When told that the peasants of France had no bread and were starving, the unfortunate queen, Marie Antionnette, reportedly said, “Let them eat cake.” Such bad press caused the Austrian-born queen to lose esteem and eventually a head.

Historians have long doubted that Marie actually made such a statement. Desultory research by the highly disesteemed Random Institute for Bogus Research has discovered the true remarks uttered by the queen:

She said: Let them eat ethanol.

Marie’s great-great-grand something now manages a Costco warehouse store in Paris.

Expedition to the Pole

April 21, 2008

As a person who will retire in nine months (which is eight months and 30 days too long) and due to a life of improvidence and stupid mistakes does not have enough money put away to buy loo paper,much less other necessities of life, I have been trying to inch my pathetic little stock portfolio up a tiny bit. As my wife (who just drove up with another load of compost for our garden in her little truck) puts it, “We are land rich and dirt poor.”

As I check my portfolio on cnn’s web page, I notice that one day the stock market is wildly down and the next day it is wildly up. This behavioral pattern leads me to conclude that the stock market suffers from bi-polar disease.

Fortunately, secret sources (otherwise known as my imaginary friends) have informed me that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake has formed a partnership with famed psychologist Dr. Phil to provide mental health treatment for the market.

After Ben and Phil get done with straightening out the stock market, they will take care of my imaginary friends.

Mystery No More

April 19, 2008

I was struggling futilely down by the basement with the enchanted generator trying to figure out how to remove the evil spell cast by the witch we hadn’t invited to the house-warning, when I went up to the main level of the house to get a drink of water and saw my wife talking with several people.

We seldom get visitors, as we live on an island. Furthermore, we live off a private gravel road. Even more further, you can’t see our little house from the private gravel road because our driveway curls down behind some trees so our house hides from the road.

And people who get that far tend to be sorry. A census taker came to our house twice. We had been selected to answer an extra set of questions about our dwelling. My wife said, “We answered the basic census questions. We don’t have to answer extra questions. Frankly, our dwelling is none of your business.”

She didn’t take the fish bonker that hangs by the door to the census worker, but it was a near thing.

However, my wife was talking to the strangers in a cheerful and friendly manner, so I approached in wonder to see what was going on.

“These are our neighbors on lot #4,” my wife said.

She performed introductions. The man is named Carl. Originally from Virginia, he now works for Boeing. “My daughter’s partner is from Virginia,” I said.

The woman’s name Mae (a Westernized adaptation of a Malaysian name too complex for Western tongues to wrap around). She told us she is a botanist.

“My daughter majored in biology and thought she would be a horticulturalist,” I said. “What kind of work do you do in botany?”

“I teach grade school. But I am working part time while I care for our son.” Their son, Chad, was picking up and examining rocks from the collection of pretty pebbles piled on the side of one of the steps to our front porch.

“Our granddaughter collects rocks when she comes to visit us,” I said. “However, her mommies won’t let her take them back to the mainland, so she leaves them on the step when the leave.”

“How old is your granddaughter?” Mae asked.

“Four years old. But she tells us that she is almost all grown up.” I said.

“Chad is five. He thinks he is about grown up also.”

I know RG likes older men, but I figured it was a little early to bring up that topic. Also, RG’s best friend Mia’s diversity heritage may be closer to Chad’s. This may get interesting and complicated when they’re all 15, or maybe not.

Mae told Chad to put the rocks back because they belonged to our granddaughter. He didn’t look very happy, but he complied. One of these days he will figure out that the trick is to bring pretty pebbles to pretty girls, but they probably don’t cover that in kindergarten.

We were getting a good impression. Mae spoke politely to Chat, but she required him to be respectful of other people’s property.

After we had chatted a bit, I raised another property issue. “The person who sold you the property cleared some trees into our property,” I said.

Chad and Mae asked, “Where is the property line?” A good question for new neighbors to ask, I thought. We walked them over to the area where our property ends and theirs begins. We showed them the three little cedar trees and the Douglas fir we had planted a couple of years ago. “The Douglas fir doesn’t look too good,” I said. “It’s been damaged by deer. But it’s still alive”; I pointed at the branches growing at the top of the little tree above where the buck had rubbed it.

