Paranoia strikes the birthers

June 20, 2010

Thursday evening WordPress had a glitch — a stray character in code caused the system to overwrite some material, to mess up a lot of blogs.  It took a couple of hours to fix.

In the birther world, such things only happen “by design.”  Because of a glitch that affected 50,000 blogs (including this one), the birthers feel singled out.

Seriously, at that site where the paranoia runs rampant, My Very Own Point of View, the discussion is on what can be discerned by differences in images from microfiche copies of the newspaper columns announcing births recorded in Honolulu, from the Hawaii Vital Records office, in 1961.  In 5,000 words or so, the author determined that there are differences in the images because some of the microfiche is scratched, and some isn’t.

Ergo, the author says, Obama conspired to mess with every microfiche in the world, and he’s therefore an alien (probably from the planet Tralfamador, or maybe a waiter in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe).

I’ve read the piece three times trying to figure out what the point is, other than the author has never thought much about libraries or microfiche or newspapers ever before.  Am I wrong?

No wonder there’s an aluminum foil shortage, eh?

Tinfoil hat area

Warning: Tinfoil Hat Wearers Too Close for Comfort

I suggested a less ominous meaning behind the scratches on the microfiche, but the blog owner found my comments offensive, and refused to post them.  I asked why, and this was the response I got:

Because you are not civil. There is nothing about race in this material or in my posts. There is not a single “conclusion drawn”. If you have an INTELLIGENT debate to advance on the material then do so. If you do not, go post somewhere where your poison is not moderated.

Of course, I made no mention of race.  I addressed solely the issues of library archival procedures and how they might make for differences in copies from different libraries.  Here is the comment she’s talking about; you decide which of us is crazy, Dear Reader:

Why do you assume that microfilm copies should be the same in all locations?  You’re assuming that there were not different editions of the same paper, which is incorrect; you’re assuming there is one source of microfilm copies, which is unlikely (many libraries used to make their own microfilm from paper copies in their collections — it’s unlikely, I think, that the Library of Congress would have used the same microfilm available at the University of Hawaii — in 1961 precedence was given to paper collections, and the microfilming was done later).

You assume that later flaws in the film are not introduced by dust, by reading machines that shred the film.

You assume much that is simply not so in the newspaper industry and in library archiving.

And in the end, what do you claim?  A couple of periods disappear in photocopies?  A new flyspeck appears?

You need to check the rules of civil procedure, specifically with regard to evidence and contemporary business records.  I’ll wager you can figure out why most of what you worry about here is no issue in proving things up in a courtroom.

I don’t  think I was uncivil.  I think that birthers all fall into that category Euripides described, of those whom the gods destroy, they first make mad.

(And, please, if you can figure out what the complaint is about copies differing in quality at different libraries, please tell us what is going on, in comments.)

Dan Valentine – Such goes life, part 2

June 20, 2010

By Dan Valentine


In the Navy, during boot camp in San Diego, I witnessed–heard is a more accurate verb–a G.I. shower. One night, a gang of self-appointed disciplinarians threw a blanket over the head of a new recruit, sound asleep in his bulk, a few rows down from mine. They carried him, his arms and legs kicking, into the showers, and gave him a good scrubbing down with steel-bristled brushes, manufactured for cleaning pots and pans. His offense? They said he stank.

On a recent night here, I was sound asleep. Five traveling Danes, bunking in the same dorm room, had gone out on the town, which here means visiting strip bars and buying scantily-clad women shots of tequila, with the hope and promise of getting, well, you know. Everyone needs a hobby.

In the wee hours, the five stumbled into the dorm (three bunks, six beds, adjoining bathroom), drunk and laughing, playfully carrying-on, grab-assing each other, literally. One, taking a leak, would turn around and tell another, “Suck on this!” The other would reply, “Blow me!” Y’know, all the silly little shit young drunks tend to say to each other after a night on the town, half-a-world away from their folks, and almost always while taking a leak, with member in hand. Charming.

Before they arrived, I’d had the room all to myself. When I was told others were coming, I packed up my belongings, placed my bags (one carry-on, one laptop) neatly beside my lower bunk on the floor; and tidied-up the place, cleaning up after myself. Gabby complimented me on how nice the room looked.

