it at one time or another. Usually, at the very bottom, is found the inscription

"Found in Old St. Paul's Church, Baltimore, 1692."

That is part of the mystique. It fits that it should be old and mysterious.

But, many of you reading this also know it isn't nearly that old at all. Take a few moments to read the elegant prose one more time if you haven't read it for a while. Then, we'll explore it's origins closer. (Click it to enlarge)
In point of fact, the Desiderata (Literally, "Things to be desired") was written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann, an attorney, author and playwright from Terre Haute, Indiana, son of Bavarian immigrants. Mr. Ehrmann wrote more than 20 books and pamplets, and many essays and poems that were published in various newspapers and magazines. But none were more acclaimed or more loved than his prose-poem "Desiderata."

Friday, February 27, 2009

1929: More than just a stock market crash. 80 years ago this year.

I was thinking about the current economic crisis, and started reading about the stock market crash of 1929, just to see if there were any similarities. I got sidetracked (as usual) and started reading a list of events that happened in that same year. There were a lot more events than I have listed here, but these caught my eye.

Also, I found out the Mercedes was not Karl's wife or daughter.

1. The nation's first seeing eye dog training school opens.

2. Al Capone orders the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago.

3. Herbert Hoover sworn in as President.

4. Charles Lindbergh marries Anne Morrow.

5. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. marries Joan Crawford.

6. Construction contract for the Empire State Building awarded.

7. Edwin Hubble, an American astronomer, proves that the Milky Way is not the only galaxy in the universe.

8. Auto pioneer David Buick dies.

9. Auto pioneer (inventor of the gasoline-powered automobile) Karl Benz dies.

10. First Academy Awards held. Wings wins.

11. Fighting breaks out between Jews and Muslims at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall followed by mass demonstrations in Syria, Iraq, Arabia and Transjordan calling for a Holy War.

12. Wyatt Earp dies in his sleep at age 80. Tom Mix weeps at funeral.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Still making a difference... people you once knew but have probably forgotten: Where are they now?

Sally Ride, Ph.D., professor of physics (Space Sciences) at the University of California at San Diego (currently on leave and running her own company.) Her interest is encouraging elementary school students to study science, and her company Sally Ride Science (which she founded in 2001) creates entertaining science programs and publications for upper elementary and middle school students, with a particular focus on girls.

"There were a lot of preconceptions back then. I think that, whether in sports or whether in career choice, there were definitely preconceptions that girls didn't participate in sports other than swimming and tennis and golf. They probably didn't like them, or they would probably get hurt playing them or something, and that women didn't go on to become lawyers or doctors, much less scientists or engineers, and my parents, I think, were unusual in that they didn't hold those preconceptions.

"... History and English were difficult for me, science and math were easy. I was a quiet kid when I was growing up, and so I didn't really like to be called on in class. I think that my most stressful moments were probably sitting in class, huddled down, hoping that the teacher didn't notice me and call on me. Whether I knew the answer or not, that was irrelevant."

[Doctor Ride was the first American woman in outer space. (1983, aboard Challenger; and again in 1984, also on Challenger.) She has over 343 cummulative hours in space.]

Fun facts about Sally:

1. She answered a NASA advertisement for astronauts, along with over 8,000 other people. They picked her.

2. Her doctorate is in Astrophysics. She is smarter than even Relax Max.

3. She dropped out of college at Swarthmore to pursue a career in professional tennis. It took her 4 months to realize her mistake.

4. She helped design the mechanical arm on the space shuttle which puts satellites into space.

5. She served on the investigating boards of both the Challenger and Colombia disasters.

6, She has written 5 books for children on the subject of space exploration.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Whatever you do, don't call it by it's right name. Else the people may get wise to you.

Many people think the term "doublespeak" comes from Orwell's "1984". It doesn't (although other terms such as "newspeak" and "doublethink" were coined by him in that novel.)

Actually, "doublespeak" hails back to the 1950s and refers to any language whose purpose is to deliberately distort or disguise the true meaning of something. It is also known as "doubletalk." This results in "communication bypass."

With a straight face today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told us that the U.S. Government's increasing it's stake in Citi Bank by buying even more inflated stock was "... not nationalization" of U.S. Banks. "It is protecting the taxpayers' interests."

Yeah. He say that, bro. No shee-it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Remembering people you didn't really know

Erik Darling died last year.

Erik was a folk singer. He was part of three pretty famous groups back when folk singing was popular in the late 50s and early 60s. Seems like so long ago that they had hootenannies and such, and even movies about it. There were a lot of folk singers you knew the names of back then. Erik likely wasn't one of them.

Anyway, Erik was a founding member of a group called "The Tarriers," along with Alan Arken (who won an Academy Award for his performance in "Little Miss Sunshine" a few years back. And he was in "Catch 22" and "The Inlaws" and others. And also with Bob Carey. I'm betting you didn't even know Arken was a folk singer. The Tarriers also appeared in a movie called "Calypso Heat Wave" with Maya Angelou. Betting you never thought she was in movies either. Ah, well. Doesn't matter.

When Pete Seegar left the Weavers, Erik Darling took his place. That was Erik's second famous group. Finally, he joined two other singers to form "The Rooftop Singers" (left) to record a song called "Walk Right In." He had no idea at the time how much this would popularize the 12-string guitar. Six weeks after it's release, Walk Right In was the number one song in the nation.

Darling also recorded some solo albums and some duets. Some of this music appeared in "Forrest Gump" and his banjo talents were heard on "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (accompanying the Kossoy Sisters) not too long ago. But it is unlikely you knew his name, although you probably enjoyed his music.

