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Category Archives: Random Thoughts

What’s In A Name Anyway?

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Detente . . . at least with nomenclature.

In a Facebook post, I apologized to the world for not having a more exotic name. After all, Rick Ladd is pretty much – other than the oblique reference to an acting family – anything other than exotic. After a few comments, I decided to flesh out my position, which follows:

My father’s given name was Isadore Edward Wladofsky. My mother’s maiden name was Annette Moldofsky. When they married, she refused to change from Moldofsky (which she hated) to Wladofsky, so they kept the lad, added another d, and – voila! – their last names became Ladd. I was not given a middle name, so the most exotic I could be is Richard Ladd.

However, I do have a Hebrew name, which is Ezra ben Yisrael. I also once considered changing my name back to what my father’s original name had been, plus adding a little Russian embellishment, as well as picking a substitute for Richard, as there’s no equivalent I could find in Russian. So . . . had I done it, my name would now be Petya Isadorovich Wladofsky, which translates to Peter, son of Isadore Wladofsky, but you can call me Petushka.

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Racism & Bigotry Aren’t Quite the Same

I wrote the following four paragraphs a couple of days ago. Today (8/19/17) I ran them through the Hemingway app, which informed me the text’s readability score was 11th grade. It also pointed out numerous issues to address and suggested I aim for a readability score of 9th grade. I then worked to remove all the issues (well, as many as I thought made sense to me) and was able to bring the score down to 7th grade . . . in Hemingway’s algorithms. It still says three of the 14 sentences are hard to read. I’m adding the second version for readers to judge which they find more readable. Hemingway seems a little harsh. I suppose, if I were writing for the general public, it might make sense to shoot for 9th grade readability, but I’m not convinced it’s what I want to do. What do you think?


Readability score = 11th grade

In May of 1973 I traveled to Cuba with the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. I spent two months, mostly just outside Havana, working and learning as a guest of the Cuban government.

Prior to our departure, we were required to undergo some pretty extensive training in history, cultural chauvinism, and the roots of racism and bigotry. Some of these classes were led by members of both the Brown Berets and the Black Panthers.

One thing I remember well from this training was the difference between racism, which we were taught is systemic and insidious, and bigotry, which is personal and obvious. I have occasionally posted about these differences, but I’m coming to the conclusion that current usage has blurred the distinction between the two. I have also decided maybe I should stop bucking the trend, as I find myself using them somewhat interchangeably as well.

It’s a bit disturbing, as it is ingrained in me that racism is embedded in our laws, institutions, and normative cultural behavior, while bigotry is evidenced by individual prejudices and hatred or fear of the other. Nevertheless, just about everyone I read uses racism for what I would call bigotry. I think I’ve decided to give up worrying about the distinction, though I find it important. Carry on!


Readability score = 7th grade

In May of 1973 I traveled to Cuba with the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. I spent two months outside Havana, working and learning as a guest of the Cuban government.

Before our departure, we received training in history, cultural chauvinism, and the roots of racism and bigotry. Leading some of these classes were members of both the Brown Berets and the Black Panthers.

They taught us racism is systemic and insidious, while bigotry is personal and obvious. I have posted about these differences, but am concluding current usage blurs the distinction between the two. I have also decided I should stop bucking the trend, as I find I use them as well.

It’s a bit disturbing. I know racism infuses our laws, institutions, and normative cultural behavior. Bigotry involves individual prejudices and hatred or fear of the other. Even so, most everyone I read uses racism for what I would call bigotry. I’ve decided to give up worrying about the distinction, though I find it important. Carry on!


Apparently, God Loves California

Currently, the sun is shining brightly through my home office window, as we’re enjoying a short respite from the deluge we’ve been experiencing. Here in SoCal there hasn’t been quite as much moisture, but the central and northern portions of the state are getting hammered. The table below shows just how dramatically our fortunes have improved since a year ago and, particularly, in just the past week. There’s more rain in the forecast and we’ve still over two months to go in our traditional rainy season.

