Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mr. Tad's Thanksgiving; and some sappy stuff

We just returned home from Thanksgiving dinner. Quite a gathering, perhaps the last of an era because Jas and Kathy have been talking of spending a lot of time in Florida after they retire next August. The Thanksgiving gathering has been at their house for about the last ten years, so we may be getting toward one of those unpleasant junctions in life when old and familiar things change.

Today's gathering included Jas, Kathy, Johnny, Angela, Jenny, Doug, me, Linda, Alex, Christina, Sam, Debra, Samuel, Don, Delores, Marianne, Dave, Liana, Catherine, Mark, Linda and Mark. Dave A had to work, so he missed dinner, although he was around earlier in the day.

Twenty-two of us sharing the most precious thing of all to be thankful for.

Not the food, although the food, prepared mostly by Kathy and Jenny, was excellent - traditional turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, brussel sprouts, peas, a tart cranberry relish, a sweet cranberry mold and, of course, multiple desserts. The food was great, but Thanksgiving gatherings have boasted similar food for all of my sixty years.

And not the scintillating conversation, even though it was wide ranging. And even though Linda remembered that my frog once had a proper name, Mr. Tad. In observance of Thanksgiving I gave Mr. Tad a special treat today, a little pinch of bloodworms from the quarter of an ounce container out of which he has gotten an occasional pinch for about fifteen years. He likes bloodworms, a lot; and even frogs should have reason to be thankful.

And not the memories evoked as we older folks remembered the days of The Three Stooges and bemoaned the fact that the youngsters have no respect for the great old black and white movies. All leading, as such remembrance conversations sometimes do, to marvelling about how Aunt Mary R became fascinated with the story of Lorena Bobbitt, holding her up as an example to all womankind after the first little snippet about her appeared in The Times Herald, long before the story went national in a big way. "Good for her. . .That's what all you men deserve," was her greatest quote. A complex and interesting woman, Aunt Mary R, harboring some deep currents under the image of the dutiful Italian housewife.

But I was talking about being thankful. The most important thing we all have to be thankful for is the fact that Mom and Pop succeeded in raising the four of us in such a way that we have remained compatible one with the other, and as a family, for all of the past forty nine years since Marianne appeared. Even more miraculously, the four of us have all been fortunate enough to make good and lasting marriages to spouses who are also compatible.

For more than fifty years that I can attest to we've been gathering for dinners on Thanksgiving. And that's besides the gatherings for dinner on Christmas, New Year's Day and Easter, and for picnics, cookouts, on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. We've been a close family even putting aside the run of the mill Sunday dinners and desserts, the Saturday morning coffee klatches, the weekday evening visits, the weeklong vacations together in Stone Harbor, then Chincoteague, then Corolla Light and finally The Villages, plus a couple of road trips out west.

Early on in that period we Augustines clustered with the hordes of ravenous Raimos and Luzis and Capones and Romanos and Piermarinis and DiAngelis's at 403 Walnut Street in Norristown. Grandmom L and Aunt Mary R did the honors for dinners that included thirty or forty, not counting those who stopped by after dinner to pay their respects to Grandmom and Grandpop L, and maybe stay for coffee and "just a little dessert."

At the very peak of decadence back then I remember Thanksgiving dinners that included turkey and all the trimmings as above, plus a ham, plus lasagna and meatballs, all topped off with one of Aunt Mary's signature four layer twenty pound rum cream cakes, several of Mom's apple pies, a couple of pumpkin pies and Aunt Nancy's nonpareil rice pudding which could not be resisted even if one was near to bursting. It's fortunate there were no seat belts in those days, because it would surely have been painful to put them on for the ride back home. Looking back from the perspective of this cholesterol aware age, it's amazing anyone emerged alive from those dinners.

After the gatherings switched to 2808 Second Avenue in Trooper the menu tailed off to turkey and the trimmings, most memorably topped off with one of Mom's cookie sheet apple pies during the period in which she decided that one huge rectangular pie was more efficient to produce than several smaller round ones. Has anyone ever made better apple pie than mom, with that flaky crust that can only be achieve with lard or crisco. There were, of course, always a couple of pumpkin pies that one had to at least sample as well; and sometimes lasagna sneaked onto the menu; but I don't think Mom ever added a ham to the mix.

After dinner and dessert in Trooper, of course, we had to go down to Norristown to visit Grandmom and Grandpop. And it was impossible, once there, to avoid having a couple pieces of rum cream cake and maybe another piece of pie. It would then have been impolite not to at least stop in and say hi to Aunt Carmella, and doubly impolite to turn down her offer of coffee and maybe some cookies to force down while Russos, Jackinskis, Prostocks and DiPrinzios ebbed and flowed around.

Gatherings for Thanksgiving at Mom and Pop's Hopwood Road house in Collegeville, are the most memorable, of course. For what previous occurrences could have competed with the joy at the successive arrival of the various cute little rugrats - John, Rebecca, Jennifer, David, Alex, Samuel, Donald, Catherine and Liana - who first crawled and then ran around in their diapers, and occasionally broke loose and ran around without their diapers, their fathers oblivious and their mothers in hot pursuit.

If each member of that new generation is one tenth as lucky in their relationships as Linda and I have been in the steady closeness we've enjoyed with their parents they will be lucky indeed in life.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Update 11/29: Marianne, my annoyingly watchful sister, reminded me last evening that Thanksgiving dinners after 1990 had come full circle and were down at 403 Walnut because Mom was then living with Aunt Mary R. The dinners moved up to Canci Court when Mom moved in with Jas and Kathy after Aunt Mary died. Thus Catherine and Liana celebrated their first Thanksgivings with the family at 403 Walnut.

Let the bailouts roll on

Why should $10 Million per year bloated executives and $76 per hour unionized auto workers at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get all the loot? Here's a much more worthy recipient for some of your tax money.

Hat Tip to John J. Miller at National Review

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In the palace of art

A few weeks ago I was sitting here on Saturday morning waiting for Sam and Jas to show up; and I got to thinking about Pop and Louie Jiggs. Specifically, I got to thinking about the time back in the 1970's, when they went to the art museum down in Philly, of all places. I never got straight the story of what inspired them to make the trip; but it's been worth a lot of laughs over the years, the notion of Louie Jiggs and the Pop of that era loose, unchaperoned, in the palace of art. You've got to remember that this wasn't all too many years after that other Italian fellow visited the Louvre and decided he liked the Mona Lisa - he really liked it - so he cut it out of its frame and took it home to have it where he could look at it whenever he wanted.

Don't get me wrong, Pop and Louie were both church going folks, solid reliable workers, each at his own trade; and they were basicly law abiding in most things. Neither would ever have stolen something from a person, unless it was a very rich person and no relation to them. But if either of them had been alone in an alley when a bag of money fell off a Brinks truck, well. . . I, for one, have never been too judgmental about Joey Coyle even though I always give back small amounts when careless cashiers make errors in my favor. But I've never been alone in an alley when a bag of small bills fell off a Brinks truck; and I've always thought that folks who are judgmental about Joe Coyle never have been either.

But I've strayed from the Art Museum. Pop was much too smart to think he could take a painting from the Philadelphia Museum of Art even if no one was looking. First off Pop was not a big art lover; although he was a pretty fair artist who every year surreptitiously painted a very credible little Santa, Sleigh and Reindeer in the sky on the picture Mom had in the dining room down in Trooper. But at the art museum Pop would also have known that there was no way to sell such a painting even if you could take it. Pop was not very well educated; but he was very good at math, very good at computing odds, which are, after all, nothing but risk reward ratios. But Louie. . .

Louie was a little fireplug shaped guy, a barber by trade, and he was a perfect exemplar of the ethics of the time. One time in the 1980's Louie came up to visit at Mom and Pop's house in Collegeville. On the way out the long gravel driveway from their house Louie stopped in Mr. C's section of the shared driveway, out of sight of the house; and he dumped off a bunch of cinder blocks and other trash in the drainage ditch next to the driveway. Jas brought that up while he and Sam were here, as he always does when the subject of Louie Jiggs comes up. "Outrageous," Jas always says, dumping trash by the side of the driveway that leads to your best friend's house. That, of course, was an era when none of us gave a second thought to opening the window of a car and tossing out a bottle or a food wrapper, or a brown paper bag of trash, as long as there wasn't an obvious cop around.

