Brilliant, and hilarious:
When I met him, on the winter streets of Moscow, I thought ‘pig farmer’.
Don’t get me wrong. The world needs pig farmers, because the world needs pork gyoza. Pork gyoza are the perfect expression of pot sticker art, little pillows of peace and joy. Pork gyoza are probably a key in the salvation of the world.
And bacon. Never forget bacon.
Igor – his name was Igor. Of course his name was Igor – stood in the sub zero air, a parody of the stoic Russian. Light coat, a ball cap, and a look utter indifference, as if to give an inch to the weather was so far beneath a real man as to warrant only contempt. At least, I thought it was so over the top it had to be a parody. Nope, I found out over time, that’s just Russian.
I, perhaps spiritually closer to the French and German soldiers who thought they could conquer such men and froze and died in the attempt, was freezing my ass off. I’d been in Chicago when the frigid wind would blow you down the slippery, icy streets, and in the Rockies with snow up to you eyebrows and cloudless, sunny skies that cheerily opened like a window on the eternal cold of deep space.
Igor was maybe 6’4″ and in his mid 60’s. A flannel shirt covered his considerable gut. Closer inspection revealed jeans and Nikes. Hmmm. Maybe not a pig farmer.
Anyway, Igor probably would have stood there happily – well, as happily as a Russian allows himself – while I turned into a tourist popsicle, but his phone rang. Out of his coat pocket came another indication he was no ordinary pig farmer – the latest iPhone. Some Russian, way faster than I could follow after only a 6 week course, flew by, punctuated with a ‘Da’ and the slightest nod.
‘Come.’ He turned and walked.
The bar was busy, but we found a corner table. I slipped off mittens, climbed out of my parka and doffed my hat.
“Two things.” Igor surveyed me without expression. “If you touch my daughter, I will not have to kill you.” I think he might have smiled, hard to tell. “She kill you herself.”
OK, then, hands off the daughter. Check.
“And,” now he did smile, very slightly, “Nice hat. John Kennedy Toole. Ignatius J. Reilly. You know?”
I didn’t get a chance to answer. I don’t know what I expected a could-be-a-pig-farmer’s daughter to look like, but ‘supermodel’ would not have been near the top of any list. I don’t get speechless easy, and consider myself a fair hand with the ladies, but – wow.
If Barbie is a parody of the American ideal of feminine beauty, Igor’s daughter was almost a parody of the Slav beauty. Almost, because she, unlike Barbie, was real, and standing very close to me.
Igor’s eyebrows rose a millimeter or two and he pointed a big meaty finger at me, with that could be a smile on his face. His daughter bent down and hugged and kissed him. This broke whatever spell was on me, and I clumsily rose to my feet and stuck out my hand.
Ksenia had a very firm handshake for a supermodel. We all sat back down, and the waitress brought us drinks.
Ksenia looked at me, and her unsmiling face gave the slightest hint of a family resemblance to her father’s. “Before you ask,” she said, her English accented just like her father’s, only from her utterly charming and captivating, “I am double agent. For government.” She leaned slightly forward, her face stoney. “You will not tell anyone. Or I have to kill you.”
I froze. I can only imagine the expression on my face. A long pause followed. Then a smile that could have powered a fair size city spread across her face. Her father emitted a chuckle that could have come from a bear, and Ksenia laughed the laugh of angels.
I exhaled, and laughed the laugh of relief. Suddenly, Ksenia got serious again, and stared at me with brown eyes of unutterable depth. “Funny part, it is true.” Another pause, and she laughed again.
Upfront, I admit this silly video, The Privates, which is my current favorite among the Sci Fi shorts I watch by the dozens on Youtube, may not be to your taste in humor. Me, I’ve laughed out loud each of the half dozen times I’ve watched it so far.
Why? If you’ve ever been in a garage band (I’ve been in several over the years), you will recognize the personalities and dialogue. The drummer in particular avoids being a stereotype while ringing completely true.
The over-serious sci fi elements just make it funnier.
