Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Cheetah Conspiracy


A Florida animal sanctuary has reported that the chimp who played Cheetah in the 1930s era Tarzan movies has died, but are they really trying to make a monkey out of us? Some experts are disputing the animal sanctuary's claim since they have no documentation that the chimp really was "the" Cheetah. Plus, if it was the same chimp, that would make it more than 80-years old when it died. Chimps rarely live more than 50 or 60 years.

The director of the animal sanctuary claims Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller gave Cheetah to the sanctuary around 1960 but all of the records of the donation were destroyed in a 1995 fire.

How convenient.

 Adding fuel to the fraudulent flames are some Hollywood accounts that suggest a chimpanzee by the name of Mr. Jiggs played Cheetah but died in 1938.

 So who was this mystery chimp who pretended to be Cheetah all of these years? And why would Tarzan call his chimp Cheetah anyway when his name for his son was boy? Why wouldn't he have followed the same naming conventions and call his chimp, "chimp?" And if Tarzan had kept a pet Cheetah, would he have named it "chimp?" And technically, Tarzan was supposedly raised by apes, not chimps, so shouldn't he have hung out with a young gorilla? Or would that have caused a jungle scandal? Which begs the question as to what was the true relationship between Tarzan and Cheetah? Did it change drastically when Jane came on the scene?

All of these questions will remain unanswered. Because whether or not the Florida chimp was the real Cheetah, the chimp who played him has definitely gone to that big tree house in the sky.

And chimps can't talk even if it wasn't dead.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas spirits?

We just got back from a weekend in Victoria, B.C., the capitol of British Columbia, Canada. It's located on Vancouver Island and is about 2 1/2 hours from Seattle via ferry (in our case the Victoria Clipper). We went to celebrate my wife's birthday and enjoy the decorations the city sports for the holidays.  We stayed at the Chateau Victoria Hotel.



The first day there, we went to the second floor to use the newly remodeled indoor pool. While walking through the hallway to the pool, we all distinctly heard the squawk of a parrot. There were some offices on the floor so I assumed the hotel kept a pet parrot and thought nothing about it.

A few days later, we were in the lobby and I noticed a framed article on the walk about a Victorian mansion that had been torn down to make way for the Chateau Victoria Hotel. The mansion had been the home of an eccentric recluse named Victoria Jane Wilson. She grew up in the mansion and apparently rarely left it. Her only companions were a variety of birds including a parrot named Louis. When Victoria died, she left her estate to Louis with instructions that he was to live in the mansion until he died. The mansion became known as the Parrot House.


Parrots, however, live a long time. Some life more than a hundred years. And Louis was one of them. But greedy developers eventually figured out a loophole to get Louis out of the house and he died in the late 70s at the home of the mansion's former gardener. The mansion was torn down and the Chateau Victoria was built. And the rooftop restaurant was named the Parrot House at first, but was recently renamed View 18.

The story made me think about the parrot we'd heard. So when we were in the hotel shuttle headed back to the Clipper terminal for our return trip home, I asked the driver if there was a parrot kept at the hotel. He shook his head and said no, but he suggested it might be a ghost and brought up the story of Louis. 


 When I returned home, I did a Google search about the Parrot House and found a few articles recapping what I already known, but no stories of a ghost parrots. Though I did run across a few accounts of employees at the hotel thinking they encountered Victoria Jane Wilson. 

 So who knows what we heard on the second floor of the Chateau Victoria Hotel. But the next time I stay there, I'm bringing crackers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In god particle's we trust


A headline caught my eye the other day online: ‘God particle’: Scientists close in on evidence of Higgs Boson existence. Apparently, the Higgs boson particle, named after U.K. physicist Peter Higgs, was created at the beginning of the universe and in theory allows other particles to have mass (substance, not a religious ceremony...though you would think a god particle would be open to the whole mass concept).

 According to the article in the Washington Post, Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research have narrowed where the particle can be found and hope to eventually prove that it exists so it will no longer be the equivalent of the Tooth Fairy to physicists. Apparently the hints found in their research could lead to proof of the god particle's existence by next October (which could very well coincide with another doomsday prediction of religious nut job Harold Camping).

Apparently,  finding the Higgs Boson would be the "discovery of the century" in particle physics, a "never-before-seen subatomic particle long thought to be a fundamental building block of the universe." I wonder if the first scientist to actually discover the particle will be surrounded with news cameras and be asked what he or she will do next. I kind of hope they'll say, "I'm going to Disneyland!"

I doubt this will happen, because I don't get the sense physicists have much in the way of senses of humor. Regardless, I'm not certain what discovering the god particle will mean other than confirming the basic principles of standard particle theory (I know I've been losing sleep over this). A more interesting question is what it would mean if scientists determine that the particle doesn't exist after building a $10 billion dollar lab to find it. I imagine their response at that point will be, "that sucks." That would be my response.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Why do Christmas lights burn out when they aren't being used and other mysteries of the holiday season


I am not a handy man. I'll get that off my less than hairy chest right up front. I would just as soon pay someone else to be handy for me, such as hang Christmas lights on my gutters. But I am not an overly wealthy man, either. So I must hang Christmas lights myself.

And I am not trying to suggest that hanging Christmas lights on your gutters is a complicated task, either. It just requires a great deal of logistical planning and manipulation of ladders and hooks and lights that I'd just as soon not engage in. I am not even sure how or why stringing lights on the outside of your house became closely associated with the birth of the baby Jesus. It's not as though the Bible said something like "Behold they wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manager beneath some pretty bitching LED icicle lights."

I'm pretty certain the Bible never uses the phrase "pretty bitching" anywhere. At least not in the King James version. Though I'm not a Bible reading man either.

I hang lights on the outside of my house not because of any religious significance or symbolism, but because my neighbors do and I have kids. Peer pressure and parenthood are two major forces in life to reckon with.

Regardless, I spent the better part of two and a half hours on Sunday on my roof stringing white, LED icicle lights along my gutters. This was my second year decorating with lights. Before that we lived in a two-story house with a roof so high off the ground there was no way I could even reach the gutters with my ladder let alone string lights. Last year I dutifully moved a step ladder along the gutter pushing on small plastic clips designed for stringing Christmas lights. It was a finger  (and mind) numbing experience. When I took the lights down last year, I left the hooks up thinking it would save me tons of time this year.

Not.

I decided to just climb up on my roof this year to save the hassle of moving the ladder six or seven times along the gutter to place the lights. So I hoisted up about five sets of lights onto the roof, plugged the first set into an outdoor outlet and began pushing the light wires onto the plastic hooks. But I discovered that a year of being out in the elements had rendered the small plastic hooks extremely brittle. So as I pushed the wire into them, 90 percent of the hooks snapped off.

So, I went back down the ladder and retrieved a box of new hooks I'd purchased but hadn't used the year before. As I'm climbing back up on the roof, I notice that the gutters are pretty full of leaves. I decided that as long as I was up there I might as well clean the gutters. So back down the ladder for gloves and a trowel. I went back on the roof and slid along the edge of my roof scooping out soggy piles of leaves and debris.

Even in real life I digress a great deal and branch off on tangents from my original tasks just as I digress here in my blog on a multitude of topics. But I digress.

With gutters clean, I got back to the lights. The first set went up fairly smoothly. Then I plugged the second set into the first one. One section of the set didn't light up.

Okay, these are the same lights that were working fine when I packed them up a year ago. They have been sitting untouched in a plastic bin in a closet in our basement until I carried them upstairs after Thanksgiving. How is it possible for any of them to burn out when they weren't being used? And what ever happened to the promise most lights have about the others staying lit when one burned out? I had a two-foot section that wasn't lighting up.

