Thursday, April 30, 2009

If you're worried about whether you have swine flu... can click on this public-service website for help in determining the answer to the question, "Do I have swine flu?" My understanding is that it's actually pretty statistically rigorous and actually has a very respectably high rate of accuracy; so, well done, guys.

Thanks to D.B. for passing this one on.

Manly Muggers Of The Day Dept

Which could also have been titled "Don't Mess With Band Chicks Dept," except that the baton-wielding "victim" is from L.A., not Texas.

HT: Dave.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

At last we know what's wrong with Kristina...

It's rheumatic fever. "Although the disease seldom occurs [especially in the U.S. -- which is no doubt why it took so long for our American doctor to figure out what it was], it is serious and has a mortality rate of 2-5%." At least, if you can trust Wikipedia.

Kinya's specialist strongly suspects that it was heart damage due to rheumatic fever that killed Lyena (Anya's and Kinya's older sister, who died of heart failure at 13). Now, there's no reason for it to get Kinya as well anytime soon, especially since (a) we now know what's happening and (b) she has access to the American health care system, which the Obamessiah has not yet had time to turn into the Canadian health care system or into the British NHS. But it does mean that for at least the next five years, Kinya's going to have to get penicillin shot into her butt once a month.

I would have preferred for it to have been mononucleosis, of course. But at least now we know, and we can start actually doing something about it.

Schadenfreude Dept

And here all this time I thought Leno was a reasonably nice guy.

A mystery that left me stumped

It’s never very easy to find a restaurant that all the kids like, especially when Anya – who takes food-pickiness to levels never before achieved by humankind – is a member of the party. But last Friday I had gotten hung up dealing with pressing work and family matters, and it wasn’t looking like I was going to have time to cook. I rushed home with a Sonic burger for Rusty so that he could get his dinner eaten before his mom came to pick him up; but then after he left I still had the unfed Troika on my hands...and just felt too tired to face the kitchen. So I told the Troika we were going to go out to eat, and the negotiations began.

Anya announced, rather unexpectedly, that she wanted “myáso – ya khochý mnógo myása, Pápa, MNÓGO!” Which is to say basically, “I want meat, and lots of it.” Now, my budgetary constraints have loosened slightly in the last month or so, but I’m still no Bill Gates, and that sounded expensive...until it occurred to me, “Sounds like what we need is a Western Sizzlin’ buffet.” And so we headed out to a restaurant I’ve driven by for three years but never gone into: the “American Buffet,” which sounded like a steakhouse buffet to me.

Well, it turns out to be a HUGE buffet place with lots of different styles of food (hence the “American” part of the name, I suppose). Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Cajun, good ol’ steak-and-potatoes...not even Anya could complain that there was nothing here that she liked. So we collected our food – I started with a nice big plate of some sort of pasta with shrimp – and headed for one of the booths.

Then Kristina pointed out something I hadn’t noticed – having, I am happy to say, the tact to express herself in Russian, in which language we kept the conversation thereafter. It is of course very handy to have available a language that nobody else in the restaurant knows, in order to comment freely upon one’s fellow patrons without fear of giving offense...except that this makes it inevitable that sooner or later you will comment unfavorably in Russian upon the badly dressed, body- and nose- and lip-pierced, loud-mouthed chick at the next table with her Ludacris shirt and skin-tight “honey, my prices are both reasonable AND negotiable” leather pants, only to discover that when she is on duty, rather than enjoying a spot of free time, she is a translator for the United Nations. But that disaster did not befall us this particular, where was I? Oh, yes.

“Papa,” Kinya asked, “pochemý fsye lyúdi zdyes óchen zhírniye?” – “Why is everybody in this restaurant so fat?”

This was something I hadn’t noticed, but now that she mentioned it...holy Plus Sizes, Batman, she was right! Everywhere you looked your eye was assaulted, not just by people who were carrying a bit of extra weight, but by – there is no other word for it – rank obesity.

“I have no idea, Kinya,” I answered in Russian, “but you’re right, there are a lot of very fat people in this restaurant. I don’t know why that should be, but it’s true.”

We went on to other subjects, such as how much Kinya was enjoying the spare ribs she was demolishing, but now that my attention had been caught by what appeared to be a pretty bloody extreme statistical anomaly, I was getting curious. Were we perhaps falling victim to the standard mental illusion of “sharpening” – that is, were we only noticing the outliers and overestimating the actual percentage of people who were overweight in the restaurant? Or was it really true that most of the people in this restaurant had left “pudgy” far back in their rearview mirrors? So when I went back to the buffet to get a chicken-fried steak and several heaping spoonfuls of mashed potatoes and gravy, I did a quick but rigorous survey of the patrons at the tables in the section between us and the buffet.

I don’t remember the specific numbers, I just remember the percentage: more than 75% of the patrons in that section were overweight to the point of medical concern. Really, more than 3 out of every 4. We weren’t talking a mental illusion here; it actually WAS literally true that most of the people in the restaurant were seriously overweight.

