My Confusion, Circa 1988

When I was younger, I sometimes confused Patty Smyth:

With Patti Smith:

It could happen to anyone, right?

Although sometime in 1993 or 1994, I had written a novel that featured a dark haired and dark eyed young woman as a love interest, and when I saw a ten-year-old Patty Smyth music video, I thought, that’s her. Maybe I based Kym Russano on Patty Smyth, as I’m sure I had seen “The Warrior” (as I referred to it in a collegiate commentary).

All I know is that I have to keep typing their names so that perhaps when I can tell them apart I can spell their names correctly (unlike in 1992).

Now Serving

As part of his annual Christmas party, my oldest son has to bring something that tastes strange to school, so he wanted to stop at the Asian grocery store.

I’ve done this from time to time, generally when my beautiful wife is hunting something exotic for a recipe, and I have taken to picking up some odd canned fruits to serve with dinner. In the past, I’ve gone as far as canned quail eggs, although I’m pretty sure that I didn’t even try those.

So whilst my son got his crazy soft drinks and candy, I picked out a selection.

We have:

  • Mango Slices in Syrup
  • Bitter Melon in Brine
  • Toddy Palm’s Seed Whole in Syrup
  • Jackfruit in Syrup
  • Longan in Syrup
  • Banana Blossoms in Brine

Each night, I alternate between my boys and ask them to pick and apportion the fruit into three bowls (as my wife does not care to participate in this ritual). So we tend to go from the more known to the more frightening-sounding as we go.

True to form, the youngest first picked the mango slices.

Then, last night, my oldest chose the banana blossoms which I thought would be the last selection. After putting them into the bowls, he drank from the can, thinking it contained syrup instead of brine. He pulled a face and spit it out and learned that not all fruit are stored in sweet syrup. Banana blossoms in brine, by the way, taste like bland artichoke hearts.

So now I’m betting the toddy palm seed will be the last. I think the youngest will take the longan tonight, and the jackfruit is a relatively known quality as we’ve had it before.

Lately, the local supermarket has offered fresh jackfruit, but I’m not sure why. I know when I was a produce clerk, something exotic appearing on our racks meant that the warehouse had mispicked the item, sending us sugar canes instead of limes, and they told us not to bother sending it back. So we would put it out since it didn’t cost us anything (we got credit on our invoice for the case of limes that didn’t show up), so any novelty sales to people like what I have become would be pure profit.

But I have not bought a fresh jackfruit yet.

Perhaps soon.

Angel in the Centerfold

Man, the centerfold in this week’s Springfield Business Journal is HAWT!

When I posted this on Facebook, my beautiful wife pointed out that the story on her company is not in the centerfold, but on page five. The math proves she is better than a Page 3 girl.

I was just talking to my grandmother this week, and she remarked on a twenty-year-old picture my wife and I that I sent her (my grandmother) in October. She said that she had forgotten how pretty my wife is. I have not, of course, although I do have some difficulty in convincing my wife how pretty she is.

I guess I have already mentioned that she’s all that from 1998 and more. This post was just an excuse again to show how I married up.

Also, We Must Raze Aurora

A Missouri lawmaker is setting himself up to be the next exemplar of religious fanatics in the Republican party: State representative says there shouldn’t be a “false god” on the capitol building:

A local lawmaker is asking state officials to prevent putting up a statue of a [R]oman goddess back on the [C]apitol building.

State Representative Mike Moon, from Ash Grove, wrote to Governor Mike Parson claiming the statue of Ceres Is a “false god” and should not be displayed on the capitol dome. [capitalization corrected]

What does he think of having a town not far from his named after a Roman goddess?

I Haven’t Mentioned Her Name In Almost 24 Hours

Marie Fredriksson, Roxette singer, dead of cancer at 61:

Roxette singer Marie Fredriksson, the Swedish star who achieved worldwide fame with such hits as “Joyride” and “It Must Have Been Love,” has died at age 61 after a 17-year battle with cancer.

“The Look” came on the radio when I took my boys to school yesterday, and I recounted the ‘fact’ that she could not speak English when this song was released.

I must have heard that on the radio at the time. I have no idea if it was ever true.

