Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A classic don't-try-this-at-home video

First saw this shortly after going to Kazakhstan for the first time; so the empty half-finished concrete apartment complexes looked very familiar.

Skip ahead to the 2:00 mark, and then it starts getting outrageous. At the 5:30 mark a friend joins in and it turns into follow-the-leader like we certainly never played when I was a kid.

Now that sounds like fun

My friend Kris has told me I can forward on to you guys a recent e-mail that I got a kick out of:
...I had lunch with my mom and dad today. Mom's been working on gathering info on her family members and origin out of Belarus and their emmigration. (Her mother came over at 14, following her parents years earlier, speaking no English.) She's been able to gather quite a bit, thanks to the internet and Ellis Island.

She recently came across stacks of letters that were written from relatives that stayed behind in the 'old country' written to family and friends here, from the 20s into the 60s. She found a translator who comes into Austin fairly regularly who is working on the letters for her.

The most recent bunch he did for her took quite a while; he said that they were written in a combination of Russian, Polish and Ukrainian, and written in Latin script rather than Cyrillian (sp?)! On top of all that, there were spelling and grammar errors...

I thought that with your knowledge of linguistics you'd get a kick out of the challenge this poor guy has with the letters! But what a sense of accomplishment he must feel to finish one....
That's the coolest thing I've heard for a while. Thanks a bunch, Kris.

I see from the bottom of her e-mail, by the way, that she too has a blog; and since she has a pretty deadly sense of humor her own self I am happy to direct you guys her way: It's Kris, with a "K".

And You Thought Your Job Was Bad Dept

Thanks -- if that's the word I want -- to Karl.

The Devil's Dictionary: Beg (v.)

To ask for something with an earnestness proportional to the belief that it will not be given.

The Devil's Dictionary: Befriend (v.t.)

To make an ingrate.

The Devil's Dictionary: Beauty (n.)

The power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a husband.

The Devil's Dictionary: Barometer (n.)

An ingenious instrument which indicates what kind of weather we are having.

This reminds me of a true story about Dizzy Dean, who was broadcasting games on the West Coast when World War II broke out. Among other things, radio stations were told that they could not discuss the weather on-air, lest the Japanese invasion forces glean useful information. (Paranoid? Nah...)

Dizzy thought this was pretty stupid but naturally had to go along with it. Came the day when the game was interrupted by a rain delay, and Dizzy said to his listening audience:

"Folks, the game has been temporarily stopped for a moment. I ain't allowed to tell you why, but if you're curious, just stick your head out the window..."

Monday, September 29, 2008

At Least It Isn't "For The Good Times" Dept

Popular funeral songs in Australia these days? How about "Highway to Hell," "Another One Bites the Dust," or "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead"?

The title of the post, by the way, refers to a funeral my dad once preached, in which one of the dead dude's multiple mistresses -- they all got along reasonably well with each other and with his wife, as I recall -- sang the late lamented's favorite song, "For the Good Times"...much to the horror of my rather visually-oriented mother. You will, of course, remember that that chorus begins:

Lay your head upon my pillow
Hold your warm and tender body close to mine...

Given the context, my mom found those lyrics, shall we say, a mite jarring.

Knight in Shining Armor Dept

Um...I don't think Herr Mueller read his Cervantes with enough attention to the nuances of knight-errantry.

Note to self

The next time you need to call your daughter's doctor-of-things-feminine to set up her next appointment, and you can't remember said doctor's name and you decide to go look for it in your old e-mails...well, it'll work better if you search for "gynecologist," rather than "misogynist."

End of note to (apparently unskilled in English vocabulary) self.

Carpe diem -- that is, enjoying it while I can

UPDATE: In case you're wondering why I seem rather pessimistic about OU's chances of holding onto that top spot, check out some of the teams remaining between OU and a national championship:
  • Texas, currently ranked #5, at the Texas State Fair.
  • Kansas, currently ranked #16, in Norman.
  • Texas Tech, currently ranked #7, in Norman.
  • Oklahoma State, currently ranked #22 and on its way up the rankings, in Stillwater.
  • The Big 12 North champion, most likely Missouri, currently ranked #4, in Kansas City.
  • Whoever is the other last team standing come kickoff of the BCS title game.
I'll tell you a secret: one of those games, they gonna lose. Don't know which one because I genuinely think OU is better than any of those teams other than that last one, and so it'll be the game where they come out at something less than their best against a team that's almost as good as they are and they catch a couple of critical bad breaks. But you know it's gonna happen somewhere along the way.

Shocker! I, not Marina, was the one being a moron

I quote from this earlier Peril post in which I tease Marina about what I thought was a relatively silly thing for her to say, on the occasion of August's being unable to read the archaic Russian version of the Lord's Prayer that was written on my whiteboard:
...Marina sticks her head in the door and says, pointing at the whiteboard, "Hey, August, can you read that?"

August stares at it for five seconds or so, clearly trying to figure out whether anybody's handwriting can really be as villianously illegible as mine appears to be, until it dawns on him that it's in Russian. He chuckles and says, "Nope, it's beyond me."

Marina generously excuses him: "That's not surprising -- it's a relic."

Which left me wondering, given that her excuse seemed to be based on the fact that the prayer was writting in archaic Russian: if it had been in modern Russian, would she have expected him to be able to read it? ;-)
There's just one problem with that: Marina finally got around to reading that blog post, and promptly informed me that she did not, in fact, say, "It's a relic."

What she said was, "It's Cyrillic."


All teasing laughter is now officially redirected at yours truly.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Best Punning Literary Allusion To Start A Sports Article So Far Today Dept

The opening line of Andy Staples's article arguing that Georgia got knocked completely out of the national championship hunt last night, on the field that ever since the days of Grantland Rice has been known as "between the hedges:"

"Hedges to hedges, dust to dust."

Since I seem to be on a punning-poetry kick...

...here's James Kenneth Stephen's classic takedown of Rudyard Kipling and Rider Haggard, which has earned immortality on the strength of its final two lines (but, please, don't skip to the end without reading it all the way through, or you lose the impact):

Will there never come a season
Which shall rid us from the curse
Of a prose which knows no reason
And an unmelodious verse:
When the world shall cease to wonder
At the genius of an Ass,
And a boy's eccentric blunder
Shall not bring success to pass:
When mankind shall be delivered
From the clash of magazines,
And the inkstand shall be shivered
Into countless smithereens:
When there stands a muzzled stripling,
Mute, beside a muzzled bore:
When the Rudyards cease their Kipling
And the Haggards Ride no more.

That's Why They Call It "Booty" Dept

Tina Yeakley, 32, is quite the shoplifter. Given the inventory of swag she was caught with, one really wants to know what's on her weekly shopping list. (Or perhaps really doesn't want to know, on second thought.) When apprehended by an investigating officer, Ms. Yeakley's purse and blue jeans contained the following items on which she had unilaterally granted herself a 100% discount:
  • Two dental kits...

  • ...one bottle of cologne...

  • ...one toy car...

  • ...twelve packs of Ponds Facial Strips...

  • ...one bottle of antifungal cream...

  • ...two fingernail kits...

  • ...and two bottles of foundation primer.

But wait, there's more! That's just what the officer found in her purse. After that, he explained that he was going to have to pat her down, at which point she unbuttoned her britches and proceeded to remove from concealment...
  • ...ten DVDs, among them Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and (in what for her sake we can hope is not an omen of things to come) Death Row...

  • ...one Play Station video game...

  • ...one pair of white tube socks...

  • ...one black and red bra...

  • ...one black and red pair of panties with the word "pouty" printed on them...

  • ...three pairs of size 4T boys underwear...

  • ...and two women's rings.

You go, girl! (I say this in the same spirit as that in which folks in Dallas, back in some of the bleaker years, used to sport a bumper sticker that read, "Go, Cowboys! -- and take the Mavericks with ya.")

