Thursday, July 31, 2008

Real party animals

Seen any Diamond Safety Matches lately? Still around, but not as many. To supplement cash flow, the company made a nice pivot. They now manufacture chopsticks and sell them to China.

This is just too, too. Fly luxury class between New York and Dubai on Emirates and you can take a shower before landing. Bring your Platinum Card—the private suite and shower will set you back. List price is $14,635. Oh yes, showers are limited to five minutes per passenger.

In Malaysia, it’s always happy hour in the forest. Scientists have discovered seven different small mammals regularly belly up to the bar in the tree stump and drink fermented palm nectar. Especially, the pen-tailed tree shrew, a real party animal. They don’t drink enough to get drunk. Too risky with so many predators around. Lesson for blondes so noted.

No myth. Thunderstorms can set off asthma attacks. How is still a mystery but scientists think storms spread pollutants, release asthma-inducing starch particles and rupture pollen grains, making them small enough to enter air passages.

China won’t be the first country to make Olympic women athletes submit to tests to prove they are really female. A lab will check for Y chromosomes, hormones, genes. In the past, “suspect” female athletes had to strip before a panel of doctors. The results? Only once in the history of testing has a gender-cheater been exposed. In 1936, the Nazis forced a man to compete as a woman. He/she came in fourth in the high jump.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bottoms up

If you’re over 60, you’ll remember, in a ridiculous episode of “Happy Days” when The Fonz water-skied over a shark. And “jump the shark” became part of our language meaning something that was just dumb. The budding new phrase is “nuke the fridge” and it comes from the latest Indiana Jones movie wherein our hero survived an A-bomb blast by hiding in a fridge. It was pretty ripe.

Pirate Bay is a Swedish on-line operation that is completely fearless. The self-proclaimed “anticopyright organization” offers music, movies, television shows, software and e-books despite threats of lawsuits from heavyweights like Microsoft, DreamWorks, Apple, etc.

College textbooks cost too much. “Organic Chemistry” goes for $209.95 new and around $110 used. Downloads are coming. Fast. But the subscription prices remain up there.

The closing line in the new book, “Drink” by Iian Gately might come in handy this evening: "Salud, Kan pei, Chin-chin, Prost, Yum sing, Skol, Slainte, À votre santé, Na zdrowie, The king o'er the water, or just plain Cheers!"

Serious golfers know that the first round was played on the FrittonGolf Club course in 1895. During WWII, the British planted mines on the fairways and greens to defend against a possible German invasion. Talk about a handicap.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Get back to work

Leading cash crop in America? Used to be corn. Now it’s pot. Between 1981 and 2006 domestic marijuana production increased tenfold. In 2005, that was twenty-two million pounds. Narco nation?

Quick. Name the highest city in the U.S. You are correct, it is Leadville, Colorado, which stands 10,152 feel tall. And you thought I was going to say Berkeley?

More questions? Why do women think musicians are sexy? Music doesn’t seem to serve any practical purpose other than getting laid. And that’s the reason musical ability survives today. Sort of like the peacock’s tail. You are wrong, jealousy has nothing to do with it.

BlogHer is an annual conference aimed at helping women earn more fame, fortune and influence on the Net. Research shows 14 of men blog and 11 percent of women. Of the 36 million who participate in the blogosphere each week, 15 million have their own blogs. Parity is spreading, slowly.

Every sport has its own lingo. But few are as quickly understood as mountain unicycling terms. Muni riders, as they are called while still living, say shindentations are the marks where rocks have punctured the fronts of their legs. Calf tracks, logically, would be the thin scars where the pedals have sliced into the back of their calves. There’s more but it gets too graphic.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Say no more, say no more

Think of one word that can be combined each of these: pine, crab, horse, and sauce. Congratulate yourself if you said “apple.”

That sparkle in your eye shadow? It comes from mica. And the dust on your chewing gum is limestone. Ptooey.

