Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Cook a rainbow, and see what you've got left.


Halloween Candy

I've got Halloween candy. In fact I picked up two more bags when I was down in Lansing yesterday afternoon. Just hoping I'll have enough for this evening, enough for my two Confirmation classes plus any stray trick-or-treaters. I find I'm eating the stuff almost as fast as I can lay it in stock.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Secret Menu Items

Now, here's something I never knew before. Many restaurants and fast food joints have secret menu items. Items not listed on the menu, but you can order them, and they have their own entry to be rung up on the cash register.

At Wendy's you can order a Grand Slam, which "would otherwise be called a Classic Quadruple, were it on the menu." Jamba Juice "has an entire secret menu of 'unhealthy' smoothies named after things that would involve copyright violations were they to be included on the menu," including White Gummi Bear, Fruity Pebbles, Skittles, and many, many more. As for Dairy Queen, "there is a huge book every DQ has to have, you want it, it's in there. It may not be listed as a item, but the instruction on how to make it and what to use are in there as well as how it is rung up."

All this and much more here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fry Pan

I'm trying to think when it was that I first saw a frying pan referred to as a "fry pan." Because they are, you know, frying pans. "Fry pan" has an oddly unidiomatic sound to it, as if coined by a non-native speaker of English. Yet in recent years I often see these common kitchen items referred to as fry pans.

Then there's swimming suits, which are, you know, swimming suits. Only in recent years I often hear them called "swim suits." What in the world is a swim suit, and why should we call it a swim suit instead of a swimming suit?

The only comparison I can think of is the Superman costume I had when I was a kid. That was long before the days of idiot lawsuits, and yet the Superman costume had this idiot warning along the bottom hem of the shirt: "WARNING! This costume will not enable you to fly. Only Superman can fly."

Yeah, right, in 1965 I can hardly think of a kid so stupid, or a lawyer so avaricious, as to think that jumping off the roof of the shed in your Superman costume is going to lead to anything other than a nasty mishap. Of course nowadays the lawyers would be lining up to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of every kid who's ever even dreamed of wearing a Superman costume, "Hey, lawsuit this! The costume didn't have a warning label on it, so how were these kids supposed to know that the costume didn't enable them to fly?"

Result, a judgment for umpteen billion dollars against DC Comics, every costume manufacturer in the country, plus McDonald's, the tobacco companies, and the builder of that shed, all thrown in for good measure. From now on all costumes will come with 40 or 50 large warning tags attached, "Don't lawsuit us!"

Somehow in my paranoia I suspect there's a similar story behind the emergence of terms like "fry pan" and "swim suit." Somewhere in this benighted land there was a dim bulb who thought that a frying pan must naturally be a pan which will fry food placed in it, all on its own and unaided, with or without benefit of a functioning stove to supply heat. Or that a swimming suit will somehow enable you to swim and not sink, irregardless of whether you actually know how to swim or not.

On discovering that a frying pan sans stove will not fry food all by itself... on learning that a swimming suit of itself will not enable you to remain afloat if you don't know how to swim... the inevitable lawsuits were filed, and in due time won, with vast fines extracted from the hapless manufacturers of swimming suits and frying pans.

This led to a change in name. Now it's fry pan: "WARNING! This pan by itself, without a stove, will not fry food." And it's swim suit: "WARNING! This suit by itself will not enable you to swim. Only people who know how to swim can swim." And if you can't obey the warning label, and the lawyerly-altered new names of the products, hey, don't lawsuit us!

Look around and you'll find many examples of this bizarre and unidiomatic trend in renaming common, everyday items. It's no longer jogging suit, but jog suit: "WARNING! This suit will not enable you to run without effort, like some damn bionic exoskeleton. Some running effort required."

And now instead of ironing board, it's iron board: "WARNING! This board will not iron clothing by itself unattended. Human operator and clothes iron required, not included. Caution, iron can be HOT! Not to be used except under adult supervision, do not use while asleep."

And then there are paring knives, nowadays known as pare knives: "WARNING! This knife will not cut fruit, vegetables, or other items unaided. Requires a human user to make it cut things, CAUTION! Knife is sharp! Improper use can lead to serious injury or death!!!"

Google around, you'll find search results for carve knife, teethe ring, run shoes, and even roll pin. You know, instead of carving knife, teething ring, running shoes, and rolling pin. All in the interest of "Don't lawsuit us! These items will not perform, magically and unaided, without a human operator!" Yes, whoever heard of it? Oh, the emotional trauma! Include a warning label! These shoes will not make you run without effort on your part to put one foot in front of the other.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Cat: Sequel

Well, it turns out that the cat belongs to a neighbor. How it managed to wander two miles up the road I don't know. The neighbor says he thinks maybe the cat hitched a ride on his pickup and got off here. At any rate, the cat is now back home with two little girls who were missing their kitty.

I dunno, for the most part I'm relieved to be relieved of the cat. I mean, I love animals. I love dogs and cats— actually I'm more of a dog person than a cat person. But I realized long ago that, living alone and with a schedule like mine, I just wouldn't be able to take proper care of an animal.

Still, if an animal were dropped in my lap, I'd probably feel a lifelong responsibility to take care of it and look after it, no matter what. By temperament I'm just not a person who can take that kind of a responsibility lightly, or lay the responsibility aside once I've assumed it. That's part of what was so disconcerting about this cat, I could see the situation was rapidly burgeoning in the direction of lifelong responsibility no matter what. After all these years that I've been telling myself, you can't take proper care of a pet, you're not in a situation to take proper care of a pet, you wouldn't be able to do it right, don't even think of it...

