Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fixed Income

I don't know about where you live, but here in Northwest Ohio we are currently in the midst of our season of orange cones, with these cheery little pieces of sunshine spreading like dandelions everywhere you look. I guess that I didn't realize it, but it also appears to be the season of levy requests as well.Entreaties for cash seem to be flooding in like it's hurricane season (oh yeah, it is). 

I guess that we can chalk it up to Global Warming therefore that every local entity capable of asking for money from a levy seems to be ready to place one on the ballot for the fall. COSI (the local museum), The Toledo Zoo, the Library, and probably the school district (though they haven't announced yet) is preparing to ask for just a bit more of my money than they were getting, with dire consequences predicted if they don't. Each one of these groups tells me that it won't be much money, but if only all of the levies proposed for the ballot this fall were to pass it would add over $100 to the annual tax bill of everyone who owns a home worth $100,000.

In spite of the fact that many of these organizations already are receiving money from an existing levy of some kind, the only concern that anyone seems to have about asking for this taxpayer largess is for people who live on a fixed income. Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but everyone I know lives on a fixed income. 

The salary that I make is fixed. The money deducted from my paycheck for health benefits and retirement is fixed. The only thing that appears not to be fixed in this equation is the amount Federal, State, and City taxes, and now levies that someone is trying to decide I will pay. Even though I live in an apartment (who can save enough money to buy a place with all the taxes that we pay), I will still have to pay all of the property taxes and levies, added into the rent that I do and will have to pay.  

Now I am neither heartless and cruel nor stupid (hey come on, be nice), and I know that the point that is trying to be made here is about people who are living on a retirement income. I know too that these types of incomes are affected by both inflation and rising prices. Then again, so are mine. I don't know anyone who gets a raise every time their taxes go up. I know very few people who manage to get a salary review and raise every year in fact. 

The truth of the matter is that the only people that I am aware of who seem to get such "cost of living" raises are union employees who have not been hit with down-turns in their industry and oh yeah, government employees. So maybe the only people prepared to pay the increased taxes that these levies would require would be the very people receiving the money to keep their jobs intact. Go Figure! 

 I believe in museums, zoos, and libraries. I believe in the culture and quality of life that they bring to a community. I also believe that these institutions should be supported to some extent. I even believe in paying taxes (I don't like it, but I pay none the less). I refuse to believe however, that anyone should feel better about taking my money than someone else's, just because I am still working for it.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Sailor's Life For Me

I was in downtown Toledo today while the Niagara happened to be paying the city a visit. The Niagara is a replica of a Great Lakes brig built around the time of the War of 1812 (with a few timbers of the original actually used).  Fortunately for me, the group that had brought the ship to Toledo was also providing tours of of the ship.  Being surrounded by the reality of this ship took me back to many of the seafaring novel that I had read by Alexander Kent and Patrick O'Brien, and of the conditions that sailors dealt with in those days. Banging my head as I walked below decks persuaded me to that sharing some part of their pain with you might be of some value. So here in brief, is my take on the life a sailor in the British Navy during the "Age of Sail".

