Tuesday, August 31, 2004


...comes courtesy of David Boxenhorn of Rishon Rishon, who points out that “blog” makes an excellent verb in Hebrew. And here’s how you conjugate it:

Balagti – I blogged
Balagta – you blogged (m)
Balagt – you blogged (f)
Balag – he blogged
Balga – she blogged
Balagnu – we blogged
B’lagtem – you blogged (m pl)
B’lgaten – you blogged (f pl)
Balgu – they blogged

Evlog – I will blog
Tivlog – you will blog (m)
Tivl’gi – you will blog (f)
Yivlog – he will blog
Tivlog – she will blog
Nivlog – we will blog
Tivl’gu – you will blog (pl)
Yivl’gu – they will blog

Boleg, boleget, bolgim, bolgot – participles

Livlog – infinitive

Bliga – verbal noun

Blog! – blog! (imperative)

Of course, in English, “blog” has a nice, semi-humorous sound to it, thanks to the up-front consonantal blend and the nice onomatopoetical ring the word has. Not only can you conjugate it as a verb – it works just like “log” - but it’s a great combining noun. Hell, just look at a few blogrolls to see some of the ways you can monkey with the word.

With that in mind, herewith the latest submission for the Blog D’Elisson Dictionary:

bloggadocio (n) – the (often) testosterone-driven urge to promote one’s blog, often manifesting itself in the form of prominent hit counters, humongous blogrolls, and frequent links to extremely popular blogs with the object of snagging an occasional trackback.


I spent a lot of time thinking about my "Marching Morons" post yesterday. The point of said post was that there are a lot of remarkably brainless people out there. And sometimes that brainlessness is so extreme that it has tragic consequences. As an example, I highlighted an item from that day’s news in which an (extremely) inebriated driver ran off the road, decapitating the friend who was riding with him. What made the story such a perfect illustration of stupidity was that after the accident, said driver kept on going, all the way to his house - where he went to sleep after leaving his truck parked outside with his friend’s headless body still in it.

That was another twelve miles, folks. And I can personally tell you that those are not the easiest roads to drive, even when it’s daytime and you’re sober. It can get mighty twisty in the hills north of Atlanta.

This incident struck very close to home. The driver lives less than two miles away from me - in fact, on the next street over from a good friend. The young men involved were known to (if not actually friends of) my friend’s eldest son. And so the snarky tone of my post no longer sat quite right with me... although the sheer freakishness of the incident still called, I thought, for at least a nervous chuckle.

But we laugh, sometimes, to avoid dealing with the true horrors of life. And this really was a horror. One young man killed in a gruesome manner, the other with a now tragically altered life. Both with grieving families. All the result of some crushingly bad decisions, coupled with bad luck.

How unnecessary. How stupid.

Should I have made fun of the incident? Was my post over the top? Beyond the boundaries of good taste? Well, that’s the question I’m asking myself.

The Darwin Awards, given to people who manage to get themselves killed through acts of stupidity (thus removing themselves from the gene pool), can be downright hilarious. We laugh at them the same way we laugh when Moe pokes Curly in the eyes. As Mel Brooks famously said, "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die." It’s all about what happens to the other guy - we laugh because it didn’t happen to us.

And so I laughed.

I wasn’t the poor son-of-a-bitch who found Francis Brohm’s head. I didn’t have to identify his body. I don’t have to make the funeral arrangements.

So today, I’m not laughing. Instead, I’m trying to have a little rachmones for the family of that poor kid who made at least one stupid, stupid choice Saturday night.

Now, I’m not laughing. Now, I’m pissed off.

Monday, August 30, 2004


I’m always appalled when Jay Leno does his “Man on the Street” interviews in which random passersby are asked simple questions. Really simple questions, on the order of “what country lies to the north of the U.S.?” Questions that these random passersby have a lot of trouble answering. Leno’s intention is to amuse us by showing us how pig-ignorant some people are. Me, I’m horrified.

There’s even some TV show - I forget the name - on which contestants are asked which of three blindingly dopey people will answer certain questions correctly. I’m sure plenty of folks laugh at this stuff, but it just upsets my stomach. [Update: Ivan (Thrilling Days of Yesteryear) reminded me that the show in question is called “Street Smarts.” Shows how smart I am...]

The late, great science fiction writer Cyril M. Kornbluth wrote about a dystopian future several hundred years down the road - a future in which 99.9 percent of the population was as stupid as the proverbial truckload of hammers. It seemed that, over the span of a few centuries, the less intelligent among us continued to have large families while the intellectual elite practiced family planning, with the result that intelligence was mostly bred out of the species. Running things was left to the one-tenth of one percent of the population that still had normal brains...and they were dying of overwork.

This is the world in which two of Kornbluth’s stories were set. The first, “The Marching Morons,” is a beautifully cynical look at this future society and how it could be impacted by the arrival of a completely amoral man from the twentieth century. The second, “The Little Black Bag,” uses this future society as a plot device but takes place in the present day. Rod Serling adapted this latter one for an episode of Night Gallery back in the 1970’s.

[I won’t divulge any more about either story but recommend you search them out. Entertaining reading, with a horrific undertone and a great Fred Willardesque catchphrase: “Would you buy it for a quarter?”]

Well, as if Leno’s interviews weren’t enough to convince me that “the future is now,” here comes this grisly little news item from today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Cobb driver charged after decapitated body found in truck


A Marietta man left a bar early Sunday morning, got into an accident that decapitated the passenger in his pickup truck, then drove several miles home and went to sleep - leaving his pickup truck parked overnight in his driveway with the body of his friend hanging out the passenger side window, Cobb County police said.

