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Monday, July 28, 2008

Mojo Catharsis

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When I awoke to the din of thieves on the streets below, my eyes retained the gloss of a latent dream sequence from which dry ice was a natural resource. These eyes had not only seen the coming of the glory of the untoward, but my neck was also sending furious intermittent messages to the brain that it needed reinforcements. The poor brain on mornings like these had to learn to ignore more than it took in. I sauntered over to the window for reasons known only to a barely awakened soul. There was really nothing to see, but the act of seeing signaled to the body that consciousness had ensued. My body, however, asked for a second opinion.

Upon further review, I was off in Tahiti getting mercilessly pelted by sun rays amidst the beach's sandy clutches. Endorphins permeated my being as I floated in utter ecstasy, simultaneously cognizant of everything and yet nothing. This went on for about eight triumphant seconds, until I had to inhale again and the bubble popped in my face like a bullfrog calling reveille. As I breathed in a dose of harsh reality, I started cursing the inadequacies of existence. Poor lighting, bad acoustics, the stench of a thousand moldy socks — by no means the setting for a life of such great expectations to be performed in. All in all, not looking forward to being at work in an hour. What an incredibly unceremonious way to start out a day. Perhaps the local downtown theatre would be more conducive to the lofty pursuits of true living. All the world's a stage, I reminded myself. And I grabbed from the closet my costume of choice.

At a quarter after 7:00, I turned on the bath water to barely below scalding — still saving the ultimate temperature for just the right occasion — and used all my cognitive abilities to lift the plug so that my offering to the tub gods would not go unheeded. Now with this illusory four-and-a-half minutes of complete freedom given to me each morning, I never know quite what to do. One can be dedicated to tooth brushing only so much. The clothes I'm wearing? Probably won't need them in the tub. But then again, you never know... Someone could be having a party in there this morning and I'd be sorely underdressed. I decided to take one peek in the tub to be sure. Only imaginary friends again, and since they don't dress formally, then why should I?

How high's the water, mama? It's four feet high, and risin'... I believe in a full-scale bath. It's part of my life's credo. If you aren't somehow eventually drowned by your own bath water somewhere along the line, then you're doing things wrong. Every cleaning experience should also be life-threatening. Gets one going in the morning. And I long since graduated from the snorkel, which is a question I field often. As the water level came to within an inch of its goal, I contemplated the nuances of life, and decided to summarize all existence within a 30-second time span. There's no ambition like bathroom ambition. When the whole world is on the sidelines and it's your turn to shine...

A hush came over the crowd as everyone awaited my next move. I grabbed my towel, sneered at the mirror, and determined that the answer to life's mysteries was found somewhere between the chirping birds outside and the husk and vibrance of rushing water in a true cacophony of enlightenment. The crowd approved and gave me a modest ovation. Nothing spectacular, but for this early in the day, it was stupendous.

Dipping my toes in the brine, it was hot enough to be unbearable, which was perfect. My toes complained, but the rest of me wanted in on the action and denied their protests. Poor toes — sent out like scouts to take all the fire, and then after they've sustained collateral damage, the cavalry comes in to receive all the credit and have all the fun. Same thing at night when walking through the house in the dark. Who gets punished when an unsuspecting piece of furniture attacks? The good ole' toe reconnaissance mission. To top it all off, then we put these digits deep into our shoes for the rest of the day, sentenced to a life at ground level, only once in a while coming up, just for kicks.

There's something about being totally submersed in a steaming hot pool of water. The calming effect on the nerves is undeniable. No one can get to you when you're surrounded by thermally-enhanced liquidation. It soothes as it protects. I could be a TV commercial, but then the lighting isn’t good enough in here. Soaking my aching muscles, I picture myself in another time and place, cooking in a smoldering pot, waiting to be the main course at a cannibal feast. I wonder if I'm tender enough yet. How pruny would they want me? Moral of the story: If you ever find yourself sharing a tub with vegetables, you probably don’t need to bother washing behind your ears. When it comes down to it, as part of the food chain, we as humans eat meat, and eventually it comes all the way back around full circle, which means we're all cannibals anyway. Soup's up!

Ah, life. It keeps me occupied. I'm thinking I won't shave today, because I just shaved yesterday, and the whiskers are probably barely noticeable. People can always forgive small whiskers. We can continue to pretend they're not really there. Something you overlook, just like dust on furniture, ants on the sidewalk, or clothes that an emperor has recently purchased.

I dip my head under and make waves that will cause flooding on faraway shores. Everything we do has consequences. Every decision I make now determines destiny in some distant kingdom. I've noticed that kingdoms are always distant. They're not easily accessible. Whoever laid out these kingdoms wasn't much of a city planner. Possibly the equivalent of ancient airports, relegated to the nether regions, away from the rest of civilization. And like airports, I understand the parking arrangements at kingdoms are horrendous.

Got a few bubbles going now. I like how they can combine with other bubbles and form a sort of bubble alliance. They make bubble mergers and then stamp out the other smaller bubbles in hostile takeovers. What is it about bubbles that softens people up? We see bubbles, and we get all gushy. Ooo, floating liquid spheres filled with air... got to have some of that. Something in our psyche makes us turn to jello when we're around bubbles. That's why carbonation is so popular. The thought of swallowing bubbles enamors us. Bubbles are conducive to splashing, too. They get really excited when you splash... Attack of the bubbles, coming to a tub near you.