“Do you have any idea how many Kelvins we must be generating to do something like this?” long pause. “A lot.”
“Short term, more like for Friday, what are we dealing with, survival wise?”
“Us, or the crowd?”
Watch this, and I’ll put my comments below.
SPOILER-ISH STUFF BELOW
The clueless lead singer is something almost every band deals with. That there’s one person who actually knows how the equipment works is another. The drummer, operating on an alternate plain of existence is yet another, as is the one worry-wart. What makes it great is how they nail each role, but in an unexpected ways. Having an over-serious woman rhythm guitar player be the tech geek, a hard rocker, and be totally detached from the possibility they might accidentally kill people – brilliant. Bass players tend to be the 2nd most out-there people in bands, after drummers – so making Ben the responsible one – smart.
Max, the lead guitar player/singer just wants to rock, has little interest in and no idea what’s going on, but he’s also the guy always calling “band meeting” and poling the others. Max’s role reversal with Ben at the end is a hoot. Ben, worried about safety and ignored by everyone else, is also a familiar riff – there’s always one guy in the band who, in the opinion of the others, overthinks things and worries too much.
There’s always a Pool Party Eddie, a guy who can get you gigs, even if they’re terrible gigs. The ‘nobody came’ refrain – rite of passage for every band. It doesn’t feel good.
The final scene, where Max is finally convinced something is wrong, while Ben is jazzed out of his mind, to hell with safety – awesome. The panic moment when they don’t see Roka, the drummer, is a small but critical touch. You get it that the band members care for each other, which adds a note of feeling that keeps the film from just being slapstick. (A tiny detail I didn’t catch until like the 5th viewing: Roka and Kep are sisters.)
Roka stumbles in carrying her cymbals and a smoldering backpack, explains how she and “sound guy” had to escape the fire by crawling out the bathroom window, but then says
“That was the best show ever. that’s the most fun I’ve had since probably Kep’s birthday party.”
“That was a good party.”
“It was the best party.”
Max sums it up:
“OK, who wants to keep going and see about burning this house down on Friday?”
Maybe you had to have been in bands, I don’t know. Cracks me up.
This morning, as I was sipping my coffee, my beloved walks in deep in a phone conversation with elder daughter. Daughter was looking for a recipe. This is a common occurance – all the kids cook up storms, and, no longer living at home, lack access to mom’s full-sized bookcase of well-thumbed cookbooks. Mom is the defacto culinary librarian. I sometimes get calls or texts instructing me to go to such and such a cookbook, look up this or that, take a picture of the recipe and text it to an offspring. (1)
As the conversation went on, my beloved spoke the following fateful sentence into her phone: “I’m not sure I can find that recipe again.”
Instantly, unbidden, the hamsters-on-speed wheels of my mind drive the following deathless lyrics past the barrier of my teeth:
I don’t think that I can take it
It took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again!
and…. I then had to google MacArthur Park and force my 14 year old, who made the tactical mistake of wandering by just then, listen to it with me. He is very tolerant of his old man’s goofiness. Think I’ll keep him.
Even he was eventually amused. That is one goofy song. Or maybe 3 to 4 goofy songs in a shotgun open marriage. Or something.
Seriously. Or should I say, Seriously? First verse, often overlooked in our eagerness to roll around in the sweet green icing flowing down:
Spring was never waiting for us, girl
It ran one step ahead
As we followed in the dance
Between the parted pages and were pressed
In love’s hot, fevered iron
Like a striped pair of pants
(striped sung ‘stripe-ed’ of course. Because, uh, Shakespeare or something.)
And it doesn’t get any better.
My running commentary explained how the whole pop-tune-with-epic-orchestra thing got huge in the mid-60’s, when I was still single-digits years old, and that MacArthur Park was merely its most egregious metastasis. I then spun Classical Gas, as perhaps the peak of that fad. I mean, there were a few pretty good tunes marrying a pop sensibility with that sensibility’s take on classical music. The Moody Blues had a few good examples, found, lest we forget, on albums of mostly unlistenable crap. The ratio of good Moody Blues tunes to boring/painful Moody Blues tunes is maybe 1:10. Maybe.
