Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bad Sex Award

To quote my favorite jazz drummer/comedian/philosopher Brother Dave Gardner,  “…the worst I ever had was wonderful.” but I never knew it could win prizes.  

Britain’s Literary Review presented their Bad Sex Award this past weekend, according to this story from the BBC:

Second-time novelist Rowan Somerville has pipped Alastair Campbell to the post to win the Literary Review's bad sex in fiction award.

The author picked up the prize for his book The Shape of Her.

The novel includes the line: "She released his hair from her fingers and twisted onto her belly like a fish flipping itself."

Somerville said: "There is nothing more English than bad sex, so on behalf of the entire nation, I thank you."

Former Labour spin doctor Campbell was nominated for his novel, Maya.

The judges felt that Campbell's public enthusiasm for winning the prize was not in keeping with the Bad Sex in Fiction's original purpose - to discourage further poor writing of a sexual nature.

Its aim is "to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel."

Other shortlisted authors for the tongue-in-cheek prize included Jonathan Franzen for Freedom and Christos Tsiolkas for The Slap.

Last year's prize went to Jonathan Littell for his novel The Kindly Ones.

Auberon Waugh established the Bad Sex in Fiction prize in 1993.

Previous winners include Norman Mailer, AA Gill, Melvyn Bragg and Tom Wolfe.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee etc.



My maternal grandmother grew up in Groveton, in East Texas.  Her maiden name was Thompson, and I was always told that she was part Indian. 

That’s where things got confusing - my aunt Claire said she was pretty sure that her mother was Choctaw, but it could have been Chickasaw or maybe Cherokee. I could never understand why you wouldn’t know one way or the other; it just didn’t make any sense at all until I came across Chata.org., the website of the Choctaws of Texas.

The website’s genealogy section confirms that, at the very least, my grandmother’s great-grandfather, Willoughby Tullos, was Choctaw.  He was born in Mississippi, but there is confusion on whether his birth  occurred  in the 1830’s or the  1850’s.  He died in Trinity County, Texas in the 1890’s.

The Mt. Tabor Group history on the website solves my confusion over whether we are descended from Choctaw, Chickasaw, or what.  The two groups were so affiliated and intermarried in Texas as to be indistinguishable, and, on top of that, they aligned with the Cherokee for treaties, etc.  No wonder my aunt wasn’t sure.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sonny Ragsdale

A really outstanding Thanksgiving weekend was diminished when we got home to find an email telling me that my uncle Sonny Ragsdale had died this morning.

I’d guess he was my favorite uncle.

Sonny was half Indian, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper, and later a game warden. He led a long and interesting life, and was married to my Aunt Barbara for something like 60 years.

He had quite a few adventures in his career. I remember the time he pulled over what he thought was a drunk driver who was weaving down the road. The guy pulled a gun, but Sonny calmly disarmed him and hauled him into jail. He said that he was never particularly worried until he learned that the “drunk” was an escaped mental patient who had killed two Arizona troopers the day before.

Shortly after they were married, we visited them in their first home, an apartment in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. I was about eight or nine years old, probably making a real nuisance of myself, and Sonny handcuffed me to the kitchen door. As soon as he left the room, I took out my pocket knife and unscrewed the doorknob. It made him mad as Hell at the time, but he told that story just about every time I saw him after that.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks

I suppose that I could be described as easily (insert choice of word)  entertained/impressed/amused/mollified/etc. but I thought I would share my own little mix of things to be thankful for this year. 

There are all the usual blessings – health, family, just enough income to live in reasonable comfort – but this year, I’m also thankful for Black and Decker, Google Street View, and Dancing with the stars.  Here’s why:

12 cup

After having a coffee pot like the one above for almost a year, and dribbling coffee every time I used it, I finally emailed the company.

Date of Contact


Model Number


Date Code



I have enjoyed having your CM1010B coffee maker. It works well, and I am generally satisfied. HOWEVER, it has the most poorly-designed carafe of any model, yours or others, that I have ever used! It is IMPOSSIBLE to pour a cup of coffee without dribbling some on the counter/table/floor. I have to pour my coffee over the sink!

I was amazed when they wrote back

Thank you for contacting Applica Consumer Products, Inc. We value you as a customer and appreciate your patronage.

A replacement order for part number:   CM1010B CARAFE  has been issued on order number:  07 719774                  

Your part is currently In Stock ______X____ Out of Stock __________. Please allow up to 10 days for all in stock items to arrive. Out of stock items will be placed on order and shipped upon arrival in our warehouse.

If we can be of any further assistance, we ask that you please contact our Consumer Service Department at 1-800-231-9786. Our hours of operation are Monday thru Friday from 8:30am ET to 8:00pm ET. You can also elect to e-mail us at applicaconsumeraffairs@fox-international.com, or you can go to http://www.prodprotect.com and fill out a contact form. A representative will be happy to assist you.

 and I was even more amazed when the new carafe (which looks exactly like the old one) didn’t dribble a drop!

I’m thankful for Google Street View because they keep coming up with shots that seem to show dead bodies in the streets of South America and this naked guy in the trunk of a car in Mannheim Germany.

google sv mannheim

German laws allow residents to demand that views of their property be blurred if they wish. Someone who shares the building with Google’s German headquarters requested, so Google had to blur the shots of their own building. 

And finally, I’m grateful that after being wrong most of the season, Dancing With the Stars got it right last night.


Bristol Palin, who should have been gone weeks ago, was finally declared the worst of the three remaining contestants.  She displayed more grace in her one minute loser’s interview than she did in all season’s time on the dance floor. 

