The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Reflecting at the Year's End

We in the fictional news business have had a great year! We've had so much to be sarcastic and unpleasant about.  Just consider:
  • Kim Chee Who, the restrained and civilized leader of North Korea. What more need we say?
  • Vladimir Putin, the last in a long line of statesmen, including Richard Nixon, Dick Cheney, and Benito Mussolini, who can be trusted with a weapon, since they only shoot their friends or their own feet.
  • Pakistan, a country now regretting its long-standing policy of nurturing savagery and violence on its Western border. (Pro tip: a buffer state is supposed to keep the bad guys away from you.)
  • Nigeria, where the government has sentenced a number of its soldiers to death for refusing to go into combat without guns or ammunition.
  • The Scots voters who (narrowly) expressed a preference for being part of the United Kingdom.
  • The rest of the United Kingdom, which (narrowly) decided to turn down a US offer to become the fifty-first state.
  • Raul Castro; just visualize him making a scale-balancing gesture with his hands: "Russia, the US? Russia, the US? Gosh, why didn't I think of this before? Thanks, Your Holiness."
  • The fringies and nut jobs who will find, in the current outpouring of outrage over police shootings (by and of), an excuse to do some shooting of their own.
  • Detroit, where everyone some people a few people are celebrating a successful bankruptcy. Bankruptcy, of course, is a way of legally reneging on debt. But still, whoopee!
  • And finally, the good folks of our own state, who want the damn roads fixed and are damned if they'll pay one red cent more in taxes to get it done. See, the problem is, money used to grow on trees, and then the Emerald Ash Borer came along and ...
Problem is, from our stand point, all of that is more or less real.  As the saying goes, you can't make this stuff up, and since that's our stock in trade, we have to look elsewhere for inspiration.  Oh, well. At least we can contemplate a well-deserved retirement on the lake front property in Shiawassee County. The only question is, which lake will get there first, Huron or Michigan?

Have a good festive season, and join us in hoping that we have to make up more of the bad news next year, instead of just reading about it.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A funny guy

That Vladimir Putin, what a card!  He timed his State of Whatever They Call It speech to coincide with a gala insurgent attack in Chechnya! Brilliant timing, Vlad!

He also says the West is "afraid of Russia." We're trying to "isolate" the Rodina.  So Russia's strategy is to turn away from the parts of the world with money and technology and like that, and honey up to the other parts. Of course, if the sanctions continue, we may see places in, say, Central Africa or the Caribbean providing foreign aid to Moscow.  How's Venezuela working out as a pal, Mr. President?

Now the last time a western power decided on a tactic like this -- fighting against "encirclement" and demanding a place at the colonial table -- it didn't work out too well. A little unpleasantness starting in 1914, for example.  And then a triumphal comeback tour 25 years later on. But the thing is, old boy, neocolonialism's played out. The colonizees are wise to the game, now. Plus, a lot of 'em have hardware you sold 'em back in the 80's, and they kind of resented the roll-back of customer support.

But maybe it's a cleverer scheme that it seems. Shares of Western goodwill are too expensive, so Russia is shorting Africa and the Middle East. It could work. And if Vladimir can make the books look good enough, maybe a white knight will offer an acquisition. Facebook, say, or News Corp. Once they got past Mr. Murdoch's editorial slant, they'd get on just fine.

Now he's killing trees

McConnell tells us that The Least Weasel is available as a paperback. Tormenting bits and bytes is one thing, but I'm not sure this isn't going too far.

He says it's available from createspace now, and that it'll show up on Amazon proper in a few days.  Can no one stop him?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Okay, okay. McConnell has a new book out.

This guy is getting to be a pain. Every year, he cranks out one of these things.  All with incomprehensible titles and section heads. This time -- get this -- the chapters are names of animals! Oh, yeah, and the book, too: The Least Weasel. He swears there really is such a critter.

Anyway, it's out there on Amazon Kindle. And he's even working on a way to get an honest-to-god paperback version, too, for those of you who a) prefer real books and b) quite like this sort of thing.  He says you should go look at his Amazon author page if you're interested.

And as if that wasn't enough, he's hijacked my Twitter account, @jfmcluggage, to ramble on about the book and who knows what all else.

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving. Time to eat ourselves into oblivion.

A really good summary of what idiots believe about vaccinations

The CBC ran this summary of the myths and for-profit delusions surrounding vaccinations. Here's our abbreviated summary of their summary.
  • Ethylmercury is not methylmercury: Thimerosal which is the source of the "vaccines have mercury in 'em" myth, breaks down into the former, not the latter. There is no evidence that ethylmercury is in any way harmful.
  • Autism: There is simply no evidence of any link between vaccines and autism. None. The doc who was paid to claim that has been run out of town on a rail.
  • Too many vaccines "overwhelm" the immune system: Bogus. The number of organisms you get from vaccinations are miniscule compared to the number you get from kissing someone or eating at a fast food restaurant. Arrant nonsense.
  • Low Risk: The diseases against which we vaccinate are the ones you really don't want to get. The risk of getting, for example, polio, are far greater than whatever risk there might be in getting the shot.
  • Unnecessary: Socially irresponsible. Any one individual may not be at risk from a particular pathogen, but by failing to be vaccinated, he provides a host from which it can be transferred to another person, perhaps not so healthy. Failing to be vaccinated is being a bad citizen.
Question: Why can a five-year-old be disciplined or suspended at school for making a gun-sign with his finger, but not for being a walking repository of diseases?  Might have to start asking that question a bit more frequently.

