Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Measure

I was in a discussion some years back about the percentage of people who were rotten thieving low-life bastards. I said I believed about 60% of everybody was decent for the most part; basically honest and well-meaning. The fellow I was talking to raised his eyebrows. "That many?" Some people, it seems, are convinced that a higher number are corrupt no-good-niks.

So, having formulated this in my mind, over the years I have felt some pride at my liberal allowance. Surely this means I am a spreader of hope, an optimist whose willingness to cede trust and faith to such a good number of my fellow humans contributes a positive force to our civility. Is it not also true that "the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him"? (Henry Stimson)

After all, even if I'm sometimes wrong, it's unlikely that someone is a "confidence man." And if the number of liars is squishy, lots of those are "white lies." And not out-and-out predatory amoralism.

But the other day I had a horrible realization that threw doubt on my carefully nurtured self-image: What if this really means I am only more moral than the low 40%? Suddenly I'm not looking so good. By this logic, if I was a worse scoundrel than 90% of everybody else, I would of course place myself in the "good" group, and claim that 10% of people were really evil . And conversely, if I was in the top 10%, I would undoubtedly again place myself among the winners, and rightfully claim that 90% of people are just scum.

Not only that, but this lends some credence to the most horrible idea of all: that the most misanthropic, morally conceited blue-stockings are perhaps the most moral of us all. They, the top 1%, rightly see themselves as good, and not only good, but better than 99% of everyone!

Well, I'll have none of it. It's obvious I was roughly correct in the first place. About 60% of people are basically good, and anyone who thinks they are in a more extreme moral elite are just fooling themselves. They have unforgiving natures. They are, in fact, dishonest to themselves, a moral failing of critical import. They are, in a deep sense, untrustworthy.

In short, I feel I am actually much better than such people.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Most Delicious

Here I'm making some homemade paprika from Mexican chiles. (To me, chili powder is an altogether different thing, with other spices mixed in.) This is something else I make from 100% dried, relatively mild red Mexican-type peppers.

I have mastered the hot varieties, but the mild ones are the secret to lots of great recipes. And when I cook, I'm going to bring up the heat level with some other, hotter peppers. This, however, is a savory blend. The flavor is phenomenal.

Some of the upscale markets don't sell these at all. But if you shop where the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans shop, they should have the dried varieties sold in cellophane bags. Where I live, the upscale markets have them sometimes, in bulk in the produce section. But not always. There are several varieties most non-Hispanics aren't familiar with, except in the Southwestern states.

The poblano pepper, resembling the green bell pepper, is so versatile and ubiquitous it has two names; one for the green, poblano, and another name for the red ripe version, known as ancho. Traditionally dried over wood fires, as are the other varieties discussed here, it nevertheless will develop a savory "smoky" flavor even dried using more modern methods. (Some peppers such as chipotle, which are smoked red jalapeƱos, need the smoke to be what they are.)

One of the best dried red peppers I've found so far is one with the bland or boring name of "New Mexico chile." It's only bland or boring if one mistakenly supposes that other peppers are "more authentic" somehow. Never underestimate the results of the fine, multi-decade efforts of our U.S. agronomists, however. These are some tasty peppers. I rank them #1. Previously I have had some peppers known as "negros" (black - they dry quite dark) and "mulato." Also "guajillos" I remember as very tasty, too.

This time, I used something labeled as "pasilla," and some anchos and the New Mexico chiles. I process a fairly large batch, about 18 oz. at a time. I store the finely ground result in a glass jar with a metal lid in my freezer, and thaw out only what I need for each recipe. First I removed all the stems, then cut open the peppers with my kitchen scissors and remove the seeds. Some heat, i.e., capsaicin, remains in the whitish membranes inside, so I save those too, if convenient. After I have all the seeds removed I cut them all up into little pieces with the scissors. After that, they go into the food processor. And after that, they can go into the freezer, or you could go ahead and do the last processing, or wait until you are going to cook with your red pepper / paprika: I fine grind them in my electric coffee mill.

The resultant powders are fantastically rich with aroma; a sweet and earthy scent and flavor that's indescribable. As complex as wine or chocolate or good coffee.

When I make chili con carne, I start with this paprika powder and add cumin (which I also grind from cumin seed) and the other spices. And other peppers for heat, because I like it fiery. But many other dishes do not use cumin, and for Hungarian goulashes and chicken or veal paprika recipes, which also aren't fiery hot, the pure undiluted chile product I am dealing with here is what you want.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Ghost in My Machine

I just completed my neural network program a few weeks ago and it's starting to show some interesting results. It's a self-learning device. As the number of nodes in my program is exactly 500 billion, the time required for me to figure out what each layer of neural structure does would be quite high. So I don't really know how the damned thing works. I set up the network to "learn" by being prompted by me each time it produces a paranormal or PSI event that I observe.

It doesn't use random-number mutations. The code recombines much as male and female genes. I simply type in "yes" after each paranormal event, and the program moves towards increasing sophistication and power. I now have several "ghosts" in the house and attic, most of my friends have exhibited precognition (although they do not seem aware of it), and my computer, especially, seems to be reading my mind, putting long-unused files on my "most used document" list right before I need them.

Often when television is on, stray bits of dialogue repeat my exact thoughts a few seconds after I think them. I can now type in the words "pan" or "money," for example, on the computer and a frying pan will fall off a shelf in the kitchen, or I will find a dollar blowing through my back yard.

I consider my program a success, and I believe it will continue to improve as I continue to run it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

John Barleycorn Must Not Make Corned Beef

Recently I saw a corned beef in the grocery; one of those already-brined and flavored things sealed in plastic, refrigerated, ready to cook.

