Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Earth is shrinking

I read where more and more companies are outsourcing their help and information desks. The "still on the best seller list" book about the "Flat Earth".. gives lots of examples about how our earth is shrinking.. and how, when you talk to someone you would normally think was in the US.. they may be in Banglador or other exotic places. Some of the telephone folks may even take American sounding names.

Please do not take it as though I am picking on any person in another country, but there are some amusing situations that take place when the person you are consulting has only scant idea about Americanisms and American locations.

For example, some time ago, I called a major company's help telephone number to ask for the status of an order. The person on the phone asked me for my address: I said: "Westminster, Maryland" Reply: "There is no Westminster." I said: "It is near Baltimore". Reply: "Sorry, I don't know about Baltimore." I said: "It is in Maryland, a State in the United States." Reply: "Sorry, I do not have a Maryland on my list." I said: "It should be right next to Massachusetts (spelled out)." Reply: "Oh, now I see .. 'Mary' 'Land'" ...

Once we got that straightened out and got to street address, he could not understand "Drive" which is part of my address. His list of possible address words showed: Avenue, Street, and Road.. but not Drive. So, frustrated, I finally hung up and eventually what I was waiting for did show up.

Another example: Elaine called the order number for a major Ladies' outfitter: She asked a question and the answerer started to read from a prepared script that was related to a keyword in her question... she interupted him and asked for more detail.. he replied "OK" and began to read the same prepared script..from the top.. after three more times she realized that he must be a computerized foreigner who could not figure out how to divert from the text of his script. (The script words probably satisfy 95% of the people who call up with a similar question.) She hung up, frustrated.

My last example: One of my Internet providers has started to put graphic advertising when you try to access your email.. this slows things down perceptively.. and when they do that, I cannot access my email even though I have an "always on" cable modem hookup.
I called the 800 help number for the provider and a voice said: "Hello, this is Bob, what is your name?" I replied: "Joe". Bob said: "'ello, Joe, whad can I do for you?" I replied: "Bob, I have a problem getting my email." Bob said: "Joe, do you 'ave Dial-up or DSL?"
I said: "Bob, I have a cable hook-up." Bob said: "Joe, whad is gabel?" I said: "Bob, could you get me your supervisor to talk to?" Bob said: "O Gay, Joe. 'ave a nize day."

The next voice said: "'ello, Joe, this is Barbara.. do you 'ave Dial-up or DSL?"
I said: "Barbara, I have cable." Barbara said: "Joe, whad is gabel? I don't understand gabel." I hung up.. frustrated again.

I am rereading one of Steve Allen's books (Dumbst!) and if he were alive today he would get a kick out of interactions like the ones I mentioned above.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Religion in the News

I read that a Roman Catholic priest in California kicked 55 parishioners out of church because they insisted on kneeling during mass. Huh?! Apparently the Vatican says that a priest can make the "kneeling" decision himself.. and this priest is upset that these folks keep kneeling when he told them not to. He says that disobeying his order is a mortal sin.

I also read another item about kneeling.. kind of.. The Maylaysian space program has developed a device that can determine the direction of Mecca, even from orbit. That way, they can continue to pray properly, even in orbit. They are still working on how to kneel in zero gravity.
(At least they are allowed to kneel.)

Another item: a Ukranian man yelled out "God will save me, if he exists!" as he jumped into the lion's den at a zoo. The lion must have been an atheist, because it promptly gobbled him up.

Of course, you remember the joke about the Christian martyr who escaped from the lion's clutches because he asked the lion to make sure he said a prayer before he ate him... or the other Christian martyr who escaped from a lion when he whispered in the lion's ear that before he ate him, the lion should give an appropriate little speech.. and the lion was afraid to speak in public. (You get the idea.)

Dan Brown fans will no doubt have looked up the Opus Dei organization after reading his books and/or seeing the DaVinci Code movie. The organization now numbers 85,000 members in 80 countries. Its kind of a secret organization, and apparently accepts religious members who want to "sanctify" themselves through "personal, familial, and social duties."

I've read that the spiked "cilice" worn around the upper thigh for two hours a day is meant to "mortify the flesh" for some members. Some also flog themselves while reciting prayers. Time magazine recently did an interesting article about the organization.

Some politicians see the conflict in the Middle East as a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. This is very scary to me. I would like it better if such politicians and preachers would read the Bible in its original language.. or even better, the works on which some books of the Bible are based. Also, Biblical prophesy should be viewed in context of the time when it was made or reported.