Nonetheless, it was a very nice cat. And tempting. Yesterday I was sitting with the cat out in the sun, and the cat would climb up in my lap and settle down in the crook of my elbow. Then after a while the cat would climb up on my shoulders, and settle down and take a nap in the sun while draped across the back of my neck. A very nice cat.

However... the bottom line is, living alone and with a schedule like mine, I just wouldn't be able to take proper care of an animal. One of my ongoing minor nightmares is the prospect of someone "surprising" me by giving me a dog or a cat. I don't know what I would do, and I hope nobody ever puts me on the spot by giving me an animal. Like I say, given my situation I just couldn't take proper care of a pet. Nonetheless, if the responsibility were dumped on me, I doubt I could in good conscience lay it aside. Though I'd be kicking myself all the way, for years to come. Or I'd have to give the animal away immediately, and then I'd be kicking myself for years to come over that...

I don't take these matters lightly. Not when it comes to the likes of a dog or a cat. Best the matter be resolved by serendipity and circumstance, as happened this time around. And here's hoping there ain't no next time. I don't know if I could deal with it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The New Cat

the cat
Looks like I've been adopted by a cat. Yesterday morning I stepped out the front door, and this young little orange and white cat came quickly padding up to me, rubbing against my pants leg. I scratched its ears and it started purring. It arched its back and I scratched its back. Then the cat rolled over on its back and lay there at my feet.

All day long, every time I set foot outdoors this cat would materialize out of nowhere and come padding up to me. It kept following me everywhere I went, after a while learning not to get tangled up in my feet. The cat wanted to follow me indoors, though I managed to draw the line there, except for once or twice when the cat did manage to slip inside the garage and I had to shoo it out again.

The cat was such a beggar, and so tiny and scrawny, that it persuaded me at last to bring out some tuna salad, which the cat hungrily ate up. I also brought out some milk in a plastic yogurt cup and the cat lapped it up with its tongue. Well, okay, I admit that when I went grocery shopping yesterday, I did pick up some cat food. The cat seems to like the salmon with crab meat just fine. It eats the food, then it comes up to me and wants me to scratch its ears.

the cat
I don't know if this cat is going to hang around here. But if it does, I suppose I'd better feed it. Only it had better stay outside. Until the colder weather, when I suppose I could rig up for it in the garage some sort of an insulated cat shelter.

*Sigh* As you can tell, this is a losing battle. The cat has already won.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Books and More Books

I've been over visiting my folks in Wisconsin. My Dad is weeding out his books, so I came back with four grocery bags full of books. The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle. Dwight Eisenhower's memoirs of World War II. Charles de Gaulle's memoirs of World War II. A biography of the Emperor Constantine. Worlds in Collision by Immanuel Velikovsky. And a whole stack of Doctor Doolittle books...

Now the only question is, where to put all these books. I need to get another bookcase for them really. Though then the question is, where would the bookcase go in a house already full of bookcases?

Oh well, 3000 books in this house already, another several dozen isn't going to do me in.

Overheard on the Radio This Morning

"...and Iowa State is coming off their best loss in years..."

Friday, October 19, 2007


chess set
Most of my young adult years, age 18 to 35, I spent in academia living under the poverty of student life. Ramen noodles. Ragged blue jeans. At one point I neither had nor could afford a bed, and so for a year I slept on a rubber mat on the floor. Once I finally bailed out into the real world, I was astonished to discover that I could actually purchase non-necessities. You know, more than just an ascetic budget of food, clothing, and shelter. I started buying items I called my gear. First piece of gear I ever bought, back in 1993, was a Swiss Army knife which I still have and use. Second item was my old Hudson's Bay point blanket. And my third piece of gear was a Chess set.

I've always been a fanatic about games. I got a big, solid wood chessboard, 21" on a side. I got ebony and boxwood chessmen, Staunton, lead weighted, leather pads underneath. That aweful Platonic light that burns at the heart of all games burns especially hard and bright from within the game of Chess. To see into Chess is to see deeply into a transcendent mystery. I wanted a Chess set that said all this eloquently. Chess set, Chess set, burning bright, in the forests of the night...

Chess and I go back a long way together. I learned the moves of the pieces at age three, enough to play a rough Chess game, more or less. I learned the finer details at age nine— castling queenside, capturing a pawn en passant, 50-move draw rule, etc.— to be honest, I was a little disappointed that there weren't more such irregular rules, I had imagined an endless cloud of little exceptions and irregularities. I played Chess whenever I could. For some reason I preferred to play black. My favorite chessman was the Knight.

In high school we organized a Chess Club, with Mr. Hansen as our advisor. We attended one Chess tournament, then the principal told us the school couldn't afford the gas money for the van. Hunh, I was on the cross-country team, which took the van to every away meet, and gas was no problem. We planned to hold a school Chess tournament, wondered if we could get a Chess trophy to be engraved and placed in one of the three huge ceiling-to-floor glass trophy cases in the lobby of the high school. The principal said a trophy would cost too much, never mind that they spent twice as much on the uniform of a single football player. We scheduled a meeting of the Chess club in the business room during homeroom, then after the regular announcements that morning the principal came on the intercom to announce that the meeting of the Chess club was canceled. He did this on his own say-so, since (if you hadn't figured it by now) he hated Chess and thought that pursuits of the mind were stupid.

There was a lot of petty anti-intellectualism like that in the culture back in those days; they called our high school the "Sports Academy," anything but sports could go hang.