Shortly before his death, he completed his autobiography, "I'd Give My Life." Worth the read.

Erick died this past August. I still have a 12-string guitar around somewhere.

[Update: You may be wondering which one he is in the middle picture of the Rooftop Singers. There is a hint in the top and bottom pictures that will tell you, if you are somewhat of a detective.]

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Let's be proximidade friends

Max is not especially high on blogging awards, especially from people he doesn't know - but when two people he admires very much decide to include his blog in an award chain, he is tickled to go along with it. Accordingly, THANK YOU Janet and Angelika! You give Max MUCH more honor that the little dog deserves. (But never mind that. :)

Janet of "Adventures in the 32-akrewood" bestowed the "Proximidade!" award to us. The Proximidade Award is described as:

"This blog invests and believes in PROXIMITY - nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes for self-aggrandizement! Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers!"

I feel very proximidade to Janet right now. At least as proximidade as her Mountain Man would allow. Which, I guess, is not all that proximidade after all. But I feel close to her as a blogger. :)

The other award I am grateful for is from Angelika. Angelika passes to us the "Let's Be Friends" award. It could have been the "Go Take A Flying Leap" award, and I would still covet it because it passed through Angelika's hands, and she thought of my blog. Astounding. Not astounding that she thought of me, but astounding that she could pull herself away from Googling more Hugh Laurie pictures long enough to actually do this... this... thing to for me.

The "Let's Be Friends" Award represents:

"These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

This is incredibly true of your faithful Max, with the exception of the part about not being interested in self-aggrandizement. We'll just fudge on that part. I DO cherish friends and blog mostly for the making of new friends, although none (to my knowledge) has ever allowed me to propagate them.

Again, thank you both.

Here I must confess, however, that I do not propagate awards that are originated by people I don't know. I have few enough friends as it is, lord knows. So I will simply pass them along to Canucklehead 8 times each, if that's ok. His fair-weather friendship means next to nothing to me anyway. Rest assured he would never concentrate long enough to read this far down in any of my posts, especially a post about blog awards. Never fear. I know the Canucklehead and his slothful habits well. Plus, he is Canadian and therefore doesn't read real English that well anyway.

Is there anyone out there I haven't offended yet? No? Okay, then. Thank you for your attention, such as it was.

In over my head again: Music to wring tears from stars

Normally I will leave the book reviews to people who know about such things. To me that means Catherine and Ken. But just yesterday, in my travels, I was introduced to a new British author that I am in the process of exploring, and I wanted to share the discovery with you. Mostly this is for Americans because the British and Irish already know about him.

Let me back up a bit for my new readers who have only followed me on this blog (I have other blogs which are currently in suspension that I will later return to.) One of my other blogs is called "BritishSpeak: One American's Quest To Understand British English." (If you were puzzled why there are so many British and SAfrican followers to this current blog, now you know why.) I used it to gather information about how UK culture differs from U.S. culture. One of the things I learned about was that the UK has a few good authors. Heh. Some so popular I was ashamed I had never heard of them. Like Enid Blighton, for example. Today, I want to add Laurie Lee to that list of authors I want to pursue.

It was my friend Soubriquet, as is often the case, who turned me on to Mr. Lee, and, in particular, his book "Cider With Rosie." The "gear-gritter/spoke-poker" had a mention and quote on his blog yesterday when I was surfing. I am about to steal the quote he posted from the book. See if you are as captivated by Lee's powers of description as I was:

" 'It's cider,' she said. 'You ain't to drink it though. Not much of it, any rate.' Huge and squat, the jar lay on the grass like an unexploded bomb. We lifted it up, unscrewed the stopper, and smelt the whiff of fermented apples. I held the jar to my mouth and rolled my eyes sideways, like a beast at a water-hole. 'Go on,' said Rosie. I took a deep breath ...

"Never to be forgotten, that first long secret drink of golden fire, juice of those valleys and of that time, wine of wild orchards, of russet summer, of plump red apples, and Rosie's burning cheeks. Never to be forgotten, or ever tasted again ..."
Cider with Rosie, 1959 )

I am simply cativated by how Lee sucks you right into the story, how he turns you into a witness to events rather than simply a reader. Listen to a couple of his character descriptions:

"We call out a greeting to Granny Trill in her tiny cottage filled with the smells of dry linen, tea caddies and the sweeter tang of old flesh, who always seemed to be chewing, sliding her folded gums together in a daylong ruminative cud. I took this to be a trick of age, a kind of slowed-up but protracted feasting."

And how suddenly Lee can make the tears well up inside you, even if you have just been laughing:

"... the death of Hannah and Joseph Brown, grown feeble and infirm, separated by well-meaning authorities in the Workhouse because they can no longer take care of themselves, and who quickly die of old age and fright, because they have never been apart before."

It never fails: just when I start to think I am learning how to write, I come across someone like Laurie Lee and I fall into utter despair again. Despair because I know I can never, no matter how hard I try or how enthusiastic I am about my subject, come close to people like Laurie Lee, the poet who tried his hand at prose in "Cider With Rosie."

Gustave Flaubert, in his "Madam Bovery" described perfectly how frustrated I feel right now:

"Human speech is like a cracked pot on which we beat out rhythms for bears to dance to when we are striving to make music that will wring tears from stars."

And by the way, if you haven't read Madam Bovery since you were young, you really need to read it again when you are older. Trust me.

