Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Four Freedoms

In these turbulent sociological / cultural / political times, I find it comforting to reflect upon the Four Freedoms. These are broad ideas fleshed out by Democrat President and Icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union address that encompass, to him, Democrat icon and four-term President, the values of democracy.

In summary, the Four Freedoms are:

1) Freedom of speech

2) Freedom of worship

3) Freedom from want

4) Freedom from fear

In FDR’s own words:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants – everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear – which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.

These words were articulated eleven months before Pearl Harbor was bombed. Over 400,000 American men, women, and children would sacrifice their lives, in no small part, for these freedoms.

Commit them to memory. And remember their source, and the circumstances of their formulation, and speak them aloud should some liberal fascist dolt(s) try to silence you for speaking, acting and living out your traditional American beliefs.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Fightin' Texas Rifles

Drove out to my Pennsylvanian used book store (one of my two regular haunts in the area) during a melancholy drizzly post-Thanksgiving Friday afternoon solo jaunt. Not sure what I’d pick up; it was one of those “something’ll jump off the book shelf into my arms” excursions. And two somethings did.

This book store in particular has a Janus-like personality. One side houses a thousand books spanning in age from a few years to a few decades. Dark, musty, and incredibly overpriced. Over in an adjoining room are the paperbacks: something like five hundred science fiction novels, half that amount in Westerns, and quadruple that figure in action thrillers. This is the room I spend most of my time. I don’t find much of what I long-range target (out of print niche classics by the masters) as the books here are mostly throwaway dimestore reads. At least the science fiction ones. But the Westerns are a different story – gnarled yellow things men old enough to be my father read as boys.

I’m not sure what attracts me to Westerns. It’s not really my personality. I enjoy a good cowboy flick on TCM every now and then, but I don’t watch more than a dozen a year. Something in them appeals to me, though, and I think it has something to do with mid-life thoughts on my life, what I’ve accomplished, what I’ve failed to accomplish, what I’ve done and what I think I ought to have done, how I live it, how it should be lived, how it could be lived.

Same goes for all the war stuff I’ve read over the past five or six years. Fifteen or twenty books on the Civil War, ten or a dozen on WWII, two or three on the Great War to End All Wars a century ago. Why do I read them?

With the Westerns, I think it’s an escapist combination of vicariously experiencing a simpler yet paradoxically tougher life. Yeah, if you didn’t work, or hunt, or kill, you didn’t eat. But you knew where a man stood. A man was a man, not one of fifty genders he/ze/it decided he/ze/it was that day. A man’s word was gold, and a handshake was an unbreakable oath. It was a polite society, because, as it’s frequently noted, it was an armed society.

War is similar, though it’s more on point to my interior musings: could I have handled it? How would I have acted on the beaches of Anzio in the thick of invasion, or flying a Hurricane over the English Channel to engage some German aircraft, or loading shells into the massive guns pounding away on the cliffs of Saipan – let alone spilling into the oily, shark-infested waters should the ship go down. What if I was in a row on Cemetery Ridge, shoulder-to-shoulder with other citizen-soldiers, awaiting the rebel charge, a few crooked, narrow trees my only real protection, as rifled Minié balls whizzed past my head, inches or less from my ear? Could I stand the heat?

Anyway, two books did leap off the shelves at me: Texas Rifles by Elmer Kelton and The Fighting Texan by Paul Evan Lehman. Never read either author, though I understand Kelton has a decent reputation in genre circles. Both should be quick reads, and I’ll probably put them away before year’s end. In fact, I’m thinking about starting The Fighting Texan tonight, after the house quiets down and the ladies are all asleep.

Happy reading, and don’t flinch when that lead bullet drills a path through the air at you!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Ah, I didn’t want it to end.

First, a preliminary. Last Wednesday I got accepted by a major company to prepare tax returns on a part-time basis. Yay. Now perhaps I can earn some extra money in the free sixty or so hours I have every week (they can’t all be devoted to child care). However, I do have to pass the somewhat strident final exam I took earlier today. And to help with that I studied a little over ten hours over the four-day long holiday weekend.

As usual, after work got out on Wednesday, the wife and girls and I motored up to my parents’ house in northwestern PA. The weather was cool, a few inches of snow in mid-melt, creating some dense fog at times. Light, sporadic drizzling one or two afternoons. The house was cool in the mornings but warmed up nicely during the day, perfectly mirroring the weather outside.

