Icons Tell A Story

If there’s anything I like more than great writing, it’s great icons. These are from a website called the InfrastructureReportCard.org. (external link). It was produced by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It’s a well done site and I encourage you to visit.

The graphic artist who made these terrific images is not credited. That’s a shame. It takes real talent to make a United States’ map out of icons. Here’s something in black and white that I converted from a transparent .png file.

And an original from their site in color. Click on the image or click here for a full size image (internal link)


Other icons are similarly imaginative. See below and click for the full size graphic. Can you guess what each icon represents?

Upper row (From left to right)

Aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees

Lower row (From left to right)

Ports, public parks, rail, roads, schools, solid waste, transit, wastewater

Click here for a larger image (internal link)

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The Lowest Form of Poetry

A limerick is a strictly structured device used to deliver the most appealing nonsense and the most amazing precision. It has been called, without hostility, the lowest form of poetry. Edward Lear, a master of the limerick, had great influence on Lewis Carroll.

Consider what might be the most famous limerick:

The Pelican

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill can hold more than his beli-can.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for the week;
But I’m damned if I see how the heli-can.

Variously attributed to Ogden Nash or Dixon Lanier Merritt

Form is important. Just like Haiku. Wikipedia says,

“The standard form of a limerick is a stanza of five lines, with the first, second and fifth rhyming with one another and having three feet of three syllables each; and the shorter third and fourth lines also rhyming with each other, but having only two feet of three syllables.”

I don’t know what they mean by “feet.”

Remarking on its form is this limerick:

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

Leonard Feinberg

Inspired by a friend traveling to Singapore, I wrote this ditty. It’s crude, non-conforming, and close:

I once went to old Singapore
Its temples and parks I adore
But when I dropped my gum
I was caned till numb
Now I won’t chew gum anymore.

Better examples from real poets are below:

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

William Cosmo Monkhouse

My firm belief is that Pizarro
Received education at Harrow –
This alone would suffice,
To account for his vice,
And his views superstitiously narrow.

Aldous Huxley

There was a Young Person of Smyrna
Whose grandmother threatened to burn her.
But she seized on the cat,
and said ‘Granny, burn that!
You incongruous old woman of Smyrna!’

Edward Lear

There once was a young lady named Bright
Whose speed was much faster than light
She set out one day
In a relative way
And returned on the previous night.


There was a small boy of Quebec
Who was buried in snow to his neck
When they said, “Are you friz?”
He replied, “Yes, I is —
But we don’t call this cold in Quebec.”

From “There was a small boy of Quebec” by Rudyard Kipling)

There once was a horse on the road
Who was anxious to tread on a toad
Till a motor car which
Knocked him into a ditch
Made him feel for himself—and the toad.


There once was a farmer from Leeds,
Who swallowed a packet of seeds.
It soon came to pass,
He was covered with grass,
But has all the tomatoes he needs


Limericks can also be precise, in the hands of gifted mathematicians or writers:

A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.

Leigh Mercer

A mathematician confided
That a Möbius strip is one-sided.
You’ll get quite a laugh
If you cut it in half.
For it stays in one piece when divided.

Cyril Kornbluth

Image from here: http://slideplayer.com/slide/8679307/

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I Hurled My Youth Into A Grave

Robert W. Service was a little like Kipling (internal link). They were contemporaries, although continents apart. Both adventurers, they lived the life they wrote about.

Although Jack London is most associated with the Far North and the Yukon Gold Rush, he wrote short stories and novels. Robert Service, on the other hand, deserves fame for the poetry he wrote about the region. He could turn quite a phrase, and this poem is full of them.

My old prospecting partner went this summer to Alaska, to join a group dredging a cold, clear river for gold. I haven’t heard from Dan since he went in-country. I hope he found some.

The Spell of the Yukon by Robert W. Service

I wanted the gold, and I sought it,
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy — I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it —
Came out with a fortune last fall, —
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn’t all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
For no land on earth — and I’m one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
And then you are worse than the worst.
It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it’s been since the beginning;
It seems it will be to the end.

