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Quotes o’ the Day

We have come to live in a society based on insults, on lies, and on things that just aren’t true. It creates an environment where deranged people feel empowered.

Colin Powell

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Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him and let him know you trust him.

Booker T. Washington

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Every war, when it comes or before it comes, is represented not as a war, but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.

George Orwell

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Don’t find fault, find a remedy. Anybody can complain.

Henry Ford

Powell

Ford

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The Roman emperor Caligula (reigned 37-41 AD) announced that he intended to appoint his horse Incitatus to the position of Roman Consul. However, he was assassinated before making the appointment official. Historians say Caligula was implying that a horse could perform the duties of a politician.

● In 1986, Wimbledon began using yellow tennis balls instead of white because yellow is more visible to TV viewers.

● Mount Everest, at 29,029 feet high, is the world’s tallest mountain, but there’s a catch. Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, which is only 20,702 feet tall, sits atop a bulge in the earth’s crust and sticks out about 7,000 feet further into space than Everest.

● American Gothic, the famous 1930 painting by Grant Wood, depicts a farmer and his daughter standing in front of a house with a large Gothic-style window. The model for the daughter was Wood’s sister Nan, the model for the farmer was Dr. Byron McKeeby, Wood’s dentist, and the house is a real place Wood spotted in Eldon, Iowa — and which is open to the public today.

● The first crime for which Billy the Kid was arrested and jailed was stealing clothes from a laundry. He escaped jail by climbing up a chimney.

● In 1964, in Gene Roddenberry’s first treatment of the original Star Trek TV series, the story took place aboard the starship S.S. Yorktown commanded by Captain Robert April. By the time the show premiered in 1966, Roddenberry had changed the name of the starship to the Enterprise, and Robert April became Captain Christopher Pike, the predecessor to James T. Kirk.

● Pumpkins are grown on every continent except Antarctica.

● The official national animal of Scotland is the unicorn. Scotland has long considered unicorns to be symbols of power and purity, and they first appeared on royal coats of arms in the 1500s.

Thoughts du Jour

Big Fella

In 2009, a BBC film crew went to Papua New Guinea (island nation north of Australia) to film a wildlife documentary in the unique ecosystem of Mount Basavi.

Basavi is the collapsed cone of an extinct volcano. It’s a circular crater 2-1/2 miles long with walls nearly half a mile high. Inside is a “lost world” of rainforest rarely visited by humans and loaded with critters living in isolation.

During the expedition, the BBC team identified over 40 new species of animals, including 16 frogs, three fish, assorted insects and spiders, a bat, and the pièce de résistance, a rat believed to be the largest in the world.

The first rat specimen they encountered was 32 inches long (that’s almost a yard, folks) and weighed 3.5 pounds. It was friendly and curious and showed no fear of people. The big fella will be known as the Basavi woolly rat until formally classified.

Rats and mice thrive in Papua New Guinea. The country is home to over 70 species of rodents.

Me and the FBC

I’ve been mad at the First Baptist Church of Jefferson since 2016, when I voluntarily took finish-line photos at FBC’s annual 5K race, and the church posted my pictures online with the comment “Photos courtesy of our Youth Pastor, Joe Blow.” I never got an explanation, much less an apology.

So, when I got called out by a church lady the other day for walking my dog on FBC property, I was, shall I say, pre-irritated.

The FBC is near downtown in one of Jefferson’s historic districts. I usually park in the church lot when Jake and I go walking in that part of town. He’s on a leash, of course. Recently, we were returning to the car when a woman on the church steps called out to me. I stopped and looked her way.

“Sir, kindergarten is in session now,” she said, smiling sweetly, “and the children walk between the building and the playground a lot. It would be better if you walked your dog somewhere else.” She maximized the smile and waited.

I ached — ached, I tell you — to reply with a rude remark and gesture. But my mother raised me to be nice. I didn’t even answer. I just turned away and continued to the car.

Drawing upon my fine command of language, I said nothing.

Robert Benchley

Battle Steeds

I used to think a Welsh Corgi was a Welsh Corgi, but I recently learned that the breed comes in two varieties: the Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. They’re related, yes, but they have physical differences and separate origins.

