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How many favorite numbers do you have? April 18, 2014

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Blog regulars know that our friend Ben loves the lottery, the cheapest form of hope. For less than the price of a Coke or a pack of gum, I can buy a ticket that holds the promise of financial freedom. It’s great motivation to get out of bed in the morning.

This morning, I noticed that my ticket contained an ad for another lottery game called Quinto. It announced, “Pick your five favorite numbers. If you have an exact match, you win $50,000!” Reading this made me wonder, “Do I have five favorite numbers?!!”

It’s sort of like asking someone to pick their five favorite letters. It might be kind of fun (and revealing) to pick your five favorite words. But numbers, like letters, are just means to an end. In the case of letters, that end is words, things with meaning(s) and, usually, layers of meaning. In the case of numbers, the end is just more numbers.

At a guess, if people had to pick favorite numbers, most would choose 7 and 11, the “lucky” numbers. But beyond that? Do you have five favorite numbers?

The great fast food mystery. April 17, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. This morning, I read an article online called “A Brief History of Fast Food’s Greatest Innovations.” The article included a timeline, so you could follow along from the birth of the Big Mac and Subway (both 1968) to Taco Bell’s Waffle Taco and Domino’s Fried Chicken Crust Pizza (both 2014). In between, there’s a lot more junk food, from the Egg McMuffin and Doritos Loco Taco to Chicken McNuggets, Wendy’s Frosty, KFC Double Down (which subs two slabs of fried chicken for a bun) to the birth of Chipotle Mexican Grill (1993), the taco/burrito equivalent of Subway.

I can’t say that I know much about fast food—my mother thought it was trash and refused to let us eat any—though I have eaten Subway sandwiches (soggy bread, yuck) and once had a Chipotle burrito (bleh, why are people so worked up?). Still, I was surprised by what struck me as obvious omissions, such as my favorite fast food, a luscious hot Cinnabon. Or Dairy Queen’s soft-serve ice cream. Or Pizza Hut’s delicious cheese breadsticks with marinara sauce (extra sauce, please). Not to mention my all-time favorite fast-food restaurant, Saladworks, which, like Subway and Chipotle, lets you build your own meal (in this case, salad) from a slew of super-fresh ingredients and is the only place I know of that serves the iconic Green Goddess dressing.

I was also disappointed to see that the article didn’t address the origin of the most curious fast-food item I know of, Wendy’s square burgers in their round buns. I’ve never had a Wendy’s burger (or, I confess, anything from Wendy’s), but their ads showing square meat patties sticking out of round buns always struck me as grotesque. Eeeewww!!! Who’d want to eat that?!! I could see the point of square burgers—rather than buying rounds, you’d simply buy a gigantic slab of flattened ground beef, already pre-scored into squares, so you’d just have to slice them up and save a ton of money. But why wouldn’t you buy square buns to put them on, so they didn’t stick out like that?!

The company responsible for popularizing the hamburger in the first place—not to mention the slider, another omission from the list—made square buns for its square burgers. That would be White Castle, which started selling its burgers, aka sliders, in the 1920s for 5 cents a slider. Ditto for Krystal, which makes square burgers and buns in the South. But Wendy’s? Square burgers, round buns. What the bleep?!!

Our friend Ben didn’t blink when I asked him about Wendy’s square burgers and why they didn’t put them on square buns. “Having the meat stick out makes it look like you’re getting more meat for your money,” he explained. “Most folks who eat fast food don’t care about what it looks like, just how much they’re getting.” Oh. Maybe that explains the Five Guys Burgers and Fries phenomenon, where plenty of news outlets have shown the unspeakably disgusting cup of mashed-down, too-brown fries, yet everyone apparently keeps rushing to buy them.

Only last month, I watched a friend down a gargantuan plate of “Cheddar” cheese fries for lunch while I was trying to enjoy a salad. (Forget that; the fries looked so grossly revolting drowned in orange day-glo Velveeta glop that I had to take the salad home, and mind you, I love well-made fries, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Gack.)

I still don’t really know why Wendy’s serves square burgers on round buns. Do you? Do you have a favorite fast food? If so, please let us know here at Poor Richard’s Almanac.

