Sunday, April 30, 2017

Chopped: Slow cooker.

Host Ted Allen: Welcome to a special edition of Chopped. In this slow cooker challenge, four chefs will vie for $10,000 by making the best appetizer, entree, and dessert in slow cookers. In each round the contestants will have to use mandatory mystery ingredients from the baskets at their stations. The chef in each round who pleases our judges least with their crock comestibles will be chopped. 



Chef Tats McEargauge: I didn't come here to lose. So I guess I came here to win.

Chef Egon Greez: I've used slow cookers in all my restaurants. Every one. Every single failed bankrupt rotten lousy one. I'm gonna take home that prize. I want my daughters and their mothers to be proud of me.

Ted: And in the first round your dishes will have to use... lamb shanks... fiddlehead ferns... ramen noodles... and chocolate syrup. You have eight hours to prepare your dishes. Time starts now.

[Chefs seen starting to examine products, moseying over to pantry to find other things]

Chef Belle Buster: These guys try to intimidate women in the kitchen, well, nuts to that. I'm here to show that a woman can cook as well or better than the big boys, just like the five thousand or so women who have been on this show before me.

Chef Gerard Ling Rajagukguk du Wangenstein: [very thick accent; subtitled] I am happy to be here and I hope to won. The pen of my aunt is on the bureau.

Ted: [to judges] This is our first slow cooker challenge on Chopped. A little different!

Aaron Sanchez: Foods cooked in slow cookers can get dried out if you don't time it right.

Scott Conant: Yeah, sometimes you need split-hour timing.

Alex Guarnaschelli: Usually chefs get 20 minutes for the appetizer round. How long do they have?

Ted: Eight hours.

Alex: Well, damn it, I'd have had lunch if I'd known that.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

I got 'em! I got 'em!

They were not supposed to be available until May, but I got 'em!

"Sharing Size." Heh.
I must confess I have been riveted to the saga of the Caramel M&M's since they were announced last year. Like many of us, I grew up with just two M&M's, plain and peanut. Since then they've introduced fillings like almond, peanut butter, crispy, pretzel, cherry, dark chocolate, lots more chocolate, you name it, but never caramel, until now.

CNN Money said that there were some big chemical and techical issues to resolve, largely due to caramel's meltiness and softness. "[Veep of Mars research and development Hank] Izzo's team worked with engineers and product development scientists to design and develop machinery to fill the M&M's with caramel. The candymaker also invested about $100 million to build a new manufacturing site in Topeka, Kansas." I do not know why caramel was more of a problem than peanut butter, which is also plenty soft, but I'm no food engineer.

Somehow they overcame all these technical problems, and now we can all enjoy the fruits of their labors. Or can we? Maybe they suck! Let's try some! As my pal Stiiv might say:

"LUNCH TIIIIIMMMMMME!!!!!"
The verdict? They're good. Really good.

The lovely and tasteful Mrs. Key said, "They taste like a Rolo had a baby with a Milk Dud." There's definitely something like Hershey's Rolo going on here. I've always enjoyed the Rolo; I even shoplifted some in my misspent youth. M&M's Caramel has that same chocolate/caramel combo along with a candy shell. The caramel is more like the slightly salty Hershey's Milk Duds, but without the pull-your-fillings-out quality that has paid for a lot of dentists' boats. I've done my bit -- and my bite -- for that boat; I love caramel.

Takeaway: These are not the most incredible caramel candies I've ever had, but they're great. Nothing else is quite like an M&M, and no other M&M is quite like these.

We think they are a tasty and delightful treat. May starts Monday; go get some! Give them and try and let me know what you think. But I'm not sharing mine.

Friday, April 28, 2017

April showers bring angry grouches.

Enough with the cotton-pickin' rain!

Pictured: More rain.
We haven't had thunderstorms or the like, not in a couple of weeks, but April in New York has been like what Portland, Oregon, is reputed to be. Hard rain with long periods of drizzle. We haven't seen the sun in some time. I'm afraid it's gotten to be a red giant, it's been so long.

Some days it has not rained that much, just inevitably enough to make it impossible for me to mow the hilly jungle outside with my dinky lawn mower. Yes, it's all about me, ultimately, and my inability to tend to my lawn. Well, that and I'm sick of drying off the dogs. The big guy got groomed Wednesday and spent a chunk of Thursday morning exploring mud puddles. Yay.

But getting back to me. This wet grass really is a problem, because my old push mower is just not powerful enough to cut wet grass that's very tall, very thick, as it is in large patches. (I could almost tolerate the situation if the lawn was uniformly lush like that, but of course it mostly sucks again this spring, which means that all this suffering won't mean a good lawn anyway.) The previous lawn mower died in just such a situation, stalling constantly, unable to get through the high and wet grass.

I could try to be patient and hope that the sun returns and either destroys the Earth as a red giant star, in which case it won't matter, or dries out the lawn. But that would take days, and with grass this thick it might not even dry it out enough. Meanwhile the lawn is a breeding ground for snakes, bugs, and other things I don't want my dogs to encounter, nor do I want to encounter them myself.

Every day I've thought I could get out there and start it, and what do you know---whatever the forecast said, it's raining!

The weather might as well send me text messages.



Maybe I could buy some goats.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Daffodil.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

--William Wordsworth, "That Poem You Read in English 101"

Tulips are coming out now. Daffodil time is almost over.