Which Olympic athlete flies to the games in China accompanied by a personal physician? Actually, 297 do. That’s how many horses will compete from 47 nations. And they travel with an entourage that includes team grooms, at least one “flying groom,” an equine flight attendant and a veterinarian. Did I mention the protective foam boots?

Number of condoms shipped to McMurdo Station Antarctica in January before winter sets in: 12,132.

My hovercraft is full of eels: click here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Despite the competition from instant high tech communication, the Morse Code lives on. And with old-fashioned style seldom found in the geek world. Example: a guy set up a Web site to teach the code. At the bottom of his second diagram explaining dots and dashes is this gem: “The character to emphasize that there she was, she was walking down the street, is: do-wah-diddy-diddy-dum-diddy-do”

Long before PhotoShop, mirrors have been deceptive. For one thing, we are not nearly as handsome as we imagine. For another, we are not life-size in the mirror. Look in the mirror and draw a circle around your face. Step back. The oval you drew is only half the size of your real face. Honey, I’ve found a cure for jowls.

Too much of a good thing? Before you install those new granite countertops in your kitchen, you might want to run a sweep for high levels of uranium, which is not only radioactive but releases radon as it decays. Small amounts, for sure. But still…

Another sign the economy is in the toilet – “how to” articles offering advice on firing people. Timely. In NY City alone, 33,000 pink slips are expected in finance jobs. Consider Starbucks where the closing of 600 locations could cost 12,000 workers their jobs. I’ve been fired more than once. Personality flaws, I think. Sounds better than incompetence.

Number of circumcisions this year in Kotabaru, Indonesia, to celebrate the city’s anniversary: 1,050. There will always be work for Jesse Jackson.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

This is a hustle -- straight up

When the neuroscientist gave up his good salary for early retirement, he told his wife he wanted to be a nature photographer. And so he did. In 2003, sales peaked at more than $1,000.

A special-ed teacher hung up his cleats and started making decorative mobiles. Sales, around $4,000.

The Mystery Woman traded days as a media specialist (that’s library lady to you), for the enjoyment of making educational DVDs. Gross sales, $2,000.

When I started this blog, I secretly dreamed of making more money than Matthew Drudge and Adriana Huffington combined. Ad sales so far, $0. Goose egg.

Full disclosure: I have made thirty bucks as a columnist for a syndicate serving senior newspapers.

The point? Money, albeit welcome, is not the prime motivation.

I can’t speak for others, but I put in a couple hours daily to write this blog for several reasons. For one, I hope it entertains you. For another, I love writing.

Plus, one day it dawned on me – it’s “the doing” that is important. The fun of finding the nuggets of trivia keeps my head in the game. The discipline of hitting a deadline nearly every day gives extra flavor to the morning. Hitting the send button completes something nice. And, if you are keeping count, today’s post is #300.

It helps to have a hustle.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What's making us stupid?

Observers are beginning to question whether the Internet is short-circuiting our attention span. They worry the Net is training our brains to be satisfied with short bites that only hop, skip and jump through an intellectual journey. What were we talking about?

More corporations, 75 to 50, are sponsoring the Democrat’s presidential convention than Republicans. Isn’t that against the law?

Two-thirds of U.S. undergraduates now score above average on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. That’s up 30% since 1982. I knew that.

Nowadays, red wine gets more and more credit for healthy living: helps prevent dementia, helps ward off heart trouble, helps the odds of getting laid.

Sermonette: Always remember that you’re unique. Just like everyone else.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Cheeseburger, cheeseburger

You can make between $500 and $10,000 a day by renting your home to film crews, depending upon the size and duration of the production. Cachet ain’t cheap.

McDonald’s fastest growing region? Europe. Sales have been supersized thanks to a redesign which allows adults to linger. Europeans, you know, like to linger. Get this: playgrounds are equipped so children actually get some exercise. What a concept.

