Cherry or Rust?

I read an interesting article in the newspaper this morning about the buried car in Tulsa. Perhaps you haven't heard about it. It seems that fifty years ago, a brand new 1957 Plymouth Belvedere was buried in a time capsule crypt under the courthouse lawn in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was to be unearthed in June, 2007, and awarded to the person (or his or her heirs) who most closely predicted the population of Tulsa as of June 1, 2007. Now, the question being asked is, "What kind of condition will it be in?" There are two schools of thought: Either it will be in pristine condition, or else, if the elements have somehow gotten to it, then it will be a pile of rust. It's an interesting question, and one that should be answered on June 15th, when the car will be removed from its tomb. I, for one, look forward to seeing what the car looks like when it comes out. It's not like it is buried in Egypt, though, where objects dug up from tombs are still in great condition due to the desert dryness. Oklahoma is a bit moister and colder in the winters. It's all going to come down to how well the car was entombed. We shall see. Watch for an update on this story in June.


This and That, Redux

Spotted in the mail: A flyer for a company that auctions old glass. This is:
Lot #454, "IN SILVER WE TRUST" / BUST OF BRYAN / "BRYAN 1896 SEWALL" - "UNITED DEMOCRATIC TICKET / WE SHALL VOTE" / AMERICAN EAGLE / "16 TO 1", (GI-126), American, ca 1896, medium amber center shading to a more yellow color on both sides, half-pint, 5 1/4"h, smooth base, tooled lip. A ‘rainbow’ type bruise, about 7/8" by 3/8" in size is on the base, otherwise perfect. A rare political flask made for the Presidential election of 1896.
I thought it was kind of cool. Minimum bid is $400, and there's a 12% buyer's surcharge tacked onto the final bid price. The picture is kind of tiny, but you can make out the detail if you look hard enough.

I watched a show on the Flix movie channel yesterday called Pop Gear. It was from early 1965, featuring the top British pop acts from the previous year performing their hit songs. It opened and closed with the Beatles singing before a studio audience of screaming, swooning girls. The other acts included Eric Burdon and the Animals performing "The House of the Rising Sun" and "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," and Herman's Hermits performing "Something Tells Me I'm Into Something Good." That featured a 17-year-old Peter Noone. The rest of the British pop acts were unfamiliar to me. There were a couple of choreographed dance numbers, including one of six women in gold glitter pants and colored tops. They were smoking hot babes in 1965. These days, they're probably drawing the British equivalent of Social Security.

Wikipedia gave me the following trivia tidbit: It seems that Eric Burdon was the Eggman mentioned in the Beatles' song "I Am the Walrus." Burdon's nickname among his friends was "Eggs," due to his predilection for breaking eggs over the bodies of naked women. Apparently John Lennon saw him do it on one occasion, and the rest is psychedelic music history.


Life Imitates Team America: World Police

You might have seen that there were thousands of anti-war protesters out and about yesterday. Tens of thousands of them in Washington alone. The real story, of course, is that more than 299 million people had better things to do with their time on a Saturday. But I digress.

I found the Washington protest, with its celebrity luminaries, rather interesting, because it reminded me of the group from the movie Team America: World Police. In that movie, the Film Actors Group (FAG), led by Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, etc., are the tools that Kim Jong-Il uses to try to deceive the American people while he plots their destruction. Well, Alec Baldwin was not there, but "Hanoi Jane" Fonda was there to take his place. Apparently she's changing her name to "Tikrit Jane" or perhaps "Sadr City Jane." And the rest of the usual suspects were there as well, saying the usual suspect things. It could have come straight from my Team America: World Police DVD, only they were uttering their words with a complete lack of irony.

I listened to snippets of her rant-filled speech, and was appalled. Like so many in Tinseltown, she just doesn't get it. There are people over there who want to kill her, and you and me as well. They hate us because our culture lets us do whatever we want, including not being pious Muslims. And unlike the North Vietnamese, they will come here and commit terrorist acts. We know this because they already have done so, and will do so again if we are not vigilant. And vigilance requires that we fight the war on the enemy's turf rather than waiting for them to again bring it to our own. Cutting-and-running will not reduce the threat to America, it will increase it. The problem is not US; the problem is THEM!