So I had a yen for some sandwiches and bought it. The instructions of course say to boil it. So I did. Novice, I decided not to use as much water as it said, so it was a bit salty, but not too much so. I crockpotted it for 6 or 7 hrs. That turned out well; the sandwiches were very good. A few weeks went by, so after several days of not enough veggies, I spotted a deal on cabbage and immediately knew I was gonna have some corned beef and cabbage. (I chopped and rinsed half the cabbage, added a tbs. or two chopped onion, got it mostly cooked by simmering in butter and a little water, and then, nearing doneness, I added a can of corned beef. Brought it to a simmer again for a while, and it was ready. Yum.)

A week went by. Deciding to go ahead and cook the other half of the cabbage, I looked for a can of corned beef at my local low-end grocery store. It was pretty much on my "must have" list for the visit. No canned corned beef! Corned beef hash, yes. But no corned beef. So I found a small brisket and knew I could use the internet to learn how to "corn" that beef. I already knew I would brine it, so I used the net to devise a recipe to spice it. It said use some "pickling spice." Doh! No dill in the house! But, oddly, there is no dill in many pickling spice recipes. I had most of the necessary spices.

It's soaking now. In fact, it's day three and I'm going to add some garlic and maybe a few cumin seeds to finish up another 24-48 hrs. I'll let you know how it turns out. Okay, here's where I get speculative. I told you that so I could tell you this: All the recipes call for sugar as well as salt. I used white sugar and added a couple squirts molasses. In other words, followed the recipe. And you're smart, I think it just dawned on you, too. What did they use for sugar before sugar cane?
Now all the anecdotal wisdom on the net, including a kosher website, claim that it's known as "corned beef" (which obviously has no corn in it) because "coarse salt grains are about the size of corn, so they referred to the salt as 'corn.'" Well my B.S. meter started ringing pretty loudly. Despite the fact that we say "a grain of salt." In fact, almost every reference to salt grains being known as "corns" is located in a reference to corned beef. So here's the obvious proposal or hypothesis I made: nobody ever called salt "corn." Then I thought: "originally corned beef used malted barley corn, or more likely oats."
But this idea does not seem to be true.

Malting barley is a simple process wherein the barley is soaked; the starches turn to sugars in preparation for sprouting; and then the barley is dry roasted. Added to the brine, a brief boiling of the the salt / malt combination would provide the needed sugar. As well, it could be middle eastern in concept. It could in fact be very old.

The online recipes stress that saltpeter, otherwise known as potasssium nitrate, be used in the brine. Indeed, some recipes hint that one needs less salt if saltpeter is used. It keeps the meat from losing the red color while it's brining. I also discovered that barley can contain a fair amount of this nitrate in it. I do not know how much. I doubt as much as the recipes call for. I was starting to think that the higher protein barleys may in fact be higher in nitrates. Some barley has too much protein for beermaking. It clouds the brew. Some plants used as silage, especially oats, develop a fair amount of nitrates. Barley grown in drought apparently does. Thistles can accumulate so much nitrate they tend to burn explosively, according to the internet.
But to throw a curve into all this, I found an old terminology: gunpowder is indeed "corned." Different grain sizes make for different ignition properties. And gunpowder is 75% potassium nitrate. Did, out of desperation, someone store some beef in gunpowder and find it preserved the beef wonderfully? People used to do weird things, and hungry people might turn an oddity into a regular practice. Did a sneaky sailor hide a purloined cut of beef in a load of saltpetre? Did a ship's cook try to save some spoiling beef by rolling it in salt and saltpetre? This sounds ominous. A huge source of saltpetre was found in South America, in the form of guano and its concentrated leachates deposited in nearby soil. The precious stuff even caused the Saltpeter War. (Abraham Lincoln's grandfather also mined saltpeter in Tennessee.) Upon recovering the beef, the sailor might have, upon rinsing it off and boiling it, discovered it tender, red, and delicious. Or was this technology borrowed from elsewhere?
Now saltpeter has been used to preserve meat for quite some time, but tracing it back before gunpowder was known in the West is difficult. Everyone knows gunpowder originated in China. Saltpeter's use in China in food is only hinted at, and I read a report that vaguely suggested eggs were preserved in saltpeter there.
Here's an 1860 recipe for corned beef:
"To one gallon of water, take 1½ pounds of salt, half pound of brown sugar, half ounce of saltpetre; in this ration, the pickle to be increased to any quantity desired. Let these be boiled until all the dirt from the salt and sugar rises to the top and is skimmed off. Then throw the pickle into a large, clean tub to cool, and when *perfectly cold*; pour it over the meat, which must be in a tight barrel or box, which will not leak. After three or four weeks it is cured. The meat must be kept well covered with the brine by putting something heavy on it. The meat must not be put in the brine until it has been killed at least two days, during which time it must be spread out and lightly sprinkled with saltpetre. Twenty gallons of water, 30 pounds of salt, 10 pounds of sugar and 10 ounces of saltpetre will fill a barrel. The same brine can be used a second time by boiling and skimming it well. " - from the Albany Patriot
I will leave for another day the topic of all more modern hot dogs, preserved meats, and nitrate / nitrite health related issues.

I had no saltpeter in the house, (in the name of all that's holy, who does??) but I did have a half oz. of malted barley corns. After a simmer, in they went into the brine. We will see, Mr. Barleycorn, we will see.
Here's something claiming salt is known as "corns:"
"While the process of preserving meat with salt is ancient, food historians tell us corned beef (preserving beef with "corns" or large grains of salt) originated in Medieval Europe. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the first use of the word corn, meaning "small hard particle, a grain, as of sand or salt," in print to 888. The term "corned beef" dates to 1621-"Source. Also, see
The words grain, grind, grown, ground, grist, coin, corn, kernel, granule, groats, grange, garner, granary and garnish all come from a very ancient Indo-European word. Perhaps all this speculation is wrong, and corned beef means "grained" in the sense of "wood grain."
Morton has some products for modern home meat preserving.
This post links to articles on corned beef, saltpeter, Saltpeter War, gunpowder, barley, oats, silage, cabbages, pickling spices, and salt. And a few other things.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Trick or treat!