HT: Dave, one of whose irrepressible commenters adds the following one-two punch of a comment:
And that's why they call it "booty."

Does this stolen merchandise make my butt look fat?

More poetry from Bennett Cerf

I tracked down the source of a poem I posted a few days ago; it was indeed Bennett Cerf. To refresh your memory:

Mary had a swarm of bees
And they, to save their lives,
Went everywhere that Mary went,
'Cause Mary had the hives.

When I did track it down, the same page had another one that had slipped my memory:

Schubert had a horse named Sarah
He took her to a big parade
And all the while the band was playing
Schubert's Sarah neighed.

The Punster's Dictionary: J - Z (well, T, actually)

Jacket blurb: fable of contents.

Miniskirt: hemme fatale.

Molasses: additional girls.

Polygon: "This...is an ex-parrot!"

Ramshackle: a chain used to tie up he-goats.

Sunbather: a fry in the ointment.

Teutonic: not enough gin.

And while I know I previously defined alimony as "the fee a woman charges for name-dropping," Joey Adams provides the following alternative definition: "the billing without the cooing."

Finally, a set of synonyms all basically meaning the same thing:

Inconceivable / unbearable / impregnable: in need of fertility treatments.

The Devil's Dictionary: Bait (n.)

A preparation that renders the hook more palatable. The best kind is beauty.

The Devil's Dictionary: Backbite (v.t.)

To speak of a man as you find him when you know he can't find you.

The Devil's Dictionary: Back (n.)

That part of your friend which it is your privilege to contemplate in your adversity.

I feel it incumbent upon me to observe, however, that my recent adversity has proven that my own friends are true as steel. Too bad about yours...

The Devil's Dictionary: Bacchus (n.)

A convenient deity invented by the ancients as an excuse for getting drunk.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

In which we observe that (a) a man is defined by what WE think is important rather than by his own interests, and (b) that ESPN is pretty morbid

In the first place, Newman was one of our great actors and one of our great philanthropists, plus not at all a bad chef. So naturally ESPN headlines its story, "Racing enthusiast Paul Newman dies..."

And in the second place -- no, I don't want to watch, thank you very much. You sickos.

P.S. Yes, of course I know that's not what they meant. [Rolling eyes.]

The Punster's Dictionary: C - I

More daffynitions from Mr. Cerf, some of them slightly amended because I thought I could do better... ;-)

Camelot: a place where one parks dromedaries.

Comic relief: when the Life of the Party goes home.

Disbar: as distinguished from some other bar.

Dogma: the mother of a puppy.

Exchequer: a retired supermarket employee.

Gigolo: a fee-male.

Hangover: the wrath of grapes.

Hypothenuse: the upstairs bathroom is occupied.

Incongruous: where laws are made.

More to come tomorrow...betcha can't wait.

The Devil's Dictionary: Auctioneer (n.)

The man who proclaims with a hammer that he has picked a pocket with his tongue.

The Devil's Dictionary: Asperse (v.t.)

Maliciously to ascribe to another vicious actions which one has not had the temptation and opportunity to commit.

Gotta get me one of these

That is all.

Except...I could have sworn I read Dave's Gift Guide every year. What happened in 2006 to cause me to miss this one???

At any rate, the same manufacturer produces this item-that-would-be-helpful-if-I-were-, um, -of-the-female-persuasion. And which my daughters are absolutely forbidden to purchase.

Come to think of it, my sons are even more absolutely forbidden to purchase it...

Just A Little Bit Faster And I'll Pop The Clutch Dept

You know, I used to do this all the time with my little Honda whenever, as was my habit, I forgot and left the lights on and ran the battery down. For the benefit of townies, one of the advantages of having a stick shift (especially if first is geared pretty low and the car is light enough for you to push single-handedly, or if you live in mountains and form the habit of always parking on a slope) is that all you have to do to start the thing is put it into neutral, open the front door so that you can push the car with one hand and steer with the other, get the car rolling five or ten miles an hour, hop in, shove it into first, and pop the clutch. The compression in the engine causes it to start firing and there you go, now your engine's running.

Really and truly, the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at Princeton, I spent the whole summer starting my little Honda Civic by pushing it because I didn't feel I could afford to buy a whole brand new -- and unnecessary -- battery. And the Troika thought it was really funny when, a couple of weeks ago, I backed into Duane's driveway because the battery on the Civic hadn't had lots of time to charge since the last time I'd left the lights on, and I wasn't sure the battery would be strong enough yet to fire the old girl up. "Papa, why are you backing into Miz Desiree's driveway?" "'Cause it might be hard to start the car." [To each other, with rolling of eyes, the Russian teenaged girl equivalent of...] "Well, you ask a silly question..."

And sure enough, when we came back out and I turned the key to start the car, the starter ground out a couple of cycles and then died, and the girls started to groan -- at which point I simply pushed in the clutch, and we rolled silently down the driveway and into the street, and I popped the clutch and she coughed cheerfully into life. And I looked in the rearview mirror at three rather wide-eyed girls and winked at 'em, and they started laughing, and that was that.

But all this is mostly to say: I knew you could do that with a car. But in China, apparently, they've figured out that it works with planes too:

It's actually a pretty funny story -- those are actually the passengers out there pushing the plane. I encourage you to go read it.

HT: Mr. Barry, who observes, "The difference between first class and coach? It's the service."

Oh, Lordy, Not Another One Of Those E-Mail Scam Letters Dept

Beloved One in the Lord,

Please do not be alarmed at the way I am contacting you, and I trust God you will see your way to assisting me.

I am Mr. Henry Paulson, and I currently serve as Secretary of Treasury in a North American country, the US of A. I am due to be receiving the sum of USD700 billion (seven hundred billions), only the money seems to be held up. I got your name from the girl who runs the computer. This is where I need your help....
Read the rest here.

Hat tip: Vodkapundit

Presented without comment, because this is a family blog

The fine folks who run the public schools at Pittsburg have just solved that problem they used to have about how their kids weren't learning anything or doing their work, and therefore were, you know, failing their classes.

There's nothing I think I could manage to say without profanity and thus it is nothing that I will be saying. Other than this: I am shocked -- shocked! -- to discover that the Superintendent, when pressed to defend the indefensible, uses the excuse-all phrase, "It's a fairness issue." Ah, yes, good ol' American "fairness," without the appeal to which no injustice or idiocy can be perpetrated in the modern U. S. of A.

P.S. I can't stand not to point out this second brilliant quote from the Superintendent...okay, he doesn't deserve that title; so he shall henceforth be referred to herein as the Subintendent. So let it be written; so let it be done. I can't stand not to point out this second brilliant indirect quote from the Subintendent:
[The Subintendent added] that low percentage scores sometimes are given to students because of their attitude or work ethic, rather than their level of accomplishment.

And God forbid -- God forbid, I say -- that students should learn in school that a good attitude and a good work ethic will prove indispensable in every imaginable useful endeavor they might choose to essay in adult life. Punished for a bad attitude? Punished for laziness? In a school? What's this world coming to? Why, if you tolerate that, the next thing you know somebody will start expecting the Subintendent himself to work hard, perform well, and maintain a good attitude...and, um, let's just head that undesirable development off at the pass, shall we? Or else he might have to get a real job in which the response to one's failure to achieve the stated goals of the position (like, you know, getting kids educated and prepared for success in life) is to either get fired or else solve the problem, rather than simply waving a magic wand and saying, "From now on we will pretend that the goals have been achieved."