  • Most of the common sailors were either debtors, criminals, or "impressed". This final term usually meant that they had been kidnapped by "press gangs" who either got them drunk or simply bashed them on the head before taking them away. The other method of impressment involved being captured when a British ship defeated theirs in battle, whether it was a military or merchant vessel. (This was one of the reasons over which the War of 1812 was fought. 
  • Terms of service were normally for years, or until hostilities ended (whichever came last).
  • Leave was non-existent or at the very least restricted, as these mostly kidnapped sailors would desert if given half a chance.
  • Storage of food was as good as it could be at the time, but that was horrible. Most of those serving were shortly on rations that consisted of poorly salted meats, bread that contained maggots, and water that had gone rancid in the barrels.
  • The ships of the time were exceptionally small when considered against a modern navy and were often on the verge of being top-heavy from the cannons they carried. As a consequence, these vessels were always on the verge of capsizing at worst, and rolling horrifically at best, as were the stomachs of those on them - especially during storms.
  • Most of the sailors' duties consisted of working with the sails. This involved climbing into the air a couple of hundred feet into rigging that found them swaying 30 feet and more from side to side with the rolling of the ship; while trying to man-handle heavy rigging and canvas to properly sail the ship. The expression of the time was, "One hand for the ship, and one for yourself.
  • When your duties didn't involve an attempt being made to kill you above deck in the rigging, you got to spend your days scrubbing the decks with stones in order to maintain them, spending hours on your knees in the blistering sun. 
  • Discipline was extremely strict, and usually involved a having the skin peeled from your back by being beat with a bunch of leather strips with knots at the end (cat o' nine tails).
  • Sleeping arrangements consisted of a hammock, approximately 18" wide where you ended up sleeping side by side, packed literally shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the crew, who like you hadn't had a chance to bathe in some time. These hammocks came in handy, as they also served as burial shrouds should you make the ultimate sacrifice. (curiously the last stitch made in your burial shroud was made through your lip or nose to make sure that you were actually dead).   
  • When all of the tedium of sailing was interrupted with battle, these same sailors found themselves faced with: grape shot (a cannon used as a giant shotgun), chain shot (two small cannon balls connected by a chain) which brought the masts and rigging down on your head, or splinters from the impact of solid shot on the wood of the vessels on which they served.
  • Wounds suffered from these battles were treated by "doctors" who were usually of the worst possible kind, barely better than butchers. If you didn't die from bleeding to death before being treated, you normally faced some form of amputation to staunch the wound. Thereafter, if you didn't die of infection (sterilization was not well known at the time), you faced the rest of the voyage (and your life) as a cripple.
  • When your service (the war) was finally over, you were cut loose in a heartbeat, usually without any kind of pension. 
On the other hand there were some perks. Each sailor was served a "Rum Ration" every day which consisted of a mug of liquor purported to be five times more powerful than what we have as liquor today. (in other words, they sailed in a state of almost constant inebriation). Of course they usually mixed it with the water (which was the only way to kill the bugs growing in it by then), but hey a drink is a drink. In addition, while in port wives, girlfriends, and professional hostesses (hookers for those of you not politically correct) were often rowed out to the ships to help break the monotony. In addition, many sailors were afforded the chance to win "prize money" (booty) for the ships that were captured help help supplement what was really lousy pay.

I don't know about you, but when I read of such high adventure and travel to exotic lands in conditions like this, all I can say is: SIGN ME UP!


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Drinking Makes Me Smarter

I was out celebrating my birthday last evening (thank you for the well wishes whether you gave them or not) when one of my old pontifications occurred to me and I thought that it was worthy enough that I would share it. Now I have spoken with friends, acquaintances, and perfect strangers over the years on this subject and have never been able to find anyone who has been able to find fault with the thinking involved or refute the logic contained here. 

(Of course those whose opinion I sought were usually sitting at a bar drinking at the time, but that's OK with me.) 

While none of this may be proven fact, it is at the very least a set of logically put forth arguments (oh sure, logic twisted sideways and stretched beyond all possible recognition, but logic none the less.).  

Scientists tell us that the consumption of alcohol kills brain cells as it passes through our system. 

Scientists further tell us that most of us are only using 10% of our brain in order to function (in some cases less, but again another story for another day). 

Further, the Theory of Evolution tells us that in Nature the weaker always makes way for the stronger for the advancement of the species, more commonly expressed as "Survival of the Fittest".  

By drinking therefore, I am killing my weaker brain cells, forcing myself to use stronger ones that were not previously carrying the load (something that I too have been accused of from time to time). Using these stronger brain cells cannot help but me my brain more efficient, and therefore ... drinking makes me smarter! 

Now before you go off to try to improve yourself dramatically in a night of binge consumption, I would caution you against an attempt at becoming too smart, too quickly. The world has never really liked or appreciated smart people, or even people who think they're smart for that matter. Remember too that we have elections coming soon and being less smart will help you to get you through that process with a lot less frustration. Use the knowledge that you have been given here judiciously, and consume in moderation instead. 

Finally, consider the following when tempted to gain intelligence through the consumption of alcohol in mass quantities: "The difference between an alcoholic and a drunk is that a drunk doesn't have to go to all of those meetings."