I never saw a host of golden daffodils in a natural group, as Wordsworth described. I've only ever seen them in a horde like that when someone went to a lot of trouble planting a lot of bulbs.

The narcissus. as the daffodil is also known, has not relied on gardeners to survive, but is actually a flower that can spread on its own. Being a city kid in I wouldn't have thought enough about flowers to ever bother finding that out, but it's true. If I had thought about it, I'd have decided that eventually the flower just hocks up a bulb, which would be comical, but no. They replicate by seeds or bulbs quite naturally, and it's very complicated, at least for a non-biologist guy like me. Bulbs divide, which is faster than seed reproduction, so if the narcissus is in a rush it can skip the seed route. Nature is strange, even when it is beautiful.

But you note that the clonal method is not going to cause a new daffodil to erupt halfway across town. This is why in nature, daffodils like to travel in packs.

The reason I mention that is a memory that emerged from the depths as I saw this year's blossoms. When I was a kid we lived by a major thoroughfare, next to which there was nothing but an off road. But right by those, a daffodil would pop up every spring.

Why there? It was not close enough to the road to be a kind of memorial of a tragic accident; people didn't do that in those days, anyway. Maybe there was a seed dropped by a bird. Maybe it had been planted years before when people lived on that property, before their house was removed to build the road... and all that was left was the bulb they planted. I loved it because it had no business being there. We love things that turn up in places where they are unexpected, like wonderful restaurants in tiny towns or phone booths in the middle of nowhere.

For a few years I would wait for that daffodil, and before it could begin to wilt I would pick it and bring it to my mother. I think she enjoyed that -- she didn't get a lot of flowers. She always thanked me. She'd put it in a glass on our kitchen table.

One spring the daffodil did not come up. I thought I'd missed it; that some jerk had beaten me to my daffodil. But it didn't come up the next year either. Maybe an animal dug up the bulb, or maybe it just died. Nothing lives forever, although daffodil bulbs seem to be willing to take a crack at it.

The thing is, you seldom know when it's the last time for anything. The last day I drove my previous car I had no idea it was the end, but a session of hydroplaning saw to that. The last time I spoke to my oldest friend I was rushed and irritated and neither of us knew he had barely a month of life left. The day my mom died I didn't know it was that, either.

I take a lot in life for granted, but now I appreciate every daffodil.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tense situation.

[NB: Another "Best of Fred," if you will be so kind; this one I've always thought of as a companion to "Silent Jimb," which I ran on Sunday.]





"Tense Situation"

by Frederick Key

Along the high escarpment the secret agent creeped,
While 'round the gloomy edifice the chilly zephyr sweeped.

Then to a higher window ledge the agile agent hopt,
And with his slender crowbar, the window quickly popt.

Across the darkened offices, while all the city sleeped,
The agent found the cabinet in which the files were keeped.

He pried them open, glad the staff were home and peaceful dreamt,
Then, shock! Him, suddenly exposed! A brilliant flashlight beamt!

He jumpt up to escape, but had no means to go, he feeled.
An agent’s life is dangerous; he plays the cards he’s dealed.

“Who are you?” growled his captor; from the angry voice he relt.
“I know you’re up to varmintry; that’s why my eyes are pelt!

I’ve spended most nights peacefully, although I’m always wary.
Why break in the offices of Webster’s dictionary?”

“I’m on a mission,” said our man. “Our language is polluted!
I’m glad you didn’t pull that gun! I feart I might get shooted!”

“Polluted language?” said the guard, as on the wall he leaned.
“I’m sure I haven’t got a clue about what you have meaned.

Sure, many things are spelt all weird, and stranger are the verbs,
But nothing here can compensate all those whom this perturbs!”

“I’d hoped to change the pages,” the saddened agent spake.
“Upon these awful tenses, my vengeance would have wrake!

I thought I’d standardize the verbs with all their weird past tenses!
And thus I used my spying skills and breaked in through your fences!”

“Alas,” wistful said the guard, “I fear the dictionary
Is well beyond your means to fix; it’s wrote too arbitrary.

The lesson here, it's often telled---the wise man learnt it fast---
Is saddest of the pen and tongue: You cannot change the past.”

Monday, April 24, 2017

Not an age of heroes.

Is it really possible to have a secret identity, like they do in comic books? Asking for a friend.

I guess it's the kind of thing you wonder about as a kid, if you read comics or watch the characters in other media. 

When comic book crusaders arrived on the scene in the late 1930s, it was believable that a vigilante in a weird outfit operating under cover of darkness could occasionally go out and wreak havoc among the criminal underclass. Especially a guy like Bruce Wayne, who was wealthy and could afford great stuff. And fellows like Superman or the Flash had superpowers, which would be helpful in hiding their true identities. If you're flying at 10,000 feet or running at 500 mph, no one can get a good look at you. And Billy Batson, mentioned in this space last Friday, had the best second identity as Captain Marvel, essentially a distinct and older human being. 

Later it got harder to believe. Private Steve Rogers (if I recall correctly--a bit before my time) supposedly kept that big round Captain America shield hidden under his army shirt during the war. By the 1950s, the cops knew the heroes and were pals with them, and you had to accept that the entire police force respected their privacy. Superman hung around with the same people as Clark Kent. A pair of glasses is not a bad disguise if no one has a good idea of what you look like in your other, secret life. It is not great when both your personas are close with the same people. 