Thanksgiving saw my brother and his family join all of us there. My nephew, a mathematics prodigy high school senior, is in the thick of college entrance exams and essays. I contributed some probably non-appreciated opening sentences completely out of left field. It was fun – perhaps I’ll blog some of them later this week. We all ate and drank, and ate and drank some more. I particularly enjoyed sampling some Zambuca, something I haven’t had in twenty or thirty years. Watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles later on, before tucking the little ones to bed.

Friday I took a solo drive into town – a forty-five minute excursion – and bought two used paperback Westerns for a buck. More on them tomorrow. And over the course of four days I put away 228 pages to finish Shelby Foote’s mammoth first trilogy on the Civil War. (It roughly covers the 20-month period from Fort Sumter to the Fredericksburg prelude in its 810 pages.)

We dined out on wings in the late afternoon and returned home to celebrate my mother’s 70th birthday. Since I’ll be 50 next year, the running joke is for her not to expect me to take care of her when she’s elderly and infirm – I’ll need someone to take care of me. Patch made a poster and Little One wrote a page of appreciation. And we ate more.

Saturday we went to brunch at my parents’ golf club and – surprise!  Santa merrily stopped by for a quick chat and sit with all the young’uns present. Later I took the girls to the indoor pool for two hours. Also took a scolding from the teen-age lifeguard for playing in the water with Patch on my shoulders. In the evening, after eating some more turkey leftovers, we indulged in an annual post-Thanksgiving tradition – watching Christmas Vacation. I stayed up late after everyone went to bed, watching Impractical Jokers and reading past midnight about the events of September 1862 around Sharpsburg, Maryland.

A nightmare woke me early Sunday morning and I continued with the morning study sessions. Me and Patch repeated our two-mile walk from Thursday morning. After lunch we enjoyed the Giants defeat of the hapless Browns. Packed all our gear up – not quite the logistical debacle Napoleon dealt with during his excursion to Moscow, but seemingly almost – loaded it into the SUV and bade goodbye to the parents and to our long holiday weekend. Sad, to quote our President-elect’s tweet sign-offs, though sad in a bittersweet as opposed to judgmental way.

Once home and once the little ones were in bed, I subjected myself to the Walking Dead with the wife – though I still have the show on notice and am watching it for her, not you, Walking Dead show! (Side note: I keep typing, freudianishly, Walking Dad instead of Walking Dead.)

Didn’t want the long weekend to end, I must echo, so I stayed up well past my bedtime, and now I’m suffering for it.

Anyhoo, a great four days!

Friday, November 18, 2016


So I was browsing some mathematics websites (yes, I browse mathematical websites for recreational purposes) and spotted a new-to-me mnemonic to remember SOHCAHTOA.

Now, what’s SOHCAHTOA?

It’s the definition of Sine, Cosine, and Tangent in a right triangle. Specifically, sine is equal to the opposite side divided by the hypotenuse, cosine is equal to the adjacent side over the hypotenuse, and the tangent opposite over adjacent.

SOHCAHTOA = Sine Opposite Hypotenuse Cosine Adjacent Hypotenuse Tangent Opposite Adjacent

I can remember being barely a teenager, thirty-five some-odd years ago, puzzling out how to remember this esoteric bit of knowledge one chilly September morning at the start of the school year.
SOHCAHTOA. Reminded me of that mysterious word carved into the bark of a tree at the vanished settlement of Roanoke in North Carolina four centuries ago: CROATOAN.

So that’s how I remembered it. But don’t ask me how I remembered it.

Anyway, this book offered a helpful mnemonic:

Some Old Hippie Caught Another Hippie Tripping On Acid


Wow! I am floored. I will go to my grave remembering this stupid – yet extremely funny – mental math aid.

PS. Here’s another mnemonic I had to memorize – for a college astronomy class.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

No Longer Interested in The Walking Dead

My wife is absolutely shocked that this season I have no real interest in continuing with AMC’s The Walking Dead. We’ve been watching it for a good five years now (had to watch Season One on DVD since we were a little late to the party), and I used to look forward to a riveting Sunday night. But not anymore.

I think it started two years ago, that episode where Carol decided to kill the two little girls. That hit me hard. But I still watched, although I didn’t like myself for doing so. Then I started noticing things about the show, things that annoyed me, and these things and their annoyance factor grew.

Now, I still think the first four or so seasons are excellent. The first, A-plus. It then lagged a bit with Herschel’s farm and the prison, but the Governor was a good bad guy. I enjoyed all that. Poor old Herschel’s death was probably the apex of the series for me. After that, all downhill.

