Thursday, January 31, 2008

Who Stands for Lower Taxes?

In case you missed the State of the Union Address:

I trust you didn't miss the point.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Regression to Meme

My brother-in-law Jerry, the "Minor Prophet" (or perhaps I should say the "Total Loss") at Minor Mutterings (in an attempt to uphold the reputation of brothers-in-law everywhere), has tagged me with a meme, asking me to share seven bits of trivia about myself. At first I was tempted to share seven things about Marcel Marceau, but then I figured out that a meme is different than a mime. So without further adieu:

1. I've never been to Massachusetts, but I have been to the Panama Canal Zone.

2. I'm an ace at wiggling my ears, but I've never learned to dance.

3. I've made twelve military parachute jumps, but was never assigned to an airborne unit.

4. When I was a boy I named my cat after myself. ("Bob Cat" - pretty original, eh?) And yes Barbara, Bob was my cat. I was the one who fed him.

5. I have more teeth than Bibles; more Bibles than siblings; more siblings than hammers; more hammers than shovels; more shovels than hats; more hats than ears; more ears than bathtubs; and more bathtubs than televisions.

6. I was led to the Lord by the hood ornament of a 1954 Nash (that and my first-grade Sunday school teacher).

7. I've climbed more radio towers than mountains.

I was tempted to say my hair is whiter than my teeth and my teeth more numerous than the hairs on my head, but Joyce assures me my head veritably bristles. And I never disagree with my beloved wife. Right, Joyce?

The rules of this meme call for me to hammer seven more folks. Call me a maverick, but the only one I'd like to get even with is Jerry (and that would be kind of silly, now wouldn't it?), so if anyone wants to share their seven secrets, please consider yourself tagged.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Times Table

The multiplication table we memorized in Mrs Good's third-grade class has a mere 36 entries (that is if one discounts commutative entries like 4x5 = 5x4, and ignores the ones and tens columns).

Please don't tell me about your overzealous pedagogue who made you learn a 12x12 table. It wasn't your fault you had a sadistic teacher, nor was it your place as a darling eight-year-old to be informing her that she was a nincompoop. But it's high time we all joined hands and raised our voices in harmony: "Learning a 12x12 table is just plain stupid! For cryin' out loud, the world we live in is populated primarily with ten-fingered people." So unless you have six fingers on each hand, spare me.

So (setting all that aside and getting back to the subject of this post) there are a scant 36 entries in the multiplication table. In fact, if we further discount the entries that have a common set of prime factors (viz: 2x6 = 3x4 = 12; 2x8 = 4x4 = 16; 2x9 = 3x6 = 18; 3x8 = 4x6 = 24 and 4x9 = 6x6 = 36), there are actually only 31 distinct entries.

"So what's the point of all this?" you inquire.

"Well, I'm glad you asked," I reply.

Today I'm 7x8. I have just four more entries to go: 63, 64, 72 and (hopefully) 81.

Long gone are the days when, if asked my age, I could hold up my tiny hand and grinningly answer, "This many." Well actually, I suppose I could do that, but you'd have to be verrrry patient, and watch me open and close my little fist twelve times. And even if you were just brimming with idle time to squander on viewing digital genuflection, there'd still be no guarantee my arthritic mitt would make it through the full count.

Or maybe I could just get five of my friends to help me. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, we could impishly smile and render our non-verbal reply. But alas, the loss of spontaneity and the inquisitor's bother of multiplying the number of hands by five would likely drain most of the cuteness out of our response. And (not to accuse you, but) I suspect a few of you cynics out there might even think the whole thing was staged.

So I guess hand-gesturing is out (at least as relates to the question of my age). From here on, when people ask me, "How old are you?" it's probably best just to stick with the simple reply: "That's none of your damned business!"

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bedtime for Modano

Joyce: Aren't you done yet?

Bob: Ah-ossh! Ah frusshah ah hee!

Joyce: What?

