Saturday, June 26, 2010


Armed with their cameras, Sally and her friend, Kris, headed east of Salt Lake City for a daytrip to the towns of Heber City, Park City and Oakley, Utah.

These pictures of Park City are of a summer town, not the winter ski resort of the annual Sundance Film Festival.

I assume that's Mr. Martinez on the ladder, working on his lavender Park City home. If he's got any paint left, maybe he could slap it on the shack Sally got a picture of.

I don't know why there's caution tape. Looks official, though.

The Road Island Diner came from New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island to the mountain town of Oakley, Utah. The women must've caught it at a slow time, because I understand it's usually crowded and a rockin' joint, as you can see by the jukebox. That's Kris smiling in the reflection.

Sally got pictures of two of her favorite things: clouds and flowers at The Homestead, a resort near Heber City. She got a nice shot of a lenticular cloud, which only form over mountains.

When Sally and Kris go on one of these excursions they come back with pictures of critters. They were taking a break in Heber City when they heard some yipping sounds coming from a car. Inside the car, being cooked by the heat, were some pit bull puppies. They took the dogs out of the car, gave them water. A little boy came over to claim the dogs and was soon joined by his mom. While I wonder about the wisdom of getting into someone else's car--they might have gotten in some serious trouble--in this case the people were grateful their dogs were taken care of.

Sally and Kris stopped at a ranch, and were taking pictures of cows in the fields. An older man and his wife were herding the cows into a barn, when the cows suddenly changed their minds and went back to the fields. Kris said, "I hope that wasn't my fault," and the man said, "These girls sometimes just go where they want." He later came over and had a nice conversation with the shutterbugs.

The bird is a snipe. Kris is a birder, but I know very little about birds. I now know that a snipe is a bird, and not just someone who goes in and steals your eBay bid at the last second.

There are more pictures, and someday I'll show some of them.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Altogether, already...alright is not all right

Things I know for sure about my mother tongue, the English language:

It's crazy. Rules are there, but constantly broken.

It's abused and misused constantly.

Milena, a lady from Serbia, told me she had lived in Germany for three years, then moved on to America. I thought her English was excellent, but she was exasperated with the language. She told me, "In Germany they have one word for a thing; in English you can have twenty words mean the same thing."

Yes, that's true. That's because English is the ultimate stealer. We have taken words from other languages and done it shamelessly. We have screwy spelling and we did it deliberately to confuse people trying to learn English. We like how esoteric our language is and we want to keep it to ourselves, don't we, Milena?

In English we have words that over the years have taken on different meanings. My favorite example is "weird", which used to mean something supernatural, and now means anything that is unusual or offbeat. I think the whole handling of "weird" is weird (in the modern sense). A good word with a specific meaning has had all meaning taken from it, reducing its impact. The list of words whose meanings have changed is long. "Decimate" is another example. I see that word in the newspaper all the time: "The Taliban decimated a village," in modern usage meaning they destroyed it completely. The original meaning of the word came from the Romans, who, when faced with a village they thought unruly, would take all the men and kill one in ten. That was decimating a village. At one point I thought of founding the Anti-Decimation League, and sending letters to any publication that used it outside of its original sense. Then I read a dictionary which gave the original "one-in-ten" meaning as a secondary definition of the word. I felt betrayed by the very people I used to support my other arguments.

Before English spelling was standardized it was a free-for-all between writers, and many words were spelled phonetically, even by otherwise smart men. A religious leader, in a tract regarding Egyptian hieroglyphics, used the word "caractors" for "characters". That makes sense to me to have words spelled like they sound, except we can't do that, because, 1. It would put all the dictionaries out of business, and 2. we'd have to interpret each document, each novel or newspaper article trying to figure out what the writer is saying.

Nowadays people don't necessarily go to a dictionary to check on a spelling. They leave it up to the devil, Spellchecker. Spellchecker is the devil because it leads people astray. It does not know if you write a sentence, "The man ran threw the building," that "threw" is a homonym for "through," with an entirely different meaning. Spellchecker didn't know, for instance, the difference between "sewn" and "sown" when my local newspaper posted a headline, "Seeds of revolution are sewn." No, buttons are sewn, seeds are sown.

And those are words it recognizes, at least. If you have a word it doesn't carry in its database it may give you a suggestion, but unless you check the definition the suggestion could be completely off. In an e-mail to me a friend told me he his doctor had given him a diagnosis of tendentious. Tendentious means having a definite tendency or goal. He meant tendinitis, a medical condition, which Spellchecker didn't know. It threw (not through) out a word that sounded close. My friend trustingly hit the button substituting the word.