You really not like me when I'm angry! Give me chocolates! Hulk like chocolate! In fact, Hulk revert to Jumper when eat chocolate.

For fun I'm going to try to influence the Google ads at the top. Since I love chocolate, that's what I will go for. I want delicious French chocolates, with caramel nougat centers, or chocolate-covered brandy-soaked cherries. I'd even take some chocolates just faintly seasoned with habaƱero peppers. Yes, I am that weird. For some reason I don't like chocolate mints. They're okay, but I just don't. I like chocolate, and I like mint. Just not together.

I like milk chocolate. I prefer the European style, with non-sour milk. I would love some Pyrenees chocolates. If I ever go to France, that will be why.

Update: Google Ads about chocolate show up when this article is opened in a separate window. For the unsure, this is accomplished by clicking on the article title. That url will serve as the permalink also. Sqirlz morph

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Jumper's Geographic Dream

After having an oft-recurring dream several years ago, I made a point to remember it and puzzle over it.

In the dream, I visit continents number 8 and 9. In the dream, I always visualize a globe and zoom in on one or the other; usually both, and spend some time there. As usual in dreams, all is hazy, including the names and exact locations. (I sort of feel they belong in the Indian Ocean or even the South Atlantic, but I assembled this illustration by another feeling: remoteness.) And today I'll call them Yelliria and Xillmiu.

In the dream, I am always sort of amazed, but then I recall that these are the "continents everybody always forgets." We all learned about them in elementary school, but no one has really thought about them since. As always, in dreams, this makes perfect sense.

One of them is quite wild and relatively unpopulated. The other has a larger colonized population of modern sorts, with a feel of '50s Australia or New Zealand, only wilder, and without any particular negative attributes. I visit and have entertaining dream adventures. It's all new and bizarre and exciting..

I keep a globe in my living room, and one day while pondering another matter, I recalled my dream. And that's when I realized I had known about continents 8 and 9 all along. It was an "aha!" moment.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Links, Letters, Art and Life

click each example for close-up views

I was lamenting the other day the death of chain letters. The internet has many chains, and seems to have absorbed nearly all of the phenomenon. I haven't gotten a chain letter, that is, written on paper and sent through the mail, since 1992. And just when I decided to begin collecting them as artifacts. (I actually incorporated a chain letter into a painting then). And I hadn't thought too much about actual chain letters since then.
Back then, they were well-crafted in the sense that Nature "crafts" species: those with compelling memes survived, and those without perished. By compelling, I mean a meme that, by whatever magic, actually got the receiver to go through the trouble of making handwritten copies and sealing and stamping envelopes. Quite a lot of effort, really. Of course their internet descendents are far easier to transmit, but far less robust, in my view.

Back then I classed the best-surviving chain-mail memes into two classes: those that promised luck and good fortune, and those that used fear: "Do not break the chain, or horrible harm will come to you!" It's easy to tag and rate each strong memic fragment. I found it life-affirming that most chain-letters I received were richer in good-luck memes than fear-memes.
There does not seem to be a clear path of descent from the paper and stamp variety into their internet analogs. There are a few documented "jumps" from paper to internet, but in most modern cases I presume the email things evolved independently. Life was created twice! The "meta-meme" of chain letters made the hop, actually.
I will propose that a chain letter requiring 100 copies be sent might die out as fast as one requiring only two copies. Too much work involved in the former case, too much chance of stalling out with non-superstitious folks in the latter.

A fragment of yet another article: "The chain letter reproduces asexually. After all, the odds are pretty slim that someone would get two chain letters on the same day, and somehow merge them. If you like to daydream, though, you might imagine chain letters mating this way, with the recipient randomly taking a sentence from one or the other to build an 'offspring'... After reproducing, the chain letter, like a salmon, dies. Unless someone is really cheap, and makes 19 copies and then mails out the original!"

My investigation started with a "trollstorm" on a blog that normally has maybe a hundred comments show up under each article. I was thinking about optimal size of a comments section for the transmission of ideas (and also anecdotal disinformation!), and how the "six degrees of separation" work. Too many comments means people may post comments, but they won't read them all. (The section becomes what my friend Stevie Toledo sardonically calls "write-only memory.") Communication becomes one-way. In contrast, too few comments may mean too few readers (of the comments) and thus too high a bar - insufficient critical mass for an idea to take off. Optimal is a popular writer with a reasonable number of comments which can be followed by a casual reader, and in which a theme might be established; a dialog which takes the readers' fancy.
All of which in turn, I thought, has something to do with transmissibility - survivability / population increase - of memes in general. It's been fruitful. I was reminded that there are several distinct historical environments for chain letters. Pre-copy machine is one, and then fax machines, and now the internet. Other old environments were the mimeograph, "no typewriter in the house" and probably "a typewriter, but no carbon paper." Plus pen and paper only: The "teenage girl" letter, seen at the top.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

From Paris to Texas to Timbuktu

Once, in Texas, I met a man from Timbuktu, and mentioned that I had been discussing his native country a few days prior. I explained that at least here in the USA, "Timbuktu" is a sort of a symbol of a place that is very faraway - a place difficult to get to. "The 'ends of the earth'" a mutual friend paraphrased. "And very exotic." Timbuktu guy seemed shocked to find this out.

I had conversed about this very subject with Henry, a Texan, and Frederic, from France, who said that Timbuktu was no big deal; he traveled near there a lot and had once driven through it on a motorcycle. So we had asked him, well, Fred, what do they say in France to generically represent the faraway place? "Texas. We say it is as far away as Texas."