Pembrokes, which have a supposed connection to the Vikings going back about 1,000 years, are somewhat smaller and lighter in color than Cardigans. The standards of the Pembroke breed require the tail to be lopped off, usually just after birth. Another jerk move by the human race.

The Cardigan is the older breed of the two, having originated in Germany about 3,000 years ago. Cardigans tend to be stockier and have large, bushy tails, which the standards generously allow them to keep.

In Welsh, “cor gi” means dwarf dog. In Welsh mythology, Corgis were the battle steeds of fairies. Which is very cool.

Cold War Games

John Michael Sharkey (1931-1992) was an author and playwright who published his first sci-fi short story in 1959. Over the next five years, he published 50 more.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Sharkey turned to writing plays and wrote more than 40, most of them screwball comedies and musicals. His sense of humor is on display in the short story below.

———

The Business, As Usual

By Jack Sharkey
Published in Galaxy Magazine, August 1960

In 1962, the United States Air Force found itself possessed of a formidable tool of battle, a radar resistant airplane. While this was the occasion for much rejoicing among the Defense Department members who were cleared for Top Secret, this national-defense solution merely posed a greater problem: What should we do with it?

“There must,” said the Secretary of Defense, “be some utilization of this new device to demonstrate to ‘Certain Powers’ that the world can be made safe for Freedom and Democracy!”

“‘Certain Powers,’ my foot,” said the President. “Why don’t we ever come out and just say it?”

“Policy,” the Secretary said. “We’ve always walked softly in our Foreign Policy; especially softly in cases where we didn’t have the ‘big stick’ to carry.”

“Well,” grumbled the President, “we’ve got the big stick now. What do we do with it?”

“We just want to shake it a bit,” said the Secretary. “No contusions intended, of course. We just have to let them know we have it, but are too kind-hearted to use it. Unless provoked, naturally.”

“I can see,” said the President, “that this new plane is burning a hole in your pocket. Suppose we do send it flying over Rus —”

“Mister President!” said the Secretary of Defense.

The President sighed. “All right, all right. Flying over ‘Certain Areas,’ then. Let’s say we get it there. Fine. What do we do with it? Drop leaflets?”

“No. That comes under the proselytizing clause in the Geneva Conference of ’59.”

“I don’t suppose a small — well, you know.”

“Aggression,” said the Secretary. “We’d lose face in the Middle East.”

“So?” demanded the President, spreading his hands. “They don’t like us anyhow, do they? Or the competition — or each other, for that matter.”

“That’s not the point. We have to feel as though our dollars are buying friends, whether or not it’s true.”

“Well, then, what can we do?” said the President. “No leaflets, no aggression. We couldn’t maybe seed their clouds and make it rain on them?”

“And get sued by other countries for artificially creating low-pressure conditions that, they could claim, robbed them of their rightful rainfall? We’ve had it happen right here between our own states.”

“Maybe we should just forget about it, then?”

“Never! It must be demonstrated to the world that —”

“We could take a full-page ad in the New York Times.”

“It just isn’t done that way,” the Secretary protested.

“Why not? It’d save money, wouldn’t it? A simple ad like, ‘Hey, there, Certain Powers! Lookie what we got!’ What’d be wrong with that?”

“They’d accuse us of Capitalistic Propaganda, that’s what! And to get the egg off our face, we’d have to demonstrate the plane and —”

“And be right back where we are now,” the President realized aloud, nodding gloomily. “Okay, so what do we do?”

The Secretary looked to left and right, although they were alone together in a soundproofed, heavily guarded room, before replying.

“We drop an agent!” he whispered.

The President blinked twice before responding. “Have you gone mad? What man in his right mind would volunteer for such a thing? ‘Drop an agent,’ indeed! Ten minutes after landing, he’d be up against a wall and shot. Wouldn’t that be lovely for Freedom and Democracy?

“We’d have the R— the Certain Powers gloating over the air waves for weeks about nipping a Capitalist Assassination Plot in the bud, not to mention the Mothers of America beating down the White House door because one of Our Boys was sacrificed.

