♫ You can’t get there, the road is under construction ♬

Mad Magazine™ was wonderful back in the ’50s and ’60s. I seem to recall that as I grew older, either my sense of humor changed – I started appreciating Harvard Lampoon’s work in the late ’60s – or the quality of the writing diminished.

At any rate, some of the early stuff was priceless, and still relevant to today’s challenges. One example that keeps surfacing in my mind every time I hit a detour is this gem, written by Tom Koch and illustrated by Bob Clarke.

Peeved at Obstructions
(Sung to the tune of “Eve of Destruction” Barry McGuire)

You save up all year long to take a nice vacation.
You make a lot of plans to drive across the nation.
You dream of all you’ll see with great anticipation.
You’ve only got a week to reach your destination,
But that seems like enough, you feel no consternation.
Then they tell you over and over and over again, my friend,
That you can’t get through; the road is under construction.

You’ve never been to Maine or Utah’s scenic section.
You call the auto club to help make your selection.
You pay to get your car a thorough trip inspection.
So you can drive afar and feel you’ve got protection.
Then, when you’re almost there, you seek a cop’s direction.
And he tells you over and over and over again, my friend,
That you must turn back; the road is under construction.

Vacation here at home, our president keeps sayin’.
Don’t spend your dough abroad, he fervently is praying.
So you head for New York do do your summer playing;
Or maybe to the west a travel plan you’re laying,
To see those snowy peaks and geysers wildly sprayin’.
But the signs warn over and over and over again, my friend,
That you can’t get there; the road is under construction.

The challenge is real. In preparation for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, UDOT undertook the I-15 corridor reconstruction project.

“The project involved the reconstruction of 16.2 miles of interstate mainline and the addition of new general purpose and high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes through the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. The project also included the construction or reconstruction of more than 130 bridges, the reconstruction of seven urban interchanges, and the reconstruction of three major junctions with other interstate routes, including I-80 and I-215.”

While the project was sorely needed and the end result was beneficial, for four years, the commute from outlying areas to Salt Lake City was a major pain in the patoot, with commuters searching out and jealously guarding favorable and secret bypass routes.

But wait, there’s more!

In 2009, UDOT undertook the I-15 Core reconstruction project, rebuilding 24 miles of I-15 from Point of the Mountain to Payson in just 35 months. The design-build strategy meant that the entire stretch was torn up at once, instead of doing a few miles at a time. The inconvenience was so significant that I was moved to memorialize the experience in video:

In retrospect, I really shoudn’t complain at all; nowadays our nation’s crumbling infrastructure could use a bit of help, and I think subsequent generations would appreciate our putting up with some inconvenience if it means that their bridges won’t collapse underneath them. But when you’re behind the wheel and trying to get to work (or to a vacation destination), the aggravation can certainly raise one’s blood pressure.

Bonus Section

Since I happened to be on the subject of MAD Magazine, another extract from the same article is precisely the reason our family threw out all our TVs over 20 years ago (the kids were absolutely devastated, but somehow they survived):

The TV Victim’s Lament
(Sung to the Tune of “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan)

How many times must a guy spray with Ban
Before he doesn’t offend?
And how many times must he gargle each day
Before he can talk to a friend?
How many tubes of shampoo must he buy
Before his dandruff will end?
The sponsors, my friend, will sell you all they can.
The sponsors will sell you all they can.

How many times must a man use Gillette
Before shaving won’t make him bleed?
And how many cartons of Kents must he smoke
Before the girls all pay him heed?
How many products must one person buy
Before he has all that he’ll need?
The sponsors, my friend, will sell you all they can.
The sponsors will sell you all they can.

How many times must a gal clean her sink
Before Ajax scours that stain,
And how many times must she rub in Ben-Gay
Before she can rub out the pain?
How many ads on TV must we watch
Before we are driven insane?
The sponsors, my friend, will sell you all they can.
The sponsors will sell you all they can.

Full disclosure: My mother single-handedly raised me on the income from commercial advertising, so I feel a bit sheepish about this, but the onslaught of advertising, much of which has now moved from the airwaves to the internet, still rubs me the wrong way.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Always Ask the Locals

This exchange was shared with me on Facebook as a screen capture. I went digging and found the original post at the Tumblr of Iowa Rambler (systlin), followed up by a repost with a couple of comments at the Tumblr of assasue.

