Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Everybody does it

Well I remember lots of things, but I don't recall ever hearing it. I remember the early RCA Victor ad, "His Master's Voice" was taken from a painting where the dog (Nipper) and record player are sitting on the master's coffin. Someone helpfully suggested that might be perceived by some potential record player buyers as a tad morbid. I remember "Bonanza" was on for like fifteen years maybe, and Ben Cartwright wore the same outfit every episode. That show must've spent all the wardrobe budget on hats or something. I remember Force = Mass x how did THAT get in here?

But no, I don't recall ever having heard someone say, "Yeah, I volunteer at the battered womens' shelter, cause everybody does it." For some odd reason, "everybody does it" hardly ever gets attached to a laudable activity.

It's a delightful phrase, highly useful. Honestly false too, cause we know every human being on the planet is so not doing it, whatever "it" is. It's people maybe not thinking how something might be perceived. Another example of that would be record player ads with coffins I suppose.

I've been intensely researching this phrase (there wasn't a darn thing on TV) and it appears to have originated with Israelites dancing around a golden calf. In these modern times, use of "everybody does it" seems to mostly inhabit two broad categories.

It's used to signify "Lots of people do it and don't get caught." This is a throwback to elementary school, and trip to the Principal's office. It stinks to go, but going alone is even worse. There's that waiting room outside the office, with nothing to look at but that one painting of a duck on the wall. If you look at the duck long enough, I swear, it seems he's looking back at you... OK, admittedly I've zero personal experience with such things, but I heard some big kids talking about it. When one goes to the Principal's office with fellow miscreants, at least they have something to look at besides that creepy duck painting. "Everybody does it" is an attempt, even figuratively, to have some company in the Principal's office waiting room.

It's also used to signify "People I wish to emulate are doing it." Those who would tsk-tsk me and say such behavior ends with adolescence? You're going to have to prove to me that adolescence ever ends in our current culture. So right now in Manhattan, a middle aged woman is telling her friend, "At first we didn't want to get a golden retriever, but then we thought, everybody does it, right?" What she really means is the woman down the hall has a St. Bernard, and her life looks like more fun.

Either way, any time it's used, "everybody does it" seems to be an attempt to justify hare brained activities. Well sure, whatever "it" is, there's probably lots of folks also doing it. After all, if you can find an activity where the more precise, "Lots of people do it" doesn't apply? You might be Jeffrey Dahmer or something. You either draw your code of conduct from your common sense or consensus.

And I still say? You keep a big dog cramped in an apartment all day, then he has to ride down in an elevator 18 floors before he sees a fire hydrant? That dog isn't even going to show up at your funeral.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Trillion Shmillion

That's what I need to do, find some corporate sponsors. Let's see, there must be some group I haven't written derisively about. While I'm thinking, might as well take another whack at this whole "Trillion" issue. After all, I never make numerical errors, I'm quite precise that way.

An alert reader (thanks Chuck!) forwarded me an e-mail explaining a trillion dollars in terms of volume.

First, I have readers AND they're alert? Wow! Third, I've already done my bit for the national dialogue on this topic, months ago. "Gee Wally, that's a lot of money" is more useful than anything Chairman Bernanke's said about the whole mess, after all.

Second, I don't understand why this whole "Trillion" thing is confusing to anybody. There are lots of fun ways to consider large numbers.

Like go outside, and look up at the stars. Personally, I think this is best done after dark. We live in something called the Milky Way. Estimates vary on how many stars are in our galaxy, but 300 Billion is a reasonable guess. So it'd take three Milky Ways (not the delicious candy bar, are you listening Mars company?) to equal one trillion stars. Now go inside; the neighbors already think you're creepy enough without your making it worse.

The only way a person can see a Trillion of anything all in one place is to go look in the mirror. There are ten trillion cells in the human body. Each cell has a function and a lifespan. More individual cells in each person than there are stars in thirty galaxies. And things are really crowded in the large intestine.

Admittedly, a person can't see into his large intestine. While some of us often have our heads positioned perfectly, it's very dark in there. Approximately 100 trillion micro organisms live in the human intestines. These bacteria are very useful, and human babies pick them up via the birth process. Trust me, that's a lot better than what baby elephants have to do... you don't want to know.

So the night sky, stretching end to end, way less than a trillion objects can be seen. The entire Milky Way (which is also the name of a VERY delicious candy bar) contains only a tiny percentage of the busy little units inside a human being. Each and every human being is more complex than a galaxy in many ways.

