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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Saga of the Sighs

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Sitting here worried that I might be plagiarizing the dictionary anytime I post something. I have this ongoing sinking feeling that Webster's is just biding their time, and then whammo! they’re gonna spring a mass of lawsuits against everybody across the world. I just know it. With every subsequent word I type, I'm sealing my fate that much further. Oh man, I'm going to jail for this, I just know it. Those of you who haven't broken any of these laws lately, would you at least visit me in prison? I'd say write me a letter, but I don't want to be an accessory as well.

My goldfish has been acting sick lately. He just lies on his back near the top of the water. I keep pouring fish food on him, but it’s like he’s on a hunger strike or something. After a few days, the weight of the fish food is starting to push him under a little more too. I even sprinkled a little Tylenol in with the food to pep him up a little, but no such luck.

Perhaps he's protesting the conditions of his tank, or he wants a companion, I don't know. It's just very bizarre behavior for him. Usually I can get his attention by tapping on the fish bowl, but he's just ignoring me. Was it something I said? Something I didn't say? Did I miss his birthday? Does he disapprove of the new color I painted the guest room? Does he want me to stop watching Desperate Housewives? I won't be able to sleep tonight knowing that I might have given my goldfish permanent emotional scars, and he may never speak to me again. I'm going to have to research this a little more, maybe bring in an aquatic psychiatrist.

In the meantime, here's an admission of lethargy on my part: I’ve grown somewhat weary of paying bills. It’s the same old thing every month. Managing the checkbook, budgeting monthly expenses, using what I learned in calculus class to squeeze $400 out of the $278 balance that’s still in my account, paying off the bookies, getting pennies out of the gutter, living on tofu the final week... all of that. It's become quite tedious. For the time being, I've decided I’m going to boycott bills and not worry about them. I'm finding they’re too much of a hassle, and it really impinges on my time. I’ve got better things to do, bigger fish to fry. I'll come back and do them later on when the time is right, possibly in the spring, but for now it's really cramping my style.

The nerve of finances to wedge its way into your daily life and try to ruin everything. Just when I was starting to enjoy things. To borrow a quote from Rita Rudner, I'd like to be rich... some people get so rich they lose all respect for humanity — that's how rich I want to be. (By the way, when is it good etiquette to return a quote? I hope she doesn't get mad at me for keeping it too long.)

It's said that money can't buy happiness. I've also heard somebody point out that poverty can't buy happiness either. So then what is it? Debit cards? Does it take coupons? I'm a little confused. I probably can't afford to pay for happiness anyway. They say you can't put a price tag on it, which gives you some indication how exorbitant it must be. No matter how aggressive the salesman is, I'm going to have to tell him I've only got enough income for contentment, and the pricier models like happiness and fulfillment are too far out of my price range. I don't care what the financing is on them.

A mistake was made in a previous post regarding the anonymity of an international spy. Rusted Ruminations inadvertantly reported that his name was Alex Terwilliger from Nantucket, Maine, but it should have just said “an anonymous source.” We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused the Terwilliger family. Don't sue us, or else we'll take you off our Christmas card list.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Prognosis For Life: Exceptional

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What if you went to the doctor for a regular check-up, and after all the tests came back, your doctor said to you, “There’s nothing wrong, although you have just 37 years left to live”? Would that change your outlook? Would you start doing anything differently?

Steven Wright said a friend of his knows when he’s going to die because his friend’s birth certificate has an expiration date on it. Consider the ramifications.

Let’s compare this to if you had one year left to live, due to a known condition in which you were told you’d be mostly healthy for that duration. While having 30-something years left to live still requires the day-to-day grind of the mundane which might not be present in knowing that you had one year left, shouldn’t your attitude really be the same regardless of how much time you have left — or think you have left? After all, any of us here could be gone at any time in the next few years due to accidents or sudden health problems. We never know when it’s our time. Grover Washington Jr. says in his song that “Good things might come for those who wait, but not for those who wait too late… we gotta go for all we know.” Yeah, those castles in the sky are ready to be built now, not in some far-off future.

Even if we knew for certainty that we were going to live to be 90, why should we live life with any lesser amount of zest? If having less time would change the way you live, then I would offer that perhaps you are not living correctly. It seems as though we should all live as if the time was shorter than we expected. As such, then we should not perpetually save things for rainy days, which often don’t come. We should not wait for the perfect moment before grabbing life by the horns. We should embrace it now with every ounce of passion that’s in us.

