Sunday, June 28, 2009

88, 79, 96, 86, 95, 86

All in all, Thursday the 25th was a pretty darn fine day here in the Norristown area, and not just because the daily number in the Times Herald was the highly soothing one recorded in the title of this piece. It was also a good day for smelling the last of the Great Northern Catalpa blossoms, and a good day for appreciating the annual display of the Tiger Lilies, which the stupid books insist on calling Tawny Day Lilies.

What we've always called Tiger Lilies are, of course, day lilies, even though it's hard to believe each one of the thousands (tens of thousands?) of flowers stretching down both banks of the creek is a one day wonder that will wither in the night and be replaced next morning by a new blossom. It's not a one for one replacement, actually. It's more like a chain reaction that builds from a few to an uncountable proliferation of flowers each day, and then tails off slowly over the course of a few days.

But I was talking about Thursday, and how it was a good day; I was not meaning to dwell on the short lives and deaths of a multitude of day lilies. Thursday was also a good day for pondering why one of our cousins seemed to want to talk about nothing except his unconcern about aging when he came by for coffee with me and Jas a couple of Saturdays ago. And it was a good day for thinking over the fact that another one of our cousins made a point of mentioning his purchase of a burial plot when Jas and I called him last Saturday morning.

A burial plot! Burial plots are surely sold to old people, very old people. They're sold to people so old they need a magnifying glass and not just a pair of drug store reading glasses to check the ages of the folks enjoying (in a manner of speaking) their fifteen minutes of fame in The Norristown Times Herald obits. We have some older cousins. We even have a cousin in her mid seventies. But until last Saturday I would have thought we didn't have any cousins of an age appropriate for the buying of a burial plot.

During the conversation with the new burial plot owner we learned that the single plot is meant as a final resting place for two, which necessitated a conversation about the likelihood of ending up in the bottom bunk, so to speak, men being severely discriminated against in the life expectancy tables. We also learned that a crematorium will not simply wrap one in a sheet and shove one into its incinerator - a box is required. Which means that one must choose the box, two boxes actually - one big box and one little box. It was heartening that our cousin found a certain amount of humor in his discussions with the undertaker. He finally settled on the cardboard, excuse me, corrugated box.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Is it 1973, 2001 or 1931?

Here's a chart from of the recent movement of the stock market that's either scary or heartening, depending on how you look at it.

So far the market's performance over the past 20 months has been about as bad as it was during the 1973/1974 oil crisis and the 2000/2002 tech stock crash; but it's nowhere near as bad as the stock market did leading into the great depression.

We're either doomed, or else we're poised for another spin on the good times merry go round.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I was born under a waning gibbous moon, Pop was at a Phillies game

I was born 22,303 days ago under a waning gibbous moon. Pop was at a Phillies game, watching the Phillies beat the Pirates 2 to 1. Mercury and Uranus were in Taurus, Venus was in Gemini, Mars was in Leo, Jupiter was in Sagittarius, Saturn was in Cancer and Neptune was in Virgo. The Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at 190. The Dow has done pretty well since the world was graced with my presence.

Mom always said that Pop was at a Phillies game when I was born, which means I was born in the morning of May 28th since the Phillies played the Pittsburgh Pirates at home on the evening of May 27th. If Pop wasn't available to take her to the hospital she had to have gone there on the 27th. Pop would have been home to take Mom to the hospital on the 28th, because the Phillies were away that day playing the New York Giants.

Here's a great website where you can put in your birth date and find out what phase of the moon you were born under. If you put in "planets" and then your birth date it will tell you what signs of the zodiac they were in on that date. Same thing if you put in "Dow Jones Average" and then your birthdate.

The website will also do all sorts of math stuff. For instance, if you put in "x cubed + y cubed = 17" it will solve the equation for x and y, graph it, and tell you the implicit derivatives, which you may vaguely remember from near the end of the year in algebra class if you weren't daydreaming. More usefully, it will tell you the probability of drawing a full house in a five card poker hand is 1 chance in 693. Or it will tell you that the probability of drawing specifically three jacks and two aces in a five card poker hand is 1 in 108,900, although I can't imagine why you would want to know that.

Talk about neat! It will also translate Roman Numerals into regular numbers, for those pesky situations when you see a long string of Roman Numerals engraved on the cornerstone of a building and can't remember your M's and D's and X's. Additionally, if you should ever be in a position to supply the cornerstone for a building the website will translate the date into Babylonian or Mayan notation so you can carve the date in a way that will really make people nuts.

And, talk about something that was invented too late. If you're like me you can remember Mom and Aunt Mary getting into a who's who discussion about relatives. One of them would say something like "She's your second cousin. She's Sia Gigette's sister's granddaughter," and you would be totally clueless. This site will draw you a picture of how you're related to someone if you put in things like "grandfather's sister's second cousin."

