Wednesday, April 25, 2018

PSA from the dog #6.

Hello, friends. Once again it is me. The dog. As usual, I ask for but a moment of your time.

A serious issue has come to my attention. Apparently some of you are having children when you should be adopting dogs. This is a matter of grave concern to the Canine-American community.

I do not wish to sound like I dislike children. Nothing could be further from the truth! Children are some of my favorite people. They are small and cute. Sometimes they smell great! We doggies usually love them, even ones that pull our tails or whiskers or ears or stick fingers in our heinies -- you know, not really crazy about the heinie thing. But they are usually very friendly to dogs, giving us pats and love, and they often slip us food, which is very good. So I and my canine chums agree that children are all right.

The thing is, it seems that some people who would make perfectly okay dog owners are instead having children. "Oh, a doggie is too much responsibility," they say (probably). "I think I will just give birth instead." Maybe even, "I am simply too lazy to have a dog. I will have offspring."

This is wacky kind of thinking! Trust me, your dog will turn out to be a lot more helpful than a baby. Babies just lie there and do nothing, unlike dogs who do... Well, if a burglar came into the house, I promise you, you would not see the baby hanging off the naughty man's leg by his teeth!

What's more, children continue to be helpless and stupid much longer than puppies do. I don't want to name names, but I have heard of some able-bodied humans who remain helpless and stupid as adults. Do you want to take a chance on that?

To bolster my point, I would like to list these reasons why dogs are better to have around than children.

1) You don't have to buy a dog clothes. (You can, but you don't have to.)

2) A dog will never steal your car. (Well, almost  never.)

3) Dogs do not require Back-to-School sales.

4) Many dogs are soft and fuzzy. Babies may be soft but are never fuzzy.

5) Pee on lawn vs. pee in pants: no-brainer.

So before you do something rash like get hold a human child, think of the many benefits of dogs. And if you must get children into your house somehow, first get that dog to help you out. Your sweet canine buddy will gladly assist in raising your wee one. We will keep an eye on him while you do dishes. We will play with him so he gets exercise. We will help him dispose of unwanted dinner foods. The list is endless.

All we pups ask is that you bear in mind this simple thought:

Dogs may fuss and chew up bones
But never need to take out loans
For college. 

This has been a public service announcement from the dog.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Girl Scout yogurt.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Say, Fred, how about those Girl Scout Cookie yogurts by Yoplait? As a reviewer of Girl Scout Cookie cereals, and sometimes even Girl Scout Cookies themselves, you must have an opinion."

By gum, of course I do! I'm an amateur pundit, so I have opinions on all kinds of things. Lack of knowledge is no bar to punditry, you know. But in this case I actually went out and bought the three flavors of Yoplait, licensed by the Girl Scouts of America, since branding is all they ever do:

What we have here is a Caramel Coconut yogurt in the Yoplait original line, inspired by the Samoa cookie (also known as the Caramel deLites), in the center. On the sides are two yogurts in the Yoplait Whips! line, a Peanut Butter Chocolate, based on the Peanut Butter Patties (also called Tagalongs), and the Thin Mints, based on the Thin Mints (also called... Thin Mints). Anyone hoping for a shortbread-flavored yogurt is out of luck.

If you aren't familiar with it, the Yoplait Whips! yogurts are light, airy yogurts that have been whipped to fluffiness. Do not write to me about your thoughts of Girl Scouts and whips. That is not what this is about, and you should hang your head in shame.

See? Fluffy.

Despite the fact that the Girl Scouts are so lame as a scouting organization that thousands of girls have forced their way into the Boy Scouts (why, yes, I'm still furious about that, can you tell?), I was willing to try these as a public service to you, the reader. And because I like yogurt and I love cookies.

First up was the Peanut Butter Chocolate. There's no way to sugarcoat this: It was weird and unpleasant. Peanut butter yogurt is bizarre. PB is not bad in ice cream, but the tang of yogurt just doesn't work with it, not to me. The chocolate is all right, and in fact Yoplait makes a chocolate yogurt in the Whips! line that I like, but the peanut butter just ruins everything. It's as lame as... well, as the Girl Scouts.

Next came Caramel Coconut. It's all right, but nothing like a Caramel deLite or Samoa, my favorite of the Girl Scouts' confections. The cookie has coconut and caramel, but also chocolate to tie the flavors together. This yogurt has no chocolate, and thus no richness of flavor. I don't think I would have known it was supposed to be caramel flavored if it were not on the label. Disappointing.

Finally I tried the Thin Mints. Easily the most successful of the three. The chocolate is good, the mint is strong but not too strong. Tastes most like the cookie. Good job on that one, Yoplait.