I hear time and again from people who have lost loved ones that we should all tell those close to us how much we love them. You should tell those people you care about most how you feel about them, and continually reinforce that. If you have children, spend a lot of time with them, as well as your spouse. Childhood is very brief, and brings children lasting memories as well as great opportunities for growth. Note that you can have all these enhancements while still going on with the regular, drab, marathon life that seems to get in the way so much. Yes, it’s idealistic of me to say so from the antiseptic comfort of my keyboard, but isn’t it an ideal worth pursuing?

I would submit that if you knew you had only one year left to live, your outlook on life would change dramatically. And why is that? I don't think it has so much to do with the day-to-day planning aspects, but rather with how we would view things in life. Suddenly, many things that were nagging us would become trivial. They would no longer matter. So why many times does it take a loved one dying or your own imminent fate to wake you up to this? Why is that? This is very curious, from a psychological standpoint.

Why should a 37-year plan differ in principle from a 1-year plan? In practice, sure, but the way you approach it... ought it not be at that same heightened level regardless of the time involved? If you’re holding back now, what is the reason? To pace yourself? Or is it something else? Are you stalling? Are you waiting for that epiphany to come? I would submit that having 40 or so years to live isn't that long of a time either. It may look like it when you're in your 20s, but that changes awfully fast. If you're not careful, you'll be looking back asking "where did the time go?" as well as "why didn't I do more of the things that matter most?"

I've heard that people who have narrowly escaped death have been transformed this way. They no longer take things for granted that they once did. They look at the rest of their life as a blessing to be cherished and utilized to the fullest extent. They have a fresh perspective that our time on earth is not to be squandered and that life is infinitely precious.

What if we could have their perspective? How would that alter the way we look at things? I’ve started looking at each day not as something to “get through,” but rather as a bonus. Life doesn’t owe us anything, but we owe it to ourselves and those around us to put the most into our lives.

Wisdom would therefore dictate:
• Don't let the little things drag you down.
• Don't let someone else's poor attitude affect your own.
• Don't take so many things personally.
• Don't waste a lot of time on frivolous pursuits.
• Spend a lot of time with those you care about most.
• Enjoy life!

How do we get out of that rut on our own, without having to wait for a smack in the face from fate? It might just be common human nature to not be convinced until we’re forced to. Sometimes that’s the only way we allow ourselves to truly learn. But if you want to do it on your own, you can. If the desire is there — and I believe that's the key.

So the next time you have a birthday, I hope you can look at getting older as a blessing. And even on those days when you’re worn out physically and/or mentally, look ahead to brighter ones. Share in the joy of others. There’s always somebody who’s happy somewhere, so find them and borrow some of that joy, and revel in theirs as well. There’s plenty to go around.

I’ve continually said that it’s always good to be alive, and sometimes even good to be awake. Life isn’t perfect, or even symmetrical. It has a full complement of disappointments and unfulfilled dreams. You have to constantly clean things, like dishes, clothes, rooms, floors, yards. Possibly a metaphor for life. But somewhere in there amidst the heartache and struggles are the finer things in life that keep us getting up in the morning and putting in the daily grind. I’ve felt that our responsibility is to keep making life better with each passing day. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but just continually improving. Whatever we can each offer to the concoction, put your ingredients into the mix.

Interested in your thoughts on this as well. I’m a doctor, Jim, not a motivational speaker.

I’ll close with the words to the haunting and ethereal 1982 Gerry Rafferty ballad, “The Right Moment,” that went under the hit list radar, perhaps because it was too thought-provoking and nuanced. (sing it slow and deliberate)

Spinning on another wheel
Goin’ round in slow motion…
Caught up in another dream
Driftin’ on a blue ocean…

When are you gonna reach out
Only you can turn your world around
When will you surrender
And wake up to the real

But you don’t want to start out just yet
You watch the seasons come and go
You remember and then you forget
All along the way

You can make a better life
You’re just waitin’ for the right moment…
You can find another way
You’re just waitin’ for the right moment…

When are you gonna let go
And forget about the life you knew
When will you surrender
And wake up to the real

Now you know that it’s all borrowed time
And still you waste another day
But you watch and you wait for a sign
All along the way…

Friday, August 22, 2008

Humans Win Most Advanced Species

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At the Beijing Hypothetical Olympics, they had a type of decathlon event that was split up according to species. They put a group of ten from each species into a large arena to see which ones could survive the best. The cheetahs were banned by the Olympic committee for using performance enhancing drugs, and the lemmings protested outside the stadium about the dangers of cliffs.