US Drought Monitor Table of Data

Drought Conditions in California Improve Dramatically

People like Pat Robertson, and others of his “deep” religious conviction are quick to claim “The Lord” is punishing us when bad things happen. Perhaps they should consider recognizing, if that is the case, then we must conclude God is now rewarding California for rejecting Marmalade Mussolini last November. Surely The Lord is even-handed in both punishing and rewarding us for our aberrant, as well as our compliant, behavior.

To appreciate just how much our conditions have changed, here’s a screenshot of the State’s major reservoirs. Note how many are near or above their historical average. This doesn’t translate directly into replenishment of our depleted water table but, with an increased snowpack and more precipitation on the way, we’re at least moving a long way toward normal conditions. I expect an awful lot of people are going to continue their water conservation efforts regardless of this reversal in our fortunes. Californians are recognizing how precious fresh water is, and how easily it can be hard to come by if we continue using it unwisely.

Reservoir Condition Changes

Less Than a Month Ago These Reservoirs Were All Below Their Historical Average

 


A Bit of My History in Hair

For the third time in my life I’ve let my hair grow. It was always something I wanted to do, but back in the 60s it was very much frowned upon. In my very late teens I was the lead singer in a rock and roll band called “The Night Owls”, but I also had to still answer to my family, so I purchased a wig and wore it when I performed. I wasn’t terribly happy with it, but there wasn’t much I felt I could do at the time. I was rebellious, but not that much . . . not back then.

I don’t remember exactly when I stopped performing with them, but it was probably around the time my father stumbled onto an opportunity and, since I seemed to be heading in a direction no self-respecting, good Jewish boy was supposed to go, he took advantage of a chance to purchase a small snack shop in downtown L.A. He had spoken to me and expressed his wish that I take on the responsibility of running it. I was midway to my twentieth birthday when we took it over; the last week of 1966.

Somewhere in this house – quite possibly in a box hidden deep in the garage – is a picture of me in my teenage splendor, wearing the wig underneath a short-brimmed, felt hat, hanging from a walk/don’t walk sign that controlled pedestrian traffic to and from Deb’s Snack Shop and the May Company across the street.

Shortly after that picture was taken (with film, and it was developed on paper!) I told the old man I didn’t want to continue with the business. I knew I was letting him down, but I had grown weary of getting up at 4:30 am and getting home at 7:30 pm, Monday through Friday. On Saturday, I was usually home by 4:30, but it was still a long day. I remember going out on a date after I had been working at the business for a few months. It was a Saturday night and I fell asleep at dinner. Part of me was worried I was watching my life slip ignominiously away. I feared one day I would awake to find myself with a nice house, a car, who knows what else, and nobody to share it with and no time to enjoy it. Remember, this was at the height of the Summer of Love. 1967. The Haight was calling me to a field study.

Also, I was really sick of getting blasted by my father every day. My old man was one of those who was very good at pointing out one’s shortcomings, but highly averse to handing out praise or acknowledgement. When he was finished with his deliveries nearby at the Grand Central Market, where he sold distressed lunch meat and cheeses to a half dozen or so of the numerous stalls to be found there still, he would stop by to see what I had fucked up how I was doing.

Invariably, my youth, inexperience, naivete, cluelessness, or stupidity had grabbed me by one of my still wet behind ears and slammed me against a well-known business tenet or a shop-worn rule-of-thumb. Although I couldn’t win for losing, back then the cliches did not come so easily to me. So each and every day, with the exception of Saturday, he would be in my face.

But I digress, which (in case you haven’t noticed) I’m pretty darn good at.

So he sold the business. He lost $5K and was pretty pissed at me. It wasn’t until years later I decided to use a time value of money calculation to see what the present day value of his loss would be. I won’t say it was staggering, but it was a chunk of change I wouldn’t particularly want to part with. As of this writing, it’s value would be $36K. That knowledge would be somewhat disconcerting had my father and I not reconciled our issues a couple of years before his untimely death. It still bothers me to know I was such a jerk but, thankfully, guilt is not a component.

Oops! I’m digressing still.

Hair. I really want to talk about hair. Not because it’s all that important to me, but because I can . . . and I had one of those flashbacks today, when I thought about something I hadn’t thought of in many years.

Rick's Hebro

I Called This My Hebro. It Does Look a Bit Like a Brillo Pad, I Suppose.

