Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pimp My Pumpkin


Watching Challenge on the Food Network last night and saw Ray Villafane win a pumpkin carving contest.  It was not a new show, I think it was from 2007, but the artistry of all the competitors was amazing.

You can see some of Ray’s work HERE.

I was also pleased to hear one of their expert judges, a woman described as a professional pumpkin sculptor, call their media punkins

Since I have been talking about Halloween this past week, I have received photos of several pumpkins via email.  There was no attribution on some of them, but  some of these were also by Villafane:



skulllace-up medusa

And what may be the most frightening of all:




Saturday, October 30, 2010

Not All Witches Are Wicked

witch_hazel 2

The bush with the pretty yellow flowers is Witch Hazel, a deciduous plant common to Canada and the Eastern USA.  It is also grown commercially in Europe.

It qualifies for Halloween Week because of its name, and also because the most common species, Hamamelis Virginiana, is in bloom this time of year.  Witch Hazel is very unusual in that its blooms open at the same time as the previous years seeds ripen in their casings.  The casings burst open and Witch Hazel plants cast  their seeds out up to twenty feet.

Extracts from the Witch Hazel plant has been used to treat almost every ailment known to man. 

It is an astringent and a vaso-constrictor that often appears in after-shave and in medications for sunburn, bug bites, poison ivy and everything from acne to hemorrhoids, sore muscles to bleeding gums. 

Tea made by adding  1/2 teaspoon of Witch Hazel leaves and 1/2 teaspoon of the bark to a pint of boiling water can be used as a gargle for sore throat.  The same tea, taken internally,  has been recommended as a treatment for diarrhea, and also can be used as a douche to treat vaginitis.

Folks in Europe swear by a tincture of Witch Hazel and alcohol that they drink to counteract varicose veins.  

The name Witch in witch-hazel has its origins in Middle English wiche, from the Old English wice, meaning "pliant" or "bendable".  Hazel is derived from the use of the twigs as divining rods, just as hazel twigs were used in England. This use may also have influenced the "witch" part of the name, since use of a divining rod was also called “witching” for water.

And then there are at least two Witch Hazels from my youth – the one in the Little Lulu comics:


and the one who starred with Bugs Bunny in the Warner Brothers cartoons:

witch hazel 3 

You can watch Bugs and Hazel in action in a Looney Tunes epic here:

Friday, October 29, 2010

Chaplin’s Spooky Time Traveler

A fellow from Dublin has spotted what he says is a Time Traveler in film from the 1928 Hollywood premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s Circus.    George Clarke is convinced that he sees a woman (or a man in drag)  walk across the set talking on a cell phone!


Since that is impossible – cell phones weren’t around in the 20’s, not even for H. G. Wells – naysayers have been quick to say the old gal is just using a hearing aid like the ear trumpet below. 


I own hearing aids – it is a bone of contention at our house that I spent several thousand dollars on them and never wear them – and while that does not make me an expert, I have watched the movie several times and the ear trumpet theory seems no more likely than time travel to me.  It really appears to me that she/he is talking on a phone. 

Watch and decide for yourself :

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Halloween History


Downloaded from the KOA newsletter:

Have you ever wondered where the tradition of carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns came from? Well, we did too. So we did a little research to learn more about his rather unique custom.

Where Halloween Began

First—let’s talk about where Halloween itself came from. Although many have heard of the Christian holiday “All Hallow’s Eve”, few may have heard of Samhain, a Pagan holiday that marked the official end of summer and celebrated its harvest. Druids also believed that it was a time when the veil between the living and dead thinned, and that those who had died would reappear—often in the form of witches and ghosts.

To combat this ghostly invasion, Celts would light bonfires and dress in costumes, hoping to confuse or frighten evil spirits.

Later, when Christianity took hold in Ireland and Scotland, the celebration became part of the All Saint’s Day celebration proclaimed in the eighth century by Pope Gregory III.

The Legend of Stingy Jack

The carving of pumpkins is believed to date back to the seventeenth century or earlier and stems from an Irish folktale about a man named “Stingy Jack.” According to the lore, Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him—but then refused to pay. Although stories differ, they all end with Jack roaming the earth with only the light that came from an ember in a lantern carved from a turnip.

The carrying of lanterns carved from vegetables on Halloween became a tradition. Turnips, potatoes, beets and rutabagas were popular in Ireland and Scotland; however, when many immigrated to North America in the mid-1800’s and their customs adopted, native pumpkins were used for the lanterns.

Pumpkin Facts

1. Pumpkins are native to North America and estimated to be up to 5,000 years old

2. Native Americans grew pumpkins for centuries, and eventually introduced them to Europeans arriving in the New World.

3. Pumpkins are actually fruits—not vegetables.

4. It takes between 90-110 days to grow most varieties of pumpkins.

5. The largest pumpkin is believed to have weighed nearly 1,150 pounds.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Party in Porter

About 30 miles north of Houston on US-59 lies the town of Porter Texas, the snuff-dipping, mullet-wearing redneck capitol of Southeast Texas. 