Shortly thereafter, on my way back from picking up a plateful of fried catfish, I caught a view of the line of people waiting to get in. There were five people in that line, and a conservative estimate of total poundage would be – I kid you not – twelve or thirteen hundred pounds. I couldn’t believe was like the girls and I were violating some sort of unwritten code by our presence. So when I went back for my chocolate chip cookies and the bowl of ice cream in which to dip them, I, with a carefully casual air, wandered through the entire restaurant, carrying out another survey, this one with a sample size of “everybody in the frickin’ restaurant.” There were nineteen groups. One of them was our table, in which I, at 5’11” and 175, was the pudgiest. Then there was a table where an ordinary-looking guy was eating by himself, and while it’s possible that he had other family members up at the buffet who might have altered his table’s category, I counted him as a healthy table. Other than that...well, here are the complete results:

Tables at which nobody was overweight: 1
Tables at which nobody was more overweight than I am: 1 (that is, ours)
Tables at which there was at least one person (usually a majority but I didn’t track that) who was significantly overweight, as in their doctor tells them every year at their physical, “You really need to lose some weight”: 4
Tables at which there was at least one person (usually more) who I thought could reasonably be termed “obese”: 11

That leaves two tables that I felt had to be in a class of their own, because we’re talking women can I put it? One didn’t feel that these women would have ever agreed to run a twenty-yard dash against Oprah (Big Version) unless Oprah was required to carry a Steadman under each arm to make it fair. One worried that these poor ladies usually have a terrible time finding their cars when they go to Wal-Mart, because the moment they disappear into the building, their long-suffering cars say, “Now’s my chance, I’m making a break for it,” and run around to hide behind the dumpsters.

But why should this particular restaurant specialize in serving the grossly overweight? I puzzled on it all the way back to the dessert bar, and in the end, as I swallowed the last bite of my bowl of bread pudding, I came to the conclusion that this was one mystery I’m just never going to solve.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Didn't see that one coming but I'm happy to see it

So Kristina came in yesterday morning and told me she was going to church with me. Since it wasn't my weekend with the other kids, I gave her the choice:
  • We could go to the Russian Orthodox, Russian-language church up north.

  • We could go to my English-language Episcopalian Church of the Ascension, where she would understand and be familiar with the service.

  • We could go to my Spanish-language Casa de Celebración, which is also where Kinya's friend Daniela and her family go to church, and where the worship band is bar none the best I've ever worshipped with...but where the services are en español, which Kinya doesn't speak. But for the last choice I did offer a compromise: we could leave after the forty-five-minute opening muscial worship jam session, so that Kinya wouldn't have to listen to an additional forty-five-minute sermon in a (to her) incomprehensible language.

Rather to my surprise, she chose the last option.

So we went to la Casa (or, rather, to the Marriott where la Casa has been meeting since Ike rendered the church building unusable) and got there while the band was still doing sound checks. We said my buenos díases and then wandered downstairs, killed a little time at Starbucks, and gave Kinya a chance professionally to criticize the fact that Starbucks, unlike Java Dave's, buys their whipped cream already whipped instead of whipping it in-house. I amused Kinya inordinately by telling her about how last week Pastor Juan Carlos's dad tried to impress me by saying howdy in Russian, but unfortunately chose to do so with an enthusiastic, "Do sfidániya!" -- which is to say, "Good-bye." Then we walked back upstairs, where the party was in full swing, and Kinya filled out a first-time visitor's card...a bit tricky for her since it was in Spanish and she didn't know how to answer because she couldn't understand the questions; but I helped her out with that and the card got filled out successfully. The head usher came over and offered to sit with us and translate, but I explained that, for this Sunday at least, we would be leaving after the music.

And then we went on in, and I sang along whenever I could understand the lyrics (I follow the sermons okay but it's harder for me to piece together sung Spanish through the music than to decipher spoken Spanish, even when there's lots of audience participation in the sermon, as is definitely the case at la Casa), and Kinya watched somewhat bemused and amused and wide-eyed but (as it turned out) most especially VERY impressed with the quality of the drum set and the panache with which the handsome young drummer employed it.

The music ended, and everybody sat down, even including us -- because I knew we weren't quite to the sermon yet. Then the head usher took the mike and explained, in Spanish followed by a careful English translation, that there were two people in the congregation who had never been here before. So she introduced both newcomers, including of course Kristina -- and then, again to Kristina's astonishment, the service came to a halt while all fifty or so people in the congregation got up, came over to Kristina and to the other gentleman, and one at a time shook her hand and smiled and welcomed her to the church.

As everyone returned to his seat, and Juan Carlos took the mike, Kinya and I got up quietly and walked out into the hall. As we headed for the door, Kristina seemed deep in thought.

And then she asked, "Papa, can you help me learn Spanish?"

So the upshot of it all is that I'm going to add Spanish to Kinya's home-school curriculum, and for the time being at least our ordinary Sunday routine will be very similar to my current one, except that now Kinya will join in for part of it:

1. I'll get up and go to 8:00 Rite I Eucharist at the Church of the Ascension.

2. Then I'll eat breakfast with everybody else at Ascension.

3. Then I'll go to Sunday School at Ascension, which will end around 10:15.

4. Then I'll go pick up Kristina and her laptop.

5. Then we'll go to la Casa for the music.

6. Then after the music is over, Kinya will take her laptop to one of the little cafés in the neighborhood and do some schoolwork or play WoW or just drink tea and people-watch, while I listen to the sermon.