In a sense the art museum was designed for the edification of folks like Pop and Louie; but in another sense one can't think about their visit there without imagining the reaction of the Visigoths when they first conquered Rome and wondered wide eyed in its marbelled and statued streets, dragging their squealing and struggling prizes along with them, looking for a place to conduct some well deserved rest and recreation. I may owe my bluish gray eye color to one of those Visigoths, or to one of the Ostrogoths. Although my eye color could also owe to a Roman Legionary bringing back a souvenir, so to speak, from Gaul or Germania. Or I may owe by blue eyes to a legionary buying a German wife during the good times, for the Romans at least, when Julius Caeser and Caesar Augustus and their predecessor and successor thugs had disciplined armies of diminutive legionaries about as tall as Louie Jiggs out conquering and plundering and otherwise "civilizing" the known world.

One of my fraternity brothers, a southerner and ex-military type a few years older than the rest of us, used to remark after a few drinks that I was the only "blue-eyed Wop" he had ever seen. I used to counter with a comment on the likely rest and recreation habits of his white trash ancestors. And then I would take a firm grip on the neck of my beer bottle, just in case, and I would express my surprise that his skin color was so light. He and I got along well; but he was bigger than me and more muscular even after the summer when I went to Army Airborne School, so I always made sure to be ready to use the bottle when I went down that road. "Silky," he would say, "I could kick your ass for that, you know." And I would answer, "Maybe so, and maybe not, cracker." And he would laugh.

He and I both kept back an empty or two on the table when we went with a couple of our other fraternity brothers to the redneck bar near campus for the Friday night fights. Don't get me wrong, we never went to fight. He had had his fill of fighting in Vietnam, and I've never believed in fighting unless it's absolutely necessary. We went as spectators. We would leave after one beer if we couldn't get the table that was up a couple of steps on the little side platform overlooking the bar area. That platform had a railing that served like the palisade of a Roman legionary camp once the inevitable fight started and the chairs and bottles started flying.

Good times. . . having a few beers, watching the factory worker rednecks get drunk, wagering a round on which cracker would start the fight, wagering on which of them would pinch or otherwise insult which other one's girl, lining the railing to discourage assault on our little fort, and then watching the fun until the cops arrived to end the fight. One of our number, Bill F, was an off duty cop, so we never had any problems; although he had to show his badge a couple of times.

But this post was supposed to be about paintings and sculptures rather than performance art. Pop used to laugh when he remarked that it was tough tearing Louie away from the nudes in the classical art sections of the museum. Louie's eyes about popped out of his head, Pop used to say. A great pity that both Pop and Louie died before the internet.

Pop also always commented on the painting of the huge sow done by one of the Wyeths. Aside from the nudes that painting of the sow was the most memorable to them; that and a painting of a cowboy holding a huge catfish, now that I'm thinking about it.

Remembering the painting of the cowboy with the catfish always got Pop remembering that the blacks used to fish for catfish in the Schuylkill. Pop and every other white person in Norristown called blacks "colored" in those days - now that I think about it that's not true, Grandmom L referred to blacks as "chocolat." She was more or less accepting of everyone; but she was suspicious of anyone whose ancestors on both sides weren't from Ascoli Picento, her home town in the Marche' section of Italy; and she was suspicious of the motives of most people whose ancestors did come from Ascoli Picento. Talk about suspicious, Grandpop L, a member of the Marche' club in Norristown, used to say in Italian something like, "having a Marche' knocking at the door is worse than having a dead body in the living room." The idea, according to Pop, never one hundred percent reliable in such matters of translation, was that it was easier to get rid of a body than to get rid of a Marche' with a proposition.

Anyway, Pop wouldn't eat catfish from the Schuylkill because, he said, they had a muddy taste. This was perhaps not surprising because he also said that at that time the surface of the Schuylkill was dark with coal dust, and the Norristown sewage flowed untreated right into the river. Pop also always said that "the colored" liked and would buy catfish; but even they wouldn't eat another kind of fish, a very bony kind of fish, that he and they caught in the Schuylkill. They sold those bony fish to the Jews, Pop said. The Jews liked those bony fish and would pay for them. The big snapping turtles, Pop said, were the real prize. Restaurants would pay significant money for those snapping turtles, plus the cook would treat you to a rich bowl of the soup after it was done. Pop fondly remembered those bowls of snapper soup, shared out back of restaurants with a black guy named Sims who was his fishing buddy. One of the few luxuries he and Mom bought in the 1950's, was an occasional can of Bookbinder's snapper soup. Sims later became custodian of one of the movie theaters, The Norris, that was one of Pop's regular daily stops when he was a runner for Uncle Joe Sky and picked up numbers and horse business after he returned from the war.

Like I said before, Pop wasn't formally educated; but he was a storehouse of information and he had friends in all walks of life and all sections of the population. He knew the custodian the movie theater every bit as well as he knew the desk sergeant at the police station and the chief clerk at the Montgomery County Courthouse and the secretary in the district attorney's office. He also knew the Greek and Hebrew alphabets; and he knew the names of the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman gods as well as the names of lots of artists and composers and politicians and kings and generals. He had to know all those people so he could efficiently do his business; and he had to know all that random stuff so he could quickly do the crossword puzzle in the Daily News after he read the sports section, before he got to the serious work of the day and headed off to make his regular stops on the way to Norristown picking up the wagers of the day.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Do the digits always add up to nine?

It used to make Harry's sister Lizzie crazy when she would notice that me and Patty M were adding up customer bills at the produce market in our heads. So when she was around and paying attention we would sometimes act like we were adding up the customer totals on paper. Pretty dumb because almost all the prices were in round quarters, so adding up the totals was easy and natural; and at that time I could effortlessly do calculations in my head out to five and six digits.

At any rate one time at Harry's I noticed that when you multiple 9 by 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., the sum of the digits in the answer always adds up to 9. Naturally I realized that this was trivial for numbers up to 9 x 10; but it went on after that even into results that were four and five digits long. This is not as hard as it seems. You don't do multiplication; you just keep adding 9 to each new result and then mentally check the new result to see if it's digits add up to 9. Way back then I could consciously sort of start a little part of my head to doing arithmetic while still going on with other things, like waiting on customers and adding up their bills and imagining female customers naked; almost as though all of me was concentrating on what I was supposed to be doing. That may sound odd, but all of us do something like it when we daydream while driving.

But back to the nines. As I recall, I discovered a case in the relatively low thousands where the digits didn't add up to 9; but now I can't remember that result. And, of course, I may have made a mistake when I calculated in my head to come up with that result. So it may be that the digits always add up to 9. But I doubt that because there doesn't appear to be a mathematical proof of it, at least in the first few hits listed by google when I search for "digits add up to nine." There seem to be some interesting math games there related to the properties of products of 9 and the properties of 9 digit numbers in that list; but my head hurts when I try to really dig into math games now; so I didn't inspect them further than to get the impression that none of say outright that the digits of a product of 9 always add up to 9.

I wonder how many customer bills I added up wrong during the period when part of my brain was endlessly calculating the products of 9 and I was very irritated to be distracted by anything else. See below if you have no clue what I'm talking about.

If you find an instance where the digits don't add up to 9 you get this post named after you.

9 2 x 9 = 18 --- 1+8 = 9
3 x 9 = 27 --- 2+7 = 9
4 x 9 = 36 --- 3+6 = 9
5 x 9 = 45 --- 4+5 = 9

9 x 14 = 126 --- 1+2+6 = 9

9 x 29 = 261 --- 2+6+1 = 9

9 x 57 = 51 3 --- 5+1+3 = 9

9 x 2374 = 21366 --- 2+1+3+6+6 = 18 --- 1+8 = 9

9 x 79647732 = 716829588 --- 7+1+6+8+2+9+5+8+8 = 54 --- 5+4 = 9

Thursday, November 20, 2008

It's Hopeless

Some of you may have noticed, and one of you has complained a couple of times, about the lack of posts here over the past few days. So I just spent dinner trying to explain to my better half how each of last three posts I've started writing has been ruined by one of the little voices that argues with the others up in my head. Sometimes my dark cynical muse up there is actually helpful, shouting out stuff that adds a bit of edge to bland posts before one of the other muses throws a cover over his little cage, stifling him like a parakeet put into the dark. But lately he's been loose, playing hell with things, opening up all kinds of cobweb filled closets; and he's turned the nice neat trajectories of three successive posts into blind alleys.

Write about nature, Linda suggested, write about happy stuff. To which I replied that it doesn't work that way. A good post has to start with an inspiration. It can't just start with an intention to write something. And then I realized that I was holding inspiration in my hand, gesturing with it, as we talked. Ah, Linda, what would I do without her? Such wisdom. Such self sacrifice. There she was eating left over chili and rice so I could enjoy the second to last zep of the year. And the answer was obvious. I would write about marking the passage of time, using the zep as my takeoff point and ranging over all kinds of happy stuff, but with good potential for injecting just a bit of edge.