The Danes arrived with heavy backpacks and carry-ons, two or three or more each. They were on world tour. (Europeans have time on their hands. They’re between world wars.) In short order, their socks and underwear were scattered on the floor, atop their luggage, dangling from the rails of bunks and doorknobs. I had to step gingerly over them to get to the bathroom, as did they.

After more ass-grabbing and some manly belching, of course, one of the five stopped to sniff the air. “What’s that smell?” The others stopped to take a sniff. “Phew!” And all started laughing and holding their noses. “It’s awful!” “How are we going to sleep?” “Smells like shit in here!” Etc.

I was wide awake by this time. I thought they were joking about their socks and under things, strewn every which way.

They were talking about me, laughing their heads off (but far from pleased). Can’t blame ‘em.

I couldn’t smell a thing, which doesn’t mean anything. My nose has been broken so many times, I can’t smell the roses, can’t smell the dog shit. A blessing in disguise, says my bestest friend. There are many unpleasant scents out there. Or so she says. I wouldn’t know.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, they finally hit their sacks, as they say in the Navy.

Next morning, Salzador motioned for me to join him outside. “The Danes,” he said, “would like you to take a shower. They say you stink.”

Quite embarrasskng, to say the least. You can imagine.

But I take a shower every morning, I told myself. Well, maybe not every morning. Often, I rise and shine around six a.m., an hour or so before Priscilla arrives.

Priscilla. How to describe Priscilla? She spent her early youth in Seattle and speaks extremely good English; works her tail off; never complains; not a mean or lazy bone in her body; tall, slim, and very beautiful, extremely-so inside. She spends whatever free-time she has saving stray cats and finding them homes, and other nice stuff. I once asked what her title was. She answered, while standing tippy-toe on a chair, scrubbing the outside boiler, “Handyman.” I told her I had asked Salzador the same question and he had answered, “assistant manager.” She laughed the hardest I had ever heard her laugh, and she laughs a lot. She’s a happy person. “More like party-boy,” she answered, still chuckling aloud to herself. She calls me Mister D.

So, anyway, Priscilla arrives on the scene around eighty-thirty, nine. First thing, she lights the boiler outside. Before she arrives, a shower here can be extremely cold or extremely refreshing, depending on your viewpoint on such matters. So I, myself, usually take a shower midday or at night. Some times I forget to, if I’m writing.

Then I thought, maybe it’s my socks! I’m a walker. I mean, I’m a walker!! When I first started writing these pieces, I paced and paced–before, in-between, and after–up and down in front of the hostel; up and down, block after block, along the city’s avenidas; up and down the shores De Pacifico–thinking and writing in my head–my left big toe struggling mightily to make its way out of the tip of my pacing/walking shoes (Rockfords), struggling its damnedest to breath free. (I recommend them. Very expensive. But they last. I’ve had them for several years now. My bestest friend bought me the pair for my birthday. It’s the homeless who should be doing Rockford commercials; they need the bucks and would know of what I speak.)

But anyway. My dad traipsed through the jungle trails of Guadalcanal and in need of foot powder for the rest of his life. I’ve walked through the jungles of many a great town and country. I don’t drive. But foot powder I could little afford at the moment.

Third, I thought, perhaps it’s my clothes. I had room in my one carry-on for very few; though, I had been very careful to change every other day or so, saving a shirt and a pair of slacks for an emergency. On at least two occasions, Gabby had said, “You look very handsome today, buddy.”

I told Salzador: You’ve no washer, no dryer. No ironing board. No plugs for the bathroom sinks, so as to hand wash things with Wool Wash, as they call Woolite down here. It was one of the first items I purchased.

That, and I confessed: I’m close to broke. Couldn’t afford to take my things to the dry-cleaners down the block. My friend had deposited my social security check in my U.S. account, awaiting a debit card to arrive in the mail, so she could send it to me when I had an address. When I decided to stay at the hostel, she sent it immediately. Overnight. Cost her thirty bucks! Overnight in Mexico is some sixteen days.

