Tower of Babble

I know the espionage news is serious, but I can’t help thinking about what a strange word we’ve added to our vocabulary.


It sounds funny every time I hear it. And when I hear a funny word, I immediately want to use it in a sentence. Or better, a headline. But you know how it is with headlines. For a truly historic one to emerge, conditions must be right.

For instance, if a 1990’s talk show host got an exclusive interview on Twitter with Julian Assange, it might be called:

Rikki Lake’s Wikileaks Tweets

If the interview was altered and delayed for seven days due to illness:

Sickly Week Tweaks Rikki Lake’s Wikileaks Tweets

If Arab royalty became annoyed by the sudden changes:

Sheiks Piqued As Sickly Week Tweaks Rikki Lake’s Wikilealks Tweets

But if Ms. Lake sent her technical staff to calm the disturbance:

Geeks Speak To Piqued Sheiks As Sickly Week Tweaks Rikki Lake’s Wikileaks Tweets.

And if those emissaries had been recklessly eating fudgesicles before the meeting:

Sticky Cheeked Geeks Speak To Piqued Sheiks As Sickly Week Tweaks Rikki Lake’s Wikileaks Tweets.

If tangential observers darkly predicted unsatisfactory results, thus annoying the pocket protector wearing ambassadors:

Oblique Critiques Freak Sticky Cheeked Geeks Who Speak To Piqued Sheiks As Sickly Week Tweaks Rikki Lake’s Wikileaks Tweets.

Although those unkind observations about the work of such resourceful techno-wizards might draw an attack by angry pecking birds of prey, who show no reluctance to cover their antagonists in rivers of their own blood:

Eagle Beaks Wreak Icky Streaks Over Oblique Critiques That Freak Sticky Cheeked Geeks Who Speak To Piqued Sheiks As Sickly Week Tweaks Rikki Lake’s Wikileaks Tweets.

But I digress.

Does the rain in Spain stay mainly on the plain?

Everyday Heroics

Recently, while going through some family papers that had been collected by my late brother, I discovered a 1902 newspaper account of a relative who died after being hit by a train. The headline read:

Sad Death of Lola Irving Leonard

Lola Leonard

It tells the story of an 18-year-old high school senior in Yonkers, New York who was on her way home after school one rainy December afternoon. Apparently she slipped and fell while trying to board a train and the wheels of the last car ran over her legs. After an emergency amputation and four and a half hours of suffering, she passed away.

The “unfortunate girl”, as the article described her, was my great grandmother’s sister, but this was not a story I grew up with. In fact, the only “Lola Leonard” I knew of was not my great grand-aunt, but my grandmother, born in 1905, just a few years after the train station tragedy. Clearly she was named for her mother’s lost sibling. You’d think such a story would become family legend, but the episode might have been too painful pass along. I literally heard it for the first time a few weeks ago. I’m glad someone decided to save the article, and that I had a chance to see the yellowed newsprint before it crumbled away to nothing.

All of that came to mind yesterday when I spotted a You Tube video which has since traveled around the world several million times. If you haven’t seen it yet you should take a look, especially if you admire courage and like happy endings. Spoiler Alert – A man in Madrid falls off a station platform on to some railroad tracks and another man pulls him out of the way at the last possible moment.

I’ll be interested to read the complete story when someone manages to tell it. Some accounts have said the man who fell on the rails was drunk. That’s possible. Being drunk would certainly explain what happened, though there are other ways to topple off a platform.

Another account said the off duty policeman who performed the rescue ran to the spot where he jumped down on the tracks to help. Maybe so, but he seems awfully relaxed as he approaches the scene. Maybe he’s not relaxed, but exhausted, or scared. Another story claimed the rescuer’s name was “Angel”. Perhaps it was. If not, it’s possible his name will be “Angel” by the time the Hallmark TV special is filmed.

If you watch the video, note the reaction of the people in the station. Clearly they are concerned. Man on the tracks! They want to save him and they try to flag down the onrushing train. Some turn away at the last moment because they can’t bear to watch what they fear is about to happen. I understand all of that completely. I think we’d all like to be the strong person of action who moves quickly and decisively in a moment of crisis, but if I was put in the same situation I’m pretty sure I would be one of the well-meaning people who stayed on the platform, and not the hero who faced the danger.

A salute to the Spanish policeman for his physical courage!

And in the lesser category of linguistic feats, I commend one of the commentators following this story in the online edition of London’s Daily Mail.