In his first appearance, the master villain Ra's al Ghul shows up in the Batcave. He had easily deduced that Batman had to be a wealthy young Gothamite with time to devote to crimefighting---and I don't recall Ra's mentioning this, but the public information that Wayne's parents had been killed by a mugger could not help but make the case. Commissioner Jim Gordon couldn't have guessed the same thing? 

Writer Marty Pasko once tried to explain Clark Kent's disguise as being an inadvertent and helpful offshoot of his superhypnosis power--while disguised as Kent, Superman so wanted to project the image of nebbishy weakness that he actually made people believe it. I think it's an example of why Superman has too many powers, but I'd rather believe that than that the Daily Planet hires only imbeciles. 

Sorry, spoiler alert. (Image courtesy of DC Database)
Clark Kent also was smart enough to have a job that would explain his being out of the office quite a bit---although not for days or weeks, as some of his adventures required. Any job I ever had I would have lost if I had spent enough time away from it to fight villains three or four times a month. Ditto for Peter Parker and Diana Prince. Bruce Wayne was smart to be really wealthy, freeing him from the ol' 9-to-5, but as a handsome young billionaire he'd have paparazzi shadowing him all the time. (Back in his early days he was just a generic rich guy, not a super celebrity with his name on buildings; easier to blend in that way. Lots of trust-fund babies in New York are unknown to the populace at large.) 

Today it looks like it would be virtually impossible to have a secret identity. People would be online every minute of the day trying to figure out who the mystery person was. Any photos would be analyzed to death. Why is Spider-Man seen in Queens as well as Manhattan? There's nothing in Queens. Every human in Queens would be a suspect. The police would devote huge resources to figuring it out---they don't like mysterious figures doing things, even nice things. Anyone who disappeared from work without advance warning would be a suspect. Half the people at the office would think Karl the rummy is Superman because he can't make it in on Monday or Friday.

Unless your superpower enables you to be in two places at once, or virtually so (the Flash can run to China and back before his lab assistant can take a pee break), you're not going to be able to get away with it forever. There are security cameras and phone cameras everywhere. People talk. You leave DNA all over the place. A mask and gloves are not going to be enough. And you'd have to be willing to break a lot of noses the first few times you appear, because every fun-loving prankster is going to want to pull off the mask---until word gets around that that's a punched ticket to Hematoma City. Will the cops still love Captain America if he keeps sending non-criminals to the ER? 

It looks bad for secret identities.

You may say: What about Banksy, the mystery artist? Or Anonymous, the mystery hackers? Well, Banksy doesn't commit public acts of violence as superheroes must, or believe me, he or she or them would have been found. And Anonymous does not appear outside their lair, which is generally required for superheroes. 

It seems to me that the only routes for superheroes are: A) Give up on the idea of a secret identity, and just be a celebrity like the Fantastic Four; or B) Be a real nobody in real life and don't let people know much about you even when you're heroing away. 

Like. just stay home and don't make waves. That's one way to keep private.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Silent Jimb.

[Another "classic" from the old Web site, placed here for your edification or at least so it doesn't get lost to time.]




"Silent Jimb"

by Frederick Key

Silent Jimb was a cheerful ladd
A most congenial chumb,
Who’d stop to share a meal with you
Or take a glass of rumb.

He had one knasty habit
(Or knifty, some might thinck)
Of obsessing on silent letters--
It could drive a man to drinck.

“I always mull it over,
It fills me to the brimn,”
He told me over a slice of hagm,
When I asked what troubled himn.

“I knever know when they are right;
It always seems a blunder.
So how I get through life this whay,
I tell you, it’s a whonder.”

“Kno man can know all things,” I said,
“And this can baffle themn.
I’m gualled to say good spelling would
To me be quighte a gemn.”

He sighed and said, “My humbdrumb life
Whould not seem such a shagm,
If I were half as smart as sometimes
Others thinck I agm.”

“Be strong!” our old pal Jon put forth,
“I no of that bad luk.
I’m haf as smart as all my frends.
I spel lik a dum cluk.”

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Frolic!

If you've looked at this page over the three plus years since we got the big dog, Tralfaz, you'd have heard plenty of whining as I detailed how much trouble he was. Well, I don't care how much you whine, we're going to discuss it again!

No, really, I complained a lot about his puppytude, running at people on the street, refusing to come when called, chewing on the wall, fighting skunks, scaring people, ripping every toy to garbage immediately. At one point I complained so much here that my wife made me write something nice about him, which I did, and it was all true. And he's a hero. Somewhere along the line I came to love that dog, and think he's just great. 

Meanwhile, Nipper, the new baby, is struggling through a lot of the same annoying and frustrating behaviors (for him and us). But one thing he knows how to do is: frolic. 

Tralfaz has forgotten the art of the frolic. We used to go in the yard and play Tug, or Keep Away (him keeping things away from me -- his version of Fetch), or I'd just throw toys around and he'd go after them. It was a great way to get him some exercise. When he got tired he's just sit down with a toy and chew the hell out of it. But now he barely chews any toys, never chases any, and when we go in the yard he just sniffs around and flops down. He loves a good walk, but frolic? Meh.

I guess my little boy is all grown up. 

The kid still frolics, though. He even rampages. 

Sometimes it kind of feels like a waste to get Tralfaz out in the yard, or to the dog park. Charlie Brown knew that feeling. 


But now that he's an adult, he may want to stop playing and go to work. He's from working dog stock. Maybe I should get him a wagon to pull, charge the local kids for rides. I thought about hitching the plow to him a couple of years ago and discarded the idea; maybe I should reconsider.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stays dangerous in milk.

