Sunday, November 29, 2009


Our friend Donnie Joe takes the occasional photograph of the local fauna. Here are a few of his latest:

Boris 2009

This little guy reminds me of Boris, who built an enormous web in the ivy alongside our driveway a few years ago.


Manny the Mantis.


A chipmunk. I can’t see one of these little guys without thinking of the Austin Blown-Star Blodgemeet.

Fire Ant

A fire ant.

Those fire ants are tiny, but they pack a wallop in their sting. Imagine, then, what it would be like to run across one of these:

Red Velvet Ant
Red Velvet Ant, AKA “Cow Killer.” Image courtesy Adventures in Furryland.

You’re looking at a Red Velvet Ant, which is actually not an ant at all, but a flightless wasp.

The first time I ever saw one of these in the wild, it was in Texas. Of course: Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the bugs. Roaches, wasps, you name it - they’re all humongous.

It looked like an ant, all right - the biggest honkin’ ant you could ever imagine, almost an inch long and covered in bright red velvety hair. I almost shit myself. Ants grow this big? Was it a Queen Ant of some kind? Gaaaaahhh!

A little research established that I had happened upon a Red Velvet Ant. Normal size, nothing special. The females can deliver a mighty sting, thus giving rise to the nickname “Cow Killer” - although it’s a matter of speculation whether they ever actually manage to sting, much less kill, any cows.

As scary as these critters are, though, they don’t fly. Unlike, say, the Cicada Killer Hornet. Yeah, I’ve seen those motherfuckers in Texas, too. Think of your average hornet... then multiply its size by about a factor of five. Yep: a hornet the size of your thumb, with the females bearing a nasty-looking stinger. Checkit:

Cicada Killer
Cicada Killer, qu’est-ce que c’est?

Killers in Hand
Photo courtesy Salt the Sandbox.

They’re really not as horrible as they look - despite their humongousness, these wasps are (supposedly) not especially aggressive toward humans. But if you’re a cicada, watch out. These hornets will sting you into paralytic submission, after which they will lay their eggs in you, following which you will be devoured from within by the growing wasp larvae. Yeef, whatta way to go.

Get this frickin’ thing offa me! (Photo courtesy

Cockroaches, as huge as they grow ’em in warm, moist climes like coastal Texas, Louisiana, and south Florida, may be disgusting, but at least they’re not scary. Cicada Killer Hornets? Red Velvet Ants? That’s another story.

Oh, and here’s one of my own pics:


Hoppity Hopper, here shown next to a quarter for scale. Alas, he wasn’t particularly lively when he posed for this shot. I suspect he was dead.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


No, it’s not a typo.

According to SWMBO, totstosterone is the hormone that makes grown men act like little boys.

We were driving along a few days ago and, as usual, I was busily amusing myself by making up silly song lyrics, producing disgusting noises, and indulging in any number of forms of Childish Behavior. Hey: It’s what I do. And that’s when She Who Must Be Obeyed had a flash of insight. An epiphany.

There had to be a physicochemical explanation... preferably one involving Big Words. And what better explanation than totstosterone... a hormone that, in males, is in all-too-good supply? (Plus, it’s a Big Word.)

Totstosterone. It’s what makes a Hugh Grant - happily married to a gorgeous woman - go get a blow job from a random crack whore. It’s why a guy will sit in a box seat at the opera... happily picking his nose. It explains most sports, along with institutions like NASCAR and Hooters.

When you’re on a hot date and your witty conversation is punctuated by attempts to crack up your dinner companion by making fart noises, you may be suffering from a surplus of totstosterone.

Alas, there is no cure. Don’t ask me how I know this.

Friday, November 27, 2009



Bruce Springsteen once sang about being “Blinded by the Light,” but Hakuna is merely fascinated by it.

I speak of the Elusive Laser Mouse. Elderly dowager that she is, Hakuna reverts to kittenhood when its red glow flits and flicks across the expanse of carpet. On occasion, she will even go so far as to chase it downstairs, where her frantic slipping and sliding on the hardwood floor provides moments of amusement for her Human Companions.

Dotkuna Too

Update: Friday Ark #271 is up at the Modulator... and Carnival of the Cats #298 is available for your Kitty Viewing Pleasure at When Cats Attack. Enjoy!


This morning, She Who Must Be Obeyed drew my attention to an obituary in the AJC - what Denny calls the “Atlanta Urinal and Constipation.”

SWMBO reads the obits every day. She figures that if she doesn’t see her name there, she’s OK.

“Check this out,” she said. “This reads like something from Speaker for the Dead!” The reference was to Orson Scott Card’s novel, a sequel to his immensely popular Ender’s Game. Speaker for the Dead is a thoughtful and brilliantly-drawn story in which the titular character speaks at people’s funerals, revealing their real essence as human beings, warts and all. A Speaker delivers not a mere eulogy, but a complete deconstruction of a person’s life... and not all of it is pretty.

And so, when she saw this death notice for one John Fedesky, it really got her attention:
JOHN WALTER FEDESKY, 56, of Atlanta, died November 9 of cancer of the brain and esophagus. John was a truly colorful character. He had all the habits of Southern politeness, but suffered from a lifelong mental illness... After his father died in 1967, John, only 14, reacted by participating in the drug culture which helped to trigger his schizophrenia. The resulting damage affected him the remainder of his life. It was many years before doctors had available the optimum combination of drugs for his mental illness without the side effects that had caused him to reject them...

...John was baptized in the Church of Christ in 1971 and from then on studied the Bible devotedly for the rest of his life. He wanted to be either a minister or missionary or President of the United States. He spoke to almost everyone around him. For those who had income, he incessantly asked for money, but his notion of necessities were often considered by the donors as luxuries, and the relationships always eroded. For those with no income, he was generous with whatever he happened to have at the moment. He was unable to earn a living most of his life...
Ya gotta admit, it has the ring of honesty. Not a lot of lily-gilding going on here. And amidst a page full of puff pieces about the local Good Ol’ Boys who went to church regularly, were president of their local Kiwanis or Rotary Club, and who went to their reward surrounded by a small army of loving children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, and Second Cousins, the End Story for Mr. Fedesky stands out like a polo pony at a NASCAR event.