Update: Alex called today to wish me a happy father's day, probably because Christina reminded him to do so, since he called on Friday evening and talked to me and Linda. Today he reported that yesterday's Tea Party up in Worcester had some interesting speeches but was a bit of a disappointment because it only drew a crowd of a couple of hundred people.

I find it amazing that there should be two hundred people in the most liberal state in the union, a state nicknamed Taxachussetts, who care about the fact that the federal government is on a spending spree that would make ten thousand drunken sailors blush. George Bush was a big disappointment in the government spending and waste department, just like his father; but Barack Obama is throwing around cash in a way not seen since the last time a ten ship carrier battle group of the Seventh Fleet pulled into Subic Bay after 65 days at sea.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The path to enlightenment

A week or so ago we got an invitation to "Matt's graduation" in Langhorne. A nice handwritten invitation. Sounded great, except that we couldn't figure out who Matt was.

When John and Kathy showed up for bridge on Tuesday we learned that the envelope for their invitation included a return address sticker with the name J. K----. Still no joy. Jas and Kathy knew no K----, and neither did Sam and Deb, with whom they had already checked. Jas was an advocate of a conspiracy theory, namely that the invitations were sent out randomly on the assumption that some would return gifts. Thus I learned that I have a brother even more cynical than I am.

So. . . yesterday I called Marianne, who didn't receive an invitation, not surprising because many in the wide extended family don't know her last name, a thought you should keep in mind since we get back to it later.

Marianne also had no idea as to who a Matt K---- could be; but she suggested that I call Angie out in California on the thought that Matt was probably connected via the R----s. No joy, Angie confirmed what I had suspected, there are no K----s connected with the R----s.

So I went out on the net and found on Facebook a Matt K---- who is graduating this year from a high school up near Langhorne. I sent him a facebook message asking if he's related to the A--------s, the L---s or the R----s, to which he hasn't responded. I also put a message on my facebook page asking if anybody knows a Matt K----. No responses.

So, this morning I left a message on the rsvp phone number, saying that we would be glad to come to the graduation party, if only we could figure out who Matt is.

Then I got looking at that phone number, and I put it into Microsoft's new search engine Bing which came back with the name Jacquelin K---- at the same address specified for the party. I then put that name in Bing and it came back with references to a half dozen Jacquelin K----s, one of which was on LinkedIn in the Philadelphia area. Jackie K----'s profile on LinkedIn told me she works for BMC which finally gave me an Aha moment since I talked with someone who works for BMC at Dolores's 70th birthday party last week.

I just got off the phone with Jackie J--------, who confirmed that his daughter Candy's real name is Jacquelin and she indeed does have an 18 year old son whose name is Matt and who is graduating from high school this year.

Inspector Clouseau couldn't have done the investigation better. And Siddhartha Gautama couldn't have felt much more enlightened after he discovered the middle way than I do at this moment.

Monday, June 15, 2009

It's a pity we didn't bring my frog to Death Valley

The Devil's Hole Pupfish is holding up all sorts of solar and wind power projects.

Jas and I tried to visit the pupfish when we drove around the Southwest a few years back; but we never got to see the little fellow because the National Park Service has his hole fenced off like a maximum security prison and you can only get a glimpse of the water is way down in the crack in the rock.

If my frog had been with us he would have leaped right through that chain link fence. Then he would have done an octuple somersault with fifteen or twenty twists on the way down to the water for lunch. Survival of the fittest would have taken care of the rest. By now there wouldn't be any need for the environmentalists to worry about the cute little pupfish and his relatives.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Clipping coupons, eating feline pate', buying diapers

Every so often you run across the phrase "clipping coupons" as in "His widow lived out her remaining years clipping coupons." I've known what the phrase meant; but until today I've never seen a picture of an actual bond with coupons to be clipped.

Here's a picture of a ten year One Million dollar U.S. Treasury bearer bond with some of the coupons still on it. As each interest coupon comes due it becomes just like cash since anyone can take it to a Federal Reserve Bank to redeem it for cash. Then at the end of the term the owner (or anyone who has the bond) can return it to the treasury for the million bucks that the bond itself is worth.

It's called a "bearer bond" because the treasury will pay out the interest and the principal to whoever comes in bearing the coupons and the bond when they're mature.

On a related note, yesterday I had reason to check out the rate of inflation over the past thirty years and also over a variety of prior thirty years periods. Inflation ran at a 4.4% rate from 1975 to 2005. There is a useful mental tool called the Rule of 72. If you divide the interest rate into 72 the answer tells you how fast money doubles if invested at a certain percentage interest rate or how fast its value is cut in half at a certain inflation rate. The Rule of 72 says a dollar lost approximately half of its value every 16 years from 1975 to 2005. A 1975 dollar is worth a bit less than 25 cents in real purchasing power today since it's been 34 years since then. Put another way, if your house was worth $50,000 in 1975 and it's worth $200,000 today its real value hasn't changed.

