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Baboons in the News

Left-leaning cynics might assume from the title of this post that I am writing today about the prospective presidency of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, but what is on my mind is a far more likely possibility – that one of us will some day inadvertently (and ironically) encounter a wild baboon while innocently walking down a trail.

As some of you know, the name of this blog is nothing more than a play on words, coined because my original choice for a title, “Trial Balloon,” was already spoken for.

I don’t actually know much about baboons, or their trail behavior. Frankly, I didn’t know that a trail was anyplace where one might encounter a baboon, but apparently it is not unusual to meet them on trails around Capetown, South Africa.

And I was surprised to learn from the above-linked article that baboons live in groups of about 50, which is approximately the number of people who regularly read this blog.

Coincidence? I think not.

Here are the two most fascinating baboon-encounter tidbits I’ve taken away from this document:

  • When encountering a baboon on a trail, don’t smile or show your teeth, as this could be interpreted as an act of aggression.
  • By all means remain calm, and stand up straight to display a strong and confident yet non-threatening behavior.

As a habitual smiling sloucher, I’m afraid I am ill-equipped to handle baboons properly during an accidental trail encounter – just another reason to keep all my baboon interactions virtual.

How should a person meeting you for the first time behave if they aim to keep you from becoming riled up?

Champion Climbers

I’ve completed my annual Excursion of Terror up and down our almost-big-enough aluminum ladder to place six strings of gigantic old energy-burning Christmas lights at the peaks of our gables. Each year another handful burn out and I replace them. Each year I think about the falling-off-a-ladder injury and death statistics for men in their ’50’s. Apparently we are oblivious to the rules of ladder safety, which for men in my age group, starts with “Stay Off The Ladder!”

One of the enlightening statistics regarding ladder safety is that around half the falls happen because the ladder user is carrying something in one or both hands while trying to climb. Yes, of course this is foolish but if I didn’t have to carry something there’d be no reason to go up there in the first place. Next year I’ll try telling the lights to meet me at the top for installation.

My nervousness about taking objects up the ladder helped me appreciate the fine work of some of the local rodents.

After every Halloween I find wrappers in the yard. Bits of candy too, sometimes. When you’re candy-rich, shoving a handful of M&M’s in your mouth as you leave the door means you don’t have to go to the trouble of putting the treat in your bag. So what if some of them hit the ground? You’re a sugar mogul on Halloween night!

While installing the Christmas lights I noticed a gap in the siding about 12 feet above ground level – there seemed to be a passageway to get under the aluminum and up against the softer, more chewable building material that makes up the outer shell of our home. Concerned, I got a screwdriver and started to dig away at the debris that had collected in the opening.

Out rolled a malted milk ball.

I was appalled, but also appreciative. That’s not an easy climb, getting a malted milk ball 12 feet up. A mouse takes serious risks lugging such an awkward object to such a high point, only to discover it’s too big to get into the house. Bummer.

I thought for a moment about leaving it there as a testament to a monumental achievement. But only for a moment.

When has your hard work gone unrewarded?

Apostle of Jazz

Radio legend, jazz lover and gentleman Leigh Kamman passed away last Friday at 92.

Leigh was a rare individual in many ways, but particularly in the world of radio where the microphone amplifies the voice and also inflates the perceptions of listeners about the qualifications of the person doing the talking. The medium itself adds authority whether you deserve it or not. If you’re just smart enough to walk around the outside edges of a topic, many listeners will assume you know everything inside. Careers have been built on this.

Leigh Kamman was the real deal. With him, you got a radio host who actually knew what he was talking about. When it came to jazz, he was a true devotee, and his primary interest was in sharing the art and uplifting the performers. I can’t recall hearing Leigh say a negative word about anyone except himself. I think about that when I read music reviews where critics use their pedestals to bash performers who don’t live up to their expectations.

