January 30, 2011

George Washington Slept Where Mr. Blandings Built His Dream Money Pit

As we approach the 1-year anniversary of the manifestation of my house's self-destructive tendencies, and as we welcome a whole passel of new readers (thanks to my surpassingly awesome friends sharing the Secondmost love)...  let's all take a trip down Memory Effin' Lane.  Meet George, Mark and Beavis;  bid a fond farewell to my new homebuyer credit.

Constructive Summer
While there are lots of shingles attached to my roof, they are placed in exciting new directions and angles which, while possibly meritorious as modern art, are ill-suited to keeping rain out of my house.

Boundless optimism...  a gratuitous Hold Steady reference... I was at least eight years younger last June...

This.  Is An Ex.  Gutter.
You are officially in for interesting times when your contractor says "You're in a Money Pit situation here."

Things went downhill from here.

Inside the house, part of the kitchen and all of the dining room drywall has been hung.  It's even better than the lath, which had a certain Ma & Pa Kettle charm about it.  I can hardly contain my excitement at the prospect of an intact floor.

Things, having exhausted the downward tilt of the hill, began to dig a trench at this point.

I suppose it's probably bad luck to say this, but...  at least we're running out of things that can leak!

SPOILER ALERT: The first part of this assessment was correct.

The Incredible Shrinking Woman

On one hand, among the few payoffs of emotional distress is fairly drastic weight loss.  On the other hand, if I get much smaller, I'm going to have to buy new interview clothes.  (Dangit, that's what I get for buying suits last fall.  Maybe I can find a cheap but non-pervy tailor or something.)  On the other hand--yes, that makes three hands, for I am a multitasker--the "disheveled raving hobo" look doesn't seem to hold everybody back the way one might suspect.  Hmm.

Ever so gradually, I'm making friends with food again.  I'm finally fiddling around in the kitchen, partially because that's what I do for funsies, partially because this is the year I get my act together to enter the Pillsbury Bakeoff.  At this point, it's probably my best shot at being able to retire at some point, or at least pay off my roof before my house develops a new and exciting and costly structural flaw.

An experimental pie is cooling on my kitchen island.  Sure smells good.  We'll see.  I might need to try out a few more permutations on my coworkers while I still have a large and willing focus group.

January 27, 2011

Excerpts From The Upcoming Best Seller The SMLTS Guide To Tracking Down The Thieving Jerks Who Moved Your Cheese

It sure is confusing getting back into the job market!  There's an awful lot of career advice out there, but I think I've been doing a pretty fair job of synthesizing the very best of these resources.  You can believe me, because I'm a trustworthy Internet-based unpaid writer who owns my own domain name, just like Huffington Post IV, Esq.!

Still being of a public-service-oriented frame of mind, I freely share my observations with you, the loyal (and very possibly same-boat-sharing) SMLTS reader:

1) THE RESUME: Craft a dynamic, distinctive objective statement.  Also, do not include an objective statement.  By following this advice, you can make your resume stand out from the slush pile, avoid limiting your options, and be totally prepared from the Method Acting standpoint to portray Schrodinger's Cat.

2) Use active words like "accomplished," "led," "expedited," "spearheaded," "implemented."

3) Avoid buzzwords like "accomplished," "led," "expedited," "spearheaded," "implemented."

4) No matter how you choose to construct your resume, someone along the line will pitch it for some totally arbitrary reason.  Just embrace that fact now.  Feels better, no?


6) If I could turn back the hands of time, I would say to myself: Maybe I'm overestimating the cleverness of having used the Webdings font on a resume to be submitted to the Air Force cryptography corps.

7) INTERVIEWING: Dress for the job you want; make sure your attire is clean and well-pressed.  That's why I'm getting my Wonder Woman costume dry cleaned.