Off the top of my head, for the benefit of friends and family, here are some reasons why I’ve decided to give it up –

1. To me the show is just too damn dreary, depressing, degrading, and despairing.

Like a soap opera set in a concentration camp – the best metaphor I can come up with.

2. Conversely, there’s no real hope, no truly good characters left to root for (Glenn was probably the last, unless you kinda sort of include Morgan), no big ideas or big men to inspire what’s left of humanity.

Feeds my pet theory that The Walking Dead is not Earth after the zombie apocalypse, but Purgatory, if not Hell itself. It’s just dog-eat-dog, man’s inhumanity to man.

3. The show is in a repetitious holding pattern.

Good survivors regroup, find safe sanctuary, said safe sanctuary threatened by a bad guy, good survivors get crap beaten out of them, good survivors eventually rise up, bad guy gets comeuppance, good survivors scatter. Lather, rinse, repeat.

4. I’ve really had my share of zombie heads being shot, hacked, stabbed, split open, and / or separated from their bodies.

Desensitization is not necessarily a good thing.

5. I’m not too keen on watching physical and psychological torture. In fact, I try to avoid it.

I think with each consecutive season, in order to present us with a really badder bad guy, the writers have to up the ante and try to outdo themselves amplifying the general on-screen depravity.

6. Rick is a really bad leader.

There’s stuff written about this angle out there. Whatever he touches eventually goes to hell. They could put him solely in charge of a simple well, and six hours later it’d be ablaze with zombies crawling out of it, raging flames and floodwaters, existentially threatening the entire community. He’s overly emotional, small-picture, short-range, mentally imbalanced. Yet the good survivors trust him and allow him to be default leader; those who don’t are often made to look like fringe wackos. I don’t quite understand it.

7. The show revels in basic bad horror movie decisions / clichés.

Let’s search this abandoned warehouse, but let’s break up into small groups to do it. Let’s keep it dark, and let’s back up into things. Let’s not follow previously agreed-upon directions, and when things go wrong, let’s allow panic to immediately overwhelm us.

A pet peeve: Where do all the guns and ammo come from?

Is rural Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia that armed to the teeth? It’s like three years into the zombie apocalypse …

Corollary: And where do they get their gas to drive all the cars and trucks?

Well, that’s my take on the matter. YMMV, as they say.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Golf Ball

So this past Saturday, Patch, age eight, was super-excited to attend her bestie’s birthday party. It was at this new place on the highway, a weird combination of haunted house and miniature golf, with an arcade thrown in, all in psychedelic ultraviolet and day-glow coloration. Okay. Problem is, Patch never played miniature golf before, and was more than a little nervous.

I went down into the basement, dusted the cobwebs off my golf bag (I played for a couple of years around the turn of the century) and retrieved my putter and a golf ball. I set a little cup on the living room rug, taught Patch how to hold the club and how to position her feet and body, and before we knew it she was sinking six-foot putts.

She fell in love with it, putting until the party and putting some more once she got home.

Her older sister, Little One, age twelve, obviously had to do something about all this.

She did this by stealing the golf ball.

Now, I was back in the basement while all this was happening, doing the exercises in my tax book. Little One quietly drifts into the room, wallflowerish and shy, casting the bare minimum of eye contact my way. I looked up and knew something was wrong.

“Dad,” she says, and I’m condensing what seemed like an eight-minute conversation into eight words: “The golf ball got flushed down the toilet.”


Seems that Little One stole the golf ball from Patch, put it in the front pocket of her hoodie, forgot about it, and later went to the bathroom. When her business was done she turned and flushed, and while she was bent forward the ball rolled out, plunked into the bowl, and was sucked down the pipe.

Clogging the toilet.

So we went upstairs, and I flushed it again, confirming the clog. I looked at Little One, saying sternly (but with an inadvertent grin on my face), “Okay. Roll up your sleeves. You’re going in.”

She looked back at me horrified. “Reach in,” I said, “and see if you can feel the golf ball. The water’ll be very cold, but there’s nothing nasty in there.” I added, “... at least, there shouldn’t be …”

Note: I enjoyed every minute of the minute she reached her hand down the bowl to retrieve the golf ball.

Problem was, entire hand up to her wrist wedged down toilet piping, she couldn’t feel the golf ball.

We grabbed a hanger, bent it, and I tried to find the ball to fish it out that way. Nothing doing. And I was hesitant to use the plunger, not wanting to force the ball down deeper, causing more of a problem.

“We have to call the plumber,” I told the wife. She had an office day on Monday, a day where she works from home, so he could come then and retrieve the golf ball. Hopefully for less than $500.