So I guess the upshot is that, in answer to a couple of years of praying, Kristina has decided to start going to church with me every Sunday morning -- but at a Spanish-speaking church, of all things.

I'll guarantee you this: in this life of ours, I long ago stopped trying to predict what was going to happen next.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Properly Prioritizing Couple of the Day Dept

Let's 9-1-1, or make out? Call 9-1-1, or...

HT: Mr. Barry.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Redneck Religious Conversion Dept

And another one from Karl:

Each Friday night after work, James Louis would fire up his outdoor grill and cook himself a venison steak. But, all of James Louis's neighbors were Catholic...and every time Lent came around, they were forbidden from eating meat on Fridays.

Now the Catholics wouldn't've mind going without meat, except that the aroma from the grilled venison steaks got to causing way more temptation than any good Catholic ought to have to overcome. Got to be such a problem for the Catholic faithful that they finally went to their priest for advice.

Well, the priest decided the easiest thing to do was just to convert James Louis to Catholicism. So he commenced to visiting the old redneck, and managed to get him into confirmation classes, and next thing you know James Louis was standing at the baptismal font getting sprinkled with holy water, while the priest informed him proudly, "You may have been born a Baptist, and you may have been raised a Baptist, but from now on you're a Catholic!"

James Louis's neighbors were right proud of their priest for solving their problem, and everything was calm and serene right up until Lent came around. But then, on the very first Friday night of Lent, what did the neighbors smell but that same ol' dee-licious, way-too-temptin' smell of venison on the grill.

Well, naturally the neighbors called the priest right away, and he came rushing over to James Lewis's house, rosary in hand, ready to give James Lewis a good talkin'-to. But as he came around the corner of the house he stopped in his tracks and stood there staring -- as James Lewis, bottle of holy water firmly in hand, addressed his venison steak gravely:

"Mebbe you wuz borned a deer, and mebbe you was raised a deer, but from now on, you's a catfish!"

Letter Home From Boot Camp Dept

Thanks to Karl for this one:

Dear Ma and Pa,

I am well. Hope you are. Tell Brother Walt and Brother Elmer the Marine Corps beats working for old man Minch by a mile. Tell them to join up quick before all of the places are filled.

I was restless at first because you get to stay in bed till nearly 6 a.m. But I am getting so I like to sleep late. Tell Walt and Elmer all you do before breakfast is smooth your cot, and shine some things. No hogs to slop, feed to pitch, mash to mix, wood to split, fire to lay. Practically nothing.

Men got to shave but it is not so bad, there's warm water. Breakfast is strong on trimmings like fruit juice, cereal, eggs, bacon, etc., but kind of weak on chops, potatoes, ham, steak, fried eggplant, pie and other regular food, but tell Walt and Elmer you can always sit by the two city boys that live on coffee. Their food, plus yours, holds you until noon when you get fed again. It's no wonder these city boys can't walk much.

We go on 'route marches,' which the platoon sergeant says are long walks to harden us. If he thinks so, it ain't my place to tell him different. A 'route march' is about as far as to our mailbox at home. Then the city guys get sore feet and we all ride back in trucks.

The sergeant is like a school teacher. He nags a lot. The Captain is like the school board. Majors and colonels just ride around and frown. They don't bother you none.

This next will kill Walt and Elmer with laughing. I keep getting medals for shooting. I don't know why. The bulls-eye is near as big as a chipmunk head and don't move, and it ain't shooting at you like the Higgett boys at home. All you got to do is lie there all comfortable and hit it. You don't even load your own cartridges, they come in boxes.

Then we have what they call hand-to-hand combat training. You get to wrestle with them city boys. I have to be real careful though, they break real easy. It ain't like fighting with that ole bull at home. I'm about the best they got in this except for that Tug Jordan from over in Silver Lake . I only beat him once. He joined up the same time as me, but I'm only 5'6' and 130 pounds and he's 6'8' and near 300 pounds dry.

Be sure to tell Walt and Elmer to hurry and join before other fellers get onto this setup and come stampeding in.

Love always,
Sue Ann

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I'm Not Sure That's A Realistic Option But I Admire Your Optimistic Spirit Dept.

The good folks at The Onion asked Harvey Martin, Systems Analyst, "Texas state Rep. Betty Brown suggested that Asian-American voters should change their names to something 'easier for Americans to deal with.' What do you think?"

Harvey's response: "Wouldn't it just be easier to teach Texans how to read?"

UPDATE: Although Brown is something of a ditz, she is (unsurprisingly) not quite as dumb as the out-of-context quote makes her sound; and I thought the conversation between her and the young man who was testifying, was actually very interesting. Naturalized Americans who immigrated from Asia have some difficulties in complying with voter ID acts that I hadn't thought of; and it says something about Florida that any fool can apparently get a driver's license (see half the articles on Dave Barry's blog), and people who are too brain-dead-moronically stupid to be able to tell whether they are voting for Al Gore or Patrick Buchanan are passionately encouraged to vote -- but a Chinese-American whose Chinese name is transliterated with a hyphen on his driver's license but without a hyphen on the voter registration role, will be denied the right to vote on the grounds that he's not the same person as the one who registered. (I presume, that is, that this rule is suspended in the case of persons who are being paid by the Democratic Party to vote on behalf of Democrats who are unable to cast their own votes due to the inconvenience of being, you know, dead.)