I’ll admit I didn’t see all of last nights show – we were channel surfing back and forth between ABC and CBS – but I didn’t see Sarah Palin last night.  That made me wonder if, after being very visible on Monday, and after it became obvious that her guy is going to lose the Alaska Senatorial race, she decided she didn’t want to be seen backing another loser.

It was satisfying, but almost an anticlimax when Jennifer Grey, who was far and away the best dancer all season, was declared the winner.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When Is Winter?


On an on-line forum I check frequently, RV.Net,  there has been talk for weeks about “winterizing” motor homes and trailers – or about heading south to Florida, Arizona, or the Rio Grande Valley.  Lots of entries from folks from Illinois and Ontario crying about the fact that their camping is over for another year. 

Retailers put  Christmas displays up this year as they took the Halloween stuff down.

Here at Boggy Thicket, the overnight low has been down to 40 once, but it was in the 80’s yesterday afternoon.  About half of the leaves we expect to fall are still on the trees, and we’re running around in shorts.  Meanwhile, there have already been snowstorms on the West Coast and blizzards on the Western slopes in Colorado.

Taken all together, these apparently inconsistent bits of data might lead you to ask, “ So just when does winter start, anyway?”

Here’s a pretty good explanation from the WeatherBug:

By Chief Meteorologist, Mark Hoekzema

Most people consider the first day of winter to be the Winter Solstice, this year occurring on Tuesday, December 21. This is because, astronomically, the sun will be directly overhead of the Tropics of Capricorn; the southern-most point the sun will be directly overhead during any particular year.

As the earth rotates around the sun, at different times of the year the sun will be situated directly overhead at midday. The day the sun is straight up at noon over the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn (23.5 degrees N and S latitude) are the summer and winter solstices, respectively. The Vernal (Spring) Equinox is the day the sun is again highest in the sky at noon over the equator as the apex progresses north.

Many refer to Astronomical Winter on December 21, as the first "official" day of winter. Most meteorologists will argue that winter has been well under way by then and they have been enjoying at least three weeks-- if not longer-- of "winter" already.

Meteorologists observe seasons over different time periods. Meteorological winter begins on December 1, spring begins on March 1, summer begins June 1 and fall begins on September 1.

There are a couple of very important reasons why this is the case. The most important is for climate record-keeping. Climatologists require set time periods to calculate averages and do seasonal comparisons over the years. Astronomical dates will fall on different days depending on the year and keeping seasonal climate records based on those dates would be confusing and inaccurate.

A second reason is that weather-wise, it makes more sense around the globe. For example, much of the northern hemisphere is entrenched in winter weather by December 1. Cold winds blow, snowstorms are crossing the country, and most areas north of the mid-latitudes have experienced their first freezes. December 21 is the first day of astronomical winter, but most regions have had nearly a month of winter weather by that day.

In spring, mild surges of air from the south are becoming a regular occurrence and severe weather threats begin to kick in by March 1. The heat of summer has been experienced in most areas across the country by June 1 and the heat of summer is waning by September 1.

For me, perfect weather would be found on an island in the Caribbean or South Pacific where the sun shines every day and the temperatures range from mid-80s during the day to mid-possibly low-70s at night. 


A lot of folks might find that boring – we have friends who moved to Houston from various northern states and bemoan the loss of four distinct seasons - but for my money, if I get a longing for cold and snow, I can always hitch up and head for the Rockies.

Most of the various forecast services do seem to agree that La Nina will bring us a warmer, drier winter than the one we experienced last year.  I’m all for that.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Conspiracy Theories


Today marks the 47th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

If they accomplish nothing else, political killings generate tourist destinations and conspiracy theories.  And, of course, conspiracy theories generate movies – Leonardo DiCaprio has announced that he will produce and star in yet another film about the assassination of JFK.

Whether the scene is Dealey Plaza – the X marks the location of the limousine was when the President was hit,  Dealey11

or Béal na mBláth, the site of Michael Collins’ ambush,


the spots where well loved and/or controversial leaders were killed continue to draw crowds.


As for conspiracies, we all know who was behind the plot to kill Caesar, or do we?


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Oooooooooh Yeah


Photo provided by EarthRoamer, the manufacturer of a truly remarkable Recreational Vehicle.  It is one of very few pictures on their website shot from a road.  Most are either promotional pics of their RV’s, or they are shots of landscapes or wildlife taken from points only accessible by foot or with 4-wheel drive.

skee glacier


Of course, they do have pictures of their products, too.


Here’s their latest model.  Built on a Ford F-550 chassis, this little beauty is totally self-contained. 

Pricewise, it will run you upwards of $300,000.  They say that’s a bargain when you consider they come with lots of new standard features for 2011:
 90 gallon total fuel capacity
 8.1 cubic foot Stainless Steel, low vibration quiet fridge (capacity increased from 7 cubic feet)
 12,000 btu air conditioner (increased from 6,500 btu )
 Electric remote operated gray water dump valve
 Continuously variable barometric pressure compensating heater fuel pumps (improves hydronic and air heater
reliability and efficiency, especially at high elevations)
 Custom valved King Off-Road shocks for better highway and off road handling and performance
 Oasis Manufacturing air compressor rated for 200psi at 100% duty (increased from 100psi at 100%)
 2,800 watt Magnum inverter/125 amp charger (increased from 2,000 watt inverter and 100 amp charging)
 12 volt bunk charging station for cell phones
 Maple hardwood and stainless steel rack
 Electronic weather station provides interior and exterior temperatures, barometric pressure and weather forecast.

There is an optional entertainment system available for only $13.832.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Weather or Knot

That Cutesy headline above is justified by the picture(s)below.