 Enjoy yourself on the road to personal improvement, but be careful not to cross the center line...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

You Might Be A Fanatic

It is amazing to me that the people in this country seem to have so much difficulty identifying the enemy during this most dangerous time in our history. Knowing who the enemy is critical to our very survival and if the truth be known, not at all difficult. The enemies of the United States and in fact the enemies of the free world fall into one category...

Now I know what you are going to say. "Tim, saying that fanatics are the enemy is all well and good, but how do I know who these guys are?" Good question. Now I could go into a long dissertation on the definition and history of fanaticism in the world, both political and religious; but I won't (the truth of the matter is I tried this in my first pass on the subject and even I found it tedious and boring). Identifying these characters is so important to our continued existence that will instead use "The Jeff Foxworthy Method" to speed up the process (the fact that I lived in Georgia for a while has nothing to do with it). Please read these carefully!
  • If you cancelled your life insurance when you discovered that suicide bombing wasn't covered in the policy, you might be a fanatic.
  • If any garment you own is wired with a detonator, you might be a fanatic.
  • If you don't care about the gas mileage of your SUV because you've already turned it into a car bomb, you might be a fanatic.
  • If your hobbies include getting swastika tattoos, you might be a fanatic.
  • If your social life is suffering because you spend most of your evenings planning terrorist attacks, you might be a fanatic.
  • If the only white sheet that you own doesn't fit on your bed but does fit on your head, you might be a fanatic.
  • If the only way that you can use the word "automatic" in a sentence also includes the use of the word "weapon", you might be a fanatic.
  • If the only way that you are going to get lucky in the near future is if God comes through with the virgins in the afterlife, you might be a fanatic.
  • If shaving your head or not shaving your face is the only way for you to fit in with your current peer group, you might be a fanatic.
  • If most of your clothes smell of diesel fuel and fertilizer, you might be a fanatic.
Now if you were able to agree with any or all of these statements or any of this seems even vaguely familiar, please go immediately (do not pass go or collect $200) to the nearest local authorities and turn yourself in. If you choose not to avail yourself of this opportunity, could you at least wear bright clothing and a sign identifying yourself? (Likewise anyone knowing of such people should feel free to wear the "I'm With A Fanatic" T-shirts that will soon be available). 

While I can't promise you that doing so will allow you to fulfill your life's ambitions, permit you to enter the particular version of paradise that you believe in, or allow you to live a long and happy life in this world; the rest of us will certainly be grateful to you for giving us the chance to do so.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Seven Wonders of the World

A great deal of excitement was generated with the recent release of a revised list of the the "Seven Wonders of the World". While I haven't seen it yet, it is my understanding that millions of people voted on the subject worldwide. You can imagine my disappointment therefore, when I discovered that I was not one of them (I can only assume that somehow my ballot must have gotten lost in the mail). Not being one to let such a prestigious event pass without taking the opportunity to share my opinions (something for which I am well known), I decided that I would do so here. Here then are my personal seven wonders of the world:
  1. I wonder why they call them "reality shows" when there is little or nothing real about them?
  2. I wonder if there is anyone left that the French haven't surrendered to?
  3. I wonder if a tree falls in the forest on a member of the Sierra Club, would anybody hear it, or care that it happened?
  4. I wonder why Superman just stood there when the bad guys shot at him, but ducked when they threw the empty gun at him?
  5. I wonder what the belts and shoes of PETA members are made out of?
  6. I wonder why utility companies get to raise our rates when we use too much of their service, and raise it again when we don't use enough?
  7. I wonder why they call it common sense when its use is so uncommon?
I have a lot more but ... oh that's not what they were talking about ... oops. Sorry, never mind.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I'm Not Responsible