One of the memes that the liberal Democrats are putting out is that "The American people spoke loudly for change in November and an end to the war in Iraq." Baloney! Only about 40% of eligible voters showed up at the polls, and only a little over half of those voted for the Democrats. Unless you consider 22% or so to be a majority of the American people, which means that you need remedial math classes, the real message you should have gotten from November was "We don't care. Leave us alone to watch football and play with our new PlayStations." More than half of the people eligible to vote simply did not care enough either way to go to the polls. Not about the war in Iraq; not about the War on Terror (which should really be the War on Terrorist Islamists, if we weren't so damned politically correct); not about George W. Bush; not about the Democrats promises for "change," which will simply change the hands whose palms are getting greased, not the system itself.

In a way, that's too bad. It would be better for America if more people cared about the way this country is being run. On the other hand, I'm constantly seeing polls in which the American people expose colossal amounts of ignorance, much of which was on display at that Washington protest. I don't have a problem with ignorant people not voting. The ones who are not ignorant about the dangers facing this country but just apathetic? Well, they have no one to blame but themselves if and when disaster ensues.


Portrait of the Muse as a Young Woman

Not many women can hear a song on the radio and credibly say, "That's MY song! It was written about ME!" The young lady in the picture, however, can do so about not just one song, but at least three. And thereby hangs a tale.

Let me start at the beginning. One of my favorite musical groups is the Bangles, especially Susanna Hoffs. Last summer, I learned that she had done a new CD of duets with Matthew Sweet, a collection of fifteen classic rock and pop tunes from the 1960s titled Under the Covers, Vol. 1. I ordered it from Amazon.com and it quickly became one of my favorite CDs. Some of the songs were familiar, some obscure for anyone who wasn't in touch with the music scene during the 1960s. One of the songs, which quickly became the top-rated song on my iPod, was "She May Call You Up Tonight," which was originally done by The Left Banke.

Now, I was unfamiliar with The Left Banke, but fortunately Wikipedia had an article about them. Their biggest hit was "Walk Away Renee," which peaked at #5 on the pop charts in the fall of 1966. Wikipedia explains:
"Walk Away Renée" is a song made popular by the band The Left Banke in 1966 (single release: July 1966, Smash Records), composed by the group's keyboard player Michael Brown (real name Michael Lookofsky). The song was also a chart hit for The Four Tops in 1968.

The song is one of a number Brown wrote about Renee Fladen-Kamm, girlfriend of The Left Banke's bassist Tom Finn and object of Brown's affection. Other songs written about her include the band's second hit "Pretty Ballerina" and "She May Call You Up Tonight". After decades of obscurity, she was identified in 2001 as a noted singer, vocal teacher and artist on the West Coast.
I did some more searching and found Tom Simon's Walk Away Renee page. He expanded on the story:

Violinist Harry Lookofsky owned a small storefront recording studio in New York City that he called World United Studios. In 1965, he gave a set of keys to his 16-year-old son, Mike Brown [real name: Mike Lookofsky], who helped out by cleaning up and occasionally sitting in as a session pianist. Mike began bringing in his teenage friends who tinkered with drums, guitars, amplifiers, the Steinway piano, and anything else they might find. Except for Mike, who had a background in classical piano, none of them were top musicians. But they could sing, especially one guy named Steve Martin.

By 1966 they started to call themselves the Left Banke. In addition to Mike and Steve, they included Rick Brand on lead guitar, Tom Finn on bass, and drummer George Cameron. Finn brought his girlfriend to the studio one day when the group had assembled for a practice session. She was a 5' 6" teenager with platinum blond hair. Mike Brown was infatuated with her the instant he saw her. Her name was Renee Fladen.

The group had begun recording songs, and Harry was particularly impressed with Steve Martin's voice. Mike wrote a song about Renee. Although there was never anything between the two, Mike was fascinated by her and pictured himself standing at the corner of Hampton and Falmouth Avenues in Brooklyn with Renee, beneath the "One Way" sign. In his fantasy, he was telling her to walk away.

