Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Important News For My Female Friends Dept

Not that any of you should take this personally.

R.I. does some Jewish humor

One of R.I.'s criticisms of my first attempt to retell Jesus' walking of the water was that my characters were not believably Jewish -- because nobody was arguing with anybody else! And he went on to expand on this theme, much to my amusement:

I remember once taking a bus [in Israel]. A mother began quarreling with her son on the bus- and pretty soon the entire bus was taking one side or the other, and kept quarreling even after the mother and child had gotten off at their stop! There is an old joke about a Jewish man being marooned on a desert island for twenty years, and when they come to rescue him, they find that he has built two synagogues. When asked about the second synagogue, he responds: "Oh, that's the one I won't pray in."

Contriti Corde

I said some time ago that I would be moving the politics and religion off of this blog. The politics blog went up a couple of weeks ago, but for various private reasons (mostly having to do with my never-ending divorce) I have for a long time been reluctant to write about religion.

I'm delighted, however, to say that a very good friend of mine not only complained that I wasn't blogging enough about religion, but went further and did something about it: he volunteered to help me express them by serving as an "antistrophe" (I like people who casually use words like "antistrophe"). Now this is a very bright guy whose opinions I deeply respect, and given that he is a religious Israeli rather than a Christian, he's perfectly capable of disagreeing with me. But at the same time his understanding of Christianity is far more profound and sympathetic than are my views on, say, Judaism.

So I am delighted to say that as of today my friend and I are co-blogging, on religious topics, at Contriti Corde (it means "those whose hearts have been broken" and is from the 147th Psalm, if you're Jewish or a Protestant Christian, or alternatively from the 146th Psalm, if you're Orthodox or reading the Vulgate -- either way it's appropriate for the stage of life I've inhabited for the last couple of years).

There's actually a post up already. I confess to being pretty tickled by it. Let me explain why:

C. S. Lewis tells a story someplace about a guy who had a great idea for a book. (This is a true story about one of his literary buddies.) It involved trees coming to life or some such thing, and the fellow wrote the scene with the trees; but then he wound up writing an entire novel around it, complete with a boy and a girl and a love story, etc. Then he gave the manuscript to a friend to read, and his friend gave it back with the comment, "This is not bad at all, pretty good, actually. Only, I'd cut out all that padding about the trees."

So last Sunday we were discussing at church the story of Jesus' walking on the water, and I realized that I was tired of having no good explanation for why Peter would say to himself, "Hm, how can I decide whether that's really Jesus or a ghost?...I know! I'll ask to walk on the water, too." I mean...huh? Where did that come from?? So I decided I was bloody well going to figure out a dramatically convincing reason for Peter to come out with such a bizarre request. And I think I did; but then I got interested in retelling the whole story leading up to that moment; and by the time I was done I had written a short-story version of not just the walking on the water but the feeding of the five thousand as well.

Well, hey, R.I. (my friend wishes to remain anonymous except for his nom de plume Reliquiae Israhel, which for the Latin-challenged is "Remnant of Israel") had been wanting me to write something religious; so I fired it over to him. And he had plenty to criticize (all quite valid), but my day was made by one sentence:

"I especially liked the scene with Peter and Jesus' reaction to him."

Ding ding ding ding ding! So, at least the part that made me write the thing to begin with, turned out to be the best part...I'd been afraid he was going to come back with, "Not bad, but I'd cut out that padding about Peter."

Anyway, my retelling of Jesus' walking on the water may be found here. And you guys should say howdy to R.I. while you're over there.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

If you want to do something really nice for me...

...go have dinner at either the Russian Bear or else at Afghan Cuisine, and tell Ayát (if you're at the Bear) or Achméd (if you're at A.C.) that you appreciate what they've done for my girls.

Even if you don't want to do anything nice for me, these are a couple of delightful restaurants. I don't think there are nearly as many of my friends who like Russian food as there are who like Afghan food...what's that you say? You have no idea whether or not you like Afghan food? Well, let me ask you this: do you like Indian food? Because the food at Afghan Cuisine is...let's put it this way, it's what Indian food would like to be once Indians really master the art of cooking.

I'm serious, it's awesome enough that the girls all three got jobs at the same restaurant working together, but when that restaurant also serves entrees that cost less than ten dollars but are almost more family- than individually-sized, and that are spectacularly, let me tell you something, Papa done landed on his feet, people. Meanwhile Duane and Desiree got about five minutes into their lamb and rice and nann and looked at each other and said, "Why have we been going to [name of their previously favorite Indian] restaurant?" Answer: they hadn't realized Afghan Cuisine was there. They do now, though, and future dinner plans have been altered accordingly.

And you can tell that the food at the Bear is no slouch simply from this: the Troika had me take them straight from this Afghan restaurant that the Liongs had just declared their new favorite "Indian" restaurant, over to the Bear...because they prefer the Bear's Russian food.

So try 'em both. And -- seriously -- tell them that Anya's and Natasha's and Kristina's papa sent you, and said thanks.


The Russian Bear is at, roughly, 1869 S. Dairy Ashford, in a strip center (see picture) on the east side of the street between Westella and Whittington.