Isn't it fascinating that no matter what happens to us or what we do to ourselves, that someone or something else is always to blame for it?
  • If you are overweight from eating so many McDonald's cheeseburgers that the burger count on the sign goes up every time sit down in the place, it's their fault for having too high a fat content in their products.
  • If your kids are beginning to look like Jabba the Hut because they sit in front of the TV all day watching reruns and playing video games, it's not because they never get to their feet except to find their way to the kitchen for another Twinkie, but because there isn't enough health information on the packaging of the potato chips that they are trying to stuff down their pie holes while looking for it.
  • If your lungs look like a bag of charcoal briquettes from the three pack a day cigarette habit that you've had for the last 20 years, it's the cigarette manufacturer's fault for not making the warning labels big enough.
  • If you wake up every morning to a screwdriver as an eye-opener and pass out every night with a bottle of Jack Daniels clutched in your arms, it's because the liquor industry didn't say "please drink responsibly" in their ads often enough.
  • If you're broke after pumping gas into the Hummer that you drive to work every day, it's because an oil company is trying to gouge you in the pursuit of excessive profits.
  • If your kids are in the 10th grade and still can't read "The Cat In The Hat", it's because the government isn't providing enough tutoring in the "no one left behind" program.
  • If your representatives in government are stuffing their pockets with campaign contributions, speaking fees, and lobbyist perks like someone is giving away free money (wait, they are); it's because there aren't enough campaign finance reform regulations.

  • If a criminal can get a hand gun (legally or illegally) easier than you can get a driver's license from the DMV, it's because we haven't passed enough gun control laws.
  • If that same criminal uses that gun in a robbery and kills someone, it's because he had a bad home life as a child.
  • If an adult beats their spouse or a child half to death, it's because they were abused as a child themselves.
What ever happened to the concepts of self-restraint, self-reliance, and personal responsibility? Is self-esteem so important that we are ready to give up our personal freedoms in order to keep from feeling guilty about bad choices we make? Is parenting so hard for us that we are willing to ask complete strangers (substitute government here if you are a liberal) to take over as a nanny for all of us? Can we really believe that our government can keep us from doing bad or stupid things when they can't do the same for themselves?
The reason that our laws don't work is because we don't enforce them. The reason that people get away with criminal behavior is because we (a jury of their peers) let them. The reason that you make bad choices is that you are so used to letting someone else decide for you that your ability to choose gets less use than your appendix. The reason your life, and probably that of your kids, is so screwed up is your seeming inability or unwillingness to protect yourself from (wait for it now) ... yourself.
Therefore every rotten, terrible thing that is about to happen in the world has to be all your fault, since I'm not responsible.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I Have Questions

I have a few questions that I would like to pose to those of you who have taken some part of your day to read this blog (hopefully during work so that you are getting paid to waste your time). While they may appear to be nonsense on the surface, I ask you to please look more closely at the issues presented. Being a curious sort (or is it being sort of curious, I can never remember that one) I have accumulated these questions over time and thought that I would pose them to you in the hope of enlightenment. The fate of the world may not rest on any of the answers to the questions below, but enquiring minds want to know...(Sorry about the rhyme. It was unintentional, but just cheesy enough that I'm not interested in change it.)
  • Is Disneyworld a people trap run by a mouse?
  • Why is a carrot more orange than an orange?
  • If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?
  • If olive oil is made from olives, then what is baby oil made from? 
  • Why do the call it "The Department of the Interior" when everything they are in charge of is outdoors?
  • During the Korean War, the Korean Air Force claimed a 4 to 1 kill ratio in air battles with the US. The US claimed a 10 to 1 kill ratio in those same battles. If both are true (and governments never lie) who did all of the dying?
  • If its zero degrees outside today and its going to be twice as cold tomorrow, how cold is it going to be?
  • Why do banks charge us a "non-sufficient funds" fee for money that they know we don't have?
  • Why do we speak louder and slower to people who don't understand English?
  • Why do we press the buttons on a remote control harder when we know the battery is dead?
  • Why do the side effects for the medications taken to treat a medical condition usually sound worse than the condition itself?
  • George Lucas came up with incredible technologies for the six movies of "Star Wars", including some rather impressive looking armor used by the stormtroopers. So how come, with this high-tech armor, these guys could be taken down by a bunch of three foot tall fuzzball Ewoks with rocks?
  • Since light travels faster than sound, could that be why some people appear bright until you hear them speak?
If anyone comes up with any answers, I would be delighted to hear about them.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Government Inefficiency - Thank God For It

We should find great relief in the fact that our government is so bogged down in partisanship, bureaucracy, and ineptitude that it doesn't t get much done. This failure in its ability to act is probably the only thing that keeps it from “saving us to death”.

