Friday, December 19, 2008

Fighting Cold Words

It snowed today---I mean really snowed. I woke up to a view of snow out the window on everything and the snow still falling: limited visibility and the stark limbs on the trees. And now, a few hours later, it's still snowing. I like that---though of course I can't drive any longer, so the dangers of the road don't affect me. And actually, there wouldn't be so many road dangers if drivers would slow down their speeds and speed up their senses, especially the common one.

Such a morning sends me back to childhood's wintry days of sledding and snowball fighting. It was a glorious time, what with the running battles and bulls eye hits and all.

A winner or loser is not necessary in a snowball fight. It only requires participants. The fun is in the fight, and it begins with the first thrown ball. Terms and rules are relatively foreign to this type of fight. Almost anything goes. After all, it's just snow, isn't it?

When we moved down the street in 1954, we were across the street from St. Joseph's School and Church---longtime Middletown fixtures. Easy access to the facilities immediately came to mind, and we we were quick to stake our fiefdom claims. In the winter, we had the big, downhill playground/parking lot for sledding. Sledding was exciting when the yard was first plowed, especially if the snow had been deep enough to force the plows into leaving a nicely packed base. Snow plows of the era weren't as thorough as they are now.

We could almost fly down the snow-packed hill in numbers, but we had to be careful at the end where the street was. Cars were always a danger, but luckily no one was ever hurt while I was a senior sledding analyst at the schoolyard. We could safely sled on the Church side of the playground, but the ride was much shorter. The sidewalk curb and plowed snow near the side Church door ended the ride too soon.

The School side of the playground was the better choice. Indeed, if the snow was fresh, and if I had a spotter, I could sled down the hill feeling the thrill of speed, continue across the street and up into our snow-covered driveway. What a ride! I tried to fight off the urge to call “Whee!” and stick with the more manly “Yeah!”

A few days after the snowfall, especially if Sunday intervened, the good sledding was gone. With all the cars driving through and parking for Sunday mass---and the additional plowing---the pavement started showing through. If we tried to sled, we'd have to twist and turn to keep on the snow portions. Obviously, you can't sled on pavement. We moved to the cemetery hill (or maybe started there, depending on the group) where there was no traffic to wear away the snow base. And it was close by---only a thirty or fourty feet from the playground arena.

The younger kids, many girls, and the “wimps” used the newly appearing aluminum flying saucers on the school ground. By common agreement, we didn't allow those poor excuses for sleds on the cemetery hill while we were there. Perhaps we were unfair in so classifying the saucers, but they really were a cop-out in search of a sled, hard to control on the narrow cemetery hill, prone to rider falls and off course sailing, and they didn't go as fast as the standard sleds.

We played on mounds of snow, but we never built forts. The School yard was too public a place to expect privacy or security for our constructions. We didn't bother with building anything at home, either. It was too much like work there. The best places to start snow forts were the mounds created by snowplows or heavy drifts. And we didn't have any at home. The mounds appeared across the street when the playground was plowed for parking. While we didn't build forts, per se, we did create safety mounds for snowball fights or the inevitable king-of- the-mountain---leading to snow all over ourselves, hilarious laughing, and exhaustion. The School and Church property on a snowy day off was a veritable paradise for snow activities.

We had good Saturday snow battles because the area had surrounding hedges to complement the mounds. They were good for running battles, although we had to insure that the spot we ran to had snowball snow. You can't carry much ammunition with you for a running snowball fight, and reaching a safe spot with no snow or snowballs led to disaster. A dive towards a bush to gain advantage without being hit was a regular tactic. The School, its corners, and its fire escape bases lent themselves to great fight sites. If it was still snowing, the fun was doubled. Visibility was worse and sneaking up your opponent was easier.

“Hey, Vince! Turn around!” Splattt! I enjoyed the opportunity to practice my summer baseball arm and aim by throwing those wet missiles towards the Smith kids or anybody staying around after school.

If you were a Boy Scout type, you'd get to the school before the other kids and make caches of snowballs where you thought you'd be during the fight. The only danger, of course, was a lucky someone discovering a cache and happily using it.

During school hours, the nuns made sure we didn't have snowball fights, no matter how much fun they were. No one ever walked by wearing a top hat, so we never had that laugh provoking opportunity---and God forbid one of us would dare to throw a snowball at a nun or a priest. Of course if the snow were fresh and plentiful, there probably wouldn't have been school that day anyway.

Snow is nature's reward for bearing the cold. I can stand the winter cold much better if there's snow around. And that's another reason why you won't find me in Florida for the season. Snow comes in many varieties under many names, especially in the far north, where the Eskimos have more names and nuances than Carter had liver pills. Yupik Eskimo has such offerings as: “qanir” (to snow); “qanuk” (snowflake); “nutaryuk” (fresh snow); “aniv” (snow on the ground); “qengaruk” (snowbank); and “pirta” (blizzard.)

The best type of snow for making snowballs is powder snow with a good moisture content. [Of course, we never tested it in a lab, so the moisture is measured by feel and experience.] Grab a handful and pat and round one out in your hands, rather like making a meatball. The harder you squeeze, the more formidable the ball is for throwing---and the better control you have over it when it's launched at the foe. Most of the time, we didn't have enough time between peltings to make dense---or even round---snowballs. We made our ammunition quick and easy. Besides, we weren't out to hurt each other.

That same slightly moist snow makes fine snowmen, though it's heavy for shoveling. Start with a snowball, roll it around the yard for a bit, and voila! One third of a snowman! Do it three times in varying sizes and you have a snowman's body. That's when the variations usually occur. We did, however, have some difficulty in getting the second and third parts up to the top. The perfect construction snow is rather heavy to lift.

The only snowmen I was involved with were in our back yard. I usually made one with my sister, Mary Anne---often while it was still snowing. We had plenty of room to roll the balls around and build them up, but we sometimes made them too big and had a devil of a time moving them to where we wanted to build the snowman. The size of a snowman is pretty much limited to the strength of the builders in rolling the snow. Ours were never show-room quality. On occasion, some kids built one on the School's grassy front space. But it was a lost cause. As soon as School reconvened, the snowman became a target for morning snowballs and didn't last long.

Granular snow was useless from our point of view. It was normally found in week-old cover and is a manifestation of frozen-melted snow becoming ice. Icy snow, on the other hand, breaks off the pack in chunks and is impossible to form into a snowball----and throwing ice chunks was unappreciated. The dry, powdery kind (kanevvluk) usually arrives as a medium fall and is impossible to use in the making of snowballs---but it was fine for knocking a kid down in it and washing his face. Of course, I never did that. I remembered how many times my brothers had done it to me. “Gotcha!” “Hey, knock it off!” 'Cut it out' 'I'll get you for this!' Of course, it goes without saying that warmer weather “slush' is worthless.

We had numerous on-the-run battles in the cemetery where the trees and the stones acted as temporary cover while we ran around pelting each other. We just had to be sure to stay away from any new burials. We'd often stop behind the stones re-arm. I'd whisper: “Psst…Feeney! We'll take advantage of the break in action. I'm going to sneak over to the Johnson memorial because there are three stones together. I'll start pelting them from there, and you continue from here. Build up a supply of snowballs like they're doing. But we'll get them from two sides and conquer!.. We can't be stopped!.. Onward for snow and glory!.. Take up arms to foil a sea of troubles… No quarter…” And I'd march over to the Johnson memorial spouting fighting words and getting pelted by the ever vigilant Smith kids. So much for devious plotting.

A snowball fight really has no winner or loser unless the poorer fighter gives up and runs home crying. The thrill is in the fight. Getting hit by snowballs was no big thing. We just didn't like a cold snowball in the face, especially if the snow was on the grainy-icy side. It was disorienting for enough time to maybe get hit again and again. In my case, summer experience with baseball helped a lot with my snowball accuracy. I especially liked my curves hitting the opponent on his noggin. Of course, on occasion the same thing happened to me.

No priests, nuns, or Church staff ever bothered us in the School yard or in the cemetery despite our obvious lack of sensitivity for the Church and its property or even the dead souls with their headstones. But we were kids, and we didn't really know that proper respect for the dead included giving up our cemetery snowball fights.

We were on more dangerous ground when we threw our bodies and sleds down one of the cemetery roads behind the church. The road on the left edge of the cemetery proper was a steep downhill path with a sharp right turn. If you didn't turn properly, chances were you'd be in the cyclone fence at best, the filthy brook at worst. That portion of the road, though plowed, was never used by funeral processions in the winter because of its inherent danger.

We had a little natural banking which helped you turn correctly, but it wasn't an engineered bank, only one deposited by the cemetery snowplow. You couldn't make an early right turn because those annoying gravestones were in the way. And you couldn't very well turn left unless you wanted to hit one of the pine trees bordering the hill. They certainly wouldn't provide a soft stop since their bases were trimmed up to about two feet leaving the unforgiving trunks. I suppose you could have turned left between the tree trunks, but that took skill and quick thinking. We were only kids.