Afghan Cuisine is a bit tricky to find, because the strip mall it's in has two rows of buildings, and Afghan Cuisine is in the back row where it's almost impossible to see from the highway. If you're on Highway 6 just north of the Sugar Land airport (that is, about a mile north of U.S. 90 in Sugar Land), you'll see a traffic light at the intersection of Highway 6 and Voss Road (this is not the Voss Road that crosses I-10 up near the Galleria). If you were standing in the middle of the Voss and Highway 6 intersection (not that I recommend this) facing south, the strip mall would be on your right-hand side, on the southwest side of the corner. Just get into the parking lot and poke around in the back row of buildings and you'll find it. There are three very pretty girls who take your orders on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tip 'em well...their Papa needs the money. ;-)

One working day in the books

Well, the Troika were exhausted last night at midnight when I picked them up after their first shift waiting tables at the Afghan Cuisine...but very, very happy. I gave in to their pleas and we headed over to the Russian Bear to say thank you to Ayát for finding the job for them, and, of course, to give the girls the chance to buy their very own oliviér salad and their very own varyéniki with their very own money -- to run up their very own bill, and to pay it with their very own money earned with their very own hands, and to leave their very own tip for the handsome, usually tongue-tied, dark-haired teenaged Russian waiter whom at least one of them intends to make her very own, unless I miss my guess. ("L'un parle bien; l'autre se tait; et c'est l'autre que je préfère, il n'a rien dit, mais il me plaît...") Ayat came over to congratulate them and couldn't help but observe to me, "Safsyém drugíye!" -- that is, "They're completely different girls!" Which was no less than the truth.

But tragedy struck. [This is comic overstatement; so don't get nervous.] Kristina had taken a fall on the stairs on Wednesday and it appears that the inside of her chest took a nasty bruise from getting clobbered by her rib, if that makes sense -- a painful though not dangerous internal bruise. She's on a mild prescription painkiller that keeps it from hurting when she breathes.

But it's not strong enough to keep it from hurting when she giggles. And, alas, she was in a very good mood...and of course I like seeing her smile, and as the joy has slowly come back into my life I've gotten into the habit of teasing smiles and giggles out of her whenever I see an opening. So, just a couple of minutes after we had settled into the circular corner booth that we and all the staff at the Bear now know is the Troika's table -- I strongly suspect that Ayat has given instructions to the staff to save it for them whenever the Bear isn't at capacity, or else that Vitálik and tall, blond Dróma are exercising some handsome-young-man personal initiative; at any rate, it's always available and the girls head straight for it without asking. At any rate, we settle in, and the girls take time off from batting their eyes at Vitalik long enough to get their orders placed, and then I settle in across from Kinya to await my tea.

I don't remember what it was I said that started it, but Kinya was caught off guard and started to giggle, and then she winced and grabbed her rib cage, but couldn't stop laughing. I apologized...but this just made it worse. It began to be borne in upon me that she was in the pitiable condition of the person who feels the overpowering urge to giggle in the middle of a funeral, an urge which, as we all know, simply becomes more overwhelming the harder one tries to resist. Now, I know that feeling all too well; so now I felt really bad about making her laugh, and I started to apologize again:

"Oh, man, Kinya, I'm really..." and then I feel my lips trembling as, to my horror, I realize it's happening to me. "...I'm sorry, I..." I'm fighting to control it, but the smallest of snickers escapes me -- and Kinya lets out an indescribable high-pitched squeal of mingled agony and hilarity and desperately spins around to turn her back to me. And that's it for me: I'm lost, too.

For the next two or three minutes Kinya and I try desperately, but hopelessly, not to catch each other's eyes -- not that it does any good, since even when we are looking someplace else, we are intensely conscious of not looking at the other one, and we can hear the other's smothered giggles, and that's all it takes to send us off again. Anya is looking at us each with deep disdain, and Natasha is just shaking her head.

And just when I'm thinking it can't get worse, I turn to Natasha to try to distract myself by talking to her, and when I start to say whatever nice-weather-we're-having conversational fluff I've come up with, my voice trembles because I'm still trying to suppress the giggles...and Natasha's lips start quivering. "No, no, don't--" I start to cry, but it is too late; Natasha loses it as well. Another of those high-pitched squeals emanates from the part of the table I'm carefully not looking at, and down goes Papa.

[takes a deep breath and slowly releases it]

We did eventually make it out of the Russian Bear and safely home. This morning I woke Kristina up to check on how she was feeling and to read our Sunday-morning chapter of Matthew. She was sleeping on the futon in the living room, which she finds is less uncomfortable in her current state than is her own bed, and so I sat down on the edge of the futon next to where she was lying on her side. I laid a hand gently on the side of her head and said quietly, "Kínyechka, honey, it's time to wake up." (This is not a girl who appreciates being shaken awake by the shoulders, nor being awakened by a hearty banging of pots and a cheerful "Bring out your dead!" and therefore an alternative approach has been worked out between us.) She stirred without opening her eyes and curled herself up into a slightly more fetal position, which is her standard procedure in the mornings when I come in to wake her up for school. I proceeded on with the conversation, knowing that she was now actually awake and would understand me: "Kinyechka, how are you feeling this morning? Does it hurt as much as before?"

