Friday, January 29, 2010

Trust, but Verify

It all started about a month and a half ago, when the following appeared in the comment section:

I find your blog interesting. I look forward to reading it some more.

That was left by anonymous. I don't know why anonymous couldn't use his or her own name, or use a fake name. After all, he or she was paying me a compliment. It wasn't the most imaginative comment, but that's all right. I'll take a kind word any way I can get it. This comment appeared a few more times over a course of a week. Then, one day, a new comment appeared:

Me like your blog. Me want to read more.

Was Tonto a fan? Tarzan, perhaps? About a week later, the syntax improved. There was, however, a suggestion:

I like your blog. How about more pictures?

More pictures? That would assume I had pictures in the first place. "How about pictures?" would have been more accurate. Anyway, whoever anonymous was, he or she didn't hold the absence of pictures against me:

Am really interested in your blog. Keep writing on similar topics

: )

Always nice to receive encouragement. It's not always nice to get utterly confused:

Use the track reply four button operating system. Engineering prototypes plus hard drive replacement procedures. Proceed at ultimate capacity.

I chose not to proceed at ultimate capacity. Anonymous ultimately did:

Anonymous didn't just stop there, for a week later:

No celebrity names attached. Guess they're on the bashful side.

It was obvious the spammers had finally discovered me. And horney spammers at that. Well, folks, I hate to do it, but the time has finally come to turn on the word verification thingee. About half of those who follow this blog already have these devices and know how they work. You get a nonsense word like this:


Which you then have to copy in a long rectangular box, before your comment will be accepted. The idea being that a computer is sending the spam, and thus incapable of copying a nonsense word. I hope so.

But first I'd like to conduct a little test. Those of you who aren't spammers may stop reading. This test is not for you.

Now, spammers, I'm going to give you two nonsense words. Actually, they're not nonsense words at all, they're really scrambled up words, like that one puzzle on the comic pages. You're task, spammers, is to unscramble these words:


Thursday, January 28, 2010

In Memoriam: J.D. Salinger 1919-2010

Writer. Catcher in the Rye.

Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around--nobody big, I mean--except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff--I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all the day. I'd just be a catcher in the rye and all.

Grand. There's a word I really hate. I could puke every time I hear it.

It was a very stupid thing to do, I'll admit, but I hardly even knew I was doing it.

If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she's late? Nobody.

I'm sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect.

That's the whole trouble. You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write fuck you under your nose.

Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In Memoriam: Howard Zinn 1922-2010

Historian. Political Scientist. Author. A People's History of the United States.

Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

If those in control of ideas--politicians, corporate executives, owners of press and television--can dominate ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling our streets. We will control ourselves.

Most wars, after all, present themselves as humanitarian endeavors to help people.

Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat.

If the gods had intended people to vote, they would have given them candidates.

Monday, January 25, 2010

In Memoriam: Jean Simmons 1929--2010

Movie actress. Hamlet. Guys and Dolls. Elmer Gantry. Spartacus.

"The only person in the picture (Hamlet) who gives every one of her lines the bloom of poetry and the immediacy of ordinary life"

--James Agee

(He wasn't all that ordinary, but a certain Mr. Olivier was also pretty good in that flick. That said, I do agree with Mr. Agee about the beautiful and talented actress. She's also very good in the other three films mentioned at the top of the post, but I like her best as Ophelia, the Shakespearean noblewoman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Call me a hopeless romantic--KJ)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Following Update

He's left comments in the past, which I appreciate, and he's now bicycled into the lower left hand corner, which I further appreciate. Welcome photographer extraordinaire Once Known as Badger.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bill of Rights


Freedom of speech. Cherish it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Brown But Not Out

Having stayed away from politics for a while, I was going to do a major post about the whole Harry Reid brouhaha, thinking the story still had legs. Well, after what happened yesterday in Massachusetts, those legs may now be stumps. I may still do the Reid post, since I've got the whole thing mapped out in my brain. We'll see. I hate throwing out a map just because it's a bit dated.

A Republican was elected Senator in Massachusetts! A state synonymous with liberalism. At least it is among the talking heads on TV last night. Maybe cliche should be synonymous with cable news. Well, that's kind of harsh. They may have good reason for such generalizing. The state's nickname, at least among outsiders leaning to the right, is Taxachusetts. And, of course, the Kennedys are from there.

