Archive for April, 2010

Fake News: Volcano has hidden benefits

April 20, 2010

LONDON (April 19) — Sources at the major airlines report that executives are secretly delighted with delays in Europe caused by the Icelandic volcano, since it gives them a new excuse in their arsenal of reasons why flights are so often late or cancelled.

“This represents a true breakthrough in crafting explanations that passengers can’t question,” said an official who identified himself only as Capt. Rolf. “Who’s going to argue with a volcano? This allows us to yank people off the plane and condemn them to the cot village on Concourse C with even more impunity than we showed before.”

In the past, airlines have relied on two primary strategies to head off passenger complaints to the FAA about their shoddy treatment. Either carriers would offer travelers a justification that was simply too crazy to be subjected to logical reasoning, or the story would be so frightening that flyers would gladly accept the delay.

“To be able to add ‘volcanic eruption’ to this list gives us much more flexibility to operate our network profitably,” Rolf said. “Some people were starting to see through what used to be our favorite excuse, that we were attaching a new wing to the fuselage and would be ready to take off as soon as the glue dried.”

Rolf revealed some of the other most popular pretexts in current use:

• The pilot has a stomach ache
• We’re still trying to extricate a fat guy from coach
• The special “Mile High Club” sanitation unit is required in several of the restrooms
• We’re waiting on the Yemeni vice president for terrorism to make his connection
• Someone on the previous flight forgot to return their tray table to an upright and locked position, throwing air traffic control computers into chaos
• There are bats in the overhead storage bins
• We’re still loading up the baby diapers, so fussing will be at an acceptable level during the flight
• Crossword puzzles in the in-flight magazines are all filled in, and we’re waiting for press availability to print new issues
• Teens are clogging up the SkyMall, hanging out with their friends
• The starboard engine became unbuttoned, so we’re flying in a safety pin from St. Louis
• The coffee is too warm and we can’t let you board until it’s tepid
• The autopilot is drunk
• We forgot how to fly one of these things (it’s more complicated than you think)

Meanwhile, airport officials suffering through a fourth day of disruptions Monday demanded that the volcano stop its seismic activity immediately, since emissions are in blatant defiance of no-smoking regulations at most locations.

“There’s a small glassed-in area where smoking is allowed, and the volcano is clearly violating the rules by letting second-hand smoke drift not only throughout the airport, but over the entire continent,” said Amsterdam’s port authority chairman Hans Wender. “These rules are for the safety and comfort of all passengers, and just because you’re a volcano doesn’t exempt you from health and safety regulations.”

The volcano could not be reached for comment, but a spokesperson close to the 5,500-foot mountain said “Arrhh! The lava! It’s burning my skin! And the pyroclastic flow! It hurts! Arrhh!”

Finally, the makers of Volkswagen — perhaps looking at an increase in auto travel for the duration of the eruption — announced a new model in their fleet will be named after the volcano.

“In the honorable tradition of the Touareg, the Tiguan, the Routan and the Eos, we are proud to unveil the ‘Eyjafjallajokull’,” said design vice president Werner Horst. “Like our other models, it rolls off the tongue as easily as it drives.”

Horst said the Eyjafjallajokull had been in development for several years before the Iceland disaster unfolded, but the original name for the new sedan, the “Hitlermobile,” could easily be set aside.

“Like the ash cloud now settling over most of Europe, our new car will spew noxious emissions, result in tremendous costs to the economy, and yet will strangely remain popular throughout the continent,” Horst said. “Test drive one today.”

Looking for a new hobby (perhaps in the lobby)

April 19, 2010

I like to think there’s a deeper meaning to life, that there’s a rhyme and a reason for why natural calamities wipe out whole nations and why that guy cut me on in traffic just now and had the nerve to give me the finger. There has to be some unifying force that holds the universe together and makes order prevail over chaos.

I think it’s in the rhyme. I believe there’s a relationship between words which sound alike that goes far beyond any other connection they might have. When I’m preparing to make life-altering decisions, I consider what activities are already a key part of my existence, then take on new enterprises that rhyme with these.

When I bought my current house, a major selling point was that it was located at the corner of Shadowbrook and India Hook. When I was looking to buy a reliable car, I remembered how touched I was by the Oscar-winning performance of Henry Fonda in “On Golden Pond,” and chose to purchase a Honda. Since my favorite processed dairy products are all cheeses, I selected Jesus to be my preferred Living God.

Now I’m looking for a new hobby that aligns with what are currently my two predominant pastimes, jogging and blogging. Both of these diversions have given me enormous pleasure in recent years but they need a supplement. I’ve been a casual runner for over 30 years, and I’m rapidly approaching the age where I need to take on an exercise that’s physically less taxing. I’ve tried walking but I’m afraid it will lead to caulking or stalking, and I’ve never been very good at home repair or serving 30-month prison terms. Blogging holds no significant health hazards, if you don’t count neglecting to take your cholesterol medicine because it would make a good post topic, and I look forward to continuing it.

Perhaps I’ll also take up clogging. This traditional European dance has migrated to the Appalachian Mountains and become popular with country folk in my part of the South. Once danced with wooden shoes, more sensible footwear now predominates, though the emphasis on stomping out a downbeat with enthusiastic footwork lives on. While creating audible percussive rhythms has its appeal, I’m not sure I can do it with my feet. I’ve never been a coordinated hoofer, and I’m afraid my fellow dancers would look unkindly on audible percussion I made with my face.