Anywhere you look in Porter, you will see  small beer joints and big fundamentalist churches.  The residents probably sport more tattoos and fewer natural teeth per capita than anywhere else west of the Mississippi.

The fact that Porter’s population estimates vary from two to ten thousand can’t  be blamed entirely on stupidity or the lack of education – the fact that there are no city limits means that no one really knows where Porter begins and ends.  Although it’s been around since the 1870’s, and was the County Seat of Montgomery county from 1896 to 1915 –when a mandate by Federal Authorities stated all counties seats needed to be located in the center of a county so all residents could have equal access - not even the residents thought enough of Porter to incorporate.

You probably wouldn’t expect a town like Porter to produce an Astronaut, but it did; Robert Crippen was born in Beaumont, but grew up in Porter where his mom owned and ran one of those ubiquitous beer joints. 

Porter hosts a Super Wal-Mart, and one each of just about every fast-food joint currently in operation in Texas.   About the last thing you would expect to see in Porter is a Nudist Resort, but now they have one of those, too. 

I just learned that there is a newly opened nudist resort called Emerald Lake in Porter, Texas.   It’s on Loop 494, right about where Ma Crippen’s beer joint used to be.

The Resort’s calendar says they are sponsoring a Halloween Costume Party on the 31st, and I don’t have a thing to wear.


Monday, October 25, 2010

What Makes Scary Stories Frightening


With Halloween less than a week away, today might be a good time to mention a Blog I recently came across called I've Been Reading Lately.   Its author is in the publishing business and apparently when he isn’t reading, he is writing.

The blogger, Levi Stahl, has written a lot in recent posts  about ghosts in general, and about Turn of the Screw and the other ghost stories of Henry James in particular.  He makes several statements that I especially liked in  his discussions; among them:

“There is one line that may--that, let us be clear, must--be drawn: they ask, again and again, whether the ghosts in The Turn of the Screw are real or merely a product of the governess's imagination, while we explain, again and again, that that's not the point.

I suppose I appreciate that because it validates my own opinion that the ambiguity – the never really knowing if the ghosts are internal or external – is what elevates this from a good ghost story to an extraordinary tale.

In his post Stahl also points out that great horror writers (he specifically mentions James and Stephen King) all intuitively understand that  “What's scary is what's strange; what's terrifying is what's only a tiny bit stranger than what's going on around us all the time.”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Series Match-Up Set – Giants vs. Rangers


I can now predict that this year’s world series will have a first-time winner. 

The Rangers have never been to the Big Dance, and the Giants, who have been there 18 times and won 5 in their long history, have never won as a team from San Francisco.

Last night the Giants won their fourth NLCS since moving to San Francisco 53 years ago, but their last Series win came when they still played at New York’s Polo Grounds back in 1954.

Two former Astros who were traded to contending teams this season, Lance Berkman with the Yankees and Roy Oswalt with Philadelphia, both acquitted themselves well in post-season play, but neither will be going to the series.  Roy O can take some consolation from the fact that his 5-0 in 10 starts record ties him with Orel Hershiser for the most post-season starts without a loss.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rangers Win ALCS


It’s a geographical rivalry thing, I’d guess, but I have never been a big fan of any Dallas sports team – hate the Cowboys.  I followed the Stars for a while when they moved down from Minnesota, but otherwise I hardly pay any Dallas franchise any attention at all.

I’d been aware of individual Texas Ranger players - Mark Teixeira, Gaylord Perry, Pudge Rodriguez – over the years, and I knew when George W. Bush left to run for governor, but I just started to really notice the Rangers earlier this season when home-town-boy Nolan Ryan bought the team.

As a semi-fan, I was pleased with the outcome of last night’s game in Arlington.

As Richard Justice wrote in his Houston Chronicle article this morning:

Up is down, down is up and the meek have inherited the earth in major league baseball. The Rangers are the American League champions. Yes, this is the same franchise that didn't win a postseason series in its first 38 years.

Never mind the small payroll. Forget the no-name roster. Who cares if their baseball is ugly at times? Ugly can be beautiful.

None of those things mattered Friday night when the Rangers got eight gritty innings from Colby Lewis and three RBIs from Vladimir Guerrero on their way to a 6-1 elimination of the mighty Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

So, congratulations to Dallas, to the Rangers, and to the Ryan family – I hope you have better luck in the World Series than the Astros did.  You can’t do any worse.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Bucket Full Of Lists

Some time ago, a publication I receive – one dedicated to camping and recreational vehicles – invited me, and any other subscriber with internet access, to participate in a survey.  Now they say those results have been compiled and can be seen (for a price) in a new book they’re publishing. 

I’m not going to recommend it; I won’t even buy it.  I will tell you that it is a book listing the top 100 in a wide variety of categories, most of them having at least something to do with travel.