Still, there may have been a conservative, even reactionary, undercurrent that went unnoticed. In 1975, an episode of Welcome Back, Kotter was banned in Boston because the general manager of the local ABC affiliate thought the show had something to do with desegregation, which was a hot topic in the city that year due to court-ordered busing. The general manager evidently thought viewers might freak out and turn violent if they saw Arnold Horshack and Freddie "Boom-Boom" Washington sharing the same classroom. That same decade also saw the banning of The Jackson Five and Marvin Gaye. In fact, until about 1980, the phrase, or cliche, "banned in Boston" was synonymous with censorship. I'm not suggesting any direct line between Welcome Back, Kotter and Scott Brown's win, only that Massachusetts may be more complex than it's been characterized. And remember, it's had a couple of Republican governors in recent years, including Mitt Romney.

As I don't live there, I don't know exactly where the Democratic Party went wrong in Massachusetts. I do have an idea where it went wrong, or is going wrong, in the nation as a whole, and I'll likely share that in some future post.

To use another cliche, this all could be a blessing in disguise. The burden of the 60-vote majority has been lifted from the Democrats shoulders. The Senate can now pass legislation with a simple majority. If the Republicans threaten to filibuster, let them. Maybe we can make then stay up all night, like back in the old days. C-SPAN for insomniacs.

But that's not the best reason to be rid of the 60-vote majority. Without the 60-vote majority, Joe Lieberman is no longer the most powerful man in the Senate.

Gee, I'm feeling better all ready.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

Attention all Northeast Ohio bloggers., the online version of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, is starting a blogger directory, and they've asked me to spread the word. Which I think I just did. If you're interested, register here . I know I'm going to.

I just hope the folks at the PD don't find out that I once delivered the Cleveland Press.

Any Greater Clevelander over 40 should get that joke.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Following Update

I'd like to welcome Elisabeth from Down Under. As I've done in the past, and will continue to do until I run out of room, I've added her blog Sixth in Line to the blog roll.

You may wonder why I always do that. Well, my feeling is that if someone finds what I have to say interesting, then I'll find what they have to say interesting as well. So far, that has been the case. And it certainly has added variety to my blog roll. For instance, I've got both the atheistic Alphaville, and an italics-speaking supreme being's Small Talk With God.

Let's see some focus group come up with that!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Romanov á Clef

I'd like to take you back to the days when Russia was ruled by a Czar. Or Tsar. Take your pick. I prefer czar, as tsar sounds like that little electrical device that the police use to subdue unruly drunks.

However you spell the word, Nicholas II was the man who held the title at the beginning of the 20th century. He and his wife, Alexandria, had four daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, and one son, Alexei. Alexei was heir apparent to the Russian throne, but it looked like he might not live long enough to become Czar as he suffered from hemophilia, which ran rampant in Queen Victoria's family. What in the world does Queen Victoria have to do with Russia? Genetically speaking, the old royal families of the various European countries had much more in common with each other than they ever did with their own subjects. Such blue blood inbreeding tended to exacerbate inherited diseases such as hemophilia. The Czarina sought out doctor after doctor hoping to find a cure for the young prince, but to no avail. Finally, she turned to religion. She turned to Rasputin.

Grigori Rasputin was a priest or a monk or a mystic or a psychic or a soothsayer or--well, people then and now couldn't quite decide what exactly he was. The Mad Monk is one common moniker, but he was rarely called that to his face. Mad or not, he had a following in St. Petersburg, the Russian capital at the time, and soon came to the attention of the Czarina, who sought his help. Rasputin agreed to treat the little prince, and Alexei was soon rid of Grandma Vicky's genetic booby prize. For a while, anyway. But whenever the hemophilia flared up again, Rasputin was called, and the disease subsided. He once cured the prince by telegram! What was Rasputin's secret? Some say hypnosis. Others say the earlier doctors, well-meaning as they may have been, were quacks by today's standards, and did things such as prescribe that new wonder drug, aspirin, which we know now is the wrong thing to give a hemophiliac, as it exacerbates bleeding. Rasputin may have just given common sense advice, like get plenty of bed rest. Rasputin may have just been lucky.

If you had asked Rasputin, he would have told you it was God. If so, that same supreme being had some odd things in store for Russia in the coming years.

Rasputin soon went from being a palace doctor to a trusted advisor on all matters domestic and foreign. He became a familiar figure in the Russian court, where he spread his religious doctrine of "salvation through sin", that God couldn't very well forgive you until you've done something that needed forgiving. In Rasputin's case, this meant huge orgies with the ladies of the court, after which they all sought redemption. In layman's terms, that's having your cake and eating it, too.

