At Least That’s One Danger Less

I refer, of course, to the rash of highjackings and terroristic attacks which have been, in the dark years since September 11, 2001, perpetrated with . . . crab salad.  Mozzarella cheese also, and stuffed herring.

Back in 2013, a ticketed passenger was denied clearance in Berlin because he had 272 grams of mozzarella cheese made from buffalo milk, 155 grams of North Sea crab salad, and 140 grams of a stuffed herring product identified as “Flensburger Fördetopf” (never heard tell of that last, apparently it’s a stuffed product).  So he sued.  Isn’t it heart-warming, by the way, how the Germans have taken so readily to the habits of their American conquerors?

The top German administrative court has now ruled that he loses.  Yep.  Because such food products are “made with” liquids — you know: dangerous stuff like sour cream and milk — they are subject to the same regulations governing your shampoo or other substances that you really can’t tell what they are.  But hey:  It’s just hard to tell, sometimes, whether that’s really crab meat there of very artfully concealed C4.  You can’t hand the would be passenger a forkful of it and tell him to eat it and show you it can be done.  For that matter, you can’t take a damned toothpick and shove it to the bottom of the container to show that there’s not a miniature land-mine stowed under the

Germany is no longer a serious country.

A Joyful Noise

22 March 1459:  The young sprig of the Habsburg family is born who grows up to be Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor.

Max practiced masterfully the art of the dynastic marriage both for himself and his descendants, significantly sweeping under either direct Habsburg sovereignty or collateral affiliation large swathes of Europe, most notably direct kingship over Hungary after the disaster of Mohacs in 1526.  It was Hungary which provided the “and royal” tag in the Habsburg “imperial and royal” descriptor after the Compromise of 1867.  On the other hand, it was in large measure Hungarian intransigence which forever derailed what feeble attempts Franz Joseph and his advisors made to drag the empire forward as a viable geopolitical force.  I forget now which German senior commander (or was it a chancellor? I’ve slept since then) observed during the Great War that Germany was “shackled to a corpse.”  Magyar refusal to entertain any measure which might impair their oppression of the crazy-quilt of ethnicities within Hungary has to bear a good portion of the responsibility for the truth of that statement.

Gentle Reader will perceive how easily that for which we strive mightily, and sacrifice nearly all to defend once in our possession, can turn out to be a poison chalice in the end, after all.  Be careful what you wish for, I suppose.

Max also is a pretty good example of the Habsburg penchant for eccentricity.  He spent a large amount of effort on a couple of lengthy epic poems as well as a novel.  The purpose, in addition to patting himself on the back for being An All-Round Swell Guy, was to glorify what he presented as the traditions of chivalry and more to the point, the Habsburgs’ role as principal exponents of ditto.  There is a fascinating history of the family which takes for its focus the means and media in which the successive Habsburg rulers used their representation in visual and written arts to establish, explicate, and fix in permanence their role and claims in the European power system.

History has been less impressed with Max as author than he might have desired.

What Maximilian did do, and what to this day remains as an enduring legacy, perhaps his only enduring legacy, is the direction he gave to one of his court flunkies in 1498 to go hire, as a permanent fixture at court, some musicians and young male singers.  Just over 500 years later the Wiener Sängerknaben — better known in English as the Vienna Boys Choir — is still going.  Roughly 100 strong, they of course perform concerts in and around Vienna; they also split into four separate touring groups and travel all over the world performing.  A couple of years ago, one of them visited the city near where I live and as a bucket-list item I took my mother to see them.  They put on a pretty good show.

In addition to concerts at home and abroad, they also play a significant part in the cultural life of what has as good a claim as any to the title “Music City”.  Here’s a video including them performing at the 1989 funeral of Zita, the last Empress of Austria-Hungary.