As for Renee, she moved to Boston with her family shortly after the Left Banke recorded Walk Away Renee, and no one in the group ever saw her again.
Then I found this post from John Stodder's blog back in July: Renee's Still Walking Away, 40 Years On (Be sure to click on this link if you'd like to watch the video of "Walk Away Renee" at the bottom of his post!) He notes:
Dawn Eden, who is described on Amazon as “a Jewish-born rock journalist turned salty Christian blog queen,” claimed credit on her blog, The Dawn Patrol, for unearthing Renee’s whereabouts, at least as of the time of her posting the information in 2003. Renee Fladen-Kamm is a classical singer and vocal teacher in the Bay Area, who was a member of a medieval English music ensemble, The Sherwood Consort, although does not appear to be a member now. I can find no photo of Renee anywhere on the Internet; not on one of the numerous obsessed Left Banke fan sites, nor on any sites devoted to her own music. Perhaps that’s understandable, and prescient on her part to stay away from cameras. The real-life models for other popular works of art — I’m thinking of Alice Liddell of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland — often wished their genius idolaters had never met them.
I was a bit disappointed that there were no pictures of her. I was curious about what the muse looked like, the girl who inspired those songs of unrequited love. And I thought that was the end of it, that my curiosity would go unsatisfied.

Until, by chance, I went back to that blog post a couple of days ago and there was a new comment from December from a man named Phil Garrou. He has a web page dedicated to the members of his junior high school class, and during the search to find some of them, he learned that one had gone on to work with The Left Banke. Mr. Garrou got in touch with the Yahoo! Left Banke fan group and was able to locate his classmate in Florida. He noted in his comment that he had a picture of then 16-year-old Renee Fladen on his web site, which he had obtained from the Left Banke fan group. It was difficult to find it on his site, but after some searching, I found the picture you see at the top of this post. Sort of like finding a picture of Helen of Troy, only in this case, it was the face that launched a thousand turntables.

I guess the best way to put it is to borrow a line from Jerry Garcia: What a long, strange trip it's been! You never knew where an internet search is going to take you.


Color Me Skeptical

Last night, I turned on the computer before getting ready for work, and I came across this story:
Report Has 'Smoking Gun' on Climate

By SETH BORENSTEIN (AP Science Writer)
From Associated Press
January 22, 2007 8:58 PM EST

WASHINGTON - Human-caused global warming is here, visible in the air, water and melting ice, and is destined to get much worse in the future, an authoritative global scientific report will warn next week.

"The smoking gun is definitely lying on the table as we speak," said top U.S. climate scientist Jerry Mahlman, who reviewed all 1,600 pages of the first segment of a giant four-part report. "The evidence ... is compelling."

Andrew Weaver, a Canadian climate scientist and study co-author, went even further: "This isn't a smoking gun; climate is a batallion of intergalactic smoking missiles."

The first phase of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is being released in Paris next week. This segment, written by more than 600 scientists and reviewed by another 600 experts and edited by bureaucrats from 154 countries, includes "a significantly expanded discussion of observation on the climate," said co-chair Susan Solomon, a senior scientist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She and other scientists held a telephone briefing on the report Monday.

That report will feature an "explosion of new data" on observations of current global warming, Solomon said.

Solomon and others wouldn't go into specifics about what the report says. They said that the 12-page summary for policymakers will be edited in secret word-by-word by governments officials for several days next week and released to the public on Feb. 2. The rest of that first report from scientists will come out months later.

"Edited in secret"?! That was the first thing to set off my bullshit detector. There's often a good reason to do things in secret: In order to deceive someone else about what you are doing, whether a military enemy or a business competitor. For some reason, however, I thought that "science" was supposed to be on the up-and-up, and not about trying to put something over on someone! And who are these international "government officials" who will be doing the secret word-by-word editing? To whom are they accountable, if anyone?