‘Til next time,


Love ‘em or hate ‘em on “Game of Thrones.” April 16, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Let’s ignore the awful return of winter and turn to more entertaining pastimes. As a fan of “Game of Thrones’” Hodor, our friend Ben was highly amused to see a poster of Hodor yesterday that said, over a photograph of Hodor, “King Hodor of House Hodor,” then, in much larger letters at the bottom of the poster, “First of His Hodor,” “Long May He Hodor.” (Hodor, actually named Walder, is a benign, simpleminded giant whose only comment throughout the series is “Hodor.” When an interviewer asked the various actors what their character’s wittiest comment was, Kristian Nairn, the actor who plays Hodor, paused as if for thought, then replied deadpan, “I’d have to say, ‘Hodor’.”) Long may he Hodor!

This made me think about the death of Joffrey Lannister on last week’s “Purple Wedding” episode, for the simple reason that everyone online apparently reacted with joy, since they hated Joffrey more than any other character on “Game of Thrones.” While I wish Joffrey had choked to death on his way home from visiting Winterfell and removed his annoying self from the series early in Season 1, he always struck me as a spoiled, cowardly, sadistic brat who was allowed to grow into what he was by a rotten, corrupt, hate-filled mother (Cersei Lannister) and an indifferent “father” (King Robert Baratheon, who actually said “I was never meant to be a father”), while Joffrey’s true father, also his uncle, Ser Jaime Lannister, could do nothing to redeem him. To me, he was far from the most hateful character on the show.

Hmmm, I thought. Who are the most loved and hated characters on “Game of Thrones”? Turning to my good friend Google, I found answers that really surprised me, certainly not the answers I would have given in most cases. (Except one: series author George R.R. Martin, for killing off noble, beloved characters like Lord Eddard Stark and leaving the North defenseless without a second thought. You’d have thought that having the Mad King burn Eddard’s older brother Brandon and his father, and the Mad King’s son, Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, imprison and repeatedly rape Eddard’s sister Lyanna, ultimately resulting in her death, might have been enough. But oh, no: There was no end to Martin’s torture of the only truly noble family in Westeros, the Starks. I was genuinely surprised and gratified at the fan response to this, placing the blame squarely where it belonged.)

If you’re a fan of the books and/or the series, you’ll have your own favorites to love and hate. But here are mine:


Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North, and reluctant Hand of the King: Like the man who raised him and his foster-brother Robert Baratheon, Jon Arryn, Ned values honor above common sense and fails to see that others value survival and power more than honor. Ned, Jon Arryn, and Robert Baratheon all die because of this basic failure of perception. But he remains my favorite character.

Tyrion Lannister, “The Imp:” Lord Tyrion has had to learn to use his brain and tongue as weapons, since he can’t compete with weapons of steel and hold his own. Despite his father’s and sister’s hatred and horrific acts against him, he manages to hold his place in Westeros and even prove himself a hero, as well as showing compassion whenever he can.

Stannis Baratheon: True heir to the Iron Throne, a brilliant general and honest man. Westeros under Lord Stannis’s rule would hardly be the cheerful, debauched place it was under his elder brother Robert, but Stannis would be a just ruler and a good, fair Winter king.

Mance Rayder: King North of the Wall, Mance has a great sense of perspective and a great sense of courage and daring. No man alive knows the threats this coming winter poses for all Westeros better than Mance, and no man knows how to truly rally extremely diverse peoples under his banner better than Mance (though Tyrion is underrated as usual in this regard).


The Hound: Who wouldn’t love the Hound? Anyone who wouldn’t love the Hound is just a dog.

Lord Samwell Tarly (don’t forget he really is a lord and heir to a house)

Crown Prince Aemon Targaryen, Maester of the Wall; he’s seen it all.

Lord Jeor Mormont, Lord Commander of the Wall; like Lord Eddard, an honorable man.

Hodor: Long may he Hodor!

Ramsay Snow: The single cheerful character in all of “Game of Thrones.” He truly loves what he does.

Maester Llewyn of Winterfell, the one wise man.

Lord Varys: Who would be too stupid to love Lord Varys?!

Littlefinger: Lord Petyr Baelish might be completely self-absorbed, but his rise to power is an object lesson.

Ros: As is the whore from the North, Ros, who leaves Winterfell to become both a spy for Lord Varys and a whoremaster for Lord Baelish. She is both the most beautiful actress on the series and the most impressive instance (in character) of a nobody rising through their own talents to a position of more prominence than they could ever have hoped to have achieved.