“You know how our country reacts: If an entire division is wiped out, we bite the bullet and erect statues and make speeches and then forget it. But let a single man get in dutch and the whole populace goes crazy until something is ‘done’ about it. No, it won’t work.”

“May I finish?” said the Secretary patiently.

The President shrugged. “Why not?”

“This agent would be something special, sir. One that would not only demonstrate our new aircraft, but which would positively leave the R— damn, you’ve got me doing it! — Certain Powers tied in knots. In point of fact, our military psychologists think that this agent might be the wedge to split Communism apart in hopeless panic!”

“Really?” the President said, with more enthusiasm than he had shown throughout the entire meeting. “I’d like to meet this agent.”

The Secretary pressed a black button upon the conference table. An instant later, the door opened and the Secretary’s personal aide stepped in. “Yes, sir?”

“Jenkins, have the corridor cleared and Secret Service men posted at all entrances and exits. When it’s safe, bring in Agent X-45.” He paused. “And Professor Blake, too.”

“At once, sir.” Jenkins hurried out.

“X-45?” said the President. “Has he no name?”

The Secretary smiled inscrutably. “Teddy, sir.”

“Why that smirk?”

“You’ll see, sir.”

They sat in fidgety silence for another minute, and then a buzzer sounded, twice.

“Ah, that’s Jenkins,” said the Secretary, and pressed the button once more.

Jenkins came in, followed by a tall gray-haired man who carried a large black suitcase. The President arose, and, as Jenkins left the room again, shook hands with the man. “Agent X-45?” he asked.

“Professor Charles Blake,” the man corrected him calmly. “Agent X-45 is in here.”

The President stared. “In the suitcase? What are we sending? A dwarf?”

“Hardly,” said the Secretary, snapping up the hasps on the suitcase and opening it upon the table. “This,” he said, lifting something from under tissue-paper padding, “is Agent X-45.”

The President’s gaze was returned by two shiny black eyes, set on either side of a little brown muzzle with a gentle, stitched-on smile. Agent X-45 was clad in flight helmet, miniature jacket and tiny boots, with a baggy pair of brown canvas trousers belted at the waist with a bandolier holding a dozen small wooden bullets, and dangling a patent-leather holster containing a plastic water pistol. And he wore a small parachute and harness.

“But that’s a teddy bear!” cried the President.

“Precisely,” Professor Blake said.

“I think I’ll sit down,” said the President, and did so, visibly looking like a man who believes he is surrounded by lunatics.

“And look here!” said the Secretary, slipping his hand within Teddy’s jacket and withdrawing a small oilskin pouch. “It’s rather rudimentary, but the Cyrillic lettering is genuine, and our ambassador assures us the layout is correct.”

The President took the pouch, unfolded it and drew out a small sheet of paper, covered with the inscrutable letterings, and numerous rectangles and curving red lines.

“I give up,” he said. “What is it?”

“A map of the Kremlin,” said the Secretary, his eyes dancing. “That big red ‘X’ is the location of the Politburo Council Chamber.”

“Perhaps,” the President said weakly, “you could explain…?”

“Mister President,” said Professor Blake, “I am the new Chief of Propaganda for the government.”

The President nodded, poured himself a glass of water from a pitcher and drained it. “Yes, yes?” he said.

“Naturally, I have spent my career studying the psychology of a Certain Power…”

The President groaned. “Please, gentlemen, let’s name names! It need never go outside this room. My lips are sealed!”

The professor and the Secretary exchanged a look, a raising of eyebrows, then a shrug of surrender.

“Very well,” said Blake. “Russia —”

“There,” said the President. “That’s more like it.”

Blake cleared his throat and went on.

“We know the weak spot in the Russian armor is the mentality of the average Communist official,” he explained, while the Secretary, who had heard this all before, fiddled with the straps of Teddy’s parachute and hummed softly to himself. “They have a distrust complex. Everything and everybody is under 24-hour-a-day suspicion.”

“Yes, so I hear,” said the President.

“What do you suppose would happen to an agent that was caught by the Russians?” asked Blake.

“I’d rather not even think about that.”

