Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts

16 February 2020

All in the Fingertips


bad girl
Did you ever wish you could peer into the past? In a way, anyone with a smartphone can, especially bad guys. With the help of technology, they can apply a trick to steal codes from digital locks, safes, secured buildings, even your ATM and credit card PIN numbers.

FLIR Systems specializes in infrared technology. They sell thermal cameras, attachments for iPhones and more recently for Androids, gadgets that gaze into the past. When it comes to PIN codes, this accessory can tell what keys were last touched. They accomplish it by sensing residual heat from your fingertips.

The Polite Lady

At the ATM, the woman rummaging in her purse waves you to go ahead. Twenty minutes earlier, her boyfriend had hot glued a fake card reader over the real one, Chinese made to blend with the original.

The lady finds her iPhone and politely waits while you complete your transaction. You step away, nodding to the nice person. She steps forward to attend to her business… reading your keystrokes with her smartphone.

How? A simple filter records the presence of your fingertips from the first, the coolest, to the hottest, the last digit you entered. Can you guess this all-too-common PIN number?

10-key pad with telltale reddish heat signatures
keypad with telltale heat signatures

If you said, “What ninny uses 1-2-3-4-5 for a PIN?” you’re right. The answer to that question is about 10-12% of the population.

The Smart Lady

Like most people, I normally work a 10-key device with three fingers like an accountant. With PIN code theft on the rise, I’d adopted the practice of pressing keys with my fingers out of order. It probably looks awkward to an observer, but I might press a key in the left column with my middle finger, and a key on the right with my index finger. Clumsy but hopefully confusing to unwanted eyes. I’m also not afraid to cup my hand around the keyboard if it doesn’t have a cowl. None of those actions solves this new personal identity attack.

So I mention to my girlfriend I’m writing an article on the topic. I barely get the question on my lips before Haboob says, “Now you have to touch other keys to fool the camera.” Did I hint she’s pretty damn smart?

And yes, either let your fingertips pause on unused keys or touch other keys once you’ve pressed Enter and finished the transaction. And don’t start your PIN number with a 1. Or a 0. Just don’t do it. Bad guys love suckers who use dates for PINs or lazily use 1234… etc.

Natually, this makes fodder for fiction. It’s all in the fingers. Here’s a video with more detail, 3¾-minutes, geeky but worth it.

02 February 2020

When Opposites Repel


Leigh Lundin
Contronyms

Recently, we brought you an outrageous example of those Brexit colonialists claiming North Americans misuse ‘nonplussed’ to mean ‘unperturbed’ rather than ‘confused surprise’. Hmmph.

Thus nonplussed, I brought in the legendary James Lincoln Warren to sort out the word ‘belie’ in the same article. Today, we hope to render you further nonplussed with a list of forty dastardly contronyms, words with opposite meanings. Let’s have at it.

The ⇆ Glossary

belie
The subject gives lie to the object; the object gives lie to the subject.
bill
Having money (currency); owing money or seeking money owed.
bolt
To flee; to hold together.
bound
Head toward a destination, restrained from heading anywhere.
buckle
To fasten or join together; to collapse under pressure.
citation
Praising an act; issuing summons for an illegal act.
cleave
To adhere together; to split apart.
clip
To fasten together with a paperclip; to detach with shears.
consult
To seek advice; to give advice.
custom
A common practice; a unique bespoke item.
dust
To apply a fine power; to remove fine powder.
either
One or the other; both (original meaning; i.e, surrounded on either side).
enjoin
To order someone to act; to prohibit someone from acting.
fast
Firmly fixed, unmovable; unattached and able to move quickly.
finished
Completed; wrecked, destroyed.
garnish
To add or enhance (foods); to seize or withhold (wages).
handicap
An advantage to equalize (golf); disadvantage rendering equality difficult.
lease
To rent property; to offer property for rent.
leave
To remove oneself from a location; to be left behind in a location.
left
Departed; remained behind.
literally
Precisely and concretely; figuratively (through misuse).
model
Original upon which others are based; a copy.
off
Not operating (i.e, lights went off); operating (alarm went off).
original
A fresh idea; an old notion.
out
Visible (stars are out); invisible (lights are out).
Lookout Mountain, Tennessee
Overseeing Lookout Mountain
© courtesy Town of
Lookout Mountain, Tennessee
overlook
See to; fail to see.
refrain
To repeat an action; to not perform an action at all.
peruse
To skim; to read carefully (original meaning).
ravel
To separate; to become entangled.
rent
To lease; to offer property for lease.
sanction
To approve an act; to punish an act.
screen
To hide, obscure; to show (a film).
seed
To add seed (to a lawn); to remove seed (from a melon).
strike
To hit; to not hit (a baseball).
transparent
Invisible; obvious.
trim
To add (decorations). to remove (hair).
variety
A particular type; many types.
wear
To endure; to deteriorate.
weather
To withstand or endure; to be worn away.
Note: I have not included word combinations and phrases such as ‘back up’, ‘hold up’, ‘go off’, ‘out of’, ‘throw out’, and ‘wound up’ that can imply their own opposites.

