The Last Word

We’ve had a rather animal-centered week on Trail Baboon with a visit from Dr. Babooner and the death of Cheetah. And to finish things up for the week, the month and the year, here’s a message that came in from the deepest, darkest part of the woods – sent by a friend and translated from its original language – Ursus Textish.

Yo, it’s me, Bart.

I’ve got this feeling I should be sleeping right now but the weather’s been so mild I kind of don’t want to. Even though there’s not a lot of food in the woods, it’s fun to walk around looking at the stuff that’s supposed to be buried, but isn’t. Did you know that rotting stumps are like snowflakes – no two are alike? I know ‘cause I think I checked them all.

Bart - The Bear Who Found a Cell Phone

But every now and then this heavy feeling comes over me and I know my year is about to end … I get the urge to dig a hole and lie down for a long, long nap.

Before I do, I just want to say what a good year 2011 has been. Oh, I know there have been a some bear / human encounters with bears showing up in parking lots and bears tipping over the Weber Grill in people’s back yards and waking up the neighbors. Also, the polar bears have less ice to walk on these days, and they have a hunting season on bears in New Jersey of all places. Like any bear with a shred of common sense would want to go to New Jersey!

The coming year is going to have more of the same, as usual. And I hear that you guys are going to go through a massive election – thingy that is bound to be loaded with conflict and finger pointing and all sorts of wild accusations. Good luck with that.

Personally, I try not to focus on upsetting things because you can always find some miserable story to bring your spirits down if that’s the feeling you’re after. In spite of all the stuff I don’t like, it’s still pretty cool to be alive. So have a happy New Year, and remember – if there’s a conflict, carefully move away from the situation slowly and in a non-threatening way. Don’t raise your voice or run. In a worst case scenario, you might have to think about climbing a tree, playing dead, or fighting back with everything at your disposal.

Though not necessarily in that order.

As an overall guiding principle, keep a safe distance from sharp-toothed strangers who are easily frightened, and don’t threaten the cubs. Follow those simple rules and in most cases you’ll probably be pretty much all right. I promise!

I hope Bart is right on target with his advice and predictions, though no one is infallible when it comes to forecasts of any kind. Don’t believe me? Check out our guesses from last year. And feel free to offer an informed prediction or an outright fantasy regarding what comes next in 2012!

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Ask Dr. Babooner

Note: This is the 500th post on Trail Baboon, many of them written by you, and all of them written FOR you. Thanks, Baboons, for your steady friendship and readership!

Dear Dr. Babooner,

Not that it matters all that much for the advice-giving part of this conversation, but I’m still running for President of the United States. I’ve asked you questions before and your words have been a real comfort to me for the most part, though you can be a little unkind and you’re not very consistent. Still, I think you’re genuine, and to me that matters more than knowing things.

I have been working so hard to change the world around just the way I like it. There’s a whole lot of convincing that has to be done. The people who disagree with me aren’t as docile as they ought to be, in my opinion. And then there are the people who are supposedly on my side! I thought I could count on them to back me up, but just yesterday one of my closest advisors decided to pledge his allegiance to someone else. Ow! It came totally out of the blue, really.

I’ve had problems with campaign workers all along, but this latest one takes the cake. What kind of person accepts a leadership role in support of a candidate and then abandons her just before the finish line? Whether you like me or not, you have to admit that’s pretty low. And you also have to admit that the kind of miserable cretin who would betray someone that way also happens to be the exactly the kind of person I would hire for an important job in a crucial state. Just like some of the other not-loyalists I hired in New Hampshire. Never knew any of them, really. I just went with my feelings, which I think are much more important than facts. It makes you wonder what sort of cabinet I would put together if I actually got elected. The implications are pretty dark. Lately I’ve been telling people that I’m just like Margaret Thatcher, but more and more I’ve been feeling like Blanche DuBois. I do so rely on the kindness of strangers, and those strangers have been unusually cruel.

Dr. Babooner, why am I drawn to people who aren’t good to me? I’m wondering if I’m just too nice, or if I give people too much credit, or if I simply love too quickly. I can’t decide. Please tell me – Which of my positive traits makes me vulnerable to disasters like this?

Sincerely,
Mrs. B.

There’s yet another possibility – that something about your personality attracts insincere opportunists who will exploit a situation as fully as possible and then move on without remorse, always looking for the next chance to benefit somehow by getting people all riled up and irrational. I don’t think it’s about being too nice or too loving – can you ever be TOO either one of those things? But maybe you could benefit by choosing your friends more carefully, or by asking yourself if your style has a special appeal for phonies and backstabbers.

