Friday, December 2, 2011

Holly Jolly Melancholy

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Or so the song says. But I'm not feeling it.

Matter of fact, I'm feeling quite the opposite. Call it the Christmas blues, or holly jolly melancholy, or whatever you choose. I'm just not into the holiday spirit this year – at least not yet.

I don't know why, but I can't even seem to crack a smile. It just seems that nothing's all that funny. Or mirthful. Or amusing even. I've lost whatever degree of quirky charm I once possessed (if ever there was any).

Instead, I just feel grumpy. I spend my time thinking not about what I'm going to get so-and-so for Christmas, but when it's all going to be over and done with.

I've never been like this before.

I usually love Christmas – it's by far one of my favorite holidays. Besides the fact that the reason for the season is only equaled by the reason for the Easter season, I can't find a whole lot to be joyful about. And that makes me sad. Which makes me sink even deeper into the funk I'm already in.

We're planning on decorating the house this weekend, getting a tree, trimming it, setting out lights and other odds and ends, and altogether making merry. I hope that helps.

Because playing my favorite Christmas songs, new and old, hasn't worked so far. Sure, I sing along to "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and "Silent Night" and all the old standards, but I do it grudgingly, with furrowed brow and pouty lips.

This is so out of character for me.

I want to enjoy the season, and all that comes with it, but I'm having a hard time even putting forth the effort to try.

Maybe this is just some wonky phase I'm passing through. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow with the words to "We Three Kings" on my lips and sing it like I mean it. Maybe not.

But until I break out of this mirthless malaise, this languorous lethargy, this yuletide yuckiness, it may be best to steer clear of me. I might be contagious...

(The preceding paragraph was brought to you by, your one-stop shop for free synonyms.) 

Monday, October 31, 2011

10 Things I Learned From "Random Article"

God bless the Internet! There's a wealth of useful – as well as useless – information literally at your fingertips. While the useful information is why we all love to use the Internet, it's the useless stuff that you'd only ever come across online, much less learn about, that makes surfing the web the über-awesome pastime that it is.

Case in point:  I decided that it would be interesting to click the "Random Article" tab on a number of times, just to see what weird and wonderful new knowledge I could acquire. So what if I may never be able to use any of this information in my daily life (other than sharing it with you here, that is). So what if the veracity of any and all articles on Wikipedia is questionable, or irrefutable, depending on whom you ask (all information on the site is user-generated). So what if I just wasted a half hour of my life I'll never get back. At least I had fun. And I learned a few things. And now, so will you...

1)  The U.S.S. Pansy was a steamer acquired by the Union Navy from the Union Army during the American Civil War. The U.S.S. Pansy served the Navy as a tugboat and as a dispatch boat, and operated primarily out of Cairo, Illinois, and Vicksburg, Mississippi, under the command of Acting Ensign William Harris. Pansy served in, and supported, several blockades of the Confederate States of America, including the Union Army's Western Flotilla and the Union Navy's Mississippi Mortar Brigade.

What Have We Learned?
That even during the time of the Civil War, people came up with ridiculous names for their boats. What self-respecting sailor would ever own up to the fact that he served on the U.S.S. Pansy? I mean, really!

2)  The Nicaraguan Constitutional Assembly Election of 1972 was held on February 6th that year. The Liberal Nationalist Party received 534,171 votes (75.33%) and the Conservative Party received 174,897 votes (24.67%). There were 970,792 registered voters in Nicaragua that year.

What Have We Learned?
That 261,724 Nicaraguan citizens were too lazy, too politically indifferent, or too busy listening to their Rolling Stones records to even bother with voting that year.

3)  "Devil And The Deep" is a Paramount Pictures film released in 1932 starring Tallulah Bankhead, Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, and Cary Grant. Laughton plays a naval commander named Charles Sturm whose jealousy makes life miserable for his wife, Diana (Bankhead). His suspicions fall over his own subordinate, Lieutenant Jaeckel (Grant). Although Storm's suspicions had no basis in reality, soon his obsessive behavior drives Diana into the arms of yet another officer, Lieutenant Sempter (Cooper). Learning of their affair, Sturm plots a terrible revenge.

What Have We Learned?
That unwarranted jealousy could lead to warranted jealousy which could lead to surreptitious plotting which could lead to initially-innocent-but-later-guilty people getting killed. Also, that the screenwriters for this film had an affinity for oddball character names. Along with Sturm, Jaeckel, and Sempter, other characters include Mrs. Planet, Mrs. Crimp, and Lt. Toll.

4)  Waverveen is a small village in the Dutch province of Utrecht. It is located in the municipality of De Ronde Venen, 3 km west of Vinkeveen. Waverveen was a separate municipality until 1841, when it was merged with Vinkeveen to form the municipality of Vinkeveen en Waverveen. At last count, the population was 794 people.

What Have We Learned?
Dutch words and names look and sound weird.

5)  Konstantin Ushkov (born August 2, 1977) is a retired butterfly swimmer from Russia, who won the silver medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in freestyle relay. He also competed for Kyrgyzstan at the 2000 Summer Olympics.

What Have We Learned?
Some people are lucky enough to be able to retire by age 34.

6)  The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland was formed in 1893 and claims to be the spiritual descendant of the Scottish Reformation. It is sometimes colloquially known as the Wee Wee Frees (not to be confused with the "Wee Frees", which is the colloquial name for another offshoot of the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland).

What Have We Learned?
"Wee Wee Frees"???  #smh

7)  Ecuadorian Sign Language (ESL) is the deaf sign language of Ecuador. ESL is a language isolate (a "prototype" sign language), though one developed through stimulus diffusion from an existing sign language, likely French Sign Language.

What Have We Learned?
Actually, not a darned thing. Seeing as I don't know what a "language isolate" is (do you?) or "stimulus diffusion" (how about that one?), I actually feel dumber now than I did before reading this.

8)  Litoria moorei (common name: motorbike frog) is a species of frog that's well-known in Southwest Australia for its signature call which sounds like a motorbike changing up through gears. The Litoria moorei is a ground-dwelling tree frog which is able to camouflage itself well, ranging in color from dark brown, through to green and gold. Its underside is noticeably lighter, and usually ranges from very pale green to light brown.

What Have We Learned?
That "ground-dwelling tree frog" seems to be a misnomer. Why not just call them ground frogs, or simply frogs? Or, in the case of this motorin' amphibian, how about "Harley Davidson"?

9)  A stemple is a form of wooden step used in mining, caving, and mountaineering, usually a wooden bar set between notches in rock walls for climbing purposes, often one of a series forming a ladder. If not well maintained, stemples can rot and should not always be trusted. The origin of the word is in the German "Stempel", meaning a stamp or prop.

What Have We Learned?
That stemples and Wikipedia have something in common – they should not always be trusted.