Confessions Of A Reformed Facebook Hater

The funny limbs that grow underground 
That keep you from falling down 
Don't you think that you'll need them now?
(wise words courtesy Ben Folds)

There's a little spiral-bound faux leather book on my desk that used to hold my past between its covers.  No matter how I tried to keep up with it, life got in the way, and its contents became outdated.  And so the hopeful gold script that decorates the cover, "Tel-Address," became a remarkably poor label.  "Your Friends' Parents' Addresses When You Were In High School And/Or College" is probably more accurate, if less decorative.

Life is again getting in the way of previous plans.  And in sheer, profound horror at the thought of losing touch with people who mean the world to me...  I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink of the Kool-Aid. 

Damn you, Zuckerberg, you did something very good.

I was repelled by the endless stories of shifting security settings (still not thrilled abut that, but I take reasonable precautions), the bloody Farmville requests, the idea of getting involved in an enormous time suck.

What I found was a wonderful replacement for the kind of chitchat which is the real loss when you lose touch with people.  The greatness of human contact isn't just in the dramatic "I love you" moments.  It's in the thousand little shared experiences that make those big declarations true.

Sure, I spent a WHOLE LOT of time on Facebook that first weekend, mainly because I was having a marvelous time finding old friends.  But it's very easy to keep it running in the background while you do other things.  It's manageable.  I can block Farmville!  I have done so!   

Just as in physical life, there are people you'd rather not run into on Facebook.  A teacher of mine with whom I had had an ongoing personality conflict (I had one!)  (ba-dum-DUM) showed up as a suggested friend.  I made a mental note to block her...  and by the time I got around to it, she had apparently blocked me.  We finally agreed on something.  Truly a year of firsts.

It was unbelievably fun watching the AFC Championship while in contact with a bunch of friends old and new, all of us pulling for the Black & Gold (or even, dare I say, Black & Yellow).  People I went to high school with, people I worked with in college, people here and in the mountains and all around the country, all of us brought together through the magic of social networking and, um, towels.  

My little world may be awfully discombobulated right now, but it helps a great deal to know that I may be grieving, I may be scared, but I am not alone.

All that, and that I don't even have to hear about your effin' crops.

January 25, 2011

Tell Them That It's Human Nature

OK, there is a Flying Spaghetti Monster over to your right.  Outside of weddings and funerals, I haven't been to a church service in probably...  um...  well, let's just say that I'm pretty sure that Bush was President.  The first one.

But...  should you have occasion to ponder what the good should do when met with evil, you could find worse companions than The Philokalia, a collection of early Christian writings which is greatly venerated in the Orthodox Christian world.

Written by and pretty much for monks, there are references that don't pertain to those of us who are living in the profane world.  But I treasure the battered photocopy I made in college of this passage from St. Diadochos of Photiki:
Spiritual knowledge teaches us that, at the outset, the soul in pursuit of theology (here meant in the literal sense, knowledge of God--HBB)  is troubled by many passions, above all by anger and hatred. This happens to it not so much because the demons are arousing these passions, as because it is making progress. So long as the soul is worldly-minded, it remains unmoved and untroubled however much it sees people trampling justice under foot. Preoccupied with its own desires, it pays no attention to the justice of God. When, however, because of its disdain for this world and its love for God, it begins to rise above its passions, it cannot bear, even in its dreams, to see justice set at naught. It becomes infuriated with evil-doers and remains angry until it sees the violators of justice forced to make amends. This, then, is why it hates the unjust and loves the just. The eye of the soul cannot be led astray when its veil, by which I mean the body, is refined to near-transparency through self-control. (The monk thing.  Disregard.  Get down with your corporeal self and eat some food.--HBB) Nevertheless, it is much better to lament the insensitivity of the unjust than to hate them; for even should they deserve our hatred, it is senseless for a soul which loves God to be disturbed by hatred, since when hatred is present in the soul spiritual knowledge is paralyzed.
Maybe it's just the tired advice to "not come down to their level" in older and more eloquent clothing.  Nevertheless, I find comfort in it.    

January 24, 2011

Today's Puzzler

Four of these things belong together
Four of these things are kind of the same
Can you guess which one of these doesn't belong here?
Now it's time to play our game...