Long time no post

Apologies for the inactivity here. The Editor's excuses are:
  • Supervising the completion of McConnell's new book (see above)
  • Spending a fortnight in the hospital with a surprise case of pneumonia
  • Experimenting with Twitter (@jfmcluggage -- follow it for a larger volume of shorter nonsense than usually appears here).
  • General indolence
However, now that things are back to something approximating normalcy, we'll try to make this a bit more lively.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Senator Creek Regrets

Thank you. Thank you all for being. Here. Being here. I realize that something or other that went on last week ... or was it the week before? Anyway, something I said or did. Or maybe something I ate. Anyway, not everybody cared for it. Some people, evidently, got all upset. And at the time, I went on record as saying "Don't be upset." But they tell me that didn't help.

So I am wherever it is we are today to repeat my earlier statement. I will repeat it here or in any other venue, avenue, or byway of this great nation. "Don't be upside," I say. I've said it before, they tell me, and I'll keep on saying it until they tell me to stop. "Don't be upside-down." The blood'll all rush to your head. That's what my grandfather always said, anyway. Okay, they're signaling me to stop saying it now.

But you know, just the other day I was speaking to a young man with a bad haircut and a microphone. That happens a lot, and it leads me to believe that there may be quite a few of 'em, fellas like that, and Lord-a-mercy, they sure have a lot of questions. Anyway, I'd managed to get away from my aides. Those kids who follow me around and tell me what's going on. Some of 'em have those two-wheel seg-ment things they roll around on. My roll-aides, I call 'em. But this particular morning, I ducked behind a cement truck and gave 'em the slip, and when I turned around, there was this guy. And he asked me what I thought of the scandal.

Now I don't always have the best luck, what with my hearing and my eyesight and my aides and the squirrels and all, figuring out whether somebody is talking to me or what language he's speakin' or whether he's some kind of reporter or one of the squirrels. So I drew myself up to my full height, put my hat on forwards-around, and assumed my full Senatorial stance and sonorous, authoritative voice, and I said, "Who are you?" And just to be on the safe side, I offered him a peanut in case he was a squirrel. They're tricky little bastards, squirrels. 

Well, sir, he didn't want the peanut, so I guess he must have been a reporter. And I told him ... and I will defend to the death my right to say it ... that we ought to maintain the posture of this great nation of ours, sort of bent forward with our heads cocked slightly to one side, like a dog who don't quite understand what you said, and that we should stay the course in that fashion until it starts to hurt. And then stop.

About then, my aides caught up, and I must say, I don't think they were entirely justified in beating him that severely, unless of course, he really was a squirrel. But by the time they'd got the SWAT team sorted out from the tourists, I'd just wandered down the block, with my hands in my pockets, whistling' and looking up at the big buildings and making out like I didn't know what was goin' on, just like I used to do back in Detroit when the cops was nosing around, and I got clean away. Never did find out what all the excitement was about. 

But the next morning, when I'd had my coffee and medications, I regretted it. The coffee, especially. And I just want to say to all of you, the ones with neckties on, anyway, that I truly regret any misunderstandings. And for those of you who do understand it, well, I regret you, too.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Catching up

Haven't spent a great deal of time in the swank Wood-Charles HQ building recently. First, we had a couple of field research trips, inspecting secret training facilities State Parks. Then we had to do a quick trip to the Capital region, looking into a rumored dip in restaurant revenue (intervention successful).  Anyway, operations are back to normal (to the extent they ever are), and we can note some data gathered from instrumentation, imagery, and FOIA requests.

First, some new members of the team:
  • Electronic content specialist, Bjorn Digital
  • Our Punjabi-Irish-Caribbean Ethicist, Izzat O'Cayman

Clandestine humint (i.e. things overheard):
  • Young State Park: Woman: You guys want to buy a sail boat? You don't have one. Man: You know what? I don't smoke crack, and I ain't gonna do that, either.
  • Black Lake: Small boy: Pow, pow, pow! You want to use my grenade launcher?
  • Smaller boy, chanting: Hey, hey, hey, hey! Who stucka mustard?
  • Little girl, on a bike with training wheels, frantically: I'm slowing down!

New project pitches:
  • Documentary on Simon and Garfunkel: With Stephen Frye and Patrick Stewart, Hugh Laurie as Neil Young, and Justin Beiber as the Monkey. "Simon and Garfunkel didn't have a monkey!" "Write one in."
  • Therapy bears
(Management would like to apologize for the poor quality of the illustrations on this blog. The person who drew the cartoon at left is receiving counseling. Wood-Charles promises to employ a skilled three-year-old to do these drawings as soon as one is available. A spokesman for three-year-olds said "Echo Location!")

