2016 Jan-June

One Take on TV

Has TV made us lazy and stupid? That we’ve become a species of sedentary sloths listlessly goggling our TV screens at the expense of all else seems to be accepted as obviously true. Is it? This assumes two things: One, if there were no TV people would be doing something active; Two, before there was TV people were more active in their leisure hours.

What were people doing in their spare time that was all so very active before the gamma ray mesmerizer invaded our homes? For one, they listened to the radio. Unlike many folks today, they didn’t do this while jogging. Radios then were the size of a microwave tethered to the wall jam-packed with glowing hot vacuum tubes, so they listened nestled in comfy chairs and on couches. They also went to the movies which then, as now, involved a lot of good old sitting.

What did they do before radio and movies? Well, they read books and periodicals, wrote letters, knitted, did needlepoint, played piano, attended lectures and performances, collected stamps, whittled, chatted on the front porch or parlor, played checkers, chess, dominoes and cards, smoked, and drank a lot. Pretty much all sitting down. Chairs and lounging in them are hardly a new phenomenon. Besides, don’t they also say the pace of life in the olden days was slower?

Can you imagine cavemen after a day’s hunting and gathering doing sit-ups, pilates, or jazzercizing? The idea of running to go nowhere probably would smack your average caveman as the height of absurdity. Has TV really turned us into tube tubers, or simply given us something different to do in our off hours when we’d be loafing around anyway? I wonder.

Nobody really knows how active folks were in the past, but the English compared kids in rich schools with lots of extracurricular activity to kids in poor districts offering little. They found no difference in total activity, kids found things to do regardless of their environment. Maybe folks are as active or inactive as they want to be, whether there’s something on TV or not.

As for TV making us stupid, yes.

Filed 6/17/16

The Casual Sportsman

Hitting a Fastball Should Be Impossible

eagle

Your typical major league ballplayer has 20/12 vision. OK, what’s that 20/20 vision business mean anyway?, I hear myself asking. It means a person can see clearly something at twenty feet that is normally seen clearly at twenty feet. 20/12 means something at twenty feet is as seen as clearly as something at 12 feet. Big league hitters have the proverbial eagle eye.

Though an eagle is estimated to have 20/4 vision. Plus they have big-time magnification in their lenses, but we’re getting off track.

So, does 20/12 vision help hit a fastball? Maybe, maybe not. Some ballplayers wear contacts. Anyway, the amazing thing about hitting a 90+ mph fastball is the amount of time a batter has to see, decide, swing and make contact to drive the ball into fair territory. Actually, how little time they have, about the literal blink of an eye. Incredibly, major leaguers can often place their hits, which one guesses takes micro-second timing.

Hitting a Major League fastball should be physically impossible - a short video

Of course, scientists also used to say bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly. Now then, what’s the batting percentage of scientists?

Filed 5/16/16

Grow a Garden of Easy

greenthumb

In the garden do you have a green thumb or are you all thumbs? If you number among the latter here’s a few simple tricks on how do make your yard the envy of one and all.

Eight Ways to Turn Your Yard from Yuck to Yeah

  1. Rocks and boulders, the bigger the better, frame a yard with alternative texture. They never overgrow the space, need watering, mowing or trimming. Best of all, they never die.
  2. If your trees and bushes have overgrown the property, remember, fire is nature’s pruning shears.
  3. Think outside the box outside the house. Plastic flowers work just as well outdoors as indoors.
  4. Wildflowers add a splash of vibrant color to any yard. An inexpensive, hardy, easy-to-grow perennial with a vivid yellow flower is the dandelion. No seeds required, they plant themselves as if by magic.
  5. Seed packages show what a fully grown healthy specimen should look like. Forget the seeds, plant rows of packages and you’re done.
  6. If your soil refuses to yield anything green at all, plop a large piece of driftwood in the center and call it a Mohave desertscape. Add a cattle skull for a spot-on finishing touch.
  7. Extend your patio or deck to the property line and your mowing, fertilizing, pruning, watering, and weeding days are over. A basket­ball hoop at one end turns your yard into an outdoor gymnasium.
  8. Install a single row of cinder­blocks around your property’s perimeter. Fill with water and voila! A stately reflecting pool in summer, an ice rink in winter.