(PG, 1/24/11)

January 23, 2011

The Last Of The Turduckens

Meet Turducken.

Was the intent to manufacture a chick?  Because, if so, what the hell is with that bill?  See?  What can this critter be called but "Turducken"?

Sophie, my Viking Warrior Princess cat, LOVES Turducken.  Or rather, loves to hate the many incarnations of Turducken.  She's on #4, I think, and unless I find a connection, this is the last one.  She has pulled apart the pompoms, leaving bits of yellow string all through the house.  She has ripped off its little limbs, torn its girly little skirt off, peeled the red heart off with merciless dispatch.  (As far as I can tell--and I'm pretty intimate with Turducken guts at this point--Turducken is NOT a catnip toy, so your guess is as good as mine when it comes to the matter of why Turducken has "CATNIP" written on it.)

Sophie prances around with Turducken's little carcass clenched between her jaws.  She howls, yelps.  I am a predator!, she declares, which is probably more convincing to those who did not take Sophie in when she was a bony, starving little kitty who couldn't catch lunch in a backyard crammed with birds and squirrels.

What she must think when she destroys a Turducken only to find it has regenerated?  Like a small, striped Sisyphus, she starts her task anew every time it has been accomplished.  But... eventually, she will destroy this, the Last of the Turduckens.

Victory will be sweet.  Actually, victory will taste distinctly like acrylic yarn.  

January 22, 2011

Well, When You're From Pittsburgh, You Have To Do Something...

So, since I finally relented and did the whole Facebook thing, I've been tinkering with my profile.  It's kind of an interesting exercise sorting through all of the works of art that have made you who are, that have comforted and challenged you, to populate five little thumbnail illustrations.  Can't imagine why most people leave their profiles so blank...  I do love privacy in so many ways, but I'm always looking for my lost tribe.  If The Internet is interested that I really like screwball comedies and John Irving novels, I'm OK with that information being out there.  (I hope The Internet doesn't know how embarrassingly fond I am of watching Octomom on Oprah.  Shh, don't tell anyone.)

The winnowing process is quite satisfying.  I've always enjoyed making lists--another habit I picked up from Grandma.  Further entertainment value comes from creating juxtaposition, like putting George Gershwin and The Felice Brothers shoulder to shoulder.  But as much as I enjoy some recreational cognitive dissonance, I couldn't avoid one duplication: Be she in book or movie form, I dearly love Auntie Mame.  (We shall not speak of the Lucy version, out of respect to both great characters.)

I identify with Mame Dennis, now more than ever.  Kind of flaky, sure.  A free spirit, nevertheless fiercely loyal to loved ones and to fairness and to the value of creative expression.  Mame could tolerate just about anything save intolerance--she would never brook a snob, a phony, a bully.

But oh!  How the snobs, phonies, bullies (and Machiavellian...  never mind) manage to find us in our beloved little nests.  The Mames of the world must adapt.

If there's one thing she had down pat, it was the art of self-reinvention.  Change of occupation or circumstance; not change of essence.

I doubt I'll be selling roller skates in Macy's (can't rule out selling Slankets at Macy's), or opening up a modern art gallery, or--malheurusement--marrying a sweet, kind, stinkin' rich oilman whose wealth will bankroll my copious eccentricities into my old but fabulous age.  But change is coming.

Mame would embrace it.

Open a new window,
Open a new door,
Travel a new highway,
That's never been tried before;
Before you find you're a dull fellow,
Punching the same clock,
Walking the same tight rope
As everyone on the block.
The fellow you ought to be is three dimensional,
Soaking up life down to your toes,
Whenever they say you're slightly unconventional,
Just put your thumb up to your nose.
And show 'em how to dance to a new rhythm,
Whistle a new song,
Toast with a new vintage,
The fizz doesn't fizz too long.
There's only one way to make the bubbles stay,
Simply travel a new high way,
Dance to a new rhythm,
Whistle a new love song,
Toast with a new vintage,
Open a new window ev'ry day!