For example, the article promoting the book lists the Top Five from several of the lists. 

The Five Best Travelling Songs:

On the Road Again (Willie Nelson)

Me and Bobby McGee (Janis Joplin)

Born to be Wild (Steppenwolf)

Thunder Road (Bruce Springsteen)

King of the Road (Roger Miller)

And the Top Five Movies Featuring RV’s:

RV (2006)

Lost in America (1985)

The Long, Long Trailer (1953)

Independence Day (1996)

Stripes (1981)

They also list the Country’s Most Scenic Drives:

Big Sur Coast Highway (Hwy 1, California)

San Juan Skyway (Hwy 550/145/62, Colorado)

Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia/North Carolina)

Columbia River Highway (Hwy 84, Oregon)

Beartooth Highway (Hwy 212, Wyoming/Montana)

And the Five Best Small Town Slogans:

Hooker, Okla.: It’s a location, not a vocation

Linesville, Pa.: Where the ducks walk on the fish

Jewell, Iowa: A gem in a friendly setting

Livonia, N.Y.: Some bigger, none better (How did that one make the top five?)

Gettysburg, S.D.: Where the battle wasn’t

They cheated a bit on their list of the Five Quirkiest Museums. 

They listed the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices (Minneapolis, Minn.) which hasn’t existed for years.  Its founder and curator Bob McCoy died last May.

They  listed the Barbed Wire Museum (La Crosse, Kan.) while ignoring the other barbed wire museum  on Route 66 in McLean, Texas.

They rounded out the top Five with

Museum of Bad Art (Dedham, Mass.)

Frog Fantasies Museum (Eureka Springs, Ark.)

And a local favorite,  a former customer of mine,

National Museum of Funeral History (Houston)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mom In The Box

When you’re cruising the web and you land on a web page in a foreign language, Google Chrome identifies the language and offers to translate. The translations are word-for-word, which often makes for some interesting sentences, and occasionally some that are almost incomprehensible.

The picture and caption below were in an article about wedding traditions from a Syrian newspaper’s website.


Wooden box inlaid with mother of the bride is placed in a room and used to store clothing

I would love to know if this is a mistake in the translation, in the original Arabic, or whether this is how a Syrian mother-in-law infiltrates the home.

The original was in

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Touch of Gas

Quintana Jetty Quintana is an island defined by the Gulf of Mexico, the Intracoastal Canal and the old and new channels of the Brazos River.  The river on the east end of the island – between the jetties - is the entrance to the Port of Freeport.  The only industry on Quintana is the Freeport LNG (liquefied natural gas) Terminal.  The terminal is on the Intracoastal side, about 1/2 mile  from the campground.

LNG Terminal

The four big booms visible over the top of our truck carry the hoses used to fill a ship, and last Sunday, a ship was being maneuvered into position by a team of tugboats – four of them that I could see, but I’m assuming at least one more on the other side.

LNG Terminal 2

The ship was the Excelerate out of Antweren (Antwerp) a Belgian-registered vessel.  It is an EBRV, or Energy Bridge Regasification Vessel, capable of carrying 138,000 cubic meters of liquid. Although it carries the company name, it is not the first or the largest of the vessels owned by Excelerate Energy, a limited partnership whose main office is in the Woodlands, Texas. 

I can’t tell you how long it takes to fill a ship that size; they started Sunday morning and were still pumping when we left on Monday.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Gulls in Surf

Back from a week at the beach where we had a wonderful time.  Cloudless skies, perfect temperatures and amazingly clear water at Quintana Beach County Park, a little-known jewel on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Driftwood 2

Quintana Jetty

Didn’t catch any fish, but did see some remarkable sights. We watched an osprey bathing in the surf – throwing water everywhere like some over-sized sparrow in a back yard birdbath.  Of course I had my fishing rod in my hand and the camera was a hundred yards away in the truck.

Intracoastal Sunrise

While fishing on the Intracoastal Canal, I saw these gulls on the pilings of an old dock; they were lined up with one bird on each post and one on each remaining cross-member.

The park features full hook-up campsites and a few rental cabins.  Rates are very reasonable even without the discount for Brazoria County residents.

Quintana Park Campground

Quintana Park Campground - Our Site

Now that we’re back home, chores await – more tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Jesus and Dino

We’re headed to the beach for a few days, and this is probably my last post for a while, so your faithful host scoured the web for something funny/weird/offensive enough to last you until I return.  This ought to  work.

Monday, October 11, 2010


That’s the term coined by those who, like me, are offended by the huge number of products that jump on the Breast Cancer Bandwagon every October.


After my post last Monday, I have learned that I am not alone in my opinion about such marketing, and the backlash seems to be building.  There are even websites such as Think Before You Pink that are actively opposed to manufacturers such as Smith and Wesson who capitalized on the Awareness Campaign last year by offering a pistol with pink handgrips, and the producers of wine and vodka – as much as 9% of breast cancer in the US may be alcohol related – who come out with pink booze this month.