I'd stand at the top of the hill, take aim at the snowy course with pressed lips and childhood determination, take a deep breath, and start the run. At a desired speed and at the very top of the hill before the incline, I'd throw the sled down and throw myself aboard. The quality of my ride depended on my accuracy at hitting the sled. It was no fun to be half off the thing and fighting to hang on. That was a sure recipe for a snow-covered, banked, and botched ride and lots of laughter and possible derision from the onlookers. If I landed properly and the sled was centered on the hill, I had a chance to experience a thrill and stand tall. The ride was speedy, and I had to be sure to turn properly near the bottom. That done, my sled would slow down on the runoff portion of the road---the right ell. I'd have been successful and very pleased. I was one of the elite who made a perfect ride.

Kids have always been kids. Science tells us that, with the proper algae, we could have red, blue, salmon, or yellow snow to observe and use. The algae create beautiful scenes, mostly in the mountains where people don't ski or usually tread. The snow doesn't fall in colors, but once on the ground with the right circumstances and algae, the colors appeared. But, we weren't in the mountains, and our yellow snow patches were definitely not due to algae.

We had natural staying power, but the real tiring part of sledding was the constant walking or running back up the hill for another go. We needed a ski lift for sleds. If we were at the hill without a sled, we borrowed from each other or would go down the hill two to a sled, one person lying on top of the other, or one person sitting behind the other---but sitting on a sled was considered wimpy. That sitting system was often used for the younger or heavier kids---you'd agree to that with a heavyweight passenger or a scared–but eager---little kid.

There were rats around the brook, but we never saw them in the winter. During the summer, some of the older kids went to the brook to shoot rats with their BB guns. Okay Ralphie ['Christmas Story'] I never had a BB gun, Red Ryder or any other brand, and I never saw any rats anywhere around the water. Maybe those older kids were more accurate than we thought.

My sled did well on the hill because I could steer it. Some new sleds were still too tight to turn well. Even so, there were kids who panicked and didn't try to turn, thus plowing into the snow and fence. Or they didn't place themselves properly when throwing the sleds down and fell off. Or they simply fell on the runway and let their sleds go. When that happened, we had to dodge the errant sleds. Still, I don't remember any serious accidents---just some bruises and scrapes. Hurt kids just sulked home to their Moms for fix-ups. In the fifties of our youth, there were rarely detours through an attorney's office. Times have changed.

Although the aforementioned aluminum flying saucers were becoming available, they were only used on the school playground proper. The hill was less steep, wider, and longer. On the cemetery road, no one dared ride down on a saucer when other kids were around. Talk about wimpy. We'd never have been able to live it down.

Those days I'd wander home happy, tired, and covered with snow. I'd have wet mittens or gloves (to throw on the heating outlet,) soaked socks, and a rosy glow on my cheeks. I was a bit of a mess, but after the undressing rituals, I rested warmly in front of the TV or sat in a wing chair reading. I relished the hot chocolate or tomato soup Mom kindly made for me.

The former, of course, was made from scratch since instant cocoa didn't exist. Mom would heat milk in a small pot, take a little out to mix with the measured amount of cocoa powder and sugar---maybe a touch of vanilla, and then pour the resulting dark chocolate mixture into the pot of milk. Voila! A little more heating and you had hot, drinkable cocoa. We normally had the dark can of Hershey's cocoa for these occasions. NesQuick was available, but we didn't use it. For cold milk drinks, we used Bosco or Brer' Rabbit molasses. Molasses and milk is an intriguing taste experience.

In the cold, snowy winter, the Davidge Park Pond froze over and was used for ice-skating. There was a little warming shack, a barrel of fire, and an attendant or two. A sign would tell us how thick the ice was, sort of a Nileometer for Middletown. If the ice was too thin, no one was allowed to skate. Too thick an ice cover was never a problem. That would have meant a serious cold snap and the pond would have a substantial ice cover. Besides, is there a thickness too thick for skating? I doubt it, though skating on a very thick surface might be like skating on a glacier.

The City cleaned the snow off the frozen pond with a small tractor. From my point of view, if the ice held up for the tractor, it could probably hold up for me. Because of the distance from home to the pond and the cold weather in Middletown, we didn't ride bikes to the pond. Dad drove us, so we only went at night.

The only ice skates I had access to were ill-fitting, thirty-year old figure skates. I couldn't balance on them very well. Actually, I could barely stand up, and it didn't make a difference how many socks I wore. So I didn't do much ice-skating. I got tired after a while of my ankles folding and hurting like hell. I just wasn't getting any respect or support. It was fun, though, standing around and talking at the fire-in-a-barrel or the little hut with the gas heater, or throwing snowballs with the other non-skaters. I also went onto the ice with my booted feet, and I don't think I fell down any more than the skaters. I tried to cosy up to some of the girls, but they could just skate away. I wasn't all that charming, so I'd hand around the fire more often than not.

I never observed anyone disappear under broken ice. The thickness meter out front warned us away if it was dangerous. And since the snow wouldn't have been cleaned off when the ice was too thin, there wouldn't have been much sense in trying to skate. Spring thaw was another thing, however. We knew the ice would shrink as the weather warmed, so we kept an eye on our Davidge 'Nileometer.”

Watching a heavy snow storm from inside, especially if it was at night, was a pleasure. Everyone would be home, school would probably be called off the next day, and I could earn some extra money shoveling. After that I could go sledding or snowball fighting. Sometimes the latter took place while I was roaming around looking for work. I loved the winter.

I would be happy for that substantial snowfall. I took my shovel and roamed the neighborhood getting snow shoveling jobs for extra money. Yes, substantial snow. Only I didn't want moist, heavy snow more than a couple of inches. Despite its usefulness for snowballs and snowmen, it weighed too much, slowed my progress, exhausted me, and cut into my profits. I remember waist-high snow falls. But looking back, I wasn't all that tall. So the “huge” snowfalls were probably no more than 10 to 20 inches---still substantial, but not that much in comparison to my height today.

I had some non-classmate acquaintances from public school. I saw them on occasion, mostly in the early evenings or an odd Saturday. Nicky was one who played baseball with us. It was one of these fellows I met up with one snowy Saturday. I was shoveling walks and he found me. He wanted us to work as a team so we could earn more money. I agreed, even though I couldn't remember his name. I still can't. He had wrapped his head with a loose bandage and added some red ink. He thought the 'bloody' bandage would create sympathy and earn us more money for shoveling. “Don't worry. This thing'll get sympathy and more money for our work.” I didn't object, but I didn't let him actively use it to con people. He said nothing about the bandage, and when asked he just shrugged it off. Besides, his little ruse didn't gain us any extra money. Will still had hard negotiations with the homeowners and superintendents.

Although we did mainly homes, we did get the job for an apartment house. Not a fancy one---which would have had its own shoveler---but a mediocre looking one. We went to the super who was going to do it himself. He was glad to pay us for the work. For the whole afternoon throughout the local area, we worked hard, made good money, and I don't think I ever saw him again.

These days, finding work to earn money in shoveling snow after a snowstorm is nearly impossible. Most people have snow blowers or children to do the dirty work. Driveways are ploughed by trucks or jeeps with plow attachments. There isn't much left for the nomadic kid snow shoveler.

In my high school years, the sledding impulse didn't leave me. With a bunch of guys and gals, we'd go tobogganing at what became known as 'Blood Hill.' I don't know who owned the property or the yard across the street where we parked, but we never saw anybody.

We spent many of our winter Saturdays at that “Blood Hill.' It was located on the Goshen-Florida (NY) road. I don't remember who owned the place. In fact, I'm not sure I knew it at the time. We parked across the street at a farmhouse, but never saw anyone around. Actually, I think Pat knew the owners, and she arranged things. Nobody else knew for sure. Well, let's be correct. I didn't know. Some of the girls may have known from Pat. And I suppose Spencer knew because he was dating Pat at the time. But, we never went there without Pat. She was our well-respected snow party planner---actually any type of party. During our senior year in High School, we had more parties at Pat's than physics labs at school.

'Blood Hill' received its name from us for the many minor injuries we incurred on the downhill runs. Few of them were actually bloody. Most just bumps, bruises or sprains. I think the toboggans were big enough for four people, and they turned over a lot. We weren't experts, and laughing all the time didn't help. At the bottom of the hill were a few silo stone foundation remnants. After those were the fence and the highway. To tell the truth, we had no business using that hill---but it was fun. I remember one time getting my leg caught under the speeding toboggan, but I managed to walk away from it. At least I never had bloody injuries. I can now imagine what liability the owners were open to, but that thought never crossed anyone's mind. And to this day, I don't know which of us provided the toboggans---check that! I think Pat had one of them. After all, her father owned a toy and sporting goods store in Goshen. He sold toys, sleds, toboggans, bikes---and fixed the latter as well. Yes, she probably had one of the toboggans.

Afterwards, we'd go to Pat's house for hot chocolate. We went there after most events just to hang around. We had no candy stores or malt shops that suited us in Goshen. Pat lived near the high school, her parents were friendly, and we decided there was no other option worth considering.

Ah, winter! The season of our content.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Keeping Christ in Christmas

I've spent many hours watching Christmas movies and specials on both the broadcast and cable networks. And the references to the religious aspect of the day are few and far between. In fact most of the movies concern variations on "A Christmas Carol" or danger to Santa and the North Pole or the problems of his children or elves, etc. And this is only television.

