Category Archives: 2018

On The Rock

Remember the TV comedy, “Third Rock From The Sun?”  It was about four aliens (interstellar, not international) who, having been sent to Earth – the third rock from the sun – attain human form to try to understand human behavior.

They posed as the Solomon family.  Dick, Sally, Tommy and Harry – Father, Sister, teenage son, and… whatever Harry was.

Well, last fall we took a day and visited the Wisconsin Automotive Museum in Hartford.  Why is it there?  I’ll tell you.  The museum is located six blocks from the factory that made the “Kissel Kar” until the Great Depression depressed car sales.

You should go if you like old cars.  As a bonus, you’ll see the red 1964 Rambler American that was featured as the Solomon’s vehicle in “Third Rock.”  It’s the actual car, donated by the producers of the show.

Lately we’ve been binge watching episodes of “Third Rock” on Amazon.  I find it has more moments that make me laugh than any current sit-com, though another cosmic-themed show, “The Big Bang Theory” is close.

“Third Rock” is about the intrepid travelers and makes fun of how they react to human traditions, emotions, and such.  But really, the show also makes fun of those same traditions and emotions.  Face it: much of what humankind does – even we socially evolved types – might look pretty silly to someone seeing us for the first time.

Imagine your first time seeing a bunch of people clap.  If you had never seen anyone cry, wouldn’t it be odd?  Sally in “Third Rock” starts to cry and thinks she’s leaking.  She’s discovering sadness.

The show is mostly about relationships.  All four of them struggle to have romantic connections to humans with various levels of success.  They don’t understand all the subtle secrets of human interactions, like when telling the truth is good, and when it isn’t, and why we don’t attempt to seduce our office-mate with a strip-tease on the desk at work. 

If you think about it, newborn babies might as well be from outer space in terms of what they know.  Bit by bit we learn how things work, including relationships.  Judging from what I’ve seen, just about the time when we’ve got it all figured out it’s time to depart this third rock for heaven.

At the end of each episode the Solomons get together to share their conclusions.  Sometimes they are laughably wrong, and sometimes they are painfully right.

They stay longer than planned because the find humans fascinating.

So do I, and I hope to as well.



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Giving it Up

(From Late February, 2018)

It’s Lent.  The time when Christians commemorate the approach of Good Friday (maybe THAT’s the day that should be called Black Friday) and Easter.

In some churches people are encouraged to give things up during the 40 days of Lent.  I believe it has to do with showing solidarity with Christ through some minor personal sacrifice.

I didn’t grow up with that tradition and, frankly, don’t like giving things up.  My New Year’s resolutions usually contain qualifiers like “less,” “try to” and “if convenient.”  I’m not proud of that, but it’s true.  I can try to change and do it less, if it’s convenient.

I know that the power of religious belief can help people do remarkable things.  My father-in-law quit smoking, cold-turkey, during Lent one year.  Others start the process of “getting off of sugar.”  I don’t smoke. And as far as sugar goes, the Movie “Michael” is instructive.  Played by John Travolta, the Arch Angel Michael heaps sugar onto his cereal.  When asked why, he says there isn’t any sugar in Heaven.  He then says, “No matter what they say, you can’t get enough sugar.”

Medical science, of course, disagrees with that, but hey; he was an angel!

A week into Lent, I’ve decided that there is something I need to give up.  Comedy.  Not making it, but listening to it.

I like listening to people talk when I drive, and talk radio is painful to hear.  But, with Sirius/XM in our car, we have five or six channels of stand-up comedy.  When I’m at home I can listen to comedians on Pandora or IHeart Radio apps on my phone.

It’s gotten to the point where I fall asleep each night to comedy on my pillow speaker.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with comedy per se.  Some is not tasteful and can be downright offensive, partly because that’s what comedians are supposed to do, I guess.  I avoid those.

The problem is, I think, that comedy has become my brain sugar.  As it is, I can quote a comedian’s take on almost any topic that comes up.  So far my family and friends have been tolerant of my references, but even I’m finding them (my references) to be tiresome.

So, I think it’s time for me to listen to more music, or maybe some un-funny audio books or something.  Not forever, but for what remains of the 40 days. 

If you see me in tears at some point, you’ll know that I’ve kept my pledge.


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Strange News Items

In a world where we are surprised daily by news we never thought we’d hear, it’s getting harder and harder to find news that qualifies as being “strange.”  But, thanks to the NPR website, here are a few news items that are worthy of celebration.  You may have seen some, but they’re worth re-visiting.

            Hunter Knocked Unconscious By Shot Goose Falling Out Of The Sky.  The phrase “turnabout is fair play” could hardly be more apt.