Today is not only Friday, it is Black Friday - the semi-official start of the Christmas shopping season, the day on which massive retail sales will fill corporate ledgers with black ink. At least, so hope the retailers.

[I say semi-official mainly because the Christmas season seems to begin earlier every year. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade used to serve as a sort of starting gun to the festivities (it’s almost more of an Advance Christmas Day Parade), but now that seems to have been pushed back to Hallowe’en.]

We’re sitting here at Chez Elisson, comfortably bloated after yesterday’s festivities. The fridge is packed with leftovers, the counter stacked with pies. And it’s time once again to see what sort of Random Choonage my Little White Choon-Box will disgorge.

Let’s check out what’s playing today, shall we?
  1. Jungle Boogie - Kool & the Gang

  2. Act III: When I Woke Up - John Adams, Nixon in China

  3. Sirba Matey Matey - The Klezmatics

  4. In Dust We Trust - Chemical Brothers

  5. Tones for Joan’s Bones - Chick Corea

  6. Sports & Wine - Ben Folds Five

  7. Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street? - Bruce Springsteen

    Hey, bus driver, keep the change
    Bless your children, give them names,
    Don’t trust men who walk with canes
    Drink this and you’ll grow wings on your feet
    Broadway Mary, Joan Fontaine
    Advertiser on a downtown train
    Christmas crier bustin’ cane, he’s in love again.

    Where dock worker’s dreams mix with Panther’s schemes to someday own the rodeo
    Tainted women in Vistavision perform for out-of-state kids at the late show.

    Wizard imps and sweat sock pimps
    Interstellar mongrel nymphs
    Rex said that lady left him limp -
    Love’s like that (sure it is).
    Queen of diamonds, ace of spades
    Newly discovered lovers of the Everglades
    They take out a full page ad in the trades
    To announce their arrival
    And Mary Lou she found out how to cope
    She rides to heaven on a gyroscope
    The Daily News asks her for the dope
    She says “Man, the dope’s that there’s still hope.”

    Señorita, Spanish rose
    Wipes her eyes and blows her nose
    Uptown in Harlem she throws a rose
    To some lucky young matador.

  8. I’m Willin’ - SeaTrain

  9. Rikki Don’t Lose That Number - Steely Dan

  10. Get Your Hands Off My Woman - Ben Folds

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


The kitchen is redolent with the aroma of browning chicken and onions, all to be incorporated into the Cider-Calvados Gravy with which we will adorn our turkey tomorrow. The stock for said gravy will be simmering away for the next five hours or so.

The Missus has baked up a batch of Chocolate-Pumpkin Brownie Bites and a pot of curried butternut squash soup. Her next project will be the traditional Sausage-Rice Stuffing with Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins. It’s a tradition here at Chez Elisson, anyway. She’s been making it for twenty-seven years now, and it beats pretty much every other stuffing we’ve had like a red-headed stepchild.

The turkey, a fresh (never frozen!) twenty-two pound monster, is sitting happily in a brine of apple cider, Granny Smith apples, ancho chilies, salt, dark brown sugar, and a metric buttload of garlic.

I’ll put together the Infamous Green Bean Casserole yet again... but per my usual practice, it’ll be made from scratch with fresh green beans. No canned beans and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup for this boy, no, no.

Tomorrow, we’ll just shove that bird in the oven and I’ll finish off the gravy... and then we’ll cart the whole mess over to Gary and JoAnn’s to eat it. Which means we don’t have to deal with the minutiae of setting the table or washing the dishes. Sweeeet.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Lately, our Poker Night has taken on the trappings of a Sommelier Guild event.

Generally, whoever is hosting our weekly game sets out a few Grownup Libations. Fine bourbons, single malt Scotches, premium vodka, and the like. Nothing adds to the joy of winning a big pot... or mitigates the agony of a rotten hand... like a fine tipple.

But now one of our number, a gentleman who is possessed of a fine cellar, has decided to share a few of his dust-caked old bottles with us. And they are mighty interesting bottles.

Last week, for instance, we had a Beringer cabernet sauvignon from 1980. After twenty-nine years, it still was packed with fruit... a real treat.

Last night, we enjoyed a 1970 Château Nenin Pomerol, a bottle that had been purchased sometime in the early 1970’s for the princely sum of $7.03 and that would set you back something on the order of $175 today. [That, by the bye, works out to an annualized return on investment of just over 9%... not too shabby.] Think of it: This was wine from my freshman year in college... wine from the year the Beatles broke up! A little past its prime, perhaps, but still eminently drinkable, with the mellowness that comes only with long cellaring.

Next week? There’s a 1970 Chateau Monlot Capet Saint-Émilion that has our collective names on it... and it oughta be a doozy.

Monday, November 23, 2009


There has been a Metric Buttload of attempts to understand the role of Islam in the Fort Hood massacre in the weeks since the November 5 incident. Were Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s (“alleged”) actions motivated by his Islamic beliefs, or were they the product of plain old psychosis? Was the massacre a case of a nutcase acting out, or was it jihad? And what are its future implications concerning the role of Muslims in our armed services?

Without dwelling too much on the specifics of the Hasan case, the real issue that has been thrown into sharp relief is the relationship between Islam and Western civilization, two entities that have been in more or less continuous struggle since the days of Muhammad. Does the Western proclivity for assimilation and tolerance, for multiculturalism and the embrace of The Other, contain within it the seeds of its own destruction?

Before you answer, go to Malcolm Pollack’s blog and read this thoughtful piece. Be sure to read the comments as well, consisting (mostly) of an exchange between Pollack and Kevin Kim. Then feel free to weigh in with your opinion, either here or at Malcolm’s place.

It’s not an easy question... but the ones about the Future of Civilization rarely are.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Joe S.

Joe and Chelo S. were long-time residents of Chicagoland who moved to the northern suburbs of Atlanta to be with their daughter Debbie and son-in-law Sid. That’s how we met them... for Debbie and Sid were (and are) friends of ours.

