Sifting Through Rubble

The scale of the destruction in Japan is beyond imagining, though with each passing day the enormity of what happened there becomes more evident. The terrifying images of debris-laden mountains of water rushing towards coastal towns leave me speechless.

I try to picture what it would have been like to be there. What does one do to protect one’s family and one’s self from such a destructive force, even when given a few brief minutes to react?

The nuclear reactor damage has vast and sinister potential to amplify the tragedy.

I’ve got no silly poems or funny characters who are up to the task of addressing this, but felt it was important to make a space where gentle baboons could have a conversation about it.

Have you ever experienced an earthquake?

Does a Bear Sleep in the Woods?

This took me by surprise – Daylight Savings Time starts tomorrow, March 13th. We turn our clocks ahead one hour, which will have the effect of making our lengthening daylight hours linger into the early evening.

Sunday night you’ll be able to go out and chip some ice off the sidewalk as a just-before- bedtime stress reliever in precisely the way God intended you to do it – by his own natural light.

Not everyone is pleased with DST. I’m simply the messenger, mind you, but I felt obliged to pass along this rant that arrived by cellphone from an undisclosed location in the north woods. It has been translated (as usual) from the original Ursus Textish.

Bart - The Bear Who Found a Cell Phone

‘Lo. Bart here. A little sleepy. Just comin’ around.

Late winter, early spring is the time for groggy bears. We stumble around, just like you after a long sleep. Need a little time to adjust.

And it doesn’t help that right about when we wake up, you people start messing around with the clocks! Don’t DO that! Last year I got so confused. Started to feel drowsy at the end of the day and the dang sun was still up! Couldn’t figure it out. Got so tired I just went to sleep in this guy’s backyard. Then while I was sleepin’ his wife found me, and before you know it he’s out there with his video camera!

I knew if I opened my eyes then, I was gonna have to act all surprised and ferocious, and frankly right after I get up my vicious bear routine comes across as a little lame. Annoy me in July and you’ll get a face full of bad breath and spittle, but in March I’m a little bit logy and dry, and a wimpy roar is worse for our overall image than just lying there. Gotta protect the bear “brand”, if you know what I mean.

So I had to pretend to be asleep while they tromped all around me, ‘blah, blah, blah look a the dumb bear’. ‘Guess he got fooled by an early thaw. Blah blah blah.’ No. No I did not ‘get fooled’ by an early warm spell. I’m hopeful, just like you. If that’s my crime, so be it.

And how many different gadgets do you have for taking a picture of something, anyway? Geez! Had to wait until it was dark so I could sneak off. Seems like it took forever for the sun to go down. Dang DST!

Seriously, leave the time alone. Let the day be what it’s gonna be, WHEN it’s gonna be it. You make everything more complicated, and I’ve got enough problems. Can’t get a good night’s sleep, for one.

Your pal,

He IS a touch cranky, at least until early May. I think it’s hunger, so it’s a good idea to keep your distance.

Are you a morning person?

The Voice

Today is Bobby McFerrin’s Birthday.

He’s a performer with the skill and the openness to unite all the musical genres. There doesn’t seem to be a style that’s beyond his reach. McFerrin teaches while he entertains, and he gets more involvement out of his audiences than anyone since Pete Seeger was in his prime.

I first became aware of his talent with the live recording of his solo performances in Germany. The Germans call him “Wunder Stimme”, or “Wonder Voice”. I’m still amazed to hear this one guy keeping a crowd enthralled, singing without accompaniment and using his own body for percussion. What a remarkable (and gutsy) thing to do.

It almost didn’t happen. He was a 27 year old piano player working with bands when he had his “Aha” moment.

“I was living in Salt Lake City and I was an accompanist in the dance department at the University of Utah. I was walking home during a lunch break when, all of a sudden, I knew I was a singer. I called the Hilton Hotel to ask for an audition. I sang five tunes and the guy hired me on the spot. I started working as a singer right away, at the piano bar.”

I wonder why it hit him then – walking home for lunch. Maybe hunger had something to do with it. And calling the Hilton to ask for an audition just because you had this weird idea? That’s bold. But if you’re Bobby McFerrin, it pays off.

On his 61st birthday today we’ll hear him with some other geniuses, Mark O’Connor, Yo Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer.

