Monday, November 30, 2009

Snowbirds -- for dummies

God, if there be such a creature, has a wicked sense of humor.

Take the weather report: snow is finally in the forecast. Not in Minnesota but in Texas. I got all this winter gear, puffy coat and everything, and where does it snow? Texas. We got zero measurable snowfall this November, the second warmest on record.

They do winter differently up here on the tundra. First, I noticed everybody walking around with a knowing look, like everybody was in on the secret except me. Then, I began to see intriguing items advertised in the newspaper, like heated pet bowls and strap-on spikes for your boots. Apparently spurs have limited utility during Minnesota winters.

We may not be doing this snowbird gig right. I've misplaced the manual.

The days grow dark faster. Around noon you drive with high beams. As winter approaches, outdoor conversations get shorter. There’s a run on firewood and oatmeal and whiskey. I can't find Vienna sausage anywhere. At first I was puzzled to see neighbors putting up Christmas decoration before Thanksgiving but not turning on the lights until the day after. It’s tradition. Decorations go up while you can still move your fingers.

When talking with the Mystery Woman, people lower their voices an octave and ask in knowing tones: “How is George coping with winter?” Hey. I’m standing right here.

I’m coping just fine, thank you. And I can hardly wait until I catch my first ice fish. Ole said he would take me.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thinkgeek: Stuff for Smart Masses

As pigments go, blue is a killer color. In fact, blue can kill you. Cobalt blue is a possible carcinogen and Prussian blue, another well-known pigment, can leach cyanide. So it was a nice surprise when chemists at Oregon State University created a new blue pigment by accident. Still, nothing much compares with the blue box from Tiffany’s.

Last year, in Abu Dhabi, some guy paid fourteen million dollars at a public auction for a vanity license plate with only one digit: “1.” He said it’s the best number.

Ever hear of these products? Squeeze Bacon, Surgestix Inhalable Caffeine Stix, USB Pregnancy Text Kit? They are for sale at Not. To commemorate April 1, the geeks dedicate their home page to products that don’t exist. But every now and then, something falls through the cracks and a new product line is born. Like the Tauntaun Sleeping Bag (See: “The Empire Strikes Back.”)

To offset the shortage of available women in Yeonggwang, South Kores, marriage brokers have begun to import ladies from China, Vietnam and other parts of Asia. The mail-order bride plan has worked so well that OBGYN nurses have been forced to learn how to say “push” in four languages.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Glen Beck: Sarah Palin yapping in the kitchen

This is going to be so much fun.

First Sarah Palin says it’s a “hoot” to hear people talking about her teaming up with Glenn Beck for a 2012 presidential campaign. She flirted with such a notion but demurred on a definitive answer. “Glenn Beck, I have great respect for,” she said. “He gets his message across in such a clever way.”

Next day, on his radio show, Glen Beck took umbrage at the word “hoot.” He’s a professional. He dismissed a Palin-Beck ticket but said a Beck-Palin ticket might work. But then he belittled her saying, Palin would always be "yapping," like they were "in the kitchen." He knows a woman’s place. Beck admonished Palin not to use “hoot” when mentioning his name. Impossible.

Next day, the Tea Baggers announce their first national convention with featured speakers: Sarah Palin and Minnesota’s highest elected nut U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann. Two hoots.

It’s official: “Tea Party Nation is pleased to announce the First National Tea Party Convention.” Hurry February. If initial reports are accurate, and if the plans hold together, the first-ever such meet-and-greet will be held at Opryland. Tickets: $560 per.

Now that’s a hoot. Bona fide.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Men's fashion booty call

Rare is the men’s clothing designer with both a sense of style and a sense of humor. But (and I use the word advisedly) if Andy Dunn has his way, men will soon be as conscious of their own bums as they are of women’s. Using Web technology, Mr. Dunn claims he eliminates the saggy bottoms of ill-fitting pants. Plus free shipping. The brand name displays his sense of humor. He calls his line “Bonobos” after the promiscuous species of primates. The chimps are famous. They substitute sex for aggression. Wouldn’t that be nice…

Time was so short when U.S. troops scrambled for the war in Afghanistan there wasn’t time to requisition supplies through the Army, so Special Forces got their tents from REI, ordered fleece jackets from North Face and bought every Garmin eTrex GPS unit they could find.

Whitney Houston and Brittany Spears play for the University of Colorado women’s basketball team. Neither was named for the singer, they say. For a while, the coaches also recruited a player named Sweets Underwood but she didn’t make it. Hey girl – change your name to Carrie.