At any rate, here's what I thought was a very interesting discussion between a very smart young Asian-American and a well-meaning and polite, but not very bright, Texas state representative. (Note, by the way, that the funniest moment is actually not where she suggests that they pick easier names, but when she asks about whether the Chinese government is strict about requiring ID before letting you vote in Chinese elections.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Troika health update

Kinya does not have tuberculosis. However, the infectious disease specialist to whom we have been referred by our family doctor, says the most likely diagnosis now is some form of mononucleosis. He drew lots more blood for lots more tests; and we go back for the results in two weeks. But if he's right, then, if I understood him properly:

1. Mononucleosis eventually gets tired of bothering you and goes away on its own.

2. Nothing you do can drive it away sooner than whenever it gets tired of bothering you and goes away on its own.

In the meantime, the pro-forma TB skin test the Department of Health insisted on doing on Anya, came back positive. Now I don't for a moment believe Anya has TB; but I have now been ordered to take Anya back to Rosenberg on Thursday morning to start the whole process over again, this time with Anya -- though at least they're going to jump straight to the chest x-ray, and thus we may escape a second week of quarantine.

Cue my mother's habitual reassurance of her son: "Well, Kenneth, at least your life isn't boring."

People Person of the Day

So I was having dinner with some friends Monday night, and they told me a story about their daughter. (Now, although I’m sure they wouldn’t mind my blogging this story, still they haven’t given me explicit permission; so I’m changing the names.) Their daughter, whom I’ll call “Hallie” for narrative purposes, is very, very bright, and apparently one of the most single-mindedly people-oriented folks you’re ever likely to meet. She’s a high school dropout – but that’s because she didn’t stick around for her senior year of high school since she already had a couple of semesters’ college credit under her belt and wanted to get on with her bachelor’s degree; and she will shortly be finishing up her master’s and getting on with her career in social work. So brains are not a problem.

That’s why it was a bit surprising when she came home from college to spend a Christmas with her parents and kept getting lost every time they sent her out on an errand. Granted, she hadn’t grown up in that house, which her parents had only recently moved into; but she had spent the previous summer living there with them and had – to all appearances – learned her way around the new neighborhood. Yet here it was at Christmas and they could hardly send her to HEB for a gallon of milk without her getting lost on the way.

So after this happened for the third or fourth time they asked her, “Hallie, what’s the deal? How come all of a sudden you can’t find your way around town? You were doing fine last summer.”

“Well, you see,” Hallie answered ruefully, “the problem is, all my landmarks are gone.”

This didn’t make sense. “What do you mean, ‘my landmarks are gone’?”

She explained, something along these (Perilously fictionalized for narrative convenience) lines: “Well, to get to HEB I always used to turn right at the intersection where the homeless guy with the long white beard hung out. And the fitness club was a couple of blocks north of the Vietnam veteran in the wheelchair...”

“Do you mean to say your ‘landmarks’ were homeless people???”

“Well...yeah. But I guess it’s gotten cold or something and they aren’t in the same places they used to hang out last summer.”

“Um...well, dear, that’s why most people, when they are looking for landmarks, they use things like, you know...street signs.”

Now I think this is a completely disarming story, because I can’t begin to say how admirable I think young Hallie is – most of us have trained ourselves to look right through homeless people as though they were invisible, but Hallie notices the homeless people more than any other feature of the landscape. And not just as Homeless People: she notices the personal details of the homeless people, which is to say that she doesn’t just see them (which in itself is more than most of us manage), but she sees them, instinctively and emphatically, as individuals.

So if I were Hallie’s parents, I think I would certainly have been tremendously amused to find that my daughter was completely incapable of getting around town at Christmas time because she habitually used homeless people for landmarks and the homeless people had all moved while she was away at school. Yes, no doubt, I’d be tremendously amused.

But I’ll tell you what else – I’d be so proud of her I might just bust wide open on the spot.

A walk in the rain

Saturday was noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, we had torrential downpours and flooding all day.

And second, Saturday was the day the brakes on the Honda locked up, in the parking lot of Whole Foods.

It was, as I mentioned, raining just a bit. Now I could have called Ft. Bend Towing, but I had left their card in the Buick. Speaking of the Buick, the Buick was happily functional, and patiently waiting at my friend Nick's car repair shop for me to come get her, as she had been for about a week. But that was three miles away.

I called up everybody I knew who lived in Sugar Land. Well, almost everybody – I didn’t call one friend of mine who lives in Sugar Land, but that’s because she has a ridiculously jealous husband. (Not really; the truth is that it just flat slipped my air-filled mind that Novera lives in Sugar Land.) So, basically, I called the people I know from Java Dave’s, or at least those whose cell phone numbers I know: Aileen, Nasser, and Daniela. Aileen was working; Nasser was out running errands up in Houston or someplace; and Daniela didn’t answer. (I blame Caller ID, myself.)

Well, I didn’t particularly want to sit aimlessly around in the car all day. And I didn’t really have any particular objection to walking. And I hadn’t had an excuse to go walking in the rain and splashing through puddles in some time (obviously one of the drawbacks to becoming an adult is that one requires an excuse to do things that, as a child, you could do “just because”). So I shrugged my shoulders, climbed out of the car, and headed for Nick's shop.