Fun fact: My friend Dave (of the Iron Maiden poster fame) and I argued against my brother about the staying power of Milli Vanilli (David and I posited) versus Roxette (my brother countered). In retrospect, it pretty much a wash in American music and its charts, and Roxette has only appeared on this blog as a punchline (Scientists Prove Rest of World Is Parallel Universe to United States in 2007, Free Trivia Answer in 2005).

Still, I am saddened to learn of her passing.

The Legendary M&M Gift Tags of Nogglestead

Not quite as legendary as the wallpaper gift wrap of Nogglestead, the M&M labels I’ve used for a couple of years certainly are noteworthy.

Because I buy Christmas gifts all year long, I need gift tags all year long. Which means I often run out of gift tags in February, and the Christmas wrapping material is no longer in stores. I looked for gift tags in the local Walmarts, and I didn’t tend to find them. So I went to Amazon and searched for adhesive gift tags, and I bought the least expensive ones I could find.

The title pretty clearly said M&M, and I am sure if I magnified the image I would have seen that they did, in fact, depict M&Ms in various party ways.

Did I send them back?

Of course not.

I have been using them for years.

I am about to finally run out of them along with that fabled wallpaper, so I am going to have to buy some Christmas ones while they’re available and somehow come up with gift tags for birthdays and whatnot.

However, if I order from the Internet again, I will look more closely.

The funny thing is, though, I am not sure anyone has noticed this family ‘tradition.’

Losing the Mannheiming of Christmas

One of the radio presets in our vehicles switches to Christmas music in mid-November, so we get our share of Christmas music that does not come from our growing collection of LPs.

And you know what I haven’t heard on this station in the last couple of years or, to my recollection, on KEZK in St. Louis when I lived there and on recent trips back?

Mannheim Steamroller.

This band really broke through after a number of albums with its 1984 Christmas album. I remember seeing this video on MTV with my brother; we were lying on my grandmother’s floor, and when it finished, we both said, Whoa.

But you don’t hear it in the mix much these days. Of course, the radio Christmas playlists have suddenly (maybe not suddenly?) tilted to modern artists doing secular winter songs, so you get a lot of Taylor Swift and Michael Buble, but not a lot of Steve and Eydie and whatnot.

So I guess that’s where Mannheim Steamroller went. Into the past.

I have this album, Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, and a later Christmas album, Christmas in the Aire on audio cassette. I should see about getting them on CD. Mannheim Steamroller Christmas was the first Christmas album I bought, werd.

Book Report: The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane by Robert E. Howard (2004)

Book coverI read Robert E. Howard’s Conan novels in 2014 and bought this book in January. Since these are all proceeds from Christmas gift cards at Barnes and Noble, I had to clear the deck for this year’s expected gift card. I can only hope that Barnes and Noble has another Robert E. Howard collection to pick up.

This book collects stories, poems, and fragments of incomplete stories featuring a swashbuckling Puritan having adventures. The character differs from Conan, but the plots and the way they play out really do not. Kane goes to different exotic places, particularly Africa, and encounters fallen and decadent civilizations and has to fight his way out. One of the stories featured a device similar to one in a Conan story–a hidden priest speaking through an idol–but it plays out differently than the Conan story.

The style is rich pulp–the plots are two-fisted, but the prose has some heft. More than an Executioner novel, anyway. I enjoyed reading the fragments even though they would not resolve because the plot and the setup were good on their own.

The Robert E. Howard library series contains a number of other volumes, and I can only hope they’re available at Barnes and Noble after the holiday. Or I’ll have to–gasp!–order them from Barnes and Noble’s Web site.

I Blame The Dharma Initiative

Polar bear spray-painted with ‘T-34’ baffles Russia wildlife experts:

Footage shared on social media in Russia of a polar bear with “T-34” spray-painted in black on its side has alarmed experts.

Experts warned the stunt could affect the animal’s ability to blend in with its surroundings and hunt for food.

An investigation is under way to determine exactly where in Arctic Russia the video was filmed.

I’ve seen this before.

Fifteen years later, I’m probably the only one still alluding to Lost.

UPDATE: It looks as though Ms. K. has also commented on the story.

The Poignancy Of Growing Children and the Dangers of Poignant Photos

So my boys’ school has a program that pairs kids from higher grades with kids from lower grades for a bit of story time and crafts. The program is called Big Friend/Little Friend.

So one of the the Christmas projects is a candle holder wherein the urchins paste some tissue paper squares on glass.