A typographically challenged reader named Jeremy remarked about the hero:
“And he was so clam doing it!”

To which another reader named “K” responded:
“It would be difficult to accuse that bloke of being shellfish.”

What a brave bit of wordplay. My hero!

What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever seen?

White Space

This weekend’s post is late, short and full of white space, thanks to our early December snowstorm and the 7 hours I spent on the road with family Friday afternoon, evening, night and early Saturday morning, driving to and from Northfield for the St. Olaf Christmas Festival.

We crawled there and slid home.

Our big plans to dine at the pre-performance smorgasbord turned into bananas and pretzels from a highway rest stop. But at least we stayed out of the ditch and were in our seats before the first note sounded.

Amazingly, I started out this trip with no windshield scraper in the car. It seems I always have to go through one storm without it before I remember to toss the thing in back. Why is that? I know I’m not the only one to do this, but it seems incredibly dumb, none the less.

The rhythm of the wipers pounding on accumulating ice put me in mind of the holiday classic, “Up On The Housetop”.

Ice on the windshield, freezing hard.
Out I jump with a Visa card.
Scraping away with a thin flat thing.
So we can hear all the Oles sing.
Ho ho ho, who wouldn’t go?
Ho ho ho, who wouldn’t go?

Ice on the windshield, slip slip slip!
Oh what a jolly winter’s trip!

First comes the traffic that’s mostly stopped.
More icy build-up that must be chopped!
Thousands of lights that are mostly red.
Sending a message – slow ahead!
Ho ho ho, who wouldn’t go?
Ho ho ho, who wouldn’t go?

Ice on the windshield, crack crack crack!
Sliding along down a slushy track!

Next comes the traffic with room to flow.
This is no better than stop-and-go.
Pressing my bumper, an SUV.
Feeling much nearer, my God, to thee.
Ho ho ho, who wouldn’t go?
Ho ho ho, who wouldn’t go?

Ice on the windshield, clump clump clump!
Oh what a lovely, snowy dump!

Last comes the part where we make it home.
Plowing through snow with a sing song poem.
White knuckle driving will stress your heart.
All worth the trouble for choral art.
Ho ho ho, who wouldn’t go?
Ho ho ho, who wouldn’t go?

Ice on the windshield, smook smook smook!
What is the worst snowy trip you took?

Counting the Stars

Once legitimate and now somewhat sensational journalist Bud Buck has decided to turn his limited attention to Minnesota’s Gubernatorial Race. He sent a note yesterday promising a story that would “break the recount wide open”. Bud told me to watch for his “bombshell”. Naturally I was suspicious. Bud has a tendency to rely on a single source for his reporting. A single source if you don’t count his vivid imagination. When the story arrived this morning I saw proof positive that I had good reason to be concerned.

Galactic Fraud Hinted At!
By Bud Buck

Scientists studying the galaxies have reached a startling conclusion that should cause Minnesota election officials to re-examine their methodology and data.

In a paper published this week in the science journal “Nature”, researchers have determined that there has been a massive undercounting of the number of stars in the sky. Previous assumptions made about star populations based on the density of our own Milky Way may have led enumerators to overlook gazillions of faint stars known as “Red Dwarves”. New scholarship suggests there could be trillions of these uncounted furnaces in some elliptical shaped galaxies alone.

This revelation was eagerly seized by activists following the re-count in Minnesota’s Gubernatorial race. “Note that these stars are categorized by cosmologists as “red”,” said Julius Blustering, a self-described ‘constitutional astronomer’ who has been camped in front of the Secretary of State’s office since mid-November. “There was no mention in the paper of any undercounting of “blue” stars.”

Standing in front of his three cornered tent that mimics the design of the well-known Patriot hat style, Blustering pointing out that conditions in the larger universe are often mirrored on a much smaller scale here below. He demanded that the Minnesota Secretary of State use a similar methodology to the one used in the star study to cross check the gubernatorial ballots from last month’s election.

“The scientists figured out they had something wrong in the count when they examined the temperature of distant galaxies. There were differences in the readings that could only be explained by the presence of a larger than expected number of red stars,” said Blustering. “I call on the election officials to use the last remaining Shuttle launch in conjunction with the Hubble Space Telescope to train those same scientific instruments on every Minnesota precinct. If the temperature readings mirror the actual division of votes, no problem. But if things don’t match up, that’ll be a clear sign there are more red votes than the ‘official’ tallies indicate!”