How about logging? Though typically considered more of a vocation than an avocation, I’m sure there are elements of commercial forestry that could be amusing. Have you ever seen those lumberjacking competitions on TV where guys balance on floating logs or race the clock to chainsaw a redwood into submission? I suppose it’s dangerous, yet I could probably stand to have a little more peril in my life. I wonder how you get started in such an enterprise. Is there an association I should contact, or do I just show up in the nearest woods and start hacking away? This may take more research.

I also understand there’s an activity called mud bogging. The popular off-road motorsport involves driving a vehicle through a pit of mud, with the winner determined by whoever goes the farthest before sinking into the underworld. Typically, vehicles competing are four-wheel drives, but I’m not sure that’s anywhere in the rules. I wonder if they’d let me use my old ten-speed bicycle. I can’t imagine I’d get very far at first, though I’m willing to practice diligently until the ooze declines to absorb me.

I’m also intrigued by fogging, as it’s practiced in movies and the theatre. There’s nothing like a looming haze hovering just above the floor to create an atmosphere of menace. Until recently, it took expensive equipment and huge quantities of dry ice to create roiling banks of smoke, but cheaper fog machines have now become available to the public. I’m thinking of employing such a set-up to increase the drama that accompanies my entrance into an office at work. My proposal to re-price inventory on a weekly rather than quarterly basis stands a much better chance of being accepted by management if the ominous threat of supernatural intervention is implied. And the PowerPoint presentation would look a lot cooler, too, especially if I supplemented it with lasers.

I don’t know that there are many opportunities in modern American society for flogging. I’m sure there are those who deserve a ritual whipping for a variety of offenses, yet our so-called “civilized” structure of law typically forbids it. Singapore was in the news a few years back for planning to flog a young American caught chewing gum or passing notes and letting his shirt tail out or some such crime. Maybe I could practice my new hobby there. On my next business trip to India, I can arrange for a connection through Changi Airport, and the authorities could have a collection of miscreants lined up for me near the baggage claim. As long as I don’t have to go through security twice.

Other than these options, I’m running a bit short on ideas. I went to a rhyming dictionary online and found a few other possibilities.

Hogging has several meanings, though most don’t lend themselves to leisure pursuits: one involves shredding waste wood, one is cutting a horse’s mane as short as possible (what fun!), one refers to the stress put on a ship as it passes over a wave, and one is the practice at some fraternities of rounding up the rotund for a party. Hardly the stuff of hobbies.

Nogging refers to brick masonry built up between wooden uprights or studs. I’ve started an interest group on Facebook for this topic, but don’t hold much hope of a response.

Pogging, according to the Urban Dictionary, is the act of talking on a cell phone while driving, causing horrible annoyance to those nearby or, alternatively, the act of performing sex with a female with the use of a … whoa, hold on there. How can the same word have one meaning so innocuous and the other so provocative? The UD offers an imaginary conversation among the hipsters who speak this lingo, but it’s not much help in clarifying the difference: “Hey, do you want to go pogging?” “Sure, we can pog all night. I hope there is a good turnout.” “Oh, there will be. I’ve called grandma, and she’s got all her book club coming.” My grandmother just recently became comfortable using a cell phone, and I don’t want to be part of anything that further confuses the meaning of “wireless device” for her.

I’m not sure this rhyming strategy is going to work. I suppose there’s Always Alliteration. Let’s see what the Urban Dictionary might suggest: There’s Jelly Bracelet, Jingle Bowels, Joe Jonas, Jewfro, Juggalo …

Revisited: I wouldn’t be caught dead

April 18, 2010

I’ve got to think that one of the motivations behind the movement promoting a person’s right to die at home has to do with how embarrassing in can be to die in public.

If you doubt this, consider the appeal of the most popular reality show in the history of television. America’s Funniest Home Videos has consistently brought laughs to a large segment of the viewing public for close to 20 years. Their formula for comedy is showing people being injured in a variety of different and painfully public situations. Whether hit in the crotch with a baseball bat, conked on the head with a golf ball or falling down while dancing, the victim’s humiliation is compounded by a nationwide audience roaring with delight.

Now imagine how funny it would be if one of those victims actually died. Now imagine if that victim were you.

As a man approaching late middle age, I do occasionally consider the embarrassment that would follow should I suffer a fatal collapse to the floor during the course of my day. In some situations, I think, the shame would be such that I’d rather use my last ounce of strength to crawl off to the nearest handicapped stall and expire in dignity (well, privacy anyway) than cause a commotion. I guess, though, it depends on who is around, what type of activity you’d be disrupting, and what are the chances that someone present could actually do something to help you.

People discharged from hospitals with a fatal prognosis may long to die while surrounded by their families, and I can see how that would be desirable in most circumstances. However, if the dying were unplanned, it can get a little more problematic. Imagine keeling over at the Thanksgiving dinner table, and the impact that’s going to have on everyone’s future memories of the fall holiday, not to mention their appetites. Consider how you’d feel if you choked on the chicken served at your daughter’s wedding reception, and turned what should’ve been the best day of her life into an afternoon of horror. Even what would seem to be an appropriate setting – an uncle’s funeral, for example – would likely make too much of a scene. “Imagine the nerve of upstaging Phil at a moment like that,” people would whisper as you were carried away (into the next room over, I guess).

Almost as bad a place to die in public would be at work. Not only do you hate to think that reading an email about whose turn it is to clean the refrigerator could be your last act on earth, but you probably have a professional reputation to uphold that you don’t want besmirched by involuntarily released fluids. We deal a lot in my office with critical deadlines that are considered a “must,” and I’m afraid my death would not only cause me great personal shame but also contribute to a missed SEC filing. There might be someone available who could aid me – we do have a safety coordinator who makes lists during fire drills, and that seems potentially helpful – and yet it’s just as likely I’d be helped by someone I don’t care for, and that’s just not acceptable. I’d rather, as they say, be dead.