Truer words were never spoken than those above folks, though I am sure that like me, you have at one time or another prayed that the government would crawl out of the cesspool of its own ignorance and quagmire of inefficiency and "just get something done" for us. We have only to watch C-SPAN broadcasts of our Congress in action (at least you do if you have absolutely no life and have decided to torture yourself in ways other than watching reruns of "Leave It To Beaver" and "The Brady Bunch" or the Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller movie marathons this weekend) and we shake our heads at the political posturing, partisan politics, and endless mind-numbing speeches that end up saying and accomplishing absolutely nothing. 

We watch the news on TV, listen to it on the radio, or read about it in the paper in the morning (less of you every day according to the latest figures) and we pray to whatever higher power that we believe in that someone or something will save us from this system that seems bent on accomplishing little or nothing with the trust and money that we have placed in their hands, only to be disappointed. But consider this... What does our government usually manage to accomplish in their effort to improve our lot in life on the rare occasions that it functions?
  • Restrict our personal freedoms whenever the opportunity is provided, while hiding their own abuse and shenanigans behind closed doors.
  • Find new ways to take the money out of our pockets, while lining their own with speaking fees, gifts, campaign contributions, and pay and benefit increases; while waiting to become lobbyists and make the really big bucks. (though having Congressman William Jefferson hiding his cash in the freezer was original and entertaining if nothing else)
  • Make endless regulations in every possible phase of our lives that make no sense either to the people who are affected by them or the people who have to enforce them.
  • Do studies on things that nobody wants to know for reasons that no one understands. (There is a current government study on government studies that is already running vastly over budget. I will keep you updated.)
  • Create reports based on these studies that involve printing on a scale that would kill enough trees to make the Sierra Club throw up their arms in horror and probably pee their pants (though of course, they would simply call the latter 'giving back to the environment' or 'recycling').
  • Sponsor projects to build things that nobody knows anything about, if they did know about them would beg not to have built because they aren't wanted or needed, and even if they did need them would point out that the project was being built too late or in the wrong place (though such projects usually do at least provide a job for somebody's brother-in-law).
  • Create forms for things that no one can possibly fill out properly and that once filled out will not be read anyway. However if such forms are read by mistake, they would only prove that the person applying doesn't deserve the thing that the form was filled out for in the first place.
All of this being done for (to) you by a government who then tells you:

...that what they are doing is in your best interest and only for your own good (a concept that you don't seem capable of understanding or you wouldn't be questioning or complaining).

...that they know better than you do how to spend the money that you expend so much time and effort earning, even if that means funding an arts program for stuff you wouldn't hide in your attic or a campaign of massive wealth redistribution to people who are making no effort to pay their own way in life

...that they know exactly what kind of health care that you need and they should therefore control and regulate that care and the type of treatment that you receive, while placing themselves in a completely separate system which provides much greater care at much lower costs

...that they know exactly how much (or more accurately, how little) you will need to live on in retirement, while again segregating themselves from that plan to provide for themselves a much higher standard of living

...that they know what bad habits (food, drink, or smoking as examples) that you need to modify in order to become a better person (again, their definition), and if you are not willing or able to modify those habits, legislating such behavior modification in your own best interests

...that they know what you should be exposed to on TV and radio, either through censorship or mandated fairness, disregarding the concept of free speech, a free market economy, or the idea that you could somehow figure out how to change stations on your TV or radio (I might be willing to sit still for if they would just promise to get rid of the Adam Sandler and Ben Still movie marathons - nah)

Fortunately for us, the government is their own worst enemy these endeavors. The initiatives that they attempt to push through in order to make our lives better are countered by their needs to demonize their opponents and grandstand whenever possible. When they manage to get out of their own way far enough to actually pass something into law, they usually make it absolutely impossible for the bureaucracy to execute those efforts by bogging them down in paperwork designed to show progress that can never be made and micromanaging regulations that are so contradictory that both the original goal and its opposite fit within the guidelines. 