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Elijah Creek, concerned citizen, addresses City Council

Good evening and thank you, Senators and Councilwomen. I'm told that it's an honor to address this august body, and I mean that in the most sensitive manner. I myself have a November body, and I know how some of you must feel. Tonight, I do not wish to waste the council's time with ill-considered rubbish. I have given this rubbish -- as I do all rubbish -- long and careful consideration, and I can only hope that all of us have as well.

I wish to draw the council's attention to the question of animal eligibility. While you are considering new regulations for determining which animals may reside here, in whose backyard, and run for political office, I remind you all that our former rules were,  in fact, declared unconstitutional in 1974, and I believe that in the spirit of mean-spirited finger-pointing that has made me what I am today, we should determine who our mayor was in that immemorial year, and punish him or her severely. As President Poe said,  sink him in a dank tarn of ushers.

I realize that it may not be possible to find out who the mayor was in 1974, what with all those records being destroyed when they tore down the bus station , but I believe it is in the best interest of posterity that we try. To quote my revered ancestor, Paul Revere, if not who, why? If not them, wherefore?

And I yield the remainder of my time to the King of Norway.

Monday, July 7, 2014

US to expand into Europe?

As Scotland prepares to vote on leaving the United Kingdom, long-range contingency planning is going on at high levels, both in London and in other capitals.  If the UK were to lose Scotland, it would reprsent a loss of both revenue and face for either a Labour or Tory government. Whither England? is then the question that is being asked in Parliament and, increasingly, in the US House and Senate.

"I have just two words for you," said US Secretary of State, John Kerry. "Fifty-first State. Whadaya think?"

Is it conceivable that 238 years after the beginning of the American Revolution, the Empire formally known as Great Britain could join the United States?  Consider the advantages:

Cost savings: by eliminating the British military establishment and turning the defense of the ex-realm over to the US Army and Navy, a huge and redundant expense would be eliminated. The added costs to the US would be minor; the Pentagon estimates that a brigade of infantry would be sufficient to secure the island's northern border, focusing primarily on ending Scots cattle raids. And one or two Coast Guard vessels would be able to adequately deter naval aggression from France and Ireland.

"The Scandinavians are another matter," said US Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. "If the Vikings start acting up again, we'll need another Littoral Combat Ship, at least."

Health Care: British citizens would be able to avoid the delays, deficiencies, and even deaths associated with Government-provided healthcare (with some exceptions among veterans, it's granted).  Doctors would be able to transition from the NHS to more efficiently-run private hospital systems, join a huge and powerful lobbying organization, and avoid (at least temporarily) the much-hated ICD-10 coding model.

Human Rights: Britain has a large population of poor and marginalized people, many of them from disadvantaged parts of the world. As citizens of the US, they would be able to come to North America, escaping marginalization, unemployment, and prejudice in England and experiencing those things here instead. Furthermore, the British people would finally enjoy constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms of speech, choice, privacy, and firearms ownership and be able to vote for elected officials who promise to uphold them.  Experts assure us that there really is a difference, although it's too complicated to go into right now.

Economic Freedom: A Britain that left the European Union would escape a vast, stultifying government bureaucracy, striving to turn Europe's unique and proud traditions into a single, bland set of life ways.  As US citizens, they would find that our government never undertakes any such ruthless concentration of thought and action, preferring to outsource it to large corporations. And from our perspective, an influx of poor and easily-exploitable people would be of substantial advantage to the fast food, convenience store, and landscaping industries.

There are, obviously, downsides.  For one, it would probably be best to give the new state a new name. "Old England" has been suggested by several commentators, primarily to distinguish it from Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. This has complications, since it would also involve regional and civic renaming, including Old Hampshire, Old York, and Old Jersey.

Another area of difficulty would arise when US traffic standards were applied. It has been suggested that residents of the new state be allowed to continue driving on the wrong side of the road but that it be illegal. The revenue from traffic citations could offset most of the costs related to unification.

Finally, there is the vexed question of language. Some legislators from Arizona and California have said that they will put forward bills to make "American" the standard language of business and education (including the requirement to call soccer "Old Football").  This shouldn't be insurmountable, since American is not and has never been a single language. From the great south ("How y'all?") to the frozen north ("How's it goin', eh?"), from the west ("Dude!") to the east coast ("Hey, greet this, woodja?"), Americans are used to colorful regionalisms. Experts agree that even a term as unusual and outlandish as "Hello" will be accepted.

Will this be the future of Britain? Or will it opt to struggle (or "muddle" as they say) along on its own, abashed at its loss and forced to bolster its failing manhood with new Aircraft carriers named after a Queen? Or will it approach yet another North American superpower, and become just the most far-flung province of the Maritimes, doomed to a cod-based economy, and with the Pound tied to the value of Prince Edward Island mussels? Only time will tell.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A taste of things to come

Joe McConnell gave us this excerpt from the next of his libelous rants novels about Mac MacArthur. He seems to think it's funny.

