Ring Out, Ring In

It’s New Year’s Eve!

I’m sure there are some who had a wonderful 2010. God bless them.

Many more will be happy to see it go. I will not carry fond memories of this year, though perhaps I should. It wasn’t all misery and disappointment – it just seems that way. And while each year can be said to have a distinct character, when you review it day by day it’s clear that on each trip around the sun you get a little bit of everything along the way, good and bad. The question is, what will you choose to dwell on?

There is a great temptation to slide over to the dark side. Here’s a pessimistic rhyme about the changing of the guard and the relentless, unpredictable variety of daily life, regardless of what year we say it is.

The Old Year’s toast. We’ll watch him hang.
The New Year’s here. And so’s the gang.

So Hail, Hail, Hail and hip hooray.
We’re glad the old one’s going away.

This new one owes us hopeful news.
Unending love and meager blues.

Though we’ll get both before it’s done.
From the year Two Aught One and One.

And one year hence as the sun goes down
We’ll run this fresh year out of town.

And find a new one to embrace.
Who’ll promise joy. And wreck the place.

Banish gloom and debunk defeatist bloggers!
Make an optimistic prediction for 2011.

R.I.P. Dr. Billy Taylor

I think of Jazz players as royalty in the world of musicians. They are a breed apart – not the best known and far from being the wealthiest, but there is an openness and a level of competence that is developed through playing jazz that doesn’t automatically come with your mastery of a different style of music. In other words, you can be a great rock and roll musician and still be kind of a dope. No news there.
To play well, jazz musicians have to be able to listen well. That discipline may be the thing that makes them, universally, the most pleasant and interesting people I’ve met in various radio studios through the years.

We lost one of our most scholarly jazzmen this week with the death of Dr. Billy Taylor. He embraced all those things that make the music great – knowledge, freedom and a love of collaboration. He also wore very large eyeglasses – possibly the biggest spectacles to be seen anywhere in public since the end of the 1970’s. But that’s another thing you automatically get when you become a jazz player – a level of comfort with the idea of being out of the mainstream.

Billy Taylor was a broadcaster too, and he was one of the rare ones who actually knew something. It case you haven’t figured it out yet, it is quite possible for a person to be on radio and/or TV a lot, like every day, without possessing any substantial knowledge or marketable talent. Dr. Taylor was an exception. He knew what he was talking about, and he had a passion for sharing it.

If you just want to her him play, here’s a short clip:

If you’d like to hear him discuss the music he loved, this is worth the time.

If you were going to be a Billy Taylor-like presence, introducing lay people to important concepts that guide something you love on an educational TV show, what would the show be about?

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Now We’re Cooking!

It’s prehistoric remains week here at Trail Baboon. Yesterday we considered the ramifications of some ancient teeth uncovered near Tel Aviv that may upend our understanding of who was where, when.

Today comes news that our ancient, now extinct near cousins, the Neanderthals, were not the brutish, meat-only diners that many had assumed, but in fact, ate plants, and some of those plants were cooked. This is yet another step in countering the popular cultural image of the Neanderthals as dopey cavemen who were too backward and unimaginative to survive. The new vision of Neanderthals sometimes eating vegetables rather than always ripping apart some unfortunate ungulate (Elk again, mom? Really?) and devouring it raw gives us a more nuanced understanding of who they were.

Sophisticated eaters and engaging dinner companions whose laughing eyes were unfortunately shaded by their prominent foreheads. I’m sure in the years to come we’ll learn more about Neanderthal dining habits, including some of their favorite recipes:

Alley Oop Salad
Cave Dweller Cole Slaw
Bedrock Vegetarian Chili
Clubbed Squash

And my new favorite – Neander Valley Tabouli

2 cups seed of rough grass from mouth of cave
2 cups very hot water from fire keepers
1 bundle green stuff from underside of log, chopped
2 small crunchy ground melons, chopped
1 bunch ferns, (8) sliced
1/2 cup fresh chopped rotten bark flower (NOT the red one)
2 cups fresh chopped children of vine that grows up side of rock
1 clove smelly root, minced (optional)

Dressing: 1/2 cup juice of tiny yellow sun,
3/4 cup slippery juice from tree berries,
1 tablespoon tickle nose powder (black),
2 teaspoons seawater (with water removed).

Soak the grass seed from mouth of cave in hot water until mixture cools. Squeeze like helpless enemy caught in battle.
Use sharp edged rock to attack ground melons, ferns, rotten bark flower, vine children, smelly root and green stuff. Leave no survivors. Gather remains into bowl with grass seed.
Mix sun juice, slippery juice, nose powder and no water seawater. Pour over mixture.

Defend with unchecked ferocity from all interlopers and predators.

What’s the oldest recipe in your day-to-day repetoire?

Open Wide!

Here’s a late dispatch from enterprising freelance journalist Bud Buck, who in the best developing tradition of online media, makes his living re-reporting the work of other people. Bud’s note with this piece says he’s “trying a new, ground-breaking, personal style of reporting” that will make it necessary for me to double his usual fee.