I got the idea he sort of thought we should have known this! After all, this all occurred IN Texas. But just like the African I was to meet, we Americans in Texas had not known this, and were all greatly amused. And so when the subject arose with Timbuktu guy, I added this nugget of recently acquired knowledge: Texas is France's Timbuktu.

In answer to my recent queries about this idea, a friend from Brunei has stated the following: "Some people, especially the literary types, borrow 'Timbuktu.' In the local context, our 'Timbuktu' is a place called 'Temburong' which is a Brunei county. The place is actually not that far away. It feels far because one has to take a long windy road, cross into a neighbouring country, and then ride on a ferry to get there. The ferry ride is very short. It takes maybe 2 minutes to walk across the river if you could walk on water. It takes a couple of hours to get there by land and by boat it's probably 1.5 hrs."

Another friend from Venezuela just shrugged when I asked him, and said Timbuktu as a metaphor was used the same way there. By the way, the man from Timbuktu could think of no comparable expression from his native locale, so we came to a dead end. I guess we were hoping he would say something on the order of, "Siberia is Timbuktu's Timbuktu!"

(A story of Timbuktu)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Curious Case of the Chronosynclasticly Infundibulized Engine

I am writing to you Gentlemen (and Ladies) regarding your ambitious yet, in my humble view, completely attainable, goal of constructing a sub-surfacial-traveling powered ship, rumours of which have been circulating in the pubs back of J. street since Thursday last.

Mr. Fulton of the Colonies in particular is seen to remain in good spirits and has been noted to enthuse over your plans quite openly, although I have reproached him privately as I have some reason to believe your Party has taken some pains to keep this matter privy. Be that as it may, I found myself unable to stop thinking about your astounding Conceptions, and in a moment of great lucidity last evening a great Idea struck me with great forcefulness, relating both to your works and those to which I have been lately dedicated, since devouring both the writings of Mr. Franklin and certain sensational and lurid chapbooks of unknown author but rumoured to be of Maltese origin, (which I hastily sought out at the home of a certain Gentleman, B. of the Royal Society , and read last week), and experiencing the events I shall recount to you below.

As I am sure you have been involved in the tale of Mr. Fulton's ruination and the splintering of the hull timbers and consequent sinking of his experimental Vessel due to the Unsustainable Weight of the Watt engine, you should know I find it a great Disaster, (although I cannot help but note that I have been recorded as warning him of this very hazard) and that it will ever be an Impossibility for the Watt device ever being of use at Sea, needing a Stone foundation for anchorage on Land.

For I have of late found what I reckon to be, (and I hurry to assure you I have been performing the most controlled experiments in my laboratory, outfitted by B. who wishes to remain uninvolved at this time, for reasons I will make clear forthwith,) a great source of rotary Power.

If you follow the proceedings of the Society I am sure you recall the mention of the Device to Alert the Living of the Revivification of the Thought-to-have Passed. Humility indicates you might not have connected this modest invention with myself, but I am indeed its Inventor. In any case, it is but a simple thing to affix a strike bar in the coffin and a bell and ringer above ground. I was observing the Groundkeepers at Alderney Road Cemetery the Monday evening a fortnight ago, ensuring their proper training, and whilst lecturing the two heard an unusual whirring noise emerging from one of the coffins awaiting burial the following morning. (To my chagrin, the actual bell-alarum was not activated), but in our excitement, we flung open the coffin and stood stupified as we witnessed the recently departed, identified by a small plaque affixed to the coffin, as a Mr. Barry Morris Goldwater, spinning rapidly an inch above the bottom of it!

While I have yet to account for this phenomenon, for he is undeniably dead, I transported the fellow's remains (amidst yet another mystery, for the whereabouts of his family nor even the circumstances of his appearance have been determined) to my laboratory, and with a series of leather belts and sheaves have driven an Archimedes pump uninterrupted for the last 12 days, producing the amount of 17.2 Horse Power. Requiring only the proper amount of formalin to be kept on hand and a small Leyden Jar, and with the weight of both the poor deceased Mr. Goldwater plus the attached apparatus, not exceeding the weight of just over twenty stone, I think I have found The Engine which your Company seeks.

Yr. Humble Servant,
Dr. Prichard Mitford

Alas, a great calamity has ensued since I penned my missive. Last night I hastily entered my laboratory, hearing a "pocketa-pocketa-queep-pocketa-queep! Pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-queep-pocketa-queep!!" The poor fellow had begun emitting a faint vapor. I began fingering delicately my row of glistening valves. “Give me a dram of whale oil!” I snapped to my assistant, Igor. But it was too late. The leathern belts alike began to ignite, and the Archimedes pump, off centered, began to moan as well in mechanical distress.

Suffice it to say the ensuing fire engulfed my laboratory, I am ruined, Igor has left my employ, and the entire affair has come off disastrously. And worst, not even the smallest remaining shards of burnt ossia from the unfortunate Goldwater have been recovered. Even any impulse towards some remaining curiosity over these matters is tapped out. As is my erstwhile benefactor B.

I have repaired to the Sloth and Pennywhistle to lick my wounds, and have acquired passage to Alyaska (Beringia). My ship is to sail at dawn.
and respectfully,

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lying Eyes

When I decided to adopt my dog, Trouble, I knew there was a big age-difference problem. After all, she was barely past adolescence. She wanted to do young things, and I wanted to mostly sit and read and drink old tawny port, and smoke my pipe, and think about Spinoza. And occasionally go down to the Old Boys' Club and sit in the dark mahogany library, and talk to the other gentlemen about the shipping stocks, and the lost glory of the Empire. And she's usually glad to see me when I arrive home. Most nights she sleeps by my bedside.