Police said John Kemper Hutcherson, 21, of Marietta drove off a road soon after leaving a bar about midnight and hit a support wire to a telephone pole. The guide wire severed the head of his friend, Francis Daniel Brohm, 23, of Marietta.

Hutcherson then drove 12 miles to his home on Fox Hound Chase, where police found him Sunday morning in blood-splattered clothes.

“It’s hard for one to imagine that you would drive [several] miles from a crash site to your home, turning in various directions, and yet not know what has happened to a passenger sitting next to you in your vehicle,” said Cobb police Cpl. Dana Pierce.
“He looked fine when we left the bar... I thought he was just bein’ real quiet-like.”

A neighbor out on a stroll with his 1-year-old daughter called authorities after discovering the headless body in the parked truck about 8 a.m.
“No, honey, the man is not making faces at us. He doesn’t (gulp) have a face...”

Hutcherson was charged with first-degree vehicular homicide, driving under the influence, failure to stop at an accident with death or injury and failure to maintain lanes.


Police said that before the two friends got to Runaround Sue’s in Marietta late Saturday night, they had been at a house where they had gathered to watch a televised NASCAR event. Brohm’s father, Dan Brohm, said that Brohm was a mechanic who worked late on Saturdays and then met up with friends sometimes.
It’s that damned NASCAR, I tell ya!

Police don’t know how long the friends were at the bar but said the two left after Brohm felt sick.
At least he was feeling something at that point in the evening’s proceedings.

Less than a mile and half from the bar, the pickup truck ran off Canton Road, traveled about 10 feet and hit the guide wire.

Investigators have not yet determined how fast the truck was going. Police would not say why Brohm was hanging out the passenger-side window when he was struck.
My guess is, if he wasn’t retching, he was role-playing. “Hey, looky here! I’m a hound dawg!”

After the accident, police said, Hutcherson’s route home took him through a commercial and industrial district that changed to dark, narrow winding roads before reaching the two-story Colonial house where he lives with his mother and sister. He parked the 1992 Chevrolet Z-71 in the driveway to the house’s two-car garage.

Except for the body in the passenger seat, the only thing amiss was the passenger-side mirror, which had been sheared off in the accident.

Later that morning, police found the severed head at the crash site on Canton Road.
Is that a bowling ball? What the hell is that thing? Gaaaaah!

Pierce would not say how Hutcherson explained the headless body in his truck.
“Er, aaahh... I never saw that guy before in my life! Really!”

Of course, the national wire services have picked this story up. In what has to be the understatement of the new century, the Reuters story concludes: “Alcohol is believed to be a contributing factor.” Well, duh.

What do you bet we hear about it on Leno tonight? Man on the street. Part of him, anyway.

Yep - stupidity and grisliness (grislitude?), always a great combination. Now, add in the fact that they found the body less than two miles from my house, and you have something that’ll really spice up that morning coffee!

[Update: The Cobb County district attorney who will be prosecuting this case is (I am not making this up) Pat Head.]


Gal Fridman celebrates after winning Israel's first Olympic gold. Photo Michael Sohn, AP via MSNBC.

Sunday, August 29, 2004


For someone like me who cut his teeth on the FM radio of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s – the heyday of what they call “album-oriented rock” today – the modern radio dial is a vast wasteland. On the AM dial you have Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the rest of their pea-brained wingnut brethren. On FM, you have NPR.

NPR is OK as far as it goes. Here in Atlanta, we get to hear the Democrat-friendly, tofu- and granola-eating, Starbucks™ cappuccino-drinking, no animal testing version of the news up until 9 am, at which time the classical music jocks take over until three in the afternoon. Then you get the parade of All Things Considered, et alia. And this is fine. My main gripe with NPR is that their bias with respect to the Middle East (i.e., Israel vs. the rest of the entire known universe) is painfully evident. That pisses me off – but I still listen to them sometimes. The alternative is a steady diet of sports radio, Jeebus radio, and ranting Swift Boat Veterans, and that is just too much for me to handle and keep the car on the road at the same time.

What I like about NPR is the occasional little nugget o’ goodness that just floats in out of nowhere. The musical transitions (some call ’em “bumpers,” NPR calls ’em “buttons”) between program segments are sometimes intriguing. There have been times that that little ten-second slice of music was interesting enough for me to track it down on the ’net and learn more about the artist. Maybe even buy a CD or two. That’s how I discovered Natraj, a group that plays Indian-flavored jazz. And that’s how I learned about Don Julin, a mandolin player with a Zappa fixation.

I mean, how often do you hear Zappa’s “Orange County Lumber Truck” from the 1968 album Lumpy Gravy…played by some dude with a mandolin?

The fun is not limited to the bumpers, or buttons, or whatever the hell you want to call them. Last week there was a segment on how the name “Abu Ghraib” is actually pronounced. They started with some sound bites from various members of our ruling elite. Based on the way these clowns mangled the name, it’s amazing that anyone even found the place, never mind figured out how to turn it into “Humiliation and Abuse Central.” Chimpy’s version, as expected, was especially amusing.

Then came the sound bites from Arabic speakers, who pronounced the “gh” with a guttural “h” sound that is familiar to any speaker of Scottish or Hebrew. The “r” was rolled at the back of the throat and at the tip of the tongue – piece of gâteau to any Francophone – and the “ai” was something between the “e” in “Jeb” and the “u” in “much.” Overall, not too hard to reproduce after having come up through several years of Hebrew school.

But we need to find a way to make Abu Ghraib pronounceable by our nation’s leaders. And the media, for that matter... the idiots who still haven’t figured out how to pronounce “negotiate.” (The “ti” is pronounced “she,” not “see” – this ain’t France, dammit!)

So here’s my modest proposal. Let’s just call the damn place “Abu Shrub.”