Along came World War I. Russia declared war on Germany. Rasputin suggested that the leader of the Russian army, who, by most accounts, was very good at his job, be replaced by Czar Nicholas II himself, a man with no previous military experience. While Nicholas was busy losing battles abroad, Rasputin replaced all the Czar's ministers with his own handpicked cronies, whose botched-up policies increased turmoil at home. Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky took notice.

Not everyone thought Rasputin was doing God's work. He made his share of enemies, and these enemies plotted to kill him, and kill him, and--Well, I'm getting ahead of myself.

A group of disgruntled nobles lured Rasputin to a house on the pretense that there would be some pretty young things there in need of salvation. Once he had arrived, the nobles served him poisoned cake and poisoned wine. I don't know about alcohol, but Rasputin could certainly hold his cyanide, consuming enough to kill five men.

Seeing this wasn't getting them anywhere, one of the nobles pulled out a gun and simply shot Rasputin.

Rasputin fell. And then got right back up.

Rasputin was shot again, fell again, and then got right back up again.

This scene repeated itself a couple more times.

Obviously, shooting wasn't getting the nobles anywhere either, so they all ganged up on him and began pounding away. Rasputin fell. And then got right back up. So they beat the hell out of him some more until he was finally unconscious, after which they castrated him (no more salvation with pretty young things for this guy.) They then tied him up and threw him into an icy river.

Rasputin's body was found three days later. His arms were untied and in an upright position. He had apparently tried to claw his way through the ice before finally drowning.

The Russian monarchy wasn't nearly as hardy. Soon thereafter it fell to the Bolsheviks. The Czar, Czarina, and their children were executed.

But our story does not end there. Let's jump ahead about fifteen years and a half a world away to a place called Hollywood. In 1932, MGM made a movie of the events I've just described called Rasputin and the Empress starring John, Ethel, and Lionel Barrymore (but not Drew; she wouldn't be born for another 42 years.) Lionel played Rasputin, Ethel played the Czarina, and John played Prince Paul Chegodieff, a fictional character who finally kills Rasputin. You may be wondering how someone who actually lived could be killed by someone who didn't. So did Prince Felix Yusupov.

Yusupov was the ringleader of the gang that plotted to kill Rasputin, and, in fact, it was in his house where the murder, or whatever it was, occurred. Yusupov, having escaped the revolution and now living in London, believed the John Barrymore character was based on him, and sued MGM for libel. Yusupov's beef wasn't that the film depicted him as killing Rasputin in cold blood; he was proud of that. What bugged him, and was perhaps an insult to his manhood, was that the movie showed his wife being seduced by Rasputin. The missus said it didn't happen, and he believed her. MGM lost, and the Prince and his wife were awarded $120,000, millions in today's money. Plus the scene was cut.

As a result of this lawsuit, Hollywood studios began inserting a disclaimer in the credits of every film, one that soon spread to books as well:

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Rasputin may be dead, but Prince Felix Yusupov lives on.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Quips and Quotations (Health Care Reform Edition)

Woman from bookkeeping: Doctor, I believe one of your patients have died.
Doctor: How do you know?
Woman from bookkeeping: Because I asked to see his proof of insurance and he didn't answer.

Anesthesiologist (observing the patient on the operating table, who doesn't look a day over 25): Isn't she kind of young to have a hysterectomy?
Doctor (annoyed): She's 53! That's what her chart says!

Head of Nurses (after finding out the wrong patient was accidentally anesthetized): Is she all right?
Nurse: They had to go inside. That's never good.

Doctor: Don't pin this death on me! I already have one malpractice suit hanging over my head!

Chief of Medicine (in reference to another mix up where a doctor was accidentally killed): Where do you train your nurses, Mrs. Christie--Dachau? Now, what the hell am I going to tell this boy Schaefer's parents? That a substitute nurse assassinated him because she couldn't tell the doctors from the patients on the floor?

Edmund Drummond (explaining how he was able to leave his hospital room and kill doctors and nurses unnoticed) So at 9:15 this morning I rang for my nurse--
Chief of Medicine: Rang for your nurse?
Edmund Drummond: To ensure one full hour of interrupted privacy.

Chief of Medicine: We've established the most enormous medical entity ever conceived. Transplants, anti-bodies, we can produce birth ectogenetically, we can clone people like carrots, and yet half the kids in this ghetto haven't been inoculated for polio!

--from the movie The Hospital (1971) Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky

Saturday, January 9, 2010

In Memoriam: Art Clokey 1921-2010

Stop-motion animator. Gumby. Davey and Goliath.

"Hippies always got Gumby. They could see he was an honest expression right from my heart."

