Archive for January, 2010

The Sporting Life?

January 31, 2010

As a rule I never watch hunting or fishing shows. I consider them to be only slightly less boring than those half-hour infomercials for “guaranteed” weight-loss potions or real-estate schemes.
But last night I did turn up the volume on a hunting show, mainly because I wanted to know just what that funny, goat-type creature being stalked was. Turns out it was a Himalayan tahr, a type of very large mountain goat. (Walt will be happy to know that the tahr is an artiodactyl, just like Rudolph and all his other reindeer friends.)
Now, I am not anti-hunting per se. I see no problem with hunting for food or to control pests, so long as the laws and sportsman’s code are followed. But I do take a rather dim view of hunting purely for the thrill of shooting something and having some part of it mounted on your wall.
I also question the TV hunter’s claim that his tahr-hunt had been a challenge. He was certainly well-equipped for the challenge, with his high-powered rifle and scope. He also said that it took him two-and-a-half hours before he found the tahr he eventually shot. Wow, two-and-a-half hours! Doesn’t he realize that “real” (as in, not on TV) hunters often stay out for days and still come back empty-handed? Most of them would probably be glad to bag their prize after a couple hours.
And having looked up the tahr on Wikipedia, I am not so sure about the ethics of hunting it at all. According to Wiki, the tahr’s conservation status in its native habitat (central Asia) is “near threatened.” It’s been introduced deliberately into New Zealand, New Mexico, California, South Africa, the Alps and Ontario. I don’t know why it was introduced elsewhere, as Wiki says the animals are considered pests in large herds. Nor do I know where exactly our TV sportsman was doing his hunting, but I presume it was somewhere in America.
I see several problems here. One, why was the tahr introduced into other areas of the world? To try and protect it? Then why allow it to be hunted in the protected areas? More to the point, if it’s “near threatened” why allow it to be hunted for sport at all? The TV show made no mention of the tahrs being considered destructive in the given area, so apparently they weren’t being culled to protect farm or grazing land.
I’m sure nothing strictly illegal was being done, or it wouldn’t have been on the show. But something doesn’t have to be strictly illegal to be unethical or of questionable ethics. I think most of us know that.
An irrelevant postscript: Mr. Assassin’s Rifle did his hunting clad in a big warm-looking flannel shirt and hiking boots. For a while that appeared to be all he was wearing, as his legs between the bottom of the long shirt and the tops of his socks and boots were bare. He actually appeared to be pantsless! Luckily for all concerned, he did eventually prove to be wearing fairly short shorts under his shirt.

Birthday Bandits

January 24, 2010

Some people just seem determined to put a damper on everybody else’s good time, as illustrated by this letter to Dear Abby:

DEAR ABBY: I have chosen to celebrate my children’s birthdays with family and one friend. I want my children to understand early on that birthdays are not
about getting loads of gifts, but to celebrate life with family. We are invited to many parties for their friends and classmates, but I have always chosen
to attend only those of our close friends.
I find it disheartening to watch children these days rip into a bunch of gifts and toss them aside without saying thank you or even commenting on the gift.
It’s all about the next package and the volume.
Because of this, I’m considering no longer giving a gift but making a donation to a charity in honor of the birthday boy or girl instead. But I’m worried
about the reaction I’ll get from friends. On the other hand, I feel much better about donating to a worthwhile charity instead of another toy for children
who already have so much these days. Is a donation appropriate instead of a gift? — WONDERING IN BIRMINGHAM

Don’t get me wrong. I can’t stand spoiled, selfish or bad-mannered children (or adults) either. And I’m glad somebody wants to put the brakes on overly extravagant parties and gift-giving. But this lady’s sanctimonious tone gives me a pain. “I have chosen to attend only a few…” “I have chosen to celebrate my children’s birthdays…” Wait a minute. That might work with a toddler, but with schoolkids?
Okay, it’s up to her how her kids are raised, but it also seems to me that she can teach them more about the idea of giving if she lets her kids go to more birthday parties but has them pick out and buy the present themselves. If they buy it themselves, they won’t have that much to spend/waste on it, and they’ll have to put a little thought into what they can buy that their friend would enjoy.
Giving a donation in the birthday boy or girl’s name doesn’t really teach about generosity and selflessness. After all, it’s Mom who spends the money, and presumably chooses the charity, so what concrete lesson have her kids gotten from it? It also requires very little effort, and I think it seems rather cold and corporate to me. Very impersonal. I’m an adult and I think even I would feel a bit put-out if somebody showed up on my birthday to tell me they’d made a donation in my name to some charity which I may or may not even support. I’d feel even more put-out if I got a form letter from said charity later on, thanking me for my contribution and dropping broad hints that they would really like to see more of “my” money.
But enough from me, let’s see what Abby says:

DEAR WONDERING: Your sentiments are noble, but your teaching method is heavy-handed and I don’t recommend it. If the children are in grammar school, a donation
in their name to a charity will go over like a lead balloon.
Teach your children proper manners by explaining how to practice them and setting a good example. By preventing them from interacting socially with their
friends and classmates, you are slowing down their socialization and isolating them.
Because you prefer that your children not receive “loads of gifts,” when you plan their birthday celebrations, explain your philosophy to your family and
your one friend and also to your children. Then let your kids choose a charity and request that attendees bring an item to be donated. That way all the
children can enjoy themselves and learn the satisfaction that comes from helping others at the same time.