In the 1950s, the Guinness brewing company put some 200,000 messages in beer bottles and tossed them out to sea. Even this many years later, a few people still write in to claim their reward. That’s stout.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Thanksgiving Story that the Mainstream Media Won't Print

By Mary Lenz

The Season of the Turkey is upon us.

Whether our ancestors hail from Sicily, Nuevo Leon, Ireland, Saxony, Nigeria, Norway or Vietnam, we U.S. citizens are called upon to pause in our busy lives and honor a small band of religious fanatics in pointy little hats with whom we have about as much in common today as Dennis Rodman does with Jerry Falwell.

Yes, of course, I understand the symbolism of Thanksgiving.

We are celebrating the first brave band of Yankee prigs to set up an established community on New England's rocky shores. They are the founders of one of our more domineering and snooty cultural streams. They are the Mayflower voyagers, from whom so many of us wannabe descended and so few of us actually are.

But what about the slightly later period in Colonial history when thousands of denizens of British prisons were landed on the soggy shores of the colony of Georgia? British to the bone, with prices on their heads and chains around their ankles, they probably outnumbered the Pilgrims a thousand to one.

In the interests of equal time and genetic reality, it would seem only fair that we celebrate their arrival to these shores as well.

The idea of a National Criminal Ancestor Day may not have the immediate box office appeal of our annual feast on turkey with all the trimmings. After all, the foods most appropriately consumed in celebration would be water, hard tack and weevils.

Possibly as a result, there is not, so far, any organized movement backing this proposal. I've never seen a notice announcing a meeting of the Daughters of American Crime Bosses or the United Descendants of Prison Inmates.

We have for years withheld even the slightest national nod to those of our elders whose faces gazed down through the years upon us, not from family portraits in the hallways of whitely-pillared mansions, but from placards on the walls of local post offices.

Given the mathematics, this seems to be a matter of collective denial.

Let's think for a moment of the sheer numbers of pirates, highwaymen, pocket-pickers, debtors, card cheats, wild-eyed sons of noblemen sent to the New World to avoid criminal prosecution, train robbers, bank robbers, cattle rustlers, robber barons, Tennessee-to-Texas pioneers dodging bill collectors -- all of whom have contributed to the national gene pool.

Don't forget, escaping from slavery and helping slaves escape were criminal offenses as well. And then there were the revolutionaries from Mexico and Eastern Europe who were branded, like Irish rebels and violators of Jim Crow laws, as criminal by the justice officials back home. To be convicted and serve time in jail, as old time feminists agitating for the right to vote would tell you, is not necessarily a badge of shame.

Honorable or not, it should be fairly obvious that more of us descend from fettered foreparents than can trace our bloodlines back to George Washington or John Adams, or any of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. And that, by the way, was a criminal action at the time.

Subconsciously, we must realize this. Much as we pay lip service to Old Nantucket, it's Butch Cassidy we prefer. As a nation, we plunk down trillions of entertainment bucks to watch movies about Robin Hood, Scarface, Bonnie, Clyde, and other glittering and bullet-riddled characters of Hollywood.

When was the last time you paid $5 to rent a movie about Cotton Mather?

Yet once a year, black-suited New Englanders are honored with turkey legs and a four-day weekend while the poor, little, Liverpool purse-snatcher who may be our great, great grandma lies forgotten in an unmarked Savannah grave. I ask you. Is this justice?

So why not set aside one day a year to eat a bowl of gruel, bang a tin cup on the table, and say a short prayer to St. Dismas as we remember time served by our forebears in the slammers of yesteryear.

Or maybe, just maybe, instead of pretending he isn't part of the family, you could drive over to the county jail, wave up at the barred windows, and direct a few glances of compassion and understanding toward your Cousin Bobby Lee.

Mary Lenz is a free-lance writer in Austin. Copyright 2000.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Con artist at JFK assassination

I was part of the scrum of reporters covering events outside Parkland Hospital while President Kennedy was dying in a trauma room inside.

Even the reporters were numbed by the news that our president had been shot. But a natural-born con man can take advantage of any situation.

A teenage boy walked up to our milling group of reporters, cops and on-lookers. He was casually flipping a roll of Kodak 125 film into the air, catching it, and flipping it again. Over and over.

“What’cha got, kid?” asked one of the reporters.

“I don’t know,” said the kid. “I was up on a pole taking pictures at the Triple Underpass when Kennedy was shot but I don’t know if I got anything on film.”

A reporter, I think he was from AP, pulled out a hundred dollar bill and bought the film on the spot. Nobody thought the transaction was odd. The odd thing was that a reporter had a hundred bucks on him.

