The finish had been subject to extremes of sunlight and temperature and humidity. Not left outdoors, but I figured an attic or something. My neighbor later told me that it was left on an enclosed porch for many years. Bingo. The finish was missing here and there, but what there was looked like suede when you ran your finger across it. It was completely crisscrossed with fingermarks going every which way. I pawed at it a bit, running through the rusty filing cabinet of my mind to figure out what I was looking at. It came to me in a vision — all at once.
I knew it was shellac. Of all the dumb luck. No one had “fixed” this piece of furniture in 75 years. It didn’t have any new, improved finish that wouldn’t last but couldn’t be fixed. It wasn’t “eco,” another word for wasteful useless disposable plastic crap. The finish was made from the nasty ooze that comes out of a lac bug and dries on a tree branch. Your favorite Hindoo used to gather the stuff by putting tarps on the ground under trees where the lac bugs congregate, and then beating the limbs with sticks to make the amber flakes rain down. When you mix lac leavings with alcohol, you get shellac. It’s wonderful stuff.
Shellac sticks to anything. Anything sticks to shellac. Shellac can be diluted till there’s barely a whisper of lac left in it, but it still makes a coherent film. It seals knots. Shellac can be polished to mirror shine if you want to. A technique called French polishing is the finish you saw on Baron Percy Devonshire Smythe XXIVth’s harewood and mahogany gaming table back when King George was still gibbering on his throne. You can make shellac look like anything you want. Our dresser had pigment mixed in with it to make a kind of varnish stain that could be sprayed on in one coat as an all-purpose stain/finish.
Shellac is so safe for humans to handle that you can eat it, and you might have. They used to make the capsules that drugs and vitamins come in out of shellac. And the greatest thing about shellac, at least for me, is that no matter how old it is, it immediately dissolves and gets loose in the presence of alcohol, just like everyone at your office Christmas party.
Sippican Cottage, “Happy Birthday, Mrs. King”, Sippican Cottage, 2016-04-20.
May 1, 2016
April 28, 2016
I’m on the road in Thailand, speaking at a U.N. conference on sustainable A development in the Third World. Earlier today I listened to a presentation on the effects of sex education for women. The presentation mentioned some cultural value conflicts about sex education, but it occurred to me that it didn’t touch the biggest one. To wit: worldwide, the teachers want the kids to learn abstinence, but what the kids [want] to learn is technique.
Eric S. Raymond, “That’s Why They Call It ‘Sex Education'”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-05-20.
April 25, 2016
If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.
H.L. Mencken, “Epitaph”, Smart Set, 1921-12.
April 16, 2016
H/T to American Digest for the link.
April 12, 2016
… one of those dim, dumpy “world-famous in Canada” sorts who are especially unimpressive whenever they happen to be, as in her case, “Kay-BECK-erz.” This human chafing dish for received liberal wisdom has received so many “honors” and “awards” that one friend I’d brought along said he half expected that, mid-debate, someone would walk out on stage and hand her a new one.
Kathy Shaidle, “An Evening With the ‘Rape Me First, Kill Me Last’ Crowd”, Taki’s Magazine, 2016-04-05.
April 10, 2016
Conservatives have a nasty habit of being sympathetic to corporations, viewing them as a bulwark against government overreach. The reality is far different. If you’re a religious traditionalist in 21st-century America, big business hates your guts.
James E. Miller, “The Business End of Freedom”, Taki’s Magazine, 2016-03-31.
April 9, 2016
For a while, I tried just cooking things I knew he’d like. These things were, to my palate, heavy and boring for everyday eating. I gained 35 pounds, a fact I blamed on my approaching 40th birthday. Then things got busy and we stopped eating dinner together so often, and like magic, the weight fell off.
I tell you all this by way of introducing a conversation we had a year or two back. I made a roast chicken and served it with a chickpea-and-raisin tagine on the side. “I like it, but you don’t have to eat it,” I told him. He looked at me, and took a tiny spoonful, featuring one carrot, three chickpeas and a raisin. A few moments later, he looked up at me and said “You should make this as a main course sometime.”
Those of you who have never lived with a picky eater probably do not appreciate the drama of the statement. Those of you who have will understand the thunderous shock I experienced. I stared. I dropped my fork. I said: “Who are you, and what have you done with my husband?”