OK, with our advice you won’t have the best-looking property on the block, it’s not all bad. If you look a bit less well-off than your neighbors crooks are less likely to target your house as a potential bounty of valuables.

Filed 5/3/16

Frivia for Font Fanatics

helvetica

We revisit something mentioned recently here in the Shorts for no good reason other than we want to. While the typeface Helvetica is almost entirely without quirks, blond some would say, there is one letter that is more “designy” than what you might call the standard form. It’s the upper case R. Compare the various sans serif cap Rs above. Which is the odd man out?

For most the leg under the bowl is obviously angled and pretty much straight. The leg on the bottom right R is practically vertical and has a little curling, almost serif-like terminal. The last cap R is Helvetica.

Why the departure from the most basic form? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s explained in the movie, Helvetica. A film about a font. Eat your heart out, Frutiger. (Adrian Frutiger designed Univers, a very similar contemporary of Helvetica. Both font families were based on Akzidenz-Grotesk from 1898.)

Helvetica - the movie

There are many clones or imitators of Helvetica. Geneva, Swiss, Zurich, to name a few. Notice they all seem to reside in the Swiss Alps. The Swiss call the place Confœderatio Helvetica after all.

While most folks with a passing knowledge of typefaces know what a serif, ascender and descender are, they likely aren’t familiar with the terms for all the parts of letterforms. Like many specialities, type design has a jargon all its own. If you want to know all about that, try this link:

Anatomy of a Character

To be super font geeky, here’s a typeface that blurs the line between serif and sans-serif, Optima. The strokes are not straight, they’re all curved, flaring outward at the terminal which renders somewhat of a visual impression of a serif, but there really is no serif. See for yourself:

Optima

Filed 4/19/16

Why Johnny Can’t Spell

spellingbee

There are no spelling bees in Italy. Why? Spelling is no challenge in Italian because, unlike English, words are actually spelled how they sound and vice-versa. You don’t need to memorize spellings, you need only hear the word and you can spell it. A spelling bee in Rome would never end and everyone would win.

The French, on the other hand, seem to add pointless letters on the end of words as mere decorations. Water in French is eau, pronounced “oh.” You can see that at the end of Bordeaux. What’s the X tacked on the end for? Renault also ends with an “oh” sound. Why the LT on the end? Then there’s les, chalet, and allez, all ending in a “lay” sound. Is there any point to the S, T and Z? I guess they just make the words look more Francophied.

Meanwhile, English spelling is a hodgepodge of inconsistency. One problem is most spellings became set around the 15th and 16th centuries while the Great Vowel Shift, a major change in English vowel sounds, didn’t finish until 1700. For instance, Shakespeare would rhyme blood and moon in his dialog, which don’t rhyme now but did then. Had all the vowel sounds changed alike for words spelled alike, it might have worked out. Unfortunately, different words changed, well, differently. Hence, spelling bees.

Great Vowel Shift - Oxford English Dictionary

Of course, English is also full of adopted foreign words. Oh-oh, cultural expropriation. That’s bad. Or is it multicultural? That’s good. Oh well, all we know is the double-Os in good, blood and moon don’t rhyme.

Filed 4/15/16

Fresh Clichés by the Dozen

shakespeare

Alas, poor Yorick. Wherefore art thou Romeo. To be, or not to be. It’s easy to spot many a quote from old Willie Shakespeare. Other coinages have worked their way into the language to the point we aren’t aware they came from the Bard of Avon. All the same, who knows if he made them up or was simply glomming ye olde slang of the day?