Whether you are offended by these ad campaigns or not, there are much more effective – more direct – ways to support the cause if you are so inclined. This card lists questions you should be asking about promotions.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Neo-Mugwump Libertarian-Socialist Party


I actually heard a lecturing history professor say in class that the term Mugwump came from a cartoon like the one above.  Good story – too good to be true – the word actually derived from the Algonquin mugquomp which meant big chief, war leader, or something similar.  In case you don’t remember, they were the Republican leaders who supported Grover Cleveland instead of James Blaine, the Republican candidate, in 1884 – sort of the Shivercrats (Texas) or Reagan Democrats (national) of the 19th century.

I mention them today because I have been getting more and more disenchanted with American Politics in general and the Republican Party in particular. 

My politics haven’t significantly changed – I’m still a Constitutionalist, and a conservative on matters of  fiscal policy and national defense.  I believe in State’s rights and property rights, but I tend to veer to the left on matters concerning civil rights and religion.

I guess the problem is that I’ve come to believe that the leaders of both major parties, and the recognized spokespersons for both the right and the left, whether in politics or in the media, are simply embarrassing. 

Seriously, who would want their name associated with a movement championed by someone like Joe Biden or Glenn Beck?

If you are in the market for a new political party, there are a boat load of them out there.  Did you know, for example that the Whig Party has been reborn?  You can check them out at

I also came across a group called Third Way which describes itself as the “Moderate Faction of the Progressive Movement.”  I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like an oxymoron to me.

The American Reform Party came into being when they decided Ross Perot wasn’t quite far enough to the right for their liking.

If you’re both a Feminist and a Socialist, then the Freedom Socialist Party is the one for you. 

Of all the parties I’ve come across, this one most tickles my fancy - the Natural Law Party.  When they failed to win the 2000 election, they declared themselves the (imaginary) winner,  formed a shadow government, and then dissolved the national party in 2004.  In spite of that, according to their website, they are literally still active coast-to-coast, with state organizations in California and Rhode Island.

And of course there are TONS of single-issue movements out there that call themselves parties.  Anything from the Pirate Party that champions downloading music and videos as a free-speech issue, to the Christian Phalangist Party  that advocates crushing Islam in another crusade. 

Guess I’ll have to consider myself an Independent.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


The 2010 Major League Playoffs have begun, so I thought I should post this picture before the  World Series has come and gone. 

I can’t credit the photographer – it came to me via email - But I can thank Bob Lieder for sending it to me.  It’s a Classic.

Hu's on First

Oh  - in case you need a hint, the ABC in the headline stands for Abbott, Baseball, and Costello.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Terror on Trial

Normally, I try to post once a day, and I’ll admit that it is sometimes a challenge to come up with something that is not a total waste of time. 

Today, I had the opposite problem. I had saved this to publish this morning, then found something else I wanted to use.  Both were topical – each would lose some value if held another day – so today, you get two for the price of one - BC

In an editorial yesterday, The New York Times said:

Civil Justice, Military Injustice

Supporters of the tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who insist military justice, not the federal courts, is the best way to deal with terrorists, should pay close attention to Tuesday’s events in a United States District Court in Manhattan. Faisal Shahzad was sentenced to life imprisonment, five months and four days after he tried to blow up his car in Times Square.

When Mr. Shahzad was arrested, and later given a Miranda warning, the “tough on terrorists” crowd screamed about coddling and endangering the country’s security. They didn’t stop complaining, even after Mr. Shahzad cooperated with investigators and entered a guilty plea with a mandatory life sentence. All of this happened without the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department breaking laws or violating Constitutional protections.


But, the imaginary ink was barely dry on the Virtual Opinion Page when another story made the news:

First civilian trial of a Guantánamo Bay detainee halted

Associated Press - Wednesday 6 October 2010 18.55 BST

Rubble of US embassy in Nairobi after 1998 bombingPhotograph: Khalil Senosi/AP

The first civilian trial of a Guantánamo Bay detainee was delayed today after a Manhattan judge told prosecutors they could not call their star witness.

Judge Lewis Kaplan blocked the government in Washington from calling a man whom authorities said sold explosives to Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the defendant. Defense lawyers say investigators learned about the witness only after Ghailani underwent harsh interrogation at a secret CIA camp between 2004 and 2006.

"The court has not reached this conclusion lightly," Kaplan wrote. "It is acutely aware of the perilous nature of the world in which we live. But the constitution is the rock upon which our nation rests. We must follow it, not when it is convenient, but when fear and danger beckon in a different direction."

Washington immediately asked for a delay of the trial, which had been expected to begin with opening statements today, so that it had time to appeal against the ruling should it decide to do so.

Ghailani is charged with conspiring in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa: Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Nairobi in Kenya. The attacks killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans. He was smiling and talking to his lawyers at the defense table after the judge ruled.