I never saw a photo credit that could have come from a kid on a telephone pole. Did you?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New JFK documentaries

I was a green 24-year-old cub reporter for KRLD-TV and barely knew how to operate a camera when history happened.

Even after 46 years have drifted by, I still have a little difficulty discussing the Kennedy assassination. Part of me wants to pump our book “When the News Went Live” while part of me recalls the numbness of those terrible days back in November of 1963.

I am always surprised at book signings when I choke up while describing the President and Mrs. Kennedy landing in Dallas. It is still emotional to remember. But we must.

Here’s what I wrote for Birds on a Wire, a blog written by a friend in New England:

My news director, Eddie Barker, divided us into teams of reporters to cover the JFK trip to Dallas. I helped George Sanderson film Air Force One landing at Love Field. Bob Huffaker picked up coverage as the procession rolled past welcoming crowds lining the curb along Main Street -- toward the triple underpass at Dealey Plaza. In the motorcade, we had Jim Underwood riding in one of the press cars. Bill Mercer was covering the live desk in the studio.

When the shooting started, I was outside the Trade Mart awaiting the President’s arrival for his noon speech.

Suddenly, sirens wailed from the freeway overpass. Lots of sirens. In the crowd, a woman started crying, “He’s been hit. He’s been hit.” With what? Rock? Bottle? Brick? I never thought rifle fire.

And in that instant, the world changed. The whole damned world.

A handful of new JFK documentaries will air tonight and tomorrow. Three of my buddies and co-authors will be featured. I couldn’t make the trip to Dallas at the time of the productions.

The History Channel will air JFK: Three Shots that Changed America sometime near or on the 22nd.

The National Geographic Channel will air The Lost JFK Tapes: The Assassination Monday the 23rd.

The History Channel's and National Geographic's documentaries use all the reporters’ various voices to tell the story without any voice-over narration, and both are excellent and reliable.

The Discovery Channel will air two JFK specials on Sunday the 22nd: Did the Mob Kill JFK? and JFK: The Ruby Connection. The two are supposed to run back-to-back at 8 PM (ET/PT) and 9 PM (ET/PT).

Huffaker writes: “I know nothing of what Did the Mob Kill JFK? will turn out to be, but I participated in the reenactment of the Oswald shooting in JFK: The Ruby Connection, along with Detective Jim Leavelle, photographer Bob Jackson, and other fellow geezers who were in the midst of it. Since I am skeptical of conspiracists to the point of disgust, I'm hoping that JFK: The Ruby Connection will not be embarrassingly sensational.”

When the News Went Live is available in hardcover and paperback.

Pictured below are Jim Leavelle and Bob. Detective Leavelle, you’ll recall, was handcuffed to Lee Harvey Oswald as Jack Ruby came out of the crowd and fired that fateful shot.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The latest White House buzz

The White House carpenter built some bee hives to help with First Lady Michelle Obama’s organic kitchen garden project. In the first year, the hives produced 134 pounds of honey, or about 11 gallons. What – you expected more with that sweet-talking Obama man around?

Bertrand Russell employed such mathematical logic that he wrote a book of 362 pages just to prove 1 + 1 = 2. I think I was married to his sister.

A guy named Earl Bakken invented the battery-powered pacemaker in his garage. Kinda brings back movie memories: “He’s alive! He’s alive!”
(And so I am. Thanks, Earl.)

The reason we have Post-it Notes is because Art Fry needed a way to mark pages in his hymnal. Ever since, he’s been bringing in the sheaves.
(Too easy, you say?)

Want to jump-start your memories about the fall of the Berlin Wall? Check out elderblogger Paula Behnken’s work at Still hungry? Dial up for more than you can digest in one sitting.
Never forget.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A little salty talk

Claude Levi-Strauss, French intellectual, died recently. He became a famous anthropologist who studied primitive cultures. Cannibals, he suggested, tend to boil their friends and roast their enemies. Sounds a lot like Lyndon Johnson.

Evolution has a tougher time gaining traction in England and Germany than in Muslim countries. But one Pakistani lecturer nearly set off riots when he started talking about the time when the apes first began to stand up. Lineage. It’s all about lineage.

Personal privilege herewith: this month, I celebrate another birthday. It was 71 years (and nine months) ago that I won my first swim meet.

People who study these things now believe air pressure can create landslides under certain conditions. If you live inside the Beltway, move.