Dying in another public space where you might be vaguely known by some onlookers would be a lot better. That’s probably an option I’d consider if I felt a fatal seizure coming on. There’s a homey little diner less than a five-minute walk from the office, and I bet I could make it there with a little luck. Sometimes, I’ve even seen EMTs eating lunch there and, though I’d hate to impose during their down time, maybe they could squeeze in a quick CPR before their meat loaf got too cold. Even if it’s just the regulars behind the counter who saw me, I don’t think they’d mind too much making a quick phone call, at least if I avoided the lunch rush.

I’ve also wondered what it would be like to collapse along the side of the road during one of my jogs through our subdivision. Even though we’ve lived there almost 15 years, we’ve always kept to ourselves. So it wouldn’t be that much more awkward to forever be known as “that guy they found dead in the cul-de-sac” rather than my current identity, “that heavy-set older guy crazy enough to run in the summer heat who never waves to anybody.” Plus, there’s probably a better-than-even chance that my family could be notified to pick up my body before the sanitation department got involved.

Finally, there’s the option of suffering your ultimate demise in a location where no one has the slightest idea who you are. If I didn’t make it to that luncheonette I mentioned earlier, I’d be falling by the side of a well-travelled state road. A slumped body on the shoulder would certainly draw someone’s attention, maybe even a police officer or fireman. And being right there on the street, I’d probably save precious moments being evacuated from the scene.

Probably the closest I’ve come to actual sudden death in my 55 years was during a recent business trip to Sri Lanka. As you may know, that South Asian island nation is in the midst of an insurgency by the Tamil Tigers (I know they sound like a baseball team but, trust me, they’re far more dangerous.) While eating dinner at my hotel one evening, we heard a loud explosion, and soon learned that a terrorist bomb had gone off in a phone booth I’d normally be walking past about that time. No one was injured in the blast – these Tigers are about as skilled as the ones from Detroit – though I could’ve been killed.

Now that would’ve been some attention I could get used to. “American is felled by fatal blast,” reads the headline. “President sends military jet to bring body home; hero’s welcome planned for what’s left,” says the subhead. Only foreigners I’d never see again would be subjected to the messy details of the immediate aftermath, and everyone else would get a nicely packaged overview.

That’d be the way to go.

Revisited: Rock Hill’s Come See Me Festival

April 17, 2010

Starting last Thursday and continuing until April 25, my little Southern hometown is celebrating its spring festival. Much like the SpringFests and SpringAlives and FestiFuns commemorating the arrival of warm weather you’ll find in other locations, the Come See Me Festival sponsors a variety of events to get people outdoors to experience the fresh air and sunshine of spring.   

When I first moved here, I admit I was a little taken aback by the odd name. At the time, Rock Hill’s primary industry was an acetone processing plant that gave off a constant chemical smell, and it seemed to me that “Come Smell Me” might be a more appropriate label. As I got to know a few locals, they explained the name originated from the common expression of goodwill that Southerners would offer as they emerged from their winter hibernation. “Y’all come see me,” they’d say, warmly reflecting an earlier era of friendliness and civility when people kept constantly clean homes and there was no cable TV. Nowadays, you’d have to add, “but be sure to call first so I can vacuum the couch and set up the DVR to record ‘CSI’.”   

Since then, the name has become second-nature to me, and the phrase “when is Come See Me?” no longer sounds like a recent immigrant trying to schedule a urologist to make a house call. My family doesn’t attend as many of the events as we used to; the large percentage devoted to children’s activities no longer appeal to my 17-year-old (who’s probably done his last “jumpy house” until he’s an inebriated collegian), and the number of marginally interesting activities has exploded as organizers try to fill the calendar from sunrise to sunset.   

One event we do try to make is the so-called “Gourmet Gardens.” What began years ago as an opportunity for local restaurants to sell small samples of their specialties in the lovely venue of a flower-filled garden has gradually devolved into what we experienced Saturday – mostly out-of-town purveyors selling mostly barbecue and gyros at mostly ridiculous prices. One vendor sold his “gyro only” for $6 and his “gyro plate” for whatever amount it is when you handwrite an “9” on top of a “8,” or perhaps vice versa. Whether it’s $17 or $72, that’s one damn fine shaved-lamb sandwich.   

My wife and I milled around the gardens, which is now actually the concrete-paved slab separating a collection of softball fields, trying to find something both palatable and affordable. After several loops around the circle, she settled on fried mushrooms and an ear of cheese-covered corn (the “fried” and “cheese-covered” modifiers would normally be implied, but I add them here for any readers overseas.) Looking for something a little different, I decided to experiment with the “Louisiana Boudoin Balls.” The guy selling them joked he wouldn’t sell me any till I attempted to pronounce the product, so I gave him my best French-inflected “boo-dawn.” He laughed, then handed over the fried, breaded and balled sausage-and-spice concoction. There were (disconcertingly) two of them, hot and peppery, rattling around the bottom of a cone cup, looking thoroughly not worth $3.50 per ball. I tried to convince myself the flavor was exotic, until halfway through the final ball I decided “bad” was a better description.   

I’m pretty sure we won’t be attending many more Come See Me events this week, but I thought I’d describe a few of the other highlights still to come in case anybody out there wants to jet in for next weekend’s finale (rooms are still available at the Super 8, Rodeway and Microtel motels).   