And I still say, "Gee Wally, that's a lot of money!" And this town the Cleavers lived in, Mayfield? How come no black folks? Where is Mayfield, Newfoundland or something?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Effect and Cause

Yep, it was in the news a while back. Fortieth anniversary of Woodstock. This means Woodstock is now officially too old to attend itself. The generation gap didn't end when Nixon resigned, it's still out there. Nowadays it goes on in a nuanced way. Like punishing children for example.

Couples in their early 30's have a "no spanking" approach. Instead of spanking, it's "time out." The method is similar to professional Hockey, and we all know what good results the NHL gets. So if you throw a lamp at the cat, or vice versa, you must sit in the penalty box and consider the error of your ways.

Comes the weekend, the parents go out for dinner, and they drop the kids off at the grandparents' who proceed to wail the daylights out of the little monsters. You'd think this would confuse children, but they're really quite adaptive. They learn quickly that Mommy = time out and Granny = spank my bottom. It's an efficient system in use all over the country... that means an expert is on hand to muck it all up of course.

Mr. Straus has a study indicating that "Children who get spanked often have lower IQs." The methodology looks sound, but I think he has a predicate problem. Mrs. Beal from my tenth grade English class would make him diagram that sentence again. OK, I'll agree that diagramming sentences is one classroom function with zero applications real world in the. Hey! That'd be cool, if I could get Yoda and Mrs. Beal to diagram each other's sentences. Hilarious would that be young Jedi.

Umm, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, the Straus study. I think he's mistaking cause for effect. The sentence should read, "Children who have lower IQs get spanked often." And to be fair, a lot of spankings get delivered to kids at the higher end of the IQ graph. There are the devious smart children, always testing the enemy adult's patience, and there are the kids who really thought it was OK to give kitty a bath in the toilet. Either way, I'm pro-spanking for kids from walking age to about four.

At that age, they can't be reasoned with. I'd rather try reasoning with a liquored up chimpanzee. A swat on the bottom, when it's deserved, lets a kid knows somebody is the boss, and the boss is watching. That can be a comforting thing, even as lower lips are quivering and tears are flowing. Big enough to smack your butt is big enough to hold you safe when you're afraid. Children need to know there are authority figures present during their formative years. You don't want them schlepping along, blissfully unaware of authority and then bang! Age 15 they run smack dab into Mrs. Beal. You know what that's gonna look like? Spending blackboard lots of time at the, that's what!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

You Lie!

When I read anything in the news, I draw from my body of knowledge to decide whether said news story makes sense. Being a child of the TV generation, most of my knowledge is clustered around:

A.) Coconuts can be put to any number of uses, except boat repair.
B.) If you're the new guy, NEVER visit a strange planet with Captain Kirk.

But I have a few other sources of information too. So when I read the following: "After the speech, Wilson's wife asked him, Who was that idiot hollering during the speech?" I nodded in recognition, since that's exactly the sort of information a mother would find interesting. You know why?

When one draws undue attention to himself during a public gathering, folks will think they haven't had any raisin'.

During my childhood, strangers thinking I hadn't had any raisin' was a very popular theme with my mother. It seemed like everything I did made folks think I hadn't had any raisin'. Adding to my confusion, I thought for the longest time she was talking about dried grapes. Once we got that misunderstanding ironed out though, I began to realize what an amazingly reasonable woman my mother is.

She merely asked that I demonstrate some level of maternal instruction, that's all. Just something comparable to what one might expect of, I don't know, a crustacean maybe. Anything else, Mom would meet me halfway and blame that behavior on my father's DNA.

Wish I could say it was smooth sailing after that, but demonstrating raisin' can be a very confusing project for a child. For example? "The Preacher has a new toupee" is just fine on the ride home. But the same statement at oh, say 65 decibels, while the rest of the congregation is in silent prayer, and you know what? Folks think you haven't had any raisin' is what.

That bit of information should've been worked into a "Star Trek" episode. Certainly would've spared me a painful childhood experience, but I guess Gene Roddenberry couldn't think of everything.

Mothers are generally rather lenient about children's First Ammendment rights. It's not what you say, but where or when you say it. Mothers desire that their children demonstrate just a smidgeon, an iota of maternal instruction, is that too much to ask really?

So yeah, Mrs. Wilson, being a mother? Of course she'd have wanted to know what idiot was hollering during the President's speech. I don't think she was a bit embarrassed on learning the idiot was her husband. After all, he's not her kid, right? In fact, I suspect Mrs. Wilson was delighted. She can put motherhood on cruise control from here on out, and just blame EVERYTHING on their father's DNA.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Nutrimatic 5000

Baby food is one of those things, I can't imagine how ancient cultures managed without it. I know the Aztecs didn't have baby food, else somebody would've dug up a big pile of empty jars by now.