As a fan of breakfast cereal from childhood, I would like to take a moment to discuss one of the strangest breakfast cereals ever devised. 

No, not Kaboom. I will not go into Kaboom in this forum, because Ace of Spades has done more to Kaboom cereal than I can ever do in a lifetime. 

And I'm not getting into the strange saga of Orange Quangaroos, which was originally a miner named Quake who fought an alien named Quisp, then Quake became a cowboy in a cape as new and improved Quake, then Quake got a spotted orange kangaroo, and it was orange-flavored cereal, and Quake went away, and someone was on drugs. 



No, I'm referring to another Quaker product, Mr. T brand cereal:


Mr. Breakfast, the genius site about that most important meal of the day, has this to say about Mr. T cereal, which was introduced in 1984 and de-introduced not long after:

Mr. T Cereal hit grocery stores in 1984, capitalizing on the success of actor/wrestler Laurence Tureaud's Mr. T Character. Mr. T had become recognizable to most Americans through his roles in Rocky III (1982) and The A-Team (1983-1987). His kid-friendly persona was strengthened though guest appearances on Silver Spoons (1982), Diff'rent Stokes (1983) and Alvin and the Chipmunks (1983).
Mr. T Cereal was a "Crispy Sweet Corn And Oats Cereal" that tasted somewhat similar to Cap'N Crunch. The cereal pieces were shaped like the letter "T". Commercials for the cereal used the catch-phrases, "Teaming up with Mr T. (Cereal)... It's cool" and "I pity the fool who don't eat my cereal". 

All this is fairly pedestrian, except that I want to note that prior to T showing up on family programming, he was considered a terrifying presence in pop culture. That was the point of Rocky III, to give the champ a determined, huge, mean, strong opponent who kicks the living crap out of him five ways to Sunday when Rocky dares show up without that old hunger. And T also kills Mickey. And yet two years later Mr. T has a breakfast cereal... and is rapping about how you should be nice to mom.

I never got to eat Mr. T cereal, to tell you the truth, but having been well acquainted with Cap'N Crunch I am certain I know exactly how it tasted. I'm just dazzled by the fact that the scary Mr. T was turned into a big teddy bear so fast.

It would be like Bane showing up two years after Dark Knight Rises with a cereal called BaneO's, a sugar-frosted oat cereal that stays crispy in milk. "Now is not the time for fear... of sogginess!"

That said, I like Mr. T myself. Why not? He's a Christian and he sincerely has tried to help kids of all races, creeds, and colors grow up to be responsible and caring people. I hope he made a million off the cereal. I'd eat a box now. Not, like, 33-year-old cereal, but a fresh nostalgia box?

I'd be a fool not to.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hung up.

What do you do with these?


Of course that's a wire hanger, the type one might get from your dry cleaner, or buy in bunches of 200 for whatever reason.

Unlike the legendary Joan Crawford, I have no problems with wire hangers. You have to hang up your shirts on something, and these work fine. But I get too many of them. Like Christmas lights, they tend to tangle up when nobody's looking. Eventually you get this clanging wire clot on the closet pole.

When I lived in the city, the laundry I used to go to had a dry cleaner attached and they welcomed the return of your hangers. But the dry cleaners around here don't want your old skanky hangers, even if they gave you the hanger in the first place.

They're not wanted for the town's recycling collection, although knowing how bad my neighbors are at following recycling directions, I suppose they do it anyway.

No one seems to need wire hangers for television antennae anymore, thank heavens.

Back in the 90's it became a big thing to turn trash into treasure! by reusing, reducing, and recycling in schools -- mainly by using garbage for craft projects. I never thought much of that, as -- let's face it -- it was just postponing the inevitable. Most kids' craft projects wind up in the trash anyway. Although in a way everything is postponing something inevitable, so I'd rather not dwell on that too long.

The one craft project with wire hangers that was awesome can't really be done anymore. Back when Mobil, the gasoline giant, had a line of plastic consumer products, Baggies (which is still a live trademark, my drug-addled friends, so always cap Baggies in formal writing) were somewhat different than they now are. Baggies were originally invented by the Spotless Plastics Corporation in the 50's; when I got to know them they were still commonly found in supermarkets, but not so much now. They were thin plastic bags that closed with twist-ties rather than a zip top, and they had a slightly rough exterior, like alligator scales. Now they are a smooth plastic, but they still use a cartoon alligator for their mascot. And they're owned by Reynolds, sold under their Hefty label.


What a lot of us did back then was bend the hanger into a circle and tie gallon-size Baggies to it, dozens of them, which made a fluffy plastic wreath with its own hook. You could decorate them with ornaments, spray paint them green, or otherwise Christmas them up. It was a fun project and they lasted for years.

Unfortunately you can't even do that now. Since Reynolds made the plastic smooth instead of rough, they don't look right on the hanger. They don't seem to fluff out properly. What were you thinking, Reynolds? Geez.

So now I don't know what to do with wire hangers, except hang a few shirts, straighten some out to get things that can't be reached or as backscratchers, stuff like that. Every now and then I have to ball some up so they don't poke holes in the bags and get them in the trash.

What do you do with YOUR old hangers?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Playoffs.

Hockey and basketball season have come to an end, which means that playoffs have begun. These now drag on so long that the 2016-2017 championship in both leagues will be decided five weeks into the 2017-2018 seasons.