One more time

1. Scroll
2. Pegs
3. Peg box
4. Nut
5. Neck
6. Fingerboard
7. Front
8. Back
9. Ribs
10. Strings
11. F-holes
12. Bridge
13. Fine tuners
14. Tailpiece
15. Gut
16. Button
17. Chin rest
18. Base bar (internal)
19. Sound post (internal)

1. Tip
2. Stick
3. Hair (White Russian horsehair if you can get it)
4. Frog
5. Grip
6. Pearl
7. Screw

The fact that I can still remember them after all these years tells you something of how exciting my life has been.

Monday, February 16, 2009

F-holes, part two

As is often the case, Relax Max tends to lose interest between posts.  The parts of the violin are no exception. I was going to rant on about my foray into the jungle of 7th grade orchestra, but now feel those memories are best left buried and undisturbed. If I get enough requests (over 100) I will revisit those years.

I did promise you to recite the parts of the violin (there are 19 as I recall, if you count the cat gut) but let me just hurriedly give you the list from memory rather than going back and verifying them, if you don't mind. There are also 7 parts to the bow, but, really, let's be honest here, who really cares, right? (Except for the "frog." That's a pretty cool part.)

To the best of my memory, off the top of my head, the 19 parts of the violin are as follows.

1. Reed
2. Mouthpiece
3. Hammer
4. Valves
5. Bell
6. Syringe
7. Amplifier
8. embouchure thing
9. Brake lining
10. Flippers
11. Siren
12. Silencer
13. Sustain pedal
14. Rollers
15. Bellows
16. Smoke alarm
17. Temperature knob
18. Anvil and stirrup
19. Drone pipes

Many of these parts are interior I think.

Note: reading below this point is entirely optional and frankly discouraged.

Bonus: What is the correct action to take if you suddenly come across someone playing a Didgeridoo? Answer tomorrow. (Obviously SOME action is required.)

No, a Didgeridoo is not a funeral song.

SPOKEN: There's an old Australian stockman lying, dying. He gets himself up onto one elbow and 'e turns to his mates, who are all gathered around and 'e says:

Watch me wallabies feet, mate
Watch me wallabies feet,
They're a dangerous breed, mate
So watch me wallabies feet
Altogether now!

Tie me kangaroo down, sport
Tie me kangaroo down
Tie me kangaroo down, sport
Tie me kangaroo down

Keep me cockatoo cool, Curl,
Keep me cockatoo cool
Ah, don't go acting the fool, Curl
Just keep me cockatoo cool
Altogether now!


'n' take me koala back, Jack
Take me koala back
He lives somewhere out on the track, Mac
So take me koala back
Altogether now!


Let me abos go loose, Lew
Let me abos go loose
They're of no further use, Lew
So let me abos go loose
Altogether now!


And mind me platypus duck, Bill
Mind me platypus duck
Ah, don't let 'im go running amok, Bill
Just mind me platypus duck
Altogether now!


Play your didgeridoo, Blue
Play your didgeridoo
Ah, like, keep playin' 'til I shoot thru, Blue
Play your didgeridoo
Altogether now!


Tan me hide when I'm dead, Fred
Tan me hide when I'm dead
So we tanned his hide when he died, Clyde
And that's it hangin' on the shed!!
Altogether now!


Somebody needs to remember this stuff! Sing it! Never forget it. 1963. Rolf Harris. CLICK HERE RELIVE THE EXPERIENCE! 

Judge not, that ye not be judged. Especially do not judge the merits of Max's blog posts.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

F-holes and such: Part One

 I come from a family of 5 children. For some reason we were all "blessed" with a certain amount of musical talent. Perhaps not me so much, but my mom and brother and 3 sisters. I was dragged along for the ride, more or less, just so the others wouldn't look bad because of me. Little dogs don't do music that well, but they can learn if you beat them every day. Ok, I wasn't beaten every day.

Except my dad. The music gene was not in Dad. Oh, he could (and would) throw his head back and make an enthusiastic "joyful noise," but music? Not so much. Anyway.

So in 4th grade I was, for a few fruitless months, at least, chained to a piano for an hour each day after school. "Criminy a living death!", as my broken-legged friend Gary used to say. I will not even bother to describe my piano teacher and her ruler-knuckle-metronome method of making sure I kept my little fingers curved. But if you have ever had the pleasure of learning the absolute basics of the piano, you will empathize with the endless stupid scales and key signatures and John Schaum sequential piano instruction books with humiliating song titles like, "The Happy Halibut," and butt-numbing piano benches (especially cruel since my feet didn't reach the floor, much less the pedals.) This while my buddies were pressing their dirty noses against the window that was next to the piano and yelling at me to come out and play in the waning Michigan twilight. "Hey, JERKOFF," they would yell affectionately. "Hurry Dup."

Before too much of my life was wasted it became painfully obvious that piano was not going to "take" with me and I was let off the hook. But not for long. I broke my arm in 5th grade, but come 6th grade I was introduced to the violin and urged to become intimate friends with it. Shee-it.

"Why violin, Dad?"

"Because it costs less than a cello, son."

Who could argue with that kind of musical logic?

I have been rudely ridiculed about the length of my posts. Accordingly, I am stopping here. But be warned I am not finished. Tomorrow you will learn the parts of a violin and why you should not change your strings all at once. Why should you not learn the parts of a violin? I had to. Hint: learning the names of the parts didn't help me play it better. It won't help you either.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentines Day

Some say love, it is a river
that drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
that leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
an endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
and you its only seed.