10)  Guiseppe Gonzaga (March 20, 1690 - August 16, 1746) was the last Duke of Guastalla (now a part of Italy). The second son of Vincenzo Gonazaga, Duke of Guastalla and Maria Vittoria Gonzaga, Giuseppe was mentally handicapped. When his elder brother Duke Antonio Ferrante died in an accident in 1729, Guiseppe was the only remaining male member of the family, so he became Duke.  Giuseppe would probably have never married, but when he became Duke, a marriage was arranged in 1731 with the 16-year-old Eleonore von Holstein (1715 – 1760), daughter of Duke Leopold of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Wiesenburg. The marriage remained childless.

What Have We Learned?
That a mentally handicapped man was made a Duke in the early 1700s because of his brother's accidental death – a title which he might never have attained otherwise, due to his handicap. No smart-alecky comments here – that's just straight-up interesting. And thought-provoking.

Now, why not take your own jaunt through the awesomeness that is "Random Article"?  Happy Learning!

Not All Music Is Garbage!: A Few Overlooked Gems Amid A Sea Of Mediocrity

There are two things I hate about the music industry:
• That so many artists get lots of attention that they don't deserve.
• That so many artists don't get lots of attention who do deserve it.

It's that second group – the undiscovered or overlooked gems amid a sea of mediocrity – that I want to focus on here. I will concede, to begin with, that all music is extremely relative. What I love, you may hate. What you adore, I may despise. But this is my blog, and it's not my job to decide what you like, only to share with you what I like.

I should also mention, in case you miss the obvious, that I tend to enjoy listening to female singers more than males. Always have, probably always will. That being said, here are 10 of my favorite "gems", in no particular order...Enjoy!

1)  Zee Avi – "Bitter Heart"

2)  Lucy Schwartz – "Life In Letters"

3)  Kina Grannis – "Valentine"

4)  Maia Hirasawa – "Gothenburg"

5)  Meaghan Smith – "I Know"

6)  Meiko – "Under My Bed"

7)  Priscilla Ahn – "Dream"

8)  Corinne Bailey Rae – "Like A Star"

9)  Sophie Madeleine – "Take Your Love With Me"

10)  Stacy Clark – "Not Enough"

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Ties That Bind

Today I wore a tie for the third time this month.

I should preface this by saying that I am not a fan of wearing ties, or even of dressing up in general. But sometimes the situation or the occasion calls for it, and I, mostly not grudgingly, will comply.

The first time I donned a tie this month was for my sister-in-law's wedding. I had been asked to say a prayer for the happy couple during the ceremony. Not being officially part of the wedding party, I hadn't been instructed to wear any particular type of outfit, but a dress shirt and pants and a tie seemed appropriate, so that's what I wore. All in all, it went well. My prayer was scripted – I don't really do improv that well – but they seemed to like it. Not that I was saying it to them, but still...

The second time I was all tied up was two weeks later for our church's Night of Drama production. I was acting in one of the mini-plays – it was a live radio drama – and I was the Narrator. Since I was also the director of that particular play, I could have told myself to wear whatever I wanted, but it was a significant role, and somewhat a central character, so I figured I'd go all out and put on the old tie again (same one as the wedding two weeks prior, by the way). For the second time, I'd worn a tie for an event that brought people together as a family. That's how we think of ourselves, us drama folk. We're somewhat of a breed apart, I guess you could say. But we understand each other.

Today I wore a tie for the third and final time this month. The occasion was undoubtedly the least joyous of the trio, and yet it was the most joyous. I was attending the funeral of a 7-year old little girl who, after two brave years of fighting a vicious brain tumor, had lost the battle. I can hear you asking the question right now: how on earth could this be a joyous occasion? Good question. Short answer: It can't. On earth, that is. Lydia Byrd's family and friends will never again see her as she was in this life. But they will see her again – those who believe as she believed, at least – in the life to come, which is everlasting. Sweet Lydia is waiting there for our arrival. But she isn't missing us, not like we're missing her at least. She's got Jesus by her side. Today was a celebration of her life, and we cried together, we smiled because of who she was, and we rejoiced for her reunion with her Maker. And again, this was an occasion that brought together a disparate group of people as a family.

Today I didn't mind wearing that tie.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Personal Reflections On Dead Celebrities: 2011 Edition

With half of the year already gone, I thought I might take a few moments to reflect on the lives of a few famous people who have passed away so far this year. With apologies (though apologies are unnecessary for the dead) to Betty Ford, Jack Kevorkian, Sidney Lumet, Jackie Cooper, and other notables among the recently departed, here they are, in no particular order.

1)  Peter Falk:  Perhaps best known for his recurring role as the highly skilled but laid-back detective Lieutenant Columbo, I will always remember him as Fred Savage's "Grandpa" in The Princess Bride. Nobody could spin a good yarn like Grandpa, and at the end of the film, he had you wondering if he wasn't somehow part of the story itself. A skilled actor at comedy as well as drama, Falk was a five-time Emmy award winner. He was 83 years old.

2)  Jeff Conaway:  Many people know Conaway from his role as John Travolta's sidekick "Kenickie" in Grease. He was also a series regular on both Taxi and Babylon 5, among many other credits. Always a decent actor, but never a great one, his life began spiraling out of control when he became addicted to cocaine, alcohol, and painkillers. After multiple attempts at rehab, including as a "cast member" of the reality show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, Conaway's often-abused body gave out on him. A bout of pneumonia, not a drug overdose as was originally reported, was the final blow. I watched a very frail, very different Conaway on "Celebrity Rehab" in the latter throes of his devolution. It was sad to see that a once-proud, successful actor had become a pitiful, weepy, angry mess. He was 60 years old.

3)  Harmon Killebrew:  Greatest Minnesota Twin ever? Perhaps. Before Kirby Puckett, before Justin Morneau, and before Joe Mauer, there was Killebrew. Over a 22-year major league baseball career with the Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins, and Kansas City Royals, Killebrew slugged 573 home runs, good for 11th all-time. His heroic battle against esophageal cancer ended earlier this year. He was 74 years old.

4)  Osama bin Laden: 
A hero to some, perhaps, but the villain to end all villains to most. The mastermind behind the September 11th attacks, after successfully evading U.S. capture for nearly 10 years, was finally taken down in his own compound in western Pakistan and killed by U.S. special forces. Few mourn his loss, and many rejoice. He was 54 years old.

5)  Elizabeth Taylor:  In her later years, Taylor was most well-known for her line of perfumes, her friendship with Michael Jackson, and for the tabloids' endless obsession with her every move. In her prime, Taylor was one of the most glamorous women ever to grace the silver screen, and a great talent in her own right. My earliest and fondest memories of her work lie in one of her earliest films, as "Velvet Brown" in National Velvet. A charming family film even 67 years after its initial release, Taylor's charm and ease at being on camera were self-evident. America fell in love with her, and they always would. After surviving numerous life-threatening illnesses, Taylor finally succumbed to heart failure at the age of 79.