We showed the newer Douglas fir we had planted last year in the area improperly cleared. We had put a little fence around the latest tree to give it a fighting chance against the deer.

“We’re planning on planting some evergreens,” they told us. They seemed to be respectful of the property line and to share our desire for privacy.

“It’s very quiet,” Mae said approvingly. Mrs. Random beamed; she loves quiet; she loves quiet neighbors. There was a good feeling in the quiet air as we contemplated common values.

Mae and Carl had met Joe and his dog on his property. They hadn’t me the Friendly Neighbors yet. I told them the Friendly Neighbors have a cat.

“We have a cat,” said Mae. “But I don’t think we can let it out here. The coyotes would eat it.” I told them we had seen coyotes in our backyard, so that keeping the cat indoors was probably a good idea.

We walked back to our property. We exchanged phone numbers. They told us they probably wouldn’t be building on their property for a few years. Chad was restless; he asked if they could go home. However, he didn’t whine and fuss, and waited until the grown-ups had finished their boring grown-up business. We said goodbye, relieved that the neighbors on lot #4 were no longer a mystery.

Various commotions (to the point of crisis) seem to be coming to a head in my life at the moment. I will probably be blogging less for a while and concentrating on dealing with these “issues” until I can come up for air. Please don’t feel neglected or ignored. Including David, Pete, and abarclay and everyone else.

A brief summary of what’s going on until I get more time:

1) My idea of what should be happening in my job and my bosses’ ideas of what should be happening in my job differ dramatically. Trying to decide who is “correct” and who is not correct is difficult and ambiguous. In the meantime, the golden rule applies: “Those that have the gold make the rules.” As I don’t have enough gold to carry on without my job for the nine months until I retire, I better follow their rules, as much as I don’t care for them. This is going to take a lot of my time, leaving me little time to write about my angst, even in my secret blog.

My employer (as a benefit) offers free mental health “counseling”. (This seems only appropriate for an employer that seems bent on driving at least some of its employees…well, crazy.)

At various times in my life, I have taken advantage of various kinds of therapy, starting in my 20s and continuing at various intervals to the time a few years ago when I had a bout of clinical depression (leading to a funny episode I haven’t had time to write about). I am not the first comedian (I am sure) to find merriment in my own episodes of depression. Anyway, I have made an appointment to go see a counselor in a couple of weeks. I hope the coming session does not produce too much comedy. Given that the counselor is a) female and b) has a Jewish last name perhaps does not bode well in this regard.

2) My daughter was going to quit her job and start graduate school again in the fall. Her decision to leave her job seemed to make her employer appreciate her more. They asked her to work on revamping her job and on training a successor. They offered her more money to do so. She decided this is worth taking a year to do a good job on helping with the transition. She is postponing starting graduate school for a year (with the University’s agreement and permission).

3) Random Granddaughter has been taking swimming lessons, which she enjoys. The mommies have decided that lots of exercise and physical activity are good for her, so she has started gymnastics lessons as well. I am sure that soccer will be on the menu soon. Surely she will not be the first child in America with two soccer mommies?

In the meantime, the pre-school crisis continues. As mommies work on making other arrangements for day care, RG is striving to be a pre-school juvenile delinquent. Mommy (my daughter’s partner) called last night and said that RG’s return to pre-school (after being away for several days) did not go well.

Apparently she has joined the “bad boys” I wrote about earlier who are always being put on “time out.” First she did something “disruptive” with her chair in the classroom. Time out #1.

Then when she went outside to the playground she began climbing on a box of safety equipment (which is apparently not safe to climb on) and refused to stop when asked to do so. Inside for time out #2 went RG. I don’t know if the bad boys kept her company.

When she got home, she cried a lot but refused to talk about her feelings. “I feel so bad for her” said Mommy, talking about her feelings at least.

Mommy asked if I would be willing to spend some time with RG. Apparently even Grandpa is considered a better influence than pre-school. I have to be careful now; I used to be able to schedule my vacation time fairly casually; under the new regime at work (motto: “Making the world safe for bureaucracy”) I have to schedule my vacation days well in advance and get them signed in triplicate.