There’s both a Mayor’s Frog Jump and a Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast (the frog, in the person of a “Glen the Frog” costumed character, is the festival’s mascot). In the frog jump, kids can either bring their own frogs — remember, we are in the South — or purchase one on-site. The youngsters then encourage the slippery hoppers to make the biggest jump in the competition by pounding on the ground behind them, blowing air up their hind end, or slipping them a little of Uncle Sonny’s crystal meth. The Prayer Breakfast is basically the same thing, except with city councilmen instead of frogs and pancakes instead of meth. You may be fortunate enough to attend one of these events in a year when organizers get a little confused, and you’ll see either a prayer jump or a frog breakfast.   

There’s a Tuba Choir Concert, one of many musical presentations staged by the local college in the vain hope their musical performance students can get some experience in front of an audience. (Can you imagine a graduate trying to find a job in this economy with a tuba degree?)   

There’s a community theatre performance of “Father Knows Best” running for several nights. I’m not sure if this production distills the entire story arc of the eight-season 1950s TV series down to a single night, or whether a selected episode is recreated (maybe the one where Latin dancer Rita Moreno plays an exchange student from India). But I don’t intend to find out.   

There’s a highly regulated Tailgate Party in a grassy field near Winthrop Lake where no vehicles are allowed, no tailgating is allowed in the lot where you can leave your vehicle, and glass containers, beer kegs, pets, household furniture, wheeled toys, golf carts and tiki torches are prohibited. They don’t specifically disallow improvised explosive devices, kangaroos or investment bankers, so maybe those are permitted.   

There’s a Be Seen Green Parade in which participants where green clothes to show off their environmental awareness and get one more use out of those St. Patrick’s Day ensembles. “We’re going to have some hybrid cars going through the parade this year,” said one organizer, though with any luck their weak acceleration will be such that anyone who’s struck won’t be hurt.   

There are a number of other frog-themed events giving Glen a chance to show his humongous felt mug around town. There’s something called Frog Hoppin’ Fun that showcases amphibian-related games and crafts for the 2-to-6-year-old set while their parents can take advantage of free dental screenings. There’s a Frog Float where sponsored rubber frogs race toward a finish line with the winner getting a $1000 gift certificate (deceased participants from the Mayor’s Frog Jump are ineligible to join, as their bloating gives them unfair buoyancy). And, there’s a Frog Coloring Contest that’s totally fixed, as last year’s winner didn’t even stay inside the lines.   

Rounding out the other highlights, there’s a barbecue competition featuring chefs and their smokers from throughout the Southeast (samples can be purchased, though pork is off the menu); there’s a mass kazoo march in which participants are asked to donate a bottle of lotion to a local children’s home; there’s a sheep-shearing, presumably because you can’t shear frogs; and there’s something called Everything Trucks!, where everything is a truck.   

The festival finale takes place on the last evening this coming Saturday. In what I earnestly pray is a carefully scheduled climax, a team of airborne acrobats from the Carolina Skydiving Team will give a parachute-jumping exhibition, while a Fireworks Extravaganza will fill the sky with brilliant pyrotechnic displays. I can’t believe the organizers of these two separate events wouldn’t vigilantly coordinate their efforts to ensure the jumpers aren’t blown out of the evening sky by rocket-propelled mortars, though maybe the risk of that prospect is meant to draw even bigger crowds to the final night.   

Only a dissection of the beloved Glen would be a more horrible way to end this year’s Come See Me.

Rewritten songs reflect reality

April 16, 2010

It’s that time of year when we roll down the ragtop, crank up the radio, and give full voice to our inner Bowersox. Nothing is more American than hitting the open road with a song in your heart that bursts unchecked onto your lips, causing the guy in the next car over to wonder if you’re spastically seizing or merely rocking out.

Singing along with our favorite popular tunes is a great warm-weather pastime in this country, ranking right up there with foreign invasions. Though both often involve a brutal assault, the sing-along’s casualty counts are far more contained, with only your fellow passengers suffering. If only innocent Iraqi and Afghan civilians could simply wait for the next stop light to hop out of harm’s way.

I try to limit collateral damage by taking the advice of American Idol judges and “making the song my own.” I’m not content to regurgitate well-worn lyrics verbatim; I like to modify the words to fit my personality. This allows me to still feel the original songwriter’s spirit while accommodating my own peculiar pecadilloes.

For example, I like to try to clean up the grammar and syntax. As a former copy editor, it bugs me no end to hear supergroups like the Supremes, the Rolling Stones and the Who mangle our language. So I take a few liberties, knowing I’m probably beyond the long reach of ASCAP as I tool down Interstate 77 in my Honda Civic. So “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” becomes “There Isn’t Any Mountain The Elevation of Which is Higher.” The classic interlude of “Satisfaction” is changed from the huffing “Can’t get no…/Can’t get no…” into “I can’t get any…/I can’t get any…”. “Summertime Blues” is transformed from a passionate working-class teenage lament into a well-reasoned labor complaint:

Well, I’m going to raise a fuss and I’m going to raise a holler
About working all summer just trying to earn a dollar
I went to the bossman and I tried to get a break
But the boss said “No dice, son, you have to work late”
Sometimes I wonder what I’m going to do
Because there isn’t any cure for the summertime blues.

Note the absence of abominations like “gonna” and “ain’t” and “gotta”. Think about how much more likely I would be to have a Schedule Variance Form approved by my supervisor than a whiner like Roger Daltry.

I’m also not comfortable singing certain songs in the first person. I’m not one to wear my emotions on my sleeve, and prefer instead to croon about hypothetical feelings. I might’ve wanted very much to hold her hand, or became extremely agitated when I saw her standing there, but I don’t like to admit it. It works better for my own personal style to comment on the angst of others:

Oh, yeah, he’ll tell you something
He thinks you’ll understand
When he says that something
He wants to hold her hand

Or perhaps:

Well his heart went boom
When he crossed that room
And he held her hand
In his …
Well, they danced through the night
And they held each other tight
And before too long they fell in love with each other

I don’t have to actually become the Alan Parsons Project:

He was the eye in the sky
Looking at her, he could read her mind.

