Saturday, August 20, 2011

The crazy world continues to spin

Here are a few of the things that take up a small number of the billions of neurons in my skinny brain:

01.   Wow!  That's smart!

Scientific American magazine for July 2011 includes the following article, that I highly recommend:
"The Physics of Intelligence..Evolution has packed 100 billion neurons into our three-pound brain. CAN WE GET ANY SMARTER?"

The author, Douglas Fox doesn't think we can get too much smarter.. but perhaps technology and culture may someday enable us to form a collective human entity (like bees)  that would be smarter than the sum of its parts.  Could this be where we are heading with Facebook and other social media?  Wikipedia?  Google?

What about other creatures?  It was interesting to hear this week that an elephant has now figured out how to use a tool to gain access to food normally out of his reach.  This puts Jumbo in the same brainpower category as dolphins, otters,  and chimpanzees.

And.. of course.. whales.  Think about a humpback..  it works with its siblings to round up schools of herring, mackrel, and krill for supper.. all the while singing popular whale songs as it glides effortlessly through its environment.. enjoying all of the activity going on in its enormous brain.

02.  Hay ride?

Well, the Iowa Straw Poll voting is over and results are in.  It is interesting to me that each voter has to have a $30 ticket, that is probably handed to a supporter by one of their candidate's staff..  so, the candidate whose staff is not agressive enough to get many tickets.. logically gets less of the vote.. at least it seems that way to me.  Check it all out on Wikipedia.  An explanation of the vote and a tabulation of the results by year is shown.  Very interesting.

03.  Papa Smurf

Last Thursday, I picked up a book at the Westminster Senior Activity Center, called Winters' Tale.  No, it wasn't written by Shakespeare.  It was a book of short stories by Jonathan Winters.   I have liked Mr. Winters for many years and his brand of crazy humor, so I couldn't wait to sit down quietly and read his book.  Unfortunately, even though he has been making people laugh for 60 years (He's almost 85 years old),  this book was the most unfunny book I have ever read.  I got almost all the way through before I threw the book in the recycling bin. 

I see by his website ( ) that some signed copies of that book are selling for hundreds of dollars.  I wonder why.

However, don't let what I say influence you.  If you like Mr. Winters' work, check out the book and form your own opinion.  And, by all means, listen to the NPR interview of him on his website.  Perhaps this will help you remember when Johnny Carson presented him with a stick and Jonathan did "stick schtick" with it for ten minutes.  I certainly have enjoyed all of Mr. Winters' "schtick" for many years, and I wish him many more years of humorous activity.

04.  Ow! That smarts!

It was mentioned today on NPR that Leon Trotsky was killed by someone thrusting an ice pick through his eye.  Yuk!  I know how that feels.  Every few weeks I have to have eyeball injections for macular degeneration in my right eye.  But it is doing me good.  When I started, I saw a round black ball through that eye.  Now, there is no black ball at all, but just a picture of reality that is kind of wavy.  Someday, I may even be able to read with that eye again.  Using both eyes together, my vision is extremely good.

Last month, at the preliminary examination (before the shot), the examiner said: "Even though your right eye ain't too good, your left eye is smokin'!"  Hey, man, that's good to hear.

05.  Save on savon

It was also mentioned on NPR today that "air baths" are just as good as soaking in a soap filled tub.. probably better, because you don't get all that "unsightly soap film" all over your body.  My cousin Charlie enlightened me a few years ago that perspiration per se does not smell.  Tell that to the deodorant sellers.   

06.   Dog-napping

I read where the thefts of dogs has increased in the past year.  The most common theft occurs in home invasions.. burglaries..  besides the giant TV, the dog is snatched as well. 

The second most common theft is from the car where the dog is sitting while the owner is in a store like WalMart.  Having the window cracked is probably  a help to the thief. 

The next most common theft occurs when the owner ties the dog up outside while they shop inside.

In all of these instances.. why didn't the dogs bite or scare away the thief? Was the dog napping?

Just be aware that these thefts are taking place, and make sure you have a micro chip implanted in Fido.

07.  Dog-pooping

The Week magazine mentions that a Taiwanese city has offered dog owners who clean up after their pets, a ticket to a lottery drawing for every bag of dog poop turned in.  The prize can go as high as $2,100.

08.  Anti-Social Media?

The Week magazine also mentions that a crime fugitive taunted police on his Facebook page.  "Catch me if you can.  I'm in Brooklyn."  Apparently, he didn't do his privacy setting properly, so police shortly popped in on him at his apartment, where he was still interacting with Facebook.