But then Chess has often been something of a countercultural pursuit, hasn't it? Longhaired players in coffeehouses. Crazy Paul Morphy. Crazy Wilhelm Steinitz. Crazy Akiba Rubinstein. Crazy Bobby Fischer. Chess as a pursuit that absorbs all your energies and renders you unfit for any other serious pursuit in life. Alice, the Red Queen, Through the Looking Glass.

At one point there, late teens and early twenties, I was beginning to get middling good at Chess. Knew what I was up to when I made a move, not just a pawnpusher. I was even learning various chess openings, Ruy Lopez, Giuoco Piano, King's Gambit, Sicilian Defense, Caro-Kann, King's Indian Defense, Queen's Gambit. But I let it go, I could see that the only way to get really good at it was to let it become an endless sinkhole for my energy.

Chess is one of the deepest games ever devised. Only the Game of Go has a reasonable claim to be deeper, though the Game of Shogi or Japanese Chess also comes close.

If Chess has a shortcoming, in my eyes it's precisely that, in order to play well in today's world, you need to memorize an encyclopedic load of openings. A game like this should be more amenable to strategic analysis than to rote memorization. Plus, well, computers have made massive inroads into Chess, haven't they? I'm one of those reactionaries who, in the rivalry between Man and Machine, still root for Man. But it's a losing battle. In the end the Machine will win.

Still there's nothing quite like Chess. It's a beauty of a game, a piece of Platonic archetype trapped and imprisoned in board and boxwood and ebony, like a fly caught in amber.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Republic of New Netherland

map of new netherland
Fig. 1  Map of the Republic of New Netherland

Once upon a time in an alternate history, the Dutch did not lose their North American colony to the English. On today's East Coast, between New England and the rest of the United States, stands the Republic of New Netherland. Or, as its own citizens call it in Dutch, de Republik van Nieuw-Nederland.

This is yet another fruit of my "radioactive core meltdown of the imagination." Actually I started working on New Netherland late, going into my mid 20s. I continued to work on it for ten years or more. Can't claim I've worked on it much since the early 1990s.

But talk about detail! I've got a list of every radio station in New Netherland, location, frequency, call letters, daytime and nighttime transmitter power. All the major highways, all the railroads. The 1980 census. The major league baseball teams of New Netherland's Knickerbocker League. A detailed history of the country. Reminiscences of the best (and worst) spots to smuggle goods in across the border from the United States. For New Netherland, you know, is a country unto itself.

flag of new netherland
Fig. 2  Flag of the Republic of New Netherland

To this day, hanging on the wall, I've got an actual full-sized flag of the Republic of New Netherland. Orange and white and blue, the old flag of the Prince of Orange, with a rising sun emblazoned on the middle stripe. I even composed the tune of New Netherland's national anthem, Onze Patrie (Our Fatherland): I've been known to astound friends by whistling it clear through from beginning to end.

The history of New Netherland begins, as in our timeline, with Henry Hudson exploring on behalf of the Netherlands, sailing up the Hudson River as far as the site of the present day Fort Orange [Albany]. The Dutch West India Company made a settlement in 1624, and in 1626 New Amsterdam was founded on Manhattan Island.

My alternate history diverges from our timeline in 1638, when David Pietersen de Vries (and not Willem Kieft) was appointed Director-General of New Netherland. As one history book puts it:
[In choosing] de Vries for the post... the States-General at a single stroke almost certainly prevented the Dutch colony in North America from eventually slipping out of their grasp...

De Vries had been a merchant skipper before coming to New Netherland. He was by all accounts a remarkable personality: shrewd, clear-headed, conciliatory but firm. De Vries was humane but unyielding in pressing forward to his goals... De Vries' first measure was to press for ending the fur trade monopoly of the Dutch West India Company. At the same time, he launched an intensive and successful campaign in Europe to draw a greater number of settlers to New Netherland. De Vries saw that the Dutch colony in the New World, if it was to survive, must become a true colony, and not just a station for a trading company.
De Vries established good relations with the Five Nations of the Iroquois. He fostered a degree of self-government in the colony with the setting up of the College of Twelve, which was the forerunner of today's New Netherlander Parliament. He pressed for the Connecticut River [Varsche Kill] as the boundary between New Netherland and the English colonies in New England, and he annexed the Swedish colony of New Sweden, along the Delaware River [South River, Zuid Kill] as the Dutch colony of New Amstel.

Most importantly, when the English sent four frigates in 1664 to take the chief colonial city of New Amsterdam:
They found a well-fortified city of eight thousand souls; de Vries had ordered the city prepared for the defense. In the ensuing battle, Dutch cannon sunk two of the English frigates, and the remaining two fled amidst fearsome volleys from the shore. The English attempt to seize the Dutch colonies in America had failed.
The English were eventually to recognize the Dutch title to New Netherland. De Vries was succeeded on his death by Hendrik Watervliet as Director-General. It was Watervliet who concluded an accord with his personal friend, William Penn, to establish the city of Philadelphia as a city under Dutch sovereignty with free trade rights to and from Pennsylvania through Philadelphia. Watervliet also oversaw the organization of the two provinces of Hudson and the Catskills in the valley of the Hudson River [North River, Noort Kill], where Dutch patroons with their land-grant feudal manors had been vying with one another for influence and power.

The Dutch remained neutral during the American Revolution. But New Netherland found itself on the path to independence when Napoleon Bonaparte seized the Netherlands in 1795. Director-General Philip Schuyler assumed administrative control of the Dutch colonies in the New World. A convention was gathered in New Amsterdam, and in 1798 the Constitution of the independent Republic of New Netherland was proclaimed.

