Saturday, July 8, 2017

Favorite Quotes

Once in awhile I hear someone say something I think is particularly cool, witty, funny, or absurd, or formulate something that I think is a good maxim, but almost as often I neglect to write it down and then only remember that something notable was said but not what it was. With that in mind I have started a post for material of that sort and attempt to update it periodically.

"Living with someone who suffers from depression is one thing. Living with someone who lives with depression but tells themselves they are just unhappy and that you are the cause is something else altogether — Anonymous (The person who uttered these sad and ominous words did not want his name associated with them, presumably from the fear that, however unlikely, his violently depressive spouse would see them and retaliate against him.)

"You know what I hate? I hate these 40-year-old jackholes wearing ponytails. A ponytail doesn't make you look hip, young, or cool." — Clive Owen, Shoot 'Em Up

"When I found inversion it changed my life forever, and I believe it can change yours!" — Dr. Roger Teeter (I actually own a Teeter Hang Ups inversion board and think it is great. What makes this quote amusing to me, however, is that "inversion" was historically used as a synonym for homosexuality, which can make its modern-day use hilarious when considered in that context.)

"I always feel like I' neglecting someone I love when I'm not writing. Maybe that someone is me." — Michelle Renee Lane

"Things are always going well, except for the bad shit ... " (Comment made by me in a recent online chat with my friend David Fitzgerald that I thought was worth preserving). 

"Worst ... episode ... ever!" (This periodic judgement by Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons is, like some of my favorite quotes, one that I have the opportunity to often use myself with regard to the things I end up watching.)

"If I owned Texas and all Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell." — General Philip Sheridan, during a March 24, 1880, speech in Galveston at the Tremont Hotel

"There are no IT limitations, just personal limitations." — IT expert Brendan Cass (This comment was in response to a remark by me about his ability to accomplish information technology tasks that were beyond the ability of other people I had worked with.) 

"Advice is just ego and ignorance disguised as helpfulness." — Dilbert/Scott Adams, in a July 15, 2015 comic strip

"Do you understand how much I hate you?" (Uttered by the woman cited in the quote below. The person who told me this assured me that he probably does not understand how much his wife hates him, or even entirely why, but that he is dedicated to making every attempt to.) 

"I hate you so much that I can't even describe it!" (This was uttered unprovoked to a friend by his maladjusted and apparently inarticulate spouse and he, knowing she would later deny saying something so hideously inexcusable, asked me to commemorate it here. I advised him to repurpose it as a daily affirmation.)

Her: "Are you still drinking"? (Upon my wife getting up and discovering me enjoying a pre-dawn glass of wine.)
Me: "No. I'm drinking again." 

"Do not prepare, serve, or eat a meal that does not include a vegetable!" (This is one of my own recently coined guiding maxims tying in with my efforts to eat more healthily and limit my consumption of meat to just once a day. It is amazing how often people I know do not come even close to meeting this sensible standard.)

"Sometimes the only reason I don't kill myself now is because I know I can always just kill myself later." — Anonymous (Undeniably grim and clearly born from deep unhappiness but also fairly philosophical and amusing in its way.) 

"What we say about what we do is as important as what we do." — Michael O. Varhola (This is my own debatably cynical observation on the importance of promoting our own work and efforts if we want others/the public to notice them.)

"I didn't know we were going to be walking." — Diane K. Varhola (My wife has made this assertion multiple times every year for the past 25 years. We always end up walking, often in stupid and inappropriate shoes, so the basis for this statement has been questionable for a couple of decades now.) 

"We are most inclined to be creative when we are least able to be." (This is my own personal observation.)

"I should be able to visit my parents without having to die!" — Hayley Waters (Who says so? This was, in any event, my daughter's unhappy reaction to visiting a house full of cats that she is allergic to.)

"Watch out for the poop!" — Carter Valentine (This sound advice was given to me by my grandson during a walk we took together in 2013 and can certainly be viewed as a profound allegory for the human condition overall.)