About a half mile along the way, as I was happily engaged in trying to see how much higher than my well-soaked cowboy hat brim I could kick the water in the puddles I was marching through, my phone rang. It was Miss Daniela calling me back.

“Mr. Pierce, did you call me?”

I chuckled. “Oh, don’t worry about it, Miss Daniela, it’s no big deal. But thanks for calling me back.”

Now, Miss Daniela is a very well-mannered and considerate young lady, and so she politely asked, “Is everything okay?”

Walking, temporarily, with great care and circumspection so as to keep from accidentally splashing my BlackBerry, I explained cheerfully, “Oh, my car broke down at Whole Foods, and I was just checking around to see if anybody I knew happened to be in the neighborhood to save me some walking in the rain. But nobody was, so I just went ahead and started walking.”

“Oh, no! Mr. Pierce, are you sure you don’t need help?”

“My dear Miss Daniela, once you’ve walked half a mile in this rain you might as well walk two or three more, ’cause I assure you, I ain’t gonna get any wetter than I already am. So don’t worry; I’m fine. But, really, thank you very much for calling me back.”

She was clearly still rather dubious. “Well, okay.”

“I’ll talk to you later. Thanks again.”

“Bye, Mr. Pierce.”

I hit the drop call button. I carefully replaced the BlackBerry in the shirt pocket that was underneath the bib of my overalls, on the side away from the roadway puddles that passing cars kept splashing through, having previously determined that this was likely to be the least waterlogged region of my person for the next hour or so.

And then I went happily back to seeing how high I could kick the water I was marching through.

In the end it was a very pleasant hour or so, that hour or so that I spent on that walk. I met a couple of hard-core joggers, and occasionally got splashed by a passing car, but for obvious reasons there wasn’t a lot of traffic and the ordinary sounds of town life were largely dampened down (both literally and figuratively). It’s been a long, long time since I went for a nice long country walk in the rain, and I considered that this counted as a more or less reasonable facsimile thereof.

But I have to admit, the hot shower at the end felt really nice.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Happy Death of the Suitors Day!

As explained here, last year, on my inaugural observance thereof.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Life Choice Fail Dept

I'm not bitter, y'all; I just think this is funny...

HT: FailBlog

Monday, April 13, 2009


Kinya doesn't have tuberculosis. So the quarantine is lifted. I think I may have to invite somebody over for dinner on Saturday just 'cause I can.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Alleluia, Christ Is Risen! Dept

(And this is where you answer, "The Lord Is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Dept")

Now, if you expected deep theological, you surely know better, because this is a "Dept" post. What we're really going to do now, is pass on a joke.

Our priest started his sermon this morning by telling about a memorable episode passed on to him by a fellow priest. The church organist one year fell prey to, as Fr. Walter described it, “the church organist’s worst nightmare” – she overslept and missed the first service on Easter Sunday. Well, people in the church loved her, and she was so obviously humiliated and embarrassed and upset with herself that nobody was mad at her...but she did have to put up with some teasing for a while. Then time passed, and everybody more or less forgot about it, and at last Easter rolled around again.

That next Easter morning, the organist’s phone rang at 5:00 a.m. She answered it, and her priest’s voice came jovially through the line: “Good morning, Joyce! Christ is risen – and I suggest you do the same!”

A new post, on John Wesley and certain irresponsible modern charismatics, is up...

...over at Contriti Corde.

John Wesley responds to those who ask, "Do we not make void the law through faith?"

And pithily doth he answer:

"First, all who preach not faith, do manifestly make void the law; either directly and grossly, by limitations and comments that eat out all the spirit of the text; or, indirectly, by not pointing out the only means whereby it is possible to perform it."

And there you have it. Next topic.

(From Wesley's sermon "Salvation by Faith," preached at St. Mary's, Oxford, before the University, on June 18, 1738.)

The Devil's Dictionary: Ingrate (n.)

One who receives a benefit from another, or is otherwise an object of charity.

The Devil's Dictionary: Infralapsarian (n.)

One who ventures to believe that Adam need not have sinned unless he had a mind to -- in opposition to the Supralapsarians, who hold that that luckless person's fall was decreed from the beginning. Infralapsarians are sometimes called Sublapsarians without material effect upon the importance and lucidity of their views about Adam.

The Devil's Dictionary: Influence (n.)

In politics, a visionary quo given in exchange for a substantial quid.

The Devil's Dictionary: Infidel (n.)

In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does.

[The New York of Pierce's acquaintance is clearly not the New York of Bierce's.]

The Devil's Dictionary: Infancy (n.)

The period of our lives when, according to Wordsworth, "Heaven lies about us." The world begins lying about us pretty soon afterward.

The Devil's Dictionary: Incubus (n.)

One of a race of highly improper demons who, though probably not wholly extinct, may be said to have seen their best nights.

[The point of this rather depends upon your knowing what an incubus is; but not wishing to invite children to pursue any disturbing links, I leave it to the Gentle Reader to do his own googling.]

Friday, April 10, 2009

Where was it women are from again?

So I mentioned to a female friend of mine that there was a lady among my acquaintance whom I find quite attractive, but that I had no intention of asking her out for various reasons. And I was rather surprised when my friend, who is herself a lady, responded, "I think a little unserious romantic interest is precisely what the doctor ordered for you at the moment: something not real enough to be threatening or to lacerate, but enough to provide piquancy and spice to life."