William Shakespeare 400th anniversary: 60 everyday words and phrases you never knew came from the Bard

Filed 4/13/16

Suck.com Comics Spoof Redux Two

And now for something slightly different.

differences1

Find at least six differences in details between panels.

differences2

Mouseover for answers

Differences: 1. Woman is identical twin sister. 2. Man has whisky bottle in briefcase instead of papers. 3. Airplane is en route to Kennedy instead of LaGuardia. 4. Man is wearing Armani suit instead of Zenga. 5. Glass is half empty instead of half full. 6. Dog has been spayed.

Filed 4/12/16

Suck.com Comics Spoof Rerun One

I didn’t just draw cartoons for the old e-rag, I helped write content from time to time. Whether that actually helped is for the reader to decide.

differences1

Find at least six differences in details between panels.

differences1

Mouseover for answers

Differences: 1. Man’s shoes are different color. 2. Boy’s arm is reposi­tioned. 3. Woman’s bangs are longer. 4. Blossoms are different. 5. Grass is greener. 6. Boy is less worried.

One little update, that’s Bruce Jender, gold medal biathlete.

Filed 4/11/16

The Casual Sportsman

Rhymes with P and That Stands for Billiards

billiards

Billiards was first played with mallets instead of cues. It was sort-of like table croquet. The trouble with that was when the cue ball was frozen to the rail they couldn’t get the mallet head on it. In which case the shooter would poke it with the mallet’s handle end, called the queue in French. These days we dispense with the mallet head and use a long handle with a bit of leather on the end, which we call a cue.

Why is it called both billiards and pool? The billiards name came first. Pool comes from the venue where the tables started showing up for public use: betting parlors. You’re likely familiar with football pools or similar betting schemes. Pools are a common way to bet and old betting shops were called pool halls or pool parlors. These put in billiards tables for the betting clientele who started calling them pool tables. Eventually the game played on them became pool. Gambling and pool have gone together a long time.

After a time pool tables made their way out of stately homes and pool halls into middle class homes. Now, not everyone has a room big enough to accomodate a full-sized regulation billiards table. Or pool table. Same thing. There must be enough room around the table to swing a cue, after all. Well, not swing it, but when the cue ball is on the rail draw it back its full length, about four feet or so. Anyway, the point is folks often go for undersize tables.

One might think it’s easier to play on a smaller table, shots are shorter, right? Actually, in another respect it can be harder to play on a small table. Having less surface area there will be less space between object balls, which are still standard size. Cue ball control, maneuvering the cue ball around for your next shot, can be more difficult as a result.

There’s an 8-ball hustle that plays into that. The shark will offer to spot you five balls of their choosing after making their first ball. How it works, they remove balls of yours that are in the way making it easier for them to run the table. The sucker thinks they’re getting a break, but it’s the hustler who gets the advantage.

Our advice, don’t bet or play with hustlers whatever size table you’re on. You may still lose the rack, but not your shirt.

Filed 4/8/16

One Step beyond the Outer Limits of the Twilight Zone

fool

The above Suck.com illo rerun leads us into the topic du jour: the most dangerous day of the year, news and rumor-wise. April Fools Day. On this date in years gone by many people have been burned repeating nonsense written as spoofs as being true. Is it because people are gullible? Is it because authors don’t know how to write parodies that are, you know, actually funny? Or is it because real news and people have become so absurd a spoof seems all too real?

Have we finally breached the Parody Horizon? An imaginary boundary where satire can’t surpass actuality which is already absurd beyond belief, though people believe it anyway. A singularity of infinitely dense thinking, a comedic black hole where the line between sensible and ridiculous vanishes.

Can you say, modern art? How about negative interest rates? It seems April Fools Day never ends. Maybe Abe Lincoln was wrong. Maybe you can fool all of the people all of the time. Or at least enough of the people enough of the time to make a lot of money.