I would also add some sound advice from Mr. Irving: Keep passing the open windows.

January 20, 2011


I have a lot of junk on my office wall.  A lot of it is there basically to cover up the truly hideous fake wood paneling (even The Kludge Family* had the decency to paint over similar stuff in Castle Secondmost).  So, there's a "Voices of NPR" poster featuring many photographs of dead and former correspondents, a brightly-colored map of the Middle East that the BBC sent out not long after 9/11, a map that is supposed to be illustrative of some nonprofit's mission but actually serves the utility of not being flat brown.

I also have some fun things...  the 2011 Archie McPhee calendar, a clearly-labeled Emergency Kaleidoscope, part of a package of Atomic Fire Balls that helpfully assures us that the contents are artificially flavored.

Not long after our move to this building, I added one of my great treasured possessions: My (framed!) rejection letter from Harvard. 

When people ask, I tell them that it's there to remind me that it's sometimes a blessing when things don't work out as hoped.  I'm not sure I believe me.

*For new readers...  much of this blog has been devoted to the adventure of having bought a house from the world's most inept amateur handymen.  I call them The Kludge Family.  They make my contractor swear a lot.

With History The Final Judge Of Our Deeds

We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom -- symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning -- signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans -- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge -- and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do -- for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom -- and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required -- not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge: to convert our good words into good deeds, in a new alliance for progress, to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.

To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support -- to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective, to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak, and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.

Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.

We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.
But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course -- both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind's final war.

So let us begin anew -- remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms, and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed, in all corners of the earth, the command of Isaiah -- to "undo the heavy burdens, and [to] let the oppressed go free."¹

And, if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor -- not a new balance of power, but a new world of law -- where the strong are just, and the weak secure, and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need -- not as a call to battle, though embattled we are -- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation,"a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.
Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

January 18, 2011

Even Their Error Messages Are Stylish...

Also, I Want The Queen Mother's Hat, For Serious

So, The Man Of The House and I finally went to see The King's Speech yesterday.  I assure you, it gets the SMLTS Royal Warrant.  You should go directly to the theater if you're interested in world history, social history, broadcasting, and/or Colin Firth.

I loved that they showed one of my favorite (ABSOLUTELY TRUE!) bits of radio arcana: a BBC newsreader doing his thing in full evening dress.   (Studebaker does the same thing to this day.)

When George VI emerges from a makeshift booth, having successfully delivered his declaration of war--PLEASE tell me nobody needed a spoiler alert--a gentleman immediately greets him with, "A true broadcaster."

I kinda lost it at that point.

When A Man Loves A Woman...

Might not be a bad idea to replace the couch while you're at it...

January 17, 2011

Radio Silence

OK, gang, sorry for the light posting, but I've been busy trying to whack some semblance of sanity together.  There's a great deal of uncertainty about the situation.  If you've kept up with the news, you pretty much know what I know.

If not exactly business as usual, we're still doing our jobs and expect to do so for the next few months.

January 16, 2011


Never thought I'd do it, but I finally broke down and joined Facebook.

I truly enjoyed the captcha: "adapts although."

Seems just about right.

January 15, 2011

That's How It Goes

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

January 14, 2011

This Is Pretty Much All I Know

Duquesne selling WDUQ to WYEP group (PG)

I really don't have any more news, folks.  We're still here for now, and...  that's what I know.

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Uh-oh, I forgot that it's Black & Gold day...  by luck, I wore black, and isn't it a good thing that I didn't mistakenly pick out a purple sweater?  Oh, the tragically misdirected Ravens-hate I could have been on the receiving end of.  The mind boggles.

No, I am bundled up like a wooly bear caterpillar in a cozy black sweater.  My arms don't quite lower all the way once I put on my coat.  I feel a bit like Randy in A Christmas Story, or possibly one of the more muscle-bound athletes in high school.  But I'm warm! 