Now this is not at all something I would have come up with my own, and the more I've thought about it the more I've thought that this sounds like a basic male/female difference. My own assumption is that if you're just going to be friends with a woman and never try to Go Any Further Than That, then life is a lot simpler if she doesn't make you interested in Going Any Further Than That in the first place. And I think most guys would largely agree with me, even if we wouldn't go quite as far as Wilde's "Algy" and say, "The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her, if she is pretty, and to someone else, if she is plain." (I halt here to say emphatically that this should NOT be taken to imply that I have carefully chosen my female friends on grounds of unattractiveness; in fact I think my circle of female acquaintances would post unusually high AQ scores -- after all, I live in Texas. And since I have the uncomfortable feeling that I am doing nothing but digging the hole deeper with every word, I will just move on to my main point.)

But my friend seems to think that flirting, even if -- apparently in my case only if -- one knows in advance that it will lead nowhere, is a good thing in itself. This seems to my male mind entirely too inadequately goal-oriented an attitude. Still, I decided this sounded like a male/female difference rather than a point on which there was right/wrong answer to be argued about. So in the interests of further research I pestered the first female handy, who happened to be Kinya.

PAPA: [after explaining the situation and promising that there was no Wrong Answer That Will Get You Into Trouble] So do you think it's fun to flirt with boys even if you have not the slightest intention of going out with them?

KINYA: [blushing, and with the tone of voice she uses when having to explain the obvious to her stáriy durák Papa] Yes.

So there you have it. Sounds like an adequate sample size to me.

What is this we're eating again?

Before I tell the story that follows, I think I had better explain that I checked with Daniela first to make sure she and her mom wouldn't mind getting blogged about. I don't want people to feel like they can't be friends with me without appearing on the blog, and Daniela would not be the first of my friends to declare herself non-bloggable. Non-bloggable status is a courtesy that I am happy to extend to any Friends of the Peril, just so you guys know. But Daniela read the post in draft and gave me permission to blog it; so here we go:

I had invited my friends Silvia (the mom, roughly my age) and Daniela (the daughter, roughly Anya's age) out for dinner the other night, because I wanted to discuss wages and logistics in re hiring Silvia to help clean Dessie's house occasionally and also to help out around my house with running errands, etc. But by the time Tuesday night rolled around, Dessie had made it clear that she didn't want the help, and the Department of Health had put my own house under precautionary tuberculosis quarantine. So about all I really could say about the jobs was, "Sorry, can't hire ya." Still, I had promised them dinner, and they are good friends and delightful persons whose company is very enjoyable, and so I took 'em out anyway.

Silvia and Daniela are from Mexico, and the restaurant I had in mind was Rudi Lechner's German restaurant, which is Anya's favorite restaurant because it reminds her of the German food her German grandmother always made when Anya was a little girl. So I asked Silvia and Daniela if they liked German food, and they informed me that they didn't know because they couldn't remember ever having any. Well, that settled it for me: time for them to try beef Rouladen and schnitzel.

It was a very enjoyable evening for me, as is any evening spent with people as good-hearted and joyful as are Silvia and her family, even though Silvia speaks only Spanish and my own Spanish has gotten worse, rather than better, since my work responsibilities changed and my spare time shrank so dramatically. (I won't put any Spanish in this post, by the way. You can remember, if it matters to you, that whenever Silvia or the Mexican waiter are talking, it's in Spanish; but in the meantime I'll just tell the whole story in English.) At any rate, in this very enjoyable evening, two things stuck out that I thought my Gentle Readers might enjoy as well.

1. The waiter was also from Mexico, and let's just say I don't very often see a bunch of Mexican families eating at Rudi Lechner's -- Mexican customers were clearly a very welcome novelty for this gentleman. Plus I think he thought Silvia was pretty cute. (For one thing, about the second question out of his mouth was, "Are you married?" -- though I have to say her answer of "Yes" didn't seem to slow him down.) At any rate, the restaurant was largely empty because it was a Tuesday night and we got there fairly late; so the waiter spent most of his time standing at our table talking happily to Silvia about Mexico. I'm going to have to take Silvia and family back to Rudi's sometime just for the waiter's sake if for no other reason. I just leaned cheerfully back in my chair and listened to them go happily at it. If I had played my cards right I could probably have talked the waiter into paying our check for us.

2. Anya's favorite dish at Rudi's is the escargot -- which, in case you don't know, is French for "snails smothered with garlic butter." Plus I love the stuff my own self...and, of course, I get a huge kick out of seeing people eat snails for the first time, because NOBODY expects to like 'em. "You want us to eat what???" So I ordered 'em.

I couldn't tell Silvia what they were; in fact, not even Daniela could come up with the Spanish word for "snail," and in the end the waiter had to explain it. (But since he was happy to have any excuse to talk to Silvia I doubt he considered this a hardship.) I assured the ladies that they were delicious, and then the escargot arrived, and I took the little escargot fork and firmly placed one snail on Silvia's plate and one on Daniela's. Then I took one for myself, popped it into my mouth, and leaned back to savor it...'cause I really do love the little critters. (As food, not as pets.)