Hearkening back to a time when I had not a care in the world, as an adolescent it was my oyster. I could while away an afternoon doing absolutely nothing, and reveling in every syrupy minute of it. Buddies were the glue that always kept the cosmos patched together. Two kids talking in full throttle mode, doing it eloquently and for hours on end. Somewhere prior to adulthood, we lost the casual decor and took on a different persona — became bitter and suspicious. Developed portfolios. Guess we get more accomplished as grown-ups that way. Got to be efficient.

I splash some more, and whisk jet streams all over my torso. The rejuvenation of getting wet has always intrigued me. I'm sure much of it is psychological. Flooding! Inundation! More, more! Swimming itself is popular if for no other reason than it reminds us of being in the womb. That initial nine-month pass to the swim club really spoiled us.

I like memorizing things. Being the only one at college to know the Magna Carta by heart, I was always a big hit at parties. It took me three days to get it down pat, and I had to learn to sing it to the tune of "Another One Bites the Dust," but it was an effective method. To this day, I can't listen to Queen without getting nostalgic for early historical documents. Ultimately, at these parties I got more pity than admiration, but I took whatever I could get. That's another one of my life's credos, to take whatever you can get. Ambition is overrated in my book. Unless, of course, it's going on inside the nerve center of the universe otherwise known as the vaunted bathroom. I really do like getting ready for the day in the hub.

Wistful, wonderful and completely serene. I take in the whole ambience of the situation. Meditation and contemplation were invented in the bathtub, I'm thoroughly convinced. Aristotle probably achieved all his greatest profundity within the confines of such steamy hot springs. It's where time stands still and pathos takes over. It affects all the senses. The rest of the day, I am asleep, but in the bath I am alive and empowered.

The multitudinous sounds alone that water can make are truly fascinating, and they're all pleasing to the ear. Drips, glurps, blops, swishes, jostles, glugs, dashes — they all do their thing and do it brilliantly. When you bathe, you're actually engaging in a type of symphonic convergence. I've done elegant movements by some of the greatest composers with the use of this mere eight inches of water.

The water's cooling a bit. Guess I can get out now. Oh, wait. I forgot to use the soap. I should scrub, because even though I work at a desk job for a living, one never knows when he might be called on to perform surgery. And I want to be ready. The fate of the world may someday depend on me, and my self-discipline of utilizing cleansing agents will play a key role. I am nothing if not prepared.

When I was a kid, I could hold my breath under water for about a minute and 12 seconds. My brother tried to help me stay under longer, but I soon got the impression that I didn't need that kind of help. The best I've been able to do lately is only about 45 seconds. I thought maybe with bigger lungs I could outdo my former self. Maybe I'm just out of shape. Perhaps a few daily repetitions will get me back once again to world-class status.

So the party ends. Time to let out all the fun. Get out of the tub, dry off with the awaiting towel, put on my pants, and... hold on. Let me check in here... OK, what about in here? How peculiar. All the clocks in the house seem to be off. They all say 2:29, even though most of them are battery powered. I'm a little dubious. I plop some English muffins in the toaster and get a glass of juice. In a fit of desperation, I grab my watch, and it says 2:31, which is pretty much what I'd call an endorsement of what the clocks were saying. Is there some magnetic field engulfing my abode? I turn on the morning shows... and none of them are on. It's just a bunch of young and restless people who strangely have only one life to live. I'm flummoxed. I look outside, and it's warm and peaceful out. How unfailingly curious.

Didn't know whether to chortle or to guffaw. Only Miss Manners could be of help at a moment like this. The perfunctory whims of existence had sabotaged me and washed me down the drain, leaving only the scum for posterity. Guess everybody couldn't wait for me today. It was one of the best days of my life.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Legend of the Cub

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The legend of the Cub is what George Will has declared is a part of Americana. Their farm team is in Iowa, otherwise known as heaven. For those of you already somewhat familiar with the legend, you may be interested in a few additional findings on the subject. Keep in mind that all factual claims made below are accurate — as Yogi Berra said, you can look it up. Any points of speculation are derived from those facts, so if this ever gets made into a movie, they’ll say it’s based on a true story…

So it’s now 2008 (sorry if I surprised anyone), and at press time we find the Chicago Cubs clinging to first place in the National League Central. They haven’t been to the World Series in 63 years, and by Roman numerals, they haven’t won the World Series in the number of years on their cap. Their chances of winning it all this year, it seems, rely on breaking the Curse of the Billy Goat, which we’ll see is intertwined with authors, presidents, managers, Cy Young and MVP Award winners, and a cast of players throughout history. Their stories are curiously interrelated, as they all claim some connection to the Cubs’ long string of futility, and of eventually breaking out of it.

It all started back in 1876 for both the Cubs and Mark Twain. That was the year Twain published his first big novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and it was also the first year of existence of the Chicago Cubs as a major league franchise. Two famed stories had been born simultaneously.

The last Chicago Cubs team to win the World Series, in 1908, had Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown pitching for them, Tinker/Evers/Chance was their double play combination, and Franklin Pierce Adams was the team poet. Henry Ford made the first Model T automobile that year. Mother’s Day was observed for the first time. Arizona and New Mexico were still rumors. And the aforementioned Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) was still alive. A not-so-legendary Clemens — good ole’ Clem Clemens — would soon be the first of five Clemenses to play in the major leagues.