6)  Michael Gough:  This highly accomplished British character actor appeared in 150-plus films spanning over 60 years, but is best known to modern audiences for his role as Bruce Wayne's butler, assistant, confidant, and surrogate father figure "Alfred Pennyworth" in four Batman films throughout the late-1980's, 1990's, and 2000's. Gough was 94 years old.

7)  Nate Dogg:  One of my earliest exposures to rap music was the song "Regulate" by Warren G. and Nate Dogg. Looking back, it wasn't that great of a song, lyrically speaking. In fact, it was slightly horrible (read: morally reprehensible) – which is why I didn't link the video here. But musically and artistically, I found it brilliant, and that song among others, got me interested in rap. I eventually stopped listening to secular rap (see previous post), but my early interest in the genre eventually led me to discovering Christian rap, which has become one of my favorite types of music to listen to. He was 41 years old.

8)  Jane Russell:  A leading "sex symbol" in Hollywood in the 1940's and 1950's, Russell made an instant splash in her first film, The Outlaw. Over the next 40 years, she would appear in only 20 or so more films, but her enduring legacy might very well be – and current Hollywood ingenues should take note – that you CAN be truly beautiful without having hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of plastic surgery. She was 89 years old.

9)  Pete Postlethwaite: 
A veteran character actor, Postlethwaite seemed to be a magnet for blockbuster movies throughout the 1990's and 2000's, turning in memorable performances in such smash hits as The Lost World: Jurassic Park, The Usual Suspects, Alien 3, and Amistad. After surviving testicular cancer in 1990, Postlethwaite was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010 and passed away early this year. He was 64 years old.

10)  Googie Withers:  OK, I'll admit it. I picked Googie Withers out of a list of dead celebrities strictly for her wonderfully ridiculous name. But as it turns out, I was at least peripherally familiar with her work, having seen her in the 1945 horror anthology film Dead of Night. Though I don't specifically remember her role, or whether she was any good in it, suffice it to say that she enjoyed a long career as an actress, both in the UK and in Hollywood. Googie lived to the ripe old age of 94 years.

11)  Laura Ziskin:  Credited with producing several highly successful films in recent years, including Spiderman, Spiderman 2, As Good As It Gets, and Pretty Woman, Ziskin gained most of her notoriety for her direct role in founding the Stand Up To Cancer initiative in 2008. SU2C enables cutting-edge research, targeting all types of cancer, including breast, prostate, skin, brain, colon, and cervical cancer. Ziskin herself was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2004, a disease doctors has repeatedly missed previously because of the diffuse type of cancer she had. Breast cancer claimed Ziskin's life too soon at the age of 61.

12)  Lilian Jackson Braun:  Author of over 30 light-hearted mysteries in her  The Cat Who... series, Braun crafted happy – if slightly low-brow – tales in which her secondary hero, Jim Qwilleran, and the real stars of the show, his Siamese cats Koko and Yum-Yum solve mysteries. Many, many years after the invention and widespread use of word processors and personal computers, Braun – an admitted technophobe – continued to write her novels on a traditional typewriter, a fact very much in keeping with her old-school style of writing. She was 97 years old.

13)  Duke Snider:  Snider was a baseball star years before I was even born. But I've often heard my dad speak of him fondly, even though my dad was a die-hard Yankees fan, and Snider played for the Brooklyn – and then Los Angeles – Dodgers, a Yankees rival. In an era where Mantle and Mays were king, Snider was at least the crown prince. He was 84 years old.

14)  Ferlin Husky:  One of country-and-western's earliest stars, Husky was and is well-known among aficionados of the more traditional style of country music. Several years ago, I somehow ran across Husky's name and didn't know anything about him, but thought that his utterly ludicrous name would be a perfect match for the customizable player that I planned to create on my computer baseball game. As it turns out, this alternate Ferlin Husky was an exceptionally good ballplayer. And as it turns out, the real Ferlin Husky was a really good singer. Apparently, he also had a great laugh. He died of congestive heart failure earlier this year at 85 years old.

15)  Roberts Blossom: 
One of my favorite movies growing up had to be "Home Alone." And besides that plucky tow-headed kid who bested those bad burglars, the most memorable character from that film has to be "Old Man Marley", portrayed by Roberts Blossom. This quirky character actor didn't hit his stride in show business until he was already middle-aged. But once he did, he found steady work in roles as the resident oddball, and was quite adept in them. True, "Home Alone" is low-brow humor and would hardly be an actor's first choice as a "claim to fame", but the best, most poignant moments in the film are with Blossom and Macaulay Culkin in the church scene. It just doesn't get any better than that. Well, at least when you're twelve years old, it doesn't. Blossom was 87 years old at the time of his death.

16)  Amy Winehouse:  This tremendously talented yet tremendously troubled singer-songwriter with the unmistakably smoky voice brought to pop music a style that fused jazz and Motown – often dubbed "Neo-Soul" – paving the road to success for other promising young UK artists like Adele, Florence + The Machine, and Lily Allen. Sadly, Winehouse was never able to successfully battle her demons of alcohol and drug addiction, and became the latest member of the "27 Club" – which includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, among others – an infamous group of influential musicians who all died tragically at the age of 27.

Sources: and other random places on the internet. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Back (But Not Necessarily) By Popular Demand

So, it's been awhile since I've written anything here, and guess what? The world didn't end. It didn't even pause.

There really hasn't been a whole lot to write about in the month-plus interim. Let me see if I can summarize it quickly.

A couple of weeks ago, decked out in full Wild West attire, I robbed a bank and tied up the slow-witted sheriff and his dopey deputy in the middle of Main Street. Later, I came to my senses and returned the stolen money and turned myself in. It was definitely a learning experience.

OK, what else? I finally narrowed down the list of potential skit scripts for our fall drama to five and submitted those to the pastors, but they've been swamped with other stuff and haven't gotten a chance to look through and/or decide on those yet.

Let's see, there was something else, right? Oh yeah, I floated in a lake in Virginia and didn't drown, but also didn't swim, because I'm not too good at that. On that same trip, our boat almost sank in the middle of the lake before it came to its senses and decided that it would rather float too than sink, for which I was much appreciative.

What else? I finished reading a few books I'd been working on for awhile. A couple of play script books, a few teen fiction titles, and a gruesome true crime book which was rather enjoyable.

Um, let's see...I finished writing apparel copy for both the Fall Master Catalog and the Apparel Specialty Catalog at work. Neither of those was much fun, as I had considerably more work to do in less time than was realistically possible. But with a lot of help from my co-workers and several liters of Mt. Dew, Dr. Pepper, and mediocre coffee, all the deadlines were met and I'm officially breathing a bit easier.

What else? Oh yeah, I was struck by lightning and now I'm able to see the future. But I can only see fifteen minutes into the future, which doesn't really come in handy at all. Wait...maybe that wasn't me. No, that was definitely some TV show or movie or something. I wasn't struck by lightning at all.