Baby food has benefits far beyond nutrition or convenience value. Like for instance? Thanks to baby food, long before it's time to buy school clothes, you already know what colors look good on your child.

My adult experience with tasting baby food comes from once having a toddler who apparently was convinced I was trying to poison him. Being helpful, I attempted to demonstrate how a mouthful of pureed Lima Beans can be a wonderful thing. That's when I found out where he might've got the poison idea.

On the other hand, I found the fruitish baby foods delightful, particularly the strained Peaches. That's the first time it occurred to me, somebody somewhere actually had a job running a strainer machine all day. Then they went home and complained about it.

It's still mostly the same way. It being 2009, the strainer function has probably been incorporated into the computer controlled Nutrimatic 5000. And oh yeah, the machine is in China of course. But other than that? Somebody still runs the thing all day, then goes home and gripes. Something like, "Yep, it happened again. Conveyor got overloaded, we were down for 3 hours. I told 'em, but nobody listens to me."

It's not only baby food, it's everything really. Like telephone poles for example. I mean, they don't just sprout from the ground (although I'm sure ADM has scientists working on that right now) somebody has to run a machine that turns logs into telephone poles. Then they go home and complain, along lines of, "Yeah, chain drive came off the orbital shaper again. I told 'em it was too loose, nobody listens to me."

Imagine that! Every object encountered in daily life, mailbox to flea collar to backhoe, must be several folks in the supply chain who work hard and feel like nobody listens to them. How sad. I wish I could get them all together, and say something that would comfort them. What would I say? Hmmmm... OK! Something like:

"People do listen to you. No kidding, serious efforts have been made not to, but no success at all. Ears stuffed with cotton, I-pods set on stun, standing next to the amps at Pearl Jam concerts, nothing seems to work. Your voice still comes in loud & clear. Just because people disagree with you doesn't make them deaf, you do know that, right? You are valued, it's just this particular idea of yours that isn't valued. Now, doesn't that make you feel better? Well, doesn't it? Hey! You weren't even listening to me, were you?"

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The mystery of history

When I'm not doing important things like wondering if male ladybugs get teased by other insects, I like to watch television. "Antiques Roadshow" is good. It's a talent show for bric-a-brac. It has contestants, judges and scores.

Almost every show, at least one person will be told it'd be worth lots more if they hadn't had it refinished. Doesn't seem to matter what "it" is, not far as I can tell. I've no idea why anyone would get it in their head to refinish a cookie jar, nor even how they'd go about it. I just know they shouldn't have done it is all. Seems to me the show has a contract clause where refinishing must regularly get a "tsk-tsk." Those who refinish things for a living must despise "Antiques Roadshow."

And there'll always be somebody showing up with something so gawdawful ugly I'd be embarrassed for people to know I owned it. It'll turn out to be worth a king's ransom. I've pondered about that a lot, and I have a theory. I think the antiques market is dominated by wealthy blind folks.

Then somebody will arrive with a cherished family heirloom and get their heart broke. My opinion, that's where entertainment value would be greatly enhanced, if that snarky Brit guy from "American Idol" dropped by for a visit. After all, a person's dreams lie crushed & bleeding, isnt it pile-on time? I can hear him now...

"So you thought it was an 18th century French teapot, and it really came from Sears in the early 60's... how pathetic. I bet that's the most valuable thing you own too. Didn't you ever notice it says 'Made in Japan' on the bottom? I'm nauseated from being on the same planet with you."

Coolest thing ever though was the lady with the Russian plates. More saucers really, dessert plates the appraiser called them, and she had a half dozen of them. She said they came from the Winter Palace; her great-grandparents having lived a few miles from it in St. Petersburg in the early 1900's. She was correct; the plates were rather valuable. If she'd just stopped there, I wouldn't remember her at all, but she had a theory how the saucers came into her great-grandparents' possession.

I've always been a sucker for a theory. As a wee lad, I often cried, "Please tell me a bedtime theory?"

"OK. It's my theory dogs can talk just fine. But they don't want to, the snobs. Go to sleep now son."

This woman's theory was that her great-grandparents bought the dessert plates in some sale that was held at the Winter Palace, after the Bolsheviks took power. Well. I'd suspect her great-grandfather was a looter, and a tardy one too, having arrived after all the good stuff was gone. Must've been rough going home to the little woman with a handful of saucers.

Maybe I'm all wrong about it though. As a child of the Cold War, I've been brainwashed by propaganda about the Bolshevik Revolution. Perhaps what happened is the Czar and his entire family died of natural causes on the same day. A sorrowful Lenin said, "What to do with their beautiful belongings? Let's have a yard sale, and use the proceeds to feed the hungry."