“Not the sadistic details, sir. I mean the general train of events, from the time of capture onward.”

The President pondered this. “After his capture,” he said thoughtfully, “he would be questioned. Through various methods — hopelessly at variance with the regulations of the Geneva Convention — they would discover his mission, and then he would be shot, I guess, or imprisoned.”

Blake nodded grimly. “And what if an agent landed there that could not divulge his mission?”

The Secretary stopped fiddling with the harness and watched the President’s face. On the worn features he read first puzzlement, then incredulity, then a flash of sheer amazement.

“Good heavens!” said the President. “They’d — they’d have to admit a defeat, I suppose…”

“But can they?” Blake leaned forward and slammed his fist upon the tabletop. “Can the Communist mentality ever admit that it’s been bested?”

“I — I guess not. At least, they never do,” said the President. “But this —” he wagged a forefinger at the stuffed thing on the table — “this certainly won’t upset them. I mean, after all…” He looked from one to the other for agreement and found none. “But, gentlemen, it’s nothing but a stuffed bear!”

“It won’t upset them?” queried Blake slowly. “Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. They’ll find the bear, wherever it lands, and they’ll — well, they’ll know it’s a gag and just laugh at us.”

“How will they know?” Blake persisted.

“Well, they’ll be pretty well certain!” the President said scathingly: “I mean a stuffed toy —”

“Would they give up on something of which they were ‘pretty well’ certain?”

“They’d have to. Teddy, here, certainly couldn’t tell them anything. They’d say it was a joke and forget it…” His voice barely sounded the last few words. He no longer believed them. A smile flickered upon his face. “Gentlemen, you don’t think they’d —”

“The Russians,” said Blake, without emotion, “would go off their rockers, sir. To be unable to explain a thing like this would devastate their morale. The Communist is a man who must hold all the aces. He’ll shuffle and reshuffle until he gets them, too. Well, we’re giving him a cold deck, sir. There are no aces for him to find.”

“Hmmm,” said the President. “As long as there’s any doubt in their minds, they’ll have to keep plugging at it, won’t they! And since there’s no solution —” His smile grew calculating. “Yes, yes I begin to see. It’s a small thing, to be sure, but I find I must leap at the opportunity to stick a few ants in their pants for a change.”

“It won’t wipe them out,” began the Secretary.

“But it’ll wear them down a little,” Blake finished.

“Done!” said the President. “How soon can we get Operation Frustration under way?”

“The plane is ready to leave right now,” said the Secretary, with a small blush. “I — I rather thought you’d see this thing our way.”

The President frowned at this, then shrugged. “Good enough. Let’s get this bear into the air.”

“You sure this plane will work?” asked the President, averting his face from the spray of leaves caught up in the shrieking jet stream of the waiting plane.

“It’s too simple not to,” said Blake, clutching the suitcase — on whose side a large red “Top Secret” had been stenciled — to his chest, and shouting over the scream of the plane. “The radar-resistant device is nothing more than a radio-receiver that blankets the structure, making the entire plane a receiver. If it receives the radar impulses, they can’t bounce back and make a blip on the enemy radar screens.”

The President sighed. “You make it sound almost too easy. Very well.” He shook the man’s hand. “Good luck.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Blake, patting the suitcase. “I’ll take good care of Teddy.”

The President nodded and moved away. Blake boarded the jet, and, minutes later, the President was watching a last fading streamer of the twin exhausts dwindling upon the eastern horizon.

“I shan’t sleep till he’s back,” said the Secretary.

“Nor I,” said the President. “I have the weirdest damned apprehension…”

“About what, sir?” asked the Secretary, as they made their way from the field.

“About the —” the President looked around, then lowered his voice to a whisper — “the Russians. There’s something in their makeup we may have overlooked.”

“Impossible, sir,” said the Secretary of Defense. “Blake is our top psychologist.”

“I hope you’re right. If this fails, I’d hate for it to be traced to us.”

“It can’t be. The jacket was made in Japan, the boots in Mexico, the parachute in —”

“I know, I know,” said the President. “But if they should trace it to us, we’ll be a laughing-stock.”