Interestingly, each of these yogurt cups is 160 calories. That's equal to four Thin Mints, or slightly more than two Samoas (150) or two Peanut Butter Patties (130). How is a low-fat yogurt more caloric than a serving of cookies? Perplexing. I mean, when you eat a yogurt, especially a non-Greek yogurt, you don't feel like you've put anything in your stomach, but you might with a simple serving of cookies. Which is really worth the calories? Is that why we're really all so fat -- we're shoveling down yogurt? Would we be better off skipping yogurt and eating cookies?

Maybe. I'm eating both. No wonder my pants hate me.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Me ol' bamboo.

I've been thinking about sticks.

Our March storms damaged a lot of trees, and there are lots of sticks and branches still lying around. The one you see here at the curb was a big, healthy branch before the blizzard.

But I'm not aiming to complain about winter again today. No, I'm pointing out the upside of tree damage -- I get walking sticks. When I'm walking the big dog, Tralfaz, I can basically reach down anywhere and pick up a new hiking stick. Not so with baby dog Nipper, who tries to eat them while I'm walking with him.

Inevitably while walking with a stick I think of the opening verse of "Me Ol' Bamboo," a musical number from the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang:

A gentleman's got a walking stick
A seaman's got a gaff
And the merry men of Robin Hood
They used a quarterstaff
On the Spanish plains inside their canes
They hide their ruddy swords
But we make do with an old bamboo
And everyone applauds!

It is, hands down, the greatest number ever written about sticks.

A lot of people hate Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but others love it. I've seen grown women get weepy over "Hushabye Mountain." Unlike Mary Poppins, this film allowed Dick Van Dyke to play an American, which was a good idea, as Van Dyke famously did some lousy British accents in Poppins. (In an interview on Gilbert Gottfried's podcast, Van Dyke did point out in his defense that Mary Poppins had a large cast of British actors, and not a single one of them bothered to tell him that he was doing a terrible job at being a cockney.) Benny Hill also appears as a toymaker in Chitty, which is good, but is underused, which is bad.

I like the movie all right, and it was adapted into a successful stage production. I did not care for the Fleming book when I read it as a tot, and I supposed it's probably just as well he died in 1964 and never saw the movie. He might have gotten as grouchy as P.L. Travers did (the real one, not the Emma Thompson one, who hated the Mary Poppins movie).

By 1968, with the exception of Oscar winner Oliver!, no competent musical was being filmed. I believe no one has made a decent musical since. The plot of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang doesn't make a lot of sense, and has some repellent aspects. As a child I was not entertained by the comical attempts at  spousal homicide by Baron Bomburst; this heartless man-child is perverse and disturbing. One scene that should have been the sweetest in the film, Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes disguised as human-size toys as he serenades her, is ruined by being played for laughs. If Disney had made this film rather than MGM, they might have had a story editor to help the plot and fix these issues.

The song-and-dance bamboo number is worked into the movie poorly, but does advance the plot. Caractacus Potts's inventions usually go awry, as does his haircutting machine, resulting in him being chased through a fair. To escape his pursuer he jumps into a musical act. Were this a Jerry Lewis film he would have been put in the chorus and proceed to destroy the number, but as this is Dick Van Dyke, his character not only knows all the words and some tricky steps but winds up leading the number. He makes enough money in tips to buy the titular car. The number itself is well done, designed to highlight Van Dyke's gift for physical comedy as well as his dancing, while being appropriate for the period (c. 1910).

The Sherman brothers, Richard and Robert, wrote all the songs for the movie, as they had done for Poppins, and here provide music that is bouncy fun and lyrics that are terrific. I appreciate them better now through the magic of the Internet as I never knew what they all were, especially the repeated line in the chorus -- you can 'ave me 'at or me huh? Turned out to be bum-ber-shoo; i.e. bumbershoot, umbrella. The word bumbershoot is more American than British, says Webster's, but who cares? It perfectly fits the lyrics.

And some lines are quite sly -- A collier in the pits o' Wales / He leans upon his pick, for example. Not Goes mining with a pick or Fills his barrow with his pick or something; he leans on it. Did the Sherman bros. know that there was a miners' strike in South Wales in 1910? Or were they making a Teamsters-based joke on lazy workers? Hmm. In any event, as each stick is mentioned, it gives Van Dyke and the dancers an opportunity to play off the action described.

It's very singable if you can remember the words; being a catalog or laundry list song,the lyrics don't flow from line to line. In a song like Danny Boy the words build a picture, but a catalog song like Cole Porter's "You're the Top" uses bullet points, so to speak, to make its case, so it's easy to get lost. Being the helpful guy I am, I made a spreadsheet of the sticks mentioned in the song to help us all keep things straight.