Point is, nobody will ever know exactly what happened in 1918 at the Winter Palace. Only thing we'll ever know for sure is don't get those plates refinished Lady. That'd be a bad idea.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hey, they started it!

I have only the warmest regards for those who have said very bizarre things to me over the years. We all say things without thinking at times. And at times, we carefully consider before we speak, but it still comes out stupid. My opinion, there is a cosmic perfection in it all. If you have a silly question, who better to ask than a silly person, right?

These are merely chosen at random; I have many dozens. A person once asked me in all seriousness, "If dolphins are really so intelligent, why don't they build houses to live in under the ocean?" I helpfully explained that dolphins want to, but they don't have thumbs. I've yet to meet a thumbless carpenter whose work I respected.

It just goes like that, being me. I've actually been awakened in the middle of the night by somebody who wanted to know who did that song, "Brandy, you're a fine girl, what a good wife you would make"... of course it was either Bob Dylan or Aretha Franklin, I'm fairly certain. Could've been Gladys Knight & the Pips though. Must be really strange, trying to pick up girls that way.

"Hey baby, looking good tonight there. Can I buy you a drink? I'm a Pip."
"No kidding? Couldn't tell it by looking at you. Do you miss the folks back home in Piponia?"

Uh, what was I talking about? Oh yeah! Some actual questions I've been asked over the years, and my thoroughly researched answers.

Q: What makes windmills run?
A: Steam. They're all steam powered.

Q: Wouldn't mid-air collisions be eliminated, if they'd put headlights on jets?
A: Well. A passenger jet travels at about 650mph. The most powerful headlights available would only buy the pilot enough time to scream "OH SH-" so it's not really worth the expense.

Q: I have an idea for a car that runs on compressed air. The wheels turning will keep the compressor going, will you help me with the design?
A: Really, I'd like to but I'm so busy. What you're talking about is a perpetual motion machine. At best, it'd have to get at least 25 percent free energy from somewhere in order to operate. You should keep working on that; sounds like you're onto something.

Q: Why is it that something, like a big truck, it sounds one way when coming towards me, and different going away?
A: Thats the Doppler effect. Sound is changed by the momentum of the object it comes from. You might say when it's coming towards you, the sound wave is cascading, and when it's moving away the sound wave is decaying. It's actually one of the things that got Einstein headed towards his Relativity theory.

All right, sue me! Everybody gets caught napping at times. Yeah the proper response would have been: "No kidding, I mean really? Sounds different to you? Please get to a Doctor, soon as you can? Probably a brain tumor, something like that."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Adventures in Eating

For any obscure nation wishing to become an empire, well there are written guidelines. The first and most important requirement is you must have bland food. Yes, it's well known that most every war was started by people who were tired of eating the same old thing every day. I'll go farther than that (I usually do) to speculate? Choose any belligerent nation on the map. Send in all the UN inspectors you want, turn the place upside down. I bet you won't find a decent chili dog or BBQ sandwich in the whole country.

It was with a sense of humble pride, at living in a great nation with so many dining options, we set out. What we meant to do is eat exotic food, from a strange land where people have mysterious, unusual customs.

My mind immediately went to New Orleans food, then Mr. Smarty Pants (you know who you are) pointed out that technically New Orleans is part of the US.

We briefly considered Indian food. But the US has never been at war with India (yet) and it just felt unfaithful somehow, going behind the backs of our former enemy nations. So we went for VietNamese food.

The first thing I noticed about the place was that most of the customers seemed to be VietNamese. I took that as an encouraging sign.

There were lots of things on the menu. I flirted with ordering the squid, but really I wasn't feeling THAT "boldly go" at the moment. We ordered the cashew chicken. It was GREAT!

Huge bowl filled with hunks of chicken, and a delicious brown gravy, salty and sweet at the same time. Lots of steamed vegetables; we were even able to identify one of them! (It was onion) My son liked it all so much, he ate every bit of it, and I could tell he wanted to lick the bowl.

And that's another great thing about eating exotic ethnic foods? Table manners are open to creativity. All you're expected to do is pay the bill afterwards. Eat with your hands if you wish. There is likely very little you can do, that will lower your host's already firmly formed opinion of Americans.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Building Consensus

Congress? If you wish to be taken seriously, don't entitle legislation "comprehensive" OK? We regular folk know better. Many a functioning thing can be destroyed with the push of a button (see this scar here? I'll tell you about it later) but a massively messed up thing can't be fixed with one piece of legislation.

Incrementalism is what works; build momentum by doing the easy things first and quickly. So let's get those damned drug commercials off TV, how about that? Ya think you kids could bring that project in for under a Trillion?