Anyway, since I just listened to MacArthur Park, Youtube offers up a ‘mix’ or collection of tunes that, like the ‘Because you watched Midsomer Murders…’ Netflix feature, suggests more tunes/videos based on – ? Some mindless machine algorithm, evidently. I suppose, deep in the bowels of some Youtube server farm somewhere, programs written by nihilists and whippersnappers run, correlating tunes with my browsing and purchasing patterns, as well as things overheard over my iPhone and seen through the windows by the ubiquitous Google Map vans (you really think Street View is *all* they’re interested in? Hmmm?).
And perhaps other songs I’ve listened to? Little evidence of that. Here’s what the Mind of Google thinks I might want to listen to next:
From the Beginning, Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Within a couple year of M.P. Otherwise – acoustic guitar, bongos and a classic synth solo versus wildly overwrought harpsichord & orchestra mish-mash? The ways of the Algorithm Almighty are indeed inscrutable, because, heck yea, I’ll listen to that.
Cherish, the Association. OK, this is funny. Jimmy Webb wrote M.P. for the Association, who were pretty huge at that time (1967), who had asked for a big orchestral piece because, as mentioned above, that was all the rage at that juncture in history. They rejected it as too freakin’ weird.
Well, Webb then played it for Albus Dumbledore, who was looking for songs for what amounts to a vanity record, and who was evidently enraptured by that whole cake out in the rain image. Seriously, Richard Harris, fresh off starring in the 1967 movie Camelot, met Webb, who was already a successful and well known song writer back then, at a party and mentioned he wanted songs for an album he was making. He flew Webb out to London where he was then working to go over material. Somehow, some way, when he heard MacArthur Park, he said – that’s it!
I’m guessing Harris was famous enough at the time that people were willing to listen to the record he put out, and – the rest is history!
Meanwhile, the Association never had another hit, and were soon reduced to trivia answer status. Cherish is the most boring of their 4 hits songs. Windy and Along Comes Mary are better. But for old time’s sake, I gave it a listen.
Another mysteriously correct suggestion by the deep revolving Algorithm.
Other items in the list were either obvious – Moody Blues, ‘natch, and the 5th Dimension – or utterly baffling, such as Brubeck’s Take 5 and Petula Clark’s Downtown. But – was the Infernal Algorithm correct? Were these songs I wanted to listen to?
Should I be scared? Or at least draw the blinds?
- My last communication with our late son Andrew, the day before he died, was texting him the recipe for calabasitas.
Not wanting to consider on this fine morning all the writing and reading and blog post drafts, not to mention job hunting, that I have not much positive to report on, and yet, today entering my fifth (5th) day in a row of not feeling like crap, we instead offer this brief interlude for your possible amusement.
My best, highest use these day is evidently providing conversation and amusement to my 80-year old mother in law, who has been living with us for the past year or so. She has weathered a number of health issues and is really doing quite well, she’s just having to deal with no more driving and not being able to live on her own. So I, spending most of these past 4 months at home, have had more time to spend with here. I’m not really kidding about this being my best, highest use. Sometimes, it’s what falls unbidden into your lap that is what needs to be done.
My base mode of human interaction is to avoid it, but where that’s not possible or desirable, I default to joshing kidder mode. I can only hope other people take this well. They do tend to smile a lot, while backing slowly toward the door…
So: whenever we take grandma out (she’s grandma to the kids, mom to Mrs. Yardsale, and Helen to me. This can get confusing), we have to round up 1.) her sunglasses; 2) her reading glasses; and 3) her rosary. Can’t leave home without them.They usually reside on the table next to the recliner she often occupies in the living room, where she has spent many hours viewing British murder mysteries on Netflix. We do something, usually daily Mass, just about every day, and then there’s doctor’s appointments and physical therapy, so she’s out and about quite a bit, which suits her fine.