She opened an eye and looked up at me...and suddenly her lips started to quiver, and then she began to giggle, and then in desperation she pulled the pillow over her head -- and in equal desperation I said, "Oh, no, no, no, we're not doing that again," and fled the room with indecorous haste.

[sigh] Good times. Even if my stomach muscles still do hurt a bit this morning.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Why the world still remembers Samuel Johnson... opposed to the number of people who a hundred years from now will remember you and me.

I once gave a twelve-week Sunday School series on clear thinking and spent, if memory serves, a big chunk of one of my hours trying to explain why special pleading gets us into so much trouble and leads to many bad decisions. ("Special pleading" is the rhetorical tactic by which you take the facts that support your agenda, and ignore all the facts that would go to prove that you're being an ass.) Johnson, however, disposes of the point in a couple of sentences (emphases original):

He observed, a principal source of erroneous judgment was, viewing things partially and only on one side [which is to say, special pleading]: as for instance, fortune-hunters, when they contemplated the fortunes singly and separately, it was a dazzling and tempting object; but when they came to possess the wives and their fortunes together, they began to suspect that they had not made quite so good a bargain.

Now sing we all Te Deum...

Yesterday evening Anya, Natasha and Kristina all landed jobs at the Afghan Cuisine restaurant -- and they all start today at noon.

I repeat: yesterday evening Anya, Natasha and Kristina all landed jobs at the Afghan Cuisine restaurant -- and they all start today at noon.

I'm not sure you guys quite caught that; so just to make sure there's no confusion on the point:

Yesterday evening Anya, Natasha and Kristina all landed jobs at the Afghan Cuisine restaurant -- and they all start today at noon.

< dance of joy>
< /dance of joy>

I have to buy them some white shirts and black pants, and therefore we're about to head for Wal-Mart -- but I had to share the good news.

Can't help but interject something here: the guy sitting next to me in the coffee shop just gave me one of those moments when for an instant you think you've been complimented, but then the next thing he says tells you that the compliment wasn't actually worth nearly as much as you first thought. I was sailing into the "Yesterday evening" and he suddenly said in admiration, "Man, you type fast."

And just as I was starting to feel good about myself, he added, "I mean, you're not even lookin' at the keys."

Ah, okay, so the bar's not exactly very high here...

Which reminds me of the one time in my life I've gotten nailed that way most spectacularly. When I was in my early-mid-twenties and still a serious athlete, and Kasia was six months old, I took the church youth group out to Enchanted Rock, slung Kasia into a backpack, and trotted up to the top of the Rock with the teenagers gasping along behind me in my wake. I stood up there enjoying the breeze, and one of the Papini twins comes up and puts her hands on her hips to catch her breath. (These wonderful young ladies were, I think, seventeen years old; their parents had come to the U.S. from Brazil because Seu Heber was studying to be an Episcopal priest. I'll always have a soft spot for them because they were the only people in the church not intimidated by the prospect of baby-sitting twins...and of course I'll always remember them for the very story I'm telling now.)

The young lady looks at me and says in some wonder, "Man, Kenny, you're in really good shape..." My chest starts to swell but unfortunately she's not quite done yet: "...for a man your age."

Samuel Johnson zinger of the day; or, The more things change...

Been re-reading Boswell in the evenings the last week or so, and was reminded last night of the fact that there are some professions that in every time and place...oh, let's just pass on the story (the emphasis is original):

Much enquiry having been made concerning a gentleman, who had quitted a company where Johnson was, and no information being obtained; at last Johnson observed, that 'he did not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was an attorney.'
And, since the following line is on the same page, I'll quote it again even though it's one of the five or six lines that everybody who knows who Samuel Johnson was, has already heard:

A gentleman who had been very unhappy in marriage, married immediately after his wife died: Johnson said, it was the triumph of hope over experience.
Which in turn reminds me of Ambrose Bierce's incomparable definition of love:

love, n.: A temporary insanity, curable by marriage.
But I should say, giving honor where it is due, that Sam Johnson is himself, like my parents, a sterling rebuke to Bierce's witticism, being a man who was happily married indeed. And therefore I provide one final observation from the Lexicographer:

When I [Boswell] censured a gentleman of my acquaintance for marrying a second time, as it shewed a disregard of his first wife, he said, "Not at all, Sir. On the contrary, were he not to marry again, it might be concluded that his first wife had given him a disgust to marriage; but by taking a second wife he pays the highest compliment to the first, by shewing that she made him so happy as a married man, that he wishes to be so a second time."

Hat tip:...[chuckling] Hey, not everything I run across is stolen from other people on the internet. Though my loyal readers by this time may be forgiven for thinking so.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sara Tucholsky update

ESPN does a seven-minute feature on the story I already designated my favorite story of the year.

By the way, when did Nick Nolte go into the Witness Protection Program? I swear, nobody tells me anything these days...