Bob: {Spit} Almost, I'm brushing my teeth.

Joyce: Come to bed.

Bob: Dear, the radio's awfully loud. Besides, I didn't know you were such a Stars fan. Why are you listening to a hockey game?

Joyce: I can either listen to Stars hockey or you hocking.

Bob: I was just clearing my throat ...

Joyce: Come to bed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Royal Arabian Knights

The Martinezes lived four houses down the street at 3012 Van Buren. It was one of those years when my dad's business was doing poorly and we got "practical" gifts for Christmas -- "Donald Duck shirts" that Mom had made. They were red flannel with buttons side-by-side at the collar. Mom was convinced they made us look really sharp, just like Roy Rogers. We thought they looked like Donald Duck's double breasted sailor outfit -- hence the name "Donald Duck shirts". But back to my point: the Martinezes lived four houses down the street. Mrs. Martinez was an RN and Mr. Martinez was on disability because he'd suffered brain damaged during the war, so naturally their kids always got great stuff for Christmas.

Carlos got this really nifty Zorro outfit with a cape and a realistic fencing foil, tipped with a piece of chalk. You could "make the mark of the Z" on any and every flat surface that presented itself to you. Danny had gotten a suit of plastic Roman armor replete with breastplate, helmet, rubber shortsword and sheath. Roy was particularly impressed with the great-looking breastplate with its intricate synthetic engraving. Roy asked Danny if he could try the armor on, but Danny refused.

Roy, dismissed Danny's selfishness, "OK, if you don't want to join the club, fine!" and then he turned and walked up the sidewalk toward our house.

Danny: (tagging along behind) "What club?"

Roy: "You wouldn't be interested."

Danny: "Maybe. What's the club?"

Roy: (Still walking up the street) "I can't say, it's a secret society."

Danny: "There's no such thing."

Roy: (Insulted that Danny would call him a liar, he whipped around) "It's called the Van Buren Street Royal Arabian Knights!"

Danny: "There's no such club!! Is there?"

Roy: (Turning back up the street) "Suit yourself."

So skilled was Danny at interrogation that by the time we got to 3008 he had cleverly pried many of the secret rites and rituals of the club from unwitting Roy. Before we made 3004 Danny was begging for a chance to prove himself worthy. It seemed Danny's major disqualification for membership in the Royal Arabian Knights was his stinginess. We Society members share our stuff and we don't tolerate selfishness.

As proof of his generosity, Danny offered the use of his new suit of plastic Roman armor.

Not enough! Roy sent Danny back to recruit his brother Carlos (along with his cool-looking Zorro outfit).

So the rest of the afternoon Roy had Carlos and Danny running through a rigorous initiation -- testing their strength, agility, courage and ... above all ... their gullibility. Meanwhile, Roy and I sparred with each other -- I with my foil making the "mark of the Z" on each and every flat surface that presented itself and Roy quelling Gauls (who were no match for Roy in his realistic plastic armor).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Shoe Laces, Skyscrapers and Mockingbirds

May I share a deep, dark secret with you? Promise not to tell?

Okay then, here it is: I tie my shoes funny. By 'funny' I mean, I've never mastered the technique of just forming two loops and wrapping them around each other. I know it's easy to do; everyone does it that way. You see, it's just that I learned a different method and my old familiar way seems to work well enough, so this old dog just can't find the motivation to learn how to do the trick right. It was my older brother Roy who taught me how to tie my shoes when I was five years old. And it wasn't until I was fifteen that I learned that I was ... well ... different.

I remember it clearly. I was sitting at my desk in old man Huckabee's Chemistry class when I noticed the lace on my chucka boot was untied. I bent down and did my usual job of resecuring it. From the desk next to mine Becky Saunders said, "I've never seen anyone tie his shoes like that before!" Becky proceeded to call her friends over to point out my perversion. "Hey, watch how Bobby ties his shoes; go ahead, do it again!" I, of course, refused.