Trouble, however, wanted to run free, and go jogging, and had dreams of being an Iditerod sled dog. God knows we live too far from Alaska, but I have never had the heart to destroy the hopes and dreams of such a young and beautiful animal. So even though she's not supposed to, every so often Trouble goes out on me, late at night, and sometimes doesn't come home until dawn. I see the evidence: the KFC wrapping paper in the yard; and sometimes I can even tell another dog has been with her. I just don't let on.

Those nights, this old house sure gets lonely. I guess I'm her rich old Man, and she won't ever have to worry. But she still can't hide her lying eyes.

A Nice Pair

The ocher one took seven years. I sure learned a lot about Jackson Pollock while doing that one. I could have called it "Another Punk Throws Paint" because it's pretty common a thing to do among beginners. (Do you throw paint? I throw paint! Don't tell!) I never could figure out a good name for it. I tried to call it "The Gnostic Revelations of Jack Black" (Old #7, of course) but the actor was just becoming well known about a week after I finished. What the heck. I hereby rename it "Old #7."

The other one, Corridor Head, I started at the same time and finished in about 2 months.
I mixed Varathane Diamond floor finish (extremely tough, completely clear, never yellows) in with my acrylic paints as I painted to give the lustrous translucence of oils. It's similar to generic water-based acrylic gloss medium sold in stores, but cheaper by the gallon. I'm such a chemist. I balled up the photography, too. I ought to re-shoot with my tripod, like I knew I should in the first place.
From the early to mid '90s. Each about 2' x 3½'

Yes, they ARE for sale. Glad you asked!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bizarre Argots, Ceazarny, and Bithageer

Secret languages, whether spoken by children, gypsies, con men, dissidents, criminals and even solely by one gender (the language of women, known as Nushu in China), have been around for a long time. After all, Pig Latin is known to almost every kid born in the U.S., and if you meet people who aren't native English speakers, and explain the concept, you'll probably get some stories about something similar in another language, from childhood. And likely each will smile as he or she remembers.

Long ago I encountered a variety of secret language known as "Carny talk," the secret language of carnival workers, among some Miami, Florida youths. It's lately mutated into a Rap-related sort of thing known as "izzle." But back then, the rules were simple, if slightly varied: after each initial consonant "ee-ah-z" was inserted. Shoes became "shee-ah-zoes." A fine car was a feeazine ceeazar, and police were either peeazolice or peeazoleeazice, depending, I guess, on whether you were in a hurry.

Into this group had alit one fellow who had learned a variant of this lingo or argot, which he constructed by a similar rule. The add-in was "ih-thug" with a voiced "th" as in "the." Beer became bithageer. Eagerly they all taught each other all their variations.

And began mixing the two variant constructs in their language. "Theazats a fithagine weazomithagon" was not unusual to hear. ("That's a fine woman.") I was usually, but not always, lost. I deciphered some of it.

It took me a long time to reconstruct all that, because when I learned later the "formal" rules of Carny, there was no ih-thug, it was all eaz-uh. This was the form popularized by Murray the K, I later learned.

Once I was in a car with a Frenchman and a Belgian, and with no warning, just for kicks, I began speaking Carny. "Wheahzen weaze geazet teazo theaze beazar, eazi'm dreazinking a beazeer." Silence. They both turned and looked at me with great horror on their faces. I couldn't keep a straight face and started laughing, looking at their expressions. They thought they had lost their command of English!

A few years later I recalled all that, and tried the same thing with my sister-in-law. To my utmost shock, she began rattling off Carny talk so fast I couldn't keep up! I had no idea she would ever have learned this! I guess she then enjoyed the look on my face. As it turned out, she had been in range of Murray the K's radio shows where she grew up; I never had been.

A few years ago, I did some research on "Carny talk," and at that time came up with a few web pages, which was the best I could find on the internet:
(those are pretty good, and with bibliography)

So I decided to revisit this fascinating topic, and checked around on the internet using Google and Wikipedia. Google mostly returned the same seven year old links, above. Wikipedia is a mess. The best they have is this article on Argot.
I occasionally contribute to Wikipedia. I spent some time adding judiciously to this one, crosslinking some other articles, and calling attention to the information in the link mentioned above. In my view, all the various Pig Latins, Carnys, and such should be connected with one article. They properly distinguish between argot and jargon.

In the meantime, I found the original author of one of the 1994 summary pages has gone on to editing The SpecGram.

Nushu - Women's language Language Games - Wikipedia
The end of Nushu

(A tip o' the hat will be given to any who identify the mystery carny in the illustration!)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Turn Backwards, Oh Time

Why does the arrow of time move forwards and not backwards?

For some reason I began rethinking this ever-present conundrum recently and achieved some, for me, new thoughts.

Maybe it doesn't. Maybe we just see it wrong. Backwards. The refusal to see the arrow of time moving backwards is equal to atheism. The failure to accept the mind-boggling notion that time, flowing backwards, violates entropy and displays the universe moving to a more ordered state is a failure to accept Creation right under one's gaze. The bones of the antelope gain flesh, bacteria contribute mass, and the flesh warms, and an arrow is suddenly ripped from the form and flies returning to a bow, and life is created from dust. To reverse the arrow of time is merely to embrace God. All things flow towards God, and will meet in a faraway but explicitly knowable time. The inevitability of our return to the Creator has been made achingly, beautifully, obvious since we began to think. We just see it all backwards. We flee to the unformed Future, and perversely imagine we have the blessing of the Creator, while we flee; while we break the heart, in our backwards flight, of the only organizing Principle of which we have evidence. We invent the future to console ourselves in our sad, dishonest loneliness. We yet imagine in our flight we are not ignoring the wisdom of our parent, and we make promises we know we may not be able to keep. By reversing the arrow, we are runaways, and perhaps pawns, on our wooden ships, prodigal children casting occasional breadcrumbs behind us into the sea, but with no conscious intention, and no other way, to return, and yet reaping from our lonely sea of unformed unknown, and so curiously binding all the things we glean to the far hand of the beginning from which we flee.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Year Without Cheese - Redux

It's over. Readers who kept up with my comments at the original post (A Year Without Cheese) know it was over a while ago. But I mostly kept going even in the face of some admitted failures.