Helpful Suggestion of the Day Dept

My team had a big presentation today, part of which I wrote, and in which I described a particular kind of trade as a "shell" trade, which is of course an unfortunate choice of words in any audit-rich environment such as a modern energy trading business. (I was merely referring to the way in which we would structure this particular type of trade in a software program's data model, and just meant we would use it as a sort of container or template onto which schedulers could map trade volumes as required; but utter the phrase "shell trade" in the presence of an auditor and you might as well not bother trying to explain yourself.) So I ask my co-author, "What can we call this besides a 'shell' trade?" She hops over to and types in "shell," and receives the following helpful response:

Why Did The Chicken Cross the Road? Dept

Why did the chicken cross the road? Barrett Wakefield sends me a whole barnyard full of opinions. (Some old, some new...I particularly like the Nancy Grace one, but that's probably because I got so much pleasure from Jon Stewart's gleeful takedown of the Graceless One in the wake of the Duke lacrosse legal debacle. The Ernest Hemingway one is a timeless classic, of course...only, in order to appreciate it, you have actually to have read Hemingway; so no American public school graduate under the age of thirty will have a clue what's supposed to be funny about it.)

BARACK OBAMA: The chicken crossed the road because it was time for a CHANGE! The chicken wanted CHANGE!

JOHN MC CAIN: My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialogue with all the chickens on the other side of the road.

HILLARY CLINTON: When I was First Lady, I personally helped that little chicken to cross the road. This experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure -- right from Day One! -- that every chicken in this country gets the chance it deserves to cross the road. But then, this really isn't about me.......

DR. PHIL: The problem we have here is that this chicken won't realize that he must first deal with the problem on 'THIS' side of the road before it goes after the problem on the 'OTHER SIDE' of the road. What we need to do is help him realize how stupid he's acting by not taking on his 'CURRENT' problems before adding 'NEW' problems.

OPRAH: Well, I understand that the chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I'm going to give this chicken a car so that he can just drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of the chickens.

GEORGE W. BUSH: We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.

COLIN POWELL: Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road...

ANDERSON COOPER - CNN: We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed to have access to the other side of the road.

JOHN KERRY: Although I voted to let the chicken cross the road, I am now against it! It was the wrong road to cross, and I was misled about the chicken's intentions. I am not for it now, and will remain against it.

NANCY GRACE: That chicken crossed the road because he's GUILTY! You can see it in his eyes and the way he walks.

PAT BUCHANAN: To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.

MARTHA STEWART: No one called me to warn me which way that chicken was going. I had a standing order at the Farmer's Market to sell my eggs when the price dropped to a certain level. No little bird gave me any insider information.

DR SEUSS: Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a toad? Yes, the chicken crossed the road, but why it crossed I've not been told.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To die in the rain. Alone.

JERRY FALWELL: Because the chicken was gay! Can't you people see the plain truth?' That's why they call it the 'other side.' Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And if you eat that chicken, you will become gay too. I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the liberal media white washes with seemingly harmless phrases like 'the other side. That chicken should not be crossing the road. It's as plain and as simple as that.

GRANDPA: In my day we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.

BARBARA WALTERS: Isn't that interesting? In a few moments, we will be listening to the chicken tell, for the first time, the heart warming story of how it experienced a serious case of molting, and went on to accomplish its life long dream of crossing the road.

ARISTOTLE: It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.

JOHN LENNON: Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads together, in peace.

BILL GATES: I have just released eChicken2007, which will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, and balance your check book. Internet Explorer is an integral part of eChicken. This new platform is much more stable and will never cra...#@&&^(C% ......... reboot.

ALBERT EINSTEIN: Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?

BILL CLINTON: I did not cross the road with THAT chicken. What is your definition of chicken?

AL GORE: I invented the chicken!

COLONEL SANDERS: Did I miss one?

DICK CHENEY: Where's my gun?

AL SHARPTON: Why are all the chickens white? We need some black chickens.

I Wouldn't Bore That Man If I Were You Dept

Aggie Karl inadvertently reminded me this morning of Alexander Woolcott's notoriously uncharitable, but undeniably witty, way of dealing with bores. I know of at least three separate zingers just off the top of my head:

Zinger the First

Woolcott is walking briskly along a New York sidewalk when he espies, approaching him from the other direction, a notorious bore. The bore spots Woolcott in his turn, and as they approach each other, the bore cries out happily, "Alexander, my friend, what's going on?"

Woolcott doesn't even break stride. "I am."

Zinger the Second

Woolcott has sat for several minutes through a monologue by a notorious bore at his club. Suddenly he breaks into the ceaseless soliloquy:

"Excuse me, my foot seems to have gone to sleep. Do you mind if I join it?"

Zinger the Third

An gentleman who is lunching with Woolcott and several of their mutual acquaintances embarks upon an amusing anecdote. Unfortunately he gets tangled up along the way, loses track of where he is in the story, distracts himself with a pointless digression and then can't find his way back, and at last, in desperation, says lamely, "Well, to make a long story short..."

Woolcott's verdict is instant, terse, and emphatic: "Too late!"

Snippet of a coffee-shop conversation

[Scene: the Peril's favorite coffee shop, early morning, with a short line of customers waiting to place their orders to the lone barista. A retro Eighties tune of some sort is playing over the coffee shop's sound system, and the gentleman at the head of the line begins to hum along with it.]

BARISTA [cheerfully but wearily]: Well, you're awake this morning, at least.

MUSICAL GENTLEMAN [pleasantly]: I certainly am. Aren't you?

BARISTA [shaking head as she begins to prepare his coffee]: No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o.