In general society there has been and is an attack on Christmas from many sides. It seems that any type of 'Christmas' sentiment or display in public is case for a court battle. Or the party in question simply gives in and removes what was there.

This commercialization of and attacks on Christmas has gone too far. I realize that I grew up at a time when the religious nature of Christmas was still fairly strong. But now, not only do the children of the Country not know our religious heritage and special days, they aren't even brought up with a religious attitude. How are they supposed to understand right from wrong? Or even why?

This year, the University of North Carolina removed Christmas trees from its libraries at Chapel Hill NC because of several complaints.

Per the Charlotte Observer: "The trees, which have stood in the lobby areas of Wilson and Davis libraries each December, were kept in storage this year at the behest of Sarah Michalak, the associate provost for university libraries...Michalak's decision followed several years of queries and complaints from library employees and patrons bothered by the Christian display, Michalak said this week." [Scrooge call your office!]

Florida Gulf State University simply banned all open expressions of Christmas.

Per USA Today: "...The newspaper says FGCU administration has banned all holiday decorations from common spaces on campus and canceled a popular greeting card design contest, which is being replaced by an ugly sweater competition...University President Wilson Bradshaw, citing "legal limitations," [anybody know what that nonsensical phrase is supposed to mean?] told the faculty and staff in a memo that many public institutions 'struggle' with how best to honor and respect all traditions during the holiday and FGCU is no exception...He says the decision was not an 'attempt to suppress expression of the holiday spirit.' Staffers will be permitted to display holiday decorations on their desks, but not on their office doors or in common spaces..."

From World Net Daily: "At a time when Americans of many faiths – and even no faith – gear up to celebrate Christmas this year, a first-grade teacher in Sacramento Co., Calif., says she's been ordered by her principal not to utter the word "Christmas" at school...The 24-year education veteran, who wishes to keep her name and the school anonymous at this time, claims she and two fellow instructors were told that use of the word "Christmas" in the classroom or in written materials was now prohibited."

And Bill O'Reilly writes: "Just in time for the Christmas season, Washington State Gov. Christine Gregoire has insulted Christians all over the world...Inside the state Capitol building in Olympia there is a traditional holiday display featuring a tree and the Nativity scene; perfectly appropriate since the federal and state Christmas holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem...But this year Gregoire decided to add another item to the display...Standing alongside the baby Jesus is a giant placard designed by atheists that reads: 'There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.'"

These are just a few examples of what's happening in our society. It's mind boggling. It seems the anti-Christ is arriving in many guises and in public places. Even retail stores and malls have changed 'Merry Christmas' to 'Happy Holidays.'

I recently read the story of a thirty-four year old woman who grew up areligious [thinking the Bible was just a book of fairy tales], became an agnostic, an atheist, spent time involved in modified Satanism and traditional Satanism, and finally settled down to some sort of Christianity because her new boyfriend is Christian. While doing all this she married and divorced a drug-addicted man, and spent too much time in an abusive and brainwashing relationship. This is not the way to live---going from one mess to another. Her parents neglected her upbringing, leading to the later difficulties. We have to try to prevent this sort of thing. We need to instill in our children a minimum sense of religion, anyway. We owe it to them to try. We're the parents, remember? We have a responsibility.

With many of our public schools prohibiting any sign of religion at or near the schools and church attendance down, one has no reason to wonder at the lack of religious thoughts at this time of year---not for Easter either. Much of it is due to cowardice in the face of ACLU threats. [Please, may I have a Christmas present: dissolution of the current ACLU?]

Children are now more interested in electronic games and cell phones [and Easter bunnies and candy] than they are of any religious significance of the day[s]. Creches are hidden if not forgotten. Many children don't see or have never seen the interior of a Church. Sadly, some of the older ones don't care about the day and its meaning or the attacks on it every year. They just want to go and see the new movies which open on December 25th.

We as a nation are forgetting that religious tolerance was a contributing factor in the setting up of our original colonies. It was a stalwart basis for the general responsibilty and work ethic of our new American country. And it was on the minds of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Our Country should be striving to "form a more perfect union" and not to deny religious expression anywhere except the basements and hidden caves or catacombs. Haven't we seen enough of that already?

Agnostics, atheists, and the infamous bastardized ACLU have joined together [though still a very small minority, mind you] to stifle religious expressions anywhere outside the home [for now, anyway.] While minorities should always be respected, they should not have the power to shut down expression in the majority. The majority rule has fallen prey to the minority 'rights' people, thus forcing our Country to become more and more areligious and forgetful of our common heritages and continuing religious rights.

Whether it be Church or Temple, Christmas or Channukah, let's do better to celebrate the season as it should be: with reverence, memory, and humility. It's a celebration of God. The gifts and movies can come later.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Oscar's Cultural Demise

I'll go along with many of you about the Hollywood efforts and Oscar presentations being very un-noteworthy these days. There hasn't been much originality, high quality, or significance in motion pictures [non-animated] for decades. At this point, the powers-that-be should return the Oscars' ceremonies to a restaurant to be broadcast on radio only. People would then have an easier way to NOT listen, and the half-naked females of the Hollywood persuasion could save the millions they spend on their little excuses for clothing. Hollywood groups as 'movie makers' are no longer important. Their so-called, social efforts are usually radical and against common sense, so what's the loss? Unions will destroy Hollywood sooner or later anyway.

And they can change the Oscar emcee to someone who might actually be funny or relevent without a disgusting or radically political mien. Let's see.....an appropriate nominee---oh, how about Fred Thompson? Or Dennis Miller? Even Jay Leno or the Muppets? Where's Bob Hope when you need him?

One excellent solution to high production costs is to cut salaries for the Hollywood 'worthies' by 90 percent, and reduce movie theater ticket costs accordingly. If a movie is only worth 50 cents to see, that's all the public should have to pay. An actor or actress needs only a couple of hundred thousand dollars at most for their efforts. It'll keep them busy and provide them less time for their radical projects. Put the extra money into better scripts, plots, accuracy and general movie making effort [and not in special effects and animation.] As of now: The 'talent', good or bad, is grossly overpaid. The movie theater tickets are over-priced. And the social activities of 'actors' are usually over-regarded, radically left---and simply representative of the 'pea-brain' mentality and lack of significance of such individuals. Most Hollywood producers and directors never let facts or truth get in their way anyway, and thus they reduce the respect their movies might be given.

I have nothing against the new blood in Hollywood in front of or behind the camera. I just think they should stop being treated as gods and goddesses. Most of them have more money than brains, and I think they should earn less money and lead more responsible lives. They'll perform just as well---if not better---in their movies. And their movies should be spurring our imaginations more and spending less time on graphic details.

Let Hollywood return to the 'Thrilling days of Yesteryear' with new and innovative movies, less politics, reasonable prices, and more excitement.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Returning Mummy

I was watching the 'Mummy Returns' the other night, and I couldn't help but notice that the destitute, losing Egyptian soldiers straggling back to no-one knows where all looked quite well fed and muscular. Not only that, but the Scorpion King himself---besides a perfect physique---has perfect, bright white teeth. That's quite an accomplishment for the ancient Egyptian era, especially before Anubis chose him to lead a phantom army. It's things like this that remind us we're watching fantasy [or play-acting as it used to be called] in front of cameras with techinicians all around. For me, that's the major reason I'm rarely frightened during a movie. Startled yes. But rarely frightened. And yes, that has always tempered my ability to enjoy a good movie to the fullest extent.

These notables and the constant danger and physical violence shown on the screen often leave me wondering just what's going on. But I must say that Brendan Frazer's pants went through the whole movie without a scratch. Now, that's quality.
***
It seems to me that television show producers have gone overboard in their search for new shows. To a certain extent, the executives in power are scratching the bottom of the idea barrel. We have reality and specialty shows of being left on an island [and it's spin-offs]; art and drawing; cooking; decorating; home design; dancing; singing; bounty hunters; dirty jobs in general; FBI; railroad trains; forensic medicine and detection; potting and planting; home improvement to include carpentry, electrical, and plumbing [though without Joe]; Ozzie's home; building construction; auctions; human wrecking balls; hunting and fishing; northern winter fishing; cage wrestling; ice road truck traffic; legal, crime, and police work; logging; medical care; bodybuilding; motorcycle construction; poker; oil drilling; sandhogging; and others.

This is quite a list. I can remember when home improvement and cooking shows were all we had on broadcast tv---wait! There was also Jon Gnagy's art program. As we gain in population we have to find new ways to keep the citizens glued to the tube. So, I have a few suggestions for regular new shows and programming to cover: historic honey-dipping; farming; slopping pigs; comic book writing; television production; movie making; straight-line counterfeiting; life as a Geisha girl; auction pinochle; creative cyber hacking; board game principles; modern crossword puzzle solving; the real shop on the corner, a haberdashery; Chess in Reality; how to run and become president; competitive grass growing; and so on.