Anything else? Hmm, I can't think of anything. Well, this was a pretty boring post. What a complete waste of your time! I'm sorry about that. Next time, I'll try to have something interesting to say.

Carry on.

Friday, June 3, 2011

To You, Who Stole My Lunch

I'm sure you'll never read this. You don't even know who I am, and I don't know you. I caught a quick glimpse of you as I was entering the break room, when you were exiting with your Pretzel Bread Lean Pocket. I thought, how curious, someone else at work today brought the exact same thing I did for lunch. Then, upon looking in the freezer to grab my Lean Pocket and heat it up, I find that it's nowhere to be found. Not where I put it, not anywhere. I do a double-take, then a triple-take in the direction of the lady who just left. That wasn't her Pretzel Bread Lean Pocket; it was mine!

A plethora of emotions rush through me: anger, confusion, frustration, disappointment, and the like. I'm angry because that lady just stole my lunch. Confused as to why, of all the frozen dinners in the freezer, she would decide to take mine – did it really look that appealing? Frustrated that now I have to go back upstairs to my office (across the building, I might add), get some money out of my wallet, and traipse back to the break room to buy something else for lunch. Disappointed because, as paranoid as I can sometimes be, I do think of myself as a trusting person. I like to think that most people, given the chance, will do the right thing more often than they will do the wrong thing. But I am wrong. I often am in this respect.

Couple this Friday fiasco with the fact that this week alone we have had a power window on our van to cease functioning, leaving our driver's side window – at least temporarily – ever-ready for drive-thru ordering; we have both had more than our share of pressures at work of late (me because of pending deadlines which seem insurmountable, and Mary because it's almost the end of the school year, and that's always a crazy time); neither of us is sleeping well or enough for various reasons, not the least of which is stress; and oh, did I mention, our other car's brakes and air-conditioning are also on the way out. (We really need to invest some money into decent transportation.) So, needless to say, this heisted Lean Pocket incident was not the impetus for the aforementioned emotion rush so much as it was the proverbial camel's-back-breaking straw. But I digress.

Back to you, lady, the one who took my Lean Pocket. I don't what your reasons might have been. Maybe you were hungry and you didn't have any money for food (although it is payday Friday). Maybe you forgot to bring your lunch this morning and it was an opportunistic thievery. Or maybe you're just a mean person who likes to do mean things to people you don't even know. I don't know.

If you really wanted my lunch, or if you really needed it, I would have gladly given it to you, even though I have no clue who you are. But please ask me next time, don't just take it. That's just incredibly rude!

ADDENDUM:  To you, who pulled half in and half out of the turn lane on Evans and 10th around 1:30 this afternoon, holding up traffic in my lane for what seemed like an eternity, but was, in reality, probably no more than a minute at most:  I'm sorry I called you an idiot. You may or may not have deserved it, but I didn't need to say it. That was incredibly rude, too. I apologize.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Things I Find Fascinating #3: Zebras And The People Who Love Them

1) Zebras make great dentists.  This thoughtful zebra took time out of his busy schedule to do a teeth cleaning for his friend, the hippopotamus. The hippo was quite appreciative, especially when it found out that the zebra was offering this service completely free of charge. Unfortunately, the zebra was unable to continue his "practice", as he was soon thereafter caged by the zoo keeper for unlawfully impersonating a doctor.

2)  Zebras make house calls.  In the early 1900s, Rosendo Ribeiro, the first doctor in Nairobi, Kenya, was known to ride his zebra to call on his patients. It is not known for certain what the zebra's wages were (paid in grass), but the zebra was believed to be quite fuel-efficient as compared to other popular forms of transportation at the time.  (This is not Dr. Ribeiro below. They did not have cameras in Nairobi in the early 1900s. For Pete's sake, they only had one doctor!)

3)  No two zebras are alike. 
The black-and-white stripe patterns that so elegantly adorn zebras' bodies are unique to each individual zebra. So you can clearly recognize that that's Stan in the forefront. The three zebras in the immediate background are (from left to right): Lester, Camille, and Jonesy.

4) When they "talk", zebras sound more like a pack of wild dogs than a herd of striped horses. But don't take my word for it. Take a listen for yourself:

5)  A lazy Englishman once used zebras instead of horses to pull his carriage. Zoological collector Lord Rothschild was frequently known to ride through the streets of London in his zebra-drawn carriage. Most of the lord's neighbors (no pun intended) thought he was weird, but one woman in particular thought he looked quite dandy in stripes. She soon became Lady Rothschild. (Not really, I'm making that part up. Who would even marry a guy who collects zebras? – I mean, really!) Here's Lord Rothschild in action:

6)  Zebras travel in (gasp!) harems.  If you couldn't tell from the video above, zebras are very social creatures, and often travel and live in groups. These groups are called harems, quite appropriately, because they typically consist of one stallion and up to six mares and their foals. Bachelor males either live alone or with groups of other bachelors until they are old enough to challenge a breeding stallion. When attacked by packs of hyenas (or hyena or hyenae or hyenæ) or wild dogs (no interesting plural there), a zebra group will huddle together with the foals in the middle while the stallion tries to ward them off. This particular harem pictured below consists of (from left to right): Doris, Dave, Lucy, Imogene, and Suzette who's way back there in the back.

7)  The preferred mane-style for young zebras (foals) is the Mohawk.  While older, more mature zebras know that it is absolutely unseemly to be seen in public with such a subversive, punk-rock "do", these foals are determined to have their way and do their own thing even if it breaks their parents' hearts. Is this sounding familiar to anyone? This is a recent snapshot of Cato, who's smack-dab in the middle of his awkward middle-school years.

8) This guys loves zebras so much he dedicated an entire song to them.  So the lyrics aren't that great. In fact, the lyrics consist of only one word: "zebra". But I have to admit I've rarely heard a song so strange that I enjoyed so much for absolutely no reason at all. Look closely and you'll see that it's the same guy in all four frames, and he actually harmonizes quite well with himself. Check it out:

Thanks again for indulging my strange fascinations. Hopefully you've learned something, or just been entertained. If you were dissatisfied with this post in any way, I will be happy to offer you a full refund on the money you paid to read it. Until next time....

Monday, May 23, 2011

Extreme Couponing And The End Of The World

WARNING:  The following paragraphs may contain subject matter that some of you whom I consider my friends may find offensive. Please note that this is not a personal attack on you, merely a diatribe on a current consumer trend which slightly bothers say the very least. Reader discretion is advised.

It's the end of the world as we know it...and I'm a little ticked. No, I'm not talking about Harold Camping and his huge "miscalculation" (again) regarding the beginning of the end of time, which did not occur this past Saturday (and who is now conveniently unavailable for comment by all accounts). I'm talking about this extreme couponing fad that's spreading like juicy gossip in a beauty salon.