Filed 4/1/16

Bubble Cars Return (Sort-of)

bubblecar2

If bubble cars, a la the 1950s, are not poised for a big comeback, how about bubble motorcycles instead? Bubble cars must comply with the safety standards applied to all cars. That adds cost and weight reducing mileage. Which rather defeats the main reason to buy a bubble car, to be cheap to buy and operate. I mean, Bentley doesn’t make bubble cars, right?

Motorcycles, not being autos, don’t have to meet auto standards. So, they can be cheaper, lighter and more fuel efficient. Just what you want out of a bubble car. Having a high power to weight ratio makes them pretty peppy, to boot.

I don’t know about you, but if I were in the market for a new car I’d like to have something like the completely enclosed, three-wheeled bike from Elio Motors. Over 80 mpg for under ten grand. Beats the heck out of any overpriced electric or hybrid car in my book. Check it out:

Elio Motors

Or for the die-hard sentimentalist, the real thing:

BMW Isetta

Heinkel Kabine

Other Bubble Cars

Filed 3/28/16

Infrequently Answered Questions

Keyboards in China

mandarin

Q: How do the Chinese type Chinese characters on computers? Do they have giant keyboards with hundreds of characters or what?

A: It’s actually quite simple to type Chinese pictograms on a computer. Almost as easy as typing English words. In fact, pretty much the same, it’s done phonetically. For instance, the Chinese symbol for big is the character shown in the top toon, which in Mandarin is said, da. The Mandarin writer types “d-a-spacebar” and the computer renders that as the pictogram for da, big. Exactly how you’d type da in English, if da were an English word.

Some Chinese words can be said almost the same as another. For example, there’s dà, dá, and dǎ. If the wrong da character is rendered the typer hits spacebar again and the pictogram for another da appears. You hit spacebar as many times as needed to get to the correct symbol, which is rarely more than three or four.

This does mean the Chinese writer must learn two systems, Chinese pictograms and the phonetic Roman alphabet. On the other hand, a Chinese writer doesn’t have to bother with capitalization. Whether there is any punctuation in Chinese, I don’t know.

One slight misnomer about Chinese writing is that it expresses ideas or concepts rather than words. That’s not accurate, the concept/symbol is always a particular word. The characters are both ideas and words. Written English is composed of phonetic symbols for sounds that make words, which are ideas. In both written languages, you wind up with a words which are ideas which are words.

Source: Metatron

Filed 3/12/16

Ass Back and Forthward Sayings

backear asscar frontear asseyes

Click pic to replay animation

Why are some common English phrases mixed up, as it were? For instance, why do we say back and forth? You can’t go back before you’ve gone forth. Shouldn’t it be forth and back? After all, you don’t say I went back and there, you say I went there and back, right?

How about ass-backward? Isn’t the ass properly at the back and not forward? Wouldn’t ass-backward be the right way round? Who wants their ass in the front? Then we have half-assed and half-baked, which kinda mean similar things. I get half-baked, but why half-assed? Would fully-assed be better?

Next, though this is hardly original, why head over heels? Isn’t that the normal state of things? It’s heels over head that would put us upside down. Speaking of which, why isn’t the opposite of upside down downside down or upside up instead of right side up? Oh well. At least we have go up and down right. After all, what goes up must come down.

What about an open and shut case? Which is it, open or shut? How can it be both? OK, this one isn’t mixed up, it’s self contradictory. How about in and out? Can you… isn’t it… I guess there’s no problem with in and out. And on that note, I’m out.

Filed 3/9/16

We Are What We Eat, but What Are We Eating?

food

Some people like to say if your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, maybe it isn’t. How has what we eat changed since great grandma was slaving over a hot stove? Though, to see the total changes we need to go a bit further back than great grandma’s time, back to before the United States was born.