Later I confronted Roy about my being taunted about the way I tie shoes. He admitted that he too had come to the realization that there was something peculiar about our shoe-tying heritage. I believe to this day Roy still harbors deep resentment against his lacing instructor, Eddy Porterfield, who undoubtedly also begrudges some earlier mentor. I (ever the magnanimous one) have long since forgiven Roy for this ligature legacy, but I do have other matters of contention with him.

To put it mildly, during my formative years my big brother oft proved himself unworthy of my faith. I remember Roy stating with all the self-assurance that an eight-year-old can muster, "Bobby, you know those airplanes way up in the sky (the ones that leave a jet trail)? They're called 'sky scrapers'. You see, they 'scrape' across the sky, kind of plowing a furrow behind them." I assure you, Roy's creative use of the word "skyscraper" was a big hit at Rusk Elementary. Or to be more precise, my use of Roy's terminology was a source of great amusement to my classmates.

But the story that really got to me was his bit about this large black bird. Roy declared it to be a mockingbird. I (as a mere six-year-old) was unaware that the habitat of the state bird of Texas did not extend all the way west to El Paso, but even my limited knowledge of ornithology belied this particular "mockingbird's" taxonomy. When I queried Roy as to the possibility of it being a crow, Roy countered, "Oh no, crows are much larger."

When I inquired why it made that caw-caw noise like crow, Roy assured me, "You see that's why it's called a mockingbird; it's 'mocking' a crow. Understand, mockingbirds and crows are often found together, so it's not at all unusual to find mockingbirds mimicking crows." Oh, well, that sounded reasonable enough.

In the self-same year that I discovered that my shoe lace tying was unnatural, we read "To Kill a Mockingbird" in Mrs Rosiers English class. I made the obvious connection between the falsely accused "black" man in the story (Tom Robinson) and this ventriloquistical "black" bird. Black man -- black bird. Obvious! Thereafter I knew with complete certainty that mockingbirds were glossy black birds that could easily be mistaken for crows or blackbirds.

It wasn't until age 35 that discovered the flaw in this bit of bequeathed wisdom. I naively asked a business acquaintance (who was quite the sportsman and should be keen on such fine distinctions), "Jim, how do you tell the difference between a mockingbird and a blackbird?"

His reply was simplicity itself, "A blackbird is black."

You just can't imagine how devastating it is to discover that a fact you've known with certainty for over thirty years just ain't so. Even now as my recollections stretch back over a half century, I sometimes have to pause and ponder, "Just what other bomblettes of misinformation has Roy has sent rolling down the corridors of time?"

So there it is: the obvious connection between shoe laces, skyscrapers and mockingbirds.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Words Fail

Joyce forwarded me this video.

As my bride and I watched, we gasped for breath (out of both laughter and shock). Then we reminisced about the misadventures of our own kids.

To this day we still wonder whose idea it was to "gas up" the house. The prime suspects are our two youngest, James and Ben (ages four and three at the time). But regardless, someone got the bright idea of "gassing up" the house (just as Dad puts gas in the car) by shoving the garden hose up the dryer vent, opening the spigot, and then wandering away until Mom enters the garage and finds water flowing out of the dryer. The kids had apparently assumed that their "gas" pump (like the one at the filling station) would turn itself off whenever it reckoned the house was full. Whether the kids actually waded across the flooded garage floor, or (like the Children of Israel at the Red Sea) passed dry-shod ere the waters came crashing, we know not. But in any case the boys were safe on the Sinai side before Mom's wrath disturbed the sea.

Weeks later the dryer began squeaking and was doing a less than a stellar job of drying clothes (which for an appliance bearing the name of "dryer" is a major disadvantage), so I disconnected the vent hose from the dryer and (as when Moses struck the Rock at Meribah) copious amounts of water gushed forth. Our little gremlins had been at it again. But as before, the detection of their vandalism was long past the statutory limit of the half-life of a preschooler's memory. So as I say, we may never know to which of our offspring we owed the replacement dryer.