I present it here in slightly bowdlerized form for a family-friendly audience (my apologies to the original writers); if you don’t mind language you can follow the links above for the original text. Other than one small spelling correction for clarity, nothing has been changed.

systlin

Something I find incredibly cool is that they’ve found neandertal bone tools made from polished rib bones, and they couldn’t figure out what they were for for the life of them. 

Until, of course, they showed it to a traditional leatherworker and she took one look at it and said “Oh yeah sure that’s a leather burnisher, you use it to close the pores of leather and work oil into the hide to make it waterproof. Mine looks just the same.” 

“Wait you’re still using the exact same thing 50,000 years later???”

Well, yeah. We’ve tried other things. Metal scratches up and damages the hide. Wood splinters and wears out. Bone lasts forever and gives the best polish. There are new, cheaper plastic ones, but they crack and break after a couple years. A bone polisher is nearly indestructible, and only gets better with age. The more you use a bone polisher the better it works.”

It’s just. 

50,000 years. 50,000. And over that huge arc of time, we’ve been quietly using the exact same thing, unchanged, because we simply haven’t found anything better to do the job. 


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i also like that this is a “ask craftspeople” thing, it reminds me of when art historians were all “what?” about someone’s ear “deformity” in a portrait and couldn’t work out what the symbolism was until someone who’d also worked as a piercer was like “uhm, he’s messed up a piercing there”. interdisciplinary stuff also needs to include non-academic approaches because crafts & trades people know things ok

assasue

One of my professors often tells us about a time he, as and Egyptian Archaeologist, came down upon a ring of bricks one brick high. In the middle of a house. He and his fellow researchers could not for the life of them figure out what it could possibly have been for. Until he decided to ask a laborer, who doesnt even speak English, what it was. The guy gestures for my prof to follow him, and shows him the same ring of bricks in a nearby modern house. Said ring is filled with baby chicks, while momma hen is out in the yard having a snack. The chicks can’t get over the single brick, but mom can step right over. Over 2000 years and their still corraling chicks with brick circles. If it aint broke, dont fix it and always ask the locals.

A Taxonomy of Trump Tweets – from On the Media.”

On the Media is “WNYC’s weekly investigation into how the media shapes our world view. Veteran journalists Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield give you the tools to survive the media maelstrom.”

A recent segment intriguingly addresses the PEOTUS’ twitter-storm, and how the media should appropriately respond.

As we all know, Donald Trump’s tweets have become a potent force in our new era. On the one hand, a single tweet can cripple opponents, activate supporters, move markets, and subsume the news cycle. On the other, they’re a window into Trump’s wee-hours, unfiltered id. But when his tweets are full of half-truths, distortions, and often bold-faced lies, should journalists treat them as normal presidential utterances, or something else? Cognitive linguist George Lakoff believes that the press must understand how Trump uses language if we’re to responsibly report on his tweets, not just magnify their misinformation. He talks with Brooke about the categories he’s come up with for thinking about Trump tweets.

A summary of the categories:

  1. Preemptive Re-framing – Trump’s tweet stated, “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” This was rated “Pants on Fire” by Politifact, but it effectively re-frames the popular vote in the minds of those who see the tweet, thus distorting the facts in the public arena.
  2. The Diversion Tweet – This kind of tweet is akin to the magician’s misdirectional “nothing up my sleeve.” While you’re busy looking at his or her sleeve to be sure, jiggery-pokery is happening elsewhere. A good example is focusing on Hamilton, as Trump did when he tweeted “The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!” In this way, people focus on Hamilton rather than the $25 million settlement in the case of  fraud allegations against Trump University.
  3. The Trial Balloon – Send up something and see how the public reacts, so you’ll know what to do in the future. When Trump tweeted, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” he watched to see how the public responded to this idea; in this case there was a brief discussion about nuclear policy which quickly faded from the public consciousness.
  4. Deflection – In which you attack the messenger. After being pointedly called out by Meryl Streep for mocking a disabled reporter, Trump attacked the messenger: “Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never “mocked” a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him “groveling” when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media!The video is out there; no matter how much he denies it, Trump’s actions can not be interpreted as anything other than cruel mockery of a man’s afflictions – but attacking Ms. Streep, one of the most accomplished and versatile actresses of this generation, deflect’s the public’s view from the issue at hand. This was also evident as Trump attacked Buzzfeed, CNN, and the BBC around reports on the supposed Russian dossier.