The Smartasses: Seasoned fighters who are always there with a quip when needed to remind the novices that life and death are only life and death, and it’s way better to meet them when they come than run off screaming. Ser Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight, Stannis Baratheon’s Hand. Bronn of the Blackwater, Tyrion Lannister’s sellsword and protector. Syrio Forel, First Sword of Braavos, Arya Stark’s “dancing master.” Jaqen H’gar, the face-changer who saves Arya Stark from Tywin Lannister. There are plenty of others, like the recruiter from the Night’s Watch who tries to protect Arya and Gendry and dies at the hands of the hated Gold Cloaks with the immortal line (while killed by a crossbow) “Always hated crossbows; take too long to reload.” Watch for them, they’re all great.

Lord Tywin Lannister, head of House Lannister: He’s so horrible but so wonderful. Thank you, Charles Dance, for a superb performance. You’ve always been amazing, and now you have Ciaran Hinds as Mance Rayder and Stephen Dillane as Stannis Baratheon (and Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon and Sean Bean as Eddard Stark, for that matter), to make sure you stay good and sharp.

Vicerys Targaryen. He too was cheerful, now that I think of it. Too bad he died so early on. I always enjoyed his on-screen time, and still miss him. Don’t want to wake the dragon!

Khal Drogo. Too bad about him.

Shae. Brave, good, fierce, loyal, beautiful, true to her “lion,” Lord Tyrion: What’s not to love?

Lady Brienne of Tarth. She is as honorable as Eddard, just not the brightest bulb on the string. I’d love to have Brienne on my side as long as I was giving her her marching orders, not assuming she could figure them out on her own or choose her alliances wisely.


The bitter old men. Balon Greyjoy squatting like a toad on his rock while he mutters “I was a king, I was a king” as he sends his children off to die. Walder Frey, host of the Red Wedding. Grandmaester Pycelle, the lecherous coward. Craster, the monstrous wildling lord who marries his daughters and gives all his incest-born sons to the White Walkers.

Theon Greyjoy. That filthy, weak, ungrateful traitor.

Cersei Lannister. In case you didn’t get that the first time. Cersei was the spoiled only daughter of the super-rich House Lannister, considered the most beautiful woman in all Westeros, married to the then-handsome hero Robert Baratheon and so Queen of Westeros. She had more reasons than anyone in the series to be happy, but instead was filled with more poison than the Red Viper and always ready to spew it out on anyone and everyone from her brother Tyrion to Sansa Stark. Speaking of whom…

Sansa Stark. Filthy, lying, self-serving little turncoat, she turns against Arya and her father Eddard and dooms her poor direwolf Lady to death. Too bad she didn’t break her neck in the first episode!

Catelyn Stark. Even worse is her mother Catelyn, whose mindless hatred makes poor Jon Snow’s life a living hell and whose terrible judgment dooms her son Robb, her husband Eddard, and many another innocent to death. Of all the characters, I probably hate her most.

Lord Janos Slynt. The head of the Gold Cloaks who betrays Lord Eddard to his death. At least Lord Tyrion manages to send him to the Wall.

Melisandre. The “Red Woman,” High Priestess of the Lord of Light, has corrupted Stannis Baratheon, an honorable man, and turned him into a fanatic. Shame on her!

The madwomen: Lysa Arryn of the Eyrie and Lord Stannis’s wife. The sooner they’re offed, the better.

Joffrey Lannister. All right, all right, of course I hate Joffrey and his revolting retainers. But not as much as many another on this list.

So which characters do you love, hate, and love to hate?

Death and taxes. April 14, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

To think that this famous quote from our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, was said more than a hundred years before the Federal income tax was even instituted. Those of us who grew up with income tax, property tax, estate tax, school tax, and the like tend to associate old Ben’s quote with them, and especially income tax. Yet income taxes as we know them weren’t passed into law until 1913!

The taxes Dr. Franklin was referring to were those imposed by Britain on everyday goods, like stamps, tea, sugar, beer, spirits, tobacco, and salt. These ever-increasing sales taxes, intended to help Britain pay her debts for the French and Indian War, aka the Seven Years War, led to a cry of “Taxation without representation!” from the outraged Colonists and eventually to the American Revolution.