What we can hope disappears are the talking-head news shows, especially those on politics; drug manufacturer's ads; Billie Mays here; and those half-hour ads shown at times when no one's watching.
***
I was watching some of these 'Home Security' companies' advertising recently---say, do they all use the same burglar? He's none to smart, you know. He breaks in the front door [seconds after the parents leave through the same door.] Another attempt is made at the back sliding door. Then he tries the back screen door. And these break-ins are done to houses with lights on, including that back door job with the lighted room beyond! If that's an example of the new breed of crooks, I'll stick with the tape of Bowser barking his head off and an appropriate light activation switch.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Iron Chef v Presidential Politics

Something's been bothering me for quite some time, and I think I've finally hit on it. The Presidential race reminds me of the 'Iron Chef!' In 'Iron Chef', there's an anchor off to the side and several teams of cameramen and interviewers in each of the kitchen areas. While the chefs are cooking and competing with each other, the interviewers ask them questions and otherwise bother them and listen to their boasts; and we're provided with video of their efforts. At times, especially near the end of the contest, we can sense the rush and increasing desire by the chefs for the interviewers to go away. All of this is in Japanese, and we need translators.

Finally, the prepared dishes are set up and described. Then the judges vote.

Now, move to the Presidential campaigns. All the news organizations have their anchors ensconced at their desks or walking around the news center, summarizing and overseeing their news teams. There are news/video teams all over the Country following the two campaigns and four participants. They cover their every move with cameras and microphones, and they report back through the anchor. Speeches and interviews abound. And as the campaigns enter their final few days, you can sense the rush and urgency from both sides. All of this is in political-speak, and we need translators [can you say 'spinners?']

Finally, the campaigns' are over, and the people vote.

So then, the Presidential campaign is just another version of 'Iron Chef?' Maybe not as momentous, but at least similar in presentation.
***
Do you want a digital message reminder? One is free if you buy a Buxton leather bag. But is it helpful? Based on history, I know that freebies rarely last very long in my house. If they aren't lost, they stop working. I have numerous tiny calculators in oblivion along with my missing socks. Others went directly to the round file.

Besides, I don't need help in remembering the shopping list of the woman in the commercial: Butter, milk, eggs. So who needs a digital reminder?
***
I've never been able to keep plants. No matter how much I try or what I do, they all die on my watch rather quickly. One time I put a beautiful plant too close to a heating vent, and it dried out in no time, and I didn't have the necessary botanical knowledge to revive or save it---assuming it could be saved. My biggest problem then---besides placement in the room---is proper watering and occasional feeding. My thumb, like my wallet, is bereft of green.

Recently, I've been watching these commercials about something called an Aquaglobe. It's a long, slender glass tube topped by a big globe. You fill it with water, turn it over and stick it in the dirt of your flower pot. It keeps everything watered---or so the ad says, for two weeks. I don't really know.

Anyway, I'm not sure I'd want a blue or red globe sticking out of the dirt next to my plant [as long as it may wave.] Blue/red with white flowers? Ferns? Green plants? Yellow flowers? Cactus? Bonsai? Granted, the product may work, but the sight of it is obvious---unless that's the purpose. I wonder what damage could be done to the plant by broken glass? I know that breakage would certainly happen within a week of my buying one.

If you really like plants, you'll be caring for them on a regular basis with few problems. It's only us lazy or inept ones who can use it. If my allergies would allow it, I'd get plants again. And knowing my history, I might consider the Aquaglobe.

Speaking of allergies. Last Christmas I bought a real Christmas tree. Welllllll,,,,,, it was Christmas and it was a pine tree. It was only about 9 inches high. But it looked cute, and I didn't have enough room in the apartment or the energy to set up a full sized tree. No matter. My allergies started acting up, and it took me a week or two to fully realize the source of my misery. I threw the little demon away and my nose returned to normal.
***
I don't use Cialis. When it takes a company half the commercial to tell you about the side effects---well, no way. If I ever need something I'll ask Bob. But as for Cialis, I don't have two movable, cast iron bathtubs to set on a platform facing the sea. Can you imagine that? What's so sexy about sitting in two bathtubs drinking wine? [If I hadn't seen the first part, I'd think it was a bathtub commercial.] It isn't a very good sale for togetherness by having the two principals setting up the platform and lugging a couple of immensely heavy cast iron tubs over the sand and up the walkway. I wonder? Do they have to sit there the entire 36 hours? I hope not. Anyway, I'll stick to oysters and champagne.
***
I wonder if the woman on tv can get police help to stop Mr Mop and Mr Duster from stalking and harassing her? 'Baby come back!' By the way, how does a discarded duster come up with the coin to pay for three fancily-attired singers? Actually, I bought a swiffer recently, but I've had no requests from my mop for reinstatement. If it sent me a candy gram, I'd grab the box of candy before slamming the door.
***
There seems to be a real desire out there to buy old gold and jewelry from all of us. As one buyer tells us, '...gold is at a twenty year haa-igh...' A different spokesman brags that his company '...has already given out $1 million to our customers...' A sentence or two later, asks viewers to '...call us today and get your share of the $1 million...' Huh? Does that mean the $1 million already given out is going to be brought back for redistribution to others? Whatever happened to literate copy writers? Is this another 'share the wealth' program? Oh well, at least I remember when Old Gold was just a cigarette brand.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Random Thoughts October

Campbell Soup's new commercial states that it's condensed soups are great tasting in part because they are made with less water. That sort of negates the name 'condensed', doesn't it? Besides, if less water is so great, why is it the directions on the can call for you to add a can of water?

***
There are numerous drug commercials on tv these days---probably too many. And I saw a personnel ad about them.

'Fast speaker needed. Must be able to spout hundreds of drug side effects in thirty seconds while sitting at a desk and not moving a muscle---and yet making the product seem like the best thing since sliced bread---if you forget about the 1001 side effects. Things are made easier by having the person sitting across from you [supposedly listening] sit frozen and without batting an eyelash.'

So, did that ever happen to you? Did you sit across a desk from a doctor who spoke to you like a robot? And did you sit frozen and stare at him? That guy listening doesn't seem to react to any of the side effects!

Some of these medical commercials are so out of touch with reality you have to wonder about the product itself. I have to laugh when hearing them state all the side effects. After listening to them---spouted by fake doctors or woman friends---one has to wonder why we should be taking them in the first place.
***
I'm really tired of unwelcomed advertisements. I work on three crossword puzzles every day from several web sites: USA Today; Boston Globe; and LA Times. The latter two are fine, but USA Today is driving me crazy.

I go to the 'Life' page and the top part is covered by an advertisement. Sometimes I can close it, sometimes I can't. When I reach the crossword puzzle link I click on it. But the big block of ever-changing design for the puzzle has a video ad in the center of it. I have to listen to it until the end, then it turns into the puzzle.

Friday I went there, and I found an ad in lieu of the puzzle! I had to listen to it as it ran and disappeared. Only after that did the puzzle appear.

I'm sorry for the newspaper declines. That's life, and the companies are just going to have to deal with it without stomping on my toes. I don't believe I should have to be constantly inundated with ads in whatever I want to do on the net.

Even television has gone computer in its advertising. Sometimes, the whole bottom of the screen becomes a pop-up ad. Nothing like messing with the program on at the time, is there? I can't tell you how many times I thought someone was running out onto the racing lane during a NASCAR event. It's bad enough we have to endure commercial breaks, but men running out on the lanes and changing tires is a little too much.

I predict that there will be a time in the near future when the balance will tip. The ads will exceed the programs. They're like taxes. I can understand a reasonable amount of both, but the powers-that-be just go overboard on a regular basis no matter what they promise you.
***
According to fun-with-words.com , 'Spoonerisms are phrases, sentences, or words in language with swapped sounds. Usually this happens by accident, particularly if you're speaking fast. Come and wook out of the lindow is an example.'

I find them in daily life quite often, and they're always lood for a gaugh. Like puns, they should NOT be occasions for groans. Some of the groaners out there are the biggest users of puns: Headline Writers, for example. Spoonerisms and puns are part of our life and examples of the mind moving slower [or faster, depending on the source] than the mouth due to some previous comment that hasn't quite left our consciousnesses.

'Spoonerisms' are so named after the Reverend William Spooner [1844-1930], a Dean and Warden of New College, Oxford University, England. He was plagued with these 'verbal slips' of the tongue on many occasions: 'fighting a liar' for 'lighting a fire'; 'nosey little cook' for 'cosy little nook'; 'you've tasted two worms' for 'you've wasted two terms; and so on. At a naval review, he extolled 'this vast display of cattle ships and bruisers' or take his aside to a new bridegroom: 'son, it is now kisstomary to cuss the bride.'

These verbal twists are essentially phonetic transpositions because they are more switched sounds than simply switched letters. In fact, large portions of words can be switched, for example: 'manahuman soup' for 'superhuman man.'

And there's no chance of running out of ammunition. English has over three times the words as any other language, so it's not surprising that so many 'verbal slips' can be created---not on purpose, mind you, but created nevertheless.

The 'words' web site also records that 'Radio announcer Harry Von Zell once introduced the president as Hoobert Heever. And Lowell Thomas presented British Minister Sir. Stafford Cripps as Sir. Stifford Craps.'

So please, friends, go out and spake some moonerisms. You'll enjoy life a little more.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Walking in Space

It's amazing what the main stream media will accept as fact these days.

On September 28, Reuters posted a story about the 'spacewalk' and traveling of the Chinese astronauts. Everybody was cheering and the space trip was accepted as is, including the space walk.