Schuyler became the first Prime Minister of New Netherland, though he soon stepped down due to ill health. He was succeeded as Prime Minister by the patroon Stephen van Rensselaer. The first party divisions emerged, between the Conservatives ("Long Pipes") and Liberals ("Short Pipes").

The great New Netherlander statesman of the 19th century was Maarten van Buren, who became Prime Minister in 1820, and held the post for most of the next 36 years. This was the era when the Erie Canal was constructed, which for a time made New Netherland a major power in commercial transport to and from the interior of North America. This was also the era of the Anti-Rent War (1841-46), which ended in the patroons being stripped of their feudal manorial powers and reduced to a mere titled nobility.

Anti-slavery sentiment fueled New Netherlander aid to the Union in the Civil War, especially after Schuyler Colfax became Prime Minister (1863-77).

Theodore Roosevelt served as Prime Minister for most of the period 1897-1919, and New Netherland entered World War I in 1917 on the side of the Allies.

With the stock market crash in 1929, the Conservative government of Vermonter Calvin Coolidge resigned by the spring of 1930, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt headed up a Liberal government until his death in 1945. This was the period of the Great Depression and World War II, which New Netherland entered in 1940. FDR is also remembered for the constitutional crisis of 1935, when he extended the term of his government, and postponed national elections, one year beyond the constitutionally mandated five-year limit.

In 1948 Quentin Roosevelt, son of TR, became Prime Minister and led a Conservative government which continued until his death in 1965. It was the 1960s: three governments fell in the next 18 months, followed by the government of the first Iroquois Prime Minister of New Netherland, Oren Lyons (1967-74), under whom New Netherland broke with the US and by 1968 withdrew its forces from Vietnam. The tempestuous Lyons era was brought to an end in late 1974, when the President of New Netherland, a purely ceremonial appointive post, forced a constitutional crisis by asserting authority to unilaterally dissolve Parliament and call for elections.

Liberal Prime Minister D. Patrick Moynihan found his own party split between moderates and radicals, and he was forced to form a coalition "Neo-Conservative" government of Conservatives and moderate Liberals. In 1983 Jack Kemp became Conservative Prime Minister. The current Prime Minister of New Netherland is Rudy Giuliani.

The Government: The Parliament [Landdag] of New Netherland is comprised of two houses, the lower House of Burghers and the upper House of Peers. In practice, virtually all legislative power is vested in the House of Burghers. This lower house consists of 120 burghers, popularly elected, and apportioned among the provinces proportional to their populations as determined in a decennial census. The House of Peers consists of 40 patroons, five Iroquois chiefs, about 50 hereditary peers, about 150 life peers, one steward of the freeport, seven chancellors, and such other members as the House of Peers may itself admit (such as the President of New Netherland, the ambassador to the League of Nations, etc.).

The Prime Minister may choose his cabinet either from within or from without the Parliament, including such cabinet posts as the Koopman (secretary and parliamentarian of the cabinet), the Schout-Legal, the Schout-Fiscal, etc.

Political Parties: The two largest parties in New Netherland are the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. Other parties which usually capture at least a few seats in Parliament are the Labor Party, the Socialist Party, and the right-wing Independent Progressive Party. The Communist Party reliably polls a number of votes, but has not held any seats in Parliament since the 1930s.

The Provinces: New Netherland is divided into 13 provinces, one city (New Amsterdam), and one freeport (Philadelphia).

The Law: New Netherland derives its legal heritage from Dutch law, based on Roman law, with some influences and admixtures from the English common law adopted by osmosis from the surrounding United States. The highest appellate court in most cases is the Chancellory, whose seven chancellors are nonvoting members of the House of Peers. The powers of the Chancellory do not extend to judicial review of legislation, and in some legal matters (the Maritime courts, the Freeport, Iroquois affairs) there are other courts which function as court of highest appeal.

Languages: According to the 1980 census, Dutch was the first language of about 85% of the population of New Netherland; English, of about 9%; Iroquois languages (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca), about 6%; and French, about 0.1%. This does not include the complicated linguistic situation of the Antilles, with Papiamento, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.

Areas which are majority English-speaking include the cities of Philadelphia, New Haven, and Hartford, and also eastern Vermont and the east end of Long Island. Iroquois languages are spoken in the Iroquois province and also among the several hundred thousand Mohawks in New Amsterdam. There are important English-speaking minorities in New Amsterdam and in Buffalo, and a sprinkling of English speakers in many other cities of New Netherland.

The spoken Dutch in New Netherland has diverged somewhat from the Dutch of the Netherlands, but the two are still more or less mutually intelligible. Up through World War I, European Dutch was employed in New Netherland as the literary language. But today the literary language in New Netherland is based much more closely on the spoken language.

Radio: Far out into the American heartland, radio stations from New Netherland can be received at night: D2CO 880 New Amsterdam, D2CA 1210 Philadelphia, D2R 710 New Amsterdam, D2Y 810 Schaeneckstede, D2WH 1180 Irondequoit; to say nothing of the several shortwave stations from New Netherland; and also two longwave stations, D2YZ 216 New Amsterdam and D2G 252 Buffalo, which date back to FDR's public works projects in the 1930s.