That’s right. Abu Shrub. The word “shrub” is about as close as most English speakers are gonna get to reproducing the authentic Iraqi pronunciation of “Ghraib.” And it reminds us of Chimpy, who helped make the name so very familiar.

Abu Shrub. Yeah.

Friday, August 27, 2004


Quick, run to airport. Whoops - first pick up She Who Must Be Obeyed, then run to airport.

Blogging will resume in a couple days - see you soon, true believers! Meantime, read them stinkin' archives - that's what they're there for.

And now - onward, to the belly of the beast!

Thursday, August 26, 2004


...and this is the result. [Note: Parental Advisory, Explicit Lyrics.]

Try it: it’s funny and vulgar. Right up my alley!

I plugged my own blog address in and the results were (predictably) hysterical. Of course, it gets old quickly, but who cares? So does everything.

But it makes me wonder. Just how much raw geekage did it take to come up with this thing? How many nerd-hours?

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


In view of our impending visit to Northern Virginia this weekend, it’s a good time to reminisce about our last trip up there. Back in May, we joined a group of our classmates for a tour of the U.S. Capitol at the invitation of Senator Bill Frist (R-TN). Yeah, I know he’s a Republican and all, but after all, we did go to school together. And the tour was pretty impressive, I have to admit. Here we were in the Capitol Rotunda, the exact spot where Ronald Reagan’s mortal remains would lie in state a month later.

Reagan’s-eye view of the Capitol Rotunda. 

And here we were in U.S. Senate - not in the gallery, mind you, but on the Senate floor itself, with my butt parked in Teddy Kennedy’s chair on the back row.

It was about that time that Frist explained that Kennedy was entitled to sit up front based on his seniority, but that he preferred to sit in the back of the chamber - at the desk his brother Jack had used.

Geez Louise. Having had my butt in JFK’s chair now allows me to play all kinds of “six degrees of separation” games. Jackie, Marilyn, Gawd knows who else...

After getting the tour, we repaired to the Madison Room for a cocktail reception. Several of us had a chance to take the lectern and make some impromptu remarks... so now I can say I’ve made a speech at the U.S. Capitol. Whoop-de-do.

But that’s not the point of this post. This is:

On the way back, we had a layover in Charlotte, North Carolina. Getting a nonstop was apparently not an option thanks to Mr. Cheap-O (me) using his last remaining pile of USAir frequent flyer miles to pay for the tickets. OK, fine, except USAir is never - repeat, never - on time out of Charlotte. So we had a few hours to kill.

Killing time in an airport will eventually involve eating and drinking. Possibly as a result of the latter, there will also be micturition. So with that as my goal, I excused myself from She Who Must Be Obeyed and headed for the restroom. Ah, here’s one!

I nipped in and started looking around for a urinal. Hmmm, no urinals. Sinks and a lotta stalls - in some grotesque architectural snafu, did they put the urinals in the back somewhere? Never mind. An open stall at the end of the row beckoned, so in I went. Unzip. Let fly. Aaaaahhhh, sweet relief.

Sometime in mid-whiz, a nagging thought occurred to me. Where were the damned urinals? Most peculiar. If there had been a sofa, why, I’d have thought I was in the ladies’ room!

And that’s when I saw it.

The box.

The metal box perched on the stall partition, adjacent to the bunwad dispenser.

The metal box that is not a standard component of your typical men’s room - because guys don’t need a place to put used sanitary napkins.

Oh, shit.

Good thing I was at the end of the row, where I was less likely to be discovered. Especially since I had left the door open. Guys do not shut the stall door if all they’re doing is taking a whiz.

I stuck my head out to confirm my suspicions. Yep, this was definitely not the men’s room. By now, there were several women at the sinks, washing up. My task was to get past them without attracting too much attention - especially since I figured that any attention I got was likely to result in my arrest on the grounds of general pervitude, or extreme stupidity at the very least.
Cop: “Sir, did you not see the sign? Or notice any other clue that this was where the ladies make pee-pee?”

Me: “Er, aaahhh...”
There was a bank of four sinks right across from me. Then a divider, and another bank of sinks. Past that, the exit. There were women at the second bank of sinks, but not at the one across from me.

So I stepped out of the stall, quickquickquick washed my hands - and then ran like a son-of-a-bitch for the exit.

To this day, I still shake my head with amazement. That I got out of there without getting busted? That I went in there in the first place? That I had the presence of mind to notice the amazing lack of urinals and yet was oblivious enough not to grasp what that meant?

No. I’m amazed that I took the time to wash my hands.


...is a Republican.

 Posted by Hello

See if you can guess which one.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


is the bilingual pun. Here’s one in Japanese and English:

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, on a recent visit to the U.S. Gulf Coast, had occasion to visit a Cajun restaurant. After having enjoyed appetizers and drinks, Koizumi-sama was surprised when a waiter placed a large dish in front of him.

“Nan desu ka?” he inquired. What is this?

The waiter responded, “Arigeita gozaimasu.”

Yeah, I know it’s stupid. If you need an explanation, or if you demand an apology, feel free to e-mail me at elisson1 (at) aol (dot) com.

Friday, August 20, 2004


From Pete (A Perfectly Cromulent Blog) comes this fascinating news item:

German men are being shamed into urinating while sitting down by a gadget which is saving millions of women from cleaning up in the bathroom after them.

The WC ghost, a £6 voice-alarm, reprimands men for standing at the lavatory pan. It is triggered when the seat is lifted. The battery-operated devices are attached to the seats and deliver stern warnings to those who attempt to stand and urinate (known as “Stehpinkeln”).

“Hey, stand-peeing is not allowed here and will be punished with fines, so if you don't want any trouble, you’d best sit down,” one of the devices orders in a voice impersonating the German leader, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder. Another has a voice similar to that of his predecessor, Helmut Kohl.