It's the heart afraid of breaking
that never learns to dance.
It's the dream afraid of waking
that never takes the chance.
It's the one who won't be taken,
who cannot seem to give,
and the soul afraid of dying
that never learns to live.

When the night has been too lonely
and the road has been too long,
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong,
just remember in the winter
far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed that with the sun's love
in the spring becomes the rose.

Thank you Bette Mindler

Happy Valentines Day to the special "roses" who have followed my blogs: some new friends, some who once followed but have now disappeared; and some as steadfast and pleasing as fine wine...

A., Alison, Angela, Angelika, Angelique, Briget, Brittany, Candy, Caroline, Catherine, Chica, Claire, Danielle, Debbie, Emily, Empress Bee, Ettarose, Janet, Kelly, Lidian, Linda, Petra, Petro, Sage, Sheila, Stine, Toni. And any other lady who has ever read my stuff. Thank you.

And, most of all, to my Princess.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Cake, candles, ice cream. Maybe some Pizza.

Relax Max will be gone until Monday. One of his relatives discovered today was his birthday and decided to make a fuss over it. The fuss involved traveling, so we'll see you on Monday.

Not to worry... Max has left enough really cool posts to tide you over until then.

The bad news: they are the kinds of posts that Max thinks are cool. Oh, well.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Steam-powered rings

I'm not much of a fan of putting  commercial stuff on any of my blogs. (That's why I don't run any adverts. Heh.) Well, except for that Entrecard thing.

However I just found out that my friend (our friend, actually) Angelika wants to win an odd-looking (my opinion) ring, and so this post is to try and help her. Me making a post about the rings and linking it to the seller gives me 10 chances to win, and if I happen to win I'm going to give the ring to Angelika.

So bear with me today.
First, I must admit that I had never heard of such a thing as steam-powered rings. Actually, I had never heard of rings that ran on anything else either. Silly me, I thought rings just sat there on your finger.

Here is the link to the lady's Espy shop if you want to see the different kinds of rings and other weird interesting things she makes and sells. Or you can just click on the above picture. (Or the below picture, as you please.)

Anyway, this is a picture of the ring Angelika (and I) want to win in this drawing:
This is called the Purple Swarovski.

Actually, the rings are hand-crafted of materials in the "Steampunk" style, rather than actually burning your fingers and shooting out steam. Which is to say they LOOK like they would run on steam. If you are looking for something ever-so-unique (each is made by hand and is therefore truly unique) please take a moment to click on the pictures and see this lady's catalog.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A caffeine-focused mind

I was delighted today to discover that I am apparently not the only fan of the amazingly eloquent (but too seldom quoted) 19th century French playwright Honoré de Balzac. And imagine how happy I was to find that the other person who still remembered him was none other than my favorite gear-gritter. Here's one of my favorites:

"To kill a relative of whom you are tired is something. But to inherit his property afterwards, that is genuine pleasure."

I could go on. And on.

I won't.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On tolerance: an essay

We are daily admonished that tolerance of opposing views is a virtue of the highest order.

If we are to get along in our society, we must practice tolerance. Tolerance of differing views, values and beliefs. Tolerance of another's religious beliefs, tolerance of another's political views, tolerance of another's social values.

If a person burns the flag and you revere that flag, you should practice tolerance and restraint even though the burner obviously doesn't care about respecting YOUR opposing views.

If you love and believe in Jesus Christ and an atheist activist artist creates a work of "art" consisting of a glass of urine with a crucifix in it, and calls it "Piss Christ", you must tolerate his views even though he insults your equally precious views.

Tolerance isn't a two-way street anymore, although it should be; tolerance isn't necessarily extended to opposing beliefs by the so-called activists of all stripes. People who hold beliefs and values contrary to certain minorities might, perhaps, often be ridiculed.

Do I not believe in tolerance? Sure. Whenever the situation calls for tolerance. I believe in the First Amendment. A person can say what he wants to say without fear of personal harm. On the other hand, just because a person has the right to spout off from the soapbox our ancestors and soldiers died to build for him does not mean I can't boo and hiss as I stand in front of him. He has the right to say outlandish things; he doesn't have the right to say them unrefuted. My opinion.

I think it was Hubert Humphrey who said, "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously."

I certainly am not the arbiter of what speech is rational and what is balderdash - only by my own standards - and it would be dangerous indeed for me or anyone else to start trying to define what is "acceptable" free speech. (Well, I guess that is not entirely true: the Supreme Court does that all the time. If you don't believe me, try screaming "FIRE" in a crowded theater sometime. Or try to run off some child pornography.) But, by and large, the First Amendment is respected. "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech...". [Okay, I just abridged the First Amendment.]

This blogger supports freedom of speech, whether or not such speech is congruent with this blogger's personal values, but I would raise in this post the question of where the line should be drawn between tolerance and confrontation.

For example, if a person is gay, should that not be tolerated by society, even if that lifestyle is a comparatively small minority? Of course it should, unless we change the form of our government to a theocracy or an absolute democracy. Our form of government in the U.S. is "republic", not "democracy." If it were a democracy, there would be no tolerance of gays or atheists or Socialists or pornography, or probably avant-garde art and a lot of other things. This is because the definition of a pure democracy is "majority rules." Period. We would vote each issue as a referendum, and, if the majority were as it is in the U.S. today, there would be no gay rights or accomodation for athiests, etc., etc., etc. Our society would be what the majority said they wanted it to be, case closed. No need for tolerance of people with differing values.

But our constitution doesn't say that. It says we don't rule by referendum but rather through representation. Debate. Give and take. Compromise. And it has rigid constraints in the form of The Bill of Rights.