            Florida Child Gets Stuck In Toy Claw Machine.  Okay, it had to be hard for the kid to get in there, but how many hundreds of quarters will it take to get him back out?

            Farmer Calls Police Over Tiger In Cow Shed.  After a lengthy stand-off, it was determined that the tiger in the Scottish farmer’s barn was stuffed – not as in full from eating too much, but from being a toy.

            Swiss University To Offer Degree In Yodeling.  I think this is funny because it has the word “yodeling” in it.  Personally, I think a few courses in yodeling would be sufficient, but I guess there is demand for an actual degree. 

            The Great Baboon Escape.  Fifty baboons escaped from their enclosure at the Paris Zoo a few weeks ago.  No faces were removed, however, as the baboons wandered back into their assigned spot.

            New Orleans Finds 93,000 Pounds Of Mardi Gras Beads In Storm Drains.  This is remarkable to me, since any given set of beads weighs almost nothing.  Can you imagine how many shirts were lifted to generate that number of beads?

            You’ve Waited, Now It’s Here: The Smartphone-Powered Nose Hair Trimmer.  It’s not very often that I’m at a loss for words.

            Keeping Animals Away With Deer Snorts And Dog Barks.  Japanese trains will be blaring out sounds of animals’ warning sounds to keep said animals off the tracks.  We in Wisconsin hit enough deer that maybe we should put speakers on our cars.

            There are surely “legitimate” news stories that are weirder and harder to believe, but it’s nice to reflect on some items that are not as serious.  After some internal debate I decided not to include the story of the man with the five and a half foot-long tapeworm.  You’re welcome.

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I Perendinate

The folks at have released a list of words from the past which might well have some value in our present day.  I cannot vouch for the words being legitimate, but real or made-up, they are fun.

To perendinate is defined as “putting off until the day after tomorrow.”  That’s for people who feel pressured by the idea of putting things off until the very next day.

Cacothes is “the irresistible urge to do something inadvisable.”  The one extra shot of brandy, the wink at the pretty girl, or the early morning Tweet are all examples.

Frobly-mobly means “neither well, nor unwell.”  How are you?  “Meh.”

Callipygian is, sadly, the only one of these words I had heard before.  It means, “having beautiful, well-shaped buttocks.”  So, I am certainly callipygian.  Or not.

Ultracrepidarian is most needed in our modern parlance.  It means, “someone who gives opinions on subjects they know nothing about.” 

A snollygoster is “a shrewd, unprincipled person – especially a politician.”  So, there really is nothing new under the sun.

Someone who is philogrobilized is “someone who has a hangover without admitting to actual drinking.”

I may not be callipygian, but I am certainly a slugabed, meaning someone who “stays in bed past the usual or proper time to get up.”  But, it’s so warm and comfortable!  Interestingly, there’s another word that applies: dysania means “extreme difficulty getting out of bed in the morning.”

Uhtceare means “lying awake and worrying about the day ahead.”  I think I’d worry more about how to pronounce it.

Kakistocracy is “government by the least qualified or worst people.”  At any given time over my life there are large numbers of people who believe that that is the situation.

Shivviness denotes the “uncomfortable feeling of wearing new underwear.” 

Every dog I’ve ever known is a grote: “Someone who stares at you while you eat.”

Over my career I’ve known a number of fudgels, in other words, “people who pretend to work while actually doing nothing.”  That’s what Facebook is for, right?

There are more words, and probably hundreds beyond the list HistoryHustle shared.  Someday people will look back on our current vocabulary with the same sort of wonder we have about these words. 

My first candidate for a word that will be looked at with confusion: “Nothing burger.” 

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I Succumbed

The garden seeds have been in some of the stores now for two or three weeks, and after slowing down to look numerous times, last Saturday I succumbed to the temptation and bought some.

Maybe it was the warm, snow-less days that we had, but something in my brain told me that gardening season is just around the corner.  I guess that’s true, if the corner you’re talking about takes several months to go around.             

I only got four packets, so that’s not too bad.  Given my past experiences, I may well misplace them before it’s time to plant, but even if that happens, it will have been worth the expense if only for the little shot of optimism they delivered.

In some ways this is the best time of the gardening season.  Everything is hypothetical, with no real work to do, bugs to swat, or weeds to curse.  Now a person can plan.  This variety will go there, and that variety over there.  In the end it never quite works out that way, and despite the best of intentions, I’m usually not sure what got planted where. 

It’s funny, but I think I prefer planting and growing the food more than I enjoy harvesting it.  Yes, there is satisfaction in growing our own food, but my real joy comes from working up the soil, planting the seeds, and seeing the little green shoots come up through the black soil. 