Then there's the question of "Who are these experts they are quoting, and what's their angle?" Because EVERYONE has an angle. It turns out that if you google Jerry Mahlman and Andrew Weaver, you'll find that they have been on the leading edge of the climate change hysteria for years. They're the "hockey stick" guys, telling us that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is taking off on a logarithmic curve and that pretty soon the Earth will be as hot as Venus and we're all going to die! They're both deeply invested in the theory of global warming, and like most scientists, they are mainly looking for data to prove their hypotheses and ignoring data that doesn't fit their models. Mahlman lives in Boulder, Colorado. How's that global warming going, buddy? Let me know when you get your sidewalk shoveled from that fifth snowstorm in five weeks in Colorado.

These are the guys who say things like "Thirty Kyotos might do the job." In other words, the only way for us to "save the planet" is for all of us to return to a pre-industrial existence. Well, almost all of us; the ones who don't starve to death (which would be most of us) would raise crops to feed themselves and the scientific and governmental priesthood who would rule over their neo-feudal lives. The priesthood, of course, would still travel in stretch limo SUVs and private airplanes, and have things like electricity and computers. They would be doing Important Things, and could not be expected to make the sacrifices the rest of us would have to make to "save the planet." After all, it's for The Greater Good. And for The Children. Never forget The Children! Does this sound good to you? Don't you feel guilty about your huge carbon footprint, you planet-raper? Better you should starve to death than to continue to burn those fossil fuels and contribute to global warming!

Pardon me if I remain skeptical. When I was around ten years old or so, I had a really scary book. Not Frankenstein, not Dracula, but The Environmental Handbook, which was put out by Friends of the Earth for the original Earth Day back in 1970. It had a bunch of prophetic chapters about how we were all doomed, doomed! because of the pollution of earth, water and soil. Perhaps the scariest was a futurist prophecy by an ecologist named Paul Ehrlich, titled "Eco-Catastrophe!" It opened with the line "The end of the ocean came late in the summer of 1979." Last time I was at the beach, the ocean was still alive and well, thirty-six years after Ehrlich's laughably bad prognostication. The gloom-and-doomers have been doing the jeremiad thing for many years, and they've always been wrong before. It would be totally out of character for them suddenly to be right.



I have come before you today to announce that I am forming an exploratory committee for a run for the office of the President of the United States in 2008.

Hey, with all of those bozos who have already thrown their hats into the ring, I figured that I couldn't be any worse. Even better, I know that I'll agree with all of my own positions on the issues. I've over 35, I'm a native-born American citizen, and I'm smarter than most of the politicians who have already announced their candidacies.

Then again, I'd have to put up with the defeatist idiots in the MSM, and I probably wouldn't be lucky enough to have Helen Thomas pre-decease my inauguration in 2009. And I'd have to put up with the idiots in Congress from Pelosi and Reid to Hagel and Specter.

On second thought, I want nothing to do with the job. And I question the wisdom of allowing anyone who is ambitious enough to want the job to actually have it.


Mission Accomplished

I made up a song while working last night, in honor of our leaders. I call it "Arbeit Macht Frei."

I had to work my n/s day, tho' I'm not on the List,
It really made me angry, it really made me pissed,
I asked them why I had to and I got this sad reply:
"Because Bobby Miller told us 'Arbeit macht frei.' "

'Arbeit macht frei!' 'Work makes you free!'
It's bonuses for them, but it's death for you and me,
There's no way to get out of it, so do not even try,
Because Bobby Miller told us 'Arbeit macht frei.'

Well hard work never killed no one, at least that's what they say,
But the ones who tried were amateurs, didn't know the Postal Way,
They'll squeeze you out like toothpaste, until you're in your grave,
And then they'll laugh and high-five at the money that they save.

'Arbeit macht frei!' 'Work makes you free!'
It's bonuses for them, but it's death for you and me,
There's no way to get out of it, so do not even try,
Because Bobby Miller told us 'Arbeit macht frei.'

It probably needs another verse or two. You get the gist of it, though.