Now I'm all for saving money, that's all well and good. I will even go so far as to say that I applaud the efforts of all you couponers (by the way, since when did "couponer" become a word, and since when is "coupon" also a verb? – but I digress) who diligently pore over websites and newspaper ads and dark, secluded alleys, or wherever else y'all dig these things up, in order to save beaucoup bucks. I really don't mind these things at all. To each his or her own.

What I do mind is the apocalyptic chaos that ensues when foolhardy grocery store chains decide to make an entire week "Triple Coupon Day" and not tell poor saps like myself in advance! Now, I know what you're thinking – I could have, and should have, read the sign on the door before entering the store, and should have run as fast as Usain Bolt in the opposite direction in order to spare my sanity. And I would agree with you – but I didn't look; I wasn't paying attention to such details.

I was looking forward to my usual, quiet during-my-Monday-lunch-break shopping trip, a system that works for me and my wife, since she works in another county, and often gets home later than I do. What I found instead, upon entering the store, was wall-to-wall shopping carts being pushed around by – my apologies to all you sane female and male couponers here – CRAZY LADIES, with honest-to-goodness three-ring binders full of coupons, which I can only assume must have been alphabetized by the item's name for each and every row of the grocery store, judging by the methodical nature in which each lady pored over her binder.

Side note here: I'm not criticizing the methodology of this. If you're going to do something like this, you should do it wholeheartedly, and with some degree of organization, as would I if I were so inclined (it'll never happen!).

Here I am with my pitiful little grocery list – filled out by hand on a printout of a Microsoft Word template that I found years ago – trying my best to get my deli ham, toothpaste, coffee creamer, etc. And I'm having to, literally, fight my way through each aisle of the store to get to what I'm looking for. I'm not looking for any particular brand, I don't have to buy four of anything, I'm just picking up whatever brand is on sale. I really don't give a rat's patooty what I COULD BE saving if I put forth a little effort.  No, this closet claustrophobic is just doing my best to tamp down the rising anxiety of simply moving through the store.

Finally, I got everything on the list, not a single "extra" thing, which befuddles my wife, but maybe makes her a little proud as well; I'm not sure. And then I head to the checkout line. Oh my word, I'm thinking, I have twenty-four minutes to get through this line, get across town back to the house, unload the groceries, and get back to work. This is never going to happen. Each open line, and there are far too few of them for "Triple Coupon Day" Week, has at least four people waiting, nearly all of them with full-to-the-brim shopping carts. And nearly half of the people in line stand proudly with their 40+ coupons in hand, ready to save LOTS and LOTS of money. I groan inwardly – strike that, I groan outwardly. Quite loudly. People in front of and behind me probably think they are in the presence of a mooing cow, my groan is that outward.

Running out of options and time, I find a line with only one couponer, and she's already checking out. Five minutes or so later, I'm done and out the door. I empty the contents of my cart into the trunk of the car as quickly as possible, being mindful that I don't break the eggs or smash the chicken, and head over toward the shopping cart docking station. Similarly to the store, the parking lot is also wall-to-wall with cars, and some of these people can't park worth a lick. So I'm – once again the panicky claustrophobic – trying to squeeze this empty cart between parked cars to get to the docking station without nicking anyone's side mirror or paint job.

I finally arrive, only to realize that I am on the back side of the docking station, and there's no getting around to the other side due to the close proximity of the cars (probably some of those crazy couponers, so excited to have arrived at the grocery store so they could SAVE MONEY that they didn't bother to notice that their minivan was as crooked as a politician in an election year).

Now running severely short on time and patience, I lift the entire empty shopping cart over the rail and slam it down inside the docking station. It bounces a little, but doesn't roll out. My back twinges a little, but I feel good. There's nothing like throwing a shopping cart to let off a little steam. You should try it sometime.

Twenty-five minutes later, and twenty minutes after I'm supposed to have returned, I arrive back at work, safe and sound, and not much worse for wear.

What's the moral of this story? There isn't one. This was just a straight-up rant. And I'm okay with that. If you were offended by this, I'm truly sorry. If you laughed a little, because maybe you saw a little of yourself somewhere, or because you didn't know I was half-crazy myself, then my work here is done.

And for all you couponers out there who may be reading this: Help a brother out and let me know when this stuff is going on ahead of time, so I won't have to throw another shopping cart. I just might begin to enjoy it TOO much!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Eight Things I Discovered (Or Rediscovered) On Spring Break Vacation

OK, if this post causes you to flashback to your middle school English class assignments (which I think they actually call Language Arts these days), I apologize. And if I write it as lazily and clumsily as you wrote your first college research paper, please forgive me. But it is what it is. goes nothing. Eight things I discovered (or rediscovered) on our Spring Break vacation last week:

1)  Spring Cleaning is hard work. We spent three days trying to deep-clean the house, in preparation to (hopefully sooner rather than later) get it sold. While we didn't tick off all the check boxes by the end of it all, we did a lot, and admittedly, a lot more than we had done in previous years. I'm actually proud of the way it looks, which is something I could never really say before. If we sell the house for even close to what we'd like to, then all this hard work was worth it.

2)  They ramp up the music on the P.A. system at baseball games when managers are fussing at umpires to prevent the kiddos from hearing whatever string of profanities the manager is spouting.  We went to a Carolina Mudcats minor league baseball game last week. The seats were great – right behind home plate. At one point during the game, the Mudcats' manager came out to argue a play with the home-plate umpire. The two of them were quite literally no more than twenty feet away, separated from us by only a transparent net. Suddenly the P.A. system started playing the music so loudly that we couldn't hear a word they were saying. As a point of reference, we could clearly hear every "ball" or "strike" call that the umpire made throughout the game, and even the occasional chatter between a batter and the opposing team's catcher.

3)  It's not really that bad of a drive from my house to the Outer Banks.  When you're a kid and get driven everywhere, every destination – especially the highly anticipated ones – seems SO FAR AWAY. We constantly barrage our parents with a string of questions: "Are we there yet? Is it close now? When are we gonna get there?" But this time, making the trip for one of the few times in my experience as a driver, I realize that it's just a tad bit over two hours away from where I live. We could actually make a day trip of it if we wanted to avoid the ridiculously overpriced hotel rates (although it wasn't too bad in the "off season"). Awesome!

4)  I love the Atlantic Ocean.  This is not an intended slight against the Pacific, Indian, Southern, or Arctic Oceans. Maybe I would like them better if I had ever met them, but I haven't. We spent a few hours just walking the beach and letting the frigid waters of the Atlantic wash over our toes and – on a couple of unexpected occasions – splashing us up to our waists. The brilliant blue color of the water at the Outer Banks (it doesn't seem quite as vibrantly hued on the Crystal Coast) compares only, in my limited experience, with the Caribbean. The sound of the ocean waves crashing relentlessly, as heard from our hotel room, was so incredibly soothing. Quite honestly, I wouldn't mind falling asleep to that sound every night.