However, I will spend a day taking care of RG in May to protect her from pre-school or protect the pre-school from her. Grandma will schedule some time for a similar purpose.

This message smuggled out inside a fortune cookie from a Tibetan fortune cookie factory where I am being held captive by the Dalai Lama (who apparently escaped from where Indiana Jones had been holding him captive).

Mystery Neighbors

April 14, 2008


The mysterious lot #4 was purchased by a “flipper.” He asked my wife if we wanted to share our well with his property. She said, “No.”

When she reported the conversation to me, I agreed for the following reasons:

  1. We had paid $10,000 to dig our well. $10,000 is not spare change for us.
  2. My coworker who recently graduated from law school and passed her bar exam and still works in my department for reasons that puzzle me told me that she learned in law school that sharing a well is a fine recipe for years of legal misery and profitable employment for attorneys. 
  3. My wife and I both agreed, The flipper could dig his own well and indeed he did.

And indeed he could well afford to, because we later learned that the flipper made a nice profit when he sold the property to the mystery neighbors.

We had enough money so could have borrowed some money and played flipper with lot #4 as well, but with our luck it would never have worked out and we would have been really, really broke in our retirement instead of just a little broke. Timing is everything in getting rich quick.

Before he sold the lot, the flipper took a backhoe to it and cleared out a bunch of trees. He cleared out so many trees that my wife can see the property from our upstairs window.

“I don’t want to see our neighbor’s house when they build it,” snarled my wife. We moved out to five acres on an island because my wife does not want to hear her neighbors or see her neighbors. If we were as rich as Bill Gates, she would buy an entire island and depopulate it. (Peacefully, I think, but frankly my wife has a ruthless streak, so it’s probably safer if you don’t move next door to her.)

In the next episode, I really will let you meet the new neighbors.






The Experiment

April 13, 2008

A while back, I wrote a post in which I said that most people seem to be very malleable. As a “thought experiment,” I suggested that small children raised to be sociopaths would in most cases turn into willing murderers as adults. I (unhappily) suggest this undermines our idea of individual responsibility for our actions, an idea held by many religious people and by many secular people alike.

Although it’s not quite the same as the experiment I suggested (though it has been done by sociopath leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao), I think the attitudes and behavior of the children being rescued or kidnapped (depending on your point of view) from the polygamist sect in Texas seem to bear out my argument. Granted, there are slight differences (more sex, less violence), but I think it supports my argument that with enough control we can twist children into just about any shape we want.

Most of us do it by accident as much as by design, but if we really put out minds to it, there is no telling what we can do. Please don’t demonstrate my point any more.

The Mysterious Neighbors

April 13, 2008

The bad news was that I can’t get the generator to start.

The good news is that the mystery of the missing neighbors has been solved and looks to be a happy ending eventually.

The west side of our gravel private road was a 20 acre lot sub-divided into four five-acre lots. The Friendly Neighbors live on lot #1 in a splendid but in sensible good taste house they built themselves. Although they are devout Christians who go to church every Sunday and my wife and I are non-believers, we get along with them very well. They have a splendid garden and are helpful to us in many ways. They bought some chickens a few weeks ago and built a splendid chicken house. They also own a cat who was rescued and is very shy.

Lot #2 is owned by Joe and Melinda. They haven’t built a home yet, but they put in a well and a splendid well-house, so I think they are serious about settling down. They got married a couple years ago (both around the age of 40, which I think is very romantic, though Matilda has been married before and has a young adult son). They own small but not tiny dog named Leand. We have had bad experiences with neighbors with dogs, Leand will probably be fine, even though he is too enthusiastic about trying to jump up so he can try to lick Random Granddaughter’s face, but that’s OK because her mommies are not big dog fans and don’t want her to get obsessed with having a dog along with a cat, though they don’t “hate” dogs, just as they don’t “hate” men even though they are two women in relationship. Also we hope they will keep Leand tied up, as many of our neighbors in the past have not done with their dogs. However, coyotes live in our neighborhood, and they like dogs just fine, so that problem if it comes may be self-correcting.