In the US, we had a lengthy introduction to space travel. We saw empty lift-offs and fires and short voyages with chimps before we ever considered sending a human being up into the darkness. Even the USSR sent a dog up first. I think it's name was Fido.

We watched as Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and the Space Shuttle programs send up men and women in ever increasingly complex vehicles and equipment. We saw these live. We also saw the disappointments and failures. We learned from our mistakes. But we made no mistake in taking every precaution to protect our travelers.

On the other hand, the Chinese---to some extent like the Soviets---kept most things secret and then provided television footage of the successful manned space mission. Somehow, preliminary 'learning' programs weren't necessary. Maybe the Chinese, again like the Soviets, built their technology on the shoulders of stolen technology from the US. I somehow doubt we gave any of them the details of our space programs.

And the Chinese slept overnight and had space walks. Except, the filmed views of the astronauts overnight in the capsules were shown on television before lift off happened. How is this possible?

Well, I think most of the entire effort was filmed in a studio. Sad to say, the communist mentality is not particularly innovative. They had to film the entire space trip beforehand because they didn't expect success. And we should treat their claims likewise.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gold Fever on the Air

Gold! Gold! There's gold in them thar hills! Gold! [enter the John Huston dance] Gold! Roll out the idol!

Gold is that precious metal which has been used as coins, in jewelry, religious idols, in bars to look at and hoard, clothing, cutlery, and food service since history was first recorded---and probably before. Uses now include electrical and computer technology.

In times of trouble, people buy pure gold to retain value in their wealth. But whether it's gold---or even diamonds in some cases---you'll never retain value by buying gold at the top of the cycle.

Until 1974, the London gold price was under $100 an ounce. In 1974, the average price was $159; in 1999 279; in 2000 $279; in 2005 $445; in 2007 $695; and the closing price on 9/30/2008 is $885.

The current forecast is for gold to reach $904 through 2009. And remember, if you buy gold bullion or coins, you'll be paying a premium. If you buy gold jewelry, you'll be paying for the artistic efforts as well as the constituent parts.

Based on past volatility and the expected rebound of our economy, I don't think you can expect gold to advance too much over the near term. Let's say, $1000 at the top.

So, for the time being, it doesn't seem to make sense to buy into the increasingly prevalent gold purchase commercials. The premiums themselves will cut your value, and you'll be stuck with the gold if the price drops. If you want value, don't sell your old jewelry. Keep it around. There's no premium to that.

If there's gold in them thar hills, it'll be tough to get with all the ore milling, taxes, claim jumpers and pyrite mistakes. Besides John Huston's dance, you have to deal with a wild group not needing 'no stinkin' badges!'

Just strengthen your marriage, and you can keep your wedding band on.

Friday, September 26, 2008

New and Improved

The advertising industry is really getting to me, and that's surprising since in the past I've been very tolerant of ad intrusiveness.

My current bugaboo is the advertising activity on many websites, but especially that of USA Today. It seems that every time I change a web page, I'm stuck with a pop-up advertisement covering most of the page with no 'x' at the top to close it. Add to that the ads popping up when my cursor happens to cross a smaller ad, and you get a frustration high.

But, by far, the biggest pain is having to listen to and see the video ad before I can work the crossword puzzle. This is going too far. Can't we do anything on the web without having an ad popping up and annoying us? And, for that matter, why don't our pop-up blockers prevent these?

To some extent I can understand the need for more ads on newspaper websites. The sales of newspapers is dropping precipitously, and the ad revenue is going with it. So it only seems natural that the lost ad supply will wend it's way to the websites.

But, let's not forget television. The station logo in bottom right hand corner is annoying enough, but the pop-up ads at the bottom are over the top. I don't need people walking all around the bottom of the screen, especially when they interfere with the tv program. I'm distressed at the tires and pit crew or racing car appearing in action at the bottom of the screen during a race. Isn't it bad enough, notably on ESPN, that the top and often the bottom of the screen are filled with non-essential information? Do I need a huge wall set in order to see the actual program?

But, to more specific ads.

Do you really think that someone finding your wallet and wanting to return it will act like the man in the tv ad? Standing on the street and calling the man in an apartment twenty floors up is rather strange, but waving a wallet while asking the man to look out the window is absurd. The man in the apartment needs to turn his tv on in order to see what the man in the street is holding.

Despite the occasional news about a grandmother giving birth [usually in the tabloid rags], I wonder why birth control pill advertisers are targeting older people? They list [quickly] a number of risks associated with the medication 'especially if you're over 55. How many of us over 55 are going to be concerned about taking birth control pill in the first place?

I tried to find a free American flag to post on my Vista gadget section. I had a terrible time trying to find one, but I succeeded in the end. Where, might you ask, did I find it? On a website based in Romania.

I contacted J G Wentworth recently and applauded their opera commercial. You've probably seen and heard it. It's a Wagnerian style short opera based on the phone number for the annuity and structured-settlement firm. The music is terrific. The structured settlement buyout doesn't apply to me. But if it did, I might consider the company.

Anyway, I did send a congratulatory email. And, surprise, I go a rather quick reply, asking for my address. Did I expect a visit from a hitman? Certainly, not. Did I expect Michael Anthony with his $million check? Sadly, no. A job offer? A free trip to Hawaii?

No, what I did receive was a bobble-head doll of the company president. While I'm appreciative of the gift, I was hoping the company would send me something non-commercial and without further advertising. And to add insult to injury, the bobble-head was made in China!

When you fork over $20 for a 9/11 commemorative, non-circulation $20 Liberian coin, what are you getting? At the recent exchange rate of $.1562, your 'silver leaf' [only a silver veneer over another type of base], costing about $3-4 US to create [including the silver], is worth about 31 cents US. And remember, it's non-circulating Liberian currency. I wouldn't try to cash it in, especially if 31 cents isn't going to do much for you.

Am I finished? Well, yes---at least for this time. This was another in a series of articles on 'Better Living' for the American media viewer and taxpayer.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Clerihew Boop Boop Be Doo

According to Answers.com, a clerihew is 'a humorous verse, usually consisting of two unmatched rhyming couplets, about a person whose name generally serves as one of the rhymes.' Got that? The format was first used by Edmund Clerihew Bentley [1875-1956], later a popular British novelist and humorist.

The Literary Dictionary describes a clerihew: '…It consists of two metrically awkward couplets and usually presents a ludicrously uninformative 'biography' of some famous person whose name appears as one of the rhymed words in the first couplet… [I wonder if they're supposed to be written with ludicrous speed?]

Bentley's first clerihew was written by him in a boring [to him] science class when he was sixteen [1891.] He dashed it off quite easily, seemingly out of thin air:

Sir Humphrey Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium

Not being satisfied with just this one, he went on to create many others, including these from his 1905 work, 'Biography for Beginners.' The book was illustrated by Bentley's good friend, Gilbert Keith Chesterton [an American writer.] The latter went on to raise the stature of the clerihew with many fine examples of his own.

From the 1905 book:

The art of Biography
Is different from Geography.
Geography is about maps,
But Biography is about chaps.
*
What I like about Clive
Is that he is no longer alive.
There is a great deal to be said
For being dead.
*
It was a weakness of Voltaire's
To forget to say his prayers,
And one which to his shame
He never overcame.
*

G K Chesterton penned the following:

Solomon
You can scarcely write less than a column on.
His very song
Was long.
*
The Spanish people think Cervantes
Equal to half a dozen Dantes.
An opinion resented most bitterly
By the people of Italy.
*
James Hogg
Kept a dog.
But, being a shepherd
He did not keep a leopard.
***

Though the clerihew is often imitated by children or bloggers, they rarely get it right–--though it can be fun to try. It's difficult to be 'metrically awkward,' or to say something 'ludicrously uninformative' biographical image with tongue in cheek without supposing some knowledge of the subject in the first place.

Though not perfect [and I suppose these lines are somewhat reminiscent of limericks], I offer the following:

Horatio Alger
Liked nostalger;
Rags to riches;
Very few glitches.
cw3
*
Jane Austen
Was rarely in Boston.
On one occasion
She penned “Persuasion.”
cw6
*
L Frank Baum
Had no qualm;
Emerald writer,
Bad-witch fighter.
cw9
***

So, thus is the strange tale of the clerihew. I find creating them quite relaxing, though I do spend more time on cinquains, a subject for a later essay.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Case of the Embedded Songstress

I know many of you just read my July 30 post and passed on to other things. And that's okay. A six year old singer, no matter what her talent, may not draw your attention. That being so, and fully mindful of your reticence, I'm hopeful that you stay here long enough to listen for a few moments.

I swiped this video from You Tube. It's not complete, but it'll give you a good idea of one of her songs from her first CD. Yow! Six years old---now seven---and she's got a CD out---with a single on the re-issue [to replace the Christmas songs] that has nearly reached the top of the charts in Great Britain! When I was seven, I was worried about the approaching third grade, Kathleen, Donna, fighting, running, and other non-musical kid stuff.

Monday, August 25, 2008

More Thoughts on the Beijing Olympics and Televised Sports

We've had the opening and closing ceremonies at Beijing, and they were exciting sights, alright. One has to admire spectacles, and the Beijing ceremonies certainly fit the bill. They were orchestrated by a Chinese film-maker, Zhang Yimou, [with a little help from his friends at the Chinese Politburo] who had previously enjoyed critical film success with: 'To Each His Cinema' [2007], 'Curse of the Golden Flower' [2006], and 'House of Flying Daggers' [2004].