Cubs owner William Wrigley Jr. and his chewing gum enterprise rode on the popularity of Doublemint gum, perhaps a subtle reference to his hero Twain, who died in 1910. Doublemint made its debut the same year (1914) that Clem Clemens first appeared in the majors, and it’s also the year Cubs longtime announcer and icon Harry Caray was born. This was the same season the Cubs decided to don a cap logo with a cub for their away games — the only year it was used. If you look closely, you may see a striking resemblance to Caray. Also of note that year: World War I started, the world’s equilibrium was upset, and the Cubs chaos was formally underway.

Clem played two seasons in the Federal League, and then his final season was for the Cubs in 1916, where as a catcher he was hitless in 15 at-bats, meaning he was 0-for-1916. With the first Clemens officially on board, the Cubs then moved into their current home of Wrigley Field that year. James “Hippo” Vaughn led the team in wins with 17. Also significant in 1916, the Cub Scouting program was founded by Robert Baden-Powell, supposedly to fill the pressing need for the Cubs to have thousands of scouts across the country and find those elusive prospects.

Twain had set his novels Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in the fictional town of St. Petersburg. Clem Clemens later died in St. Petersburg, Florida. Meanwhile, Twain's birthplace was a village in Missouri named Florida. In the 2000 U.S. Census, this tiny village of Florida, Missouri had a population of 9 people — precisely enough to field a baseball team.

A youthful Ronald Reagan announced radio replays of Cubs games back in the mid-‘30s, and then it’s said he left for an acting career in 1937, but another theory has it that since it was the first year that Wrigley Field fully embraced its Greek influences by covering the outfield wall with ivy (or IV in Greek), Reagan knew that his work there was done and the Cubs were well on the path to infamy. They’ve had ivy on the wall ever since.

Historically, whenever the Cubs have lost a game, they have flown a flag at their stadium that day showing the Roman number “L”, which comes from the Greek ‘lambda’ (Λ). Game 4 of the 1945 World Series at Wrigley Field would bring added significance to the Greek influence on the Cubs. That infamous game was attended by Billy Sianis, a local Chicago tavern owner and Greek immigrant well versed in lambda, who brought his goat along, buying a ticket for it as well. World War II had just ended one month earlier, and hope was in the air. The Cubs were ready to break their 37-year drought without a title. They had won ten more games during the regular season than their American League counterpart (Detroit Tigers) and were leading the Series 2 games to 1, with the last four games slated for their home park of Wrigley Field. Then came the Billy Goat game.

In that fateful game 4 when in the 7th innning, rain reportedly made the goat smelly, Sianis was told by an attendant to remove his pet (whose name was Murphy) from the stadium, to which Sianis protested vociferously, and as he was leaving he declared that he was putting a curse on the Cubs, who ended up getting a lambda that day by a score of 4-1. The Cubs have been affected by Murphy’s Law ever since. The curse was said to have been two-pronged, requiring a future batter and a future pitcher break it, as well as various other bit players.

In the aftermath of the Billy Goat game, legend had it that a man would be born before the next season who would later bear a son, and this son would win the seventh seal (7 MVPs) and then retire, before the Cubs could be freed from their bonds and lift the first part of the curse — of not playing in the World Series. And it was said that the father’s name would symbolize these bonds that the Cubs were in.

This was seen as an impossible task that would keep the Cubs from the World Series in perpetuity. Jimmie Foxx (no relation to Charlie or Chad) was the only player in history at that point with even three MVP awards. Foxx, incidentally, played two seasons with the Cubs in the twilight of his career, and then retired in 1945, the last time the Cubs went to the Series.

As fate would have it, Bobby Lee Bonds was born during that offseason prior to the ’46 season. And historians note that Bonds curiously ended his career with the Cubs. He also played on the Giants under manager Charlie Fox in Fox’s first season. Bonds’ son, Barry, was born in 1964, the same year that the fourth Clemens — Doug — joined the Cubs. The younger Bonds, as promised, went on to win an unprecedented seven Most Valuable Player Awards. Even today, no one else has won more than three. And his retirement may have come last year. The Cubs are intently waiting and watching, hoping his career has concluded.

The last pitcher to lose a World Series game to the Cubs was Tigers starter Dizzy Trout in 1945 (game 6). He had also been the winner of the Billy Goat game. As it turned out, Trout's son, Steve, would help the Cubs 39 years later to their first post-season appearance since 1945, with a team-low 3.41 ERA and 13-7 record in 1984. The Cubs jumped out to a two-game lead in the playoffs against San Diego with Trout winning game 2, but the Padres came back to win the final three, as Goose Gossage saved game 5 to deny them.

Dizzy Trout's last season was 1957, the year Steve was born. Dizzy later died when Steve was 14, so he never saw his son play in the majors. However, Dizzy's former team, Detroit, was the team that won the World Series that year in '84, which is something they haven't done since. Additionally, current Cubs manager Lou Piniella retired as a player in 1984. Piniella holds the record for most seasons between his debut season and winning the Rookie of the Year Award (5).