I also read that televangelist, Pat Robertson, who is 76 years old.. says that he can leg-press one ton (2,000 pounds).. quite a bit more than the record. Wow! More power to him! (No!, I take that back, he has too much power and influence over too many people, in my opinion.)

And finally, I read that the patriarch of Cambodia's monk population said that he would allow all 40,000 of his monks to watch the World Cup playoffs, as long as they stayed silent and impassive.

In Toastmasters, we tell people that there are three things that a speaker should not talk about in public: Politics, Sex and Religion. (But aren't these three things what interests people the most?) Today, I have put out some thoughts about religious issues to try to trigger some response from whoever might someday read this blog.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Father's Day

I had a marvelous Father's Day. One daughter and a granddaughter went with us to a wonderful buffet at the village where we live. They also gave me an XM satellite radio as a gift (and some great little whale figurines.) I'm looking forward to listening to the specialized channels, like the Old Time Radio channel. (To afford the monthly subscription cost, I cut out STARZ and the like from my Adelphia cable package. I never watched those channels anyway.)

Father's Day evening, Elaine and I were treated to the fullest and tastiest crabs we have so far had this season. My other daughter and two grandsons let us share in my son-in-law's Father's Day celebration. This daughter makes wonderful cards by scrap-booking. She is very creative.

(I will try not to use relative's and friend's names on this blog as much as possible.)

Holidays are nice.. it gives you a chance to get away from the depressing news for a day.

Hey.. I hear that Al Franken is back.. but where? I miss the TV show he had on the Sundance Channel. He left it to go on a book-signing tour. I thought that he should have disowned that book, I didn't think it was very good.. just a rehash of his radio and TV discourses. By now, we all know about polititions' lies and escapades.. tell us something new, Al.

Al has some very accomplished children and I hope they treated him well on Father's Day.

My father was a marine artist of some local renown I did not know him personally and I have been trying to find and buy some of his works; however, I understand that his brother rounded all of them up and is holding them. I wonder why.

I was brought up in my Grandfather's house. He was a crossword puzzle expert who was compiling the "greatest" crossword dictionary in the world. He is responsible for my constant interest in puzzles.. including American and foreign crosswords, as well as cryptic crosswords. He was known as "the Senator".. he dressed and looked like a template of one.. he hung out a lot at the Buttonwood Cafe, where he often drank beer with the Barnum circus clown, Emmet Kelley.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Look for the Humor in the News

I got tired of reading just sad and horrific news in newspapers and magazines..(and TV news is always depressing, so I restrict myself to no more than 15 minutes of it each day, if that much) and changed my habits a while ago.. now my main source of useful information and news (and a humorous look at our Government) is CSPAN radio (and sometimes CSPAN TV). My next source is The Week Magazine, which has a lot of humor mixed with reports on all sides of all issues. They also have a digest of great news cartoons.

For good humor and fair reporting, and great cartoons, I like The New Yorker. And for outrageous humor, there is always The Weekly World News. And to round out the week, there is the wonderfully funny and topical radio show, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me.

I used to subscribe to the Atlantic Monthly, but dropped it when they stopped publishing a monthly cryptic crossword. That magazine does do in-depth reporting on issues, but not much humor, and I needed my cryptic crossword fix each month, so when it went away, I said
goodbye to Atlantic.

For anyone who could possibly care, you might know that I try to draw a cartoon a day in my journal (yes, I keep a journal as well as this blog).. I find this to be very therapeutic. I even color in each drawing. A number of brain activities there. Humor, cartooning and puzzling each day may keep Altzheimers from the door for a little longer.

Somewhere, I have a motto: Live, laugh, love! And this is the key. It disturbs me to see Senior Citizens confined to their rocking chairs and chained to their TV sets.. sucking in all this depressing "news". Get the hell up! Move your body! Use your brain! Have a beer! Enjoy life!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Joe Vaughan Fan Club

One thing that isn't written up in the press very much is The Joe Vaughan Fan Club. This is a unique fan club, where the initiator (me) is a fan of every one of the members. This makes it different from any other fan club.

I first thought about such a club when I was attending a graduation session at a large university. Elaine and I were seated among 10,000 or more people in the audience. At a quiet moment during the ceremony, a voice rang out: "Hey Joe Vaughan!". I was being recognized by a member of a Toastmasters Club that I had connections to.

Later, as I was waiting in a long line at the Men's room, a voice rang out from two balconies up: "Hey Joe Vaughan!" It was another fellow Toastmasters member.

Later, while on the lawn, taking pictures of the Graduate and her Mother, another "Hey Joe Vaughan!" rang out from somewhere. It was a lady from the Social Security Administration.

