Dec 31, 2013

Flyin' 'Cross the Land, Tryin' T' Get a Hand

slice of life by killre

The 737 that carried my fat [donkey] back to the Left Coast at the end of my Christmas vay-kay had just come out of the O'Hare sky through the leading edge of an ice fog that had frozen the flaps in the whatever position and probably caused enough other aerodynamic idiosyncrasies that the screws who run the airline were forced to admit, grudgingly, that not de-icing the plane just might result in bad public relations.  Don't get me wrong: I'm glad they de-iced the plane.  I just wish they'd delayed boarding rather than effectively turning the torture of a four-hour flight into the extended nightmare of a five-hour flight.  (I know, I know: they needed space inside the terminal for the meeples who were overbooked on the next delayed bird.)

Once we finally got clearance, the pilot didn't [richard] around.  His name has successfully escaped from the 9.86% of dying cells inside my skull that I actually use, which is unfortunate because I'd like to give him, um, props.  Not standing on ceremony, he pushed the throttles against the stops, released the brakes and away we went in what turned out to be the smoothest takeoff I've ever experienced.  Usually, you thunder down the runway and the pilot pulls back on the yoke too early and you continue to thunder down the runway with your nose in the air and your rear wheels too obviously still in contact with the tarmac and you have time to wonder more than once if this baby is ever going to claw her way into the atmosphere.

Then, a heartbeat or two after she does slip the surly bonds, there's that unsettling settle.

If you've ever flown, you know what I mean.  Nearly every airliner I've ever ridden has done it.  A second or two after the wheels leave the ground, the plane seems to sag in its trajectory-- as if she thought she could do it but suddenly realized she couldn't, like Wile E. Coyote defying gravity until the moment he looks down.  It's a subtle, slow-motion dropping sensation that lasts only a moment; then you're climbing again.  Well, the guy driving this particular plane proved it doesn't have to be that way: there was no adrenaline-inducing dip.

Before we ever taxied to the starting line, the guy in the middle seat next to me turned to the ten-year-old girl at the window and asked, "Are you flying alone?"  It was the start of a conversation that lasted almost the entire flight.  I took little part in it because I've been intermittently slogging my way through an unabridged, annotated version of The Arabian Nights (compiled by Sir Richard F. Burton) that is, OMG, so very, very, very, very, very mind-numbing repetitive!!  I don't remember the name of the story I was rolling my eyes over, but it comes just after the Seven un-be-[vulgarism]-leeeve-ably repetitive Voyages of Sindbad the Seaman.  It starts promisingly, then gets bogged down (heh, as opposed to blogged down) when they march up to the curtain wall of a city that seems to have no gate, so they decide to march around it looking for a way in.  Then the following four things happen seven times over...

1.  They come to a tablet bearing two lengthy inscriptions.  One is written in prose; the other in verse.  All the various and verbose inscriptions say essentially the same thing: "Everybody dies.  We are already dead, and before you know it you will be too."

2.  They spend two sentences weeping over the beauty of the writing.

3.  They spend three sentences praising Allah.

4.  They walk to the next tablet.

Now go back and read that six more times while I go smoke a cigarette.  Don't worry, *cough,* I'll catch up.

Repetitive, right?  Redundant and reiterative, too.  By the fifth tablet, I was expecting the inscription to say, "O son of Adam, are you really still wasting your time reading these?  Because they all say the same thing.  #PraiseAllah"

The book is 882 pages long.  I reckon 670 of them are unnecessary.  So, understandably, I heard a great deal of the patter exchanged by the man in the middle and the girl at the window.  I don't know precisely how precocious that pint-sized, prepubescent punky-brewster is, but she uttered a plethora of ponderable and opinionated pronouncements.  My first contribution to the convo was when they couldn't remember the title of That Movie-- You Know The One?  I cleared my throat and said, "Slumdog Millionaire."  They looked at me as if they hadn't known I was capable of speech and said, "Y-y-yeah."  Then they ignored me for two hours.  I was okay with it.

She, apparently, is from the tiny town of Way The Hell Far And Gone Up North In, Canada-- a fact that led to my next verbalization.  She claimed the average high temperature in summer is only two degrees, Celsius.  The guy said, "How much is that in Fahrenheit?"  I was heartened by that; I consider it a small but significant step up from "How much is that in American?"  She replied that she didn't know; they never use Fahrenheit where she's from.  Then she asked him if he had a conversion app on his phone.  Just as he started to paw blindly at his pocket, I cleared my throat again: "It's about thirty-six degrees."

I must have said it authoritatively.  When he looked at me and asked, "Thirty-six degrees?" it was in more of a can-you-believe-that tone than how-the-Hell-do-you-know.  I assumed it was the former, anyway.  I held up my hand and said, "All I did was the math.  It's not my story."  He grinned and said, "Oh, yeah-yeah," started to turn back to the girl, then snapped his eyes back to me and said, "Wait, how'd you do that?"

So I explained to them both how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit and vice versa.  I'll not trouble you with it, dear reader, for two reasons.  One: it's one of those things where the explanation sounds far more complicated than the actual procedure.  Two: chances are good you either already know, or never want to.

Incidentally, the girl soon revised the average summer temp in Far And Gone up to about forty-one, Fahrenheit.  I figure that's another small but significant step.

P.S.... Dan "The Problem With Wishing People A Happy New Year On This Site Is Is You're Never Really Certain Where To Put The F-bomb" Hicks must go.

Dec 30, 2013

Ironic Ice Traps Scientists

Deep deep into the to the southern reaches of the planet's polar cap - where, it is currently summer, a group of climate scientists have become trapped. In ice. Really bad, thick ice. If by some chance you have missed the Alanis Morissette song, you're not the only one. 

Notice how the Associated Press story does too:
The Snow Dragon icebreaker came within 7 miles (11 kilometers) of the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been stuck since Christmas Eve, but had to retreat after the ice became too thick, said expedition spokesman Alvin Stone.
The Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been on a research expedition to Antarctica, got stuck Tuesday after a blizzard's whipping winds pushed the sea ice around the ship, freezing it in place. The ship wasn't in danger of sinking, and there are weeks' worth of supplies for the 74 scientists, tourists and crew on board, but the vessel cannot move.
So is the exact mission of these scientists? AP is rather vague about this reporting only:
The scientific team on board the research ship — which left New Zealand on Nov. 28 — had been recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's century-old voyage to Antarctica when it became trapped. They plan to continue their expedition after they are freed, expedition leader Chris Turney said.
Okay, maybe they're on a pleasure cruise or counting penguins. Usually if you're putting 74 scientists on a boat there might be more to it than just repeating a century-old voyage. If AP is vague about the mission's purpose, Reuters provides even less information.
Still searching for the real purpose of all those scientists traveling to Antarctica, I turn to Whats Up With That.
The expedition is being led by Chris Turney, “climate scientist”, who has “set up a carbon refining company called Carbonscape which has developed technology to fix carbon from the atmosphere and make a host of green bi-products, helping reduce greenhouse gas levels.” The purpose of the expedition is “to discover and communicate the environmental changes taking place in the south.”
It seems they found out what the “environmental changes taking place in the south.” are.
Then, National Geographic states the mission purpose:
...The current crop of explorers are hoping to document some of the same data and compare them to Mawson's numbers, "using the twist of modern technology," Turney told National Geographic earlier this month.
As may be expected, global warming might play a role in this, he suggests, particularly with respect to melted ice in the East Antarctic.
Okay, now it's becoming as clear as black ice - the ironic headline should actually read "Global Warming Scientists Trapped in Antarctic Ice." That's, perhaps, an inconvenient truth.

Krugman on the Internet

Sage-like wisdom. Let us all break some windows in his honor.

Dec 20, 2013

Under the Cover of Ducks

Senate Passes NDAA 2014 via Fast Tracking, President To Sign

Late Thursday night, under the cover of some Duck Dynasty outrage that's captured the media's attention, the Senate passed the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2014, in a sweeping bill now being sent to the President - to which he is planning to sign. 

Like a family sneaking past the line at Disney World - the Senate Fast Tracked the bill while slobbering morons were complaining about what a millionaire moron had to say about... who cares!?