When news broke that cave excavating scientists in Israel have identified 400 thousand year old remains from homo sapiens, I recognized the importance of the find right away. Previous research placed the earliest version of modern man in Africa just 200 thousand years ago. This find, if it bears up under further scrutiny, would double the length of known human history and might move the origins of man off the African continent completely. Amazing!

I rushed to find a reputable scientist who was also talkative enough to give me all the quotes I needed to write something that looked like a complete story. Alas, it’s a holiday week in the USA and even the archaeologists are at home with their families, or else stuck at the mall returning shirts that are too nice to wear in the field and not boring enough for use in the lab.

Reviewing the initial story from the Jerusalem Post, I noticed that the remains in question amounted to just eight teeth. Teeth! My dentist, Dr. Jim Jevitas, has an on-call “meet you anywhere” service designed for times just like this. I phoned him and he was pleased to rendezvous at a local coffee shop as long as I paid his standard holiday rates for a check up and light cleaning.

While he was setting up his dental tools and a very, very bright light that ran off a car battery he tucked underneath our table, I told Dr. Jevitas about the remarkable find in Qesem Cave, just 12 miles from Tel Aviv. The Doctor shocked me with the pronouncement that this sounded like the scientists had actually uncovered the site of one of the first suburban dentist offices.

“Patients always like it when you can give them free parking,” Dr. Jevitas said. “That’s human nature, don’t you think? Especially during a difficult procedure like getting a root canal, you don’t want to have to go plug a meter. I’m guessing that’s why they didn’t find this office right in the city. Open!”

I opened my mouth and the Doctor poked around my molars with a very, very sharp thing I couldn’t see. He muttered some things I didn’t hear clearly about my gums and flossing. My mind was reeling with images of a 400 thousand year old suburban dentist’s office. How did they numb the patients? What were the waiting-room magazines like? As soon as I had a chance I told him everything I knew about the remains. He was intrigued.

“Hmm. Interesting. The teeth were just lying there on the ground? That’s unusual. We put ours in a little drawer, but I suppose after 400 thousand years a lot of the furnishings in the office have worn out and even turned to dust. I’m guessing this ancient dentist didn’t work with many children, since the kiddies always want to take their teeth home to leave for the tooth fairy. I’ve heard of adults-only practices, but it’s no way to make money. Grown-ups are scaredy-cats and a lot of them won’t make an appointment. Open!”

I opened my mouth and the Doctor did some scraping and digging that made me almost as uncomfortable as the people at the table next to us. I had nearly enough material to make an article – all I needed was something possibly controversial – a quote casting a bit of doubt on the whole thing. After rinsing and spitting into the Doctor’s now-empty coffee cup, I told him the lead archaeologist on the project, Dr. Avi Gopher, was quoted saying “Further research is needed to solidify the claim.”

“Hmmm,” said Dr. Jevitas. “Dr. Avi Gopher sounds like a made-up name for an archaeologist. He is either a totally fictitious character, or a very patient man. Are you sure you didn’t read about this in The Onion?”

And then he shocked me again when two of the metal clasps on my boot contacted the posts of the car battery under our table. The very, very bright light went out, the coffee shop manager came over, and our meet-you-anywhere dental appointment was over.

Good news! I don’t have any cavities! This is Bud Buck!

I’m not sure I’ll pay Bud the extra money he wants for this story, though it does sound like the interview was a very expensive one to get. Still, it makes me wonder.

What interesting artifacts would a future archeologist find in the remains of your home?

Winning The Weather Game

Big idea guy and self-described “Adventure Capitalist” Spin Williams has been watching the weather for an investment opportunity. I have a feeling he’ll soon be underwriting shovel brigades on the Russian tundra.

Here at the meeting that never ends, we’re excited to hear about the tremendous blizzard hitting the East Coast. For that matter, we’re thrilled about all the other blizzards and prodigious snowfalls that have been happening worldwide, causing droopy domes, travel problems and airports that resemble youth hostels with people sleeping everywhere! What fun!

And I don’t say that just because I’m in sunny California. Los Angeles hasn’t been very sunny of late, what with all the pre-melted blizzards we’ve had in the past few weeks. They arrive like they have been shot out of a fire hose. Whee!

But anyone who knows me also knows I’m always looking for something new – something that affects the way people see the world and alters their behavior. The leading edge of change – that’s where I make my living.

The thing that caught my attention was this commentary in the New York Times where a climate scientist named Judah Cohen makes the case that global warming is actually the cause of this recent wave of extreme wintry weather. Warmth leading to cold? Consider my mind officially boggled! And not only that – he contends that one key, but overlooked, aspect of the Rube Goldberg Contraption that is our world’s weather is the snow cover in Siberia!