Top Ten Changes in the American Diet over the Last 250 Years

  1. Extracted vegetable oils from 0% to 7% of calories
  2. Twenty-fold increase in refined sugar
  3. More refined carbohydrates
  4. Fiber down by half
  5. Fruits and leafy vegetables eaten all year round instead of seasonally
  6. Pasteurized dairy products
  7. More lean muscle protein
  8. Less organ meats
  9. Less bone marrow
  10. Less saturated fat

Even the things that seem to be the same are different. Different hybrid strains of grains, different breeds of cattle and chicken, and less wild game.

If modern maladies like type 2 diabetes and heart disease are caused by modern diets, as many contend, why the obsession with saturated fat which has gone down? Meanwhile fiber has been cut 50%, refined sugar has increased 2,000% and extracted vegetable oils have increased… there is no percentage increase to calculate because it started at zero.

The dirty little secret about low-fat foods is what they do to make them palatable. Which is, they add sugar, usually corn syrup. One imagines any day now they’ll start putting “heart smart” labels on bags of sugar. Hey, it’s fat-free, right?

Filed 3/7/16

everyman

In the next exciting episode: Our hero bails-in the bank and to make up his loss, borrows the money back. Will Everyman survive Captain Keynes’ devious plot? Stay tuned!

Filed 3/2/16

Infrequently Answered Questions

OK Is Okay, All Right Already?

OK

Q: Should you write OK, okay, or what ?

A: Definitely not “what,” but either OK or okay is all right. Though neither is alright. That’s because alright, though widely used, is not quite accepted usage in written English. Now we have two things to follow up on.

OK versus okay is one of those things some folks like to argue over. Some like to think one or the other is correct, but most style manuals say both are good to go. What you don’t want to write is ok all lowercase. Most accept O.K. as well.

People also like to argue about where OK comes from. Some claim it comes from illiterates or jokes about illiterates spelling all correct as “oll korrect” or some such nonsense. There’s no evidence for this deriva­tion. A second hypothesis is it comes from Greek signal flags. The flag for “all’s well” is Ola Kala in Greek. Yet, OK is an Americanism, not a Greekism.

Then there’s the Old Kinderhook origin we won’t develop because it’s also unsupported by evidence. A more plausible theory is okay is an African Wolof word that entered the language during the slavery period. But then, why spell it with initials, OK? What’s the truth? I don’t know.

Alright is a one-word spelling of “all right” which has a number of meanings we won’t go into. Perhaps folks use alright because they figure it’s like already which seems to come from all ready. “Alright already, Keep your shirt on.” Anyway, that’s not right. All ready and already are both acceptable, but mean different things.

All ready means prepared. Already means pre­viously or so soon? For instance, “I’m all ready to go. I was already packed. Is the boat here already?”

OK, back to alright. The 60s tune The Kids Are Alright by The Who shows the informal alright is gaining traction. Still, the creators of the 2010 film of the same title couldn’t bring themselves to use the word. So the film was released as The Kids Are All Right.

Filed 2/23/16

Warm Puppies & Cool Cats

Do cats have Grinch-like five sizes too small hearts? Or is it that dogs are overdoing it? I mean, are people really all that lovable?

Proof your cat loves you FIVE times less than your dog: We know moggies are more aloof - but new scientific tests reveal the differences are greater than we think

Moggies? Apparently that’s what Brits call house cats. They also seem to go in for long headlines. And don’t skimp on the URLs, either. Speaking of Englishmen speaking of cats and dogs, we have the following quote from Winston Churchill:

“I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”

Filed 2/22/16

The Lone Eagle Takes on the Japanese Empire

Lindberg

The most famous American flyer to shoot down an enemy aircraft in WWII was not an ace. He wasn’t even in the military. Not Claire Chenault of the Flying Tigers nor any of his pilots. It was Charles Lindbergh. That’s right, Lucky Lindy.