Confused? My job’s complete. Can you think of others?

19 January 2020

WalMart da Bomb!


Florida woman– yes, there is such a meme– almost set off a bomb in a Tampa WalMart. Of paramount concern, as evidenced by multiple headlines, she hadn’t paid for the goods used to MacGyver the bomb.

Details remain sketchy, but the incident might have come about something like the following
Walmart logo

Bang!

Emma’s day started with an explosion, not the good kind. She stared at her sad Toyota, its left front WalMart-brand tire blown out. Further under the car, a pool of Great Value oil gathered.

She slammed the car door. Signs out front advertised Great Value powdered peanut butter and Moochie the Slacker Sloth, endorsed by author Eve Fisher. Emma grabbed a shopping cart and ignored the WalMart greeter.

She whipped past Quest Diagnostics who’d collected blood and urine samples. Either they or the Great Value early pregnancy test kit were wrong, she wasn’t sure which. Maybe her craving for all things pickle was trying to give her a clue– pickle freeze pops, pickle chapped lip balm, even the pickle yodeler.

Emma stomped past the WalMart pharmacy. They’d refused to honor her medical marijuana card. When she loudly enquired about medical meth, they’d asked her to leave.

She continued, ignoring a woman in pajamas entering the in-store McDonalds. The WalMart eyeglasses shop looked fuzzy through her GV glasses. Money Services had cost her $1452 in a combined Nigerian prince and IRS scam.

Emma stopped at the salon to speak with her sister, Ella.

Ella said, “You need what?”

“Nail clippings, as many as you can get.”

“But… Is this another of your weird inventions?”

“Just do it. Sweep them up, whatever. Nails, real, artificial, I don’t care. Okay?”

Once upon a time, Emma had made the ideal WalMart customer. Where had it all gone wrong?

Chinese products, that’s what. No, even before that, her appearance on Shark Tank. She’d gone on the show to tout her latest invention, the Pooch Pouch, a hoodie sweatshirt with a built-in pocket for her puppy, Little Scabies.

Mr Wonderful himself, Kevin O’Leary, laughed his arse off.

Her ex-boyfriend had tried to warn her. Afterward, he must have heroically bitten his tongue.

Then what happened? The Kittyroo launched, an identical Chinese knockoff sold by WalMart. It wasn’t fair.

WalMart Chinese products drove her nuts. It wasn’t merely the lead paint on the toys, but nothing seemed to work right. Their melamine powdered milk could maybe kill you, but the ineffective garden insecticide couldn’t knock off a fire ant. The powders looked idential. Heck, they even tasted the same. When she added the insecticide to her now ex-boyfriend’s cereal, he merely burped and left for work.

She’d come to hate him. When she bought WalMart’s sexy Halloween mermaid skeleton costume, he stared at her weirdly. He’d had the same look when she’d given him a pink octopus mug.

Emma had tried to make her house a home. WalMart provided her biker gnomes and gangsta gnomes. She ordered the WalMart Golden Girls Chia Pets.

For the kitchen, she’d bought the Poop Emoji cake pan, bacon bowls for taco salads, and cock-flavored ramen noodles.

For her bathroom, she’d picked out Pain in the Butt Diaper Rash Cream, WalMart Christmas-themed toilet paper, and Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay. Plus the ultimate bathroom book How to Poo on a Date.

Little Scabies fled when she presented her puppy with doggy nail polish and a Dinosaur Pet Costume. Her ex and even her sister Ella gazed at her strangely.

Well, she had a solution for him. She phoned and ask him to meet her in WalMart. He groaned but agreed to come.

She wheeled her cart with the wriggling wheel to Housewares. She selected the largest Mason jar she could find. In Home Improvement, she snapped up denatured alcohol and Chinese-manufactured paint thinner. She dumped the contents into the jar.

In Girls Fashion, she picked out pink shoestrings. From Outdoors Goods, she bought a giant box of matches. She returned to the WalMart Salon.

Her sister cautiously handed her a baggie of nails and clippings. Ella said, “I added clippings from pedicures. Is that okay?”

“Sure, peachy, wonderful,” Emma said.

Her phone beeped. Text message. From ex-boyfriend. “Parking now. Meet you Sporting Goods.”

Emma dashed to the back of the store. Under a suspended canoe, she knelt and added the nails to the solution. She draped a shoelace into the jar. After a moment, she felt it. The shoestring wasn’t soaking up the liquid. What the flip? Was it some kind of weird non-absorbent Chinese polyester?

Quickly, she undid one of her own laces. Yes! In moments, it was thoroughly doused. It would make the perfect wick.

In the distance, she saw her boyfriend arriving. She’d already selected a WalMart crematory jar, much cheaper than the sports fan coffin.

Calmly, Emma opened the WalMart-brand matches. She struck one.

Nothing.

She struck again. Nil.

And again. Nope.

She tried another match. Nada.

And another. Zilch.

She grasped a half dozen and stuck the strip.

One gave a little pizzle and snuffed out.

Weeping, she seized a handful and tried fruitlessly to ignite them.

Nothing, not even a poof.

Emma burst into tears as a security guard closed in.