First, Weather – whether or not.  Here’s the only picture I’ve ever seen with a funnel cloud and a rainbow:


And just to keep me honest, here’s the Knot:



That’s a Great Knot.  Really, that’s its name.  It is a wading bird, related to Snipes and Sandpipers, that migrates from breeding grounds in Russia, Korea and the Aleutian Islands of Alaska to Australia. 

It may be a Great Knot, you may say, but it is not a Knot.  Be careful, you might get punned:

not knot

Friday, November 19, 2010

Royal Wedding

I wasn’t sure just what I was going to write about today, then an old friend and former co-worker sent me this:


I love it!  Entirely too tacky not to post immediately! 

Thanks Bob L. – for this and all the laughs you’ve shared over the years.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Who the Hell Are These People?


People Magazine just released their list of the Sexiest Men Alive for 2010, and leading the pack was the guy above.  I will admit that I had no idea who he was, but I’ve learned that his name is Ryan Reynolds, and that he  has done some modeling, and some acting, and will soon play the Green Hornet in the movies. 

18C1008E He is married to Scarlett Johansson, who ain’t half bad herself,  and who was just named Babe of the Year for 2010 by GQ Magazine.  I guess that sort of makes them this year’s King and Queen of the prom.

I’ll admit that I’m somewhat out of the loop and about 40 years older than People’s target demographic, but the only guys I recognized in this year’s top five were has-been-rock-star John Bon Jovi, and that curly-headed teacher from Glee.  Rounding out  the top ten, the only others I knew were Justin Timberlake and Robert Downey, Jr.  

Robert Downey?  Puleeze!  He must have something going for him - he keeps getting hired by the studios whenever he’s out of rehab or jail - but SEXY???  I don’t think so.

All of which leads me to my point.

Just who the hell picks these people, and what are their qualifications to judge?  What are their criteria; what’s their definition of sexy?  What was involved in the selection process?  Did money change hands?

Over past years, People has made some pretty respectable choices – Mark Harmon, Denzel Washington, Sean Connery, Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Johnny Depp – but this year's list is pretty lame.

I’ll admit that I am far from being an expert on the subject of masculine pulchritude, but some of the guys People chose couldn’t get a date if they showed up in a money suit at a nymphomaniacs’ convention.

How could they possibly pick this list of turkeys ahead of men like


Shemar Moore from Criminal Minds, or

 chris o'donnell 

Chris O’Donnell from NCIS, Los Angeles, or


Derek Hough from Dancing With The Stars?

Don’t just take my word for it; judge for yourself Here.  What do you think?  Feel free to add your own recommendations/nominations in comments.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rob Couch – Man of Mystery

When I enrolled in elementary school, there were already two Robert’s and three Bobby’s registered for my class.  My teacher thought that was more than enough, so she convinced my mother that I should be Robbie, a name I hated but which stuck with me for years.  Even today, my sister and a few very old friends still call me Rob.

I was fooling around on the Facebook website a while back and discovered 15 people named Rob Couch listed – 14 guys (and one teenaged/20 something girl who posted a pic of herself in her bra [mostly] as her profile picture.) 


There are lots of Bobs and Roberts, but for whatever reason, on this particular occasion I was concentrating on the Robs.

The guys named Rob seemed to be about evenly split between England and the USA, which makes me think that Rob must be a more common nickname over there.

I sent friend requests to a few of the fellows – thought it might be fun to keep up with my namesakes – and although he did not “Friend” me, I started to get all the photos posted by the young man below:

Rob Couch and babyI knew when I contacted him that he was from London, but that was about all.  I never got to see anything he wrote, just the pictures, but from what I did see,  I learned that:

  • the baby is his God-daughter.
  • his girlfriend is about 25~30 lbs overweight but very attractive.
  • he likes sports car racing.
  • they enjoy outdoor activities.
  • he takes lots of pictures with his cell phone.
  • his car just turned 10,000 miles.  Don’t know what kind of car, but he published before/after pics of the odometer, and it was in miles – not kilometers.

Last week, I wrote to him again.  I advised him that although he hadn’t approved or disapproved my friend request, I was getting all of his pictures.  Today, I can’t find him at all.  No record of the messages I sent him – he doesn’t show up on a search – it’s like he never existed at all.

I suspect that I have been blocked, and I wonder.  Did he think I was some sort of trans-Atlantic stalker?


Monday, November 15, 2010

Good, Good, Goodwrench - Goodbye

goodwrench art 

Here’s the story from Kate James at Gather.com:

GM Lays off Mr. Goodwrench - Victim of Economy?

It seems in these tough times even a made up spokesperson cannot keep his job. Mr. Goodwrench originally surfaced in 1974 as the face of GM’s service departments. Actually Mr. Goodwrench was dropped in the 90s when the GM service became Goodwrench Service Plus – The “Mr.” came back in 2008 in a more technology based form, but now he has been a victim of layoffs.

GM Lays off Mr. Goodwrech after more than 3 decades of service.Starting in February the Mr. Goodwrench name will be phased out in favor of more traditional Certified Service departments for each of GM’s brands – Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. The move is to emphasize each of the four brands rather than their common ownership under the GM flag. That makes a lot of sense. Of course, the rebranding will likely be expensive originally, but once it is done it will probably be a good change.

Steve Hill, VP for North American Parts and Service said, "This is more than a name change, it is a declaration of our commitment to raise the bar on the ownership experience." Hopefully this renewed commitment will shine through and be a great advantage to customers.

While it is sometimes sad to see old favorites leave like Mr. Goodwrench, the promise of positive changes make it worthwhile. Overall, GM’s strategy to lay off Mr. Goodwrench sounds like a good idea and hopefully it will lead to even better service for its vehicles and the four brands. After his over 3 decades of service, hopefully Mr. Goodwrench got a good severance package.

