Update of the Random Sort

Last night, the lovely Mrs. YardsaleoftheMind and I went out for dinner. This is not all that remarkable in and of itself, but there’s a story:

A few months ago, we arranged an anniversary getaway to a cabin at Elim Grove attached to Raymond’s Bakery, in Cazadero near where the Russian River enters the Pacific. We highly recommend it if you find yourself looking for a B&B among the redwoods only a couple hours from San Francisco. Our dear son thought he’d send us out to dinner, so he searched for nearby restaurants, and set us up with reservations at El Paseo in Mill Valley

This was a lovely and kind thought. However, while Mill Valley is not all that far from Cazadero as the crow flies, it’s over an hour away as the car drives. Our dear son, who has not driven that area, would not know this.

I did not check this out before we left. So, after having driven the couple hours up to the cabin, we find out there’s no practical way to make it back down to Mill Valley that evening for dinner. We had to postpone it. Until yesterday evening.

The 40 mile drive from Concord to Mill Valley takes anywhere from just under an hour to an hour and a half or more depending on traffic. Bay Area traffic can be and often is evil, so we left in plenty of time to spare. And got there in a little over an hour.

With time to kill, we walked around beautiful, quaint and well-moneyed Mill Valley, a old city nestled in the Marin hills, beloved by hippies, former hippies and would-be hippies with money. That odd and frankly crazy blend of wealth and counter-culture that characterizes much of California’s self image is nowhere better expressed than here. Just as the hippies aged into the Greed is Good crowd on Wall Street in the 80s while somehow still imagining that they were not The Man to whom they had lately imagined they were sticking it, elderly boomers with millions grab will grab an organic frozen yogurt here and browse the boutiques for natural hemp clothing and handmade South American art. Their high priced lawyers will be engaged to sue to prevent some other resident’s latest act of architectural self-expression interfering with the view. And so on, after the manner of their kind. But it sure is beautiful and quaint – great place to stoll and grab dinner!

As we headed up Blythe (one of the main drags) we spotted an enormous, ugly church, which I immediately would have bet money on being Catholic. Sadly, I was right.

This picture of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is very flattering. Built in 1968. The 60s live in Mill Valley in many ways.

The Lord’s ways are not our ways, it is always good to keep in mind. We walked up and tried the door – locked. As we walked around the building, we tried the various side doors. Finally, on the far left, the last door was open! We went inside to look around.

One woman knelt in the middle section of pews, but otherwise the church was empty. Coming in at a weird angle far off to one side, it took me a minute to notice the monstrance atop the tabernacle – Adoration was in progress! All the sudden, that became a very beautiful church!

We knelt and prayed for a bit, then took a look around. I walked past the lady in the pews, who smiled and whispered, asking how I knew Adoration was being held – I told her we didn’t know, just lucked into it. She said they were doing an all night Adoration.

As we left, another woman was arriving. God bless them – and I’m sure He does! – for being there for Him. How beautiful that these parishioners keep this devotion.

As we headed out, I noticed the epiphany chalk inscription above the door of what appeared to be the rectory. Cool! So, whatever the architectural and artistic limitation, the people at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel seem intent on keeping the faith. God bless them all!

We descended down to our dinner. El Paseo is heavy on the quaint in keeping with Mill Valley city ordinances no doubt, set back from the street accessible via a brick passage and pateo and ensconced in an old brick building. Sammy Hagar, who you might have heard of and who fits in marvelously with the overall 60s sort of vibe of Mill Valley, bought and renovated the restaurant some years ago. I honored him by refusing to drive 55 on our way there and back.

All in all, a lovely evening was had by my beloved and me. The food and service were excellent, and Mill Valley is still beautiful. Our son’s kind deed was finally realized.

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Writing Update 6/15/2018

First off, again, thanks so much to my beta readers. I think I’ll have time this weekend to read and respond. I am so grateful for each of you taking the time to read and comment.

I will revise the Rock, and see what possible venues there may be for it, and suck it up and send it out. So far, I only have 1 rejection letter in my collection. That will not do!

Then I’ll pick out another story, and send  it out, if you all are game.