We’re talking real trouble: 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from all the work that goes into making cheeseburgers. No joke. Writing in Open the Future, Jamais Caisco compares the carbon footprint of the nation’s cheeseburgers with the output of 7,500 to 15,000 SUVs. John Belushi comes to mind.

To buy a house in the original Levittown, new owners had to sign a covenant agreeing to mow their lawns once a week from April 15 through November 15. Almost none of the grasses in American lawns are native to the U.S. Kentucky bluegrass comes from Europe, Bermuda grass from Africa, and Zoysia from East Asia. Local chiggers don't seem to mind.

The avocado is a fruit. Is too.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Money, money, money

You would think the Republican National Committee would like this political button: “Don’t be an ass, go Republican. GOP.” But the RNC is suing CafePress for their on-line shop filled with GOP gizmos like pins, bumper stickers, T-shirts and other elephant stuff. The RNC owns the trademark to: GOP, Grand Old Party, Republican National Committee, RNC, and the elephant logo. Matters not whether the dogma doesn’t bite.

If I told you that you could have a spiffy waterfront home for under $100,000 (or even under $20,000), you would think I was early in the sauce. But many are flocking to CraigsList where they are finding bargains galore on fancy boats big enough to live aboard. Luxury living for a fraction of the cost just a few months ago. And if all you are looking for is a stable drinking platform, rising gas prices don’t matter.

Purists condemn drinking bottled water as the ”moral equivalent of driving a Hummer.” But lots of people who grew up on the hard tap water of West Texas wish bottled water had been invented during their childhood. Brown spots on teeth were common in the Lubbock of the 50s.

The history of prefabricated houses might have began in 1833 when a London carpenter sold precut posts and panels to ships bound for Australia. Nothing funny about that.

NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s net worth is around $20 billion. That’s more than the U.S. government spends on foreign aid or space exploration. Sigh.

(And that's a tip of the hat to L.M.Boyd, the greatest trivia columnist.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Can we laugh at Obama jokes?

I’m changing my mind about the New Yorker magazine’s controversial Muslim cover. My first reaction was anger. How could the New Yorker, a liberal magazine, be so stupid! Visuals reinforce stereotypes.

But, if the goal really was to use satire to prick right wing myths being spread throughout the Web, it's beginning to work.

Consider the math. How many copies of the magazine were printed? A million? Now, how many millions more have seen the cover on TV, in the newspaper, on-line and in other magazines. Talk about a force multiplier. The country has been fixated on that cover for days.

And every one of those new viewers must have passing questions about the cover. Of course, some wingnuts will find concrete confirmation of their personal mythology. But millions more will at least be exposed to the Obama truths-and-lies. Time after time, political commentators will now add, “He’s not a Muslim” to their stylebook. It might even sink in.

Barack Obama is a tough target for comedy. I can’t think of a single laugh line to tag him with. It’s tough on everybody. In her NYTimes column today, Maureen Dowd reports the best Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert could come up with was, in unison: “His dad was a goat-herder.”

Where does Obama get his protection? Conservative whites say they don't want to be painted as a racist if they criticize Obama. Fair enough.

But I think Obama's shield comes from the audience, black and white. They just flat don’t want to hear cheap shots about this articulate, smart, savvy, handsome young man who can walk on political water. And white comics are afraid to risk the rejection. I wonder if black comedians are reluctant, too? Doubtful.

How do we get a “take” on Obama? I don’t know. But I agree with Ms. Dowd, he is in danger of becoming seen as an intellectual priss.

I hope Obama will loosen up. I hope America will loosen up. We need a laugh now and then. Especially after the last eight years of The Bumbling Cowboy and his faithful companion, Mr. Vader.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Shortage of 4s

How bad is it to travel by air? Real bad. Worse and getting worser. Sleeping at airports overnight has almost reached cult level. There’s Web site that rates the best and worst airports. More help – the Mini Motel is a one-person tent complete with air mattress, pillow, reading lamp and alarm clock. Sells for $39.95. Tent cities. In airport terminals. Pitiful.