I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow
In crimson and gold, and grow dim,
Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming,
With the peace o’ the world piled on top.

The summer — no sweeter was ever;
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness —
O God! how I’m stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
The silence that bludgeons you dumb.
The snows that are older than history,
The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
I’ve bade ’em good-by — but I can’t.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back — and I will.

They’re making my money diminish;
I’m sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish
I’ll pike to the Yukon again.
I’ll fight — and you bet it’s no sham-fight;
It’s hell! — but I’ve been there before;
And it’s better than this by a damsite —
So me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

Image from here: http://geology.com/canada/yukon-territory.shtml

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Hunter S. Thompson and 9/11

Originally written for ESPN (external link). Penned when few facts were known, many of his predictions came eerily true. A distinctive writing style all his own . . .

Fear & Loathing in America
By Hunter S. Thompson
Page 2 columnist

It was just after dawn in Woody Creek, Colo., when the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City on Tuesday morning, and as usual I was writing about sports. But not for long. Football suddenly seemed irrelevant, compared to the scenes of destruction and utter devastation coming out of New York on TV.

Even ESPN was broadcasting war news. It was the worst disaster in the history of the United States, including Pearl Harbor, the San Francisco earthquake and probably the Battle of Antietam in 1862, when 23,000 were slaughtered in one day.

The Battle of the World Trade Center lasted about 99 minutes and cost 20,000 lives in two hours (according to unofficial estimates as of midnight Tuesday). The final numbers, including those from the supposedly impregnable Pentagon, across the Potomac River from Washington, likely will be higher. Anything that kills 300 trained firefighters in two hours is a world-class disaster.

And it was not even Bombs that caused this massive damage. No nuclear missiles were launched from any foreign soil, no enemy bombers flew over New York and Washington to rain death on innocent Americans. No. It was four commercial jetliners.

They were the first flights of the day from American and United Airlines, piloted by skilled and loyal U.S. citizens, and there was nothing suspicious about them when they took off from Newark, N.J., and Dulles in D.C. and Logan in Boston on routine cross-country flights to the West Coast with fully-loaded fuel tanks — which would soon explode on impact and utterly destroy the world-famous Twin Towers of downtown Manhattan’s World Trade Center. Boom! Boom! Just like that.

The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.

It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy. Osama bin Laden may be a primitive “figurehead” — or even dead, for all we know — but whoever put those All-American jet planes loaded with All-American fuel into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did it with chilling precision and accuracy. The second one was a dead-on bullseye. Straight into the middle of the skyscraper.

Nothing — even George Bush’s $350 billion “Star Wars” missile defense system — could have prevented Tuesday’s attack, and it cost next to nothing to pull off. Fewer than 20 unarmed Suicide soldiers from some apparently primitive country somewhere on the other side of the world took out the World Trade Center and half the Pentagon with three quick and costless strikes on one day. The efficiency of it was terrifying.

We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for WAR seem to know who did it or where to look for them.
This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed — for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won’t hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.

Good luck. He is in for a profoundly difficult job — armed as he is with no credible Military Intelligence, no witnesses and only the ghost of Bin Laden to blame for the tragedy.

OK. It is 24 hours later now, and we are not getting much information about the Five Ws of this thing. The numbers out of the Pentagon are baffling, as if Military Censorship has already been imposed on the media. It is ominous. The only news on TV comes from weeping victims and ignorant speculators.

The lid is on. Loose Lips Sink Ships. Don’t say anything that might give aid to The Enemy.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s books include Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, The Proud Highway, Better Than Sex and The Rum Diary. His new book, Fear and Loathing in America, has just been released. A regular contributor to various national and international publications, Thompson now lives in a fortified compound near Aspen, Colo. His column, “Hey, Rube,” appears each Monday on Page 2.

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Four Year Review

It’s been four years this month since I decided to resurrect my writing career. How am I doing?

I am keeping busy but earning only half the income I would like to make. My most lucrative work in 2005 and 2006 were with magazine articles; they are now a small income stream. The continuing work I get from my Vancouver employer constitutes the bulk of my earnings, along with some money from Catalogs.com. My brief stint doing newspaper reporting also added a little. If I didn’t have savings I would have to go back to a regular job, probably working retail in customer service at a garden department.