Oops. I knew I shouldn't have let myself comment.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Redneck In Peril Dept

I strongly suspect that this is a fake call, but even if it's just comedy, it's hilarious comedy. Many thanks to Aggie Karl for this one. (Politeness requires me to pretend not to recognize his voice.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hurricane Ike Aftermath: Not A Total Loss Dept

I was incredibly lucky in Ike -- no damage, and power back by the evening of the very Saturday on which Ike blew through. But I did suffer one personal loss: my shaded parking spot at Dava Jave's is no longer shaded, Ike having not just uprooted the tree, but all of the soil with it, as well as the big yellow concrete pole:

But it's not a total loss -- as the following picture shows, at least the sprinkler still works...

The Devil's Dictionary: Artlessness (n.)

A certain engaging quality to which women attain by long study and severe practice upon the admiring male.

The Devil's Dictionary: Applause (n.)

The echo of a platitude.

The Devil's Dictionary: Appeal (v.t.)

In law, to put the dice into the box for another throw.

The Devil's Dictionary: Apologize (v.i.)

To lay the foundation for a future offense.

The Punster's Dictionary: A - B

Most of these I got years ago from Bennett Cerf, in an old book I just ran across. I'm pretty proud of the "Bible" one, though, which I either made up myself or else found someplace besides in his Treasury of Atrocious Puns, can't remember which.

Alaska: a prelude to "No."

Alimony: the fee a woman charges for name-dropping.

Aloha: a Pullman berth.

Auction: a gyp off the old block.

Bible: what a cow says after an amiable encounter found to have been unsatisfactory.

Bigamist: an Italian fog.

Bulldozing: falling asleep during a campaign speech.

That'll do for now.

Oh, and here's a poem, which I swear I got from Cerf long, long ago in the bygone days of childhood (though not, apparently, from any book I still possess), and which has stuck in my mind even now when Shakespeare's sonnets have bid my memory farewell:

Mary had a swarm of bees
And they, to save their lives,
Went everywhere that Mary went,
For Mary had the hives.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Archbishop of York says something stupid...

...in this case, about modern financial markets.

But note the double incompetence on the part of the reporter, who (a) doesn't know how to keep from injecting editorial opinions into what's supposed to be a straight news story and (b) doesn't understand what short sellers are doing. Here's the quote I mean:
Sharp falls in the price of shares in banks have been blamed on short-selling by speculators hoping to drive the prices down further.
Actually, speculators aren't generally "hoping to drive the prices down further," because, unless they are George Soros or somebody with similarly obscenely deep pockets, a position large enough to drive down a price is usually a position that risks bankrupting the speculator if he fails. Short sellers don't typically sell stocks short in order to try to make them fall -- they sell them short because they believe the stock is priced irrationally high and they think the stock is going to fall whether they sell it short or not. They're just trying to make some money out of what they think is going to happen anyway.

Now, it is true that short sellers will occasionally try to drive prices down a little bit -- but this typically happens in a very special situation. Amateur "technical traders" have a habit of coming up with rules to tell them, "If the price falls to level x, then sell," or, alternatively, "If the price rises to level y, then buy." Being amateurs, they typically pick very obvious prices (levels of "support" or "resistance," for example). But that means that once prices fall to level x, lots of amateurs will try to sell all at once, and this will cause the price to drop several points very rapidly; while if they rise to level y, they'll all try to buy at once, and this will cause the price to jump. So if you're a professional day trader, as you see prices getting close to level x, you do a quick check on the buy pool, and if you think the market's thin enough, you try to sell the pool enough to push the price down to level x. This is called "running the stops" (because when you tell a broker, "Sell if the price falls to x," or, "Buy if the price rises to y," those are known as "stop" orders).

But here's the point -- if you succeed in running the stops, then as soon as those amateurs' sale orders pour in and the price makes its quick little several-point fall, you immediately buy back your short positions, because you know that there's no real fundamental reason for that market drop, just an artificial hiccup due to the presence of amateurs in the market. In other words, short sellers do occasionally sell stocks in order to make them fall -- but when they do that, they're just trying to make them fall a few points for a few minutes. And that doesn't come within a million miles of putting the bank into insolvency.

What happened with HBOS has nothing to do with the running of stops, and you have to be pretty damned stupid, frankly (or else as dishonest as a typical Labour politician) to think people were selling stock short in order to make its price fall.

1. Rumors hit the street that HBOS had secretly asked the Bank of England for emergency funds, which, if true, would have meant that HBOS had been falsifying its financials and trying to disguise critical problems in its portfolios. As a result, shares fell 17% -- which would have been an eminently reasonable fall (fairly modest, actually) had the rumors actually been true.

But here's the thing about rumors: if they're false, the price snaps back as fast as it went down, and anybody who short-sold the rumors on the way down and is still short, loses his derriere. I speak from personal experience, having once had a heavy short position in the British pound -- with stop orders to switch me from short to long should the price rise to a certain level carefully chosen to be well away from any obviously runnable stops -- on the day that a rumor swept the CME floor that President Bush the First had been assassinated. I got killed as the dollar collapsed; my stops got hit and I went short the dollar; and five minutes later President Bush showed up live and healthy on television and I got killed again as the dollar rebounded.

So the only way in which The Evil Short-Sellers could have caused this particular problem at HBOS, would have been if those particular short-sellers had first sold the stock short and then deliberately started the rumor. In other words -- and I know this isn't difficult for most people but if you're an Anglican bishop or a Labour politician I'll have to ask you to pay careful attention and read very slowly -- it wasn't the short-selling that made the price drop; it was the rumour.

Oops, sorry, some of those words had more than one syllable. For the benefit of Anglican bishops and Labour politicians I will try it again:

The bad men who sold short did not make the price fall. It was the lie that made the price fall.

(And if that's still too hard for the good Bishop to follow then I give up.)

2. After that, the price started bouncing around because even though HBOS's officials were saying, "No, no, we're fine," most people in the market did not trust HBOS's officials. That would be because, not to put too fine a point on it, CEO's lie a lot. (Especially if they have taken the precaution of donating LOTS of money to Senators -- see Mac, Freddie and Mae, Fannie.) But here again, two points:

A. This is the executives' fault. If executives did not lie, then when they said, "We have plenty of liquidity," their stock price would go back up.

B. Anybody who short-sold in the middle of that volatility, either got lucky and got out with a quick profit while it was still volatile, or else lost money when...

3. Lloyds TSB came in and offered to buy out HBOS at a price (232p/share) 5.4% higher than the highest price (220p/share) at which HBOS traded during those volatility days, and a whopping 265% higher than the lowest price. That means that a short-seller who bet a thousand pounds on his short-sell and didn't get out in time lost -- at best -- 54.55 pound, and could have lost as much as 1,636.36 pounds. Yes, that's right, the unlucky short-seller could have lost his entire investment plus an extra 636 pounds.

In fact, it's even worse than that, because I ran the numbers on the (unrealistic) assumption that the short-sellers were using no leverage whatsoever -- i.e., that they gave the people from whom they borrowed the stocks the full current value of the stock up front. If they were, say, 50% leveraged, then you can double their losses -- which is to say, the unlucky fellow who short-sold at the bottom and didn't put a stop-loss order in to protect him on the way back up, would have lost his original thousand pounds plus 2,272.73 more.

But then on the other hand, in fact it's not that bad because no sane short-seller would have sold short at 88p without having a stop-loss buy order in with his broker at, say, 95p. Plus I don't know the rules for the British stock exchanges specifically, which may not allow leveraged short-selling...

Look, my point is that short-selling is extremely dangerous, and people lose lots of money selling short all the time.)

See, here's the bottom line: either HBOS is really worth 275p, or it isn't. Say it's "really" worth 250p (that is, if God were buying it, He'd pay 250p and not tuppence more). Then in that case the Lloyd's shareholders got about a 7% discount on their newly acquired HBOS shares, which does indeed mean that HBOS's shareholders wound up unlucky in the deal -- but it's the Lloyd's shareholders who made the money, not the Evil Short Sellers.