Another barometer of bad: The nation is running out of 4s. Gas stations don’t have enough 4s on hand to keep up with price increases. Individual digits cost as much as $1.50. What’s next? Sources tell me there’s a run on 8s. I wrote about this a month ago. Someday, the whole world will listen to me. Grumble, snarl, gripe, complain.

For out-of-state readers, everything you want or need to know about mosquitoes is in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune. Example: the mosquito’s whine is somewhere between the musical pitches of D and F. At the mosquito killing championship held annually in Finland, entrants compete to kill the pests by hand. Record is 21 in five minutes. Not nearly enough.

Minimum wage salary for entry-level major league baseball players is $390,000. Thereabouts.

Hungry little bacteria are swarming Italy’s priceless artifacts and historians are happy. The little buggers are nibbling away centuries of black crud without damaging the artworks. Next stop, Notre Dame?

(And that's a tip of the hat to L.M.Boyd, the greatest trivia columnist.)

Monday, July 14, 2008


Hurry to Pennsylvania if you want a ride on a good woodie. The Keystone State has 15 operating wooden coasters, more than any other state. Screamers welcome.

Best movie love story of the year? Wall-E. The animated movie works on every level. Kids instinctively understand, but the story is simple enough for adults to get it, too.

Where did all the Yuppies go? The Mystery Woman thinks they grew into Baby Boomers.

Thinking about working after retirement? Not in a very good job. Executive recruiters are routinely told not to look anyone over 50. It gets worse. In an industry survey, most technology companies said they would not hire anyone over 40. Massive education is necessary before employers understand the wasted resource.

Slow down? Since the 80s, fuel efficiency in U.S. cars has flatlined at 24 m.p.g. while vehicle weight has jumped more than 25% and horsepower has nearly doubled. Currently in Europe, fuel efficiency is pegged at 44 m.p.g. and is targeted to hit 48 m.p.g. by 2012.

Think the U.S. Census is intrusive? Imagine the kind of questions that revealed this 1840 head count in a small Swedish parish: 254 peasants, 39 artisans, 92 squatters, 274 farm servants, 104 ordinary poor, 18 sick and crippled, 11 deaf and dumb, 8 blind, 13 almost lame, 4 lame, 5 near idiots, 3 idiots, 1 half idiot, 3 whores and 2 thieves.


(And that's a tip of the hat to L.M.Boyd, the greatest trivia columnist.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

More front porch fantasy

Maybe you can’t go home again. But you can go back to a simpler time.
If you want to.

This weekend we managed, by accident, to time-travel.

It started innocently enough. Two small steaks on the hibachi. A bottle of good red. The radio was the Mystery Woman’s idea. She loves Garrison Keillor and NPR airs “A Prairie Home Companion” as a prelude to sundown.

We enjoyed our dinner on the screened porch as Garrison unfolded his radio variety show. Some close harmony, even some opera, goofy stories, sound effects, more music. Old fashioned radio stuff from a modern storyteller.

What a great Saturday night. A cool breeze whistled through the tree tops. Yesterday's humidity just a memory. Minnesota summers are more forgiving than the blast furnace in Texas.

Half a bottle of wine later, we had both leaned back in the wicker chairs and, eyes closed, were transported to yesteryear when the big fun was to gather around the Philco and soak in some entertainment. Maybe a little culture, too. Just add imagination.

Monday, I’m thinking about hanging up some clotheslines. I miss the smell of sheets drying in the sun.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Long necks and long rifles

By the year 2010, some two billion people will be speaking or learning English. And native speakers will number only 15 percent. Already, most conversations in English are between non-native speakers. And this is causing the language to change. Fast. Greatest pressure is coming from China, where millions are learning to speak English. Hope their vocabulary lesson does not include: “Hands up.”

It can be argued that, when it comes to sharks, Steven Spielberg is a sexist. Consultants told him the anti-hero in Jaws was too big to be a male and should be re-cast as a female. But noooo.