Once Helen was feeling better and we fell into this routine, we also fell into the practice of assigning someone to wrangle the three items mentioned above every time we head out the door with her. A while ago, I both assumed this duty and decided that grandma’s stuff needed a name less cumbersome and more evocative than “grandma’s sunglasses, reading glasses and rosary.” Thus, the Holy Accoutrements. As we head out the door, one would hear “I’ve got the Holy Accoutrements!” or “Anybody seen the Holy Accoutrements?” This amuses me and Helen.
Holy Accoutrements cannot be entrusted to just *anyone*. So, after some consideration, I granted myself the title of Grand Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements. This also seemed to amuse Helen. It certainly amuses me. I’m in the process of deciding on the exact title for official designate who is to handle the Holy Accoutrements if I for whatever reason are indisposed to the duty. Sub Grand Seneschal is the uncomfortable front-runner. There’s got to be something a little more delicious. I want to be able to say things like: “David, discharge your duties as Sub Grand Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements!” Few are the households whose general tenor would not be improved with such florid verbal ornaments!
(Update: 14 year old son just suggested Seneschal Inferior of the Holy Accoutrements. Raising that boy right, I tells ya!)
The other running joke has to do with a Brit murder mystery series that evidently has been in production since the Clinton Administration: Midsomer Murders. 19 seasons are on Netflix, and another 2-3 have been produced. Each visually beautiful 90 minute episode involves at least one, and usually several murders. Why anyone would continue to live in the blood-soaked
insanity that is Midsomer is a question the show does not address. Sure, attractive, well dressed people talk in charming accents amidst the gorgeous English countryside – but they seem unable to stop KILLING EACH OTHER. This leads to routine exchanges such as “Good morning Helen. Anybody still alive in Midsomer?” We’ve made it to the end of the available episodes, and so are now exploring other shows featuring attractive English people with charming accents galavanting around beautiful setting while they engage in KILLING EACH OTHER. It’s like its own genre, a need the BBC has gone all in to fulfill. There are variations, such as a gritter drama set in Wales where slightly less attractive people with somewhat more colorful accents spend time in less charming labs and libraries doing research into why the people in the area KEEP KILLING EACH OTHER. There’s even one where an attractive, well-dressed British detective with a charming accent is sent to the Caribbean, a different but no less visually stunning setting just dripping with yet more attractive people with yet more charming accents KILLING EACH OTHER. The twist seems to be that the detective, the nominal lead, get bumped off himself, I think twice now in like 3 seasons? I’m fuzzy on the details, since I never actually watch the shows.
I spent some time reviewing the shows Netflix suggests (“Because you watched Midsomer Murders…”), trying to pick out ones grandma would like. The cable/Nintendo/Netflix/TV interface is barely within my competence, and not something she’s going to figure out, so I am her research arm. She likes her gruesome murders largely off camera. and well-dressed characters who spend more time in manor houses and on fox hunts than in labs and libraries. I thought I’d found a winner, one with Kenneth Branagh as the attractive, well-dressed detective with a charming accent, who in the little sample I saw was driving through gorgeous English farm country and meeting with a craggy old farmer about a young woman who was wandering about his fields. Sir Kenneth plays it as an English Phillip Marlowe, world-weary and little bleary eyed. He tries to talk to the young woman out in the field, who then douses herself with gasoline and sets herself on fire…
That would be a ‘no’.
Enough is enough. Steps must be taken. For too long have we put up with wretched modern hymns, whining, sure, but doing nothing.
I here propose that we – I and anybody else who wants to play – Do Something. How about we take specific egregious hymns and through the magic of Scripture and doctrine married to classic hymn structures, write something that answers and corrects the pablum and heresy? Line by line, verse by verse, with references, we answer the drivel, the incoherences, the feels and, yes, the occasional overt heresy, with lines that mean something, advance the faith, and even rhyme!
We must for now set aside the ear-achingly bad music and focus on the texts. However numbingly awful modern church ditties may be, bad music most of the time merely insults taste and decorum, not Divine Truth directly. Besides, if we write our texts in any one of dozens of perfectly nice hymn formats, any number of existing tunes should fit them suitably.