Silvia and Daniela both stare wide-eyed at the escargot. Then they look at each other. Then they look back at the escargot. Then they look at each other and Silvia says, "You first."

"No, Mamí, you go first."

"No, you first."


About this time the waiter chimes in: "Why don't you both eat it at the same time?"

If you've never seen somebody who has never had snail, nerve herself up to put that first bit of garlic-buttered snail into her mouth, then I recommend that you take the next opportunity that presents itself. It isn't really cruel, I feel, for one simple reason: escargot is one of the world's really truly delicious foods; so you're actually doing them a favor.

Well, they did eat it, and then of their own free will they each ate another one because escargot is really quite delicious (or else because they were being very very polite to their eccentric gringo host, especially because I hadn't yet gotten around to telling Silvia I wasn't going to hire her after all), and then there wasn't any more to eat because said gringo host had gobbled up the rest. So I showed 'em how to sop up the rest of the garlic butter with bread, and in the end the escargot was a successful experiment.

So Silvia didn't get a job out of it. But from now on, if anybody asks her, "Have you ever eaten a snail?" she can reply, "Why, yes, I have." Which ought to be enough in itself to make her consider the evening a success, don't you think?

The Devil's Dictionary: Incompossible (adj.)

Unable to exist if something else exists. Two things are incompossible when the world of being has scope enough for one of them, but not enough for both -- as Walt Whitman's poetry and God's mercy to man.

[This is, I consider, by far the best and most amusing of the attempts to prove atheism by appeal to the problem of theodicy. -- Peril]

The Devil's Dictionary: Incompatibility (n.)

In matrimony a similarity of tastes, particularly the taste for domination.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

On the shooting of free throws

With my friend John's permission, I thought I'd let the rest of you in on a little bit of correspondence that shows (a) how I used to use arguably insane over-analysis to compensate for lack of innate athletic ability back in the day, and (b) why I like John Gallop so much. (Namely, any guy capable of writing, "..the sweatshirt was branded as of the opponent/ arch rival/ enemy/ demon-spawned Hill Country Christian School..." is A-OK in my book.) If, by the way, you don't have time to read the whole correspondence, then skip to the end and just read John's last e-mail, which is the one I enjoy the most.

With no further ado, I give you the Peril and Doc Gallop on the shooting of free throws.

First, we have John committing the fatal mistake of asking me for advice:

Your freethrow training expertise‏
From: Dr. John Gallop
Sent: Tue 1/13/09 10:17 PM


Max is now playing 5th/6th grade basketball on his school team, which is a lot of fun. He’s a good ball handler, and pretty coordinated, but in his first three games this season he has missed a lot of freethrows. This sounds simple, but how did you become so good at them?

He and I shot freethrows together after his practice tonight, maybe 80 each, first ten each, then alternating, then make-it take-it. We started at bad-to-mediocre and progressed to rotten. I’m thinking he may benefit by shooting at 13 feet, say, until he’s 80-90%, then moving back from there. I don’t want him to get discouraged, and he isn’t, but the shots mentally almost became impossible for us.

Any advice, or nothing magical, take a break, and just keep shooting?

Now you have to know that if you ask me for advice, you'd better get a cup of coffee and settle in, because when I advise a man, by George I advise him. So here's my response:
RE: Your freethrow training expertise‏
From: Ken Pierce (
Sent: Wed 1/14/09 1:13 PM
To: John Gallop


It's all about designing the motion so that as many variables as possible are removed. Once the motion has as few variables as possible, then you break the motion mentally down into a set of stages that you can walk through mentally on each shot -- checkpoints, as it were. Then you drill the motion over and over until it's ingrained into your muscle memory.

For example, his motion should be designed so that at no stage during the entire execution of the shot does the center of the ball move to the left or right of the imaginary plane that runs from the center-back of one rim through to the center-back of the other rim, perpendicular to the floor. If there's never any point in the motion in which the center of the ball leaves that plane, then it is physically impossible to miss the shot to the left or right, and then you only have to worry about length and arc. Futhermore, his center of gravity should remain in that same plane throughout the shot exactly as the center of the ball does. As another example of this principle, he should come to a brief pause in his pre-shooting position to make sure that his back is perfectly straight up and down -- you come to a pause because this ensures that his body is in stable planes both horizontally and vertically -- and his body's center of gravity should then move only up and down, never forward/backward or left/right. That reduces the question of the arc to hand motion and timing: if your hands do the same thing every time, and your body's center of gravity moves only vertically, then the arc coming out of the shot is always the same.

Finally: no wasted motion. Any motion that is superflous, is the introduction of an unnecessary variable. Anything you do, you can do wrong; the more motion you incorporate into your movement the more ways you can screw up and the fewer free throws go in.