As I pondered over these outbursts.. other incidences came up.. for instance, on a cruise to the Caribbean, while Elaine and I stood at a railing overlooking the beautiful sea, watching a full moon, I heard that "Hey Joe Vaughan!" again.. it was a group of friends on the railing of the next deck up.. later that night, waiting for supper in the dining room it happened again with different people and again while walking through the ship.

So.. to counteract this activity, I formed the Joe Vaughan Fan Club.. but it was not to humor me, but to honor those good folks who felt the need to make their presence known to me in many places.

I now have about 1,000 members around the country.. and we even have a website. We also have a club cap and pencils inscribed appropriately. Someday, when the market goes back up and I get flush again, I will treat all these members to a steamed crab feast.

Monday, June 12, 2006

More on Language

Elaine doesn't quite agree with me on other languages. She thinks that everyone who lives in the U.S. should study and learn English and having signs in other languages doesn't help them learn.

Another story: when I was in the Air Force, I studied a lot of languages, including Russian. When I came home and went to college, I decided that I knew enough to skip Russian 101 and go right into spoken Russian. I did very well on that (A+), but I also realized that by not taking Russian 101, even though I could read somewhat and speak somewhat, the 101 students were racing far ahead of me. So, of course, my only recourse was to take 101 next semester if I wanted to become proficient in the language.

When I set up my schedule, I reserved Russian 101. However, just as the semester started there was a time change for the class, and instead of being an afternoon class, it had now become an 8 am class. Since I lived 60 miles away from the college, I would have to get up at 5 am in order to make it through the traffic, after I had driven a cab until 1 am. So, I didn't show up for the first class, and canceled thereafter.

I later learned that the Professor for the class lived close to me and he had no trouble making the 60-mile trip to class..why couldn't I? That gave me a lot of guilt.... And it did bother me, but I subconsciously also felt relieved that I had found an excuse to drop Russian, which I had been dreading because it was probably going to interfere with all of the German and French classes that I was taking. Sometimes, even today, years later, I have a recurring dream about dropping that class. Its the only one I ever dropped and it still bothers me today that I did so, even though I really wanted to.

I know, that is a dumb and boring story, but by writing it, I may have achieved catharsis.. and maybe I won't have to have that damn dream again.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

More on Marriage

I read that the FBI is looking for a guy who has more than 50 wives... wow! I always thought that one was enough for any man. Imagine all of them nagging him at the same time!

I can understand the Mormons having extra wives when they were settling the West and needed workers on their farms. But what is the reason now? I believe that in some African tribes, the chief is obligated to marry all the ugly (unmarriageable) girls. That makes sense to me. But, from the pictures I've seen of the Mormon wives, they all seem to be relatively good looking and probably would not have a problem finding a husband.

The multiple wives that I have read about seem to have no problem in sharing their husband, and seem happy to have so many feminine companions and friends. And, of course, these families always have lots of children around to brighten their days.

I wonder if any of these 50+ wives came with a dowry?

One of Sherlock Holmes' mysteries deals with Mormons and multiple wives.

I think that I would rather stick with one wife, as I did for 43 years with my late wife.. and as I would do with my lady-friend, if conditions allowed it.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


It bothers me that so many people are upset with Spanish language speakers being in the United States. Some even think that Spanish might overtake English as our national language. Spanish is a beautiful language, spoken by millions of people in our hemisphere. When people come to the US (legally or illegally) they of course still speak the language of their birth place, just as we would probably speak English if we would relocate somewhere else.

Yes, I know, you will say "Why don't they try to learn English?" .. How do we know they don't? But even if they don't... check out the language that their children rush to learn.... English.. the language of the music and entertainment culture in the US. As far as I can tell, the native language (English in this case) usually takes over in the second generation.

For example, when I first met my future wife, her family spoke only French at home and little English elsewhere. My wife went to a school where they spoke French in the morning and English in the afternoon. As she got older, she would only speak English, even to her parents at home, even though she could still understand French. (In fact, when we visited French Canada on several occasions, she would have me speak the necessary French.)

In just a few years I noted that her family spoke less and less French.. and eventually, they spoke almost entirely English.. except with very elderly relatives. All of their children, grand-children and great grandchildren speak English exclusively.

I have also observed this with Portuguese and Italian people I know.