[Here I will confess to a bit of a personal preference.  I understand that musicians must perform what their audiences want to hear.  Thus I do not take it ill of the Sängerknaben that so much of the program they presented that evening we saw them was newer settings of newer things.  But I prefer a greater homage to the towering music of the past.  I mean, let’s face it:  Just about anyone who can carry a tune in a dump truck — and I own that I am not among them, not at all, even a bit, by any standard — can sling together a passable setting of “contemporary” music, showtunes, and so forth.  It’s just not all that challenging.  The great music of the past, however?  That takes a bit more in the way of chops.  I prefer the focus of the Thomanerchor, which is even older than the Sängerknaben (they trace their roots back to 1212, I think) and which concentrates above all on the music of their one-time Kantor, one J. S. Bach.  Not to take anything away from their colleagues in Vienna; it’s just that I sort of wish they’d devote their undoubted talents to challenges more worthy of them.  Purely personal taste.]

Perhaps Maximilian did achieve his earthly immortality, and through the medium of art.  It just wasn’t his own, or even about him.  Irony will out.

Go make a joyful noise, in memory of H.I.M. Maximilian.

Weekly Spam Winners: 17 March 17

Trying to adhere to the plan, I have identified this week’s Contenders for the spam sweepstakes.  By odd circumstance, none of them this time is sexual in nature.  On second thought, perhaps that’s not so odd.  Just as there are only X jokes about sex that are funny before they begin to repeat and eventually degenerate into something like Seinfeld, perhaps there are only Y e-mail subject line hooks that you can fashion about making your willie bigger, stronger, harder etc.

[N.b.  As I may have mentioned on this blog from time to time, I do not watch television (in the sense of a television program; obviously I’ll watch one of my DVDs on a screen), or at least I never choose to watch it.  If I am at someone’s house where one is on, or if at a public place, I more or less have no way to escape it.  But in terms of electing to plop myself down in front of an operational television, I haven’t really done that except upon the rarest of occasions since about 1987.  So my references to television pop culture tend to be both dated and based upon very, very limited sample sizes.  I once watched most of an episode of Seinfeld.  It was a series of New York City references you likely wouldn’t get unless you lived there, and one-liners about sex.  I found it profoundly tedious.]

Several of this week’s crop of spam subject lines seem to go together, in the sense of one explaining the other, or one in response to the other.  “Calories are awkward creations.  Xenical knows how to destroy them”.  Oh dear, where to start?  A calorie is a unit of energy.  Like a Joule.  Except upon the sub-atomic level perhaps, I am unaware of any process for the destruction of energy.  “Awkward creations”?  Well, I suppose in a nuclear reaction, in which energy is released from fission/fusion, things can get jolly awkward pretty quickly.  What our spammer is of course referring to is the energy content specifically of food.  Food is how animals take on, among other things, the energy we require to sustain vital life processes.  Like, for humans and other mammals (and birds), being warm-blooded.  No calories, no metabolism, no cuddling under the blanket to warm up.

Maybe if you take enough Xenical you can “Eat without consequences. Xenical”.  Consequences like surviving.

“Go Here Now To Clear Any And All Mental Fog Forever!”  Is that really what we want, though, given that “Infections are not worth remembering!”  Maybe, however, once cleared of any and all of our mental fog (forever!), we can find our way to “The area without infections”.  Wouldn’t that be a nice place to retire?  On a slightly different tack, if one were to “Enjoy life forget without diets! Purchase now,” wouldn’t I be rather better set to continue on with at least some of my mental fog?  Have to question whether we’d not be working at cross-purposes.

It must be a very good thing that there are places like “The area without infections,” for folks who click through and learn how to “Overnight remove every mole and skin”.  I’ve labored under the impression that our skin is our No. 1 defense against infections.  Once upon a time, being flayed alive was a punishment doled out to those of whom one wished to make a particularly grisly example.  Like St. Bartholomew, to name one.  Or the poor old boy who, if memory serves, was commander of the garrison at Nicosia in 1570.  After the Ottomans finally stormed the city to end the siege, they cut off his ears, nose (and I think lips as well), and then he was flayed alive and his skin stuffed with straw.  Several centuries later a casket containing what was left of the skin was returned to some of his descendants.  The whole unsavory story is told in a history of the Mediterranean Sea the title and author of which I cannot at the moment recall.

Let’s just say that I’m not in any hurry to pay money to remove “every” of my “mole and skin”.