As a radio host, I admired Leigh for his ability to set a scene and transport a listener to someplace new. He did the most essential thing when enveloped you in his world. As the Jazz Image theme music – Django’s Castle – began each Saturday night, I waited with great anticipation for the moment when the music would fade and he’d step in with that voice to take us to an unexpected location. “Hanging upside down over the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth” was my all-time favorite. Just hearing the music by Gerry Mulligan’s band takes me back there – you can listen and fill in with your own Leigh Kamman memory.

I know several people who worked directly with Leigh on his MPR program, The Jazz Image. Each one was grateful for the experience, none more than Tom Wilmeth, who wrote this fine profile for the Jazz Times.

One of my favorite quotes is this one, where Tom captures Leigh’s inherent modesty:

Leigh consistently kept the focus on the music, and never on himself. He had spoken to Duke Ellington on numerous occasions, first as a 17-year-old fan at a train station! But he wouldn’t think of dropping this fascinating nugget into a conversation in order to impress. I had worked with Leigh close to three years before I heard him mention, in passing, about speaking with Charlie Parker. I froze at the tape deck with reel in hand. I asked him to expand a bit, but he drifted away to another subject.

When you know a lot about something you can use that information to intimidate others who are less knowledgable. I have seen smart people who are also enthusiasts of one sort or another wield volumes of minutiae to demonstrate that no matter how big a fan someone else might be, they are a MUCH, MUCH BIGGER fan. I guess there must be a good feeling that comes out of that, but I doubt that it lasts long.

Leigh Kamman was a distance runner – he had lived the life and had the history and the raw material to be that guy who made you feel inadequate and dumb, but he was principled and like a superhero, he used his immense power only for good – opening minds, gaining converts and spreading his love for the art form of jazz.

In what area are you an enthusiast?

An Eye On Octopi

You know how your eye is sometimes caught by a familiar word in an unexpected place?

That’s what happened to me when I saw I link to this National Geographic collection of articles that appeared under the heading: Beautiful Octopus Pictures: Masters of Disguise and Agile Hunters.

I am well aware that Octopi are Masters of Disguise and Agile Hunters to boot. What I hadn’t considered before is that they are Beautiful.

But if one octopus can be beautiful, does that mean a different octopus might be considered ugly? What would an octopus Standard of Beauty be?

If you were an octopus being judged at the State Fair, for example, would it work for or against you if your tentacles were thick and muscular or thin and noodly, or if your head was pear shaped or unusually soft looking?

What’s it worth in the underseas society to be a gorgeous octopus? Is it a matter of vanity, or are there real advantages? How much time and effort are you going to put into primping those suckers, suckers?

What makes a thing beautiful?

1 … 2 … GO! … 3 … Ready?

My brother was an early adopter, always wanting to be among the first to try a new thing, especially electronic stuff. He got out ahead of the crowd on laser video discs, for example. I remember marveling at the colorful LP sized platter that he brought out when it was time to watch a movie on that early machine. The thing whirred and heated up and eventually spat out some video that was a darn sight better than what we were seeing on VCR at the time, but of course it was nothing like today’s HD discs. He only collected a few films in this format before it became antiquated.

I can’t think of a time when I’ve been ahead of the crowd. Although I started to do an audio podcast around about the time the first enthusiasts lost interest in them, and now I understand they’re all the rage again, so I was both too late and too early to catch on to that trend.

Apparently there are people out there already gloating over and/or regretting their quick adoption of Apple’s latest iPhone, but there is some evidence to suggest that those riding the crest of every technological wave are better for it, eventually.

I don’t know if that’s true in nature, though.


There’s one branch on a tree in the back yard that thinks we’re at mid-October already. It spotted the “going orange” trend early and decided to jump in with abandon, though I’m sure some of the nearby limbs are thinking it’s a little soon to stake out that territory. What if the “hot” leaf color turns out to be blue this year?

How do you know when the time is right?

Wheel of Misfortune

Today’s post is a letter to the editor.

To the Editor:

I was insulted by your recent article that sings the praises of what you called a “Human Hamster Wheel“, portraying it as a reasonable and even groundbreaking advance over the standard office desk.