If somehow they screw up in reverse and actually pass a law that can be enforced, that same bureaucracy that has to perform the enforcement takes over and steps on itself through laziness, union regulations, and just plain stubborn resistance to change (with a mandatory coffee break or two thrown in just to break the monotony). If however, by some freak of nature, all of these fortunate societal protections are circumvented, we can then count on the court system to prevent anything from happening in the end, either through a lawsuit by the ACLU or the Sierra Club; or by some judge, bored with the legal system and seeking his 15 minutes of fame on the news by stepping in to rule that the law is unconstitutional, and sending it back to the lawmakers for another round on this carousel of craziness. 

In the end, the result is a wonderfully entertaining dance where nothing at all happens, and if we are lucky we are allowed to continue to live our lives with a minimum of government interference. So just remember when you are standing in line in the DMV, cursing your fate and the government that has sentenced you to the mind-numbing experience in which you are participating, that the very inefficiency that is at that moment making you life a living hell, may in fact be saving it. Oh by the way, the piece of wisdom quoted at the beginning of my posting came from a rather surprising and unusual source ... me. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Check Out My Expression

I present this one as a little fun for the 4th of July holiday. Enjoy the fireworks. 

It fascinates me that for the most part, we are completely ignorant of many of the expressions that have become part or our everyday conversations. The English language is full of things that many times meant something vastly different from what they do now, yet bolstered by our belief in the 'common definition' of such things, we use them as if we understand their origins and usage. I have been as guilty as anyone in this practice, and it is only recently that I have begun to question some of them. 

Quite frankly, I found the truth in some of these cases intriguing, and would like to share the fruits of some of that exploration in these origins with you. Please look at them and ask yourself what it says about us and our culture, about the English language, and about the amount of spare time that I must have in my life to be able to assemble this material (not to mention the warped perspective required to want to).  

I am sure that many of you have discovered other examples that I either left out in this posting or didn't know about. Please feel free to share them with me, and I will try to post more on another occasion.  

The bride’s father supplied his son-in-law all of the mead (beer made from honey) that he could drink for a month in Babylon some 4,000 years ago. Over time, this period became known as the “honey month”, which we know today as “honeymoon”.

 The expression “making money hand over fist” comes from the way that ancient coins were manufactured or “struck”. Precious metal blanks were placed in a fixture holding the dies for each face of the coin, which were held in the metal worker’s “fist”. They were then struck with a hammer to impress the forms of the dies into the metal by a hammer being held in a “hand” over those dies.

The expression “getting there before the rush” actually relates to a ship in the US Coast Guard. During the period in the world’s history that seals were being over-trapped in the Bering Sea, hunters used to try and get in to the area and out with their seal pelts before the “Rush”, a Coast Guard icebreaker, could arrive to enforce the regulations at the time.  

During the 100 years War between France and Great Britain, British archers who were captured had their first two fingers cut off to keep them from being able to use the English longbow, the most dangerous weapon of the time. After the defeat of the French in the Battle of Agincourt, the British bowmen left unscathed were said to have taunted the defeated French by raising those two fingers as proof that they could still operate their bowstrings (which was also known as “plucking the yew” for the tree that these bows were traditionally made from). This sign appears to have degraded into the use of one digit over time, and “the finger” was born. (I'm not entirely sure if this one is true, but it was such a great story that I couldn't resist it.)  

During the heyday of wooden warships, the ratings adopted by the British Navy became the world's standard. In it, ships of the first rate (of which the HMS Victory is the only surviving example), were ships of 100 or more guns mounted on 3 decks. Ships of the second rate mounted 90-98 guns on 3 decks. Ships of the third rate mounted 64-80 guns, typically mounted on 2 decks (and in many cases were more powerful than their 2nd rate cousins). Ships of the fourth rate carried 46-60 guns, while ships of the fifth rate carried 32-44 guns on a single deck, and ships of the sixth rate carried 20-28 guns. Ships of the first four rates were known as “Ships of the Line” (from the line of battle formation that was traditionally used), where fifth and sixth rates tended to be designated as “frigates” and traveled the seas independently. This is where the expressions "first rate" and "second rate" came from. (As a side note: American frigates, like the famous Constitution, tended to be bigger and better armed than their British counterparts and British captains were told to avoid battle with such ships unless they had at least a 2:1 advantage.)  