The worst thirty year period in the recent past for inflation was the period from 1965 to 1995 when inflation ran at an average rate of 5.4%. During that period a dollar lost half of its value every 13.3 years. It's purchasing power was reduced by 75% in about 27 years during that time period.

I think what's been happening down in Washington is setting the country up for an inflation rate even higher than the 5.4% average rate that prevailed from 1965 to 1995.

If I'm right that means a lunchtime can of catfood that costs an old lady $2 today will cost her daughter more than $8 twenty six years years from now in 2035, perhaps much more, and it will cost her granddaughter $32 in 2051. The same thing goes for Depends, Fixodent, Prunes and all the other necessities of old age.

Just so you know, I found the inflation rates I used at the site link below. Other sites give different and somewhat lower inflati0on rates. I was looking for a worst case estimate, so I purposely looked for the inflation calculator that showed the worst picture of what's happened on the inflation front over the last 100 years.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

We grew up gourmets and never knew it

The yuppies have discovered weeds as gourmet fare. Nine bucks a pound for dandelion! By that measure there's at least ten thousand bucks worth of valuable gourmet salad out there in the lawn right now.

It's hard to believe the author of this article in The Wall Street Journal missed Chima de Rabe. I remedied that with a comment to the article. As I write this I still have two containers of this Spring's rabes in the freezer. And, I happen to be eating a sandwich of boiled ham, rabes that I thawed the other day and a little mayonnaise on slices of Corropolese split loaf. I generally prefer this particular sandwich on a seeded football roll; but we're out of them right now. It used to make Pop crazy when he would see me putting mayonnaise on a sandwich of rabes and ham; but that's not why I still invariably do it.

Also, she specifies two changes of water for boiling Pokes. I can't imagine that Mom or Aunt Mary R did two changes of water, and I certainly never have; which may explain why there have been incidents of rapid necessary movement to the necessaries room related to the consumption of Poke Salad over the years. It's very difficult to resist the temptation to pick larger and larger and leafier and leafier shoots as one gets tired when picking Polks, which also may explain the incidents.

And, she mentions Burdock but doesn't mention that the leaves are poisonous, or at least that's what Mom believed, although the internet seems not to think so. Mom and Grandmom L only used the thick stems of the leaves which they called Cardunes and prepared by battering and deep frying. Next Spring I'm going to pick Cardunes and try to recreate that recipe. As I recall they had a unique flavor somewhat like, but only somewhat like, the battered and fried celery we do at Christmas.

And, since I'm on the subject of food, I should mention that Linda and I ate our first Swiss Chard from the garden on Tuesday, probably the earliest that it's ever been ready for picking. We've been eating lettuce for a couple of weeks; but slugs are multiplying and ravaging it now, probably due to the very rainy weather we've been having for the past week or so.

Finally, if you are one of the few people who still actually, you know, like, read, like, books, you may find this article by Ann Kirshner in The Chronicle Review interesting. She tried out all the current modes of reading and listening to Charles Dickens' novel Little Dorrit to see which she liked better. I can only wish she had gone further into the issue of the differences between sight reading and audio since I find them such distinctly different experiences.

Most interesting paragraph - "Readers are passionate and opinionated advocates for their preferred formats. Flip announced that she reads only hardcovers; end of conversation. "I get it," said Bill, watching me read on the iPhone: "You like your books little." Bob is no Luddite, but he insists that Steve Jobs has bribed me, since the Kindle is so obviously superior. Just wait for the Apple tablet," advises techno-sage Joe. And Judith derides my affection for audiobooks as "not really reading.""

For the record I will only read a hardback if I can't get a paperback. Something about a hardback book intimidates me and causes me to treat it too carefully. I can dog-ear the pages to mark my place or break the binding of a paperback by bending it back to hold in one hand; but I can rarely bring myself to treat a hardback book so cavalierly no matter how cheaply I bought it. And, I find listening to an audio book so different from reading the same book that I will often read an especially good novel immediately after listening to it and vice versa. Also, she doesn't mention the obvious next step, which is to combine audio with a video formatted somewhat like the succession of still pictures that Ken Burns used in his Civil War series on PBS. Soon technology should allow relatively easy mating of period pictures with text. So you could see a street scene related to a passage of audio or a picture of an animal mentioned in an audio passage as you listened, for instance.

