Tag Archives: Featured

Speechless!

Today’s post comes from Congressman Loomis Beechly, representing Minnesota’s 9th District – all the water surface area in the state.

Greetings, Constituents!

I’m delighted to be your Congressman and I hope you still like me too, even though I’ve had no major announcements and nothing of importance to say for the past year or so.

We politicians can Tmake news with our strategic use of words, but sometimes I think it’s a sign of deep wisdom to say nothing at all.

That’s why I have to admire Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is in London, England this week trying to limit the discussion of world events to a single topic – cheese.

To me, the Walker visit to Downton Abbey-land is a portrait in courage.  Not only do they have those accents that make you feel like a dummy, the British carry with them lots of intimidating history and literature that can make a guy from the American midwest feel inadequate.    

Plus, it’s not easy to be in politics here in the age of the internet and instant analysis. As soon as you finish speaking a word, it has already gone around the world twice and is coming up to bite you in the behind.

Silence is strategic. If anything, Governor Walker has already said too much by refusing to say whether or not he believes in evolution.

I’m beginning to think the ideal President for the United States would be a mime.

A mime couldn’t stir up political controversy by using the wrong words, and a mime’s gestures are all subject to interpretation and are eminently spinnable. In struggling to define what they think his shrug over the situation in the Ukraine really meant, analysts would do more damage to themselves than they would to the mime-in-chief.

And when the brickbats really start to fly, he could quickly situate himself behind an impervious pane of glass. Mimes have that power! Which is not to say President Marceau would be untouchable, because all presidents eventually lose their popularity.

The sad truth is that people already kind of hate mimes.  So for any of them, being President would be a promotion, reputation-wise.

I know 2016 is still a long way off, but I’m keeping my ear to the ground for the sound of a promising-but-soft footfall from someone who is willing to toss their beret (real or imagined) into the ring!

Quietly,
Your Congressman
Loomis Beechly

When is it best to say nothing at all?

In A Tale Spin

We are ALL Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I’m a professional storyteller with an unusual specialty for a tale-spinner. I built a career on the notion that every word I speak is absolutely true.

As a result I became very popular and trusted.

But then a funny thing happened – I discovered that a bit of exaggeration can turn a merely good story a really great one!

Like the yarn I used to tell about standing in the open door of a military helicopter while it was preparing to land. As the aircraft neared the ground, the wind grabbed my hat and blew it off my head. The hat was mercilessly chopped up by the helicopter’s rotors.

I was surprised and saddened by this because I loved that hat! But when I told this story at parties, people yawned. I realized that they did not find the fate of my hat very compelling.

So then I started to tell the story a little differently, saying that the wind picked up and I was blown out the door of the helicopter – all of me, not just my hat. Fortunately, we were only about 30 feet above the ground and I fell in a haystack and was unhurt. But for a little added color, I threw in the detail that my hat blew off and was chopped up by the rotors on the way down.

At least that part was still true.

People liked this version of the story a lot better! It was so much better, they actually stopped talking to each other and listened while I told it!

Dr. Babooner, you can understand why I used this version of the story at parties and gatherings of all sorts, right up to the day I told it at a county fair and a haberdasher and a farmer challenged me on it. The hat maker said any wind strong enough to blow a man out the door of a helicopter would have separated him from his headgear long before he took flight.

And the farmer simply pointed out that hay isn’t as soft as it looks.

Overnight my fortunes changed. Although I had been one of the most trusted people in the world the day before, I suddenly became just another liar.

Critics said I betrayed the people’s trust. But the way I look at it, “trust” is what you have when you believe someone in spite of evidence to the contrary. How could people “trust” me one day and not the next? It seems to me their “trust” doesn’t mean much if it can be totally reversed in so short a time. I may have enhanced the truth a tad to make it a better story, but does that make me worse than a fickle truster?  I don’t think so.

My lawyer advised me not to say any of this out loud or it would just make things worse. He’s a jerk and I don’t any faith in him, but my family says I should do as he says because he always wins.

But I think hay is pretty cushy no matter what some dumb farmer says. I’m betting everything I have on getting a soft landing now! Should I?

Sincerely,
Hatless in Manhattan

I told H.I.M. to put more faith in his family and his lawyer, and less in his questionable memory. Challenging the people who used to trust you but don’t any longer because you were caught in a lie is not a strategy to regain their confidence, it’s confirmation that they were wrong about you all along. The best course is to ask for forgiveness and devote yourself to fiction from this day forward, because people will never accept the truth from you now unless it is carefully hidden inside a lie.

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

Water Landings

Today’s post comes from the renegade skipper of the pirate ship Muskellunge, Captain Billy.

Ahoy, landlubbers!

There ain’t many habits of livin’ on land that me an’ me boys wants t’ adopt.  We likes th’ open air, an th’ wind in our faces.  An’ we’s happy t’ say there ain’t no dogs or cats, no gettin’ woke up in th’ night by train whistles, th’ lack of streets, an cars, an’ consequently, no parking issues.