09.  Cell phones

I have mentioned this before.  One of the most glamorous movie stars of all time was named Hedy Lamarr.  However, most people do not know that she and a co-inventor developed "frequency hopping" which is now used in cell phone technology. Check out this website.. it even has a copy of the invention documents.

10.  Pope Joan

A new religious book has been published by Random House:  Absolute Monarchs:  A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich.   I haven't read the book yet, but I am intrigued by a review in The Week magazine.  May I quote:  "Legend has it that there was even a female pontiff.  Pope Joan, the story goes, briefly became the leader of the Catholic church during the ninth century by disguising herself.  She was purportedly discovered when she gave birth while attempting to mount a horse."

11.  Satan triumphs?

The West Memphis 3 were just released from prison.  Prosecutors decided not to retry them for the  1993 slaying of three cub scouts.  The slaying has been reported as part of a horrible Satanic ritual.
Many felt that they were wrongly convicted.  They were allowed to plead "guilty" in exchange for release; thereby, saving the prosecutor from retrying the case and losing because of the lack of original evidence.   We will probably now be able to revisit the documentary about the case on TV.

12.  Stinkbugs attack!

So far, we have lost our Zuchini and Squash plants to stinkbugs.  Now they are eyeing up our tomato plants.  Unfortuately, there is no way to get rid of them in a reliable way.  We can't use insecticides.  We are squirting them with soapy (savon) water.  They don't like that, but just fly away in disgust.  There are traps that use stinkbug sex hormone... but, as with Japanese Beetle lures, that is exactly what they do.. lure other stinkbugs to join them.  At least we have lots of tomatoes this year and can share them, albeit reluctantly, with the bugs.  I'm glad they don't like flowers.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Craziness Continues

Herman Melville said it:

"Heaven have mercy on us all -- Presbyterians and Pagans alike -- for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending."

Well, the Congressional bodies have finally agreed (kind of) on a way out of the debt ceiling mess.  My hat is off to the President for keeping an ace in his pocket.. the ability to discontinue the Bush-area tax breaks for the rich when it comes up for renewal.  This should be a great bargaining chip when this madness begins again shortly.

S+P (you know, the rating agency that some feel contributed to the depression we have been experiencing) has downgraded the US' credit rating, in spite of the "agreement" that Congress hammered out.  They want to stick to their decision, even though the Feds have pointed out a massive money error in the calculations used for that decision.

Anyway.. I hope that voters will look back on the madness that just went on in Congress.. and take that into consideration when they enter their polling booths next time.  In my personal opinion, the current crop of "freshmen" should be dumped as well as a lot of "old-timers."  This "my way or the highway" attitude is killing our Country.

Sorry to ramble on.  Let me get to some other crazy stuff:

01.  Pensions

I belong to the National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE), an Organization of persons who have given years of their life in service to the United States of America and an easy target for cost-cutting politicians.  One of the groups that have fought NARFE over the years because they felt that Government pensions, with cost-of-living adjustments was bankrupting the Country was called PEPS.   I can't find anything on the Internet about PEPS since 1996.  It probably was subsumed into some other like-minded organization.

A co-founder of PEPS was Hastings Keith, a former Republican Congressman from Massachusetts, who said that he was concerned about the "overly generous" Federal pensions.   He certainly had a point when it came to his own pensions.. he received a pension for his service in Congress, a pension for his military service as a Colonel,  regular Social Security benefits, as well as "Widower's" benefits. (If I recall correctly, to get "Widower's" benefits under Social Security, one would have to have been dependant on one's wife for several years).

Mr. Keith described himself as a "true double-dipper"..  perhaps he was a quattro-dipper? 

Even though I disagree with the concept of PEPS, I must confess that I liked Mr. Keith for many years and may even have voted for him when I lived in Massachusetts. 

02.  "You sexy thing!"

A Pennsylvania State University entomologist was exposed to disparlure, a gypsy moth sex pheromone in 1977.  For many years later, he still attracted male gypsy moths when outdoors during gypsy moth mating season.

When I had a house with an acre of greenery, one year,  I was bothered with Japanese beetles.  I bought a trap that consisted of a container with some kind of beetle pheromone ..  guaranteed to get those pesky beetles bottled up.  That worked.. however, I should have realized that the pheromone would also call out to beetles in other people's yards.  "Hey, sweetie.. come on over to the Vaughan's!"  Yes, I was inundated with Japanese beetles.. the bottles would fill up several times a day and the smell remains in my nostrils even today.  Let that be a lesson to you suburbanites.