Yesterday, was a messy commute--worse than Wednesday, I think--so I took a cue from our sisters in the secretarial pool.  Wore my boots in and switched to dress shoes at the office.  I do feel slightly ridiculous being that fussy, but it feels like a small blow for the cause of springtime to not let winter control everything.

But, feh, it's Friday.  Wooly bear caterpillar time.


(from this morning's PG)

January 13, 2011

Random Things That Make Me Happy

  • Watching a Steeler game when the color commentator says something like "Mike Wallace is just flying down that field!"  Good on him--it's important to stay active!  (This joke will never. get. old.)

  • Shoveling my sidewalk.  (I reserve the right to change my opinion on that one in the next few months.)  It feels really, really good to accomplish this small task, and it feels wonderful knowing that I have this responsibility because I own my home.

  • Just missing a bus...  only to catch a nearly-empty one right behind it.

  • Cleaning products that actually work.  Those detergent pens.  The pet hair roller.  The lone brand of phosphate-free dishwasher detergent that leaves glasses clean.

  • The fact that I have around 12,000 songs, 2000 photos, and several video games on my iPod, and I have a relatively old model.  Seriously, isn't The Future cool???

  • The fact that my colleagues and I are still working to bring awesomeness to the world in convenient audio form.  (And to preemptively answer the question...  no, still no news to share.  But these guys sound pretty upbeat.)

  • Being able to do laundry without having to get rolls of quarters from the bank.  ($2 to wash and $2 to dry at the old apartment!  I could have bought my own for the amount of money I spent for the privilege of using those rotten machines.)

  • Buying bread at Mancini's and then going next door to get coffee at Prestogeorge.  Best-smelling fifteen minutes of the week!

January 12, 2011

Wow, Really?

Pittsburgh Public Schools are closed today.  (Man, they would have made us run the mile in this weather!  Uphill both ways, etc.)

If anyone has tiny people to keep busy, here are some free coloring sheets.  I won't lie, I kind of want to color the kitty cat.   

January 11, 2011

Long Walk Home


The bus ride home was awful (about 45 minutes on a PACKED vehicle),  but the walk was rather lovely...

... because I wasn't stuck driving a car in this mess.


It's remarkable how much difference 70 miles or so can make.  I can (have, will) go on for ages about how different Pittsburgh is from my place of birth, Somerset.  For the most part, the culture here suits me better.  But every now and again, I feel like my secret identity as a wise hayseed in the manner of Jed Clampett is in danger of being revealed.

Like when it snows.

For crying out loud, people, even if this storm hits the high end of the estimates, it's just a few inches of snow.  When we got 3-6" of snow in the boonies, we maybe got a two-hour delay from school.  Call me when we get, like, a foot of snow or an ice storm.  That's rough winter weather.

But I try to blend in.  "Ready for the big storm?" I'll ask in the course of small talk.  Oh yeah.  No choice, right? Ha!  And then the person I'm talking to will go on about how they bought extra toilet paper at Giant Eagle last night.  It's not like we won't use it anyway, right?

Right.  You know what?  You're not going to run out of toilet paper any faster than you would have if the weather was clear because it's not going to be enough snow to make your employer close tomorrow

Sorry, I'm getting whiny.   I'm just annoyed that it's too snowy to wear nice shoes.

So, unless this storm is far worse than they're calling for, I'll be clomping into work tomorrow morning in my big ol' faux shearling boots, moderately annoyed at having ridden on a late, unusually-crowded bus, really seriously annoyed that people still try to run red lights on slick roads.

And part of me will think: Feh, city slickers. 

January 10, 2011

Welcome To The Working Week

  • Related: Here is another exhibit in the perils of contextual advertising: 

Intentional, no.
Tacky?  Oh hells yes.