So. . . I sat down to write this post based on a wholesome straightforward idea, and what happened. I'll tell you what happened; Gordon Liddy came on the TV as a talking head for Rosland Gold. There he was, the old convicted burglar, holding up a little gold bar and advising people to contact this company and buy gold. . . perhaps so some of his old prison burglar buddies can score bigger paydays when they make their rounds. So, naturally, the dark little muse escaped his cage and started running around screaming that I can't waste my time writing happy stuff when fate has presented me with such an example of the degree to which simple common sense has fled the world. Enough of us have lost touch with history that a convicted burglar can be hired as a credible representative to sell gold.

Naturally I resolved not to be distracted. Gordon Liddy, I resolved, would not be permitted to hijack this post as he hijacked the attention of the whole nation by being so clumsy as to be caught burglarizing the Democratic Party campaign headquarters in the Watergate complex.

A delicious zep inspired this post; and the zep would rule it; even though it was maybe just a bit heavy on the onions, and the particular onion was just a bit hot. First cutting onions, except Vidalias or Bermudas, can tend to overpower a zep if you're not careful, and they can stay with you for a while. Ordinary onions are best peeled and then put in the refrigerator for a day or two to take the edge off their acid. But, even though it had left me discretely belching occasionally, the zep would rule this post.

Except then I realized that I had to mention, for you uninformed youngsters out there, that Liddy did an unbelievably dumb thing. He was sent to the Watergate to do a simple little black bag job and that idiot taped the door latch so obviously that it was spotted. Yet here we are, a few decades later, and people are apparently dumb enough to buy gold to keep hidden around their houses based on his recommendation. Idiocy.

Having said that, I resolved to get back to the zep, the last of which each year marks the furthest influence of my summer garden. For no rational human being will make or eat a zep made with a supermarket tomato. The last zep of the year heralds descent into the dark cave of winter. It confirms that the summer's finally gone.

But then the little muse whispered that coconut headed ex-con Gordon Liddy must remind me of that other Gordon, the one who so irked me the other day. That Gordon is Gordon Glantz, whose picture in the Norristown Times Herald reminds me of the bullet shaped little KGB agent figurine nested down in the middle of the nine layer Matryoshka doll that portrays bloated and grasping Soviet Commissars.

Gordon Glantz, for those of you lucky enough to be unfamiliar with his work, is the Times Herald's Managing Editor. As such he writes a weekly column that runs in the Sunday edition, probably because that's the least read edition of the paper and thus the edition in which he can damage its reputation the least. I rarely read the pulp section of the Sunday edition because it doesn't contain a bridge column and the comics are in a separate section. And, instead of a nice logical bridge column, or an opinion column by someone who can actually reason, like Stan Huskey or Lisa Mossie, the pulp section of the Sunday paper contains a Glantz column, which I try to avoid. I don't suffer fools gladly, especially not bigoted fools.

But, as luck would have it, I happened to open this past Sunday's paper, and there was the steaming pile of Glantz's column. I tried to avoid it; but the little dark muse was drawn like a fly to the ordure. And, of course, there was Gordon being Gordon, taking a gratuitous swipe at the Mormons, because he's nothing if not a reflexive parakeet for left wing talking points; and bashing Mormons has been all the rage among the leftist would be American Commissars lately.

What he wrote and published was that "fundamentalist Mormons. . . believe in the sanctity of marriage - between a man and 49 women." That is a clear falsehood, a bloody libel and calumny, untrue for more than a hundred years of every single member in good standing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It's the kind of catchy libel circulated by folks who have a hidden agenda aimed at inciting group hatred and mob violence of the sort that has terrorized out of favor minorities over the centuries; the kind of mob violence that has been occurring in California against the Mormons lately, because they had the audacity to exercise their free speech rights in the recent election. Furthermore, it's surely known to be untrue by Mr. Glantz, who is presumably a college graduate, even if from a journalism program far richer in political correctness and the inculcation of rationales for totalitarian programs than in actual education.

See how it is. I start out writing out about an innocuous happy subject like the last zep of the year and how it heralds the descent into the little dark age of winter; and the next thing you know the angry little muse gets out of his cage. And I end up giving myself agida by thinking and writing about a religion-baiting strunze like Gordon Glantz.

Monday, November 17, 2008

An unpaid commercial message

We interrupt this blog for a brief message from she who must be obeyed. . .

Linda asked me to point out that at her church Christmas bazaar she was representing SERRV (, which is a very worthwhile charitable organization that sells craft items produced by various and sundry poor but talented people around the world.

If you're looking for Christmas gifts you could do a whole lot worse both morally and from the perspective of taste and enjoyment than to go to the SERRV website and buy the hot mango chutney from Swaziland or the fair trade coffee from Guatamela. Additionally you can spend about as much on the super cool hand painted Christmas Tree ornament with stylistic deer and happy little brown people on it as you would on a crass commercial mass produced ornament with insipid snowflakes on it from wherever they mass produce such things these days.

And if you do buy some stuff from SERRV and thus build up some credit in heaven you can gorge and swill at Christmas with much less guilt, as I will.

If not for any of those reasons you should buy from SERRV because by doing so you will also make Linda happy. And we all know from that great old song that "When Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sam, Jas and I were in rare form yesterday

It's been a great weekend despite the nasty rain and chill.

Last night Linda and I showed our stuff at the Ballroom on High up in Pottstown, proving that we remembered the intermediate Rumba steps that Jas and Kathy taught us on Wednesday and that we practiced here at home on Thursday. It's always dicey when we learn a new dance or even a new step. If we're not careful the new can seem to write over our memory of a formerly learned dance or step. But last night we proved to our own satisfaction that we still retain the Waltz and the Foxtrot and a little Jitterbug. The Rumba has not replaced any of them. And, the Rumba turns out to be a pretty useful dance. Last night we danced it to a number meant to be a Cha Cha, and it worked very well. It also worked for a number meant for a Bolero. Very gratifying.

Linda was working the bazaar at her church yesterday and today, so she missed seeing me, Sam and Jas in rare form yesterday morning. As we do periodically we took a real trip down memory lane to the old neighborhood in Trooper and various events around it.

We remembered the beautiful warm and still summer nights when the delicate scent of lilacs and honeysuckle would compete with the smell of burning hair that announced Foulke was disposing of the sweepings from his barber shop by night. And we remembered the time Little John got a neat new BB gun and immediately shot out a bunch of windows in Ziggy's pigeon coop next door. Alas, Big John bent the barrel of the BB gun into a nice "C" shape the next day after Ziggy complained. And we remembered the way the tar would ooze out of the road at the corner where it went around Carl and Mamie's house, so much tar in a puddle that sometimes you would find a bird or a mouse mired.

Jas told the story of Little John shooting out the pigeon coop windows; but this time he didn't tell, as he usually does, about the way he used to lay on his back and shoot up with his slingshot into the flock of homing pigeons as they circled overhead. He never shot one down; but not for lack of trying. Jas did tell about his adventures with Louie Lonzo when they both worked for Paul at the sale up in Gilbertsville. When they arrived at the sale Lonzo would open the back of the truck and announce loudly and repeatedly that "The Jonah" was there. Why he called Paul M "The Jonah" Jas doesn't know.

I can imagine the scene Jas describes, and so can Sam; because we both worked the sales in our time. We both rode in the middle of the bench seat of the truck after loading the back with an amazing quantity of fruit and vegetables. And then we worked ten straight hours, some days seeming so busy that there was never a moment without a customer. When I worked for Gap B he had a fellow who was much like Jas's description of Lonzo. Gap's fellow was a career fruit and produce salesman who had been with Gap for twenty plus years. He was paid enough cash under the table to have a typical suburban house over by Trooper School in which I'm sure he was a normal suburban husband with his wife and a typical father to his kids.

But at the sale up in Gilbertsville which he worked with Gap three or four days a week he was a carnival barker, and a very good one. He had a whole repertoire of gags that he used to draw in the customers and make the men laugh and the women blush. It kept the day interesting; even to those of us behind the counter who had heard the gags a hundred times. The beauty was in the sheer artistry and sometimes the sheer nerve. And it was always interesting to see how people reacted. There were people who got the jokes and people who didn't, people who walked away shaking their heads, supressing laughter, and people who walked away shaking there heads in confusion, still trying to figure out what he had meant.