Image result for classic 50s sci fiNext, the flash fiction has now stopped being flash fiction, in the sense that instead of each ‘chapter’ merely being me answering the question: what happens next? I’ve started to think out 3-4 chapters ahead. (If you think there have been plot twists so far, ha! You ain’t seen nothing yet!). Since I’m setting up an epic ending in my head at least, I’d maybe better just write the thing as a story instead of doling it out as faux flash fiction….

OK? I’d be very flattered if anyone was disappointed…. If I go this route, I’ll do my best to finish the story and make it available to anyone who want to be a beta reader.

Finally, I’m actually considering, or perhaps more accurately, fantasizing about, taking 6 months off in order to write the long-imagined book on American Catholic Education. But I’m 60, and there’s hardly a guarantee I’d be able to find an appropriate job in 6 months if I did so. I – we, really, this is a family decision – am still half a decade at least away from being able to retire with any security. If I did this, I’d need all the things I currently lack: discipline, focus, rigor, emotional toughness.

If you’re the praying type, I’d appreciate your prayers on this.

 

Flash Fiction CH 2: Moon Rock

(CH 1 here.)Image result for moon surface

“Do not move.”

No problem, as my limbs would not obey me. I wanted to interrogate my team, but my tongue would not obey either. So I tried to reach out with my mind.

In the tiniest of whispers, I heard the team announce “communication shutdown.”

OK, something’s up, and the team is on it. The faintest dopamine rush in my prefrontal cortex let me know I was right.

Then my brain shut down. It was not alone. My lungs and heart, and, as far as I could tell, the rest of me just – stopped. This wasn’t good.

Then my team let me in, as they had done back while I was freshly crushed pulp, back in the tunnel. I was a passive observer only. Somehow, through their ‘eyes,’ I saw.

First came the shadow. The harsh yellow sun was blotted out, and a darkness much deeper than back home settled across the pockmarked surface of this giant moon.

Then I could feel them. Threadlike sensors by the thousands dragged slowly across the ground. My awareness, which was the team’s awareness, made the gossamer touch feel like a thousand earthquakes. I knew, as the team knew, that the sensors were getting closer.

I looked up, whatever that means, or seemed to. Finally, I saw.

Size was hard to tell, for me, anyway. Having millions of mechanical sense impressions simplified and translated into something my meat brain could understand does tend to lose a little definition around the edges. I’ll have my team look into that, if we get out of here alive.

Huge. Unspeakably huge was what I was getting. Above us it hung, a multicolored blob, pale as the underbelly of a fish – I’d seen pictures – but pulsating with faint color. Shapeless, but somehow I – we – sensed enormous complexity and intelligence.

An intelligence that not long ago had deigned to reduce me to jelly.

My team was up to something. Maybe it was over my head , or maybe they thought it better to leave me in the dark. I’d have been holding my breath, if my lungs worked.

The next thing I saw through the team’s group mind was that there was no trace of us on the surface. They’d hidden my body, frozen it motionless, and shaped themselves into a perfect imitation of the blasted rock.

This isn’t going to work, I thought. The team seemed to agree.

The sensors finally dragged over us like a kiss. This is it. Reassembled from goo by my million member team only to get blasted by some alien blimp-creature. At least, I hoped that’s where this was going. Reduced to plasma is, unfortunately, not the worst outcome I can imagine.

Upon the first touch, my team did something I didn’t understand. I sensed a pulse of information, far more dense than I could ever grasp, fed to the tendrils resting gently upon us. Then I understood, at least a little: our disguise needed to be more than physical. The team was sending up a Potemkin village’s information, exactly what the sensors expected to find, not a nanite shell hiding a petrified human.

It almost worked. The enormous blob passed us by and continued to search the surface, until it was maybe 100 meters away. Then, slowly, it turned back.

Pain management is one of the best ancillary benefits of having a team. Some are always stationed in my brain (Do they take turns? Hell if I know.) and they will adjust receptors and short circuit pain when it does no good.

They didn’t do that this time. Guess they had a lot on their group mind.

I was jolted instantly into a fully awake, adrenaline soaked state. Primed for fight or flight. It hurt. It hurt bad.

“Run” the team commanded, in a remarkably calm voice. So I ran. I ran like hell.


TBC…..

Update:  Thanks to all my beta readers, life got super complicated right as I got your comments and suggestions, so I’ve barely glanced at them. I’ll do my best to get them read and get back to you all this week. Please don’t think I’m blowing you off, absolutely not the case. I’m very grateful.