Cubs Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks, known as “Mr. Cub,” always used to say, “Let’s play two.” It is now thought in some circles that this was code for “Let’s play twain,” an indirect reference to the well-known author and ode to Banks’ teammate in 1964-65, Doug Clemens. In 1961, the Cubs double-play combination was Banks and Don Zimmer. Zimmer later managed the Cubs, including in their 1989 NL East division winning-season, where they amassed 93 wins — the most they’ve had in the past 20 years. And in 2008, they’re on pace to pass that. Zimmer was the skipper when the Cubs played their first night game at Wrigley Field in 1988. Legend had it due to the transition from day to night, the law would be broken that evening, and a golden egg would be laid. The first night run for the Cubs was scored by Vance Law, who was tripled home by Rafael Palmeiro, and sure enough, Goose Gossage got the save for the Cubs.

Billy Sianis died in 1970, at a time when the Cubs had a hefty run scoring margin of 127 above runs allowed (best in the National League that year, though they finished in second place), and they have never reached that amount since (this year they are leading the major leagues in that category and are on pace to pass it). Charley Root, who had pitched for the Cubs in the 1932 World Series giving up Babe Ruth’s called shot, died in that same year as Sianis. (Easterners used to mistakenly think Charley and the Babe were brothers) Root holds the Cubs career record for wins (201), and Mordecai Brown is second (188). Also of significance in 1970, pitcher Chad Fox was born — who would later be the winner against the Cubs in the dreaded Bartman game, and Charlie Fox (no relation) would start his managerial career this same year. We’ll return to the fox brigade momentarily…

The second half of the Cubs’ curse — not winning the World Series — was to last through the career of a pitcher of whom it was said must first win the seventh seal (7 Cy Youngs), which seemed an unfathomable achievement. No one had ever had more than four. This takes us to the fifth and final Clemens, a flame-thrower known as the Rocket, whose career began in 1984, the same year the Cubs made it back to the postseason after that 39-year hiatus. Better known as Roger, he went on to win an unprecedented seven Cy Young Awards, and then finally retired last year.

As for Steve Trout, he had joined the Cubs in 1983, when Charlie Fox was their manager for the second part of the season. Trout is one of only three Cubs starting pitchers in the last 63 years with a post-season victory, the others being Mark Prior and Matt Clement. Prior was the one pitching a shutout into the 8th inning when with one out and no one on, he allowed five consecutive baserunners following the Bartman play.

Also on the Cubs in ’83 and ‘84 were Ron Cey (nicknamed The Penguin), Leon (Bull) Durham, a Boa (Larry) and a Rhino (Sandberg). Bill Buckner was also on those '83-'84 Cubs, and two years later when he would let Mookie Wilson’s grounder go through his legs in the '86 World Series for the Red Sox, conclusive photos would show that he was wearing a Cubs batting glove. Interestingly, Buckner's nickname was Billy Buck, while Sianis' nickname was Billy the Goat. Also, current Diamondbacks pitcher Billy Buckner (strangely no relation) was born in 1983, the same year the younger Trout came to the Cubs.

Most fans don’t realize this, but the year that Buckner made his famous error denying Boston a title, current Red Sox manager Terry Francona was on the Cubs as a part-time outfielder/first baseman. Terry’s dad, Tito, played in the majors also, and retired in 1970, which we already know as the year of the fox.

In 1989, Sammy Sosa — who would later become the Cubs’ career home run leader — started his career with the Texas Rangers, while George W. Bush was a co-owner of the team. Sosa played only 25 games for Texas before Bush & Co. traded him to the White Sox. He had hit one home run for the Rangers, and that first home run of his career was off none other than Roger Clemens.

In 2000, the Cubs tried their hand at breaking the curse by drafting an outfielder named Buck Coats, apparently for the connection to Billy Buck and Billy the Goat. He debuted for the Cubs in 2006, played only 18 games, and then was traded to the Cincinnati Reds the next year.

In 2003, Steve Bartman became a scapegoat for a Cubs collapse to the Florida Marlins in games 6 and 7 of the National League championship series when he deflected a foul fly ball in the left field stands that Cubs outfielder Moises Alou was trying to catch. The Marlins then went on to score 8 runs in that 8th inning and win the game, 8-3. Some Cub fans reportedly committed Harry Caray after this incident. The winning pitcher of that game for the Marlins was the aforementioned Chad Fox, who the Cubs brought back to their roster briefly for the second time in 2008. The tables are ready to turn.

In the Bartman game, Mike Mordecai hit a three-run double to seal the win for Florida, which some said was Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown’s ghost coming back to haunt the Cubs. Following the Cubs' 2003 postseason collapse of the Bartman game, Charlie Fox would die in the off-season.

Last year, the Cubs again tried to revive some of their old magic by bringing up outfielder Jake Fox to the majors, a 2003 3rd round draft pick of theirs. He lasted only 7 games, though he may get another shot down the road.

On April 23rd of this year, the Cubs defeated the Colorado Rockies 7-6 in 10 innings for their franchise’s 10,000th win. Only the Giants franchise has had more major league wins. The Giants got their 10,000th win under former Cub Moises Alou’s dad, Felipe Alou, in 2005.

In constructing a timeline, there are many significant events happening in clumps throughout Cubs history. The connection between these events is at once dizzying and astonishing. For every mystery uncovered, another seems to take its place. Such is the legacy of the team from the north side.

So in the end, some go as far to say that to eventually lift the curse, the Cubs will need to have a goat, two trouts, four foxes, a penguin, a bull, a boa, a rhino, a goose, and a hippo in the ballpark at the same time. In other words, it will take a miracle not unlike the great flood and the return of Noah's ark. Meaning we should watch for forty rainouts in a row.