Blustering’s demand was dismissed by election officials as impractical, unscientific, unconstitutional, and possibly a delaying tactic intended to create a political advantage for one side in the dispute.

“Nonsense.” said Blustering. “We’ve been looking at the stars for several thousands of years and are just now getting the count right. What I’m proposing will take less than half that time.”

What is your favorite delaying tactic?

Youth Movement

There was a great boon delivered to the blogging world this week. We in the unpaid, time-rich, opinionator class love politics, sports, and lambasting parents for their child rearing choices. With a happy crash, all these areas of interest met in one New York Times article about sports development programs for toddlers.

Apparently pre-school is not too early to get the kiddies ready to shine on fields of glory.

Parents are supposed to want to give their children a good start towards some great future achievement. It’s the specific expectation of creating a young Einstein or second coming of Joe Montana that is so laughable. Remember “Baby Mozart”?

I admit I did brain building exercises with my young’un, although mostly that involved talking and reading to him at an early age – well before he was able to answer. Speaking into the silence was also my business at the time, so it came naturally to me. We did some toddler swimming. Had there been a brawn building program, I might have gone for that too.

I suspect a day will come when this latest kind of over-the-top attention is not a big deal – maybe after the IFL (Infant Hockey League) gets a few seasons under the strap of it’s bright blue Scooby-Doo suspenders.

Other leagues will doubtless follow, along with live game day coverage on PSSN (Pre School Sports Network) and baby baseball fantasy pools. And when they are old, today’s children will remember how the preschool sports movement was immortalized on film.

Like legendary Footsie Ball coach Hoot Rocker’s famous speech to the Nottering Dome Day Care pre-walker team at halftime of their 2011 struggle against heavily favored Happy Camper Academy. Rocker was trying to salvage some dignity after an atrocious first half performance by his squad, which took up residence on the 50 foot line and hardly moved in either direction for 30 minutes.

The scene opens inside the Nottering Dome changing and nursing care area. The players are seated on their mats, character blankets draped over their sholders, their oversized heads wobbling on pencil thin necks or resting on their well padded shoulders.

The door pushes open and Rocker is wheeled in by two underpaid attendants. He weighs 400 pounds and can’t stand upright for more than ten minutes at a time. They players look at Rocker, for they are drawn to faces. Some offer him their nook, for he looks like he needs some kind of comfort. Rocker’s dark-circled eyes range over the toddlers for a full moment of unbroken silence. Then, quietly, as if the contest didn’t matter to him, he speaks.

ROCKER: Well, boys and girls, I haven’t a thing to say, and I know most of you can’t talk yet, so … there’s not much point in giving you a rousing speech. We had a tough go of it out there. They came ready for playtime. You came ready for naptime … each and every one of you.

(He tries to smile.)

I guess we just can’t expect to win ‘em all.

(Rocker pauses and says this quietly).

I’m going to tell you something I’ve kept to myself for years — None of you ever knew Bobby Bink. It was long before your time. But you know what a tradition he is here at Nottering Dome Day Care. Bobby Bink could build with blocks. Oh, he built. He made a tower that was twice as tall as me, and that was back when I could stand up and he couldn’t. And it was a tower just like that … a tower where he had somehow managed to perch Mrs. Plotsky’s coffee cup on the very top block … that fell over on him one day. The cup came crashing down and left a bruise above Bobby Bink’s left eyebrow. And it was that bruise that made his mommy and daddy take him out of Nottering Dome. It broke our hearts but they took him and enrolled him at West Point, thinking it would give him a shot at being chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Bink never got that job. He eventually became a Congressman. A Congressman, boys and girls – a small cog in the big machine, doomed to beg endlessly for money and praise. That’s not the kind of leader we launch here at Nottering Dome. I still remember the day they carried him out in his backwards facing car seat. I can still see his eyes. Bink didn’t want to go, I assure you.

(There is gentle, faraway look in his eyes as he recalls the boy’s words).

And the last thing he said to me — “Rock,” he said – “sometime, when the team is up to it’s diapers in yuck and the elastic is just not holding things in – tell them something for me, will ya? Tell ‘em to go out there with all they got and win one … just one … for the Binkie.

(Knute’s eyes become misty and his voice is unsteady as he finishes).

I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock”, he said – “but I’m sure I’ll hear about it. And I’ll gum an Animal Cracker for you and the team.”

There is a hushed stillness as Rocker and the crowd of toddlers look at each other. Some of the youth chew their blankets. An eye is poked. There’s some soft crying, then a hush. In the midst of this tense silence, Rocker quietly says “Alright,” to the men beside him, and his chair is wheeled slowly out of the room.

