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The Art Of Nature.

Source: Astronomy Picture Of The Day. Hit the link for a more detailed description of what makes this particular sun pillar unusual.

“I also think it’s pointless for a human to paint scenes of nature when they could just go outside and stand in it.”–Ron Swanson

One of my lifelong obsessions is coming up with a simple, clear definition of “art”. And yet every time I think I have it nailed down something comes along and challenges some or all of whatever definition I’ve come up with. Something that’s made to last? Not necessarily. Dance is an art form and unless it’s captured on video—or maybe even if it’s captured on video—it’s fleeting. A shared experience? Again not necessarily. A well-crafted cocktail is an art form that might only be for one person—and again not meant to be lasting.

Source: Also APOD

The one thing that’s consistent, I guess, is that all art is something made by a person or persons. I once went to an exhibit where an artist had put some pieces of a tree that had been cut down around the floor of the gallery. He said he was trying to make a statement about how, contrary to the idea of art holding up a mirror to nature, nature itself—untouched—can be seen as art. Nice, I thought, but someone still cut the tree down, the artist selected pieces, and put them in a gallery which kind of undermined the point he was trying to make.

As for the point I’m trying to make the pictures I’m sharing here are from Astronomy Picture Of The Day. The first one captures a rare sun pillar, a phenomenon that happens when sunlight is refracted through hexagonal ice disks falling through the atmosphere. The others are light pillars that appear when a ground source of light is reflected by ice crystals in the atmosphere.

These aren’t made. They just happen. Several people might see them or they might happen when no one is around to see them. Although I guess it’s only when they’re seen that they could be defined as art.

It Could Happen.

Source: Sitcoms Online

Certain corners of the internet are exploding with the news that the new streaming service Blitz will launch with a reboot of the classic sitcom My Mother The Car. The show’s premise was typical of the ‘60’s, and perhaps even less ridiculous sounding now: attorney David Crabtree, played by Jerry Van Dyke, buys an antique car, specifically a 1926 Reichenbach, only to discover that it’s inhabited by the ghost of his deceased mother. She talks to him through the car’s radio and only he can hear her. She helps him through various difficulties with his wife and career as he evades the unscrupulous Captain Manzini, who’s determined to acquire the valuable antique car.

With its moody lighting, lack of a laughtrack, and muted performances My Mother The Car continues to be widely acclaimed as the worst sitcom of all time but still managed to develop a loyal cult following. It even spawned a series of comics published by DC with Crabtree and Mother becoming crime fighting quasi-superheroes.

Most attempts to bring back My Mother The Car since its 1966 cancellation have failed. Perhaps the most notable was Steven Spielberg’s 1986 big screen adaptation. Because of the film’s raunchy humor, including a subplot of Mother working for an escort service, it barely got by with a PG-13 rating and posters of Mother sporting an oversized cigar under her hood were quickly pulled from theater lobbies. Fans who continued to hold occasional “car-ventions” at Jerry Van Dyke’s Ice Cream Soda Shoppes around the country lamented the steady decline of their beloved franchise.

Then in 2018 interest was renewed with the cinematic release of the four and a half hour superhero epic Justice League: Quantum Fracture, which pulled together a vast range of DC characters, including David Crabtree and Mother. Although Jerry Van Dyke, who sadly passed away before the film’s release, was too ill to appear as himself he did record the dialogue and the onscreen David was played by a digitally enhanced Andy Serkis, who also provided Mother’s voice.  

The new series features a cast of largely unknown actors and, while the producers say they want to remain faithful to the original, will feature greater diversity and much less reliance on mother-in-law jokes. They also describe the new series as “a mashup of Herbie The Love Bug, Knight Rider, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Speed Racer, Wonderbug, The Magic School Bus, Speed Buggy, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”.

Environmental concerns will be addressed too. Reichenbachs of that era operated entirely on whale oil, an issue that will be dealt with both in the series itself and through the Blitz service’s new sponsored conservation program My Mother The Narwhal.

I’ve now watched the three screener episodes Blitz provided to critics, social media influencers, members of the official My Mother The Car Fan Club, and pretty much anyone who asked and I think it’s safe to say it will be universally acclaimed as not too bad.