Is this the year? Look closely to the skies for clues…

Monday, July 21, 2008

Undulating Jolie

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Don’t you feel as if you almost know Angelina Jolie personally from all those times you’ve seen her in the check-out line at the grocery store these past few years? I feel like she’s a long lost cousin who got all the good looks and won’t share any of her fortune with me. So how many different weekly angles can there be of her ongoing exploits? This public and media obsession with her is quite a phenomenon. Not that it’s unusual for movie stars to be sensationalized, but her case in particular. I would imagine they’ll get tired of her after a while and move on to someone else, but her run thus far has been rather remarkable. Joining forces with Brad Pitt will only enhance her persona for the time being, so she may be around a bit longer in the public eye. And she’s only 33. One can only wonder what her shelf life might be.

If I’m not mistaken, we as a public have been fawning over her for the past six or seven years, to the point that we’ve been dissecting her every move. If you remember the movie “The Truman Show,” the viewership kept very close tabs on Truman — 24 hours a day — watching him intently through the lens of the media. Unbeknownst to Truman, there were video cameras in his house, and everywhere he went, he was duly followed. His whole life was scripted. I wonder if Ms. Jolie feels this way. I kind of feel sorry for her, although there would be ways of getting off the Hollywood bangwagon and settling into a more serene existence if she wanted to break that tie and kill the cash cow.

Jolie comes across as an upright, well-meaning person, having been involved in humanitarian work and adopting children of her own. At the same time, she’s been fully complicit in her portrayal as a diva, so she’s selling the image too. True, she’s not involved in scandals like so many of the diva set are, and I’m not here to cast aspersions on her. Instead, it’s the overall caricature of her that is over the top. She’s just part of the system. It’s amazing to me that the life of one actress could garner so much attention. Her life has been turned into a soap opera, almost a plastic figure representing our thirst for real-life drama.

Anyone searching for a third-party candidate for president this election year may want to consider the Jolie popularity base. If only the voting age were lower… Still, don’t be surprised if Obama appoints her to a humanitarian position in his cabinet… even if he doesn’t win. It would be a nice gesture regardless.

The question remains: are our lives so drab that hers seems interesting by comparison? Other than having people taking pictures of her non-stop, what else is going on that’s out of the ordinary? She’s a brand name that currently sells. It’s a fascinating sociological study which deserves a serious look.

Does knowledge of the Jolie ilk give people a sense of belonging, to peer into the lives of celebrities? If we feel like we know them, does it make our own lives appear to be more meaningful? Is Pitt any more noteworthy than your cousin Andy? And then one wonders by what process being good at acting elevates a person’s status in society’s spectrum.

I wonder if she and Jennifer Aniston have been laughing all the way to the bank on their alleged feuds following the divorce of Aniston and Pitt. But then ultimately, who esteems any of these details? Myself, I already know more about Jolie than I care to. Perhaps for me this is a disclaimer in purging the incessant media bombs surrounding all cultural discussion, and to move on to ideas more worthwhile — or at least less pretentious. It could very well be impossible to write a piece on fluff without engaging in the fluff for a moment. Consider yourself fluffed, by the way.

I understand that People magazine paid $4 million for the photographic rights for Jolie’s natural daughter, Shiloh, when she was born in 2006. If we’ve truly gotten that curious, then maybe there’s some disconnect going on that we ought to confront. I get the impression that People magazine is selling its soul in exchange for not having to write $4 million worth of substantive articles. But I suppose I expect too much to begin with. That’s entertainment…

In 2008, Time magazine listed Jolie as one of the most 100 influential people in the world. They didn’t, however, distinguish between varying types of influence. What kinds of things is she influencing people to do? Watch movies? Have plastic surgery? Get hooked up with other famous people? Adoption is undoubtedly a good thing, but is she causing more adoptions? If so, it’s not being reported.

Jolie and Pitt have six children, and by the time some of them are about ten years old (the oldest is seven), I’d imagine Jolie will opt out of the limelight in favor of her family’s sanity, so that her children aren’t bombarded by the media machine. Madonna “kind of” grew up when she hit 40-ish, so it could happen. But then this creates a dilemma… Who are we going to put on our magazine covers when that happens? I’ll have to get a whole new friend in the check-out line.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Existential Wanderings

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The Internet is getting to be a rather popular place (I just noticed this). I believe its appeal is due in large part to the combinations of vibrant colors. After about the 1st grade, they stopped letting us use crayons for everything, and Baby Boomers & Sons have missed that dearly. Once we hit adulthood, color went out of books too (no pictures either), and things were rather drab. Newsprint was all black and white. Magazines used to be as well, but since then in order to compete with the Internet, they've had to spice up their publications basically to look like the Internet, only without the clicker on the page. So now we have web sites exploding in all their digital glory, and surfing has become a veritable palette de resistance. They say there are over 16.7 million web colors, but I'd like to see someone differentiate between more than a couple hundred of them, so I don't know what good it does to claim that many when we can't even detect the many nuances. You could show somebody several thousand different shades of red independently, and almost all of them would be identified as merely 'red'. They aren't real colors anyway until Crayola comes out with a crayon for them. I'll give you your Burnt Sienna and your Forest Green, but don't push it. If Crayola uses 120 different colors, then that's good enough for me.