The bill, now being sent to President Obama, also leaves out an amendment by Sen. Gillibrand on sexual assault prosecution, which in and of itself is curious. The bill passed the Senate in an 85-14 count. Note that the media isn't reporting that - only that the President is giving the military a year to clean up it's act.

“It’s a failure of leadership on the part of the majority leader,” Arizona Sen. John McCain told reporters, echoing Republican colleagues who said the accelerated process was designed to prevent tough votes on Iran sanctions and other controversial issues.

Also, the bill would authorize a release of $527 billion in base defense spending for the current fiscal year, plus funds for the war in Afghanistan and nuclear weapons programs overseen by the Energy Department, among numerous other controversial measures.

EDIT : Added this picture from the interwebs.

Dec 16, 2013

Good Guy With A Gun vs. Bad Guy With A Gun

The following is a cut'n'paste from 's article in

Authorities are dramatically revising the response time of law enforcement officers to the Arapahoe High School shooting on Friday.

Originally, it was claimed by multiple outlets that responding law enforcement agencies took 14 minutes to arrive at the school, and that the shooter was not located until 30 minutes into the event. As we noted based on this information, this proves that schools need armed staffers and/or faculty on campus because it takes far too long for outside law enforcement agencies to respond to stop an active shooter.

It now appears that our original thesis was confirmed because there was an armed officer on campus who was the reason the shooter was stopped after only shooting one student.
They are now stating that the entire incident was over in just 80 seconds because there was an armed sheriff’s deputy on staff who was alerted over the school’s radio system, who cornered the shooter in the library. It now appears that once the shooter heard the deputy identify himself as a law enforcement agent, he committed suicide.
The rampage might have resulted in many more casualties had it not been for the quick response of a deputy sheriff who was working as a school resource officer at the school, Robinson said.
Once he learned of the threat, he ran — accompanied by an unarmed school security officer and two administrators — from the cafeteria to the library, Robinson said. “It’s a fairly long hallway, but the deputy sheriff got there very quickly.”
The deputy was yelling for people to get down and identified himself as a county deputy sheriff, Robinson said. “We know for a fact that the shooter knew that the deputy was in the immediate area and, while the deputy was containing the shooter, the shooter took his own life.”
He praised the deputy’s response as “a critical element to the shooter’s decision” to kill himself, and lauded his response to hearing gunshots. “He went to the thunder,” he said. “He heard the noise of gunshot and, when many would run away from it, he ran toward it to make other people safe.”
Tell us again, gun grabbers, that a good guy with a gun is not the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun. As Alex Rawls of Errortheory noted in his riveting remake of the Moms Demand gun control ad:
What society in human history ever gathered its children together, then issued a public guarantee that they would be left completely undefended?
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Moms Demand Action, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and other members of the citizen control cults can’t and won’t answer that question, of course.

Put armed guards in schools, or allow faculty and staff to become trained and carry their own arms.
There is no other viable immediate solution to deterring armed violence in schools.

Idiosyntaxies, Part Two

posted by killre

You don't necessarily have to be a fan of the show to recognize what the writers, producers, directors, et cetera of NBC's Parenthood have accomplished.  Recently named one of the twenty best shows on television, it is an hour-installment, scripted drama populated by a pantheon of characters who are all utterly bereft of any but the tiniest, torn shreds of eloquence.  They stumble their way through the American dialect as if they have heard it before, but have never really understood what much of it meant.  I can't figure out if it's a queer kind of genius influenced by reality television or if the writers are, in genuine reality, every bit as verbally stunted as their characters.

Trace evidence suggests it is the former, if only because they were able to slip the following line of dialog into last Thursday's episode (I believe it worth noting the line was delivered by a satellite character, not a representative of the main cast).  I wanted to reproduce it here because I think it speaks to the spirit of our banner:

"I'm dying.  It's like a hall pass to be blunt.  Plus I'm really high."

One need not be a philosopher to note:  We're all dying-- it's just a question of how quickly.

If, on the other hand, the reason for their characters' ineloquence is the latter, and the writers of the show lack even the linguistic competence to justify doing five over on "the 5" (Californians haven't the faintest clue what an "Interstate" is), they certainly wouldn't be alone.  In "Idiosyntaxies, Part One," I investigated the history and interpretations of the expression the pen is mightier than the sword.  A symbolistically updated version of the sentiment would be: The computer keyboard is mightier than the rifle.  In this modernized metaphor, the words formed by the keystrokes are the bullets-- because, as we all know, guns don't kill people... bullets do.

We live in an era and in a society where it seems all we ever do is express ourselves.  (No, I don't have a mirror handy.  Why do you ask?)  Movies, television, You Tube, radio, podcasts, Facebook, books, blogs, texts, tweets and something apparently called a "meme" --a word with all the aural panache of a malformed, premature kitten-- somebody expresses themselves and then somebody else expresses their thoughts on the first individual's self-expression and then a third person comments on that and then someone does the verbal equivalent of sticking their tongue out and away we go in a digitally connected shouting match that, heh, soon devolves into a digitally conducted shouting match.  Well, assuming the metaphor holds insofar as words can be equated with bullets and the internet is a cybernetic wild west, at least in spirit, it seems to me millions of people are metaphorically striding down the dusty street at high noon armed with weapons that are partially loaded with blanks.

Consider some of the following constructs that are growing like weeds in our English garden...

Wholeentire.  Sample sentence: "Dick had not kissed a girl in his wholeentire life."  This is a compound word comprised of the component parts whole, which means "all of," and entire, which means "all of."  Apparently, all ain't what it used to be.  Mathematically, the existence of this word implies that 100% no longer equals 100%.  Someone should alert Cal Tech.  Philosophically, it suggests there's another level of wholeness beyond, you know, wholeness.  With this in mind, it is easy to presume the term was coined by a theologian... or maybe somebody who was just really high.  Either way, it was high time those of us north of the Mason-Dixon and west of the Pecos had our own version of the country-fried "all y'all," because verbal virtuosity like that needed to be replicated.

Personal note: I have been known to respond to the use of wholeentire in one of two ways:  "Is that anything like totalcomplete?" or "Hole in tire?  You mean you have a flat?"  In certain situations, responses like these have been categorized as self-[rooster]blocking and the reason we're firing you.

Bighuge.  Sample: "Jane thought Spot was a bighuge dog, but her previous experience was limited to Chihuahuas."  Similar to the previous example, this is a compound word.  It is the marriage of big, which means "large," and huge, which means "large."  This has become the go-to term for a frightening number of Americans for whom enormous, giant, gigantic, humongous, mammoth, immense, vast,... let's see... oh yeah, large, massive, spacious, bulky, ample, important, significant --or, for that matter, the simple modifier very-- are foreign words that cause a faint crossing of the eyes and a dull ache just behind the temple.  Nothing bighuge, mind you, just a mild discomfort.

Personal note: Oddly enough, I'm not bothered even slightly by tinylittle; I am, however, bothered immensely by Tiny Tim.

Whether or not... or not.  Sample: "Dick couldn't decide whether or not to invite Suzy down to the swimming hole or not."  You have probably seen or heard myriad examples of this construct, whether or not you realize it or not.  It is tempting to suppose it is either used by, or perhaps used to portray, somebody who is so addled they ponder their options twice in a single thought.  More likely, it is simply an example of someone who, by the finish of a sentence, has forgotten how they started.

Personal note: Or not.

Also... as well.  Sample: "Jane also liked that Spot was a very friendly dog as well."  There are a number of variations of this example, using interchangeable terms.  While not technically compound words, because they tend to be used in separate locations within a sentence, they definitely double each other's definitions and, to use the gunfighting-with-blanks metaphor, accomplish little aside from making noise.  Also means "in addition to;" as well means "in addition to."  See what I mean?

Likewise, additionally and moreover also mean the same thing as well, too.