Most interesting was the way people acted as though all they had heard was the line on the surface. "Top quality fruit," he might say, after picking up and weighing at chest height two apples or peaches that corresponded roughly in size to attributes of a cute young wife with her husband in tow, "firm and sweet; at the peak of ripeness and flavor." Or he might pick up two honeydews and cup them low toward a young woman with a nice backside and say, "Nice melons, Lady, smooth as a baby's behind, sweet to hold, sweeter to the taste." And, of course the women primly pretend that there was nothing at all unusual about the line. On an especially outrageous day he might pick up a carrot in one hand and two onions in the other hand while he said, "It's a chilly day out there, a good day to stay in and make a nice soup, and you can get your husband to help you stir the soup." Then he would put the carrot in the same hand in which he was cupping the onions so he could use his other hand to point to other vegetables that the ladies might want to put in the soup. And the hand with the carrot and the onions was making stirring motions that were almost, but not quite explicit, in and out motions.

Best was when some prim matron would lose control and laugh out loud, only to quickly catch herself and put on a blank look. It simply wouldn't do to have understood the other possible meaning of what the man had said as he was selecting the cucumbers. Maybe he had said, "You look like you know your produce. You want a cucumber that's nice and firm, not too big and not too small." And it certainly would not do to react when he partially inserted a cucumber into the bag and then pulled it most of the way out again and held it forward to more closely show how its skin was lightly oiled. "These are the best you'll ever enjoy Lady. Look at that cuke, smooth as silk but hard as a rock." And then his final words as he handed over he bags. "It's been a pleasure waiting on you Ma'am. Come back anytime you need anything. We know how to take care of a customer. Satisfaction guaranteed!"

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A neat site to visualize numbers

While musing about the list in the last post I got to thinking about large numbers. The site linked below lets you see how big the pile of pennies would be for various numbers. It's best if you step up from size to size. Seeing the trillion penny cube made me wonder how much copper the world produces. Which turns out to be a lot, about enough to make five of those trillion penny cubes each year. That, in turn, got me to thinking about steel, and I found that the world produces enough steel each year to make a bit less than half of the quadrillion penny cube.

And, after looking at the piles of pennies, you can go to this site to let this pretty interesting guy tell you all about the events of his life as delineated by his collection of smashed pennies. Be sure to click on one of the pennies at the bottom of the page or else on one of the state names on the left of the page. Way back in his youth he started to collect smashed pennies. Then at some point, it seems, the smashed pennies started collecting him. But, all in all, he's still sort of normal; probably about as normal as me.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fill in the blanks

0 The Zero Sum Game (Linda 11/14)
1 The One
2 The Two Minute Drill - (anonymous2 11/14)
3 The Three Stooges
4 The Four Evangelists
5 The Five Senses
6 The Six Day War
7 The Seven Deadly Sins
8 The Eight Maids a Milking (Anonymous 11/14)
9 The Nine Planets
10 The Ten Commandments
11 The Eleventh Hour - (anonymous2 11/14)
12 The Twelve Days of Christmas
13 The Thirteen Original States
14 The Fourteen Points
15 Sweet Fifteen Quinceanera Dresses (Jenny 11/17)
16 Sixteen Candles (Sis 11/16)
17 Seventeen Magazine (Don A in FL 11/18)
18 Wheeler (Don A in FL 11/18)
19 Hey Nineteen (Sis 11/18)
20 The Twenty Yard Line (Sis 11/15)
21 Twenty One Makes Blackjack (Don A in FL 11/16)
22 The Twenty Two Rimfire Cartridge
23 The Twenty Third Psalm (Sis 11/16)
24 Four and Twenty Blackbirds (Sis 11/15 )
25 The Twenty Fifth Hour (Jenny 11/17)
26 Twenty Six Miles Across the Sea (Don A in FL 11/18)
27 Twenty Seven Dresses (Jenny 11/17)
28 The Twenty Eight Days February has except for when we have a
29 Twenty Nine Day February
30 The Thirty Years War
31 Thirty One Days are what all the rest have
32 Thirty-Two Degrees Fahrenheit (Hah - Deb suggested 212 degrees but missed this one)
33 The Thirty Three on Rolling Rock Beer Bottles (Don A in Fl 11/17)
34 The Miracle on Thirty Fourth Street (Jenny 11/17)
35 MM Film
36 The 36 Officer problem with Euler's Graeco Roman Squares Conjecture (Rebecca 11/19)
37 Degrees Celcius
38 The Thirty Eighth Parallel (Don A in FL 11/16
39 The Thirty Nine Steps (Rebecca 11/17)
40 The Forty Year Old Virgin (Anonymous 11/14)
41 Hotel 41 at Times Square (Don A in FL 11/18)
42 Forty Second Street (Hah! Jenny had the clue for this one but missed it)
43 Superbowl 43 (Don A in FL 11/18)
44 The Forty-Four Magnum
45 The Forty Five Caliber Model 1904 (Don A from Florida 11/15)
46 The Forty Six Defense (Don A in FL 11/18)
47 The AK Forty Seven (Rebecca 11/17)
48 The Lower Forty-Eight (Sis 11/15)
49 The Forty Niners (Don A in FL 11/17)
50 Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover (Sis 11/14)
51 Area 51 (Rebecca 11/19)
52 Cards in a deck (Don A in FL 11/18)
53 Fifty Three is Herbie's number (Sis 11/18)
54 Car 54 Where Are You (Don A in FL 11/18
55 Mile Per Hour Speed Limit (Don A in FL 11/19)
56 Famous 56 WFIL (Don A in FL 11/23)
57 Heintz Fifty Seven Varieties (Don A in FL 11/17)
58 Gallery (Don A in FL 11/23)
59 The Fifty Ninth Street Bridge Song (Rebecca 11/19)
60 Sixty Minutes With Morley Safer (Don A in FL 11/17)
61 Home Runs - Roger Maris (Don A in FL 11/23)
62 BB-62 - USS New Jersey (Don A in FL 11/23)
63 Ranch (Don A in FL 11/23)
64 Ounce Can of San Marzano Tomatoes (Jenny 11/19)
65 CVAN Sixty-Five
66 Route Sixty Six (Don A in FL 11/16)
67 The Sixty Seven Chevy (Jenny 11/17)

69 (No comment - Jenny suggested it 11/19 and Rebecca endorsed it 11/19 - ask them)
70 Three Score and Ten Years

72 Cold Seventy Two Tablets (Dave 11/18)

76 The Seventy-Six Trombones (Sis and Linda 11/15)
77 Seventy Seven Sunset Strip (Don A in FL 11/18)
78 Seventy Eight Degrees Is Sully's Minimum Swimming Temp (Sis 11/18)

80 Four Score Years, Yet Is Their Strength Labor and Sorrow

82 The 82nd Airborne (Dave 11/15)

84 Lumber Company (Don A in FL 11/19)
85 Octane Gas (Don A in FL 11/19
86 It From the Menu (Rebecca 11/19)
87 Four Score and Seven Years Ago
88 Eighty Eight Keys (Dave 11/18)

90 Those Ninety Calibers, Those Pezzonovante

92 Reggie White's Jersey Number (Don A in FL 11/23)

95 The Ninety-Five Theses
96 Ninety-Six Tears (Sis 11/15)

98 Degrees Fahrenheit

100 The Hundred Acre Wood
101 The Hundred and One Dalmations

110 The Hundred and Ten Cornets (Hah! Sis was on the trail but she missed this - Linda 11/14)

151 One Hundred Fifty One Proof Rum (Jenny 11/17)

180 One Hundred Eighty Degrees Turns You Around

190 Proof Everclear (Don A in FL 11/19)

206 The Two Hundred and Six Bones (Sis 11/15)

212 Two Hundred Twelve Degrees Fahrenheit.

247 Twenty Four / Seven (Doug 11/17)

256 Two Hundred Fifty Six Megabytes (Dave 11/18)

300 The Three Hundred Spartans (Linda 11/14)

337 Three Hundred Thirty Seven point Five Degrees True is North by Northwest

360 Three Hundred Sixty Degrees in a Circle (Don A in FL 11/16)

365 The Three hundred Sixty Five Days in a year

368 Penn Street, Norristown (Don A in FL 11/23)

400 The Allstate Four Hundred at the Brickyard (Don A in FL 11/16)

403 Walnut Street, Norristown

409 Four O Nine, Four O Nine (Sis 11/18)

411 Dial Four One One for Information (Don A in FL 11/18)

415 Four Fifteen is Tax Day (Dave 11/18)

428 Four Twenty Eight Cobra (Dave 11/18)

451 Four Hundred Fifty-One Degrees Fahrenheit

454 Four Hundred Fifty Four Cubic Inch Big Block Engine (Jenny 11/17)

500 The Indy Five Hundred (Don A in FL 11/16)

600 The Six Hundred (Linda 11/14)

610 Six One Zero Area Code (Don A in FL 11/18)

666 Six Hundred Three Score and Six

700 The Seven Hundred Club (Don A in FL 11/16)

711 The 7-11 Stores (Rebecca 11/19)

747 The Boeing Seven Forty Seven (Don A in FL 11/16)

800 Dial Eight Hundred for toll free (Don A in FL 11/16)

911 Nine Eleven (Don A in FL 11/17)

930 Nine Hundred Thirty Years, and He died

969 Nine Hundred Sixty and Nine Years, and He died

1,000 The Thousand Points of Light
1,001 The Thousand Nights and A Night

1,066 Ten Sixty Six AD (Dave 11/18)