My own motion I can still do without thinking about it even though I don't play any more and haven't in years. His doesn't have to look like this as long as the basic principles are maintained (in fact it's probably easier if he has his feet at close to a 45-degree angle, as opposed to squared up the way I did it; my way only works if you have developed a great deal of flexibility in your shoulder muscles so that you can have your elbow in line even while your shoulders are square):

Center myself with respect to the goal, feet two inches behind the line. Take the ball from the official with both hands. Three bounces, square it up so that the seams are parallel to the free throw line, spin it back into my hands to make sure the seams spin true. Right hand behind the ball, fingers spread, index finger positioned properly. Bend at waist, then at knees (this gets weight onto balls of feet), straighten back to perfect vertical with knees still bent. Sight onto the back of the rim. Deep breath, let it out. Elevate ball to just above eye-level, tuck elbow so that elbow, pit of stomach, nose, and center of ball are all in the goal-to-goal plane. Visualize ball dropping through net (don't underestimate the importance of this step, which tells your subconscious that you want to make this one). Shoot, using legs and arms, finishing straight up and down with hand high and wrist snapped. Hold follow-through pose while ball is flight and internally check balance and body alignment (so that anything I did wrong I can fix on the next shot). Watch ball drop through the hole.

When I missed, I knew within a split-second that I had missed, because I didn't end up where I was supposed to. In that case, I never held the follow-through pose; instead I instantly broke back down into ready-to-move position and moved laterally to the side of the lane that I expected the rebound to come to. (Part of the reason I started two inches behind the line was margin of error in case I accidentally edged slightly forward in that first lateral move.) That way I not only made most of my free throws -- but I also got a ridiculously high percentage (relatively speaking) of the rebounds on my own misses, since I knew before anybody else did where the ball was headed, and since very few high-school players who are responsible for blocking out the shooter on a free throw, actually bother to block out. (On the rare occasions when I knew that the other team's defender took his block-out responsibilities seriously, I generally moved slightly in the WRONG direction for just a moment, to pull him into over-reaction, and then as he made contact I did an instant spin-move back to the side I expected the rebound to come to. I don't remember ever having to deal with a high-school defender who was prepared for that move.)

Hope that helps...

RE: Your freethrow training expertise‏
From: Dr. John Gallop
Sent: Wed 1/14/09 6:29 PM
To: 'Ken Pierce' (

Thank you, Kenny. I have taken the liberty of forwarding your e-mail to Max’s coach, to the parents of each of his teammates, and to two of my brothers. Even a slight improvement in this aspect will greatly improve Max’s team’s chance of success. I’m glad I asked you. Thank you again!

Now we get to the fruits of John's labor, as passed on to me a few days later:
(No Subject)‏
From: Dr. John Gallop
Sent: Wed 1/28/09 8:02 PM
To: 'Ken Pierce' (


Max’s and my freethrow shooting has much improved! After his last practice I was making about 80%, and it started to seem easy, like I shouldn’t have missed the other 20%.

Last night at an away high school game of the kids’ school, there was a half-time freethrow shooting contest- Make 5 in a minute, get a sweatshirt. I was thinking,”Cool! I’m primed for this; I’ll probably make 5 in my first 6 or 7 shots. I’ll be wearing that sweatshirt in less than 15 seconds!”

When they call out to the crowd, this lady and I both volunteer, so I sit down and let her go. The lady makes the 5 in a minute and sits down. The guy asks, “Anybody else?,” so I jump up again, and I go to the line.

My early optimism was based upon my experience at Max’s practice, but I underestimated the effect of using the elementary boys/high school girls-sized ball, which is slightly smaller and lighter. It took me a good ten shots to range-in, as I threw up 10 beautiful, high-arced, perfectly back-spun bricks off the front rim. With 30 seconds to go, I had only made one shot, and the thought of the humiliation to me and my two daughters watching in the stands in front of many of their classmates and parent friends of mine, especially after the lady had just succeeded, flashed briefly in and out of my mind. I gathered, found the range, and sank the final four, with a few seconds to spare.

It was an away game, so of course, the sweatshirt was branded as of the opponent/ arch rival/ enemy/ demon-spawned Hill Country Christian School. When he handed it to me, the representative of the vile institution asked me if I would put it on, over my divinely-inspired royal blue Summit Christian Academy Boosters Club sport shirt, to which I replied, “Sure. If you’ll give it to me, I’ll put it on.” When I did, all our fans booed quite loudly and the opposing all cheered. I faced them all, spread my arms up to them in the stands and yelled in mock exultation of victory. I took the sweatshirt off on returning to my seat, and gave it to a cheerleader of the opponent when she asked me for it after one of her schoolmates sitting behind me seemed too cool to express interest in a gifted already-worn sweatshirt.

Our team let the game get closer than it should’ve, but we won. Overall, a very fun time. Thank you again for your instruction; it continues to pay off!


Sunday, April 05, 2009

You Keep Assuming I Know What That Word Means Dept

The trouble with kids -- especially adopted kids who have had to acquire English as a second language well into their teenaged years -- is that it's hard to remember how many, and which, things they don't know...

Conversation yesterday with Kinya, as Papa wanders down the driveway and meets Kinya on her way back to the house from visiting the mailbox:

KINYA: [looking up in disgust from the letter she has just opened, which seems to be a bank statement] Papa, why does the bank keep sending me this?

PAPA: [looking more closely and confirming that this is indeed Kinya's bank statement for this month] That's just your bank statement, Kinya.

[Kinya rolls her eyes and begins vigorously wadding up the paper, earning a startled yelp from Papa]

PAPA: No, Kinya, stop! You're supposed to reconcile that and file it!

KINYA: [tossing in Papa's direction her standard "Pápa stáriy durák" look of disdain for Papa's senility and mental slowness] But, Papa, I already have one of these.