We bought lot #3 because it is the only lot of the four with a “standard perc” (which means it was a lot cheaper to put in our septic tank). Our house is down a windy gravel driveway from the gravel shared private road where you can’t see our little house as you drive by on the gravel road because Mrs. Random likes a lot of privacy. Who knows what she is really up to?

Our well does not have a well house, so it’s naked and shameless to the world. Also, it’s awkwardly located, so if you’re backing out of our drive way at the point where you have to turn and start going forward you might back into the well if you’re careless, though we put some rocks around it so they might stop you unless you are really drunk. But we never serve people more liquor than a glass of wine, so it will probably work out.

Then there’s the mysterious lot #4, which I will talk about in the next episode.

New Olympic Events

April 11, 2008

The International Olympic Committee has announced several new events for the 2008 summer Olympics. These include:

Put Out the Flame. In this combination of individual and team sports, a marathon runner carries a flame. His “relay” team runs with him. The opposing relay team runs alongside and tries to break through the cordon of defenders so the opposing marathon runner can grab the torch and douse it. The Chinese team is expected to do very well for the Defenders side as they have been practicing very intensively. On the Attackers side, the British, French, and American teams show promise.

Exterminate the Villagers. In this team event, a team seeks to wipe out a group of innocent villagers. The Janjaweed team are considered the favorites. However, there are other strong contenders, including the German team, the Japanese team, the Serbian team, the Rwandan team, the Cambodian team, and the Turkish team, though most observers consider these teams as rusty and long past their prime. Sri Lanka will provide dual teams.

The Arab countries are demanding that the Israelis include a team, while Israel insists they are not qualified.

This year the “villagers” will be supplied from Sudan and Tibet, if there are any villagers left in these locations by the time the games start. As a backup, Olympic authorities are considering bringing villagers in from Kashmir or Kosovo as backup participants.

Suicide Bombing. In this individual sport, a competitor with explosives strapped to his or her body tries to “take out” the maximum number of spectators in the stands. This will be the first Olympic sport where men and women compete on an equal basis. There are no returning favorites, so it’s hard to handicap the competitors (though the Olympic guards will be striving to do so), but both the Palestinian and Iraqi entries demonstrate a lot of promise, or maybe lack of promise. The Sri Lankan entries are considered dark horse candidates.

Boycott the Olympics. This competition was dropped from the Olympics after so many athletes felt deprived during the boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 summer Olympics in Moscow and Los Angeles.

In the revised event, all athletes will be encouraged to attend and compete, but spectators from most countries will boycott the competition. Athletes, however, will not be deprived, as the Chinese government is expected to fill the stands with spectators. (China is not particularly short of obedient spectators.)

In past Olympics, there have been many controversies about “doping” of athletes with substances such as steroids and human growth hormones. However, there are no prohibitions against doping spectators, and the Chinese government is expected to provide a variety of substances to their spectators, including steroids so they can cheer vigorously and tranquilizers so they will be obedient in cheering only for Chinese athletes. In fact, unconfirmed reports indicate that Chinese authorities have been heard referring to their spectators as the “dopes,” though this may only be a rumor. Speaking of which, the Olympic Committee is considering allowing rumor-mongering as an Olympic sport, but at press time this report could not be confirmed.

Loose Lips Sink Ships

April 9, 2008

During World War II, Americans, who were used to living in a free and open society that valued freedom of speech, found it difficult to accept the fact if they talked to neighbors such as the charming Mrs. Boccarini and said things like, “My Son, Eric, is sailing on the destroyer Dipsy-Do, because his battalion is going to invade Mussolini’s Italy,” it might be that said neighbor was in the pay of or allegiance to Mussolini who himself was in allegiance to Adolph Hitler who was in partnership with Japan. And after Mrs. Boccarini passed that information on to her “handler,” a German sub would seek out the Dipsy-Do and sink it with Eric and all his fellow American soldiers aboard. So the US government told people in the armed forces,
worried that spies in the allegiance to or pay of our enemies would carelessly reveal information “Loose lips sink ships.”