Anyway, Salzador had been out drinking with the Danes. They were drinking buddies now. That morning, after my little chat with their new best-friend, they asked him if they could wash their soiled clothes at his place. He has a washer and dryer at home. Sure, he said, no problem. Me, he told to take a shower. You stink!

So, I took a shower and, while doing so, I washed and rinsed and rewashed my socks and underwear with Wool Wash. I stepped out of the stall and I’m drying myself, when it came to me like a light bulb suddenly beaming above the head of Elmer Fudd in a looney-toons’ cartoon.

A sign above the toilet reads: “For Favor No Tire Papel En La Taza” (“Please No Paper Inside the Toilet”).

The plumbing here was installed by the Incas in the beginning of, well, pick a single-digit year. A.D. Or before. Or so it appears. They don’t buy biodegradable tissue. They’re operating on the cheap, as they say. So, the paper used tends to clog the pipes, causing it to overflow. As a result, there is a plastic container nearby, lined with a cellophane bag, and after you “wipe clean” yourself, you drop the tissue into the container. Plop, plop, sniff, sniff!

Salzador empties it whenever it appears to be getting full or close to. (A peso saved on cellophane bags here, a peso saved on jars of strawberry jam there. It adds up.) It’s not the most enjoyable of duties. But someone’s gotta do it. So, you can imagine the stench after six guests, and others from down the hall in dorms without connecting bathrooms, have deposited countless tissues of toilet paper after wiping their, well, you-know-whats, after a night on the town and/or out dining. Plus, the fact that this is Mexico. Don’t drink the water! Plus, the fact that since I’ve been here, a month and half or so now, the toilet has been plugged but once. Guests are fairly diligent about depositing their tissues, with their signature on ‘em.

It’s quite an experience. In the States, we’re used to wiping ourselves and dropping the tissue into the bowl without thinking. I did this a couple of times in the beginning and had to oh-so daintily dip two fingers down to retrieve it. By the sink is a bottle of liquid kiwi-scented soap to wash your hands after such a fast-track learning experience.

Most don’t know how lucky we are in the States. We tend to take everything for granted. A retired South Korean was correspondent I met here told me that similar bathroom facilities can be found all over the world, in parts of Asia, Central and South America, Africa, the Eastern Bloc, the list is endless.

But anyway, the Danes moved to another dorm. Salzador told me that he didn’t want their wee-hour antics to bother me. Yeah, riiiiight!

There was a sort of happy ending, though. One of the Danes left a pair of newly-washed, freshly-pressed, black corduroy jeans behind. I was 160-some pounds a year or two or three ago. I’m 140 now. I tried ‘em on. Perfect fit. Thank you, very much. I think I’ve earned them. But, as fate would have it, one of the Danes just happened to enter the room to use the bathroom. He looked at me, looked at the jeans. They looked familiar. After a momentary hesitation, he turned and strolled into the bathroom. Without a word said. Much of living is a daily trade-off. Humiliation for new jeans. At this point in my life: fair exchange.

That was a week or so ago. They’re long gone. This morning, I go into the bathroom to take a shower. The water’s been turned off for some reason or other. I get dressed, buckling my belt buckle on my new jeans, and I’m on my way out the door, when Gabby says, “Did you shower?”

Not getting the gist, I say, “The water’s off.”

“We can put it back on.”

“That’s all right,” I say. “I’m on my way out.”

She says, “We don’t want to start ‘that’ all over again.”

“That”–meaning? For Christmas f**kin’ sakes. I’m a guest here!! I shower. I use underarm sports odor defense. 100% MORE odor blockers! I’ve washed my socks and shorts.

Such goes life, ever-so-often.

Lessons of history: How to boost newspaper sales with Sarah Bernhardt

June 20, 2010

Sarah Bernhardt selling newspapers in Salt Lake City, March 28, 1913 - Utah Historical Society image

Sarah Bernhardt, in fur, selling newspapers in Salt Lake City, March 28, 1913 - Utah Historical Society image

Just get the most famous actress in the world to hawk the newspaper on the street.

In this photo Sarah Bernhardt sells newspapers to a group of men in the street in Salt Lake City (probably State Street, but perhaps Main Street; I have not identified the building behind her in the photograph).  The photograph is from the Shipler Company Collection at the Utah Historical Society.