Burke could talk almost endlessly on any topic that interested him, although his narrative style was essentially a dump of a mind map. He leapt from point to point in a way that reflected his understanding of things but usually baffled his audience. And outside of work, his interests were almost exclusively related to online gaming. Recently, he'd managed to battle his way to the twelfth degree ranking of a character called "Snorq" in the game of Satanic Sychosis. This achievement had required him to destroy his way from a lovingly rendered post-apocalyptic version of Cincinnati, all the way to a demonic headquarters and stolen vehicle chop shop on a planet hidden behind Saturn. He was now trying to find the right weapon – Mac thought he said "Laser Sawzall" but he might have misheard it – which would let him hew his way through a Ferrochrome version of Hadrian's Wall and save civilization from an evil being.

"An evil being?" asked Mac, trying to be polite.

"Yeah, he rides this giant, two-wheel thing. He uses a hammer like Thor. His war name is Schnozniak."

"Are there any women in these things?"

That stopped Burke in his tracks. "Wow. I don't know. I mean, there are girls playing, but ..."

"Yeah, but are there any female characters, anybody who you'd recognize as female, good or evil?"

"No. Some people complained about that, I think. But the programmers said it was too hard."

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

History at its most depressing

People are not all the same. Some are naturally drawn to athletics, some folks get music theory from an early age. Me, I speed read. Always have, from the point at which I learned to read at all. This is sometimes a useful skill, and if there ever was a need for it, this book is it. Meredith has been writing on this topic for decades, and this is, in fact, the third revision.  760 pages of what adds up to despair.

Those few of you who bothered to parse out the underlying themes of my general worldview will recall that I have said several times "Africa is screwed." This book is, as noted, 760-some pages of how and why that analysis is correct.

To simplify, decolonialization was a morally necessary thing, but it was bungled so badly that instead of giving millions of people their freedom, uhuru paved the way for dictatorships and ethnic / religious conflict. Then, when those things began to have an impact on economies elsewhere, a process of re-meddling on the part of the colonial powers (Britain, France, Belgium, and Portugal) and new meddling by us, the Russians, and most recently the Chinese made things infinitely worse. Meanwhile, the population is expanding and the amount of arable land is contracting. People are moving en masse to ghettos around the cities. Meredith concludes:
"After decades of mismanagement and corruption, most African states have been hollowed out. They are no longer instruments capable of serving the public good. Indeed, far from being able to provide aid and protection to their citizens, African governments and the vampire-like politicians who run them are regarded by the populations they rule as yet another burden they have to bear in the struggle for survival."

And the kicker? The revision was done three years ago. Boko Harum and the ebola outbreak in west Africa aren't even on Meredith's radar.

We did this, "we" being western Europe initially and later, the Cold War Kids and whatever kind of war we're in now. And even worse: no one can demonstrate that aid programs have done anything to help. In fact, many efforts to provide aid have been accidently or deliberately diverted to local elites and even back to non-African corporations, making the situation worse. Even the people who are in the business of providing aid are beginning to suffer from "donor fatique."

Sorry, Bill and Melinda. Nice try. But Africa is screwed.

The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Could you be a bit more specific?

From the front page of Webroot's user dashboard:

"Cybercriminals continue to efficiently populate their botnets, through the systematic and persistent spamvertising of tens of thousands of fake emails, for the purpose of socially engineering gullible end users into executing the malicious attachments found in the rogue emails."

Okay. I think I've got it.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

World cup coverage

Game over. I'll post the live tweets here shortly. If you can't wait, they're at @jfmcluggage. Summary: breathtakingly boring. Two hours of my life I want back.

Oh, Lord. Now it's golf. Off, off, where's the power button? Here are the live tweets:

Wood Charles' live world coverage! Live from an undisclosed couch in Ann Arbor.
So far, idiots talking over video of people in uniforms.

"Players leading children onto the field. Sacrifices?

Somebody's Natl anthem playing. One player's head bobbling, sort of."

"Croatians singing. "" We are proud to come here And kick balls around.

For your pleasure. And money."""

Coin toss. Unclear (to me) who won. Now a release of doves. Doves fleeing.

Someone kicked the ball out of bounds. It's back in play. Nose ball bounces off someone's

head. Out of bounds again. Breathtaking.

Two players fell over each other. Crowd loves it. Some kind of free kick now.

Spectator in green suit catches it.

Player fails to score. Another player kicks ball. Ball out of bounds.

Referee now scolding someone.

" one thing you can say about Croatians, they're a dangerous team ..."

Oh, somebody scored. On their own goal apparently.

Ball being kicked around. Commentators talking.

The guy in the green suit is actually a player, I guess.

" some of the lights have gone out "

Long shot at the goal. Misses by only 20 feet or so.

Green suit spoils score again. And again. Ball now being kicked around again.

Green guy quite busy.

Player down. Up again. Ball kicked into stands. Long high kick down field.

Hits player squarely on head. Apparently not a foul.

Penalty if some kind. Ball kicked out of bounds.

Ok, this time Brazil gets ball in correct goal. Crowd seems pleased.

Commentator says "I hope your architect is wetted" or something like that.

Croatian player kicks ball. Hits Brazilian. Kicks again, hits Brazilian in head.