The following interchange occurred between my grandson and wife on Sunday, August 18, 2012:
Diane: "What kind of chicken do you want?" (While carving up a roast chicken we picked up at Costco for dinner.)
Carter: "The chicken nugget kind." (A statement met with laughter and us letting him know this chicken did not have any such parts.)

"Ah, the plot thinnens!" (This clever twist on a common phrase is one that I use whenever appropriate. I heard it for the first time in a movie based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, although the phrase certainly does not actually appear in any of the author's stories.)

"Hideous ... ugly ... freaks!" — Denis Leary/Gil Mars, Small Soldiers (It is amazing how often one is in public that this phrase seems apropos.)

"I'll tell you what!" (This common Texas phrase is used to express agreement with something someone has said, such as an observation about the weather. I noted during a recent trip to the East Coast that, after hearing it, people unfamiliar with this expression will pause and wait for you to "tell them what.")

"Not anti-Christian, nor un-Christian, but most decidedly non-Christian." — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"What I do now I do alone. I could not do it well with thee." — Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (I often irreverently use this quote, either just the first part or in its entirety, to announce my departure for the bathroom.)

"There is a fine line between being a romantic and being delusional, and I often tend toward the latter." — Michael O. Varhola (my own observation of my tendency to view life as I want it to be, rather than how it really is.)

"Oh, so you want to play the truth game?" — Anonymous (In response to my asking someone why they sometimes deliberately lie to their friends as a device for manipulating them.)

"We are all so lucky to live in this God-forsaken place." — Anonymous (A resident's comment upon observing the natural beauty of Canyon Lake, Texas.) 

"Crazy is as crazy does" — Michael O. Varhola (my observation upon already-crazy people who deliberately do things geared toward making them even crazier and more unhappy.)

"You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas." — David Crockett

"No one ever died from a gut wound." — Michael O. Varhola (I picked this up from an Army buddy of mine c. 1986-87 and use it a lot. I don't think it's true.)

"Teeheehee! I told you about it!" — Chick in an Activia yogurt commercial

"Och, Hungary! Our dogs are from Hungary!" — Richard Allan (in response to a barmaid at the pub in Paddington Station, London, reveal her country of origin; "Och" is a Scottish word that means "yes," unless you use it in conjunction with "no," in which case it means "really no!")

"I do not presume that other people's problems are harder on me than they are on them." — Michael O. Varhola

"You need to scare kids, not scar them." — Lindsey Valentine

Overheard around 8:15 p.m. near the Hoffman Center 22 cinema in Alexandria, Virginia:
Him: "Damn hippies! I'll hacky their sacks ... " (in response to some kids in shorts and tie-dye shirts crossing the street in front of him)
Her: "Uh, do I need to remind you that you just smoked dope, that you're still in your sleeping shirt, and that it shows people partying on it?"

"That was pretty metal!" — Rico Nardini, Gen Con 2011 (in response to me downing a dirty vodka martini in one sip when he said it was time for us to get going)

"Put the boots to him — medium style." (coopted from Metalocalypse and used by me and friend Jon Reichman as a catchphrase during Gen Con 2011)

"Get the butter." — Marlon Brando/Paul, Last Tango in Paris (this line can be interjected for hilarious effect in any number of circumstances, as my friends Jon Reichman, Chip Cassano, and I have all aptly demonstrated over the years)

"In a respectable household, it's useful to have a weapon." — Gitt Magrini/Jeanne's Mother, Last Tango in Paris

"Fun was had by all." (common phrase brought to my attention when it was applied to a school play in The Simpsons, and used by me since then in writeups of events I have hosted or run)

"This one goes to 11." (coopted from Spinal Tap and applicable more often than you might think; used as one of our group's catchphrases at Comicpalooza 2012)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Managing Inactive Accounts on Facebook

Last summer I hit upon a trick on that can be useful to anyone who has maxed out on the number of friends they can have on Facebook but still wants to add new people. One way I have seen people manage the onerous 5,000 friend limit on Facebook is by having multiple personal accounts there, but I have seen a number of downsides with that over the years (including putting already limited time into managing supposedly co-equal accounts). 