What Goes Down.

Amalie Drive, Nashville. Source: Google Maps

There have been a few kids out sledding down our street which took me back to when I started seventh grade at a new school that was close enough that I could walk home from school. That’s how I found Amalie Drive, a steep hill that seemed perfect for sledding, even though, in late August at the start of the school year, any chance of sledding seemed a long way off. And I’d also outgrown sledding, which is how I know I won’t have a “Rosebud” moment on my deathbed. I might look back wistfully at something else but it won’t be a treasured sled that I left behind when I was whisked away and sent to a boarding school by a wealthy banker, mostly because I never had a treasured sled—I had one but would only get to use it once or maybe twice a year—and also I was never sent to a boarding school.

Amalie Drive may not look like much on Google Maps, although you can see there’s a red British phone booth on the corner that’s been there since phone booths actually had phones in them. It rises gently on one side and then has a drop on the other side that’s so long and so steep I thought it would be perfect for sledding. That’s what I thought one August afternoon as I was climbing Amalie Drive on my way home, and I focused on that rather than Kevin, a school bully who’d tormented me all through sixth grade, and who was coming up Amalie behind me, although he was far enough away that I don’t think he recognized me, or maybe he just didn’t think I was worth the effort of running a quarter of a mile uphill. After that I took a different route home, cutting through yards and woods, and it was not only more scenic but less of a climb and probably shorter than sticking to the road.

As perfect as Amalie would have been for sledding it had, for me, a downside that wasn’t so great. It was far enough away from my house that it wasn’t worth dragging a sled all the way there, especially since I’d also have to drag it back uphill. Besides my next door neighbor’s backyard was almost as good: just past his driveway it sloped downward all the way to my friend Tony’s house, so I could not only sled down to see him but get him to drag the sled back up the hill with me. The neighbor was Mr. Rick, a nice guy who didn’t mind kids playing in his yard as long as we didn’t bother the pot plants he grew on his deck. Then he was killed in an accident while flying his private plane and the house was sold to another guy, Mr. Howard. Mr. Howard didn’t want kids in his yard and sometimes came out and stood on his deck with a drink in his hand and told me I’d better stay away when I was in my own yard, and I wish he’d kept Mr. Rick’s pot plants because he could really use something to mellow him out, but that’s another story.

That winter there was a big snowstorm. Like I said I’d outgrown sledding by that time but apparently Kevin hadn’t. I’m not sure why he came around to my neighborhood—it was a pretty long walk for him even when he wasn’t carrying a sled, but maybe he’d heard about this perfect hill for sledding and decided to give it a try. I was shoveling snow off my driveway. He looked over at me but I was so bundled up I don’t think he recognized me, or maybe he was too interested in sledding to bother me. He perched the sled at the top of the hill and was about to get on it when Mr. Howard stepped out, drink in hand, and yelled, “Hey kid, get out of my yard!”

Kevin’s whole body jerked and he slipped and fell a little bit down the hill.

“Didn’t you hear me?” said Mr. Howard. “Get out of here before I get my gun!”

Kevin had looked like he was about to make a smartass remark but at that threat he picked up his sled and trudged as fast as he could through the snow and left.

I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow finding that funny.

Leaving A Mark.

Source: BBC

I used to think a work of art had to be made to be lasting to really qualify as a work of art. Isn’t the point of art, or at least one of them, to be around after the artist is gone? And if it’s not made to last it’s unlikely to reach a wide audience which, I thought, would also be one of the reasons for creating a work of art. Art is meant to express something universal and eternal so it should aspire to be both of those things.

And then I look at the snow art twelve people in Finland created and, well, how could that be anything but a work of art?

Sure, it’s not made to last, but that’s okay. That may even be part of the point: enjoy it while it’s here because tomorrow it’ll be gone, and that in itself is a universal message.

Source: BBC

And it is reaching a wide audience because it’s being shared through pictures. Also we’re talking about Finland which I’m pretty sure has snow on the ground ten months out of the year so it’s also a lasting work.

 

 

Shades Of Gray.

