Monday, March 31, 2008

Travel tips -- heh, heh, heh

File this under Duh: some airline brain figured out they can load a plane faster by boarding window seats first. Good deal but with predictable consequences. Those passengers take up all the overhead luggage space.

Looking for an unspoiled vacation backwater? Think Culebra. The hour-long ferry ride from Puerto Rico will set you back $2.25 (this is not a typo). Laid back? A sign on a vendor’s cart reads: “Open Some Days/Closed Others.” Take me there.

Mark your calendar for the first Friday of every March. That’s high season for witchcraft and magic in Catemaco, Mexico. Officially, the International Congress of Witches. No, the festival did not form the basis for the movie, “First Wives Club.” Settle down.

Ohmygod! Two guys out in Hawaii think misguided scientists are on the verge of unleashing DefCon Five, Doomsday, Black Friday and Halloween all at once.

Their lawsuit claims scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) are “ready to produce, among other horrors, a tiny black hole, which they say could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a ‘strangelet’ that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called ‘strange matter.’

Run! Where?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Global warming blessing or curse?

The Mystery Woman is a good spotter because she’s better read than I. Credit her curiosity with finding this nugget from 1949 that fits today. It’s from Arthur C Clarke, the futuristic genius who wrote the screenplay and novel 2001, A Space Odyssey and then wrote the movie with Stanley Kubrick.

Stay with me here. This has a surprise conclusion.

Here’s the quote from The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke. The chapter is aptly titled History Lesson, first published in Startling Stories, May 1949.

‘History Lesson’ is also the first of two stories in which glaciers return to cover the world. In the preface to Expedition to Earth, Clarke notes his discovery of a literally chilling phrase in Will and Ariel Durant’s Story of Civilisation. ‘Civilisation is an interlude between Ice Ages’, and observes ‘the next one is already overdue; perhaps global warming has arrived just in time to save us.’

ADD ONE: cities around the world will go dark for the second annual Earth Hour Saturday night. At Niagara, for example, Horseshoe Falls will go dark.

ADD TWO: the enormous floating Antarctic ice shelf sheared off this month after holding tight for more than 12,000 years.

Worth repeating: ‘perhaps global warming has arrived just in time to save us.’


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Do the mashed potato*

Probably I shouldn’t write about this. A guy in Portland has opened a vegan strip joint. Isn’t that a conflict of interest? OK. I’ll drop it.

Is your town diurnal? You’d better hope so. But you can live on the cusp, like Longyearbyen, Norway. From April through September, there will be perpetual daylight in this frozen burg on an island 600 miles from the North Pole. Diurnal? Look it up.

In Michigan (also near the N. Pole), real estate value is dropping so fast promoters are hosting Repo Buyers Bus Tour for five bucks a head. Primary residences, not second homes. And the experts say it is going to get worse.

Here’s a crash of another kind. The automobile kind. At the recent NY International Auto Show, Ford displayed a wrecked 2008 Taurus to demonstrate how well the vehicle can withstand a crash. To my memory, that’s a first. Interesting marketing.

Forgive me. I keep flashing on the vegan strip joint. Low blood sugar, likely.

*The mashed potato was a dance popular in the early 1960's. Before the Lindy.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Old Testament REVENGE!

When old hippies go straight, there are consequences.

The Mystery Woman, formerly known as Earth Momma, hasn’t had a dishwasher or ice maker for more than 30 years. By choice!

“Too noisy,” she always dismissed the notion. “Can’t hear my music with the dishwasher running.” I might as well reveal this now – she dances in the kitchen while slicing and dicing.

Well, that program of denial worked well in Minneapolis. Everyone was always so busy putting on or taking off layers that no one noticed. There’s always plenty of ice in MN. That's why people move there.

However, the Austin condo has both dishwasher and ice maker. She was curious. Her resistance finally evaporated when she learned the infernal dishwasher could be programmed to run after midnight while we sleep. Joy!

But the ice maker is a different venue. Mostly, it runs when it damned well pleases. And the crumpled, muffled noise it makes as ice dumps into the tray. The Mystery Woman found it inspiring.