Lastly, Lakoff presents an example of a Trump tweet that uses all four strategies at once:

“Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

  • Pre-emptive framing: “This is fake news.”
  • Diversion – Getting the public to discuss whether or not this is fake news rather than addressing the issue itself.
  • Deflection – Attacking the messengers
  • Trial balloon – Will the intelligence agencies be stopped, and are they working like Nazi Germany?

And, of course, tucked away in the tweet is the invocation of a corollary to Godwin’s Law: In any online discussion, whoever first brings up a reference to Hitler has lost the argument, and the discussion is ended.

Lakoff’s suggestions for the press on how to handle the onslaught of 3 AM tweets, as well as the entire podcast (it’s only about 8 minutes long) are well worth the listen.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Carpenter’s Sandwiches, 1932

West Sunset Boulevard & Vine Street, Los Angeles, California.

(Click image for full-size version. Just look at those prices…)
Carpenter's Drive In

A wonderful memory of early Los Angeles – before my time, certainly, but along the same lines as some other unusual LA restaurants that I do remember.

Hoot-Hoot-Ice-Cream

I’ve mentioned Hoot Hoot I Scream before; another great collection of ephemera from Los Angeles can be found at Shelter From the Storm, including the coffee pot restaurant seen below.

Coffee Pot Restaurant

Most of these unusual eateries are gone, replaced by restaurants whose gimmick is found inside rather than outside. As for me, I miss places like this. I still grin when I drive along the freeway on a road trip and see a huge Sapp Bros. water tank decked out to look like a coffee pot.

Sapp

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Coin collecting – nobody makes money but the dealers.

I learned this lesson the hard way as a kid, as I sank endless amounts of allowance and paychecks and tips into a coin collection and various and sundry offerings from the Franklin Mint, touted as “brilliant investments” and “guaranteed to be coveted”. Yes, some of the things I gathered were very pretty, but 50 years later when it came time to divest myself of the items for this reason and that, I found out that most of the stuff was worth: melt value. That’s just the sad reality of the collecting world.

The same holds true for stamps: the mint sheets of things like the Mercury mission

301748

Face value: $4.00. Dealer price today: $18.40. Hardly a brilliant investment over time, and that’s for a mint sheet. Certainly not what my father envisioned as he gathered sheets like this which I ended up inheriting. Individual cancelled stamps collected from envelopes will fetch you… well, kindling, really. With the exception of a few very rare beauties, stamp collecting is a hobby for amateurs (in the original sense, meaning “those who love”) rather than investors.

Not that dealers out there are not still trying to flummox the unwise and the uninformed. Look at this beautiful collection of Liberty Seated coins from PCS stamps and coins, offered for only two payments of $295.00:

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Yes, it’s very attractive. Here’s the potential breakdown of value, taken from the PCGS website – you can be sure that the coins you get will be the commonest (hence cheapest) varieties out there, and all in “Very Good” condition, or between grade 8 and 10.

1877 CC Liberty Seated Half Dollar – grade 8 – $59.00
1876 CC Liberty Seated Quarter – Grade 8 – $60.00
1876 CC Liberty Seated Dime – Grade 8 – $29.00

Total $148.00

That pretty little case probably costs about 30.00 or less from a dealer in China – so for a premium of $400.00 you can have someone put together a set of coins that you could own for 1/3 the price. Even 50 years down the road, don’t expect your investment to appreciate anywhere near that much.

Old US coinage can be beautiful, and top specimens command insane prices from the wealthy bidders who buy them at auction – but if you want to make money from collecting coins… become a dealer.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Try Moxie, they said.

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My first introduction to Moxie came as I read Stuart Little in the 1950s. Stuart, on his journey to find his lost love Margalo, stopped at a gas station and asked about something to drink.

“Have you any sarsaparilla in your store?” asked Stuart. “I’ve got a ruinous thirst.”
“Certainly,” said the storekeeper. “Gallons of it. Sarsaparilla, root beer, birch beer, ginger ale, Moxie, lemon soda, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Dipsi Cola, Pipsi Cola, Popsi Cola, and raspberry cream tonic. Anything you want.”

At the time I had no idea what Moxie was, but was delighted to find out later that it was a real thing, unlike the Dipsi, Pipsi, and Popsi colas mentioned. And yes, it’s definitely an acquired taste. It’s reminiscent of root beer or sarsparilla, but the dominant flavoring is gentian root, which brings a bitterness to the drink not found in other soft drinks (unless you’re fond of Campari soda, not usually found outside of Italy.) God forbid anyone should make a soda version of Fernet-Branca!