MUSICAL GENTLEMAN [in apparent astonishment]: But how is that possible? You work in a coffee shop!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It's Dubya's fault

Kinya's cranky this morning...seems she's sore all over because she had to do the President's fitness test yesterday, which involved push-ups and running a mile, and which has resulted in her having had some highly unladylike things to say about the President's character and intelligence. The following conversation ensues in the car this morning, once she has explained why she is not her ordinary chipper self...

PAPA: Ah, the fitness test. Well, did you pass?

KINYA: I think so.

[Note: since Kinya is as healthy as a horse, is as energetic as a pink bunny, and has a build designed by God for running, my question had been purely rhetorical. Plus, knowing the test was coming up, I've been pumping steroids into her for the last month.]

PAPA: [chuckling] I'm sure you passed; you're a thoroughly healthy kid.

KINYA: [grimacing because she's not used to this sore muscle thing] I ran in my skirt...

[Several seconds of silence]

KINYA: I did okay, I came in first...

PAPA: [laughing delightedly] I'd say you probably passed.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I suppose you could call it "nonverbal communication"

Got a haircut over the weekend. Wandered into work this morning, and my co-worker Felicia stopped to say, "Hey, Kenny, like the new look."

I thanked her. Then she added, "There's just one problem -- now that you've got short hair, how are we supposed to be able to tell when you've been thinking hard?"

I thought this was pretty funny, and mentioned it to my friend Jennifer later that morning. She grinned and said, "Yeah, we were all talking about that the other were late for a status meeting and [project manager] August said, 'Could somebody go find Kenny -- but if his hair's all messed up, leave him alone because that means he's figuring something out...'"

Speaking of Jennifer, I haven't often seen her speechless, but Duane Liong (he whose spare bedroom I lived in for a few months) reduced her to that hapless state this morning. Jennifer, who is an important informational resource to me in my task of single-parenting teenage girls, was patiently explaining to me why it costs so much more money to return a young lady's hair to its natural brown from an artificial jet-black than it took to make it jet-black in the first place. (These are matters in which I am the neo-est of neophytes.) Duane came up and I said something to him about how much I appreciated the help Jennifer is to me on such matters. "Jen has been a huge help to me," I said, "because Jennifer was once a teenaged girl, which I never was."

Duane has three-year-old twin girls, of course, and so he said, "Hey, I could use somebody like that, too" -- apparently forgetting, momentarily, the fact that he has an exceptionally wise and competent wife. Then, I suppose on the no-time-like-the-present principle, he turned cheerfully to Jennifer and asked happily:

"So, what was it like?"

The problem with Duane's questions, the Gentle Reader perceives, is their undue specificity...

The politics are moving out

Pretty simple: I'm separating my politics and religion out away from my personal anecdotes and the "Dept" items, i.e., the silliness. The former will now live at Politics of the Peril. The latter will remain here, on the blog you're looking at right now (i.e., Redneck Peril), which will become a more or less controversy-free zone.

That's all for now.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Trinity Sunday

This being Trinity Sunday, I thought it worthwhile to link to two old discussions.

First, there's my own previous attempt to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to a particularly intelligent high school student, which also contains an exploration of a far more important topic, namely, the distinction between univocal and analogical speech, especially as it relates to talking and thinking about God and our relationship with Him. It also emphasizes something that to me should always be at the forefront of any discussion of the Trinity and yet never is: that the most important question about the Trinity is, "What difference does it make in my life that God is a Trinity?"

Second, there's one of the most remarkably civil and enlightening discussions of a religious topic that I've ever read or participated in, a classic comment-section discussion that could only have happened at Alexandra von Maltzan's salon of a blog.

If you only have time to follow one of those two links then pretend I didn't mention the first one; the second one is MUCH better.

In which the Fires of (presumably) Hell appear in the Scriptures rather earlier than one expects

In reading this morning the Genesis 1 account of creation, in which God creates mankind as a bi-gendered species, the lay reader at Ascension informed us:

"...male and female He cremated them..."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Probably already told this joke...

...but I tend to tell it a bit differently every time and I like the version that I came up with today. If you've already heard it, feel free to skip it.

Young Rudi Schatzwalter (a) was a 160-IQ genius, and (b) cared about nothing in the world except earthquakes. Spent every waking minute thinking about 'em and studying 'em, and by the time our hero was in his 50's, he'd gotten to where he could read his charts and predict quakes in advance, every time.

So one fine spring morning he's reading his charts and realizes, this is it, the Big One is a-comin'. He gets on the phone and calls up the Governator:

"Governor, you have to declare a massive evacuation. Next Thursday at 3:23 p.m. there's gonna be the mother of all earthquakes, and everything west of the San Andreas Fault is gonna slide into the ocean and disappear."

Ah-nold knows better than to argue with the great Schatzwalter, and so the word goes out, and the huddled masses move their huddle, so to speak. By Thursday noon not a soul is left in the endangered area except for three stoned, toothless hippies and Alec Baldwin.

Fox News is all excited because it's gotten the great man himself to agree to fly over the devastation in their news helicopter to give them an exclusive on his reaction to the titanic event. 3:00 comes, then 3:20, then 3:21...3:22...the minute hands clicks over to 3:23 and sure enough, with an indescribable roar the ground twists and rears itself and then everything...east of the San Andreas Fault slides into the ocean.