The judge issued his written three-page ruling after a hearing three weeks ago in which Hussein Abebe, the star witness in question, testified about his dealings with authorities.

The defense had asked the judge to exclude Abebe's testimony on the grounds that it would be the product of statements made by Ghailani to the CIA under duress.

On that point, Kaplan said, "Abebe was identified and located as a close and direct result of statements made by Ghailani while he was held by the CIA. The government has elected not to litigate the details of Ghailani's treatment while in CIA custody. It has sought to make this unnecessary by asking the court to assume in deciding this motion that everything Ghailani said while in CIA custody was coerced."

The judge noted that he had previously rejected defense motions to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that Ghailani was deprived of a speedy trial and that his treatment by the CIA was so outrageous as to require termination of the charges.


I’ll freely admit to having mixed emotions about this. 

On the one hand, if we have irrefutable evidence of Ghailani’s guilt, I think we should be able to use it, regardless of how it was obtained.  On the other hand, the Constitution has gone flying out the window before in times of war, and it always seems to diminish us in the long run, always seems wrong in retrospect. 

Just ask any Japanese-American who was born, like my friend John, in an internment camp.

If you’re so POWERFUL, why aren’t you Famous?


Forbes Magazine has just released their list of the top 100 most powerful women in the world. (Of course I know the picture above doesn’t have anything to do with that – I just couldn’t help myself.)  I’ll have to admit that I had to Google about half of the top 25 just to know who they are.

Forbes actually created four lists, one each for politics, business, media and lifestyle, then combined them via some esoteric formula to come up with their top 100. 

The annual list has undergone a slight change in the way it rates people. It took influence into account for the first time.

Moira Forbes, vice president of ForbesWoman, said, ‘The women on our list, through their respective realms of power and influence, are shaping many of the agenda- setting conversations of our day, and have become dynamic catalysts for driving meaningful change across the world.”

The powerful women
The list has placed First Lady Michelle Obama in the first position.
However, instead of calculating her and her husband's personal wealth or money earned in the last year, Forbes decided to list the national budget in the category, which is $3.5 trillion.  Do you think that might have tilted the scales a bit?

Anyway, here are the Top 25, in the order that Forbes ranked them:

1. Michelle Obama
2. Irene Rosenfeld
3. Oprah Winfrey
4. Angela Merkel
5. Hillary Clinton
6. Indra Nooyi
7. Lady Gaga
8. Gail Kelly
9. Beyonce Knowles
10. Ellen DeGeneres
11. Nancy Pelosi
12. Angela Braly
13. Janet Napolitano
14. Cynthia Carroll
15. Sheila Bair
16. Sarah Palin
17. Mary Schapiro
18. Ellen Kullman
19. Sonia Sotomayor
20. Ursula Burns
21. Angelina Jolie
22. Katie Couric
23. Kathleen Sebelius
24. Anne Lauvergeon
25. Elena Kagan

Do you know which is the head of a nuclear energy corporation, or which heads up the FDIC? Who runs Pepsi and which is the CEO of Kraft? Which South Africa born woman now heads a huge Australia-based banking conglomerate? 

Opinion is a funny thing – even though I only recognized about half of the ladies on the list, I am convinced that Forbes got their order all wrong.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


As a sort of follow-up to yesterday’s post, here are a couple of articles that are more-or-less on the same subject:


Are we raising a generation of nincompoops?
By Beth J. Harpaz, Associated Press Writer