© Copyright: News Today Online by Kate James at Gather.com

For those who fear withdrawal pains, here’s a link to a commercial -  Mr. Goodwrench

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pardon Me Again


In an interview with Matt Lauer this past week (as part of a round of interviews promoting Decision Points, his book about his White House years) George W. Bush said that Vice President Dick Cheney was mad at him for refusing to pardon Scooter Libby.  Cheney didn’t think that just commuting Libby’s sentence, which Bush did,  was enough.

I”m a little sorry that it come up just now, since it inadvertently (on Bush’s part – not so sure about Lauer) gave free publicity to Fair Game  - not the 1995 movie with Cindy Crawford and one of the Baldwins, but the new movie just out with the same name – the Naomi Watts/Sean Penn flick which can only be described as Hollywood’s latest Bush-bashing effort.

It did, however,  bring me to the subject of pardons for the second day in a row.

On the Federal level, here is how the presidents stack up:

President (Term of office)

Number of Pardons

George Washington (1789 to 1797) 16
John Adams (1797 to 1801) 21
Thomas Jefferson (1801 to 1809) 119
James Madison (1809 to 1817) 196
James Monroe (1817 to 1825) 419
John Quincy Adams (1825 to 1829) 183
Andrew Jackson (1829 to 1837) 386
Martin Van Buren (1837 to 1841) 168
William H. Harrison (1841) 0
John Tyler (1841 to 1845) 209
James K. Polk (1845 to 1849) 268
Zachary Taylor (1849 to 1850) 38
Millard Fillmore (1850 to 1853) 170
Franklin Pierce (1853 to 1857) 142
James Buchanan (1857 to 1861) 150
Abraham Lincoln (1861 to 1865) 343
Andrew Johnson (1865 to 1869) 654
Ulysses S. Grant (1869 to 1877) 1,332
Rutherford B. Hayes (1877 to 1881) 893
James Garfield (1881) 0
Chester Arthur (1881 to 1885) 337
Grover Cleveland (1885 to 1889, 1893 to 1897) 1,107*
Benjamin Harrison (1889 to 1893) 613
William McKinley (1897 to 1901) 918*
Theodore Roosevelt (1901 to 1909) 918*
William H. Taft (1909 to 1913) 758
Woodrow Wilson (1913 to 1921) 2480
Warren Harding (1921 to 1923) 800
Calvin Coolidge (1923 to 1929) 1545
Herbert Hoover (1929 to 1933) 1385
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933 to 1945) 3687
Harry Truman (1945 to 1953) 2044
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953 to 1961) 1157
John F. Kennedy (1961 to 1963) 575
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963 to 1969) 1187
Richard Nixon (1969 to 1974) 926
Gerald Ford (1974 to 1977) 409
Jimmy Carter (1977 to 1981) 566
Ronald Reagan (1981 to 1989) 406
George H.W. Bush (1989 to 1993) 77
Bill Clinton (1993 to 2001) 456
George W. Bush (2001 to 2009) 176

[The asterisks in the number of pardons column indicate that the total is, for some reason, an estimate.]

The least pardons (none) were issued by Garfield and Harrison, both of whom died fairly soon after taking office.  In less than a full term, Gerald Ford managed to pardon both Richard Nixon and Robert E. Lee.


     Robert E Lee

It would appear that Franklin Roosevelt, with the most years in office to do it, gave the most pardons, but I’m not so sure - Jimmy Carter’s blanket pardon of all Viet Nam era draft dodgers is not included in the chart.  I would bet that puts him over the top – makes him the Ma Ferguson of American Presidents.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pardon Me


Miriam Amanda Ferguson was the first female governor of Texas.  She was the second woman to be elected  governor in  the United States - two weeks before Mrs. Ferguson’s  inauguration, Nellie Tayloe Ross was sworn in as governor of Wyoming.   Ross had won a special election to finish the unexpired term of her late husband. 

Her husband, James Ferguson, served as Governor of Texas from 1915 to 1917. After being re-elected in 1916, Ferguson vetoed the appropriations for the University of Texas. The veto was retaliation against the university because of its refusal to dismiss certain faculty members whom Ferguson found objectionable. This move spurred the drive to impeach Ferguson.

The Texas House of Representatives prepared 21 charges against Ferguson and the Senate convicted him on 9 of those charges. The Senate removed him from the office of Governor and declared him ineligible to ever hold office in Texas again.

After her husband's impeachment and conviction, she ran as a Democrat for the office herself. During the campaign she said she would follow the advice of her husband and that Texas would get "two governors for the price of one.

Ma” Ferguson served as governor from 1925~27 and again from 1933~35.   Aside from several unproven charges of wholesale corruption, her politics are described as populist and  fiscal conservative. 

She signed the bill that created the University of Houston, and she was (falsely) quoted as saying “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.” - There are variations of this phrase going back to 1881 that were often used to ridicule the backwardness of various unnamed Christians – but she was most famous for her pardons.  .

There was a story that made the rounds saying that when Ma Ferguson was touring the Walls prison in Huntsville, she bumped into an inmate that was mopping the corridor.  He backed up and said “Pardon me, Ma’am.”  So she did.

Mrs. Ferguson's infamously over-generous granting of pardons was her way of relieving the overcrowded conditions in Texas prisons.  Some said that the pardons were the result of bribes, though that was never proven.

Her actions did cause the Texas Legislature to amend the law so that the Governor could no longer unilaterally issue a pardon. Today, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles must first recommend a pardon. Even if the Board recommends a pardon, the Governor can still choose not to grant it.