Representing us was a marketing executive from Seattle, a housewife from Morocco, a college student from Botswana, an entrepreneur from Peru, a 2-year-old toddler from Melbourne, a retired farmer from Duluth, the singer Meat Loaf, a computer guru from Denmark, a Serengeti bushman, and MacGyver (OK, it was rigged a little bit). While the computer whiz wrote an algorithm to decipher the behavioral patterns of each competing species and Meat Loaf distracted them with his crooning or facsimile thereof, the bushman proceeded to build a fire and then MacGyver concocted a solution out of lemon juice, cayenne pepper and Altoids to make it explode and stave off all oncomers.

In the end, the humans were given the gold medal for their ingenuity, technology, and wealth, which helps for bribing purposes as well. The meerkats received good enough scores from the judges to take home the silver, due to their adeptness at reconnaissance as well as their surprising proclivity for building towering fortresses out of limestone, which devastated the favored coral reef squad, who went home disappointed without a medal. Behind the meerkats were the relentless mosquitos, who were able to buzz around while the rest of the animal kingdom was fighting it out. When the mosquitos were given their medals, they careened to the floor as the arena fell to a hushed silence. Then everyone broke into thunderous applause, realizing the mosquitos wouldn’t be posing for any more photo ops. And thus wrapped up the closing ceremonies to another fruitful and fun-filled Olympics. We’re still #1!

54-40 or Punt

A quick overview if you haven't seen the TV show Monk... If you’ve already seen it, skip ahead 18 words and resume from there. The main character on Monk is a delightfully eccentric, obsessive compulsive, fastidious type. He's very particular about things. OK, you can start reading here again. I can see a little of myself in Monk from time to time. I hadn't paid much attention to it before, but I appear to be real big on symmetry. And I like to straighten things out. I can’t sit still if I see something on the wall that isn’t straight. I have to go fix it, otherwise it will get under my skin and I won’t be able to concentrate.

Things that need to be properly aligned in order for the universe to be restored to its equilibrium:

I. For some reason, it nags me that Alaska doesn’t connect with the rest of the states. I can reason away Hawaii, because Hawaii’s got a very good excuse, handwritten by its mother and everything: “Please excuse Hawaii from joining the states, since she’s just a little group of islands and it’s too far for her to walk.” That’s fine. I can live with that. But Alaska, it has other land between it and the rest of the United States. To have a country separated by another country is weird, and it’s just plain wrong. To me, that means Alaska isn’t united. It’s the one un-united state. Canada is in between, and is messing up all the karma to freely flow through all the states. I figure this situation alone is causing me to lose about four minutes of sleep every night. The U.S. should purchase a strip of land from Canada along the Pacific coast about 50 miles wide, continuing the portion in which Juneau resides that already extends halfway down British Columbia. It would reduce the size of British Columbia by only about 10%. There aren’t any major cities along the coast besides Prince Rupert and Vancouver, and I think we could negotiate those areas. It would be a win-win situation. While they’re at it, the Canadians should rename B.C. so that it doesn’t maintain any British influence. Call it something like "Hate the British – Columbia".

II. Pennies just don’t belong. Nobody wants them, and I’m not going to be able to rest as long as they’re in circulation. It’s like a game of hot potato. Whenever you go to the drive-thru at a fast food place, it’s a competition to see if they can charge you an amount that you can’t pay using your pennies, so then they get to give you pennies back instead — probably the same ones you gave them last week. Don’t you just love those purchases that are something-99, like $1.99? You hand them two one-dollar bills, and they hand you back a penny. What are you supposed to do with it? Don’t you feel kind of silly having someone hand you a penny? It’s not even worth the few seconds it took to exchange it. If I see a penny on the floor, and there’s a garbage can close by, that’s where it goes. After all, if time is money, then even a few seconds is too much to devote to a penny. Sometimes I give the drive-thru about 17 pennies with my change. And have you noticed that they don’t count them (other than the clueless freshman who’s only been working there a week). They don’t count pennies because pennies are a hassle. If something costs $3.45, just give them about two hundred pennies and call it good. We can take a clue from the vending machines. They want nothing to do with pennies. They’re too good for pennies. They’ve risen above us piddly humans who are still using copper coinage, and they don’t deal in anything below a nickel. Besides, pennies are worthless to begin with. You can’t get anything for a penny any more. You can’t get anything for even four pennies. With inflation doubling consumer costs every 25 years or so, it has made the penny obsolete. So let’s obsoletize it.