In his 2nd grade year, he made a little one when he was a little friend. We put it on the little mirror shelf that is the only real repository for knick-knacks and figurines at Nogglestead. It’s been up there ever since with a collection of little candles we’ve acquired in various places.

Now, in his 6th grade year, he’s on the Big Friend side of the equation, and he made another with his Little Friend. However, as he was older, he grabbed a Mason jar instead of a little votive.

I thought it would make a poignant photo of how the boys are growing.

I was going to end with a quip about how I hope the youngest does not expect the Mason jar to go on display as well, but in picking up the small votive, it broke. I have picked it up to dust it once or twice in the last four years (maybe three times), but when I grasped it by the lip of the votive, the glass broke and was only held together by the tissue paper. So even the small votive won’t be on display.

So, suddenly, we’ve gotten a different life lesson from this act of photography. I’m not sure what it is. Tempus Fugit, and whatever the Latin is for “sometimes in setting up the artifice of a photo to illustrate life lessons on my little-read blog creates its own bad lessons.”

On Pomp and Circumstance by Jean Sheppard

Book coverYou’re familiar with his work and his voice–he wrote the the basis for A Christmas Story and narrated it–and he had a long-running radio program back in the northeast where he would spend an hour minus commercials taking a topic and going off on a monologue with diversions about it.

In the middle 1960s, from whence these particular episodes come, contain the similar reflective humor from the curmudgeon genre. Kids these days, these modern things aren’t as good as they used to be, and so on. A little like Andy Rooney, but less cranky. A little like Dennis Miller, but less arch.

Sheppard covers different things, such as the difference in radio broadcasting technology, how Americans envy other countries their sense of stuffed shirt pomp, going to shows and the movies, regional accents, and so much more.

Each disc has a single episode on it, so the sample size is only eight shows, but it made for amusing but not laugh-out-loud funny on various car rides. My beautiful wife, however, did not like it, so perhaps the appeal is more towards the curmudgeonly amongst us.

Military Scientists Make The Sword and The Sorcerer Prototype A Reality

US air forces in Syria use rare Hellfire missile to kill two targets:

The projectile used in the attack in Atmeh is believed to be a rare Hellfire missile known as the AGM-114R9X — which instead of a traditional warhead, has sword-like blades that protrude out of it, according The Warzone.

Video of the field trials below:

If it were lasers, you know I’d have gone with Real Genius.

Scoring Low On A Rolling Stone Quiz Is No Shame

Some twenty-year-old has compiled a list called The 25 Greatest Christmas Albums of All Time.

How many do I own? Answers in bold:

  • Weezer, A Weezer Christmas
  • Christmas Joy in Latvia – Latvian Christmas Cantatas
  • Jacob Miller, Natty Christmas
  • Sufjan Stevens, Songs for Christmas
  • Bob Dylan, Christmas in the Heart
  • New Wave Xmas: Just Can
  • t Get Enough
  • Cee Lo, Cee Lo’s Magic Moment
  • She & Him, A She & Him Christmas
  • Christmas on Death Row
  • Carpenters, Christmas Collection
  • Johnny Cash, Christmas With Johnny Cash
  • A Very Special Christmas
  • Frank Sinatra, A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra
  • The Ventures, The Ventures
  • Christmas Album
  • Willie Nelson, Pretty Paper
  • Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas
  • Soul Christmas
  • Bing Crosby, White Christmas
  • Beach Boys, Beach Boys
  • Christmas Album
  • Louis Armstrong and Friends, The Best of Christmas Songs
  • A Motown Christmas
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas
  • James Brown, James Brown
  • s Funky Christmas
  • Elvis Presley, Elvis’ Christmas Album
  • A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector

Of the ones I’m missing, I might only want a couple. Ella, Louis Armstrong, maybe the Charlie Brown Christmas, the Sinatra, maybe the Phil Spector one. Am I allowed to want the last? He went to jail for murdering his wife. I mean, it’s not the same as touching a woman on the bum who later decided she didn’t want to be touched on the bum.

At any rate, one wonders how many Christmas records a modern journalist has or plays at all.

You know I do.

(Link via Ace of Spades HQ.)