Here’s a mouthful: “Velib, Paris’s bicycle rental system, inspired a new urban ethos for the era of climate change.” The bikes cost $3,500 each and 20,600 were put on the streets. Thieves promptly stole 80 percent of the new bikes. That’s the old urban ethos.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The autumn leaves

The leaves behave differently up here in Minnesota. They are bigger. And more of them. And, as I learned the hard way, they gang up on you.

Yesterday, we cranked up the lawn mower, set it on mulch and cleared up the yard. Today, we have to do it all over again. I'm not from here. Had I looked up, I would have noticed the trees were still half full. Overnight, they got their silly revenge. Today, the trees are nearly naked and the yard needs mulching. Again.

Actually, it has been fun watching the show from the front porch.

A couple of weeks ago, we took down the awning and screen porch in anticipation of the snows that are in our destiny. But the sunsets still beckoned. So we bought two fire extinguishers and moved the fire pit to the front porch. If you're good at spatial concepts, you build the scene so the fire warms your feet and knees yet the wine stays perfectly chilled just a few inches further away. Hint: buy those mittens that let your fingers out.

The front porch is more exposed with the screens down. And no one else in the neighborhood has their fire pit out front. Sure, we get some looks, but mostly grins. We love it.

The porch is where I’ve been privy to the secret lives of leaves. Just watching them skitter down the street makes you feel good. Leaves can be fickle. Yesterday, they flew north up the street. Today, they were all coming back. And bringing their girlfriends.

They ride the wind in different ways. Most fly stem first as the mode of choice. But some spin and spin all the way down just from the joy of the trip. And most of the next door leaves' flight plans end in our yard. The more clever leaves have learned how to catch a thermal rising from the paved street. They float forever.

The Mystery Woman is happy that we’ve extended the season for porch living. Me, too.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Funny headline goes here

At the Onion, the staff spends the first two days of the week writing the first. Then they write the story to fit the headline. It’s not as easy as it appears. Example: this headline “U.S. Continues Quagmire-Building Effort in Afghanistan” was chosen over “Quick and Painless Overthrow of Taliban Enters Eighth Year.” According to NYTimes writer Eric Konigsberg.

From a pollster for MSNBC on not making too much of today’s election: “As goes Virginia and New Jersey, so goes Virginia and New Jersey.”

According to, the first entry under their definition of rogue is: noun 1. dishonest, knavish person; a scoundrel.

Check out tonight’s production on Nova called “Becoming Human.” It’s not another bone drone says the NYTimes reviewer. After homage to brain size, walking upright and climate change, the program indulges in the most entertaining discussions of public lice as you are likely to encounter.

Seems to me if our design really were intelligent, I wouldn’t have needed all those damned surgeries.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mondays make me mad

For three decades, Neil Simon has been the comedy king of Broadway and Hollywood. Not this week. His “Brighton Beach Memoirs” just flopped a week after it opened. Reminder: this is one of his most-produced plays the past 25 years. Broadway analysts think comedy is changing. They say America’s taste in humor these days runs more toward reality shows.
We’re doomed.

Of course Fox News is partisan. And so is MSNBC. One benefit: the audience polarization makes it easier to target your voters during a political campaign. But the national fragmentation is also a hot house for lies, rumors and manipulation. Yet another sign the Apocalypse is nigh. (That’s what Glen Beck tells me during the 10 minutes I can bear watching him slobber, whine and cry. Ten minutes, that’s all I can stomach.)

Which came first—the Republican, the conservative, or the tea bagger? Conventional wisdom was that this summer’s angry tea baggers would be a thorn in the side of Democrats. Only lately have political talking heads begun to realize the Republicans could suffer more. Especially if conservative credentials become a lock-step purity purge, a litmus test. Many gun-toting conservative shouters are intolerant of any dissent other than their own. See: Taliban.

The Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme had to involve SEC officials. Had to. Otherwise, how could the investigators have been so lax in examining the crook’s Wall Street clearinghouse account? Speaking of which, surely there were people working at the clearinghouse who knew it was a house of cards. Did everyone park their ethics at the door – or were they bought off?

As long as I’m on a roll, let’s talk about global warming. Check. I’m a true believer. But proponents went a jillion miles too far when they wrote in the NY Times op-ed piece that eating a hamburger could be the global warming equivalent of driving a Hummer. Pass the ketchup.

The question is: are liberals smarter than conservatives? Here's one answer from the American Enterprise Institute. (Shinola alert.)

National Politics

News on Aging

Geriatric Medicine News

Senior Health Insurance News

Social Security & Medicare News

Posts From Other Geezer Blogs