“They won’t,” the Secretary assured him.

Two days later, Blake was back, his manner jovial when he met in secret session once more with the two executives.

“Couldn’t have gone more perfectly, gentlemen,” he said, rubbing his hands together and bouncing on his toes. “We passed directly over Moscow, at a height of ten miles, on the stroke of midnight. The night was overcast and starless. Teddy was dropped through the bomb bay. I saw his parachute open myself. He’s down there now, and we’re sure to see signs any day now of the little cracks in the Iron Curtain.”

“You had no trouble with the enemy?” the President asked, though the answer — since Blake was back alive — was obvious.

“None,” Blake said. “The radar shield performed exactly as specified, sir. Not a blink of a searchlight nor a single ground-to-air rocket did we see. Perhaps, on hearing us pass by, they sent up an investigating plane or two, but we were long gone by then. That’s the advantage of moving faster than the sound you make,” he added pontifically.

“I still feel we’ve overlooked something,” said the President. “In the back of my mind, a small voice keeps trying to remind me of something about the Russians, something that should have made me veto this whole scheme at the start.”

Blake looked puzzled. “What about them, sir? If it’s in regard to their psychology, I can assure you —”

“I don’t mean their psychology at all,” said the President. “No, wait — yes, I do, in a minor way. They must pursue this thing, no matter what, but —”

A light glimmered, then burned brightly in the President’s eyes, and he stood up and smacked his fist into his open palm. “Of course!” he said. “Their methods!”

“Methods?” asked Blake, a little nervously.

The President’s reply was interrupted by a knock at the door. The three men exchanged a look; then the Secretary jabbed the button, and Jenkins came in.

“This just came for you, sir,” he said, handing the Secretary a small envelope, and making his exit silently.

The President waited impatiently as the envelope was torn open and its contents read. Then the Secretary’s hands opened limply and the message fell upon the table.

“Diplomatic note — Russian — Teddy,” he whispered.

“What!” yelped the President. He snatched the paper from the table and read it, then sank into his chair once more, his face grim and eyes suspiciously moist. “The dirty, lowdown, rotten…”

Blake, hovering at tableside, hesitated a moment, then asked, “What about Teddy? What’s happened?”

“What we might have expected,” said the Secretary dolefully.

“You don’t mean —” Blake mumbled, horrified. He couldn’t continue, just waited for the worst.

The President nodded miserably.

“He’s confessed.”

Original illustration from Galaxy Magazine by Josef Trattner.

A case can be made that democracy is in trouble today because of — I’ll just tell it like it is — widespread stupidity and ignorance.

In general, people are not very bright. That’s reality. And nowadays, the dumbness of the population is amplified and inflamed by social media, Fox News, and that ilk.

As for ignorance, the story is just as bad. The Department of Education reported in 2019 that literacy in the U.S. stood at 79 percent. Which means 21 percent of the population is functionally, if not fully, illiterate. One in five.

Further, DOE said the literacy of 54 percent of American adults is below the sixth-grade level. Half the population. Below sixth-grade level. Stunning. We are demonstrably stupid and ignorant.

But an equally strong case can be made that democracy is reeling because of the rise of hatred. Toxic stuff, hatred.

A recent psychological study in Canada suggests that hatred, especially hatred of particular groups or institutions (immigrants, black and brown people, those evil socialists, etc.) is a powerful motivating force that gives haters the sense that their lives have purpose.

Does this imply that the haters’ lives lack purpose otherwise? Or that they experience feelings of inadequacy? Hey, I’m just a journalism major. What do I know?

The study was conducted at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and involved extensive interviews with over 800 participants. The researchers found that hatred of individuals was motivating, but far less so than hatred of groups.

Hating specific individuals, they said, indeed gives the hater feelings of heightened purpose. But the fact that the hated person is real gets into all sorts of uncomfortable complications and negatives.

Conversely, hating on groups allows the hater to focus on a simple enemy more easily portrayed as a generic evil. It presents an “us vs. them” scenario and an enemy that needs to be stopped.

In other words, according to the study, flawed people are drawn toward hate because it makes them feel better about themselves. That’s both pathetic and perverted.