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

R.I.P. Cheetah

And so we discover the mixed blessing of being a well-known movie chimpanzee.

Chimp fame hinges on your ability to interact with the humans. No starring roles for you, Cheetah. You are always there for comic relief. Never will you get cast in parts with depth or substance. Delivering a performance that is a masterpiece of subtlety is impossible – your talent will forever be wasted on an audience of morons who all think they’re smarter than you. Your fans. Though to them, you look like every other chimp in the world, or as one commentator said yesterday, ” … like George Burns.”

Here’s the ultimate indignity, Movie Chimp – when you die, some people will question whether it was really you. Even Kim Jong Il was immediately accepted as a legitimate inductee into the legions of the dead without having to show his papers, and he was a lot more guarded and mysterious than Tarzan’s best buddy. What a comedown for Cheetah – to go from being the world’s most famous primate to being called an impostor. You, the one true holder of Hollywood’s poop flinging thrown. I know what you’re thinking, Movie Chimp. “This is fame? I was there on the screen, larger than life. How can you suggest I am not me?” You SAW me!

Ah, we looked at you, Cheetah, but did not see. To us, you were just another pretty, hairy face.

I’m calling here and now for an end to any investigations into the late chimp’s identity. So what if the “Cheetah” who died yesterday was, in fact, some other chimp? Is there any satisfaction in that knowledge? I say “no”, because if yesterday’s obituary was for a Tarzan sidekick-pretender, that means the “real” Cheetah in all likelihood died years ago unnoticed and unlamented. Feel better? Me neither.

So farewell, Cheetah, or someone very much like you. We loved that smile!

Aside from our simian friend, name your favorite movie animal.

Happy Birthday, Lew Ayres

Today is the birthday of the actor Lew Ayres.

Ayres was born in Minneapolis in 1908 and had a remarkable career in Hollywood, not necessarily for the work he did but for how he conducted himself and for the impression he left. Ayres breakthrough role was in the film “All Quiet on the Western Front”, which includes a scene where he is caught alone with an adversary he has killed. You can see it on You Tube but to get to the clip you have to watch an ad first. That’s a drag, but it’s not as painful as actual trench warfare.

By today’s standards I call it a toss-up as to which one of the two actors in the scene appears to be more wooden, but the anti-war message of the film had an effect on Ayres – so much so that when World War II came along he became America’s best-known concientious objector. He was told that refusing to take up arms would end his film career, but Ayres was adamant that he would not kill another human being.

“I thought, well, this may mean the end of a career. As far as I was concerned that was all right. I was ready. I said I don’t mind working with the army because you do have a tremdous problem with the Hitler situation. I can’t deny these things, but I said as far as I’m concerned I couldn’t kill, and I couldn’t go into the army even on your side unless I did what I considered to be constructive work.”

There was a backlash and some theaters refused to show his films, but Ayres stuck to his position and managed to get into the Medical Corps as a non-combatant. He served with distinction, patching people up in the Pacific and New Guinea and after the war ended he was able to resume his career, though his star power had dimmed. Still, Ayres must have had some personal magnetism. Jane Wyman, his co-star in the film “Johnny Belinda”, left her husband, apparently with the thought that she and Ayres could make a life together. That didn’t happen, but by that point Wyman’s marriage to Ronald Reagan was beyond repair. One wonders how she felt, years later, about taking that gamble.

Lew Ayres’ other remarkable and principled stand was to turn down a chance to star on TV in a role he had created for film – Dr. Kildare. Ayres wanted NBC to agree that there would be no cigarette advertising connected with the series. In 1961, that was incredibly foresighted call for an actor, and one that was totally impossible for the network to accept. The role went to Richard Chamberlain instead. People may have been puzzled at the time, but today we understand.

I, for one, tip my hat. Happy birthday, Mr. Ayres.

Who do you admire in the motion picture world?

Spin’s Xmas Letter

Here’s this year’s Christmas letter from visionary, dealmaker and one-man economic engine Spin Williams, who is always in control at The Meeting That Never Ends:

Congratulations on achieving another Fully Merry or at least Somewhat Cheerful Christmas, everyone!

I’ve waited to send this letter until The Day Itself has passed so I can speak to you directly about what you’ve already accomplished. That’s just one of the great management techniques I try to put into practice every single day. Offering Positive Feedback to Underlings – because people are not inspired when you bestow vague hopes for something that might happen in the near or distant future. I’m a businessman so I don’t believe in luck or wishes. Everything that matters most in my world is the result of careful planning and growing your market share.