On a tour of U.S. Army Air Corps bases in southeast Asia in 1944, Lindbergh offered advice on how pilots could decrease fuel usage and increase the range of the gas-guzzling P-38 Lightning. After all, he knew a thing or two about squeezing every last drop of fuel for long distance flying. Air crews were skeptical so Lindbergh offered to accompany sorties flying a P-38 himself using his techniques.

The Lone Eagle flew 50 combat missions and shot down one Japanese plane, a Mitsubishi Ki-51 “Sonia.” When news of this hit the newswires Washington was none too pleased that such a prominent world celebrity, and a civilian, was going in harm’s way and so Lindbergh’s fighting career was ended soon after. By following his methods the P-38’s range was almost doubled which had a greater effect than his combat flying ever could.

28 July 1944, Civilian Charles Lindbergh Gets into Air Combat

Filed 2/15/16

Unreal Reality TV

Some reality TV shows that aren’t a reality:

Hell’s Kitten  Henpecked husbands try their feeble best to maintain a shred of manhood. Hosted by Gorgon Ramsey.

This Old Souse  Quartet of plaid-clad New Englanders rehabilitate upper-class winos and posh drunks even if it means scooping out the innards and replacing vital organs in toto. Runs twelve weeks, one step per episode.

The Amazing Rat Race  Teams compete for eight hours daily running a cubicle maze, looking busy, and hiding from supervisors. Prize for the winners: they get to do it all again tomorrow.

Survivor: Jeckyl Island  Two tribes, Harvard and Yale, compete to see who can distort markets the most and blame capitalism when it crashes to earth. How big can too big to fail get before it’s the biggest and failiest ever? Stay tuned.

Beer Factor  Contestants vie to see how many beers it will take to get them to do really stupid and dangerous things: dance on tables, pick a fight with a biker, eat a bar egg pickled in 1954. The ultimate challenge: drive home.

Who Wants to be a Nonprofit Millionaire?  Charity organizers compete by raising awareness and donations for a cause du jour while pocketing the most in executive pay and advisory fees. Unlike similar shows, because it’s in the name of a worthy cause, no questions asked.

Extreme Do-over: Home Edition  Contractors with sense and a modicum of taste correct the over-the-top, “I’ve got a theme” home “improvements” perpetrated on the beneficiaries of Ty Peddington’s maniacal makeovers.

Bigger Brother  Everyday activities observed and recorded at work and home round the clock by government agencies. Starring, well, everybody these days.

Filed 2/11/16

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, I-Yie-Yie

shark

Above is an old spot I did for Fortean Times about someone in Australia finding a shark in a golf course sand trap. Rather lends a new meaning to hazard, eh? Still, while your average Aussie needn’t fear sand sharks as a rule, the Land Down Under is full of some of the most dangerous critters you’ll find, though one imagines you’d just as soon rather not find them. Or have them find you.

Australia's dangerous animals:
the top 30

Filed 2/10/16

All About And and & and &c.

type1

In ye olden days, before 1950, there was no separate typewriter key for an exclamation point, called a slam in publishing jargon. (Perhaps people were less excitable then and so didn’t need it so often.) On the earliest type­writers an exclamation point was a three step operation: period, back­space, apostrophe. Or you could type the apostrophe first, either way it was three steps.

Nowadays we set off paragraphs with extra leading, a return, and/or indenting. In days gone by, as in before movable type when books were written with quill pens by scribes in candle-lit carrels (the original cubicle), they used that paragraph symbol. You know, the thingy that shows up when you show text invisibles: They stuck in this pilcrow, that’s what it’s called, wherever needed in the middle of a line, no return. Which they mightn’t have called a return because I think that’s a typewriter term, as in carriage return.

One guesses to most an ampersand is shorthand for ‘and’ and nothing more. You don’t see it much anymore, but it was used for et cetera, as &c. Then again, et cetera means ‘and so on.’ (Latin: et, and + ceteras, the rest) So etc. is ‘and’ in a way. In some type faces the & doesn’t look like a back­ward script S, which I think is it what it came from, but more resembles a ligature of Et which makes &c look like Etc.