There is a species of mindset out there which responds to the notion of being able to Put One Over.  People who indulge this mindset are the origin of the saying that you can’t cheat an honest man.  It is apparently a standard tool in the grifter’s box to offer the mark Something for Nothing, or — and this really must be tied into some dark fabric of human nature, as susceptible as people tend to be to it — a specifically illicit advantage over one’s fellows.  If Gentle Reader will observe closely, what really gets people’s attention is not the offer of I’ll show you how to play by the rules more effectively, or better understand the rules, or even how to make the rules work more in your favor.  No:  What really get them [Or as Twain put it: “If that don’t fetch ’em, I don’t know Arkansaw.”] is the offer of I’ll show you how to cheat the rules while the other guy still has to play by them.

The people who fall for the grifter’s blandishments are the target audience for e-mails containing the word “trick” and its variants, frequently in combination with words like “secret,” “weird,” or “simple.”  A weird trick will enable you to out-smart all those guys on Wall Street who have been doing this stuff for years and have millions of dollars of computing power to analyze the market and its movements.  But for just $250, paid by wire transfer of course, I’ll show you a weird trick that will earn you however-many-thousand dollars a day trading penny stocks.  Or something.

The other target audience for “trick” are the desperate.  This secret trick will have the girls fighting to jump into your bed.  This ancient trick will get you into a size 2 dress by next month!  And so forth.  There must be a special place in hell for people who prey on the desperate like that.  Don’t get me wrong:  I fully understand that for desperate people, desperate measures are sometimes the only ones that work.  Years ago The New York Times ran an article on the payday advance and title loan business. It was focused principally on Nashville, Tennessee which at the time was apparently a locus of the industry.  Most of the article was predictable claptrap about how sky-high the interest rates charged were, how destitute the borrowers were, and so forth.  But bless their pea-pickin’ hearts, the article actually did share the comments of another fellow who pointed out that the patrons of these places simply do not have access to any financing anywhere else other than outright loan sharks.  For whatever reasons exist in their particular lives, they’re horrible credit risks and banks and other “standard” lenders cannot lend money to them.  Full stop.  For those folks it’s either the title loan/payday advance operations or else some guy in an alleyway wearing sunglasses at night whose middle name is “The”. What I’m talking about here is the sort of personal desperation that is scarred into a person’s bones by knowing that you’re physically unprepossessing; or that you simply have no social skills; or that you’re painfully shy; or that you’re not likely ever to lose all that weight; or that you’re on the autism spectrum, that’s just how you’re wired, and you’ll never understand how to interact with your fellow humans; or that you have few marketable skills, no realistic prospect of acquiring any, and no prospect of ever not being able to live quite from one paycheck to the next, so that you are forever sinking, one week at a time, ever deeper.  Those people are the targets of the “this weird trick” spammers.

“Simple ‘Trick’ reverses Baldness”.  I know of at least one fellow who lost most of his hair to male pattern baldness at a comparatively early age and so wigged out that he attempted suicide about it. Apparently as a teenager he’d had longish, flowing, blond hair and was very vain on the subject.  Of course, I also know something about his family background and dynamics, and I’m pretty comfortable that his hair falling out was merely the culmination of several other poisonous systems at play.  In contrast, I know quite several guys who’ve lost their hair or most of it and just shave the balance.  None of them appears to have experienced any difficulty — at least not outside of cold weather — by reason of it.  I’m pleased that my hair is unusually thick (my barber has commented on any number of occasions that I don’t need to worry about going bald any time soon).

The top two contenders, this week, must be the following:

“We [random non-Roman characters] the best friend of suffering from pain.  Try it, you like it!”

“Even after 6 p.m. now! Food is no longer gangrenous for ideal forms”.

Of the two, I think I’m going to declare the latter to be this week’s winner.  There’s just so much going on in this one, from the translating dictionary aspect, to the humor of taking the text literally, to its tie-in with the Xenical spam above, to the mysterious time reference (why 1800, after all? why not 1915 or 1730?), to the quasi-philosophical construct of “ideal forms”.  I mean, is this somehow Kantian speculative spam?  Is this perhaps a result of being able to “Eat without consequences”?  Certainly avoiding gangrene from my evening hamburger — quite apart from “destroying calories” — would be a delightful outcome yes?

And so we now have our first weekly sole champion.

Weekly Spam Winners: 10 March 2017

OK, I knew if I’d study on it long enough, I’d figure out a way to institutionalize my hilarity on reviewing my spam filter.