So I grab all of the remaining lights sets and climb down the ladder and sit in the hallway with a bag of spare bulbs determined to find the burned out bulb and then to test the other light sets just in case before going back on the roof. I start swapping out light bulbs one at a time (missing the old screw in type that have been replaced by these pop in mini-bulbs). When I get to the last bulb, I discover the reason it is not working. It has snapped off. I replace the bulb and all of the lights light up.

I plug in the next string and sure enough, another two-foot section doesn't work. I check all to be sure there isn't just another broken one and I find a single unattached wire dangling from the section of lights that aren't working. But not being the handy man type, I have no idea where the loose wire should be attached, so I chuck that string of lights into the garbage.

I plug in the last string of lights and once again a two-foot section of lights doesn't come on. I inspect each one and discover one that looks black around the base. I swap it with a good bulb and all of the lights come on. Maybe I am handy after all. I declare myself a genius to my three-year old son who is playing with a miniature nutcracker and a sheet of bubble wrap. He ignores me.

Before I go back to the roof, I ask my wife if she'd like me to clean the skylights while I'm up there. She hands me a squeegee and a bottle of Windex and tells me not to break my neck. I climb back up the ladder with the light sets, the squeegee and the Windex.

I clean our three skylights without tripping and falling through them. While walking from skylight to skylight, I discover what appears to be a large beef rib bone on the roof. I stare at it like one of the monkeys in the opening scenes of 2001 A Space Odyssey and then toss it into my front yard.

Finally I return to stringing lights and waving at my neighbors while silently cursing them for forcing me to dangle on my roof just so mine won't be the only non-festive house on the block. I place the last string of lights along the roof line and discover I am about two-feet short of having enough lights to reach the other side of the house. But since I am not a handy man, this is good enough for me, because something tells me if I go buy more lights I will find myself trapped in a tear in the time space continuum hanging lights forever.

I climb down the ladder, put away all my stuff and admire the handwork of a non-handy man. Later that evening, after a matinee of Happy Feet 2 and dinner at a local dive, my family huddles in front of our dark house while I fumble with the extension cord to light up the house. I finally get it into the socket and my LED icicles blaze brightly enough to land a 747.

My five year old daughter stares at the lights for about 5 seconds and then looks up in the sky and says, "Look papa, the moon!"

It was one of my proudest moments.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Timbuktu stops here

It figures that I write about time and then I run out of it. This is particularly ironic considering the infinite nature of time and space. But it doesn't seem to be so infinite when you are trying to cook a turkey and explain to a five year old what happened to its head and feathers. It's kind of one of those Soylent Green moments.

But I digress.

When I was a kid, the time around the holidays ticked away at a painfully slow pace, especially during that period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now I blink and a week passes. I suppose it is because all I had to do as a kid was wait and all I seem to do as an adult is try to keep up.

Before we had kids, I used to plan trips around the holidays to avoid some of the madness. I got engaged to my wife on Christmas morning on a cruise ship docked near St. Thomas. A video of a fireplace crackled on the stateroom television. Now that was a Christmas.

Christmas now means perching myself on a ladder trying to stretch icicle lights along the gutter and praying they all light when I plug them in. I have resisted buying one of those inflatable Santa's for the front lawn. There is only so much stuff you compromise on before you have to admit you've become white trash. Besides, I find the sight of the inflatable things depressing when you see them deflated like road kill during the day.

But I digress yet again.

I'm not sure why you race through time faster as you age, glancing frantically over your shoulder to see what you missed. It's probably because you've crested a hill in the spacetime continuum and are headed down the slope with worn brake pads.

I'm also not sure what would happen if you just stopped. Or maybe I do know what would happen if you just stop to avoid the inevitable destination of Timbuktu. But perhaps it won't be Timbuktu at the bottom of the hill. Most likely it's just another hill.

Life is funny like that.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Time traveler


There was no football game on when I was working out the other day so I was forced to watch PBS. Fortunately it was one of their rare non-fund raiser days and they had a program on that wasn't about cheese making or men sitting around in a circle beating drums trying to find their inner children. It was Nova -- The Fabric of the Cosmos: The Illusion of Time.

 I have to admit, I am a sucker for theories on time. So as I climbed/jogged to nowhere on the elliptical machine, I was engrossed in the program that attempted to explain in semi-layperson's language what time was (not what time it is, because does anyone really know what time it is).

The most fascinating thing about the program was that it debunked our standard perception of what time is. We always describe time as passing or as Steve Miller sang, "slipping, slipping, slipping into the future." But according to Einstein, time is more like space. It flows in all directions at once.

The other thing the program pointed out was that time and space co-exist in something known as the spacetime continuum. So where we are in space affects where we are in time. The program described the concept of "now" as being a single slice of the spacetime continuum. But no one's slice of spacetime is the same, so everyone's experience of now is different. Apparently an alien living in another galaxy experiences a "now" that is 200 years ago in my time.

And the speed at which we move also impacts time. When something isn't in motion (i.e. slumped in front of the television) time clicks away at a normal speed. Scientists confirmed this by taking two Atomic clocks synced to the exact same time, placing one on a jetliner and leaving the other one on the ground. The lucky clock was flown around the world on the jet. When it returned it was no longer synced to the clock that had stayed still. It was a few microseconds behind.

Physicists also believe that, in theory, going backward and forward in time is possible. To travel to the future, all you have to do is hop in a space ship and fly near a black hole and hang out for a few minutes. When you return to earth, 50 years will have passed and you will have only aged 5 minutes.

Travelling to the past is a bit more complicated. First you need to find a worm hole (an hole in a slice of the spacetime continuum that connects to another slice in the spacetime continuum). Then you jump into the hole kind of like Alice chasing the white rabbit and bam, you are in a slice of the past. Unfortunately you are at the mercy of the worm hole and don't have much control on where or when in the past you end up. My luck, I'd wind up back in the 70s again.

Physicists are skeptical about whether or not you could really travel to the past. They base this on the lack of visitors from the future milling about taking photos of your backyard and the dilemma of people travelling into the past and meeting themselves and advising against eating that marked down Sushi from the supermarket. I kind of pooh pooh these things as proof that time travelers don't exist. For one, if you are travelling around in time I don't think you'd broadcast it. I'm sure there are plenty of people in mental institutions that made this mistake. As for creating a paradox by meeting yourself and altering time, I think the many worlds theory of quantum physics could counter that one.

The Nova program indicated that scientists grapple with the question of how time flows when it is actually just one massive component of the spacetime continuum that makes up our universe. My guess would be that time doesn't flow, we do. Just living our lives makes us time travelers. We are passing through the slices of time, not riding in a river of it.

I would also conjecture that what people think are ghosts or spirits could simply be layers of the same slice of time overlapping giving us snippets of other times and time travelers. This wasn't discussed on the PBS program. It was just something I thought of in my own unscientific way without a mathematical formula to back it up.

Regardless, I think it is time to go.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Here in my car

I have never been one to be obsessed by cars. They have always been a basic source of transportation for me and that is all. I work in public transportation for heck's sake. But on a recent trip to Boise to visit my aged mother I encountered my perfect car.

I always rent a car when I go to Boise because it is not a public transportation friendly environment for visitors. But it is car friendly and having grown up there, it is easy for me to navigate. And Boise's airport is one of the simplest places to fly in and out of. I think it is because people rarely escape Boise if they grow up there so they don't travel much.

So basically when you step off the plane in Boise you claim your bags right next to the car rental counters and then step out the door and there are the car rental lots. I checked in at Hertz expecting to get my compact Nissan. The clerk did try to get me to upgrade for $10 more a day to an SUV, but I didn't have any plans to go 4-wheeling, so I declined. She had me sign the usual waivers and then handed me a key fob and rental packet and I was off.