The manufacturers of the WC ghost, Patentwert, say they are ready to direct their gadgets at the British market.

Their prototype English-speaking WC ghost says in an American drawl: “Don’t you go wetting this floor cowboy, you never know who’s behind you. So sit down, get your water pistol in the bowl where it belongs. Ha, ha, ha.”

They also plan to copy the voices of Tony Blair and the Queen.

So far 1.8 million WC ghosts have been sold in German supermarkets.

But Klaus Schwerma, author of Standing Urinators: The Last Bastion of Masculinity? doubts whether it will ever be possible to convert all men.

“Many insist on standing, even though it leads to much marital strife,” he said.

In German, the phrase for someone who sits and urinates, a “Sitzpinkler,” is equivalent to “wimp.”


Marital strife, eh?

If a few random drips of urine on the floor or toilet rim are going to cause “marital strife,” your marriage is pretty shaky. And what about the miserable couples who fight over who left the seat up or down? Or whether the bunwad roll wraps over or under? Jeez, get a piece of TP and wipe it up! Even better, don’t piss on the floor!

What I’d really like to see is a “Wash Yer Stinkin’ Pissy Hands” WC ghost. That’s right - use the facilities and try to leave without washing your hands, and the Voice o’ Doom gives you a real lecture:

“Where the hell are you going, buddy boy? Yeah, you. Wash them disgusting mitts RIGHT NOW!”

Or the door locks automatically and an endless tape loop begins to play “Muskrat Love.”

Reminds me of a story. A Harvard man and a Yale man are standing side by side in the restroom at the bank of urinals. Harvard man finishes and heads for the door. The Eli calls out after him, “At Yale, they teach us to wash our hands after we urinate!” The Harvard guy shoots back,“At Harvard, they teach us not to piss on our hands!”

Leave it to the Germans. These are the same excretion-obsessed folks who brought you the famous “Check Out Your Turd” commode design, which provides a neat little shelf-like Mr. Hankey Landing Zone in the bowl. And I’m impressed with Herr Schwerma (any relation to the sandwich? probably not), who convinced a publisher to roll out an actual book on Pissing While Standing Up As God Intended Men To Do.

Gee Whiz. Joyce Kilmer probably would have this to say to all y’all sitzpinklers:
I hope that I shall never be
A man who must sit down to pee.
Citizens of the Urine Nation, unite!


Last week we shelled out the big ducats to see a movie. Big ducats: if you don’t catch the bargain matinee, you will be paying $8.50 at the typical Atlanta theatre. I know there are other places where movies cost even more - New York comes to mind - but even at “only” eight and a half bucks for a single admission, you’re well north of a double sawbuck by the time you pay for a couple of tickets, a beverage or two, and the obligatory sack o’ popcorn. All this is a roundabout way of saying that we are very selective about the movies we see, especially if it’s on a weekend evening.

This time it was “Collateral,” a film that is noteworthy for (1) having Tom Cruise playing against type as a sociopathic hit man, and (2) being the vehicle that solidly establishes Jamie Foxx’s acting cred. It’s a sort of perverse buddy flick, except here, one “buddy” is trying to assassinate four key players in an upcoming drug trial, and the other is the cab driver who is unlucky enough to pick him up and have to schlep him around all night. Cruise is charming, menacing, nihilistically philosophical, and cold as gray steel, yet he offers life advice to Foxx as though he might actually allow the cabbie to survive the night once the four hits are done.

But for me the real treat was a scene that takes place in a jazz club. The club’s owner is onstage, jamming with the band, and he’s blowing a mean trumpet. The actor-musicians’ performance is so well choreographed that you might think they are actually playing the music. But they’re not.

The music is “Spanish Key,” from Miles Davis’s landmark jazz-funk fusion album Bitches Brew. Vintage 1969. Right off the grooves of the album.

[I guess there really are no more grooves anymore, are there? Just a bunch of microscopic pits in the surface of a thin metal layer inside a shiny plastic disc. No more big ol’ flat vinyl records. No more “albums,” for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, I love CD’s - but they’re just a different, newer technology.]

I actually saw Miles perform a lot of that material in November 1969, when his group played the top half of a double bill at Madison Square Garden. The bottom half of the bill was Simon and Garfunkel. Talk about odd couples - this was as weird as pairing Family Circus with Zippy the Pinhead. But that’s another story.

Back in the early 1970’s, when I was a young engineer just beginning my career with the Extremely Large International Petrochemical Corporation, I used to commute between Houston and Baytown, Texas. It was a hellish 75-mile daily round trip, but it did give me time to listen to music. And I must have played Bitches Brew hundreds of times. I knew every single note of “Spanish Key.” Still do.

Hearing it onscreen was an unexpected pleasure, even nicer than the bits and pieces of Davis’s On the Corner on the soundtrack of “Finding Forrester.”

Hell, I knew Miles before he was a block. Three guesses what’s playing in my car’s CD player today. Sure beats them old cassette tapes.

Monday, August 16, 2004


You, Britney Spears, Demi Moore, and Ashton Kutcher don’t know what you’re messing with. Kabbalah is not for the weak-minded!

It’s remarkable what you can find on eBay these days. I came across this old Marvel comic book from the early 1970’s which features a “hero” (if he can be called that) called the Golem. Possibly the first comic book character straight out of Jewish legend. But what really caught my eye was the story title: “The Devil-Hordes of Kaballa!” Stan Lee (né Lieber) having one of his little inside jokes.

Madonna, look out!