  • You know how it's illegal to buy a second box of sinus medication if you're having a rough allergy month?  I know this will come as a complete shock, but drug dealers work around lawsThe street value of a box of pseudoephedrine tablets is around $40.    Even in these tough times, there are fabulous investment opportunities if you know where to look!  And are not intimidated by the prospect of incarceration! 
  • From the Secondmost neck of the woods...  the historic Iron City Brewing Co. complex is in peril.  Historic?  You bet!  Not just because of the really neat turn-of-the-previous-century architecture, but also because the site was home to such innovations as draft beer in cans and snap-top cans.  (Unfortunately, those cans contained Iron City, which served primarily to prove that we'll do anything to show our civic pride around here, including drink one of the most dire excuses for beer that Man has created.)  Please, for the sake of history and also the property value of nearby Castle Secondmost, just make it into a ginormous expensive condo like Heinz Lofts!

January 9, 2011

The Sign And The Signified

Just about the most important thing a Pittsburgher can do to deepen his or her understanding of history is to visit Clayton, the home of Henry Clay Frick.

I realize that seems like a provocative statement, but hear me out.  That doesn't mean that Clayton is more important than the site of the Homestead Strike (although it's certainly more a interesting day trip given the surviving artifacts).  That doesn't mean that Frick was more important than any one of the men who labored in the mills or were killed by the Pinkertons.

What it does mean is this:  If you want to understand how the people we know from history books functioned, you first need to really understand that they were people.

When you visit Clayton, you see the adorable little playhouse the Fricks built for their children, the tiny little sinks built for their tiny little hands.  You see a comfortable home filled with books and musical instruments and dolls. You realize that it must have been a very loving family indeed for Helen Frick to choose to spend her declining years there, preserving her family home like a cocoon from which the butterfly would never emerge.

Henry Clay Frick did a lot of terrible things, and history (and politics and life) would be much simpler if people would neatly fit all of their words, deeds, hopes, and plans into one space on the spectrum of right and wrong.  I doubt Frick lost much sleep over the thought of the men killed by the Pinkertons; I sincerely doubt he really thought of them as men with families and loved ones.  There is also the matter of the Johnstown Flood, which caused such unspeakable devastation through a country club building project run amok.  As we consider this historical figure, it nevertheless is the case that Frick, inconveniently, had redeeming qualities.  None of this excuses the harm he did.  But it makes understanding it much more complicated.  Monstrous things are done by people who are not wholly monstrous; this because people don't care to think through the effects of their actions upon others, or of "others" as real human beings.    

It's dangerous--literally so--to reduce people to symbols of their best-known actions and beliefs.  We're all of us much more complicated than that.  When someone takes up a gun intending to eliminate a prominent person, they are generally trying to end something much broader than one life.  Not only is that so very wrong as a moral choice, it's ineffective.  Ideas are bigger than individual people--and individual people are at the same time bigger than ideas.

I think the unspoken motive behind the Rally To Restore Sanity was to ward off the kind of dehumanization which makes people--especially but not just unhinged people--think of their enemies as essentially paper targets.  I use the word "target" advisedly: something to destroy, without consequence, without regret, for it is without depth.  I think many of us saw the violent potential of the sort of rhetoric which has been the unhappy mode of political discourse over the past few years.  We hoped it could be deflected with common sense and laughter, though I think we knew better.

It's sickening that this lesson gets taught over and over again through the fruits of violence: People are people.  They love and are loved, they make wise and foolish decisions, and every single one of them will disagree with you on something.

It's the greatest tragedy of humanity that it doesn't always recognize itself.

Blue Laws: The SMLTS Sunday Supplement 1/9/11

Blue Laws: The weekly roundup of not-particularly-work-safe things that amuse SMLTS.  Readers who are sensitive to naughty language, double (or indeed single) entendre, and basic bodily functions should not read this post!  These readers should have made a New Year's resolution to loosen the heck up.  

This week...  Look, am I the last person in the whole wide world who doesn't want to put ev.ery.thing. on Facebook?  Will the Gilbert & Sullivan-esque wordplay of Ms. Britney Spears ever cease its skyward climb towards ever more dizzying heights of linguistic genius?  Will the acid irony of the previous sentence actually eat through my laptop's display?  Will I be bitter that The Onion beat me to an extremely juvenile joke?
Blue Laws says: Yes, no, possibly, we're just good friends, world peace. 