Is is.  Sample: "What Dick's dilemma is is that while Wendy is the prettier girl, Suzy is the faster one."  This construct is gaining traction with alarming rapidity.  I'm tempted to say is... um... is the language's most passive verb, but doing so would ignore its past-tense form was and, in turn, that word's plural form were, whose only attractive feature is that it still has more sonic impact than meme.  That said, is... ahem... is pretty passive, and its definition is absolute: "to be."  One wouldn't think we'd need to double down on it.  After all, Shakespeare had Hamlet soliloquize, "To be or not to be," not, "To be and to be."  I guess, though, a world that needs wholeentire to describe a realm of wholeness that exists beyond wholeness also needs is is to describe an existence beyond existence.  It stands to reason.

Are-are is actually a word... in Dolphin.

Two thousand and.  Sample: "By the end of two thousand and thirteen, Jane was a disappointed divorcee with an unhealthy connection to her dog."  To begin, I think the moment has long passed when we can start referring to the years of this century as twenty-whatever.  Failing that, can we at least drop the word and?  In math, and indicates a decimal point.  Two thousand and thirteen actually transcribes as "2,000.13" or, granted some leeway, "2000 and 13."  Two thousand and anything is a chamber-full of syllables.  Waste your bullets elsewhere, Broadside.

Personal note: Due to several factors, it's possible I'll not post again before the end of the year.  I already have something cooking, however, for the first week of 2000 and 14.

P.S.... Dan "Whether Or Not You Like The Slogan 'Show off your Impiou-Tee' Or Not, You Must Recognize What A Bighuge Compromise It Is Is.  So Pleased Am I That The Wholeentire Debate Is Is Over, I Won't Point Out The Letter U Is Is Extraneous.  'Impi-o-Tee' Would Also Have Worked, As Well" Hicks must go.

Dec 12, 2013

Farewell, B(c)S

posted by killre

If you have ever seen ESPN stock player Rece Davis on television, you could not be blamed for finding the word "jockey" pushing its way to the forefront of whatever part of your mind is responsible for word association.  Statistics pertaining to Davis' physical size are (I would imagine) difficult to unearth.  That's understandable since they are far less important to most people than those of the athletes he covers.  It is probably safe to assume, though, that his dimensions fall within the ambiguous parameters that you and I would consider "normal."  He just looks elfin in stature because, with one exception, he spends his studio time surrounded by hulking ex-jocks.

A digression:  The lone exception is former football coach Lou Holtz, a lisping little leprechaun of approximately 278 years of age.  On ESPN's Sunday night bowl selection special, Holtz had the half-drunken temerity to do a mildly humorous impression of South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.  The short sketch was accurate enough to widen the eye, though that owes far less to Holtz's talent as a mimic than to the fact that Spurrier currently uses the same style of coach-speak Holtz once did, but he does it with a southern accent.

Anyway... Davis can be seen as a jockey for another reason.  As the lone broadcaster in a telecast that features a stable of juiced behemoths, it is his job to exert what control he can over the big dumb animals around him, keeping them on-track and on-pace and knowing when to give them their head, coaxing them to their best performances while simultaneously keeping them from destroying the set.  Also like a jockey, no-one but a few insiders cares how good or bad he is at his job.  Most people care only about the horses he rides.

The jockey metaphor aside, Davis --as well as his faceless fellow anchors-- is a moderator: selecting topics, posing questions, picking and choosing which analyst gets to garble their own answer and for how long.  He is not expected to voice an opinion of his own.  ESPN, in fact, discourages its anchors from giving their opinions, even during opinion-laden programming.  If they could discourage their anchors from ever having opinions, they would.  Opinions reveal distinctive personalities, after all, and ESPN much prefers their anchors be drones: they ruffle fewer feathers and command lower salaries.  The day after somebody develops a robot that can host Sportscenter, ESPN will be knocking on their door with one hand and waving a fat check in the other.  Maybe they already have.

In spite of all this, Rece Davis has managed to be opinionated-- at least on occasion.  Mindful no doubt of the wrath of the tight-sphinctered, big-brother management types who make employment decisions, these occasions have been far enough between that when he does actually say something worth noting it strikes one as being out of character.  You can't help but wonder why Davis wouldn't be equally mindful of one of the other major pitfalls of venturing an opinion:  He might be wrong.

In my opinion, that was the case Sunday night, soon after Davis was done waxing wistful over the imminent demise of the political organization known to college football fans as the Bowl Championship Series, or B(c)S.  For those of you who have always wondered what the heck a B(c)S is, don't worry: it soon won't matter...

...but I'll tell you anyway.

[edit.  There was to have been at this point a short section on the history of the college football bowl system.  While it would have been entertaining enough for some, I have sent it the way of the dodo due to two significant drawbacks:  1. short became long; 2. much of the information is well-known, and rehashing it here served little purpose outside of a gauntlet of pointed jokes.  Suffice it to say the B(c)S is (soon to be was) just the latest fraudulent ploy in a nearly three-decades-long campaign by the already-rich but still insanely greedy powers-that-be in major college football to dupe the sporting public into thinking there was a credible framework for determining the sport's overall champion while in fact stubbornly preserving the cash-cow status quo.  If you think that sentence is {insert adjective of your choice}, you'd be flabbergasted by the paragraphs it replaced.]

...All of which led to Rece Davis stepping out of his moderator's role Sunday night and slipping the audience the shocker of an opinion cast in a complete sentence-- something his on-set cohorts are often incapable of doing.

I would love to provide you, Dear Reader, with Davis' precise quote.  Unfortunately, I can't.  While my mental reaction to his statement was almost immediate, it didn't include the idea of saving the recording on my DVR.  A transcript of the broadcast probably exists somewhere, but sifting through the mountainous haystack of information ESPN publishes on-line for the needle they probably didn't bother to release --because surely they recognized the vast ocean of words they vomit on their air is, for the most part, almost as pure a form of b-grade s as is the B(c)S itself-- is a task too daunting.  You will, I'm afraid, just have to trust that the following, admittedly loose, paraphrase captures the gist of Davis' argument:

I hope the selection committee (which beginning next year and for the foreseeable future will be responsible for selecting the four-team playoff field) takes a lesson from the B(c)S and doesn't get reactionary and tinker with the selection process, because that's what undermined the public's confidence in the system.

Davis might not have actually used the word "reactionary," but I included it so I could make the following statement:  There is a connotative difference between "reactive" and "reactionary."  What Davis was referring to was this:  In its early years, the B(c)S, on an almost annual basis, tweeked the formula by which it determined who would play in its Championship Game.  It always did so in the off-season (unlike the NBA), and it always did so in response to some idiosyncrasy in the previous year's formula that promoted what many considered a less-deserving team over a more-deserving team.  Despite my criticism of the B(c)S in general, I would argue that this seemingly constant tweeking early on was actually a positive thing-- like a programmer debugging new software.  Problems were found; problems were fixed.  As time went on there was less tinkering (and, correspondingly, less controversy) because the wrinkles had been ironed.  I don't know who Davis has been talking to, but tinkering with the formula was never the problem.

No, Rece, what undermined the public's confidence in the B(c)S is the same thing that has always bothered them about the bowl system:  It isn't a playoff.

P.S.... Dan "That Depends On What Your Definition Of Is-is Is" Hicks must go.

Dec 11, 2013

Let's put the FUN in this Funeral!

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron pose for a picture with Denmark's Prime Minister, Helle Thorning Schmidt, during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela Tuesday in Johannesburg, South Africa. First lady Michelle Obama (possibly displeased by the lack of tact at a funeral service by her fellow heads of state?) is on the right.

Ever wonder why Nelson Mandela was in prison so long? Because he was black, and the Man was keeping him down... for standing up to what he believed in, and because he was a political prisoner... and, er, racist white colonial overlords, amiright? But then I looked it up. Nelson Mandela went to prison for battling South African apartheid - which is great - but the part that everyone seems to have forgotten and left out of all those nice obituaries and speeches was that he was caught with Soviet weapons, and was planning to overthrow the government with violence. Not just a couple guns, but 48,000 anti-personnel mines, and some 210,000 hand grenades. On June 12, 1964, eight of the accused members of the African National Congress including Mandela, were arrested. Nelson Mandela was then released on February 11, 1990. He was offered a chance to leave every single year if he would renounce violence. He never did. 