But Moxie is different, and refreshing. The bitterness doesn’t bother me, in fact it makes the concoction more satisfying on a hot day than something that’s just overly sugary. I may like it for the same reason I like chestnut honey, which I discovered on a trip to Slovenia – wonderfully full-bodied, with that same distinctive bitterness which offsets the sweetness nicely.

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Originating around 1876 as a patent medicine called “Moxie Nerve Food,” Moxie is closely associated with the state of Maine and was designated the official soft drink of Maine on May 10, 2005. Its creator, Dr. Augustin Thompson, was born in Union, Maine. (Extracted from Wikipedia)

For the longest time, Frank Anicetti ran the Moxie Museum in Lisbon, Maine; this year saw the closure of the store, which was at the heart of Maine’s annual Moxie Festival since 1913.

FrankAnicetti

Frank Anicetti serves up Moxie ice cream

But even though the Kennebec Fruit Company store is gone, Moxie will stay close to the hearts and stomachs of Mainahs; there’s still the Matthews Museum in Union, which has an entire wing devoted to Moxie.

MoxieExhibit

The Moxie Wing at the Matthews Museum in Union, Maine

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Now in the interest of full disclosure, I’m still a Pepper, and always have been. In my years sojourning in Europe, I discovered that Europeans – while they find Coke and Pepsi palatable – generally look upon Root Beer and Dr Pepper as tasting like medicine. With that in mind, I suspect Moxie wouldn’t find much of a market in Vienna or Ljubljana… in fact, it might be just enough to turn even our best European friends into a torch-and-pitchfork waving mob.

But such is life. The poor souls probably wouldn’t appreciate nattō either. They have my sympathy. For the moment, I’m happy to be in Maine, where Moxie is readily available.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Klaatu Barada Nikto

When I purchased the relatively recent remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, it included a nice remastered copy of the 1950 original so my money wasn’t a total waste.

dayearthstoodstill1

If you’ve never seen it (Ai! What rock have you been living under?) it is based on the timeless story by Harry Bates, “Farewell to the Master,” which is worth a read all by itself.

Long seared having been seared into my mind since the first time I saw it as a child, I’m gratified that this film ranks 7th on Arthur C. Clarke’s top-10 science fiction film list, because even 65 years later – coincidentally my age – it’s just as relevant now as it was then. It’s a tight film, without a second wasted, and made with the intention that it would:

a) be as realistic as the technology allowed, and
b) transmit the message that mankind needs to get rid of its violent nature if it cares to survive.

Having spent a career as a linguist, I some time ago watched the film again with the intent of listening to Klaatu’s language, and transcribing what he said as accurately as possible. There is so little dialog that it can’t really be considered a conlang, but it was interesting to me nonetheless.

Klaatu barada nikto!” is one of the most famous lines ever uttered in a science-fiction film, but was not the only thing that Klaatu said. The remainder of the dialog is:

Gort! Deglet ovrosco! (Said after Klaatu is shot the first time)

Imray Klaatu naruwak.
Makro [pluvau|pluval], baratu lokdeniso impeklis.
Yavo tari [axo|axel] bugletio barengi degas.
(Klaatu’s instructions – ostensibly to his Federation – for his “demonstration of power”; this linguist’s best transcription. Two words are nearly impossible to pinpoint without a script or screenplay. You can listen to the dialog here.)

Klaatu barada nikto! (Probably something like “Klaatu needs help!”)

Gort, berengo. Probably much like “Mirab, his sails unfurled,” i.e. Gort, let’s blow this bait shack.

I never tire of watching this film – its value to the human condition, and as an early example of outstanding science fiction cinematography, will never diminish.

Here is the text of Klaatu’s speech, for your consideration:

“I am leaving soon, and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group, anywhere, can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all, or no one is secure. Now, this does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves and hired policemen to enforce them. We, of the other planets, have long accepted this principle. We have an organization for the mutual protection of all planets and for the complete elimination of aggression. The test of any such higher authority is, of course, the police force that supports it. For our policemen, we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first sign of violence, they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk. The result is, we live in peace, without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war. Free to pursue more… profitable enterprises. Now, we do not pretend to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system, and it works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.”

The Old Wolf has spoken.