Over the following months I kept asking the same question, with increasing concern, as he asked for sautéed mushrooms, sausage ragu, poached-egg-and-arugula salad. Was my husband being well taken care of on the alien spaceship? Did he have access to books, movies, his Xbox? Were they feeding him lots of meat? Because this guy who had replaced him was not a picky eater. To be honest, he’s now less picky than I am, since the taste of cooked fish still triggers my gag reflex.
With columnist drama, I have presented his transformation as a single cinematic moment. In fact, it was the culmination of a long process, one that I wasn’t ever sure was going to work out. And since I know that there are probably other people out there trapped in the tragedy of a foodie-picky relationship, it seems worth sharing how it happened. Some of what we did was fortuitous, but quite a lot of it was deliberate choices that we both made.
Megan McArdle, “When Your Spouse Is a Picky Eater”, Bloomberg View, 2016-03-18.
April 8, 2016
Further north into the Midwest, you run into the Polacks. This is technically a derogatory term for people of Polish descent, though I’ve also heard it applied to people whose Eastern European ancestors came from less well-known countries. In Europe, particularly France and Russia, Polish people are stereotyped as thieves or under-the-table laborers. In the US, you’re more likely to run into the stereotype of “Polish people are unintelligent,” although both continents tend to associate being Polish with being a plumber. Polacks are also the target of a uniquely American type of joke, the Polack joke, which has developed regional variations. In Texas, they’re Aggie jokes instead.
Further north still, in Minnesota and the Dakotas, you get the Scandahoovians. Tall, blonde, chubby, kind of dim and easy to put one over on, but friendly: there’s your stereotypical Scandahoovian. Jokes about Scandahoovians are kinder, on average, than jokes about Polacks; the Scandahoovian is still the butt of the joke, but about half the time, he outwits the Yankee. Scandahoovians will also never stop feeding you, but instead of sausages, it’s casserole and they call it “hot dish.” They’re quiet folks; I’m told this is a survival trait, acquired as a result of having to spend the entirety of winter either at home with your family or ice fishing. (Get into a spat with someone, and you’ll be doing a lot more ice fishing. So they keep things to themselves.)
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Italians. Italians compete with Czech-Germans for keeping you fat and happy, but they’re much more talkative. They also compete with the Scots-Irish for fighting you. I don’t know much about Italian white trash culture; I married into Pennsylvania Scots-Irish, and that branch of family sure loved Italian food and was happy to work with their neighboring Italians, but tended to keep to their own culturally. “Jersey Shore” is where most folks get their stereotypes of Italians these days, and I’m sure it only shows the shittiest, most laughable parts of Italian white trash culture. I’ve made a few Italian white trash friends, and they’re some of the most loyal people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.
Meredith L. Patterson, “A Field Guide to White Trash”, Status 451, 2016-03-18.
April 6, 2016
April 5, 2016
My house cost less than $25,000 when I bought it. I wasn’t expecting a rose garden. As it turned out, I got a lupin garden, but that’s a story for another day. There was a lot wrong with my house, and I knew it. I even knew that the sewer wasn’t likely to be first rate. There was a patch on the concrete floor around the sewer pipe. There’s always a reason why the floor has been patched around a sewer line. All the reasons are bad reasons.
I needed a house six years ago or so after catching the poverty. It was my own fault. I foolishly went to the early-bird special at the Honest Work Buffet, but Wall Street had gotten there before me and sneezed on the warming tray with the regular economy in it. Lyme Disease didn’t help any, either, although I still find ticks less loathsome than politicians.
I believe that a house is the chassis of a competent family. We were broke but it was important to keep us together in a house where we would have some control over our affairs. I looked for a house that was as cheap as the chrome on a Kia, but didn’t have anything wrong with it that I couldn’t understand or fix myself. Our house fit the bill. It had been abandoned, and the bank wanted to get rid of it, badly.
The house was owned by a local bank that held the note from the prior owners, a real rarity back when the real estate leverage world was desolating the landscape. People kept predicting that housing would fall an additional X percent, and then they’d buy. They didn’t realize that the big banks holding the leveraged debt had no interest in the real real estate. The financial institutions were being made whole by logrolling the government. The houses were abstractions to them, and only the paper was real. The local banker had his tit in the wringer over our house. I could reason with him. Either I could live in it, or he could. No one in their right mind would want to live in my house.
I didn’t want an abstract house. I wanted one with real problems. Mission Accomplished. I tried in vain to make real estate agents understand that I wanted to buy a house nobody else wanted. They kept trying to show me houses that looked like Home Depot had exploded inside them. The current owners wanted me to pay for the privilege of ripping out all the silly stuff they had inexpertly selected and installed. What I really wanted was a neglected house. Neglect is easier to handle than active malice. That applies to real estate and elections, now that I think of it.