1,492 Fourteen Ninety Two (Don A in FL 11/17)

1,621 Sixteen Twenty One (Don A in FL 11/17)

1,776 Seventeen Seventy Six (Don A in FL 11/17)

1,814 In Eighteen Fourteen He took a Little Trip

2,000 The Two Thousand Year Old Man

2,008 The Two Thousand and Eight Olympics (Jenny 11/17)

2,525 In the Year Twenty Five Twenty Five (Dave 11/18)

4,844 Four Thousand Eight Hundred and Forty Four Years Old When Cut Down

5,440 Fifty Four Forty, Or Fight

8,808 Eight Eight Zero Eight (Hah! - Jenny had the clue for this but missed it)

10,000 The Ten Thousand (Sis 11/15)

20,000 Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Dave 11/18)

22,900 Sagamore Two Two Nine Hundred (Don A in FL 11/17)

64,000 The Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Question

The Million Man March

2,997,922,458 Meters per Second

The Six Million Dollar Man (Sis 11/15)

The Nine Billion Names of God (Linda 11/14)

The One Hundred Billion Dollar Note

The Seven Hundred Billion Dollar Bailout (Don A in Florida 11/15)

The One Hundred Trillion Mark Note

Six point Zero Two Two Times Ten To the Twenty-Third Power

The Googol taken to the Googol Power is

The Googolplex

The Nth Degree (Dave 11/14)

The Infinity Pool


Anonymous suggested amendments to the constitution as all purpose cheaters which got me to thinking
The following Cheaters are not allowed unless desperate or unless the number of the cheater is a significant number:
x Bottles of Beer on the wall can be used for any number under 99
x degrees fahrenheit or celcius can be used for melting and boiling points
x degrees of bearing can be used for numbers up to 360, cardinal points and significant degree numbers by the scrupulous
Numbers can be used in the forms "x is prime," "y is perfect," "z is composite," "q is the sum or product or square or cube or square or cube root of x"
The numbers of Psalms (except the 23rd because I hadn't ruled out Psalms before Sis suggested it)
The Amendments to the constitution
The days of the month
Julian Dates

Obviously this list has strayed from the original rules; but that's life. It starts out simple and more or less manageable, warm milk in and a couple of other substances out. Then it gets increasingly complicated until the point where it begins to get simpler again.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Politics and economics explained

Gas was down to $2.16 at the cheapest station I saw on the way home today; and that got me to thinking. There was a lot of complaining about gouging and ripoffs when gas prices went up in the Spring and Summer of this year; but nobody seems to be taking notice of the decline in prices.

I can understand why people get upset when prices go up for what seems no apparent reason, and I can even understand that segment of the population that seems to see rapidly declining prices as proof that the prices are being manipulated by evildoers.

That kind of thinking is probably why a great many people like government run business so much. Government run businesses like the public schools and the Post Office have prices which go up and up and up, nice and steady. And they never, never, never get more efficient and cut prices. They also seldom produce new or better products. If they change at all the way they do things they change so slowly that a tortoise seems dynamic by contrast. I think that kind of stasis comforts people. It must; because 52% of the people just voted for a fellow whose whole life has been devoted to getting government more and more involved in more and more businesses.

Soon we'll have hospitals that avoid adopting new technologies just the way the public schools do, because new technologies cut the need for new employees. And we'll have pharmaceutical companies that are just as good at researching and developing new products as the post office is. And we'll have energy companies so tied up in politically correct environmental regulations and CO2 reduction regulations that they will be just as efficient and productive as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But, not to worry, as we pay more and more and more for ever less reliable energy supplies, and as we get poorer quality health care in the hospitas, and as we suffer and die prematurely from lack of new drugs, we'll all be comforted by the knowledge that the government cares and no one is getting rich except the politicians and their friends.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day, Armistice Day and horsemeat

It's Veterans Day and also Armistice Day; so naturally my thoughts are on the time Linda and I went to Europe after I finished my four years in the Navy and I ordered a Hamburger Aux Cheval in a Paris restaurant. I had learned enough in two years of French classes during high school to think the name denoted a hamburger riding on a bun. Only when I noticed it tasted just a little funny did I realize that the perfidious French were feeding me horsemeat.

Not that I was breaking new ground in the family by eating horsemeat for Grandpop L had eaten quite a lot of it when he was a young man. That came about because Grandpop L was clever enough to make his way to an American army recruiter in 1917 before he could be drafted into the Italian army. Not a trivial decision; because as a result he became a U.S. citizen and Grandmon L became a citizen in turn when he married her.

One of Mom's favorite stories was of the time she embarrassed an arrogant high school teacher who singled her out in class as a naturalized citizen. "No," Mom said, she wasn't a naturalized citizen. Yes she was, the teacher insisted. And Mom repeated that, no, she wasn't. But you were born in Italy, the teacher said. "Yes," Mom agreed, she was born in Italy. "So, I'm right," the teacher triumphantly announced, you can't be a citizen by birth. At which point Mom informed the teacher that she was indeed born abroad; but she was also a citizen by birth because her parents were American citizens living abroad when she was born. Mom loved that story.

Another benefit of Grandpop L joining the American army is that he thereby probably increased his odds of surviving the war by at least tenfold. The losses suffered in World War I by the Italian army are nearly inconceivable to us at ninety years remove. In that war the U.S. lost 116,708 men killed out of a population of 92 million. Italy, by contrast, lost 651,010 men killed out of a population of 35 million. Italy also suffered 589,000 civilian deaths, while the U.S. suffered 757. Think that through. More than one out of every thirty Italians alive in 1914 died in that war; and, additionally, one out of every thirty people left alive in the country in 1918 was a wounded soldier. Grandpop L made a very good decision indeed when he travelled over to present himself to the Americans who were recruiting Italian peasants for service in artillery units.

If you a want a relatively painless take on that war, in which Italy fought on the side of France, Britain, Russia and the U.S. against Germany and Austria-Hungary, there is an excellent novel by Mark Helprin titled A Soldier of the Great War. Helprin's presentation of Orfeo Quatta, the typewriter hating dwarf who starts the book as a servant to the family of the book's protagonist and ends it as a war department bureaucrat, is one of the greatest comic riffs in literature.

But this was to have been a post about Veterans Day, and I still have to get to horsemeat. Pop never ate horsemeat; and he always said that we, the U.S., had no business getting involved in World War I. To him it was a European business. But he didn't feel that way about World War II even though it cost him his health. It could well have cost him more; because as soon as he was old enough he and a buddy went down to Main Street in Norristown to join up with the Marines. But, as it turned out, the Marine recruiting office was closed when they arrived. So they walked next door and got into a conversation with a Navy recruiter, and the next thing they knew they were on the way to training and then to the South Pacific as Seabees.

Instead of storming ashore with the first wave, or the second wave, of Marines, Pop and the other Seabees went ashore on island after island to build roads and airfields and barracks and hangars after the Japanese were pretty much beaten. From some of his stories about Japanese bodies still littering the beaches and the fields, and about needing to watch where you walked because of occasional sniper fire and artillery it's apparent that sometimes the Japanese hadn't been fully informed that they had been beaten.

Pop survived the war fine, but the trip home on a slow freighter nearly killed him. By the time he got to San Francisco he was coughing pretty good; and then by the time he got home by train he was on his way to pneumonia which lead to tuberculosis, or perhaps it was vice versa. So he was in and out of Veterans hospitals and sanitariums for the next couple of years; and as part of his treatment they collapsed and then removed most of one of his lungs. The blessing in it all was it made him as calm and optimistic a man as you will ever meet. He was told by a Navy doctor in 1946 that he should put his affairs in order because he would probably not survive long. As it turned out he outlived that doctor by about twenty-five years; and he lived virtually every one of the days of those years suprised and glad he had wakened up alive, and intensely interested and involved in the world. He took life as it came and he definitely did not sweat the small stuff.