“Ma’am? Did you pay for those goods?”

And that might be how a Florida woman almost set off a nail bomb in a Tampa store. Perhaps. Note that all of the above are genuine WalMart products.

05 January 2020

New Year's Punch


It’s been a weird New Year from the go. Before digging into Floridians shooting one another, I present a shooting puzzle you will likely know, but stumped the director of the Father Brown mystery series.

In Season 5, Episode 6 (S05E06), ’The Eagle and the Daw’, Inspector Mallory picks up a revolver and sniffs it. He pronounces it recently fired. He flips open the cylinder to the scene here and says, “One shot fired.”

Father Brown (S05E06) revolver scene
Father Brown (S05E06) revolver inspection scene

What, pray tell, is wrong with this picture? Find the answer below.

Getting a Bang out of Holiday Celebrations

I thought I lived in a reasonably safe neighborhood, but in Florida, guns, alcohol, and celebrations don’t mix. I can’t get used to Floridians firing off guns and firecrackers to honor the birth of the Christ child.
42 Lo, in the East, rose a light.  43 Three wise men gazed at the brightness in the sky.  44 One said, “My comrades, hark! Shooting stars!”

45 “Nay,” said the second Maji.   46 “Tis shooting.”

47 “Verily. Let us ride,” said the third man.  48 “Let us take our gold and thou that… that… that weird stuff you have and let us celebrate peace and holiness by shooting lots of guns and ammo as we eat, drink, and be merry.”
Many years ago, a Floridian died from a bullet fired into the air. Do people learn? At midnight, a bullet took out a sizeable chunk of plaster above the television a neighbor was watching. Nothing rings in Sunshine State holidays like celebratory shooting.

Maximum Bang

As for current Florida New Year weirdness, another contributing factor has been a double murder bare hours into the year at a nightclub a mere stroll from my house. Did I say I thought my neighborhood safe?

And More…

A close scrape rattled me. I agreed to install a laser sight on an automatic pistol for friends. When I pulled it from its holster, I was chilled to find both Phoenix Arms safeties off. I set the safeties, removed the magazine, and installed the sight.

I grew up with revolvers and rifles, not automatics. We were strictly taught to leave the revolver slot under the hammer empty to avoid accidents. Don’t chamber a cartridge unless you intend to shoot. And always unload when not in use. As R.T. and I once discussed… guns are tools, not toys.

I suddenly realized that in my surprise when handed a ready-to-fire weapon, I hadn’t checked the breech. The hair on my neck rose.

I belatedly inspected. Damn, there lay a chambered cartridge. I said some strong words, including a lecture of how many Americans get themselves killed. My words meant zilch: Common knowledge has it bad guys with disdain for safeties always carry fully chambered rounds.

O’Neil wrote me about his police training. His conservative instincts were similar to mine, but NOPD policing is not a casual profession. New Orleans police were taught to always be ready to shoot.

My uncle believed that. His young son put a bullet through their dining room ceiling.

Still Puzzled?

closeup of revolver cylinder
Closeup of revolver cylinder (Father Brown)

As you already spotted, no shots had been fired. The inspector, or rather the episode director, mistook the empty chamber (deliberately left vacant for safety reasons described above) for a fired chamber.

cartridges with live and fired caps
unfired round — fired cartridge
As shown in the photos here, ammunition contain ‘caps’ that hold a primer charge. When the hammer strikes the cap, the primer explodes causing the powder to discharge. The hammer leaves a dent in the fired cap, unique to each gun.

The inspector could have said one bullet was missing, but he couldn’t say one bullet had been fired.

Please, have a safe new year!

01 December 2019

A Few Words about A Few Words


Leigh Lundin
Death & Dismemberment

I grew up among men of few words– farmers and ranchers– solitary, largely silent men who spent dawn to dark alone, feeding, farrowing, calving, cultivating, plowing, planting, harvesting and husking alone in utter quiet. They practiced what OSHA considers one of the most dangerous careers in this country.

In a profession with lots of moving machinery, injury or death could strike at any time. Even if it didn’t, exposure to toxic chemicals often meant a slow, agonizing demise.

Men I’ve known and a young boy died under overturned tractors. Neighbors lost limbs in combines and corn pickers. One lost both hands. A shattered transmission tore off a man’s foot. A ruptured hydraulic line sliced through the chest of another.

One time, a worker severed a hand. My grandfather ripped open his shirt. He jammed the forearm stump into the man’s bare stomach creating sort of a gasket. It bought time until he could further stem blood flow with a binder twine tourniquet.

If that’s not sufficient, airborne chaff and flour are extremely explosive. A grain dust explosion leveled an industrial railroad area in Minneapolis.

The Hits Keep on Coming

Those who worked the land could die a hundred imaginative ways– gored by an ox, trampled by cattle, thrown from a horse, kicked by a mule, attacked by a wild boar. A worker could literally drown on dry land, not in water, but in sugar.

As a toddler, I developed firsthand knowledge of georgic dangers. When adults were distracted, I nearly drowned falling through the ice of a pond. I lost my little finger in a pump accident, a mere triviality taken in stride.