We shall call this little exercise the Deus Vult Hymnal. Just because.
Today’s execrable hymn crying out to heaven for rebuttal if not vengeance, is the little Haugen tune All Are Welcome. Here, Mr. Haugen tries his musical hand at reinventing the Lutheran hymn, and the results are really not bad – musically speaking. The text, however, is a sort of motte and bailey: if we object to singing the Hegelian We Are Church Spirit into existence, we can be accused of objecting to being welcoming. Surely, the very least love of neighbor requires is welcome!
Contrary to the above title, I will not be deploying a chemical solution to the weeds of the Internet, but rather plucking a few flowers:
First, David Warren talks about the history of health and medical care. He is the son of a mother who spent her career in healthcare, and so has perhaps a different perspective than most. Much of what he says is news to me: that the adoption of anesthetics, which make life easier on the doctor, was all but instantaneous across the Western world once demonstrated in Boston in 1846, but that the effectiveness of sterile surgery in preventing infections and increasing patient survival chances was demonstrated in 1865 in Glasgow – but was not universally adopted until well into the 20th century – soldiers by the thousands were dying of easily preventable infections in WWI, half a century after it had demonstrated that such deaths were easily preventable. If you sedate patients, you can more easily perform surgery and people will more easily submit to it (that anyone submitted to significant surgery without being anesthetized is frankly amazing) – and that’s good for business. But someone with a bullet wound is in no condition to complain about filthy conditions in your operating room. He’ll be in no condition to complain about much of anything soon enough, most likely.
His point is that what history shows is that doctors are all over changes that make their lives easier, and less ready to adopt changes that impose work on them – while simple enough, it is a lot of work to keep things sterile – even when it benefits the patients greatly. I think it’s fair to say Warren isn’t picking on doctors uniquely here, but rather pointing out how things work among us fallen people.
One of his main points is also one of my main points, made occasionally here: you want to improve people’s health? Sanitation and clean water get you most of the benefits. The formula I usually use: Sanitation, clean water, plenty of calories on a regular basis and political stability. These cover by far the lion’s share of the improvement in life expectancy that the modern world has experienced.
Then, for medicine, it’s the cheap basic stuff that provides almost all of the benefits: antibiotics, vaccines, and a sterile environment for medical care. Now, I am personally very grateful for some of the more fancy stuff – blood pressure meds, various straight-forward surgeries, and – very big one, this – modern dental care (people died from infections around impacted teeth and dental abscesses, or had their health greatly compromised).
I’ve now made it to 60, which means, historically, I’m playing with house money from here on out. Life expectancy for an American male in 1900 was 49. While there are many cases like me, of people whose comparative longevity and vigor have resulted from some more advanced medical care, the overall increase is due almost entirely to simple, cheap, proven practices.
Lots more good stuff in that essay – you’d do better reading it than hanging out here, that’s for sure.
Next, some Feynman quotations, in honor of his 100th birthday (he didn’t make it to the celebration). These are not my personal favorites, except for these:
2. “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”
As Feynman said in The Character of Physical Law, many people understand other sophisticated physical theories, including Einstein’s relativity. But quantum mechanics resists an equivalent depth of understanding. Some disagree, proclaiming that they understand quantum mechanics perfectly well. But their understanding disagrees with the supposed understanding of others, equally knowledgeable. Perhaps Feynman’s sentiment might better be expressed by saying that anyone who claims to understand quantum mechanics, doesn’t.
I find this comforting, somehow, as I certainly don’t understand it. Also, it illustrates something that would fall out from the assumption that the mind – oops, the brain, which is assumed to be the mind and not merely the organ of the mind – resulted from Natural Selection: we would not expect anything in nature that falls outside the realm of things that affect our survival chances to be understandable by a brain designed by exactly those things which affect our survival chances. Quantum mechanics cannot have had any role in our ancestors’ environment of evolutionary adaptation. They did not shape spears or hunt warthogs better based on their understanding of Heisenberg, with those with a better understanding somehow, all other things being equal, killing more warthogs.