I've seen drug commercials where they never even get around to telling me what it's supposed to treat. Nice middle aged lady doing Tai Chi in the park, then she goes for a long Jeep drive with her golden retriever...sure, I'll try some!

From my careful research, there seem to be quite a lot of folks who have erectile dysfunction, prostate problems, or herpes. Well, perhaps it's a small group who have all three, I dunno. That's just the tip of the iceberg though.

There was that commercial for toenail fungus medicine. Cartoon showing little critters living under toenails, then the meds hit and they all leave like their sub-prime loan just adjusted. And then, they tell you the potential side effects, WOW! And they always tell them real fast too. "May cause liver failure, skin lesions, auditory hallucinations, blindness, and Vampirism"... OK I made up the liver failure part.

Couldn't you just soak your nasty feet in Clorox instead?

But the very worst one is when I hear "Ask your perscription provider if Flormemorexedon is right for you" that what we're calling physicians now? I'd be a bit perturbed spending eight years in college for a diploma that says "perscription provider." The target audience of these commercials better be thankful I'm not a Doctor. Every time a patient said, "I saw some stuff on TV" I'd schedule them for a colonoscopy.

So that's my suggestion Congress. If you don't fancy being yelled at in Townhall meetings, start with little things and build credibility. Get those drug commercials off TV. Don't mess with Smilin' Bob though, I like him.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A few monkeys short...for now

"Twelve Monkeys" good movie. Bruce Willis time travels to warn Ashton Kutcher, no not that...yeah! To warn that humanity is about to do big stupid science.

Sometimes though, real monkeys are scarier than fictional ones.

They took an egg. They replaced the mitochondrial DNA with some from a different source, did IF procedure and taa-dahh! The world's first ever double mother monkey!
Must've been fun too, cause they went ahead and made three more.

How about that! But as often happens in factory management, what people do is less interesting than why they did it. So why would anybody want to make a double mother monkey? Hmmm.

Oh, says so right here in this month's "Journal of Highly Suspicious Statements." It says, "There are genetic diseases transferred from mother to child via mitochondrial DNA. The technique will allow such mothers to have healthy babies who still retain 99 percent of the mother's genetic identity. This problem affects roughly 650 couples in the US every year. We're pressing for earliest possible FDA approval for human testing."

No kidding? You folks have spent all this money/time/effort on a procedure that will at best have 650 customers per year? Wow! Might there be some other downstream application you're considering? Are you being totally honest?

OOH! Look what it says at the bottom of the article Dave! "Though it can carry diseases, mitochondrial DNA contains little genetic information. Its function is simplistic, serving as fuel source to the nucleus DNA."

How about that! Some people, when they lie they're annoying. Then they start saying what they actually believe and graduate to terrifying.

Now now Dave! What's the deal? You against progress? Humans like to accessorize. If we're going to drive hybrid cars, we'll want hybrid children too, right? What troubles you so?


It's documented, that Ravens can choose the most appropriate from among several available tools, then modify it for best use, through a series of trial & error experiments. I know some humans who can't manage that, but Ravens can do it.

Fifty years ago every Biologist in the world would have sworn on a stack of...Darwin books, such a thing was impossible. For them, the inability of birds to reason was a settled issue. But Science was wrong about the ability of birds. Birds; ubiquitous in numbers and geographic dispersion, available for scientific inquiry.

Now a different bunch of Biologists believe they know everything about mitochondrial DNA, a substance not even discovered fifty years ago.

When you're wrong about Ravens, it's amusing. When you're wrong about human fetal development, it can be tragic.

Let me speculate here. What if mitochondrial DNA too has elusive abilities? What if we're setting up some recessive trait thing here? For instance...maybe we learn, four generations down the road, mitochondrial DNA talks to nucleus DNA to help moderate the emerging immune system of the fetus.

Four generations out, we're not talking 650 babies per year (it's not about 650 babies, period) we're now talking thousands of babies, with either no immune system at all, or ones that are perniciously self-destructive. That because there was an unkown talent in mitochondiral DNA which really relied on mono-matriarchical DNA, and now it's got all bolloxed up, and the recessive consequence steps forward.

Far fetched? Maybe so. I'm sure no geneticist. But I know about unintended consequences, and I know about Ravens.

Most fields of human endeavor, you can't wait until you know everything to proceed. You must forge ahead now. Perhaps to your own destruction, perhaps to yet unknown realms of understanding. There are a few places though, where extreme caution is advised. The cradle would be one of those.

Ladies & gentlemen out in Oregon; I sure can't stop you. I simply advise you sincerely? Keep a sharp eye on your double mother monkeys.