Toddler #12: Aga toota goop? Phththththththth.

With a single yowl, the players throw off their blankets and rush, on hands and chubby knees, through the doorway, for a play date with destiny.

I hope I live long enough to see that film.

Have you ever delivered or received a pep talk?

A Bear In The Woods

Late yesterday Ben revealed this interesting bit of information in the comments:

“Had a dream last night about two bears fighting and ripping themselves apart– complete with sound effects. Had to get up and take a walk to try and shake the images… Thanks gang.”

Naturally I found this disturbing, so I texted it to a friend who I thought could offer some advice. Here’s his reply from the deep woods, translated from the original Ursus Textish.

Hey, Bart here.

Thanks for sending that strange comment from your reader “Ben”. I don’t know what his dream was really about, but I have heard that humans named “Ben” have more than their share of bear-related identity issues. Guys named “Smokey” and “Yogi” also suffer, I’m told.

People get weird ideas about bears. Either we’re crazed killing machines or we’re dancing tangos and having a picnic down in the glade. Cruel or cute, with no middle ground. That’s us.

The truth is – most bears are boring. Really, really dull. They’re like your fat Uncle Ralph sleeping in front of the TV, without the recliner, or the TV. A lot of us are set in our ways and not at all interested in stuff outside our own little world. Plus, we’re dirty and smelly and not very good company, even for our own kind.

And you know that question people are always asking, wondering if bears do some basic biological stuff in the woods? Well we do, and it’s not pretty.

So I could see why a person with the same name as a famous bear would have dreams where bears are violently erasing themselves from the picture. That’s the fantasy of someone trying to find himself – someone who needs to get a hairy obstacle out of the way before he starts.

It’s not about us, it’s about YOU, Buddy. I’m just sayin’. I hope you can work out your problems. Almost time to hibernate. See ya’ in the spring!

Your pal,

Bart may be right, or perhaps Ben fell asleep with the TV on and subliminally ingested this advertisement for a British Salmon processor:

Where do dreams come from?

Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

Thanksgiving was a little tense this year because some relative I won’t identify saw fit to “leak” a large number of confidential text messages that I had written regarding certain specific personalities and delicate situations inside the family circle.

Dr. Babooner, I’m appalled at this betrayal of trust!

When I called Aunt Julia as “fat as a beer swilling Sasquatch” and said that my sweet little nephew Mikey will probably wind up on death row someday and observed that cousin Oswald “has sex appeal, but not to members of our species,” I was not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings! Rather, I was attempting to paint an accurate picture of our real-life family dynamic. And why? To make getting along with others a simpler task for others who are, frankly, inept when it comes to interpersonal relationships.

I should have known that these unnamed people (OK, person) were (was), in fact, so totally clueless about relationships that they (Uncle Louie) would not see the harm in releasing these very sensitive, intensely private communiqués as “interesting reading”. But even in my most cynical dreams I could not have imagined that he would print my words on tiny Post-It notes and stick these notes to the backs of the name cards I propped up against each plate at the Thanksgiving table.

That’s reverse diplomacy – targeting destructive messages for certain audiences with intent to destabilize the balance of power. And I thought my Uncle Louie understood that! I’m not saying Uncle Louie did it. Only that Uncle Louie is exactly the sort who would try to explain it all away with a stupidly earnest cliché like “the truth will set you free.”

That’s false. Now that the truth is out, I do not feel liberated. In my opinion, real freedom happens when everyone can stick to the same comfortable lies that make it possible for us to all get along.

Now just about everyone in the family wants an apology from me before we can get together for the next holiday. I will make the necessary gesture, Dr. Babooner, by putting a personal note inside a select group of Christmas cards. But can I also take advantage of this opportunity to defend myself by placing some of the blame where it so clearly belongs?

People already know I’m a loose cannon. What could it hurt?


Honest 2 A Fault

I told H2aF that she (he) would be wise to treat every apology as a stand-alone event, and not to clutter it up with extra accusations. Putting your note of remorse inside a Christmas card is bad enough, but weighing it down with snarky comments about Uncle Louie is unforgiveable, even if he is a dirty, thieving leaker.

Diplomacy demands restraint on the public side of the curtain, and frankness on the other. Earnestness on the surface, and dark humor on the backside. Take your lumps, you whiney coward!

I mean, be brave.

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

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