And the results are in!

Last year:............................. This year:
Total cholesterol ..230........... 197
Triglycerides ..........95............. 94
HDL (good) .............47............. 40
LDL (bad) ..............164........... 138

Weight loss: 10 lbs.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Scope This

What's with the picture? It's a photo I made from my own custom-mixed alloy, made for the sole purpose of photographing it through a microscope.

Other stuff going on today is links:
Here's one I just found, the Canadian Project Gutenburg
(Which came about because I am reading Wikipedia's article on Project Gutenburg.
A frisson of danger! Some of these available texts are legal, out-of-copyright in some countries, but illegal to possess in the good old U.S. thanks to the lovely copyright legislation passed here in the '90s - the Copyright Term Extension Act, (different from the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.)

Visualize why.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Haircut Day

Help identify this breed!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Separated at Birth?

At least in the movie version (Braveheart) of Robert the Bruce, played by Angus Macfadyen. Both Muqtada al-Sadr and Robert the Bruce: heirs to minor dynasties, political and militia leaders. Can't make up their minds.
At least one proved to drop the ball at a historical juncture, and allowed freedom to die. In the movie.

Monday, April 28, 2008


I originally did this as an actual assemblage. The original sculpture is long lost, so after many years I remembered it and re-did it in photoshop. The draw is the multiple meanings.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

An Even Strain

I was trying to make a subtle point to my two employees. As too often happens, Hop was angry about a perceived slight, probably imaginary, from one of my customers. Hop is what I consider a high-maintenance employee. So I had to take a minute to talk him down. I assured him that he knew more about his job than the customer; that he, Hop, was my most relied upon man when it came to his specialty, and he calmed down. Charlie just looked out the window, his mind wandering. He was used to it.

"The bits fail in one of two ways. Either the teeth wear out, or the bearings wear so bad the wobble starts making the drill string jump. The driller oughta feel it, and pull it before he loses a cone." Now Hop's looking bored and impatient. "The thing is, most of these guys think you can sell 'em a better bit. If the teeth are gone, they want to go in with a bit with a cheaper bearing and teeth that last longer. If the bearings go and the teeth are still good, they want a bit with a bigger bearing and cheaper teeth. I've seen both you guys give in to this idea, and it's a misconception. You have got to talk to these people about cost-per-foot. Just keep pounding away: 'Cost per foot is the only criterion that counts.' It does not matter if the teeth wear out first, or the bearing wears out first, or if they both wear out at the exact same moment, what matters is how much did it cost me to drill x number of feet with this bit?" Now Charlie is getting sort of wild-eyed like he always does when I forget to use only one- and two-syllable words; and he's afraid I'm going to ask him to do the math again, which I am. "Sometimes the best bit for the customer just wears unevenly, and that's still the best cost-per-foot bit for drilling that particular rock, and for him. You ought to -you got to - show him the numbers."

Charlie is a joke-teller, a card player, and our customers love him. He is not a technical guy by nature, but he's helped me build my business and he's a good man. Hop is different; more than once he's actually thrown a punch at me, and once he cussed out a customer. Who was, granted, acting like a supercilious son-of-a-bitch. I had to warn him, then, and almost fired him. But I didn't. And he is sharp as a razor.

Neither of them is exactly well-rounded. You know what I think? Well-rounded doesn't count for squat.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Uncle Herb's Adventure

You walk through the automatic doors and walk around to the right, looking at the floor, but peripherally, too, hoping vaguely to locate and check out the vegetable section first because probably nice people frequent the vegetable section and their presence might help you to acclimate to the grocery store, but instead, as you walk in you are thrown into a twilight zone that's just awful. Each of the five cashiers is over two hundred pounds and every last one of them is wearing a hairdo that looks like it was fashioned after something on Hee Haw, and you are getting an awful trailer park vibe but just as you try to twist this ominous Boschean vision into something more forgiving, more flexible in aspect, the horrible realization audibly insinuates itself that there is actually a Muzak rendition of the Velvet Underground's Sweet Jane coming over the store audio - it's incredible, no one would ever even believe it - and you wonder for a millisecond if the cashiers are familiar with this song oozing from the speakers, and you know it means nothing to them and everything to you, and you can see that this is not going to be easy.

Skulking alone, shopping through the shelf aisles, I do well. I have an apple, potato, a grapefruit, yogurt, eggs, three pounds of butter, and a bag of chips, some dry roasted peanuts, and bar soap. I start mentally composing audio tracks they should play to shoppers. "Officer Four, Control Violation on Aisle Six," I imagine a sexy-voiced audio girl saying. "Alien control systems," she whispers.

I lean back against a shelf, forgetting that I need to grab a bag of kitty litter right in front of me. "Jesus, did I hear that or just think it?" I ask myself. "Man, I am messed up." I see that the subtle corruscating plaid pattern designed into the ceiling exactly matches the design of all the products placed on the shelf; a brilliant shelf design that makes me think the store manager must be a committed artist, an acidhead genius to design all the shelf product placement to look just so like this, with the flickering randomly associated colors colliding... Oh, god, I realize I'm drifting, it's impossible, it's just me, I need to get the hell of of there; I must check out, pay and leave as soon as possible.