The Other Side of Furious

This morning, on the Anger Continuum, I'm somewhere on the other side of Furious. It starts on the left side with Annoyed, then moves to Ticked Off, then to Angry and then to Furious. What's on the other side of Furious? I'm not sure, but I'm there.

Why? Because this morning, just before 5 a.m., my supervisor comes up to me and tells me that they are forcing all of the non-overtime list people normally scheduled off tonight to work. That includes me, of course. My response was to tell her, "I don't think so. The schedule you put up on Wednesday says that I have Saturday and Sunday off. I'm abiding by that schedule. I have plans. I'm not coming in." Then I put my iPod ear plugs back in and turned my back on her and ignored her.

Shortly thereafter, my union steward came by and told me that was the wrong approach. I should have just nodded my head and then called in and banged out tonight. Instead, I drew attention to myself and they might try to initiate discipline against me if I don't show up. He'd heard them talking in the office.

I saw the supervisor later and told her that my union steward had advised me that I had no other recourse but to come in tonight, but that they might wish that I hadn't when all was said and done. I explained that they might want to take a look at the numbers from my machine from December 30th. 58 full stackers? Not a coincidence. Run rate of 16,000 on the AO run? Not a coincidence. Unhappy employee. The mail made it out, but the numbers that get managers bonuses were shit.

Guess what? Tonight, I'm gonna be uncooperative again. I'll be filing a grievance. And I won't be my normal motivated, hard-working self. That guy only works Monday through Friday. He's not available on any day that starts with an S. As David Banner famously said, "Don't make me angry. You won't like me when I'm angry." Well, I'm angry, and I'm gonna be big and green tonight.

You'll have to excuse me. I'm really in the mood to kill someone, and since the law frowns on that, I'm going to fire up Oblivion and kill pixels instead. See ya later.


An Inconvenient Truth

Hey, Al Gore, how's that "global warming" going? Hint: It snowed yesterday in Malibu and West Los Angeles, in the area where Gore will soon be going to pick up his Oscar for his quasi-scientific documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."

NBC4 forecaster Fritz Coleman said the mixture of precipitation in West Los Angeles at about 3 p.m. included a dusting of snow. Residents in West Los Angeles said the snow accumulated in parking lots, on cars and around palm trees near Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards and other areas.

Most of the snow fell south of Sunset Boulevard and just east of the 405 Freeway. Residents told NBC4 that several inches of snow fell in their yards.

The last snowfall recorded at Los Angeles International Airport was in January 1962, according to the National Weather Service. Trace amounts -- less than 0.5 inches -- were reported, according to the NWS.

Snow fell earlier Wednesday in Malibu and caused traffic problems on the area's winding and narrow roads. Sleet made driving treacherous on Kanan Dume Road, a steep route through the Santa Monica Mountains where it's more typical to see beach-bound cars loaded with surfboards than a snowplow.

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit points out that the "Gore Effect" is well-documented in the Urban Dictionary:

The well documented phenomenon that leads to very low, unseasonal temperatures, driving rain, hail, snow or all of the above whenever Al Gore visits an area to discuss global "warming". Hence the "Gore Effect"

Example 1. Australia November 2006. Al Gore is visiting Australia 2 weeks before summer begins. News reports in The Age newspaper. "Ski resort operators gazed at the snow in amazement. Parents took children out of school and headed for the mountains. Cricketers scurried from the MCG amid bullets of hail as Melburnians traded lunchtime tales of the incredible cold. Yesterday, Antarctic winds produced snow across Victoria at levels as low as 400 metres, just two weeks before summer." The Gore Effect in action.

Example 2. New York USA Environment News, March 1, 2004.

"Gore chose January 15, 2004, one of the coldest days in New York City’s history, to rail against the Bush administration and global warming skeptics for their insistence that science should guide public policy, rather than the other way around. Global warming, Gore told a startled audience, is causing record cold temperatures."
I hope that Gore brings his snowshoes and parka for Oscar night.