As hard as the life was for men, it had to be worse for women. Men could  choose solitude or danger, choose to ignore it, accept it, or madly welcome it. For wives left alone, a tunnel of crushing boredom darkly loomed.

So I say this with some conviction:

Most writers don’t fully appreciate the word ‘laconic’.

John Deere tractor and 1-finger wave
One-Finger Wave
Greetings & Salutations

On a country lane or the lane of a state highway, one could encounter farmers atop heavy machinery, driving to where it’s next needed. With wheels 0.003 inches from sliding off the shoulder, passers-by greeted one another. They didn’t wave “Howdy,” doff the hat or make a sweeping bow.

They nodded.

If they felt particularly chatty, they raised a single finger from the steering wheel.

No, not that one. They simply lifted an index finger.

That meant, “Hi, how are you, Burt? Glad to see you. Fine, fine day for field work. Might see you later when the farrier shoes Thunderbolt. My best to Lacy.”

Melodie, Eve, and I recently discussed small towns. A fixture in many Midwestern villages was the ‘elevator’. This word can mean many things in rural areas. In town, it meant the grain elevator, where wagons and truckloads of corn, oats, wheat, barley, sorghum, and rye to be weighed, tested for moisture, tilted into the air and emptied into bins or rail cars.

Farmside, it implied the conveyor that shuttled bales of hay and straw into mows, or corn into silos.

In the city, it meant the moving stairs in fancy-ass department stores. It could’ve also indicated the inserts Congressman Numnutz stuffed in his shoes.

The Conversationalists

In the hardware or feed store, two friends might bump into each other. Their dialogue would unfold like this:

Nod. “Burt.”
Nod. “Ed.”
A Paul-Harvey pause.
“Beaut day.”
Pause.
“Yep.”
Pause.
“Sorry, I heard about…”
Nod. “Thanks.”
Silence.
“The co-op.”
“I know, goddamn it.”
Silence.
“Bessie…”
“Couldn’t be helped.”
“Nope.”
Pause before fulsome burst of conversation.
“Market’s down.”
“Called loan, I reckon.”
“Shame.”
Sigh.
“Economy.”
“Goddamn Democrats.”
“Numnutz’s a Republican.”
“Oh. Goddamn Republicans.”
Lengthy rest from excessive blathering.
“Heard Ellie…”
“Don’t go spreading that.”
“Deserves sympathy.”
“Welp, wagons unloaded.”
“Sunday.”
“’Kay.”
“Give Lacy…”
Nod.
“Yep. You too.”


The one man in town who did talk couldn’t be understood… by adults. Orrie’s severe speech impediment didn’t slow his chattering one wit. Kids learned what he was saying, and Orrie-talk became a secret language.

Townsmen didn’t entirely refrain from gossip. Cutting hair caused a Samson-like weakness of tongue-loosening, but even in the barbershop, it was contained.

The town women, my mother among them, marveled with the wives of the barbershop and elevator owners. Mrs Unger told Mrs Callahan, “I don’t understand Dick. Three weeks ago he hears Pauline’s running off with Art Dodger and Dick doesn’t tell me. Three weeks! I ask him why, why? He just hunches over his plate and says it wasn’t his business. Well if not my business, whose is it? Why me?”

Show, Not Tell

Life on the most remote homesteads had to be terribly trying for pioneering women of any era. Alone home all day without healthy human interaction, they had to wonder if the term of solitary confinement was a life sentence.

A few husbands mastered the art of showing, not telling. On cold winter days after milking and mucking, a rancher might retire to his workshop. On their anniversary, he might emerge all tongue-tied with an inlaid jewelry box. It couldn’t offset a difficult, lonely life, but it refilled the hearts who remembered the promises of younger days.

And So It Goes


In traffic, if you see a familiar and devastatingly good-looking guy raise a single finger in greeting, you can pretty well guess who it is.

Just wave back. As Red October’s Captain Ramius might have said, one finger only.

17 November 2019

Plussed (or Non)


Belie – An Ambidextrous Word

Last week I found myself using ‘belie’ in a story. A check for nuances compelled to look it up. Alice tumbled into the rabbit hole.

In the following, let’s use common English sentence structure:
    subject verb object

A sentence might read,
    A belies B.
    Her eyes belied her motives.

I had assumed belie implied (A) put the lie to (B), the subject is true and the object is false. Surely the verb exhibited a grammatical positive and negative polarity.

Not that simple, said my New Oxford American Dictionary. It offered examples both ways. In other words, sometimes (A) was true and sometimes it wasn’t. Polarity wasn’t constant.

Example 1   A ⇉ B
Example 2   B ⇉ A
Her cruelty belies her kind words.
His smile belies his viciousness.
    B is false (the object).
    A is false (the subject).

Logic (to me) says the subject (A) gives lie to or proves false (B). My beloved 3-volume OED long ago became landfill, so I turned to half a dozen internet dictionaries. A search turned up similar conflicting results. They all agreed about disagreement: Sometimes the subject made a liar of the object and sometimes the object made a liar of the subject.

At that point, I needed to deploy the big guns.