Chess is getting a bit of a resurgence right now thanks to the miniseries The Queen’s Gambit, and the original novel by Walter Tevis which had been out of print is also getting a bit of a resurgence, not to mention new editions. As a billiards fan I know that Tevis is also author of The Hustler and I wonder if there’s a chance for a comeback for eight-ball, although that could lead to trouble in River City, but that’s another story.

I tried chess but I don’t think I ever had the right mind for it. For a while we had a chess program on our home computer, and I quickly learned that playing chess against a computer was an exercise in futility. The game was advanced enough that it had levels of difficulty and the first level, the only one I could ever win, had a very simple strategy: bloodbath. The computer and I took turns taking out each other’s pieces until finally whichever one had the most left would pin the opposing king into a corner. It didn’t require thinking beyond more than a move or two ahead. Level 2 was real chess, serious chess and it was frustrating but also kind of fascinating to watch the computer develop a strategy and advance it relentlessly no matter what I did, and in the opening moves it would flash names on the screen like Alekhine’s Defense, The Venice Attack, The Corbomite Maneuver, The Hofstadter Insufficiency, or The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald.

Before that, when I was a kid, I also played chess, mostly because we had chess and checkers sets in our classrooms at school, and while I sucked at checkers the intricacies of chess somehow gave me enough of an advantage that I could beat most of my friends in a game of bloodbath–I got my kicks by going for a vein, Charlemagne. While it was a babysitter who taught me the basics of chess a lot of those games with my friends were prompted a book about chess that came into the school library when I was in fifth grade. It was a fun introduction to the rules and rhythms of the game but it was the illustrations that really got me. The pieces were drawn as individual people in elaborate faux-medieval costumes and weapons. The pawns were brawny guys with heavy clubs, the bishops wielded morning stars, which seemed out of character for priests but, hey, this was warfare. The rooks stood on top of wheeled towers, the queens looked haughty, and the kinds were, well, kind of dopey and scared.

The pictures inspired me to start writing a play about chess. And I’d just like to point out that this was years before Murray Head teamed up with ABBA, although my version wasn’t a musical. It didn’t have much of a plot either: it was just two aggressive kingdoms, Black and White, facing off against each other and making threats before the bloodbath finale that left all the players dead. I didn’t have an ending planned when I started and I realized as it went on I’d written myself into a corner; all I could come up with was an unstageable final scene of the players dumped into a box and the board folded up which, admittedly, ain’t a bad allegory for the Cold War.

For some reason that year I wrote a lot of plays in fifth grade. In addition to the chess play I wrote an adaptation of Alice In Wonderland and a weird one about a haunted pancake restaurant and an even weirder one about a warlock and his minions. None of them ever got performed, although I do wonder if my life would have taken a different direction if I’d ever gone to a school with anything resembling a theater department. Most of them were really too elaborate to be produced. The chess play’s ending was just part of the problem. It would have also required sixteen performers and in a class of twenty kids that wouldn’t leave much of an audience.

What I realized, too, was that what interested me about chess was never the game itself but the players. For all that it’s considered a game of cool logic and intellect chess players are serious, passionate. The fictional games in The Queen’s Gambit are a mere backdrop to the story of a young woman coming of age, and real games like Bobby Fischer versus Boris Spassky in 1972 played out a miniature version of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union while a very real bloodbath raged in Vietnam. The only difference is the real game never ends.    

Taking Calls.

Way back when I was still fairly fresh out of college and was still working at a new job a big snowstorm hit Nashville. It shut down most of the city but my wife and I had a Jeep with four-wheel drive and somehow we made it to work. In case it’s not already clear this was well before cell phones were common, and we hadn’t even gotten e-mail yet, although we did have an electronic interoffice messaging system that, whenever you sent someone a message, would cause everything on their screen to freeze, a brilliant design feature that was conceived by a guy who I’m pretty sure went on to create Windows Vista, but that’s another story. I was especially concerned about getting to work because I was still on probation and thought it might be a crime if I couldn’t do the time, although it turned out I was only one of three people who did make it in that day which I think earned me some bonus points.