Th’ sea is wide an’ vast an’ deep an’ ya never has t’ worry that some careless slob is gonna put his Hummer in yer spot.

But lately we has seen that th’ dastardly billionaire Elon Musk an’ his henchmen are on a mission t’ figure out how t’ park their space rockets on a barge out in the ocean.

This notion is an insult t’ all seafarers everywhere.

Th’ ocean is th’ province of sailors an’ pirates an’ fish. Space folk is only able t’ use th’ ocean by crashin’ into it. That’s all they has ever been able to do. An’ what falls in th’ water is fair game fer anyone.  Fair game! I won’t say that we on the Muskellunge has picked up a rocket or two in our time, but I won’t say we hasn’t, neither.  

There’s a reason our vessel is th’ fastest pirate ship afloat.  Piracy has it’s rewards, an’ a successful water landing would mean the end of free space junk! Th’ water is our turf, which is t’ say there ain’t no turf on th’ water, which is why there can be no water landings.

That term don’t even make sense. Water Landings? “Water” an’ “Land” is two completely different things.  

Ye might as well wear life jackets t’ prevent Land Drownings!

An th’ universe agrees!  Just one month ago Space X was s’posed t’ launch an’ land a rocket on their barge an’ it crashed instead supposedly ’cause there weren’t enough hydraulic fluid in th’ booster. Yesterday they was s’posed t’ finally make it work, but th’ mission got scrubbed on account of some radar that weren’t functionin’ fer unknown reasons.

Reasons unknown t’ most, but not to me an me boys! Ain’t that right boys?

Oh yes, make no mistake.  We is determined – there will be no rockets landin’ on any barges at sea!

Yer determined skipper,
Cap’t Billy

When has your turf been invaded?

Sleep Scold Slackers

 Photo : Thomas Bresson

The National Sleep Foundation’s Expert Panel on Sleep Duration (let’s just call them the Supreme Court of Sleep) has ruled on the amount of rest you’re supposed to get and their ruling is an eye opener.

No, literally. You can have your eyes open more often now.

What?

The new chart identifies specific age groups and suggests a broader range of  sleep hours are “appropriate” based on your seniority.

I have to admit this is a disappointment.  I expect the National Sleep Foundation to caution, warn and scold me about my sleep habits.  In fact, I don’t even look at a report from any sleep expert unless I want to feel like a smoker – someone trapped in an unhealthy pattern of self-destructive behavior.

But reluctant  snoozers will notice with some relief how the recommended amount of down time has shifted:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
  • School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)

Aside from those always-so-contrary “newborns”,  where the  “acceptable” sleep ranges have widened, they’ve been increased on the low end rather than the high. In fact, only one upper limit was moved – the one for Teenagers, who gained an extra half hour that they can claim “… is perfectly normal. I’m a teenager.  Get off my back.  Geez, mom!”

Of course the usual cautions about not getting enough sleep remain  in the report – you can do serious damage to your health and well-being by skimping on Z’s.   But the takeaway for those who want to stay up late or (horrors!) get up early – you  just got a little more legit.

The big winner – Infants! They gained two hours on the front end – extra awake time to devote to thumb sucking and gently cooing at faces. That’s the best case scenario. In reality, they’ll spend it screaming for dad and smearing poop around the crib.

Toddlers, preschoolers and school age children all got an extra allowable hour of wakefulness. And geezers (65+) got their own category with the lowest upper boundary of all the age groups – eight hours.

Time to get up, grandma.  Quit pretending!

I’m not sure why the sleep boundaries were “widened”, but if you look at the methodology you get an idea of what went in to crafting this new report:

Fifty-eight searches using combinations of search terms related to sleep (eg, time, duration, and sufficiency), age groups (eg, newborn, adolescent), and outcomes (eg, performance, executive function, cognition) yielded 2412 articles. The review team identified 575 articles for full-text review. Of the 575 articles, 312 met our inclusion criteria. Pertinent information (eg, sample size, study design, results) from each article was extracted and included in the literature review materials. Articles were sorted based on the strength of the study and presented in descending order in a summary chart. Expert panel members received print and electronic versions of the literature.

So members of the 18 person panel only had to wade through the particulars of 312 scientific articles to make their judgments about much sleep we need.   And only a third of those panelists were sleep experts – the others came from  such organizations as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Anatomists, the American College of Chest Physicians … you can almost hear their inner deliberations …

“Do I really have to read all this?  This isn’t even my real job – how did I wind up on this friggin’ panel?”  

Busy people.  Highly schooled people.  Graduate school and PhD survivors who had other, equally important obligations, mulling over a persistent question – how much sleep do I really need?   And how do I get my work done?

All-nighter, anybody?

 

A Sequel With No Equal

Today’s post comes from perennial Sophomore Bubby Spamden, still in the 10th grade at Wendell Willkie High School after 30 years.

Hi Mr. C.,

Well,  my world got totally rocked yesterday when the news came out that Harper Lee’s second book is about to be published.