03.  Quote from a friend:

"When I was a child, my father would sometimes let me sit on his lap and let me drive.  I enjoyed that.  However, some of the people on the bus didn't like it."

04.  Altruist of the Year Award

The Week magazine reports that  a school janitor sold his car, dug into his savings and spent $6,000 on 20 high-grade helmets for the football team where he worked!

05.  California Mistral?

A couple of years ago, while crowned Miss California USA,  a young lady said that semi-nude pictures of her appearing on the Internet were obviously the result of "Photoshopping", while others were taken "on a windy day" that blew her top open without her knowledge.

06.  A tip for you bookish types.

Yesterday, I spent a looong time in a "Dollar Store".  Everything there was one dollar or less.  (When you live on a fixed pension, you have to look for bargains these days.)   One section was devoted to "remainders".. books that have not sold in the regular book stores.  (Stand by for Borders!)

Hidden in the pile of books was one I had been debating about buying through Amazon, but didn't want to pay what they were asking.  Now I had it for the great price of $1! (This even beats Odd Lots books at $3 apiece.)

All in all, I bought ten $1 books.  All of them on subjects that perhaps would not appeal to the average reader, but are extremely attractive to odd-balls like me.

Question:  What happens if you drop your Kindle and break it?  My printed book can be picked up and used right away.. or put on a shelf, visible, to remind me that it is available at any time.

07.  Snore police!

The Week magazine reports that the Crowne Plaza Hotel chain has started testing "snore absorbtion rooms."  The rooms have soundproof walls and the hotel will hire "snore patrols" to knock on the doors of those who are snoring thunderously.  (Good idea to solve some of the jobs problem.)

08.  Happy Birthday Police.

The Week magazine also reports that Warner Brothers still collects about $2 million a year from public performances of "Happy Birthday".  They bought the rights to this song in 1988.  Whenever it is sung, a royalty payment is supposed to go to WB.  Are you guilty of violating these rights?

A few years ago, our local AARP Chapter got a letter from somewhere (probably WB) saying that because we were a non-profit group, we could get a cut rate on royalties whenever we sang the Birthday song at one of our meetings.  We ignored the letter and are probably now considered "scoff-laws."

Have you ever wondered why the wait-staff at certain restaurants sing their own versions of birthday greetings at your table?  The restaurant doesn't want to be turned in by the Happy Birthday police!

09. Saint Elmo?

I came upon this scrap of newsprint yesterday, but I can't find anything on the Internet to clarify it for me.

"This furry-red "Sesame Street" character (that giggles when you goose its tummy) was "instrumental" in securing the release of 225 hostages held in Peru."

I remember that the leftist group, MRTA, released 225 of 356 hostages held at a Japanese embassy as a "Christmas goodwill gesture."  But what part did Elmo play?

(I did find an article from 1996, telling how a father drove an earth mover over an Elmo doll, as a cheering crowd watched. I imagine they were sick and tired of hearing that damn giggle.)

Have you heard about St. Elmo's fire?  Check it out in Moby Dick (book and/or movie).

10.  Library of Congress

Well, at least one part of Congress is functioning as it should.  The great library in DC.  At one time, the library could boast over 108 million items on 532 miles of bookshelves.  16 million books. 2 million recordings. 12 million photographs. 4 million maps. 46 million manuscripts. 

About 460 languages plus Braille are represented in the collections.

Have some fun.  Type your name into the search field of the library's online catalog:

11.  Paper recycling in Afghanistan?

I read where our forces are meeting with representatives of the Taliban.  I wonder what would happen if the Taliban got another foothold in the governance of that country.  Check out this Reuter's report from the 1990's:

Taliban leaders in Afghanistan have banned paper bags in their effort to impose pure Islamic law on the country.  "We respect paper, whether it is written on or not," said the Taliban administration's information minister.  "We have announced that people should not use paper for bags or put paper on the garbage heap."  Shopkeepers in Kabul report that the decree has resulted in a run on toilet paper, as some Afghans are unsure how far the ban will be extended.

12.  Fountain of Youth in Maryland

I live in a part of Maryland that is a very healthful area.  In fact, check out this news blurb in a local paper:  "A 25-year old girl was flown to the Shock Trauma Center Friday evening, following an accident." 

I should have paid that damn "Happy Birthday" royalty!