We would see Joe and Chelo a few times a week, at Shabbat services and at dinner after Thursday evening Minyan... and at the occasional Big Event, like the storybook wedding of their grandson Adam in Malibu, on a cliff overlooking the Pacific.

A lovely couple, they were... and Joe had an interesting backstory, for he had had a long career in a line of work that most of us Penile-Americans would consider a Dream Job.

Joe, you see, worked for Playboy Magazine. He was the guy who prepared the printing plates... which meant that, months in advance, he saw every picture that appeared in that Venerable Periodical, as well as those that didn’t.

Joe know all the secrets. He knew that Miss March had a strawberry birthmark on the left cheek of her ass, and that Miss September had a tuft of pubic hair sticking out of the crotch of her bikini. All of these minor defects were, of course, artfully airbrushed away before the rest of us Lowly Mortals got to gaze raptly upon the finished product.

And he got to make the occasional visit over at the Mansion. Icing on the cake.

Alas, Joe is no longer with us, having suffered a stroke a few years back that sent him to a different sort of mansion... the kind that floats in the sky. But we all remember him fondly, and I think of him with just a tinge of envy whenever I walk past a newsstand.


Right on the heels of my post about pancakes comes more evidence of my Breakfasty Obsession. Today being one of those chilly, rainy, blustery November days, what better time to consider the glories of a bowl of Hot Cereal?

Those of us of a Certain Age may remember the old ads for Maypo breakfast cereal (“I Want My Maypo!”), a cereal that touted itself on the basis that it “tastes like maple sugar candy.” Me, I was never a fan of the Maypo... but there were plenty of other hot cereals that I did like.

There was Cream of Wheat and Cream of Rice, the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of bland wheat-based cereals, and Farina, their kissin’ cousin. When I was a kid, these cereals were just plain boring... yet as an adult, I can appreciate the subtle flavors of these farinaceous Tabulae Rasae far more.

Oatmeal is a reliable old standby. I sneer at the “instant” or “quick-cooking” versions, which have a texture falling somewhere in the middle of the Mush-to-Snot spectrum. Old-fashioned rolled oats, which still cook plenty fast enough (five minutes), have a lot more “tooth.” But my real favorite in the Oat Department would be Irish steel-cut oats. Instead of little flakes made by crushing the oat grains between steel rollers, Irish oats are little pellets made by slicing the grains with metal blades. They require longer cooking than rolled oats, but their nubbly texture and nutty flavor make them worth the time investment. A bowl of Irish oatmeal doesn’t need any decoration, either, although most Americans will sweeten it up a bit.

Another old favorite is Wheatena, which comes from the same people who make Maypo (yes, it still exists). It’s made from toasted wheat and has a pronounced “buckwheaty” flavor, a little like kasha... a perfect way to start the day on a late fall or winter morning.

Maltex, which I haven’t seen in years, is basically Wheatena doped with malted barley syrup. Tasty good, if my hazy recollection is worth anything. I’d love to have a bowl of Maltex again... haven’t seen it since I was in elementary school.

Living in the South, as we do, I cannot talk of Hot Cereal without mentioning grits. (“Hominy grits?” “A whole buttload of ’em.”) Grits, however, are not merely a Hot Cereal: They are an institution. A proper bowl of grits deserves butter, salt, pepper, and (if desired) cheese. A sprinkle of chopped jalapeños is a fine topper. But woe be unto him that treats grits like a Hot Cereal, adding sweeteners and (gag) milk.

Today there are all kinds of weird-ass hot cereals, with grains we never knew in our Snot-Nose Days. Kashi. What the fuck is Kashi? It ain’t kasha, that’s for sure. Millet? Quinoa? I don’t know... but I’ll try anything once.

Now: What’s it gonna be? Irish oatmeal? Or Wheatena? The saucepan beckons...

Saturday, November 21, 2009


What’s round and extremely tasty?



Pancakes rank right up there with the best Comfort Foods. They evoke warm memories of childhood, of leisurely weekend mornings. And these may be the best I ever tasted.

The recipe comes courtesy of the Food Network’s official Food Nerd, Alton Brown. I suspect Brown’s übergeeky TV persona is just that: a persona. It’s perhaps a fitting one owing to his knowledge of food science, which knowledge is useful in understanding why a given recipe or kitchen technique will work better than another.

He’s a local guy, you know. One of these days, I figure, I’ll bump into him as he’s filming a segment in Harry’s Farmers Market just down the road.

A few weeks ago I caught a “Good Eats” episode in which the good Mr. Brown was expounding on the proper way to make pancakes. This got my attention, as our homemade pancakes, while good, never seem to measure up to the ones the commercial establishments make.

Alton’s recipe isn’t especially complicated. He likes to make up a good-sized batch of premixed dry ingredients - flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and sugar - which he keeps on hand just in case a Pancake Jones should strike.

It’s what he does with the other ingredients that makes magic happen.

He separates the eggs and then mixes the whites with buttermilk and the yolks with melted butter, after which he combines these two mixtures. The wet ingredients are then dumped on top of the (preblended) dry ingredients and whisked together - but just barely. (If you beat the batter enough to remove all the lumps, you’ll cause the flour’s gluten to develop, resulting in rubbery cakes.)

I tried out his recipe, and I am happy to report that the results are not merely good, they are ridiculously good. Maybe next time I’ll stick some blueberries in ’em... but they’re fine sans fruit, decorated with a pat or two of butter and a liberal drizzle of warm maple syrup. (Real maple syrup, thank you - none of that Log Cabin / Aunt Jemima / Mrs. Butterworth crap.)

Don’t you want a flapjack right now? A whole mess of ’em? Sure you do.


Reunited and it feels so good
Reunited ’cause we understood
There’s one perfect fit
And, sugar, this one is it
We both are so excited ’cause we're reunited, hey, hey

- Peaches and Herb, “Reunited”

Reunited a

Reunited b

The Momma d’SWMBO is reunited with her old Nancy Lee doll, a doll she was given as a child... 67 years ago.

Earlier this year, we dug Nancy Lee out of the cedar chest in our basement and arranged to have her restored. Seeing Mom’s reaction this afternoon when she encountered her old friend was priceless.