I’ve been a high school sophomore for about a third of Ms. Lee’s (age 88) life, so I’ve had plenty of chances to read her first book, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

And by “plenty of chances”, I mean I’ve been forced to read it every October since 1985. And no, the teachers and principals who insist on keeping me back year after year after year are NOT about to cut me any slack when it comes to the reading assignments.

Or the enrichment activities.

I’ve done “To Kill A Mockingbird” storyboards to “demonstrate and extend” my learning. I’ve listed vocabulary words from the book, drawn plot diagrams and character maps, and discussed themes, symbols, and motifs.

I’ve even written a paper discussing “To Kill A Mockingbird” as an archetype of the hero’s journey, and I still don’t know what an archetype is.

There have been thousands of quizzes and hundreds of role-playing exercises. I’ve been Scout, Boo and the angry mob. And I’ve written my own version of Atticus Finch’s closing argument. Seven times.

I hope Ms. Lee knows what a gift this second book will be to 10th graders everywhere, if only because I’m flat-out exhausted with her first one.

I saw Mr. Boozenporn standing outside his room and I told him that if I’m held back again (which I will be), I’m really looking forward to reading “Go Set a Watchman” in his class next Fall, and he just laughed.

“In your spare time, maybe,” is what he said. So I asked him why.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because there are already a gazillion lesson plans built around ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.  Or maybe because the school has a whole room in the basement just devoted to storing copies of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.  Or it might be that your teacher has led a unit on “To Kill a Mockingbird” for forty years and is too old and tired to  do anything about ‘Go Set a Watchman’.”

Then he shrunk back into his room real suspicious-like.   I think he eats raw squirrels in there.

Your pal,
Bubby

I told Bubby I will never understand how he can be so stuck in the 10th grade, especially now that I know he has read “To Kill a Mockingbird” every Fall for the last 30 years. Doing that alone would be enough to graduate, I’d think, if only for the repeated transfer of wisdom. But I’m no expert when it comes to education. Perhaps he doesn’t test well.

What are some of the books you’ve re-read, and why?

Cowards Pass On Offer

Today’s post comes from Bart, the bear who found a smart phone in the woods.

Yawn!

Bart here, fading in and out of that wintertime state of torpor otherwise known as “hibernation”.

I’m not too excited about being awake right now, but as long as I’m up I do have a bone to pick with the people who make a big fuss over Groundhog Day.

Last year I said Groundhog Day could be lots more interesting if they made a big show out of rousting a bear to find out how much longer winter would last.

But nobody took me up on it. Yesterday came and went without even a knock on my door. Not that I have an actual door in my den, but you know what I mean. I waited around all morning hoping to be poked with a stick, but nothing happened.

Instead, all the coverage went to that stupid groundhog. Again.

So no, I’m not impressed that P. Phil “saw” his shadow. Casting a shadow is not a big deal in the animal world. Almost everybody can do it.

Rousting a bear would be much more active than waking a groundhog, and I can do a lot more than blink my eyes in the February sunshine. But I realize the whole groundhog thing is built around old fashioned “folk wisdom”, so I made up a little rhyme to get the bear rousting tradition going.

Wake a bear while he is nappin’
and he can tell you what will happen.

If he stomps upon your torso
spring’s delayed six weeks or moreso

If he bites you on your shoulder
March and April will be colder

But if he licks you on your face,
Spring will hurry here, apace.

Nice use of “apace,” eh? That’s Shakespeare.  Let’s see a groundhog do that!

Your pal,
Bart

Share your favorite bit of folk wisdom.

Forbidden Prehistoric Love

Header image: "Le Moustier" by Charles R. Knight -Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

New conclusions reached about a 2008 archaeological find support the notion that we humans  mixed genes with our near-relatives, the Neanderthals, many thousands of years ago.

We weren’t that different.  Contrary to popular belief the so-called “cavemen” had brains that were roughly the same size as ours, and our developmental speed was similar.

My favorite line from the Live Science article is this one:

Probably the most debated aspect of Neanderthal life in recent years is whether or not they interbred with humans. The answer remains ambiguous, with scholarly opinions ranging from belief that they definitely interbred to belief that the two groups didn’t exist on earth at the same time.

I’ve known couples just like that – hard to believe they could exist on earth at the same time.

Thoughts about a human-Neanderthal love affair lead to so many questions, not the least of which is how to pitch your woo to a near-but-not human partner.

“Interbreeding” is such an ugly term, I decided it would be a fitting challenge to try to work it into one of the the prettiest love songs I know.

You have such broad and stocky features,
the ridge across your brow seems so strong.

Our lips (I have to stoop to reach yours)
are whispering, perhaps, that our love is wrong.

The way you wield a club. Your ugly scar.
A hot Neanderthal is what you are!

Ice age! It feels so cold and lonely.
But this age can be more tender and kind.
When interbreeding’s on my mind.

Alas, it is tough to keep the romance alive between such mismatched characters when fire and tools are all they have in common.

What  artifact might fuel speculation about your extinct love affairs?