And now that Christmas is passed, don’t expect me to make any limp resolutions for the New Year, either. Though if I could change one thing, it would be the nature of the 1% vs. 99% debate. So far we’ve heard a lot from the 99%’ers about how they are so disadvantaged. But where are the 1%’ers who are willing to speak in favor of being gloriously rich? And it IS glorious to be rich, believe me. We should talk it up.

A few have stepped forward – most recently in this article on Bloomberg News. Finally some of the ultra-well-to-do are letting their Privileged Pride show! Here’s my favorite comment so far, offered by Robert Rosenkranz, CEO of Wilmington, Delaware-based Delphi Financial Group Inc., a seller of workers’-compensation and group-life insurance. He was quoted in the Bloomberg article.

It’s simply a fact that pretty much all the private- sector jobs in America are created by the decisions of ‘the 1 percent’ to hire and invest. Since their confidence in the future more than any other factor will drive those decisions, it makes little sense to undermine their confidence by vilifying them.

He’s right. We rich people ARE the economy, so don’t make us feel bad about ourselves. Everyone knows you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. And you can catch even MORE flies if you lose your job, don’t wash for twelve weeks in a row, and start living in your car. In any case, I think we can agree that it’s wrong for anyone anywhere to say anything unkind about rich people. So don’t do it!

In the meantime, I think we Riches ought to advocate for ourselves. I usually don’t have any family-related activities at Christmastime because I live for work and haven’t had time to procreate, (I’ve been too busy making jobs!) But I do have some relatives-for-hire who come spend time at my house on those holidays when everyone else seems to want to stay home.

This past Sunday afternoon my faux nephew and central casting neice were arguing over a game of Monopoly I was forcing them to play. I don’t even like Monopoly, but I’m told some people break it out after all the gifts have been opened, and I wanted to experience a Christmas that was “normal”.

And as I watched these fake siblings nearly come to blows over whether one of them did or DID NOT cross “Go” and Collect $200 Dollars, I realized that this kind of plain spoken intensity is what I was have not been hearing in the 1%’s defense. So I wrote it down!

Dear 99%’ers – You’re right on all counts. You suck at this and we are so totally demolishing you at this game! It’s not even funny. We’ve gathered up all the money and have purchased all the property and yes, only some worthless scraps remain. Face it. You are one Parking Ticket away from total destruction.

And it is SO easy to take your money! You don’t know how to use the bank and you can’t figure out how to turn the political piece to your advantage either. We, however, have loads of experience. Did you notice we took ALL the tax increase cards out of the “Chance” pile when you weren’t looking? It’s not against the rules – check! There’s nothing there that says you can’t!

What’s more, you don’t even know you’re playing a game – you think this is your life. Ha! You are so pathetic. Really, you should put up a better fight. We’re winning, we’re winning, we’re WINNING! Nyahh!”

Or words to that effect. That’s what I think the wealthy should be saying, but so few of my fellow Riches have the fortitude to stand up and speak their own minds. And almost none have the nerve to speak MY mind. But taunting is a great way to get people motivated, and that’s what I’d like to provide for you in 2012 – an incentive to get off your duff. So stay tuned, and thanks for reading this letter all the way to the end!

It seems like Spin Williams has fallen a little too deep in the eggnog and whiskey over the long weekend, and he might regret sending out this rambling, provocative mess.

Have you ever sent a letter or a message you wished you could recall?

Miracle on a Ball of Ice

There is a standard type of story often seen in movies where a character is set up as a sure failure – the kind of engaging but doomed loser who faces insurmountable odds and will, under normal circumstances, succumb to a much stronger opponent.

And yet … for reasons that are inexplicable, our hero emerges victorious in spite of it all. We love these tales of amazing, unlikely underdogs.

Add to that list the tale of Comet Lovejoy, a recent discovery by an amateur astronomer in Australia – Terry Lovejoy. Already we are ahead of the game – our sky spotter has a perfectly charming and appropriately seasonal name. My guess is that a comet named after amateur astronomer Neil Grudge-Spite would not get the same kind of global press.

Lovejoy detected the comet in late November – early enough for scientists to train several space based detectors on the object, to track its certain demise as to streaks towards the sun. Here’s one description of the expected chain of events as posted on a Navy website dedicated to Sungrazing Comets just days after news of Lovejoy’s solar approach was announced:

“Welcome to the beginning of the end of Comet Lovejoy’s billions of years long journey through space. In less than 10 hours time, the comet will graze some 120,000km above the solar surface, through the several million degree solar corona, and — in my opinion — completely evaporate. We have here an exceptionally rare opportunity to observe the complete vaporization of a relatively large comet, and we have approximately 18 instruments on five different satellites that are trying to do just that. “

Here’s the amazing part – the comet skitters around the sun … and EMERGES! The comet watchers are dumbfounded. You can see video of the approach and escape here:

