The Here and Now

Week of April 4

Today is Easter, the most solemn celebration of the year. The feast, and the events leading up to it, are the ultimate contradiction of human existence–life coming out of death. Something out of nothing.

But it happens all the time. Cycle of the seasons. All the imagery of birth, rebirth, and growth from all sorts of cultural and religious systems have gathered around the Easter season. Dyed eggs and chicks, easter bunnies, flowers, especially daffodils, tulips, lilies, hydrangeas–bulbs, further emphasizing the cyclical and regenerative nature of retreat and growth.

Spring and Easter are times of abundance. If you've lived with a maple tree in the yard, you know how many of those spinner seeds a mature tree can produce. With the warming air, it's a good time to be alive.

maple spinning fools

Today in the world.

today's word: is actually a phrase. sylvan glen. I'm supposed to work this into my everyday conversation. I'm not seeing it, unless I plan on hanging around with poets today. Or maybe arborists. Or guys named Glen. Or Sylvan. In short, I'm going to spend the day alone, muttering sylvan glen to myself.

today's earworm: Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree in the original Brenda Lee version. No, I don't know why. It's what's there. Have pity.

Whenever I think of commercial Christmas music, I think of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, the world's most ironic song, possibly the world's most ironic anything.

today's longitude and latitude: holding steady at 36° 51' 2" N / 76° 17' 9" W.

today in things natural: sunrise, 6:44; sunset 7:28; predicted high: 69°. That's all local. Your mileage may vary.

today in nasal passages: we are under a high alert for tree pollen, so continued blocked.

today in shaggy dog jokes: It's the last day of school for Miss Smith's 3rd grade class before Easter, and so she asks, what do we celebrate on Easter? Hands shoot up all over the room. She calls on one little boy, who says Easter is the day that we carve pumpkins and go trick or treating. No, Billy, she says. That's Halloween/q> She calls on Mary, who says, Easter is the day we have a parade, eat hot dogs, and watch fireworks. I'm sorry, Mary, but that's the Fourth of July. Hands start dropping. Miss Smith calls on Mike. On Easter, we decorate a tree in the living room, and Santa comes down the chimney to leave presents for us. That's Christmas, Mike, Miss Smith says. By now, all the hands have gone down but Susie's, her star pupil. Miss Smith says, yes, Susie? and Susie replies, Easter is the day when Jesus rises out of His tomb. Miss Smith thinks Finally! and is about to congratulate her but then Susie adds, and if He sees His shadow, we'll have six more weeks of winter.

Dance Fever.

I saw this picture in yesterday's New York Times, and just had to share:

cowboy ballet

Those are quite the heels on them thar' ballet slippers. Mus' make it tough to do your peer o'ettes and grand jets (grand jeh tay), which the honchos at the Atlanta Ballet tells us is a big jump from one foot to the other in which the working leg is brushed into the air and appears to have been thrown in them. Wonder if it's harder to do than yore bareback riding and calf throwing.

Back to normal redux.

At the grocery store, people are still very good about wearing masks. I think it'd be nice if that became part of normal.

But otherwise, things are returning to what used to be considered normal. In spite of Dr. Fauci and the CDC continuing to hector people about masks and distancing, people are ignoring recommendations and the chidings, now that we're making progress on vaccinating people. Local news shows spend much less time on daily updates of new cases and new deaths related to the coronavirus. Now it's the number of vaccinations, delivered with the same and vigor as displayed during the later stages of a Jerry Lewis telethon (note to self: update reference). All we're missing is the thermometer. The CDC and Dr. F. are now left to approve what the American people have already decided for themselves is the right and safe thing to do. It's safe to travel. It's safe to gather. Kids in school don't have to maintain the same social distancing as adults. You don't have to scrub fruits and vegetables after you buy them.

I mentioned last week that Tony the Traffic Dude has backups and accidents to report. Airlines are allowing passengers in the middle seats, and charging again for rebooking a flight. This past couple of weeks, there were three mass shootings, and almost a fourth in Virginia Beach. Fans are in the seats for sporting events. Kids are back in school. There have been far fewer Karen sightings.

There are probably a lot of reasons why this happened this way. It could be the legendary American antipathy to being told what to do. How many people do (dangerous) things just because someone told them not to? Or maybe there's some sort of signal that got sent, the same signal that bears get that tells them it's time to stop hibernating (we interrupt this charming narrative for a useless factoid: polar bears do not hibernate like black or grizzly bears). Maybe it was just the visuals. After a year of nobody wearing masks in ads, TV shows or movies, you sort of get the idea you don't have to, either.

Personally, I think it's because the CDC never got its act together, gained control of the narrative, or communicated effectively. Instructions were all over the map. I saw social distancing instructions ranging from three feet to twenty-four feet; how much to wash your hands, cell phones, and car door handles; and how many masks to wear. Too many experts were spouting nonsense, or contradicting each other. Graphics were infrequent, hard to find, or useless. Bar charts showing trends were popular for a while, but then disappeared. I think I saw one graphic showing the trajectory of a coronavirus from the mouth of an infected person when they're breathing normally, coughing, or sneezing. Do you know how long coronavirus lives outside of the human body? Neither do I.