I was working away steadily, or maybe steadily sweeping some mines, when the phone in my boss’s cubicle rang. At the time we had a simple phone system that allowed anyone in the office to pick up a call on anyone else’s phone simply by dialing *8, something we can’t do with our new advanced office phones that were designed by the same guy who was responsible for Windows Vista, so I answered. I could tell from the double ring that this was an outside call so I said the department name and added, “How may I help you?” There was a click and a dial tone. Then the phone in my boss’s assistant’s cubicle rang, again an outside call. I picked up again. Click and a dial tone again. Then another phone rang. And another. Every phone rang and each time I picked up and spoke, only to get a click and a dial tone. Finally my own phone rang and a voice I recognized as the head of another department snapped, “Is anyone working there?”

A lot of sarcastic answers, ranging from, “What am I, chopped liver?” to “No, I’m robbing the place and answered the phone just for fun,” to the really off the wall “Bula Vinaka, beachside!” came to mind but instead I just politely said that I was working and asked if I could do anything to help.

“Well everybody else better be in tomorrow!” yelled the department head who had no power over anyone in my office and who, I realized, must have been calling from home and was only calling in to be a jerk.

It’s funny to me to think about that now with Nashville is under a winter storm warning with a predicted two to six inches of snow, which could mean anything from nothing to a foot and a half, but it doesn’t matter if I can’t make it in. I’ve been working from home for eleven months now, and it’s amazing to think how much has changed. The building where I work is open now but the number of people who can come in is limited to three at a time, but, in a sense, we’re all still there. And that department head retired long ago but after that I’d sometimes hear a phone in an empty cubicle ring and I’d wonder who was calling. And I’d just let it go.

People of a certain age will remember this commercial that taught a generation how to say “Hello!” in Fijian.

Sweet To The Heart.

Source: Instagram

Almost every year in February somebody—maybe several somebodies—would bring a bunch of candy Sweethearts to the office. There’d be a bowl at the front desk near the door, and usually another one in the back by the photocopier, and maybe another in the kitchen. By the time Valentine’s Day had passed they’d be gone and it would mostly be my fault because I couldn’t pass by without grabbing a handful, and for some reason I may have had to make a lot more copies than usual from early to mid-February.  

I was worried a few years ago when Necco, the company that originally invented Sweethearts candies back in 1901, went bankrupt, probably because most of their candies are basically just sugary chalk, but I happen to like sugary chalk. I love the sugar rush I get from sitting at my desk eating a handful or two of Sweethearts, and while most of them are crunchy it’s fun to find that one that’s inexplicably soft and chewy.

Most of the messages baffle me, though, just like they did when I was a kid. I get the meanings. I’m just not sure how they’re meant to be used. If, by some chance, you find one that says exactly what you want to say to another person, what if they’re not around? And what kind of a romantic gesture is a tiny little candy anyway? Again, I like Sweetheart candies, but I think a big box of chocolate would be better for making a statement, as long as the person you’re wooing isn’t allergic to chocolate, and if they are I think a big box of Sweethearts is going to be full of mixed messages.

Source: Demilked.com

And then there are Tommy Siegel’s Candyhearts which crack me up and which I meant to talk about, especially since he has a whole book of ‘em, but I’m kind of hopped up on sugar right now.

Source: Demilked.com

Ten Things Only I Think Are Funny, With Unnecessary Explanations, Annotations, And Footnotes.

Source: fromoldbooks.org

I have a rare album: Rex Harrison[1] Sings Billy Idol[2].

Explanation: There’s at least one other person who finds this funny, although I texted this to him one night with no other explanation after I’d had a couple of beers and, since it was a Friday night, I’m sure he’d had a few too and at that point just about anything is funny, and I still kind of wonder why I didn’t say I had an album of Brian Blessed singing Cyndi Lauper which, let’s face it, would have been almost as funny.

Annotation: Rex Harrison was hopeless as a singer but regularly cast in musicals, most famously the 1967 film version of Doctor Dolittle. He developed a style of “speech singing”, essentially talking his way through songs. Billy Idol, on the other hand,  has both a broad vocal range and a much cooler haircut.

Medieval European polearms [3]

Explanation: This one is a you-had-to-be-there kind of joke although I bet there are a lot of historians who get why this is funny. There are literally dozens of different designs for what’s basically a blade and some pointy things on the end of a stick, each with their own specific name and it just makes me laugh to imagine a knight saying to his squire, “Hey, I asked for a bec de corbin and you brought me a ranseur!”