And here is the same skeptical Navy observer quoted earlier, delightedly eating crow:

“I don’t know where to begin. I simply don’t know. What an extraordinary 24hrs! I suppose the first thing to say is this: I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. And I have never been so happy to be wrong! For the past two weeks I have been saying that Comet Lovejoy would not survive perihelion in “any appreciable form”. When I said this, I envisioned that we would see some very diffuse component maybe last a few hours after perhelion, but not much else. I was spectacularly incorrect!
Last night, between 7pm and 8pm (ET), the SDO team blogged and tweeted live the passage of the comet through SDO’s extreme ultraviolet AIA camera. Not long after the first images were made available came the announcement that the comet was seen plunging into the solar atmosphere. I expected this, but was nonetheless delighted. What I did not expect was that a short time later it was seen to re-emerge!
Somehow it survived being immersed in the several million-degree solar corona for almost an hour …”

Lovejoy, our hero! And here’s the victory parade – a shot of the comet’s tail taken from the International Space Station by Commander Dan Burbank, who called it “… probably the most amazing thing I’ve seen in space ….” The glowing green tail of the comet Lovejoy, emerging just ahead of the sun from behind the Earth’s horizon.

Who’s your favorite underdog?

Baboons on the Housetop

Many thanks to the Trail Baboon readers and writers who gave me some extra time to combine work with holiday rituals this week. Steve, Joanne in Big Lake, Barbara in Robbinsdale, Jim in Clark’s Grove, and Beth-Ann made my Christmas brighter with their engaging guest posts.

But this morning for the sake of entertainment the contrarian side of my brain started imagining the opposite sort of scene to the tune of Clement Moore’s famous “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” which needs to be parodied regularly anyway as part of our holiday tradition. Unfortunately time has run out, so I’ll have to rely on you to supply the final lines:

On the night before Christmas, our house was in ruins.
Invaded, it seems, by a pack of baboons!
Though our stockings were hung by the chimney with care.
The baboons pulled them down and tossed stuff in the air.

They were covered in fur, from each head to each toe,
But their rumps lit the room with a fierce crimson glow.
They dismantled our tree in a riotous scene
Leaving pine needles piled under branches of green.

All the snowmen and angels were pulled from their shelves.
The baboons were unkind to our reindeer and elves.
What they did to our ornaments – that was obscene!
Left untouched, by the way? Our nativity scene.

But their eyes were ferocious! Their noses were flared!
Did I mention their bottoms were wickedly bared?
Every gift was torn open and played with and busted.
Baboons in the house really shouldn’t be trusted.

And as they were leaving with screeching and whooping
(I’m sure in the yard I’ll find several were pooping)
I didn’t lament all that savaged décor
Because that’s not what Christmastime ought to be for.

And here is the place where I’m stymied. I’m blocked.
The muse is gummed up like a Christmas tree, flocked.
So get out your pens. Write it florid or terse,
and end this short poem with just one final verse.

The Ho, Aglow

Today’s guest post comes from Beth-Ann.

When my son was in kindergarten he insisted that we needed a lighted lawn decoration for Christmas. He lobbied incessantly and eventually overcame my aesthetic, traditional, and practical objections to planting lighted extruded plastic in front of our house to mark the nativity of the Lord.

On Thanksgiving weekend with coupon in hand we headed off to the late, great Frank’s Nursery and Crafts. The purchase required a lot of negotiation. My son’s vision was much gaudier and even at half price more expensive than mine. Finally we agreed that a hard-bodied light up Santa with a sack would join our family. We took him home, put him on the front steps of our townhouse, and at dusk ran his cord inside and turned him on. Clearly we were the spirit of commercial Christmas incarnate.

My neighbor still recounts with horror that she heard a noise that night and saw Santa rolling around our driveway. It had not occurred to me that all those other light-up Santas, Frostys, and Holy Families with and without animals had been anchored down.

Picture Him In Bungee Bondage

After some research I put together some bungee cords and attached Santa to the porch railing. My son was concerned that little children would be worried that Santa wouldn’t come to visit them since he was tied to our porch.

The oft told tale of my pre-school aged brother referring to St Nicholas’ helper as The Ho-Ho man led us to eventually refer to our light up figure as The Ho as in “Did you remember to plug in the Ho?” During junior high when snarkiness reigned we began to refer to him as Santa in bondage. For a while he had a penguin companion, but The Guin proved not to be as bright as The Ho and was forced into retirement when his light bulb no longer lit.

It won’t surprise you that since my son has left home and The Ho is in my sole custody I am devoted to him. He is tied up every December 1st and I make sure the Ho is aglow most evenings. He is terribly unfashionable and approaching retro at this point and I have to admit we have indeed bonded.