III. I’m from the school of thought that Saturday and Sunday ought to appear side by side on a monthly calendar. This one bugs me big time. Almost all calendars show Sunday over on the left, and then Saturday way over on the right. Is there some psychological need to feel like our week is enclosed like a sandwich? OK, so maybe my request is a psychological need as well... but mine’s more important, dang it! Mine serves the purpose of keeping the weekend days in one section by themselves, and the weekdays in another section. They need to be kept apart, nice and neat. Having some of the days scattered about is very sloppy time management. How can I rightly plan out my weekend when half of it is on one side of the calendar and half is on the other? I can’t deal with that kind of incongruity.

IV. I’m sorry, but February just needs to have 30 days, so that the months can be more even. I lose about seven minutes of sleep a night on this one. Borrow a day each from December and August, which have 31 apiece. And then on leap years, December can have 31 again. What would be even more helpful is if all the months had the same number of days. I’ve gone through that rhyme a thousand times in my life just to try to keep track, and I still don’t have them memorized... “Thirty days hath September, April, June and November. All the rest have 31, except February, who is really weird and a non-conformist.” I know it needs to add up to 365 somehow. If we had 13 months, each one could be exactly 28 days (or four weeks, whichever comes first), making 364 total. The extra day could be a special holiday apart from all the months, kind of like the District of Columbia. If each month had 28 days, they could always start on the same day — Monday, thank you very much. The 1st would always be a Monday, the 18th would always be a Thursday. It would make our calendars so much cleaner. Right now they’re very messy. How am I supposed to function in such an environment?

V. I have a need to take literally people who are making claims, so when advertisers use weasel words, it just doesn’t sit right. How can I be expected to process all the various nonsense words they use like "hearty," "wholesome," "goodness," "fresh," "crisp," "Mesopotamian," or "fungible"?

VI. I never understood as a kid why when you get to 60 seconds, you start over. What a rip-off. I was all psyched up to try to get to a hundred, and then they start over. OK, so I do it again, and as soon as I hit 60 again, sure enough they want me to start over. This is a little infuriating. We’re working on a base-10 numbering system, and we’re wasting those last 40 seconds. Minutes should be 100 seconds long to keep things tidy, and hours should be 100 minutes long. As it is, each day is a clunky 86,400 seconds. No wonder we can’t organize our schedules — our day isn’t symmetrical. If each minute were 100 seconds, and each hour were 100 minutes, then we could have 10 hours in a day, and just tick the seconds off a little bit quicker. Instead of saying "one thousand one, one thousand two..." to count, you’d say something like "eight hundred one, eight hundred two..." We’d get used to it. I don’t know why we’re making it so hard on ourselves. Nobody can rightly calculate time spans, with the wonky multiples of 12 and 60, and having two sets of 12’s each day. Having a 7:00 a.m. and a 7:00 p.m. makes about as much sense as having a 3rd Ave. and a 3rd St. in the same city. And saying 12:00 p.m. or 12:00 a.m. confuses everyone, so we have to revert to the old standbys of “noon” and “midnight”. That should send up a red flag right there.

VII. If they made the length of one foot to be a more reasonable 10 inches, then I’d be 7 foot 3. And everyone who’s 5-feet-something would be at least 6-feet-something. It would make everybody happier, and we’d have more basketball players.

A few others:
• Phone number area codes and prefixes that aren’t in order according to location. They’re too random, and they need to be systematic.
• I have to wear the left headphone in my left ear, and the right one in my right ear. I don’t know what might happen if I didn’t. I might experience the world backwards or something.
• I can’t miss any part of a movie if I’m paying for it. Somehow if it’s free, I’m OK with being lost when I come back.
• I always check to see if the stove’s on before I go to bed.
• If I’m going to be somewhere for more than an hour or two, I like to back into the parking spot. That way, I'll have the advantage later.
• I don’t want to eat sweets in the morning. No on cake, brownies, pie or candy. But curiously, pastries are fine. The Danes have indoctrinated me.

Watch Monk and you might recognize some more things about yourself. You can even find some online episodes at the usanetwork web site.

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I get a kick out of those revved-up Ovaltine commercials. The kids in them are on pep pills or something. They don’t talk like real people, but instead act like they’ve just gotten some sort of buzz. "It’s rich... It’s chocolaty... And it’s addictive... More Ovaltine, please!"

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Five Muses

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It was Henry David Thoreau who said, “Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.” (unsure whether it was taken out of context or not) And while I agree with his basic sentiment, it would have been more convincing coming from someone just named Hank Thoreau who merely said, “Simplify.” Then I would have believed he really meant it.