Oddly, the best shooters in today’s U.S. Army rarely draw a bead on the enemy. Most of the sharpshooters are recruited, instead, for the Army Marksmanship Unit. Organized in 1956 to serve as symbol of America’s military might, the unit is today a PR and recruiting team with 21 Olympic medals. However, our men and women say they are ready to serve in combat if the brass says go. And some have.

Back in 1801, French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck believed giraffes got their long necks by wanting or needing them. He is still ridiculed today in some quarters. Even after Darwin said that theory was not inaccurate enough to be wrong.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Talking dirty

Note: you must be 18 or older to read this.

I direct your attention to the goings on in our front lawn.

Surprisingly, we have more yard critters in MN than in TX. The Mystery Woman (not-her-real-name) has an easy explanation: it’s because we live but six blocks from the Mississippi. But we’re in the middle of a big city.

There are no snakes, other than the usual politicians and faulty priests.

Bunnies abound. Yeah, yeah, I know all the rabbit jokes. But we have feral yard bunnies just a mile or so from downtown Minneapolis.

This year, we picked up a chipmunk in our menagerie. The little bugger dug a hole under the sidewalk and has his way with all our plants.

The squirrels are in constant rut. We must have a very special lady squirrel. Sometimes it’s five against one. With total abandonment, the rodents start at ground level but soon are swooning in the treetops, adding an element of danger. The acrobatics have been going on for a couple of weeks.

The **@##** grackles are smaller and, thankfully, quieter. Locals call them crows. The robins up here are bigger. Scruffier, too. I think it must be the hard winters.

To my astonishment, we have earthworms. Lots of them. How do they survive living encased in the frozen tundra during Minnesota winters?

Pity the earthworms. I read that frisky worms, who are lucky enough to find one another, lay head to tail (in states where permitted) …

Hmmm.You think I’m spending too much time on this porch?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

iPod getting heavy?

Is this true? The more songs you load into your iPod, the heavier it gets? What about heavy metal? Goth? Rap? This could go on a while.

Jews consume only half the kosher food and drink in America. Should that be filed under religion, health, or yum?

Word association. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you read “boofing?” Play again, this time it’s “hike and huck.” We were all wrong. (And some of you should go to your room.) The terms are used in creek boating. Take a kayak and a humongous three- or four-story waterfall and go for it. I call nuts on that one.

Most Muslims live in India and Indonesia. Only about 15% of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are Arabs but few Westerners seem to know that.

Research shows the sprinter closest to the starting gun gets a faster start by the teeniest bit. But that can be enough to make a difference in races where a few hundredths of a second is all that separates first from second. Runners have the same reactions in dark alleys all over the world.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Monday helpers

Ever hear of Roald Bradstock? In addition to being a javelin thrower, he’s also a performance artist who claims the record for tossing a fish across state lines. He owns other records as well: one-handed throw of a soccer ball for 82 yards, another one-handed throw of a golf ball for 118 yards, a cell phone 132 yards, a soft-boiled egg 118 yards and his iPod 154 yards. His life motto: “Throw it and they will come.”

The Omaha Hummer Owners Group is known as Omahog. And you can bet they are squealing about gasoline prices. Sorry. It was too easy.

File this under Duh. One reason passenger trains are more successful in Europe? Europe is smaller. Much.

Radio talk show giant Rush Limbaugh has five houses on his south Florida property. The big house is 24,000 square feet. GOP consultant Mary Maalin describes the house as “aspirational.” So is his $54 million Gulfstream. Limbaugh is the cover story of the Sunday NY Times Magazine. You either love him or hate him—I certainly do.

Several times every day, Earth is bumped hard by stuff from space that is about the size of basketballs.. Twice a year, we get hit by the bigger things about the size of a VW. Still not worried? NASA has mapped more than 5,000 objects that are up there and nearby. Run!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

New York, New York

Every Wednesday, Eric Asimov brings us to the altar of really good wine in the NY Times. This week, his column is absolutely liberating. He writes it’s OK to chill red wine for a refreshing summertime drink. Forget room temperature unless yours is in Scotland and it is November. Now, I understand joy.