For all the pardons she granted, Ma Ferguson never pardoned a dead man.  The current Governor, Rick Perry, became the first governor to issue a posthumous pardon in January of this year.


Friday, November 12, 2010

The Problem With Naked Babies


This picture isn’t one of mine, it’s some anonymous kid off the internet, but back when our daughters were more-or-less that age, I took a picture of them playing in a couple inches of water in our walk-in shower.  It was so cute that we sent it off and had it made into a calendar – one their grandmother kept on her kitchen wall until they were well into their teens.

It should come as no surprise that the world has changed a lot since then, but it is a damn shame that it has.  Every generation since the dawn of time has viewed the next as a step toward immorality and chaos – I know my parents didn’t consider my generation the age of innocence – but my God, we’ve lost a lot since then.

Just consider this story by Brian Alexander from earlier this week:

Eye of the beholder: Cute, naked photos of tots pose dilemma for parents

By Brian Alexander

When Nicole Saupe’s son was about 18 months old, the Cincinnati-based photographer snapped a picture of him sitting in a big, rattan chair shaped like a wok. He was too cute to resist in his jammies, his spread legs revealing his diaper, his belly poking out from under his shirt. And so Saupe uploaded the image onto a new online gallery she had created.

“Before I knew it, it had been downloaded three times. That had me very unsettled,” Saupe recalled. “It did freak me out so much that somebody downloaded these pictures.” She doesn’t know why somebody downloaded the images – maybe he or she just thought it was a cute picture. But Saupe kept envisioning a pedophile and “it made me so ill.”

Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, it’s not hard to find pictures of children, some in varying degrees of undress, some naked, being shown off by proud parents. But others on mommy sites and blogs question the practice, warning that child sexual predators can see, too. Some warn it may be dangerous for another reason: that parents themselves can be viewed as suspect — and even arrested — for taking what they see as cute pictures of their kids but others may misinterpret as compromising.

As a result, the question of how, where and whether to show what formerly seemed the most innocent of pictures, like tots playing in a bathtub, has parents in knots.

“What [parents] might think are normal pictures could be seen the wrong way,” says Amy Adler, the Emily Kempin professor of law at New York University. “As a legal matter parents should be extremely cautious. I hate that. I think it is a shame.”

The days when parents breezily photographed toddlers at the beach or young kids running naked through the back yard sprinkler on a hot summer day may be over, she says.

“People could be arrested for [what we used to regard as] normal pictures,” says Adler.

Indeed they could. This spring, Alma Vasquez, a 22-year-old Utah mom, was charged with two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor after, police said, she took photos of the child’s father, 34-year-old Sergio Diaz-Palomino, sexually abusing their infant son.

But charges were later dropped because police determined Diaz-Palomino did not assault the baby. Instead, the couple was giving the boy a bath and after the bath, while the baby was still wet and laughing and the father happily kissed the infant’s body, Vasquez documented the scene as family memorabilia. She took the film to Walgreens for processing into prints, and a technician alerted the police. Arrests, jail, indictments, the child’s removal from Vasquez’s home by the state, followed. Diaz-Palomino, who was in the country illegally, was deported.

There have been a handful of such cases over the past few years and though most of the charges were eventually dropped, a lot of damage has been done.

We now live in a culture in which any nude photo — and some non-nude images, too — of a child is seen as potentially pornographic. Thanks to new laws, legal decisions that redefined what can constitute child pornography, and near-constant pop culture coverage of potential and real sex crimes against children, even innocent pictures of our own kids are often viewed with what Adler calls “the pedophilic gaze.”

As Betsy Schneider, a photographer and Arizona State University arts professor who sometimes uses her own naked children as photo subjects, told me, “once you suggest that it is pornographic, once they are painted in a certain light, it is hard to get that out of your head. Then we are all trapped.”

Back when those of us over the age of 35 were little, parents wouldn’t dream they could be arrested for taking such photos. But we weren’t as afraid then. Now fear drives everything from our politics to our diets to how we raise our children. And it is fear, Judith Levine, author of the book “Harmful to Minors,” believes, that turned innocent pictures of children into crimes.

Starting in the late 1980s, she said, as the government cracked down on child porn, which was then relatively rare, and child sexual abuse, arrests for child porn rose. As arrests rose, “the public said ‘Gosh we have a problem and so we have to get even tougher,'” Levine said. “That’s how panics start.”

In response to the outcry, federal and state laws were toughened and judicial decisions narrowed — but sometimes the definitions of those laws only raised new questions because they called for interpretations of terms like "lascivious." But in the context of a picture of a child, what is lascivious? To whose eyes? A parent? A pedophile? Could it include the cover the Nevermind, the 1991 Nirvana album that depicted a naked baby boy in a pool?

Schneider, the arts professor, said she has been forced to self-censor due to the way an adult could view her children’s photos. “I have a picture of my son. He is about 4 and he his totally naked and he’s holding this gun made of Legos and wearing a police hat and nothing else. He has a campy pose.”

Even though she loves the image, even though her son, now 8, is so proud of it he has hung it on his wall, she doesn't show it publicly.

Just as we aim to protect the photos of our children from being misappropriated, we find ourselves looking at images with new eyes.

No rational person questions the repulsiveness of true child sexual exploitation. But the other day a friend of mine told me about a vacation photo she found of her little boy. He was standing in her pair of cowboy boots, which came up past his knees. He was naked and laughing and when she saw this photo again, after having forgotten taking it, she laughed, too. Then she started to worry. What if somebody found this?

She hit the delete button, turning a precious memory into digital dust.

Brian Alexander is the author of the book “America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction," now in paperback.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Out On A Limerick


That hinged monstrosity above is a patented Limerick Trout Hook.