Mysteries of the Universe, #4852:
Why does cereal settle so much during shipment?

Let’s take the example of Crunchberries, the quintessential morsel of breakfast food. Most raw materials on the earth, incidentally, would follow this same model as your basic Crunchberry. You start out at the manufacturing plant with a full 24-ounce box. The second it leaves the warehouse, it goes down an inch by what experts refer to as “symbiotic attrition.” Then while it’s in transit to the store, it goes down another half inch. And finally, during the stocking of the shelves, it goes down another half inch. Which then causes us to wonder: If so much settling is going on, how do the individual pieces stay relatively intact?

So you may be piqued as to why all this happens. Well, think about it. If you were a Crunchberry at the top of a cereal box, would you want to be there? Would you want to be the first one eaten? No, you’d take a dive-bomb down to the bottom where all the smart ones are. And since there aren’t too many dumb Crunchberries around, when you first open the box, that’s where you find them — all down near the bottom of the box, staring up at you like a bunch of innocent little puppies, hoping you don’t notice them.

And a few lucky ones make it to the end, getting thrown out into the trash, which is a Crunchberry’s ultimate goal. But in the meantime, they’re all jostling for position, saying to each other, “No, I’m not going out first — you go first,” or heaping simple insults like “Cheerio breath!” Sometimes riots break out, and a couple of them may get trampled, with just their scattered remains lying at the bottom of the box. This unfortunate occurrence is known as Crunchberry violence, which is one of the many serious forms of cereal killing. The point is that as far as the Crunchberries are concerned, they’d rather risk such violent circumstances than be drowned in a pool of milk. This phenomenon started back in the 18th century, with the Crunchberries referring to stories of their ancestors as the first cereal box settlers. And that’s precisely why they settle like that today.

Reasons Not to Gamble

True statisticians don't gamble. If you understood probability enough, you wouldn't give away money that's bound to come back less the more you do it. Coming close to winning gives people a false sense of achievement. There are thousands of ways to almost win, and those people develop a phantom confidence that shouldn't be there.

If I ever went to a casino, I surely wouldn't play the slot machines. I just go to the mall and play the change machines instead, because they have much better odds. I always win back 100% of whatever I bet. I put in a dollar, and I get a dollar back. I've never lost on the change machines. Call it dumb luck, but I've had a lot of success with them.

So I've seen advertisements for slots that brag about having something like 92% returns, which is supposedly the best anywhere. Is this a good thing? They're only taking away your money at an 8% rate? Anything under 100% means you're losing. That's why they can afford to build the fancy casinos in the first place. They're not funded by having people regularly beating the house. If it weren't so rare, they wouldn't be in business. And then if someone does come in and has a good system for winning, they kick them out. If you lose we like you, but if you win you're ruining our business. What a great racket to belong to.

The Oregon lottery has a disclaimer at the end of its commercials, saying it's for entertainment purposes only. Does that mean nobody's really trying to win the prize money? They're just trying to be entertained while they give away their money? The official motto of the Oregon lottery is: "It does good things." OK, so why would they have to say that? That implies that it also does bad things. I want to hear about the bad things too. Their billboards boast creating 200 millionaires and counting. In twenty years, that's only ten per year, out of a population of 3 million people. If one in every 400,000 people is being helped each year that way by the lottery, isn't that rather insignificant? For every winner, how many more hundreds or thousands develop a gambling addiction? Is it really worth it?

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Why don’t they have a book called “Chicken Soup For the Chicken’s Soul”? Nobody thinks about those poor chickens who get souped all the time. They need some love too. How would you feel if an entire book series was mocking your ancestry? To make matters worse, it's all done in the name of of inspiring stories. We're all getting gushy at the expense of some poultry. We need to think these things through.

In spite of all that, I thought it was a decent book series, until... yes until they came out with this: Chicken Soup For the American Idol Soul. This stuff is just too good to make up. If historians stumble across this title many years from now, they'll be scratching their heads to try to figure out what it means. Anyway, it boils down to the Chicken Soup people selling out. Have they really run out of names and they're asking for corporate sponsorship? Watch soon for Chicken Soup For the Wall-E Action Figures Soul. It can't be that far away, can it? If they really want to serve society, they could maybe do Chicken Soup For the Gambling Addict's Soul. At least that would help people — and do good things.

Surely they've already scraped the bottom of the barrel, right? There's nowhere else to go but up — or so you think. No, just think sponsorship in hyperdrive, and you've got your next clue. Yes, these are real books that you can buy at Amazon. These people really need a hobby. When you've gotten to this point, it's a strong indication that there are no more chicken souls to think of. We have plum run out of chicken souls. You can put this one to rest.