The world-wide media, however is much more preoccupied with a photo...
“I took these photos totally spontaneously, without thinking about what impact they might have. At the time, I thought the world leaders were simply acting like human beings, like me and you. I doubt anyone could have remained totally stony faced for the duration of the ceremony, while tens of thousands of people were celebrating in the stadium.”

“I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture. But photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.”

-Roberto Schmidt (photographer)

Meanwhile, speaking of fun - the guy doing sign language at Mandela’s memorial service was a fake. Complete gibberish. 

Dec 10, 2013

Meme for a Reader

"I'm not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Lou." was requested by a reader - so I made this for him. Looks like he wants to use it as a Meme on a message board, probably to school some teenagers who don't realize that QE3 is the exact same as Trickle Down that the Democrat party has be wailing against since the first time they ever heard it. Well, whatever it's used for - enjoy. I love promoting the Coen Brothers. Speaking of... here's the new trailer for their new movie coming out this year. Most likely they'll do for folk music what they did for Bluegrass in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Dec 7, 2013

Pearl Harbor Day 2013

U.S. sailors render hand salutes in front of the remembrance wreath during the Naval Support Activity Naples Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony in Naples, Italy, Dec. 6, 2013. The ceremony honored the 2,403 Americans who died during the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Offier 2nd Class Jared King

Did you order anything?

Dec 6, 2013

Ponderable Meme

This one just popped into my head the other day... 

I'm hoping to start a MEME with this...   my impiousness abounds. 

Dec 5, 2013

Idiosyntaxies, Part One

posted by killre

It has been said the pen is mightier than the sword.

For once, the yahoos I employ as a research team earned the digitally transferred pennies I pay them, returning a list of links that were helpful in learning the origins of the above expression.  The site at the top of the list was located at  Clicking my way through three or four other sites confirmed and cross-referenced much of what they had to say.

"The pen is mightier than the sword," in that specific form, is almost universally attributed to an English writer named Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839-- although the attributors always hasten to add that the sentiment is far older.  (A footnote for fans of the cartoon character Snoopy:  Bulwer-Lytton was also the author of the opening line, "It was a dark and stormy night.")

The oldest-known expression of the sentiment is ascribed to the ancient Greek playwright Euripides more than 2400 years ago: "The tongue is mightier than the blade."

The first use of the same thought by an English-language writer was cited by as taking place in 1582 by a man whose name, given this context, was incredibly ironic: George Whetstone.  In case you're currently blanking on what a whetstone is, it's an implement used to sharpen blades.  Whetstone's choice of terms, in fact, hints at a possible attempt to avoid the inherent irony.  I will both paraphrase and translate from ye olde mispelde Englishe: The wound of the pen is more grievous than the wound of the lance.

In addition to the two I've noted, there were several references to the same essential thought being expressed in slightly different words --including by such luminaries as William Shakespeare (again with the irony) and Thomas Jefferson-- that precede Bulwer-Lytton's more well-known version.  Whatever the specific incarnation, the expression has the same basic meaning.

Meaning.  Ah, yes... there was one troubling item I encountered in my thumbnail search.  Addressing from the outset the question of what the pen is mightier than the sword actually means, the researchers at provided a ponderous two-word paragraph that they didn't even bother to capitalize: "literal meaning."  In other words, their esteemed estimation is that the pen is literally mightier than the sword.

That statement is so demonstrably untrue one is left to wonder if the boys and girls at know the meaning of the word literal.  "The pen is mightier than the sword" is not and never has been meant literally.  As evidence of my contention, I point out that in the whole of human history, no swordfight has ever been won by the guy wielding a goose quill.  Maybe I'm going out on a limb in saying that, but I feel every bit as confident as I would if I were about to fight, oh, you know where this joke is going.

One other site also claimed the expression has a literal meaning.  Having perused the entry, however, I am forced to conclude that the person who clickity-clacked the claim into cyber-existence is, if you'll pardon my use of a technical term, a goofball who thinks she's a writer and offers exactly zero evidence to support her assertion-- probably because there isn't any.

What the rest of us already know is that the expression --in all its various versions-- is and always has been a metaphor, from first letter to last and all the spaces in between.  The groundwork for the case is laid in the word choice of the three examples I've given.  All three writers chose terms that were at once familiar to their audience while being slightly out of fashion.  Euripides said, "The tongue is mightier than the blade," despite the fact that the pen, or stylus, was the, heh, cutting-edge technology of the day.  Shifting his attention to the other weapon, George Whetstone basically said the pen was mightier than the lance.  Whetstone did this in the late 16th century, two hundred years or more after the use of guns had become fairly widespread in Europe.  Likewise, Bulwer-Lytton chose to employ sword, even as that weapon was falling into disuse.  In all three cases, the writer was seeking to cast his idea in obvious symbolism-- specifically so it wouldn't be taken literally.

What the pen is mightier than the sword actually means, of course, is that words are ultimately more powerful than violence-- at least in the long run.  Words are the code by which we transmit ideas, be they profound or ordinary.  Well-thought ideas, communicated by well-chosen words, have the power to change the way others think... although it too-often takes a deal of time.  Violence, on the other hand, seeks only to quickly impose one's will on another.  It does not change their fundamental attitudes, and it leaves the underlying disagreement alive and festering.

[Unfortunately, but accurately, I have been known on numerous occasions to state --either to my fellow contributors or to you, Dear Reader-- that I have either a new or continued post coming soon, which I then fail to deliver.  To subvert whatever juju affects this phenomenon --Murphy's Law, writer's block, good old-fashioned laziness-- I will make no such promises here.  Instead, I will say only that I hope this post serves as a springboard to a sequel, which I intend to be both lighter and more recognizably relevant.]

P.S.... Dan "Yes I Can Afford A Better Tailor But I Choose To Look Like The Hobo Who Crashed The Cotillion" Hicks must go.

Dec 3, 2013

Commercials Suck Cess

[It is appropriate at this time to address what some might characterize as the inappropriate.  Many years ago, while slowing for yet another toll on the Chicago Skyway, I heard an anonymous Citizen's Band user opine, "Profanity is the crutch of the conversational cripple."  It was somewhat in this spirit that Blasphemes long ago adopted an unofficial guideline regarding profanity, obscenity, vulgarity and any other "-ity" that might cause consternation for some, due either to their long-standing principles or simply because they suddenly found themselves the parents of young children. 

For the most part, we at this site try to avoid the overt use of some of the more widely acknowledged offensive words.  Some of us --and by some I mean me-- often do little more than pointedly substitute alternatives which are, when viewed objectively, every bit as ugly as the words they replace but for some reason are subjectively seen as somehow less impolite.  Every now and then, though, bringing a word in off the bench just won't do; one needs to keep the starter in the game.  This post contains multiple examples of one such instance.  After all, the proclamation that profanity was the crutch of the conversational cripple was quickly followed by the rejoinder, "Talk dirty to me, baby.  I LOVE IT when you talk dirty to me."]

posted by killre

So, I heard a commercial on the radio the other day...

Someone once told me I had forever changed their perspective on radio commercials simply by uttering the word writing. I regarded it a fairly casual utterance at the time (heh, rather than a causal one).  I'd not yet realized I was one of but a few who actually gave much thought to such things.  Still, I have no doubt that the great majority of people, were they to stop and think for all of 1.59 seconds, would easily recognize that radio advertisements are scripted.

There are essentially two reason why most of us don't fritter away such an enormous chunk of our lives pausing to consider it.  Both reasons might factor into a given example, but for the most part they work independently of each other.  Curiously enough, despite their exclusivity, they are almost equally effective in shielding us from the bottomless nightmare that is critical thinking.

The first one is called, by the people who give names to such things, a willing suspension of disbelief.  The unwieldy length of that label is strikingly indicative of just how little thought our species has given the phenomenon, because that mealy mouthful of syllables describes a truly ancient development in the psyche of homo sapiens.  In fact, it may predate the sapiens part.  I'm not a paleoanthropologist, but I don't think it wholly whimsical to suppose this development came soon after enough members of the genus homo figured out how to control fire.  Simply put, we like to be told stories.  So fond are we of being told stories, in fact, that we frequently and readily dial down our skepticism when being told one.  We know, on a level almost instinctive, that nothing spoils a good yarn quite so quickly as poking our mental fingers into the weakest points of its fiber.