Kabbalah, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is the body of knowledge having to do with Jewish mysticism. It consists largely of speculation on the nature of divinity, the Creation, the origin and fate of the soul, and the role of human beings. It consists also of meditative, devotional, mystical and magical practices that in years past were taught only to a select few; for this reason, Kabbalah is regarded as an esoteric offshoot of Judaism. The word “cabal” - a group of conspirators - is derived from Kabbalah, owing mainly to the mystical and secretive nature of the latter.

Some - probably most - aspects of traditional Kabbalah are so wound up with Jewish religious belief and knowledge that they are meaningless outside of that context... but at the same time, there are other aspects that have been studied and practiced outside of Judaism for so long that they have evolved their own distinct identity. As Colin Low puts it in his Kabbalah FAQ website, “you do not have to be Jewish to study [these aspects of Kabbalah], any more than you need to be English to study the Law of Gravitation. However,” Low continues, “if you choose to study Kabbalah by name you should recognise that Kabbalah was and is a part of Judaism, and an important part of the history of Jewish people, and respect the beliefs which not only gave rise to Kabbalah, but which are still an essential part of Jewish faith.”


These days, of course, anyone who is hooked into the Great American Drivel Manufactory can tell you that the hot new spiritual trend taking Hollyweird by storm is - you guessed it - Kabbalah. Madonna, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, and Bitchney Britney Spears - they’re all rushing off and tying red strings around their wrists and consulting with them radical rebbes.

What a country. Madonna Ciccone Ritchie, a nice Catholic girl, is writing children’s books based on rabbinic teachings. And meanwhile, Britney rushed off to get herself a Kabbalah-inspired tattoo - never mind that tattoos are a no-no according to the Torah. I’ll bet it’s real cute... and spiritual, too!

So: back to my comic book.

Those “Devil-Hordes of Kaballa” - could it be that, 30 years ago, Stan Lee could see all this coming? Perhaps these “devil-hordes” are all those happy Left Coast trendoids struggling to penetrate the cosmic mysteries. They say Kabbalah is notoriously difficult even for the most learned scholars. Traditionally, you couldn’t even begin to study it until you were 40 years old (20, by some authorities). And there were old stories that you could go stark raving nutso if you weren’t fully prepared.

Hey, maybe those old stories are right. I hear that Target has actually run out of $30 red string bracelets due to high demand. Stark. Raving. Nutso.

Saturday, August 14, 2004


Recent front-page article in The Wall Street Journal: newly published French novel containing not a single verb. A fascinating literary feat, that.

Prepositions and participles? Plenty. Gerunds? Great. But not one verb.

Great literature? Probably not. A gimmick? Without a doubt – but a well-executed one.

Also a gimmick, and a more subtle one at that, the Journal’s article. As with the novel, written entirely without verbs.

Likewise this blogpost.


Strange thing I’ve noticed. Airline pilots are efficient communicators: they have to be. They don’t waste words in the cockpit. But on the other side of that cockpit door, things are different.

As a veteran business traveler, I’ve heard plenty of in-flight announcements. Once in a rare while, they’re funny. But mostly, they are needlessly verbose.

“We will be landing shortly. Please bring your tray tables to the upright and locked position before landing. Also, please be sure all electronic devices are turned to the off position.”

Tray tables in the upright and locked position? Fine. But as for them other devices, how about “please be sure to turn off all electronic devices”? Why the extra word-bloat? What purpose does it serve? Does it add a veneer of sophistication? Is it a rhetorical device? I can appreciate the parallel construction and all (“upright and locked position” versus “off position”), but is it really necessary?

Emulate the pilots, sez I. All those extra words? Turn ’em to the off position.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


A serious topic for a change.

As reported on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) website, the Presbyterian Church has approved divestment of holdings in corporations doing business in Israel:

RICHMOND, July 2 — The 216th General Assembly approved several measures opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestine Friday, including a call for the corporate witness office of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to begin gathering data to support a selective divestment of holdings in multinational corporations doing business in Israel/Palestine.

Divestment is one of the strategies that U.S. churches used in the 1970s and ’80s in a successful campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.

The vote was 431 to 62 to have the church's Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) study the matter and make recommendations to the General Assembly Council (GAC).

When a handful of commissioners expressed reservations about the action, the Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor from Bethlehem, an ecumenical guest at the Assembly, said divestment is important because it is a way for the churches to take direct action. For too long, he said, the churches have simply issued statements — and that is not enough.

“We have to send strong messages to such companies,” Raheb said, referring specifically to Caterpillar Inc., the American builder of the armored tractors and bulldozers the Israeli army uses to demolish Palestinian homes.

“Sisters and brothers, this is a moment of truth,” Raheb said.

The Rev. Victor Makari, the PC(USA)'s liaison to the Middle East, supported the divestment strategy, saying, “I think the issue of divestment is a very sensitive one with Israel. … If nothing else seems to have changed the policy of Israel toward Palestinians, we need to send a clear and strong message.”

The divestment action also calls for the United States to be an “honest, even-handed broker for peace” and calls for “more meaningful participation” in peace negotiations by Russia, German [sic], France and others. It also encourages the U.S., Israeli and Palestinian governments to “lay aside arrogant political posturing and get on with forging negotiated compromises that open a path to peace.”

In other actions related to Israel, the Assembly voted by large margins to condemn Israel's construction of a “security wall” across the West Bank; disavow Christian Zionism as a legitimate theological stance and direct the denomination's Middle East and Interfaith Relations offices to develop resources on differences between fundamental Zionism and Reformed theology; and study the feasibility of sponsoring economic-development projects in Palestine and putting an action plan in place by 2005.
The actions on Israel were forwarded to the Assembly by the Peacemaking Committee.
Well, ain’t that just swell of our Presbyterian friends. Never mind about condemning Iran, Syria, North Korea, or any of the other countries that make a mockery of democracy, murdering their own citizens and threatening the United States. No, let’s bitch-slap the one country in the Middle East that shares our Western democratic values.