Seeing Stars

Last night, as I was getting ready for work, I had Hannity & Colmes on in the background. One of the show's guests, Greg Gutfeld (of "The Daily Gut" on the sidebar) mentioned that Donald Trump had gotten a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame yesterday. This made me wonder: Did his arch-enemy Rosie O'Donnell have one, too? How does one find out exactly who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? Wikipedia to the rescue!

There's a very good Wikipedia article on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and there's a link within it to an alphabetical list of everyone who has a star. I found the trivia on the main article fascinating. Before you click on that first link, see if you can guess the only person to have five stars (one each for radio, television, motion pictures, recording and live theater). I'll even give you a hint: He was known for working with Angels, among other things. (And no, his name isn't Charlie!)

And the answer to the original question: Does Rosie have a star? Nope. But I'll bet she'll be all fired up to get one now!


Touchstones, Part 2

Today's topic is food/not-food. The concept of whether a particular food is edible or inedible usually is based in your own particular culture. To put it in simplest terms, "food" is what your mother fed to you as a child growing up. That is when your tastes form, and anything that varies too wildly from those tastes will usually inspire feelings of revulsion. Certain foods are touchstones of cultural identity because nobody else will eat them. The rest of the world considers them to be "not-food," and shuns them.

America is a melting pot culture, and we have long since appropriated things from other cultures, including cuisine, and made them our own. We took pizza and pasta from the Italians and tacos and burritos from the Mexicans and egg rolls and chow mein from the Chinese, although the American version usually differs significantly from the original. We did not, however, take haggis from the Scots or lutefisk from the Norwegians or seal blubber from the Inuit. Why? Because they varied too far from what most of us think of as food. And so, only a Scot will eat haggis, only a Norwegian will eat lutefisk, etc.

There are other culturally-linked food traits. For instance, in Europe, there is the split between southern areas where olive oil is used for cooking and northern areas where butter is used instead. I think that this may be due to the beneficial mutated gene that allows many northern and western European adults (and their descendants world-wide) to digest the lactose in cow's milk. Most of the adults in the rest of the world are lactose-intolerant, and this may be why goat's milk cheese is more popular in Greece, for instance. And while we in America would think nothing of offering someone a glass of cow's milk, in places like China, it would be akin to offering a drink from a spittoon. In China, cow's milk is not considered to be "food."

Sometimes dietary inflexibility can be fatal. For instance, in the book Collapse, Jared Diamond explains why the Inuit thrived in Greenland at the same time that Norse colonists in Greenland were starving themselves to extinction. The Inuit ate whale and seal blubber, as well as fish. The Norse, by contrast, raised grass in their fields for the hay needed to feed their cattle, as well as a few vegetables. Archaelogical studies of the middens (garbage heaps) of Norse Greenlanders indicate that they ate very little fish, which is odd considering that their cousins in Iceland and Norway ate a lot of fish. For some reason, their isolated culture had declared fish, seal and whale to be "not-food." And so they starved amid plentiful sources of food when the climate became too cold and the growing season too erratic to raise hay and maintain their cattle herds.

Mankind is endlessly inventive and often finds ways to convert not-foods into sources of food. For instance, cassava (or manioc) root, an important source of starch in much of the tropics, is poisonous in its raw form. It has to be treated to remove the cyanide. Almond trees originally had the same problem, but the domesticated variety, which yields "sweet" almonds doesn't have that problem. Wild undomesticated almond trees yield "bitter" almonds which also have high amounts of cyanide in them. One wonders how the ancients managed to come up with ways to make poisonous roots and nuts into edible food, and how many poisoned themselves trying to do it.

Touchstones, Part 1a - Sports

Before I start blogging about food/not food, let's talk about sports. In the sports news yesterday, there was breathless coverage of how soccer player David Beckham has signed a multi-million dollar contract to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy starting in June. "He's a cultural icon!" gushed the ESPN talking heads. "He'll make interest in soccer in America grow, just like Pele did."