The second reason people don't give a second thought to how a commercial is cooked from scratch is far more familiar.  It is commonly referred to as I wasn't really listening.  This speaks to a much more recent development in our collective psyche:  As much as we like to be told stories, we dislike them ending with someone trying to sell us something.  Just as readily as we dampen our skepticism for the first reason, we avert our attention for the second.

As I alluded to earlier, we sometimes do both in quick succession.  This is why we can often remember what happens in a given advertisement, but can't remember, you know, the advertiser.  (Serves 'em right, anyway.)

Such was the case the other day when I heard the first part of a recorded message that was neither a song I liked nor the banal banter of one of the local morning zoos.  A woman who sounded a lot like Allison Janney was reciting a list of things we could all do to become friendlier drivers and thereby, I don't know, foster world peace or something.  No doubt the list ended with buying a particular brand of gasoline-- because the sale of petroleum products has done so much to advance world peace in recent decades.

Near the top of the list was something about using one's turn-signals.  I think we can all support that, at least in theory.  I'd guess the overwhelming majority of people, if pressed, would agree at least in principle that using turn-signals = good; not using turn-signals = bad.  In fact, I'm such a proponent of turn-signal use that my own attitude on the matter would be more accurately described as: use turn-signals = good; don't use turn-signals = you are an unmitigated asshole who is so overflowing with assholishness (wait... assholiety? assiety? ashiety?... no, I'll stick with assholishness) so overflowing with assholishness that you have to go out of your assholish way to vent your assholishness in a multitude of small and ultimately cowardly assholish ways or you won't be able to sleep at night for all the poisonous assholishness still coursing through your system, asshole.

Further down the list was an item about not honking one's horn as soon as the light turns green.


There are a number of reasons why a radio commercial might be badly written.  In my mind, they all stem from two causes.  One: a significant percentage of people who write radio commercials never dreamt of writing for a living and therefore would never dream of trying to be any good at it.  Two: another significant percentage wanted to write for television, but weren't good enough.

Most of the time the flaws are merely cosmetic, like another recent advertisement for a local dating service (typically, I can't remember which one) that told me --oh, yes, told me-- that I was "sick of the whole bar scene atmosphere."  No, what I'm actually sick of is people not just using, but recording for posterity, terminology like bar scene atmosphere.  In the given context, scene and atmosphere mean the same thing.  I'm also sick of people telling me what I'm sick of.  After all, it depends greatly on the bar in question.

Occasionally, though, the chinks in what someone probably convinced themselves was carefully crafted copy are more substantive.  Consider what it reveals about the author of the gasoline commercial, for instance, that they place the burden of courtesy on the would-be honker rather than the, um, honkee.  If there is a line of cars waiting at a red light, and the light turns green, and none of the cars move, it is the fault of just one person: the one driving the lead vehicle.  There that person sits, [Insert here a long list of possible activities that doesn't include paying attention to the stoplights.  You know... driving.  Feel free to use the comments button to suggest one or two, be they insightful, humorous or revelatory.] or any number of other actions that are self-involved, likely trivial, thoughtless and ultimately irresponsible.  It is the person who has apparently forgotten --just since their last stoplight, I might add-- that green means go who has succeeded in [screwing] up a small part of everyone else's day.  The guy two cars back who gives his horn a couple of toots (a toot sweet, as it were) is merely calling attention to it and, in doing so, trying to limit the causal effects.

(For the record, I very rarely honk, blow, toot or otherwise sound my horn in traffic.  I have a blog for that.)

P.S.... Dan "Dislikeable If Only For Porking Hannah Storm" Hicks must go.

Nov 26, 2013

Rip Griffin

posted by killre

In a moment, I'll examine the decision by the creative staff of Family Guy to get rid of one of their central characters.  First let me get something else out of the way...

Realizing there are some who probably think the show a dinosaur, I'd nonetheless like to mention the way Saturday Night Live totally mailed-in their latest installment Saturday night, both live and on tape.  A lackluster guest cast in lackluster sketches and (let's all admit it) multiplied by zero cameos equals a great big dud.  Surprise, surprise.  Even "Weekend Update" --for years the one segment a viewer could consistently rely on as at least an honest effort-- failed to bring home the bacon.  For just the second time in my memory, the musical guest actually outshined the comedy.  (The other time it was Tom Petty.)  When comedy is what you're known for, that's bad.  It's like a highly reputed steakhouse suddenly serving rancid meat, but dishing out a really kick-ass salad the same night.

Perhaps it's appropriate the episode was such a turkey, since there's little doubt the Saturday Night bathtub was full of cold water because the producers, cast and crew have an upcoming Thanksgiving special on Wednesday during prime time.  I'm sure there's a cadre of jug-eared suits creeping around 30 Rockefeller who could justify not only a sketch troupe that's barely able to scrape together ninety minutes of above-average funny every two weeks being given three-and-a-half hours of airtime in just five days, but also their being given the directive, "Hey, but, you know, save da really funny stuff for T'anksgiven, huh?"  Oh, yes, I'm sure the justifications would come were they asked-for, but something tells me they'd be sleep-inducing and full of stuffing.  Suits such as these probably wouldn't be where they are if they'd even once been caught without their trusty trove of b-grade s.

So that was bad enough.  In the grand scheme, though, it was but one terrible (truly, truly terrible) episode in what has been, overall, a pretty good run in recent years.  In military terms, it was a tactical setback: injurious, but hardly debilitating.  It paled in comparison with the strategic clunker the, ug, "showrunners" of Family Guy decided to go to air with (or, if you prefer, err with) the following night.  ("Showrunners," of course, is the catch-all term that has come into vogue in recent years, owing its origins to the many, many, many commentators on this here internet thingy who are too lazy to look up a subject's actual job title, wouldn't know what it really meant if they did, lack the verbal dexterity to come up with an alternative outside of "grand poobah," but possess just enough wit to realize "grand poobah" is both a bit over-the-top and slightly more difficult to keystroke-- assuming they know how to spell it in the first place.  The reason I use it here is so I can make such comments.)

What the writers and producers of Family Guy did in the episode that aired (erred) Sunday night was kill off the family dog, Brian Griffin.  Yes, I, like your veterinarian, have attached the surname to the animal.  Your vet does it for two reasons.  One, he or she knows you regard your pet as a family member.  Two, it's easier to keep records that way.  I have done it here because the character deserves a better tag than "Brian-the-dog."

Now don't get me wrong: I'm fully aware that the next several paragraphs are about a talking cartoon dog.  I am equally aware that when viewed in that light much of what I'm about to say will seem, to some, exceedingly silly.  However, the character and the show he inhabits --er, um, I mean "inhabited"-- are a form of artistic expression which, whether you realize it or not, does have a certain structure and, whether you are conscious of it or not, that's why you watch.

Family Guy has, from the very beginning, started its theme song with a shot of the mother and father, Lois and Peter Griffin, singing the opening lines while seated at the family piano.  This is an homage to what is considered one of (some consider it the) best situation comedies in history:  All in the Family.  The open secret to All in the Family being so good in its halcyon days was the dynamic between Carroll O'Conner's Archie Bunker and Rob Reiner's Michael Stivic.  When Reiner and his on-screen wife (played by Sally Struthers) departed, the show began to develop an ever more-noticeable limp.

The creative team behind Family Guy has inflicted upon their product a similar injury.  First, consider the void Brian's exit has left in the dynamics of the cast.  Some of the most intriguing relationships in the series' run have been Brian's relationship with Lois; his relationship with Stewie; his relationship with Peter; and even his simmering, adversarial relationship with Quagmire.  Excepting that last one, while adding Chris and Meg, it can easily be argued that he was nearly every character's best friend.

*whooshing sound*  Gone.