I love it when Abby and I agree. It’s such a cozy feeling.

Hurling Invective, the Old-fashioned Way

January 22, 2010

Now ordinarily, I stay well away from political debate, on the theory that we’ve all made up our minds already and are not likely to change our own or others’ opinions. But I am doing a bit of political commentary today because I always enjoy the opportunity to use words which seem to have fallen out of use and which I think are due for a revival.
So, without further ado, I bestow upon John Edwards, the dishonorable former senator from North Carolina, the title of Cad.
No need for me to rehash the story here, we’ve all heard how he is finally confirming that he is the father of his videographer’s daughter. Said daughter having been conceived during Mr. Edwards’ latest run for President. Just about the time Elizabeth Edwards learned that her cancer had returned in an incurable form.
Very classy, Cad. I hope someday when you are sick and in need of comfort and support, you will learn what it’s like to be betrayed. That’s if you even have somebody around to betray you.
And don’t think that your acknowledgment of paternity now is “coming clean.” It isn’t coming clean when you are 1. Reversing a lie you’ve sustained for two years. And 2. Only doing so now because your erstwhile friend is about to publish the whole truth in a book anyway. So no points for honesty there. It’s a bit like locking the barn door after the horses have not only run off, but have already been sent to the glue factory.
As for Edwards’ paramour, Rielle Hunter, I bestow the quaint, old-fashioned but accurate title of Strumpet on her. Yes, Edwards was married and it was his responsibility to stay faithful. But it takes two to tango, and Ms. Hunter bears her share of the blame. She knew he was married, that his wife was not well, but apparently that didn’t matter to her. And she’s well into her forties, not some impressionable college-age intern bedazzled by the glitz and glamour of working for a presidential candidate. No, Ms. Strumpet knew what she was doing, but opportunism and selfishness ran rampant on both sides. Who knows what went through their minds, or what stories they told themselves to justify their behavior? I figure he was just looking for a little fun while his wife was sick, and she wanted a fling with a high-powered boss, like in those cheesy romance novels I’ve been known to parody. She may also have wanted a baby and didn’t care who she hurt to get one.
Either way, the whole situation calls for a third word from bygone days, though this word has not fallen so far out of use as the other two. The word is: tawdry.

A Real Shocker!

January 16, 2010

I ran across this on a trivia website recently, and I really got a charge out of it.

In ancient Egypt, doctors used jolts from the electric catfish to reduce the pain of arthritis.

I’ve always been fascinated with ancient Egypt, and intrigued by the many ways they were “ahead of their time.” Those pyramids, built by manpower alone and with precise mathematical calculations! Their elaborate funerary rites and lavish tombs! Their innovative medical work!
All those thousands of years ago, Egyptian doctors knew that electric shocks can work for pain management. They may not have understood precisely how the shocks confused nerves into not transmitting pain sensations, but when you get right down to it, does it really matter exactly how something stops your joints from hurting?
Here in the “civilized” world, (we can argue about *that* some other time) it’s only been fairly recently that doctors started using electric shocks (self-administered by a patient using a device implanted in the spine) to control pain. I wonder if perhaps we shouldn’t take a closer look at some of the “archaic” methods of medicine. We might just learn (relearn?) a few things.
A postscript: Isn’t The Electric Catfish a fabulous name for a restaurant? Think about it! Psychedelic décor, lots of sixties-type music, wait-staff in groovy, far-out costumes, and delicious All-U-Can-Eat catfish accompanied by plenty of hushpuppies. (That’s my main gripe with places that serve hushpuppies; They are downright stingy with the little deep-fried delights.)
Hey, maybe the Electric Catfish could offer two tanks: one from which you select your dinner, and the other, much larger, which will house the electric variety, and in which customers, for a fee, can immerse themselves to cure their rheumatism!
I smell a business opportunity here, don’t you? And it smells like…fried catfish!