 

 

 

Wednesday Update & r/K Strategy

Been a crazy busy/stressful last several days. Here’s where we stand:

A. Beta readers: Got feedback already from several of you – thanks! Just send the same story to a couple more people. Right now, I’ve got 6 beta readers! Wow! You guys are generous.

I want to give each of your comments proper consideration, which, given both time constraints and focus distracted by Real Life, I have yet to do. Thought a three-day weekend would give me an opportunity, but didn’t happen. Now looking at school camping trip this weekend (supposed to be 93F – oh, joy.) followed by the year end/graduation party next weekend, with Mrs Yardsale flying to SoCal to be with Elder Daughter for her graduation from an acting conservatory in L.A.. Meanwhile, 80 yr old mother in law lives with us, which is overall a beautiful thing for which I am grateful, but it does eat time and cramp any spontaneity. And all this is on top of Other Stuff that’s taking a toll on time, concentration, sleep – the usual.

Sooo – please be patient. I really do appreciate all your comments, and will make revisions as appropriate.

Rabbit
Don’t let those floppy ears and timid facade fool you. They all dream of being the Beast of Caerbannog

B. What’s up with this r/K theory of political alignment? Ran into it a few times over the last few months, even found a free book expounding it (by some anonymous author who says it’s his idea). Count me unimpressed.

Here’s how it goes:

In biology, r = rate of procreation; K = an environment’s carrying capacity for a particular creature. These variables became associated with two reproductive strategies, called r and K.

So: in an environment of relative abundance, an r strategy is proposed as best from a Darwinian/gene survival point of view: produce as many offspring as possible as fast as possible. Animals pursuing (in that weird sense in which animals are said to pursue gene-survival strategies ) an r-strategy exhibit 5 behaviors:

  1. Conflict avoidance. Avoid competing;
  2. Reproduce young and often;
  3. Breed indiscriminately – lots of mating with whoever is handy;
  4. Provide minimal or no care in raising the offspring;
  5. Show no group loyalty – no concern for other members of your tribe.

The r-strategy is said to occur in prey animals, where predation keeps their numbers down to a point where survival is never a question of competition for scarce resources. The population is always below the environment’s carrying capacity. The reasoning is thus: if there is plenty of food and water, don’t fight over it; if predators are likely to pick you off sooner rather than later, breed early and often; since survival is a numbers game, don’t waste time finding an optimal mate or raising your young; everybody gets eaten sooner or later, so no point worrying about who is getting eaten today.

The K-strategy is said to occur among predators, whose numbers tend to be constrained by the availability of prey. Thus, they live at or near the carrying capacity K of their environment. The optimal strategy is said to include:

  1. Competition is natural and unavoidable, so you’d better compete agressively;
  2. Only the most fit offspring survive, so delay and limit breeding to produce fewer but very fit offspring;
  3. Mates are chosen carefully and competed over, as the most fit mate produces the most fit offspring
  4. Large investment in raising the young, with both parents and the herd/pack taking care;
  5. Show loyalty and interest in the group you belong to, because that’s the group your mating prospects and survival depend upon.

You can see where this is going. Rabbits are the example typically given of an r-strategy species. It’s an appealing generalization – I recall seeing a video of a stoat hunting rabbits in a field full of rabbits. The stoat picked his target, and began to harass and exhaust it while the other rabbits continued to nibble away at the abundant grass. The stoat eventually killed it. (The stoat leapt on the rabbit’s back, bit through the rabbit’s spine at the neck, and then dragged the much larger prey away. Nasty little devils.)

Rabbit of Caerbannog | Villains Wiki | FANDOM powered by Wikia
You thought they were kidding about the Beast of Caerbannog? 

The other rabbits hardly looked up during the whole ordeal. Presumably, they went back to the warren and bred like, well, rabbits immediately after being sated with grass.

Wolves are given as the K-strategy poster-creatures. They compete with each other yet also hunt as a team, they spend comparatively large amounts of time and effort raising comparatively fewer young to be as fit as possible. Only mature, fit individuals get to breed. Wolves are loyal to their pack. They compete for the best mates.