The policy of Israel toward the Palestinians has always been fair and reasonable: Until you stop trying to murder us at every opportunity, we reserve the right to defend ourselves. Such defense may include the unfortunate necessity of building a fence to keep your homicidal bombers out of our cities and villages. It may mean going into your towns to hunt down terrorists at great risk to our own soldiers (a risk that could be avoided just by blowing your towns to smithereens, but we don’t do that because we believe it’s wrong to intentionally target civilians).

Sure, the Palestinians have it hard. But they have brought so much of that hardship upon themselves through stupid, hateful decisions. In fact, up until 1948, there were no “Palestinians” as the term is used today. There were Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians, and Egyptians - and a mixed lot of Jews and Arabs who lived in Palestine.

In 1948, Arabs living in what was to become the “Jewish Entity” left their homes in order to let the surrounding nations try (unsuccessfully) to drive the Jews into the sea. But strangely, after the war, none of the Arabs in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, or Lebanon wanted any of their displaced brethren. Presto: national identity.

In 1967 and again in 1973, Israel had to fight for its national survival as its neighbors waged wars of extermination, and the Palestinians again backed the wrong horse. Nevertheless, rather than simply annexing the land captured during these wars and booting the inhabitants out, Israel held on to the hope that they could exchange this land for peace. And they did just that with Egypt after the historic Camp David accords. In the history of the world, how rare is that? “You attacked us, we thrashed you, but we don’t want to keep most of what we won. You can have it back.” Can you imagine what the map of the world would look like if no country ever assimilated the land it captured in war? The United States would sure be a different place.

Fact is, Israel is not interested in growing itself at the expense of its neighbors. It just wants what Garbo famously wanted - to be left alone. In peace. And with defensible borders, since the countries surrounding it would be very happy to see it disappear.

Our Presbyterian friends are calling for the United States to be an “honest, even-handed broker for peace.” Guess that means murdering civilians is morally equivalent to defending oneself. They’d also like “more meaningful participation” in peace negotiations by Russia, Germany, France and others... all such great friends of the Jews. And they encourage the U.S., Israeli and Palestinian governments to “...get on with forging negotiated compromises that open a path to peace.”

Right. Last time such a compromise was offered to Yasser Arafat, he slapped it away, astonishing even the Saudis. Oh, but “compromise” means you don’t get 100% of what you want. In this case, it was 98%. Not good enough!

But why are we surprised? The Palestinian Arabs have consistently rejected all offers of a two-state solution because they cannot stand the idea of letting Jews live in what would otherwise be a land of Arab/Muslim hegemony. Sorry, guys - Jews have been living on that little piece of real estate for thousands of years and have maintained a continuous (although small in numbers) presence even in the period between the Roman conquest of Judea in 70 C.E. and the beginning of the first wave of Zionist immigration in the late 1800’s. Those Zionists didn’t just move in and grab, either. They bought the then-empty, barren and impoverished land from its absentee Arab owners - often at extortionate prices. And then they made the desert bloom. And that pissed the neighbors off. And guess what? Them pesky Yahoodis are not going to go away.

Is it the Palestinians or the Israelis who send suicide bombers to blow up gatherings of civilians? Is it the Palestinians or the Israelis who strapped a bomb to the body of a retarded teenager and sent him across the border? Is it the Palestinians or the Israelis who danced in the streets, waved flags, and threw candy on 9/11? To whom should we be sending a message? To the people who “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” that’s who.

Oh, wait. Presbyterians? This is the same religious organization that thinks it’s OK to target Jews for conversion. Not by honest, good old-fashioned evangelism, mind you (I don’t appreciate that either, but at least it’s an honest way of saying you don’t respect someone else’s religion). No, it’s by opening Messianic churches that look and sound just like synagogues... until you listen carefully to the message hidden behind all the fake Jewish ritual. That kind of proselytizing is dishonest and disgusting - and the PC has elected to continue funding it (see Item 06-09 in the Worldwide Ministries Report).

Thank you, thank you very much.

Monday, August 09, 2004


...start writing poetry.

Bloggity, bloggity
Thinking poetic’lly
Writing this crap that I'll
Stick on the ’Net...

Pounding the keyboard
How long, O how long, Lord,
Have I been doing this?
Gee, I forget.

To come up with a post
Is like Hell. There I roast,
Straining for topics
And dripping with sweat.

Lift that writer’s block curse:
When in doubt, write some verse!
Today, double dactyl -
Tomorrow, son-NET!

Friday, August 06, 2004


...and it is scary.

Over the last couple of years, I spent a large amount of my time helping my employer (one of those little Mom-and-Pop operations, uh-huh) convert its enterprise management systems over to SAP. You may have heard of SAP or seen one of their ads in an airport - it’s one of those insidious business systems that seems like it’s poised to take over the known universe. “Nike runs SAP.” Big fat hairy deal. SAP is a German company (I forget what the SAP stands for, probably something like Schtopfen in Arschlochen Produktion) whose motto may very well be “Ve may haff lost der last war, but ve VILL be running t’ings vun vay or der odder!”

While I was engaged in this most-of-two-years-out-of-my-life project, a nagging thought occurred to me. I’m enough of a cynic to imagine that there is some little geek running around Frankfurt-am-Main who has figured out a way to stick a trapdoor into the SAP deep code. And in a decade or two, when just about every single business on the planet is on the system, BOOM - we’re gonna be in big trouble.