Yes. Every time she gets miffed at me, she dumps the ice into the sink. The gallant ice maker, sensing a void, begins to re-load. An hour or so later when I am least expecting it, the ice maker offloads into the plastic tub. The racket always, always catches me by surprise. And every time I jump, the Mystery Woman chuckles softly to herself.

Surely, you saw this coming: She believes revenge is a dish best served cold.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Don Quixote star retires

This is a direct lift from the NY Times: “After 19 years with the Maryinsky Ballet Company of St. Petersburg, Russia, Monika, the donkey in Don Quixote, has retired. “She knew the exact time to appear in the ballet, even without someone accompanying her,” said a spokeswoman. The farewell party included a waltz with one of the ballerinas, carrot cake, a pinafore and a kerchief. Endearing.

Hibernaculums (look it up) on the East Coast are under siege. And bats are dying in droves, cause unknown. Bats don’t fly in winter. If you see one outside, unfortunately it is a “dead bat flying.” The scourge has spread from NY through the Adirondacks, back toward Indiana and nearing Texas. Bats are beneficial. In Texas, bats save cotton farmers a sixth to an eighth of the cash value of their crops by eating insect pests. Hmmm. If only bats would develop a taste for political pests. Don’t start with the Dracula jokes.

I’m OK. You’re not.

The American Journal of Psychiatry reports that addiction to emails and text messaging could be a form of mental illness. E-stalking is real. I gotta go now.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Guns, boy dolls and dead phone books

Fourteen billion dollars a year. That’show much money outdoors spending adds to the Texas economy via hunting, fishing, and just messing. Motorhomes and Jim Beam, extra. When out in the bush or on the water, everybody's name is Bubba.


Speaking of boys and their toys, have you heard of UglyDolls? They are soft, plush, cute and built for boys. No kidding. Some six year olds tote them to school. Researchers say it dates back to Egyptians. Undoubtedly, some will blame liberals. Somehow.


Prediction: Bill Gates says the Yellow Pages will be just a memory within the next five years. The Internet, you see.

Slate has an interesting article on this piece of paperback American culture, pointing out there has never been a scholarly monograph written about the phonebook:

"There should be one: Its omnipresence has made it a barometer of societal change. In 1906, Jews in Trenton threatened to boycott Bell over a resort listing's promise, "Free From Hebrews and Tuberculosis Patients." Temperance groups in the North agitated to ban brewery ads from directories, while some Southern directories segregated into separate sections for "white" and "colored" numbers. Women's directory struggles are still within living memory: NYNEX's first listings for birth-control counseling only appeared in 1967, while Bell fought well into the late 1970s to deny women equal billing alongside their husbands in household listings, claiming it required too much extra paper and ink."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Two Buck Chuck

Two Buck Chuck costs at least a dollar more after you leave California. But it’s still a wine value to be reckoned with. Even renamed as Four Buck Chuck after shipping costs.

In a few weeks (and one more surgery) we’ll be headed uphill again to Minnesota, where Three Buck Chuck is available across town.

The Mystery Woman is not what you would call a wine snob. Or any other kind of snob, for that matter.

But in retirement, she is cultivating a taste for the grape. And she knows what she likes: White, chilled. Red, not. Plus, she seems to prefer white wine in the summer courtyard and red wine during the winter months any where. Damned civilized, if you ask me.

Isn’t that all you really need to know about wine? All the rest is show biz.

She is low maintenance and so easy to please. When we go out to eat, the Mystery Woman doesn’t want the waiter to be out any trouble. Although I taught her that you drink white with salmon and red with salmon croquettes.

Once, we walked into a wine bar. She looked at the array of wines lining the shelves and said, “I’ll just have whatever is open.”

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spitzer unreported scandal

Nobody is writing about the real scandal involving the phony governor and the real call girl. When then-Gov.Spitzer and his wife left their apartment to drive 40 blocks to his office where he resigned – it took half an hour! Repeat: it took 30 minutes to drive 40 blocks in the middle of the day.