On Heaven or Heresy: A History of the Inquisition by Thomas Madden

Book coverThis course extends the lecture on the Inquisition from Medieval Mysteries and gives a fairly detailed history of the Inquisitions starting with the fact that the although the common 20th and 21st century representations of “the Inquisition” were oversimplified, incomplete, and based on popular culture not only of the current time but also the past centuries.

Well, okay, he starts with part of that and ends with a couple of lectures about how the various Inquisition was eventually portrayed after the Enlightenment as brutal and backward.

But in between, the ten or so lectures between introduction and conclusion, provide good historical context for the differences between the inquisitions in various regions and the modern, post-Enlightenment propoganda and popular culture interpretation of the Inquistion.

He lays out the contemporary zeitgeist–that it was a more uniform religious time, when crop failures and whatnot were still interpreted as God’s displeasure with a people as in the Old Testament. So the people wanted someone to come root out the heretics who were displeasing to God, and how the local rulers liked to take this upon themselves to find and quickly eliminate troublemakers in the area–often not so much theological disbelievers as political malcontents. So the local church leaders could call for an inquiry, which sought to find disbelievers and to convince them to return to the faith. Use of torture was limited, and the hearings had strict rules of evidence for the most part, and have some number of records in the church archives to support this. Only after a long inquisition and failure to recant was a presumed heretic released to the secular authorities for execution.

However, it did evolve, and by the time of the Spanish Inquisition, some of these rules were loosened. The ecclesiastical inquisition was co-opted by the Spanish government, so it was a little more brutal than other inquisitions.

Inquisitions, as they were, continued into the time of the Reformation where both Protestants and Catholics used them to ferret out the heretics–which were essentially the other side of that particular schism. Eventually, though, when the religious wars burned out, the inquisitions did, too, although the Spanish Inquisition formally continued into the nineteenth century.

When the Enlightenment authors got going, though, the Inquisitors were always the bad guys, and the then they were comic relief.

So the course adds detail to the one lecture he gave in the more summary course noted above, but I’m not sure I’m going to retain much from the extra material, and I’m not driven to a medeival studies degree with an emphasis in the material. But it did pass the time in the car and gave me a better time than the limited playlists on the radio.

And I’m thinking about writing historical fantasy with an Inquisitor as a protagonist. But Howard has almost done that with his Puritan Solomon Kane better than I would.

On Thinking Like An Economist: A Guide to Rational Decision Making by Randall Bartlett

Book coverThis Great Courses series of lectures provided an interesting insight into Economics, or more to the point the mindset of economists, and not necessarily in the way the professor behind it intended.

I mean, it does present some of the basic tenets of Economic theory. Namely, that people respond to incentives to make their lives according to their standards better; that decisions have costs; that free markets are good; that nobody has complete information for any decision; that decisions and actions often have unintended consequences, and that in the aggregate, crowds are wise (until they’re not). It really emphasized the concept of marginal value, which is that eventually effort will yield smaller results (also known as the law of diminishing results).

All of which I agree with. But then, economists’ thinking takes a turn into the totalitarian, where since economists have mastered these principles, they should build or help systems to alter individuals’ incentive structures so that they, the individuals, will make the right choices according not to the individuals’ but the economists’ ideas of what the subjects “free” individuals should be. So if traffic or air pollution is too high, it just makes sense to raise taxes to make it more expensive to drive into town. And when it comes to the environment, the economists must act because of the tragedy of the commons or something.

You know, the tragedy of the commons: When individuals share a resource, they will take more than their share because they alone are not responsible for its upkeep. Which, too, is an economist’s invented problem, because it features individuals divorced from tradition, religion, or morals who only act according to the economist’s reasoning constraints and unlike people.

So it falls to philosopher-king economists, ultimately, to set the incentive structures for people who don’t natively play by the pure economist rules to reach the economist-reasoned best outcomes. They ignore or diminish the elements of uncertainty that their own principles recognize (incomplete information, unintended consequences, freedom). Instead, they become Jigsaw Keynesers: You’re free to choose whether you want to cut your comfort off or pay extra taxes for heating your home.

Maybe instead they’re Keyneser Soze, except the greatest trick economists have ever pulled is convincing themselves they’re not the devil.

Maybe I should stop with the Keynes jokes already and get to the “at any rate” summation of what I got out of the course.

At any rate, some good, practical ways of thinking about values in decisions, but only at a low, tactical level. It’s best not to build a whole philosophy on it or to let others with credentials impose it upon you.