Some time after James and Ben fueled up the house (we will continue to presume their guilt until they are proved innocent), perhaps in attempt to redeem themselves from their soaking of the dryer, the two younger sons got the inspired idea that they could help Mom clean the kitchen. Unfortunately, their good deed involved an entire bottle of dishwashing soap and every towel in the house, put to the task of swabbing the frothy kitchen floor. Question: Isn't it the height of irony that one always seems to get off scott free when doing "bad" well, but is invariably caught red-handed when doing "good" poorly?

As Joyce and I reminisced about our own parenting shortcomings, we took comfort in the failings of a friend and neighbor. Joyce told me about an incident her friend May recently shared. It seems May's pre-school grandson found a green permanent marker and a tad too much unsupervised time on his hands. I suspect (given a colored marker) a little girl would have proceded to paint her toe nails, but May's grandson (being all boy) was naturally drawn to another appendage that required colorizing. When May discovered him, he'd just finished disguising his little Vienna sausage as a gherkin.

Sometimes I'm amazed any kids have survived our parenting.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Life Imitates Art (or vice versa)

Long ago Bill Watterson gave us this rather cynical New Year's sentiment:

But even before Calvin was building snowmen in Watterson's mind I was putting my hand to flakey art in front of the old homestead:

So I guess it's true. Great minds do think alike.

--- UPDATE (January 2, 2008) ---

I suppose there's really no need to explain why I posted this photo, but....

Welllll, you see, this past weekend James and I joined my brothers and their sons in West Texas for some hiking (that male bonding thing, you know). Anyway, it seems that some of Roy's kids expressed skeptism about Roy's assertion that I once built a snowman mooning our neighbors. They'd all heard of it from Roy repeatedly, but they've also apparently concluded that their dad's stories tend to improve on what one expects in courtroom testimony (well, what one used to expect from sworn witnesses prior to Bill Clinton's taking the stand anyway).

But getting back to the point, my son James assured his incredulous cousins that, despite Uncle Roy's tendency to varnish the truth, this tall tale happened to be 100% true -- he could provide photographic evidence. So when we got back home, James popped open an old photo album and scanned the bowing Buddha. And then ... well what the heck, since he'd gone to all that trouble ... why not?

On a blog called "The Lost Fart ..." just whose reputation am I protecting?

Shame and Sham

Becoming a Better Joel Osteen:
Seven Keys to Living For Christ

Dear Joel Osteen,

Since you're reportedly a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, perhaps the following "seven keys" to becoming the person you ought to be won't seem too novel.

(1) Admit you're a sinner (a.k.a., a self-serving shmuck) who is beyond all hope of self-redemption.
"All our righteousness deeds are like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6);
"There is no one righteous; there is no one who does good, no not even one" (Romans 3:10).

(2) Celebrate the fact that, despite your being a shmuck (and a ten-karat-tin-plated one at that), God still loved you and sent His Son to deliver you from your otherwise pointless life.
"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

(3) A much better preacher than you has repeatedly said something quite different than your self-actualization mantra of "Have Confidence in Yourself". You might want to consider his message:
"Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24)
Of particular interest to you is the answer he gives in the next verse. "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25)

(4) Embrace your defeat. You have nothing to offer God in exchange for His delivering you from your empty existence. Recognize that your part in delivering yourself from your sins is like Japan's part in ending World War II.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

(5) Recognize that your exhorting your readers to "Come up higher" is just that old message originally voiced by your spiritual father.
"I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." (Isaiah 14:14)

(6) Try to figure out what "Soli Deo Gloria" means. If you conclude that it means your book's sales go through the roof and your megachurch becomes even more "mega", think again.
"Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Thy Name give glory because of Thy Lovingkindness, because of Thy Truth." (Psalms 115:1)

(7) Shut up and listen.
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time."