Second-graders who can't tie shoes or zip jackets. Four-year-olds in Pull-Ups diapers. Five-year-olds in strollers. Teens and preteens befuddled by can openers and ice-cube trays. College kids who've never done laundry, taken a bus alone or addressed an envelope.
Are we raising a generation of nincompoops? And do we have only ourselves to blame? Or are some of these things  simply the result of kids growing up with push-button technology in an era when mechanical devices are gradually  being replaced by electronics?
Susan Maushart, a mother of three, says her teenage daughter "literally does not know how to use a can opener.
Most cans come with pull-tops these days. I see her reaching for a can that requires a can opener, and her shoulders slump and she goes for something else."
Teenagers are so accustomed to either throwing their clothes on the floor or hanging them on hooks that Maushart says her "kids actually struggle with the mechanics of a clothes hanger."
Many kids never learn to do ordinary household tasks. They have no chores. Take-out and drive-through meals have replaced home cooking. And busy families who can afford it often outsource house-cleaning and lawn care.
"It's so all laid out for them," said Maushart, author of the forthcoming book "The Winter of Our Disconnect," about her efforts to wean her family from its dependence on technology. "Having so much comfort and ease is what has led
to this situation -- the Velcro sneakers, the Pull-Ups generation. You can pee in your pants and we'll take care of it for you!"
The issue hit home for me when a visiting 12-year-old took an ice-cube tray out of my freezer, then stared at it helplessly. Raised in a world where refrigerators have push-button ice-makers, he'd never had to get cubes out of a tray -- in the same way that kids growing up with pull-tab cans don't understand can openers.
But his passivity was what bothered me most. Come on, kid! If your life depended on it, couldn't you wrestle that icecube tray to the ground? It's not that complicated!
Mark Bauerlein, author of the best-selling book "The Dumbest Generation," which contends that cyberculture is turning young people into know-nothings, says "the absence of technology" confuses kids faced with simple mechanical tasks.
But Bauerlein says there's a second factor: "a loss of independence and a loss of initiative." He says that growing up with cell phones and Google means kids don't have to figure things out or solve problems any more. They can look up what they need online or call mom or dad for step-by-step instructions. And today's helicopter parents are more than happy to oblige, whether their kids are 12 or 22.
"It's the dependence factor, the unimaginability of life without the new technology, that is making kids less entrepreneurial, less initiative-oriented, less independent," Bauerlein said.
Teachers in kindergarten have always had to show patience with children learning to tie shoes and zip jackets, but thanks to Velcro closures, today's kids often don't develop those skills until they are older. Sure, harried parents are grateful for Velcro when they're trying to get a kid dressed and out the door, and children learn to tie shoes eventually unless they have a real disability. But if they're capable of learning to tie their shoes before they learn to read, shouldn't we encourage them?
Some skills, of course, are no longer useful. Kids don't need to know how to add Roman numerals, write cursive or look things up in a paper-bound thesaurus. But is snail-mail already so outmoded that teenagers don't need to know how to address an envelope or put the stamp in the right spot? Ask a 15-year-old to prepare an envelope some time; you might be shocked at the result.
Lenore Skenazy, who writes a popular blog called Free-Range Kids, based on her book by the same name, has a different take. Skenazy, whose approach to parenting is decidedly anti-helicopter, agrees that we are partly to blame for our children's apparent incompetence, starting when they are infants.
"There is an onslaught of stuff being sold to us from the second they come out of the womb trying to convince us that they are nincompoops," she said. "They need to go to Gymboree or they will never hum and clap! To teach them how to walk, you're supposed to turn your child into a marionette by strapping this thing on them that holds them up because it helps them balance more naturally than 30,000 years of evolution!"
Despite all this, Skenazy thinks today's kids are way smarter than we give them credit for: "They know how to change a photo caption on a digital photo and send it to a friend. They can add the smiley face without the colon and parentheses! They never took typing but they can type faster than I can!"
Had I not been there to help that 12-year-old with the ice-cube tray, she added, the kid surely would have "whipped out his iPhone and clicked on his ice cube app to get a little video animated by a 6-year-old that explained how you get ice cubes out of a tray."
Friends playing devil's advocate say I'm wrong to indict a whole generation for the decline of skills they don't need.
After all, we no longer have to grow crops, shoot deer, prime a pump or milk a cow to make dinner, but it was just a couple of generations ago that you couldn't survive in many places without that knowledge.
Others say this is simply the last gasp of the analog era as we move once and for all to the digital age. In 10 years, there won't be any ice cube trays; every fridge will have push-button ice.
But Bauerlein, a professor at Emory University who has studied culture and American life, defends my right to rail against the ignorance of youth.
"That's our job as we get old," he said. "A healthy society is healthy only if it has some degree of tension between  older and younger generations. It's up to us old folks to remind teenagers: 'The world didn't begin on your 13th birthday!'And it's good for kids to resent that and to argue back. We want to criticize and provoke them. It's not  healthy for the older generation to say, 'Kids are kids, they'll grow up.'
"They won't grow up," he added, "unless you do your job by knocking down their hubris."


And this one:

By LENORE SKENAZY , New York Times Columnist and Author of Free Range Kids

Maybe we've been pointing to the wrong culprits when we attempt to assign blame for the dumbing down of America. (What is it this week — too much testing in the schools? Working mothers? Fox TV? It's hard to keep track.)

It is quite possible that people are growing dumber than dog biscuits for the simple reason that they are being treated this way by the world in which they shop.

Here's the sign on a hanger at K-Mart: "Standard, full-size hanger holds everything from wash and wear to outwear!"

Yes, that complex and daunting device dangling there in home furnishings can be used with every confidence to hang your clothes — and not just certain, very specific clothes: wash and wear AND outerwear, which usually demand such very different hardware. Hurrah.

Of course, it's not just hangers out there hitting you over the head.

It's food: "Croissant swirls … ideal for snacking!" (They are? Could that be why they're sold in the grocery store?)

And clothing: "Choose your favorites!" suggests the sign at Children's Place. (Gee, may I?)

Even once-reticent office supplies have taken to yammering. This ballpoint pen, says a Pentel package, is "for notes and general writing." RoseArt assures buyers that its erasers are fully ready to "erase and erase and erase." Paper Mate boasts of a pencil: "Ideal for school work and general writing."