Personal Relics: The Christmas Stocking

My sainted mother knew how to sew. She knew how to do needlepoint, crewel, embroidery, and other things. She even had a little business hosting Creative Circle parties, shilling and selling their craft kits.

But when it came time to tart up our Christmas stockings, she went with some green iron on letters she probably bought at the flea market on the hill above our trailer park.

They’ve faded on one side over the years as they hung on the paneling of the trailer or to the right of the sofa in the living room down the gravel road. She made one for my brother and one for herself, the three of us against the world. When I got to high school, we got into the habit of actually putting things in the stockings. It’s a tradition that continues to this day, as I fill my wife and children’s stockings with gift cards and candy and little gifts on Christmas Eve.

I’m not sure when I took possession of it, either. It might have been after my mother passed away. I’ve never hung it by a chimney with care, either; by the time I lived places with actual chimneys, my mother-in-law, who is more crafty than sewy, created some felt and bangled stockings for the whole family. So these are hung by our chimney with care to be filled on Christmas Eve.

So I hang the old stocking in my office, generally taping it onto the Arkanoid video game and rehanging it often as it peels off.

It’s not the only Christmas decoration that reminds me of my mother and my youth, but it does often as it falls to the floor again..

The Meme Reminds Me Of

I saw this on Facebook:

It didn’t resonate with me as me. Which is not to say I’ll not be grabbing my beautiful wife in, erm, twenty or so years (that soon?).

It reminds me of a guy I worked with in the print shop circa 1996. Kenny had worked at the shop since The War, forty years by then, and he’d worked with a lot of the employees for a long time as well. I find it hard to believe now, but many of the employees had been with the shop for decades, having moved with it from the city of St. Louis out to the then-hinterlands of O’Fallon sometime in the 1960s. So these people had worked together a long, long time.

A woman named Della worked on the bag presses as a boxer. Every day for innumerable years, she took bags as they came off the printer and after they’d run through the glue and folding channels, and she placed them in boxes. Whenever she would walk by Kenny’s little t-head press, he’d hoot and catcall her. And she was someone’s grandma probably. Maybe great grandma.

But Kenny had known her when they were younger, and maybe she was quite a looker in the 1950s. So he still made suggestions that he should probably consult his doctor before attempting, and she laughed at him.

I thought it might make an interesting novel: A tight knit group who’d work together a long time gets blown up when the woman in this case, who has flirted with a male employee for decades, looks at her retirement and finds it wanting so she sues the company for allowing sexual harassment. I think I got as far as naming a few characters, but that was it (twenty-some years ago).

In the actual print shop, though, there as no tension, and Della might have been flattered.

As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve come to understand something of Kenny’s viewpoint. To twenty-four-year-old Brian J., Della was old, but that’s because I met her when she was older. But I’ve known my wife for over twenty years now. Technically, she is old enough to be a grandmother herself (somehow); by the time my mother was her age, I had graduated college, and it would only be a year or so until my mother was a grandmother. My own grandmother was a grandmother much earlier.

I think my wife is as beautiful as she was when she was twenty-five. She is that girl and the woman she has become. So she’s that girl and more. She’s all that she was plus all she has become since then. I don’t think I can quite explain it, but there it is.

So as I get older, like Kenny, I shall likely continue to make suggestive remarks even as I advance to an age where that will make me a goat. Because of Kenny. And the Spenser novels. And my wife, who will become even more beautiful (although I’m not sure how the math works on that).

$#*! My Dad Says: The Next Generation

Gen Z’s ‘OK, Boomer’ meme may become a TV show.

It’ll be as big as the television series based on a Twitter feed was ten years ago.

Which is to say, not very big at all. Even William Shatner could not save it.

Because old people watch television, and they don’t want to watch television mocking them nearly as much as kids want to make television shows that mock old people.

Besides, as you know, I’ve already got a favorite Boomer show.

Depend on the Meaning of “Independent”

The New York Times has taken to advertising to me on Facebook.

One of the largest papers in the country is not exactly what I would call “independent” journalism. I’m not even sure who would be “dependent” journalists would depend upon in this formulation if not a full-time job with a prestigious newspaper.

Also, “Every Fact. Every story.” oversells what the paper actually delivers.