In 1913, Bernhardt was in the early autumn of her career, with several movies but not many plays in front of her.  She had lost a leg to gangrene from a badly-treated broken knee in 1905 (in Rio), but still acted in plays that she produced herself, and in movies.

The photo is dated 1913.  Bernhardt conducted a tour of the U.S. in 1915.  One may wonder if the date was misread from a handwritten note.

I wonder: Who are other people in the photo?

Dan Valentine – Such goes life, part 1

June 20, 2010

By Dan Valentine


The manager of the Ensenada Backpacker Hostel is Gabriella. Everyone calls her Gabby. She lives upstairs. She also teaches school. One of her classes is creative writing.

She once said to me, “You ‘used’ to be a writer.” Used-to-be! “What should I tell my students? What is most important thing about writing?”

“Have something to say.”

“Where to start?”

“Write a million words and toss ‘em! You’re ready to begin.”

Gabby works into the wee hours. Most think teaching is an easy way to make a living. Two or three classes a day, two or three times a week. Summers off. But for every hour spent in class teaching, four or more hours every night, including weekends and holidays, are spent preparing for lectures, grading papers and tests (and creating ‘em), answering e-mails, and so much more. Summers, if not spent teaching summer classes, are spent preparing for the Fall. All for little pay and little or no recognition.

Add to that a full-time job managing a hostel–with me as one of the guests!

Gabby calls me buddy. Good morning, buddy. Good afternoon, buddy. Once, she called me secretary. A trio of guests had arrived, looking to check-in. I told them, “Uno momento. I’ll get the manager.” Afterward, passing each other on the veranda, she said, “Hi, secretary.”

She bid me goodnight one evening, as she walked upstairs to her living space, after locking up and making sure the place was secure, saying, “Goodnight, honey.”

(Funny, she just walked by this very moment, as I’m writing, and said, “Hi, babe!” and went on her way. I like her.)

Buddy. Secretary. Honey. Babe. She’s called me all four. She also calls me: to task. Not once, not twice, but three or four times now. And counting.

As does Salzador, the young gentleman who works the mid-afternoon/night shift. He was born in Spain. Says it all. He’s a nice guy. Young. Handsome. Dark movie-star hair. Visiting women simply adore him. All the male visitors love him, too, because all the women simply adore him.

I think he sees himself as a Latin Lover. If I were him, I would. Beats being a plumber. We all have a an inner view of ourselves. I look upon myself as a writer, not a used-to-be. My bestest friend looks upon herself as a swimmer, not a university professor. Dick Cheney, I’m sure, sees himself as the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being you’ve ever known in your life. (Or was that Raymond Shaw? Google the name.)

Upon checking in, Salzador asked me, “Do you drink?” I said, “I’ve had a sip or two in my life.” He smiled. “We go drinking tonight.” I told him, “Sorry, I drink for my health now. At home, far away from the bars. A beer, one night. A glass of wine, another.” Unless I’m under substantial stress.

When I first arrived, Gabby got on my case for leaving half-filled cups of coffee, haphazardly, all around the hostel grounds–on the floor by the computer, by a chair on the veranda, on a counter top in the kitchen. Guilty as charged! When I’m writing, I drink cup after cup and if I’ve misplaced it while pacing, I pour myself another, without thinking, throughout the day and evening and midnight hours.

I’ve stopped doing that. Here. For now.

Another time, when I first arrived, I was standing outside the hostel, having a smoke (a package of Pall Malls is all of some two dollars and change down her below the border), when Gabby happened to walk out. She saw strewn butts on the ground below and around my feet and said, very politely, “Please pick up your cigarette butts!”

My immediate first thought was: They’re not mine. Look-see. I smoke Pall Malls. White filters. The butts on the ground have light-brown filters. (I lived the last five years with a non-smoker and soon learned to douse my butts and place them in the garbage in the garage.) My second thought was: What the hell! I gathered up the butts and disposed of them.

A few minutes later, I passed her in the hall. She said, “Hi, buddy!” Lesson learned: Don’t take everything personally. Carlos, the owner, is out of town, in Switzerland. Managing a hostel is a huge, demanding responsibility.