Friday, November 20, 2009


A few weeks ago, Velociman (who writes like a chimerical combination of William Faulkner and Hunter S. Thompson) e-mailed me a link to some amazing conceptual art: images from a video game that is being designed for the Wii system by Warren Spector and his Junction Point Studios. “Epic Mickey,” they call this Work-in-Progress.

Imagine Walt Disney World after the Steampunk Apocalypse, and you’ll get the flavor of it. Twisted Bizarro-World versions of the EPCOT dome, Cinderella’s castle, et alia. The Magic Kingdom as seen through a glass, extremely darkly...

Steampunk Mickey

Remember in Back to the Future Part II, after the Biff Tannen of 1955 gets hold of Marty McFly’s 2015-vintage sports almanac? With his knowledge of the results of future sporting events, Biff makes a fortune gambling and remolds the formerly idyllic Hill Valley into a mini-Vegas of casinos, luxury hotels, and cheap hookers... an evil Alternate History. Warren Spector has wreaked a similar transformation on Mickey and his friends.

Velociman and I discussed the matter at length. Was this dystopian, dark vision of Disneyish innocence laid waste not simply art to be assessed on its own merits, but a visual analogy of the current State of the Union?

“You’ve got to post about this,” I told him. “It’s right up your alley.”

I sat back and waited... and waited... and waited. Knowing Velociman’s strange Bloggy Work-Ethic, I knew that the much-anticipated (by me, anyway) post had a probability somewhere south of 30 per centum of ever appearing.

But, at last, it has appeared... and it is eloquent.

Look: Nobody writes quite like Velociman. Whether he’s engaging in a political rant, ruminating on the twists and turns of daily life, reminiscing about childhood days with the legendary Senator, or posting photos of some horrific injury, there’s never any denying the man’s incredible verbal gifts.

In this post, however, he eschews using his own words, relying instead upon one of the great American bards to set lyrics to the visual music. And he swats it right out of the park.

Go thou and read it. It is food for thought... with some nice Eye-Candy for dessert.


Oh, boy! It’s Friday, time yet again for the weekly collection of Random Musical Selections as belched out by the iPod d’Elisson.

Let’s take a look and see what’s playing today:
  1. Free As A Bird - The Beatles

    Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr added vocals and instrumentals to a 1977 John Lennon demo to create this haunting song.

  2. La Valse Des Monstres - Yann Tiersen, Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain

  3. Battle Hymn of the Republic - Seymour Rechtzeit

    In Yiddish, no less.

  4. Shhh Peaceful - Miles Davis

  5. Brandenburg Concerto #1 in F, BWV 1046 - 3. Allegro - Trevor Pinnock; English Concert

  6. Negro River - Philip Glass

  7. Bride of Rain Dog (Instrumental) - Tom Waits

  8. Höyhensarjan maailmanmestari - Tuomari Nurmio & Alamaailman Vasarat

  9. I Like Big Tits - Joe Walsh

    Uh huh
    I like big tits, uh huh

    You see ’em on the street
    Left and right
    I like big tits, that’s right
    I try to look away but I can’t resist
    Every time I try to call it quits
    Here come some tits, (uh huh) that’s a big 10-4
    Uh huh

    I like big tits, uh huh

    Well they come in twos
    Hard to choose
    Your favorite tit
    Uh huh
    I like tits for dinner or a noon time snack
    I like tits for lunch, a big tit attack
    I like tits for breakfast
    Eggs Benedict tits, what it is
    What it is
    They’re where it’s at
    They give me shivers when they bounce around
    Buckled up or hanging on the ground
    I like big tits
    Uh huh
    Tits save it all for me

  10. Lengthwise - Phish

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Look over yonder what do you see
The sun is a-risin’ most definitely
A new day is comin’, people are changin’
Ain’t it beautiful - crystal blue persuasion

Better get ready gonna see the light
Love, love is the answer and that’s all right
So don’t you give up now - so easy to find
Just look to your soul and open your mind

Crystal blue persuasion, mm-hmm
It’s a new vibration
Crystal blue persuasion, crystal
Blue persuasion

Maybe tomorrow when He looks down
Every green field and every town
All of his children every nation
There’ll be peace and good brotherhood
Crystal blue persuasion

- Tommy James and the Shondells, “Crystal Blue Persuasion”

There’s an awful lot of hand-holding, Kumbaya-singing, hopey-changey sentiment in the song lyrics above, but one needs consider that they are a product of their happy-hippie times... a tad over forty years ago.

But we have our own brand of Crystal Blue Persuasion, right here...

Crystal Blue Persuasion the form of Hakuna’s crystalline baby blues, here seen peeking out through a gap between two balusters.

No doubt she is trying to use them to persuade me to (1) feed her, (2) clean out her litterbox, or (3) leave her the hell alone. (My money is on Number Three.)

Update: Friday Ark #270 is afloat at the Modulator, with Hakuna batting lead-off. If you still want to look at more Kitty-Pics, drop on by at Pet’s Garden Blog this Sunday evening for Carnival of the Cats Edition #297.

Update 2: CotC #297 is up.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Travelers never came through space to visit the Earth. They had no need.

They had found universes in grains of sand.

- Greg Bear, Blood Music

I am so glad this did not exist back in my University Days. I can only imagine the hordes of weed-baked longhairs gazing into their computer monitors while thin streams of spittle leak out of the corners of their mouths...

Click here: ZOOMQUILT

...and zoom happily away. You can control your speed - forward or backward - by using the control bar on the left. Centering the bar stops the motion. You can hide the control panel by placing your cursor in the right-hand side of your monitor screen.

The best way I can describe it? It’s like Hieronymus Bosch piloting the Millennium Falcon.

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Jerry Foster for the link.]


Atlanta Skyline
[Click to embiggen]

Atlanta at dusk, as seen from the Four Seasons Hotel in Midtown, looking south.


This morning at Minyan, as is customary on Mondays, we read from the Torah, AKA the Pentateuch, AKA the Chumash, AKA the Five Books of Moses. Today’s reading told the story of Jacob and Esau, the sons of Isaac, and how Esau gave away his birthright - the claim to the greater share of his father’s estate, his by right of his being the elder brother - for what is rendered variously as “a mess of pottage” or “lentil stew.”