Moreover, Brian was the anchor around which the rest of the cast swirled.  In being the only truly well-grounded central character, he allowed the others to be crazy and irreverent without completely losing direction.  He played the dual role of being both their conscience --snapping them back in line when they went too far-- and our subconscious measuring stick: the sane sentience by which we evaluated the others' nuttery.

I've heard it postulated* that Family Guy's creator, Seth MacFarlane, is tired of doing the show and is seeking a sneaky way to force Fox to cancel it.  If so, then taking a knife to its soul is a phenomenal first step.  Offing one of the human characters would have been seen as a murder most foul.  Of all the key components, Brian seemed the most expendable.  Once again, in his final act, Brian is the on-screen element that keeps the train from going completely off the rails-- at least for now.

If the show is to continue for any length of time, however, someone must step into Brian's shoes.  It won't be as easy as it looks.  Few members of the cast have his dogged gravitas (or, if you prefer, his doggy style).  Peter, quite frankly, doesn't respect Lois as much as he did Brian.  Chris is little more than a far less imaginative version of his father.  Meg suddenly shifting from runt of the litter to valued sage seems wholly unlikely.  Stewie would be far less funny and far more like Yoda.  The new dog, whatever his name, is at this point Danielle Brisebois with uncrossed eyes.

My dark horse?  Joe Swanson.

* Personally, my first theory was that they just wanted to show the producers of Game of Thrones what it felt like.

P.S.... Dan "I Know There Are Yard Lines Painted On The Field But I Don't Know What Any Of The Numbers Mean" Hicks must go.

Nov 14, 2013

Are You Jake with the Fat Man?

posted by killre

Much has been made in the past week of the recent TIME magazine cover featuring a photograph of newly re-elected New Jersey governor Chris Christie with the caption/headline, "The Elephant in the Room."  Most of the yammering heads seemed to be most concerned with the apparent crassness (crassiety?) of a once-respected periodical using the word "elephant" in connection with someone who is a rather large specimen of a human-type animal, in neither the 'strikingly tall' nor 'particularly well-muscled' categories.  No-one took a moment to point out the inaccuracy of the idiom.  "Elephant in the room" refers to a topic --usually an awkward one-- that everyone is thinking about but nobody mentions.  It's likely no-one pointed this out because they were all too busy talking about it.  Such is the state of cable news: it is often uncouth in its effort to stamp out crassness.

I never heard anyone mention, even in passing, that the sigil of Christie's political organization --Ye Grande Olde Parte-- is, in fact, an elephant.

That last factor notwithstanding, there is a whiff of desperation accompanying a publication with such name recognition resorting to a three-pronged pun that they had to know would be seen by most as little more than pointing and laughing at the fat kid.  Such is the state of the print industry: in the process of strangling print, the internet is dragging it down to its own third-grade level.  It's even more heart-wrenchingly pathetic than a meaty monthly that continues to mail issues to readers whose subscriptions have lapsed.  I'm looking at you, Smithsonian.

David Gregory, the host of NBC's Sunday morning political (I'll not call it news) show, Meet the Press, tried to be manful about it when introducing Christie in last week's episode.  The producers showed the TIME cover on-screen, Gregory mentioned the caption, but at no point in the ensuing interview did he even hint at Christie's weight.

Where Gregory did metaphorically trip and skin his knee was when he addressed the possibility of Governor Christie running for president in 2016 and clumsily asked, "Are you a moderate or are you a conservative?"  Even more clumsy, he didn't wait for an answer.  Recognizing (just maybe) that the question was of the [male bovine excrement] variety, Gregory launched into a paragraph-long citation of quotes about Christie from other Republicans, all in a vain attempt to justify the query.

By the time Gregory finally stopped talking, Christie had apparently tuned out.  Even if he didn't, really, one certainly couldn't blame him for asking, "What's the question?"

Gregory:  "Are you a moderate or a conservative?"

Christie answered precisely as you'd expect him to:

(In part)  "I don't get into these labels ... Look at my record ... Judge me by my record ... I'm very, very comfortable with [that].  All the labels, that's for the folks down in Washington, D.C. ... they love playing that game ... the people of America aren't interested in that game."

In my opinion, Christie could have gone a step or two further...

"Not only is it not my job to label myself, David, it isn't your job either.  Your job, if I were a candidate, would be to ask me substantive, relevant questions about the issues we face today and in the foreseeable future.  My job would be to answer those questions as best I can.  It is up to the voters to decide whether I'm to their own personal left or right and whether or not they're comfortable with that.  That's how the system is supposed to work.  It isn't supposed to be a matter of you trying to pinpoint where I stand on the political spectrum simply by yelling, 'C-4!' like this is some big game of 'Sink My Battleship.'"

...but he didn't.  Most likely, Christie had been coached to simply bob and weave and resist the urge to unleash any haymakers, lest he open himself to swift jabs from tag-teaming critics.

Yet the jabs were thrown anyway.  One of them came from a member of Christie's own party-- former Republican National Committee Chairman and current MSNBC political analyst Michael "I Used To Be The Republican Party's Token Black Guy But Now I'm MSNBC's Token Republican; You May Call That A Step Up But For God's Sake Don't Call It Uppity" Steele.  Early Tuesday evening, Steele said of Christie, "One little disturbing moment in the interviews that he did, when asked, 'Are you a conservative or a moderate?,' he blew the question off.  He's gonna have to answer that question for a lot of conservatives around the country, and this was not a good way to start..."

Whew.  First of all, Chairman Steele, relax: it is nearly three years 'til the next presidential election, and a bad way to start would be to start too early.  Second, Christie didn't "blow off" the question.  Blowing it off would have entailed ignoring the question and filling time by rambling about an unrelated topic.  As I stated above, what Christie did was to say, in effect, "It's not my job to label myself.  My job is to tell people what I think and trust them to decide for themselves whether or not they like it."  If you stubbornly insist, Mister Chairman, on using some negative idiom for how Christie handled the exchange, I suppose I would grudgingly allow "side-stepped."  Mismatching one's idioms is akin to a football coach telling a right tackle to do the job of a wide receiver.

Third, and most important, I don't know that Christie does have to answer the moderate-or-conservative question-- at least not in the cut, dried, precooked, prepackaged and predigested way you seem to want.  Very few politicians are better than Governor Christie at staring down a reporter and saying, "I've already answered that question a hundred times; I'm not gonna answer it again."  Moreover, the answer to the moderate-or-conservative question will be revealed in his responses to other questions.  Besides, any voter too stupid to decide whether or not they like Christie as a candidate without some pundit affixing a one-to-one-hundred score or an abstract letter grade to a wholly subjective report card probably isn't going to vote for him anyway.

If all were right with the world, such a person wouldn't be allowed to vote at all.

P.S.... Dan "I Can Screw Up Three Times In The First Eleven Seconds Of A Broadcast-- Just Watch Me" Hicks must go.

Nov 9, 2013

The Curious Case of...

posted by killre

Credit where credit is due: The narrative outlined below is cobbled together from several sections of a book called Great Lakes Shipwrecks & Survivals.  Written by William Ratigan, it was first published in 1960.  A revised edition was published in 1977.  In this case, the ambiguous word "revised" translates to "66 additional pages devoted to the Edmund Fitzgerald."  (If that statement makes you jump to the conclusion that this is yet another rehashing of that story, rest easy: It isn't.)

As for the series of events I am about to relate, there are several reasons why I have chosen to do so.  The first is the happy coincidence of recently rediscovering the story combined with the realization that the events happened almost precisely one hundred years ago-- a nice, round, and strangely gratifying number.  The second is that in this age of information, where nearly everything is available through the diligent use of a search engine, Great Lakes Shipwrecks & Survivals remains a fairly obscure source outside the State of Michigan.  The third reason is that Ratigan never tells the whole story from beginning to end.  Ratigan is not a bad writer, especially compared to some of the utter tripe that passes for writing these days, but he does vacillate somewhat between prose that is a bit stiff to prose that is uncomfortably loose and he flashes forward and back through the narrative in a way that seems calculated to make the reader seasick.  A fourth reason will become apparent later.