Finding internet work is harder than finding regular employment. In a big city like Las Vegas, employment is always possible with grocery stores and big box stores. But, this time, I didn’t want to work in retail again.

I wanted to find work I could do from anywhere I had a net connection. Work I could do from my house or remotely, wherever I travel.  I’ve managed to do that but, again, at half the rate I’d like to make. I would certainly make two to three times more income if I went back to retail. And then do writing on the side.

Worldwide competition has driven down the wage floor for writing. And fewer advertisers for print magazines means fewer magazines and lower wages from titles that still exist. Magazine writing is what I enjoy best so I keep sending out queries. Book proposals have been very disappointing. Publishers think my ideas are good but non-commercial.

As a bird has to sing, I have to write. If you have to write, I encourage you to keep at it but realize what kind of market we are in today. If you have to work a day job, so be it. Keep your craft and your art alive, no matter what you have to do. Keep going.

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The Waste Land Read By Obi-Wan Kenobi

Okay. Sir Alec Guinness. If you’ve struggled with this poem, as I think we all have, an excellent way to approach it is by listening to a good reading. Guinness does a wonderful job. He brings out nuances not easily recognized when you are pushing through the poem by yourself.

There is a temptation to go too fast with this poem, to get it over with, when, instead, it should be savored slowly. Guinness reads at a pace that allows this. Even if it takes a half hour. (You can always come back to it.) If you have the text with you, read along. So much the better.

The numerous obscure references remain but there are books and YouTube videos to help you with that, too. But the lectures and analysis can wait. First, the reading.

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Musings on The Press

“Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century, and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

In my short stint as a newspaper reporter I was happy to write on the opening of a new restaurant, about the California Highway Patrol’s training academy, the Port of West Sacramento, and other pleasant stories. Each fit with the unspoken, unwritten edict of The West Sacramento News-Ledger: bring locals stories to life without negativity. Not that all stories were positive, of course, I skirted controversy every now and then. But constructive writing was always the first priority.

I have a unhealthy fascination with Yahoo News and SF Gate, the latter being the home of the printed San Francisco Chronicle. They are two terrible beacons of unrestrained fascination with the glittering and the trivial. Top Ten and Top 25 slideshows pass for journalism. Their home pages are wildly unfocused, one story promises Katie Couric’s take on “local chefs and bartenders bringing major flavor to Phoenix,” while another, not branded as an editorial, says that “conservative Texans love to fight the Feds until they need them.” And the occasional good story, like the one they just ran on Hurricane Harvey.

Yahoo News is mostly a collection of articles picked from other news organizations. Like Time, the Huffington Post, and even Architectural Digest. It’s a combination of celebrity gossip stories and hard news, but rarely any stories from a conservative point of view. Yahoo stands like a bonfire, sticks of unmeritorious, irrelevant writing set ablaze in a pile to stare at.

SFGate is little different, they specializing in click-bait slide shows passing as journalism. “New on Streaming Services” (image 1 of 55). “Thirty Three Game of Throne Actors Who Look Extremely Different in Real Life.” “Newlyweds live in RV to pay off $50,000 of debt in one year (image 1 of 11). The Chronicle often covers Twitter celebrity comments as actual news. “Bella Hadid shuts down fat shamers in latest tweet.” I have never tweeted. The USENET flame wars of the mid-to late 90s convinced me that no one changes their mind. The threads back then seemed a little more civil, although it was always a question of who would call the other person a Nazi first, thus ending all possible merit to the conversation.

What’s unseen in all this bad writing is that clicks count. Editors know exactly how many clicks each story gets and writers are presumably rewarded. Advertising revenue must be generated and future writing assignments based on the performance of previous articles. That’s a very depressing thought, that ad views now directly control content. Publishers used to separate news departments from any entertainment division they might have but no longer. We now have infotainment. It may be that constructive, positive reporting no longer pays. If so, we are lost.








Image from here: https://pagely.com/blog/2011/05/what-makes-good-writer/

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