The expression “lock, stock, and barrel” also came from the time of The Hundred Years War. This expression, though originally thought to mean the sole possessions of the shopkeeper (the lock on the door, the stock in the shop, and the barrels used for storage of goods) actually comes from the three parts of the muskets used at the time. The “lock” (or flintlock) firing mechanism, the “stock” or butt of the rifle, and the “barrel” that the bullet traveled through. The expression appears to have been used first by Sir Walter Scott in 1817, though the phrase appears to have started in a different order: “Like the High-landman’s gun, she wants stock, lock, and barrel, to put her into repair.”

 The expression “don't go off half cocked” also comes from the use of flintlock weapons. The hammer had to be pulled back to its first locking position (half cocked) for the purposes of loading. The weapon was not capable of being fired however, until being pulled back to the second (fully cocked) position and was therefore useless when only half cocked, hence the warning.  

Many of the “Pirates in the Caribbean” were originally jerky makers on the islands of that region who would hunt the local pigs and bulls, turn them into jerky, and sell them to the Spanish ships traveling in the area. The Spanish, fearing the influence of these foreigners, killed off the animals to drive these people out. Having lost their livelihood, they begin hunting the ships of the Spanish who took away their livelihood. The term "buccaneer" derives from the French word Boucanier which stood for the name of the wooden frames used for their original trade.  

Masons were traditionally added by means of a secret ballot, which required unanimous approval. Voting was done by means of black and white marbles, with white being the affirmative. This is where the term “black-balling” came from.

During the early days of medical schools, cadavers were often supplied to the students by grave robbers. These enterprising gentlemen, not wanting to be seen transporting these bodies from the graveyard to the school, often stored them in barrels of whiskey to escape detection. Upon their arrival at the medical school, they not only delivered the body for a fee, but sold the whiskey in the barrel to the students as well … hence the term “rot gut whiskey”.

The term quarantine came from the 40 days that the people of Venice kept ships isolated in the harbor in the hopes of preventing them from spreading “The Black Death” to the city. As a side note, it didn't work.  

Both the German term Kaiser and the Russian term Czar come from the name and title of Caesar from the Roman Empire.  

After the Civil War ended, soldiers were required to go to Washington in person to obtain their veteran’s benefits. They were forced to sit as clerks went through bundles of documents until their particular papers were discovered. The bundles were bound in “Red Tape”. That’s where the expression came from.

The "carat", used as the measure of the size of diamonds, comes from the size of the seeds of the carob tree.

Many years ago a new game was invented by shepherds in Scotland, who attempted to knock rocks into holes in the ground with their crooks. At the time, it was designated as: “Gentlemen Only … Ladies Forbidden”, and the word GOLF entered the English language. This one is also rather shaky the factual scale, but again, I like it.

During the 1400’s a law was set forth in England that allowed a man to beat his wife with a stick, but only if it was no thicker than his thumb. Hence the expression “rule of thumb”.  

Early in the 20th Century, men began wearing short tailed smoking jackets as part of a greater trend towards cigar smoking. Later these jackets became adopted as standard formal attire, gaining their name from Tuxedo Park, NY.

The term “hot dog” came from a NY Giant’s baseball game at the Polo Grounds where a butcher was selling what he called “dachshund sausages” from a tray that he carried. These sausages were even wrapped in bread to keep the patrons purchasing them from burning themselves during their consumption. They became so popular that other vendors copied him, but the name was too long, and “hot dog” was used for convenience.  

Many frequenters to pubs in England had a whistle baked into the rim or handle of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they merely had to use the whistle to get additional service. The phrase “Wet your whistle” came from this.

In Shakespeare’s time, mattresses were secured on bed frames by ropes. When you pulled on the ropes the mattress tightened, making the bed firmer to sleep on. This is where the phrase “good night … sleep tight” came from.