Esau has just come in from, presumably, a hard day of running around chasing various Tasty Beasts. We can only assume he has not had a particularly good day, since he is hungry and thirsty to the point of passing out. And there’s his brother, stirring a yummy pot of stew over the fire.

Esau: “Give me, please, some of that red, red stuff, for I am famished.”

Jacob: “First sell me your birthright.”

Esau: “What good is a birthright to me, when I’m dying [of hunger]?”

You can accuse Jacob of being a tad mercenary here, but it’s pretty clear that Esau does not place much value on that birthright. And Jacob, somehow, understands a key principle of negotiation: that the value of goods or services is always greater before they are provided. Several thousand years later, Chester Karrass would call this concept “The Callgirl Principle” in his negotiation training seminars.

But there is a lesson in this story for all of us.

How often do we pay an exaggerated price for momentary pleasure? How often do we squander our wealth on things that seem oh, so very important today - right this minute! - instead of the things that will matter to us down the road?

If a pile of money suddenly landed on you, would you buy long-term disability insurance with it, or a gold-plated heated toilet seat? Blue-chip stocks or a vacation in Maui?

Our government has been in the “selling birthrights for a bowl of stew” business for many years now. Screw the grandkids... we want pork! Right now! Never mind that that Government Cheese comes with a hefty price tag, because we won’t be the ones paying for it.

We’re all guilty of selling our birthrights, whether it be on an individual basis or as part of the Great U.S. Collective. And there will come a day when we will all realize what we no longer have... and we will know how badly we fucked up.

Hope that lentil stew tastes mighty good... but I suspect it will leave a vile taste in the back of the mouth.

Update: Was it subconscious inspiration from this morning’s reading, or just my Meat-Jones kicking in? Regardless, for the evening’s repast I prepared a red, red Mess of Pottage... but with beef and onions in lieu of lentils. And it was tasty, all right - real Birthright Trade-In Material.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Tallulah Bankhead

I’m not sure what started it, but last week Houston Steve and I were conducting a brief review of the life and many (many many) loves of the late Tallulah Bankhead.

Tallulah Brockman Bankhead, those of of a Certain Age will remember, was an actress in Hollywood’s salad days. Not just an actress: she was a Bon Vivant of the first water, a party animal that could make Madonna blush even before she went all Kaballah on us.

She was from a politically connected Alabama family, her father having served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1936-40. [Democrat, of course. Back then, Republicans were thin on the ground down South.] Both her grandfather John H. Bankhead and her uncle John H. Bankhead II served as U.S. Senators; the Bankhead family apparently disliked the exercise of selecting new names for its scions.

[An aside: Senator John (the elder) was a leader in the national highway building movement well before the advent of the Interstate Highway System. The eponymous Bankhead Highway began in Washington, D.C., passing through Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before finally arriving in California. Here in Atlanta, a section of the Bankhead Highway was renamed the Donald L. Hollowell Parkway owing to the notoriety of the old name, a notoriety that arose from the high-crime neighborhoods through which the Bankhead route passed as it headed through the western side of the city.]

Tallulah was never considered - least of all by herself - a great beauty, but her sharp wit, smoldering looks, and husky voice gave her sex appeal that few others could match. Coupled with her astonishing sexual voracity (did someone say “coupled”?), these qualities made her downright legendary.

It takes a certain degree of unselfconsciousness - nay, downright chutzpah - to show up at a party completely nude... or to drop trou and take a whiz in the midst of a conversation with the First Lady... or to respond to Chico Marx’s elegant pick-up line (“You know, I really want to fuck you.”) with a quick “And so you shall, you old-fashioned boy.”

Other classic Tallulah quotes:

“If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.”

“They used to photograph Shirley Temple through gauze. They should photograph me through linoleum.”

“I’m as pure as the driven slush.”

“I’d rather be strongly wrong than weakly right.”

“Cocaine isn’t habit forming. I should know - I’ve been using it for years.”

“I was raped in our driveway when I was eleven. You know darling, it was a terrible experience because we had all that gravel.”

“I’ve tried several varieties of sex. The conventional position makes me claustrophobic. And the others give me either stiff neck or lockjaw.”

(To a group of Salvation Army band members who were passing around a tambourine to collect money, and to whom she had just given the then-extravagant sum of $20) “There, dahlings, I know it’s been a rough winter for you Spanish dancers.”

(To a priest carrying a smoking censer) “Darling, I love your drag, but your purse is on fire!” [this one pointed out by the inestimable Velociman]

“I’ll come and make love to you at five o’clock. If I’m late start without me.”

Next time you see Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, pay close attention to Cruella deVil, the film’s antagonist. The character’s outsize personality was modeled on that of Tallulah B herownself.

Ahhh, they don’t make ’em like Tallulah any more.


Brandon Hoover, who writes at javajive, asks a timely question: “Has micro-blogging destroyed your blog?”

As new social networking and communications platforms like Facebook and Twitter gain in popularity and influence, it’s not an idle question. I see more and more bloggers on Facebook these days, and there are a few who have drunk deep draughts of the Twitter Kool-Aid, for better or for worse.

Here is what I told Brandon in his comments:
I’ve been quoted as saying that Twitter is blogging for people with ADHD.

Bad Twitter feeds are full of the minutiae of people’s lives... good Twitter feeds are like little blogposts. But while 140 characters is wonderful for pithy aphorisms, it is no substitute for the rich language of a well-written blog post.

I will post maybe two to five tweets a week... and twice as many “real” blogposts. But I have seen other bloggers go off the deep end, neglecting their blogs but spewing forth hundreds of tweets. Feh.

In the ideal world, there’s a scenario in which the quick, viral nature of Twitter, the “selected audience” character and interactivity of Facebook, and the “throw it on the wall and see what sticks” quality of blogging reach a dynamic equilibrium, complementing and enhancing each other. We’ll see.
Now: Whadda you think? Do Facebook and/or Twitter mean the end of blogging as we know it? Or do all these platforms somehow enhance each other, creating a synergistic Face-Twit-Bloggity-World in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?