It made me think that there might be a lot more things that could have been used, if you wanted to extend the song. Men have used sticks for all sorts of things, you know. Here's my extended list:

So, all these sticks: Phallic? I really doubt the Shermans were thinking that way. I'm sure the dancers would have made it clear about five seconds into the first rehearsal, though. But as my spreadsheets above make clear, sticks really are used a lot, not just for puberty level humor.

"Me Ol' Bamboo" has appeared the 1975 film Smile, in a UK episode of Big Brother, and in parody form on Family Guy, and possibly in horrible form in many school productions. I haven't seen any of them. But it shows the enduring popularity of the number. You don't see people singing "Truly Scrumptious" or "Toot Sweets," now, do you?

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was the #10 film the year it was released, but marked a downturn in Van Dyke's career. I believe his battles with alcohol date to around this time, and a former acquaintance of mine was sure he appeared drunk in some scenes of this movie -- I don't see it, but I could be wrong. Soon Van Dyke would star in Garson Kanin's worst film, the horribly dated Some Kind of a Nut (if you haven't seen it, don't!) and a couple of years after that in Norman Lear's unwatchable Cold Turkey. The latter film has some defenders, but they are wrong. It is terrible, unfunny, and also horribly dated. But Dick Van Dyke was and is an astonishingly talented man, and has always found a way to keep coming back. 

All these thoughts proceeded as we walked along, buoyed by the cheery melody playing in my head. "Songwriter/lyricist Robert B. Sherman was inspired to write the song by his own use of a bamboo walking stick, which he used after a World War II knee injury," Wikipedia tells us, so it's not surprising that using a walking stick would make me think of the Sherman and his old bamboo. We gotta stick together.

I walked Tralfaz yesterday and found a great stick. As soon as we got home he chomped on the end and broke it. Hope he doesn't do that with me 'at or me bum-ber-shoo.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Rocks in the road.

I guess it's safe to say winter is over now. It's been spring for a month. The snow is all gone at last. Even the last of the snirt has faded away. 

Snirt, Parking Lot, April 13
The first round of the hockey playoffs are over. At least for the Devils. 

So winter is gone, although temperatures still hover around freezing in the morning. And the damage is still being fixed. Below is a picture of a small brick walkway that had a brief encounter with an enormous plow blade. 

Those got pushed back into place, but the grass that got scraped up was not so easily fixed. Worse was alongside the driveway, where the truck plowed up a large swath of lawn. It took me 11 bags of topsoil to fill the gouge, plus a mess of overpriced grass seed.

Last fall I asked some guys to go up on the roof and replace any missing shingles. A big windstorm last week took off one more shingle. I have neither the ladders nor the height tolerance to go fix it myself, but it's a clearly visible gap from the street. I don't want to drop another C-note to fix one shingle. Doggone it.

It's all part of the game when you're a dazzling suburbanite.

I guess my point is, assuming I have one, that winter is one of two seasons that makes it presence known after the fact, especially when it takes so goldurn long to go away. Spring burns off in the heat of summer, and summer fades, and they both do so quickly. Winter causes a lot of damage, directly or incidentally, that tends to linger into spring. Fall is the only other season that reminds you it has passed, and that's because it dumps dead leaves and crap all over the joint. And yet, in every other aspect of life, it takes a long time to create something and no time at all to destroy it.

Ah, entropy! Ah, humanity!

Saturday, April 21, 2018


If there's one thing I hate -- hold on, never mind, there are many things I hate -- 

Of the many things I hate, one of them is -- 

Try again. 

One thing I hate is organizations that are stupid about their acronyms. I really hate it. When a group changes its name it often means it has lost its focus. And that's only part of it. 

Take, for example, the FFA, and this from their site:

So FFA, which used to have the purposeful and clear name of Future Farmers of America, decided that they didn't want to just focus on people who wanted to be farmers, in America, in the future. No, it was silly that people would want a thing like that! "FFA welcomes members who aspire to careers as teachers, doctors, scientists, business owners and more"...

They were focused on promoting agriculture careers. That's a clear and important mission. Now they're promoting any careers in anything. They have a little something for everyone. Which means what they do have has been devalued. No one but St. Paul can be all things to all people. In other words, the FFA has no reason to exist.

But what most irritates me is that they decided to keep the acronym FFA, even though it doesn't stand for anything. THAT IS SO STUPID. What, you were too cheap to buy new stationery?

You want to change your mission? THEN CHANGE THE NAME. Don't just have letters that are meaningless. It reveals the hollowness of your thinking.

"Hey. Psst. Kid. Wanna join the FFA?"
"What's FAF?"
"FFA, kid. Get it right."
"What's FFA stand for?"

Change the stupid name.