I am glad we live in a society where there is room for more than just vanilla points of views, even though some of that tolerance has taken many years and much suffering to come about. But here I ask the question again, whether or not there is a "line" or "boundary" of tolerance. If I "tolerate" a person's "gayness" and he tolerates my "straightness" do I also have to tolerate "gay pride" parades which display behavior inconsiderate or intolerant of my own values and standards? If I "tolerate" an atheist to live in peace with his views, contrary to the vast majority, do I also have to "tolerate" that person's overt acts to disparage and limit my own religious views? (Make no mistake, atheism is a religion - a religion that is getting away with murder under the First Amendment.) The First Amendment implies "freedom of religion" not "freedom from religion". Should atheists be restricted the same way other religions are restricted? Just asking.

Where does an honest effort at tolerance end and the right of confrontation begin? Or is the majority simply expected to tolerate anything at all?

A lot of people have the mistaken impression that the great Martin Luther King preached a message of tolerance. A closer study of his life belies this. Dr. King's entire ministry was, instead, geared toward confrontation. His message was that evil must not be tolerated, it must be confronted. A line must be drawn and a commitment to purpose must be made in the face of that evil. True, he preached passive confrontation. He believed in shaming the evildoers until they could no longer live with the status quo, could no longer live with themselves in their hearts.

Finally, after the beatings, the bombings of the innocent, the police dogs and the fire hoses; after all the blocking of the schoolhouse doors and lunch counters; after all the degrading drinking fountains and no voting and sitting in the back of the bus, the evildoers were finally shamed by what they were doing, at least the quiet ones behind the scenes were. And change began to happen.

So it was also with the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was their George Washington, or at least their rallying point, but it was the nameless women on the picket lines that was the true backbone of the revolution. The endless line of protesters, so many poor women who, when beaten down by the white police were instantly replaced by another. And another. And another. Flesh against clubs. Right against injustice. Until the white police realized that "You strike a woman, you strike a rock." And shame happened, and spread across the world. And then change happened.

There is need for tolerance in this country, in this world. But there is also a time for the confrontation of evil. I don't think anyone really needs a Mighty Arbiter to tell us where that line is; humans are born with that knowledge in our hearts.

 I want to clarify that I don't consider everything I don't agree with to be "evil", or that it needs to be confronted. Certainly I don't think gays are evil. Atheists? Probably not. Nazis? I think yes. And certainly racists who would dominate another group of people if they could.

Here are some points I would like my readers to help me clarify in my own mind by giving their opinions in comment. Of course the following is not meant to restrict comments only to these points:

1. What do you think the point of a "Gay Pride Parade" is? Do the actions of many of the parade's participants show tolerance and respect for non-gays?

2. What do you think the purpose of a parade of uniformed Nazis in Skokie, Illinois (a largely Jewish community in the U.S.A.) is? Should the Jews along the parade route be restrained from verbal invective? From throwing objects at the marchers?

3. Should people in a cemetery in the act of burying their son who was recently killed in Iraq be forced to listen to the chants of anti-war demonstrators gathered in the cemetery, calling their son a baby killer? If not, why should they not be required to be tolerant of the demonstrators?

4. Should christian worshipers walking to their church have to tolerate walking though pickets shouting degrading statements about their religion? Is this the place for picketers to protest the result of a democratic election whose result did not legally extend desired rights of gay people?

5. Gays are (rightfully, I think) finally confronting rather than accepting subjugation. But they are never going to win at the ballot box due to their minority status. At least probably not. Assuming you believe that Americans prefer for the people to decide such issues rather than judges, what options are available to such a minority?

6. Americans historically believe in the accommodation of disparate beliefs rather than in strict democratic "majority rule." But does there come a time or a place where not all desires of minority groups can be so accommodated?

Monday, February 9, 2009

A blogging milestone


I don't expect all the fanfare and hoopla that other blogs receive when they pass a major blogging milestone, but my pride won't let this event pass without at least SOME mention...

Today marks this blog's nineteenth post! That's right - THE BIG ONE-NINE!!!!

I'll admit that I thought this day might never come. Number seven seems like a lifetime ago. Number 12 was so far from 19 that I could hardly imagine what this day would be like.

But today the impossible dream has finally arrived! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Just stick around until number 27! - then won't we party!

And if any of you even THINK about giving me some award for this post, you are dead meat. I promise.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bad guy, good guy

He was born Voladimir Ivanovich Palahnuik in Lattimer Mines, Pennsylvania, February 18, 1919, the third of five children of Ukrainian immigrants John and Feshka.

In the late 1930s he began a short professional boxing career, compiling a record of 15 consecutive victories with 12 knockouts before losing a decision to future heavyweight contender Joe Baksi.

His face, already fairly battered by boxing, was further disfigured when he bailed out of his burning B-24 in WWII. Extensive reconstructive surgery left him with his unusual gaunt face which we all later stared at on the silver screen.

Growing up, Jack was one of my heroes - I always rooted for the bad guys in the movies. As far as I know, his last movies were City Slickers one and two, although he appeared on TV after those.

His home, HollyBrook ranch, was named after his daughters. His son Cody died of cancer in his early 40s. Jack Palance himself passed away in March of 2006.

Quote: “The only two things you can truly depend upon are gravity and greed.”

Palance also painted landscape art, with a poem included on the back of each picture. He is also the author of The Forest of Love, a book of poems, published October 1, 1996, by Summerhouse Press.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

How many? I'm asking - How many?