The national radio network in New Netherland is NNRK [Nieuw-Nederlander Radiotelephonische Koorpershaft], and in the 1950s the government organized a second "cultural" radio network; but there are also many private and commercial radio stations. The national television network is the Orange Network, which for many years was presided over by the benign authoritarian figure of Colonel Cornelius ten Broek, World War II hero of the old New Netherland Signal Corps.

Military: New Netherland has an Army, a Navy, an Air Force, and also the Iroquois Native Guard (who make the US Marines look like pantywaists).

Intelligence: The intelligence agency of New Netherland is Bluelight [Blauwlicht]. Not to be compared to the FBI, CIA, or NSA. More like the Mossad. Quick, efficient, direct, and sometimes not too heedful of niceties.

Baseball: In the world of New Netherland, all major league baseball teams are located no further west than the Mississippi, and not much further south than the Mason-Dixon line. In addition to the US and its National League and American League, New Netherland has eight major league baseball teams in the Knickerbocker League: the New Amsterdam Knickerbockers, the Breuckelen Dodgers, the Bergen Nine, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Buffalo Bisons, the Irondequoit Skylarks, the Onondaga Iroquois, and the Hartford Yellow Sox.

Gasoline: Everywhere you go in New Netherland, it's Blue & White gas. Blauw en Wit— de gasolijn, die Nieuw-Nederland gaan laat! ("Blue & White— the gasoline that makes New Netherland go!") And probably that gas goes into your Selden economy sedan, Van Buren luxury car, or Herkul truck, all manufactured by the Selden Automotive Corporation in Irondequoit, Genesee.

United States: Still has 50 states, with the addition of Plymouth, Franklin, Lincoln, and Puerto Rico. American culture in the world of New Netherland has been centered much more in mid-sized cities such as Boston, Baltimore, etc. American Presidents in this alternate history include Henry Clay (1837-1845), Lewis Cass (1849-1857), Samuel Tilden (1877-1881), Philander Knox (1901-1909), Charles Hughes (1923-1929), and the Progressive Robert M. La Follette, Jr. (1933-1953).

And that's only scratching the surface. I have tons and tons of material on the Republic of New Netherland, up through the early 1990s. All set in a world where the Dutch never lost their North American settlements to the English...

Name: The Republic of New Netherland (Dutch: de Republik van Nieuw-Nederland).

Area: 71,288 square miles.

Population: (1980 census) 31,267,971.

Capital: New Amsterdam (Nieuw-Amsterdam).

Largest Cities: New Amsterdam (7,071,030); Philadelphia (1,688,210); Buffalo (357,870).

Languages: Dutch, 84.8%; English, 8.8%; Iroquois (Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca), 6.3%; French, 0.1%. Also a scattering of Spanish, Papiamento, and Portuguese in the Antilles.

Head of State: Eduard van Rensselaer, Patroon van Rensselaerwyck, President of New Netherland.

Head of Government: Rudy Giuliani, Prime Minister of New Netherland (Conservative).

Legislature: Parliament (Landdag): lower House of Burghers, 120 elected members; upper House of Peers, made up of appointed and hereditary members.

Currency: Guilder (fl.); fl.1 = US 27¢. 1 Guilder = 20 Stivers = 100 Cents.

Administrative Units: 13 provinces, 1 city, 1 freeport. All populations are 1980 census:
  1. Adirondacks (Adirondacken), pop. 625,845; area, 15,299 sq. mi.; cap., Plattsburgh; seats in parliament, 2.
  2. Antilles (Antillen), pop. 246,500; area, 385 sq. mi.; cap., Willemstad; seats in parliament, 1.
  3. Bergen, pop. 5,377,134; area, 3,381 sq. mi.; cap., Amboy; seats in parliament, 20.
  4. Catskills (Kaatskillen), pop. 399,890; area, 5,869 sq. mi.; cap., Wiltwyck; seats in parliament, 2.
  5. Delaware (Zwaanendael), pop. 595,225; area, 1,982 sq. mi.; cap., New Amstel (Nieuw-Amstel); seats in parliament, 2.
  6. Erie, pop. 1,475,195; area, 4,005 sq. mi.; cap., Buffalo; seats in parliament, 6.
  7. Genesee, pop. 1,320,161; area, 6,407 sq. mi.; cap., Irondequoit; seats in parliament, 5.
  8. Hudson, pop. 2,562,486; area, 5,765 sq. mi.; cap., Fort Orange (Fort-Oranje); seats in parliament, 10.
  9. Iroquois, pop. 1,496,868; area, 9,004 sq. mi.; cap., Onondaga; seats in parliament, 6.
  10. Nassau (Nassouwen), pop. 2,603,813; area, 1,218 sq. mi.; cap., Heemstede; seats in parliament, 10.
  11. New Amsterdam, City of (Stad van Nieuw-Amsterdam), pop. 7,071,030; area, 300 sq. mi.; cap., New Amsterdam; seats in parliament, 26.
  12. New Haven (Nieuw-Haven), pop. 2,788,395; area, 4,716 sq. mi.; cap., New Haven (Nieuw-Haven); seats in parliament, 11.
  13. Orange (Oranje), pop. 1,987,689; area, 4,087 sq. mi.; cap., Fort Nassau (Fort-Nassouwen); seats in parliament, 8.
  14. Philadelphia, Freeport of (Vrijport van Philadelphie), pop. 2,243,217; area, 320 sq. mi.; cap., Philadelphia; seats in parliament, 9.
  15. Vermont, pop. 474,523; area, 8,486 sq. mi.; cap., Burlington; seats in parliament, 2.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007


And when you call me "Godthåb"— for "Greenland"— both to be drawn out long and low, as if an electronic voice through a loudspeaker— it is as if you were to call me "crown of the head"— in place of my proper given name— both to be spoken in that electric loudspeaker voice— as if expecting me to react just because it is in the same tone of voice as the sound of my name...