But I have to cut this off, and I still haven't gotten to the horsemeat. Well, the reason the American army was in Italy recruiting all those Italian peasants like Grandpop L was that artillery units in those days had a lot of horses to pull the cannons and the hundreds of wagons that carried the shells and the powder charges and the other equipment. And some bureaucrat like Orfeo Quatta in the U.S. War Department came up with the idea that Italian peasants would be good to have because they would know how to handle horses. An interesting idea, but sorely wrong, as it turns out, because Italian peasants rarely used horses since fields in Italy were mostly small and broken up, making it more efficient to do most of the farming work by hand.

Grandpop, of course, was smart enough to tell the recruiters what they wanted to hear when they asked about his knowledge of horses; and he was also smart enough to learn what he needed to learn to handle the horses just fine. He and his compatriots in the artillery unit were also smart enough to forget to put a gas mask on one of the weaker horses during a gas attack whenever their diet lacked in meat. And, finally, they were also smart enough to share the resulting bounty with their sargeants and their officer. Grandpop often said that he had never imagined eating as much meat as he ate when he was in the army.

Update: 80 89 89 80 80 87 79 ;<)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Violence, passion and politics in Collegeville

Linda woke me this morning to see the end of a battle between two bucks down toward the creek. It was easy to tell who won because one of the bucks departed the field; but now they're both back and chasing the herd of does around. They were too far away and the action was too violent for me to notice earlier; but now I see that one buck is missing his right antler and the other buck is missing his left. Furthermore the left antler buck is a mere stripling with a couple of prongs, while the right antler buck has a much bigger half rack.

Talk about symbolism. They've both chased one of the does down into the woods where I can't see them now, so who knows how the contest will end.

That left antler upstart may have cleared the field and thus won the right to chase Lady Liberty around to his heart's content down in Washington for the next four years; but up here in Collegeville hope is still alive.

Update: 85 90 80 79 ;<)

Update 2: This morning we saw the right antler buck limping after the does; so apparently he drove the left antler buck from the field of eros. Something is wrong with his right rear leg. Here's hoping he was able to score while we were at work because the battle apparently cost him pretty dearly. He's half crippled just as winter approaches; not a good thing. The world of the wild is tough on the weak.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sanatoga Ridge, figs and the frog.

This afternoon we visited Delores W up in the Sanatoga Ridge Community. Delores moved into her new garden apartment a couple of weeks ago. As it turned out Delores was just returning to her apartment with Debra when we walked over after touring the rest of the development for while. Linda and I have been wanting to see her new place; and today happened to be an open house for the community, so we took the opportunity to walk around.

We saw one bedroom and two bedroom models in the detached housing blocks. While we were in the two bedroom model we were approached by a couple of residents who wanted to share how much they've liked the place since moving there a couple of years ago. And then a surprise; when we mentioned that we were also planning to visit Delores it turned out that their daughter recommended Sanatoga Ridge to Delores when they met at Corropolese in Limerick. It's a small world.

While we were talking to those folks the lady who lives next door to the model unit, Peggy, walked over and offered to show us her unit. She has the type of unit that has a garage, none of which were available and open for the tour. Peggy said she was also very pleased with her decision to move there eighteen months ago. She has her place filled with an amazing collection of hand made colonial style furniture.

All in all we liked the Garden Apartment building where Delores' unit is the best. The apartments are on both sides of a wide corridor that runs down the middle of the two long buildings. Then the buildings are connected by an even wider bridge on the second level. The bridge is a gathering area with a TV and tables for eating and assembling jigsaw puzzles and such. A very nice design touch. All in all a very nice place, and Delores' apartment, on the ground floor is also very nice, with two bedrooms, a combination kitchen, dining and sitting area, and an outside patio.

Linda just came in from a walk bringing the small fig I've been letting get ripe on the tree. It will be the last fig of the year unless we get some unusually warm weather over the next week. There are still a number of smallish figs on there but I don't imagine they'll get ripe. I'm surprised that this one got ripe. I have to start bundling up that fig tree to be wrapped, I'm planning to use old belts that I have upstairs. I haven't worn a few of those belts for years.

In other news - I changed the frog's water yesterday, so he's angry at me today and he's sulking under his rocks. He always sulks and hides for a few days after I change the water; which isn't surprising because it can't be a very dignified procedure from his point of view. At least this time there were no major hitches. He stayed nicely stuck to the sink basin by surface tension, able to slide around, but not able to get any leverage to jump out, while I cleaned out the tank and refilled it with fresh water.

He pulled his calm and complacent act when I picked him up out of the sink; but I wasn't fooled. I had him well in control when he started scratching and struggling; and I got him into the tank with no trouble. He hasn't escaped for years and yet he still plays his little games, always hopeful of turning the return to the tank into a real battle. From my side I remember all too well that time when I neglected to close the lid of the toilet and then had a hell of a time getting him out of there. Since then I never take him out of the tank without the toilet lid and the door to the bathroom closed.

He may also be sulking in there because I rebuilt the rocks into the cave pattern they were in before he went berserk a couple of weeks ago and shoved them every which way. If he objected to the arrangement, it's the first time he has since I started building a sort of cave with the rocks over twenty years ago. Maybe he was just sleeping and had a bad dream that he was being attacked. If so, he surely slayed his dream attacker. The two biggest rocks in there weigh at least five times what he does; but he was shoving them around like they were nothing.

It's worse than I thought it would be

Obama supporters are going into withdrawal after their high.

It's worth watching it a second time with the sound off to read the crawl at the bottom of the screen.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

This replaces a post under editorial review

Another post was supposed to occupy this space; but that post worked its way around to the subject of race, and I'm not crazy enough to post anything that touches on race without giving my internal editor a couple or three chances to review it.

So you'll have to be satisfied with this safer, politically correct, post about the excursion we took last evening to the geezer warehouse down by Schrack's Corner. We fit right in, or at least I did; because I was hobbling along in full gimp mode from something that suddenly and inexplicably went wrong with my hip the other day. I was lamer and slower than most of the coots. But don't get the idea that I was feeling sorry for myself. I wasn't; I took consolation in the fact that I didn't have dentures to work around in my mouth and click during the play, and my hair isn't blue or orange.

All in all Shannondell seems a pretty nice place, sort of like The Villages only all the houses are stacked on top of one another and compressed into one complex of big buildings with open air balconies instead of Florida rooms. Sam is of the opinion that all the inmates are at least in their high seventies; but I had the distinct impression that there were some younger ones in the gaggle of them I accompanied up in the elevator after the show. Linda took the stairs because the elevators were slow; and there was a crowd waiting. I took an elevator without shame, muscling aside a couple of the codgers who were slower than me with their elbows.

We went to see Oliver, put on by The King of Prussia Players, an amazingly professional performance with a cast of at least fifty or so including a half dozen excellent singers. It always amazes me how much effort and organization people are willing to put into what is, after all, a hobby, so that other people can pay cheap ticket prices that probably just about cover the cost of costumes and scenery.

Also heartening was the fact that there were quite a number of young kids in the audience. I don't mean relative kids like me and Linda; I mean actual kids six and seven and eleven years old, some of them visiting their greatgrandparents and getting to see a play as part of the visit; and some of them just there to see the play surrounded by strangers old enough to be their greatgrandparents. Except for me and Linda again; we're only old enough to be their grandparents.

It was great having kids there; but as I was watching the play I was wondering how well a play like Oliver can speak to young kids today, who have never known the feeling of hunger, and who have moreover never spent much time with anyone who has known the meaning of hunger. Leave aside the fact that the shameful state of education in this country makes it unlikely more than twenty or thirty percent of the audience understood the symbolism of the red dress on the character who played the whore with a heart of gold.

I've never myself been deeply hungry; but I knew Harry M, who ate every meal like a dog hovering over and guarding his plate. I didn't realize it until later when I read the comic book version of Oliver Twist as preparation for a high school book report; but Harry M must have grown up hungry to have guarded his plate like that all the way into middle age when he owned a produce market and, while not rich rich, was well off enough to eat as high on the hog as he wanted.