David Beckham may be a cultural icon in Europe and other places where soccer is called "football" and is the most popular sport in the land. America is NOT one of those places. We have our own "football," which is the most popular spectator sport in the country. We also have baseball, basketball, hockey, NASCAR, golf and tennis, all of which are more popular spectator sports than professional soccer. He may be a well-known sports star with a glamorous pop-star wife to most of the world, but most Americans couldn't pick him out of a lineup. To expect him to suddenly kick-start soccer into a wildly popular spectator sport in America is just this side of ridiculous.

And just as there is food/not-food (explication to follow), there is also sports/not-sports. For most Americans, soccer is not one of "our" sports.


Best Laid Plans, Yadda Yadda Yadda

Well, today was supposed to be dedicated to Touchstones, Part 2, Food/Not-Food. Regrettably, due to circumstances beyond my control, it's not happening today. Tomorrow looks pretty good, though.

And the circumstances? Call it donutus interruptus. I left work this morning feeling pretty good, since I'm not getting screwed out of my three-day weekend this time. On the way home, I was jonesing for some of the cinnamon donuts that they sometimes have at the Sweetbay grocery store. So, I stopped off there to see if they had them. They didn't. Instead, I got glazed sour cream donuts. I was in the store all of five minutes. When I got out to my car, it wouldn't start. I said a few choice words at that point, which I will leave to your imagination.

I didn't know if it was the battery or the generator/alternator. Fortunately, my car is still under warranty. I called the dealership and they gave me some numbers for towing companies they work with. I called and got the car towed in to the dealership, and then found out that it was indeed the battery. They replaced it and paid for the towing. All I lost was four hours of my morning. The dealer rep called me on my cell phone around noon to let me know my car was ready, and I walked back over from the mall and picked it up. I took advantage of the opportunity to browse the book store at the mall and to pick up a couple of new pairs of Levi's jeans at Sears. So it wasn't a totally wasted morning.

As I said, I'm getting my three-day weekend for Martin Luther King Day. Interestingly enough, everyone below me on the seniority list is getting screwed out of either one of their days off or their holiday. So I'm the cutoff point. Perhaps someone looked at the horrific number of full stackers and the abysmally low run rates on the DPS deal runs on my machine a couple of Saturdays ago when I was forced to work my day off, and decided that in the words of the immortal Lyndon Johnson, they were better off with me "inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in." Or perhaps it is just a coincidence. Yeah, that's it, just a coincidence. Wise decision, either way.


Touchstones, Part 1

This may end up being a multi-part post over the next few days.

The other day, I was watching an old movie from 1936, Theodora Goes Wild. It was a comedy about a romance novelist from a small New England town who meets the illustrator of her novel in Manhattan, and he then tracks her back to her hometown. She writes her racy novels under a nom de plume, so the bluenoses in her town have no idea that she is a novelist. Naturally, they are scandalized when this strange man shows up to see her. Outrageously improper! The whole movie doesn't make sense from the modern perspective of a society where women are liberated and no longer are under the thumb of their maiden aunts. Later, it turns out that the illustrator is stuck in a loveless marriage, but has promised his father, a New York politician, that he won't get divorced while his father is in office. Today, of course, we think nothing of the fact that famous politicians themselves have been divorced, and even less about divorce among their family members. This shows how much our society has changed in seventy years.

After the movie ended, there was a short feature that filled the rest of the time slot until the next hour. It seemed to be from about the same time period, and among the characters was a man with a toothbrush mustache who spoke with a thick German accent. He wasn't meant to be Hitler, just your garden-variety German in America in the mid-1930s. Still, when I looked at him I asked myself, "How long will it be until a man can wear a mustache like that and not be thought to be a neo-Nazi or worse?" Different varieties of beards, mustaches and sideburns go in and out of fashion over time, but the Hitler mustache has become permanently verboten. I don't see that changing any time soon, certainly not within the lifetime of anyone who actually remembers Hitler.

So what do these things have to do with each other? It comes down to cultural touchstones, those things that help us define who we are and are not, and more importantly, which people fall into the group defined in the word "we." In my case, "we" means English-speaking American, early 21st Century. Cultural commonalities define the people with which we identify, and the fewer things we have in common with others in our culture, the less we identify with them.