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I talked to a cat once about their thoughts on the absence of mouse-flavored cat food. Apparently this is one of the major cat gripes, though there is a list of about a thousand other things, not the least of which is thinking they need more lives. You just can’t please some people. But regarding mouse flavor, when cats are in the wild, do they hunt down cows? Not usually. Maybe in Alabama, but not most places. Do they chase after swine? I don’t think so. Do they go scuba diving for tuna? I seriously doubt it. Then why do we give them those things to eat in lieu of mouse food?

Researchers from the Cat Institute of Technology have pondered this question, and they’ve discovered several interesting things. First of all, it would take three mice just to fill one can, making it less cost-effective than, say, poultry or seafood. Secondly, there aren’t enough untested mice to go around, after all the lab experiments, and cats vehemently refuse to eat mice that have been injected with known carcinogens. And if those things aren't enough, it would totally ruin the underground market run by cat burglars, making mice harder to catch just for fun. Legalizing mice is never the solution, no matter how you look at it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Conundrums For Sale

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Situation: You’re in a big city and you don’t know anyone. You’re down to your last dollar, and you’re five miles from your hotel. It’s 3 o’clock in the morning, it’s raining, it’s 10 degrees below zero, and you have a recurring hernia. A doberman is chasing you, and your glasses start to fog up. You’re carrying a 70-pound suitcase in one hand and a bowling ball in the other. You trip over your shoelace and land face first into a mud puddle. As you attempt to stand up, you realize you’ve twisted your ankle. Just then, you get a call on your cell phone. The question is: do you answer it or let it go to voice mail? These are the dilemmas of life. Hypothetically, you may think you have the answer, but until you get in that situation, you just never know.

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In an unusual turn of events, hurricanes Opal and Pablo have somehow crossed paths and are furiously confronting one another off the coast of Florida. Opal insists that she was there first, and that Pablo must wait until she has died down, or at least gone into retirement as a tornado in the midwest. Pablo says Opal was hanging around too long, breaking the hurricane code of ethics by overstaying her 10-day time limit. He says Quincy is right behind him, even having asked to play through. So, what would you do if you were a climatologist involved in this case?

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One thing that would be great if the Olympics gymnastics announcers would do differently is not spoil the drama for us by telling us ahead of time to watch for this next great move that’s about to happen in a routine. For one thing, it’s annoying, and for another, it completely removes the spontaneity of the event. Tim Daggett is the resident expert, and he can’t seem to keep a secret. Throughout the course of a routine, he’ll spill out, “Now, watch this here coming up…” Tim, Tim, Tim. We are already watching it. Your cameras are pointed right at the gymnast in full felicity and we can’t help but be watching it. The figure skating commentators at the Winter Olympics have also been guilty of this. “Here comes a big move…” Thank you, but I think we can wait another three seconds and be pleasantly surprised.

Can you imagine sitting next to these people at the movie theater? If they’ve already seen the movie, then every time Clint Eastwood is about to beat up a guy, they’d have to butt in, “Here comes his big move… Yes! He landed it! Clint is going to get high marks for that one!” Tim, have a Jujube and calm down.

As of today, Michael Phelps has participated in five gold medals at the 2008 Olympics, which is half of the total number of U.S. gold medals so far. I’d say that’s pretty good. He should open up his own branch country. If you can be in half your country’s gold medals, it’s time to diversify.

Phelps is surely cool (though still not quite as cool as the speedskater Apolo Ohno). However, I have one problem with the sharing of gold medals for relay events. Mathematically, each of them should be worth no more than a fourth of a medal, if you think about it (which I tried to). Phelps has five gold medals at these Olympics, and two of those were from relays. He didn’t even compete in some of the preliminary heats leading up to the finals for those events. So when they say he gets seven or eight gold medals in one Olympics, I think it needs to be statistically tempered. Yes, he is great, but he did get some help in those relays. Likewise, Mark Spitz won four gold medals on his own in 1972, and then was part of three relays. So really, he won 4¾ gold medals at that Olympics.

There’s also a ponderous discrepancy between the value in women’s gymnastics for the vault and the beam. The vault consists of one quick jump that takes maybe two seconds — unless you include the run down the ramp, but they don’t get rated on the run. Meanwhile, the beam consists of about two minutes of a series of grueling moves on a tiny four-inch wide strip. The back flips on this apparatus are probably the most difficult maneuver in any Olympic sport. But in the all-around, the beam gets no more credit than the vault. If they were truly value-based, the beam would be worth at least three times that of the vault.