Let others extol the epic ceremonies and athletic excellence of the games, my thoughts are elsewhere.

Both the opening and closing ceremonies were thoroughly enjoyable, but they both had their human glitches. Some---no one will admit exactly how much---of the fireworks display was faked for television audiences. [Mostly in the West, because I doubt there are very many television sets in China.] It was said that the fireworks display happened in real life, but the 'faking' was done for television purposes only. But many think that, if it happened in real life, why couldn't it be shown that way? The Chinese were more concerned with 'picture perfect' ceremonies than Monk is with his cutlery drawer.

Another downer was the lip syncing of the sweet nine year old, Lin Miaoke, on stage and in the spotlight for billions to watch. She was cute as a button, but she didn't do any singing that the audience could hear. Her real voice singing the ode was a chandelier breaker. Oh no, the real singer of the 'Ode to the Motherland', Yang Peiyi, wasn't considered 'cute' or 'attractive' enough to be shown during the performances, yet her pictures show her to be adorable. [Confucius says in his 'Analects': Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.]

The ceremonies' musical director, Chen Qigang, claims that the 'child on camera should be flawless in image...' Of course, this was quoted after the Politburo gave him it's opinion about what solo performers should look like.

The China Daily Newspaper claimed 'she [Lin Miaoke] is well on her way to becoming a star...' without commenting on the lip-syncing. Say? Doesn't that lip-syncing on stage really make her a star? Don't our western entertainers sometimes do the same thing? Of course, in most cases, the latter actually did the singing at some other time. I know Pavarotti lip-synced his performance at the 2006 Winter Olympics. However, he recorded the song in the first place. And he was seriously ill at the time and couldn't perform in the frigid outdoor weather. He died the next year.

Remember the children's chorus? Some of the singing was also lip-synced. The powers that be were afraid that any off key, off tune, or erroneous singing by members of the choruses would not show perfection. [Too bad. Such singing would have had a natural charm.] How much more real and natural it would have been if the singers, 'warts' and all were shown singing in real time, and the choruses singing in the same way.

It was also reported that all the 'ethnic' peoples presented in the ceremonies were actually Chinese and not the various ethnicities at all. I wonder how prevalent the substitutions were? I guess the true ethnic people in China aren't perfect enough for the World to see.

And the soldiers and entertainers, poor souls, had to wear diapers for their seven hour stint preparing and performing. I suppose diapers can be necessary for long performances at times, but for seven hours? I'd hate to have to empty all the dumpsters.

Many of the Chinese performers, especially in the closing ceremonies, were masked---some, it seemed, in football helmets with masks---and unidentifiable. I wonder how many of these participants were free to choose such anonymity for such a long period. And can you imagine being one of the hundreds of unidentifiable humans creating the waves and trees, clinging to high, wired stands in the semi-dark?

I'm reminded of Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis.' Participants had to become anonymous in order to show the ability of the group as a whole. [Hive mentality.] Individualism in performance---like from good communist-controlled citizens---has to be restrained unless in sync [lip-sync?] with all the others and the huge choreographed whole. The ceremonies also brought the movie 'Antz' more into focus.

But, of course, I didn't see people or groups per se. I saw units making up the show of the hive, not even the soul because the communists don't believe in souls. There were no individuals performing, only parts of the whole in their undulating and form-shaping choreography.

And wasn't that the purpose of the Beijing games? To show the collective perfection of the hive mentality in the best light? To show how the communist society can produce beauty---free will not withstanding? To unknowingly show us how the forced 'orc-ness' of the communist peoples in China? To raise itself in World opinion by denigrating many of its citizens? [Confucius says in his 'Analects': An oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger.]

The population of Communist China is about 1.3 billion people. They must live in 3.8 million square miles [much of it rocky and barren], compared to our 303 million citizens living in 3.7 million square miles. And you think you live in a crowded neighborhood? The Chinese air is polluted, and too many people are forced to live in hovels, not the beautiful neighborhoods you saw on television of Beijing or other major cities. The Chinese government permits these factory and transportation polluters of air, land, and water to continue operating so that they can send more flawed goods to the United States for hard cash. And we sit around and permit it. But I wander off point.

However, my great admiration for the work of the human mind must include the millions of subjugated individuals forced to collectively put the communist ethic in the best light. They have no choice in how they are forced to live and perform for their masters. But, I have the freedom to view it and comment on it in the light of day.

On another note, the apparently underage gymnasts who weren't allowed to be interviewed to any extent [afraid they might tell the truth?], exemplify the 'forced labor camp' mentality. Sure, the Politburo-led officials might have chosen other gymnasts, but the idea at the Beijing-sponsored games was to have Chinese athletes win gold medals and show China in the best light of World opinion. [That's why their athletes are chosen at very young ages and forced into the sporting regimen for the people for a long number of years.] And everyone knows that girls under sixteen do a better job than those older---you know, fewer injuries, lighter bodies, less individualism, more apt to toe the regimentation line, etc.

I sent an email to NBC Sports during the games. I didn't like having to view a large picture of Chinese icon, Mao Tse-Tung, in the background of the shots of Bob Costas, and I explained it to the network. I don't think we Americans should have had to watch that. [Why do you think the Chinese hung it there in the first place?] NBC ignored me. The picture is an obnoxious reminder of past Chinese atrocities, and an American television network has no business promoting Communist symbols to the rest of us.

Now, NBC is on par with ESPN as far as sports broadcasting is concerned. The commercial breaks during a live event were ill timed to say the least. Follow that with network self promotion ad nauseum, and you can understand why I watched more of the Olympics online than I did on television---in fact, it was often with the television in the background with no sound [the best way to watch most television broadcasts anyway.]

And one has to squint to be sure to see anything, what with score tables at top, other sports info at the bottom, promo pop ups at the bottom interfering with the live action, sometimes at critical points. The television screen is so cluttered, it looks like my PC with the icons and gadgets and precious little wallpaper room. Of course, promo pop-ups never happen during commercials, do they?

Besides which, both NBC and ESPN replay every decent or questionable effort of the players constantly. [I'm sure the other networks are the same.] So much so, in fact, that it's difficult to tell what's live action and what's Memorex. Even as simple a play as a baseball strike or ball is played over constantly to show the viewers how the network is so very efficient, and has so many cameras covering each play from all directions.

Is it any wonder I no longer watch the baseball All Star Game or World Series on television? I can follow it easier online. The same applies to Basketball and Football. I only watch other televised sports rarely.

Excuse me for now, I'm going to watch some athletic performances online for free and without inane commentary, playbacks, pop-ups, pictures of Mao or commercial interruptions. Is this Heaven? No it's Iowa...er..I mean it's online freedom.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Random Thoughts on the Beijing Olympics and Dunkin' Donuts

The Olympics have been spectacular so far, but then they always seem to be, don't they? It takes me several days to get the bug to see the coverage, but I ultimately do. And this year, I found that if I keep the television on with the sound off while I work on the computer, I can follow the NBC coverage much easier. And I don't have to listen to the---sometimes inane---comments.

And you can't miss anything. If it's important, NBC will replay it over and over and over and over 'till the cows come home. And its website will have highlights anyway. Add the promos and self promoting intros, and you will be seeing true athletic events only about half the time. It's much easier to watch it on the NBC or Yahoo websites---which I do. The commentary isn't so evident, and other than the first commercial, you don't have interruptions.

For live coverage, I've seen interruptions at important times to get in a commercial. With a replay you won't miss anything, but live events come across at a loss to the viewer. It must be intellectually challenged individuals who make the decision to cut in for commercials at ridiculous times.

Besides, the websites often give the results before NBC airs the events. It saves us in the personal tension and anxiety areas, for sure. It's only rarely you see the 'Live' near the NBC logo at the upper right corner anyway.

I sent an email to NBC Sports and asked it to insure the camera angle on Bob Costas was changed. I was tired of seeing the big picture of Mao Tse-Tung in the background. I think I see an improvement, but I can still see the picture at times.

Does anyone else think the Bird's Nest stadium looks like a toilet seat from above? It makes you wonder when the architect got his idea.

I'm not a runner. Never have been. But, I think modern decisions to follow, intermix, and lead the runners with cars, trucks, and motorcycles, adversely affects the lung functions of those trying to run a race. I also saw the photographers crossing the race paths between runners. How the hell do they expect runners---or walkers---to concentrate?
*

With the allegations of faked opening cermonies and phony ages of Chinese participants, the glosses of terrific efforts seem tarnished. How much of the opening ceremonies was real and how much was faked? 'Only her hairdresser knows for sure.'

Some of the Chinese gymnasts were amazing, but they also looked young enough for mid grammar school, missing baby teeth and all. The Olympic officials should do the right thing, but I fear that they will fall prey to political correctness and let the Chinese get away with it. But if the USA were the offending nation, there would be sanctions and medal strippings by the dozens---even without proof.
*

Now to Dunkin' Donuts. I tried the new eggwhite sandwich yesterday. I've seen the commercial on television so often, I think we're old friends. For my first trial, I chose the sausage type.