If a marketing team for a consumer products company put out this quality of work as a presentation to investors, the company would be looking for anew marketing team. And investors.

Fauci and the CDC claimed to be all about the science, but they lied. They were anything but. Instead of treating us as intelligent people capable of making intelligent decisions based on the science, and making information easily accessible, they treated us as children, demanding that we behave and do as they say. In rhetoric, it's called an ethical appeal, or an appeal the the known good character of the speaker. Logical appeals (appeals to the head) were few and far between.

No science, fragmentary proofs, contradictions. At the same time in the past few weeks as the CDC was waving it hands in the air lamenting that travel and spring break and opening up in Florida and Texas was causing an increase in cases, news broadcasts showed maps of the growth of COVID–in Maine and North Dakota. Almost all state increases were above the Mason-Dixon line, in states that weren't opening up, or hosting spring break, or doing all the things that were making the CDC-ites so crazy.

And that's when they lost us. Or at least me, a nice guy who was waiting to be convinced by the science.

The Conspiracy Theorist says...

That was the plan along, to keep everyone in a state of confusion.

More Prose and Stories-->

Fred the Flower

fred the flower

Click on cartoon for more Fred


The Line

I draw the line between two points.

It is firm, solid, and straight,

letting the world know it is

determined, purposeful.

It does not matter what two points connect,

only that the line be straight and firm

and convey boundary, truth

Prove a conspiracy?

Draw a line.

Denigrate a product?

Draw a line.

Destroy a life?

Draw a line.

Cut somebody out of your life?

Draw a line.

Cut a nation, a people in two?

Draw a line.

A line on paper is the gateway

to the line in the sand.

Beware the drawing and placing of lines,

and the dots they connect.

For lines, once drawn, are immovable, impossible to erase,

But the dots they connect are real

And constantly on the move.

Click here for more Poetry.

Apt 123

Apt 123

Click the cartoon for more Apt 123

They Said It

Good morning to everyone, but especially to that sentence I just rewrote for the tenth time.

Susan Orlean

Rear View Mirror

Week of March 28

Why, it seems like just yesterday that I was prattling on about St. Patrick's Day and Pi Day and suddenly it's the end of the month. It probably helps that the days are longer, generally warmer, and I can nap in a chair in the back yard. The importance of good napping, especially in the sunlight, is something that I cannot overstress. In fact, I should probably be doing it now, except of course I have to write this introductory piece. If a tone of resentment creeps in, or some typos, well, I have an editor to fire.

I'll probably find him in my chair in the backyard.

Kid Stuff.

When I was a kid, we were enmeshed in rules and had lots of opportunities to be sinners and/or criminals. Growing up Catholic, sinning, even if just venial sins (although we didn't call it that, we had already been set up for severity of crimes–misdemeanors and felonies) was much worse than criminal activity. First, there were so many things that were put in the sin bucket, including not folding your hands correctly on the desk in school (hands should be folded, with right thumb over left and the wrist crease resting exactly on the edge of the desk, a position that should be assumed whenever hands were not being raised to ask/answer a question, wrapped around a pencil or crayon, or folded in prayer, a prime example of what we later referred to as sister-says theology), through real sins like eating meat on Friday, breaking one of the Ten Commandments, and on through a nearly infinite list of things that were sins or could lead to sin (guilt by association), whether by omission or commission.

Some of our more spirited discussions in religion class revolved around martyrdom or sin, especially after we had reached the age of reason, or reasoning. We were able to tell as early as fifth grade the students who were destined to be lawyers. I remember one discussion concerning stealing. We wondered if stealing was really a sin if you stole bread and other food for a poor family if they were starving and had no food and you had no money (the greater good argument). I think the store owner got involved somehow. We also wondered how much money a person would have to steal to move the crime from a venial to a mortal sin. I think we arrived at $75 (in 1961 dollars) as the tipping point.

This line of thinking is still alive, as seen in this March 19th headline from USA Today: Do Catholics need to abstain from meat on Fridays in Lent when it's a feast day? (March Madness: it's not just for basketball anymore.)

Now stealing is both a crime and a sin, as are a lot of things. If you listened to our parents (and the nuns), anything that was sinful was also illegal, although if you missed Mass on Sunday you only got called into the principal's office, not slapped in handcuffs. Guess which was worse.

But we were surprised on a regular basis, like when we found out that smoking marijuana was not a sin. It was a crime, and you'd have to be pretty stupid to smoke grass, but being stupid is neither a sin nor a crime. Neither was smoking cigarettes a crime or sin (Dad smoked two packs a day, so good thing for him), but taking one from the pack your grandfather left on the coffee table was (at least it was a small venial sin, as a cigarette cost about 2/3 of a cent), and probably disobedience, as the folks probably said at some point not to do it.

So why was sinning worse than criminal activity? That's easy. You can break the law, but you have to be caught and tried. Jail is immediate, but you get out sometime. The odds are in your favor, especially if you have a good lawyer. If you sin, God knows, and God doesn't forget (unless you repent of your sins and go to confession, at which point the sin disappears behind a heavenly cloud [or somewhere]). And punishment, although delayed, lasts forever. Much like the times you were called into the principal's office.