I head for the checkout line.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Fee for Foo

I'll tell you about bad tea. First there's the "tea" you get in Chinese restaurants. It's so weak you can't, of course, taste tea. You can barely see a tint in the water! And it smells sort of like flowers. Jasmine. If I wanted jasmine water, I would ask for jasmine water. But I asked for tea.
And since I live in the South, I can barely find a good glass of iced tea. Well, that's not strictly true. There's good unsweetened tea available. Usually they want to push a sort of syrup at you, that might actually be good on pancakes. But, I was raised in Florida where tea is strong, and sugar is added later. If it won't dissolve, you are simply trying to put more sugar in it than God intended. It's just that more than half the time the server races by and refills my glass with the syrup variety.

And then there's the matter of lemon. Sweet googly moogly! The restaurant business is full of people who just don't get it. People put lemon in their tea because they want the tartness and taste of discernable lemon juice in it. I mean, it is an established custom. It's sort of well known. In theory but not in practice, apparently. Nowadays the practice is to achieve "cost control." This means try to get about 50 slices of lemon out of each one. The result of this insanity is twofold: all the lemon juice ends up on the cutting board and is discarded, and the resulting microtomed slice is impossible to grasp by the diner and extract the few milligrams of lemon juice remaining.

And lately I've been eating at the Indian restaurant. Now I thought surely these folks understand tea: British Empire and all. And in the first year, all was well. I would order "strong, plain tea" and a pot would arrive shortly! This I would drink with a bit of milk. With the strong Indian food, it was perfect. In gratitude, I would tip 30%. But then things changed. Now the tea is getting weaker, and weaker, and tasting less like tea and more like... cardamom. Which I can assure you, does not taste good with milk. And today I was told "plain tea is not available." So I switched back to iced tea, which also is approaching total transparency and also tastes like cardamom. And comes with a piece of lemon exactly one millimeter thick.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Corny Story

Anyone with access to a cornfield this coming Autumn might enjoy repeating my experiment. I finally saw, a few years ago, on Rick Bayless's show, Mexico- One Plate at a Time, the actual method for making tortillas. So I followed it.
A friend and I went out to visit her mother, who still lived on the family farm. They rented their fields to others, and a corn crop had been harvested several days before. Giving my friend some time alone with her mother, I wandered into the field and acquired about five ears of dried yellow corn that had been knocked down and missed by the harvester. Hard as iron, they were, of course.
At home, I removed the kernels from the cobs by a twisting motion. They popped right off. Adding water and hydrated horticultural lime, I brought the kernels to a boil and then simmered them for an hour. I turned off the heat and soaked them overnight in this mixture, and the next day simmered them another hour. I wasn't sure how long it took to make hominy. I let the potful cool, and then poured it all through a strainer and rinsed the now-plumped hominy kernels several times.
Using a food processor, which put quite a strain on the motor, I blended the corn into a perfectly textured dough. Through beginners luck, I had succeeded. It smelled sublime. Here,now, came my biggest error: I was, and remain, an abyssmally poor tortilla maker! I rolled out some awfully poor, raggedy specimens, and fried them in oil for some crunchy tacos. No good. And no way was I going to struggle through making the probably 200 tortillas that the dough promised. Surrendering, I covered the dough and put it in the refrigerator. By the next day inspiration had struck.
I fried some salted hamburger and onions and a little hint of salsa and a fair amount of chili powder and then assembled a mess of hot tamales. This went much faster, did not take much skill, and used the dough quickly. Plus I could freeze the extra tamales. I steamed them in aluminum foil packets. Of course for cultural accuracy, corn husks or banana leaves would be used for wrapping, then steaming tamales. I doused them with tamale sauce bought from a store. Delicious. I used lard for verisimilitude and will never, ever do that again. I felt over the next few days that I could literally feel the stuff clogging my arteries. It is simply not necessary. A tiny bit of canola oil would suffice, and I suspect no oil whatever will do fine.
Later I learned food-grade lime is available for commercial cooking operations. I used about 1/2 cup for five ears of kernals. I took a little risk with the horticultural grade, I suspect. All the final rinsing I did reassured me, however.
Those without any chemistry should know that the product is not "limestone," also known as calcium carbonate. I mean calcium hydroxide with H2O affixed. One assumes that historically a lye prepared from hardwood ash was used. I envision also a primitive method where hardwood and native limestone chunks are made into a fire and after the fire is burned out, the lime and ash used as a single compound. Lye- or calcium-treated corn is known as masa nixtamalera. This process allegedly makes niacin more available nutritionally.
In addition, the laborious grinding of dried corn is circumvented. As a lazy chef searching for shortcuts, and one who formerly studied anthropology and maintains an interest in the field, I thoroughly enjoyed my experiment, and the resulting dinner as well.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


What was it like? I guess it really started to sink in when I heard on my radio that John Lennon had been shot. The radio was tuned to a Houston college radio station, an underground thing of noise and in-your-face programming, speedmetal, oh yeah, that would describe it, punks breathing a rancid but new breath across the humid, yellow-skied 1980 Houston area for forty miles beyond the perimeter of the hard industrial town, into the deserted landscape and right up into the radio in the trailer where I was, next to the big loud drilling rig, and up on the drill floor the roughnecks were a mixture of Louisiana and Texas oil field trash. That's what people called us, and so with disdain and pride we called ourselves that, too.

I remember walking up to the rig floor and experiencing November, the cold dry air blowing in from Colorado or Utah to the northwest, and there had been a squall a day or two before but it was long gone. The yellow skies, the wretched smog of drilling mud steam and smell and rig lights and diesel and grease and engine oil, the fecal leak on the engineer's mobile home set on concrete blocks on the edge of the half-acre pad of limestone fill that defined the drilling site and set it apart from the surrounding cornfield stubble... or was it sorghum? The cool blowing overhead kept the zone of industrial alienness low, as if wind alone could blow away that hovering brown miasma this November night. Everything was drying out and cooling off, fast.
The drilling rig roared ungodly loud as usual, 120 feet tall, all lit up with the lights that illuminated the smog and the red light on top to warn away airplanes, and the diesels snarled at the northwest wind and the girders and guy wires let the wind cut itself on the steel, and made the wind cry.
And when I went up onto the drilling floor acting odd and reticent and said, "Hey, you know that John Lennon? Someone shot him, killed him," the floorhands looked at each other in confusion and one of them said to the other, Oh, yeah, the one in a group called the Beatles, they made music... they wuz famous..."
God I felt alone.