To think that taxes on something like tea could once fire a revolution, while today, though we may grumble, we hand over monstrous amounts of our hard-earned income to our own government like so many sheep. Taxation with (supposed) representation. Ben Franklin’s quote is more applicable than ever.

But to those who are frantically trying to file their income taxes today, our friend Ben has another quote for you, courtesy of the comedian and wordsmith Steven Wright: “If you think nobody cares about you, try missing a couple of payments.”

What’s the next “Game of Thrones”? April 13, 2014

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David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, are you listening? Probably not. They’ve got their hands full with a little hit series called “Game of Thrones.” But for all the stations who wish they had HBO’s hit series on their hands, it might be time to take a look at two science-fantasy epics that are way overdue for serialization. Silence Dogood here, and here are my choices:

The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen (Joan D. Vinge, winner of the Hugo Award for best novel for The Snow Queen). The back cover of The Snow Queen sums it up well: “A classic work of speculative fiction, The Snow Queen is Joan D. Vinge’s Hugo Award-winning triumph, a novel that combines the ancient power of legend and myth with modern social issues of ecology, feminism, and basic rights, transforming all through the fabric of a brilliantly realized, far future tapestry.

“The imperious Winter colonists have ruled the planet Tiamat for 150 years, deriving wealth from the slaughter of the gentle sea mers. But soon the galactic stargate will close, isolating Tiamat, and the 150-year reign of the Summer primitives will begin. Unless Arienrhod, the ageless, corrupt Snow Queen, can destroy destiny with an act of genocide. Or unless Moon, a young Summer-tribe sybil, can break a conspiracy that spans space. For Moon is the Snow Queen’s nemesis, the Snow Queen’s lost rival,the Snow Queen’s lost weapon, the Snow Queen’s lost soul. Moon is the Snow Queen’s clone.”

These massive, rich, diverse books, like “Game of Thrones,” portray a struggle between Summer and Winter. In Tiamat’s capital, there’s more than enough sex, drugs, crime, violence, and perversion to rival anything King’s Landing has to offer, with Queen Arienrhod putting Cersei Lannister to shame. Yet the real villains are the high techs on a distant planet, who observe a rigid caste system, and the Hegemonic Assembly, the travelling board of aristocrats who rule what is left of the Old Empire and hoard a dirty little secret—and the rewards it brings them—at the cost of all sentient life.

Spanning worlds and galaxies, yet firmly centered in the drama on Tiamat as Winter’s reign ends, The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen take no shortcuts and have no fairy-tale endings. (The Summer Queen follows the arc of Moon’s rule, with its hardships and heartbreak.) This is no fairy tale. (Admittedly, I was flummoxed by the reference to feminism on the back cover, since both Winters and Summers always choose a queen to rule, until I recalled the fight for recognition of a female police officer who was hindered and belittled by her male colleagues at every turn.) There are even two additional novels, World’s End and Tangled Up in Blue, that explain some of the rich backstory.

Ms. Vinge’s series has its Cersei, its Danaerys, its Jaime. It has its monsters (all human) and opportunists, its aliens, and its very modern blue-collar workers and careerists who are just trying to do their jobs until the cycle turns and they can get off the primitive, corrupt planet where they’ve been sent to further their careers or just try to scrape by. (There’s even a robot who might end up reminding you a lot of Hodor.) A creative team could get many, many seasons out of this series, and it could bring together fans of “Game of Thrones” and “Avatar” to create a huge following.

Golden Witchbreed and Ancient Light (Mary Gentle). These massive novels also are set on a distant world, Orthe, where half the inhabitants are civilized and half are superstitious primitives, much like the Wildlings beyond the Wall and the inhabitants of Westeros in “Game of Thrones.” Into this world comes Lynne Christie, a diplomat from Earth who’s sent to see if Orthe is worth cultivating in Earth’s interests. But what she must learn while dealing with the court’s corruption and subsequently the tribes’ superstitious horror of “the other” is that, whatever they are, these people are not human, and that she is the naive one in this particular Game of Thrones.

As the novels progress, Lynne is sent deeper and deeper into the mystery of the hated Golden Witchbreed, the race that came from afar and enslaved the native population, only to disappear… or so everyone hopes. But what is the truth? Who are the Golden Witchbreed, and why did they come to Orthe in the first place? Why did they allow themselves to die out? Who, ultimately, is Lynne Christie, and where do her loyalties lie, with the corporate conglomerations on Earth and the mission they’ve sent her on or the people she’s come to know on Orthe?