More people kicking ball. Out of bounds.

Out of bounds. Back in. Out again.

One player tries to surrender. Referee reminds him he's not playing for France.

Tense situation. Out of bounds.

"He's doing silly things in silly positions." People kicking ball around.

Brazilian player looks a lot like Oliver North. Probably isn't. Half time. Suits talking.

Score seems to be 1 to 1.

Suits saying incomprehensible things. Commercials.  Mostly incomprehensible, too.

Ooh, there's the green guy.

We're back. Out of bounds. "Crowd seems pensive ..." Oooo! Out of bounds!

Ball kicked into the stands. Player rolling around in pain or angst. Ball off knee,

off another player's face. Now being kicked around.

Announcer keeps calling one player "Racket-itch." Long kick, hits player on head.

Pattern emerging.

Elbow to face. This does seem to be frowned on. Lots of hands being held up in appeal of something. Noiw a player has fallen down.

Out of bounds, kicked in clear across field, out of bounds. Long kick down field,

FAILS to hit player on head! Penalty!

Free kick, only 15 feet high.  Aaaand ... Out of bounds. Crowd cheering something.

Another penalty! Free kick. Score. Crowd happy.

Ball bouncing off various heads. Commentators saying fatuous things. Ball kickage ...

Down to 10 minutes, thank God.

Another goal, but no good, for some reason. Croatians unhappy. out of bounds.

Player down. Ball being kicked . Another goal. Players happy.

Seems to be over. Brazil appears to have won.  Suits are back. I'm out of here.

LeMans is on Sunday.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Online sports coverage from Wood Charles

Pickup Basketball

Over the course of many years, Wood Charles writers have been encouraged liable to mock and denigrate professional sports. A recent investigation by unnamed government agencies has alleged any number of nefarious influences and reasons, chief among them:
  • Receipt of suspicious sums from NPR in order to drive audiences away from stock car racing and toward Wait Wait Don't Tell me.
  • A quid pro quo agreement to mock International Badminton competitions in return for not pressuring the University of Michigan to host a World Wrestling Foundation event in Michigan Stadium.
  • Collusion with a national intelligence agency in scuppering North Korea's bid to host the 2015 Pickup Basketball Championships.
Wood Charles management vehemently denies these misstatements. In a press release yesterday, Chairman J. Francis McLuggage quoted Dr. Johnson: "Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance."  He explained that most contributors had never watched any mass, popular sporting events for more than the amount of time it takes to change the channel, instead preferring to watch such educational and uplifting programming as COPS. Consequently, the writers were easily swayed by a culture of fear and intimidation, and were only too willing to make jokes about Golf, Hockey, Monster Truck Debates, and so on.

In a deal with authorities, WCA has agreed to watch one randomly selected World Cup Soccer match until completion or sleep brings an end to it. In an effort to remain awake, the WCA team will live-tweet commentary during the course of the game.

"If this goes well," said McLuggage,  "we may expand the program to football and the NBA." Asked if they would consider including Major League Baseball, McLuggage said no. "We have some standards."

Barring difficulties, WCA will watch and tweet the game between, ah, let's see here, Brazil and Croatia, 4:00 PM June 12th. Follow @jfmcluggage to participate.

It has been pointed out that the driver of the pickup truck in the above illustration has a hand the size of his head and only four digits on it. This was not an omission, but a specific tribute to the work of the late, great Walt Kelly: "Keerful of your fingers." "Yup. I 'members ol' one-thumb Brophy."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The plantation 01

Agribusiness ramps (get it?) up locally. Archer-Daniels-Midland "concerned"
Arugula Up the Wazoo

The Back Forty

Hobbes and Black-Style Herb Pyramid

The menu: 01

Catching up on a year's worth of food pictures.

Duck risotto with golden trumpet mushrooms and asparagus.

Vegetable saute', all local, some extremely local.

Huevos rancheros, Joseph Street Style

The table

It's a good day ...

... for headlines, tweets, and so on that trigger the old imagination.

For example, @irarchaeology tells us: "In 1007 AD the Book of Kells was stolen. Two months later it was found beneath a sod ..." Whether or not the sod was charged with anything, we don't know.

An Ancient Rude Monument
@VoxHiberionacum says: "On the Recent Desecration of an Ancient Rude Monument at Tara ..."

And Vladimir Putin (who is either drunk most of the time or is being very badly translated) said, of Hillary Clinton, "When people push boundaries too far, it’s not because they are strong but because they are weak. But maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman." Now, let's see, the last world leader who was pushing boundaries was ... oh, hell, who was that now? It'll come to me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

You'll never believe this!

Incredibly, against all odds, the Pakistan Taliban splits into factions. "This is unprecedented," said an expert in religio-political terror groups. "Never, in all the last twenty minutes, have I heard of anything like this happening!" He spoke on condition of anonymity, for reasons so obvious that they don't bear repeating.