But what if HBOS really does have problems, and a year from now the Lloyd's shareholders realize to their chagrin that anything more than 200p was a rip-off price for HBOS stock. Then in that case, current HBOS shareholders will have gotten a 14% premium, paid for by Lloyd's shareholders -- but it'll be the HBOS shareholders who made the money, not the Evil Short Sellers.

So, time to sum up:

Lemme tell you a secret, Right Reverend Sir. HBOS didn't go down because of short-sellers. And your use of the term "bank robbers" is intemperate, uncharitable, slanderous jackassery.

With all due respect, of course.

Some Kinyisms (that's pronounced "KEEN-yisms," as in the contracted form of "Kinya-isms")

Of all my kids, Kinya is the one of whom I can say categorically that I never know what's going to come out of the kid's mouth next. This is a bad thing when we're not getting along, but we're getting along very well at the moment, and when she's happy, she keeps me pretty consistently cracked up.

For example, she informed me the other day that she has decided that my old Honda Civic will, upon her acquisition of a driver's license, become her car exclusively.

"Oh, you think so, do you?" I chuckled.

"Yes!" she said adamantly.

"Well," I said, grinning indulgently, "you tell yourself that if it makes you happy."

But it seems that she already has well-laid plans, for she fired back, in that characteristic Russo-Texan accent of hers, "Yes! Because I will paint it pink, and then I will paint flowers on it, and then [triumphantly] we will see if you will drive it!"

She was pretty happy a couple of days ago when Wal-Mart finally got its frozen food restocked, and I was able to take her grocery shopping. She happily loaded up the cart with frozen pizza, orange juice, chicken, milk, and other staples, and then she handled the unloading and post-bagging reloading of the grocery cart while I took care of the debit card logistics. We got home and started putting the groceries away, and suddenly to my surprise I saw three caramel-covered apples that I didn't remember seeing make their way into the cart.

"Kinya," I inquired, in my best portentious-papa tones, "did you buy caramel apples today?"

"No, Papa," she answered instantly and cheerfully -- "you did."

As I told somebody the other day, the world would be a poorer place if it didn't have Kinya in it -- but I'm not sure the world would be able to handle more than one of 'em.

Can We Hire Them To Catch Bank Robbers? Dept

Another story from Mr. Barry, who inexplicably seems to have overlooked the obvious practical application of this research.

What Did They Do For Her Mug Shot? Dept

The indispensable Ananova website passes on this story of a bank robber who was caught when a witness recognized her distinguishing characteristic:
"He said he recognised her bottom straight away - he'd never forget something that big," said one bank worker.
Hat tip: The next President of the United States.

The Devil's Dictionary: Antipathy (n.)

The sentiment inspired by one's friend's friend.

The Devil's Dictionary: Amnesty (n.)

The state's magnanimity to those offenders whom it would be too expensive to punish.

The Devil's Dictionary: Ambition (n.)

An overmastering desire to be vilified by enemies while living and made ridiculous by friends when dead.

The Devil's Dictionary: Alone (adj.)

In bad company.

The Devil's Dictionary: Alliance (n.)

In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other's pocket that they cannot separately plunder a third.

The Devil's Dictionary: Alien (n.)

An American sovereign in his probationary state.

Streaker Gets Owned Dept

Agonized long and hard over putting this one onto my family-friendly blog, but in the end decided that the nudity was sufficiently long-range.

This should happen to ALL sports-event-interrupting streakers. I love the fact that as the streaker staggers off the field (for a moment I thought he was going to walk straight into the goalpost), clearly just wanting to be anywhere in the world other than where he is, nobody even bothers to chase him. Negative reinforcement has been applied...

Things I Learned During Ike Dept

Jennifer White forwards this on to me, with appropriate credit to her friend Sharon:

Hurricane Education: What I've learned during our last hurricane...

  • Coffee and frozen pizzas can be made on a BBQ grill.

  • No matter how many times you flick the switch, lights don't work without electricity.

  • My car gets 23.21675 miles per gallon, EXACTLY (you can ask the people in line who helped me push it).

  • Kids can survive 4 days or longer without a video game controller in their hands.

  • Cats are even more irritating without power!!!!!!!!!!!! [Editorial comment: stricken as obviously false; it is not possible for cats to become more irritating than they already are.]

  • He who has the biggest generator, wins.

  • Women can actually survive without doing their hair- you just wish they weren't around you. ;-)

  • A new method of non-lethal torture - showers without hot water.

  • There are a lot more stars in the sky than most people thought.

  • TV is an addiction and the withdrawal symptoms are painful.

  • A 7 lb bag of ice will chill 6-12 oz Budweisers to a drinkable temperature in 11 minutes, and still keep a 14 lb. turkey frozen for 8 more hours. [Editorial comment: partially stricken as obviously false; there is no temperature at which Budweiser is drinkable.]

  • There are a lot of dang trees around here.

  • Flood plain drawings on some mortgage documents were seriously wrong.

  • Aluminum siding, while aesthetically pleasing [Editorial comment: ????????!], is definitely not required.

  • Crickets can increase their volume to overcome the sound of 14 generators.

  • People will get into a line that has already formed without having any idea what the line is for.

  • When required, a Lincoln Continental will float -- doesn't steer well but floats all the same.

  • Telemarketers function no matter what the weather is doing.

  • Cell phones work when land lines are down, but only as long as the battery remains charged.

  • 27 of your neighbors are fed from a different transformer than you, and they are quick to point that out!

  • Hampers were not made to contain such a volume.

  • If my store sold only ice, chainsaws, gas and generators... I'd be rich. [Editorial comment: that is, until the trial lawyers showed up with their price-gouging lawsuits.]

  • The price of a can of soup rises 200% in times of storm and flood. [Editorial comment: that's because it's a floating price. (This appalling pun brought to you by the Committee of Persons Wishing To Elicit Groans from Jennifer.)]

  • Your waterfront property can quickly become someone else's fishing hole.

  • Tree service companies are under-appreciated.

  • Having previously made fun of another state's blackout: karma is a bitch.

  • ECON 101: 30 days in month, minus 6 days without power equals 30% higher electric bill?????

  • Drywall is a compound word, take away the "dry" part and it's

  • I can walk a lot farther than I thought.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator Dept

Ever wonder what your name would have been if Sarah Palin had been your mom? Well, wonder no longer -- we got your answer right here.

Yours sincerely,

Wesson Scalper Palin

By the way, if this makes you think of George Foreman's entry in the World's Shortest Book contest, you get extra points. (That would, of course, be George Foreman's Great Big Book of Baby Names.)

Is this an old SNL skit? Where did this come from?!? And why did nobody tell me about it before today????

I gotta tell you, this is the first time in a long time I have literally laughed until I cried. Disgraced myself in the middle of the coffee shop. Laughed until my stomach hurt. When McCain hits the first...I'm not sure "note" is le mot juste but we'll go with it...when McCain hits the first [choking slightly] note in "Memories" I doubled over holding my stomach and almost knocked the laptop onto the floor.

Of course it'll never live up to that buildup; so, let's just say that this is a moderately funny clip that won't make you feel like you've wasted the couple of minutes it takes to go watch it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Disillusionment strikes the Peril

The people who know the real Sarah Palin are speaking out. There goes the election.

Damn YouTube. Damn it to hell.

Here, by the way, is a genuinely funny (except for the guy who seems to be mocking McCain's age and physical condition) production number by the folks in the Obama campaign headquarters. Kudos to 'em.

Of course, you could hardly get a better embodiment of how little hope Obama has of connecting with the average American, who is not likely to be familiar with the Broadway musical being parodied. But I happen to like Broadway musicals; so they get a thumbs-up from me on this one.

One odd thing about that video, though...

Where de black women at??