Humans, it is proposed, are genetically disposed toward one or the other of these strategies, because our environments run to both extremes. When we’re settled and competing for resources with each other, K is successful and r would be out competed. But when we migrate to new places where there are no people, such as we hominids have done repeatedly for the last million years, then an r strategy wins. We’d just be wasting time with a K strategy, competing with each other when we could be out hunting the abundant game or gathering the abundant edibles – and breeding up a bunch of offspring.

Accordingly, r-strategy Americans end up Democrats or Socialists. while K-strategy Americans gravitate toward being Republicans or Libertarians.

There is more to read, which the author claims gives all the boring scientific evidence and reasoning for all this, but I think we’ve already arrived at a point where a boatload of prudent skepticism is called for. First off, like all sociobiological theories, there’s large dollop of Just So story here. The inquiring mind wants to know: how, exactly, would one even construct an experiment or field study to demonstrate any of this in the animal kingdom? Not saying it can’t be done, but it’s not obvious. How does one measure, for example, identify breeding preferences in wild populations, let alone group cohesion or how much a parent morns? While it’s easy to say an elephant mourns when its baby dies, and that a rat does not, how are we to measure this? How do we filter out the anthropomorphizing and confirmation biases?

Then, you’d need to replicate it across a bunch of species and environments to prove it out. Then you’d need the usual double-blind non-WEIRD study of people across a wide population – you know, like is almost never done – before applying any of this to human beings in general.

For starters. Then there’s the claim that there are genetic markers for behaviors as generally ill-defined as being liberal or conservative – or something, haven’t gotten to that part yet. I’m doubtful.

What I’m not doubtful of is the appeal of sociobiological explanations for complex human behavior. We’re into our second century of explaining what makes people tick based on some understanding of Darwin or other. Such explanations reveal much more about what the explainer is interested in than what’s going on in the world.

As a footnote, here’s my pet sociobiological theory: some people will only eat food with which they are familiar, others look forward to trying new dishes. (confession: heading off to a Peruvian restaurant tonight to celebrate our 31st anniversary. Why? Because I’ve never been to a Peruvian restaurant before. So you know where I fall.)

Here’s why, according to the theory which is mine: farms have been part of the environment of evolutionary adaptation for many thousands of years now. Settled people tend toward a set menu – what available on the farm and nearby. So natural selection has inclined them to be ‘eat what I know’ types. Meanwhile, other people migrate, such as across the Bering land bridge or on boats to Hawaii. They arrive at places full of edible stuff they’ve never seen before. For such people, the willingness to try new stuff is a must. Natural selection inclines them to go, say, to a Peruvian restaurant.

Of course, a spectrum of behaviors will exist here, as the fuddy-duddies and adventurous insist on marrying each other occasionally, mixing up all those genes. But the extremes prove the point.

Well? You convinced? How is this argument weak in a way other sociobiological arguments are not?

Writing Update

First of all, thanks to all of you who bothered to read that bit of flash fiction I posted yesterday, especially to those who made encouraging comments.

The reality is that I’ve been in a distressing position for the last 8 months. Not to go into boring details, suffice it to say I thought I was on a clear path to retire in about 4-5 years, but instead I’m having to consider a job/career change. My energy level has been very low for both physical and emotional reasons. Most days, when I come home, I water the plants, play the piano for a bit (1), maybe cook dinner – and that’s about it. I write on this blog pretty regularly, but do very little other writing. Even reading has been hard. Instead of being a refuge, I find myself putting down stories or even sometimes history if the emotions get too close to home.

This morning, I reread one story I’d finished, gotten all set up to submit to magazines, then decided that either it wasn’t right for what the magazines said they were looking for, or just wasn’t good enough. The writing itself is OK, I’m just not sure enough happens. I’m considering throwing it up here on the blog just to get some feedback.

Also have two longer stories that are oh so close to done, one I like quite a bit, a YA Arthurian story set in modern Wales, wherein I think I got the right blend of funny/serious that, to me at least, characterizes the sort of Arthurian stuff I like. Pelanore on the one hand, Mordred on the other sort of thing. There’s a climactic fight scene at the end that I’ve only fumbled around with. Was going to have one of the good guys killed off, then it just didn’t feel right, but if I don’t, the stakes don’t feel right.

In other words, overthinking the living snot out of it. Imagine. Me, doing that.

Image result for writing
The early stages of writing.