Again, there’s a lot in common here with “Avatar,” and a lot of sex, violence, perversion, betrayal, and the like. (Yet, like Joan Vinge’s novels, these came out years before either “Avatar” or “Game of Thrones.”) Very much like “Game of Thrones,” every time you think you have something figured out, the game changes. It keeps you engaged, and it keeps you guessing. A great choice for a series. Lynne Christie may be a Danaerys, but watch for Lord Varys and Littlefinger, Lord Baelish, and the warlock of Qarth behind every pillar.

What would you choose for the next “Game of Thrones”?

What’s the most annoying form of humor? April 11, 2014

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Our friend Ben believes that humor is the most individual form of taste, or enjoyment, if you will. What makes you burst out in a deep belly-laugh or uncontrollable snickering may make your colleague a few cubicles over writhe in discomfort, and the guy across the aisle may not even get the joke. This doesn’t make you right and them wrong; it simply adds to the rounding out of who you are, it paints a unique portrait of you.

I do think, however, that some forms of humor are generally considered more offensive or annoying than others. Here’s my list of top ten annoying forms of humor, and how I feel about them:

1. Clowns. I absolutely hate clowns. I think they’re creepy, and can’t see any humor in them. Alice Cooper’s song “Can’t Sleep, the Clowns Will Eat Me” says it all as far as I’m concerned. Clowns originated in mediaeval Europe to terrorize the populace into abandoning sin and falling in line with Church teachings; to me, they’re every bit as scary now as they were then.

2. Mimes. If anything, I hate mimes more than clowns. Besides not being funny, they seem to cloak themselves in an aura of self-righteousness. Watching mimes be self-righteously rude to people who are minding their own business in public squares, train stations and the like makes me sick. If I behaved that obnoxiously to my fellow travellers, I’d be detained. But mimes? Hey, this is performance art! Give me Groucho over Harpo any day.

3. Lame cartoons. It can’t be easy to be a cartoonist and come up with a funny strip every day. But some strips are never funny, and yet there they are, day after day after day. Why do papers insist on publishing “Peanuts,” “Mutts,” “Doonesbury,” and their ilk? Why is “Peanuts,” one of the most boring strips in cartoon history, revered? Even “Blondie” is occasionally funny, and “Mark Trail” sometimes has interesting nature facts. But, much as we might long for the days of “The Far Side” and “Calvin and Hobbes,” there are good contemporary cartoons like “Get Fuzzy,” “Pickles,” “Jump Start,” “Pearls Before Swine,” and “Brewster Rockit” we could be enjoying in the space taken up by those lame ducks. All I can say is, thank God for “Dilbert.”

4. Puns. A pun is a play on words that can range from clever to extremely clunky and painful, especially when used clumsily or overused, as punsters seem prone to do. (Example: A colleague mentions the episode in “Game of Thrones” where Brienne is forced to fight a bear. The punster immediately chimes in with “What a shocking scene! I could barely bear to watch it!”) Ouch. Our friend Ben once had a boss who insisted on reciting a pun-riddled version of “Cinderella” at each and every corporate Christmas party. Trust me, fighting a bear would have seemed like a party by comparison.

5. Slapstick. Our friend Ben knows many people who can’t stand slapstick. But generally speaking, I love slapstick; it makes me laugh out loud. If I want to be cheered up, I watch a clip of Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) from the Pink Panther series; his interplay with Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau is simply marvelous to me, combining verbal wit with physical faux pas. Groucho Marx was also a master of this art, the ability to combine razor wit and physical incompetence. Charlie Chaplin performed the most brilliant slapstick I’ve ever seen, his legs seemed like rubber. I’ve still never seen a Chaplin film, but I saw the clips of him at the end of the bioflick where he was played by the brilliant Robert Downey Jr. To this day, I wonder how he managed to pull this off.

6. Sadistic humor. I list this one here because in essence it’s a form of slapstick, one epitomized by the Three Stooges. It’s physical humor, like slapstick, but in this case, you have bullies like Mo poking innocents like Larry and Curly in the eye and slapping them around. What’s funny about that? Nothing that I can imagine. Apparently the damage Mo inflicted on his siblings and fellow actors was so great that the actor who played Curly Joe forced him to sign a contract promising not to actually hurt him. Ha, ha, ha! What a laugh riot.