He had one hit, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. McFerrin handled that just the right way – he let it open some doors, but didn’t allow one song to define him. Instead of succumbing to the constant pressure to come up with another hit song, and another and another, he stopped performing his chart topper. He let it go off and have its own life without him.

Who else would do that?

McFerrin has established himself as a musical force that thrives in areas outside the narrow demands of popular culture. He has shown us a remarkable combination of integrity and freedom, in part made possible from the money generated by one big financial success.

You’ve just written and performed a hit song, and the money is rolling in. What do you do NEXT?

Watson Hears A Hallooo

This is the anniversary of the day in 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson conducted a significant experiment in Boston.

Technology has advanced so much since then, you can now sit in your pajamas and with a computer and some phone wire, read an account of the historic events as written in Bell’s own hand. Amazing. But each time I’ve heard this story, there has been one particular aspect that troubles my Midwestern sensibility.

It’s a small detail, and it seems trite to bring it up. Such a big advance and such a tiny complaint!

Fortunately, by running Bell’s notebook through the Seussifier, I was able to distill my problem down to three verses.

On the tenth day of March in a lab by the bay,
Mr. Bell said a First in the History of Say.
When he called his assistant as scientists do:
“Mr. Watson come here – I want to see you!”

Mr. Watson came running to be seen, of course.
Both to help Mr. Bell and upset Mr. Morse.
For the call that he answered went not through the air
but through vibrating wires as thin as your hair.

So hats off to Bell, so inventive and bold
And Watson, who did everything he was told.
But good children know that in times such as these
One should never say ‘come here’ without saying ‘please’!

Would it have been terribly difficult to say “Watson, PLEASE come here. I want to see you, if it’s not too much trouble”? They say brilliant people lack social skills. Maybe so.

Jim Ed Poole always likes to point out that Alexander Graham Bell’s idea for how we would answer this new invention was NOT to say “Hello”, but rather, “Ahoy”, as they do at sea. Too bad it never caught on. Maybe in recognition of the importance of this anniversary we should all answer our calls with “Ahoy” today.

It might even sound better than “hello”, especially if you answer the phone for a business that sells comforting, egg shaped playthings made from impure metals.

Ahoy! Boyd’s Ovoid Alloyed Toys! Avoid being paranoid. Enjoy an ovoid toy today! How may I help you?

When has an unlikely personal experiment succeeded?

Name Game

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned slipping on the ice and wrecking my clutch operating leg. As a result I was unable to drive and started using public transportation, which turned out to be easy and fun, mostly.

Then there was the day I went to the wrong stop one block south of where I was supposed to be, missed my connection and had to wait an extra hour for the next bus to come along. That was my mistake – a consequence of thinking I knew the system when, in fact, I didn’t.

Creating a logical and memorable network is one of the challenges transit planners face. Things that are easy to use get used more often. It becomes complicated when there are jumble of options for riders to de-code – regular busses, express busses, light rail and BRT, (Bus Rapid Transit), in which busses mimic the feel of rail and operate on a completely separate or somewhat exclusive right-of-way.

LRT and BRT are being developed as a system within the system, offering “enhanced” service along “transitways” that are clearly defined. The Hiawatha Avenue light rail line is fairly obvious, and completely tearing up and rebuilding University Avenue over the next few years for the Central Corridor LRT will make the path of that line indelible.

The zoomy looking transit station plopped down in the middle of I-35W at 46th Street in South Minneapolis is a new landmark. When I first saw it, I knew I wanted to go someplace from there. The problem was – where?

Back when there were no roads to speak of, people got around on the rivers, literally paddling their own canoes. That’s why I was tickled to see this – a cartographer named Daniel Huffman who teaches at UW-Madison re-drew the Mississippi River basin as a transit map.

It’s a fun piece of artwork that gets me thinking about the river in a different way, but I’m guessing the Native Americans who used the rivers as transit corridors before the Europeans showed up didn’t need this kind of help to get around. The Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri were perfectly legible without “branding”.