Friday, November 13, 2009


The Wheel of the Week has turned full circle once again, bringing Friday back around... which means it’s time for the Friday Random Ten, that exercise in Musical Narcissism in which I post ten Choons disgorged at random from my Little White Choon-Box.

And it’s not just any Friday, but Friday the 13th, bane of triskadeikaphobes. For the rest of us, it’s the opening shot of the weekend, so... good luck!

Let’s see what’s playing today, shall we?
  1. The Mikado, Act II: Braid the Raven Hair - D’Oyly Carte Opera Company

  2. Sparks - The Who

  3. Army (live) - Ben Folds Five

  4. I Want You To Hurt Like I Do - Tom Waits

  5. Power Failure - Procol Harum

    The original, from Procol Harum’s brilliant Broken Barricades album. The Little White Choon Box also holds a cover version by Leo Kottke.

    Climbing out of open windows
    Crashing down from broken stairs
    Keeping watch on smoking cinders
    Falling over burning chairs

    Tossed and crossed and screwed in transit
    Broken, splintered, bruised and thrown
    Badly shattered, gale force frighty
    Rushed across and shown alone

    Speech reduced by poor relations
    Strung from weeks of self abuse
    Chopped up, churned out, weeks of greasy
    Spark plugs burned up, power’s fused

  6. Counting Sheep - The Judybats

  7. Pearl of the Quarter - Steely Dan

  8. Condorbird - The Klezmatics

  9. Painting Box - The Incredible String Band

  10. Matchbox - The Beatles

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Herewith a nostalgic Golden Oldie featuring our beloved Matata... complete with stupid-ass LOLCat caption.

Marcel Duchamp Kitteh
[click to embiggen]

Update: Friday Ark #269 is afloat at (where else?) the Modulator. If your Kitty-Jones remains unsatisfied, head on over to Artsy Catsy Sunday evening to catch the 296th Carnival of the Cats. It’s Cat-astrophic!

Update 2: CotC #296 is up, but at iMeowza instead of Artsy Catsy. Thanks to Meowza for a fine job pinch-hitting!


There are two systems in our house that I generally do not care to fuck around with: Electrical and Plumbing. And there are plenty of good reasons for this.

Number one: I am Jewish. With few exceptions, the relationship between Jews and Handyman-Related Tasks is not a happy one. My friend Gary is reasonably handy, but he’s the exception. And to those who point out that the founders of Home Depot, Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank, are both Jews, all I will say is that these guys were very good businessmen, but I’m not convinced either of them could distinguish the business end of a screwdriver from the handle.

Number two: Concerning electrical systems, I have an enormous respect for an invisible form of energy that can make you dead if you screw up. I’ll install the occasional light fixture or switch, and I’m happy to change light bulbs when required, but that’s as far as I’ll go.

Number three: Plumbing, aside from the fact that fuckups may result in various forms of water damage, is mostly disgusting. Take your average P-trap. Open one of those bad boys up and you’ll soon learn where all the accumulated hair, boogers, and fingernails go, there to get trapped in a matrix of soap scum and all-around shit. Feh to the Barf, sez I.

Nevertheless, I will, just for shits ’n’ grins, take on the odd Home Improvement Project... just to prove what an idiot I am.

This week’s project was replacing the sink hardware in the Mistress of Sarcasm’s bathroom. The Mistress has been complaining mightily of having to use excessive force to turn the hot water valve, and the Missus has been wanting to replace the bathroom fixtures in any event. And so it was that we headed off to Home Depot to procure a new set of faucets... faucets that promised to be easy to install owing to their Modern, Advanced Design.

Hey: Anything would be better than the builder-grade shit I was replacing. Cheap and nasty, its only virtue was that it was somewhat functional.

“I can do this!” I told myself. After all, hadn’t I installed a couple of brand-new toilet seats a few months ago?

Well, faucets and toilet seats may both be found in the Toidy-Room, but that’s as far as their similarity extends. Faucets, I found out, are a lot harder.

To install the new hardware, I first had to remove the old hardware. And that, Esteemed Readers, is a Gold-Plated Bitch.

Removing the sink drain wasn’t all that tough. You just disconnect the P-trap (yeccch) and loosen the big nut that holds the drain pipe, then pull the whole mess out. Clots of fifteen-year-old plumber’s putty, old hair, and other revolting crap get all over, but that’s part of the fun.

The tricky part, of course, was the faucets themselves, thanks to their location at the back of the sink. Just getting to them required wedging myself into the cabinet under the sink, a feat worthy of a circus contortionist... and then, of course, the real work begins: getting a wrench on the locknuts. Locknuts, it should be pointed out, that had not been moved in fifteen years. They were not happy about being moved now.

After fiddle-farting with the hot-water side and failing to loosen the escutcheon that sits atop the sink (it being welded in place with fifteen years worth of corrosion and grachitz), I finally did what I should have done at the outset: Call the Gawd-damned plumber.


But think of all the exercise I got! Not to mention the scrapes and bruises... and the great big boost to my Sense of Humility and Uselessness.

Postscriptum: The plumber is here now, and I don’t feel nearly as ridiculous as I had before... because he had to cut one of the old faucets off to remove it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Let me tell you of Ed “Poppa” Squizzot
Who can crap you a crap on command:
He’ll respond to a whispered suggestion
Or a casual wave of the hand,
And then he will curl you a steamer
Delivering at your request.
If you need a turd, pay Pop Squizzot a vizzot,
’Cause of all the Loaf-Pinchers, he’s best!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


For many of the younger people walking the planet today, it is hard to imagine that, once upon a time, a wall separated East and West.

Actually, there were many walls, most of them philosophical and political: the walls that divided the centrally planned economies and authoritarian governments of the East with the captialist, free-market economies and representative democracies of the West. But I refer to a physical wall, the wall that separated East and West Berlin.

The Wall was forbidding, surrounded by No-Man’s Land, topped by barbed wire, illuminated by searchlights, guarded by machine-gun nests. It was not built for defense or protection. It was no shield. It was, rather, like the walls of a prison... for those on the eastern side were trapped, unable to cross to the other side. Even family visits were forbidden, lest the good citizens of the East be exposed to dangerous alien ideologies.

