I used to have a spectacular memory. I remembered everything: lists, conversations, details, names, embarrassing stories.

But now I am getting old, and my memory is getting all Swiss-cheese. Proper nouns are the first things that seem to be getting jettisoned. I can’t remember the name of the eldest son of Pandu in the Mahabharata. I can’t remember the name of the character who begins “Anna Karenina” with his very entertaining dream of “tables who are women.” I can’t remember the name of the actress who played Katniss in “The Hunger Games”!

So I am trying to rely on mnemonics, for what little good it will do me.

One is “the house.” Picture the floorplan of the house you grew up in. Now: walk around the house, in your mind. Put something you want to remember in each room. If you go back later (in your mind), you’ll find those things there.

This works pretty well for me (when I remember to do it). My childhood house had a long hallway, with rooms on either side, and I put things in the beds, and in the toilet, and on the sofa in the living room.

Also there’s the Peg Bracken method: flagpole, underwear, tricycle, pig.

A flagpole is vertical, like the number one. Underwear come in pairs, like the number two. Tricycles have three wheels. Pigs have four legs.

So let’s say you want to buy butter, and yogurt, and flour, and ground beef.

The flagpole is flying a flag made of butter. The underwear has a big picture of yogurt on it. There’s a big bag of flour on the tricycle. The pig is eating a big trough full of ground beef.

I’ll stick with the “house” method, thanks.



I was waiting for the University shuttle the other day, and it was snowing very lightly. The temperature was probably twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

And the snowflakes were perfect.

I watched them as they landed on my jacket, one by one. Each was a six-pointed miracle, and all of them were different.

Did you know that you can actually preserve snowflakes? You can use something called Formvar, or even clear acrylic spray paint. If you do it right, you will have perfect little gems that will last forever.

(I first read about this in a children’s magazine in the 1960s. I have always wanted to try it. But I know in my heart that never in a billion years would I ever get something like that to work.)

It’s nice, in any case, to think of nature’s infinite variety: that every snowflake is different from every other snowflake.

Except – surprise! – it’s not true.




The short answer is no. Despite what you may have heard some snowflakes are exactly the same shape and size as other snowflakes.

Of course they are.

Linus and Lucy knew this as long ago as 1963:






News is news

news is news

Recently I wrote about young George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” and his (evident) impression that two men kissing was newsworthy.

Well, it got me thinking. What do we mean – what do I mean – by “newsworthy”?

There’s an excellent show on Sunday mornings called “Reliable Sources,” hosted by Howard Kurtz, which tries to answer that question. It examines the news of the week – not for itself, but for the way it’s been covered. It asks: are we getting the news correctly? And, just as importantly: Are we getting the right news?

This last Sunday, Kurtz and his guests examined the relative importance of this week’s big stories: President Obama’s State of the Union address, the crazy California policeman who killed people and then got killed himself, Marco Rubio’s drink of water, and the Carnival cruise that stalled in the Caribbean.

Obviously the State of the Union was the most important story of the four: it will have the most lasting implications, over the coming months. But the networks were apparently thinking about split-screening it with the Jonathan Dorner siege, if it came to it.

Well, wasn’t the Dorner story news? Yes, in a way. It was certainly important to Californians, as it impacted their own safety. It also reflected on the inner workings of the police force, and how they react to attacks on their own. But it wasn’t as weighty a story as the State of the Union. And the standoff at the mountain cabin was pure theatrics. And – imagine – the networks thought about split-screening it with the State of the Union!

The Marco Rubio story was purely fluff, naturally. However: like Dan Quayle misspelling “potato,” and like Howard Dean’s unfortunately Muppetish scream in 2004, it showed him to be maybe less than Presidential timber. So it was probably half a story, at most.

The Carnival cruise? One “Reliable Sources” guest quoted statistics on the number of Americans who take cruises, and it’s a significant number. And Carnival is based in Panama, and sails under Bahamian flags, and has offices in Miami. This raises serious questions about management and organization. How many times over the past few years have Carnival cruises come to grief? Several, including (most tragically) the Costa Concordia in Italy. This is a real story. (But it’s a story about a mismanaged corporation. It’s not a story about how badly the passengers suffered. They ate a lot of vegetable sandwiches, and used smelly toilets for a couple of days. They weren’t transported forcibly to Somalia.)