To the Screen Writers Guild there’s a difference between ‘and’ and ‘&’ in film credits. ‘And’ is used when writers worked separately on a script, while ‘&’ means writers collaborated on it.

Filed 2/9/16

Death Be Not Proud, It Be Mortifyin’

mortify (môr′ tə fī) verb. 1. Cause (someone) to feel embarrassed, ashamed, or humiliated. 2. Subdue (the body or its needs and desires) by self-denial or discipline. 3. Archaic, (of flesh) be affected by gangrene or necrosis.

Derivation: from late Middle English (in the senses ‘put to death,’ ‘deaden,’ and ‘subdue by self-denial’); from Old French mortifier, from ecclesiastical Latin mortificare ‘kill, subdue,’ from mors, mort- ‘death.’

So, death-ify to mortify. As in embarrassed to death, humiliated to no end, ashamed as hell. Or in the toon, mortified to death to no end in Hell with a capital H, which rhymes with… uh… does H rhyme with anything? Never mind. To return to the word under scrutiny, when you know the derivation you’ll see that old bit of art from the Suck archives fits to a nicety.

Filed 1/30/16

Words That Mean the Opposite of Themselves

contronym

contronym (kŏn′ trə nĭm) noun. A word with two opposite meanings.

A contronym is an antonym of itself, as for instance cleave (divide) and cleave (adhere) or left (went) and left (remaining). Left seems some kind of Schrödinger’s word conveying both being there and not being there. Then you can cleave a chicken into left and right, eat the left and have the right left, right? One imagines contronyms are words someone of George Carlin’s bent would have plenty of fun with. (Probably better fun than we’ve been having with them.)

Then we have the contronyms: trim, oversight, sanction… Rather than my retreading the wheel, I’ll just redirect you to the source:

25 Words That Are Their Own Opposites

Filed 1/20/16

There’s More than Gold in Them Thar Teeth –Battlefield Scavanging

dentist

Body snatching, grave robbing, and battlefield scavenging are, most would agree, pretty unsavory occupations, if they can be called occupations. Talk about filthy lucre and adding insult to injury. The cold-blooded might call them victimless crimes, at least the primary victims won’t be any the worse for wear, the worst has already happened and it can’t get worse than worst.

All the same, there was another side to these dark practices besides robbing the dead; not quite organ harvesting, but something like it. You might call it medical gleaning, a euphemism which looks better on a business card than, say, corpse monger. Back in the day before organ and tissue transplanting were developed, surgery pretty much entailed removing and lopping rather than inserting and attaching. Dead human internal organs aren’t much use to anyone other than medical students to study, and maybe cannibals.

The first type of insertion of bits from other people, beginning in the 18th century, was not swapping out vital organs, but implanting teeth. For the well-healed there were live teeth yanked from jaws of willing donors. The thrifty made do with dead teeth from “donors” who didn’t have much say in the matter, but at least weren’t bothered by the lack of anesthetics in those days. Though the donee might have gotten more than he bargained for if, as was sometimes the case, the donor had syphilis.

What the medical gleaners really needed was a supply of healthy young corpses, if dead can be called healthy. The Battle of Waterloo provided a windfall of 51,000 possible donors and a cache of so-called “Waterloo teeth” was made available as war scavengers following the Napoleonic armies made the rounds with sackfuls of teeth they sold to dentists and surgeons around Europe. According to one practitioner of battlefield post-mortem dentistry, “It is the constant practice to take the teeth out first …because if the body be lost, the teeth are saved.”

Nowadays we’re much too civilized to traffic in slightly used human body parts… oh, scratch that.

Filed 1/18/16

One Fine Day in the Classroom…

physgag physbal1 physbal2

Above is interactive joke number two. Click on the pic and they talk.