The Berlin Wall came down twenty years ago this week... but the events that set that fall in motion started with Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalization of Soviet communism. The glasnost and perestroika movements - latter-day attempts to create a more “human” communism - inevitably doomed it... for communism, as an economic system, can only be enforced by a heavy-handed, iron-fisted government. As the atmosphere of reform spread throughout Eastern Europe, riots and unrest struck East Germany.

I was in West Germany on October 18 1989, the day Erich Honecker - the leader of East Germany and the man who built the Wall - was forced to resign. We were on the Autobahn, enroute from Frankfurt to Worms-am-Rhein, when we heard the news on the radio. It was a little like hearing the rumble of a distant earthquake, one that would eventually swell to world-shattering proportions... reminiscent of that moment in Lord of the Rings when the evil Lord Sauron realizes, too late, that his Ring of Power is about to be tossed into the Crack of Doom and that he is well and truly fucked.

My German colleagues were ecstatic; they knew that with Honecker gone, reunification was just a matter of time. Just how little time it would take, of course, nobody could imagine.

Within two years, the Soviet Union itself would be history... and the Wall, the hated Wall, would be in the form of little chunks, all peddled to people interested in owning a piece of history.


Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (L) and Arnold Stang (R). Identical cousins?

Valéry has lived most everywhere,
From la Tour Eiffel to Napoléon Square.
But Arnie’s only seen the sights
A guy can see from Brooklyn Heights -
What a crazy pair!

But they’re cousins,
Identical cousins all the way.
One pair of matching bookends,
Different as night and day.

Valéry adores a minuet,
The Ballets Russes, and crêpes Suzette,
Our Arnie loves to rock and roll,
A hot dog makes him lose control -
What a wild duet!

Still, they’re cousins,
Identical cousins and you’ll find,
They laugh alike, they walk alike,
At times they even talk alike -
You can lose your mind,
When cousins are two of a kind!

Saturday, November 07, 2009


Hakuna in Bed
Hakuna curls up in her bed, doing her best impression of a Kitty-Fetus.

Update: Friday Ark #268 is up at the Modulator. Sunday evening, be sure to stop by and visit Carnival of the Cats, the 295th iteration of which will be at Nikita’s Place.

Update 2: CotC #295 is up.

Friday, November 06, 2009


Hey! It’s Friday, time yet again for the weekly collection of Random Musical Selections as spewed forth by the iPod d’Elisson.

Let’s take a look and see what’s playing today:
  1. Money for Nothing - Dire Straits

  2. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner - Warren Zevon

    Roland was a warrior from the Land of the Midnight Sun
    With a Thompson gun for hire, fighting to be done
    The deal was made in Denmark on a dark and stormy day
    So he set out for Biafra to join the bloody fray

    Through sixty-six and seven they fought the Congo war
    With their fingers on their triggers, knee-deep in gore
    For days and nights they battled the Bantu to their knees
    They killed to earn their living and to help out the Congolese

    Roland the Thompson gunner...

    His comrades fought beside him - Van Owen and the rest
    But of all the Thompson gunners, Roland was the best
    So the CIA decided they wanted Roland dead
    That son-of-a-bitch Van Owen blew off Roland’s head

    Roland the headless Thompson gunner
    Norway’s bravest son
    Time, time, time
    For another peaceful war
    But time stands still for Roland
    ’Til he evens up the score
    They can still see his headless body stalking through the night
    In the muzzle flash of Roland’s Thompson gun
    In the muzzle flash of Roland’s Thompson gun

    Roland searched the continent for the man who’d done him in
    He found him in Mombasa in a barroom drinking gin
    Roland aimed his Thompson gun - he didn’t say a word
    But he blew Van Owen's body from there to Johannesburg

    Roland the headless Thompson gunner...

    The eternal Thompson gunner, still wandering through the night
    Now it’s ten years later but he still keeps up the fight
    In Ireland, in Lebanon, in Palestine and Berkeley
    Patty Hearst heard the burst of Roland’s Thompson gun and bought it

  3. Mozart: Requiem in D Minor; K626 - 13. Agnus Dei - Herbert Von Karajan

  4. Bustin’ Surfboards - The Tornados

  5. Thinking About You - Radiohead

  6. Someone In Your Garden - Philip Glass, Notes on a Scandal

  7. Cemetery Polka - Tom Waits

  8. The Mikado, Act II: The Criminal Cried As He Dropped Him Down - D’Oyly Carte Opera Company

  9. The Cold Part - Modest Mouse

  10. One Note Song - Tenacious D

It’s Friday. What are you listening to?

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Found Art at Harry’s Farmers Market.

Flounder on Ice
Fan mail from some flounder?

Here’s looking at you, kid!


It was one of those mornings. Every Man-Jack (and Woman-Jill) among us has had ’em.

The Australian aboriginal people speak of the Three-Dog Night, a night so cold that one must snuggle up to not one, not two, but three dingoes in order to keep from freezing. Well, I had a three Q-Tip Morning... and I’ll spare you the details and explanations.

As if that were not bad enough, I proceeded to botch my Morning Shave.

Look: Shaving isn’t all that difficult, especially in this age of multi-laminar safety razors. But there is one cardinal rule that you violate at your extreme peril. Always be sure the path of the blade as it travels across your face is perpendicular to its edge. If you get careless - even for a second! - you will not merely nick yourself - you will flense yourself. That’s what I did, and it’s a damn good thing I had the stub end of a styptic pencil within reach.

Last time I saw that much blood come out of me, I was at the Red Cross, donating a pint of my good old A-Positive. Thank Gawd SWMBO was there to help me bandage it up.

Aside from these few Ablutionary Adventures, though, everything has been going swimmingly. Hope your day is as much fun!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Tellico Junction Cafe
The Tellico Junction Café, a landmark of downtown Englewood, Tennessee. [Photo courtesy Teresa.]