James Lincoln Warren
The legendary
James Lincoln Warren
James Lincoln Warren.

James’ house, a full-scale reproduction of the HMS Hotspur, contains a brass spyglass and a sixteenth century oak podium with the complete Oxford English Dictionary. At least that’s how I imagine it because I’m envious.

James kindly looked up belie for me and lo, it was as lesser dictionaries indicated. Belie cuts both ways. It doesn’t observe polarity. Sometimes the subject is true, sometimes the object.

James said no context beyond the contrast between the subject and object is necessary for them to be easily understood. Which is capable of deception?

Such amorphism disturbs me a bit. Offhand, I can’t think of another word in which, say, the subject sometimes trumps the object and other times the opposite can happen.

Nonplussed – or Not

Once upon a time in the New Oxford American Dictionary, I stumbled upon the following note:
In standard use, ‘nonplussed’ means ‘surprised and confused’: The hostility of the new neighbor's refusal left Mrs. Walker nonplussed.

In North American English, a new use has developed in recent years, meaning ‘unperturbed’— more or less the opposite of its traditional meaning: Hoping to disguise his confusion, he tried to appear nonplussed.

This new use probably arose on the assumption that non- is the normal negative prefix and must therefore have a negative meaning. Although commonly encountered, this modern use of nonplussed is not considered part of standard English, and is better replaced by unperturbed, unruffled, unfazed, or composed.
Never, ever had I heard the second ‘American’ meaning. I conducted a local poll of four dozen or so people. Out of nearly fifty responses, only one thought the second might be valid, but self-admittedly from a verbal standpoint, the word nonplussed was ‘not in his wheelhouse’.

I would have argued the point with Oxford, but I wondered if they had fallen victim to what I think of as the Wikipedia Effect or the Google Effect. If you watch Wikipedia, sometimes public content and wording depends on the loudest, most intimidating bully in the room. Higher level editors can often work these issues out, but when the bully is a higher level editor, the point becomes moot– or deleted along with embarrassing history.

If you haven’t experienced the Google Effect, imagine your long-time neighborhood suddenly called a name you never heard of. You enquire: whence did this come into existence? A van driver might hold the key.

Google Street View Mapping Vehicle + Dalek
Google Street View Mapping Vehicle
The Google Effect refers to Google mapping. You may have seen their vehicles driving the streets. Early versions featured cameras on roof-mounted tripods like Disney World used for its old Circle-Vision theatre in TomorrowLand. The latest cars recently spotted in Winter Park are driven by Daleks.

It turns out Google occasionally didn’t know how to name an area. If they couldn’t find a listing, worker bees exercised various options. Sometimes they asked a random resident, “What do you call this place?” Reportedly one label emerged from an erroneous realtor’s sign. It appears the new name for my old neighborhood came from an obscure street a few feet long called Fairview Shores.

In my selective sampling, all of my victims understood the standard meaning of ‘nonplussed’, except for the unsure guy who didn’t use the word at all. I’d like to ask Oxford how they came up with such a notice? What region in this vast country stands accused of this heresy?

An image sticks in my head, one of Oxford University sending a bored post-grad student to New York to document language abominations. He spends his research time in bars and picking up dates on West End Avenue.

Then on 42nd street, he invites for a romantic rendezvous a certain lady, called ‘Bam-Bam’ by her friends and another name entirely by the NYPD. When she sharply turns him down, he says, “You don’t have to act so negative.”

“I’m not negative, I’m non-plussed,” she replies, whereupon he pulls out his 80p Marks & Spencer notebook and starts jotting a new entry.

That’s how it happened. I’m sure of it.



Curious note: During the impeachment hearings, Fox or one of the righter outlets flashed a headline: Dems Seek Heresy Evidence. I’m nonplussed.

03 November 2019

History and Mystery


Leigh Lundin
Perhaps I've always enjoyed historicals without fully realizing it. To pose a question, are Agatha Christie novels historical? What about the novels of Arthur Conan Doyle?

Generally, we don’t call fiction written in and about the author’s own time as historical novels. Yet modern readers can consider them a slice of history. Who better to fill us in on fine details of the day than someone living then and there?

I don’t find the tales of Edward Marston as smoothly written as, say, Ellis Peters or the wonderful Lindsey Davis. But that lack of ‘smoothinity’ (I’m aware of ‘smoothness’ but this suits my purpose) lends additional verisimilitude. The reader can feel the dirt in roadside food, the pinch of the cobbler’s shoes, the stench of an outhouse.

We live in a politically correct ‘woke’ atmosphere. We foster a supercilious attitude where we think we’re some way superior to those who’ve come before. Novels set in ancient Egypt or Imperial Rome remind us we’re not so different, not different at all.

Many of us, R.T. Lawton and Janice Law, David Edgerley Gates and Eve Fisher, to name a few colleagues, love the research as much as the writing… and reading.

For your pleasure, following are a dozen historical novels, new and old, you might want to nab.


The Alienist first appeared in 1994, the first in a short series. Who can resist New York City Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt?


The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco’s first novel published in 1980, is one of my all time favorites. Monesteries aren’t all peace and quiet.