But the new system could use marketing help, and the Metro Council is asking for some. Here’s an excerpt from a press release that invites naming suggestions for the developing LRT/BRT component of the Twin Cities public transit network:

“We’re anxious to see what creative ideas the public has for this exciting new element of our transit system,” said Arlene McCarthy, director of Metropolitan Transportation Services for the Council. We’ll be looking for name ideas that identify this service as a distinct part of our system, while incorporating aspects of the character of the Twin Cities region.”

Intriguing challenge, but how do you collapse all of that into a couple of memorable, useful, descriptive words? What is the character of the Twin Cities region? Yow.
If you have ideas, you can send them one of these ways:

By mail to the Regional Data Center at 390 Robert St. N., St. Paul, MN 55101
By e-mail
Record your idea at 651-602-1500 (TTY 651-291-0904)
By Fax 651-602-1464
Or just use the online form.

Again, we see the tricky problem of navigating multiple modes of transport. In this case, which path to choose for conveying your brilliant ideas?

Are you good at naming things?

Don’t Panic!

Today is the anniversary of the first broadcast of the first radio installment of Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. I mention it only because I know some Trail Baboon regulars are fans of the author and the series, which went on to include books, TV shows, movies, more radio shows, a video game, lots of websites and who knows what else.

But it started as a for-ears-only experience.

The online description of the beginning states it thus: “Despite a low-key launch of the series (the first episode was broadcast at 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday, 8 March 1978), it received generally good reviews and a tremendous audience reaction … for radio.”

I love the “… for radio” part. Who listens to radio at 10:30 on a Wednesday night? For drama? Comic, science fiction drama? In Britain in 1978, the answer was “just enough.”

The video and film versions never quite measured up to the original, for me. But then I’m biased in favor of “the theater of the mind”, where some say the pictures are better but it’s also true that you automatically edit out any mind-pictures that don’t measure up – perhaps an unfair advantage for the creaky old medium.

This You Tube non-video offers the first ten minutes of the first episode.

Shortly after this clip ends, the world is destroyed. Not a bad first step along the way to starting something new.

I can only guess that Adams did not expect this project to draw the cult following it did, or to take up so much of his limited time on Earth. He died of a heart attack at age 49.

Clearly “The Hitchhiker’s Guide” is an example of something with modest beginnings that became much grander and infinitely more complicated. So hurrah for modest beginnings!

What have you done that met with unexpected success?

Goats in the News

Goats usually wind up in the news for one of two reasons.

1) Grazing on prominent or public lands as a cost efficient way of clearing weeds.
2) Being locked in the trunk of a car, sometimes painted to look like Brett Favre.

Thank goodness it’s option number one this time, as it appears there is no limit to our amazement that goats will do an efficient job of nibbling a field. The latest media stars are a group of animals who are munching away at the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve in California. Among their constant companions are a keeper (goatherder) and his dog, referred to by the L.A. Times as Choi and Troy. You’ll have to read the story to figure out which is which. Ultimately it doesn’t matter – they both have pretty cool entry-level jobs on the ground floor of what may turn out to be our coming goat-based economy.

In the sports department, I’m sorry to say the Chelan High School Goats lost to Granger at the state basketball tournament in Yakima, Washington. You won’t find a lot of high schools flying the goat banner. When it comes to mascots the sports world is heavily weighted towards big cats and birds of prey, but it’s hard to think of an animal more hardy and nimble than a goat. Too bad climbing up the backboard isn’t allowed!

In Potomac, Maryland, there are quadruplets! That’s almost a complete basketball team in one litter.

In the arts section, there’s word in the St. Paul Pioneer Press about a play called “Goats” which is being presented by the Minnesota Jewish Theater.
There are no actual goats in the show, which might be a disappointment for literalists in the audience. But then there were no real cats in “Cats”, either. The production is on through March 27th at the Hillcrest Center Theater, 1978 Ford Parkway in St. Paul.

As long as we’re on the topic of ungulates in show biz, here’s a shot from the MeadowWild Farm Barnies, being awarded perpetually at Barb and Steve’s blog, Out to Pasture.

In a science fiction movie, this is what would happen if those animals clearing the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve accidentally wandered into a top secret military testing area, ate radioactive weeds, got past Choi and Troy and began to mingle with the Hollywood folk.

Crimes Against Nature? Yes, but they’re award winners too!

What current news story might be improved by the addition of a few goats?

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