Our house had been neglected, that’s for sure. There was a hole in the back roof that I could stick my head through. The wiring was still partly knob and tube. It takes a long time to foreclose on a house, even if it’s abandoned, so all the pipes had frozen and burst while the bank went through all the legal steps to foreclose on an empty house. When we bought our home, it was essentially a poorly constructed shell of a house, not a dwelling.
April 1, 2016
Published on 1 Apr 2016
April 1st used to be the time of year when games devs would try to prank their players, but lately it’s mostly just been an excuse to throw cool new game modes into their latest titles. Not that I’m complaining of course, I’d rather be able to PLAY a TOG II Warship than be teased by a screenshot of one. Here’s a selection of what’s on offer this year.
March 26, 2016
Ayun Halliday posted a video of Will Stephen demonstrating how to do a TED talk on nothing:
Is there any subject that can’t be covered in a TED Talk?
Apparently not. You can make a TED Talk about anything, even nothing, as veteran improviser and rookie Saturday Night Live writer, Will Stephen, demonstrated at a recent TEDx event in New York City.
What you shouldn’t do is deviate from TED’s established presentation tropes. Stephen may be punking us with his How to Sound Smart in Your TEDx Talk, above, but aspirant TED speakers should take notes. One can’t practice observational humor without being a keen observer. Stephen’s insights are as good a playbook as any for that unmistakeable TED-style delivery
March 24, 2016
The cheerleader effect describes a human perception issue where pictures of any woman in a group are often considered more attractive than a picture of that woman alone (this may apply to men as well, but I have always heard it referred to women). Apparently women exploit this effect by posting pictures on dating sites that show them in groups of their friends rather than alone. Anyway, I have developed two corollaries:
Polo Shirt Effect: Polo shirts in a store appear more desirable when grouped with other similar shirts in an array of colors than when presented alone. This effect is strong enough to trump the paradox of choice, where offering consumers more choices can tend to flummox them and cause them to buy less. I believe arrays of multi-hued polo shirts presented together increase purchases of these shirts.
Christmas Tree Effect: We almost never buy ornaments for our tree. 95% are individually ugly, but meaningful, constructions by our kids over the years. The rest are what remain after breakage of some commercial ornaments we bought 20 years ago on deep discount in the after-Christmas sales. But a tree constructed of these ornaments is beautiful. So ornaments look far better when massed on a tree than they look individually.
Warren Meyer, “My Contributions to Social Science”, Coyote Blog, 2015-01-06.
March 23, 2016
We need to get out ahead of the game here and start thinking about who’ll look good with one hand on a Bible and the other up in the air when President Trump gets dragged out of the Oval Office in a straitjacket after the coup, foaming at the mouth that the military wouldn’t follow his orders to attack some ridiculous target.
Tam Slick, “Strategerizing”, View From The Porch, 2016-03-16.
March 15, 2016
Sewer gas is like a lot of topics in construction and maintenance. Sewer gas should be understood, and its relative danger respected. Fear is not the same as knowledge and respect.
Knowledge coupled with respect is not au courant in today’s world. If you watch any “home improvement” show, there is only one constant. Everyone wears safety glasses all the time no matter how trivial the dangers involved. I have seen people put on safety glasses to hang drapes. If you truly understand risk, and respect danger in proportion to that risk, you are using judgment. If you do not understand risk, but are simply afraid of everything, you wear safety glasses all the time. An overwhelming fear of putting your eye out trumps any rational assessment of the behavior you should undertake to avoid it. You’d be smarter to examine your neurotic urge to achieve an illusory feeling of safety while ignoring really dangerous things.
Safety glasses are the clown shoes of fear. I have seen all the shelter shows — once — and I have observed a noticeably pregnant woman put on safety glasses in order to undertake the demolition of perfectly good tile in her tract home bathroom. It’s not unwise to wear safety glasses if you’re determined to strike ceramic tile with a sledgehammer. It’s just really dumb to think that striking ceramic tile with a sledgehammer is how demolition is accomplished. The pregnant woman was wearing flip flops in order to display her painted toenails to the public. People who understand risk and respect the process they’ve undertaken do not perform demolition in open-toed shoes while pregnant. Believing that wearing safety glasses under those circumstances bestows safety is magical, cargo cult thinking. Magical thinking doesn’t result in safety, ever. It results in paranoia with recklessness ladled all over it.