"Wow," said US Vice President Joseph Biden, "I didn't see that coming."  His comment, which was intended to be off the record, was picked up by thirty-six live microphones, most of them positioned near his mouth.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Situational Awareness Quiz

In which of the following African countries does the US have a military presence?
  • Burkina Faso
  • Congo
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Djibouti
  • Ethiopia
  • Kenya
  • Mali
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Somalia
  • South Sudan
  • Uganda
The answer is: all of them.  The number ranges from a couple of dozen in Somalia to around 4000 at a base in Djibouti. The Washington Post article was vague on numbers, but that's sort of beside the point.  Looked at one way, you could say that the US has a military presence in virtually all countries if you count embassy security, but most if not all of the above goes beyond that.  And the list and map provided may or may not limit themselves to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Your morning idiocy round up

Good morning. And now the idiocy round up for Wednesday, May 21st.

The Guardian reports that the French government has a wee bit of a problem with an incompatibility between new high-speed trains it has on order and some of its older stations. A size problem. With somewhere between 340 and 1800 of the new trains. And 1300 stations.

It's as if you have bought a Ferrari that you want to park in your garage, and you realize that your garage isn't exactly the right size to fit a Ferrari because you didn't have a Ferrari before. We discovered the problem a little late …

By "trains", we assume they mean "engines and cars", by the way. The upshot is that they'll be fixing the stations, not the new trains. And of course, the existing administration is blaming the previous administration. For some reason, they (the previous administration) decided to split the administration of the national railroads in two, with one organization responsible for the rail network and another one moving trains around on it.  One group gave the other one measurements for its stations, but only the more recently built ones. The other group -- the one buying the new rolling stock -- took that information at face value, and ... voila! Une vĂ©ritable grappe (Grappe appears to be how Google Translate renders "cluster".)

Moving to the world of politics, it is reported that Russian Premier Vladimir Putin's "Palace" on the Black Sea was paid for with money from a vast healthcare fraud  "... in which medical suppliers were making millions by gouging hospitals as part of a health-care improvement program set up by Putin."  Putin says he didn't do anything wrong. I swear, Officer, those aren't my rubles!

In an apparently unrelated incident, Britain's Prince Charles, during a private conversation with a Jewish person whose family fled from Poland to Canada in 1939, is claimed to have said that now Putin is doing "the same thing".  Whether he meant forcing people to flee to escape horrific persecution or whether he believes that the Russian leader himself is preparing to flee to Canada was not clear. However, everyone and his serf are objecting strongly to the gaffe. Even neo-Nazis are upset, insisting that the comparison is an insult to Hitler.

And finally, Italy's former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, told an interviewer that as far as he's concerned, Germany's Angela Merkel isn't a lard-arse.  (He actually tacked an adjective onto the phrase, but the Wood-Charles policy on naughty words prevents us from repeating it; however, if you run it through Google Translate, it would probably give you "infoutrable".) 

To be clear, Berlusconi was adamantly denying that he ever said such a thing. Instead, he did admit "... jump[ing] out at her from behind a pillar in 2008 and yell[ing] “cuckoo”".  Berlusconi claimed that she found the prank funny, and said he got the idea from Vladimir Putin. (Note: we did not make that up. He is reported as saying that.)

This has been the idiocy round up.  We will not be bringing you the World Violence and General Mayhem Round Up today because no one here could stand to think about it, let alone attempt to mock it.

Friday, May 16, 2014

American slang for British Readers

Recently, in an article I can no longer find, there was yet another amusing piece in which an American was given a set of British slang terms and asked to guess what they meant. Although anyone who has seen any television since the 1970s would understand them, the author pretended not to and wrote crude and hipsterishly ironic mis-translations. This sort of off-hand journalism tends to obscure the very real differences between English and whatever it is we speak over here.  Consequently, here are some American words and phrases that may be useful for those traveling here from the mother country.

  • Mother country: way, way out in the boondocks, as in "Man, we're in one mother of a country now".
  • Boondocks: New Jersey.
  • Truck: (noun) a lorry; a large self-propelled wheeled vehicle used in the US to break up pavement. (verb) a silly walk.
  • Pickup truck:  a unit of measure equal to four sedans or nine buggers. Also a kind of motor vehicle owned by 99% of the US population.
  • Pickup basketball: a game played with an inflated ball, a parking lot, and pickup trucks.
  • Professional basketball: the last refuge of the scoundrel.
  • Bugger: a two-wheeled cart, intended to be drawn behind a bicycle.
  • Bugger off: a warning to a bicycle rider that his bugger has come loose.
  • Bugger you: An invitation to a ride in a bugger.
  • Sod off: As above, a warning to a landscape artisan that he has lost a quantity of grass and topsoil off the back of his truck.
  • Canada (US spelling: Canadia): A large North American country, characterized by snow and low self-esteem.
  • Ballocks: (noun) a) a neutered bull; b) an American actress. (verb) you don't want to know.
  • Bite me (US spelling: byte): a request for additional digital storage.
  • English: (noun) An Indo-European-derived language spoken in several underdeveloped nations. (adj) What the Queen is, as in "Don't you know the Queen's English?" "So's the King!"(1)
  • Castors up: broken, out of service; a reference to large devices such as tape drives, mainframes, and hybrid automobiles; such devices frequently have small, steerable wheels on the bottom. "My Prius went castors up."
  • Ford: (verb) to cross a stream or river by wading; (noun) a crack-smoking Mayor of a large city.
  • Minton: a common name for a pet; "Bad Minton! No biscuit!"