Hockey has been the worst offender at this for a long time. They even call the playoffs the "second season." You used to have to be good to make the playoffs; now you just have to not stink. (Sorry, Devils fans; guess that means you, this year.) There are 30 NHL teams and more than half get to keep going when the regular season ends. When the majority of the teams continue when the season ends, that means the season hasn't ended. Same in the NBA, where less than half of the teams (14 out of 30) go golfing when the season ends. 

I would be less annoyed if I were a fan. Neither sport has ever appealed to me. Not that I'm good at football or baseball, but at least when I was a child I could pretend to think I might be good one day. Not so with basketball, because I jump like an anvil. And when I get on skates, I quickly find myself no longer on skates but rather looking up at them. 


On the topic of skates, though, there may be no more weather-centered major sport than ice hockey, and yet the playoffs now drag on until the middle of June. The Rangers won the 1940 Stanley Cup on April 13. This year the "regular" season ended April 9.  

I think even the sports I love go on too long. Major League Baseball should not go past Halloween. The NFL keeps toying with the idea of an 18-game season, I guess because not enough players are getting hurt in the 16-game season.

The thing about hockey, though, is that it makes the endless baseball season look efficient. A 7-game playoff series in baseball takes a max of 9 days; in the NHL it stretches over 13. And you have to budget all those days into the playoff schedule even if the series ends at 4 games. It's a long time to keep Rangers fans in the misery of dread and hope, is all I'm saying. Cruel.

Bottom line: I think baseball and football mostly manage to keep lousy teams from making the playoffs, but basketball and hockey don't. Tell me I'm wrong and I'll paste you into the boards.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Meme machine.

Easter Monday is a holiday in some places, so I've decided to take it easy myself.

Here's a few meme pics for you to pass around and share. Enjoy!


Thought it looked a little weak.

Like I should know?

Might be cheaper.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy! Easter!

Things are better today, thanks, now that Easter is here. Hooray!

Here's some Easter thoughts for you:

1) Remember on January SECOND, when I was going berserk because the local supermarket was selling Easter candy? Yes, that was three and a half months ago, or more than a quarter of the year. Well, it's okay now; eat your Easter candy. The Halloween candy will be on the racks tomorrow.

2) Speaking of Easter candy, if you like jelly beans, or if you don't but you like Jolly Rancher hard candy, get down to the store for the sales tomorrow and get some Jolly Rancher Jelly Beans. These things made a jelly bean queen out of the tasteful and talented Mrs. Key and will make a believer out of you. (I told y'all about these last year; hope you remembered to get some!)



3) Does anyone know the second verse to "Here Comes Peter Cottontail"? Sure, it's easy to look up, but as far as I know everyone when freesinging gets as far as the "Hippity Hoppity Easter's on its waaa-yay" and just peters (ha!) out. The lyrics are here: for the record, the next verse is:

Bringin' every girl and boy
Baskets full of Easter joy
Things to make your Easter bright and gay

So now you know.

Contrary to common belief, Gene Autry, who wrote "Here Comes Santa Claus," did not write "Peter Cottontail"; Wikipedia tells us Steven Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote it and asked Autry if he'd sing it, which he did. Rankin and Bass made an animated film based on the song in 1971, but they seldom run it on TV. Featuring the voices of Casey Kasem (really!), Vincent Price, and Danny Kaye, this is one of the most bizarre Rankin-Bass productions you'll ever see, and they gave us the Island of Misfit Toys, the Archipelago of Last Years, The Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians, and Mad Monster Party--and, for those of you who grew up watching WPIX in New York, Rankin and Bass did the horrifying six-finger hand for the opening of Chiller Theatre. I would run from the room.

Anyway, since Freeform (formerly the Family Channel, back when it didn't suck) has not done any Easter programming (shocker!), you can watch it on YouTube:


4) In other news, Jesus Christ is risen today. As St. Paul says,

Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

Scoffers may use to this say that the only reason people believe in Christ is because they fear death, and let's face it, being fearful of death is a powerful motivator. But that's not what brought me into the fold in adulthood. (For a young healthy adult in peaceful times, death is pretty much an abstract concept with little power to scare, unlike Chiller Theatre.) I came to understand how empty life was if there was no creator; that tracing the origins of everything and finding no Prime Mover, no Uncreated Creator, was illogical; how (in my experience) life lived with no guiding God tended to turn selfish, hedonistic, and sick. It's more complicated than that, of course, but that led me to the long road that I'm still trudging. This Easter I suspect that I may be heading someplace good, and I am glad.

May God bless you, also.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Holyyyyyy.....

I gotta tell you, I got very little today.

Good Friday is a depressing day by nature, but yesterday was lousy. Oh, the weather was terrific. I had two jobs on my desk and knocked one of them off in the morning. Yay money.

Then the ennui entered.

Spent an hour on project #2; could not motivate myself past that. Wasn't expecting any work-related calls or messages; seemed like all my clients had knocked off early. Maybe I will too.

Started to mope. Could've started on the yard work. Meh, neighbors outside -- jerks. Looking at them makes me sore. Writing project? No ideas. Laundry? Too noisy; wakes the sleeping dogs, and you know what they say about sleeping dogs. No, obviously the shroud of misery had descended on me.