And up in the helicopter, Schatzwalter slaps his palm to his forehead and groans in frustration, "Oh, @#$#, I got the sign backwards!"

Oh, you gotta love this

Bonnie Richardson's day at the Texas 1A state title track meet reminds me of the old story of the Texas cattle town that called in the Texas Rangers to stop a shoot-'em-up chaos that had spiraled out of control for days without a break. The mayor and other town worthies stood on the train station platform, waiting with desperate eagerness as the train that was supposed to be bringing the Rangers pulled in. The train stopped, and out stopped one single gentleman of phlegmatic mien, wearing a brightly-polished star on his chest. And then the train pulled on out of the station.

The mayor, rather in a state of shock from disappointment and disbelief, walked up to the bestarred gentleman. "Are you a Texas Ranger?"

"Yessir, I am."

The mayor was sick with frustration. "You mean to tell me they only sent us one Ranger?"

The Ranger looked the mayor calmly in the eye. "Well, ain't there just th' one riot?"

And now the modern-day version:

"You mean Rochelle only sent one track-and-field athlete?"

"Well, ain't there just th' one track meet?"

Monday, May 12, 2008

Well done, thou good and faithful servant

It's all over the web this evening, but just because everybody else is honoring the passing of the heroine Irena Sendler doesn't mean I shouldn't join in as well.

Stop right now, by the way, and go read the article I just linked to. The only reason I'm not spending an hour writing Ms. Sendler's story is that I could not hope to do it as well as Gavriel Horan already has.

There are several articles marking the passing of Irene Sendler; this one is as good as any.

It is characteristic of all truly heroic servants that they are too focused on those whom they serve to think of their own heroism, and thus one can't be surprised by the following:

Yet Irena Sendler sees herself as anything but a heroine. "I only did what was normal. I could have done more," she says. "This regret will follow me to my death."

Well, she should be at peace now. Indeed, if that picture is anything to go by, she found peace and joy long ago -- only a lifetime of smiling can leave a 97-year-old woman with a face like that.

But you know, I especially like the fact that Ms. Sendler's justly deserved -- but shamefully long delayed -- fame received a dramatic boost in 1999 from a group of Kansas high school students who discovered her story, and were so moved by it that they wrote and performed a play -- which has since been carried on over 200 other stages worldwide, and which single-handedly brought Irena's story back to the world's attention. The kids have been called "the rescuers of the rescuer." As Irena herself put it in a letter to the girls, "My emotion is being shadowed by the fact that no one from the circle of my faithful coworkers, who constantly risked their lives, could live long enough to enjoy all the honors that now are falling upon me.... I can't find the words to thank you, my dear girls.... Before the day you have written the play 'Life in a Jar' -- nobody in my own country and few in the whole world knew about my person and my work during the war ..."

Why not go order the DVD of Life in a Jar? I defy you to find a better cause than the one to which 100% of your donation will go.

Why we need guys

Because it would never occur to girls to do this:

The master of the faux pas strikes again

There's an update to the autobiographical note I appended at the end of my recent post about gratitude. Alas, it does not reflect well on yours truly and his social competence.

You will remember that I was impressed because the teenager at the coffee shop went to special trouble to thank me for a small favor I had done for her. Well, on Sunday I stopped in on my way to church to get some coffee, and Daniela was behind the counter. The Miller Outdoor Theatre ballet performance I had told her about had taken place the night before, and she and her mother, she told me happily, had in fact gone to see the ballet, and they had had a great time...and, she added, they had looked over the list of future events and really wanted to go see Beauty and the Beast.

I pointed out, "You do realize that one's specially designed for little kids, right? It's one of their 11:00 a.m. summer performances."

"Is it really?" she asked in surprise. Then, with a bit of embarrassment, she said, "Well, I want to go anyway."

"I don't see why you can't," I said cheerfully. "It's in the summer, after all, so it's not like you'll have classes."

I become instantly aware that I have, apparently, said something stupid. Daniela is looking at me quizzically, with an expression that says plainly, "You are a very nice man and therefore I'm not going to be rude enough to say this out loud, but what you just said makes no sense whatsoever." Clearly choosing her words carefully, she says, "But I'm not in school."

My finely-honed brain draws the conclusion that in assuming I have been dealing all this time with a high-school student, I have erred. An attempt at clarification seems in order; so I say in some confusion, "Oh, you're in college?"

She shakes her head patiently: "No, I'm already done with school."

Somewhat incredulously, I ask, "Wait a minute, how old are you?"

"I'm twenty-three."


(Postscript: the Troika think it's hilarious that glupiy Papa thought the kid young lady was in high school, because they say that it's obvious to even the most casual observer that Daniela is older than they are. So, another blow to their due regard for Papa's omniscience....[sigh])

UPDATE: As several of my friends have pointed out, it could have been much worse -- instead of thinking this nice young twenty-three-year-old was seventeen, I could have thought she was thirty. Um, point taken; and I am now officially looking on the bright side.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Important campaign news from The Onion

"Number Of Acceptable Things Candidates Can Say Now Down To Four"

I especially like the fourth one.