The other is one I wrote on a whim, because I made a comment on another blog wherein I gave a semi-frivolous story outline, and the esteemed Jagi Lamplighter commented back she’d like to see how it came out. Well. This story builds to a big, but to me anyway, predictable reveal. It’s supposed to be awesome, where a man with a high opinion of himself discovers he’d seriously misunderstood the world he’s in, which is much larger and more interesting than he had thought. So gotta write awesome. I’m shooting for a Vance-like atmosphere, which I think I kind of got. Lots of social detail and scientific falderal.  This one crawled to a halt as I was writing, again, the climactic scene. Here, it’s not a battle, but the reveal made me start to worry over if I’d done the setup right, and – well, I sorta ran out of steam.

Overthinking. Again.

There’s a small pile of finished stories that have gone nowhere. One I like so much I’ve rewritten it 3 times. A bit of satire, making fun both of space opera and politics, featuring a fat man in his underwear living alone on a planet made of living mashed potatoes. And it’s works! Darwin features prominently. Not satisfied. One is my one and only submitted (and rejected) story, which I wrote in a couple hours to make a submission deadline. Not too broken up over that.

And a bigger pile of not finished stories. And a few pages of ideas for stories. And the occasional flash fiction idea that usually just wanders by one day without much warning.

And then there’s the Novel That Shall Not Be Named, which consists of dozens of somewhat disjointed pages in search of a sense of direction. Realized recently – or, I should say, it became painfully obvious recently – that I need to flesh out the string of incidents that build toward the climax. I can wing the characters, they’ve been running around in my head for years anyway, but I need the stepping stones that get me from A to Z. Got some, just need it hammered out.

Aaaaand, last but not least, is the book (or two) on the history of catholic education in America and a call to real reform. (Hint: discarding the graded classroom model is the absolute essential first step. If you don’t so that, your reforms have died abirthing.)

So: hope I don’t end up having plenty of time to write but not enough money to retire. That would be bad. California is home, I can’t but think God put me and us here for some reason – probably His inscrutable sense of humor. Therefore, the dump the house and move someplace cheap option seems like chickening out. But if I did that…..

  1. On the plus side, I can now sorta kinda play the Sonata Pathetique. Still hammering my way through the last few pages of the 1st Movement, but can pretty much play the 2nd and 3rd. Lots of splats and stumbles, but, you know, kind of play it.

Friday Roundup

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.

Image result for surgery
Hardworking, dedicated people. But people, nonetheless, subject to the same foibles and temptations as anyone else.

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.

Clear?

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

and

Phlogiston Blamed in Antique Shop Fire

My understanding of humor is, um, idiosyncratic? Is that too nice a way to put it?

 

 

Be the Wall & Weekend Bullet Points

1. Be the Wall. Many years ago, my beloved and I attended a few child rearing classes, from which the one thing I remember was the stern admonition to Be the Wall. Kids are going to want to test their ideas and your limits. If they get all emotional and vehement, interpret that to mean they trust you, their mother and father, enough to risk real exposure. This works from toddlerhood all the way to adulthood, and is in no way contradictory to being loving, supportive and gentle. Kids need to push to grow up, and pushing against people they love and trust, and who they know will love and trust them back even if – especially if! – the answer is ‘no’ is the best way for them to learn self control, self respect, and how to stand firm themselves.

So, parents must be the wall, neither giving an inch nor overreacting to the pushing. Not always easy, but necessary. A key part: knowing what you stand for, knowing the places you will not give. These should be few, and consistent. Everything else should be negotiable. With any luck, children so raised will be able to carry these lessons out into the world, and distinguish between principles and necessary rules, and things that can be negotiated. They will be able to behave as adults.

Image result for wall falling downWe live in a world of feral children – of all ages. They have pushed, and found no wall. Many times found no mother or father. They pushed, and one time, the wall fell with hardly a breeze; the next time, it pushed back violently. They pushed and pushed, and ended up in the streets, looking for something, anything, that will push back.

Thinks that should have been learned in the privacy of family life and that can only be learned in family life are now lacking in public life. Our feral children find no walls. The drive to push is unsatisfied and unabated.

2. Fight the Urge to Dirge. Ye Sons and Daughters is one fine Easter song, great tune, tells the story in a charming, memorable way. Only one problem: for some inexplicable reason, choir directors seem almost universally to take what should be something like a bouncy waltz, tempo and feel wise, and turn it into something more like a funeral processional. With a bit a vim, the song is catchy and easy; plodding, it is just another forgettable church song.