I know doing something productive usually helps at times like these. I did bring that no-good Cuisinart pot to the UPS drop box to return it (because it's so much cheaper for everyone involved than sending me the tiny plastic piece that was missing). And when the dogs woke up I did allow myself to be hauled outside by my wife so we could frolic in the backyard. But all of it felt like I was like I was dragging around one of those big cartoon ball-and-chain sets.

stylin'


There were other things I could have done that would have helped. I could have gone to church to sit for a little while. I could have cleaned the bathroom. I could have tried to do something good for someone -- there are usually opportunities like that around if you look for them. I could have taken a nap. Well, I actually did try to take a nap after I dozed off in the chair, but the moment I hit the sofa I woke up.

When you can't even nap right, you know you're having a session of depression.

And now we're in Holy Saturday, which is also unhappy. The Apostles are in hiding. Mary's lost her son. Everything has gone as wrong as it can, and there's barely any hope of escape the worst that is yet to come.

Am I identifying too much? Maybe. Not that I don't have some difficult things going on; who doesn't? But I know that tomorrow is Easter, when everything turns around; the Apostles et al. did not know that.

This morning I'm doing better than yesterday, but I still feel like a trapeze artist who's flung himself free of his swing, trusting that there will be someone on the other side to catch me.


Unsettled, unsure, and low.

I guess we'll see how it goes tomorrow....

Friday, April 14, 2017

Easter tree.

God said Eat not of the fruit of the tree
As told in Genesis 3 and 3
Eat not of the tree or dead you shall be
In Adam’s fall, all sinned did we

By the altar put no grove of any tree
We were told in Deuteronomy
And if a man sins and dying must be
Hang ye that man upon a tree

They sing in Chronicles 16:33
The judgment of God makes the song of the tree
In Proverbs to tree as like Wisdom be
Called tree of life to they that hold she

Matthew and Luke tell of fruit from the tree
Good fruit and bad tree indubitably
By their fruit we can know which kind they may be
The kind of the fruit tells us the kind of the tree

Blessed is the fruit of Mary’s womb
Blessed is the work of our salvation
The route from tree to tree to tomb
Requires participation

Our surrender is our only key
To save us from eternal loss
For only God can make the tree
But only Man can build the cross.





Thursday, April 13, 2017

Gnoying.

Spring is lovely, is it not?



After struggling through the neighborhood with large dog Tralfaz all winter, is it refreshing to leave the house in the morning with the temperatures in the fifties or sixties and the sun already in the sky. Ah, spring!

Of course, spring has its downsides. One is the return of the gnats.

I hate gnats. They swarm. The get in your eyes, your ears, your nostrils. They're like really persistent bums, except you can't even buy them off with a dollar. They aren't very fast, but they stalk you, and they moment you stop, they come say hi again.


Longtime readers with ridiculously sharp memories will recall that I gave gnats a D when I graded the lawn bugs last year. I have seen no effort for improvement on their part since.

Bug repellent helps, but who thinks to put it on first thing in the morning? The stuff stinks and I don't want to sit around in it all day while I work as a laptop jockey. When I go to cut the grass, sure. But for an hour's walk followed by eight hours of sitting around? Naaah.

I always thought that the idea that horses had developed tails as a way to get rid of flies was just silly. Not since I got dogs and have been spending more time outside. The dogs' tails don't do a thing against insects, though. I don't know what they're for, really. Wagging, I guess. Cuteness.

Anyway, gnats are annoying and they don't even seem to get anything out of it. They're not stinging death bugs or bloodsucking freaks; they're just nuisances. It's all more proof that even at it's finest nature is imperfect and unworthy of human worship.

Tell that to your pantheistic nature-kissing sister-in-law at Easter dinner and let me know how it works out.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Bunnies.

Easter's getting pretty close, and the bunnies are everywhere. Here's one from a supermarket circular.


And there was another in the bushes I planted on the side of the house. I was bringing Nipper, the young dog, around on the leash when suddenly a brown rabbit burst out from under a large bush and tore tail down the hill in the back. I thought he'd fly into the tall weeds that form the border of the yard, but he stopped dead just before that.

You might think, if you were a bunny rabbit, that it would be silly to sit in the open in front of a dog. Why not dash for the cover? But when the rabbit stopped dead, motionless, in plain sight to my eyes, he suddenly became invisible to my puppy.

I had read that dogs' eyes pick up motion better than ours do, but they still see only half as well, and their color perception is not as good. The brown bunny motionless against the brown weeds was indeed invisible to Nipper, although I could see him easily. Had Nipper really been on the hunt he could have followed his nose, but at this point in his career the only things he wants to kill is deer and birds. They keep moving all the time, so no wonder. I shooed the bunny out of the yard, though, just in case.

As for Easter bunnies, I have one that works as a kind of tribute to the talent we just lost: J. Geils. No, actually, I'm talking about Mr. Warmth, the great Don Rickles, one of America's greatest comedians.

Appearing on this very stage...


Of course we know Rickles was the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story movies. Had they done an Easter-themed adventure, he probably would have dressed as you see here. (It appears that Hasbro no longer makes this version of Mr. PH, so I may have a collectors' item.)

Rickles himself was of course Jewish, and this is the week of Passover, but as far as I know Passover's never had a successful cartoonish mascot like the Easter Bunny. Certainly Hasbro has not released any Jewish holiday themed Mr. Potato Head toys. Mr. Latke Head would be pretty neat.


Pixar fans are saddened that Rickles did not get to record his lines for the upcoming Toy Story 4 before his passing at the tender age of 90. But I have no doubt Disney will resuscitate him. As Peter Cushing found out, mere death is not enough to escape the grip of the Mouse.