Since today’s post is about Limericks, and I didn’t want to feature just one, and because I’ve been “hooked” on Limericks since I first learned to read, I figured it was as good a picture as any.

I love Limericks. Love to read them – love to write them – and I’ve collected them as long as I can remember.

By definition, a Limerick is “A comic, sometimes rude, verse made up of five lines of varied length.”
Limericks have a a very specific structure:
The first, second, and fifth lines rhyme
The third and fourth lines rhyme
The first, third, and fifth have the same verbal rhythm (meter) and length, and so do the second and fourth

Limerick writers commonly take remarkable liberties with language and spelling to achieve that definition. The simplicity of the form makes it easy to compose and probably adds to their appeal


Limericks do not have to be dirty, but most of the best of them probably are.

The limerick is furtive and mean;
You must keep him in close quarantine
Or he sneaks to the slums
And promptly becomes
Disorderly, drunk and obscene.
- Morris Bishop

While English professors my look down their noses at the form, some of the language’s best writers have composed Limericks. For example, this from Will Shakespeare:

"And let me the canakin clink, clink;
And let me the canakin clink
A soldier's a man;
A life's but a span;
Why, then, let a soldier drink."
(from Othello, Act II Scene III )

A couple points here -

  • a canakin is a small cup
  • It’s not a very good Limerick; I would’ve expected better from the Bard
  • They didn’t call the form Limericks in Will’s day. They weren’t called Limericks until the 1800’s

In addition to Old Will, here are some offerings from other famous authors:

There was a young lady of station
"I love man" was her sole exclamation
But when men cried, "You flatter"
She replied, "Oh! no matter
Isle of Man is the true explanation"
by Lewis Carroll

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, 'It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!'
by Edward Lear

There was a small boy of Quebec
Who was buried in snow to his neck
When they said, "Are you friz?"
He replied, " Yes, I is —
But we don't call this cold in Quebec"
by Rudyard Kipling

T. S. Eliot is quite at a loss
When clubwomen bustle across
At literary teas
Crying, “What, if you please,
Did you mean by The Mill On the Floss?”
by W. H. Auden

The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher
Called the hen a most elegant creature.
The hen pleased with that
Laid an egg in his hat -
And thus did the hen reward Beecher !
by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Our novels get longa and longa
Their language gets stronga and stronga
There’s much to be said
For a life that is led
In illiterate places like Bonga
by H. G. Wells

Of course, some of the best Limericks are anonymous:

There once was a lady named Cager,
Who as the result of a wager,
Consented to fart
The entire oboe part
Of Mozart's quartet in F-major.


When Custer was fighting the Sioux,
He sent for two punts, one canoe.
Came a wire the next day,
It read "Girls on the way,
But what in the Hell's a panoe?"

Finally, Google “Shakespeare Limerick” and you’ll find that Graeme King wrote a whole series of Limericks about William Shakespeare. Here are a couple of them:

Young Romeo came on the news
With tears in his eyes did accuse
"Those Capulet scum
Can all kiss my bum"
(then was stabbed by fifteen Montagues)

Young Will had a bee in his bonnet:
"I can't seem to find my new sonnet"
"I don't find that queer..."
(Thought Mrs. Shakespeare)
"I think I spilled coffee upon it!"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is That A Missile, Or Just Glad To See Me?


The traffic helicopter for a TV station recorded what they thought was a missile launch off the California coast yesterday. 

The military quickly issued a statement that said basically “Wasn’t me.  I don’t know what is was.”  As anyone should have been able to predict, that made the story HUGE!

Still no definitive answer, but the most plausible explanation today – one the nay-sayers will never believe – is that it wasn’t a missile launch at all, but the contrail of an airliner headed toward the coast. 

You can judge for yourself after watching the video from KCBS, the station that first aired the story, HERE.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Tide May Be Turning

Historically, folks who own houses on Texas beaches have been gambling with the deck stacked against them – if a hurricane didn’t take your place outright, the State might grab whatever was left – and prevent you from rebuilding – using an easement based upon their definition of the “permanent vegetation line.” 


That might be about to change, based on this story in the Galveston Daily News:

Are Texas’ beaches still open to the public?

By Ian White

The Daily News

Published November 6, 2010

GALVESTON — The long-held view that Texas beaches belong to all Texans is being put to the test by an opinion delivered Friday by the state’s supreme court.
In a split decision, the court sent answers to three questions asked by the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that, if accepted, could grant superior rights to some beach-front property owners on Galveston’s West End.
But the Texas General Land Office said there’s a long way to go before legal machinations throw the act into disarray.
“This is not a decision that changes anything right now,” Jim Suydam, the GLO’s public information officer, said.
The appeals court, which sits in New Orleans, sought the Austin court’s opinion in its review of a case heard in Houston’s federal Southern Texas District Court in 2007.
That case pits petitioner and West End property owner Carol Severance against Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Galveston County District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk.
In the case, Severance, whose three West End beach houses ended up in the public beach easement after Hurricane Rita in 2006, claims the state’s subsequent threat to have her houses demolished violated her constitutional protection against unreasonable seizures.
Depending on its outcome, her case will either gut the act, limiting public access to the Gulf of Mexico to a few island parks, or uphold the state’s ability to maintain a public beach easement as erosion moves the coastline inland.
The district court in 2009 rejected Severance’s argument, but she appealed and the Fifth Circuit sent its questions to the state supreme court Nov. 19 that year.
In broad terms, the questions the supreme court was asked to answer were:
• Does Texas recognize a “rolling” public beach-front access easement ... in favor of the public?
• If the state does recognize such an easement, is it derived from common law or from a construction of the act?
• To what extent are Texas landowners entitled to receive compensation for limitations on their property use when such easement rolls onto it?
In a 33-page response, six members of the supreme court held that Texas cannot condemn and take private property that ends up on the public beach because of erosion because it gave up that right when it became a U.S. state.
The opinion’s conclusion said: “Land patents from the Republic of Texas in 1840, affirmed by legislation in the new state, conveyed the state’s title in West Galveston Island to private parties and reserved no ownership interests or rights to public use in Galveston’s West Beach.”
Signed by Supreme Court Justice Dale Wainwright, the opinion said: “Although existing public easements ... are dynamic, as natural forces cause the vegetation and the mean high tide lines to move gradually and imperceptibly, these easements do not migrate or roll landward to encumber other parts ... as a result of avulsive events.”
The phrase “avulsive events” is legalese for sudden occurrences, which, in this case, includes severe storms and hurricanes.
In a 21-page dissenting opinion, Justices David Medina and Debra Lehrmann wrote: “The court’s vague distinction between gradual and sudden or slight and dramatic changes to the coastline jeopardizes the public’s right to free and open beaches, recognized over the past 200 years, and threatens to embroil the state in beach-front litigation for the next 200 years.”