It's less than ideal for broiling with lime and garlic, I'm guessing. Not to be used as a giant toothpick? Cannot, in a pinch, serve as a very narrow snowshoe?

"I'm looking at a package of Crayola crayons right now," the author of "Punk Marketing," Richard Laermer, a student of the advertising absurd, said. "It says, ‘Good for children.'"

When it's reached the point that the folks at Crayola see fit to tell you that the quintessential childhood item is the quintessential childhood item, something 's wrong.

The problem can be partly traced back to that most American of fears: litigation. This has, admittedly, led to some great moments in labeling. Not just the old, "Contents may be hot because it's a CUP OF COFFEE," but also more baroque missives, such as the one I found on the box of a little electric heater.

Among its 17 instructions (including, first and foremost, "Read all instructions") was the advice: "To disconnect, turn to ‘off,' then grip plug and pull from wall outlet." That way, when you happen to assume the best way to disconnect the heater is actually to turn it to "high," submerge it in the tub, and lower your naked body — and your cat — in after it, you cannot blame the company for any discomfort you (or your pet) may feel.

Fear of lawsuits alone cannot explain the painfully obvious explanations on painfully obvious objects, however. When a duster says, "For removing dust" — and I just saw one that does — it's not because the company is worried someone may use it in lieu of a tibia transplant. It's because we really are becoming a nation of idiots and dummies. Just like the book titles tell us.

Americans have not only come to expect absolutely everything to be spelled out for them — they appreciate it, a consultant with the marketing firm Group 1066, Todd Merriman, says. "It may make a difference in their purchase," he said when I asked him why the maker of a rain poncho felt compelled to note on its hang tag, "Made of waterproof vinyl." Added Mr. Merriman: "You've taken away some of the guesswork for your customer."

So, next time you go to the store and you see the umbrella that, according to its manufacturer, "Opens full size"; or you find a set of Dixie cups that promise to be usable "for all occasions" and not just, say, wakes, or you learn from the package of Halls cough drops that you are supposed to "dissolve one drop slowly in the mouth" and not use them as suppositories, be grateful for one thing: You have a standard, full-size hanger waiting for you at home.

With a little practice and maybe a glance at the manual, you can probably figure out how to hang up your coat and then enjoy what's left of your evening. And brain.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Digital Stupidity

Mobile Phone

Back in the late ‘90s, I got my first pocket-sized Electronic Organizer, an early ancestor of today’s PDA.  It had a small back-up battery to retain the data in its miniscule memory so the triple A batteries that ran the thing could be replaced when they wore out. I would eventually learn how devastating the loss of that back-up battery could be.

I was delighted with the device to begin with.  It worked as advertized, and it did increase my efficiency, bringing a multitude of information – phone numbers, part numbers, names and addresses – literally to my fingertips. 

Within just a couple of weeks, though, the infernal  device had robbed me of all ability to remember phone numbers on my own.  Oh, I could tell you the number of the phone our family had when I was five – the one that began with MU-lberry and later became OX-ford – but I couldn’t give you the number of the cell phone that shared an overloaded  pocket with the damned Organizer.  I also discovered that I was rapidly losing the ability to do simple math in my head.

It was then that I decided that electronic devices, like prescription medicines, should be required to list possible side effects.  If the acne medicine says it minimizes Blackheads, but can also cause Migraine Headaches, Impotence and Death, even the most insecure adolescent might think twice about using it.  But nobody warned us up front that things like calculators, computers, the internet, etc. - while they looked like boons to mankind - were actually deadly plagues waiting to destroy our mental abilities and turn us all into intellectual cripples.

In retrospect, it seems so simple. Any muscle that is never exercised will atrophy over time – “Use It Or Lose It” is a mantra that is absolutely true.  We should have been able to see that without a Surgeon General’s Warning:

This Device Can Make You Stupid


Monday, October 4, 2010

October & Awareness

The Fountains in Kansas City Parks are pink this month – their nod to Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

pink fountain

As the father of a wonderful young woman who lost her fight to breast cancer at the age of 32, I’m already more aware of breast cancer than anyone should ever be asked to be.  I pray constantly that a cure will come so that no one ever again has to endure what Shanna did; so that no one feels the pain her mother and sister still feel today.  I pray that no more children have to grow up like my grandsons, with only wispy, sketchy, memories of the fantastic young woman who gave them life.

On one level, I understand pink fountains, but my more visceral reaction is a a resentment of the empty symbolism it represents to me.  The Race for the Cure that now runs in almost every major city in the country provides something to do to hundreds who otherwise feel powerless to help loved ones afflicted.  That is truly a good thing, and I wonder if there is a single female over twelve anywhere in America that doesn’t understand the importance of regular self-exams.


Still,  despite our best intentions, no pink ribbon has ever cured a single cancer.  Not one.  Not yet.

I think the thing that bothers me most is what a big business Breast Cancer fund raising has become. 