I mean, I know Easter is the celebration of the Resurrection, but that's not the kind we have in mind.

Dare I say it? MASH UP!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Do not be hypnotized.

I want to apologize for the possibility that New York's governor will try to inflict himself upon the national political scene in time for the 2020 presidential election. Andrew "Evil Eyes" Cuomo has just made four-year state schools free (subject to means testing and stuff), which political watchers assure us is part of his evil plan to look liberal and caring in time to run for the White House. Of course, the fact that he's doing this by setting fire to our wallets is a matter of no consequence to him. 



Ballotpedia says that our fair state, which is basically composed of fat cats and plebes in the south and plebes everywhere in the north, had $387.5 billion in debt in 2014 (most recent figures available). This despite the fact that "Compared to neighboring states, New York had the highest state tax collections per capita, at $3,898." Obviously there's a big pile of money someplace that Andrew hasn't told us about if he's going to open wide the daycare centers state colleges free of charge to any idiot who can pass through the doors.

I don't mean to say that our state colleges are bad -- yet. Some of them have been quite excellent in the past. Some have been little more than places to park your loser kid for two to four years in the hope that something will finally click between his ears. But all of them are about to become worse, because if there's no tuition cost (leprechauns and unicorns picking up the tab) then there's little motivation to bust your ass to earn your way through school and get out of there as fast as you can. Or in the words of Kingsley Amis, referring to the expansion of education, "More will mean worse."

I know college is expensive, really too expensive; its costs have totally outstripped inflation over the last thirty years, and not because they're installing super-high-tech wonder gizmos everywhere. There are plenty of reasons for the rising costs, such as market distortions due to government interference and just because the colleges can, because we've become a world that spits on electricians with high school diplomas but lauds dingdongs with BAs in Grievance Studies. Some of the parents I know, even of a conservative bent, are hesitating to denounce the Cuomo plan because they are so terrified about the cost of their child's upcoming higher education. Others are furious because they just paid a fortune to put Liam through SUNY Armmpitt. None of these parents are in a position to consider that the "free" education is going to be a debased one -- if you think the BS from Armmpitt State looks cheesy on a résumé now, think of how it will look when prospective employers know you went there for nothing.

And they will have a legitimate concern. How much will the state be willing to pay top professors during the next inevitable New York fiscal crisis? But before the prestige issue comes into play, dozens of fine private institutions in New York will lose potential students who would rather try their luck with an education that won't have them paying off student loans for thirty years.

Government largess has a way of inducing chaos. If you think the cost of food is high, imagine what would happen if the government took over the grocery stores and declared all the food to be free.

But we don't mind; as long as we're furthering the career of Dandy Andy, who cares about the unintended consequences? Just like we didn't mind that Andrew Cuomo, as the chair of the Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton, almost single-handedly caused the mortgage crisis that led to a worldwide economic meltdown in 2008, by throwing free mortgages at everything with a pulse, and being surprised when opportunistic bankers tried to monetize the bad debt they were forced to create, and shocked when people you wouldn't have lent a sawbuck to started to default in droves. (Don't trust me about Andrew's involvement; just ask that right-wing rag The Village Voice.)

Yessir, Andy may have Evil Eyes, but he likes helping people, and gosh darn the consequences, intended or otherwise.

So enjoy your "free" college, kids, just like everyone enjoyed the defaults and portfolio crashes and job losses and underwater mortgages following his "help" for housing. Cuomo is nothing but helpful, and I'm sure he'll be a wonderful candidate for president. Ask anyone from western New York and they'll be happy to tell you how great everything is now, and how much they can't wait to pay for some bonehead kid to smoke pot in a dorm in Delhi for four years.

(By the way: If you are looking to invest in New York, I suggest setting up a U-Haul franchise...)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Hope soap?

We all want to do nice things, right? Except for those people, and you know who they are. The rest of us want to be sweetness and light all the time, except when people are on our last nerve and we're having a day. Or it's Monday.

But let's assume most of the time we want to make a positive impact in the world. And it's Holy Week, so we want to holy up. There are so many good things we can do. We can even help others by making charitable shopping decisions.

Really? Is that just soft soap, or can we shop our way to a better world?

Soapbox Soaps says we can.


Soapbox's array of hand soap, body wash, shampoo, and other cleansing products uses your purchasing dollars to fund a variety of charitable projects in various parts of the world, including the distribution of soap to the soapless. Anyone familiar with the scourge of cholera knows that handwashing is more than just a means to avoid the common cold; it saves lives.

Here's a list of charities they support. One of the neato features is that you go to the Soapbox site and plug in a code on the package to see exactly where your support went.

This made a contribution to Sundara Soap Recycling in Mumbai,
which turns used hotel soap into sanitized soap for the masses.
Anyone who's ever been around us masses knows we need soap.
So when you spend $4 for a bar of soap that would normally cost a couple of bucks, you know that in addition to getting a good quality soap, you're helping someone somewhere.

OR ARE YOU?

Serious economists have wondered about the shop aid model; the buy-one-give-one used by TOMS shoes has been a matter of some study. Concerns have ranged from the provision of inappropriate footwear for local conditions (a concern TOMS addressed) to the need for things even more basic than shoes (food, medicine, shelter) to the destruction of the local economy by massive giveaways.