Homer Never Nodded Like This

They were having some Sunday afternoon readings at the bookstore, with a painfully earnest audience, necks craned diagonally, sitting in plastic-and-tube-metal chairs, while earnestly painful speakers declaimed their way through short story and poem, like your high school forensics meet. I would have been glad not to be there. No doubt these people, English majors and public radio pledgers all, fondly imagine they are recreating some scene from around a Bronze Age campfire, "Listen to the storyteller!" I got news for you, baby: Homer was never like this. Homer was never leadfooted. Homer was never dull.


Overheard in a Hospital Waiting Room

"...and then she flew to Kansas City, and she ended up dancing all night..."


Monday, October 15, 2007

Losing Weight

Well. I seem to be losing weight. I steadfastly refuse to keep a set of scales in the house. But at the beginning of this year, my belt was on the second notch. Now my belt is on the fourth notch, and even that is becoming loose.

People who know me out here in meatspace would find it hard to believe that, up into my mid-twenties, I was fairly thin. With some minor ups and downs. But as late as age 25 I weighed 140 pounds, same as when I graduated from high school.

Then slow steady gain. By age 31— 1987— when I moved from Illinois to North Carolina, I was brushing 200 for the first time. Living the poverty of student life in North Carolina brought that way back down again: a diet of rice, dried beans, potatoes, oatmeal, and ramen noodles will do that. I returned to the Midwest several years later somewhere near average weight.

Until late '92 and early '93, when I spent six weeks lodging in a bed and breakfast (long story). Rich food for breakfast every morning, my weight shot way back up again. Didn't succeed in shedding the excess pounds until around 1997, when physical activity working in wholesale sports merchandise did the trick.

Then, life in Iowa, eat as you please, little exercise, I really don't want to think how I've packed on the pounds since the turn of the century. At one point, two or three years ago, I had reached well over 200, and my belt was on the first notch. Like I say, I refuse to keep scales in the house.

Now, since the beginning of this year, I've been dropping the pounds again. If this goes on, I may have to move from XXL to XL shirts. Hard to say just what has done the trick. Exercise? Not like I ought to, and my exercise bike, sad to say, pretty much just sits there gathering dust. Diet? That seems to be a large part of it. Key principles: cut out all candy; cut out most if not all pop; avoid french fries; pizza not so often; six-inch rather than foot-long sandwiches at Subway. Lately I've been eating smaller suppers, so that I usually arrive at the next morning with noticeable hunger pangs.

It really is weird to feel my clothes getting loose on me. For several years there, I had pretty much given up any thought of losing weight. Now... well, I can look down at my stomach and see the difference.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Via Crucis Triptych

via crucis triptych
All the items I've been ordering online lately, and here's yet another that arrived the other day. It's a small triptych, with the stations of the cross on it. Via crucis. The way of the cross. O crux ave, spes unica!

Small, only about 4½ inches tall. Black leather, with embossed panels of oxidized silver. Gold trim. It unfolds to stand on a tabletop, or you can fold it up to just about the shape and size of a billfold. Literally pocket sized, and exquisite workmanship.

via crucis triptych
This is another one of those items that is so wondrously low-tech, and just such a funky idea. I mean, who would ever have thought of such an item? But once you think of it, it seems like a natural. And timeless: I can almost imagine some English merchant, some Italian noble, some German hawksman, carrying it with him circa 1597.

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Last night I had a dream that somehow I was a student again at age 51, and I was back in North Carolina, this time not in Durham but in Chapel Hill. And I was going to catch a taxi out to some shopping mall, and I hailed a fellow driving a motorcycle-taxi.

And in this motorcycle-taxi, the idea was that I, as the passenger, would sit on a seat right on top of the front wheel, up in front of the driver. I can't imagine how he could see where he was going, with me perched up there in front of him. And I was fastened into the seat with a body harness to keep me from falling out. And we went roaring off down the street through heavy traffic.

And it was hard for me to describe to this guy where I was going, after more than 15 years I had forgotten the names of many of the streets. But I said yeah, going to the mall, and when we got there we went roaring right inside the mall and tearing down amongst pedestrian shoppers with a loud roar on the motorcycle-taxi. And it was a split-level mall, more like one I remembered from over in Raleigh.

And I was looking for a place that served Greek food, which was on the upper level, though we were on the lower level. But we got there at last, the motorcycle roaring right in amongst people sitting at tables and eating Greek food. And the taxi driver told me my fare came to $2.60, so I gave him a five and said, "Keep the change."

And then the owner of the Greek joint came out from behind the counter, and I told him I wanted a gyros plate, pointing at some picture on glass lit from behind up on the wall. And he was asking me what I wanted to drink, pointing to another picture on glass up on the wall, and explaining to me the difference between two kinds of Greek drink and which went best with a gyros sandwich.

And then I woke up.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Elvis TV Special

ELVIS: THE REAL TRUTH, PART 2 [17] [27] [36] (Documentary; 1992) Bill Bixby hosts a sequel to the 1986 inquiry into the fate of Elvis Presley and his mysterious alleged "death." Featured: a tape recording purported to be from Elvis in hiding. Leads up to the dramatic climax of a grainy black-and-white video of a man striding toward the viewer down a narrow hallway, with the sun just behind his head so that his features are drowned out in a nimbus of light: "And as for Elvis, some folk say that he may some day soon re-turn." (A woman sitting on a couch watching the show breaks out weeping.) To lend credibility to the narrative, halfway through the show Bixby metamorphoses into the Incredible Hulk.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What Did the High Step Say to the Low Step?

circus 3
When I was five years old, I came up with a joke which I thought was just hilarious:
Q: What did the high step say to the low step?