There is a nursery rhyme that many of us were taught when we were young. Usually, it was told by your father who wanted to see if you had learned any math (maths, if you aren't American).

Anyway, I never seemed to come up with the right answer, even after my father told me the right answer, and even after he walked away shaking his head at his child's dumbness.

I learned (memorized) the answer before too long, but it was much later before I really "got" it.

There is only one rule: you can't use pencil and paper or a calculator: you must do it in your head.

And here is your only hint: don't forget to add yourself into the total.

Here is the nursery rhyme:

As I was going to St Ives
I met a man with seven wives
And every wife had seven sacks
And every sack had seven cats
And every cat had seven kits
Kits, cats, sacks, wives
How many were going to St Ives?

Special note: if you remember this from your childhood and also remember the answer, please don't comment right away. Instead, please wait until some of the others give their totals. This is only so the rest of us can laugh at them for maybe getting the total wrong even with the hint given. K?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Three people we are still feeding...


Today's three beauties are all residing in California.

1. Sirhan Sirhan

Our lovely first terrorist. Assassin of presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy in 1968. Still chowing down in California's San Quentin prison, last we checked. Want to see how he looks now, after 43,000+ meals? Click here. One presumes he is fed special porkless meals so as not to offend his religious beliefs. Well, I guess a lot of prisoners are fed special meals so, cheap shot. Why don't I feel bad for saying it right now? Every time I think of how much better our country would be today had Sirhan never been born, I stop feeling sorry.

2. Charles Manson

Such a prince. Directed the murders of 7 random victims, including actress Sharon Tate (wife of director Roman Polanski.) And coffee heiress Abigail Folger. And her boyfriend. And famous hair stylist Jay Sebring. And 18-year-old Steve Parent, unlucky visitor to the caretaker, just leaving. Shot in the driveway in his car. And Rosemary and Leno Labianca, getting ready for bed in their own home the next evening. And others he was never charged with but orchestrated. Charlie was a director of fiends. Such a prince. Still chowing down in California's Corcoran prison when last seen. [Left: teenage Charlie, fresh from reform school. A new suit and $20. Go forth and kill the world, Charlie. Click to enlarge if you care to get a better look at the face of Satan. Right: good ol' Charlie at the time of the murders. How is he faring after all these years in prison? Click here to see a more recent photo.]

[Both of the above lovelies were sentenced to death but in 1972 the U.S. Supreme court ruled that the gas chamber probably hurt when a person inhaled the cyanide, and was therefore cruel and unusual punishment. So they still live. Thank you for that, Supremes.]

Just curious...not to argue with the Supreme Court... but I wonder if Abby Folger was hurting that hellish night when they were chasing her around the yard with their steely knives, cutting, poking, slashing monstrous gaping gashes in her flesh until she finally dropped her arms and said "Just take me..." Perhaps. Wouldn't want to make her attackers burn their throats for a few seconds with the cyanide. No sir. Or as Tex Watson, one of the fiends from hell that night, told the victims, "I am the devil. And I am here on the devil's business." This was by way of introduction to the slaughter victims, before Sadie took 9-months-pregnant Sharon Tate's baby. A bonus victim they were never charged with. Oh, well. Midnight candle vigils whenever there is an execution in the U.S. The lives of these barbarians are so precious. My, but we would be no better than them if we took their lives. I will explain that one to you next time I am as pissed off as I am right now.

3. Richard Allen Davis.

Kidnapper, rapist, murderer of 12-year-old Polly Klass. All he did was abduct Polly from a slumber party in her bedroom at knife-point and then take her to a visit to hell. Captured 65 days later he said, "Who - me?" But his palm print in Polly's bedroom said, "Yes - you." A death-house palm print, buddy. Polly will get justice someday. Wait and see. Sentenced to death but years of appeals remain. It's already been 16 years. He's still chowing down today at San Quentin Prison, California, courtesy of California taxpayers.

4. John David Chapman

Assassin of Beatle John Lennon. Current residence: Riker's Island, New York. Still chowing down 3 meals a day at your expense. 'Cuz the judge thought he might be tetched in the haid. No shit.

Incidentally, One of the "risk factors" shown on Chapman's prison file is "obesity". So I'm guessing he is being fed properly.

I sincerely hope I haven't tipped my hand as to whether or not I favor the death penalty.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Home Sweet Home

1. What is the farthest you've ever been from home? Where was it? How did you come to go there?

2. Would you ever consider moving to another country to live? Or have you already moved to another country from your birth country?

3. How far, approximately, in miles or km, do you live from the place of your birth right now?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

There has to be a better way

I love cats. I have had many cats as pets in my lifetime. Cats don't bother anybody. Not really.

China has a stray animal problem. I understand that. But stuffing them in tiny cages and dragging them off to die still pisses me off.

Read more.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

In search of the perfect cup of coffee, part deux

In 1721, R. Bradley published a work entitled "The Virtue and Use of Coffee with Regard to the Plague and Other Infectious Distempers."

Never mind. I don't want to talk about the plague this morning. I want to talk about how to make good coffee. What you use it for after that is up to you. I read and read and read, and here are the secrets I uncovered. First, this little tidbit from something called "Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters":

"What happens when a pot of coffee is brewed? The scientific explanation is that the water extracts the water-soluble material from the coffee bean. The chemical reaction starts when the hot water wets the coffee grounds and releases the gasses that fill our kitchens with the sweet smell of brewing coffee. As water flows over the grounds, a hydrolytic reaction [Lidian the chemist will be excited with this] takes place in which the water-soluble components dissolve from the grounds into the water. These soluble proteins and sugars give coffee its flavor. Practically speaking, the factors we can control at home are: water quality, water temperature, grind size, ratio of coffee to water, and cleanliness of equipment."