Monday, November 8, 2010

Not Enough Goats or Virgins?

Indonesia’s Mount Merapi has been in the news lately.  Multiple eruptions have created a ring of death and devastation (death toll 130 as of this morning) and have caused the evacuation zone to be expanded several times.  Smoke and ash from the eruptions have disrupted flights over and around Java.

A fresh eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Merapi volcano on Thursday sent a plume of ash over 20,000 feet into the air over Central Java.

In all the stories about the eruption, one in particular caught my attention.  I only saw it once, and didn’t see it quoted anywhere else, so I’m glad I copied it and can share it here.

The fires of Mt. Merapi have consumed the volcano's spiritual gatekeeper.



Mbah Maridjan was the sultan's representative to the spirits atop the volcano on the Indonesian island of Java, where an eruption claimed a dozen victims in the small village of Kinahrejo on Tuesday.

His charred body was discovered in an attitude of prayer, according to an announcement by the present Sultan of Yogyakarta, an Indonesian province to the south of Mt. Merapi. He was 83 years old.

"My job is to stop lava from flowing down," Mbah Maridjan told the Jakarta Post in an interview last August. "Let the volcano breathe, but not cough."

His record up to then had been pretty good. Appointed to the job of gatekeeper in 1983 by then-Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, Mbah Maridjan had survived previous eruptions that volcanologists had warned could have been much worse.

Mt. Merapi's smoking cone—Merapi means "mountain of fire" in Javanese—lay within a few miles of his home, but Mbah Maridjan insisted on staying put when the Indonesian government ordered an evacuation in 2006.

He refused to leave Merapi, even while conceding in interviews that he might be killed there. The threatened eruption never materialized, and his already high prestige as a prognosticator rose.

The volcano has long been revered as home to a spiritual kingdom. Eruptions have been interpreted by Javanese as punishments for offending the spirits. Mbah Maridjan organized an annual ceremony in which offerings including clothing, perfume and cigarettes were sacrificed at shrines on the mountain.

A kind of bridge between Indonesia's spiritual past and the future, Mbah Maridjan talked with spirits, worried about the environment and had a Facebook account.

In recent years, the spirits had become angry over excessive logging and sand quarrying on the slopes of Mt. Merapi, he said.

"We should stop making nature suffer through our destructive behavior," he told the Jakarta Post in 2006. The mountain's rumblings also sometimes seemed to people in Java to prefigure political change, including an eruption in 1997 that preceded the resignation of longtime Indonesian President Suharto.

Even as he clashed with government scientists over evacuations, Mbah Maridjan—Mbah is an honorific term, meaning, roughly, "grandfather"—became a revered figure. Politicians asked for his blessing at election time. He appeared in advertisements for a popular line of herbal beverages.

"Everybody sought his support and claimed to be associated with him," including fundamentalist Muslims and opponents of the Sultan, said Judith Schlehe, an anthropologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "I see him as an interesting figure symbolizing the tensions between many interests in present-day Java."

Mbah Maridjan tended to cattle and maintained shrines on the volcano while receiving a modest government stipend.

Thousands turned out for his funeral on Thursday, when he was buried next to the previous gatekeeper, his father, in the family plot two miles from his home village.

"We knew long ago that Mbah Maridjan would be taken by Merapi," said a spokesman for the sultan. "Now he's gone, we have to choose a new gatekeeper soon."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Art in Houston – Can’t Give It Away

The Prudential Building just south of the Texas Medical Center has a date with the wrecking ball.

Located at 1100 Holcombe Blvd., it was built in 1952 and it is still prized as an example of modern architecture. It is considered one of the finest designs ever conceived by Houston architect Kenneth Franzheim.

Art associated with the building has caused concern, if not outright controversy, both at its birth and now again at its impending death.

In front of the Prudential Building was a fountain with a sculpture of a man and woman holding a baby entitled “Wave of Life” by artist Wheeler Williams.

That sculpture scandalized matrons and fascinated little boys all over Houston because they were essentially nude – bare assed Buck nekkid, without a hint of embarrassment or shame!    Imagine the arrival in the Houston in 1952 of a 30 foot tall woman flaunting her bare breasts for all to see! Even as a kid I liked the sculpture.

The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Center bought the building and surrounding property in 1974 for a reported $18.5 million. The Prudential Building was renamed the “Houston Main Building” by the hospital administrators, but I don’t think anyone outside the Medical Center ever called it that.  Sort of like the Transco Tower will always be the Transco Tower to native Houstonians, regardless of how many times the building changes hands – changing the name of an iconic building is almost sacrilegious and we just won’t stand for it.