In the story that follows, I'm going to throw a lot of proper names at you: people, places, things.  Most of the things are given the names of people, which confuses the issue somewhat.  (The things in question, of course, are boats.  I use that term deliberately.  It is common practice on the Great Lakes to refer to vessels as "boats," irrespective of their sometimes massive size.)  In a move that would seem destined to confuse things further, I will likely follow the custom of occasionally referring to these boats by a feminine pronoun despite the fact that most of them were christened with masculine proper names.  The practice of bestowing a decidedly him name on something commonly regarded as a her reflects the fact that the people who give names to big boats don't often set foot on them.  The people who live and work on and around the big boats on a daily basis hope their vessel will be nurturing and non-confrontational, although they remain fully cognizant of her fickle nature.  The men who give the vessel its name, on the other hand, just like to put their names on things.  The bigger, the better.  I'll give you one guess why that is.  If your guess is in some way inadequate, well, you're stuck with it-- you'll just have to do the best you can.

Anyway, I'm going to throw some names at you.  If I'm any good at telling stories, you should have no trouble remembering the ones you'll need to and quickly disregarding the ones you don't.

Turn back the calendar, if you would, almost precisely one century...

At noon on Friday, November 7th, 1913, the Coast Guard station at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, a town located at the southeast corner of aptly named Lake Superior, hoisted a set of signal flags: a white pennant over a red square with a black square center.  It was a weather warning.  Gale-force winds had pushed a powerful low-pressure system down from the Arctic, across the western marches of Ontario and most of the length of the nearly 400-mile-long lake.  Captains and crews in Whitefish Bay and the St. Marys River scurried to batten down their hatches, which, for those of you who don't know, means little more than securing a tarp over the tightly clamped hatch covers as an added hedge against leaks.

Several hours later, in the gathering gloom of the late afternoon, lighted oil-lamps replaced the flags atop the flagpole.  These were not aligned in the white-over-red of a so-called nor'wester, however.  The scheme now was red over white over red, a configuration seldom seen on the Great Lakes: a hurricane warning.  Afternoon wind speeds of fifty miles per hour had already been recorded.  Now the Coast Guard was predicting gusts approaching eighty.  Compounding the issue, a rapid temperature drop began to squeeze heavy snow from the storm front.  As it barreled headlong toward Lake Huron, it wasn't just a hurricane anymore... it was also a blizzard.

Saturday morning, November 8th.  Cleveland, Ohio.  News didn't travel as quickly as the wind in 1913, so Milton Smith had no concrete idea of the white hell about to be unleashed up north.  Smith was an assistant engineer aboard the 524-foot ore carrier Charles S. Price, which was due to weigh anchor later that day and make steam for the western reaches of Lake Superior.  The weather information in that morning's Cleveland newspaper seemed innocuous enough --cold, a mixture of snow and rain, with "unsettled" weather on Sunday-- but some ambiguous, uneasy feeling made Smith pack his grip and tell his boss he was quitting.  Chief Engineer John Groundwater tried to talk him out of it, telling Smith he was throwing away good money.  This would surely be their last trip of the season, Groundwater said, and upon their return they would receive a sizeable bonus.  Smith was unmoved.

Before leaving, Smith went to see his best friend on the boat, a wheelsman named Arz McIntosh.  McIntosh leaned toward quitting, too, but ultimately he stayed.  He needed the money.  Among his parting words, McIntosh told Smith, "See you in Port Huron."  Both men lived in the area of Port Huron, Michigan.  Coincidentally, the Charles S. Price would pass close by that town on her way north, navigating the narrow shipping channel connecting the northwest corner of Lake Erie with the southern tip of Lake Huron-- a waterway formed by the Detroit River, Lake St. Claire, and the St. Claire River.  For decades before and since 1913, it was customary for friends and family of Great Lakes officers and crewmen to come down to the river whenever they knew their loved one's boat would be passing through the channel, simply to wave as the boat went by.  The men in the pilothouse would return the gesture with a salutary toot of the whistle.

Milton Smith's precise movements in the two or three days after stepping off the gangplank in Cleveland are not well documented.  Most likely he took a train to Toledo or Detroit, where he changed trains for Port Huron.  He would reenter the story later.

The movements of the Charles S. Price over that same time are a bit easier to follow.  She departed Cleveland on schedule, headed for the mouth of the Detroit River.  The Price, too, would play a key role in the upcoming drama.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, November 9th, Captain A.C. May and his boat, the 550-foot H.B. Hawgood, cleared the head of the St. Claire River near Port Huron and steamed north, up the open lake.  A few hours later, the Charles S. Price also moved up the St. Claire River.  Second mate Howard Mackley, on duty in the pilothouse, spotted his wife on the western shore and pulled the whistle cord in greeting.  Another hour or so and the Price was also upbound on Lake Huron.

The storm struck Lake Huron that Sunday with all the unbridled fury of an especially ill-tempered and angry ancient god.  The low-pressure ridge howling down from the Soo, driving a ferocious blizzard before it, smashed into another low-pressure system that had formed over the Rocky Mountains and swept across the Great Plains.  The two fronts flung themselves around each other over the open lake like those modern-day computer models of galaxies colliding, each fueling the other to greater frenzy.

In the century since, many names have been given to this monster storm.  "Freshwater Fury" is colorful (purple) if unspecific.  "White Hurricane" is certainly on point, although it sounds like the nickname of a particularly pasty pugilist.  "Dark Sunday" has a nice ring to it, even if it is begging to be co-opted by a chain of ice cream stores.  Perhaps the most eloquent title of all is the most tellingly simple one: "The Lake Huron Storm."  No-one who lived through it ever needed to ask which one.

A report published by the Lake Carriers Association later used descriptions like, "unprecedented violence... gust of such fearful speed... raged for sixteen hours continuously... average velocity of sixty miles per hour, with frequent spurts of seventy and over... waves were at least thirty-five feet high and followed each other in quick succession...ships must have been subjected to incredible punishment... wind blowing one way and the sea running in the opposite... cyclonic."

It was, in short, the worst storm in the recorded history of the Great Lakes.

In the early hours of the storm, the combination of wind and waves broke U.S. Lightship No. 61 loose from her anchorage near the northern entrance to the St. Clair River and began to batter her against the lakeshore.  Her navigational importance into the shipping channel would be proven more than once before the day was out.

Pounding her way through the storm Sunday afternoon was the iron ore carrier Matthew Andrews, downbound and heavily laden.  Having braved hundreds of miles of high wind, monstrous waves, heavy snow, and ice buildup on every surface, she was within a few minutes of making the entrance to the St. Claire River and the relative shelter therein.  Steering the course would be incredibly tricky, though.  Sighting Lightship No. 61 through the snow squalls, but unable to discern she'd been hammered hard against the shore, Captain Lampoh miscalculated his position and ran the Andrews onto the shoals.

Meanwhile Captain May, aboard H.B. Hawgood somewhere beyond Michigan's thumb, had spent much of the morning thinking discretion might be the better part of valor.  Turning the Hawgood about --no easy maneuver in those conditions-- he steamed back toward Port Huron.  Around the time of his turn, he sighted the Charles S. Price, still headed north.  May observed, in the parlance of his profession, that the Price was "making bad weather of her passage."  This was a euphemistic way of saying the boat was bucking and wallowing her way up the lake in a decidedly unhealthy manner.

Perhaps an hour went by before May sighted the upbound Regina, a 269-foot Canadian package freighter.  Captain May would be the last person to see her and live to tell of it.  Still later in the day, he spotted the 524-foot Isaac M. Scott, upbound for Milwaukee via the Straits of Mackinac.  This ship, too, would soon disappear with nary a trace.

May would have problems of his own.  Shaping his approach to the St. Claire River by Lightship No. 61, just as the captain of the Andrews had, he piloted the H.B. Hawgood aground two miles north of the channel.

On shore, the blizzard paralyzed traffic of all kinds.  Streetcars became stuck in snow drifts.  Trains were cancelled.  In some places, the snow was four feet deep.  In Cleveland, where Milton Smith had read that the weather on Sunday would be "unsettled," twenty-two inches of snow shut the city down for two days.