Suppose rodeo were an Olympic sport, the Chinese could ride the American bull, the Russians would ride the Japanese bull, the Americans would ride the Romanian bull, and then the bulls would get the medals according to which ones bucked the best. It would be especially fun to see a bull rider donning leotards. They would get style points for their dismount, as they’re being flung through the air. Bonus points if you land back on the bull again. And then the curtsy to the bull at the end would be a requirement, worth a .30 deduction if not executed properly.

The Olympics needs to keep expanding its horizons and spice things up a bit. The divers should have to get pennies off the bottom of the pool. It would add an element of suspense to the event. “Great dive! And they’re making their plunge… Still down there… OK, now they’re coming up… Looks like they’ve got 28 pennies! That’s going to really help them find favor with the judges, Al!” In fact, just have all the divers dive in at the same time, with a penny free-for-all. Let’s see who can really dive.

The pommel horse participants could come swinging down on a rope from up in the balcony to make their entrance. It would be so much more intriguing that way. Land on the horse, start your moves, and then after maybe 30 seconds, it starts bucking. And don’t forget your cowboy hat.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Is it or Isn't It?

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This is one of my favorite visuals. Look at the squares marked A and B. Could I convince you that square A is not darker than square B? Care to place a wager? What if I offered you $20 if I'm wrong, and you give me only $1 if I'm right? How confident are you now? Well, kid... do ya feel lucky? As strange as it may seem, those two squares are exactly the same shade of gray! Your mind is playing tricks on you. It's impossible, right? Nothing so obvious could be that much of an illusion... In truth, when your eyes see what they perceive to be a shadow, they automatically overcompensate. And the squares around square B are much darker, making square B seem lighter than it really is.

The moral of the story: appearances can be deceiving. (If you're still doubting, copy the image and then open it in a photo editor and use the eyedropper tool to compare the two areas)

I always enjoy watching the Olympics, because there are fascinating stories and events at every turn. When you get the world's 10,000 best athletes together in one setting, interesting things are bound to happen.

The men's 400m freestyle relay on Sunday was electrifying. This is where short highlight reels fail. To get the true feel for the event, it must be watched in its entirety. It has to build up, like a fine drama. The 30-second snippets you get on the news are like reading the Cliff's Notes to a classic novel instead of reading the novel itself. There just is no substitute. If you recorded it but haven't watched it yet, it's worth going back and finding it. It was at the end of Sunday's regular primetime broadcast, so it would have concluded around 11 pm.

A mystique of the Olympics is that the layperson has no earthly idea what the scoring systems are about. The judges behind the curtain of Oz could be rigging everything, and we'd have no way of knowing. A gymnast seemingly nails their routine, but they sneezed in the middle of it, which gets them a three-point deduction. Meanwhile, a gymnast with a difficult routine knocks over the whole apparatus, and the judges turn their heads and take off just a tenth of a point.

The diving competitions have some intriguing scoring rules. Everything falls within the 4 and 6 point range. All you have to do to get at least a 4 is fall in the water. You could trip off the diving board and land on your face, and that would be worth some points. And yet ironically, on any dive, if you touch the water, it's an automatic ½-pt. deduction. I've never figured that part out.

I wonder about the silver medalists at the Olympics. A lot of them seem disappointed in being only the 2nd best in the world. That's still not too shabby when you think about it. Having only one person on the planet with a better time should be reason for celebration. But instead, they've set themselves up only for being elated at coming in first, or being distraught at getting a lesser medal. To those of us who would be in awe just to be at the Olympics, we're not going to have much sympathy for those who feel bad that they didn't become a household name and score all those endorsements. They should simply enjoy what they did accomplish even if it might not have quite been their goal, and lose graciously. While it's not fun to lose, you can still be philosophical about it.

My favorite is track and field, particularly the sprinting events. The amount of training and how good of shape one must be in to compete at that level is staggering. Within the physical realm, this is the pinnacle of individual human achievement, and it's a sight to behold. Viva la Olympico...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Nothing to Look at Here

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Maybe you've met someone who pronounces 'CosCo' correctly. Nobody I've heard say it does. That's because it has a 't' in there too. We're in too much of a hurry to say that extra sound. By bypassing the 't', we save ourselves 0.3 seconds each time, which over a lifetime can add up to something like 43 minutes. You get your deposit back at the end. If you're falling off a cliff, then you get a bonus 43 minutes, where I guess you'd just be floating in the air like Wile E. Coyote does just before he plunges.