Seriously, it's Obama's headquarters, and you talk about a bunch of people who do not, in Clinton's phrase, "look like America"...

That's nitpickin', though. Funny video; full marks for it.

I apologize to the bloggers who first directed me to these videos earlier today; can't hat-tip 'em 'cause I don't remember where I saw the things. My bad.

UPDATE: No sooner had I posted this then something else occurred to me...two things actually:

1. "One Day More" is sung by the students who are about to get their butts so royally kicked that only Marius and Valjean will even survive. I mean, all the promises of the song ("every man will be a king," for example) come to nothing that next day. Eponine is gonna die (what a waste of a glorious voice...). Putting that song in that context would seem to suggest that Obama's campaign is doomed for a catastrophic, epic, for-the-ages defeat. Which leads to the second point...

2. How do I really know these folks are the real Obama team? Answer: not only do I don't know that they are the real Obama dudes, I bet the smart money is that they are not. Which means my "where de black women at" cavil is completely misplaced. In that case I apologize to the real Obamites as handsomely as I can manage to apologize. My bad, there.

The football community

Couldn't see any football Sunday afternoon because the local stations were preempting it for Ike coverage; so I went down to the local pub. Was watching the end of the Broncos game and to my astonishment and -- since I was pulling against Denver -- dismay, Shanahan decides to go for two for the win rather than one for the tie.

Two guys are standing next to me. One of them says, "What the #$!@ is he doing? Why isn't he kicking the extra point?"

I can't help but be excited to see a coach actually doing the intelligent thing, even though he's a coach I don't really like, and even though it's an outrage that Denver still has the ball after Cutler's OBVIOUS fumble that was COMPLETELY screwed up by a GROSSLY incompetent offic...ahem. Sorry about that. Anyway, the dialog continues as follows:

ME: No, no, it's exactly the right thing to do, as long as your success rate on two-point conversions is better than fifty percent. This is the smart play.

FIRST GUY: But he's more likely to make the kick than the two-point conversion, isn't he?

ME [very excitedly]: Yes, but the point isn't to make the conversion, it's to win the game, and even if he makes the kick, that just gets him into overtime, and then he's got about a fifty-fifty chance of winning. If he's got a sixty-percent chance of making the two-pointer then his odds are better of winning.

[FIRST GUY is looking confused but you can see the light bulb go on over SECOND GUY's head]

SECOND GUY: No, wait, you're right! His chances are better this way...

[FIRST GUY still looks dubious but just then Denver snaps the ball; Cutler fires, complete, game (essentially) over. SECOND GUY, clearly a Denver fan, lets out a roar of triumph. FIRST GUY turns to me without a word but with a big smile, gives a brief head-only bow of respect, and extends his hand for a handshake. I shake his hand with a grin. SECOND GUY lets out another roar of triumph and sticks his hand out too. I shake it, give 'em a quick pseudo-military salute, and head for the exit with a smile on my face.]

This is, by the way, one of the things that has driven me crazy for years and years and donkey years. It's two yards. How many fingers am I holding up? That's right, TWO. C'mon, now, you're telling me you can't come up with a play that's going to get at least two yards at least fifty percent of the time? 'Cause if you can't, then why do you have a job in the coaching profession? but if you can, and you still habitually kick for the tie-and-overtime-and-50%-chance-of-winning, then you are, not to put too fine a point on it, a jackass. And the fact that commentators all say you should kick for one, and refer to going for two as a "gamble" (when it fact it's more of a gamble to play for overtime) -- why, that just shows that the field of football commentating is unlikely to produce many candidates for any position of responsibility that requires more intelligence and judgment than garbage collecting or -- well, I was going to say "the United States Senate" but that would be unfair to football commentators and garbage collectors.

One of the many reasons that I admire TMQ is precisely the fact that he beats this very two-point-conversion drum as well. So I knew before I walked out the door that TMQ would be crowing about that play in this week's colume, and yea, verily, it came to pass.

Crow on, TMQ, crow on. People pay a lot more attention to you than to me. If you keep it up for another ten years or so we might actually see conventional folly change. And that will remove from Saturday and Sunday afternoons something that really quite disproportionately annoys me.

Which should be a relief to this blog's readers, even if to nobody else.

Sure-Fire Hits of the New TV Season Dept

In his weekly column, TMQ pitches (about halfway down) a number of ideas for new TV series. My personal favorite:

"Chick Flick -- The Series." An immortal Mayan warrior who has been cursed to wander the Earth in search of the resurrected soul of the only woman he ever loved has touching, teary encounters with modern career women who are discontent despite their seemingly perfect lives.

The Devil's Dictionary: Age (n.)

That period of life in which we compound for the vices that still cherish by reviling those that we have no longer the enterprise to commit.

And that should just about catch me up for the days missed due to Ike.

The Devil's Dictionary: Affianced (adj.)

Fitted with an ankle-ring for the ball-and-chain.

The Devil's Dictionary: Adore (v.t.)

To venerate expectantly.

The Devil's Dictionary: Admiration (n.)

Our polite recognition of another's resemblance to ourselves.

The Devil's Dictionary: Adherent (n.)

A follower who has not yet obtained all that he expects to get.

The Devil's Dictionary: Actually (adv.)

Perhaps; possibly.

The Devil's Dictionary: Acquaintance (n.)

A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to. A degree of friendship called slight when its object is poor or obscure, and intimate when he is rich and famous.

The Devil's Dictionary: Acknowledge (v.t.)

To confess. Acknowledgement of one another's faults is the highest duty imposed by our love of truth.

The Devil's Dictionary: Accuse (v.t.)

To affirm another's guilt or unworth; most commonly as a justification of ourselves for having wronged him.

I confess I have a hard time taking this seriously

Pentagon Researcher Conjures Warcraft Terror Plot -- that is, to steal an old Dave Barry running gag, "Now the bastards are using World of Warcraft!"

The Pentagon guy appears to be serious. But I have to say I have a hard time keeping a straight face all the way through any article that includes lines like the following:

"The accounts are pseudonymous. The access is global. The jargon is thick. And most of the spy agencies' employees aren't exactly level-70 shamans."

Duane, I mean "Isog," call your office! Your career opportunity of a lifetime awaits!

HT: Insty

Monday, September 15, 2008

Checking in

We're fine. Got power back very early in the process; in that we were quite lucky. We've been back to more or less normal since Saturday evening, which we spent back home in air conditioning with full power. The only problem: no cell phone or internet. I drive out of town to the west at night to get to where I have cell phone coverage and let my parents know we're okay, and while I'm out there I usually fill up with gas.

Thanks for the prayers. I'll post some pictures once internet is available at the house.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

All ok, just still no power

all well, power out, bedded down in closets, wind noisy, girls giggling loud enough for me to hear from the next closet

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Devil's Dictionary: Accountability (n.)

The mother of caution.

The Devil's Dictionary: Accord (n.); Accordion (n.)

Accord, n. Harmony.

Accordion, n. An instrument in harmony with the sentiments of an assassin.

Still doing fine

Wind starting to pick up, but still no rain. Still doing fine.

Found the keys, and man, drivin' that BMW is sweet...

Settled in and ready for Ike

Kinya and Natasha and I are settled into Duane's house (the Liongs themselves have headed for Brenham because Duane is part of production support and therefore left town along with the rest of the BG disaster recovery team. All supplies are safely acquired, bathtubs full of water, ready to go. Natasha and I went for a walk a little while ago since the rain hasn't hit yet, and took some "before" pictures. As you can see from this one, the wind is starting to pick up even though the rain isn't here yet.

Anya insisted on staying at the apartment, which I think was mildly foolish, but there's a point at which you shrug your shoulders and say, "She's twenty-one and can't very well be stopped from making her own mistakes." I imagine she'll be fine though; it's a second-storey apartment and as long as nothing gets slung through the window she shouldn't have to worry about flooding.