…and I don’t have to spend hours in makeup and wardrobe becoming Lady Gaga:

Her her her her her her her her pokerface

And I can belt out one of the most clever song lyrics in the history of rock without feeling gay:

He walked into the party like he was walking onto a yacht
His hat strategically dipped below one eye
His scarf it was apricot
He had one eye on the mirror as he watched himself cavort
And all the girls dreamed that they’d be his partner, they’d be his partner

He’s so vain, he probably thinks this song is about him
He’s so vain, I bet he thinks this song is about him
Doesn’t he? Doesn’t he?

Finally, I try to put certain songs in a more realistic perspective. When these classics were current hits some 40 or more years ago, they reflected our youthful yearnings. Now that we’re older and more concerned with losing our hair than losing our baby, it only makes sense that we adapt those charmingly naive lyrics to reflect lives that are well lived but mostly over. So a favorite Beach Boys oldie requires a few changes:

Wouldn’t it have been nice if we had been older?
Then we wouldn’t have had to wait so long
And wouldn’t it have been nice to have lived together
In the kind of world where we would’ve belonged?
You know if would’ve made it that much better
When we could’ve said goodnight and stayed together
Wouldn’t it have been nice?

Maybe if we would’ve thought and wished and hoped and prayed it might’ve come true
Baby then, there wouldn’t have been a single thing we couldn’t have done
We could’ve been married, and then we would’ve been happy
Oh, wouldn’t it have been nice?

I can still be an inveterate romantic and a huge fan of Lennon and McCartney’s timeless songbook, yet still retain my respect for Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

Fake News: Smaller nations to help with nonproliferation

April 15, 2010

WASHINGTON (April 14) — Representatives from 47 nations came to the U.S. capital this week to stay in a nice hotel, maybe enjoy a movie and a walk among the cherry blossoms, and agree to secure their nuclear materials from potential terrorists.

President Obama hosted a two-day summit of leaders from countries large and small, all of whom agreed to say whatever the president asked them to say, as long as the minibar was covered and they got a picture of themselves with the president.

“We must undertake a bold and pragmatic program to avoid drifting towards a catastrophe beyond comparison,” Obama told the conference.

“It made me glad I saved that watch with the glowing dial that my grandfather gave me,” said Hungary’s Jan Watislav. “I’m told it contained radium, so I got to come to the conference. I hereby vow that the watch will be put safely beneath my underwear in the bottom drawer of my dresser, guarded around the clock by my dog, Mr. Ruff-Ruff.”

Obama said he opened a “big tent” at the conference so that smaller nations and their stockpiles could be part of a worldwide effort to keep weapons out of the hands of rogue states, jihadists and criminal gangs. Even countries barely aware of the periodic table of elements were invited if they held any quantities of fissile material at all.

“We appreciated the cultural sensitivity of the big tent, but we actually preferred the Four Seasons,” said Egyptian foreign minister Abdul Gammal.

Though the effort was aimed primarily at reducing access to the two key materials required to make a bomb — plutonium and highly enriched uranium — other potentially dangerous components were also targeted.

Ukranian president Vasily Shalikashvili said a friend of his son’s had some Silly Putty that was starting to smell bad, and could possibly be converted into a weapon of mass destruction. Mexican foreign minister Hernando Suarez said he was on Nickelodeon’s “You Can’t Do That On Television” when he was a kid, and thought he still had the slime-encrusted shirt he wore. Another Central American representative admitted off the record that he thought his country had an old car battery out back that could be trouble.

Delegates who couldn’t confirm what their nations’ stockpiles might include still speculated they “might have some plutonium around here somewhere,” and committed to checking the pockets on their other pants when they got home.

Several innovative approaches to secure the materials were offered by members of the developing world. Colombia’s representative said his nation would remove the large flashing “FISSILE MATERIALS — DO NOT STEAL AND SELL TO AL-QAIDA” sign from their uranium cache and replace it with a more subtle “Cheerios” label. Ghana’s minister said he’d put weapons-grade radioactive materials in his locker at school, stressing it would be “placed behind the math book.” Canada’s senior officials said their stockpile would be given its own evening talk show on CNN, where no one would see it.

A few of those in attendance admitted they misunderstood the invitation. Macedonia’s prime minister said he read the part about “dangerous heavy metals” in the pre-conference materials and thought he’d be previewing the upcoming Megadeath tour, which ironically turned out to be sort of true. Belgium’s leading general said he thought geraniums were being discussed, not uranium.

Still, outside experts were optimistic about the conference outcome. Sam Nunn, the former senator who tutors Obama on proliferation issues, said he thought “we are now closer to cooperation than catastrophe.”

“As long as I’m closer to the elevator than I am to the ice machine, I’m fine with whatever,” said Tajikistan’s Oreck Muballah.

A bug’s life, transformed

April 14, 2010

Spring has arrived and so have the bugs. Though I’ll be the first to acknowledge that all creatures in God’s wondrous creation are worthy of respect and the right to live, I think I stepped on a caterpillar when I went out to check the mail Monday afternoon.

I swear, it wasn’t on purpose. It’s just that we have a lot of trees on our property, and these furry things have suddenly appeared everywhere over the last few days. I realized at the last moment what was about to happen, and I lurched sideways in an attempt to save him, or her, or it. It was too late.