I put a quarter in a Wurlitzer[4] and pita bread stuffed with thin-sliced roasted and seasoned lamb[5] popped out.

Explanation: This came to me one night when I was on my way to get some Greek takeout food and I was kind of embarrassed because I couldn’t tell the guy behind the counter why I was laughing so hard without sounding like a lunatic.

Annotation: Foreigner’s album 4, first released in 1981, has proven to be one of their longest lasting, with the second track, an ode to a young boy who is unable to buy a concert ticket but, hearing a guitar, becomes a musician himself, is considered by critics to be the best song in their entire catalog.

Aardvarks[6].

Explanation: I was watching a nature documentary and an aardvark came on and started digging into a termite mound and I couldn’t stop laughing because I’d never realized before that they’re basically giant long-tailed pigs with bunny ears.

Annotation: Aardvarks share a common ancestor with elephants, manatees, and hyraxes, none of which any rational person finds funny.

Hansel and Gretel[7] kill their parents.

Explanation: This is a bit dark but my lifelong love of fairy tales has prompted me to write alternate versions of several, including Hansel and Gretel, and I think it would be weirdly funny is the kids figured out their parents were planning to abandon them and took matters into their own hands and maybe got adopted by the witch.

Cans of mixed nuts.

Explanation: It’s not so much the nuts as the conversations I imagine them having. Hazelnuts[8] would call each other “Phil” and “Bert”, pecans[9] would speak with a Southern accent, and Brazil nuts[10] would speak German.

Annotation: Most commercially available nut mixes also include peanuts, almonds, and cashews, none of which are funny.

Excel spreadsheets[11].

Explanation: Actually not funny at all, not even to me, and I think I’ve established that I’ve got a really weird sense of humor, but at this point I’m just trying to pad out the list.

Annotation: In high school I knew guys taking computer classes who’d get really excited about making spreadsheets. This was the ‘80’s and it just goes to show how much of a novelty computers were that something accounting-related could actually seem exciting.

Padding lists[12]

Explanation: It’s always funny to me when someone throws something weird and seemingly random into a list.

The word “swab”

Explanation: There are plenty of weird words that just sound funny to me but “swab” is my go-to when someone asks for an example. Maybe it’s because I think of pirates swabbing the decks but it could just as easily be because cotton swabs tickle the insides of my ears.

Annotation: The origins of the word “swab” date to at least the mid-17th century when it originally meant a mop made of rope yarn, ultimately derived from the Swedish “svabba”, meaning “a dirty person”, and why the Swedish needed a specific word for a dirty person is a mystery.

Ridiculously long titles.

Explanation: None needed.

Annotation: See above.

Footnotes follow.

1-An English stage and screen actor (b.1908-d.1990)

2-An English musician, singer, and songwriter (b.1955, d. probably several times because, you know, rock stars)

3-A weapon consisting of a blade attached to a long wooden staff

4-A brand name of jukebox.

5-A sandwich commonly known as a “gyro”, sold as Greek or Middle Eastern cuisine.

6-Scientific name Orycteropus afer, an insectivorous mammal whose range extends across much of Africa.

7-The child protagonists of a German fairy tale of medieval origin first published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812.

8-Nuts produced by the hazel tree (scientific name Corylus avellana), hazelnuts are also known as “filberts” and now we’re just over-explaining the joke.

9-Nuts produced by a subspecies of hickory (scientific name Carya illinoinensis)

10-Not technically a nut but rather a seed from a South American tree (scientific name Bertholletia excelsa)

11-A computer application used for storing, sorting, organizing, and analyzing data in the form of a table.

12-Made you look.

 

Bird Brains.

Several years ago I had a tank full of goldfish in my office at work, and because goldfish have almost no memory I had to hear them telling that “I have no idea how to drive this” joke about every three seconds. Supposedly watching fish in an aquarium can lower your blood pressure, and it was also nice to have something to look at because my office has no windows, although I was also reminded that the work that goes into maintaining an aquarium raises blood pressure. And it didn’t help when the filter stopped working one weekend when I was gone and when I came in on Monday I had more dead goldfish than a carnival ring toss game.