And, really, really, finally, since I've been on the subjects of yuppies, books, reading and cooking; here's an interesting article by Jennifer Reese on Slate about a book about a whole different way to think about cooking. One suspects that Linda will come home to find something really new and different on the table one of these days; but not 'til after she has endured Lobscouse, which I still haven't gotten around to making even though Alex tried it and praised it pretty highly.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

We should dig up Margaret Mead and put her head on a pike

While I was growing up in the 1950's and 1960's the anthropologists were falling all over themselves to lecture us about how all those primitive tribesmen out there were peaceful, while we evil civilized people were murderous savages. Now it turns out that this meme that was sold by supposed scientists like Margaret Mead was a lie or at best the result of shoddy research biased by what the researchers wanted to find.

I have some problems with the analysis in this article from the NewScientist; but there was a very interesting factoid buried in it.

"On average, warfare caused 14 per cent of the total deaths in ancient and more recent hunter-gatherers populations."

By that standard modern man is an altruistic softy more akin to Mother Theresa than to Ghenghis Khan. Something like a hundred and fifty million people die each year in the current world. Warfare isn't killing anything close to twenty million people per year, which would be 14% of them. We're pathetic pikers in the killing department next to those "peaceful" hunter gatherers who lovingly polished their war clubs while coming of age in Samoa and elsewhere. Only in a very few top scoring years during the twentieth century did modern man manage to cause anything like 14% of overall deaths through warfare.

Crikey, it turns out that "war inflicted 30 per cent of deaths among the Ache, a hunter-gatherer population from Eastern Paraguay, 17 per cent among the Hiwi, who live in Venezuela and Colombia, while just 4 per cent among the Anbara in northern Australia." I'm guessing the Anbara are afflicted by a poverty of nearby tribes to kill.

The other day at Dolores' 70th birthday party and at a dinner the night before with Jas and Kathy and Bob and Michele N, people were talking about how much better things were back in the good old days. They weren't talking about days quite so far back; but it's useful to remember before engaging in such twaddle that in the really good old days Ghenghis is reported to have said "Man's greatest joy is to slay his enemy, plunder his riches, ride his steeds, see the tears of his loved ones and embrace his women."

I'm betting Ghenghis was a better observer and judge of human nature than either Mother Theresa or Margaret Mead, whether we care to like that fact or not.

And, for you sports fans, the scientists have finally explained why it's hard to hit a curve ball. It turns out that a curve ball is hard to hit more because it's spinning than because it's curving.

Hit this curve ball. What's the common thread linking the biographies of the following folks?

Virginia Apgar, Bashar al-Assad, Michael DeBakey, Francois Duvalier, Jack Kevorkian, David Livingstone, Josef Mengele, Albert Schweitzer, Harold Shipman, Benjamin Spock

Meanwhile, in other news, my frog retains his healthy appetite and continues to thrive, unlike this numinous amphibian whose followers obviously aren't providing Him the form of worship He requires.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Fawning slaves, unrepentent revolutionaries, socialists and bourbon

There were quite a number of unkind comments about my frog last week at Sam and Deb's anniversary party.

I'd like to point out a few facts for the record.

1. Doug spent some time at the party trying to teach his dog Roxie to bite socialists. Yet all of the socialists at the party remained unbitten at the end of the evening after the bourbon and the beer ran out. My frog has understood since birth that it's his duty to bite socialists, as any socialist who cares to put his finger near the water in the frog bowl will quickly learn.

What's more, my frog's cousins have an entire socialist city terrified. And they're too tough for the wimpy authorities of an entire left coast state, as you dog lovers will learn if you play the video at this link. Dogs have the mentality of fawning slaves; my frog is an unrepentent revolutionary.

2. David mentioned finding it strange that I write about my frog as though he were a touchy feely pet. My frog is plenty touchy feely. He takes great interest in me when I give him his occasional food pellet, and he gets touchy feely whenever I put a finger within a couple of inches of the water, perhaps because he mistakenly thinks I'm a socialist.

3. In the course of the party I learned some pretty disgusting things about the eating habits of both Doug's Roxie and of Liana and Catherine's cute little Shih Tzus. If my frog is a coprophagist he is at a minimum discrete about it. What happens under the rocks in his bowl stays under the rocks.

4. At 23 years old my frog can benchpress a rock that outweighs him by several times, and he does it whenever I forget to feed him for a few days. Also, in his younger days, he demonstrated the ability to eat an entire tadpole almost as big as him in only two days. Plus, he can broadjump about 30 times his length, and he can highjump about 10 times his length, or at least he could a few years ago when he last escaped from the tank. Finally, he can hold his breath for at least twenty minutes, which is the longest I've ever had the patience to watch him closely. Tell me about your canines when they can do any of those things.

Update: Linda informed me that I may have unjustly identified Doug and Jenny's dog Roxie as a devotee of coprophagy. Linda says it is Rebecca and Matt's dog that goes in for pungent eating. Linda further said the women at the party all agreed that it's only logical that the girl dogs don't indulge and that only boy dogs are filthy pigs.