(1) The author is aware that there have been periods of British history during which there was a Queen but no King; further, he is aware of times in which the Queen was English and the King wasn't, viz., William of Orange, the Hanoverians, Lars the Norwegian, Joe the plumber, etc.  Byte me.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Those who cannot remember quagmires, etc.

News from the Pac Rim is discomforting lately.  It was interesting enough when only Japan and China were snapping at each other. Now China is annoying the Philipines as well. But even more concerning to those of us who remember the sixties and early seventies is the increasing tension between China and ... wait for it ... Vietnam.

This tiny People's Republic is once again threatened by the specter of foreign intervention.  A vast and intimidating economic powerhouse is menacing the free and democratic exercise of self-determination, carrying out secret plans to subvert, ah, something subvertable. A large faction within the Chinese government has decided that Vietnam represents a prime example of the so-called "Mahjong theory", a largely mythical historical process in which if one small Asian country is allowed to slip into capitalism, soon others will also fall victim, and before you know it, them damn round-eyes will be buildin' Pizza Huts in the forbidden city. 

Unnamed sources within the People's Liberation Army Navy (Yes, I know it sounds silly. That's what it's called) claim that US cruise ships in the Gulf of Tonkin have treacherously mocked their pre-owned Russian aircraft carrier without a declaration of mockage.  Chinese interests in the region are claimed to be in jeopardy. "Some of them have even been ON Jeopardy!" said a Government spokesman.  Most of Beijing was shut down this morning in order to allow a series of city-wide fire drills.(1)

The US State Department issued a rebuttal, denying Chinese claims that a new Ho Chi Min tunnel, reaching from Hanoi to Wasilla, was being used to smuggle arms, food supplies, and smart phones to the Vietnamese Army. (A resident of Wasilla told reporters that she couldn't even see Vietnam from her porch, particularly because there was a moose standing in the way.) Nevertheless, China went ahead with formation of a multinational force ("The Coalition of the Intimidated or Confused") to maintain peace in the region. It will include troops from China, North Korea, and China, and will be tasked with preventing insurgency and hooliganism in Vietnamese cities, including Hue, Kyoto, Manilla, and Sydney.

(1) All right, all right. That was insensitive. And not very new, either.  I'll put a letter of reprimand in my personnel file.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The secret, not-holy war

An article in New Scientist (you may not be able to see it if you're not a subscriber, in which case, you'll just have to trust me) describes the decline in religious belief across the world, but it also exposes for the first time the violent world of Atheist factionalism, a thing that makes sectarianism in actual religions seem like gym class.

The author, Graham Lawton, goes on for several pages about the thought and non-thought surrounding belief and dis-belief, but most importantly, in a side bar, there appears the following typology:

"Four kinds of atheism
Mind-blind -- can't comprehend religion
Apathetic -- can't be bothered
InCREDulous (sic) -- isolated from extreme acts of faith
Analytic -- explicitly reject religion"

This remarkably dim-witted abstruse set of categories seemed harmless until Wood-Charles consulted a not-well-known non-member of the local not-clergy, and discovered that this is actually an accurate discription of the fracture of disbelief into competing, mutually hostile not-sects.  Our contact (who spoke on condition of anonymity since he is not dis-un-authorized to speak to the press) showed us the following letter to New Scientist sent by a high-ranking official of one of the factions of the intolerant unconvinced:

"Graham Lawton's summary of atheism and religion was an interesting and useful piece, but many of us would have preferred that he continue to conceal the 4 kinds of atheism for a while. As a member of the one true sect of the non-faith, I can say that we need more time before we are able to initiate un-holy war against the heretical, schismatic, non-non-believers in the other three kinds. So until the True Un-elect of Atheism are prepared to rise up in dis-righteous anger and smite the schismatic horde of the not-damned -- or at least until we insert enough of our faithful non fidelibus into various governing bodies -- the wrath of nobody will have to wait, and it would be better if we all just pretended to get along."

 Whether this portends execution by the social virtual machine of the instruction if (NOT longBelief AND boolCranky) {mahem();} remains to be seen. However, we did note a sharp increase in companies that produce spandex atheism shorts.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Free at last, free at last ...

It is now permissible for Ann Arbor residents to -- try to restrain your excitement -- scrape food off your plate straight into your composting cart!

A spokesperson for the NAAPL (National Association for the Advancement of Procyon lotor) expressed optimism.

"There's a tremendous opportunity there to reduce the amount of materials we're putting in the landfill ..." he told reporters.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Yahhhrg roush, garble-foo, innit?

How does the notion of Sir Ozzy Osborne grab you?  A 45-year-old Black Sabbath fan in the UK is petitioning the gummint to knight him.  According to a UPI story, one has to have made “... significant contributions to national life” in order to qualify.  Dunno if Mr. Osborne qualifies, depending on what nationality they're talking about. The nation of Great Britain? The empire of Rock n' Roll? The state of confusion?