One of the nice things about working from home is I do have a window and for my birthday my wife got me a bird feeder because supposedly watching birds can also lower your blood pressure, and a bird feeder is a lot easier to maintain than an aquarium although I did feel my blood pressure going up a little when no birds came by for several days after I put it up and I thought, hey, what am I, chopped liver? And then I started wondering if I birds would come around if I put chopped liver in the feeder instead of safflower seed, but then a tufted titmouse came to the feeder—a bird I had to identify with my wife’s bird book because, with a few exceptions, I don’t know most birds from Shinola, even though Shinola doesn’t fly, but that’s another story. That also reminds me that my wife and I have a running debate about the birds we see flying around big parking lots. I think they’re seagulls because, well, they look and sound exactly like the seagulls I see at the beach. She says they’re just gulls because we’re nowhere near the sea, but I say we get a lot of tourists from Florida, and besides New Wave rock wouldn’t be nearly as exciting if we just ran away from a flock of gulls.

Here’s a completely gratuitous picture of a pair of great tits:

Source: World Bird Sanctuary

I’ve gotten to know other birds not just from their looks but their behavior. The tufted titmouse and chickadee will fly up to the feeder one at a time, grab a seed, and fly away. House finches will come to the feeder in pairs, usually a male and female, and they’ll sit on the feeder for a few minutes and eat several seeds, and then the female will yell, “YOU’VE HAD ENOUGH, LARRY, GO MINGLE!” and chase the male away. Then there’s the Carolina wren that gets down into the bird feeder and throw seed all around and looks at me and says, “Is this all ya got?” And even though it’s a small feeder I’ve had a female cardinal, and a red-bellied woodpecker who’s at least three times bigger than the other birds and hangs off the feeder looking for chopped liver.

I put safflower seed in the feeder because squirrels don’t like it but no one’s told the squirrels that and I’ve had two come around regularly. I haven’t got anything against the squirrels but it is a bird feeder and when they park their furry butts in it most birds stay away, although I have seen the Carolina wren dive at a squirrel yelling, “YOU’VE HAD ENOUGH, KEVIN, GO CLIMB A TREE!”

Eventually I’m going to have to go back to work and I’ll lose my window so I’ll have to find some other way to keep my blood pressure down. Maybe I’ll get another tank full of goldfish and teach them to drive it.  

What It Was Was Fantasy Football: 2021 Edition.

Source: qwantz.com. Awesome fun times!

Defending Team

Safety- Tyrann Mathieu

Safety- Daniel Sorensen

Cornerback- BoPete Keyes

Cornerback-Rashad Fenton

Outside Linebacker-Anthony Hitchens

Outside Linebacker-Darius Harris

Middle Linebacker- Lavonte David

End- Ndamukong Suh

End- Tanoh Kpassagnon

Tackle- Rakeem Nunez-Roches

Tackle- Donovan Smith

Wide Receiver-Mecole Hardman

Wide Receiver- Tyreek Hill

Tackle- Khalen Saunders

Tackle- Derrick Nnadi

Guard- Ali Marpet

Guard- Andrew Wylie

Center- Ryan Jensen

Tight End- Travis Kelce

Quarterback- Patrick Mahomes

Fullback- Damien Wilson

Halfback- Charvarius Ward

Receiving Team

Safety-Egg Shen

Safety-King Meshugah

Cornerback-Garet Jax

Cornerback-Dejah Thoris

Outside Linebacker-Thorin Oakenshield

Outside Linebacker-Yog Sothoth

Middle Linebacker-Sandman

End-Ningauble Of The Seven Eyes

End-Rincewind (filling in for Falkor, currently out with COVID-19)

Tackle-Sir Gawain

Tackle-Mongo

Wide Receiver-Namor Of Atlantis

Wide Receiver-Jareth (reserve for Baron Munchausen)

Tackle-Hellboy

Tackle-Xena, Warrior Princess

Guard-Anita Blake

Guard-The Red Queen

Center-Lessa/Ramoth

Tight End-Lord Voldemort

Quarterback- Schmendrick The Magician

 Fullback-Eeyore

Halfback-Rudy Ruettiger

 

 

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