So, no particular worries. Probably won't be a very pleasant night, but I don't think there's serious risk of harm. There's just one thing that annoys me: Duane has that cute little BMW convertible, and I was really looking forward to driving around during the hurricane with the top down; but he didn't leave the keys where I can find them. Such an inconsiderate host...

A tale of two bikes

Seriously, now, which of these two is a good redneck gonna vote for?

(By "seriously" I don't seriously mean "seriously," if you see what I mean.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Devil's Dictionary: Accomplice (n.)

One associated with another in a crime, having guilty knowledge and complicity, as an attorney who defends a criminal, knowing him guilty. This view of the attorney's position in the matter has not hitherto commanded the assent of attorneys, no one having offered them a fee for assenting.

The Devil's Dictionary: Academe (n.); Academy (n.)

Acadame, n. An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught.

Acadamy, n. (from academe). A modern school where football is taught.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I Know Something You Don't Know Dept

The guy who owns the Atlanta model is either a serious moron or a serious genius -- at the very least, he can congratulate himself on being a true, free-spirited non-conformist.

A bizarre dream

A very odd occurrence from last night's beauty rest (and those of you who know me personally know that I'm the last person who can spare his beauty rest)...

You know how you get the same dreams over and over, and eventually you get to where you recognize it and realize, "Oh, I'm dreaming again," and you wake up? Well, one of my Old Reliables has me driving a car down a sleep slope in the mountains with a hairpin curve coming up, and I have to power-slide the car sideways to make the corner and keep from plunging down the mountainside into the brook at the bottom. So last night I find myself in the car roaring down the slope and I think, "Oh, here we go again," and I push the brake pedal -- but this time the brakes are out, and I go soaring over the edge of the road and racketing straight down the mountainside. I roll my eyes: "Well, this is a waste of time; I'm not going to get hurt 'cause I'm dreaming." The car slides into the brook and I'm instantly, like a cut in a movie, standing outside of it with Kinya and Merry. Merry looks a bit worried, so I tell her, "Don't worry, kiddo, I'm just dreaming."

"No, you're not."

"Yeah, I am."

She punches me in the stomach with a grin. It doesn't hurt. I ruffle her hair indulgently. "Toldja." Still not waking up, which is odd. There doesn't seem to be much to do down here in this canyon, now that I've gone off script, so I decide to open my eyes and wake up.

But I can't.

I try again. Still no luck; I'm hopelessly stuck in this dream-canyon. Now I'm starting to get annoyed. Kinya: "What's wrong?"

Me: "Can't wake up." I look at the car. "Can't very well go anywhere in the car, either." I look down the valley and there's a village.

Sudden cut, and I'm standing in the village. I try to wake up again. Can't. I decide that I need to get someplace where I can wake up, but I don't particularly want to walk. I look down the road and there's a pickup truck that somebody has left the keys in. I'll drive out of town and then maybe I can wake up. But I don't want to drive out of town the way it's facing; so I put it in gear and swing into a handy driveway so that I can turn around. I push the brake -- and the brakes don't work.

It's a long driveway; somebody has a double-wide that he's added a front deck to (this, by the way, is a perfectly realistic detail), and barbed-wire-fenced land that they're obviously running cattle on. I downshift to low, and then force it into park, and the nose of the truck stops about six inches from the barbed wire at the end of the driveway, well past the double-wide.

Very annoyed now, I look over my shoulder; I'll just have to back up very slowly. It'll be more complicated now that my pickup truck has acquired a fifteen-foot flatbed trailer. I put it into reverse, and the truck leaps backward; apparently reverse is much higher-geared than low is. Reflexively I push the brake, but of course nothing happens, and even though I spin the wheel right to try to swing the tail of the trailer back to the left away from the double-wide, the truck's moving too fast and I don't quite make it and the corner of the yellow-pine deck explodes in a shower of splinters. But at least the truck has stopped.

I shove it into park and stomp out of the truck in disgust. I'm really tired of this dream. The front door of the double-wide opens and a woman strides out, in more or less the mood one would expect. She is starting to open her mouth to give me what-for when I tell her disgustedly, "Don't bother; you're just in one of my dreams." She stares at me as though I were insane, her mouth still half-open. Kinya comes up to me from the truck, looking frightened somehow. "Papa, you're dreaming?"

"Yeah, sweetheart."

She is looking very woebegone. "So I'm not real?"

Tersely but not, at least intentionally, unkindly: "Oh, no, there's a real one of you. You're just not it." I turn and walk toward the barbed-wire fence; I want OUT OF THIS DREAM! I grab the two middle strands of the barbed wire and hold them apart; with the ease and fluidity of movement that I remember from my youth I bend over and slip between the wires. At least in this dream there is no back pain. But then on the other hand, in this dream none of the cars have brakes. I walk a few feet into the cow pasture. I take a deep breath and force my eyes open.

I can't see anything because it's dark, but I can feel the bed under my back and the sheet across my chest, and I can hear my bedroom fan. "I knew I was dreaming," I say with satisfaction -- and instantly I fall back asleep, straight into another dream. "That didn't take long," I observe, and then after that...oblivion (presumably because that next dream followed the script and completed satisfactorily).

The Devil's Dictionary: Absurdity (n.)

A statement of belief manifestly inconsistent with one's own opinion.

On Ambrose Bierce

Those of you who don't know me well might find it odd that a devout evangelical Sunday School teacher (as of last Sunday, that is -- the first session on Galations went pretty well, I thought, considering that we read a whole chapter in Acts before I remembered what I was supposed to be teaching)...anyway, some of you might find it odd that I like Ambrose Bierce so much, considering his notoriously hostile attitude toward religion. But those of you who do know me, know that my cynical temperament is (alas) about as important to my character as are my religious beliefs and aspirations, and you know that I admire anybody who frustrates the designs of politicians. I mean, here's one fan site's summation of Bierce's journalistic career in San Francisco: "An opponent of oppression, a champion of civil liberties, religious freedom, and intellectual honesty, Bierce attacked talentless journalists, unscrupulous businessmen, crooked politicians, and sanctimonious religious leaders." Now, seriously, how could I not love the guy?

As the Devil's Dictionary definitions roll by (I think at a rate of two or three a day going forward), you'll see more and more clearly why I consider Bierce such a kindred spirit. But the definitions won't give you the political essence of the man. So here's my favorite episode from Bierce's life, in a version that appears in numerous places on the web, so that I have no idea whether this site was the orginal source or not:

The Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad companies had received massive loans from the U.S. government to build the First Transcontinental Railroad—on gentle terms, but Collis P. Huntington persuaded a friendly member of Congress to introduce a bill excusing the companies from repaying the money, amounting to $130 million (nearly 3 billion dollars in 2007 money).

In January 1896 Hearst dispatched Bierce to Washington, D.C. to foil this attempt. The essence of the plot was secrecy; the railroads' advocates hoped to get the bill through Congress without any public notice or hearings. When the angered Huntington confronted Bierce on the steps of the Capitol and told Bierce to name his price, Bierce's answer ended up in newspapers nationwide: "My price is one hundred thirty million dollars. If, when you are ready to pay, I happen to be out of town, you may hand it over to my friend, the Treasurer of the United States". Bierce's coverage and diatribes on the subject aroused such public wrath that the bill was defeated. Bierce returned to California in November.
[grinning] Yo, Ambrose -- high five, dude!

The Devil's Dictionary: Abstainer (n.)

A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. A total abstainer is one who abstains from everything but abstention, and especially from inactivity in the affairs of others.

(Note to Gentle Readers perhaps not familiar with the details of Ambrose Bierce's fascinating life and career: his target here is the demure and lovely belles of the Temperance Movement.)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Devil's Dictionary: Absent (adj.)