I’ve heard that in the first year of medical school they tell students, “Half of what you will learn is either wrong or will be useless within ten years of graduation. The problem is, we don’t know which half.”

Which makes me wonder, what about all the other fields of study? Or is now the one time in history where we have the right answers for nearly everything? Other than for medicine, that is.

Filed 1/15/16

The Previous End of the World

teotwawki

A whole lot of pretty bizarre stuff happened in the fourteenth century. Folks didn’t understand it then, we don’t truly understand it now. The once accepted plague from black rats is largely discounted these days. Here’s an alternative hypothesis to entertain, it came from space. Is that possible? I have no way of knowing.

One thing I do know, I was able to repurpose an old Suck art spot. What do you know, the lazy plan works.

The Hundred Years War, the Fires of Tamatea and 1348 AD

Filed 1/12/16

Je Ne Sais Quoi

swashbuckler

If I said “swashbuckler” you’d likely as not conger up images of those dashing French swordsmen, the Three Musketeers. Though why musketeers are renowned for prowess with the blade and not musketry is another question. Still, in every Hollywood extravaganza featuring the trio none have ever buckled a swash or swashed a buckle. Where did the term come from, anyway? I hear myself ask.

The buckler bit has nothing to do with our swaggering heroes being festooned with buckles on fancy belts, tall boots, jaunty plumed hats or what­ever. The first part of the word refers to pretty much what you might expect, a sound effect; as in swish, swoosh, swash. Like the sound of a metal disc swung through the air. Which is what a buckler was; a small, round, metal dueling shield popular in the 1500s. A sort-of steel, self-defense Frisbee.

So a swashbuckler was someone who wielded a buckler, with some panache we assume. Though panache more aptly applies to their rakish hats. Panache, as a noun, is a plume of feathers.

A buckler, like many shields, had a single central handle with a round protuberance covering the hand. This bulge was called a boss. Thus, such a shield with this raised surface bump was… embossed. If you’re not sure what a buckler is or how it was used, check out the video:

A Discussion on Swords, Bucklers and Shields in Historical Fencing

Filed 1/7/16

Why Not Start the New Year with an Old Book?

makeape

“He looked as if Nature had intended to make an ape, but at the last minute changed its mind.”

The above being Bertie Wooster’s description of Roderick Spode from one of the Wooster and Jeeves stories penned by the inimitable, hilarious P.G. Wodehouse. The joy of these tales is not merely the absurd vicissitudes inflicted on the oblivious Bertie and the clever way the ultimate English gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves, saves his British bacon. No, indeed. The proceedings are narrated in goofball Bertie’s upperclass nitwit fashion, which is half the fun. An example from Very Good, Jeeves:

Baring a dentist’s waiting-room, which it rather resembles, there isn’t anything that quells the spirit much more than one of these suburban par­lours. They are extremely apt to have stuffed birds in glass cases standing about on small tables, and if there is one thing which gives the man of sensibility that sinking feeling it is the cold, accusing eye of a ptarmigan or whatever it may be that has had its interior organs removed and sawdust substituted.

Another excerpt from The Code of the Woosters:

I can well imagine that the casual observer, if I had confided to him my qualms at the idea of being married to this girl, would have raised his eye­brows and been at a loss to under­stand. ‘Bertie.’ he would probably have said, ‘you don’t know what’s good for you,’ adding, possibly, that he wished he had half my complaint. For Madeline Basset was undeniably of attractive exterior – slim, svelte, if that’s the word, and bountifully equipped with golden hair and all the fixings.

But where the casual observer would have been making his bloomer was in overlooking that squashy soupiness of hers, that subtle air she had of being on the point of talking baby-talk. It was that that froze the blood.

With winter well and truly here you couldn’t do better than curling up with a good Bertie and Jeeves book and taking a delightful romp in the long-passed, funnier world, that never really existed, of the British upper crust at play. You can read one book online for free:

Right Ho, Jeeves

Filed 1/2/16

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