Pop and Mom both grew up in relatively straightened circumstances; but neither of them, and none of their brothers or sisters or the cousins raised with Mom guarded their plates like Harry. So Grandpop and Grandmon A and Grandpop and Grandmom L must have consistently earned enough or grown enough or scrounged enough to feed their families reasonably well. They ate a lot of beans and macaroni, and a lot of beans and greens, and a lot of polenta, and salads of young Dandelion and Pokes, and greens like Chima d' Rabe and Mustard and old tough Dandelion picked in the fields and by roadsides; but they must have eaten to reasonable fullness.

They were, all of Mom and Pop's generation, except Uncle Pete, a few inches shorter than Grandpop L and all of my generation; so probably none of them got quite enough protein as youngsters. But they all must have eaten to reasonable fullness in their youth in accordance with Grandpop L's old, old peasant wisdom, no doubt shared by Grandpop A, that, "you can't waste what you put in the bellies of your family." Pop translated that saying for me, and his Italian was only fair; so the translation may be a bit rough. But I know what he meant.

Speaking of which, Linda and I just ate to reasonable fullness on the last picking of Sam's Swiss Chard, which I combined with some potatoes and green beans and garlic. Linda had a gourmet lunch up at Jennifer's in Lancaster and then went shopping with Jennifer and Kathy and Liana and Catherine and Linda L; so I was left here alone and too gimpy with this hip business to do anything much except entertain Sam and Jas to coffee and then putter around the house cooking and such.

And, I'm pleased to report that there's good news on the gimpiness front. Either because the hip business is disappearing as mysteriously as it appeared, or else because I took a couple of Ibuprofens in accordance with Jas's advice, I'm walking a bit less like Chester Goode although I wouldn't call myself dance ready as yet.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Quit the whining

Lately it seems everybody I talk with wants to whine about higher food prices. And they're right; in the past few years it's been getting outrageously expensive to go to the market and buy ripe mangos air freighted from Brazil and fresh lettuce from Mexico and hot chutney from East Africa which sometimes I can't even get; so I have to be satisfied with the inferior stuff from India.

And don't even get me started on how expensive it's getting to top off the shopping cart with those little frozen creampuffs and cashew nuts and seedless cucumbers from England and that breakfast cereal with the crunchy freeze dried strawberry slices that are so delicious they're probably harvested exclusively by virgins working under the light of the new moon.

Then there are the Costa Rican plutocrats who must think their Hearts of Palm are made of solid silver. Madonna! I just want the things to fancy up a salad, for God's sake. And the Sicilians - just how much more do they think I'm going to pay for their fattening damn Caponata in the little cans. The Chinese are a bit more reasonable with their Mandarin Orange segments; but even they're getting greedy.

So this week Linda and I stepped back into the past. We stepped back to simple, healthful, slow food, you might say. Slow, economical food, if I may say so myself.

Early in the afternoon on Sunday I started a pot of Goya Great Northern Beans. Ignoring the ridiculous recipe on the label, I rapid boiled a pound of beans in eight cups of water. Mexicans have a lot of guts even proposing a recipe for Pasta e' Fagioli, if you ask me, even if Mexicans are a tiny bit Italian, being diluted Spaniards who are basicly diluted Romans.

After about an hour, I drained and rinsed the beans with cold water so I could rough them up a bit by rubbing them between my hands to loosen the skins and float them away. Then I put the beans on the stove again with eight cups of water, a couple of teaspoons of salt and about half a cup of olive oil to slow simmer for a few hours until they pretty much disintegrated. That's the way Pop liked them, the way his mom made them, more like bean sauce with little broken up soft chunks than like intact beans in liquid.

A couple of hours before I shut off the heat under the pot I broke up a bulb of garlic and peeled and sliced the cloves. Like Mom and Aunt Mary R, I carefully sliced the first few cloves nice and thin; and then the slices might have gotten a bit thicker and less regular as I got tired of the task. I threw the garlic into the pot to simmer with the beans and then turned off the pot at about ten to cool down a bit so I could put it into the refrigerator at about midnight.

It was then a simple matter to come home on Monday at about 5:15, start a pot of water with a half a handful of salt in it for the Ditalini, dip about a third of the bean sauce into a saucepan to heat up, dump in a box of ditalini once the salted water was boiling, let the Ditalini boil for precisely the eight minute minimum for al dente specified on the package, poured off as much of the cooking water as I could without letting any of the Ditalini escape from the pot, poured in the now just boiling bean sauce to join the remaining water in with the Ditalini, and ladled the completed Pasta e' Fagioli into shallow bowls by 5:35.

Between us, Linda and I ate about one-third of the Pasta e' Fagioli for dinner, so the pot contained about six meals. There were also two more potfuls worth of bean sauce that I froze later. Figure two bucks for the beans and two bucks each for three boxes of Ditalini. Add in about three bucks for a cup and a half of olive oil and a buck for three bulbs of garlic. Total cost of eighteen meals? About twelve smackeroos. Sixty-six cents per meal.

And. . . I defy anyone to make a better meal, both from the perspective of health and from the perspective of taste, if taken with fresh Corropolese bread and a nice salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Plus the garlic will keep away vampires and other pests.

So quit your whining about the cost of food.

Food is costing us more because we're eating like decadent Roman aristocrats. No, that's not right. We're eating far better than pampered Roman aristocrats because we also get to enjoy Hearts of Palm from Costa Rica which add a nice crunch and flavor to our salads. And we have Cheetos and Mountain Dew, which are lots better tasting than flamingo tongues and sour wine.

Lucullus would have swooned with pleasure if given access to the foods we consider common; but they wouldn't have made him any happier.

I'll let Epicurus explain; "If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires."

Update: I forgot to say that I added a can of diced tomatoes to the pot early on in the process. I did that because I didn't have a little can of tomato paste or a medium can of tomato sauce. It's mostly for color anyway. Without something to make it a little bit red this soup looks pretty sickly. I'm too lazy to update the cost information above but a can of something tomato-ey costs about 60 or 80 cents, trivial.

Update 2: 80 86 64 88 :<(

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The sun will come out tomorrow

I didn't get all teary eyed like Jesse jackson or Oprah Winfrey; but after watching Barack Obama's touching and inspiring victory speech late last night I experienced a road to Damascus moment and went to bed sure that the sun would shine bright today.

Just like The Little Engine That Could, I fell asleep chanting, "Yes we can," "Yes, we can," "Yes we can."

Imagine my surprise when I woke up to the gray clouds of a typical fall day rather than to the brilliant sun of a perfect future. And then, later today I got another surprise when the stock market dropped. Apparently, those perfidious foreigners who were all excited about Obama last week didn't rush in and buy up U.S. stocks in celebration of his elevation.

Very disappointing; but I plan to chant my "Yes we can"s again tonight. The One was very clear about that in his speech. We all have to do our part to create heaven on earth.

I'm very confident that the sun will do its part and come out tomorrow.

And - Speaking of Heaven on earth:

I keep reading more and more about the simple fact that there has been no (No!) global warming since 1998. So this earth, which was supposed to be irreversibly warming up, has not been warming up as Nobel Prize wiener Al Gore and all his acolytes told us it would. "The science is settled," they told us; but the earth has actually been cooling for the past couple of years.

Was it all a lie? Or was it just an, ooops!, mistake. If so, its been a very expensive mistake for the taxpayers and consumers in the European countries that have disrupted their energy markets and paid tens of billions to Russia and other sources of "carbon credits" which is a technical term for protection money.

This subject came up on my radar screen again the other day when an audio book I'm listening to mentioned that Vikings used to live in Greenland when it was a lot warmer there back in the period from about 900 AD to about 1500 AD. Who was generating the CO2 that warmed Greenland up that much back a thousand years ago? Who was generating the CO2 that warmed up Nova Scotia enough so that Leif Erickson found grapewines growing there, so many grapevines that he called it Vinland? Who was generating the CO2 that made England and Germany warm enough to have big wine producing regions in that era?

I think Al Gore has been trying to pull off the biggest investment and political corruption scam in the history of the world. He's made tens of millions off of it, but now he has gotten unlucky. If he had been lucky enough to have a few more years of warming he could have completed the scam and made tens of billions trading in carbon credits. But now it's falling apart. Al is desperately trying to change the terms of the debate by calling it "climate change" so he can claim any kind of weather, or any level of world temperature proves his case; but it isn't going to work.

Here's an interestingly written article that gets at some of this.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I never win lotteries or prizes; but today I won a minor one in the great lottery of life. When I got to the polling place there was a long line of H to R people and a moderate line of S to Z people; but there was only a short line of A to G people; so I got in and out within a half hour or so.