Although I haven’t travelled much, when I do I’m fascinated by all the places that are famous for one thing or another, even though you’ve never heard of any of them. Nonetheless, it is good to know that they’re famous. And then they’ll also call certain places historic. Isn’t everywhere historic though? I’m sure if you went back a hundred years, you’d still find that same land there. To me, it would be more intriguing to see a place that instead wasn’t historic. Now, that would be a good trick.

Why is rainy weather thought of as "bad", and sunny weather is "good"? Aren't the weathercasters who further these notions discriminating against people who actually enjoy rainy weather? They even go as far as calling it "miserable". Now, that's a little over the top. When they take a shower, is the shower miserable? And notice that rain gets a bad rap regardless of the temperature. But sunny weather gets a great deal of latitude, being referred to as "gorgeous" within a wide temperature range. The weather people talk as if they're the ones providing the weather too. They'll say things like, "We've got an absolutely beautiful day in store for you tomorrow." But do they take the blame for the "bad" weather? I can't remember hearing them apologize.

My overall navigating ability hasn’t gotten too bad yet, so I can usually find where I parked, which works out fine in that regard. The only problem is that I have trouble remembering what kind of car I have. That can complicate things just a bit. I can remember section E3 with relative ease, yet when I get to that section, I’m still left with all these choices. “Did I like blue? I couldn’t afford a car like that… I’d never park like that... Oh, there’s still somebody in that one — must not be mine.” If they’d just put a big E3 on top of my car in about that size 4000 font they use, then it would be a very simple operation — I own an E3 car. So through the process of elimination, on a good day I can figure it out in about twenty minutes. If I’m unusually lucky, though, everybody else will be in a hurry to leave, and they’ll just all drive away until there’s only one car remaining, and then I know that one's mine. This doesn’t work too well in the middle of the day at a mall, I’ve found. Another thing — don’t ever walk to the mall and then look for your car afterward, because it will really tend to throw you off.

So anyway, if I buy a plot of land, how much of the dirt from it do I get? I know the lot size narrows as it gets closer to the center of the earth, but up near the crust, can I take whatever I need? I’d bet you that half an acre could build me a mountain somewhere. If you were to look at the properties in our neighborhood from a satellite photo, you might someday see one that has a strange resemblance to an active volcano, with the various elements from the core of the earth gathering in my back yard. Ultimately, I think having such a gaping hole would be a good way to combat floods. Not just in my yard, but in the whole county. All it takes is just a little more ambitious drainage, and then you'd have no more flooding.

All this talk of making certain crimes legal leaves me a little dubious. I suppose, though, if we were to legalize counterfeit money, at least it would get it off the black market, so that would be a plus. This is a common argument you hear, disguised in various forms.

In news reporting, an anonymous source is quoted, and the article emphasizes that the person has spoken only on the condition of anonymity. So the reporter is expected to not do something the anonymous person did, which was to reveal details about their sources. Just once I’d like to see a news story that says “Henry T. Farnsworth, speaking on the condition of anonymity, was quoted as saying…” Or better yet, “Henry T. Farnsworth, incorrectly assuming that he was speaking on the condition of anonymity, and I might add vastly overrated as a source, was quoted as saying…”

When someone asks me how I’m doing, and I say “Couldn’t be better,” they probably don’t realize I’m being a fatalist. Ah, well... But there’s not enough time to explain in passing. You get a three-second window there to summarize how your life is on that particular day. That’s a lot of pressure. Maybe say: “Not enough time to go into detail... Watch the news tonight, I’m sending in a story.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

All Along the Watchtower

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I have an ongoing theory that wristwatches are a crutch used by modern man in an attempt to control his universe through the psycho-manipulation of time. For those not quite so inclined, it also can serve as a security blanket, giving stricter definition to one's daily agenda. Watches are essentially a technological concoction to further adorn ourselves — an extension of the jewelry concept, combining elegance with progressivenes. And that is why I don't wear watches. I like to stay free from time, not let it bog me down.

Same idea with phones. You should never answer a phone except under very extenuating circumstances. And never carry one around with you, either — that's inviting a world of trouble. It could be that we're raising a society of phone slaves. The ringer goes off, and people scramble to answer their master. "Yes, master, what would you command me to do?" Incidentally, the word 'hello' is spelled that way for a reason. It's Latin for hades-on-the-wire.

But back to watches, one has to wonder how civilizations ever survived before the advanced technology of an armband timepiece became available. That's when civilization really started taking off, because then we were finally equipped with the necessary tools for taking on the day. Did you know it's currently 10:23? Yes, indeed. I can confirm that on my forearm at this very moment. Says it right here. Oh, wait. Stand by... It's now 10:24. We are progressing along very nicely through our day, and I am chronicling it with this fine piece of micro-machinery. I also predict in another minute it will be 10:25, but that's just a guess. My watch will confirm that for me shortly. Ask me at any time of the day, because I'm literally armed with the facts.

This gets back to the psychological origins of the watch. Why is it important to know at all times what the position of the sun is? We already have clocks inside every building (unneeded, by the way). And cars have them too. Isn't that plenty? Why should we need one strapped to an appendage? Is there some end-of-the-world sequence that will necessitate our knowing precisely how many seconds have elapsed since lunch? Are we expecting to be quizzed on it? Or is it just so when somebody asks what time it is, you won't look dumb? The real answer to "what time is it?" is simply: "It's now." Plain and simple. No need to complicate the matter any further.