(Though Clokey created Davey and Goliath for the Lutheran Church, he later became a Zen Buddhist--KJ)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Blog Vérité: Out of Bounds

(Whenever I put "Blog Vérité" in the title of a post, I'm usually relating a conversation I was a part of, a conversation I've eavesdropped on, or something I've witnessed, and is as close to the absolute truth as memory will allow. When a post doesn't have "Blog Vérité in the title, well, sometimes I exaggerate, and you shouldn't believe everything you read on the Internet, anyway. This time around I'm recounting something I heard on the radio. Normally, I wouldn't describe something I heard over the airwaves as "vérité", as professional broadcasters usually watch what they say, and it thus lacks the spontaneity and unpredictability of a real life conversation. But this particular drama involves a couple of nonprofessionals, as well as one stymied professional, and that's spontaneous and unpredictable enough for me. If the professional seems a bit too sensitive compared to what's usually heard on the radio, it's because this conversation took place over two decades ago, before the the era of the shock jock. In retrospect, a more genteel time--KJ)

In 1987, Cleveland's top-rated rock station WMMS decided to schedule a call-in radio show on Sunday nights. Kind of unusual at the time for a station that played mostly music, but my guess is Sunday was a night with few listeners anyway, so why not experiment? I don't recall the show lasting very long.

1987 was also the year the Cleveland Browns met the Denver Broncos for the first of three appearances together in the AFC Championship Game. The Browns were ahead 20-13 in the fourth quarter, when Denver quarterback John Elway led his team 98 yards in five minutes, tying the game at 20-20 and forcing it to go into overtime. The Broncos then won with a field goal. Final score: 23-20.

Not surprisingly, this heartbreak of a loss was the topic of much conversation on the WMMS show that Sunday night. As it was a rock, rather than a sports, station, the calls were from mostly teens and twentysomethings. As a twentysomething myself listening, two calls in a row stand out.

"Go ahead, caller," said the radio host (whose name I've long forgotten and wouldn't use here anyway.)

"I want to talk about the Browns game." This was a particularly unctuous sounding teen male. Think Eddie Haskell, retooled for the 1980s.

"Terrible loss, but there's always next year," said the host, casually.

"That's right, and I'd like to thank Bernie Kosar and the rest of the Browns for giving us a great season!"

Now, I thought the teen sounded a little sarcastic saying that, though for little reason as Bernie Kosar and the Browns DID give us a great season. Maybe that's why the host took the comment at face value.

"That's right, they did. Anything else to add, caller?"

"Yes, I'd like to make three predictions for next year."

"Sure. Go ahead."

"First, I predict the Browns will again make it to the AFC Championship, and this time beat the Broncos."


"My second prediction is that they'll go on to win the Super Bowl"

"Even better. What's your third prediction?"

"I predict John Elway will be traded to San Francisco and die of AIDS."

The radio host immediately hung up on him.

In a stern voice, the host said, "I guess there's some immature people out there!"

The host took another call.

"Go ahead, caller."

The next caller was another teen male, but this one didn't sound unctuous. To my ears he sounded guileless, sincere, earnest. How earnest did this teen sound? Imagine a combination of Richie Cunningham, Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Linus reciting the passage from the Bible in A Charlie Brown Christmas. He sounded that earnest.

"You know what that last caller just said?" asked the second teen.

"Yeah?" said the host, warily.

"I think it would probably be a good thing for the Browns if John Elway got AIDS."

There was a momentary silence. The host was probably deciding whether to hang up on him or not. Probably wondering if this was another homophobic prank call. Except it didn't sound like a prank. This kid sounded like he was genuinely expecting a calm, intelligent discussion on the possibility of John Elway acquiring the HIV virus, and the positive effect this would have on the Browns Super Bowl chances the next season. So, instead of hanging up, the host attempted to reason with the teen:

"Look, I know what happened to the Browns is upsetting. I'm upset about it, and so are you. But like I said earlier, there's always next year. The Browns can improve their chances in ways that doesn't involve someone getting sick. They've got a good defense. They can make it better. They can figure out ways to stop Elway the next time around. Look, sports is supposed to be fun, but it's not very fun if you go around wishing people dead. Do you think you can understand that?"

"Yeah, I guess so," said the teen, earnestly.

"Good. Thanks for calling."

The show continued, and AIDS didn't come up for the rest of the night.

For the record, the Browns did play the Broncos in the AFC Championship the very next year, and lost 38-33. Two years later they met Denver in the Championship for a third and final time, and again lost, 37-21. The Browns haven't been that close to the Super Bowl since.

Meanwhile, John Elway still walks the Earth.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Following Update

Hill Country Gal is back. Good way to start the new year.