The racehorse “Man of War” was famous for winning almost every race that he ran (20 out of 21). In the only race that he lost, he was defeated by a horse named Upset. This is where the expression "winning in an upset" came from.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Good Old Days

Do you remember the good old days? Those heady, carefree days of youth when the world was so much better then it is today. Now for me, who might be (and probably is dammit) a little older than the rest of you, this was the period between 1965 and 1975. So my good old days were full of the Vietnam War, the war protests and peace riots (a curious, contradictory term, but I'll use it anyway) in Chicago during the '68 Democratic Convention in Chicago, race riots in LA and Detroit... Wait, that can't be right. This doesn't sound like all that great a deal. 

Maybe we just didn't go far enough back. Let's try further back. During that same period in my parents lives things were probably the good old days. We were just coming out of the Great Depression, recovering from the "Dust Bowl" droughts in the Midwest, going into World War II... No wait, that doesn't sound any better. Let's go further back. 

We'll find those those good old days yet if we just go back far enough. Let's see, a little earlier we had World War I - nope, not back far enough yet. Before that we had the Spanish - America War, fought so we could steal Spain's possessions in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Before than we were winning the West by slaughtering an indigenous people while the killing off the buffalo that fed them, all while doing a pretty good job on each other in the streets with "carry permit" six-shooters. No, none of these seem to fit the bill. Better keep going.

OK, before that we had the Civil War, where the dead on both sides of the conflict were Americans; and those not killed outright usually died from disease caught from their wounds or from the shock caused by the amputations that passed for surgery. Before that we had the War of 1812. (This may in fact, be the first war that the US lost by the way. The Capitol in Washington D.C. was burned to the ground and we pretty much lost every engagement fought, with the exception of the Battle of New Orleans, where Andrew Jackson won decisively in a battle fought after the war was actually over.) A little before that we had the Revolutionary War - nope, we aren't there yet. 

Before that we were settling this country and enduring the hardships of weather, starvation, a hostile indigenous people resentful over the arrival of bunch of colonists intent on taking possession of land that they felt belonged to everyone. The colonists in turn, faced horrendous conditions during the voyages from their former homes, and the rule of a monarchy in England (and the rest of Europe for that matter) who sought only exploit them for their own gains. Maybe we need to skip through for a while until we find what we are looking for.
Before that we had the feudal system in Europe where most people were peasants or servants, the Spanish Inquisition (which nobody expected by the way), the Black Death, the Dark Ages, the Crusades, conquest of the European and Asian continents by everyone from Napoleon and Julius Caesar to Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. Wait this can't be right, or can it?

The truth of the matter is that the "Good Old Days" of the past are mostly a fiction created by our lack of responsibilities and the immature perspective of youth, when we barely understood the world around us. The reality of the past is actually mostly a series of dark and dreary days filled with wars, short lifespans, high percentages of infant mortality, plague, pestilence, starvation, torture, slavery, and one group of people seeking to impose its will on another group for either political gain, religious reasons, or out of just plain greed. 

Even the concept of regular bathing and indoor plumbing (both near and dear to my heart) did not seem to have been terribly widespread until very recently (though there were notable exceptions throughout history which I will ignore since they fail to make my point).

My conclusion therefore is that people who talk about "The Good Old Days" should be bludgeoned with one of the history textbooks that serve to point out their error and distorted perception of the past. Most of history involves living in disease, filth, and terror in conditions that are so bad that you would be arrested for putting a stranger in them, even if they asked you to. The bright spots in the story only manage to illuminate the mostly sordid past of our species, shining a light on the pain and misery that has been the greater part of the tale. 

Now I'm not trying to ruin everyone' s day here with a recounting of doom and gloom (well, maybe I am; but only for people that I don't like and only subconsciously). I just want you all to stop complaining about today and bitching about how great things were in "The Good Old Days". If anything, you should take comfort in the idea that no matter how bad things might appear today, that this is still the best that things may ever have been in history.

And remember, I'm carrying my book bag for those who haven't been paying attention.