5)  Mind-tripping on historical perspective is fun.  I know that sentence doesn't really make much sense, and I'm sorry. I know what I mean, but not quite how I want to say it. (The curse of a writer, I suppose.) What I'm trying to say is this: when you're at a location of historical significance, and you read about its history, and realize you are standing on the very spot where that history happened, it's kind of surreal and, well, trippy! Case in point: We visited the Elizabethan Gardens, which neither of us had been to before. The Gardens themselves were quite lovely, and the location right on the sound was nothing less than picturesque. Realizing that we were standing on the very land where some of the first English settlers made a home for themselves in the New World there on Roanoke Island was nothing less than amazing. Remembering that this "Lost Colony" of people disappeared without a trace, never to be seen or heard from again, gave me considerable pause. Seeing the Ancient Live Oak in the Elizabethan Gardens, purported to have been in existence even as far back as 1585 when the settlers arrived, was also a bit mind-blowing.

6)  Not all pizzas are created equally.  After visiting the Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, we stopped at a "hole-in-the-wall" restaurant that had been recommended to us called the Garden Deli & Pizzeria. This place probably couldn't hold more than twenty customers at most, and was most definitely more of a hangout for the locals and not so much for tourists. We ordered a pizza they called The Rustler, which had pepperoni, Italian sausage, and ham on it. It also had cheese, marinara sauce, and a thin crust. I know what you're thinking: what's the big deal? A pizza's a pizza's a pizza! That's what we thought, too. But not all pizzas are created equally. Some are created with love. Which was definitely the case with the pizza we ate. Nothing fancy, no unusual ingredients, just honest-to-goodness delicious pizza. If you're ever in the area, you have to check it out. But don't blink or you'll miss it. And don't trust your GPS to get you there – ours failed us twice while we were looking for it. Just ask a local – and hope that they'll tell you the truth. They might not want their secret to get out.

7)  In another life, I might have enjoyed being a lighthouse keeper.  We visited the Bodie Island Lighthouse, which is currently under renovation. So you can't really climb it. You can't even see the glass-enclosed light at the top. You can only stand in front of it and look up at it. But it got me thinking. What is the life of a lighthouse keeper like? After listening to the ramblings of a very informative "old codger" of a tour guide, I still didn't have a clear answer. But I wanted to know more. I would think it might be a very peaceful life. Not one without responsibility, to be certain, but peaceful nonetheless. I'm sure there's a good spiritual application here, about how those of us who are Christians actually ARE lighthouse keepers, pointing people who have lost their way to The Light, guiding them to shore where they are safe and secure. But I'm not quite that profound. At least not this early in the day.

8)  There's no place like home.  It's nice to go away even for a little while, but it's always nice to come back home. Even if you don't particularly like (read: actually hate) your house. Even if the only reason the cats are happy to see you is because they've run out of food and water, because you stupidly under-prepared for the volume of food they could consume in just over 24 hours. Even if coming home means you have to go back to work the next day (or the next day after that, in our case). I tried to think of a clever and original way to end this, but I can't say it better than it's been said before:  Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Too Much To Think

So...I haven't blogged in a little while. A week, to be precise. For good reason, I suppose, since I've been writing like mad at my job of late (a good thing, too, since that's what they pay me to do). But just because I haven't written anything here in awhile doesn't mean I haven't been thinking. I've been thinking a lot. So much, in fact, that my head's one big jumble of thoughts. They say (whomever "they" are) that sometimes it helps to get it all out on paper, sort of dump your brain of its contents, so to speak. Well, if I got it all out on actual, physical pieces of paper, you'd probably never see it – assuming you're even interested. And since one of the main points of this blog is for me to express myself as openly as possible so you can get to know me better, I might as well use it to get all these thoughts out of my head. Maybe you can help me sort them out, who knows?

As I said in my last post ("Blue Monday"), we recently wrapped up this year's Easter production at church. Three long months of planning, preparing, and practicing (nice three-point outline with alliteration there, Jason – your pastor would be proud!), and (insert bonus alliteration here) the production is past us. The down feeling that defines Blue Monday always quickly transitions into the excitement of: "What are we going to do next?" I tell myself, give it a few weeks, take a break, enjoy the time off, but to no avail. Within 48 hours of Closing Night, I am already thinking about and planning for the next production. I fight the urge to go out and look for new plays or skits, always thinking about "next time." But drama is not my entire life, at least it shouldn't be. So I fight it as hard as I can. But in the back of my mind, it still lurks...

In previous posts on this blog, I've alluded to certain aspirations and thoughts that I've been having (see here and here). And while I haven't actually done a great deal to make these aspirations and thoughts come to fruition, I haven't given up on them, and I have been thinking about them a lot.

One of the things that I've been thinking about and/or aspiring to for some time now is to actively do something productive in regards to my music. As I've mentioned before, I have penned quite a few original songs over the past several years. And while the majority of those should not – and will never – see the light of day, there are a handful of them that I think may have some degree of potential. Recently, I've been reassessing the old songs as well as brainstorming ideas for new ones, should I decide to embark upon this exciting but scary venture.

Herein lies the conflict:  Do I want to share these songs with others because I honestly believe they are worth sharing, and because they might speak to people in ways that truly matter? Or do I want to share them to promote myself, as merely a public avenue for my own self-indulgence and self-gratification? If it's for the latter, I'd rather not even bother with it. I don't want recognition, fame, or glory. (Not that I could or would ever attain any of these, I'm just examining my motives.) If I'm aspiring to do this because it's God's will, and because I want to make His name famous, then by all means I should do it. But I'm just not sure yet.

I have other things floating around in my head right now, too, but I'll save those for another day. Or maybe later today. Maybe not. I think I've thunk enough for one day already.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts or opinions, if you care to share them. If not, that's okay, too. Anyway, thanks for stopping by and reading mine.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Blue Monday

It's Monday, and I'm already exhausted. Very typical of a Blue Monday.

Last night was the third and final night of my church's Easter production, the drama portion of which I was the director. The production – a collaboration of eighty-some people all told, counting the cast, crew, and choir – was a resounding success, by the measure of success for which we were aiming. God was glorified through the presentation of the Gospel through songs and dramatic scenes. I have not yet heard if anyone accepted Christ as a direct result of the message we presented, but I'm certain that lots of seeds were planted.

In the drama portion of the production, our cast of 12 and crew of 10 or so spent the better part of three months working hard in preparing for this past weekend. Each actor and actress, who may or may not have been acquainted with their cast mates prior to the play, grew closer to each other as the long days and nights of rehearsals piled up. We became somewhat of a ragtag family, of sorts. In what other universe do a 10-year old relief pitcher, a retired Army colonel, three classroom teachers, and three home-schooled kids, among others, join forces and do something meaningful together? It never ceases to amaze me how it all comes together, but invariably, it does.