7. Sarcasm. Sarcasm is another form of sadism, but this time, it’s verbal. Nonetheless, the point (pun intended) is to stab your target with the sharpened blades of your wit, scoring points at their expense. Our friend Ben’s mother always maintained that sarcasm was the lowest form of humor and should not be indulged in by any respectable person, since it targeted people who were weak and unable to defend themselves. Nastiness disguised as humor is still nastiness, and sarcasm is just mockery unter another name. Mockery is just another form of bullying, and like all forms of bullying, is unworthy.

8. Vulgarity. Comedians like the late George Carlin and Richard Pryor apparently felt that the shock factor of vulgarity equalled humor, and millions of fans apparently agreed with them. Fans of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” and Russell Brand’s and Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up comedy also agree. Vulgar or not, stand-up comedy is a dead bore to our friend Ben. The only time I’ve ever enjoyed it was in Gabriel Byrne’s send-up in the TV movie “Trigger Happy” (aka “Mad Dog Time”). Coupled with Paul Anka’s send-up of himself, it was a performance to remember.

9. Late-night shows. Why do people watch these shows? Who really wants to see Kim Kardashian being interviewed by David Letterman? We have friends who grew up watching Johnny Carson and the like with Grandma, but sheesh. What could possibly be funny about an interminable late-night talk show?! We wish Stephen Colbert all the best, but please. We could use our sleep.

10. Verbal swordplay. Like slapstick, our friend Ben loves the sharpened tongue, the ability of the underdog to humorously defeat his enemies when they don’t even know what hit them. Groucho Marx, W.C. Fields, Lord Tyrion Lannister of “Game of Thrones,” and Sherlock Holmes are all experts at this art. (A close read of the Holmes canon will reveal the humor that is so often hidden in the film versions.) A brain is as good as a sword when it comes to defeating brawny but moronic enemies.

So what are your most-hated forms of humor? Let us hear from you!

Luddites, look out. April 10, 2014

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It’s not a coincidence that our friend Ben and Silence Dogood call ourselves Luddites, technophobes who have no interest whatever in technology for its own sake. We think technology should serve us—flip the switch, hit the button, voila! whatever it is is up and running—rather than that we should have to serve it by constantly learning new programs and the like.

So when Microsoft announced that it would no longer support its Windows XP system, which we both use, we were rattled. We also easily saw through all the smoke Microsoft was pouring out about why it was going to stop supporting the most widely used computing system in the world. Obviously, it had failed to discover any way to continue making money from it. By forcing everyone to switch to its newest system, Windows 8.1, or even Windows 8 or Windows 7, it stands to make a great deal of money. Simple as that. Pigs!!!

Silence and I live and die by our computers, so we took our laptops in to our local “computer wizards” to be cleaned up and fitted with the best antivirus and antimalware software and the best cleaner. We also got a new laptop capable of powering (and fitted with) Windows 7, as everything we’ve heard about Windows 8 has been horrible. (Windows 9, coming out in September, is supposed to be good, but that’s a 5-month wait after support for Windows XP has been discontinued. Thanks, Microsoft.) Anyway, for safety’s sake, we recommend that our fellow Luddites upgrade to Windows 7 and install strong antivirus, antimalware, and cleanup software ASAP.

Then there’s the bleedingheart bug, which has apparently infected literally millions of websites, including our own e-mail site, Yahoo. (Thank God sites like Google, Wikipedia and Amazon, which we also use regularly, are supposedly safe.) What this means is that ordering anything online is extremely unsafe, as is posting any personal or financial data, i.e. paying bills or banking online. Being Luddites, we still file our taxes on paper, so I’m not sure what this means for the millions who file electronically through services like TurboTax.

What’s a Luddite to do? Well, we were planning to order a butterfly bush named after our beloved golden retriever, Molly, to plant over her grave. The website offering the butterfly bush, ‘Miss Molly,’ was giving a special discount to customers who ordered online this week. In light of the bleedingheart bug, we guess we’ll skip the online discount, call the nursery, and pay full price. We’d rather get a discount, but not if it means compromising our security.