I guess the moral of the story is, although we think of kid stuff is frivolous, it's very important when you're a kid. Also you remember it forever. Maybe that's the eternal punishment–we just thought it was fire.

Speaking of Sin and Repentance...

Lots of non-Catholics wonder what goes on in confession (now reconciliation). Frank O'Connor lifts the curtain on the practice (sort of$#41; in his short story First Confession. It provides a lift to any day no matter your belief system.

Wait, what?

According to The Information, Apple is trying to cut back on leaks of details of future products. How does it know this? It said on Wednesday that it obtained an internal document from Apple which outlined changes being made to its factory security guidelines for every manufacturing partner.

Leave it to Elon.

Once again, Elon Musk has done the impossible, The Independent discovered. Elon Musk has proof aliens don’t exist.

I bet the aliens told him to say that.

T.T. Ching.

I've been working my way through the Tao Te Ching, a classic of classic Eastern philosophy. The passages are short, so I read one a day as a sort of springboard to meditation, thinking deep thoughts, or just letting the mists of pseudo-thought flow over me (aside: today is National Bad Fingers Day [not to be confused with National Mush-Fingers Day, which happens on Thursdays], during which my fingers forget everything I ever knew about using a keyboard, and by extension, standard spelling in English. I mention all this because in the non-parenthetical part of this sentence, I originally typed mints of time, not mists. That would be O.K. if they are those little chocolate-covered mints, but not pleasant if they're those round pinwheel mints. Now back to our original train of thought.). The Tao offers a guide for contented living and achieving wisdom, and the way to get there is through self-effacement. But every now and again, Lao-Tsu throws a spanner in the works, as the Brits like to say, with thoughts like this: When one recognizes the presence of Tao he understands where to stop. A strange thought, at least for Western ears, as the whole focus or point in our way of living seems to be to keep pushing. No stopping. No where to stop or when to stop. Something to think about, thus bringing us back to the beginning. And for those of you who are reading this week's post right from the beginning, and are fearing for my immortal Catholic soul by reading heathenish texts, the general approach (self-effacement, self-abnegation) is very similar to that found in The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis, beloved by my dear sainted mother, so I'm good, in both senses of the word.

Speaking of thinking...

Yes, I've said it before, thinking is a behavior I try to discourage, and I lead by example as best I can, but there is one exception. I am generally lousy at multitasking (spoiler alert: everybody is. Those who claim otherwise are a) fooling themselves and b&41; doing many things badly at the same time) but I have always been good in one area: thinking deep thoughts while staring out of a window. (I have recently, as my more advanced years sprint past me [no creeping up here!] developed a talent for walking and farting, but that's a different story). I can hear naysayers saying, nay, that's called daydreaming, not multitasking, but I'll have you know I don't need any steenkin' weendow to daydream. I don't even need day!

Proof? I was just schlumped here (someplace between sitting up and lying down, a position enforced by the cat) and noticed that the oak tree across the street has swelling buds, the stage before the tree leafs out and drops enough pollen to coat a container ship a half-inch deep, a sign that spring is upon us. At the same time, I can see three other trees with branches still bare, a reminder that winter is still with us, reinforced by the two women who walked by bundled up against cold but stopped to look at the daffodils in the front yard. In deep-thought state, I reflected on the endless cycle of the seasons. I was also was reminded of the oak tree across the street that was cut down a couple of years ago, a reflection on the cycle of life being interrupted, a junction of the linear (birth to death) and the circular (cycle of the season). Not only profound, but geometric.

See? That's not daydreaming, that's multitasking. Daydreaming is an aimless drift, most often into future, alternate universes, rearranging this world, or no place. Multitasking, at least the way I practice it, is about recollection. There's a difference. Lot of recollection going on here.


This morning, Tony the Traffic Dude reported a back-up at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, as well as three accidents causing difficulties. This is high on my list of ways you know the world is getting closer to what we used to think was normal.

A Way with Words.

Somehow, when I was a technical writer for a civil-engineering construction company, I ended up on a newsletter mailing list from a company that sells sheet piles (if you don't know already, you don't need to know). Why it's coming to my home email address and why I haven't gotten off the list are two questions that I can't answer.

Anyway, this month's featured article is Frequently Asked Questions on Driving Vinyl Sheet Piles. Apparently that is a thing, one that I'm having trouble wrapping my head around. I never thought I would see that combination of words in that order.

If you were wondering, there are four questions that are frequently asked, none worth repeating here.

Why can't we have nice things?

MacRumors reports that Apple is preparing to launch a new iPad mini with a larger screen, supposedly about 8". There are people who do not think bigger is better, so why?

You miss the target audience, and at some point it stops being mini. Does it then become the tablet formerly known as mini?

Fortnightly T-shirt

T-shirts money can't buy.

TomatoPlanet!! is a random collection of writing, cartoons, and things that skew absurd. It's funny, or at least I think so. © 2003-2021, John McCarthy

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