I’ll spare you a detailed explanation, but basically the bowling ball of melting polar ice runs into the plate glass window of atmospheric moisture, releasing the swinging weight of increased precipitation which, in it’s pendulum-like rocking, pulls back the spring loaded boot of Siberian snow cover, which kicks down the line of dominos that is the jet stream, toppling the last domino into a confetti- filled bowl that represents the arctic air mass which then jiggles its way down the slippery ramp that doubles as the face of North America, tripping a switch that starts the table fan of colliding cold and moist weather systems, thereby tipping the bowl over in front of the aforementioned fan, which leads to a sudden explosion of white flecks everywhere in the room.

Or something like that.

Anyway, my “take away” from Mr. Cohen’s article is this – if we want to clear the snowy streets of New York in December, we have to dig out Novosibirsk in November. And I don’t mean plowing out the major arterials, I mean de-icing and un-whitifying the whole place. Maybe you do it with massive trucks and salt, or shovels, or flamethrowers. I don’t know. Or else you cover over that reflective snow with big solar energy absorbing fabric panels, like the fence that guy Christo put up.

Is it a big job? Sure, but by taking on the big jobs, you can make a big difference! Here’s the encouraging part – Russian snowplow drivers are a lot cheaper to hire then the ones that work for NYC. And they’re already positioned right where we need them! Finally, a kind of “outsourcing” that really makes sense!

How many hundreds of millions would businesses and residents along the prosperous north east coast of the USA pay to avoid what they’re going through today? Heck, if we could just get the financiers on Wall Street and the cast of Jersey Shore to put up a small portion of their combined wealth, I’ll bet The Siberian Sunshine Company (TM) would turn an immediate profit! Investors, form a line!

Another over-the-top notion from a guy who never stops figuring the angles. My only “take away” from Spin’s idea is that the world’s weather could have been designed by Rube Goldberg. Interesting concept, but probably not even close to the truth. Winter weather is much more complicated and a lot less fun than Goldberg contraptions, which are only baffling for the sake of being baffling, and typically do not lead to the shut down of major cities.

What part of your life is Rube Goldberg-esque?

Yet Another Visit From St. Nick

Yes, he comes every year. If we’re lucky, this year will be a lot like last year, and the year before and the year before. I know I always expected to find some Silly Putty and Chap Stick in my stocking every Christmas morning, and as long as I was patient and believed in Santa, I was never disappointed.

In the great tradition of tradition-keeping, I’ll reprise an old bit of holiday doggerel from 1994. This is intended to keep the spirit of Clement Moore alive through sheer spite. Wherever he’s buried, the ground above is warm – the result of friction from a body spinning in its grave and the heat generated by the large amounts of psychic energy that it takes for a dead man to plot revenge.

I would not be surprised some midnight when mama’s in her kerchief and I’m in my cap, to find Clement Moore shaking his fist and railing at me from the front lawn. I picture him rising from his long winter’s nap to spend a single night plaguing everyone who has ever mocked him. But given the number of times his old poem has been parodied, he’d have a very, very busy time of it.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
every door had been locked by myself or my spouse.
I shut off the lights and proceeded to arm
our state-of-the-art infrared burglar alarm.

I thought not of peace though it was Christmas Eve.
For the nighttime brings anger, or so I perceive.
A regular, permanent case of the blues
I contracted from watching the 10 o’clock news.

When out in the yard there arose such a din
I jumped up real quick (for the shape that I’m in).
First to the window I flew at a run
And then to the phone to dial 9-1-1.

For what I had seen was so very bizarre
Should I call out the cops or the state DNR?
A musher and dogs from some marathon race
were lost and had somehow wound up at my place.

Eight dogs in the snow – they were icy and furry.
They must have been racing … they looked in a hurry.
And the guy in the sled was a sight in himself.
I expected Will Steger … He looked like an elf!

I opened my mouth to say, “Buddy, move on
before all your animals ruin my lawn!”
When all of a sudden … this plump little guy
called out to his dogs and they started to fly.

“Now Lassie, now Fido, now Benji and Bowser!
On Beethoven, Petey and Pluto and Towser!
Pull back your ears and put down your tails!”
And they took to the wind as though they had sails!

And then I could hear it … the physical proof.
The dogs and that sled were destroying my roof!
He came down the chimney! I swear this is true.
He grunted and struggled to squeeze through the flue.

His eyes were so jolly, his beard white like cream.
He stepped into the infrared burglar beam.
The place just erupted. The siren went wild.
St. Nicholas chuckled. He winked and then smiled.

“You’re crazy!” I told him. “The cops will be here!”
He just shook his head. St. ick felt o fear.
“I know eery cop between here and beyond.
I trip every alarm and they never respond.”

“I used to just enter wherever I please,
But I got tired of hearing ‘POLICE, Fasto. FREEZE!”
And so to avoid an embarrassing mess
I get legal search warrants for every address.

He showed me his papers, then emptied his pack.
“Some homeonwers fire. I never shoot back.
These days the generous have to be brave.”
Then back up the chimney he went with a wave.

On the roof I heard scraping, the tearing of shingles,
then running and barking and shouting and jingles.
And I heard him exclaim as they started to soar …
HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALLLLLLLL!”
Then they landed next door.

If you could visit every home on earth tonight for the purpose of leaving a gift – the very same one in each house – what would it be?