You can imagine what brought about these thoughts. We did do some glorious Easter hymns yesterday as well. But it hurts to see such a charming tune done so – bleech.

3. White Sunday/Mercy Sunday Pizza bash! Invited all sorts of Catholics with whom it is meet and just to be celebrating the end of the Easter Octave over – had maybe 30 adults and a dozen or more kids (many of whom wanted to make their own pizzas, which we did – maybe made 20 pizzas in all). Kept it going from 2:30 until after 9. A lot of fun.

Two thoughts, and if you have any suggestions, I’m all ears: when inviting people to something like this, it is customary for them to ask ‘what can we bring? aaaand customary for me (who tends to be the major cook for these things) to say ‘nothing’ or ‘something to drink’ – because trying to manage who brings what is just more trouble than it’s worth, But: people want to bring something, at least, I know I do when the roles (and, possibly, rolls) are reversed. So, this time, due to the large and uncertain numbers of people, I said: we’ll be providing main courses, you needn’t bring anything, but you can if you want.

So, yesterday, at 10:00 at night, I’m packing away A LOT of food. We ran through the pizza stuff, sure, but I made a vat of guacamole and about 8-9 lbs of pastrami with ciabatta rolls and fixings to match and – lots of stuff. But lovely and generous people also brought lots of delicious things, much of which got left. Into the freeze went pastrami, a couple chickens, a couple dozen ciabatta rolls. The fridge and a couple coolers are packed with salads and vegetables; my wife made delicious pashka and kulich – which got lost in a sea of wonderful desserts. So, into the freezer or coolers it goes.

There are only 4 to 6 of us at home (it varies because – story). I hate throwing food, especially really good food, out, so now I’m looking for homes for at least some of the more perishable stuff. Work, school, neighbors are all likely to get some nice gifts – but this becomes another task on top of set up, food prep and clean up.

I also hate telling people how to be generous and all the planning it takes to be able to say: no, we have enough salads, how about a dessert or some wine? Or whatever.

Thoughts?

Finally think I’m getting the hang of the brick oven. The usual advice is that each oven is different, you just have to use it and see what works. What works for this oven: at least a two-hour burn before you start cooking. Three hours is better, although this probably had something to do with all the rain making the whole oven a little damp. Then: just keep it going – at least 2 or three logs burning at the back in addition to all the hot coals while you cook. By the end, we were popping pizzas in and out in 2-3 minutes each. And they were excellent.

If I ever build another brick oven, please shoot me. I mean, I’ll make it more massive and better insulated. Also, getting the hang of Naples-style pizza dough, which you make a few days in advance and let chill until a few hours before you’ll be using it – slightly sour taste, excellent stretchy texture for making those lovely thin-crust pizzas that work so well in a brick oven. (I honestly cringed a little when the kids were manhandling those beautiful dough balls on the way to making cheese and olive or pepperoni over store-bought sauce pizzas – but that’s what they were there for! Deep breath. I do love kids more than cooking. Really. And they had a blast.)

Great fun. Looking forward to doing it again next year.

4. Finally, I compulsively reread this bit of flash fiction fluff, and got a little worried that people might think I was making fun of Southerners, when nothing was farther from my mind – Edgar and Bill are perfectly competent adults who love telling tales and maybe messing with the out of towner a bit. Colorful locals, in other words, not red neck morons. I worry some people don’t know the difference, one difference being that, in my experience, there are many more of the former than the latter.

Anyway, came across this YouTube video, wherein an English shipwright is rebuilding the Tally Ho, a hundred year old classic harbor clipper style racing yacht. He’s rebuilding it in Washington state, but needed a lot of extra-sturdy Southern live oak for the structural members.

Turns out that a man named Steve Cross in southern Georgia runs the only mill in America that handles live oak – the very characteristics that make it ideal for ship structural members render it very difficult and uneconomical for commercial mills to deal with. So Steve builds his own Rube Goldberg style mill out of parts from tractors, forklifts and combines and whatever else was lying around, and serves ship builders and restorers around the world.

He’s clearly a mechanical genius of sorts – and is just as clearly one of those colorful locals messing a bit – a completely friendly bit – with English Leo the shipwright.