The shame.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Designated hitter -- James Hollars

It started Sunday morning. I began to notice a cluster of hits from the midwest on this blog site. But the people who Googled weren’t looking for me. It was Jim Hollars they wanted to know about. Jim, the Mystery Woman, and I were high school pals and graduated together with the Lubbock Monterey High Class of ’57.

My first reaction was: trouble with the law? Some of my buddies were shady.

Not Jim. He was a retired minister, choir director and baseball chaplain. He was living with the ravages of Parkinson’s.

In my heart, I knew what had happened. Jim had died.

I had not seen Jim in nearly 50 years when he popped up at our book signing in Arlington, Texas, a couple of years back. I would not have recognized Jim until he opened his mouth. He was completely bald and a little unsteady on his feet. That’s when I learned of his battle with Parkinson’s.

And I learned more of Jim’s courage and sweet disposition on his website.

We became close again over the next two years. Because of Jim and his association with the Ft. Worth Cats and the Toledo Mud Hens, the Mystery Woman and I went to see the St.Paul Saints play and laughed with the crowd at the Norman Rockwell kinda schtick. I mean – a pig mascot named Garrison Squealor.

Jim was a writer, too. We gently encouraged each other, the three of us.

I don’t know enough of Jim’s life over the past 50 years to write a full obit, but – thanks to the Internet—his words will live forever. That’s neat.

Until I read his obituary, I never knew Jim was a preacher of the Baptist persuasion. And he never knew I am an atheist. Jim loved his Lord. I don’t happen to. But I loved Jim.

And that’s close enough.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Typewriters: forever querty

To get into journalism school at the University of Texas, students were required to pass a typing test. So I went to the drag and bought a book “Teach Yourself to Type in 24 Hours.” I think the idea was to type an hour a day for 24 days but my typing test was the next day. So I loaded up on coffee, went to the rooftop deck where I was living and typed and typed and typed for the next 24 hours. Passed the test with 70 words per minute.

And to this day, I dearly love typewriters. Manual typewriters. The older the better.

Typewriters are so visceral. Remember writing nasty letters to creditors? It’s the same feeling when writing editorials. Bang on the keys. Harder. You can’t hurt ‘em. Rrrrip the paper out of the platen. Wad it up. Shoot a basket. Start over. Satisfying to ear, mind and muscle.

Now think of the wimpy little clicking sounds from a computer keyboard. No comparison. Don’t press too hard, you’ll bruise the electrical innards. Spill a beer and you’re out of business.

Well guess what? Typewriters are making a comeback of sorts. Young people lead the resurgence. They think typewriters are cool. There's hope still for America! On the Internet, there are dozens of Web sites and discussion groups. Yahoo hosts a forum called simply: Typewriters. Facebook sports several similar groups.

Tell me, can you still buy ribbons?

Friday, March 14, 2008

"Expletive deleted " Grackles!

I hate grackles. They are smart enough to know it. And retaliate.

Once I pulled into a parking space at the grocery and a grackle hopped on the hood of my car. Naturally, I shooed it away. When I returned, my windshield was splattered with three direct hits. It was direct cause-and-effect.

Most real Texans hate grackles, too. Bird lover are just wrong on this one. Dead wrong. Grackles are noisy, aggressive thieves with an ugly, awful sound. An electric gurgling sound. And their droppings stink from Kansas to Chile.

Check out downtown Austin just before dusk. You’ll think you are in the middle of a movie shoot. Alfred Hitchcock, indeed.

Since I converted from fundamentalist to liberalism, I stopped killing things. However, I would shoot, kill, stomp, maim, and flush a grackle in a heart beat. But they are protected by a bone-headed federal law because they are migratory birds.

I had a friend who was a crack shot. He would drink a little wine and drive around town in his van armed with air pistols. Puff. Cloud of feathers. Problem solved. Another grackle gone. My buddy was too kind. I think a Gatlin gun more appropriate.

Nothing short of death works. Cities have waged war with shotguns (real and recorded), screeches from predator birds (real and recorded) and other devices aimed at startling the glossy, iridescent pests away. To no avail.