Set aside your brain
And get on the little train to the junction.
(Tellico Junction)
You won’t get much sleep,
There’s Inflatable Sheep at the junction.
(Tellico Junction)

Lotsa curves, you bet -
Even more when you get
To the junction.
(Tellico Junction)

There’s a little blogmeet
That is really neat near the junction.
(Tellico Junction)
With the Straight White Guy
You can go get fried at the junction.
(Tellico Junction)
And that’s Grouchy Denny,
He’s actin’ sorta friendly at the junction.
(Tellico Junction)

There are people of a Certain Age who will have no trouble recognizing the (somewhat altered) lyrics to the theme song of a television program that ran from 1963-70. The show was one of several popular sitcoms that celebrated the virtues of Rural Life and the idiocy of Rural People. Or so it seemed to me at the tender age of, say, eleven.

We have our own way of celebrating Rural Life in this day of the Internet; of blogs, Facebook and Twitter; of texting, sexting, and Swine Flu Infexting. And that is to head out to McMinn County, Tennessee on a weekend in late October, there to celebrate the birthday of Eric, the Straight White Guy.

Fall Colors HDR
The Straight White Neighborhood at dusk.

The agenda varies from year to year in its minor details, but there are generally certain Traditional Elements. Friday dinner, a honkin’ big salad and several pans of baked ziti by the lovely Boudicca (this year with meat sauce contributed by Eric hizzownself). Saturday morning, a typical Southern country breakfast at the Tellico Junction Café. Saturday evening, Eric’s country-style ribs and a pot of Englewood Baked Beans. Sunday morning, a pile of scrambled eggs and whomp biscuits whipped up by Yours Truly, accompanied by SWMBO’s amazing Apricot Kugel... after which everyone scatters to the four winds.

There are other activities besides Face-Stuffing, of course. For example, there is a certain amount of Drinkage, to be expected any time a small mob of Online Journalists gathers. And there are sundry other pleasures.

This year, alas, no shooting, thanks to a week of wet weather that left the range a bit swampy. But we have Eric’s pool table by way of compensation... and, this year, a fleet of model rockets courtesy of Yabu. (I even brought one that had been moldering in my basement for 27 years... now it’s moldering in the woods behind the Straight White Compound, where it is likely to stay for the next 27 years.) And we have Dolly, the inflatable Love-Ewe. And the Bully. And the Pachinko Machine. And guitars. And pith helmets. (“No matter who you’re with, it’s good to take a pith!”)

The best part about the weekend is the chance to reconnect with Blodgy Friends... and make new ones. Dax Montana, Grouchy Old Denny, Recondo 32 and Georgia, LeeAnn, Bou, Jerry, Teresa, Yabu, Richard, Tommy, and El Capitan were all there this year. (A few of the Usual Suspects were, alas, missing this year... but that’s life.) Nevertheless, we have ample time to swap stories, fire rockets, test people’s olfactory capabilities (“Get a whiff of this with your eyes closed. Can you guess what it is?” “Why... it’s a Bull Scrotum!”), and watch Eric tweeze belly-hairs from an absinthe-raddled, passed-out Dax.

These annual Hysterics at Eric’s are a little hard to describe to those who have never experienced a blogmeet, but you can take it to the bank - we know how to enjoy a weekend. All that’s missing is the railroad water tank for the ladies to use for skinny-dipping!

Monday, November 02, 2009


Yes, it’s that time of year... the season of delicious legumaceous soups.

The weather has cooled off, and the cool mornings and evenings put one in the mood for rich soups of peas or lentils, often enriched with beef sausages or flanken. It’s one of the things I love about the fall.

Tonight we’re having Split Pea and Sweet Potato Soup, courtesy of the Mistress of Sarcasm, who is on the way to becoming a dab hand in the kitchen.

Click the link if you want the recipe.

At the moment, this fine pottage is in the State of Becoming Soup. Lookit:

Split Pea and Sweet Potato Soup
Split Pea and Sweet Potato Soup on the simmer. Mmmm, mmmm, good.

Isn’t it beautiful? All those warm, autumnal colors. By the time it’s ready, it’ll be plain old green, but the flavor will still have all those colors. Meanwhile, the house is perfumed with the aromas of onions, garlic, sausage, cumin, and ginger... and I am a Happy Daddy.


A Bloggy Rocket heads for the firmament.

I’ve written before about one of the great Nerdly Hobbies from my youth: Model Rocketry.

Apparently, I’m not the only nerd out there... because the infamous Yabu loves his rockets, too. So much so that he brought a pile of rocket-launchy supplies to the recent Hysterics at Eric’s.


There’s something magical about the combination of rocket-powered projectiles and half-drunken bloggers that sets the blood a-tingle. And Eric has the perfect location, with no nearby trees or obstacles that might interfere with recovery. Not.

We’ve indulged our Rocket Jones at earlier gatherings, most notably three years ago. But this year’s flights were exceptional. We made five successful recoveries out of seven launches, leaving two rockets to decompose slowly in the woods that surround the Straight White Compound. And every flight was picture-perfect, with the recovery systems deploying exactly as designed.

Controlled DescentSpeaking of recovery systems, we managed to steal a march on the model rocketry industry by inventing a totally new method... something that does not involve the conventional techniques of induced instability, parachutes, streamers, or gyroscopic motion - all long-established techniques of ensuring a rocket’s safe and undamaged return to earth.

I’m proud to introduce the Inflatable Ovine Recovery System (IORS).

Here’s how it works:

A helium-filled IORS (a spare unit is visible in the photograph below) is attached to a ground-based tether and released to an altitude equal to the expected maximum altitude of the flight.

The rocket is launched, using standard electrical ignition protocol.

Love-Sheep and Rockets
Launch using standard electrical ignition, with spare IORS to right. [Photo courtesy of Teresa of Technicalities]

Activation of the ejection charge causes the rocket to dock with the IORS, in the special Docking Receptacle provided. The tether is then reeled in for a successful recovery.

I’ve posted a post-launch image below the fold to illustrate the configuration of the rocket and IORS after a successful recovery. The world of model rocketry will never be the same!

Post-deployment photograph of model rocket with Inflatable Ovine Recovery System (IORS), illustrating successful docking configuration.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


Hey! A minute ago it was an hour from now!