For those who believe, incidentally, that humor must be spontaneous and unplanned, I refer them to the example of P. G. Wodehouse, who — this was in the days before word processing, recall — would take plot sheets for his books and pin them to the walls of his studio, re-arranging them time and again until he got it Just Right.  He was also a playwright as well as a prose author, and when you read his stories (most of which initially appeared in serialization in any event) you get a strong sense of the story lines moving like a play.  Perhaps that’s what makes his books so entertaining.  Just like you can’t have dead time on a stage without killing your play, Wodehouse never allows awkward pauses in the flow of his stories.

In any event, what I decided on was a weekly spam championship.  I can jot down over the course of the week the most outrageous, or puzzling, or howlingly funny spam subject lines, and each week announce the finalists.  Perhaps even an outright winner.  So, without further ado, the below are the contenders from Week 1:

“Night or day Glucophage is your way!”  Have to love the poetry of that.  Almost disappointed they didn’t shove a “Burma Shave” at the end of it.  Sugar-eater, though (which is what I assume “Glucophage” translates to in plain Saxon yes)?  Not entirely sure what this medicament is intended to accomplish.  Diabetes, perhaps?  I’ve seen it crop up for a couple of months now, but never in any connection that would allow the spam target (me) to divine what it was all about without opening the e-mail.  That is, I have to suppose, the entire purpose of the subject line.

“Over the edge of the format.  Cialis Daily”  This one’s got a strong claim to Brain Teaser of the Week.  Years ago, when I was first learning to speak German as an exchange student, I invested in Langenscheidt’s German-English and English-German school dictionaries.  I’m sure there’s a technical expression in the industry for that sort of thing; I just think of them as “translating” dictionaries, because that’s really what they do, instead of defining words.  You locate the word you want to translate from your source language and then follows a list of words in the target language.  Well enough.  Except none of the target language words comes with any sort of context, so that you can tell which word is the correct one for your specific usage.  It’s pretty obvious the author here is non-Anglophone, and I’m reasonably comfortable he’s got hold of a translating dictionary and just pulled up the first word he came to when he went to translate whatever the hell he wrote in his native language.  And he came up with “over the edge of the format”.  If anyone can figure out what, precisely, that’s supposed to mean — other than that you’re supposed to get your willie permanently hard or something, either in order to or in consequence of having gone “over the edge” of the “format” — I’d like to hear it.

“The pleasure is where Viagra Soft takes place.  Buy here.”  Respectfully, but isn’t that exactly backward?  If I’ve already got me some pleasure, why would I want to produce Viagra Soft (itself a product name of questionable utility) with it?

“Your spell against infections.”  Medical spam meets the Middle Ages here.  Bag of wolfsbane, anyone?  Or are they advertising little voodoo dolls?  Perhaps this is a book of exactly that, spells to ward off or cure infections.  Like burying a live cat under a rotten oak stump at full moon or something.  Is the spammer here a Druid, perhaps?  The target audience here must be the same sorts of people who respond enthusiastically to the One Weird Trick That Will Triple Your Gas Mileage!

“Your world of safety.”  That’s it.  I like this one because it has a bit of a 1950s vibe to it.  If you ever have looked through a popular magazine from back then (I still recall finding in a book rack beside a bed in one of my grandparents’ guest bedrooms a copy of Life . . . from December, 1942; as God is my witness I think that thing had sat there in that rack from then until I stumbled across it in what would have been the late 1970s), you’ll recall the way they did print advertising back then.  Lots of slogans in quotations, frequently in decorative typefaces and to be associated with either drawn or photographed pitch-men (or women) with improbably white and even teeth, invariably in a coat and tie if male or a buttoned-to-the-neck dress if female.  [N.b. The book to read is Paul Fussell’s Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War.  He goes on at some length about the social commentary implicit in wartime advertising.]  “It’s a sure thing!”  “Now featuring <insert proprietary ingredient name>!”  “Can’t go wrong with a Pontiac!”  “It’s anhydrous, dear!”  Years ago a buddy of mine, who has  the sort of mind and talent and capacity for insight which I genuinely wish I had, took to whiling away the time in class by drawing tiny little sketches in lieu of class notes.  I hope he still has some of them, because his drawing of Public Policy must rate as classic American art, to say nothing of political commentary.  One of our crypto-Marxist classmates was gassing on once, and my buddy whipped up a drawing of the kind of Brave Proletarian Facing Manfully Towards Communist Future that would have had Comrade Koba (better known to history as Stalin) with tears in his eyes.  In any event, he came up with a slogan that exactly captures the kind of thing I’m trying to get at:  “Now featuring Moxie!”  I now use that expression — mentally at least, no one of my current circle of acquaintance having any reason to know what the hell I would be talking about — whenever I run across something in life that just reeks of advertising blather.  When I saw this spam subject line, I could almost conjure up the picture in my head of some slightly-overweight, white, gently balding or perhaps graying, man (but of course) in a shopkeeper’s apron, proudly standing in front of a wall shelf of vaguely non-discernible hardware-sorts-of-items, and above his head the quoted slogan: “Your world of safety”.