In short, if you go into your Friends list on Facebook and scroll through it, the profile pictures for deactivated accounts will display only as silhouettes. Any number of these are presumably accounts of people who just got sick of dealing with Facebook, or who never really started using it to any extent, but a certain proportion of them are people who have died and had their accounts deactivated by friends or family members. Prior to discovering this, it would not have occurred to me that deactivated accounts would could against the number of friends someone can have, but this is indeed the case. 

If you click on one of these silhouettes, you will get this message: "This account has been deactivated. Only you can see 'John' on your friends list. You have the option to unfriend 'John'." Those last two words are hotlinked and all you have to do is click on them. Some socially awkward people only use silhouettes, however, so if you don’t want to delete them you can click on their names to see if they are still active rather than just unfriend them! On my second and most recent use of this trick, however, I looked at a number of

The first time I used this trick, about nine months prior to posting this article, I easily cleared out 305 deactivated accounts in the course of an evening while watching TV; somewhat late in the process I also decided to unfriend people without Profile Pictures who I noticed had never actually posted anything or had not done so for more than a year and were thus clearly not ever or no longer active on Facebook.

I used this trick for the second time just prior to posting this article and removed 78 inactive friends, among them a handful who had only posted a few times and not at all for a number of years.

Hope this can be as useful to others as it has been to me! It takes a little bit of effort but shows respect for people we have become friends with by not unfriending those who are still active (and is infinitely preferable to those horrible, bullying messages some people post declaring they are unfriending anyone who doesn't respond by begging to remain in contact with them). 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

I Love Texas Hearts

To me, Texas Hill Country is a place that is very romantic, in the broadest sense of the word. With its rolling hills, deep wooded ravines, and slow-moving rivers, it seems as mysterious, ancient, and alluring as any rural Mediterranean province in Italy or France.

This romantic sensibility is most profoundly expressed, I think, by the local custom of referring to indigenous clam fossils as “Texas Hearts.” (OK, so fossilized clams might not be the most romantic thing I could have written about in recognition of Valentine’s Day, but the only other thing reminiscent of Texas I could think of would have been something related to beef hearts, to which most people respond to with “Yuck!”)

During the Cretaceous period (c. 145 million to 65 million BCE), the area of south-central Texas that we know today to be profoundly hilly was instead part of a warm, shallow sea, and inhabited, among other things, by a wide variety of now-extinct shellfish. The calcium from the shells of such creatures is what ultimately formed the native limestone that characterizes the area  to a depth of more than 1,000 feet in some places  and over the millennia it was uplifted by geological processes and gradually formed in to the land we know today.

Texas Hearts are, in short, fossilized bivalve clams that date to this extended geological period. And they do, in fact, look very much like actual hearts, and even a little bit like the stylized images that appear on Valentine’s Day cards and are used as used as shorthand for the word “love.”

The term “Texas Hearts” is sometimes also applied to fossilized sand dollars, sea urchins, and other marine organisms, but these do not actually look much like hearts at all, and are more properly referred to in my mind as “Texas Stars.” All such fossilized remains are, in any event, fairly common throughout Texas, from San Antonio to Fort Worth, and are a selling point for visitors.

“If you pay attention to where you walk in these limestone hills, you’re pretty apt to find all sorts of fossils,” the Bandera Convention and Visitors Bureau says on its website. “If you are lucky, you may even find what we call a ‘Texas Heart,’ which is a fossilized clam and looks just like a heart. Usually, they are about the size of a large apple.”

“One of the best places to fossil hunt is along the creek and river beds where the water has washed away the soil,” the Bandera CVB advises. “Another good place is along the road where the earth was cut back to build the road.” Anyone who has driven along appropriate roads on nice weekend days has very likely seen people applying this methodology.