I loved the virtually vanished Jewish Alps, the Borscht Belt Catskills in upstate New York. Think The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel entertains The Hotel Neversink.


Thanks to Tirzah Price at Book Riot for many of these suggestions and further details.

What are your favorite historical novels or series?

20 October 2019

Viola doesn't play the Viola


Nat King Cole
O’Neil wrote about the blah saccharine music of the 1940s and early 50s. I suffered some of the same issues he touched upon. We chatted about his music-loving private eye in that period.

My parents allowed no television, so we didn’t endure dreck as much as some ruining their televisions with Lawrence dullest-of-the-big-bands Welk. At least nuclear families could participate with Sing Along with Mitch Miller.

In the 1940s, the war hit hard. Less than creative but happy, treacly songs helped people feel a bit better. Sadly, many of the best talents were killed off, most notably Glenn Miller. This resulted in the least significant digits surviving awash in bland, washed-out numbers by Lawrence uh-one-uh-two Welk whose claim to fame was outliving all the greats.

One day I started listening to recordings of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. The 1920s were pretty interesting, ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ for example, but the 1930s blew me away. Everyone knows Glenn Miller’s great ‘In the Mood’, but Louis Prima and Benny Goodman’s ‘Sing, Sing, Sing!’ (all 6-zillion versions) blew me away. Arguably, the 1930s proved as creative as the 1960s. Unlike Lawrence God-spare-us Welk, these sounds vibrantly lived.

Chattanooga Choo-Choo’ was written on the cusp of the 1930s/1940s as WW-II geared up. Superficially, it seemed a trivial song with insipid covers and uninspired remakes. But the original, what a tune! Glenn Miller made it playful (as did gorgeous Dorothy Dandridge and the wing-footed Nicholas brothers), but underneath it was musically brilliant, embedding one of the most ingenious transitions ever. I’m grateful Lawrence put-me-out-of-my-misery Welk hadn’t ruined it for me.

As it turns out, the 1940s weren’t at all devoid of good music. Radio fans weren’t looking (or listening) in the right places– Darktown! Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, Billy Eckstine, Count Basie, Duke Ellington. Thank God they weren’t into the Champagne bubble music of Lawrence just-shoot-me Welk.

And there was Viola Smith. Never has the world seen such a drummer. Tom-toms, snares, kettles… She featured in girl bands, she featured in boy bands. She's amazing. Currently at age 106, she’s even outlived Lawrence gag-me-with-a-pitchfork Welk.


22 September 2019

Florida News – Boobs, Bars, and T-Shirts


by Leigh Lundin

Florida postcard
An Eagle, a Fish, and a Dolphin walk into a sandbar

There’s this baseball game, see, and an osprey carrying a fish– ospreys look quite a bit like bald eagles– but, well, and this Dolphin catches the fish…

Wait. I’m way behind bringing news of the nation’s craziest state, stories both current and of recent history. Amaze your friends at your foresight not living in the land of the loony. Better read it for yourself.

To ride, you must be this high.

An out-of-state great-granny saves her shekels to vacation with her family at Walt Disney World. Like others her age, she suffers various aches and pains, shrugged off in a nation that hates to hand out pain medication. Fortunately, her home state of North Carolina allows her to medicate with CBD oil, an extract of cannabis, the hemp plant. Unfortunately, Florida forbids. A Disney security guard spots the bottle with tincture of THC and arrests the dangerous felon. The good news: our local controversial assistant state attorney, Aramis Ayala, refuses to prosecute.

Flintstone car © Hanna-Barbera
Yabba-Dabba-Doofus

Not just grandmothers. What other place would arrest Fred Flintstone for speeding? (Check the photos. I love the guy’s imagination, I really do.)

Battling Boobs

Waddya do when you think another mother dresses too sexily? You expose her, of course… literally.

Bouncing Boobs

Bouncing off the pavement, in fact. In the early morning hours, a drunk guy leaves strip bar and falls from his truck. Truck continues without driver, not good news.

And Still More Boobs

In the back of a police car, no less. Lordy, lordy, how drunk must one be. Thanks to Sharon for this one.

Revenge, a Dish best served with a Tip

Girl-boy argue. Girl takes boy’s credit card. Girl dines alone. Girl leaves tip. Girl arrested.

Facebook, I keep warning you!


Dummy burglars steal a safe. They can’t resist bragging on Facebook. Helpful hint: Cops visit Facebook too.

@ University of Tennesee T-shirt by Florida 4th grader
Volunteers

We go all the way to Tennessee to find a Florida feel-good story. A 4th grader who makes his own fan T-shirt finds himself derided by the mean girls. When the University of Tennessee hears about the bullying, they buy the design and offer the child a free scholarship eight years from now. Got to love my new favorite university.

01 September 2019

Helpful Hurricane Guide


by Leigh Lundin

At times I live my life around hurricanes, which is far better than dying by hurricane and not quite the same as living with a certain Gale. For the moment, powerful Dorian is presently confounding predictions but, with luck, may spare Florida and most of the North American east coast.

In honor of the moment, I promise not to be long-winded. For those who suffer mere tornadoes, here are actual tracking maps followed by what the hurricane categories mean.