But, then, again …

Last night, she waved for me to follow her into the kitchen. She opened the fridge door and pointed to the spilled contents on the bottom shelf from an open Pepsi on the top shelf. “We would appreciate very much if you would wipe clean when you spill.” That’s a fair request. But I said, and it was the truth, “It’s not my Pepsi.” I drink Coke and, when I drink a Coke, I tend to finish it. I’m not in the habit of placing a half-filled can in the fridge, so as to take a later sip of flat soda.

Still, it’s a hostel. It’s inexpensive. You get to meet the many, assorted peoples of the world. She’s a nice person. So, I wiped up the spilled soda. What the hell!

Just the other morning, she said, “Were you the last to use the coffee pot?” In my hand was a coffee cup, but it was filled with Mango juice, with a shot of vodka in it. I’m feeling stressed. “Please,” she said, not waiting for a reply, “turn off the ‘on’ button.” And she demonstrated how. Tip of a finger. Click! She picked up the empty pot and showed me its scorched bottom. It had third-degree burns. But it’s not like the pot is brand-new. It is mucho in years. I think it first belonged to Pancho Villa. And it wasn’t the first time someone had left it percolating, empty, in the morning. And I may have been guilty of it in the past, but not this morning.

Where am I going with this? I’m a guest here, for Christmas sakes!

I think it’s because I’m not out cruising the strip bars or taking in the sites. So there must be something wrong with me. Keep an eye on him! And he’s old. What’s with that?!

One mid-afternoon, I’m in the kitchen, spreading strawberry jam on a slice of bread, when Salzador sees my misdeed and says, “That is for breakfast only!”

“I didn’t have breakfast!” I continued to spread the jam.

It could be because, most of the time, I’m the only one in the hostel. So I must be the guilty party for whatever there is to be guilty of. The brochure advertises jam and bread for breakfast. So, your honor, I plead not guilty. Sort of. I was hungry. I hadn’t had breakfast, hadn’t had lunch.

There’s nobody happier on the face of the earth or any other planet, for that matter, than Salzador when there are many, many guests in the hostel, the majority of ‘em women. He loves to escort the ladies at night. You can see it on his face. He beams! There is nobody sadder on the face of the earth or any other planet in the heavens than Salzador when the hostel has only one guest. And it’s me! You can see it on his face. He is down in the dumps.

The only thing worst for him is having to wash the toilets. “I do not know how to wash toilets.” I have heard him say this many times, mumbling aloud to himself. I can feel for him. I had to scrub toilets and urinals my first year or so in the Navy. And Salzador is not too keen about mopping, either, another evening chore. I can sympathize. I had to sweep, swab, and buff corridors in the Navy, too, for a year or so. Mission accomplished, I would ask the boatswain’s mate, standing supervising (which consisted of taking a sip or two of coffee): “What now?” The boatswain’s mate would reply, “Sweep, swab, and buff it again!”

One night, when I first arrived in Ensenada, Salzador had just mopped the floor to my room. I needed something. Can’t remember what. But I needed it right then and there. He said, “Twenty minutes.”

So, I waited. One minute. Two minutes. Then: “I’m not waiting twenty goddamn minutes.” And I proceeded to tip-toe over his freshly mopped floor to get what I needed. When I returned, he said, “O-h-h-h, look what you have done?”–pointing to my toe-prints.

“Gimme the mop!” I said.

He refused.

“Gimme the mop!!” I repeated.

He refused.


I grabbed it from him, walked to my room, and working backwards mopped the floor. I then handed the mop back, but he refused to take it. He was sulking, as only a Latin Lover can. I’m sure it works with a certain type of woman, with a hankering for Latin lovers. I let the handle drop to the floor and went on my way.

Later that night I apologized. He accepted my apology. A little later, he said, “Dani’el”–he calls me Dani’el–”do you what a burrito? I bought three.” And he gave me one.

Looking back, I don’t know what got into me. Another ugly-American story to be told and repeated and embellished on. And, for the life of me, I can’t remember what I so desperately needed that I couldn’t wait 20 minutes. No doubt, a cigarette or my lighter or both. Shame on you, Dani’el.

Such goes life, ever-so-often.

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