I shouldn’t need to tell you that the term “Hamster Wheel” is offensive to all Rodent Americans, as it is often used in a belittling fashion, hand-in-hand with descriptions of futile, frenetic, and strangely comic activities. But it may come as a surprise to you that we hamsters do not relish pointless work and we get no joy from the kind of running that leads to no real change in location.

Our main concern, especially in the wild, is survival.

And in the name of that cause, no motion is wasted. If you saw me hoarding seeds and nuts you would realize that I work hard. Why do you think I stuff my cheeks so full?  Saves on steps, that’s why!  I can carry more snacks back to my burrow.

But efficiency is not what you would expect if your only image of us is of a creature running nowhere on a squeaky treadmill.

Humans, on the other hand, are famous effort wasters. You  relish creating multiple systems that require a lot of activity from hopeful participants in the name of creating something meaningful but instead these bright ideas yield no tangible results.

The smug looking man in the video appears to be very satisfied with himself for being inside a rotating circle.

For hamsters, it is just the opposite. When you see us running on the inside of a metal wheel, we are enraged! And the fact that you stand around and laugh at us while we do it is infuriating.

So don’t tarnish our reputations by putting the name “Hamster” on this  endless “circle of frustration.”

It’s a human invention, pure and simple.  So why don’t you just call it “Congress”?

A. Hamster


Name something that is mis-named.  

Eclectic Outpost

Today is the first day of the fall membership drive at the little radio station where I direct most of my time and energy these days.

KFAI Fresh Air Radio is in its 37th year and has, over the decades, been home to some of the most unusual, creative, soulful, earnest, nonsensical, transcendent and impractical radio programs ever made. There is a history buried under the worn-out carpet and hidden behind the dusty racks of obsolete technology, fondly recalled by old-timers when they sift through a program names graveyard that includes provocative titles like Little City in Space, Ideal Cafe Jukebox, Frogucci, Root of All Evil, Radio Rumpus Room, Musica Mundana, One Bubble Off Plumb and Indian Uprising. And lest you think those out-of-the-mainstream days are gone, consider some of the current programs like Strictly Butter, Fubar Omniverse, Rocket Ship Ska Trip, and Crap From The Past.

Experts say the radio business is personality-driven but there are only a few personality types permitted in commercial broadcasting, all fitting a certain vocal quality standard and each of them turning out to be a slightly different flavor of loudmouth. On KFAI you can hear shouters, sweet talkers, mumblers, whisperers and people who sit quietly in front of the microphone waiting for the sound of a needle to drop. Yes, there are still turntables. And people who walk in off the street can wind up with a show someday if they demonstrate persistence and creativity. Try that at KSTP and let me know how it works out. Twelve languages are heard on the station, and no, there are no translations. When there is an Oromo, Somali, Eritrean or Hmong program on the air you either already get it, or you sit back and enjoy the sound of the words as a form of music, which, of course, it is.

Every show host works for love and freedom of expression. Even staff members who do shows are “off the clock” when they’re on the air. The rest of the time staff supports the volunteers, who struggle mightily against the tendency of all things electronic to eventually short out, break down or freeze up. In this way the place continues to run in spite of all odds and completely against the accepted theories of what radio stations should do. Among programmers there is a passionate devotion to that oddball listener who can’t find what she wants anywhere else and doesn’t even know what that is until she hears it. And because there is very little money for traditional marketing, the audience recruitment strategy relies heavily on chance. We fill the bird feeder with seed and hope customers will wander past and have their heads turned by an exotic flavor.

As you might imagine, that approach requires a zen-like patience interspersed with moments of panic..

So I invite you to tune in, stream the audio at your desk or download the app for your smart phone and give us a chance. Fair warning, though – with most radio stations, you’ll be able to get the gist of what they’re trying to do in about ten minutes. Commercial formats are designed to transparent and easily digested. But if you really want to figure out what’s going on at KFAI, it would help to set aside a few years.

When has investing extra time in a project proven to be worth it?