The same thing is true of the farm fields all around us.  Every year when the crops come up out of the soil it’s like another miracle has happened.  By August the romance has worn off.

Every summer I’m grateful that gardening is a hobby, and not something we depend on for income or for our subsistence.  It’s annoying of animals get into the corn, but it’s not a make-or-break situation.

When she was a child during the depression, my mother and her family gardened like their lives depended on it.  Not only did they need the food, but they could sell some for other needs.  She told of grating horseradish roots until their hands bled so that could sell it in town.  I’m sure there are people in that same situation today.

Anyway, I’ve got some seeds now, and soon I’ll be getting out the graph paper and making my plans.  We may have half a dozen blizzards between now and when those seeds actually go in the ground, but I’ll be ready!


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Each time there is a government shut-down, or the threat of one, a term comes up that gets people thinking.  That term is “non-essential government employees.”

Now, none of us want the term “non-essential” next to our names.  After all, it’s a subjective designation.  Somebody we don’t even know decides which jobs are essential and which ones aren’t.  I can a person who works very hard at their government job being insulted by being called non-essential.  I would be too.

To be honest, the two times I’ve left jobs in my career – one my idea, one not – I was a little disappointed that things continued on without me.  That didn’t mean I wasn’t valuable to those places, but I was clearly not essential.

The framers of the Constitution had some definite ideas about what the Federal government should look like.  They were mostly concerned with national defense and facilitating relationships between the different states and other countries.  Nobody envisioned the behemoth that we have created.  Nobody thought that so many would rely on the Federal government for their livelihood, health care, housing, and much more.

As this most recent shut-down started, the Federal government had shrunken to only 2,723,000 non-active-duty military employees — the lowest number since 1966, due in part to a hiring freeze over the past year.  That’s more than the population of Chicago, in case you wondered.

We have gotten into the habit of asking the Federal government to do a lot of things for us, and there are people who feel that much more government involvement would be an excellent idea.  Others would like things to evolve back towards what our founders had in mind, with a majority of needed government activity taking place at the state level.

It’s also true that the courts have determined that there are many “constitutional” functions for the Federal government that seem to them like things the founders probably would have approved.  Others vigorously dispute those rulings.

Fraud and corruption happen at every level of government, just as it does in private companies, non-profits, churches, and even families.  I would contend that the bigger the organization, the greater the corruption. 

That being said, who among us is even shocked to read about millions and billions in fraud in government programs?  The good news is that some of those 2, 723,000 were involved in discovering the fraud.

Time will tell whether government gets bigger or smaller.  I would bet bigger, but maybe at a slower pace.  If more of us are working and taking care of ourselves, fewer services will be essential to us.  And that’s not a bad thing. 


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Belated Thoughts of the Late

I’ve had a personal tradition, over the past ten years or so, of starting each new year with several columns that acknowledge the passing of important people during the previous twelve months.

This year, my heart wasn’t in it.  Perhaps it is a consequence of my advancing age, or just a coincidence of fate, but it seemed like a ridiculous number of people of consequence died last year.

But, as January moves along, I guess it’s time to acknowledge some of the deceased.  Now, I’m not saying the people I’m noting below were the most important people to die, and in fact, I don’t know who gets to decide those things.  Let’s just say that these people seemed timeless, which is, of course, impossible.

Watching “Benson” re-runs on ME-TV, I was reminded that Robert Guillaume died in 2017.  Other retro-rerun icons who passed away were Jim Nabors, David Cassidy, Monte Hall, Adam West, Barbara Hale (Perry Mason’s assistant), Mike Connors (Mannix), and, of course, Mary Tyler Moore. 

 Don Rickles, Jerry Lewis, Bill Dana (“Jose Jimenez”), Dick Gregory, Shelley Berman, were old-school comedians.  Lewis and Gregory used their talent to do more than just amuse people.

Among the musical giants who died were Glen Campbell, Fats Domino, Tom Petty, Don Williams, Troy Gentry (Montgomery-Gentry), Walter Becker (Steely Dan), Chuck Berry, Al Jarreau, along with Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band.  They ramble no longer.

Sister Frances Carr, the last member of the religious sect called the Shakers, died at 89.  Shakers were doomed to disappear, since they didn’t believe in having sex.  No replacement plan.


There were many more notable people who breathed their last breaths in 2017.  And, many of us lost friends and relatives who were not famous, but who had great importance to us.         

It’s funny, but sometimes it feels like the way we respond to someone’s demise, the most important thing in life is death, which is opposite of the truth.  However, in a small way, it feels nice to say a quick thank-you to people who were a part of our lives for so long.  Maybe when our time comes, someone will return that small favor.

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