Stop bashing Tolkien. April 9, 2014

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are fans of the HBO hit series “Game of Thrones.” We don’t get HBO, so we’ll have to wait a year to see Season 4, but we own the other three seasons and have been re-watching them as Season 4 takes hold of the popular imagination.

We’ve also tried to keep up with the new season vicariously by reading press releases, interviews, reviews, and plot summaries. My favorite characters are Tyrion Lannister and the Hound, with Tywin Lannister a close third; Silence favors Lord Eddard Stark, Stannis Baratheon and Mance Rayder. (But then, she loves Sean Bean, Stephen Dillane and Ciaran Hinds, so I’m not sure what this is really saying.)

But I digress. Point being that we’ve noticed a really ugly trend in the reviews: Tolkien-bashing. It seems as if reviewers can only say good things about “Game of Thrones” if they say bad things about “The Lord of the Rings.” This is like comparing James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans to Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mystery series, or, as Silence points out, Gulliver’s Travels to Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.”

Think “A Song of Ice and Fire” author George R.R. Martin, on whose novels “Game of Thrones” is based, decided to see how J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic of Middle Earth would play out in real time? Fine. There are plenty of interesting parallels. What’s not fine is to gleefully shriek “A stake has finally been driven through Tolkien’s heart!” or “Tolkien is dead; long live Martin!” as we’ve seen in recent reviews.

As we’re sure many of you have, Silence and I grew up with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I used to read the whole cycle once a year, until it finally dawned on me that the characters in LoTR were so wooden and, unlike The Hobbit, there was no humor in it. But Professor Tolkien wasn’t trying to become famous or rich by writing a hit series. He was trying to make his life’s work—the study and translation of early to mediaeval Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and Celtic myth and literature—relevant to his generation.

He included heroes and monsters, trolls, elves, dwarves, goblins, dragons, and wizards as well as humans in his series because they were all in the lore and legends of the cultures he studied. For those peoples of the North, as for the Starks in Westeros, winter was always coming, and it was always long, dark, and brutal. And he wove the great mediaeval myth of chivalry, the noble knight, Sir Gawain, Sir Lancelot, into his epic as well, that honor will triumph, that weakness will be defeated. Aragorn and Gandalf win. Saruman and the Nazgul lose. Does anyone actually like Aragorn, or Gandalf, for that matter? To me, the only likeable characters in LoTR were Gimli son of Gloin, Samwise Gamgee, and Pippin. The rest were place-holders for a myth JRR Tolkien chose to weave and populate.

George Martin chose to bring this mythical world kicking and screaming into our modern age, sort of a bastard child of Tolkien and “Rome” and “The Tudors.” He has no education in the original works, unlike Tolkien. He also sets his action in a mediaeval world, and peoples it with mythical characters (giants, white walkers, dragons, witches—think Melisandre, the Red Witch—warlocks and wizards, as well as those like Bran and Rickon who are “wargs,” able to see through the eyes of others). But he brings the myth to the present with clever spins, from making the mythical dwarves of Tolkien into an actual physical dwarf, Lord Tyrion, to turning chivalric heroes into brutal sadistic monsters like Ser Gregor Clegane.

All this, and the ambivalence that pervades “Game of Thrones,” that makes a character like “The Spider,” Lord Varys, a hero, and a hero like Lord Eddard Stark a loser, is great plotting, great writing. But it is no excuse for reviewers to bash the books of someone long dead, someone who had a very different agenda: to make the past come alive for a new generation. True, there was no sex, there was no nudity, there was no sexual ambiguousness or titillation in Tolkien’s books. There was no gratuitous torture or violence. That’s because in his heart, Tolkien was a knight.

He lived what he wrote, all of his life. At 17, he fell in love with a 19-year-old girl at his boarding house and wished to marry her. The priest in charge of him (Tolkien had been long orphaned by then), afraid he would waste his brilliance, demanded that he leave his sweetheart without a word of explanation and not dare to approach her or any other woman until he reached his majority at 21. Tolkien felt honor-bound to agree. The day he turned 21, he rushed to London to propose to his true love, and they remained married and passionately in love until her death. He based one of his most astonishing stories on their love, and had the names of the characters he created for them carved into their tombstones.

Is this the world of “Game of Thrones,” where sisters and brothers have sex and murder anyone who might have found out their secret? Where scenes in whorehouses are as common as scenes on the battlefield? Hardly. Yet, George Martin has benefited from JRR Tolkien’s world, if only to use it as a ball to bounce off of. For reviewers to rush up to take pot shots at Tolkien now is despicable. Let “Game of Thrones” be “Game of Thrones,” and Tolkien be Tolkien.