Someone facetiously asked me the other day how much I get paid for directing the Easter drama. I chuckled and told them, "Zero dollars." Some folks would think I was stupid for spending countless hours at church and at home preparing for something that doesn't earn me a dime. Those folks have probably never been involved in real ministry. What I get out of it isn't the point. It isn't about monetary gain or personal acclaim. The purpose is in the message, and I hope and pray that it came through loud and clear this weekend.

Which brings me back to Blue Monday. This is what I call the first day after the last night of the production. All those long days and nights spent preparing are now over. The people in whose company you've spent countless hours are suddenly no longer a part of your life in the same way. It's all over but the crying. And while I might not always shed actual tears over it, the sudden inactivity is a definite shock to the system. It hits you like a ton of bricks: Now what do I do?

The answer is obvious:  Life goes on. Playtime is over, at least for now, and now real life takes its place. And so we look forward to the next time we can do it all over again, maybe with a different group of people, for a different occasion, or maybe just because we want to. And until then, we wait. Till Tuesday...

To Leann, Jamie, Lori, Erick, Jimmy, Taylor, Daniel, Emory, Tim W., Cindy, Kim, Blake, Tim D., Chris, Nathan, Brandon, Nick, Bill, Tim S., Michael, Tim C., Steve, Teri P., Gina, Terri D., the Girls' Ensemble, Kevin, the Choir, and everyone else involved in the production:  Thank you for this experience. There will never be another one just like it, and I've enjoyed every minute of it!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I've Never Been Accused Of Being A Photographer

I've always been fond of artful photography. I have often wished that I had the vision and skill it takes to capture images in a way that's pleasing to the eye. My skill level as a photographer is minimal at best, nonexistent at worst. I generally tend to take on two types of subjects: nature pictures and closeups of random things. Don't ask me why, these things just catch my attention the most. As I am giving my brain a rest from weightier issues and concerns today, please enjoy – or berate – or be entertained by – or scoff at a few of my pictures:



There you have it. Random acts of randomness. You're welcome!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Things I Find Fascinating #2: "Nonsense Words"

Not-so-shocking confession:  I love the English language. Immensely.

I love the fact that the same word, spelled the same way, can have two entirely dissimilar meanings if the emphasis is placed on a different syllable. Case in point: the word "invalid".  If I say that your argument is inVALid, I am letting you know that I think you arrived at your conclusion based on false reasoning or factual errors. However, if I say that you are an INvalid, I am classifying you as a person who is incapacitated by a chronic illness or disability. Fascinating!

I also love the fact that there are literally dozens of ways to express the same sentiment in different words. Case in point: the word "nonsense".  "Nonsense" – in and of itself – is a wonderful word, explicit in its meaning, yet unpretentious in its expression. But oh, the weird and wonderful words that can also be used to connote absurdity! Let's examine a few of them:

1) Fatuous:  First of all, even when this word is spelled right, it looks like it's spelled wrong. No self-respecting seven-letter word should ever contain three consecutive vowels. But don't blame the word. Blame the Latin language from which it derives. Second of all, say this word aloud a couple of times. (It's pronounced FAT-you-US.) True, it's no "Djibouti", but it's a surefire chuckle-worthy word. Sadly, this clueless young lady's colossal misunderstanding of the word is a perfect demonstration of it.

2)  Balderdash:  This word's so wacky they named a board game after it. Yes, the word came before the game. About 400 years or so before the game, in fact. No one's really sure where the word originated, but I like to think of it as a distinctly British expression, whether that's accurate or mere stereotype.

3)  Codswallop:  This is another indubitably British synonym that is great fun to repeat endlessly – perhaps when no one's around so as to avoid strange looks. The bloke in this video has a great explanation for the word's somewhat obscure origin.

4) Falderal  (also spelled falderol or folderol) No, this is not that prescription you have to go pick up at Walgreens after work. This is yet another great word that means foolishness or nonsense. One guy liked the word so much that he wrote a song about it. I haven't heard the song myself, but I'll bet it's a load of codswallop.

5)  Hogwash:  Now, I would have thought that the origin of this word would have something to do with the notion that washing a hog is utterly ridiculous, considering that the hog itself is relatively unconcerned with its own cleanliness; however, that is not the case. Apparently, hogwash is another word for the slop that some less-than-fastidious swine farmers would feed to their hogs, apparently completely inconsiderate of the hogs' gastronomical preferences or the nutritional value of said slop.

6)  Buncombe (also spelled bunkum)This is a relatively recent word, as words go, originating in the early 1800s when U.S. Congressman F. Walker from North Carolina delivered a speech deemed insincere by his peers, who claimed that the politician intended merely to please his local constituents. His constituents in Buncombe County, that is. And so a new nonsensical word was born.

7)  Trumpery:  No, this word does not mean "the act of firing someone on a reality TV show while sporting a hideous combover". But wouldn't it be great if that was what it meant? This is yet another nifty word for nonsense, denoting specifically something that is utterly devoid of value or usefulness. It derives from a Middle English word meaning "to deceive." I don't know about you, but I'm becoming more and more convinced that this word does refer to "The Donald".

8)  Twaddle:  Okay, not only is this word a fun one to say over and over again – after double-checking that you are alone in the room – but it also has one of the wackiest origins I've found yet. The word "twaddle" originated in the 1540s when some random smart aleck decided that it would be great fun to combine the words "twiddle" and "tattle". I kid you not. That is its origin. I can just picture this guy, sitting around twiddling his thumbs while ratting out his friends and shouting: "I'm twaddling, I'm twaddling!" This is a perfect illustration of why random people should not be allowed to invent words.

9)  Malarkey (also spelled malarky) Originally used to refer to speech or writing designed to obscure, mislead, or impress, this gem of a word is now more commonly used – alongside other great words like "shenanigans" – to indicate that something is rubbish or nonsense.

10)  Gimcrackery:  Last but not least, we come to a word that has quickly become one of my new favorites. This crackerjack synonym was originally used to refer to a nonsensical item; that is, a cheap, showy trifle or gadget. Now, it's just a really absurd way to say that something is really absurd. Every time I see or hear this word (which, admittedly, isn't often), I can't help but think of the old children's song, "Jimmy Crack Corn". The following video is classic gimcrackery – a rousing rendition of this and other folk songs by Pee Wee Herman and the Singing Train Hobo. It may be 54 seconds of your life you'll never get back, but you didn't really need them anyway.

Watch it here:

Once again, thank you for indulging my strange fascinations. Maybe you've learned something. Maybe you'll have some new and utterly useless things to talk about with your friends and neighbors. Maybe not. But thanks for stopping by anyway! Come back anytime.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Play Ball!

Finally, Opening Day for Major League Baseball has arrived! Whoop-ti-do, you say? Not if you're as big of a baseball fan as I am.

The five months between the end of the World Series and Opening Day can seem like an eternity to die-hard baseball fans like myself. Sure, there's plenty of football and basketball (and if you're desperate, hockey) to watch in between, but these are all just second-rate stopgaps till baseball returns in full swing (pun intended).