You'll know very quickly when you fall in with a group of people who don't share your cultural touchstones. It's a very alien experience. It may happen when you travel abroad to a country whose inhabitants speak a different language. This happened to me while I was in Germany. I'd go to the beer halls in Munich during the Oktoberfest, and while all the people there knew the words to all of the drinking folk songs, I didn't. (This doesn't include "Ein Prosit, ein Prosit," whose lyrics were simple enough that I could follow along.) Another example would be going to a church of a different denomination, for a wedding or a funeral. You quickly find that no matter what you are used to, they do it differently. Hand motions, genuflecting, rituals and liturgies you don't know. They have different touchstones.

And, as the old movies show, cultural touchstones are specific to a particular time just as much as they are to a language or a religion or a nationality. The American society of today has different popular cultural references than the American society of the 1930s or the 1960s, and unless you are a member of the generation that was actually around at a particular time, you cannot fully understand the cultural touchstones from that time.

By cultural references, I mean the various media and the other experiences and historical events that shaped the society and made them who they were: Music, theater, film, radio, television and the Internet have promulgated information and cultural memes. And of course, each generation has certain events that everyone knows about and was affected by. For people who are senior citizens today, it might be the Great Depression or Pearl Harbor; for middle-aged people, it might be the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the first Moon landing in 1969; for young people, it would probably be 9/11.

If, however, you were not around or were too young to remember a particular event, it's not a touchstone for you. I don't remember the Kennedy assassination; I was too young when it happened. I do, however remember the Moon landing.

When I was a kid, my parents had a book titled Bennett Cerf's Book of Laughs (1959). It was filled with many jokes and puns. Many of them, however, were so topical to the time period in which they were written that someone reading them across a gulf of time might have a hard time finding the humor in them. Often, the pun would reference a person or a song title, etc., that would be instantly familiar to anyone at the time, but today would most likely be greeted by shrugged shoulders and puzzled looks.

More on this tomorrow.


Give Her What She's Asking For

Fiskie Award-winning Idiotarian Cindy Sheehan is in Havana with eleven other anti-war protesters. "Isn't it illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba?" you ask. Why yes, yes it is. Her fellow Idiotarian Medea Benjamin of Code Pink says that the law doesn't apply to them because they are "professional human rights activists" who are traveling to Guantanamo to protest the American internment camp for terrorists. They plan to go to the gates of Gitmo and rattle them and demand entrance.

Well, I say give the Idiotarians what they are asking for! Open the gates, bring them in and arrange accommodations for them. Get those raving moonbats into manacles and orange jumpsuits, pronto, and get them copies of their holy book to read. I'm not sure if that would be Karl Marx's Das Kapital or Mao's Little Red Book. Perhaps they should have both available, just in case.

It's bad enough when our congress-critters go overseas and try to run a rogue foreign policy by kissing up to dictators in Syria, etc. It's even worse when communist-front groups like Code Pink are doing it. When the Cindy Sheehans of our country go out and play hug-a-thug with the Hugo Chavezes of the world, it sends the wrong message. Don't be surprised if she ends up with a photo op with one of the Castro brothers. Does anyone doubt that she would do the same with Moqtada al-Sadr, Ayman al-Zawahiri or even Osama bin Laden himself? She loves anyone who hates this country. She really is a piece of ... work.


Random Thoughts During the Ford Funeral

Everyone who is anyone in Washington is there in the National Cathedral. For that matter, any living person who has been anyone is there. The music leading up to the funeral was quite beautiful and stirring.

I wonder what it is like for the other former presidents who watch this pomp and circumstance whenever one of their number passes permanently from the scene. Do they wonder if they will be the next one in the flag-draped coffin, taking that slow ride down Pennsylvania Avenue to the National Cathedral?

George H.W. Bush's invocation of Dana Carvey's "Not gonna do it, wouldn't be prudent" cracked me up, and seemed to be a welcome light-hearted moment. The look on Bill Clinton's face at that moment was priceless. Tom Brokaw's description of those awful '70s clothes was amusing, too.