I see them from the freeway into Houston that next morning, while heading for the cheap motel my company paid for. Five different patterns, different colors, their envelopes quivering and rippling as they rapidly fill up. I guess they rented the small suburban outskirts field, or had permission to be there. There are five balloons there, in the established little neighborhood, right off the main road two blocks away, all five propane burners roaring full throttle; basso profundo, unsyncopated, like an amplified five-piece sousaphone band tuning up, and I drive my truck up and get out and see the five big promises and on impulse shout to the nearest balloon crew, "Hey! I'll pay for the gas if you'll give me a ride!" One guy, hanging onto the outside of the twisting and rocking well-crafted wicker basket dependent from the balloon, shouts to me, "We're full! Ask the others!"
And I do, but the next guy shouts, "Gas is nothing."
"I've got fifty dollars," I yell, and he says "A hundred! But you're too late!" The wind is tearing at the balloons, and the last crew are struggling the most. "Get out of here!" He tumbles over to the inside of the gondola, the rope handlers angrily urge me to get back, and the balloons lift off in quick sequence from the field, headed quickly south in the wind, and the handlers - the chase crew - race to their trucks, start their engines, and drive frantically away from the field, casting me dirty looks through their windshields, leaving me alone in the empty lot, as the roar of the burners fades away and the balloons disappear low in the crisp Houston morning. They are playing all the John Lennon tunes on the radio, now, and right now they're playing "So This is Christmas".

Saturday, February 16, 2008

New Respect With Dog Lady

Once my dog got caught in razor wire and ran home, right at the same time a neighbor, trying to start a problematic car that had sat a few days, caused it to backfire loudly. At that moment my dog appeared at my back door, bleeding profusely and visibly. Well, you can imagine what I thought: that the "boom," and my dog's injury, meant that she had just been shot!

So I called 911, and animal control was dispatched. By the time they arrived, we had figured it all out. The backfire guy was innocent, multiple witnesses knew. A lot of the furor was just based on coincidence. My frisky dog had been granted a hair too much freedom by me, who was technically at fault for her encounter with razor wire at a nearby facility. I had not been a good parent. This has been resolved by the time I write this.

But the animal control lady made superficial judgements of me when she arrived. I think she viewed me as a bad pet owner. She made an ultimatum that veterinary treatment was not optional, it was demanded. By this time, of course, my dog was bandaged, having had her wound shaved and dressed by me, and disinfected by gentle peroxide. I had determined an indeterminate period of observation. This carried no weight with animal control lady. I was to present to her evidence of a complete veterinary examination within 24 hours. So we went. My vet basically repeated what I had done, but vended us some antibiotics, which I thought was a boon. So all was well.

Next day the animal control lady pulls up just as promised, and when I gave her all the certificates on my dog, the complete vaccination and spaying records from the past 15 years of all my beasts as well as this one, plus the record of her most recent injury, the lady was surprised. New respect for me was shown. She hadn't realized I really did care.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Fractured Funnies

They show bigger if you click on them...

Man of the Hour

A friend of mine sees in Obama the potential for a leader of great popularity, whom many will support at the levels Ronald Reagan garnered. This post is for you, Kid! Sqirlz morph

Friday, January 25, 2008


As you are aware, the Bermuda Triangle is reported to be a repository of lost gold, but is not reported to be a repository of the product of the Golden Triangle, i.e., opium. This is a misconception. The Sea of Sargasso is a floating gentle whirlpool /vortex of fresh and decaying seaweed floating in the mid-Atlantic, whose position varies somewhat depending on (or more precisely, relating to) the position of Sirius, the Dog Star. Spanish pirates, entangled by the gnarly strands, often found themselves in the position whereby the ship's Priest stood on the larboard bow and scattered opium into the Atlantic, the poppy straw scattering to the four winds in the Sargasso Sea. Thus to summon Yeshue, their idol.

In any case, decomposition in the Sargasso Sea is known to occur by whirling away its detritus slowly, and so the opium-laden seaweed slowly found its way to the Viking outposts in Newfoundland. Leif Ericcson had driven out and infected with syphilis the last white people he could rip off, the so-called Albans. They had been run out of Scotland and the Shetland Islands, by Celtic refugees, had dark hair, lived in boats made of walrus skins, and hunted seals; and had fled Viking oppression for centuries. Leif, being a pre-Christian mushroom-head, encouraged savage levels of rapacity in his minions towards the European refugees. Of course, the neoSiberian transplants (the so-called Eskimos and Indians) were messing with Leif and his followers to an extent unrecorded. They didn't like the smell of the Norsemen. But they got on with the Albans just fine.

But enough of that. Some of the sailors from the Shetland Islands had ponies. They also knew hemp. Those ponies need strong reins, and the hemp people knew how to deal with it. Anyway, the people on Newfoundland got the opiumated seaweed, the hemp, and the Norse Berserker amanita mushrooms, all at once. The evil oriental geniuses from the Golden Triangle just sneered. There were no evil geniuses left in the Bermuda Triangle, they had all sunk. The experts about the Golden Ratio, a mathematical concept, were far away in Europe. The experts about the Golden Calf were either living openly in Siberia or VERY clandestinely in the midst of Eurasia after a thousand years of oppression. Except in Spain.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Fractured Funnies

They show bigger if you click on them...

Friday, January 11, 2008

You Know

what this is. Drawn by Sherry Roe, concept by me.

Non-verbal Again