These were issues addressed also in economist Dambisa Moyo's eyeopening 2009 book, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. Everyone was familiar with horrible warlords hijacking aid to the poorest, dictators who skim charitable donations or just take it all, and whatnot, but Moyo also gives a sound illustration of what happens to the local economy even when things go right. She gives a hypothetical example of an African manufacturer of mosquito nets who is driven out of business when a Hollywood star arranges to send 100,000 nets to Africa. The manufacturer is driven out of business and his employees turned into charitable dependents. And "in a maximum of five years the majority of the nets will be torn, damaged and of no further use" and there will be no one around making new ones.

There's no question that the TOMS people and similar outfits want to help the world's poorest; there is a great deal of question over how it can really be done. As Dennis Moore discovered on Monty Python's Flying Circus, "this redistribution of wealth is trickier than I thought."

And I don't have the time to even address the charities who mostly seem to be in business to help their officers

I don't want to single out Soapbox, who really do make a nice product and may have learned to avoid some of charity's traps. But from a layman's perspective, based on what I've read, it is extremely difficult to lift the people of another country out of poverty. The farther the country has sunk into chaos, the less likely it can be helped. Efforts to help can backfire in any number of ways, including by accidentally empowering those who cause or exacerbate the chaos in the first place. I am probably as helpless to aid the starving in Somalia as I am to punish the bastards who blew up Egyptian Christians on Palm Sunday.

The most useful charitable donations tend to be cash donations for emergency aid (don't send food or blankets or other things unless asked). And check out organizations at the Better Business Bureau's Give.org before you donate. Some good pointers can be found here as well.

Personally, I think some of my best charitable giving is when I don't indulge in anger or irritation at the people in my proximity, but rather try to change my attitude to one of helpfulness and kindness. No one wants to be a Mrs. Jellyby. It's a lot easier to throw money at people far away than to be nice to those who are bugging me. And it's Monday, too.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Easter reminder.

Today is Palm Sunday, which celebrates -- if that's the word I want -- the Passion and death of Jesus. It's one of the longest Masses of the year for Catholics, and the only one that requires audience participation in the Gospel.

Really -- and we get some of the worst dialogue. If you're not familiar with the format, the reading is divided among the narrator (usually a deacon or priest), Jesus (a priest), a speaker (a lector), and chorus (the congregation). The lector will read the words spoken by individuals like Judas, Pilate, Peter, and Caiaphas, and we all do the bloody-minded mob.

"We want Barabbas! We are schmucks!"
Anytime an idiot is speaking, it's us.

It's always interesting when the congregation is called on to do something. American Catholics generally shy at getting involved in our own services, unlike other Christians and Catholics in other countries. We're terrible about the group singing. We avoid the front pews as if the father is going to snag a volunteer for his sawing-a-congregant-in-half trick. In our parish we once had a visiting priest from the Philippines who always seemed to be wondering what he had to do to get a reaction out of these people, for Pete's sake.

But everyone seems to get into the spirit of the Palm Sunday readings, even though we feel the shame of participating in the Crucifixion. We know that we are not mouthing the words of blinkered Jerusalemites; we are speaking for all of us, who would not have fought to save the life of this blasphemer, even if we believed he was who he said he was. He'll get out of this on his own if he's that great -- there's a lot of that in the Gospel. I don't want to piss off Herod. I don't want to piss off the Sanhedrin. I really don't want to piss off the Romans. Besides, he probably is a blasphemer, lawbreaker, troublemaker. He's offended everybody, hasn't he? Hey, if he's so great how'd they manage to arrest him?

Church doctrine teaches that we're all guilty; many of us just don't know it. Palm Sunday is our reminder.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Don't taunt the man who hasn't had his coffee.

I want to thank everyone who chimed in when I mentioned that we were looking for a new coffeemaker in February: Cpl. Rock, Mr. Philbin, et al. You perked me up! (ha)

We decided after much dithering to go with a thermal drip pot from Cuisinart. We wanted to try a thermal pot, in the hope that we could go for a coffee after a couple of hours and not have it taste like it came out of one of those hospital vending machines they used to have, the kind that also dispense hot cocoa and chicken soup from the same nozzle. We wanted a 12-cup pot as well; some makers seem to focus on a 10 or smaller, and we're much too sleepy for a dose that small. We selected Cuisinart as we have had mostly good luck with the Cuisinart line. (What's that? Where did we go on it? No, you're thinking of Cunard, not Cuisinart, silly imaginary person.)

So yesterday I opened the box for the new pot, excited to give the old Mr. Coffee a furlough, and -- hey now! What's this? 



Yes, the top of the handle is missing a little slab of plastic that covers a hollow area. It's not a "some assembly required" thing; there'd be no reason to leave that out, and yes, I did check the box and the instructions to make sure. The piece that was supposed to go here never got there. It's tempting to call it a "you had one job" thing, like this classic:


But it may have been a robo assembly that failed to snap that last piece in place. I could say It had one job. But that's just not as satisfying.

Once I had convinced myself that the gap in the handle was indeed an error and not a slot that something was supposed to connect to, I contacted Cuisinart via e-mail (texting just seemed to brusque). They don't promise an answer within 24 hours like some places, or 48 or 72 or 5,542 hours for that matter. Anyway, I haven't heard back yet.

The Cuisinart pot cost $129,00 (we got it on sale, but still). This is looking cheap, Cuisinart, and I'm not happy. Little things mean a lot. You may have your products chucked together carelessly, but you don't want us knowing that. I demand satisfaction! And coffee!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Groaner.



Even in the old folks' home, Albert wouldn't stop making Dad jokes.