The more interesting question: how is it, under Natural Selection, that anybody cares about quantum mechanics at all? Or about any of the other millions of things humans have been interested in, obsessed over, even, that have no effect on our survival chances? I think the claim that, somehow, understanding quantum mechanics, however imperfectly, or art or music or philosophy and so on falls out from evolutionary theory should be accompanied by evidence that masters of such fields have comparatively many and vigorous children. Otherwise, it is a just so story in the face of contrary evidence.
Natural Selection, while beautiful in its way, cannot be the whole story.
1. “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”
The best Feynman quote of all (from a 1974 address), and the best advice to scientists and anybody else who seeks the truth about the world. The truth may not be what you’d like it to be, or what would be best for you, or what your preconceived philosophy tells you that it is. Unless you recognize how easily you can be fooled, you will be.
This idea is unknown to most people, it seems, and applied to others first by most who do know it – that guy over there is fooling himself. Rare is the man who consistently applies this to himself first. I aspire to this, but it is hard.
Next, on Twitter, which I use to publicize posts here and follow writers, Catholics, scientists and the various combinations of those traits the real world provides, I’m conducting a whimsical experiment. 20 years ago, I wrote a bunch of jokes for a defunct humor list. No money involved, mostly just the honor of amusing the other writers. While obviously I’m not great at it – I’m working a desk job, and have been for almost 40 years now – I did make the honorary Hall of Fame and have a small pile of fan letters from readers. So, no great shakes, but not totally worthless either.
So I’ve taken to posting a recycled joke or 2 each day, to see what happens. Note: I think I understand Twitter about as well as I understand quantum mechanics. ‘Impressions’ is twitterese for eyeballs (well, eyeballs divided by roughly 2) in front of which pass your tweet. I have a bit over 200 ‘followers’ who, if they all checked their feed every day, should result in about 200 ‘impressions’ per tweet as a baseline.
Some followers are just people trying to sell stuff – they come and go, and at any rate are not checking their twitter feeds every day. The reality is that I’ll get around 100 ‘impressions’ for just some random tweet. But if people ‘like’ or better ‘retweet’ a tweet of mine, I’ll get well over 100, since the tweet is now exposed to the eyeballs on the likers or retweeters tweets.
Once, I tweeted some insults at Carl Sagan, Bill Nye and that Tyson fellow. These resulted in over 100,000 impressions a day for a few days. People took sides, tempers flared, people insulted me back. Good times. Otherwise, I’ll post from 0 to 2 tweets and get 250 impressions on a typical day. Days go by without me tweeting or even looking. I really have no idea what to make of Twitter.
Anyway, back to my research. What I’ve discovered: using ‘impressions’ as a surrogate for ‘funny’, I have no idea what other people think is funny. What I mean: if people ‘like’ and retweet a joke, more eyeballs hit it. If they don’t, fewer. So the number of eyeballs could be a measure of how funny a joke is. Maybe. It’s a stretch, but – maybe.
Back when I was writing these jokes, this one, that I tossed off as a ‘meh’ joke, was my most admired quip based on largely anecdotal evidence, for reasons that escape me:
People often wonder what it is that makes the Beatles so great. I think it is probably their songs.
That got a fairly decent response on Twitter. I have no idea why. I’ve only been doing this for a week, but so far, my ‘best’ joke by far based on Twitter metrics is:
The tiny fish gets eaten by the little fish, which gets eaten by the big fish, which gets eaten by the bigger fish, which gets put into a can and fed to my cat. Personally, I’m holding off marveling at the grandeur of Nature at least until the cat can use the can opener.
Ok, I guess. Over 700 sets of eyeballs have seen this in the couple hours since I threw it up there.
For comparison, here are two of my favorites that still crack me up, in the form of headlines – haven’t tweeted them yet:
Child Development Center Releases Prototype
Phlogiston Blamed in Antique Shop Fire
My understanding of humor is, um, idiosyncratic? Is that too nice a way to put it?