And anyone taking an observant walk through Hill Country can find Texas Hearts and other fascinating evidence of its ancient and very different past; beyond the fossilized clams I have discovered over the last year-and-a-half, the most prized treasure I have found is the fossilized tooth of what must have been a gargantuan shark.

Not everyone’s own heart is, of course, stirred by such things … But, if yours is, then you will likely enjoy Texas Hill Country all the more.

Happy Valentine’s Day! 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

An Exercise in Resolve Redux

One of the things I did throughout 2015 was post an ongoing log, month-by-month, of my daily exercise, particularly the distance I was covering and the weight of the gear I was carrying with me. In general, I was carrying either a "light" or a "medium" load and hoping to build up the a "heavy" one while not reducing the length of my walk. For reasons that seemed good at the time I decided not to continue doing this in 2016 and believe that my exercise routine suffered a bit as a result of my not tracking it (and probably also because me feet were not held to the fire by public posts). January was pretty chaotic for me, as a result of getting ready for and then going to East Asia for a couple of weeks, and I certainly did not have a regular routine — although I did get a lot of walking in when I was overseas. With the start of February, however, I once again started walking regularly (and doing other exercise somewhat less regularly), with an eye toward preparing for a long hike I would like to do this fall, and I decided to once again start tracking my activity here. 

February 1: Walked 2.0 miles with a light load. 
February 2: Walked 3.2 miles with a light load. 
February 3: Walked 2.8 miles with a light load. 
February 4: No walk! On the road for CRRC article, visit with friends, etc. 
February 5: Walked 3.2 miles with a light load. 
February 6: Walked 3.2 miles with a light load. 
February 7: Walked 3.2 miles with a light load. 
February 8: Walked 2.5 miles with a light load. 
February 9: Walked 0.6 miles with a light load (i.e., up to the mailbox and back)
February 10: No walk! Had to take a sick pet to the vet. 
February 11: Walked 3.2 miles with a light load. 
February 12: Walked 2.6 miles with a light load. 
February 13: No walk! Had to pick up a pet at the vet and it rained.
February 14: Cool, damp, and windy 57-degree day here in Texas Hill Country but managed to get in 2.5 miles with a light load! Still trying to boost my exercise ... 
February 15: Increased full walk slightly to 3.5 miles; warmed up to 64 degrees and was less windy than the day before. 
February 16: Walked just 0.6 miles, up to mailbox and back. 
February 17: No walk! Friend was visiting from out of town. 
February 18: Took a c. 3-mile overland hike with my visiting buddy Karl (below), to include a fossil hunt and visit to a 19th-century German cemetery. 
February 19: Walked 2.0 miles with a light load; achy and dragging a little. 
February 20: Walked 2.5 miles with a light load. 
February 21: Walked 3.2 miles with a light load; warm day and was feeling it. 
February 22: Walked 2.5 miles with a light load. Pretty hot, dry, and cloudless — especially for February! 
February 23: 
February 24: 
February 25: 
February 26: 
February 27: 
February 28: 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Going Beyond 'Year of the Rooster'

On February 5, 2017, the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung newspaper here in south Texas ran "Year of the Rooster, a feature article about the recent voyage on the Celebrity Millennium cruise ship from Hong Kong to Shanghai, China, via Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea, for which I served as the destination-oriented special-interest speaker. As usual, I submitted more photos than the publication could reasonably be expected to use (13 versus the four they were actually able to run), and so I am posting the balance of them here, along with the captions I wrote for them, as a supplement to the article. A major theme of this story is preparations for the Chinese New Year, which in 2017 is the Year of the Rooster. 

Main gate into the old imperial citadel of Hue in Vietnam, site of a brutal battle during the Lunar New Year in 1968. 