If there was anything dumber than that, it had to be this, from AARP:

If you can't read that, it says that the American Association of Retired Persons changed its name because some of its members were still working. Because they were enraged at being represented by a bunch of retirees, I guess.

So now, AARP also doesn't stand for anything, but they call it Aarp. Ahrrp. Which sounds like the last word you say after you fall off your walker and expire waiting for help to arrive. "Aaaarrrrp."

(Extra points if you thought of Eric Idle.)

AARP seems to want to disguise the fact that its mission is to help old people. It was organized to help those who had retired and had all the various problems that come with old age and loss of income and even purpose. Now they want to help people who aren't old -- not really -- and aren't even retired. So they too have lost all meaning.

At least you could CHANGE THE STUPID NAME.

I fully expect that the Boy Scouts of America, who have stomped on the key word in that name -- Boy -- by allowing people other than boys to join, will become just "BSA" in the next decade or so.

"What does BSA stand for?"

When the American Academy of Dietitians wanted to expand beyond mere national borders (something I suspect they would not have done except that George W. Bush was in the White House, but I'm just guessing), they didn't just call themselves AAD and say it stood for nothing. They became the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and to hell with the stationery. Why can't these other twit organizations do this? I mean, yeah, as AAD they might have gotten confused with the American Academy of Dermatology, but it was still a good idea to change the name entirely.

These dumbasses basically want to eat their cake and at the same time have their cake. They want to change the name for whatever dopey reason, like mission creep or greed for new recruits, while not losing name recognition. They are looking to split the difference. You cannot split that difference. You can only stick to thy last or CHANGE THE STUPID NAME.

It all makes me want to use language that is not worthy of a PG-rated blog. Besides, I have already used the ugliest word I know: Aarp. Which means, "I've fallen and I can't get up."

Thursday, April 19, 2018

F for Frustrating.

Last week I said I hoped that Thursdays on this blog would be Fiction Thursday, where I could run some new or recycled stories for your reading pleasure, or something. I have barely been able to think creatively or in fact in any other way because all my brain cells have been taken up with


Everyone knows that Copy Editors like your obedient servant here are pretty geeky, but indexers are geeks' geeks. It is a highly specialized skill within the field. It's like the open-heart surgery of editing; sure, every editor knows the theory, but few would want to have to stick their hands in there and take a whack at it.

Plus, it's boring as hell.

On the surface it seems very simple. Take your nonfiction book, note all the bits of information on each page with the page number, run it through Word's alphabetizing thingie, and break for lunch. In fact, Word even has an indexing feature, so you can just go down the document and flag key words for the index, and Word will spit it out at the back. Easy Peasy Lemonade Squeezy, or as the indexers say:


HA! Shows what you know.

The chapter on indexing in the Copy Cats' scripture, The Chicago Manual of Style (new 17th edition!), is 51 pages long. That's a lot of pages to tell you how to compile an adequate index. Here's one chosen at random:

The thing is, indexing involves a lot more than knowing that A comes before B; it requires cross-referencing, subreferences, a knowledge of how to alphabetize names and foreign words, and whether numbers are listed before or after letters or spelled out and alphabetized as letters. In fact, before you even go that far, you need to know how the publisher alphabetizes. Yes, there's more than one method. Do you alphabetize word-by-word or letter-by-letter? In the latter, pear comes before pea soup; in the former, pea soup comes first.

As for those names, you may have to look every one of them up -- Carl Van Vechten, author of Spider Boy (1928), and Vincent van Gogh, the painter, are not alphabetized the same way. They are:

Gogh, Vincent van
Van Vechten, Carl
Why? Because Webster's New Biographical Dictionary says so. Even though Vincent is called Van Gogh and not just Gogh. You just have to look them up. And don't even think about the Chinese or Japanese names, or worst of all, those Spanish names where every freaking family member gets a hand in, like "Carla Rodriguez Hermena Calderón de García." Where's the last name? Better look it up. If a foreign title is mixed in, you may not realize where the name ends and the title begins. If the person is known by a nom de guerre or something (Il Duce, Abu Mazen, La Grenouille Frénétique), do you list him under that, just add it to the name, do a separate entry, or just a cross-reference ("Verrückter Karl -- see under Von Hoopenschmactchter, Karl")? It is difficult, demanding, and yet still boring.

So what happened was, a friend of mine I do some work for asked me to give a thorough check to an index. As it happened, the deadline was very short and I had an appointment that day, so with great regret I had to pass on the assignment. 😅 A few days later he sent me a note and said, Guess what? We got an extension! Here it is! 😭 So that was my week.

All I had to do was check every single reference on the index, just to make sure the page numbers were correct. I didn't have to actually compile the thing. But it reminded me that indexers really are in a class by themselves. I salute you, indexers! No one gives you the credit you deserve.