It wasn't until I walked up to the assigned stall that I realized I had been given a full-sized car. It was a Dodge Charger. I didn't know much about a Dodge Charger other than they are considered muscle cars. This one was had a nice metallic gray finish and had the words "Hemi" emblazoned on it. I have no idea what a Hemi is, but I know it is man talk for "big engine."

I looked at the key fob I'd been given and sure enough it confirmed I had been given a Dodge Charger for the price of an economy car. I looked at the trunk and there was no key hole. Then I looked at the key fob and punched a button that showed a trunk opening and sure enough the trunk popped obediently open. I threw in my luggage and then went to the door and stepped into a leather interior that screamed "you are entering Nirvana."

I looked to put the key into the ignition and was startled to discover there was no key and no ignition. Then I saw the video screen flash, "Step on brake and push start button." I did so and another touch video screen lit up with various icons (map, radio, temperature, etc.). I felt around under the seat and found buttons that raised, lowered and moved the seat forward and back.

I punched on the radio and looked at the channel selection on the video screen. I selected Satellite and then scanned through various genre's of music. Then I put the car in reverse and watched a view of the space behind the car appear on the video screen. I backed up and listened to the Hemi hum.

Various sensors lit up on the side mirrors if a car approached in my blindside. And a digital read out of my speed appeared above the leather steering wheel. I punched in navigation and a map appeared showing where I was. I could also type in an address and the GPS would map a route for me.

I spent my three days in Boise never wanting to leave my Dodge Charger. The rental car attendant had to pry the key fob out of my hand and offer me a tissue to dab at my eyes when I dropped it off.

I never knew such cars existed.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Scary faces


In a Narcissistic moment of weakness back in 2006, I carved an image of my own face onto a pumpkin. Can you guess which one it was? In an ironic twist, squirrels ended up gnawing my pumpkin face off the next day.


I took it as a sign.

This year I carved four pumpkins: A skull, a pirate ship with a skull and cross bones, a zombie and one of My Little Ponies (I think it was Pinkie Pie or it could have been Rainbow Dash). Parenthood makes you do strange things.


It is the same reason I'll be dressing up like a pirate tonight. My three-year old son dictated that the entire family would dress as pirates to go trick or treating. He issued this declaration several weeks ago and since has stated that he wants to go dressed as a cow, a witch, a robot, a spaceman and a spider. But we had already invested in pirate costumes so we are forcing him to remain a pirate so we will be one big happy pirate family. Though I seriously doubt Blackbird went out pillaging and pirating with his wife and toddlers in tow.

 There is a plus side to all of this. I can dress as a pirate (which I secretly kind of enjoy) without being thought of as an idiot because people will look at my two young pirates and smile knowingly thinking I am only dressed as a pirate for my children and not because I am addled. I can also spout things like, "Where do pirates eat their lunch...ARRRRRRRRRRRRR-by's...RRRRRRRR" with impunity.

 We will all be sporting eye patches and my son and I will be wearing plastic hook hands. These are pirate trademarks. Because apparently pirates were getting eyes poked out and limbs whacked off on a regular basis. My wife also bought me a pirate shirt that I actually think looks more like something the artist formerly known as Prince would wear (though I think he is now calling himself Prince again because no one could pronounce the symbol he changed his name to).

 I won't be brandishing a cutlass because apparently this isn't proper behavior modelling for children and the local police frown on cutlass brandishing. There are more rules for being a pirate than I would have imagined.

 I'll keep you posted on how the pillaging goes. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Just when you thought it was safe...

Okay, I accepted going on Facebook was inevitable and I dabble with Twitter even though I think it is useless. I use LinkedIn for business contacts and I think I have a Plaxo account for some reason. I tried Foursquare but freaked that I was checking in all the time and people could track me. And I confessed to being on GetGlue because after all they give you STICKERS! I also have YouTube, Flickr, Twitpic, and Picasa accounts. Oh yeah, and I have a Google+ account that links everything.

So you would think I have no time left for any more social media sites. Not true! Just when you thought it was safe to go on the Web without having to join some new site, they bring you Tumblr.com. Tumblr is supposedly a combination of all of the other sites you don're really have time to keep up with. It allows you to blog, chat, post videos, post photos, post quotes, post annoying memes or just twitisms. Who in their right mind would join something that basically mimics every other social media site out there?

 I would, of course, because even after seven years of blogging unnoticed, I still live in a fantasy world that the reason why my blog hasn't busted into big time (i.e. Google Blogs of Note) is because I haven't done enough to promote it. So if I post on the Dizgraceland fan page on Facebook, Tweet on my Dizgraceland Twitter page, post a photo of a each post on Dizgraceland at Twitpic, mention I'm thinking about Dizgraceland on GetGlue, and now regurgitate everything on Dizgraceland at Tumbler, eventually I will go viral and people will subscribe for .99 a month to my blog on Kindle (which makes no sense since they can read if for free on the Web) and I will get massively rich and quit my day job.

I will also get gigs on Conan, Letterman and Leno. Maybe I will have my own t-shirts and Judgement Day calendars. Hell, I'll have a whole merchandising line. Dizgraceland will become a household word kind of like Justin Bieber (which is actually two words).

My whole "going viral" scheme is fed by the fact that you can connect all of your social media sites. This means when I post on my Dizgraceland Facebook page, it generates a Tweet on Twitter which is captured by GetGlue as well. Ironic it also appears again on my Dizgraceland blog. I have basically created one single social media organism that essentially feeds upon itself. This is exacerbated by the fact that I essentially have the same followers/friends/tweeters/gluersniffers and Tumbler's on all of my social media sites. And most of them don't really care whether there is a new post about Judgement Day on Dizgraceland or that I am also listening to Jake Shimabukuro's song Dragon on Jango while watching the latest episode of Boardwalk Empire (which was pretty darned good I might say though a bit graphic in the violence department).

But I digress (a line that will have to be on one of my t-shirts that you'll be able to buy via my blog store...these will be quality shirts mind you...not those three for $5 crap ones you buy on the beach in Cabo that shrink to the size of a dog sweater after one washing).

I haven't really decided who I want to play me in the Dizgraceland television series. At first I was thinking maybe Pierce Brosnan or Richard Gere, but let's face it, Father Time is winning the foot race with both of them. Plus I think someone like Jesse Eisenberg would be more appealing to the younger demographic the show would appeal to. But I'm also thinking that he is a bit too bohemian nerdy. So I'm going to insist that Jake Gyllenhaal play me. If he tries to screw us in contract negotiations then the back up can be Adrian Grenier from Entourage. That show is off the air and he's probably looking for work. Of course Mark Wahlberg could probably pull it off, too.

Now all I have to do it is sit back and go all viral! In the meantime I'll keep checking in on GetGlue. Did I mention you get free STICKERS!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Just another Doomsday




So here it is Oct. 21, 2011, the day Oakland based preacher Harold Camping predicted would be the end of the world after his flubbed prediction that the rapture would occur on May 21, 2011. What the 90-year old Camping didn't specify was which time zone the end of days would take place in. Because it is now May 22 in some parts of the world and there is no end in sight.

Since this doomsday doesn't seem to be working out for Camping either, I wonder if he is going to fall back on December 21, 2012, the end of the Mayan calendar, as the next scheduled doomsday. But since Camping is 90 and had a stroke in June, odds are he won't last until the end of the world anyway.

When Camping does meet his maker, I hope the first thing said to him is, "Hey Harold, we've got this pool going about the end of the world, want in on it?"

I have no sympathy for Camping. What arrogance to predict the end of the world. If believed in sin, that would be right up there. And Camping's punishment should be having to live forever...waiting for the rapture.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What would you call the White House if it was yellow?


That's what my five-year old daughter asked me when I called home from a recent business trip to Washington D.C. I of course told her I supposed it would be called the Yellow House. She proceeded to ask me what it would be called if it was red, green, or blue.

All good questions.