I wiped my shoe in the grass after the unfortunate incident, which hardly seemed like a fitting ceremony to honor this bug’s brief life, but I wasn’t about to dig my high school bugle out of storage because I think it’s covered in spider webs. I didn’t want this insecticidal spree to spiral any further out of control.

It did make me pause to think, however, how we immense humans swagger through the natural world with so little thought for the beasts beneath us. We swat flies, squash roaches and eat Wendy’s hamburgers, all with complete disregard for the welfare for the lower life forms we are destroying in the process. To me, it seems about time we do a little something special for the entomological kingdom to show that we care.

There are literally trillions of these guys and gals scurrying amongst us, so it’s impossible to show my gratitude to each and every individual for whatever purpose it is they serve in the grand scheme of life. All one man can do is bring one pest into his home, give that bug a special day he will always remember, and hope that the karma and the word of mouth when he returns to the wild will allow me to live a slightly less guilty life.

“There is at least one good, honorable man among the humans,” he can report to his colleagues. “Don’t sting the chunky guy with the glasses.”

Below are some highlights from the day I tried to balance the scales in my little corner of the world.

Keeping up online

Humanity has developed some awesome technological devices to entertain and educate us, so I thought I’d share one of these with the Giant Peruvian Dinosaur Ant I brought into my house. Here, the ant gets a chance to check his email and catch up with a few friends on Facebook. You may recognize the home page from AOL on the screen behind him, but we can’t fault a creature who has barely emerged from the Mesozoic era for visiting such a primitive swebite. Besides, where else could he catch a quick update on whether or not Kate Gosselin was going to be leaving “Dancing With the Stars”?

Exercise is a great stress-buster

Too often, insects encounter us via the soles of our shoes, and that rarely makes a good first impression. I thought I’d turn the tables a bit by offering to bring my new ant friend along with me on my mid-day jog, allowing him to ride along on the top of my Nikes. We had a great run in the warm air heavily scented with azaleas and dogwoods. I think he struggled to hold on at a few points in the route, but that simply meant he got a good workout as well. We smiled as we passed the playground at the daycare center, where children laughed and squealed with innocence we can barely recall. We chuckled at the passing SmartCar that would barely hold the two of us. We recoiled in horror as I accidentally inhaled a gnat. We were tired at the end of the two-mile jaunt, but it was a good kind of tired.

A well-earned supper with the family

By dinnertime, the giant ant had virtually become a full-fledged member of the household, and joined my other animal companions for their evening meal. Taylor (left) and Harriett didn’t mind at all sharing their food with their new brother. There was enough for everyone in the bountiful indoor world, where predators and prey are merely movements on the other side of a thick, protective sliding glass door. When Taylor was finished with his bowl, the ant leapt off his back, directly into the remaining Cat Chow, frolicking in the plenty that was unknown out in the yard, where he had to fight thousands of rivals for the smallest scrap of potato chip. Soon, both his abdomen and thorax were full, and a contented evening of relaxation could begin with his new family.

Bath time

As the day drew to a close, it was time to scrub away the accumulation of grime that comes with a busy schedule of fun. I wasn’t about to allow this disease-carrying vessel of filth and bacteria in my bathtub or shower so we arranged a quick dip in the toilet. He splashed merrily in the water as I tried to work a loofa into the crevices of his exoskeleton. He wanted some tub toys to play with, so I wadded up a ball of toilet paper and tossed it in. Tragically, the wad knocked him into the deep end of the bowl. His drowning was quick and mostly painless for him, and quite convenient for me, as I simply had to flush him away.

Somewhere, in a sanitary sewer deep beneath the city, he’ll whisk past millions of his insect friends, who will offer a touching final tribute to one who was briefly able to bridge two worlds.

ending text

Fake News: He can’t write that

April 13, 2010

Funny Blog Man was having trouble coming up with a tasteful topic for his Tuesday post.

He had prided himself for quite some time on not resorting to profanity or bad taste in his efforts to bring a smile to his readers. But last Wednesday he mentioned using a urinary emergency to get out of his performance review, and on Monday he had written about a giant colon. He was slipping fast as he considered Fake News stories for today’s edition.

He couldn’t write about his skewered take on American Idol:

HOLLYWOOD — “This,” said the spikey-haired goofball, pausing with mock dramatics to raiser viewers’ anticipation and/or allow them time to retrieve a soda from the refrigerator, “is American Idol.”

“I’m gathered here with this week’s bottom three, as determined by you the voting audience. Gov. John Connally of Texas, why do you think you should survive another week?”

“I thought my rendition of Shania Twain’s ‘Feel Like a Woman’ had a lot of heart.”

“And Vice President Lyndon Johnson, you think you should be allowed to live on into the next round?”

“I know my vocals were a bit off this week, but I think I can help carry the South for the Democrats in 1964.”

“President John F. Kennedy, you’ve been in the bottom three for two weeks in a row. Simon wasn’t crazy about your arrangement, but Ellen complimented you for taking on such a big bold song. Randy and Kara indicated pretty strongly in their comments that they thought you should be assassinated. What would you say in response?”

“I tried my best. Whatever happens, this has been a great experience for me, and I really appreciate the wonderful welcome I received from the people of Dallas.”

“Vice President Johnson, after the nationwide vote … you are safe. President John F. Kennedy, you are eliminated. Now, you have to sing for your life and hope that the Judges’ Save will keep you alive as a potential American Idol. What are you going to sing? Wait a minute, wait a minute … Guest judge Lee Harvey Oswald wants to make a comment here. Lee Harvey?”

He couldn’t write about the tragic air disaster in Russia:

MOSCOW — The cargo jet carrying the remains of Poland’s political and military elite, who were killed in a plane crash Saturday, flew into a cloud-shrouded mountain on its return to Warsaw yesterday. All aboard were killed or re-killed.