Hurricane Tracking Charts
Hurricane v Florida size comparison
Florida Hurricane tracks
‘Smallish’ Hurricane Fran Hurricane Tracking Example

Hurricane Meanings and Actions
Category 1     119kmph • 74mph • 64knots
When cooking on the grill, you switch from paper plates to weightier melamine. You’re careful your new drone doesn't drift too far off course.

Category 2     154kmph • 96mph • 83knots
You bring beach towels in from the clothes line, assuming you live in a community that permits clothes lines. Peculiarly, many Florida towns and homeowners associations ban drying laundry outdoors in the Sunshine State.

Category 3     178kmph • 111mph • 96knots
Mow the yard. Think briefly about purchasing extra water, food, propane, and gas for your generator and your car… then decide to buy if the storm makes Cat 4. Chuckle about your timid neighbor who packs his SUV full of supplies and family and heads for Georgia or Alabama.

Category 4     209kmph • 130mph • 113knots
Reluctantly head to Costco for 400 gallons of water and discover the wretch before you bought the last three litres. Decide queue for gasoline looks too long. Buy beer.

Category 5     252kmph • 157mph • 137knots
Damn. Governor calls for evacuation. Your car’s tank reads ⅜ and your wife’s Volvo reads a quarter. Find the lawnmower where you left it in the back yard. Empty the fuel cans for mowing and then the mower’s tank itself into your car. Drain fuel from your motorcycle, your kid’s go-kart, weed-whacker, and chainsaw. Siphon wife’s vehicle. Your gas gauge now reads ¾, thanks to discovery of a gas can your neighbor left when they packed up and ran two days ago. Whoops! Electrical power goes out. You scramble to find your flashlights and then realize why batteries were on the shopping list. By candlelight, you grab a forgotten bottle of Zephyrhills someone opened and stuck in the fridge. Way in the back your wife retrieves a can of Tab she’s been hoarding. You load the unrefrigerated beer and depart with wife and child. The gate at the guard shack has blown shut, wrapping itself around a post. You squeeze past as it scrapes your car. Child wants to stop for restroom and food. Thanks to buffeting headwinds, your mileage drops to 14mpg. Every gas station has closed. Screaming child wants McBurgers. No restaurants remain open. Dodging debris, uprooted trees, and a sailboat in the road, you’ll make Gainesville and perhaps a little farther. And then you encounter a flying cow…

Category 6     285kmph • 178mph • 155knots ?
No such thing… yet. However, as climate change accelerates, so does the violence of cyclonic winds. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (actually a peculiarly numbered damage scale) does not define anything above a Cat 5 storm. Many experts believe it’s merely a matter of time before meteorologists are forced to include at least a Category 6 and possibly 7 if not switch to another scale entirely.
Stay safe!

18 August 2019

Assisted Suicide


by Leigh Lundin
“Ferguson, you got one job, keep the damn prisoner alive. No ganging, no hanging, okay? Don’t let no miscreant get to him. That means no bad guys, see? No corrupt guards, no homicidal convicts, no vicious visitors. Also no shivs, no slit wrists, no sliced throat, no shredded sheets, no seppuku. Shouldn’t be hard, right?”
Jeffrey Epstein
Jeffrey Epstein
From published autopsy revelations about Jeffrey Epstein’s death, statistical probabilities alone suggest a 95% confidence of strangulation. Add in death threats and the fact he appeared facially battered and bruised at his most recent court appearance, the odds he wasn’t murdered is extremely small.

But wait. Commentators have seized upon the notion Epstein might have hanged himself with bed sheets. That’s soooo 19th century.

Some time back, a prison matron explained inmates on suicide watch aren’t given standard bedding. Penitentiaries issue hospital style paper sheets precisely so they can’t be used for hanging. Clothing resembles a tear-resistant hospital gown with velcro closures, no buttons, zippers, or ties. Footwear includes heavy socks and sort of felt slippers, rather than prison-issue flip-flops.

In Eve Fisher’s part of the country, prisoners on suicide watch are stripped naked and given a blanket, or issued a paper uniform and bed sheets. Like their East Coast counterparts, at-risk incarcerated are checked every fifteen minutes and recorded on camera 24/7. Like most who have a working knowledge of prison life, Eve says suicide while under observation is nigh impossible, but once off suicide watch, death for the determined isn’t that difficult.

The prison kitchen provides food in paper bowls without utensils, issued randomly so preparers cannot target an individual inmate. Feed is deliberately bland with virtually no seasoning.

Typically in modern prisons, the bed is poured from concrete as is a tiny seat, shelf, and 1st grader-size desktop. Epstein’s assigned cell reportedly contains a shower. Toilets are usually cold stainless steel devices with neither hinged seat nor lid.

prison toilet
cell toilet © New York Daily News
Cameras remain trained on inmates at all times, even when using the toilet. Cell checks occur about four times an hour, but not precisely at quarter-hour intervals. Reports would have us believe Epstein was not looked in upon for several hours.

In late June and early July, Jeffrey Epstein reported his life had been threatened. On 24 July, a supervisor found him mauled and barely conscious on his cell floor.