And I’ll be laughing, ’cause I saw it coming:

A Cautionary Pæan to the Future of Business

It’s January 2023 —
The global workforce marches to the tune of SAP.
We’ve unified the world’s industry,
And celebrate an age of business solidarity.
No single holdout — not one company
Dares fail to sing the praises of the holy SAP.
Together we all bow and bend the knee,
And the management consultants tell us, “Work will make you free!”
The one fly in the ointment? What if we
Are hostage to the software and the geek who holds the key:
“Unless you pay one trillion bucks to me,
I’ll pull the plug — shut down the world’s entire industry!”
Is it extortion? Not that I can see —
We’ll pay, and then we’ll write it off as a “consulting fee.”
So in our headlong rush to SAP,
Let’s not forget that business lunch is never, ever free!

Thursday, August 05, 2004


I enjoy a well-turned non sequitur - especially one that most people can’t understand - and I’ve found a few to share with you. Most of these little gems come from Irwin W., who learned them from his late father. Yiddish, the wonderful lyrical language of Eastern European Jews, is a wellspring of literature, humor, and wisdom. And, as these prove, it’s also a treasure trove of narrishkeit (foolishness).

Moishe Pipik, nudel teschel, geh zum galach, khap a fleschel. Geh araus, pish dich aus, kim aran, zug nisht aus.

Rough translation: “Moses Bellybutton, little pocket of noodles, go to the priest and grab a small bottle. Go out, urinate, come here, don’t say anything.” Completely meaningless, but it’s funny if you say it really fast.

Dreck und leber und koyshere fud’m.

“Shit, liver, and kosher thread.” An all-purpose exclamation apropos of absolutely nothing, this can be uttered much as W. C. Fields would have said “Godfrey Daniel!”

Gevalt unt geshrigen mit borscht.

“[Cries for] help and screaming with red beet soup.” Another unexplainable expostulation.

Er hat gekhapt a shtick dreck in zayn’m moyl und er lozt es nisht oys.

“He has caught a piece of crap in his mouth and he won’t let it go.” Describes a person who retains the untenable, the beater of a dead horse.

Anmachen in zoyreh.

“A turd in vinegar.” Unappetizing metaphor, perhaps for an unpleasant person.

Ikh ken esn gloz un es tut mir nisht vey.

“I can eat glass - it doesn’t hurt me.” This comes from the old I Can Eat Glass Project website, the creation of a Harvard linguist. The idea was that when speaking a foreign language, most tourists are immediately identified as such by the natives of the countries they’re visiting and are treated with disdain. But by saying a phrase such as “I can eat glass, it doesn’t hurt me,” the visitor is treated with the respect due a serious lunatic. The website had this phrase translated into over 100 different languages, including obscure and/or artificial ones.

This is the kind of stuff you won’t learn from reading The Joys of Yiddish.


A recent blogpost by James Lileks included a scan of a 1918-S Walking Liberty half-dollar. Worn, but nevertheless lovely. The Walker, along with the Saint Gaudens $20 gold piece, is considered by many collectors to be among the most beautiful coins our country has ever produced. But you’d never know about the rich artistic heritage of U.S. coinage if the only evidence you saw was today’s pocket change.

Maybe I’m showing my age, but I remember when interesting coins used to circulate. Seen any half-dollars lately? Up until 1964, the fifty cent piece was a routine component of our pocket change. You’d have Franklin halves and the older Walking Liberty halves as well. There was a lot more variety in the other coins we saw, too. You would see the occasional Standing Liberty quarter, usually with the date worn almost smooth. Dimes? Sure, the Roosevelt dime was out there, but you’d see plenty of the older Liberty Head (“Mercury”) dimes. And Buffalo nickels. No Indian-head pennies, but the older Lincolns with the wheat-ear reverse were still common. And once in a while you’d get a really old one in your change... WW I vintage.

Heck, one time in junior high school a kid was ready to buy his lunch with a 1903 Barber half-dollar, but I managed to swap it with him for a couple of quarters. Still have that bad boy stashed away somewhere.

And then came 1964, the coin shortage, and the Kennedy half. Almost immediately, people began hoarding the new half-dollars for their keepsake value in the wake of JFK’s assassination. With the removal of silver from quarters and dimes the following year (and the reduction of silver content in the half from 90% to 40%, total removal a few years later), Gresham’s Law kicked in and all of the silver coins disappeared from circulation... exacerbating the coin shortage. And now all of those beautiful old coins just don’t circulate any more. They’re like old friends who have moved away... and I miss them.

It’s really too bad. Our modern coinage looks like crap and the same boring designs have been in place almost forever. The Kennedy half just turned 40. The Washington quarter is 72 years old. The Roosevelt dime began production in 1946 and the Jefferson nickel in 1938. And the Lincoln cent has been around for 95 years (!) even though the new-fangled Lincoln Memorial reverse is “only” 45 years old. Of course, every so often the Mint recuts the dies for these tired old designs to improve production speed - and the coin usually suffers because the raised design elements keep getting more and more flattened.

OK, what about all these Statehood quarters and the 2004 nickels with their new reverses? Big deal. Most of the new quarters are ugly as hell, with maybe three that don’t look like they were designed by a bake sale committee. And all of them suffer from the difficulty of trying to cram too much into too small a space. How much legally-mandated verbiage and how many “artistic elements” can you stick on a coin, anyway? Feh.

But hey, just turn on “The Coin Vault” on the Home Shopping Network and you can score some of those nice cluttered Statehood quarters, layered in 10k gold or (even better!) embellished with enamel in FULL COLOR!!!

You want to see what a good coin design looks like? Take a look at the 1999 Washington $5 commemorative gold coin below. Bold, handsome profile of Washington on the obverse. Dramatic eagle on the reverse. This could have been our quarter beginning in 1932, but the design was passed over in favor of the familiar Washington quarter because the Mint Director did not like the idea of a coin created by a female sculptor (Laura Fraser). Ahhh, what could have been... it breaks my heart.

The quarter that could have been.