I love “Reliable Sources.” It grounds me. It reminds me of a passage from the Analects of Confucius (chapter seven, verse 21): “The Master did not speak of anomalies, feats of strength, rebellions, or divinities.”



In other words: flashy stuff is fun, but it’s not really worth your serious attention.

So how ‘bout them Kardashians?

The deaccession of the old Confederacy

deaccession confederacy

I have been listening with growing despondency to the various gun nuts who have been defending (in the face of the Newtown catastrophe) their right to own guns.

Get it? Their right to own killing machines overrides any other rights. It’s in the Constitution!



(Just like slavery.)

There was one especially virulent nut on “Hardball” not long ago who threatened, in veiled terms, that he and his fruitcake army might rise up against the government if any further attempt toward gun control were made.

I am feeling more and more these days that I have very little in common with certain of my fellow Americans. The whole blue states / red states thing is getting to be less of an Election Night truism and more of a reality.

There’s this thing that libraries and art galleries do, called “deaccessioning.” This means getting rid of something that you’ve acquired along the way. Maybe it’s extra. Maybe it’s out-of-date, or has been ruined in some way.

It occurs to me that, in light of all the secessionist talk after the past election, we might talk about deaccession instead.

Let’s just give it away.

Let’s give the crazy people the remnants of Dixie, and maybe a chunk of the Plains, per this map of illiteracy:


I could have used lots of other maps: obesity, educational level, etc. But illiteracy seems appropriate.

(California shows up on this map, because of its immigrant population. California can go its own way, though we in the Original USA would like it to stay. They can make up their own minds. I have a feeling they’ll stick around and not go over to the Neanderthals.)

Maybe the Deaccessioned Former States of America will be smart and unite, as in the CSA days. But even if they do I doubt that they’ll stay together. Once the secessionist principle has been put into practice, they’ll use it to secede from one another, region by region: King Huckabee of the Christian Republic of Arkansas can secede from President Perry of the People’s Damned Right State of Texas, and the Gulf states can form their very own banana republic, the Free Caribbean States of No Health Care and No Human Rights.

Naturally they won’t have any kind of government-funded education. How ridiculous! Or income tax. Or gun control. They can legislate all of the race-specific bills they like; they don’t even have to pussyfoot about “voter fraud” anymore. They won’t have to let Hispanics or blacks vote at all, if they like!

They’ll have some resources, to be sure, mostly the Texas oil basins. If Texas goes its own way (which it most probably would), this will do the rest of Dixie little good, as King Cotton no longer rules the world.

And what would Texas be? An oil republic, like Venezuela. Neato! Do you think Texas will join OPEC?

Why wait for secession?

Let’s go for deaccession.

For Sunday: Edward Abbey’s recipe for Hardcase Survival Pinto Bean Sludge


I have not posted a recipe for yonks.  This is because I haven’t found or cooked anything really new or interesting.

This recipe (which is from the fabulous website Letters of Note) is a little exceptional. It answers the question: What does a penniless curmudgeon loner poet cook for himself while living in the American Southwest?

I’ve never prepared this recipe. It sort of fascinates me, however, and I think I may someday make a scaled-down version of it, minus the tennis shoes and saddle blankets.

1. Take one fifty-pound sack Colorado pinto beans. Remove stones, cockleburs, horseshit, ants, lizards, etc. Wash in clear cold crick water. Soak for twenty-four hours in iron kettle or earthenware cooking pot. (DO NOT USE TEFLON, ALUMINUM OR PYREX CONTAINER. THIS WARNING CANNOT BE OVERSTRESSED.)