As recovery teams worked at the site to recover victims’ bodies, a helicopter carrying supplies to the location also crashed, as did two ambulances and a fire truck.

And he surely couldn’t sully the heart-warming, values-validating finish at this weekend’s Masters golf tournament:

AUGUSTA, Ga. — God Himself lifted family man Phil Mickelson to a three-shot victory in the Masters Sunday, leaving skirt-chaser Tiger Woods to whine about his putting game while Mickelson hugged his cancer-surviving wife and his two daughters looked on with tears in their eyes.

“Now does everyone believe that I’m all for the conservative, traditional white guys of the world?” God asked CBS Sports’ Jim Nance.

God said his earlier efforts to show the world who His favorites were have been overlooked by the majority of observers.

“Republicans like Mark Sanford, Sen. John Ensign and Sen. Larry Craig get into sex scandals, yet I deliver them unimpeached to serve out their terms and retire with dignity,” God told Nance. “But Democrats like John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer — I smite these guys, for their domestic policies are not worthy in My sight.”

“What did you think about those double eagles by Phil Saturday on 14 and 15?” Nance asked.

“And did you ever notice that good conservatives like Ronald Reagan, George Wallace and the Pope are shot and yet they survive,” said God, ignoring Nance’s question. “While men like Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and John Lennon are killed. Do I have to spell it out for your people?”

No, he couldn’t write about any of those topics. Maybe he’d finally just have to skip a day.

Can’t believe it’s Monday again

April 12, 2010

Watching coverage of the Masters golf tournament yesterday was greatly enhanced by the minimal number of commercials. The brevity of the interruptions was a nice contrast to the excruciating tedium of watching Ian Poulter stand over his putt for stretches of an hour or more.  

CBS explained at one point that sponsors, recognizing the magnitude of the event, had agreed to keep their advertising announcements down to a mere five minutes per hour. Similar corporate restraint has been shown for equally epic occasions in the past. I still remember our high school history teacher explaining how Ipana toothpaste’s exclusive sponsorship of World War II was handled with the utmost sensitivity and limited commercial interruption.  

In place of the standard 30-second spots, it appears advertisers were told they could have their company name and — at most, six or seven words — pronounced reverently and in a slight English accent while their logo was briefly superimposed over a fairway scene. So we heard the likes of “AT&T … Rethink Possible” and “IBM … Building a Smarter Planet” and “Exxon/Mobil … Taking on the World’s Energy Challenges”.  

If asked to boil down their corporate catchphrase to a select few words, I theorized how other companies might respond:  

Verizon … The Place For (dialtone)  

Blockbuster … Hey, Bob! We’ve Got a Customer!  

Blue Cross Blue Shield … Find Someone Who Cares  

McDonald’s … Would You Like Life With That?  

Microsoft … Whatever  

Consider Citibank … You Just Incurred a Service Charge  

Starbucks … Chances are Very Good We Got Your Order Right  

Seven Eleven … No Teeth Required  

General Motors … We Build ‘Em, You Ignore ‘Em  

Kroger … Clean-up on Aisle Eleven  

Walgreen’s … Purveyor of Fine Snuggies Since 2009  

Time Warner … Come Back — We Got Rid of AOL  

Dow Chemical … What’s That Smell?  

Lockheed Martin … C’mon. Let’s Have Another War.  

Motorola … Somehow, Not Yet Bankrupt  

ComcastHow Much for Showtime?   


We had a little dust-up at work recently that could only happen at a communications company.  

A display board that lists employee birthdays offered best wishes to “Alice W.” While workers are normally honored to be recognized by an inanimate slate of black felt and white lettering, Alice W. had an objection. As the only full-time Alice in the department, she didn’t appreciate the “W.” as a way to distinguish her from temporary Alice, who is only here for a few months.  

The One True Alice didn’t feel she should have to have a modifier. “I should be simply ‘Alice’ and temp Alice should be ‘Alice J.,” she complained.  

A meeting of top management quickly ensued, and a new policy was issued that, from now on, full first and last names would be displayed for everyone, and that “temp” would be added parenthetically to those who weren’t permanent workers.  

What wasn’t specified was how the lettering on the birthday cake should read, and whether we had to include full last names when singing the “Happy Birthday” song. Hopefully, clarification of the new policy on these points will be forthcoming.  


The first time I saw the term CHATROULETTE, it was all capitalized, and I couldn’t make it out as two merged words. It sounded to me like some kind of French cat sausage.  


You can always tell on TV or radio news that a public figure has died before they get to the “has died” part. There’s a certain respectful, slightly high-pitched tone to the newsperson’s voice during the initial part of the story where the recently deceased’s mini-biography is read.  

“Anatoly Dobrynin, Soviet ambassador to the United States for 24 years, and a tough yet affable diplomat who helped ease tensions during the Cold War era …”  

And then comes the verb that you know is inevitable.  

“… died yesterday.”  

Just once, I’d like to hear a happier ending to follow the obituary-style build-up:  

“John Forsythe, the debonair actor whose matinee-idol looks, confident charm and mellifluous voice helped make him the star of three hit television series, including ABC’s glamour soap ‘Dynasty,’ ate a half a dozen donuts yesterday at his home in Los Angeles.”  

“Malcolm McLaren, an impresario, recording artist and fashion designer who as manager of the Sex Pistols played a decisive role in creating the British punk movement, felt slightly ill for a while Saturday but, after lying down for a few minutes, was good as new and went to a movie.”  