So, it turns out these are pretty much the only things you have control over when you brew coffee, and the proper attention to and adjustment of those things is what makes a good cup of coffee. Here we must acknowledge that "good" is completely subjective. That means if, to you, "good" means weak and bitter, then you can still use the below information to make your personal "good" cup of coffee.

Again, the things are: Water, Coffee, and the equipment you use to brew the coffee.

1. Water.

Coffee is 95% (at least) water, so use the good stuff. If your tap water makes you gag when you drink it, use something else. If you want truly good-tasting coffee, use filtered or spring water instead of plain tap water. Why? Because they don't contain chlorine (used to purify the water that comes out of your tap) or fluorine, put in your tap water to help you fight cavities in your teeth. Both are necessary and good to have for their purpose, but not for making coffee. Unless you DO like the taste of chorine and fluorine in your coffee. Do NOT use distilled water because it lacks the natural minerals which help make your coffee taste good. Distilled water is blah.

The second thing about water that you can control is the temperature. This is SO much more important than you think. It is also why coffee from a percolator tastes better than coffee from your common drip machine. Temperature. Very hot. 200 degrees or more. Remember that. Mr. Coffee just often doesn't get it up to 200 degrees or hotter, especially when the inlet tube and outlet head are as dirty and corroded as you've allowed them to become. (Me too.) The best-tasting coffee can be made in the most primitive way: by pouring boiling water slowly over medium grounds in a cone-type filter device. More on that later.

The reason the temperature is so important is that in the coffee grounds there are good things and there are bad things. The water must be hot enough so that the liquid can pass through the coffee grounds fast enough (but not TOO fast) so it absorbs the good tasting stuff but doesn't hang around long enough to absorb the bitter stuff. Cooler water has to hang around too long. Three things are involved at this point: very hot water, correctly ground (medium) high quality coffee, and the speed that the hot water is allowed to soak up the flavor from the grounds. Too fast means weak low-flavored coffee, and too slow means bitter coffee. Coffee from common drip machines often tastes a bit bitter, incidently, because the water is usually not hot enough AND the water soaks in the grounds too long, bringing out the bitter things in the grounds. Not always, of course.

2. Coffee.

In my reading, I found evidence, or at least testimonials from people who claim they know, that the very best coffee beans on earth come from Kenya. Here I stop and chuckle at Jack Nicholson in the recent movie "The Bucket List" and his rare coffee. You will have to see the movie to understand. But Kenyan coffee is good. Most of us use either Folgers or Maxwell House. Both are good. South America, I think. Good enough for me anyway. But get the medium grind unless you have special equipment. Fine grind is only for pressing espresso (or if you like your coffee VERY strong) from what I can see, and coarse grind is for French Press. This latter should not be disregarded. French Press method produces a really nice flavored cup of coffee. As long as you don't mind spending a lot of time making coffee. (Boiling water poured over coarse grounds and then allowed to steep in the grounds for 6 minutes before pressing a filter through it to remove the grounds.) The longer the water is in contact with the coffee, the coarser should be the grounds. The below information assumes MEDIUM grind coffee.

The second thing you can control with respect to the coffee itself is using the right amount of coffee. Try to be more accurate than your plastic Mr. Coffee scoop. Because it varies. Experts say to get a kitchen scale and weigh the coffee rather than trying to guess the number or scoops. Later, after you have discovered the actual right amount for you, you can then go back to the scoop method or else you can devise your own scoop which you know contains exactly the amount of coffee you want. Do not neglect to experiment here.

Again, how much coffee should you use? This is highly subjective of course, but most people use too little coffee. They think too much makes it bitter when the opposite is true. "Too little coffee= too bitter coffee." Force yourself. Start with 2 ounces (not two scoops) for each 10 cups of water and adjust from there. That's a lot of coffee. That's the point: the water doesn't have to stay on the coffee grounds forever. It stays long enough to absorb the flavor of the coffee, but not long enough to absorb the bitterness aspect. On the other hand, if your goal is coffee that is so bitter it makes your eyes clamp shut, then throw an unmeasured amount of coffee in an open enamel pot of creek water, plop it on the campfire, and walk away for a half hour. You will get what you wanted.

Let the water steep in the grounds for only a precise amount of time (6 minutes, very hot water, medium grounds) and then get the grounds away from the water. If there are grounds floating around the bottom of your pot, such that you have to sip your coffee through your teeth, you may be sure your pot of coffee is getting more and more bitter with each passing minute. There is an old saying that "the first cup of coffee is always the best." That's why.

3. The equipment.

Most of us today use automatic drip-type coffee makers. I have gone back to an old fashioned percolator, which tastes better to me, but has the problem of grounds swimming in it, making it more and more bitter if I don't drink fast. I don't. They used to make donut-type filters with the coffee already inside, with holes in the middle to fit over the percolator's center tube. You just dropped them in the basket and you were good to go. I can't find them anymore, at least not at Walmart. I'm guessing their extinction came with the demise of the percolator. Duh.