Left: Author Michael O. Varhola with one of the many statues that can be found in the gardens of the maze-like complex surrounding the mausoleum of 19th century Vietnamese Emperor Tu Duc. Right: A rooster, symbol of the incoming Lunar New Year, that the author auspiciously met at the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady, located on a bluff above the Perfume River in Hue, while working on this story. 

Jeepneys, adapted from the old U.S. military Willy's jeeps, are the most characteristic form of transportation in the Philippines.  

Left: A view of the skyline of Taipei, Taiwan, capital of the nationalist Republic of China, with the massive Taipei 101 commercial center at left. Right: A colorful display of paper lanterns, used in Chinese New Year celebrations, at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. 

Inside the shrine of the 14th-century Haedong Yongkung Temple, in Busan, South Korea, with gold figures representing the past, present, and future Buddhas. 

Left: A small portion of the sprawling waterfront of Shanghai, which, with more than 24 million residents, is the most populous city in the world. Right: A colorful holiday display at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, a place that, while very busy, is almost uncannily quiet and serene by American standards. 

Below is a detail from the first page of the two-page treatment of "Year of the Rooster" that appeared in the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung. Additional photos, videos of the six presentations I gave, and more can be found on my TravelBlogue

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

One of the byproducts of the holiday season is lots of waste paper and cardboard in the form of wrapping paper, gift boxes, greeting cards, and the like, most of which ultimately gets bagged up and tossed out with the trash. It is a shame to simply throw away such a great volume of even apparently useless material, however, and there are better ways to dispose of or even make use of such festive detritus — some of which can save you money or keep children occupied, both laudable goals.

* Reuse it. If they are in good shape and you have an upper shelf closet or some other place that you can readily store them, gift bags, tissue paper, clothing boxes from department stores, and even large sheets of carefully-removed gift wrap can all effectively be used again. Not only can this save you some money when the next holiday comes around, it can also be very convenient to have materials like this readily on hand when you need them. Reusing wrapping paper, of course, is predicated on the idea that people, notably children, will not shred it when opening their gifts, but wanton destruction does not necessarily have to be part of the fun of Christmas.

* Recycle it! If you recycling is available where you live, at the very least you should make a point of gathering up all the gift paper, boxes, and cards you are not planning on keeping and getting rid of it this way rather than by putting it in the trash. As an aside, if you think recycling is not available in your community, check the local county or municipal website; a county recycling truck comes once a week to a parking lot near where I live at Canyon Lake, for example, but many of my neighbors are completely unaware of this when I tell them about it.

* Repurpose it. If you are able to, repurposing paper and cards is even more efficient than recycling them and there are numerous ways to do this.
            Giftwrap, tissue paper from gift bags, and other flammable materials can be used in fireplaces to get kindling burning — and this can be a good way to make use of such materials that have been torn up and are no longer useful for anything else.
            There are also many arts-and-crafts projects that children can undertake using greeting cards. They can, for example, remove the fronts of used cards and use them to create new ones with cardstock or paper, and can then use these for their thank-you notes or to send their own greetings the following year — and with even less effort the fronts of greeting cards can be removed and used as postcards. Images on greeting cards can also be cut out and used in conjunction with pieces of ribbon, decorations from wrapped gifts, and twine or yarn to make colorful custom ornaments or turned into dioramas and standup figurines (maybe even an entire manger scene if you were lucky enough to receive the right cards). Cardstock printed with colorful or pleasing images, or even wide pieces of ribbon, can also be used to create personalized bookmarks, particularly for use with any new books children might have just received as gifts.
            Kids can make use of giftwrap in similar ways. The blank backs of large sheets of used wrapping paper, for example, can be used for drawing and coloring pictures (note, however, that a disproportionate number of wives, mothers-in-law, and especially great aunts will consider encouraging children to use scrap paper rather than retail products like coloring books to be tantamount to cruelty, so be warned in advance.) Giftwrap can also be used to create collages and other works of art.