A: "You're too low to step on!"
I dunno, demented as I am, I still think it's funny. You know? They're both steps! They're both made to be stepped on! Though it's one of those things, either you get it, or else you don't.

Anyhow, for my sixth birthday I was going to be a guest on a local TV show called Circus 3. A ventriloquist named Howie Olson, a dummy called Cowboy Eddie, a bunch of kids sitting in the peanut gallery on little bleachers off to the side, and some chit chat in between airing various cartoons. I insisted to my folks that I was going to tell that joke live on the show. And my parents, watching from the next room through glass, were terrified that I was actually going to find some way to break in and tell that joke on the air...


How to Make a Leftist Cry over a Flag Burning

It just occurred to me. Leftists, ordinarily so blasé and so laissez faire over flag burnings, could be made to shed real tears (and not just crocodile tears) if you were to burn... a United Nations flag.

I can just see them now, shrieking, raging, sputtering, indignant, and possessed of a strange new vexillophilia.


What's going on lately? After a string of highs in the 80s last week— Sunday it got up into the upper 80s, unbearable humidity— now these past couple of days it feels like October.

Currently 44°, forecast today is for a high in the lower 50s. I didn't even wake up this morning till seven. Huddled in bed beneath my Hudson Bay point blanket, warm in a chilly house.

Of course as usual there's no middle ground between highs in the 50s and highs in the mid to upper 80s. If you live in these parts, highs in the 60s and 70s almost don't exist.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Surreal Art

Oh wow. It's the surreal paintings of Vladimir Kush, Part 1. And also Part 2.

While we're at it, let's throw in the surreal paintings of Jacek Yerka.

I think my favorite is the trojan rhinoceros. Or the gigantic dragonfly inside a huge hall. Or the swans swimming in a maze...

Far out, man!


Monday, October 08, 2007

"Use Only As a Tire Thumper"

ozark tire thumper
Well, I'm on a roll lately, buying obscure but cool items online. Here's one that arrived the other day, a genuine Ozark Tire Thumper, 19 inches of cedar, weighted with a solid lead core. Grooved handle, super strong, leather thong. Tire thumpers are allegedly used by truck drivers to see if their tires are underinflated, you know, give the tire a good sound thump and you can tell by the sound if the tire is low on air.

Something shady about this tire thumper, though. You'll notice it looks like nothing so much as a sawed-off baseball bat. A sawed-off baseball bat weighted with lead: yes, the center of the "bat" is drilled out and filled with solid lead. Heavy! One might almost suspect this tire thumper of being sold for thumping things other than tires. Note, stamped on the side of the tire thumper it reads, Use Only As A TIRE THUMPER.

Oh really? What else might it be used as? Skull thumper, maybe? Kneecap thumper? On the package it says, sold for use as a Tire Thumper for checking tire pressure only. In other words, just because it looks like a lead-weighted sawed-off baseball bat, don't you go getting any ideas! Add to that how this Ozark Tire Thumper has a way of turning up for sale on "self-defense" websites. Oh, and shipping is prohibited to several states, plus all of Canada. I also find on some discussion forums that if the cops pull you over and find a Tire Thumper in your car, in some localities you could be charged with carrying a concealed weapon, even if you've got tires to be thumped.

Sounds mighty suspicious to me. Though this Tire Thumper is certainly not concealed, leaning against the wall right next to my bed. For years I've had a little souvenir Chicago Cubs bat sitting there, one of those miniature souvenir baseball bats that's skinny as a toothpick and weighs about three ounces. This Ozark Tire Thumper, 19 weighty inches of solid cedar and lead, will come much more in useful for me, should I ever wake up in the middle of the night and hear Mr. Burglar's footsteps creaking up the staircase in the dark.

Not that I'm saying it's likely. But just in case, forearmed is forearmed. And let the burglar beware!

Besides, I already am responsible for two or three out of the top 25 Google search results for "sawed-off baseball bat."


Saturday, October 06, 2007

A Balmy October

Day after day with highs in the 80s. Last night at midnight it was only down to 76°. Now today once again the forecast is for highs in the mid 80s.

This is October, mind you. October in northernmost Iowa, just two cornfields south of the Minnesota state line. I'm sitting here in my study, in tee shirt, shorts, and Birkenstocks, with the floor fan running.

In October, mind you. Day after day. Crazy. I'm tempted to put up pictures of all the flowers that are still blooming out in front of the house.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Odd Third Choices

My favorite cola is neither Coke nor Pepsi, but RC.

My favorite browser is neither Internet Explorer nor Firefox, but Opera.

My favorite beer is neither Budweiser nor Miller, but Point Special.

My favorite operating system is neither Windows XP nor Mac OS X, but Linux.

On the radio I prefer to listen neither to AM nor to FM, but rather to shortwave.

I prefer to write neither with ballpoint nor with pencil, but rather with a fountain pen.

Given my choice of board games, I'd prefer neither Chess nor Checkers, but rather the Japanese game of Shogi.

Toss a coin, and I'm likely to call neither heads nor tails, but rims (let's not get into the one time in high school when a friend tossed a nickel in the air, and I called rims correctly)...