It was my first time in the nation's capitol. And I have to admit it was kind of surreal seeing all of these things I'd grown up seeing photos of like the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Monument and of course, the White House. I was particularly moved by the Lincoln Memorial having been fascinated by his life since I was a boy.


I also visited Ford's Theater and the house across the street where they carried Lincoln after he had been shot by John Wilkes Booth where you could see the room he died in.



The park ranger at the house pointed out that none of the furniture in the house, including the bed in the room where Lincoln died, was the original furniture.  But she assured everyone that it looked a lot like the furniture that was there when Lincoln died, including the short twin bed that was way too small for Lincoln's six foot plus frame. Apparently Lincoln spent his final hours with his legs hanging over the end of the bed.

A bed like the one Lincoln died in.
Not a dignified way to go I must say.

It struck me, after sheepishly waiting in line to tour the house and then marching up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial the next day, that Lincoln would have probably been a bit mortified by the whole thing. I think he was basically a simple man and having people tromping through the room he died in and taking photos of the bed that he didn't really die in would have made him more than a bit uncomfortable. And I imagine he would have been embarrassed by his statue in the monument as well. Not that he didn't warrant a monument (though he does have his face on the penny and the five dollar bill.

The theater box at Ford's Theater where
Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth.

I was a bit mortified myself at the gift shop in Ford's Theater selling Lincoln shot glasses, Lincoln Rocks t-shirts with Lincoln holding an electric guitar, Gettysburg Address neckties and Lincoln bobble heads. You could even buy licorice jelly bean bullets. Ironically Ford Theater's tag line is "Where Lincoln's Legacy Lives On."

To add insult to injury, there was a Hard Rock Cafe just down the street from Ford's Theater. Perhaps this explains the "Lincoln Rocks" t-shirt.


After visiting Ford's Theater, I walked through the National Portrait Gallery a few blocks away. Again I was blown away seeing the actual portraits I'd seen in history books over the years. And once again I was moved by a portrait of Lincoln and his actual life and death masks.


I spent the next day exploring museums, monuments and memorials. Americans are big on monuments and memorials...really big monuments and memorials. I saw the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Monument, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and the newest Memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. that was being dedicated the next day.

The World War II Memorial
The Franklin Roosevelt Memorial
The Jefferson Monument
The spot at the Lincoln Memorial where
Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
I have to say, it was all pretty overwhelming. It is difficult to squeeze a couple of hundred years of history into a day and a half. But I'm glad I had the opportunity and I plan to take my family to Washington D.C. once the kids are old enough to appreciate what they'll be seeing. But I imagine my daughter will still ask me what they'd call the White House if it was yellow.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Transported for life

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips.
"Give me your tired, your poor,
 Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
 The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
 Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" 

 --Emma Lazarus, Inscription on the Statue of Liberty
Apparently, from the early 1600s through the beginning of the American Revolution, the UK used to transport criminals (major and minor) to the American Colonies as punishment. Once the colonies began fussing over taxes on tea and such, they stopped with the logical conclusion that if they shipped any more to America, they'd simply join forces with the Colonial Army thrilled with the opportunity to point a gun at their jailers. Beginning in 1788, they began sending their prisoners to Australia instead.

I sometimes wonder if that is how my ancestors migrated to America. Not that I have uncovered a great deal of criminal activity in my family tree on my forays into genealogy.  Though one of my cousin's wife did shoot her five-year-old son with a shotgun before turning the weapon on herself. This left a lasting impression on me because the five-year old was only a day older than me and I had played with him on occasion. I do recall my mother describing my cousin's wife as being high strung. I would describe her more as being a few marbles short of a full bag.

But I digress.

Though while I am revealing skeletons in my family closet, I do recall another cousin robbing a bank in California. I think it was a small bank, however. Other than that and a few relatives who have seen the inside of various asylums and mental institutions most of my relatives I've uncovered have been too preoccupied with scratching in the dirt or procreating to engage in criminal activities. I think crime in general would have required a bit too much mental effort on most of their parts, but that is just my educated guess.

Not that you had to be a criminal mastermind to get transported to America for life. Apparently all it took was "injuring" a bridge to get your behind thrown onto a boat for a one-way trip to New England and a life building roads for the state or sold into slavery. The punishment for returning from transportation for life was death.  In the long run, I think it was just the British way of weeding out the riff raff without having to build more prisons.

The funny thing is that I don't remember being taught anything about this in school. We were taught crap about how the pilgrims came to America seeking religious freedom from persecution in England. But the near as I can figure, they weren't really interested in anyone having freedom from religious persecution once they got here. I think the Salem witches would agree with me.

I don't imagine it would go over well if we had been taught the truth about anything in grade school. A book called Squanto, Enslaved by the British Before Being Screwed Over by the Pilgrims, wouldn't be politically correct as Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims. Squanto, whose real name was Tisquantum, was a member of the Patuxet tribe. He was kidnapped by one of John Smith's lieutenants who tried to sell him in Spain for 20 pounds. He was sort of rescued by some monks who tried to teach him about Christ. He ended up in London and eventually worked his way back to America only to find his tribe had been wiped out by a gift of the early settlers -- smallpox. He did help the pilgrims by teaching them how to plant corn. But they never really trusted him. Squanto/Tisquantum, died, apparently poisoned by another tribe who thought he was selling them out to the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims buried him in an unmarked grave (maybe along with some corn).

The odd truth about America is that rather than a melting pot, we are more of a compost bin. This would explain Emma Lazarus' line about "retched refuse on your teeming shore" and our strong urge to recycle. We also believe in liberty, especially when it comes to the truth.

Trust me on this.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Literature of digression?


Here I have been digressing for years and now I discover that there is actually a literary genre called the "literature of digression." Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne was apparently one of them. It was a 18th century novel written in nine volumes. The narrator digresses so much that the main character isn't even born until volume three. Now that is a digression.

I actually read Tristram Shandy in 8th grade. I thought it sucked.

But I digress.

I have never been fond of the term literature. It conjures up too many bad associations for me of literature students dissecting some author's works to determine how it ticks the same way a biology student would perform a vivisection on a rat. Neither the author nor the rat really take much pleasure in either act.

Not that I would consider anything I write as literature. Nor would I expect anyone to study it or perform a vivisection on it. When you peel away the layers of an onion you will typically discover an onion. So you are better off just eating it and appreciating that it is an onion.

I have never really understood why people get PhD's in literature. You shouldn't study literature, you should read it. It is not as if people with PhD's in literature actually end up writing great literature themselves. All they seem to write about is what some author was writing about. But if the author was any good in the first place, he or she wouldn't need some PhD to interpret what they were trying to say, now would they?

Of course, I am over generalizing as usual. I think it is nice that people can spend years and thousands of dollars getting an education to deconstruct the meaning of the harpoon in Moby Dick. The practical side of me wonders how in the hell they make a living with a PhD in literature. I like to read and write, too, but at least I majored in Journalism so people didn't ask me what I was going to do with my degree once I graduated. Most people assume literature majors are going to either teach or be barista's.

 I don't like poetry or creative writing (fiction or non-fiction) majors either. As a rule, I think poetry sucks and teaching someone to write creatively if they don't have talent is like teaching a cat to bark.

But I digress.

Personally, I learned to write by reading. To this day, I probably couldn't diagram a sentence if my life depended upon it. But I know intuitively when something is wrong with one. And I don't need to sit in a creative writing class having eight other "writers" telling me how they would have written my story.

I think constructive criticism sucks.

But I digress.

I guess I've given up on the concept of writing fiction and being a great novelist anyway. I don't have the patience to craft three or four hundred pages of plot with believable characters that don't bore me. I'm better suited to crank out 1000 word blog posts without any deep meaning or point.