Why do people keep looking at their watches? Are they insane? This is the procedure: Wonder what time it is? Look at watch. Oh. Hmm... Wonder what time it is? Look at watch. Oh. Hmm... Wonder what time it is? Look at watch. Oh. Hmm... Very invigorating, and an excellent way to expand the modern mind.

I got my watch, my camera cell, my calculator (in case I have to use multiplication), my handheld, my headphones, my pedometer (to make sure I don't walk too far), my bi-focals that automatically adjust to light, my hearing aid (another iPod accessory), my pacemaker, and my implanted v-chip. I'm all set. I'm post-modern regalia man — hear me roar.

This gets back to another fundamental question: Do we need specified time to arrange gatherings — to be sure that everybody gets there about the same time? If we were better managers of time, perhaps we wouldn't feel compelled to cram so much into a day that we didn't have enough breathing room for the slightest of unscheduled moments. Maybe if we weren't in such a hurry to get to the next place, we could hang out in one spot longer and be casual about people showing up whenever they wanted to.

The only timepiece we should really need is our sleeping pattern. Go to sleep when it gets dark, and wake up when it gets light. Want to meet someone? Tell them to show up sometime between those two events (but make sure you specify in the right order). You get there when you get there. It works for cable TV technicians. Besides, where technically is that proverbial fire anyway?

Jerry Seinfeld pointed out that people are always trying to save time, but when they get to the end of their lives, they're going to be very surprised that there's no extra time saved up.

People are in just too much of a hurry. Families have a hard time sitting down together for dinner at the same time. Heck with dinner — just grab something at Burger King (fast food). And then hardly anyone even slows down to 2 or 3 mph at a stop sign anymore, let alone stop. And gotta zoom through that stoplight at all costs so I can manage my time well today... Road rage, road rage... you lousy two-bit driver — get out of my way so I can efficiently manage my time today, you neanderthal! And nobody's obsessed with their careers. All is well. There's nothing to see here — move along. Are there any psychologists out there who can corroborate any of this?

The passage of time is a psychological manifestation of progress, and often we derive a sense of fulfillment from time passing, as if something has been accomplished — one more thing to check off our list. Even when we know an event will end at the top of the next hour, we have a tendency to keep looking at our watches or the clock as if to help the time along, rather than just let it happen. As if looking at the clock is going to make it come sooner... We feel in a rush for time to go by in those situations. I believe it's often an attempt to maintain control over our own little world. I wonder if the powers above would like us to stop asking them, "Are we there yet?" and just enjoy the ride on earth.

Friday, July 4, 2008

If You Blog It, They Will Come

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If you aren't the owner of a blog, you ought to consider getting one. They're easy to feed and they don't make messes. Tell me if you have one of your own that I can add to my list over to the right, under 'Other Blogs'. To start one, you can click on over to, which is run by Google (isn't everything?). And it's free, which is a very good price. I try not to visit web sites, by the way. I instead prefer clicking on them and reading them. As much as I like Wiki and Amazon, I don't want them to expect me to come over for a barbeque every weekend. It's tough to make excuses when they know you don't have other plans.

Rusted Ruminations is a brand new blog, and I imagine I'll update it once or twice a week, weather permitting. I urge you like an over-caffeinated grovelling telethoner to come back often and leave comments so I know if there's anybody out there. Just nod if you can hear me...

Happy 4th of July to all of you, celebrating the wonderful ideals this nation stands for. The fireworks are a reminder to us of battles that have been fought to protect our freedom, and the selflessness of those people who have defended us. May we never take that for granted.

Some of you may have heard this story before. Approximately 4,000 U.S. military troops have died in the five years our country has been in Iraq. The second of them older than me to die was an old friend of mine, Marine Staff Sgt. James Cawley of Roy, Utah, who was a fellow missionary with me in the Japan Fukuoka Mission when we were both in our early 20s. We trained at the MTC together, and served in the same district in our last area, where James was the district leader. President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke about James at the April 2003 LDS General Conference, just eight days after James had been killed in combat. Pres. Hinckley's address was entitled War and Peace, which you can read from that link.

Elder Cawley was the kind of person who would tilt his head to the side slightly while he's talking to you, put his hand on your shoulder, give you a knowing grin, and say something complimentary to you — and you knew he meant it. That's the way he often communicated. And even if he was saying something that was more of a solemn nature, he'd still be smiling and looking at it philosophically. Perhaps you've known people like that. Here's another site called Iraq War Heroes that dedicates a page to him, with entries from his journal and comments from soldiers who knew him and from his family.

Let's remember that the people who defend this country are real people with real families, who have put themselves last to keep all of us protected. Honoring their legacy is what this holiday is all about, and we salute them.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Off the Top

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A few thoughts to hang your hat on...

Sometimes I feel like I'm grasping at the last straw in a haystack that broke the camel's back, but maybe that's just me... Summer is here, which means in people terms that all bets are off. Nobody knows what anyone else is doing or where they're going, there are plans and then there are layers of plans beneath those. I've always wondered why people don't just live where they vacation, since they like to be there more. Maybe they just like the idea of going. If we lived in Tahiti, we might be clamoring to get to the mainland, with lots of exotic postcards of New Jersey to entice us, and we'd want to go there instead.