In more recent times, a blogger using the blog name “Dooce” wrote about her job and her boss on her blog and was fired.

I am very close to being fired from my job. It is tempting to let off steam by writing about it. I am trying to keep my job until I plan to retire on my 65th birthday in January 2009. One (perhaps not very good) solution is to only talk about it in a blog whose name I keep secret and to whom I only admit people I trust, such as Vicky and Vroni. This is why I deleted messages from my last post which made reference to the secret blog.

If you consider yourself trustworthy and can convince me of it and want to read my secret blog, contact me by email by writing to eman_modnar@yahoo.com and I will tell you how to read the secret blog. If you are not trustworthy, you have relatives in Germany, perhaps?

True fact: my best friend in grade school in Los Angeles was named Danny Ikenberg. His mother and father were German Jews. After Hitler came to power, unlike many other German Jews, they saw the handwriting on the wall, and they were able to get out of Germany and emigrate to the United States while the getting was good. Danny’s mom was the den mother of my cub scout troop. She also gave German lessons to my father who wanted (I don’t know why) to learn German.

One day talking to my parents (as I, about nine years old, listened), Mrs. Ikenberg said, “Many German Jews admired Hitler as a leader. They said, ‘Adolph is a great leader. If only he wouldn’t say such bad things about the Jews.’

The Ikenbergs lived to raise my friend Danny. Those other Jews became ex-Jews. In fact, they became ex-people.

Waiting for

April 8, 2008

When I first met my wife, I told a dumb joke and she started laughing. However, 42 years of marriage have revealed to us that our senses of humor only overlap about 25-50% of the time. It’s quite common for me to laugh enthusiastically at something and then look at my wife and see her sighing in distaste. On the other hand, sometimes she finds something very amusing while I am muttering, “Only a five-year-old would find that funny.” Worse, I get jealous when she finds someone such as CBC classical music morning announcer Tom Allen funnier than me. He is very funny, but still…

When we both find a book or movie amusing, it’s a pretty good indication that people at least as weird as we are may it funny also. David Rochester recently wrote on his Quotidian Vicissitudes blog:

About ten years ago, I saw a film called Start the Revolution Without Me, and found it to be very funny. I watched it again tonight with undisturbed gravity. I don’t know whether it was funnier ten years ago, or whether I was more easily entertained, or whether being coked to the gills * on antidepressants lowered my standards for comedy. The last thing I found absolutely hilarious since I stopped taking mind-numbing drugs was a really disturbing film with Peter O’Toole called The Ruling Class. I don’t recommend it to anyone who is easily offended on the subject of sex, religion, politics, autoerotic asphyxiation, Hollywood musicals, progressive insanity, or serial killers.

* Used figuratively. There was no actual cocaine usage involved in the degradation of my sense of humor, and I am not amphibious. Please do not leave comments with carefully kind recommendations to the ichthyoid division of a local 12-step program.

I will add that David is probably even weirder than both my wife and I put together (which represents serious major league weirdness) and also mention that I have seen The Ruling Class and found it quite funny, probably because of the sex, religion, autoerotic asphyxiation, etc.

I started making coy references to a BBC Series my wife had turned me on to. For a long time, most of the episodes were not available on video. Recently the BBC finally released the entire series. My wife bought me the first two seasons as a birthday present and I have been watching it from time to time as I tread like a demented gerbil on the treadmill. Episodes held up great on second viewing; delightfully, I finally got a chance to see some I had missed when it originally played on PBS for American audiences.

Actually, it makes many great serious points in funny ways. I guess I shouldn’t say that. OK, I will decoy (and probably find out that everyone reading this is familiar with the series already).

The series is called Waiting for God. It ran for five seasons. Only the first two seasons are easily available in the United States yet. The last three seasons are mostly available in England at this time.

The series is about getting old and being (entertainingly) difficult about it. My wife and I (64 and 62) are getting old and have always been difficult so we are unlikely to stop because we are getting old. Actually we are more likely to become more difficult because we are less embarrassed about people considering us stupid or out of bounds as we get older

I’m pretty sure David will like the series and find it funny, but he has my permission not to like it and not to find it funny.