It's my art and I think I'll keep it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Me, myself and I


I realize now the major social media faux pas I made the other day by posting about the music I was listening to on Jango. I think I reached a new low in hits on the post. Even the "next blog" people passed on it. I keep forgetting that no one really wants to read about me regardless of how fascinating I think I am.

I guess I got carried away by the wealth of music out there that I was totally unaware of. And if I were being honest to myself, I'd have to say I wanted to impress the world with my openness to cutting edge music regardless of whether I could pronounce the names of the musicians performing it. It reminded me of seventh grade when a  girl in my class expressed amazement that I said I liked listening to America's Horse With No Name. She told me that she would have thought I sat around listening to classical music. It was a wake up call that I needed to tweak my image in the "hipness" realm.

Part of it is also middle aged angst. There is a tendency to think anyone over 50 only listens to Tony Bennett. It doesn't help when I read my niece and nephew's Facebook pages and don't have a clue as to who or what they are talking about, especially when it comes to music and concerts.

Not that I ever was much on going to concerts. The last one I went to was the Wiggles. It was a pretty good show if you don't mind short songs that are about fruit salad. The first concert I ever went to was Boz Scaggs. He was playing in an exhibition hall at the Western Idaho Fairgrounds. Not many groups performed in Idaho at the time because there wasn't any place to perform. I remember Boz stating on stage that performing in the exhibition hall was not unlike playing inside a toilet bowl.

I did go through a brief but expensive stage when I moved to Seattle to go to college where I went to concerts every few weeks. Seattle has many more places to perform than Boise did. I remember walking the floor of Key Arena at Seattle Center marveling at the number of people openly selling drugs the same way a peanut vendor would sell his wares at a ball game.

One of my claims to fame is that I threw up at a Cheap Trick concert in the Paramount Theater in downtown Seattle. I wasn't drunk. I just had the flu and had shelled out big bucks for the tickets. I'd tried bolstering myself with Pepto Bismal, but that just turned my puke pink..  I watched the standing fans shriek and part as the pink river flowed down the sloping theater floor towards the stage. I didn't stay for the end of the show.

In my single days, I also went out a bit to see live music. I saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform live at a club downtown once, not because I knew who they were, but because they were performing along with a local Portland band called the Crazy Eights that I liked. The only thing I knew about the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the time was that they had performed nude wearing only a single sock (and it wasn't on their collective feet). The were fortunately fully clothed when I saw them.

The best show I think I've ever seen is the Blue Man Group sitting in the Poncho Section at the Luxor in Las Vegas. I also saw their Complex Rock Tour Live at the Paramount Theater. I didn't puke at it.

Damn. I've posted about myself again. I don't think I'll ever get the hang of writing for you.


Monday, October 03, 2011

Jango'd nerves


When I was a kid, I had a little blue transistor radio that I carried around with me during the summer. I'd twirl the tuning dial and hold it up in the air trying to get the best reception so I could listen to the latest songs that had made the charts. It was the 60s and the classic rock and roll songs weren't yet classics. Although I'm sure there was a plethora of music out there, my music world was confined to that small blue plastic box. And it seemed contained to a manageable number of musicians that I could at least name.

I hate listening to radio stations anymore not because I don't like music, I just hate listening to mindless DJ babble. Much of the music I now listen to now on my MP3 player is stuff ripped from my CD collection which was mostly stuff that I'd bought to replace my record collection which was based largely on music that I used to hear on my transistor radio.

I have to admit that I am woefully behind on the current music scene. I will blame part of it on having a couple of toddlers. You don't listen to much during the first four or five years of  raising children that doesn't involve the Wiggles or Raffi. My kids begin screeching in protest if we get into the car and the radio is playing instead of a soundtrack to something like the Princess and the Frog.

So when I stumbled onto a Web site called Jango.com (a free music site that plays any kind of music you want, relatively commercial free and non-stop), I was overwhelmed at the number of artists out there I've never heard of.  You start by plugging in the names of musicians you like and Jango shuffles through their songs and then starts adding songs from similar artists.

I started with a group I like called Zero 7. Before long I was exposed to groups like Beats Antique, Boozoo Bajou, De-Phazz, Massive Attack, Bent, Air, Bonobo, Kinobe and Thievery Corporation (fortunately, you can't judge a group by their name). Jango also gives you mini-biographies of the musicians. You fine tune Jango by clicking on a thumbs up for songs and musicians you like or a thumbs down for stuff you'd rather not hear again.

Did I mention Jango is free? Even when I had satellite radio in my car I had to pay to listen to the satellite stations on my computer. Plus I could never find anything I really liked listening to and it never customized the stations to me. Jango even lets me set up different 'radio stations' based on different genres of music all keyed off an initial artist I liked. If I'm in the mood for country music, I can start with the Dixie Chicks or the Civil Wars and get music similar to those musicians. Or if I feel like heavy metal, I type in Black Sabbath and chances are Iron Man will be cranked out.

My only complaint about Jango is that it overwhelms me at times. There are so many great musicians out there I don't really have time to get lost in one groups music the way I did when I was a kid and play their album over and over like I did with the Beatles.

Did I mention Jango is free? If it came in a little, blue plastic box and had static, I'd swear I was listening to my transistor radio again.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sniffing GetGlue

This is my "Check-in Legend" sticker for checking in more than 250 times.
I needed another social media site to check into like I need a hole in the head. So apparently I needed a hole in my head. I joined GetGlue. GetGlue is a social media site that combines some of the worst characteristics of MySpace, FourSquare, Facebook and Twitter into one annoying place. Instead of checking into places like FourSquare, you check in to let people know what music you are listening to, television show you are watching, book you are reading or thing you are thinking about.

In theory, you follow friends on GetGlue the way you do on Twitter and they all know what you are listening, watching, reading or thinking and see these scintillating posts like, "I am watching House Hunters." You can also link your Twitter and Facebook accounts to GetGlue so all of those people are privy to these fascinating posts as well.

This just about violates every rule Dan Zarrella cites in his book Zarrella's Hierarchy of Contagiousness: The Science, Design, and Engineering of Contagious Ideas that will ensure people don't read or repost any of your stuff on Twitter (or anywhere else for that matter). Almost every check in you make on GetGlue includes the words Zarrella claims are the kiss of death for ever being read (i.e. listening, watching, reading, playing, thinking, etc.)

GetGlue strongly encourages you to enlist as many friends as possible to join. And they encourage you to follow as many people as possible on GetGlue. In that way, GetGlue is very much like Amway, Mormans and Nichiran Shoshu Buddhists.

The twist with GetGlue is that you are rewarded for checking in with "stickers" that commemorate the number of check ins, the topics you check in on most and other random things. Once you have collected at least 20 stickers, you can click on a button and GetGlue will mail you actual hard copy versions of your stickers. You can do this once a month. This is the brilliance behind GetGlue. It is human nature (especially for OCD people such as myself) to keep pressing a button as long as you get a reward. Never mind that it is a virtual "sticker" that means absolutely nothing.

Other than unlocking stickers for checking in, you can also unlock exclusive stickers for checking in to particular things, like movie premiers, season openers, new releases, concerts, etc. So it is a marketing tool for PR people trying to get the masses to create a buzz around their product. You can also earn discounts for merchandise for checking in on some things.

The drive to collect stickers on GetGlue has spawned a website called getgluestickers.com. The site includes  lists of exclusive stickers available and hints on how to unlock them (i.e. specific words or phrases you need to put in the comments box when you check in).

As of this morning, I have earned 78 stickers. I imagine by the end of the day I will have earned closer to one hundred.

But it's not a problem. I can stop checking in anytime.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Seasons


The rains have begun. I say this as if I were living in the tropics and monsoon season was beginning. Actually it is just fall in the Pacific Northwest. And saying the rains have begun here is a bit redundant.