There are fads in language, and writing about all of them would take another post, but words pop into usage, especially hyperbole. For the last few years even the most garden variety of things have been "awesome". "My trip to Walmart was awesome." It describes people, too. "Man, you are awesome!" As a radio talk show host said when day when a caller gushed all over him using that word, "No, Mt. Rushmore is awesome. Me, I'm just okay." (Okay, it should be noted, is probably the most widely used English word on the planet, picked up for usage in every language and meaning the same thing as it does to us.)

Another fad is to use multi-syllable words when one syllable will do. I hear "absolutely" used for "yes." Other words I've heard used for yes are "definitely," and "affirmative." Why use more syllables than you need? Go to another country, and if you say "yes" or "no" in English most people will know what you mean. Say "absolutely" and you'll get a blank look. It works for English speakers like me, too.

Finally, some words look right to people and may one day be correct, but now they're not. "Alright" is not a word. It looks like a word. As my American Heritage Dictionary says, "It is still not acceptable to write all right as a single word, alright, despite the parallel to words like already and altogether and despite the fact that in casual speech the expression is often pronounced as if it were one word." I'm thinking of it because a book I'm reading uses that incorrect usage and it bothers me. Even a headline popped out at me in my local newspaper today: "The Backstreet Boys are back, alright!"

"Alright" ain't a word. "Ain't" also ain't a word and it ain't alright to use it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Order from disorder

Pardon My Planet demonstrates the fascinating ability the human brain has to make order out of disorder. Researchers found out that while we are reading, what we're seeing are the frist and lsat ltterrs of a wrod. Our brains go to work and decipher the words for us, no maettr if the letters are jmubled. Ani't taht naet!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Not mad at anybody." Well, there are exceptions...

Over twenty years ago my coworker, Roy, told me he had dreamed he was dead, attending his own funeral. He told the clergyman conducting the service, "I want everyone here to know that I'm not mad at anybody. Not a single person."

I've often thought of Roy's dream as an ideal to live up to. To put anger behind me, be at peace with everyone. For the most part I thought I thought I'd achieved it until a few days ago. When I watched Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, giving his non-answers to U.S. Congress committee questions, I got mad.

Apparently a lot of people got mad at Hayward. Apparently Congress got mad. Tony Hayward was recalled to Great Britain by his company and taken out of the sight of mad Americans.

I also got mad at Congressman Joe Barton, who apologized for the actions of the president in securing a $20 billion guarantee that BP would compensate the people of the Gulf Coast who are affected by BP's environmental disaster. He called it a "shake-down." Many Republicans had been calling it a shake-down, but Barton went one step further by giving his apology. The Republican leadership realized, too late, that the guy was going to bring down the wrath of the public, who weren't in any mood to apologize to Hayward or anyone else at BP. They took Barton in for a little chat. Barton came out and apologized for his apology, then retracted it. The damage by then had been done.

Republicans hate Obama so much they will sacrifice a whole area of the country to a multinational corporation in order to show it. Barton said what Republicans think, but wouldn't say because it would be political death.

Let's personalize it. Your neighbor comes over to your house and pours toxic chemicals onto your property. He can't stop. Every day he pours more and more deadly garbage into your yard. He causes the deaths of neighborhood animals, your plants and vegetation. The mayor of the town negotiates a payment from the neighbor for you to compensate you for the damage. But a city councilman, in a public meeting, apologizes to the toxin-spewing neighbor for the "shake-down." He has effectively taken the side of the violator who has wronged you, a fact clear to everyone but the councilman, who thinks it is OK for someone to dump poison on you and not have to pay for it.

If I'm going to achieve that dream of not being mad at anyone, then I'm going to have to forgive some people in power whose actions are pro-violator and anti-victim. Were I to die at this moment I would go out angry.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Sparky Sal, the lightning gal

The other day I watched a Discovery Channel TV show called Weird Or What?, which is a Ripley's Believe It Or Not-styled programs. One of the segments of the program was about an Oklahoma farmer who has been hit by lightning six times over the years, and survived. It helped me solve a mystery involving my wife, Sally.

Over the years Sally has been her own lightning storm. She'd be in the local Albertson's supermarket and when she'd tried to take something off the shelf she'd get zapped with static electricity. It didn't happen every time, but it happened enough to bother her. Reaching for a can of tuna and be shocked by static electricity. Usually anyone can make that charge if they shuffle their feet on a carpet, but Sally was walking on linoleum.

On Weird Or What? one of the theories regarding why this Oklahoma farmer was getting hit by lightning is that he is a high conductor of electricity. Some people have more of a capability in their bodies to conduct electricity. They tested the man and found out, sure enough, he was a conductor, but another scientist scoffed. He said a man would be too small a target for lightning, which travels miles to the ground. But it answered a question for me as to why Sally is a zapper. She's a high conductor, and my guess is that the lights in the Albertson's store were putting out a charge she was conducting through her body. It got uncomfortable for her to shop in that store. The store had been there since the 1970s, but it's been closed down for about five years now, and except for a rare occasion or two she hasn't had the problem elsewhere. It's probably because modern store-lighting systems are newer, more efficient, and use less electricity.