Preservationists tried for years to save the Prudential Building. But retrofitting the old building is prohibitively expensive and more room is needed so more cancer patients can be treated in efficient new buildings, so it’s time for the Prudential Building to go. The building is being fenced in, dismantled and will vanish forever in 2011.

The big artistic concern associated with the Prudential Building’s demise has been what to do with this:

Hurd Mural

That’s part of a 16 by 46 foot mural by Southwestern Artist Peter Hurd, which the artist titled “The Future Belongs To Those Who Prepare For It.” 

Although the piece is definitely valuable – estimated worth around four million dollars – the current owners haven’t been able to give it away. 

As you might imagine, lots of folks would love to have it, but the cost of removing and relocating the huge curved mural is somewhere in the half-million dollar range. For most of a year, there had been no takers, but this past week the Houston Chronicle reported that the painting will be headed to a new home in New Mexico.

An anonymous donor has agreed to pony up the moving costs, and the mural is headed for the new public library in Artesia, New Mexico, a town where the artist once lived and worked.

By the way, in researching this piece I learned that Wheeler Williams, the artist who did that sculpture, was a member of the jury in the Alger Hiss perjury trial - before the statue - and a big supporter of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his search for communists - after.  It doesn’t have anything to do with the story; I just thought it was interesting.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Che Shirt


Orale, Pendejo!

That is Ernesto Che Guevara, Argentinean physician, author, soldier, Marxist philosopher and hero of the July 26 Movement of the Cuban Revolution.  His early death made him at least a demi-god in the pantheon of Latin American heroes – right up there with Pancho Villa and Simon Bolivar.

The image above has appeared on a gazillion T-shirts, and was lifted from the photo taken by Alberto Korda in 1960


Titled Guillerico Heroico, it has been called the most-viewed photograph on  earth.

It has been said, and there is some evidence to believe, that at the time of his death Che was preparing to return to Cuba as part of a plot to assassinate his old pal Fidel.

che and fidel

Whether that is true our not, he did remain true to his Marxist beliefs until his death at the age of 39.  He was involved in revolutions in Africa and in South America.  He was eventually captured and killed in 1967 while working to recruit tin miners to a revolution in Bolivia. 

I know Marxists do not believe in the existence of the soul, but Guevara’s must be undergoing a particularly painful sort of torment.  His name and his image have become Big Business, making millions of dollars world-wide for hundreds of entrepreneurs.  Fashion conscious children and would-be revolutionaries in Kinshasa or Cleveland can buy backpacks and T-shirts with his image.

You can even go on-line and buy the Che Guevara

Bobble Head Doll :

bobblehead che

If his soul really is rolling over in Hell, maybe Satan will give him a break today.  I just read that in in Mumbai, for this week anyway, Obama T-shirts are outselling the Che T-shirts, in fact it is reported that that Obama shirts are selling like hotcakes among folks for whom the cost of a shirt may represent a month’s income.  I really don’t know whether Guevara should be jealous or relieved.

Friday, November 5, 2010

One Fourteen and Counting


My own opinion is tempered by personal experience, and I have always thought the women of Deep East Texas were tougher than a steel-toed boot. 

My great-grandmother – dad’s mother’s mom - lived well into her 80’s, and I can remember seeing her mother, my great-great-grandmother attending my great-grandma’s funeral. I was still pretty young, so my impression was that she looked older than dirt, but she was still getting around on her own. 

Now, as of yesterday, a 114-year-old East Texas woman is considered to be the oldest person in the world.

Eunice G. Sanborn of Jacksonville (pictured above) gained that distinction after 114-year-old Eugenie Blanchard, a nun who was said to be the world's oldest person, died Thursday on the French Caribbean island of St. Barts.

The Los Angeles-based Gerontology Research Group, which keeps track of such things,  listed Sanborn as being born on July 20,1896. Blanchard's birth date was Feb. 16, 1896.

Dr. L. Stephen Coles, of Gerentology Research, told The Associated Press that, with the death of Blanchard, the group considers Sanborn the oldest person in the world. Coles also says he spoke to Sanborn's family Thursday and "she's doing well.”

In an April interview back in April, Sanborn told the Tyler Morning Telegraph that she loves everything about her life and has "no complaints."


Right after I posted this morning, another article came out saying that Eunice is 115, not 114.

According to the family, Sanborn was born on July 20, 1895, in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She moved to Jacksonville after her first husband, Joseph Orchin, died.

Although she never worked outside the home, Sanborn stayed busy with community activities her entire life and was an active member of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, where her membership remains.

Sanborn survived a bout of scarlet fever when she was a child but lost two sisters to the illness.

She outlived three husbands and her only child, Dorothy, and credits her long life and good health to her belief in Christ.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Happy Birthday, Honey

Honey and I

Really amazing – hard to believe – but my beautiful teenaged bride officially became a senior citizen today. 

I meant “til death do us part” when I said it back in 1964, but I don’t think I realized that it meant that one day I would be married to a little old lady. Would I marry her again?  Hell yes – in a heartbeat – but you won’t ever hear me saying it! 

Honey thought those “Marry her all over again” diamond ads were demeaning,  and they made her furious- I used to have to mute them to keep her from throwing stuff at the TV. One would come on, her back would arch like an alley cat in attack mode, and she would say things like “What makes you think I’d marry YOU, you condescending ….”

Like anyone else, we have had our portions of joy and pain – but the pain has been more bearable and the joys so much sweeter because she was by my side. She is by far the best thing that ever happened to me.