Regardless, I sit at the window on my morning commute staring at the gray shore merge with the gray water and the gray sky. If you throw my gray hair into the mix, it can be a bit depressing.

Not that I intended to post about the weather. I despise conversations about the weather the way I despise inane comments to me from my neighbors, such as, "Washing you car?" when I'm standing there with a hose, bucket, soap and a sponge in front of my car. I am tempted to reply, "No, just about to have a sponge bath, care to join me?"

Small talk has never been my forte.

Regardless of the rain, the calendar still tells me that it is fall. And before I know it, it will be winter and another year will be tossed into the recycling bin along with the Christmas wrap. I swear time moves so much quicker than it did when I was a kid. Then a summer day lasted a week and Christmas was always agonizing months away. I looked forward to birthdays, too. And I always wished that time would move quicker so that I could grow up.

Be careful what you wish for.

 I could spout platitudes about "being as young as you feel," but I am reminded too often that you are "as old as you look." And  besides, after working in the garden pulling more ivy vines and filling up mountain beaver holes (yes, the little bastard has reemerged), I feel pretty old...physically anyway. My mind still wanders along clicking a stick against a fence and picking up leaves.

My 86-year old  mother tells me she doesn't recognize herself in the mirror. I know how she feels. I feel that way when I look at my hands as well.

I'm sure I've blogged about this before. That is another sign of aging...repeating yourself and forgetting that you are doing so. Forgetting in general is another problem. A couple nights ago I was watching an Adam Sandler film called Just Go with It  that co-starred Jennifer Aniston. Out of the blue Nicole Kidman made an appearance in the film. And for the life of me, I couldn't remember her name. I pictured all the films I'd seen her in, but I couldn't recall her name. I figured it would come to me. But the next morning, I still couldn't remember her name. I finally had to Google Moulin Rouge and read her name in the film credits.

I realize not remembering Nicole Kidman's name isn't a big thing (unless you are Keith Urban). But as bad as physically aging is, losing my mental faculties would be a major bummer.

Perhaps all of this is why I lean toward wanting to believe in some form of the Buddhist concept of spiritual rebirth. At least after a hard winter, I can always look forward to the promise of spring.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sesquipedalian

I don't mean to be gasconading, but I was pretty proud of writing an entire post yesterday using only one syllable words. And I couldn't even say that is what I was doing because "syllable" has more than one syllable.

Words can be a challenge. Having been trained in Journalism, I was taught never to use a $20 word when a ten cent one would suffice. Communication is difficult enough without trying to dazzle people with lots of syllables. But I have to admit that only being able to use one-syllable words gets boring. You also can't use many adjectives when you are confined to one syllable.

BTW, the longest word in an English language dictionary is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, a lung disease. The longest non-technical word in an English language dictionary is flocci­nauci­nihili­pili­fication. It refers to the act of estimating something as worthless. There is a certain irony there.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Small talk


I want to see if I can write a blog post with just short words. By short, I do not mean words that are not tall. I mean words that are not long. It is very hard to do. I must rack my brain to find small words (or make small talk). By rack, I do not mean put my brain on a shelf. I mean search my brain. I do not mean look in my brain with a light. I mean I let my thoughts find small words and not big or long words. Good thing I have a small mind.

Wait, that is not right.

But back to small words. Try it. Hard, right?

If I can learn to just use small words, I may write books for kids. See Spot jump. Jump, Spot, jump. No, Spot, no. Go, Spot, go. Do not leave a spot, Spot. Damn Spot! Out damn Spot.

But you can't say "damn" in kid's books. You can say, "Let's build a dam."

Okay, I will not write kid's books. I could write songs, though, like John, Paul, George and that guy who beat on his drums. Songs like:

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
 with a love like that
You know you should
Be Glad!

Okay, small words do not make for deep songs. But the tune is nice.

So I could try and write ads that just use short words, like:

Got Milk? or Just do it!

Those are dumb, though.

I miss big words. I could write a long time with big words. I still would not say much, but the words were big. And that is what counts.

But at least now I can say I wrote a blog post with no big words.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Non-deterministic causality thoughts


Non-deterministic causality thoughts is a pompous way of saying, "random thoughts." I borrowed it from some physicists. Apparently, since they deal in complex mathematical formulas much of the time, they believe their language should reflect their reality and be basically incomprehensible to the average person.

But I could wax poetic (which has nothing to do with actual wax but rather means to "grow" poetic..."wax" being the opposite of "wane") about the language of quantum physics for hours. I really started out to write about randomness. It is something that fosters a great deal of debate in the physicists' and the metaphysicists' world(s). The debate centers around whether it is even possible for something to happen randomly because everything appears to be caused by something else. Even random number generators depend upon a mathematical calculation to generate the numbers so they actually aren't random.

The hang up in all this is the concept of free will. If everything is predetermined or caused by something that came before it, then you could argue that even when you are fooling yourself into thinking you are acting on free will your actions were actually based on tons of stuff that came before your action (i.e. I choose to pull into the 7-11 for a Big Gulp out of free will and not because I just ran a mile on the treadmill and had a bag of pretzels which I found wedged in between the seats by my three-year old).

The big QUESTION in the theory that everything is caused by something else is is what was the first thing that set the whole predetermined farce in motion in the first place?  The religious would adamantly suggest god. But then I would have to ask (as I did in Sunday School) who or what created god?

It becomes a circular argument (as do most of the debates over non-deterministic causality I've read on the Internet). I imagine most of the blogs written by self-professed random thinkers don't really think about where their random thoughts come from. I imagine many of their random thoughts migrated from their subconscious to their consciousness through either reality TV or People Magazine.

I tend to believe that we are who we are based on who we have been and what we've done. So in that sense, everything is predetermined. But it is a predetermination somewhat of our own creation. It boils down to choices. Every choice you make determines the next juncture of your life. And every choice was created by the one before it. We are essentially rats building our maze while looking for the cheese we planted at the end of it.

That was pretty random. I wonder where that thought came from?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Next Blog

How do you feel about that?

Since I get much of my blog traffic from Blogger's "next blog" feature, I can't really bitch too much about it. But the other day I started thinking it would be funny to name a blog, "Next Blog" to freak out people clicking on the next blog button. So I Googled "next blog" and sure enough, someone had created a blog called The "Next Blog" Blog with the tag line "Compulsively clicking the "Next Blog" icon so you don't have to!"

The blog is made up entirely of random posts from other blogs apparently found by clicking the next blog button. The novelty of keeping this up apparently wore off in April 2010, because that is the last post they made.

It was a clever idea, though.

Reading the posts in the blog reminded me of a scene from Bruce Almighty starring Jim Carey, when the character Bruce is given all god's powers and hears every thought or prayer being made at the same time. It was too much for Bruce (and apparently god). I feel that way about next blog in general.

There seems to be a universal theme of tagging blogs with various versions of "the random thoughts of ____." Oh there are tons, too about various forms of crafting, cooking and couponing, but the majority seem to be started by people who just want someone to hear their thoughts. This is intriguing from a psychological standpoint far beyond the level my two college psych courses qualify me to analyze.

The sad thing about this is that a vast majority of the people sharing their random thoughts with the world must feel no one in their day to day life listens to them or wants to hear their thoughts. Or perhaps they are afraid of the reaction people in their day to day life would have to their thoughts.

This all begs the question of whether people are more real in the virtual world or the "real" world. Or is the Web an outlet for the Walter Mitty's of the world trying to express who they wish they were?

Regardless of whether people are casting their thoughts out there hoping to reel in people of like mind, the next blog button unfortunately functions as the mallet from Chuck Barris' Gong Show (my god I've begun writing like a Groupon copywriter). I think people are too often caught up in their own random thoughts to appreciate the random thoughts of total strangers.

At least that is my random thought of the day.