2. Place kettle or pot with entire fifty lbs. of pinto beans on low fire and simmer for twenty-four hours. (DO NOT POUR OFF WATER IN WHICH BEANS HAVE BEEN IMMERSED. THIS IS IMPORTANT.) Fire must be of juniper, pinyon pine, mesquite or ironwood; other fuels tend to modify the subtle flavor and delicate aroma of Pinto Bean Sludge.






5. After simmering on low fire for twenty-four hours, add one gallon green chile peppers. Stir vigorously. Add one quart natural (non-iodized) pure sea salt. Add black pepper. Stir some more and throw in additional flavoring materials, as desired, such as old bacon rinds, corncobs, salt pork, hog jowls, kidney stones, ham hocks, sowbelly, saddle blankets, jungle boots, worn-out tennis shoes, cinch straps, whatnot, use your own judgment. Simmer an additional twenty-four hours.


6. Now ladle as many servings as desired from pot but do not remove pot from fire. Allow to simmer continuously for hours, days or weeks if necessary, until all contents have been thoroughly consumed. Continue to stir vigorously, whenever in vicinity or whenever you think of it.


7. Serve Pinto Bean Sludge on large flat stones or on any convenient fairly level surface. Garnish liberally with parsley flakes. Slather generously with raw ketchup. Sprinkle with endive, anchovy crumbs and boiled cruets and eat hearty.


8. One potful Pinto Bean Sludge, as above specified, will feed one poet for two full weeks at a cost of about $11.45 at current prices. Annual costs less than $300.


9. The philosopher Pythagoras found flatulence incompatible with meditation and therefore urged his followers not to eat beans. I have found, however, that custom and thorough cooking will alleviate this problem.

George Stephanopoulos, Ewan McGregor, journalism, and casual homophobia


I hate to sound like an old man, but here goes: journalism was better in the 1960s when I was young.

There are a few good and reputable newscasters on TV. I especially like Brian Williams and Scott Pelley: they are mostly impartial, and they manage to relay the news without noticeable bias. (Also they are both pretty cute.)

Then there are the rest. I won’t even try to list them. You know the ones: the ones who confuse opinion and fluff with news.

Here’s one who caught me by surprise: George Stephanopoulos of “Good Morning America.” He wasn’t really a journalist to begin with; he was one of Clinton’s guys, who resigned after four years because the stress became too much for him. He wrote a book. He turned into a pundit. And now he’s on the morning news.

I recently saw this wonderful clip – from 2010 – online. It’s only thirty seconds long. Enjoy it, and then rejoin me, please:

George really wants this to be an issue. Ewan calls him out.

Makes you see Georgie in a different light, doesn’t it?

I used to hate just the right-oriented journalists. Now I find that I hate most journalists.

Please, people. Kardashians are not news. Men kissing are not news.

News is news.

Ponder on that awhile, and then let’s try to get on with our lives.

Another asteroid near-miss: Devo sings “Space Junk”

asteroid near miss

Today, February 15, another asteroid – 2012 DA14 – such an unattractive name! – will graze the earth. It will come within 17,200 miles of the earth’s surface, in fact – closer than some of our own communications satellites.

How do we let these things happen?

Oh, that’s right, we have no say in the matter one way or the other.

These things have been whizzing past us for eons. Some of them hit the earth, and then it’s an “Oh my goodness!” moment. (Check this link for what happened in Siberia about a hundred years ago.) And, if they’re a bit larger, you get something like an extinction event, as happened 60 million years ago near the Yucatan.

Today, however, we can give 2012 DA14 a wave and a smile.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, from almost forty years ago: Devo’s brilliant song “Space Junk.” I posted this song back in 2011, but who cares? It’s still a classic.

She was walking all alone
Down the street in the alley
Her name was Sally
She never saw it hit
She was hit by space junk

In New York Miami Beach
Heavy metal fell in Cuba
Angola Saudi Arabia
On Christmas Eve said Norad
A Soviet Sputnik hit Africa
India Venezuela

Texas Kansas
It’s falling fast in Peru too
It keeps coming
And now I’m mad about space junk
I’m all burned up about space junk
Oh walk and talk about space junk
It smashed my baby’s head
And now my Sally’s dead

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