Peculiarly exposed to the tooth of detraction; vilified; hopelessly in the wrong; superseded in the consideration and affection of another.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Devil's Dictionary Department

I think for the next few months I will, on most days, post a definition from Ambrose Bierce's classic work of savagely hilarious cynicism, The Devil's Dictionary. The first such post is already up, here.

Natasha explains Kazakhstan to her classmates

The speech Natasha gave to her class last Friday, in speech class (published, I assure you, with her permission):

Today I would like to tell you about my country, Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is in the heart of Asia, ninth biggest country in the world. It is surrounded by Russia, China and other small countries. Kazakhstan’s population is little more than fifteen million people. The area of Kazakhstan is 2,717,300 square kilometers. It’s slightly less than four times the size of Texas. It’s the world’s largest landlocked country.

For most of its history the territory of the modern-day Kazakhstan had been inhabited by nomad tribes, and there are still people who live there in the old nomad ways. It was one of the countries conquered by Genghis Khan, who was a very bloody leader, and later by the Russian Empire. Kazakhstan was reorganized several times before becoming the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic in 1936, one of the biggest republics in the Soviet Union. It was part of the “Virgin Land” program that was made by Kruschev. Kazakhstan was where the USSR’s space program was centered (the “Buikonur Kosmodrome”) and also its primary nuclear testing site (the “Semipulatinks Polygon”).

Kazakhstan declared its independence on December 16, 1991, and communist-era leader Narsultan Nazarbayev became its President. Since independence Kazakhstan has worked to develop its economy, especially its hydrocarbon industry. President Nazarbayev is still maintaining strict control over the country’s politics. Nazarbayev has been President for almost sixteen years without counting his leadership when Kazakhstan was a Soviet Union republic.

Kazakhstan is an ethnically and culturally diverse country. In part this is due to mass deportations of many ethnic groups from Russia and other republics into Kazakhstan during Stalin’s rule. Kazakhstan allows freedom of religion and many different beliefs are represented in it.

Because there are not that many bodies of water in Kazakhstan it’s mainly made of steppes. Steppes are dry land areas. There are almost no trees or bushes on the steppes. It’s mainly grass. There are not that many animals on the steppes, mainly small ones: rabbits, mice, kosulyas – animals that look like deer but without antlers. Animals on the steppes live in small groups or alone. There are great numbers of eagles in Kazakhstan, and Kazakhs still use eagles as hunting birds.

There are quite a number of mountains and hills in Kazakhstan. It is not as flat as Houston. The lowest point in Kazakhstan is the Kaundy Basin, which is about 400 feet below sea level, and the highest point is the top of Mount Khan Tangiri, which is more than 20,000 feet above sea level. But our favorite mountain is Medeo, near Almaty. People go on Medeo to go skiing or just for a vacation. From downtown Almaty you can see mountaintops that are twelve thousand feet higher than where you are standing. It is very beautiful. In fact it used to be the capital. After independence President Nazarbayev built a new capital in the middle of the steppe, called Astana. But Astana is not very pretty and the weather is bad, and Almaty is very beautiful and has nice weather. So even after President Nazarbayev declared Astana the capital, most countries refused to move their embassies, and most foreign embassies are still in Almaty.

Summers are hot and winters are cold in Kazakhstan. Every year around the end of October and the start of November the snow starts falling. Winter is the most peaceful time of the year. The snow covers the ground about three or four meters deep. The weather is very cold; it gets forty degrees below zero. People walk around in big fluffy jackets, big hats, scarves and boots. There is ice on the roads and it is very dangerous to drive or even walk around. We put salt on the roads and sidewalks to keep cars and people from sliding and slipping, and we wear hobnailed boots to dig into the ice.

There are a lot of people in Kazakhstan. In the 1999 census, 53.4% were Kazakh people, 30% Russians, 3.7% Ukrainian, 2.5% Uzbek, 2.4 German, 1.7% Tatar, 1.4% Uygers, and 4.9% others.

Kazakh people are the native people of Kazakhstan. They have their own traditions, and they have adopted some others, too. Some Kazakh people still live as nomads. They live out on the steppes or near the mountains. They don’t live in houses, but in yurts. Yurts are the national Kazakh houses that are like a tent, only it’s round and made out of sheep and camel skin on a wooden frame. You can put it up and take it down and take it with you on the road. The nomads usually move about four times a year, as the seasons change.

Each Kazakh family that follows the old traditions, has cattle. Mainly they have horses, because they are riding them around. They eat horse meat, in several national dishes like bishparmak, which is like a lasagna. The national drink is kumis, or fermented mare’s milk, which is disgusting. Kazakh people also have camels. They use camel hair to make blankets, clothes, shoes and other things. Some Kazakh people wear national clothes with ornaments. The traditional clothes and hats tell you whether a person is married or single or engaged.

Most Kazakh people are Muslims. Kazakhs have their own alphabet, which is the Russian alphabet with nine extra letters for sounds Russian doesn’t have. So the Kazakh alphabet has 42 letters, and the Russian alphabet has 33. The Kazakh language is Kazakhstan’s official national language, but most people use the Russian language for everyday communication.

Kazakhs look like Chinese people, and most people don’t see the difference.

Kazakhstan has major resources of petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, manganese, chrome ore, nickel, cobalt, copper, molybdenum, lead zinc, bauxite, gold, uranium. About a year ago they just discovered a whole new oil field. There are a lot of coal mines. In fact in my home town, Karaganda, there is an Old Town and a New Town. Nobody lives in the Old Town, because the Soviet government dug coal mines underneath the town and it started falling in, and everybody had to move.

Also a few people do agriculture; about 0.05% of the land is used for permanent crops. The rivers that feed the Aral Sea have been used for so much irrigation that it’s drying up and leaving behind a harmful layer of chemical pesticides and natural salts. These substances are then picked up by wind blown into noxious dust storms that make people sick. There is also pollution from factories.

So my country Kazakhstan is very different from Texas, and it has changed very much in the last twenty years.

I think my personal favorite part is, "There are quite a number of mountains and hills in Kazakhstan. It is not as flat as Houston." Unless you have seen both Almaty and Houston, you don't know how funny this understatement is.

The Devil's Dictionary: Abscond (n.)

To "move in a mysterious way," commonly with the property of another.

Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you...

...Happy Birthday, dear Anya,
Happy Birthday to you!

Yep, she's twenty-one years old now. And she's been counting down for a long time.

This reminds me of one of the many unintentionally hilarious things said on air by Ron Fairly, longtime gaffe-machine announcer for the Seattle Mariners:

"Alex Rodriguez turns twenty-one today, and it couldn't happen to a nicer guy."

As the years go by and Alex's true character shines through ever more clearly, that line just gets funnier and funnier.

By the way, I'm sort of singing the wrong song; what I ought to be singing is:
Я играю на гармошке
У прохожих на виду
К сожалению, день рождения
Только раз в году!
Ya igráyu na garmóshkye
U prokhózhikh na vidú.
K sozhaléinyu, dyein rozhdéinya
Tóilko ras v godú!

"I'm playing my accordion
In full view of the passers-by
What a pity that my birthday
Only comes once a year!"

Um...okay, you just have to have seen the movie...