So as the announcer said when he'd end each story on the television show, "Is that weird or what?"

And I guess I could always hire Sally out as a human bug zapper.

Friday, June 11, 2010

BP and Avatar

British people and their press are being offended by the characterization of BP (British Petroleum) by the American news media.

I don't have to go into the history of the current outrage over BP, especially since their oil is soaking our coast along the Gulf of Mexico. I watch NBC Nightly News every night and listen to the grim stories of the disaster.

To our British cousins. We still love you, but we don't want any company doing what BP has done. If it were an American company the anger and outpouring of venom would be the same. When the oil tanker, Exxon Valdez, dumped its load in Alaska there was plenty of outrage aimed at that giant American corporation, too. They're still in business, probably bigger and stronger--and more profitable--than ever. I'm sure they don't like the public being reminded of their connection with the tanker spill, but it's in the history books, and part of the public record. British readers, think of how you'd feel if an American company--or anyone else's company for that matter, even BP--was dumping thousands of barrels of oil a day in your water.

Huge corporations like BP are the proverbial tails wagging the dog. They wield so much power because their product is something we need. But like an individual who screws up, when they do they need to be held accountable. What all of this is causing is a firestorm amongst the public, and the flames are being fed by the constant pictures from the Gulf. It's to the dismay of BP shareholders, and the British public, who are taking this as a shot at them directly. 'Taint true.

It's also causing some interesting political backlash. The Tea Party folks, who believe American government is too big, are now calling for American government to step in and rescue us. They use the incident to their own advantage in their hatred of our president. They keep calling for him to do more. More what? He's already been on the Today Show telling Matt Lauer he needs to know whose ass to kick. Sometimes it takes a while to sort all of this out, where and upon whom to level the blame. (P.S., It'll be the least senior members of the organization whose heads will eventually roll. I doubt the CEO and COO of BP will spend a night in jail.)

As the Tea Party and their pointing fingers, do they want Obama in a mini-sub, using the robot arms to plug the leak with the health care bill they hate so much?


Sally and I watched Avatar yesterday. It's been out long enough that the hype has died down, but it struck me that while I watch the news and see a giant corporation being pilloried for its crimes against our environment, Avatar is about a giant corporation raping a pristine environment.

Avatar, when you strip away the amazing special effects and the beautiful flora, the interesting and deadly local fauna of planet Pandora, is an anti-corporation, anti-military movie. The corporation has U.S. Marines do their dirty work against the natives. While U.S. Marines, and soldiers of the U.S. Army back here on planet Earth are fighting and dying in two wars, Avatar is a very high tech reflection of the 1960s counterculture: blame the military/industrial complex for the war, but also blame the individual soldiers for doing what they are ordered.

James Cameron, who wrote and directed Avatar, is, for lack of a better example, the Cecil B. DeMille of the past couple of decades. He makes blockbuster movies that suck in audiences like a vacuum cleaner picks up dirt. I have had my problems with every one of Cameron's movies, but I'm in a minority. His movies really please audiences. I can criticize him for the content, but can't criticize him for knowing what the public wants and how to give it to them.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Happy birthday, Boz Scaggs

Boz Scaggs is 66 today. He was born William Royce Scaggs June 8, 1944 in Canton, Ohio.

I make no excuses for liking his romantic songs, brilliant pop tunes all. He's the living definition of the sometimes maligned "adult contemporary," but his songs are so skilfully and artfully crafted it's hard to avoid humming them on your way out of the elevator. Judging from the comments on these videos from YouTube a lot of people have pleasant associations with Boz's music. For me it's hard to believe these songs are as old as they are. These examples are from the '70s, for instance, a decade growing further from us in the distance of time, if not in memories.

Boz, happy birthday!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Half nude, tattooed

In a store a couple of days ago I saw a vision: a tall young woman, clothing at a minimum, gliding down the aisle. I only got a moment's glance. I mean, it would be rude to stare, wouldn't it? But I noticed every other guy within range was looking at her. She was quite startling. In my quick assessment of her it appeared her clothing, short-shorts, flip-flops, and an abbreviated top, was purposely chosen to show off a bevy of brightly colored tattoos.

I've written before about young people and tattoos. There's a strong chance they'll regret them at some point. Right now they'e very cool, but in years to come who knows how people will feel about them? The young woman of this brief sighting was very proud of her skin art, or she wouldn't have deliberately chosen her wardrobe to accentuate them.