Our Founding Fathers speak. March 27, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to share some wisdom from our Founding Fathers. Normally we quote our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. But the other Founders had a lot to say for themselves, too. So today we’re featuring quotes from George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Note especially the last three quotes by Madison; maybe he had a crystal ball and could see into our times.

From George Washington:

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”

“If freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.”

“It is better to be alone than in bad company.”

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

From Alexander Hamilton:

“Those who stand for nothing will fall for anything.”

“A well adjusted person is one who makes the same mistake twice without getting nervous.”

“Nobody expects to trust his body overmuch after the age of fifty.”

“Man is a reasoning rather than a reasonable animal.”

From James Madison:

“Philosophy is common sense with big words.”

“It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.”

“I believe that there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”

Are you a genius? March 25, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben’s mother always made it a point to say that however high your IQ was, if it wasn’t genius level, it wasn’t high enough. This wasn’t very encouraging to a child who didn’t, and still doesn’t, understand how to calculate if a cyclist is going along a train track at X mph and the train is chugging along towards the cyclist at X mph, when or where will they intersect? (And please ask me if I care.) But I suppose it did give me a lifelong interest in IQ tests.

The average IQ is estimated to be between 85 and 115, typically rounded off at 100. Genius IQ is usually said to begin between 140 and 145. Einstein never took an IQ test, but his IQ is estimated between 160 and 180. The highest estimated IQ was between 250 and 300, held by William James Sidis, born in 1898, an American who graduated from grade school after 7 months and tried to enroll at Harvard at age 9. (They made him wait until he was 11.) But again, this is an estimated IQ; IQ tests didn’t come into being until long after Sidis’s death. The highest confirmed IQ, 225, is held by 31-year-old Japanese-American astrophysicist Christopher Hirata. Other well-known greats include chess master Garry Kasparov (190), Leonardo da Vinci (estimated 180-190), Marilyn Vos Savant (190), and Stephen Hawking (160).

Could you be a genius? The most astounding thing our friend Ben has discovered in my readings on the topic is that it’s estimated that 25% of the population fall over the 140 IQ line. Twenty-five percent!!! That makes your chances pretty good, in my opinion.

I’ve enjoyed taking online IQ tests and comparing the results to my real-life IQ test, and have found the results (at least from the company I took them from) comparable. I initially took them to see if my IQ had declined over time since being out of school, or if it had improved from all the things I’d learned since then (algebra, alas, not being one of them). Just pitting your brain against a variety of questions in a set time strikes me as a good way to make sure the machinery is still well-oiled and operating. In short, it’s fun.

One of my favorite films is a documentary about, of all things, origami, called “Between the Folds.” It shows among other things how mathematical geniuses now use origami—paper folding, as in the famous Japanese paper cranes—to work out incredibly complex theories. One of its subjects, Erik Demaine, a child prodigy and now a professor of computer science at MIT (having been made their youngest professor ever at age 20 and received a MacArthur Fellowship, aka “genius award,” at 23), was asked why he did origami. He replied simply, “Because it’s fun.”

I encourage you to try one of these tests for yourself every now and then and see how you fare, assuming you find them fun. And never fear if you fall into the 75% who don’t rate genius level. Some of the most clueless people our friend Ben has ever known have been the most brilliant, but would get a commonsense IQ score of close to zero. Given any two choices that would either benefit or harm them or their loved ones, they inevitably, and repeatedly, make the wrong choice. Nor do they ever seem to learn from their destructive and damaging experiences, they just keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, the classic definition of insanity.

Which is not to say that they’re insane, or to cast doubt on their theoretical intelligence. But in terms of common sense, they’re just plain stupid. It’s when common sense and genius are combined that true magic happens, a happy life and the potential to benefit all the world. For ultimately, if you have no understanding of what a happy, fully human life is, how can you hope to benefit the world? And to be happy, you need to be able to enjoy and interact with the people around you and make the choices that benefit you and them, not float away and hope that somebody’s holding the end of the balloon string and taking care of all your earthly needs.

Like Erik Demaine, whatever your IQ is, try to do what’s fun for you.


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