Epstein expressed fear for his life. Usually that would call for extra protection, not less.

Two guards have been suspended for dereliction. Their warden has been reassigned. A befuddled William Barr has yet to resign.

Meanwhile, Back at the Raunch

People accused – I emphasize ‘accused’, not convicted – include a number of famous men, at least three women, a senator, a governor, and Epstein’s own lawyer, celebrity attorney Alan Dershowitz, ironically scheduled for a child trafficking mock trial. He has claimed documents ‘prove’ his non-involvement. Whether or not he’s guilty, Dershowitz should know better. Said documents prove no such thing.

The swirling waters have been further muddied by three names linked to the White House, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and– yes, it had to happen– Hillary Clinton. The mention of Hillary is a fevered fantasy of the rabid right just as Trump involvement titillates the ludicrous left.

Despite young women being recruited by Ghislaine Maxwell and Epstein at Mar-a-Lago, available evidence suggests both Clinton and Trump prefer fully-formed women, not teen girls. One president dragging another’s name into the mud epitomizes dirty politics.

And the Verdict is

Inexplicably, the Associated Press has dug in taking a position Epstein’s death is suicide. The alternative apparently appears unthinkable. Likewise, normally conspiracy-loving radio talk hosts are unexpectedly warning about unwarranted conspiracy theories, as if they fear further news will undermine some favored position.

The cleverest conclusion I’ve heard regarding Jeffrey Epstein’s death comes from my friend Darlene. Got to appreciate the irony. She calls it…
Assisted Suicide

What’s your take?

04 August 2019

Sorry, Sorry Night


by Leigh Lundin

Vincent van Gogh, self-portrait with bandaged ear
Vincent van Gogh
self-portrait, bandaged ear
Everyone knows the story of Vincent van Gogh. In desolation and desperation, he sliced off his ear and gave it to a love interest, a local prostitute.

Much of that tale is problematic, even outright false. I have a simpler theory:

He missed.

Wait, wait… I’ll explain.

First, let’s correct one fact right off. Not every one who works in a church is a priest, pastor, or parson. Likewise, not every one who works in a whorehouse is a prostitute. Van Gogh presented the ear to young Gabrielle Berlatier who worked not as une fille de joie, but as a maid, serving, sewing, sudsing the laundry.

Women were the least of Vincent’s problems. His trip to the south of France hadn’t worked out, his paintings weren’t selling, and he was dependent upon his younger brother Theo for a small monthly stipend. Naturally, when a person pays money to another, they feel entitled to offer advice.
Sunflowers
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
“Vinnie, Vinnie. What am I going to do with you? Sunflowers? Who cares about sunflowers. In my dreams, I hear a voice chanting, ’Take a leaf from O’Keeffe.’ Don’t know what the dream means, but there you go.”

“But Theo…”

“And that weird thing, Drunken Fireworks on Bastille Day, title it Starry Night. Listen, I’m an art dealer. I know these things. You with me, bro?”

“But Theo…”

“Look, a healthy guy ought to paint nekked women. Look at Manet, look at Georgione, Gérôme, and hey, your buddy Gauguin. Naked people, now that sells; flowers not so much. Try to be more, well, like Toulouse.”

“Too loose for what?”

“Vinnie, Vinnie. Check out other artists, man, keep your ear to the ground. You so got that Dutch yardstick-up-your-klootzak thing. That peasant who models for you, what’s his name?”

“Er, something with Zach, maybe Balzac, Shadrach, Mezach, Prozach, I dunno.”

“That’s enough to depress anyone. Gotta go, bro. That argument with Paul, get over it. Gauguin’s a good guy. Tell him to send me some work. See ya, Vin.”
Van Gogh was one down-and-out dude. No luck selling his works, no luck with women, no job, no money, no friends– Van Gogh found himself beset with problems, especially depression.

On the 23rd of December 1888, he underwent a nasty row with his roommate, Paul Gauguin. Hours before Christmas, Van Gogh found himself abandoned, alone except for a bottle, actually a case of bottles.

He drank. He drank a lot. He followed Gauguin and waggled a straight razor at him. Gauguin sensibly fled to a hotel.

Vincent, truly alone, a man and his bottle… and a device commonly called a cutthroat razor.

The very drunk, very depressed artist decided to take his own life. He unfolded the blade. Intending to deliver a huge, decisive stroke, he raised the razor high above his shoulder, above his head. He hesitated, then whipped the blade down in a dramatic slash toward his quivering throat and…

Gaugin - Fatata te Miti (By the Sea)
Paul Gauguin - Fatata te Miti
Missed.

Gashed his ear, slicing it nearly off. Momentum lost, the blade glanced off his neck.

The inebriated artist botched his suicide.

The shock of blood and pain brought Van Gogh partially back to his senses. Woozy, he wrapped the ear and staggered to the brothel. There he unsuccessfully begged the teenage seamstress to sew it back on for him, a job too much for the girl.

Vincent van Gogh hadn’t deliberately cut off his ear. He’d intended to cut his throat and bungled his suicide.

So says my hypothesis. What’s your take?