I actually know next to nothing about the man, but I think the UK should go for it. How many knights of the realm do they have, anyway, who are rumored to bite the heads off bats? Who have had their own lexically incomprehensible reality show?(1)  Who have appeared briefly in a commercial, saying "What's a Bieber?"  I mean, if this doesn't constitute significant contributions to something or other, what does?

(1) Now if we had knighthoods over here in the US, there'd be plenty of those to choose from.

Remarkably astute ...

... considering the source

Headline: Archdiocese of Detroit has advice for drivers annoyed by I-96 closure: Pray.

No word yet on advice for drivers annoyed by the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

It's May First: National day of Reason

I'm never sure how much good things like this do -- I mean, public displays of non-support for things you don't believe -- but here it is, anyway.  The National Day of Reason.

"Be reasonable. Do it your way."

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Yet another list

A national organization of people who know about such things has placed two Detroit freeway bridges on their list of Most Structurally Deficient, ah, things. The Free Press noted it in a recent story.

They omitted mentioning that the list also includes:
  • Rob Ford's weltanschaung
  • The foreign policy of King George III
  • Me
Just setting the record straight.

A few notebook items

Time to clean off the note-taking application on the Wood-Charles reasonably-smart phone.

Overheard ...
  • "How can you be religious and have a tattoo?" -- Ravens Club, Ann Arbor
  • "Those Europe guys just wanna take over!" -- Detroit Metro Airport
  • "Is that your teeth making that noise?" -- Dental Tech, Ann Arbor
  • "We need a new definition of what we call water. We gots orange water, lemon water, blue water, green water ..." -- Target employee, Ann Arbor
  • Camper A: "You goin' out in the kayak?" Camper B: "But it's all uphill!" -- Onaway State Park, Michigan
  • Fisherman A: "How deep is it?" Fisherman B: "Well, it varies. It depends on the water level." -- Young State Park, Michigan
  • Husband objects to the cost of renting a beach chair. Wife: "Well, whataya  gonna do, sit on the floor?" -- Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI
  • The motto of the fourteenth century rebellious Hussite sect, after arming their peasant followers with pots of burning oil: Try to set the Knight on fire.
  • In a war between Michigan and Wisconsin, Michigan would win because we would field mechanized infantry, whereas they would only have pasteurized. But this would be offset by Milwaukee's fearsome fleet of gravy boats.
  • An entire story devoted to funny toponymics: the little Wyoming town of Gender Gap. The tiny Vietnamese hamlet, Mee Sum Too.  A sister-city arrangement between Phukhet, Thailand and Nantucket, Massachusetts.
Ah, much better. Plenty of room now.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Long lost deer hunting camp found underwater

Archaeologists announced that they had been able to locate the remains of an ancient deer camp, drowned in the waters of Lake Huron.  Dating back to at least the 1950s, it has already yielded a collection of beautifully preserved artifacts, including several pristine cans of Blatz, a plaid flannel ceremonial shirt, and "miscellaneous auto or truck parts." Asked how he knew the camp was underwater, a spokesman said that bank records show the tribe still owing $15,340 on the property, and ...

It is said to be the most significant find since last year's discovery of a pre-Internet Elk's Club, found while excavating for a new Buffalo Wild Wings cafe.

Monday, April 28, 2014

US Cities Scramble to Attract Hot Sauce Maker

Huy Fong Foods, Inc., maker of the famous and beloved Sriracha hot sauce, has been forced to relocate from its home in California. Neighbors object to the stinging cloud of hot pepper essence that wafts from the factory. However, other cities are running campaigns to get the factory relocated in their back yards.  One city, somewhere on the ocean, is running an ad with a Sriracha bottle water skiing in what, presumably, is their sunny clime.

As part of our on-going support for Governor Snyder's attempts to seduce attract new business into Michigan, Wood-Charles is running a campaign of its own, the theme being "Michigan: things could be hotter here." 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Insensitive humor via literal translation

It's not polite to mock entire language groups, simply because their terminology, literally translated into ours, is funny. But if you demonstrate empathy by showing a self-effacing sense of humor, you can nullify the hurtfulness to some extent.  In that vein, then, we report that a literal translation of Beijing subway stop names reported by the Wall Street Journal included, among others, these amusing stations:
  • Cholera Camp
  • Safe Chastity Gate
  • Safe Neighborhood (which is right next to South Gong and Drum Alley)
You can travel from Mud Depression on the south-west, all the way to Salary Uncle on the north-east, or if you prefer somewhere closer in, there's Magnetic Implement Intersection or Puddle of Accumulated Water.

To be fair, though, we asked some colleagues in the PRC for their take on New York City place names, and they supplied us with these.
  • Corner of the Bonus-earning Hot Dog Vendors
  • Ludex (aka Ludicrous Excess Wallow)
  • Gun Packing District
  • Kosher Pork Butcher Alley
  • Madman Noodle Street
  • Ever-curious Policeman
The Beijing map is here. We're still working on the NYC version.