Many people are afraid to learn another language. Probably close to the fear of public speaking. I have always looked upon language learning as a wonderful experience. I spent almost 4 years in Germany (US Air Force).. and I was able to travel around the country a lot. I got myself an Assimil (spelling?) book that I used to teach myself German and even to teach myself the old script, both written and printed (something that some German natives don't know today) and I had a great time. I am sure that some Spanish speakers hurry to learn English in the same way.

And then there is Maria.. the wife of a friend of mine.. Maria has no aptitude at all for learning English.. she has tried.. she has been in the US for at least 40 years and still speaks a very broken English. Her husband and children speak Spanish and English beautifully, without any trace of an accent and they communicate with her in either Spanish or English.. if she doesn't understand the English, she says: "que?" and they elaborate in Spanish.

When I was a child, I grew up in a multi-cultural neighborhood in a wonderful multi-cultural city.. all of us kids could talk to each other in different languages as we played together.. we had kids of Portuguese descent, French-Canadian descent, Polish descent, Yankee descent, Italian descent .. and we never had any problems with language. All of us grew up speaking American English and that is the language of choice now, as far as I can tell for all of us.

So, my advice (if anybody cares) is to relax, learn a little Spanish, try some Spanish food, listen to some Latino music.. have some fun!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Chimpanzee Birthday and more on Marriage

I read that Cheetah, that marvelous chimp from the Tarzan movies is still alive and just celebrated a birthday in the 70's. I believe his first Tarzan movie was in 1934, the year I was born. Wow! I wonder what he has been doing in all these years after the movies.

On marriage again. Elaine and I went to a marvelous gay wedding a couple of months ago. We knew both parties and they are real nice, church-attending, honest people with good jobs. It was a conservative wedding with an emcee and a dj and lots of guests, most of whom were "straight". The parties now call themselves "husband". They had lived together for some time before the wedding.

Scenario: two men live together for 20 years. One is in a bad accident and in the critical unit of a hospital. The other man cannot visit his partner in the hospital because he is not a legal spouse or relative. Does that seem fair?

Many many years ago, when I worked for the Government, I adjudicated a case where the partner of a man for over 20 years wanted to file for widow's benefits when his partner died. As a new adjudicator, I did not know how to handle it.. my boss hunted for a long time through State case law until he found a statement in California law that stated: "Marriage is a contract between a man and a woman.".. or words to that effect, and disallowed the man's claim.

I believe that Massachusetts is now the only State that recognizes same-sex marriage. What does that mean for insurance entitlements such as Social Security? Interesting.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

More Chimpanzee Talk and the Marriage Issue

In my last post, I was wrong about the biologists.. they were Boston scientists, from MIT and Harvard. Apparently, they came to their conclusion that early "man" mated with chimpanzees, based on genome studies. I believe they said that some kind of interbreeding occured for a million years.

I wonder if it is genetically possible for humans and chimps to mate now. All this reminds me of the bad joke whose punchline starts: "Zookeeper! Zookeeper!"

I just read on one blog that Aids (read HIV) was probably caused by humans eating dead infected chimpanzees. I don't know much about the subject.

Elaine wants me to talk about the "marriage issue". She feels that a better subject for the Senate to take up is "divorce", which ruins 50% of all marriages. She is especially mad about "no fault" divorce.. what has happened to the concept that married people should stay married? How many of the posturing Senators have divorced their first wife in favor of a younger, more photogenic one? Yesterday, I was looking at pictures of some prominent CEO's and it appeared to me that these 70 year old guys had wives who looked like they were 30 years old. Or.. perhaps because they have so much money, their 70 year old wives have been able to have face, body and hair transplants.

More on this later.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Related to Chimpanzees? No way!

Well, now I think that British biologists have gone a bit too far! I read that some are claiming that our current batch of human beings are offshoots of relationships between some early type of "man" and chimpanzees. This has got to be a big blow to the egos of many, especially religious persons.

But then, I also have read for some time that human genetic make-up is very close (90+%?) to that of chimpanzees. And have you seen Planet of the Apes?

Don't some scientists say that Aids was originally contracted from human contact with monkeys?

Personally, I like chimpanzees.. at least the ones that used to appear with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. J. Fred Muggs, I think one was called.. and I think he may be still alive at 60 or so years old. He looked a lot like one of my relatives, but I don't dare mention who, because one of them may be reading this.

Now that British scientists have also determined that fish have feelings and even miss their owners when they go on vacation, and that lizards and fish and other creatures have a spot on their foreheads for color recognition of some kind, and that cows and sheep fear their own death.... can we now realize that perhaps we are not the only creature that thinks?

Remember, the brain of a great whale is many times larger and more convoluted than that of human being.