I’m thinking of breeding owls -- for fun and profit.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Tell-Tale Heart.

The Mystery Woman is excited about the news that hackers can tap into pacemaker/defibrilators like the one I sport.

“It’s just another way the Internet has improved our lives,” she says with a gleam in her eye. Besides, with the right software, she thinks she can use my pacemaker to make a free phone call her granddaughter in Miami. “Sit up straight,” she grins as she shouts into my bad ear.

I’m scheduled to get a new battery next month. Coincidence?

If the FBI is tapping my heart, I will stipulate – it beats faster whenever Katie Couric is on the screen. More so with the sound turned off, leaving me to imagine what she is saying.

My heart also beats faster every time I eat at Cooper’s BBQ in Llano. And of course, Homeland Security can track my movements easier now.

Imagine the possibilities unleashed by hacking into pacemakers. (Pun alert). The movie mystery plots will be absolutely shocking. Coming soon to a theater near you “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

Hear that? Edgar Allen Poe. Laughing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Money -- good and evil

Have you heard of poorism? It’s slum tourism. You heard right – tourists gawking at garbage dumps in Mexico, Rio de Janeiro and Johannesburg. Often traveling where police don’t or won’t. Imagine open sewers, live electrical lines, young men with cocked pistols. Tourism? Or Voyeurism?

Here at home, immigration is fueling the new niche in banking in heretofore unlikely locales. Nuestro Banco recently opened to serve the exploding Hispanic population in Raleigh, N. C. Why? It’s obvious. From1990 to 2006, the Hispanic population rose from 76,726 to 593,385. But they need some good TexMex cafes.

Al Gore is doing all right. He recently invested $35 million with a group that specializes in hedge funds. Big Al is poised to make even more when his Current Media cable company goes public.

Say, Al, could you lend me $20 until my Social Security check arrives?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Is AARP the joke?

Young people who write jokes about old people think it’s OK. It’s a common trait, they say. Everybody is going to get old.

I call B.S. on that notion.

So does Laura L. Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center for Longevity. “It’s astounding to me that people continue to regularly make incredibly ageist statements. There is no reason to depict people in their 70’s as feeble and frail and doddering.”

Yet the late night talk shows are brimming with jokes about dementia, pills, prostates and Miracle Ears. David Letterman regularly tees off on Sen. John McCain as “the old guy at the barbershop,” “a mall-walker,” “a Wal-Mart greeter,” and more.

Read the NY Times take in a Sunday story called “So a Senior Citizen Walks into a Bar …”

Comics who shy away from Hillary jokes (sexism) or Barack (racism) regularly whiz on the elderly. And the dunderhead at AARP missed the point completely. Kevin Donnellan, an AARP executive vice president said, “It’s a lot easier to make a joke about age than it is to come up with a punch line about health care costs being out of control.”

Yes, Kevin. Dammit, Kevin, we want you to hammer those comics who are taking the cheap shots. Make them think twice about geezer ridicule. It took years of hard work, but the joke writers no longer poke at women, Jews, blacks with abandon. Make ‘em think, Kevin.

Maybe this is the real joke: Did you hear the one about the AARP lobbyist who walked into Congress and feathered his own nest, ignoring rampant ageism …

Friday, March 7, 2008

National primary?

This could be serious. It’s about the Administration’s push for lenders to forgive portions of mortgages in an effort to staunch the economic hemorrhage. Has anybody asked IRS if the forgiven amount is taxable? Many such actions are. Bam, you get a 1099C and have to pay taxes. The out? If you are not solvent, no taxes owed. Worth the cure?

This could be even more serious. England has several hundred researchers in the think tank community, the European research community numbers are in the low thousands and the U.S. counts maybe 10,000 smart people scratching around. Here’s the serious part – in just one research facility in China, there are 4,000 researchers turning over rocks. And there are many Chinese institutions with many, many researchers. China is rejoining the world with breathtaking speed. And on many levels including monetary and military. If their one-party state survives, this research class will likely design a model to compete with the western model for the highest stakes ever -- the rest of the world. Serious consequences lie ahead.