Amateur sign-makers are notorious for mis-using quotemarks as a way to emphasize a certain word or phrase.  

Please put your name on bag or container or “everything” will be thrown away, reads the sign on the employee refrigerator at work. Of course they don’t really mean “everything” — which would include the shelving, the interior light, perhaps the entire appliance itself — and I guess that’s why it’s in quotes.  

All Easter candy is now “on sale“, they claim at the drug store. If you can consider stale Peeps an item that might be a good value at any price.  

I recently saw another set of inappropriate punctuation marks on the motorized shopping cart at the grocer. Out of order!! screamed the piece of cardboard, with a sense of urgency likely to upset sensitive handicapped customers.  

And don’t even think of asking us when it’s going to be fixed!!!  


Japanese carmakers have gotten really sensitive about potential flaws in their automobiles.  

My wife owns a Honda Fit that she’s crazy about and has never given her the least bit of trouble in five years of heavy use. She received a recall notice all the way from Japan the other day, notifying her of a defect in her power windows.  

Under the right (or wrong) circumstances, rainwater could possibly seep down through a rubber seal and could short out a motor which could cause her window to catch on fire.  

I’m not exactly sure how glass can be set ablaze, but I’d count a nation that survived two atomic bomb blasts to know what can and can’t catch on fire.  


“Coco” the Colossal Colon, a 40-foot-long, 4-foot-tall wrinkled pink large intestine, was on display at a local hospital this weekend.  

Designed to raise awareness of digestive health issues, the colon has openings at several points along its length, allowing viewers to see examples of colitis, colon cancer and hemorrhoids. To encourage youngsters to get an early start on taking care of their gastrointestinal tract, they can remove their shoes and crawl through the excretory piping.  

In the photo below, two moms stroke the colon — which never belonged to a particular human abdomen but is instead a replica — and admire its healthful hue.  

“This is one great looking colon, isn’t it?” said Allyson Garland, left.  

“I wish mine could give the kids as much enjoyment as they’re having here today,” said Karen Rickard, right.  

Moments after this photo was taken, several toddlers emerged from the rectum, squealing with delight.  

“The stuff of dreams,” sighed a family-centered gay friend of mine.  

Why does this end have to be "exit only"?

Revisited: Twitter too much? Try “!”

April 11, 2010

Blogging has been around long enough now that it’s hardly even new media any more. It’s definitely become the long form of virtual publishing, and seems to be waning a bit as shorter messages are increasing in popularity. Facebook condensed the form drastically, providing mostly just the facts and some embarrassing, though fortunately poorly-framed, photographs.

Now we see the ascent of Twitter into a mainstream consciousness that rivals the Octomom, Rush Limbaugh and even trivial stuff like massive bank failure. Twitter’s limit of 140 characters forces even more concision on the part of the user, requiring one to get the point faster than ever. If we want to communicate with our fellow man via this method, we need to choose every letter and punctuation mark with the kind of care that used to be reserved for bathroom graffiti written with a fading Sharpie.

Oh yeah, and there’s still real-life verbal conversations with real-life people, but nobody does that any more.

Now we’ve arrived at a place where even Tweeting is taking too long. There was huge wave of negative publicity directed at members of Congress who spent more time thumb-wrestling their BlackBerrys than paying attention to the recent presidential address before a joint session of Congress.

So I’m proud to introduce the most concise digital messaging system yet available: a new service I call “!” (so far unpronounceable, though I have my marketing people working on that). “!”, as the name implies, allows users only a single character to describe what they’re doing, how they feel, what they like, or which ravine their car has plunged into.

Here are some of the more common messages being seen so far:

“A” – A greeting, usually elongated into something like “aaayy!”, like what Fonzi used to say.

“B” – A bid to practice existentialism; or, a panicked call for assistance about the bee on your forearm.

“C” – Look here.

“G” – Golly, gosh, jiminy and/or holy Moses.

 “I” – There’s something I need to say about me; or, there’s something I need to say about what’s in my eye.

 “J” – Only for use with friends who are named “Jay”.

 “K” – Alright already.

 “L” – Guess where I’m !-ing from – the elevated mass transit system of Chicago.

 “M” – How many points are there in an em-space?

“O” – I wish to express a strong emotional reaction such as surprise, shock, pain, or extreme pleasure.

“P” – Can you use your global positioning system to locate the nearest restroom for me, like, RIGHT AWAY!

“Q” – Take a prompt from me. You need to get in line to play pool.

“R” – Are you going to eat that?

“S” – You’re such an ass.

“T” – We should get together soon over a nice cup of tea.

“U” – You are the person I’m thinking about right now; or, I am a sheep.

“W” – I just saw former president Bush snacking off the samples tray at Costco.

“X” – Can you pick up some eggs on the way home from work?

“Y” – Why don’t you just bite me?

“Z” – This conversation is going nowhere; I seem to be drifting off …

You can also use non-letter characters, such as:

“,” – Help, I’m falling into a coma.

“:” – I seem to have been bitten by a venomous snake.

“_” – I really need to lie down for a while.

“{“ – I wish to become a portrait artist.

“~” – I’m having a great time at the beach, and I wish you had curly hair.

“#” – Want to play tic-tac-toe?

“%” – Can I have some of that?

“+” – I died on the cross for your sins; I hope you appreciate it.

“=” – I’m taking a shortcut home by walking on the train tracks, but I think I hear a thunderstorm com—“

“*” – I’ve discovered a new star in the heavens.

“^” – Look – up in the sky – it’s a bird, it’s a plane… no, it’s a huge burning asteroid and it’s heading right for us. Arrrhhh, we’re all going to die!

“!” – The coolest thing in instant communication for at least the next week.