On Monday morning, November 10th, the newspapers were heavy with information about the thousands of dollars of damage on shore, but empty of any word from out on the big lakes.

The captain of the Lakeview lifesaving station north of Port Huron scanned his tiny portion of the lake with a telescope.  At the edge of its range, he thought he saw what looked like a big boat stripped of its smokestacks.  He ordered one of his tugs to investigate.  The tug captain couldn't believe his eyes: a large ore carrier, floating upside down, encased in ice, its bow sticking thirty feet out of the lake and its stern sunk so deeply into the choppy, dark waters that the boat's length could only be guessed.  No visible markings.  The tug captain circled several times, then went back to shore in search of a diver.  Upon returning, the diver refused to go down, citing the still-rough seas.  Throughout the rest of the week, the much-talked-about hulk would be known simply as "the mystery ship."

On Tuesday, a farmer near Grand Bend, Ontario, found the first body.  Two more corpses were quickly discovered nearby.  All three wore life jackets stenciled with the name Wexford, a 270-foot package freighter registered in Canada.  She had been built in Scotland, and no doubt had survived many an ocean storm before tramping her way to the Great Lakes.  Seventeen men died with her.

With telephone and telegraph lines still down throughout large swaths of Michigan and Ontario, and roads choked with deep snow, it fell to a railroad conductor to bring word to Sarnia (the Ontario town across the river from Port Huron) that bodies were washing ashore up the lake.  The grisly march of corpses and debris continued all week, as hope for the crewmen of missing, overdue boats faded.  In all, at least eighteen boats, including eight of the biggest on the lakes, went down with all hands in the Lake Huron Storm.  The death toll was 235.

On Thursday, the 13th, Milton Smith made his way to Thedford, Ontario, a small town about thirty-five miles east of Port Huron, where the showroom items of a combination furniture store & funeral parlor had been shoved aside to make room for a row of lifeless bodies covered in blankets.  Smith was taken aback by the first face he was shown.  Battered and bruised though it was by the storm, he easily identified the face as that of big John Groundwater, Chief Engineer of the Charles S. Price.

The coroner gave Smith a stern, skeptical look.  "Are you sure?"

Smith said he was.  After all, he had served with the man all season and had just spoken with him five days prior in Cleveland.  He was certain.  "Why?" asked Smith.

The coroner looked from Smith to the body, then reached down and grabbed a corner of the floatation vest that was still strapped to the corpse.  "If he was the chief engineer of the Price," the coroner said, returning his gaze to Smith, "why is he wearing a Regina life preserver?"

Groundwater, it turned out, was not the only man from the Charles S. Price whose body washed onto a beach wrapped in a Regina life jacket.  There were several others.  Initial speculation was that the two boats had collided somewhere on Lake Huron and the crews had intermingled.  Then, as the boats went under, the men had grabbed whatever life preserver was handiest, regardless of its stenciling.  One point against this scenario early on was that no Regina bodies came ashore wearing Price jackets.

A better point against the collision theory would soon be made.  On Saturday, November 15th, a diver finally summoned the courage to plunge into the choppy, frigid waters north of Port Huron and identify the mystery ship.  It was the Charles S. Price.  There wasn't a scratch on her.

In Great Lakes Shipwrecks & Survivals, William Ratigan speculates half-heartedly about the sequence of unknowable events that must have transpired between the Price and the Regina on Lake Huron that dark Sunday, advancing several unlikely theories (most of them still involving a collision) and just as quickly dismissing them (because there is no evidence of collision).  In the end, he puts forward no conclusions.  Perhaps he felt maintaining an air of mystery made for a better telling.

I, on the other hand, not only have a theory, but am willing to share it.

Bucking and shuddering her way up the lake, continuously coated anew with spray whipped from wavetops by hurricane winds and then freezing on contact, the Charles S. Price slowly turned into a steam-powered block of ice from the waterline to the topmast.  Empty but for ballast, she eventually became top-heavy.  An errant gust of wind or the proverbial rogue wave rolled her far enough for gravity to take hold and capsize the boat.  Some of the crew obviously made it out, some likely did not.  (Recovered bodies never accounted for every man aboard the Price.  While a dozen different things may have happened to the ones who remained forever missing, it's possible that some of them are to this day entombed in the boat, which did eventually lose buoyancy and sink.  The wreck has never been salvaged.)  Those who did escape the boat as it capsized probably had little time to do so-- so little time, perhaps, that they went into the water without life jackets.

Somehow, some way, against some mighty long odds, the Regina happened upon the survivors of the Price shortly after the latter rolled over somewhere near the center of the unholy maelstrom that was Lake Huron.  (The capsized but still floating hull of the Price shortens those odds a bit.)  Being a package freighter, the Regina was more likely to have been hauling cargo and therefore less likely to become top-heavy-- at least for a time.  Maybe they could do little more than throw life preservers to the struggling men in the water before the storm separated them, or maybe the crew of the Regina was able to fish them from the frigid caldron.  If so, the men of the Charles S. Price would have been given dry clothes, maybe a hot drink... and eventually new life preservers when this, their second boat of the day, finally succumbed to the storm.

The smaller details will never be known.  In general, though, I think this theory, um, holds water.

P.S... Dan "It's A Sad Commentary When Abbott Is Even Dumber Than Costello" Hicks must go.

Oct 29, 2013

Lunch Hour Halloween 13

Third episode of the Lunch Hour is available now. Joe and Loud Jeff discuss and debate their personal top horror movies of all time. Agree? Disagree? What'd they miss? What did they hit, through the skull with a machete? Leave comments, arguments, hate mail here in the comments bar. Maybe it'll get back to them... then again, maybe not.

Anyhow, hope all five of you like it.

NOTE: This is an Explicit discussion with big people words, that are also NSFW, and (because I'm compelled by some sense of having to tell you this) this show is not for young children. And, there *may* also be some spoilers... but those spoilers are mostly from movies that were created and shown in the 1970's and 1980's... so, we're no longer waiting for you to catch up, you've been warned all the same.

Happy Happy Halloween, Halloween....

Oct 28, 2013

Note on ObamaCare

If only George III had had a man Like Justice Roberts, working for him, everything might have turned out a little differently.

And you don't get this... then you're absolutely not paying attention to any of this stuff, are you?

Oct 21, 2013

Damned if you do...

A little note card I saw at work (okay, browsing Reddit) the other day said...

As I have grown older, I've learned that pleasing everyone is impossible, but pissing everyone off is a piece of cake!

Which is pretty much exactly where Sec of State John "why so longfaced?" Kerry seems to be in his Iraq and a hard place that he's put himself.

Apparently, the Saudis are NOT pleased with him, and the dealings with Iran, Syria and Russia. In fact, the news is reporting that Saudi rejected a two-year term on the UN Security Council - in a rare display of it's anger at the "two faced" (actually, it was written as "double standards")... perhaps, even the impiousness of that organization and what the US has been doing or not doing.

Amazingly, this posturing has won Gulf claps from Arab allies and also Egypt.

At a lunch (no word what was served, unlikely that it was BLT's) Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal agreed that the US and the Kingdom wanted nuclear-free Iran, and an end to Syria's civil war, with a stable Egypt on top - but they didn't agree on how to do those three simple things.
"We expect they'll have a substantive, a far-ranging conversation about all of those issues, areas where they disagree, areas where perhaps we can come closer together," a senior State Department official told reporters before the lunch.

Why not call it a "heart-to-heart" instead of a "bullsh*t session"? Sounds better when it's official State Department statement, rather than the usual "leak" from "Someone close to the situation, who would prefer to remain anonymous." Same guy, same throwing of plates, just sounds more smooth when it's run through a committee before given to the reporter pool.
Reading between the lines - US is off the Arab state scheme and Uncle Sam isn't listening to the coaches. The Saudi's are gaining support in the Arab world, and the Middle East over all. The US is at a point where they have a choice - Negotiate with Iran, and deal with Russia on Syria -- or risk realignment in the Middle East as the Arab states decide to declare policy without, or at least independent of, Washington.
Given that Washington can't even get a web site up, excuse me if I'm a little concerned that they don't have a unified foreign policy in the Middle East.