Best of all, I was just behind Bob Brant in line, so I got to chat with him a bit. Bob was there as a civilian, simply voting today; but I've seen him at the polling place every couple of years for twenty or more years because he's been the Republican Committeeman for our district all that time.

And then, after I had my little voting chit, I ran into Bud Templeton on my way to the voting machines. Bud was there as the Republican poll observer. I've seen Bud less frequently because he has moved from polling place to polling place over the years. Bud graciously welcomed me to Upper Providence when we moved here thirty years ago. He made sure we got registered, and then he made sure for the first few elections that we knew where our polling place was if it moved in those days before we had a good sense of the township.

Few of us adequately appreciate the part-time work done by guys like Bob and Bud, and their counterparts on the Demoncrat party side. Behind the scenes at every election, and between elections, there are patient party people on both sides getting people registered, explaining the voting process, calling to remind "their" voters of important local issues, organizing the polling places, watching over one another like hawks to keep the process honest, and generally making the whole system work. Without literally hundreds of thousands of people like Bob and Bud in tens of thousands of local voting precincts across the country our elections wouldn't work, or worse they wouldn't be sufficiently trustworthy to keep us all content with the outcomes.

And we do have a magnificent system bequeathed to us by those bewigged characters who designed it and got it started against all odd a couple of hundred years ago. It's the best such system in the world by far, even if it's unappreciated by most of us who have lived within it all our lives.

Back in 1992, a local legend named Clay Hess put it in perspective for me. He was old school, really old school, perhaps eighty years old in 1992. He was a farmer and an auctioneer, born in the township. Clay told stories of the time when local farmers graded the gravel roads adjoining their farms, before the roads were paved. He told of grading those roads with a horse team. By the time I knew him he was the local Republican Party chairman, and as partisan as anyone, but he also retained a healthy perspective.

You may have noticed that I'm not a big fan of Barack Obama. If so, you've had only the merest glimpse of how much I was not a fan of Bill Clinton back in 1992 when I was only 18 years out of the Navy and he was infamous for his Vietnam era statement that he "loathed the military." I was writing an opinion column for a local paper leading up to the 1992 election, and I was hot. So hot that I can't begin to count the number of columns I started and then tore up before the election because they went over the line.

Well, on election day in 1992 I made the rounds of the local polling places to write up a news story for the paper; and in the process I ran into Clay Hess up at the old Township Building. Despite his age Clay was aware of just about everything that went on locally; and he was certainly aware that I was hot about Clinton, although as a political tactic he always professed obliviousness to what appeared in the local papers. Anyway, Clay caught me aside and reminded me that no matter how the election turned out I needed to keep it in perspective relative to a very important fact.

"Sully," he said (I'm paraphrasing), "the important thing is that people are peacefully going to the polls and selecting the next president. I don't have much respect for Clinton either; but if he wins he will be our president. Having everybody respect a system that peacefully turns over power is precious. A whole lot of countries in the world wish they had such a system."

A very wise man, Clay Hess. That was one election; and this is one election. Win or lose, we all need to remember that in our constitutional system we have a priceless gift.

Update: 80 81 87 78 79 ;<)

Monday, November 3, 2008

This would increase voter turnout at The Villages

At first I thought this headline said "Lady Lake" and I was expecting to get quite a report from Al R when we call him on Saturday. Then I realized it's on the west coast of Florida, so maybe it's Don A who will get a real eye opener some day when he goes to vote.

LAND O' LAKES, Fla. (AP) - A nudist community on Florida's west coast wants to establish the first clothing-optional polling site. The Caliente Resorts, located in Pasco County north of Tampa, has approached election officials about the idea.

Nothing in state law would prohibit it, but the supervisor of elections says he is opposed to creating any new precincts before redistricting in 2010.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Update - Screw the Associated Press and its lawyers. Copyright 2008 Sullysside. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Use in a copyright infringment action is especially forbidden.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Maybe The One is as good a pilot as this guy

If Barack Obama is elected on tuesday the country will be flying with one wing, the left wing. The congress is already firmly in the hands of the left, and it will be more so after the election. The courts are arguably middle of the road; but within a couple of years of Obama making appointments they will be firmly in the hands of the left as well. And, of course, with Barack in the White House there will be no counterbalance for the loony ideas that congress will pass and the courts will approve.

So the country will be flying on one wing.

We can only hope that The One is as good a pilot as this fellow:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Where is the tipping point?

I survived this morning's ideological battle of me and Sam against Jas in pretty good spirits. When they left I was in a hopeful moment. In my hopeful moments I trust that our country will survive Barack Obama the way it survived Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon and Warren Harding, or at worst the way it survived the Civil War. In less hopeful moments I take solace that at worst our country will survive The One the way China survived its Great Helmsman.

You have to keep these contemporary events in perspective. What, after all, do fifty or a hundred lost years of relative poverty and despair matter in the great scheme of history. What difference does it make in the long run if the next miracle drug is discovered in 2010 or in 2110. Even the great wars and ideological cataclysms of the 20th century set back human progress by at most thirty or forty or fifty years.

Every system has a tipping point, a tipping point beyond which recovery is impossible in the short term. Like the tipping point in our cities which made the teacher's unions and the lawyers invulnerable and has thus condemned generations of kids in the inner cities to terrible schools and inability to compete in the general economy. It's no longer possible to repair the inner city schools because the interests of all the leaches and vultures feeding on the system outweigh the interests of the kids by so much that no politician can address the issue. Perspective helps as a curative to despair in recognizing that those bad educational systems in our cities have only destroyed the lives of a few million kids out of a couple of billion born in the world since our inner city schools became cesspools of interest group politics.

Somewhere out there is a tipping point where the interests and voting strength of those who depend on government for their bread and circuses and welfare outweigh the interests and voting strength of those who actually create the wealth by such a margin that the whole system spirals toward naked interest group politics. Liberals often rail at the selfishness of the rich; but they conveniently ignore the fact that the productive rich already contribute almost all of the taxes with which politicians buy votes, and the productive middle class contributes the rest. We are already at a point where half of the population contributes no taxes at all except to their own social security accounts, and most of the members of the lower half of the income distribution curve don't even fully support their own social security entitlement. More than half of our population is already on welfare to some extent.

And, having reached this situation, we have in Barack Obama a presidential candidate who wants to, as he says, "share the wealth;" even though our current system already shares the wealth to an extent unparalleled in history. Even though the productive half of the population already partly supports the third most productive quarter of the population and fully supports the least productive quarter, about half of which actually deserve welfare and about half of which are useless layabouts, able to work but too lazy to work.

At best Obama thinks the tipping point is out beyond the new taxes and entitlements he plans to implement. At worst he knows the tipping point is close and wants to drive the country over that tipping point in order to lead it into a new age of, who knows? Revolutionaries rarely have had a full understanding of where they want to lead their revolutions. This last is a harsh charge to believe, but it is fully consistent with his voting record since he joined the senate. And it is even more consistent with the sort of radical friends and supporters with which he surrounded himself before he began running for president.

Either way, regardless of what Obama believes; the tipping point is out there. I don't think he can lead the country over it, the system is pretty robust; but I don't know for sure except to say that I've never been more concerned.

What I mean by a tipping point is that at some point more and more of the productive can decide that creating more wealth, earning more income, is not worthwhile. Even worse, they can come to the point of view that the system is all about what you can get from government rather than about what you can create. The productive are not stupid. They can see which side of the bread is buttered and they're smart enough to create their own little pipelines to the government honeypot if they so choose.

Why work hard and earn and pay taxes when your neighbor works less and collects? Why work hard and pay your mortgage when your neighbor borrows and spends and then sees his mortgage paid for by the government? Why work hard and start a productive business that depends on real customers with choices when you can get a subsidy from the government and convert your business into a parasite that depends on government subsidies and customers who have no choices?

If you doubt this last think about all the farm state leaches and Washington political whores of both parties who have clamped their suckers onto the ethanol production and sales subsidies. That tipping point has already been passed. The interests of the ethanol leaches is now overwhelming, and the subsidies and mandates will never stop, even though the environmentalists who originally fostered ethanol subsidies now recognize that it was a bad path to go down. Every time you buy gasoline you're paying a little subsidy to some conglomerate that ought to be processing corm for food but instead is turning it into a poor additive for fuel.

Both parties are telling you that this election is the most important one in a generation. I'm not sure that's the case. But it just may be.

If you think I'm alarmist about this you may want to read Thomas Sowell's column to which I've linked below. Sowell has been an economist all his life, and he has made judicious good sense in every one of his columns that I've read, even if I haven't agreed with every single one of them.

Update: 77 84 79 ;<)