Let It Snow

January 10, 2010

But make it like it used to be.
Probably a good two-thirds of the US is sick and tired of snow and cold by now, and where I sit typing these words, we’re definitely sick and tired of the cold. But it suddenly struck me that it wasn’t so very long ago that these chilly temperatures wouldn’t have bothered me a bit twenty years ago.
Upon further reflection, I have decided that winter, and more specifically snow, is one of those things that is pure magic to children, but that somehow loses at least some of its magic as we grow up. It’s a shame, but there it is.
I was like most every other kid my age. If the weatherman so much as hinted at the possibility of flurries, I was all over it: watching the sky, following the forecasts, and singing that dumb “Let It Snow” song over and over. If his predictions failed to come true, I took it as a personal affront and an indication of the basic dishonesty, if not outright treachery, of Adults With Clout. But if he was right, and especially if it snowed more than he’d predicted, well, he was an American Hero.
Back then, if school was cancelled because of snow, we cared not if that meant we’d have to make up an extra day or two in June. June was FIVE WHOLE MONTHS AWAY, for crying out loud! A lot could happen between now and then. Besides, if the snowfall was big enough, the governor, bless him, would declare a state of emergency and we wouldn’t have to make up anything.
Our teachers did try to enlighten us. They warned us about extra days at the end of the school year, reminded us that school was our job, yadda yadda yadda. But I found out later, in a rare example of maturity granting special insight, that the teachers all prayed for cancellations more fervently than any student ever thought of doing. The secret’s out, teachers! We are onto you!
A snow day meant one thing: outdoor fun! We could stay out for hours, if only our mothers would let us. Did we not feel the cold back then? I don’t remember being chilled while playing in the snow, though I must have, the way I dived right in and got covered with the white stuff. Oh, didn’t we have fun?!
Memory likes playing funny little tricks on us. I seem to recall all childhood snowfalls as being at least six inches deep, and of course the snow was always perfect for packing into snowballs and snowmen. And there was never any wind, or so my memory tries to convince me.
Oh, I know we didn’t always get huge amounts of accumulation, and sometimes it was that awful wet heavy snow that didn’t want to be rolled into balls, the kind that you scooped up and it was a big, hard chunk, more like ice than anything else. Or sometimes it was that dry powder that was almost like flour, wouldn’t hold a shape for love or money. That kind was fun to burrow around in, though, if there was enough of it.
Did you ever play in the snow at night? That was one of my favorite winter activities. At night, the wind was usually calmer, and there was no sunlight to dazzle my eyes and make them tired. Plus, what could be more beautiful than a good coating of snow lit only by the full moon, or even by the ordinary yard lights?
Even in college, I looked forward to snow. My school was in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, so we tended to get a fair amount of snow every winter. The entire campus didn’t usually shut down for snow (except during the infamous Blizzard of 1996, but that was obviously a special case) but very often individual professors would cancel their classes. Believe me, on that spread-out, hilly campus, you did not want to be trudging around to classes in a foot of snow.
But all good things have to end, and so it was with the magic of snow and dnow days. When you’re out of school and working, you very rarely get a day off for snow. If you can get out of your driveway you’re expected at work. Some workplaces are more cautious about staying open on such days, but that’s the general rule.
You look around and see all the schools closed, all the news stories where they show kids spending their days off sledding or ice skating or having snowball wars, and you feel sad, and even a little bit cheated. Why’d I have to grow up and lose out on all that fun? Why do I now get chilled to the bone just walking to the mailbox and back? Why do I have to worry about all the people driving in this weather? Why, why, why?
Part of the price of growing up, that’s all. But oh, what a high price it sometimes seems!

Storybook Romance Seminar, Part II!

January 3, 2010

And now, our special guest, the prolific romance author variously known as Monique D’Amour, Cammi Colt and Freya Goodlove, has returned to give us some more pointers on Livin’ La Vida Romantica!

Hello again, darlings! It’s so very lovely to be here again with all of you charming people! The last time we chatted, we discussed the importance of being wealthy. An importance which cannot be overemphasized! However, there are many other things we need to consider as we set out to create our very own Storybook Romance.
“What’s in a name?” is a question that should be carefully considered just as soon as one decides where one’s all-important fortune is to come from. “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet” just doesn’t apply to us who wish to live the Storybook life.
You’ll notice, as you read my own romantic novels (published by Chocolate Hearts Press, and available in handsomely packaged gift sets) that each of my characters has a name that suits him or her particularly well. A few examples:

Storm Kincaid: The down-on-his-luck heir-turned-cowboy of “His Branded Bride.” His name is strong, manly, yet sensitive and sensual, even a bit mysterious. As is the man himself! He is every one of those qualities! What restless, well-heeled rancher’s daughter could possibly fail to at least be tempted by a Storm?
Lady Marguerite Fontainebleu: She’s the heroine of “Captivated By His Captive.” Lady Marguerite is delicate, innocent and the very epitome of feminine grace. Naturally she needed a name to match. And she got it! Plus, what could be more romantic than anything French?
Count Simon de Lecherie: He’s the divinely handsome, but unspeakably evil, anti-hero of “The Chained Maiden.” He’s a count, so his name must carry a healthy dose of “class.” But it also needed to carry a hint of his treachery, his cunning, his lechery.
Campbell Fellowes: A very popular heroine. She’s the icily beautiful, wildly successful, very lonely corporate powerhouse who is the star of “Propositions and Proposals.” She needed to be strong to succeed in a man’s world, yet she also had to retain her femininity, or else where would be the romance? And of course, the surname-as-first-name carries that unmistakable “old money” feel along with it. Of course, Ms. Fellowes came from some very old money indeed!