It's a consistent thread running through my life: given two choices, I often prefer some obscure, unheard of, far-distant third choice. The only wonder is, I don't vote Libertarian.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Red Faturan Greek Worry Beads

red faturan greek worry beads
Not too long ago I was blogging about some yellow Indian trading beads that I picked up years back. Well, at the risk of sounding like déjà vu all over again, here are some more beads I picked up just recently. Greek worry beads.

Ran across them on a website out there. A website over in Greece. And of course I had to order them, and they arrived here from Greece much more quickly than I'd been expecting. I think the mailman is puzzled at all these packages I keep receiving from overseas.

Anyhow. Greek worry beads, Greek men have a custom of fiddling with them and clacking them around. And these beads are made of clear red faturan.

Faturan is a sort of synthetic amber. Cheaper than amber, and much more durable. Faturan was invented by an Egyptian chemist, and then the formula was lost during World War II. Never been successfully duplicated since. The seller tells me that these faturan beads date back to the period from around 1920 to 1940.

Thirty-three beads going around the loop, divided into three groups of eleven by two smaller spacer beads. The larger bead at the end is called the "priest," and then there are two more small beads at the very end. The beads are overall in very good condition, you can tell they've seen use, and in a couple of them you can see little stress fractures inside the bead, the kind of fracture that results from clacking beads together too hard. There's a warmth to the beads, and they're bright, pellucid, with an odd fragrance. Frankincense bakelite, that's what comes to mind.

Just so happens the number and arrangement of the beads is the same as in a string of Greek Orthodox prayer beads. (Actually there's a historical connection, too; 33 beads, one of several possible numbers of beads or knots.) All that's missing is a tassel on the end ("to wipe the tears away with"). Well, I've got a red silk tassel on order from elsewhere online, and when it arrives I may be so foolhardy as to attempt to attach it.

And yes, of course, these red faturan beads have found a place on my nightstand, right alongside those yellow Indian trading beads. One good set of beads deserves another.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Hats Off to Big Brother!

They're tightening the screws over in the UK. First it was license plate reading cameras used for computerized tracking of every vehicle in the country. Then it was a smoking ban in the pubs. Now comes word of a growing trend in those newly smoke-free pubs: remove your hat, or get out.

The reason for the ban? As one barman candidly put it, "We don't allow hats to be worn in the bar. We absolutely don't allow it. We need all faces to be seen by the CCTV [closed circuit television cameras]."

In another pub, a woman was told to remove her rain hat because the "CCTV camera would not be able to see her face clearly enough." As the pub owner explained, "it was pub policy to always ask people to remove their hats. 'It's all to do with the CCTV. We have 13 cameras inside the pub...'"

Writer Neil Davenport observes:
The enforcement of such a bizarre rule as the 'hat ban' may be an attempt to assert control in the name of tackling crime... But the fact that such a ban seems to have been accepted at all shows how a demand for security and safety permeates society at present. It's interesting that while respectable pensioners have kicked up a fuss at the hat ban, younger people have tended to acquiesce to the demand to remove their headgear. In fact, surveillance is more or less seen as acceptable if it leads to a greater sense of security...

What lies behind such demand for safety and security is a perception that individual autonomy is problematic in and of itself. Thus all individuals need some kind of rules and regulation because anyone can suddenly 'get out of hand'... there is something servile about forcing customers to 'remove their hats', with ugly echoes of the 'doffing your cap' reverence to society's supposed 'betters' in the past. In this case, it's a reverence to New Britain's principles of authority, order and knowing-your-place.
You know, 10 or 20 years ago nobody would've believed such a ban would ever be implemented in the real world. Nobody would've imagined that people would stand for it. But the British license plate tracking scheme has already been imported to some cities in the US. Any bets on how long it'll be before the British "hat ban" follows?

As Davenport puts it, "So the government hasn't made wearing hats in pubs illegal (yet)... Making people take their hats off isn't the end of the world— but it fits into a corrosive, creeping process of restricting our freedoms, large and small."


Monday, October 01, 2007

Ethnic Mix

Like many an American, I'm something of an ethnic mix. A mongrel, a mutt, if you will.

I'm a quarter Norwegian and a quarter German, that's the easy part of it. The other half is an indeterminate mix of English and Welsh, with a sliver of Scottish thrown in.

On census forms I enter myself as "English-Welsh." I guess the Welsh part of it is what I really identify with. What, you don't pick up on the Celtic aspect of me from this blog? Mad Welshman, and all that?

Though it all tends to boil down, over the course of a couple of generations, into one big Mulligan stew. My Great-grandma spoke German fluently, she spoke English with a German accent. My Grandma could understand German just fine, and speak it okay if she put her mind to it. My Dad picked up some words and phrases in German. Me, I was totally innocent of the German language until I took a German reading course somewhere along the line in my academic studies: reading, no idea how to speak or pronounce it, and of course 20 years later it's all fled my mind.

On the other side of the family, at age 102½ my Grandma is still fluent in Norwegian. She was born in this country, but didn't learn English until she started school.

The usual pattern is, culturally assimilated no later than the third generation. I've sometimes wondered what I would've done if I'd been born into some small ethnic group in this country with its own language, you know, Navajo, Louisiana Cajun, or whatever. Somehow I suspect I would've zeroed in on the language and other aspects of the culture, immersed myself in it, and carried it on yet another generation. A generation further than usual, even.

Judging by that language of my own which I actually did concoct, I think that supposition is not too far fetched.