"As If All The Free Drinks At The Bar Weren't Enough" Dept

The person who told me about this one would just as soon not get credit. I admit that I myself waffled back and forth between "can't post" and "have to post" before linking to any article whose headline is "Great tits cope well with [global] warming"...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

On gratitude

First, a story from Etiquette Hell's Faux Pas of the Year archive:

A little memory from about ten years ago, when I was working as a checkout girl in a supermarket:

It was close to Christmas, and very busy in our store, when a lady at my checkout realized she had too little money to pay for all her shopping. She paused for a second, thinking which items to take back, when the guy next in line said: "Ah, you know what, it's pretty much Christmas, I’ll pay for your shopping". (The lady had a small baby and looked a bit worse for wear as well, so I thought, such a nice gesture...)

I think a few seconds passed before the lady quickly ran back into the store, picked up a chicken, and added it to her shopping. Me and the guy were dumbfounded, and he still paid for her. I think we were still wondering "what the ...." when she was already up and out the shop.

It still makes me laugh when I think of how silent the queue was when she did that, blinking their eyes, it was so out of this world. It took a few seconds to compose ourselves and get on with things.

[chuckling] I was once socially acquainted with a gentleman who (a) treated other people with more or less open contempt for their needs and concerns, and (b) was perpetually aggrieved, no matter what personal favors one might do for him or how much personal inconvenience one might freely undertake on his behalf, by what he perceived as the world's insufficient attention to his demands. Unsurprisingly his life is littered with former friendships, including, I regret to say, mine. I remember one conversation in particular, which ran something like this:

1. He compained that I had mistreated him, by making his life harder in a specific fashion. (I doubt very seriously that he'll read my blog, and even if he does I think I can count on a sort of anti-"You're So Vain" syndrome: he probably won't think this song is about him. But still I think I'll be a bit careful with the details.)

2. I pointed out that not only had I not made his life harder, but that I had in fact gone out of my way to make his life easier, precisely by doing the opposite of what he was accusing me of having done. This, naturally, just made him angrier.

3. A couple of minutes later, as he was still carrying on with his accusatory self-pitying rant, he said bitterly, "And don't expect me to be grateful just because you occasionally [do him that particular kind of favor]!"

At that point, alas, I chose honesty, which in itself wouldn't have been so bad except that I chose a tactlessly literal way to express myself: I answered calmly, "I do not expect you to be grateful."

And now I think you can pretty well write that friendship off.

So it's nice when every now and then you run into somebody whose parents have taught them the grace and virtue of gratitude that my former friend so sorely lacks. I'll close this post with a pleasant recent memory: not long ago I had a chance to do a small favor for a young lady who works at the coffee shop where I pass quite a bit of my time. She's a very pleasant and cheerful and friendly kid, about the same age as my own daughters, and besides it's fun to do nice things for people when you can; so when the chance came up to do her this small favor I happily did so. And she said, "Thank you very much," and that was fine.

Then I came in the next afternoon, and Junior (one of the other kids who works at the coffee shop) smiled as soon as I walked in and said, "Oh, Mr. Pierce [note that it seems I have irretrievably passed on into The Older Generation], Daniela wanted me to be sure to tell you again, if you came in this evening, how grateful she is for those tickets."

Heavens alive, a young person putting some forethought and trouble into the expression of gratitude beyond a simple off-the-cuff thank-you? My word, there may be hope for this country yet.

UPDATE: Oops, it turns out that the "kid" with whose manners I was so impressed is indeed from a younger generation, but not exactly from the younger generation. [sigh]

Some interesting ruminations on the role of fashion, from The Manolo

I'm serious, I thought this was interesting and a bit thought-provoking.

Not that the provocation of thought is my principal motivation when I head over to The Manolo's blog.

Insightful Gossip Columnist Line of the Week Dept

"These two [namely, Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon] have been inseparable since getting married last week..."

I can't top raincoaster's response: "Um, thanks for that."

Ice Storm Warnings in Hell

On the assumption that a majority of "the 300 plus members of the crew of the television show Ugly Betty" are Democrats (we're talking Hollywood, right? reasonable assumption?) I think it is fair to say that a bunch of Hollywood Democrats have just discovered the concept that explotative taxes on Big Business (and no industry embodies Big Business more than the entertainment industry does) cause the government to wind up with less money, not more.

Arthur Laffer, call your office.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"Well, That's One Way To Avoid Jury Duty" Dept

I didn't make up the headline, by the way -- that was the headline in the print edition of the Chronicle this morning. Alas, the humor was edited out by the time the story made it online, replaced by the pedestrian headline, "Police: Prospective juror in Houston pot trial caught smoking it."

I also deeply regret the fact that the last line of the story was edited. The online version:

"Mayo remained in the Harris County Jail on a $500 bail Tuesday night and could not be reached for comment."

The print version this morning read:

"Mayo remained in the Harris County Jail on a $500 bail Tuesday night and could not be reached for comment on her alleged morning toke."

Somebody get that online editor a humor transplant now, before it's too late.