And don’t forget your houses! Storybook houses very often are named as well, and when they are their names must be chosen with the utmost thought. The patron saint of all romance writers, St. Margaret Mitchell, was expert at naming estates. Tara, Five Elms, Twelve Oaks, all were excellent choices. Go ye, and do likewise! I would avoid christening a country cottage something ponderous like The Hills of Tuscany. A simpler name like Moorsmere or Heatherhill would be more fitting.
By the same token, a sprawling mansion would be made slightly ridiculous if it were given the name Little Brook. No, something more along the lines of Goldenvale or Mont Nouveau is most appropriate, don’t you agree?
As always, I have dearly loved spending this time with all of you, imparting the wisdom I have gleaned throughout my romantic life and career. But the time grows short, and I have a dinner engagement with the Count and Countess of Wexbridgehampton. (Such darling people!) So I must take my leave for the present, but your dear hostess, the Ghostess, assures me that I am welcome back at any time to continue this little seminar. We’ve only just begun! Until then, au revoir, mes amis!

A Darwin Award Contender If Ever There Was One

January 3, 2010

This is from the Associated Press:

Sister accidentally runs over, kills brother The Associated Press MESA, Ariz. . Police say a teenage girl accidentally ran over and killed her 17-year-old
brother as the two played around in an Arizona shopping mall parking lot.

Mesa Police spokesman Ed Wessing says the sister had dropped off her brother at Superstition Springs Mall Saturday evening. And then they started playing
around, with the brother jumping in front of the car and the sister slamming on the brakes.

Tragically, the last time that happened the sister was unable to stop and ran over the brother.

He was rushed to a hospital in critical condition and later pronounced dead.

Names and the girl’s exact age were not available.

As the old saying goes, “Against stupidity, God himself is helpless.”
Seriously, how dumb can you get?
Incidentally, isn’t the Superstition Springs Mall the perfect place to have something like this happen?

Did I Hear That Right?

January 1, 2010

Possibly, but if not, don’t despair. What you thought you heard might be a genuine mondegreen!
Mondegreen: A misheard word or words in a song. A very famous mondegreen, and one that had a lot of people fooled, was in a Jimi Hendrix song. The line is “’Scuse me while I kiss the sky,” but it was widely misheard as “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy.” Hendrix knew the line was easily misinterpreted, but it didn’t bother him. In fact, during live performances, he would sing the line and pretend to smooch one of his bandmates.
The etymology of this word is in itself interesting. In 1954, American writer Sylvia Wright coined this term in an essay in Harper’s. She recalled how, as a child, she had enjoyed the ancient Scotch ballad “The Bonnie Earl o’ Murray” but had misunderstood the line “They have slain the Earl o’ Murray and laid him on the Green.” She thought it was “They have slain the Earl o’ Murray and Lady Mondegreen” and wondered who poor Lady Mondegreen was.
And so, out of this child’s mistake, a new word was born! Not only that, but a world of fun and intrigue! A whole new pastime! here is the largest and best collection of mondegreens I’ve ever seen. You could spend hours, days, weeks, perusing the often-hilarious mondegreens that readers of the site have submitted. It would appear that no band or song is too obscure to fall victim to “mishearance.”
I have a couple of modest mondegreens of my own, which I’ll share here:

In the Steve Winwood song “Higher Love,” there’s a line about “facing my fears.” I heard this originally as “bracing my beard.”
In “Wait For It” by Howard Jones, I thought the chorus “Wait for it, wait for it, give it some time” was really “Weissmuller, Weissmuller, do it sometime.” I should mention that at the time, I was only about twelve and didn’t know who Johnny Weissmuller was, that’s just how the words sounded to me.
And in “Throwing It All Away” by Genesis, I couldn’t make out the line “Calling after me.” It wasn’t till I was an adult and knew what the line was that I realized that what it most sounded like was “Colonoscopy.” Again, I was only a child when the song was popular (about ten, maybe) and wouldn’t have known what a colonoscopy was, but when I did know, it seemed obvious. Are those two last examples more properly called “retrograde mondegreens?”

A footnote: the site I have linked above also has a huge section of song parodies submitted by readers. Seriously funny stuff. Often quite off-color, sometimes very amateurish, but always entertaining.