A few years ago, when young women with tattoos were still a novelty to me, a coworker, Alicia, told me for her birthday the week before she'd treated herself to a tattoo. It being a late spring day, she was wearing a loose top and billowy skirt; she was bare-legged with sandals, but I didn't see any obvious tattoos. She asked me, "Wanna see?" She turned around, pulled the waistband of her skirt down, and while I don't remember the exact tattoo, it was a butterfly, and in those brief seconds my brain took the requisite mental snapshot so I could refer to it later. The picture in my head looks something like this:

Alicia didn't last long in the job; I understand she's married now. I'll bet her husband is an art lover.

Rue McClanahan of the sitcom, Golden Girls, died this week, but immortalized with her castmates, on this girl.

A friend once made an observation: "If those are the tattoos you can see, what about the ones they've got you can't see?"

During my time working for a school district many kids entering school were registered by parents who were walking billboards for the tattooists' art. (Is that a word, "tattooist"?) Those kids will grow up not knowing that at one time their mom might have found work in a circus sideshow as the Tattooed Lady.


Less appealing is a guy I've written of before, Curtis Allgier, a local convict who made a brief escape by killing the guard who had escorted him during an outside hospital visit. Allgier was recaptured a short time later. We've subsequently found out that despite his face being a mess of white supremacist slogans and swastikas, Allgier has had women from all over sending him money. I guess there's no accounting for taste.

Just yesterday a news story said his attorney was asking the judge to allow Allgier to cover his tattoos because he felt they would be prejudicial during his upcoming trial. How the tattoos would be covered wasn't explained. My suggestion is a paper bag with eyeholes.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Breaking Bad

I've written before about the AMC television series, Breaking Bad. As the third season winds to a close I find myself fascinated by the traps that lead character Walt, his wife Skyler, and Walt's co-conspirators, Jesse and shyster lawyer Saul Goodman, have found themselves in.

In season two Jesse had taken up with a girl who has been sober after a heroin addiction. Due to Jesse's influence she went back into addiction. She and Jesse were unconscious in bed after shooting up, and without lifting a finger to help, Walt came in the room and watched her die of an overdose. When her father, who is an air traffic controller, found out she was dead he went into a profound depression. Because of his grief, he screwed up and two planes collided in the skies over Walt's neighborhood. Walt, by inaction, is responsible for more deaths, a side effect from his illegal drug manufacturing business.

If you haven't seen it, the premise of the show is that Walt White (Bryan Cranston), is a high school science teacher with a wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), and a son with cerebral palsy, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte). Walt finds out that despite being a non-smoker, he has lung cancer. In order to provide for his family after his demise he teams up with a stoner former student, Jesse, played by Aaron Paul, to make meth. Walt's meth is so good that it's much in demand, and he goes by a pseudonym, Heisenberg. The DEA is looking for Heisenberg, because they've recognized the quality of his product as something different.

Another coincidence--a bit hard to swallow, but trust me, because in context it works--is that Walt's brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris), works for the DEA, and is the one looking for Heisenberg. In season three Hank is attacked by two Mexican drug cartel assassins who had been originally sent to kill Walt, but were diverted to Hank instead by the distributor Walt is working for.

I don't to go into it much more because I want you to rent the DVDs, or watch it in reruns to see how it all plays out. I would be groaning at some of the plot twists if I wasn't so into the idea of the show, which is that even the most decent people can be twisted into believing they are doing the right thing, if they believe it's for the greater good.

In this instance, just as he was responsible for the deaths of the people in the airplanes, so is Walt responsible for the attack on his brother-in-law. Hank is in the hospital, unable to walk. Skyler, who has tumbled to Walt's criminal activities, has her own moral code twisted when she decides to spend Walt's drug earnings to pay for Hank's care. It puts her fully into the criminal conspiracy.

Breaking Bad takes the audience through a moral maze. We're cheering for guys who make meth. We want Walt and Jesse to get away with the smarmiest and most dangerous criminal activities of all. Each episode asks another question about morality. Skyler is a new mom, with a brand new baby girl to go with her 16-year-old son. Because of her anger with Walt, she has an affair with her boss. Somehow the characters in Breaking Bad manage to break every rule that civilized people are supposed to obey, and yet remain sympathetic to the audience.

The closest show I can compare Breaking Bad to is The Sopranos, where we rooted for stone cold Mafia killers. The difference is that Tony Soprano was born to be a made guy, and the criminality of his family is part of the lifestyle. Unlike Breaking Bad, no one in The Sopranos had any moral dilemmas whatsoever. It was bad enough being in a Mafia guy's corner, but even moreso with Walt White, because at the beginning of the series he was a decent family man in a horrible situation.

There are two more episodes to go in the current season. I don't know how Breaking Bad will end this season, but I know I'll be there next year when season four gets under way. I will follow this series, as I did The Sopranos, right down to the last episode. I'll be hoping that somehow, unlike the title, in the end it doesn't break bad for Walt and his family.