Next!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When Stella lost her Groupon

When I first encountered Groupon, I thought it was pretty cool. I liked it when there was a restaurant near me where I could pay $20 and get $40 worth of food. But those offers are few and far between. Now  most of the offers are for teeth whitening, Yoga classes and places offering Brazilian waxes. Tell me, how many Brazilian waxes can you possibly get in a month. Wait, don't tell me.

I know that Groupon is hooking in lots of small businesses eager to draw in new customers with the hopes that they will become repeat customers. I'm willing to bet that most of the people buying the Groupon coupons are already customers of those establishments and are just capitalizing on the opportunity to get a $40 meal for $20. So I imagine the only ones really drumming up more business with Groupon is Groupon.

As the Groupon offers have become more and more useless, their copywriters have become more and more annoying. For example, here's a line for an offer for wine tasting classes: "Grape juice magically transforms into wine in the same way milk becomes cheese and a 1972 Dodge Dart becomes an even older 1972 Dodge Dart." Or a line from a custom framing offer: "Art collectors protect their pictures the same way that crime bosses discipline their children—by having them framed."

The copywriter should be pelted with Funk and Wagnalls and AP Style Guides and be issued a restraining order from going within 10-feet of a keyboard.

And their website is full of even more half-witticisms like, "The Situation: A bully kicks sand in your face. Use Your Mind or Your Body? Neither. Instead of using your body to fight back or your mind to conjure up a clever retort, harness your sense of shame to detach your body's molecules from each other and dissipate into the ether."

This is the kind of drivel I used to write when I was in college and thought every word I wrote was the ultimate in clever.

It wasn't. And I hope the Groupon copywriters wake up one day, read what they've written reel in horror at what depths they sank to in their youthful folly.

I could continue to wax poetic about Groupon's crimes against ad copy, but I'm late for Brazilian wax treatment. Then I'm off to my Yoga class. I'm not sure that doing them in that order was such a wise idea, but I'll let you know how it goes.






Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Gaboon Viper

You can actually buy viper mugs at a site called  JungleWalk.com. I'm not making this up.

Back in 2005, when blogging was still new and fresh to me, I wrote post called Horned viper. I had randomly opened a dictionary and wrote about the first entry I found. It happened to be "horned viper." I managed to ramble on a few paragraphs about the horned viper and that it shouldn't be mistaken for the gaboon viper (which I thought sounded very cool).

Well, on Saturday, while at a picnic with my family, I saw a gaboon viper. Gaboon vipers come from Africa and aren't normally found slithering around parks in Washington. In fact this one wasn't slithering around at all. It was actually hanging out in a large plastic bin waiting for his turn to be displayed to a large crowd of "oohing" and "ahhing"  people as part of a show put on by a man who calls himself "The Reptile Man."

The Reptile Man obviously has an affinity for reptiles. I've seen his name on the entertainment rosters of countless community fairs and festivals, but this is the first time I'd actually seen his show. And despite my naturally aversion to snakes and other slimy creatures, I have to admit the show was pretty entertaining. The Reptile Man opened bin after plastic bin and retrieved various snakes, lizards and one pretty large tortoise. He he debunked the defaming myths about each one of the critters including a rattle snake which I had pretty much been raised to fear and try to whack to death with a stick if I ever saw one. He pointed out each of the creatures important place in the eco-chain and the benefits they provided (including eating mice, rats, slugs and various other vermin that I imagine someone called "The Rodent Man" would have taken umbrage to).

I was pretty impressed (from a distance). But it was when he pulled the gaboon viper out of its storage bin that I felt a chill. Here was this random snake I'd referenced in a blog post some six years ago crossing my path in a park in Washington. Who says it isn't a small universe after all?

Despite this cosmic connection, I didn't feel compelled to hug the gaboon viper. Because regardless of whether the Reptile Man had removed the snake's venom glands, gaboon vipers still have a nasty habit of chomping down on their prey and stubbornly not letting go until they are dead. And they have a reputation of being able to swallow pretty large animals whole. Reportedly one in the wilds of Africa swallowed an antelope. I've never had any strong desire to see the inside of a gaboon viper, so I kept my distance. But I did raise my fist in a salute of solidarity when he was being dropped back into his plastic bin.

I think the gaboon viper kind of liked me in retrospect.

Regardless, I wish my wife had allowed me to name my son Gaboon. She wasn't buying my explanation that it was a family name (i.e. my great uncle Gaboon). It would have made my son's formative years a bit rough, but in the long run it would have made him tough, kind of like the boy named Sue.

But I'm sure he'll have other things to resent me for.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

White Mountain Beaver

WHITE MOUNTAIN BEAVER
 -- Time (With apologies to Jefferson Airplane) 
One hill makes you dig larger
And another hill makes you dig small
And in the ones that Mother Nature gives you
You don't dig anything at all
You're full of malice
Even though you're small 
 And if you go chasing mountain beavers
And you know you're going to fall
Tell 'em you've got a bag of used cat litter
And you're going to pay them a call
You're full of malice
Even though you're small  
 When I find one of your stinking holes,
I'll get up and tell you where to go
And you've just stripped all of my trees of bark
How do I stop you digging down below,
Go ask Wikipedia, I think they'll know  
When the Ivy and the Horsetails
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the ground cover is growing back,
And I've weeded, Rhododendron's bed.
Remember what the Mountain Beaver said:
"I'm still well fed
Still well fed
Still well fed"
Okay, a lyricist I'm not. But it dawned on me that if Alice had lived in North America, she would have more likely fallen down a Mountain Beaver hole than a rabbit hole. I believe only European rabbits burrow. And thinking about Alice falling down a Mountain Beaver hole made me think about it being a white Mountain Beaver wearing a waistcoat and looking at a pocket watch. Then I thought about the song, White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane and I wondered whether it would have been much of a hit if it had been called White Mountain Beaver instead.

 Incidentally, Jefferson Airplane became Jefferson Starship in 1974.  But I digress.

I didn't even know a Mountain Beaver existed until June of last year when I encountered one in my back yard. And after about two and a half months of dumping used kitty litter into his burrow and filling up the entrances, I think he may have actually moved on. I was working in my back yard yesterday and there was no sign of any new holes and he hadn't unplugged the ones I'd covered up.

Of course, he may be playing opossum and trying to lull me into a false sense of security. I wouldn't put it past him. Though if he is just playing opossum, I hope he tries to cross the road like one.

Don't you just love the way I keep weaving these threads of random ideas into a full-blown tapestry of covoluted thought?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Authority

If you meet the Buddha, kill him.
—Linji
My interpretation of this Koan is that you should never real trust anyone who tells you that they are an authority, guru, expert or Messiah. A more spiritual interpretation would be that anything outside of yourself that presents you with the meaning of your life is an illusion. Regardless, I have never really trusted authority or people who claim to be invested with authority.

Anyone observing my life would probably not get the impression that I overtly question authority. I was always a model student and did everything teachers asked me to. But I didn't do this because I believed in their authority as much as feared their belief that they had it over me and would demonstrate this with a paddle (they still spanked kids when I was in school).

It also seems a contradiction that I get particularly belligerent when people ignore "don't walk" lights or fail to signal when they turn or change lanes. But I don't consider what they are doing as questioning authority. They are being arrogantly stupid (or stupidly arrogant). My thought when someone walks across a street against a "don't walk" light is that they share the same DNA as an opossum and are too stupid to realize that they are no match for several tons of steel travelling at 35 mph. But hey, why should laws of nature apply to them?

Which reminds me of a joke: Why did the chicken cross the road? Answer: To show the opossum that it could be done. Although they aren't real adept at crossing roads, opossums do smell quite nice. I know this because I attended a conference in San Diego years ago that included a lunch at the San Diego Zoo. During the lunch, a zoo keeper came out with a baby opossum and pretty much forced each one of us to smell it before we could eat. I think it was some California thing. Anyway, it smelled pretty darned good.