This is actually a sweet but poignant little song, from the bleak days of the Soviet era, in which the gentle and ever-kindly Gyena the Crocodile deals with the actual grinding poverty of the Soviet commoner by building up a birthday celebration in his own imagination to substitute for the party he doesn't expect to be able to afford in real life. Here are all the lyrics, first in Russian and then in transliteration and then in a very loose Peril translation:

Пусть бегут неуклюже
Пешеходы по лужам,
А вода — по асфальту рекой.
И неясно прохожим
В этот день непогожий,
Почему я веселый такой.
Puist byegút neuklyúzhe
Peshekhódi po lúzham
A vodá po asfáltu rekóy.
I neyásno prokhózhim
V étot dyein nepogózhiy,
Pochemú ya vecéliy takóy.
Я играю на гармошке
У прохожих на виду
К сожалению, день рождения
Только раз в году!
Ya igráyu na garmóshkye
U prokhózhikh na vidú.
K sozhaléinyu, dyein rozhdéinya
Tóilko ras v godú!
Прилетит вдруг волшебник
В голубом вертолете
И бесплатно покажет кино.
С днем рожденья поздравит
И, наверно, оставит
Мне в подарок пятьсот «эскимо».
Prilyetít vdruk volshébnik
V golubóm vernolyétye
I byecplátno pokázhet kinó.
"C dnyem rozhdéinya!" pozdrávit
I, navyérno, ostávit
Mnye v podárok pyatcót "Eskimo".
Я играю на гармошке
У прохожих на виду
К сожалению, день рождения
Только раз в году!
Ya igráyu na garmóshkye
U prokhózhikh na vidú.
K sozhaléinyu, dyein rozhdéinya
Tóilko ras v godú!

"Let the pedestrians run clumsily through the puddles
Let the water run in rivers on the pavement
The passers-by can't figure out why,
On such an unpleasant day,
I'm so cheerful.

"I'm playing my accordion
In full view of the passers-by
What a pity that my birthday
Only comes once a year!

"A magician will drop in suddenly
Flying in a blue helicopter
And show me a movie, free of charge
He'll wish me "Happy Birthday"
And, probably, for a birthday present
He'll leave me five hundred ice cream sandwiches

"I'm playing my accordion
In full view of the passers-by
What a pity that my birthday
Only comes once a year!"

This reminds me: a while back I was in a local Polish restaurant, and there was a big party of Russians at the next table celebrating a birthday. And at one point several of them broke into one of Gyena's (that is, the crocodile's) songs -- but they picked "Goluboy Vagon" rather than the birthday song. I sang along happily with them but couldn't get up the nerve to ask them why they weren't singing "Puist Byegut Neuklyuzhe" instead. Don't guess I'll ever know the answer now. Still, while we're on the topic, here's "Goluboy Vagon":

Sunday, September 07, 2008

I honestly can't tell how serious he is

Willie Brown, at the tail-end of a sort-of catch-all, random-observations column, provides tips for eating out in high-crime Oakland:

By the way, there's a new dining tip for people going out in Oakland.

Be sure to order soup.

That way when the robbery starts, you can slip off your jewelry and drop it into soup so the robbers won't see it.
I genuinely can't tell how much hyperbole is involved there (I assume there's at least a little).

And, yes, I admit it, I originally landed there because the headline had to do with the Sarahcuda; but at least in my obsession there is some hope: it was the part that didn't have anything to do with Palin that actually turned out to interest me.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Little-known Sarahcuda facts

Since I mentioned the Chuck-Norris-style Sarah Palin riffs, here are a few from just one site I googled up, so you guys can see what I mean (I tightened a couple of them up):

Death once had a near-Sarah Palin experience.

Sarah Palin once booked a flight to Europe. The French immediately surrendered.

Sarah Palin can divide by zero.

Global warming doesn’t kill polar bears -- Sarah Palin kills polar bears. With her teeth.

Sarah Palin begins every day with a moment of silence for the political enemies buried in her yard.

Sarah Palin is the reason compasses point North.

More along those lines from this guy:

Sarah Palin turned down a job as skipper of a Deadliest Catch boat because it wasn't challenging enough. (Funnier if you know that she actually has worked as a commercial fisherman. And even funnier if you try to imagine Barack Obama on an Alaskan fishing boat.)

Chuck Norris wishes he was Sarah Palin trapped in a man's body.

We don't know who would win in a Chuck Norris - Sarah Palin cage match because they've never invented a cage that can hold Sarah Palin.

Alaska is the 49th state solely because they knew, even before she was born, that Sarah Palin would never finish last.

And still more:

Sarah Palin’s enemies are automatically added to the Endangered Species List. (Compare to the classic, "There is no such thing as evolution, only species Chuck Norris has allowed to live.")

Sarah Palin can win a game of Connect Four in only three moves.

Sarah Palin’s son waited until after the Surge to go to Iraq, because sending a Palin and a Surge at the same time would have been unfair to al-Qaeda.

Sarahvational posters

One thing about Sarah Palin is that she has inspired a tidal wave of grass-roots humor. There are, for example, websites that have Sarah Palin versions of the good ol' standard Chuck Norris riffs, e.g.:

"A moose once bit my sister. Sarah Palin avenged her."

And Rachel Lucas and her commenters are having a grand old time creating mock motivational posters starring the Sarahcuda.

This presents a dilemma for me: do I post this stuff here, which is really my designated silly-stuff, for-the-grins blog, or over at the Politics of the Peril blog where I keep my more serious political commentary? My call: if the reason I want to post it is because I think it's creatively hilarious, then it goes over here. Therefore, I hereby give you some of the motivational posters from Rachel's post and the comments appended thereunto. (Don't miss the comments; that's where most of the posters have shown up, including a couple that made me laugh but that I decided were outside of the family-friendly boundaries I've established here in Peril-land.)

I can't help but notice, by the way, that Barack's legions of adorers responded by making Messianic movie videos, but with astonishingly little Barack-oriented humor; whereas one of the absolutely defining characteristics of the Palin phenomenon is that Palin's supporters are laughing as much as they're cheering. As a Sarahcuderite myself, I suppose I'm not that objective, but if I step back for a moment and take a breath and survey the scene, I think I would express it this way:

Barack inspires adoration. Sarah inspires affection.

Anyway, here are some of the (sufficiently clean) posters I thought were pretty creative (bad puns, etc.)

(The last one is a takeoff on Jonah Goldberg's line, "Sarah Palin was put on earth to do two things: hunt caribou, and kick butt. And she's all out of caribou." Don't know where it was that he first included that line but I know it's his; so, credit where due and all that.)

Shrewd ecological-economic observation of the day

A commenter over at Rachel Lucas's blog knows exactly what to do to save the polar bears from extinction. The funniest thing about this is that, while the phrasing is obviously meant to get a laugh, he's actually precisely correct about the most effective way to ensure that polar bears survive (though personally I think the idea they're endangered is a crock in the first place):

"Look, the world doesn’t suffer for a lack of chickens. Why? Because they are tasty. What will save polar bears is the proper recipe."

Friday, September 05, 2008

It's a whole new humor genre

I mean Sarah Palin jokes, and even more precisely, Palin/Obama jokes. For example:

Q: What's the difference between Sarah Palin and Barack Obama?

A. One is very smartly turned-out, stylishly dressed, and, let's face it, a pretty sexy little bit of eye-candy.

The other kills her own food.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

What the Peril thinks Sarah Palin's campaign slogan for 2012 should be

"We need somebody in the White House who is not afraid of the Iranians. Or of really bad puns."

I don't actually know whether or not this is really Sarah Palin. I just think the shirt is hilarious. Stole the picture, by the way, from Ace.

Of course, the English teacher's kid in me would prefer a President who knew where to put her commas. But life is full of compromises.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Can this really be happening?

For the first time in his life, the Peril actually likes and respects one of the candidates on the national ballot, and he has been pleasantly astonished by what a great feeling that is. Never had it before now. Didn't realize it felt this good. Kinda envies the true-believers (of either party) who presumably get this feeling every four years or so, rather than once every couple of decades. Goes on about it at great length over at Politics of the Peril.

And, being a cynic, he imagines probably disillusionment looms -- but for right now, he's just enjoying the novelty of the whole situation. Also he doesn't know why he's writing about himself in the third person. Will stop typing now.