Honestly, I don’t hate a single group or institution. I don’t even hate the haters. They certainly anger, aggravate, and exasperate me. But I feel sorry for them. And I’m amazed at how people can end up so psychologically damaged.

The truth is, a vast sea of haters is out there, a combination of mental midgets and the mentally screwed-up, and they represent a genuine, alarming threat to democracy as we know it.

And let me point out that damn near 100 percent of those haters are conservatives. Republicans. Right-wingers.

Let’s tell it like it is.

The Questions

1. The logo of which NFL team is a flower?

2. A porter who handles luggage at a railroad station is called a redcap. What is a porter at an airport called?

3. Hg is the symbol for what chemical element?

4. What country is the world’s largest producer of coffee?

5. What and where is the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall?

The Answers…

1. The logo of the New Orleans Saints is a fleur-de-lis, a stylized lily associated with the French monarchy. (New Orleans was founded by French colonists in 1718.) Fleur, as you may know, means flower in French, and lis means lily.

2. A skycap.

3. Mercury. The symbol Hg comes from the chemical’s original name, hydragyrum, which means “water-silver” in ancient Greek.

4. Brazil has been number one for 150 years. It produces one-third of the world’s coffee.

5. Angel Falls in Venezuela, which drops 3,212 feet.

Tune o’ the Day

Toad the Wet Sprocket has been one of my favorite bands forever. Tucked away among the music files on my desktop is a folder entitled “Rocky’s Favorite Toad Songs” that contains 13 tunes.

Usually, I like a Toad song because of the melody. Toad lyrics tend to be forgettable, but the band has a knack for songs that are pleasing to the ear.

Lyrics-wise, the song below is an exception. It’s about a man’s horrified reaction to a gang rape. It’s chilling and awful, and Toad went out on a limb by making it. Not all of their fans approved.

But it’s memorable stuff, and certainly one of “Rocky’s Favorite Toad Songs.”

Hold Her Down

By Toad the Wet Sprocket, 1991
Written by Glen Phillips and Todd Nichols

Take her arms and hold her down
And hold her down
And hold her down
And hold her down
Until she she stops moving.

Take her arms and hold her down
And hold her down
And hold her down
And hold her down
Until she she stops kicking.

And they don’t know her,
But what the f**k.
They’ve got nothing else they can do.
And they’ve no reason,
But still they come.
And I would have a hard time facing you.
This crime — I’ve seen what a man can do.

Take her arms and hold her down
And hold her down
And hold her down
And hold her down
Until she she stops screaming.

Take her arms and hold her down
And hold her down
And hold her down
And hold her down
Until she she stops breathing

And they don’t know her,
But what the f**k.
They’ve got nothing else they can do.
And they’ve no reason,
But still they come.
And I would have a hard time facing you.
This crime — the shame of what a man can do.

I want to die
For all the hell that you’ve been through.

Take the night back.
All they’ve stolen.
All we took from you.

Take the night back.
All they’ve stolen.
All we took from you.

https://rockysmith.files.wordpress.com/2021/11/hold-her-down.mp3

Backsliding

Last week, a prestigious think tank in Sweden issued its annual list of “democracies in decline.” For the first time, the United States is on the list.

Let that sink in.

The think tank, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), said the U.S. is backsliding as a democracy because it is yielding to “authoritarian tendencies.”

Specifically, the Institute cited the issue of Trump’s lie that the 2020 presidential election was rigged and stolen. That fabrication has been accepted, naturally, by the Republicans — in fact, by an overwhelming majority of them.

IDEA also cited the shocking wave of restrictive state voting laws passed by the same nefarious Republicans.

The Institute did applaud the U.S. for passing a new monthly child tax credit. It said the credit likely will cut the U.S. poverty rate in half and in 2021 will lift four million children out of poverty.

The child tax credit, mind you, was 100 percent courtesy of Biden and the Democrats. As for the Republicans — who voted against the tax credit, and who are the direct cause of our backsliding — I offer this photo in lieu of words.

For this photo, words fail me.

Pix o’ the Day

More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.