The sandwich was actually quite good, but the sodium content was very high at some 860mg. And, I couldn't discern any sausage in the sandwich. The sign at the drive-in was posted $2.99, but I was charged $3.99. This difference didn't register at first, but when it did there wasn't much I could do about it. I'm dependent on others for rides since I no longer drive [$$$$$$$:) :)], and I don't know how I'll resolve the problem. By the time I get to the store again, I'll be old and gray [er.]

So, when I got home, I hungered for more. I used the new Eggbeaters with yolk to make another sandwich. I had to hold my desires in check, as I could have eaten several more.

The Olympics aren't quite over yet, so I expect to have other observations. Please stay tuned and try the eggwhite sandwiches!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Pure Silver Leaf

Friends, have you got $20 to throw away?

There's a company, via a television commercial, that's hawking $20 silver leaf 'coin-certificates' minted in rectangular shapes larger than a US twenty dollar bill. Sounds good, doesn't it? Government approved; .999 pure silver leaf; commemorative of the 9/11 tragedy; face value of $20; non-circulating legal tender in Liberia [the latter fact toned down.] "Yours for face value $20."

Well, I have nothing against people earning a living by selling things. I just wish they would disclose the facts. Sometimes they do partially, of course. Remember those tiny letters at the bottom of the screen, where you're shown it so quickly even a speed reader couldn't follow it?

In any case, let's consider the above offer. The government doing the approving is the Liberian government, a small country on the West Coast of Africa. It was originally settled by free blacks and former slaves from the United States, and the religious practices, social customs and cultural standards of these ethnic American-Liberians have their roots in the pre-war American South. Including the American-Liberians, there are over 15 ethnicities in the country, each with its own agenda.

In recent decades, revolutions, murders, and instability have been the problems faced by Liberia. A recent unemployment rate was 85%! And Liberia is among the largest of the World Registry of Ships---mostly for the tax advantages, since Liberia doesn't operate any of them.

But, back to the silver leaf 'coin-certificates.'

Since silver leaf is indicated, that means that the core is made of something else with silver leaf applied to the surface---it could be brass, another inexpensive alloy, or even plaster for all I know. Based on the current cost of silver leaf, and allowing for the cost of coinage, we're talking about $3 to create each one, maybe $1 for sales and television promotion---all assuming they sell a lot of these things.

So, you get a $20 piece of Liberian currency? Not really. First of all, the ad states that the 'coin-certificates' will never be circulated as currency. Anyway, at the exchange rate of July 29, 2008, each Liberian Dollar is worth $.01562 US, or about a cent and a half. So, in US Dollars each 'coin-certificate' is worth about 31 cents. You certainly aren't asked to really buy it at 'face' value, that's for sure. You're told: "* All orders are in US Dollars"

But, the ad says "Yours for face value $20." Sooo, if that's true---and governmental authorities should be insuring that---then you should be able to buy each 'coin-certificate' for the face value: $20 Liberian [if you happen to have Liberian currency] or its $US dollar equivalent, about 31 cents. Thus the shipping and handling of $4.95 based on the wording of the ad, is about 8 cents $US. You should be able to get each commemorative 'coin-certificate' for 39 cents $US delivered.

Buy the 'September 11 commemorative coin-certificate' if you want, but don't buy it for use or investment.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Amazing! Sensational! Pretty Good!

Friends, I've discovered a treasure.

In my daily surfing of the Internet [You Tube this time], I found a fascinating new entertainer. Following my usual course of in-depth study of an interesting subject, I went to the home page of Connie Talbot.

Now, I usually don't fully enjoy young singers, but Connie is an exception. She is a fine singer with natural and true tones, stage presence, and confidence in her ability. She's charmed me for sure.

Connie was a finalist in the 'Britain's Got Talent' entertainment show. And since then, she's cut a CD, gone on tour, and is preparing for her American tour. She's so good, in fact, that I'll be ignoring my own rule, and I'll buy and download her CD.

Please visit her website [Here's the link: Connie Talbot ], listen to her sample clips and watch her short videos. Her video of 'Three Little Birds' in Jamaica is fantastic. You'll be very, very pleased.

And oh, by the way, Connie Talbot is six years old.

Friday, July 11, 2008

To Sin or Not to Sin



The Catholic Church's recent publishing of a list of 'new sins' in modern society has created a bit of controversy---mostly from people who have little knowledge of the Catholic Church, what it means, and how it operates.

I'm not at all sure what's meant by a 'dynamic' Church as opposed to a 'static' Church. I rather think the definitions are proposed to allow wiggle room when someone doesn't want an action to be a sin. Certainly, some parts of the Church will change with the times. But, sins are sins no matter when you commit them or how you try to justify them. Waffling isn't going to change reality.

Perhaps the best way to understand what's a sin and what's not a sin, is to be sure you're well educated in morality and your Catholic faith. If you know how the Church was formed, how God wants us to be and act, how free will operates, what morality can be and usually is, the precepts of our faith, the concepts of religion and life from the philosophers, and the teachings of Christ and the Doctors of the Church, you'd have a better idea of how to live your life as a Catholic. Learning is a lifetime process. And you can't call yourself a real Catholic if you don't understand many of these.

But, all that isn't understood overnight. You can't learn what you need within a few years of part-time religious education no matter how smart you think you are. It takes many years because of the interweaving of knowledge and disciplines, so in the meantime the Church and your fellow Catholics can act more as kindly fathers than simple guides. So, normally, the younger you are, the less you're going to understand your faith and religion and the World in general. And you have to understand you can't cherry-pick your sins based on how you want to live or what society is currently accepting as normal. Don't kid yourself. That's not being a member of our Church.

If you're well grounded in the Catholic faith and religion, and brought up to know right or wrong in a responsible manner, you'll know what's a sin and what's not a sin. The Church will give you guidance. The Church is a necessary and wonderful institution, and it's promoting a new list of sins is a welcome and needed guidance. It is teaching us, but it's not perfect. The Pope is not promulgating these lists infallibly. When the Pope promulgates anything in faith and morals in the prescribed manner, I'll accept such pronouncements word for word and adjust my own understanding of my faith and religion. But, in the meantime, it's up to me to determine on a daily basis what is sinful and what is not in my life, based on my education and these [and other] Catholic published guidance. It's certainly a tricky trail to follow, but life is like that. Very little around us is 'easy pickins.'

There is nothing inherently wrong with capitalism and the accumulation of wealth, per se. There may be, however, sinful problems in how you use capitalism to amass that wealth. There may also be sinful problems in how you later use that wealth and the concomitant power---personal, social, political, professional. Part of the problem here is the constant lack of understanding of what capitalism is and how it works; how the psyche of mankind operates; and how it drives a person to work harder than the next person and enjoy the greater fruits of labor. And, if you don't understand Economics, you shouldn't be bashing its sub-concepts willy-nilly.

What's excess wealth? Can it be defined? Reasonable people will disagree. Personally, I think an ostentatious life is off the mark and can be considered excess. But still, wealthy people do provide the capital to keep our Country running. Poor people don't. I've got nothing against poor people---I'm one myself---but our economy and our lives need continuous capital, whether it be from the financial markets, local businesses, or Joe in the gated community. And as long as you're throwing percentages around, please remember that the upper 10% of our society [the wealthy] pay 90% of the taxes. In other words, without them, our economy and Country would collapse, and we'd all be out on our ears in the middle of the nowhere. That would bring everyone down to [and past] my current level---but is it right? Is it moral?

Furthermore, I don't accept junk science and it's creation of new human wrongs. You have to be careful about these ideologically-driven crusades. While they may sound good at first, they're usually based on flawed or non-existent science with self-serving purposes. [And their 'gurus' are rarely in the lower 90% of our income stream, either.] There are usually many of these 'movements' floating around us on a regular basis. I've always tried to be responsible in my life, and I'm not going to permit pseudo-science or self-serving ideology-driven programs to make me uncomfortable in knowing what's natural in our World and what's not.

None of us knows all the answers, but a thorough understanding of what we face in life, how we deal with it, and what we believe in---or need to believe in---as Catholics, is absolutely necessary to determine the when or how of sinful behavior. The Church guides us, but it behooves us to be able to better recognize sin when we meet it.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Random Thoughts

I don't know about you [isn't that original?], but I find the 'Travelocity' ad with the jackhammers
interfering with conversation to be very annoying. Isn't it bad enough the travelers have to open their windows to a balcony overlooking a grave yard? Or deal with that poor, downtrodden plaster gnome gumming up the works regularly?

There was a message on my tv set prior to a showing of 'Law and Order': 'The following program may contain scenes not suitable for some. Parental discretion is advised.' This occurred at 2:30 am. Methinks our children are staying up too late in the evening.

In an ad for a siding firm, you can hear the boast: 'We also power wash and fix minor repairs.' Whose repairs are they fixing? Can't they do the minor repairs right in the first place? Or are they boasting an ability to fix minor repair efforts of the homeowner-handyman?

Attention 'Jurassic Park'! A recent study has determined that 'Tyrannosaurus Rex [is] Basically a Big Chicken'. So, when you open your next park restaurant, be sure to include some breaded, 'Fried Rex' on the menus, to be served with Jungle Greens and hand-carved sesame seeds? I'm not sure what kind of stuffing should be used. Perhaps 'bread trees?'