Also, Aggie Karl directed me to this story of a young man whose methods of financing are creative, but whose grasp of the finer details of high finance is regrettably incomplete. Now, Karl told me about the $360,000,000,000 personal check the young man forged...but Karl left out the bit about how the would-be record company mogul carried a gun and marijuana to the bank with him, a tidbit that to my mind enhances the entertainment value of the story.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A great question and an even better suggestion

Fred Schwarz points out the inconsistency between the Libertine Left's attitude toward sex (especially among teenagers), and its attitude towards most of life's other vices (and for that matter most of life's economically useful activities). And then he suggests a possible way to get the Libertine Left to stop doing everything in its power to make it as easy as possible for teenaged kids to be as promiscuous as is practicable. Hey, it might actually work.

As my colleague Kevin Williamson wrote recently: “Why is the Left libertarian on sex but authoritarian on practically everything else?” Perhaps someone should point out to them that sex often leads to smoking.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A bit of joy sneaking its way back in

Found myself singing cheerfully while walking out to my car yesterday.

Used to do that all the time...pretty much all day long, around the house, I was singing. That stopped happening a while back. Heard myself singing today and thought, "Hey, I remember that guy. Kinda liked him. Hope he sticks around a while."

Probably has something to do with the fact that I mailed out a few thousand in checks over the last two days and managed to pay off all the debts I'd been saddled with before moving out and getting my own non-joint bank account, except for the bankruptcy payments and the IRS debt. 'Course that still leaves me plenty to spend the next few years paying off, but all the same it's a very satisfying bit of symbolic progress. Heaven knows I've been squeezing the pennies for months. Now I can turn my attention to the IRS -- get those monthly payments scheduled, hunker down, and finish digging out of the hole, which will take years rather than months. But paying off that $1,300 ambulance bill from the time Anya had to go to the emergency room two years ago...[sigh of satisfaction] I'm gettin' there. Since I moved out I've known I was finally moving in the right direction financially (even with the massive legal fees), but it's always nice to pass a milestone and feel the progress getting made.

Plus, it looks like Anya or Natasha or Kinya or even all three may be able to get jobs at the Russian Bear, working for my friend Ayát, who himself lived in an Almaty children's home for a few years after his mother died, and is a big fan of the Troika. Woo-hoo!

So, a good couple of days. Have to sign off now; going to go see my kids act in their church play.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Absolutely hands-down my favorite story of the year even though there are months to go

It's baseball (well, softball). It's sportsmanship, which apparently still survives to this day in remote pockets of the American sports landscape. It's a moment that nobody who was there will ever forget.

And it even has a picture of cute girls.

You must read this story.

The Peril has spoken. So let it be written. So let it be done. (That means, go read it already, for heaven's sake.)

Did I mention I love this story?

HT: Ace, of all people -- who lables the link, " Awwwww: Cute Girls' Softball Story" but characteristically adds, "Except for the part about helping your opponents, I guess." (My children -- you know who you are! -- are still forbidden to follow any links to Ace's blog, by the way.)

Vodkapundit copes with global warming

I'll spare you my take on global warming. Especially since there are repercussions for heresy.

But I don't mind if you enjoy Vodkapundit's tongue-in-cheek guide to global warming survival.

Speakers of Truth to Power Dept

Not being a huge fan of the media in general, I enjoyed this joke (which I have cleaned up slightly for this family blog) from my friend Mac, a fine commenter in the old days over at ATB.

Dan Rather, Katie Couric, and an Israeli commando have been captured by terrorists in Iraq. The leader of the terrorists tells them that he will grant them each one last request before they were beheaded.

Rather says, "Well, I'm a Texan, so I'd like one last bowlful of hot spicy chili."

The leader nods to an underling who leaves and returns with the chili.

Rather polishes it off, leans back, checks to make sure the camera is rolling, and says, "Now I can die content. Courage!"

Couric says, "I'm a Real Reporter, dammit. I want to take out my tape recorder and describe the scene here and what's about to happen. Maybe someday someone will hear it and know that I was on the job till the end."

The terror leader directs an aide to hand over the tape recorder and Couric dictates some comments. She then smiles her most carefully polished smile and says, "Now I can die perky."

The leader turns and scowls at the commando. "And now, Israeli dog, what is your final wish?"

"Kick me in the butt," answers the soldier calmly.

"What?" asks the leader in fury. "Will you mock us even in your last hour?"

"No, I'm not kidding. I want you to kick me in the butt," insists the Israeli cheerfully.

So the leader shoves him into the middle of the room and aims an enthusiastic kick at his butt -- but in the blink of an eye the Israeli spins away from the kick, smashes his fist into the astonished terrorist's larynx, spins the corpse in front of him as a shield, yanks the late terrorist's pistol from its holster, and drills three neat holes perfectly centered in the foreheads of each of the three guards. Without pausing an instant he springs across the room, snatches up a machine gun, dive-rolls back across the floor and sprays the doorway just as the guards from the next room burst in. Then, with silent, predatory grace he disappears through the door. Thirty more seconds of gunfire and chaos ensue; then an eerie quiet falls. At last the commando strides calmly back into the room and begins untying Rather and Couric.

In confusion, they ask him, "We don't understand...why didn't you just kill them to begin with? Why did you ask them to kick you in the butt first?"

"What," replies the Israeli shortly, "and have you two jerks report that I was the aggressor?"