* Regift it. There are a number of organizations that accept donations of greeting cards and an online search can provide details about many of them. One of the most worthwhile of these is St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, which through its Recycled Card Program turns old cards into new ones and then sells them as a means of fundraising.

There is no reason to limit yourself to just one of the above ideas, of course, and a combination can help ensure that little or nothing goes to waste by just getting thrown away (and, of course, they can be implemented anytime of the year, not just around the holidays). And there are probably even more ways to make use of leftover holiday refuse, possibly even some that you have successfully tried yourself! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Expressing a Right to be Shocked

Following is my response to an article by blogger Courtney Parker West (right) titled "On 'Woke' White People Advertising Their Shock That Racism Just Won a Presidency," in which she asserts that the way people express their feelings should be dictated by their race. My sense from an examination of her social media presence overall is that her primary goal was to emotionally bully her white liberal friends rather than make statements that would clearly be outrageously racist if the word "black" was substituted for "white" throughout. In short, and to emulate her tactic of using made-up words as a device for controlling the dialogue, "West performs a macroloathsomeness in order to merely achieve microloathsomeness." One would think this was not the time for liberals to be turning on each other, or to be relinquishing their commitment to speech that promotes racial parity. 

Suffice it to say that I find this article offputting and even a bit pathetic, in that it takes a poke not at people who voted for Trump because they support his racist rhetoric, not at those who voted for him in spite of that, and not even at those who did not vote at all — but rather at those who took a stand against him because the author does not approve of the way they are processing their own grief and fear.

Yes, I was shocked and upset that Trump won this election, because I fought like hell to the extent that I could to keep that from happening, through personal interactions, attendance at political events, posts on social media, and articles on websites and in the local newspaper. As a resident of rural Texas, my political and social views are in the minority where I live, and I have publicly spoken out against Trump in a local city where white supremacist events are now being organized. My supposed “white privilege” is probably not worth as much to me in this environment as Courtney Parker West would like to imagine. And if something happens to one of my biracial daughters or grandchildren, or one or the many people I care about deeply who are members of minority groups, should I still feel “privileged”? And will that then be something I am allowed to express feelings about, or will West still want me to keep quiet simply because of the color of my skin?

So, being both white and surprised that Trump won, even though I did everything in my limited power to keep that from happening, makes me the villain of West's unpleasant little narrative. I can only wonder if West is going to follow up with articles on large groups of minorities who stayed home on election day and did not vote at all, or on the DNC, which undermined the candidate the majority of Democratic voters wanted. It would seem to me that their indifference and malignance, respectively, are far more relevant than my after-the-fact surprise at the results of the election.

On the day of the election — when I thought Hillary Clinton was going to win but before the results were known so that it would not look like I was trying to curry favor with either side — I posted on Facebook that I have never unfriended someone merely because of their political views. I was thus interested to learn that, according to the meme West included with her article, that this makes me a “douche.” I have, in fact, unfriended plenty of people who have used racist epithets or advocated violence, just not ones who have simply stated a specific political preference or candidate, and I have been unfriended by plenty of less-tolerant rightwing friends and relatives. As soon as I unfriend large numbers of people who have opposing viewpoints, however, I lose any kind of platform for influencing them. If West thinks a verbal circle jerk where only talking to people with similar points of view is productive then I will direct her to the results of the most recent election.

Finally, as an aside, I don’t know if I’m “woke” or not, because I’m 50 and therefore not accountable for learning new slang. I will note, however, that one of the organizations I have always admired most in my capacity as a writer is the Black Panthers, because they traditionally made a point of producing materials only in standard written English (i.e., in the 1960s and '70s), so that everyone would be able to quickly and easily understand their message.

Suffice it to say that I have found this article to be divisive, unproductive, and hurtful and that it has made me a little sad and angry. And now, I am going to soldier on, because the world is full of douches and dumb jerks who look like me — and also ones who look like Courtney Parker West, it turns out — and we have got more work to do than ever before. 

This is the picture that appears with West's article.