It was probably about 15 years of watching Wheel of Fortune before I finally realized that it's just hangman... I'm feeling a little shortchanged. Man, special effects can really divert your attention. I think the hypnotic chime music they use also clouded my judgment as well. And Pat Sajak seems like a pretty decent guy, but don't you get the feeling that he'd like to be somewhere else? He seems a little detached, like his heart's not really in it. Like he's about to make a break for the door at any moment, as soon as someone's not looking. Pat is also not all that impressed when somebody gets a right answer. He's thinking to himself, "I solved this three minutes ago – what's wrong with you?"

One of the great dichotomies in life is watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy back to back. It's like two different planets. Alex Trebek & Co. are exploring the vast intricasies of world history and the various liberal arts and sciences, with contestants who've earned multiple doctorates, and meanwhile Vanna is playing ABC's with a 34-year-old high school dropout whose main talent is spinning the wheel. Not only that, but on Jeopardy they're so advanced that they even say answers first and then ask questions, like it's their own special grammatical format. They're too good to speak our plebeian tongue. What if they had Vanna on Jeopardy? She could turn over the clues, and then have small talk with Alex at the end of the show, discussing medieval migration of the Mayan tribes and stuff like that. I also hear there's going to be a take-off on Wheel of Fortune called "The Enunciators."

So, it's only July, and I'm already writing 2009 on my checks. What's up with that?

Question: Do we have enough penguin movies now? It seems like every third movie is a new penguin movie. Does Hollywood get some sort of royalties every time a penguin appears on camera? What is the whole fascination with waddling birds on ice? I guess the props are cheap, so it might have that going for it. This could all just be signaling a temporary budget crisis. History may look back on this moment with fondness: "Back around 2004-2009, the movie industry took a hit in their budget and not being able to afford exquisite movie sets, was forced to churn out a multitude of penguin movies." Incidentally, I've heard that penguins walk everywhere because they have nowhere to fly south to.

How to determine your IQ:
If you watch reality shows - Under 110

Possibly one of the best conspiracy theories is that the protractor and the compass have alternated meanings several times over the past few decades. That's why nobody can remember which is which. Whatever it was five years ago, it's different now. And it'll change again later. I'm not sure what the driving force behind this conspiracy is. It could be a number of things. Maybe school teachers want their students to feel inadequate, I don't know. This will require further investigation — or should we say protracted analysis.

The postal service has a forever stamp, which is a good idea, because you can pay one price now, and then the stamps can still be used after Armageddon comes and we've reverted back to the Pony Express once more. Just hand one of the Pony Express riders an envelope with a Liberty Bell stamp and you're all set, I guess. Guaranteed to be honored by any postal carrier, certified messenger service, or robotic entity of your choice — regardless of the historical backdrop. What a deal!

The next time you see identical twins, tell them they're not really identical, and see what they say. If they're intellectually honest twins, they'll have to admit that each person has unique genetic attributes. Suggest they start using some new term instead, like similar twins, or resembling twins. It could start a new trend.

People say they're looking forward to things that are coming up, but that's really the only way you can look at the future. Forward is all we got.

Daniel pointed out a peculiarity to me about our language structure. You can be generic when answering a question in the negative, but it's not so simple in the affirmative. If someone asks you a question that you don't know the answer to, you can say, "I don't know." But if you do know the answer, it doesn't work to say, "I know." Try it. "What time is it?" "I know." You see, "I know" is an acknowledgement, but doesn't answer the question.

A few indications that humans still have a ways to go before we can pat ourselves on the back technologically... Exhibit A: Parking problems continue to befuddle mankind. Somehow, we are incapable as a society of developing an adequate parking schemata. We've had cars for over a hundred years, but we're still surprised when we can't fit enough cars in the places where we want all of them. Did cowboys of the old west have difficulty finding places to park their horses? Did Roman chariots frequently get ticketed for being left in restricted zones?

Exhibit B: We require storage units, and pay exorbitant amounts of money to people to store our extra things for us that we can't find room for. So not only do we have a hard time finding places to put our cars, but we don't make our houses big enough. Accumulation is progression?

Also, ever notice we're the only species with laundry? How'd we get the short end of the stick on that one?

Wisdom I've encountered:
Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Jesus and Socrates and Luther and Copernicus and Galileo and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever lived. To be great is to be misunderstood.

The optimist says the glass is half full, the pessimist says it's half empty, the idealist says it’s completely full, the fatalist says it's going to spill, the engineer says it was built too big, the atheist says there's no proof of its existence, and the realist just drinks it.

Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't... A chicken is just an egg’s way of making another egg... Poverty can't buy you happiness either... It doesn't do any good to be pessimistic... Your odds of winning the lottery are virtually the same whether you buy a ticket or not... If someone insists they can keep a secret, tell them so can you... Life isn't fair, but at least it isn't fair for everyone, which I guess is fair...

Things that keep me up at night:
• Trying to determine the mathematical value of 'any'.
• How you would describe the color green to a person who's been blind since birth.
• Why Tortilla chips you bring home from the store say 'restaurant-style', and the ones on restaurant menus say 'home-style'. I don't get it.
• Why wrong numbers aren't ever busy.
• Anything Steven Wright ever said.

Dance Like Nobody's Watching

Philosophy Soccer