January 8, 2011

The News From Tucson

Time, police work, and reporting will tell us much more about the Gabrielle Giffords shooting.

It occurs to me that I am hesitant to call it an assassination attempt, as if by withholding the word, I can withhold the horrible power of the act.

Over the next days and months, it will be important to address the broader significance of this latest entry in American political culture's long, sad legacy of violence.  The motives and the mental state of the shooter will be well-examined.  But tonight, it most assuredly is too early to tuck the collection of known facts and pure speculation into neatly-labeled ideological packages.

Tonight, just about everybody agrees that this shooting was sickening and wrong.    

It shouldn't take bloodshed to get everyone to acknowledge the humanity of their political foes.

Quick Notes

Much to my relief, The History Channel has ditched that dire-sounding miniseries about the Kennedys.  I would like to think that it was because it fell short in the way of historical rigor; however, I suspect it simply lacked sufficient Nazis/Yetis to fit the channel's format.

My old dorm has bedbugs!   Not my fault, I swear.  Anyway, bedbugs in their present form hadn't evolved by the time I was a college freshman.  They were larger, carnivorous, and had feathers.

January 7, 2011

Anything But Late For Dinner

That Wall Street Journal article I linked to yesterday  (the one about the use of "Dear..." in letters and emails) revved up the ol' pondering engine.  What other elements of polite correspondence seem to be going by the wayside?

I really wish "Dear Sir or Madame" (or worse yet, "Dear Sir(s)") would die.  I don't get into a lather about most social niceties which are supposedly horribly sexist--little old men are welcome to call me "sweetie"; if it really floats your boat you can open a door for me; I am totally OK with healthy young men giving up their bus seats for me.  Just don't assume that I'm a sir, OK?  Nor am I a madame, for that matter. Times aren't that tough.  

Forms of address in general are getting quite thorny.  Most older people still strongly prefer to be addressed as "Mr.& Mrs. Jones."  Some people get very upset over being called "Mr. & Mrs. Jones," particularly if their surname isn't "Jones*."  It's not exactly the imagined "War On Christmas," but people do really enjoy working themselves up by reading dark political motives into this stuff, when in fact it's by definition impossible to chose a default position that will fall in line with all individual choices. 

(Funny sidebar--Our dear friend Interestingly Bearded Mike shipped our Christmas gift to Mr. & Mrs. Manofthehouse, which was extra funny because not only do I have my own factory-issued surname, we're not married.  But this was evidence that our friend is endearingly flaky rather than proof that he is a tool of The Patriarchy.)

Last month, I actually received junk mail from a major company addressed to "Miss Secondmost."  It went straight in the trash.  I mean, even my grandfather--my wingnut grandfather!--started addressing my mail to "Ms. Secondmost" once I turned 18.

I would never close a letter "Cordially," unless it was to someone I disliked intensely.   I would also be hard-pressed to resort to "Kind Regards."

All the best,

January 6, 2011

Separated At Birth?

Mary Alice from "Ace of Cakes"

Terry Gross of "Fresh Air"

Guaranteed To Raise A Smile

L-R: Sad John Boehner, Sad Glenn Beck, Sad Don Draper, Shocked Cat.  Via BoingBoing
(I'm sure someone will add Sad Keanu before the day is out!) 

UPDATE:  Oh, but of course!


Leftovers For Lunch

  • If Olbermann's not naming the Worst Person In The World anymore, can I?  Just for today?  I wonder how many children have been sickened or killed by fully-preventable diseases thanks to the crackpot doctor behind the vaccination/autism scare?  Sometimes I really want to believe in Hell.

  • How about using "Dear (NAME)..." to open up correspondence?  Yes, it's less common these days, either because it's too cold or it's too intimate.  Which shouldn't make any sense at all, but I... am inclined to agree.  (I am also inclined to think they meant "the word 'dear' seems girly" rather than "the word dear seems girlie.")