I have heard all the complaints people have about baseball, and I understand. I do understand, but I don't necessarily care.

There's the "baseball is just sooo slooowww!" argument. I get that. Some people don't like that it doesn't have a shot clock or a game clock to more precisely predict the parameters of its duration. Or that it moves at a pace all its own. That a game could last a mere hour and forty-five minutes or an interminable six hours (depending on if it goes into extra innings). Me, I like the randomness of the game. At any given moment, something amazing could happen. Or nothing could happen. You never know...unless you keep watching.

Then there's the "baseball is just a business" and the "players are grossly overpaid" arguments. I can't argue with either of those statements either. Of course, baseball is a business. So is football, so is basketball, so are most things that entertain us. Their objective is to make money, and owners will do whatever it takes to make more money. Whether that means building a new multibillion-dollar stadium, or signing a star player for hundreds of millions of dollars to draw in fans, or soliciting a huge corporate sponsorship in exchange for renaming the stadium after said corporation. As for the overpaid players argument, I couldn't agree more. Nobody deserves to be paid $27 million a year to play a game, even if he is one of the game's premier players. But there is no salary cap in place in the sport – though I think there should be – so as long as agents continue to ask for the big money, and as long as the owners are willing to pay it out, the players are going to be overpaid. That's just the way it is. If a player is offered a huge contract, you can't blame him for taking it.

Finally, there's the whole steroids and performance-enhancing drugs issue, which has almost overshadowed the game itself over the past three-plus years. Official reports have revealed that throughout the past twenty years or so, and probably longer, a good number of baseball players – many superstars among them – at various points in their careers, were using anabolic steroids, human growth hormones, amphetamines, and other performance-enhancing drugs to transform themselves into bigger and stronger versions of themselves, as well as to be able to play through injuries. There's no question that the level of play among hitters and pitchers alike was elevated during what has now become known as the Steroid Era. In the mid-2000's, drug testing became strictly enforced and suspensions began being handed out for infractions of the MLB drug policy. Drug testing has effectively cleaned up the game significantly in a few short years, but it still has a ways to go. There is still not a reliable test that will detect a player's use of human growth hormones, so it's likely there are still players using this performance enhancer and not getting caught. But measures have been put in place, and Major League Baseball is doing a good job of holding players accountable. Will the game ever be completely clean? Probably not. As long as there is the opportunity to cheat – in any way – and get away with it, players will cheat. And not just in baseball, but in any sport. Or in life, for that matter. The point is not that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is not a big deal – it definitely is. The point is that the game of baseball is bigger, and more important, than the stupid choices a bunch of knucklehead players may have made, which have somewhat tarnished the game.

Are these arguments valid? Yes, absolutely! Every one of them has merit, and I will not quibble with anyone who proffers these as reasons not to get excited about baseball. I will simply say that these are not reasons that will keep me from watching the game I love.

So, without further ado....

"Take me out to the ballgame
  Take me out with the crowd
  Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
  I don't care if I never get back
  Let me root, root, root for the home team
  If they don't win, it's a shame
  For it's one, two, three strikes you're out
  At the old ball game."


Monday, March 28, 2011

Things I Find Fascinating #1: "10 Things Everyone Should Know About Djibouti"

Djibouti is a tiny country on the Gulf of Aden in Northeast Africa. I have been fascinated with this country since I was a teenager. I can't explain why that's the case, except to say that I'm a bit of a weirdo.

But since you've stopped by my blog – and thank you for that, by the way – you may as well learn a few key facts about Djibouti, if for no other reason than to impress your friends with useless information, or to have something to talk about with strangers other than the weather.

1)  How to pronounce "Djibouti":  It's pronounced like this:  jih-BOOT-ee.  I dare you to say this several times in a row, and see if you don't laugh. Or at least crack a smile. If not, you may want to check your pulse, because that is an undeniably funny-sounding word. Hear it pronounced by clicking here –> Djibouti

2)   Djibouti has 195 square miles of beautiful coastline, and sometimes we drop bombs on it, just to practice.  Here's a picture of two U.S. Navy F/A-18 fighter jets conducting bombing exercises at the Gordia bombing range just off the coast of Djibouti.

3)   One third of the population consists of nomadic herders.  The other two-thirds of the inhabitants live in the unimaginatively named capital city of Djibouti. Here's one of those nomads:

4)   Doctors here are extremely overworked.  There are roughly 18 doctors for every 100,000 people who live in Djibouti. Even so, life expectancy is about 60 years for both males and females.

5)  The population is predominantly Muslim.  Approximately 94% of Djiboutians are Muslim, while the remaining 6% claim Christianity as their religion. Every town and village in Djibouti has a mosque where people go to worship. Here's one of them in the capital city of Djibouti.

6)   When he's not sporting traditional Arabian garb such as the jellabiya, a typical Djiboutian man might be seen wearing Western-influenced apparel. Take this fellow, for instance:

6)   They write some catchy music that you can dance to, if you are so inclined.  Check out this guy!


7)  Arguably Djibouti's most famous writer, Abdourahman A. Waberi has written numerous novels, essays, poetry, and short stories which have been translated into more than ten different languages.  In 2005, Waberi was chosen amongst the "50 Writers of the Future" by French literary magazine, Lire. Among his more popular works are The Land Without Shadows (a short-story collection) and the novel In The United States Of Africa. Here's a recent photo of Abdourahman:

8)  Here there be pirates.  Being situated at the entrance of the Red Sea, ships sailing off the coast of Djibouti are often targeted by pirates. The Republic of Djibouti recently provided its port as a base for the Russian Navy to fight piracy. According to various media reports, a total of 217 vessels were attacked in 2009 alone, resulting in 47 hijackings. Here's a Russian warship in hot pursuit of some Blackbeard wannabe's.

9)  If a Djiboutian starts talking to you about IOG, that's actually not some locally famous rapper, it's their President.  Having ruled Djibouti since 1999, Ismael Omar Guelleh is so well-known amongst his people that they don't even have to say the man's name. That's pretty sweet! President Guelleh (as I am, unfortunately, not Djiboutian, I will not dispense with formalities here) supports traditionally strong ties with France and has labored to reconcile the different factions in neighboring Somalia. Here's a piacture of ol' IOG himself:

10)  If you're ever in Djibouti City and get a hankering for Japanese-Greek-French fusion cuisine, try the Melting Pot.  Located on Heron Rue Bernard, the Melting Pot's multicultural cuisine knows no boundaries that can limit its creativity. Conventional techniques are combined with the freshest ingredients. Their dishes are as varied as the people who discover them. Check out their Japanese menu below (hope you can read French):

Thank you for indulging my oddball fascinations. There will be more of these to come. I don't know when exactly, as they do take some time to compile. But hopefully, they will be worth the trouble.

SOURCES: Wikipedia, BBC, and other random places on the Internet.