Add Shmalts Brewing Co. to your list of specialty beer makers. Their new line pays tribute to Coney Island with labels such as The Sword Swallower and The Albino Python. Available in some Whole Foods.

Tavern on the Green in Central Park features a $44 dry-rubbed prime rib au jus. Throw in another $465 and you’ve got a fine bottle of Roeder Cristal Champagne. Or, you can just go to the Health Camp in Waco and get the best chili dog ever. BYOB.

Madam Marie is dead. The Asbury Park fortune teller was made famous by a Bruce Springsteen song. She told fortunes on the boardwalk since the 1930s.

Very few New Yorkers ride their bikes to work. It’s not the traffic so much as the lack of bicycle parking racks. Thieves everywhere. Some are even reading this.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Stimulus check -- big woop

Next week is Nude Recreation Week. Note that Gunnison Beach, N.J., is the busiest clothing-optional recreation area in the nation. Regulars report one blessing from the high gasoline prices: fewer boaters with binoculars offshore. Horseshoes, anyone?

India’s best-known, twice wounded military hero is dead. His obit said the general held onto certain British army traditions. For example, a 1971 NY Times article said he would arise at 5:30 every morning, drink a small glass of whiskey, listen to the BBC news and putter in his garden before going to work. Gen. Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw lived to age 94.

Richard Gatling was an idea man. He held 43 patents. His deadliest, the Gatling gun, was inspired by his seed planter that dropped seeds one-by-one into the furrow. He thought his terrifying new weapon would shorten the Civil War. See Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Parents: take to your attics. Do you have any first issues of X-Men? The comic sold in 1963 for 12 cents. Today, in mint condition, the same comic book fetches $16,500. Sounds good, huh? But the original art…ahhh…that’s where the money is.

My stimulus check arrived today – just in time to fill the tank.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Daylilies and buffalo

You know how people who can carry a tune will sometimes spontaneously burst into song? Well, the Mystery Woman suffers from the same affliction. Only she bursts into reading. To me. Out loud.

We were on the porch enjoying a glass of wine after dinner when the talk turned to daylilies. I confess my mind wandered. Suddenly, her voice pitched upward. With a flourish I had not heard this week, she officially pronounced that “rare indeed is the daylily that is so distinctive it needs no label.”

Where did that come from, you might ask. So did I. Triumphantly, the Mystery Woman flashed the book cover “Daylilies, the Beginners Handbook.” And she plowed ahead, turning up the next nugget: “As of this writing it must be reported that the perfect garden marker has yet to be invented.” Indeed.

For the record, the Mystery Woman insists she is no daylily novice. "I've been to the arboretum workshop," she toots.

Life is like that with the Mystery Woman. Another glass of wine, dear?

On yet another day, while we were perfectly sober, she gathered me and her 87-year-old mother and five-year-old Dachshund for a drive to visit the buffalo. I didn’t know they were lonesome.

Dodging the thunderstorms roaming the area (you see the buffalo influence), we drove about half an hour from the Twin Cities where 25 buffalo yearlings were about to be reintroduced to a prairie restoration project. We found a good vantage point along the fence and watched the truck and trailer maneuver into position near us.

When the trailer doors opened, the young buffalo thundered into the tall grass – and immediately raced to the opposite corner of the acreage away from all of us. For a while there, I was afraid we would see only buffalo butts as they roamed (that influence again) far afield from us gawkers. But finally, the herd ran past us, shaking the ground as they passed. A crowd of more than 200 people gathered to watch this noble effort unfold. Nice.

My daughter understands this new cultural awareness being thrust upon me. My kid thinks the Mystery Woman is a good influence, so she merely smiles and sends one more case of wine from Texas via FedEx.

Another glass of wine, dear?

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