  • The charming Mr. Haircut and Superflake will not be making off with Elizabeth Edwards' good china.  I'm only surprised that it took until December 1 for the late Mrs. Edwards to get around to changing her will

  • Lots of helpful-looking stuff among the Top 10 Gmail Labs You Should Enable.  I'm still so fricking happy that they made it possible to disable conversation view.  Any other improvements are pure gravy.

January 5, 2011

Today's Teachable Moment

Did You Know?
  • The United Nations has chosen to step into the sadly vacant shoes of Ed McMahon to revive the Publishers' Clearinghouse Prize Patrol.   
  • The United Nations, nevertheless, cannot afford to register its own domain, so its business dealings are communicated via the email address "Dptofun1000102@aim.com."  At least it's not a Hotmail account.
  • The United Nations cannot be bothered to find out the name of its Secretary General (Paul Tagliabue).

January 4, 2011

2011: So Far, So Good

Whew, so it's Tuesday already!  Already four days into 2011.  I'm sure QVC wants us to start shopping for next Christmas already.

I'm getting back into a normal schedule, grudgingly.  I always envy all those professionals in black-and-white movies who grumble lightly as the housekeeper wakes them (with coffee!) at 8 or 9 AM.  If I sleep in, can I blame it on the negligence of my imaginary housekeeper?  "Oh, that Hedda, sometimes I swear I work for her."  

But no.  I set my alarm.  I make my own coffee.  It's Hedda's day off again.

I've actually done pretty well so far at getting back into the swing of things.  Oh, sure, I've forgotten the odd detail here and there.  Like lunch--most days, I have apples and cheese.  This plan works best when I remember to buy cheese. 

Today, I'm finding that pecorino is not what you might call a slicing cheese.  

The most wonderful parting gift of the holiday season is that, once you go back to work after the long break, it's light outside when it's time to go home.  Oh, just a little bit light...  but it makes all the difference in the world.  

January 2, 2011

It's Pronounced FRONKENSTEEN... er, Kostyra

Easily the most surreal new entry in 2010's holiday TV fare was Martha and Friends: Martha and the Christmas Tree.  I know, I know, it sounds like some wacky animated version of a young Martha Stewart or something, right?

Um, yeah.  Might want to sit down for this one.

Yes, it's true, this was the first installment of an animated series centered around a 10-year-old Martha Stewart.  It's certainly a fascinating look into The Martha's id.  Unlike the Charlie Brown universe, where the children seem to run around completely unsupervised, here the adults come to 10-year-old Martha for help and advice.  Young Martha is attended by a coterie of friends/lackeys and a small Greek chorus of dogs.  Dogs wearing sweaters.

The dogs, by the way, have British accents.

Martha grew up in NUTLEY, NEW JERSEY.  How do her dogs have British accents?

Also, Little Martha decorated a pine forest.

We had to watch it twice, and I WILL BE PURCHASING THE DVD.


"There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise."

--not Martha!  Gore Vidal!

Christopher Hitchens has a whole column evaluating the genre of novels set in Washington, D.C., favorably mentions several works in Gore Vidal's American Chronicles, and yet omits any mention of--wait for it--Washington, DC.

Michelle Bachmann claims she was a Democrat until she read Burr and found it "snotty." I believe exactly none of those three assertions.  

Because There Are Only So Many Times You Can Hear "Here We Go" In One Day

I understand there's a little ball game today, mmm?

Blue Laws: The SMLTS Sunday Supplement 1/2/11

Blue Laws: The weekly roundup of not-particularly-work-safe things that amuse SMLTS.  Readers who are sensitive to naughty language, double (or indeed single) entendre, and basic bodily functions should not read this post!  Instead, they should remember that tomorrow is a school day, so this is an excellent time to go darn some socks.  ("Darn you, socks!  DARN YOU!")

Everybody else, let's look back at a slightly disreputable year...  but aren't they all?

This week, Blue Laws remembers that everything's a rerun the week after Christmas.

January 1, 2011