There are several other choices, some of them pretty fancy, and I am looking into those specialized machines right now, and will report later. The main thing you need to remember with ALL of them is that you must take the trouble to keep them clean or your quality will begin to go down. With a percolator, cleaning is done with each pot you make so that's not a problem. With a drip maker, we tend to let the tube get corroded and dirty so that the water temperature, already pretty low, becomes only luke-warm and eventually stops working altogether. Then you finally get out the distilled vinegar, but it is usually too late. If you are microwaving your coffee because it isn't hot enough, consider cleaning your machine or getting a percolator. The water well in drip machines is usually nearly impossible to clean quickly. I'm not using mine anymore. For the time being, anyway. And don't forget to clean the head where the hot water comes out and runs down onto your grounds. That old sticky stinky coffee will make for bitterness as well (because it has already been brewed several times.)

Finally, we should mention the simple cone-type filter. This is as primitive as it gets. It also will produce VERY good-tasting coffee. You boil the water and then slowly pour it over the grounds manually. See pictures. I don't yet have a system to recommend. I remember this was the very first system we used as newlyweds. Because it was about all we could afford, mainly. You have to find a way to keep the coffee in the container warm after you make a pot of coffee. I'm guessing you can figure that part out on your own.

I'm going to stop here, even though I haven't talked about other types of equipment I found out about. I will post an update on that later on.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Groundhog Day Groundhog Day Groun...

As I write this it is still dark outside, but like the rest of the civilized world I am waiting anxiously to see if our local groundhog will see his shadow. Being already 8 am in Pennsylvania now, I assume the "official" U.S. ground hog has already seen his shadow and scurried back in his hole. (Yes, people, there really is a Punxsutawney Phil.) I am afraid to look at the Yahoo home page right now - I'm sure they have the result posted. Also I am not in the mood for things Pennsylvania this morning since the slimy cheating ref-paying Steelers "beat" my beloved Arizona Cardinals last night. But we all know who the real best team is. Me? - I will wait for our local result. Although I already know what it is going to be since today is supposed to be sunny.

What amazes me is the number of people who don't believe this ritual predicts the length of winter. Can you imagine such backward ignorance in this day and age? Thank god for groundhog science.

It has occurred to me, though, that some enlightened people who believe in the magical powers of groundhogs, may be unable, through no fault of their own, to take advantage of this gift of nature. My friend Stine, for example. I worry that she may not actually have enough sun on February 2 in order to cast shadows. But perhaps they have other rituals of weather prediction in her beautiful part of the world that they use to replace the standard groundhog. Or perhaps they even have sun. A mystery. I hope to visit one day and find out for myself.

Then there's my other friend (I have two friends) Ettarose in North Carolina. I worry that she is too backwards to be able to interpret the shadows, or to remember whether no shadow means winter or no winter. I worry that she will not even remember that today is Groundhog Day, being preoccupied as she is with waiting for her dialup to load this page. I worry a LOT about Ettarose, actually.

Actually, I have more than 2 friends. I have many friends. I am blessed. And one of those extra special friends is my rocklike supporter A. A. is several thousand miles away, but we have coffee together. A. has just returned to England from France yesterday (she keeps moving back an forth in an effort to keep the law off her trail) and we may have coffee together later. Being British, she has a genetic defect that makes her lean towards tea, but I have slowly trained her to begin drinking coffee. It has done wonders for her disruptive nature.

Speaking of coffee, that reminds me I promised a concluding post about how to make good coffee.

Tomorrow. I meant tomorrow.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

In search of the perfect cup of coffee

Relax Max drinks coffee. I have since I was just out of high school. My first cup was when I was 18 and working at a movie theater late at night. The projectionist used to send me down to the corner all-night cafe to get him coffee. He would buy me a cup for going. Such a guy. One time I actually drank it. Some of it. Then poured the rest out. Next time I tried to get rid of the coffee taste by filling it a third full of milk and then adding about 17 sugar packets off the counter. Still no good, but it made my teeth hurt. Poured it out too. Told projectionist he would have to start springing for a soft drink instead.

Later that summer I learned to drink coffee and smoke filterless Camel cigarettes. Thereafter I was able to get sex effortlessly, as the Camel magazine ads promised.

I have since traveled a bit (and long-since stopped smoking, although I haven't had sex since I stopped having that cool cig in my mouth) and had some really good cups of coffee. Also, I have had some that made me tell the waitress to throw it out. So have most of you. My best cup of coffee? One of the very best was at a really nice restaurant in San Diego, a long time ago. But the VERY best? You'll never guess. In any Air Force mess hall at 6 in the morning, before it has had time to cook down. True. Well, maybe not true anymore, but true when I was a 4-year prisoner of the USAF way back right after the Civil War. So.

It has been a while since I have had a really good cup of coffee. I have gone through a few brands of coffee and a few coffee makers without really finding the best combination. Coming close for many years, but only occasionally being successful (and then still not remembering how to duplicate that occasional goodness), I decided just the other day to study up on it. This post is the result of my studies.

But three of you have already emailed the World Blogger's Association headquarters and complained about the length of my posts. So I will stop here, even though I haven't had a chance to share my learnings with you.

Kidding. I'll tell you tomorrow. If I get 3 more followers today.

Don't comment on this and tell what your personal secret is. Save that for tomorrow after I tell you what I found out. Then we will all get together and share secrets in the comments.

For today, just make comments telling the world how cool I am, generally.

Alternatively, it is also okay to comment today about how you started drinking coffee at age 2, how your teeth have rotted out from it, how your doctor has told you to cut back on caffeine and how bad decaf tastes, how Mormons don't drink hot drinks or how A. prefers tea to coffee.

And don't let the cat out of the bag that Kenya has the best coffee in the world and screw Columbia and that guy Juan Valdez and the donkey he rode in on. I want to tell you that tomorrow, K?

Happy Super Bowl.


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