For the next thirty-six hours we had to use the upstairs bathroom for our private needs. That was lots of fun.

On Monday I got this text from the Mrs.:

the toilet just got carried out of the house … uh-oh

Three-and-a-half hours later, the toilet was reinstalled. The good news is that it is working better than ever. The bad news is, I haven’t got the bill yet. The wife did authorize the plumber to clean out the pipes and do whatever maintenance was necessary as the toilet did have a history of giving us trouble. So there will be additional charges.

But Little One is anxiously, nervously, nail-biting-ly awaiting that bill, to see how much she’s going to be working off, doing yardwork with me this fall and winter and, possibly, next spring and summer as well, to pay off her golf ball debt …

Monday, November 14, 2016

Two Voices

DVR’d and watched the 1979 miniseries Salem’s Lot with the girls over the weekend. They absolutely loved it, fell for the handful of jump-scares, thought the characters entertaining (despite David Soul’s inherit 1970s-ish-ness), remained transfixed for the soap-opera-meets-horror plotline. Me, I though it held up remarkably well, not having seen it in over 35 years. (I blogged about it scaring the absolute bloody hell out of me as a youngling, here.)

Gearing up to watch the final third of it Sunday, I mentioned to my wife in passing, “You know, two actors whose voices I love – I find mesmerizing – are Richard Burton and James Mason.” James Mason plays one of the sinister vampire enablers, “Mr. Straker,” in Salem’s Lot and starred in one of the favorite films of my childhood, Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Following this aimless thought further, I said, “You know, I think once I turn fifty – in fact, the morning of my birthday – I think I’m going to start speaking exactly like James Mason.”

“What – stuffy and pretentious with an English accident?” the lovely Mrs. inquired, pecking away on her iPhone.

Well, maybe. But might I add a small correction: totally awesome with an English accent?!

If I ever get my butt back into the chair at the writer’s desk, the main secondary protagonist and the main secondary antagonist of my next novel will be speaking, in my mind at least, with the rich voices of James Mason and Richard Burton. Their verbal showdowns will be a veritable tennis match of stuffy and pretentious bon mots and ripostes, I tell you! A veritable one!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Monday, November 7, 2016

Pet Peeve

Happens several times a week.

Someone will leave a long, rambling, sixty-second voicemail on my phone at work. Sixty seconds may not seem like a long time, but if you have to listen to the message three, four, maybe five times, it can seem interminable. It is interminable. I’ve memorized messages this way many times.

But why am I listening to long, rambling, interminable voicemail messages three, four, and sometimes five times? Because I have to. And I have to because at the tail end of the message the person will inevitably leaves his or her phone number as speedily as possible. Often blurring one mumbly number into the next.

Hi … uh, Hopper? … This is, uh, Gurn Blanston, and, uh … not sure … if you can help me … but … uh, hmm, uh, I need to know, uh, my year-to-date … uh … for … ah … this year, but, uh, I can’t, uh, … log in to the system. Uh … so I’m not sure if you can help me … again, this is Gurn Blanston, and, ah, hmm, uh, I need, uh … my year-to-date earnings … uh … for this year … uh, not sure you can help me, but, can’t log in … to the system, uh, hmm, mm, if you could give me a call that’d, uh, be great … … thenumbericanbereachedatis5552047963 … thanks, and, uh, hope to speak … with you … soon.

It never fails. It also happens frequently when you pay a bill over the phone. The stupid robot you’re speaking with talks at a snail’s pace, until you get to the confirmation number. Then it switches to a second robot who derives perverse pleasure from reciting your number, each digit in different pitches, keys, modulations and tones, as quickly as possible.

Does this ever happen to you? One time, calling a person back and getting his voicemail, I tried the same speed-up trick, but I only felt like a jerk, so I don’t do it. But it’s a pet peeve that I face two or three times a week that I am at wit’s end to overcome.

This ends today’s Pet Peeve Gripe Session.

Oh – wait! Super quick Pet Peeve Number Two: remember up there in paragraph three where I wrote “inevitably leaves his or her phone number”? Well, it seems more and more people and entities are using the plural “their” as a singular gender-neutral stand in: “inevitably leaves their phone number.” WRONG! This is highly offensive and annoying to wordphiles like me, though YMMV as they say. It’s also confusing, as my tax text book – normally confusing on its own, considering the subject – uses this new-fangled and just-plain-wrong convention throughout.

And now the Pet Peeve Gripe Session ends.