Speaking of Wile, he must've had stock in the ACME company, because despite all their defective products, he not only never returned any of them, but he kept ordering more. I watched probably 3000 episodes of that show when I was a kid. The lure was not in seeing an entertaining show, but in hoping that I might someday see him catch the Roadrunner — just once. And when I say 3000 episodes, I realize they didn't shoot that many, but I watched that many of the same episodes over and over, because you never know if an episode might turn out differently the 27th time you see it. I envisioned Roadrunner just one time stumbling over a pebble and wiping out on that endless desert asphalt. You see, at least Trix had some closure with the silly rabbit, as did Lucky Charms with the leprechaun. They couldn't run forever. They were marked sketches, and it was only a matter of time that they would get caught. And they had kids chasing them instead of a coyote with an IQ of -6.

I'm theorizing that the only reason the Roadrunner got away with it was that he must've been on the protected species list. They get to run into paintings of tunnels, and suddenly they're real tunnels. The first time I saw Roadrunner get away with these type of things, I thought it was clever, though after a while I started resenting him and wanting him to get caught. But then Wile E. turned out to be no help whatsoever. He was a respectable planner, but his execution stunk like four-day old meat. He could never properly calibrate his rockets, his bombs didn't go off when they were supposed to, the Roadrunner didn't fall for any of his gags, and to top it off, the laws of gravity changed conditions just to work against him. Perhaps to you, the Roadrunner instead was the protagonist in the show. I just couldn't root for him myself, because he was a little too arrogant for my tastes. He was the quintessential yuppie cartoon character — no personality at all, always in a hurry going around in his Ferrari. Just once, if the coyote could have smacked him, it would've been worth it.

I understand ESPN is reportedly considering starting a new Brett Favre channel — not to commemorate the quarterback’s storied career, but rather to cover his monumental decision on which team he’ll join this season, or if he'll (gasp!) retire. With a whole station devoted to the quarterback, the regular ESPN won’t need to cut away for the latest Favre scoop every fifteen minutes, and we won’t have to worry about missing watching his plane land, and will be able to keep up on what he eats for each meal. Tune in for the new “All-Favre All the Time” channel. Talk about milking a story for all it's worth. This one went dry two weeks ago, and they're still going to the barn.

It seems the hallowed parking spot is one of the most valued commodities around in our society. People with college degrees will take three more laps around a parking lot just to try to get a few feet closer to the store. Those truly dedicated drivers will spend five extra minutes of driving in order to save themselves 30 seconds of walking time. Or you might see them camping behind someone who’s about ready to leave, where they’re practically salivating at the prospect of taking over a fresh space that has proximity to their shopping destination of choice. They should make this into a pay-per-view sport, to raise revenue for the deprived souls who have to park way out in the boondocks. Sometimes I get the impression that parking close to a store is the main reason some people go shopping. This may be the result of a primitive territorial instinct. I suppose if we capture a prime parking space, it means we have conquered the foe. "I am king of this parking spot, and it is my domain for the next, oh, two to three hours."

Dentists have got to be some of the most persistent people on earth. They'll have their receptionists call you on your cell at 7:00 in the morning out of the blue, just to see if you wouldn't reconsider getting that cleaning. I'd say they're a little more aggressive than regular doctors. Regular doctors let their patients eat double cheeseburgers and donuts for every meal with their prescription. And if you don't visit a doctor for eight years, they understand. But the dentist will get lonely and wonder that you don't like him anymore. They're not happy that you've gone without pain for so long. And then when you get to the dentist, they downplay the effect of everything. "OK, this is going to sting a little..." More like "This is going to wake up your adnoids and send you into orbit with an apoplectic frenzy," but they never say that. No, you won't hear "This is going to hurt like crazy." They advertise it as "a little prick" or "a little burn" or a little something else. If they pretend it's little, then maybe you'll believe it. "Well, that was a little one, so at least I'm glad I didn't get a big one. A big one might have knocked my entire face off." The "little" warnings are actually code for "I'm apologizing in advance for playing the xylophone with your nerve endings. Brace yourself while you're still coherent... And run for cover!" When the scriptures talk about weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, you realize they're talking about going to the dentist, right? I used to agonize over going, but since I started using the laughing gas (nitrous oxide), it tends to mask the pain for me, and I just think to myself, "Man, that would really hurt if I could feel it."

Dance Like Nobody's Watching

Philosophy Soccer