But I digress.

I also don't think people who do not use their turn signals are rebels ignoring laws to question authority. They are lazy idiots who don't have the courtesy to warn me before they are going to cut me off. Whoops, I am being negative again and turning off potential readers of my blog. What I meant to say was that people who don't use their turn signals are positively lazy idiots. And I mean "lazy idiots" in the best possible of all ways.

All of this being said, I still don't like authority, mainly because I don't really believe that anyone has the authority to invest anyone else with authority. By who's authority do you have authority? Well, a higher authority, they might respond...the law for example. Who gave those higher authorities the right to create the laws? Well, a higher authority.

Circular argument.

I realize that law enforcement people have a difficult job, but I have to say I question a person who voluntarily wants to go into law enforcement. Because I believe that if you actively seek to have authority over other people, you really shouldn't be trusted with it. The same is true with politicians and the people who make and interpret laws.

And don't get me started on religious authorities and their getting authority from the highest authority. That takes us right back to killing the Buddha if you meet him.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

You is a female sheep

Enough about me, let's talk about you for a minute
Enough about you, let's talk about life for a while
The conflicts, the craziness and the sound of pretenses
Falling all around...all around
Why are you so petrified of silence
Here can you handle this?  
 --Alanis Morissette, All I really want
I'm not sure how long I can keep up working "you" into my blog posts. Besides, I'm not sure writing about "you" has increased the number of people reading my blog. Apparently not as many people care about "you" as much as "you" do.

As for the key words that make people retweet something on Twitter, not a single person retweeted my "Oh twitter you, please check out and retweet my 10 great new blog posts that help you learn how to get top free social media tips" tweet. "You" would think that at the very least Zarrella would have retweeted it just to confirm his theory.

This all does seem ironic (thanks again Alanis). All those years of listening to therapists harp on using "I" statements instead of "you" statements and now we're supposed to only focus on "you." Well, who do "you" think "you" are? Maybe it's time "you" and "I" parted ways. It's not "you," it's "me." "I" just need some time to blog about "me."

"You" realize that "I" am taking this thing way too literally, don't "you?"

.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A great authoritative new and positive blog post about you that you can retweet for free

I have been reading Zarrella's Hierarchy of Contagiousness: The Science, Design, and Engineering of Contagious Ideas on my Kindle. It is essentially a scientific approach to social media marketing. It is not that I am overly interested in this subject, but I was looking for something to read on my Kindle while exercising and they were giving the Kindle version away free.

The author of the book, Dan Zarrella, bills himself as a social media scientist and has conducted years of research on social media  and what he calls, "Contagious ideas" (although I would argue that social media hasn't really been around long enough for anyone to conduct years of research on it). I think "contagious ideas" are what most people think of as viral marketing or in other words the thing that happens when you forward links to videos of chimps peeing into their own mouths and falling off from a log to all of your friends and they in turn forward it to all of their friends so before you know it, everyone is watching videos of chimps peeing into their own mouths and falling off a log.

 In an effort help you  infect people with your contagious ideas, Zarrella has compiled lists of words to use in the Twitter world that will increase or decrease your retweetability (which I used to think was an uncontrollable urge to watch reruns of Warner Brothers cartoons featuring Tweety Bird) . The most retweetable words are: you, twitter, please, retweet, post, blog, social, free, media, help, please retweet, great, social media, 10 (which is technically a number and not a word), follow, how to, top, blog post, check out, new blog post. The least retweetable words are: game, going, haha, lol, but, watching, work, home, night, bed, well, sleep, gonna, hey, tomorrow, tired, some, back, bored, listening.

In theory then, I could post the following and get retweeted beau coupe times:  "Oh twitter you, please check out and retweet my 10 great new blog posts that help you  learn how to get top free social media tips." But if I post: "Game going haha but hey noone is watching at work lol & at night I'm gonna sleep well because I'm tired and bored of listening-Back tomorrow," no one will retweet it. We'll see, because I just tweeted both inane sentences.

Although Zarrella focuses a great deal on Twitter, he also touches on blogging. Basically he states that people will more likely read your blog if a) you present yourself as a guru or authority on a subject, b) write positive stuff instead of doom and gloom and c) don't write about yourself, because no one wants to read about you. They would prefer to read about them or something that is relevant to them. He also suggests that people will more likely read something that is written very simply with lots of nouns and verbs and not a lot of adjectives and adverbs.

Zarrella writes all of this in a very authoritative manner and seems very positive that he is right. And he seems to be directing all of this at me since it seems I have been violating all of these rules for years now which would explain why so few people read my blog. Though, one could argue that I am an authority on writing about my life since I know nothing about yours.

But hey, enough about me. Let's talk about you. You're obviously a fire, water, air or earth sign and serious, yet carefree. You like long walks on the beach while sitting by the fire enjoying a good book or television program while sipping red or white wine with a beer back. You don't like the two-party political system and wish everyone would quit talking about the economy and the weather. And I bet you've danced with the devil in the cold moon light.

So please, please follow my blog. It's all about you anyway!






Friday, August 26, 2011

One hit wonders

I have to wonder, which is worse, having one hit in your life or having no hits? I mean, how frustrating must it be to have a song on the charts, taste fame and then never be able to get there again. It's like being invited to an exclusive club, drinking the wine and then never being invited back.

It is ironic that so many of the songs I remember from my youth were one-hit wonders. There was "Timothy" by the Buoys. I liked it for the obvious reason that it was a song with my name, but it was also controversial because it was about cannibalism. The song was written by Rupert Holmes who would later get his 15-minutes of fame with his song "Escape, the Pina Colada Song." The Buoys recording of "Timothy" rocked the charts for weeks. Then the Buoys bobbed off into oblivion.

What makes it even more frustrating for one-hit wonders is that it happens when you are young and then you have your whole life to ponder what it was like to taste fame and then have the buffet close down. At least for those of us who have never really been or had a hit, there is a sense that you still could be. Though I can't think of any middle aged rockers who have hit the charts. Middle aged rockers are primarily former one-hit wonders who are shuffling across the stages at Native American Casinos out in the boonies making their middle-aged groupies swoon.

My guess is that the Achilles heel for most one-hit wonders was that they lost their edge when they hit the Mother Lode. When you are aspiring to something, you put a lot more effort into it than when you think you've achieved it.

There is also the "peaking too soon" factor. Say you are a young man playing baseball for the first time and by some fluke hit a home run the first time you step up to the plate (and I'm not speaking from experience here). The expectation is that every time you step up to the plate from that time forward you are supposed to hit a home run. It ain't going to happen. Because every time you step up to the plate at that point you'll be thinking about it too much and the consequences of not hitting the ball. So you won't.

One-hit wonders are just confined to the music industry. Off the top of your head, try telling me anything J.D. Salinger wrote other than Catcher in the Rye? And name any movie Macaulay Culkin has done other than the Home Alone series. How many vice presidents of the United States can you name? And what are the names of the third and fourth men to walk on the moon?

I find it also ironic that many of the iconic figures in the entertainment industry became so because they died before their fame did: James Dean, Jimi Hendricks, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin. When it comes down to it, fame just doesn't age well and the public doesn't want wrinkled idols.

And don't try parading the Rolling Stones by me. They are just wrong on so many levels.

But I digress.

I am not sure what this all means to my own life. I've never had a hit record, written a best-selling novel, walked on the moon or  won the Nobel Peace Prize.  But I think I'm okay with that. I'm not dead yet and I'm not so hung up on past achievements that I psyche myself out of future ones. Who knows, I could be the first middle-aged one-hit wonder in history by becoming one of Blogger.com's Blogs of Note.

I'm not sure I could handle the pressure though.