So do we have a winner?  I’m declaring a tie between “Your world of safety” and “Over the edge of the format”.  Very different, but strongly evocative each in its own way.

Invisalign Wash-Up

After 28 sets of Invisaligns at two weeks each, I finished my adventures in orthodontia back in December, right before Christmas.  They ground off the remaining “attachments” (little gobs of glue they put on your teeth, the better for the plastic to jerk things around in there), glued a wire across the back of my lower front teeth, and made me a set of heavy-gauge plastic retainers.

First, the retainers:  They are of a much heavier gauge of plastic than the
“trays” that one wears during the process.  This is first and foremost because they are supposed to last . . . well, you’re more or less going to be wearing them until you assume room temperature.

[Sidebar:  I have to say I’m not sure I fully understand one thing about retainers:  My mother, born in the very early 1930s, had orthodontia as a teenager.  To my knowledge, running all the way back to the late 1960s (in other words, prior to her 40th birthday), she’s never used retainers of any sort.  And yet here her teeth are, 60-plus years later, still right where they were left.  I know much younger people, people my age, who have foregone their retainers and now their teeth have got underway on them.  Ordinary divergence between patient outcomes?  Or did they just do a more permanent job of it, back in the day?]

Among other things, the heavier plastic makes the retainers much less flexible than the trays.  The result is a bit counter-intuitive:  While heavier, they’re also more prone to tearing.  I went 58 weeks in those trays (the final set I wore an additional two weeks while my retainers were being made) and never had a moment’s trouble with any of them, no matter how many times a day I popped them in and out, or how vigorously I cleaned them with my toothbrush.  I’ve already torn my upper retainer.  Fortunately it’s not completely in two, and so I can use it while they make me a replacement, but “gingerly” looks to be the watchword in retainer replacement.

The Invisaligns did a yeoman job on my lower teeth, particularly the front ones.  They’d been oddly spaced and noticeably crooked, and now they’re all more or less straight and line up with each other very nicely, subject only to the wear on the upper edges resulting from 40-odd years’ use while crooked.

On the upper teeth the result is more mixed.  My spitting gap is gone; it wasn’t Terry Thomas-sized by any measure, but it was big enough I felt horribly self-conscious about it.  The next teeth outboard of the two front ones also now line up very nicely.  But I still have whacking great gaps in front of my canines.  As in, I can’t tell that they shifted location at all.  I don’t know if this is a common feature of all orthodontia — that those teeth just can’t be moved at all — or whether it’s a limitation of the Invisalign technology, or whether those teeth have to fit over the lower teeth in a very specific location and that location in my mouth at least leaves them with space in front of them.  Whatever the reason, I have to say I am a bit disappointed with that outcome.  But the rest of it went so well I suppose I ought to shut my pie hole and be thankful I had a smooth, pain-free 58 weeks that did as well as it did.  [N.b.  My orthodontist during one of my periodic visits exclaimed how well everything was going and allowed that adult male patients were just his favorite because we do as we’re told, without complaint or drama.  I looked at him and dead-panned:  “Well, after you’ve been married a while obedience and discomfort become second nature.”]