As I said, I’ve grown my hair long three times in my life. One of the reasons I’ve done it this time is that my hair is no longer as curly as it used to be. When I was a young man, and up into my late sixties – I think – I had really thick, really curly dark brown hair. It was somewhere between kinky and wavy. I still have a lot, but it’s not quite as thick, and most of it is gray. And the gray ones, which first started coming in with these weird, almost right angle bends in them, now are pretty straight.

Now to that flashback. Long ago, in Junior High School, I had a “friend” who gave me two very distinct nicknames. I’ll leave it to you to suss their significance. He called me “Brillo” and “KinkyJew”.

I hadn’t thought of these nicknames for many years until yesterday. The memory was interesting and caused me to think of how my hair has changed over the years. Since the last time I grew it out, I had pretty much decided not to grow it again; it was a giant pain in the ass to take care of. However, with it being so much straighter, it’s much easier to handle. It’s still not really straight straight, but you can see the difference pretty clearly in the two photos I’m including here.

I also find it interesting to recall I never took much offense to those nicknames. I suppose they were better than “kike” and “hebe” and I’d had to put up with a lot of that shit in my

An Old Fart

Livin’ large, I’m enjoying the home stretch.

youth. In fact, the younger brother of the “friend” (he was a close neighbor) had once called me a kike and he and I had had a couple of fights over the years. Nevertheless, I considered these names mostly sorry distractions from what was really important; having fun and cutting school, which my “friend” and I did quite frequently.

I’m somewhat thankful I still have a lot of hair. Mine’s getting a bit thin in front on top, but I don’t see it going away anytime soon. If it does, I’m quite willing to shave my head. I’ve always wanted to discover if I have a curly scalp. It kind of feels like it, but it’s hard to be certain with all the hair what, exactly, is causing me to feel like my skull would look like a University of Michigan Wolverine’s football helmet.

It would be fitting. When I competed in swimming, I shaved my head, my arms, and my legs. That was about 53 years ago. I can’t quite recall what my head looked like. I was only interested in competing as best I could. Time is now threatening to leave me hairless, but I’m hanging in there. Either way, as long as I’ve got another decade or so I’ll be a happy camper. I want to see my daughters to adulthood; get to know them a bit before I check out forever.


When The World Almost Ended

 

Drop Drill

Drop Drills Were Part of School Life

 The Cuban Missile Crisis came up in a short conversation I had with my 14-year-old daughter yesterday. She knew little about it but was somewhat aware of the Cold War. 

The conversation, however, reminded me of several things that haven’t crossed my mind in a while. The first memory was of walking to a Dale’s supermarket in Panorama City, California where I lived in the 50s and where one of my best friends continued to live. 

I was 15 and he had turned 16 that year, so we may have driven, though I doubt it. What I do remember is the empty shelves, most all of the food having been scooped up by people expecting the end of the world. It was eerie. 

The other thing that popped into my mind was the frequent drop drills, which I suspect is similar to how kids today are trained to react in case of an earthquake. In retrospect, I find it amusing we were taught that crawling under our desks could protect us from a thermonuclear detonation nearby. Back then, there were lots of targets nearby, not the least of which was Rocketdyne, where I have worked most of the last three decades. 

Finally, I had long forgotten the monthly air raid siren drills. Once a month – as I recall, it was on the third Thursday – at 10:00 am, the sirens would blast for about a minute. Not sure when it ended, but it had to be a long time ago. At this point I’m pretty sure most of my friends have no recollection of these drills, as they never experienced them. 


Cinnamon and Coconut Glazed Donuts!

Sure look good, donut they?

Staying reasonably faithful to a diet that’s both fulfilling and healthful is made difficult here at work. Whenever there’s an event that involves food – and there are lots of them – it is set out on a group of lateral filing cabinets that are just a few feet from me. In fact, of the one hundred or so people on the floor, I’m the closest to the food.

Today, someone brought in at least five dozen donuts. I resisted successfully, but I would prefer avoiding the “near occasion of sin” where possible. Still, I cleared the hurdle, and I’m continuing my quest to drop down to 165 lbs. by my 69th birthday in early June.


Is It Too Late For Me?