Let me tell you a question: what’s wrong with holding primaries on the same date throughout America? The current patchwork of elections and caucuses staggered throughout the calendar is confusing and very expensive. (Super delegate is not to be found anywhere in the constitution.) Of course the political class, the consultants, the media outlets, charter jet companies and Krispy Kreme would be out a lot of money. But so what?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Penny for your thoughts

Scientists have created a computer program that can read your mind – almost. This technology can decipher what your brain has been looking at by reading the way your cerebellum lights up. Invented by women scientists, no doubt. But why? Women always seem to know what men are thinking about.

When caterpillars presto-changeo into butterflies, they remember the stuff they learned as babies. Researchers think the discovery could aid in the future treatment of dementia. What a nice image. Butterflies and geezers. Snoopy had it right all along.

For the first time, Americans are more dependent on their cell phones than land lines. That’s a change from a similar survey two years ago. Nowadays, the cell phone is the technological tool most users say they couldn’t do without. The Internet and television are second and third. I’ll sign up – when buttons get bigger.

An outfit in Brooklyn will teach bee-keeping this weekend in the Bronx. Hope someone else in the same neighborhood teaches flower growing. And that's the latest buzz from New York.

Too easy? Sorry.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Keep Austin Weird

Most other Texans view Austin with some suspicion. "The People's Republic of Texas," they call it. Or worse. Some even go so far as to label Austin as a California city plopped down in the center of the state. Fie.

What makes Austin weird? Maybe this will help you better understand my home town: yesterday, I saw this sign on a kiosk in the meat market at Central Market, the largest grocery in town. The sign read: "chew with an open mind."

Weird? Not if you think about it.

We have a name for those people who keep Austin weird. We call them Patriots.

Austinites were among the first in the nation to raise the alarm about the Texan in the White House and his inept cronies. Iraq. Katrina. Mortgage crisis. Etc. Thank god this election finally got here. What surprises me is that the Republicans haven't figured out how much George W. Bush has hurt their party.

My Lubbock high school buddies are convinced I've given in to the Dark Side. I have. Many times. And I'm not through. But I haven't had the heart to tell them I'm pretty sure Jesus was a liberal. He drank wine and wore sandals. So do Austinites.

Wink. Clink.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The cookie poll

The scene: an internet cafe/coffee shop in trendy, tony Hyde Park, a vibrant sector of trendy, tony Austin, Texas.

The time: just after dinner, election eve.

The crowd: trendy, tony 30-year-olds and younger. Deep into their laptops. Every seat was taken. Very little conversation. Soft music.

The set-up: at the counter, two trays of cookies. Each with a hand-lettered sign. Obama cookies, $1.50. Clinton cookies, $1.50.

The point: the Clinton tray was full; one cookie left in the Obama tray.

The question: were they fortune cookies?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Chop sticks, drive-ins, big rigs

There are about 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S., "more than the number of McDonald's, Burger Kings, and KFCs combined,” according to Jennifer 8. Lee in her new book, “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.” Is apple pie passé as the American culinary benchmark? Think so.

For seventy-five bucks, you can steam up car windows at the smallest drive-in theater in Manhattan. Thanks to some innovative (some would say nutty) New Yorkers. Look for DRV-IN, 250-square foot venue complete with faux stars, a movie screen and a 1965 Ford Falcon convertible. Reserve your movie on-line. Hint: high school themes are best-sellers. Bring your own girl. Bucket seats. That’s what killed the drive-in movie.

Most men remember 1993 when Dodge came out with the big Ram Charger pickup truck based on the look of eighteen wheelers. Hit reverse. Today, the big rigs are designed to look like their smaller cousins. The LoneStar shows off design elements from the 1930s with lots of bling and pizzaz to improve life on the road. Like the addition of wood floors and kitchenettes. And beds and microwaves. Don’t tell Kris Kristofferson or the other guys in Convoy.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Snowflakes, raindrops and goo

This just in: Scientists at LSU have discovered the main ingredient in rain and snow. Bacteria!

Fox News blames Al Gore. So does most of Dallas. Austin doesn't care.

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