The one thing which I do notice is an alarming, and extraordinarily painful change that first came to my attention last summer during peach season.  There is a small chain of grocery stores around here, family owned.  Each summer they get their fresh freestone peaches from an outfit in Georgia — same orchard every year.  In round numbers, they’re worth crawling over burning coals on top of a layer of broken glass to get to.  They put on their sign out front when “the truck” is supposed to be there with the first load.  They’ll sell them loose, but they also sell them in half-bushel boxes.  That’s how I buy them.  Last summer I think I bought either eight or ten boxes during the course of the season.  I give a bunch away just because I think everyone should have a fresh peach.  You cannot be completely dejected or sour with a plate of fresh peaches in front of you.  Not in human physiology.  But the vast bulk of my peach purchasing went down the ol’ hatch thank you very much.

I noticed, when I’d lunched on six or eight peaches (cut into eighths: first you slice all the way around the pit vertically along the “seam”; then you make your second slice also vertically but at a 90-degree offset to the first; then you slice horizontally around the midsection.  A simple twist and the pieces fall away from the pit and you’re in business), and then went to brush my teeth immediately afterward before putting my trays back in, instantly when the toothpaste touched my teeth, I experienced this agonizing shooting pain.  It felt like someone was pile-driving electrified hot ice picks into my jaws.  As mentioned, this was not a brushing-related sensation; the pain was instantaneous and began in precisely that split-second when the toothpaste first touched any part of a tooth.  The only thing I can think of is that the acid or the sugar in the peach residue on my teeth set up some sort of chemical reaction with some ingredient in the toothpaste.  The pain would be less — by a little bit — if I ate a meal immediately on top of the peaches and before brushing my teeth.  And when I say “a little bit” what I mean to convey is that I didn’t explode in my best bo’sun’s-locker vocabulary at the sheer agony of it all, damning the Invisalign company and all its works.  But even later that evening I could still feel residual pain when brushing my teeth for the final time before bed.

All that was, as mentioned, last summer, and Peach Season 2016 is long gone.  What I notice now is that any heavily sugared food, such as cookies (I confess that if Girl Scout Samoas are a deadly sin, I’m in trouble . . bad trouble), or chocolate — even dark chocolate, which I do enjoy — or donuts, or anything that has a large concentration of sugar in it produces very similar results, if not quite so intensely.  I generally don’t eat candy at all (except for a piece of dark chocolate once in a blue moon), but back in January I bought myself a bag of sour Skittles; it was really the first candy I’d eaten, just about, since starting Invisaligns in November, 2015.  I do love me some Skittles.  The sour variety has what I have to assume is some sort of acid-based granular frosting on the individual pieces to give them the sourness.  That was on a Monday.  That night when I went to brush my teeth I thought I was going to die.  It was Friday morning before my teeth quit exploding in my mouth at the first touch of toothpaste.

I will point out that I obtain the same result whether the sugar/acid to which I expose my teeth is purely natural, as in the case of a fresh peach, or completely unnatural and fully processed, as in the case of those Skittles.

I have never had sensitive teeth before, to anything.  Not to hot, not to cold, not to any particular sort of food.  I’ve used Lord only knows how many different sorts of toothpaste over the years, with never a moment’s discomfort from any of it, ever.  The only thing I can imagine is that, having jerked around my teeth from where they grew into my jaws over 40 years ago, areas of the enamel are now exposed that have never been exposed before, and those areas are either thinner or otherwise not accustomed to the chemical reactions that occur when whatever-it-is in toothpaste comes into contact with sugar and/or acid.

So, for such of Gentle Reader who might be contemplating shoving around one’s teeth later in life, be advised that the down-side to having a fully-formed jaw is that it is not going to grow around your teeth’s’ roots as protectively as it would if you had the re-alignment done at a time when your skeletal bones were actively growing into their final configurations.

I’m still getting used to the idea of not having to floss, brush, and scrub immediately I eat, whenever I eat.  It feels like I’m cheating at something.  I do floss, but I can do that sitting at my desk.  And if I need to get up and take a break from slogging away, I’ll go and brush as well.  But I don’t have to shove that plastic back in my mouth, and that makes all the difference.  This prisoner sure ain’t missing his shackles, not even a little.

So that was Invisaligns for me.  Non-traumatic, un-painful, and more or less successful.