 

Guy on Bike

Got to Keep on Truckin’

Lately I’ve found myself wondering if it’s too late for me to have a mid-life crisis. Maybe, if 70 is the new 50, the time is just about nigh. I’ve never had one and I’m thinking I may have missed out.


I Swear I Was Stone Cold Straight

I had one of those timeless moments this evening. I was on my way to pick up my vehicle, which needed some work due to a safety recall. The Honda dealership was kind enough to provide me with a creature comfort-laden Nissan Pathfinder, which I happily drove to work from the Enterprise office, and was to return to the Honda dealer, where I was headed, on the way home.

I had just exited California 118 (the Ronald Reagan freeway) at 1st Street in Simi, turning south to the dealership about a quarter mile away. As I was crossing over the freeway, the light was red and I was stopped at the apex of the arched overpass. The entire perimeter of the sky was filled with soft pink clouds, and there was a long golden streamer of cloud radiating eastward, driven by the last rays of the setting Sun. As I looked from west to east, the clouds and the edges of the sky faded from a bright to a soft pastel pink.

In the sky to the east hung an almost full Moon, its glow softened by a thin layer of clouds, and to the West a long, steady stream of vehicles moved steadily toward their destinations, their headlights forming a brilliant necklace of light. I wanted to take a picture, but a panorama would have taken time I didn’t think I had. I looked through hundreds of pink sunset pictures I googled, hoping to find something at least evocative, but nothing felt right, so I have nothing but my memory . . . and the experience.

The whole moment lasted about 10 seconds, but it was extraordinarily beautiful and felt timeless. It wasn’t all that different from some other similar experiences; after all, it was just a sunset, the Moon (yawn), and moderate freeway traffic, yet it felt eternal (for a moment 🙂 ). Weird, huh?


Celebrating Over a Decade of Blogging

Haven’t had the time – or the inclination – to address it, but this past Tuesday marked my eight year anniversary as a blogger on WordPress. Since I had been blogging at The Cranky Curmudgeon on Blogger since July of 2004 prior to moving over here, I guess that means I’ve been blogging for over eleven and a half years.

While I’ve always attempted to be somewhat relevant, I’ve never even considered being commercial, which should be quite evident given the rank amateur effort I’ve stood up. I know WP tacks on advertisements to my blog, though that might have gone away now that I’ve purchased their premium pack. I never saw them, so I’m not sure if they’re still there or not.

At any rate, I begin my 70th orbit around the Sun a little later this year. I’m hopeful I’ve got at least another decade of blogging to do; maybe even some seriously focused writing as well. We’ll see how that goes.


Talking To Myself . . . Almost

Lately, I’ve been trying to use my iPhone’s voice recognition capabilities while in my car on the way to work. With the latest upgrade to iOS – I’m at 9.1 – you can now talk to your phone if it’s plugged into power, and I always plug mine into my car charger. All you have to do is say “Hey, Siri” and (most times) you’ll get a tone letting you know she’s listening. You can request music, ask for directions, record notes, tweets, and even Facebook posts. I mostly use it for playing music and recording thoughts I would never be able to remember or write down without pulling over to the side of the road. Although I have been known to do that, I don’t have to anymore. It’s not perfect, but it’s far and away a safer and easy-to-use method of remembering some things.

So, today I recorded a note on my way in. The only drawback is you have to speak fairly continuously. As soon as you pause for more than a couple of seconds, at most, Siri ends the task and reads the note back to you. I managed to make it through the thought I had with relative ease – my memory really ain’t what it used to be – and the playback was accurate enough to know I would be able to understand what I was thinking when I recorded it. As many of us are painfully aware, being able to understand what you were thinking when you were thinking of it later on when you read what you wrote about what you were thinking back then, is important to the efficacy of the effort.

On a whim, I said “Hey, Siri” and, upon hearing the familiar tone, “Thank you.” After a moment’s pause, she responded (in her Aussie accent) “You’re welcome.” Her tone was so upbeat it caused me to wonder if they don’t actually have the phrase recorded, or programmed, in several different intonations. I know we’re a long ways away from anything approaching sentient AI, but it was still oddly comforting, as well as a little weird . . . both the exchange and the reality I bothered to do it in the first place.


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