That 1999 Washington... the Walking Liberty half... the Saint Gaudens $20... Bela Pratt’s $5 and $2½ Indian Head gold pieces with the incused devices... the Buffalo nickel... the Peace dollar. All of them beautiful. What are your favorites?

Which of these old friends do you miss?

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


Sometime back in early 2002 I started keeping track of the books I read. The likely driver for this was curiosity - how many books did I read every month, and what kind of books were they?

Well, based on the log I’ve kept beginning in January 2002, I average 3.1 books per month. Of these, roughly 44% is nonfiction of one sort or another, 26% is science fiction, and the remaining 30% what I loosely call “other fiction.” This excludes, of course, all of the routine garbage such as periodicals, newspapers, et cetera.

I knew right off the bat that science fiction would be a prominent fraction of the total. I learned to enjoy SF (that’s right, SF: true science fiction people never call it “sci-fi”) at my mother’s knee, and today it occupies a good-sized chunk of my reading time. But not all of it, it turns out. I was surprised to find out that SF makes up only about a quarter of my literary intake.

The only problem I have with books is where to put ’em all. I tend to buy my books in hardcover instead of doing what most rational people do - visiting the library. After a while, I run out of storage space on the bookshelves in the bedrooms and den, at which point I have to perform triage and move some of the overflow to the basement. Too many books? Maybe, and yet...

A house without books is a house without a soul. Sounds like a platitude, but when we were looking at houses in 1998 in preparation for our move back to Atlanta, one place we looked at gave off a weird vibe. It was a pleasant enough house, well constructed, plenty of room, a few extras, nice kitchen, finished basement - but something about it felt wrong. And then it struck us...there was not a single book in the whole place. Videotapes, yes. Gym equipment, check. But not one book.

I tell you, it just felt wrong. I couldn’t wait to get out of that house.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading lately, starting with most recently completed and working backwards:


Summerland, Michael Chabon. Young adult fantasy novel by a gifted modern writer, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.


Deception Point, Dan Brown. Early thriller by the author of The Da Vinci Code, a page-turner without a whole lot of heft. Probably would make an entertaining but stupid action movie.

Last Car to Elysian Fields, James Lee Burke. Detective novel set in New Orleans. The viewpoint character, Dave Robicheaux, was played by Dennis Quaid in the movie The Big Easy.

Persepolis - The story of a childhood, Marjane Satrapi. An autobiographical graphic novel set in Iran at the time of the 1979 revolution. A unique personal perspective on historical events that continue to resonate.

Bringing Down the House, Ben Mezrich. How a bunch of talented MIT whiz kids beat the Las Vegas casinos at blackjack...for a while.

Crossing California, Adam Langer. The intertwined lives of three families in West Rogers Park, a Jewish enclave in Chicago.

Hey, where’s the SF?

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach. Surprisingly funny look at a morbid topic.


The Brigade, Howard Blum. Uniformed Jews fight in Europe during the closing days of WWII and smuggle refugees into Palestine - a true story of little-known heroes.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris. Hilarious vignettes of family life from one of today’s most brilliant and twisted minds.

The Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. Princeton students tackle a mysterious piece of Renaissance-era literature that holds a puzzle...and a deadly secret. Makes The Da Vinci Code look like a Hardy Boys installment.

Survivor, Chuck Palahniuk. The story of the last survivor of a suicide cult, told end-to-beginning by a master of the perversely funny novel.

Angels and Demons, Dan Brown. What, The Da Vinci Code not enough for you?

Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, Steve Almond. Thanks to this book, I have now discovered the pleasures of the Five Star Hazelnut Bar and the Valomilk Marshmallow Cup. Damn your eyes, Mr. Almond!

Moby Dick; or, The Whale, Herman Melville. That’s right. Call me Ishmael. I dare you.


The Speed of Dark, Elizabeth Moon. Ah, finally a science fiction title! Told (mostly) from the point of view of a high-functioning autistic adult, this novel asks disturbing questions: What if there were a debilitating mental condition that was, deep down, the result of experiencing the world differently than most people? And what if there were a cure for said condition - a cure that might change your personality or even your very self-awareness? Would you want to be cured of being you?

The Art of Eating, M. F. K. Fisher. A collection of five books by the legendary essayist, foodie, and all-around bon vivant.

OK, enough for now. Gotta go Amazon.

Sunday, August 01, 2004


Returned yesterday evening from a much-needed and eagerly awaited week at the beach. As is our usual practice, we rented a house with the F’bergs and T’baums. In a departure from our usual practice, we vacationed sans kids. The sole exception was a one-day visit from the T’baums daughter, son-in-law, and new baby grandson.

Our home away from home in Sandestin.

This year, the weather was about as good as it gets in Destin. Except for searing heat on the day of our arrival, we had (mostly) sunny skies and reasonable temperatures. Golf was, for once, a pleasure instead of a sweat-soaked torture. And the beach was magnificent, with warm, clear water and manageable surf.

Destin is a favorite beach spot for folks living in the greater Atlanta area. Formerly lumped with Fort Walton Beach and Grayton Beach under the “Redneck Riviera” aegis, it’s developing a more upscale reputation and has a personality all its own. This year, we stayed at the Sandestin resort, east of Destin proper, thus allowing us to avoid most of the hassle of dealing with the evening traffic.

Golf. Massage, steam, and sauna. Beach. Pool. Moonlight cruise on a sailboat. Many excellent meals at good restaurants (Marlin Café, Cuvée Beach, Blue Point Fish Club, et al.) The obligatory visit to the Silver Sands Outlet Mall. The traditional lunch at Pompano Joe’s. Adult beverages. Time to read (killed four books!). Hangin’ with the White Hat Posse. And minimal contact with the Internet and the world at large.