The Susan G Komen Foundation, along with corporate sponsors like Yoplait, Ford, Remax and Kentucky Fried Chicken,  raises a gazillion dollars a year for programs, scholarships and grants. 

fox sports

Fox Sports has recently affiliated itself with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, a group that claims to fund the most advanced and promising avenues of research.

That’s all good, but I worry that the high-powered public relations push, all the emphasis on breast cancer, has to be taking away from other desperately needed research into other, less advertized, less glamorous diseases.  After all -and here’s where awareness plays a role- Breast Cancer is not the number one killer of women; it does not even cause the most fatalities among cancers.  According to statistics for the most recent year I could find on record, the American Cancer Society ranked Breast Cancer as the number four killer, behind cancers of the lungs, reproductive system and the colon.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ain’t Gonna Study War No More


If you are old enough, you remember Buddy Poppies, and you remember when November 11th – Veteran’s Day – was called Armistice Day.  We grew up thinking that World War I ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month back in 1918.

Apparently, that wasn’t entirely true, but sing Hallelujah, ring the bells and kiss the closest Soldier, the war to end all wars ends today!

Just in case you hadn’t heard – here’s the story from yesterday’s Telegraph:

The First World War will officially end on Sunday, 92 years after the guns fell silent, when Germany pays off the last chunk of reparations imposed on it by the Allies.

By Allan Hall, Berlin
Published: 1:37PM BST 28 Sep 2010

The armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed in a railway carriage in Compiègne Forest on 11 November 1918

The armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed in a railway carriage in Compiègne Forest on 11 November 1918

The final payment of £59.5 million, writes off the crippling debt that was the price for one world war and laid the foundations for another.

Germany was forced to pay the reparations at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 as compensation to the war-ravaged nations of Belgium and France and to pay the Allies some of the costs of waging what was then the bloodiest conflict in history, leaving nearly ten million soldiers dead.

The initial sum agreed upon for war damages in 1919 was 226 billion Reichsmarks, a sum later reduced to 132 billion, £22 billion at the time.

The bill would have been settled much earlier had Adolf Hitler not reneged on reparations during his reign.

Hatred of the settlement agreed at Versailles, which crippled Germany as it tried to shape itself into a democracy following armistice, was of significant importance in propelling the Nazis to power.

"On Sunday the last bill is due and the First World War finally, financially at least, terminates for Germany," said Bild, the country's biggest selling newspaper.

(Here’sthe original story from Bild – If you use an internet translation application like I did, you may find the translation need translation)

Most of the money goes to private individuals, pension funds and corporations holding debenture bonds as agreed under the Treaty of Versailles, where Germany was made to sign the 'war guilt' clause, accepting blame for the war.

France, which had been ravaged by the war, pushed hardest for the steepest possible fiscal punishment for Germany.

The principal representative of the British Treasury at the Paris Peace Conference, John Maynard Keynes, resigned in June 1919 in protest at the scale of the demands.

"Germany will not be able to formulate correct policy if it cannot finance itself,' he warned.

When the Wall Street Crash came in 1929, the Weimar Republic spiraled into debt. Four years later, Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany.

October 3 is also the anniversary of the day in 1990 when Germany was reunited after 41 years.  If that had happened earlier, the war debt might have been paid sooner – East Germany wasn’t big on paying debts owed to other countries, particularly those outside the Warsaw Pact.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jolene, Joleen

Back in March, I mentioned that my next-door neighbor kid had caught a calf at the Houston Rodeo -

Here is a picture of the heifer he is raising to show;  Wilson named her after the siren in the Dolly Parton song – spells it different (Joleen vs. Jolene) but phonetically, it is the same irresistible redhead.Joleen

Your beauty is beyond compare
With flaming locks of auburn hair

Wilson and his dad are 0ff to the deer lease this weekend, so I am feeding Joleen this morning along with their latest acquisition – this year’s show pig.

Dolly P

Yeah, he named her Dolly.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tomasz Wiech

Don’t do it right now, but at the top of the screen, you should see a spot to click “Next Blog” If you click it, it will take you to a random site somewhere in the blogosphere.  That’s how I first came across a website featuring photographs from Tomasz Wiech, a true artist who works for Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s top daily paper. 

I find his work fascinating. He has a great sense of composition and a sly sense of humor, and the colors are remarkable.  One website led to another and I spent a very pleasant hour yesterday enjoying at his work.

Here are just a few examples:

Krakow, Festiwal Muzyki Filmowej.
Fot. Tomasz Wiech

Fot.Tomasz Wiech

Ruda Slaska, slub Maggy i Chrisa.
Fot. Tomasz Wiech

Za Raciborzem, wies ze slimakiem
Fot. Tomasz Wiech

Bukowina Tatrzanska
Fot. Tomasz Wiech

Zieleniewo pod Koszalinem, wioska indianska
Fot.Tomasz Wiech

If you would like to see more of his work, check,

or .