Don't you find it curious that billions and billions of dollars are spent each year around the world simply to see and [maybe] identify hazy, white lines on a screen as itty bitty matter particles? You could fool me for a lot less.

I've heard at least two different tv commercials using a pre-recorded [from the published song] singing of 'I believe in miracles.' I've listened and listened, but I still can only hear 'I believe in mail call.' It took me many hearings to figure out the real words, and I needed hints. I suppose if I knew the song, I'd have had no problem. But that would have been the easy way out.

The older and wiser I get [with much time out for inate stupidity], the more I can pick out the holes in many scripts for tv and movie productions. For instance, why do the actors have to look dumb and stupid instead of actually telling a person about the death of a close companion or friend? Is that really the time to subject an innocent spouse/friend to your guessing games? Sometimes the preliminaries to the actual telling can drive you up a wall. For drama I suppose?

Why are so many scripts filled with stupid actions. [I know they're there to move the plot along. But if you want the big bucks, do it more intelligently.] I've seen many movies that would simply have no plot if the main character had simply acted like a normal human being in the beginning of the story. Sure, find a body and grab the knife, thus leaving your fingerprints. You're innocent, but you make elaborate efforts to lie and throw the a wrench into the works, thus making yourself the prime suspect. Lie about a near relative because you are 'shielding' him/her. Good drama perhaps, but you can never fool a tv detective very long.

I'm curious. How can Mary Alice in 'Ace of Cakes' be 'feeling a little emasculated now?' I think she's a very pretty and charming woman. She has nothing to ever feel 'emasculated' about.

Speaking of 'Ace of Cakes:' I used to make specialty cakes for my children on their birthdays---their choice of what they should look like. I'm not a professional, but I though they were pretty good for an average Dad. Picture included above. But, I was nowhere near the efforts of 'Charm City Cakes.' They do awesome work. I found it hard to believe that the 'Hogwarts' estate was edible. I guess their cakes are worth every dollar you pay for them---and then some. [I could only afford maybe one of their cupcakes, but it's great to watch them at work.]

I'm watching the 'Food Channel' now. Did you ever notice that today's chefs reinvent the wheel on a regular basis? And not always correctly. They give out tips that I learned fifty years ago. And often, I know a better way to do something than they do.

Is it any wonder there are so many overweight chefs? Their recipes are heavy on the butter, animal fats, sugar, and sodium. Their fine looking efforts would kill many of their viewers who are diabetic, overweight, or suffering from many other health problems. Taste good? You bet! They're great! But they're killing most of us.

Remember the movie 'Support Your Local Sheriff?' If you do, you'll remember the kitchen scene where Joan Hackett [Prudy Perkins] is trying to make dinner in a fancy dress with long sleeves and lace cuffs? The dress is inappropriate and leads the scene into a very funny result, including the usual flying flour and smoked skirt.

Check out some female tv chefs, especially Rachael Ray. With her long sleeves covering half her fist, she just doesn't seem to get it. Most of their viewers are housewives and men who can be easily imagined to be wearing shorts [ala Mario Batali], bathing suits, dressing gowns, overalls, uniforms etc. Despite the 40 years, Rachael is still very pretty and alluring---if she'd keep the energy level down a bit.

I've been bombarded with the advertisement about a cell phone you can get very cheaply, and you only have to buy about $20 of time every three months. Wow! It doesn't sound like much of an expense, does it? In truth, it works out to about 30 cents per minute. So, even wrong numbers and calls from the ex can sting the senses and the pocket.

There's a 'language instruction video' being hawked on tv. There have been others. Whatever merit they might have---I just don't know. I keep hearing the praises of the video, but none of the 'happy' users ever utters a word in the foreign language. I wonder if they can speak what they say after all?

What! No more? Of course there is, but not for today. This is simply another in a series of articles on 'Better Living' for the American media viewer and taxpayer.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Living in a Technical World - My New Computer


Finally, my new PC has arrived. At last, it was here and the Damn Thing could be retired---but, it wasn't about to go quietly. More on that in a moment.

On arrival---six quick days after I ordered it---I looked at the plain cardboard shipping boxes with delight. No more was I a captive of the Damn Thing. My legs tingled almost as if I was meeting B Hussein---no, it was only sciatica. The packing was neat and professional. It looked like the shipped PC and monitor could survive a tornado.

Since this was, oh about my seventh computer, I had no problem setting it up. These things come pretty much assembled these days. But, as usual, most of my time was spent trying to control the various cables so they wouldn't be a dangerous mess, rather like trying to control a Congress. I kept my old printer since I don't use it much. I downloaded a new driver and voila! It worked perfectly.

Connecting to the Internet was simple. I just connected my Comcast modem to the back of the machine and deux voila! It worked perfectly.

Next was the data transfer. Even thought both PCs have floppy drives, I didn't want to spend the rest of my life transferring data. That's why I bought Laplink's PC Mover Essentials. I wasted my money though. As noted above, the Damn Thing wasn't going easily. No matter how I tried, I couldn't get the transfer cable software working on the Damn Thing. So, being a realist, I gave up. Instead of the cable, I started using the CD drive on both machines.

I discovered my CDs were mostly R [no, not R rated; R as in one use only], and I couldn't very well do the transfer with them. Though strangely very difficult to find in most stores, I did have a couple of R/W CDs to use. I had to break up a few folders on the Damn Thing into smaller pieces, even though they were zipped.

I didn't transfer the programs if I could download new ones. For those I bought, I transferred the ownership keys, and for the most part that philosophy worked. I had trouble with a few programs but I finally got them running.

I had to swear some as usual. The Damn Thing was recalcitrant as ever. 'No CD recognized in the Drive.' What!!! There's nothing wrong with the CD. I just succesfully used it in this very drive. After some strong language and threats, a few restarts, and lots of patience [nothing new with the Damn Thing], I got it to recognize its own drive. This happened a few times during the long transfer process, but I did get it finished.

I next began working on the new PC [Vista] getting things in order. Vista is certainly different from XP, but I got the hang of it before too long. And I rather like it. In some ways it's far better than XP. In other ways it isn't. It's really a matter of becoming accustomed to it.

For example, the Control Panel is quite different in appearance, and some things are a little hard to find, as the categories aren't particularly clear. But, you can change the view to the listing or icons you had in XP. I don't see the Vista version so much as being better than as being different. Vista's Windows Explorer operates differently. Again, I don't see it so much as better than as being different. But then, some aspects of the operation of Windows is easier to use, especially in folder management. While 'moving' is sometimes a pain, 'copying' is easier.

My thumb drive operates flawlessly. But Vista won't let me move items from the E drive to the C drive or vice versa. It only allows copying. Thus I have to copy and delete when I am using it. But those tiny little buggers are great. Who needs an encryption program when you move your sensitive data to a key-sized flash drive?

My thumb drives are 4GB. I have two of them. Although Vista has a regular backup program, it only backs up to a reserved portion of the main drive [ten gigs in size.] With my thumbs [called that because they are smaller than my thumbs?] I have eight gigs in total. But these are easier to manipulate. The reserved portion of the drive uses data screens that are about fives in clarity and operation.

As for the PC, I think the drive bays are rather cheesy looking and operating. The CD drawer doesn't slide out free of the bay door. Rather like a plane with a 200' wingspan trying to leave a hangar through 150' doors. [I know. How did it get in there in the first place?] You know, the Liberal way of doing things. And the doors seem to be a chintzy, inexpensive plastic. The company logo is well constructed, though.

After everything was settled, I began to have problems. Several of my programs refused to work at all, and the Internet connection kept going off---impervious to repair attempts. After hours of cursing and swearing and playing around, I had to revert to a previous time. And trois voila! Everything was working again. I contacted the manufacturer through its website.

Service was excellent. The technicians called me [from India, but at least they called me.] We went around circles. I gave the techs operating control of my PC. I couldn't keep up with what they were doing, but they seemed to have a handle on things. I suffered from non-working DHCP and Event Service notification among other things. They got them running each time I spoke with them: Four times over three days.

They finally reloaded Windows, and decided that the modem was the problem. I was to call the cable supplier if it happened again. Sure enough, it happened again. I called Comcast and was connected to a delightful-sounding lass in Texas. It was Monday, Memorial Day. As a veteran, I should have been spending the day drinking beer and watching war movies---isn't that what many people think of us?

She couldn't find anything wrong, and she gave me the number for Microsoft as the next step. I couldn't really see an end to this thing. I didn't want a replacement computer because I had so much data. So, what to do?

I went to the Microsoft site---which is always difficult as all get-out to navigate. Anyway, after a while I found that I should be downloading Service Pack One. So, I downloaded it. I haven't had a problem since then.

So, why didn't all the techs consider that as a solution? It would have been really simple and showed that they knew what they were doing. Ah well!

Now that my new computer is up and running well, my interests are directed elsewhere. I'm working on my e-book collection, listening to music, and beginning to return to my numerous blogs. I need a PC just to keep track of them. Cleaning house, straightening house. Removing cardboard boxes and packing material. All that can wait while I play with my new toy.

My new computer is up and running. The Damn Thing is officially retired. May the force be with us!