What holiday tradition were you initially reluctant to accept, yet now embrace?

The Hazards of Homestead Maintainence

Today’s guest post comes from Jim in Clark’s Grove.

I admire Scott and Helen Nearing, who wrote about their self-reliant life style in a book called “Living the Good Life”. They built their own house and raised most of their own food. Like them, I raise some of my food, but unlike the Nearings, I didn’t build my home. And although I try to do most my own repairs, most of these projects do not go smoothly.

A recent effort at taking care of a broken light fixture is a good example of what can happen. One of the three fluorescent bulbs in a light fixture would not stay on. I tried to solve this problem by replacing the flickering bulb, and the new bulb stayed lit for a while and then the problem returned – an indication that the fault was in the fixture itself. The next step was to turn the light off and look for loose wires. I knew some of the wires might be loose because I am the person who installed this light in the first place. But after a long struggle, the bulb still would not stay on. I thought I might be dealing with a faulty ballast so I returned to the store where I bought the light to get a replacement. The clerk said he was sure that he was selling me the right part.

The Fixture

Taking the fixture apart the second time became more complicated because now none of bulbs would light up and I couldn’t tell if the switch was in the off or on position. I ended up making many trips to the basement to find the correct circuit breaker, and after finally re-taking thing apart I discovered that the replacement ballast did not look at all like the one in the original light. In short, it looked like I would need to cut a very large number of wires and might have a lot of trouble getting them properly reconnected.

I decided right then that I am much better at installing new things than I am at repairing old ones.

The new light looks great, and I’m feeling surprisingly self-reliant, though not in the sense the Nearings intended. I relied on myself to declare defeat when the repair job became too complicated, and I relied on myself to decide to go out and get a new fixture.

Many of my other attempts at doing my own repairs have resembled this less than smooth effort. I suspect the Nearings would not have been so quick to buy a new product to fix an old problem. They were intent on insulating their lives from the culture of consumption, and I was intent on not spending the rest of my life struggling with this one stubborn device.

What happens when you do your own repairs?

Solstice Song Circle

Today’s guest post is by Barbara in Robbinsdale.

Light is returning, even tho’ this is the darkest hour
No one can hold back the dawn.
Let’s keep it burning, let’s keep the light of hope alive
Make safe our journey through the storm.
One planet is turning, circle on her path around the sun
Earth Mother is calling her children home.

I sang this song over the weekend because it was the 3rd Saturday of the month, which means there’s Song Circle. This month it fell right before the Winter Solstice.

Song Circle is a group of aging hippies (and some younger, regular people) who meet monthly at various homes to sing together, led by a couple of folks with acoustic guitars and the occasional concertina, tambourine, or drum. The only requirements are a voice you’re willing to use, and showing up. There are other attractions as well – there is a plentiful supply of snacks, and in June and December there is a not-to-be-missed potluck. Once we’ve settled into the comfiest chairs we can find, we go around the circle as we take turns choosing the next song.

Talk about variety! We sing mostly from a spiral-bound book called Rise Up Singing, edited by Peter Blood et al, and with a forward by Pete Seeger (and there is a whole stack of the books available if you don’t own one), that provides the song lyrics, source, and chord progressions for the guitar-literate. There are hundreds of song lyrics, neatly organized both by title (if you’re lucky enough to know it) and topic. (A lot of the ones we sing were played on The Late Great Morning Show.) Of course, someone will always pop in with new song sheets that stretch our abilities and the skill of the guitarists. Depending on how many people show up on any given evening, we will get around the circle for two or three requests apiece.

December is particularly rich, with so many holiday songs to choose from, and there are extra booklets of Christmas songs, from the ridiculous to the sublime. This time I picked the above Light is Returning (lyrics by Charlie Murphy, tune: “original”). The words by themselves seem to indicate a quiet ballad, but no, it has a rollicking, boppy beat to it and sounds best sung with a throaty gusto. I also requested In the Bleak Mid-winter (but not too slow, please), and Bob Franke’s Thanksgiving Day as we were heading out. There was no need to stick with December – someone also chose an old Stan Rogers that I’d never sung.

I’m happy that we sing to celebrate Christmas and Hannukah, and especially glad to give a nod to the Winter Solstice. I am relieved that we’re almost there, and that even though the coldest days are still to come, the pendulum is about to start back in the other direction. Soon enough there will be more light, rather than less.

Share your favorite Winter Solstice songs, stories, poems, and customs.
If you don’t have any, you can create your own! Start here with an idea and give others the chance to help you develop it.