Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Texas Text Asses

The Texas Board of “Education” has been in the news recently. In a 10 to 5 vote, the board has decided to introduce new ultra-conservative history textbooks to the state's schools. Sweeping changes to recorded history will undoubtedly help produce an entire generation of misguided and misinformed Texans.

Among the changes will be to promote conservative heroes like Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. On the other hand, the new books will see a reduced scope for Latino history and culture, so historic figures like César Chávez will likely go unmentioned. Another change is to no longer include Thomas Jefferson among the individuals who influenced the nation’s intellectual origins.

This I can understand since everyone knows that Jefferson was just an ordinary Joe who had no influence whatsoever on American history. Who cares if he was a philosopher, horticulturist, architect, archaeologist, paleontologist, inventor, founder of a University, third U.S. president, and primary author of the Declaration of Independence? Just because someone thought he was deserving of having his image carved into the face of a mountain doesn't mean the rest of us should accord the man any praise.

However, the rest of this type of revisionism is complete and total Texas Longhorn Bullcrap! As long as there are websites like Snow Shoveling In Canada around, you can be sure that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth will be available. We are your lantern in the darkness of nescience, illiteracy and general goofy dumbness.

American history is rife with important historical individuals and colorful characters — people like Eli Whitney, an inventor and moonshiner who made gin out of cotton (yech!). Canada as well has had its share of important innovators and inventors like... well... I can't think of anyone right now, but we've been known to be quite productive when we weren't slugging back a few ounces of Eli Whitney's Olde Tyme Cotton Gin ®.

Canada can however crow about Sir Sandford Fleming; kind of a Canadian Benjamin Franklin. Americans of course had their own Benjamin Franklin in one Benjamin Franklin.

But Texas, bloated with bluster and braggadocio, boasts the biggest names.

Therefore, I’d like to present some little-known “facts” regarding some famous Texans.

Stephen F. Austin
Austin was a bionic man and an impresario who organized many concerts and operas just north of the Mexican border in the early 1800’s. For some reason, his efforts in this regard were enough for him to be credited with the title “The Father of Texas”. The capital city of Texas and the Austin Motor Company are named after him.

Sam Houston
Houston was a statesman and soldier who really had it in for a Mexican named Santa. He participated in several tiffs with Santa and the Mexican army, including the battle of the Alamo. This skirmish was notable for its participants which included Jim “Big Blade” Bowie and Davey Crockett (or maybe it was Daniel Boone. Well, it was one of those Fess Parker-like frontiersman).

Jett Rink
Mr. Rink was a good-for-nothing ranch hand who inherited a worthless piece of Texas scrubland from a woman by the name of Luz Benedict. Determined to get something from this hardscrabble real estate, Jett doggedly drilled holes into the dirt until one day when he finally struck oil. His land yielded more “Texas Tea” than he could have imagined. Rink eventually became the most famous, wealthy, and admired man the state has ever produced.

Jordan 'Bick' Benedict Jr.
Another industrial giant.

Lyndon B. Johnson
A true Texan, Johnson was the 36th President of the United States. He is perhaps most famous for his incredible demonstrations of strength where he would pick up an entire beagle by the ears.

So there you have it. All you ever wanted to know (I’m sure) about the Lone Star (out of four) State.

And just to get it out of my system, here are some links about Thomas Jefferson, Darwinism, and César Chávez. Take that Texas Board of Ed!!!

A note to you Texas tykes out there: feel free to use this blog as a source to further your knowledge about Texas and the world in general.

It certainly won’t hurt any more than your proposed new texts.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Thursday in April or March

“In your Easter bonnet.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, the same to you Mac!”

Easter is coming soon — I think. No one really knows when Easter will take place each year since it is a moveable feast and its date is supposedly set by some mind-dizzying formula that was named after an ancient Latin data processing machine. To illustrate how confusing this all is, the third day before Easter has been called Monday Thursday.

All that really matters is that this is the time of year that pretty well marks the end of the snow shoveling season in Southern Ontario. It is also the weekend of chocolate bunnies, multi-colored hard-boiled eggs, and hot cross buns.

Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!
One a penny two a penny - hot cross buns
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons

One a penny two a penny - hot cross buns

Luckily, I never had any sisters.

An event that allegedly takes place on Easter is the Easter Parade. But in all my years I’ve never witnessed a parade in our fair city on Easter. Nor have I come across any parades while flipping through the television channels on that particular day; although, someone did make a movie about this annual March/April march.

From a Wikipedia article about the Easter Parade:

“An old Irish adage stated "For Christmas, food and drink; for Easter, new clothes," and a 15th-century proverb from Poor Robin's Almanack states that if on Easter Sunday some part of one's outfit is not new, one will not enjoy good luck during the year.

At Easter let your clothes be new,
Or else be sure you will it rue.”

At Easter let your clothes be new, Or else be sure you will it rue??? What kind of a terrible, strained rhyme is that? I'm sure someone could come up with a better verse than that. I'll have a crack at it (ha ha. get it? crack... eggs... you know... Easter eggs... forget it). Let's see if I can make an improvement:

At Easter time new clothes you get,
Or you damn sure will it regret.

That's much better. 

I recall as a kid in school we sang:

On the Avenue, Fifth Avenue,
The photographers will snap us
And you'll find that you're in the rotogravure.


When it came to that last word, we may just as well have been asked to sing pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. It was hilarious the way we stumbled over it. There may have even been a few curses uttered in lieu of the word, but the teacher never noticed. To this day I still don’t know what rotogravure means.

But I am thinking of starting the Easter Parade tradition here in Antler River. My wife and I will dress up in our Easter best, put a decorative collar on our pooch, and take a walk around the cul-de-sac. I can just see us strolling elegantly about the neighborhood. I'll be a veritable fashion plate in my new jacket, snazzy pants, spiffy hat, shiny shoes, and doggy poop bag.

Oh, I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet…

 But I won't. I'll just wish you a Happy Easter; whenever that is.

Friday, March 26, 2010

An Ex-Spearmint

Experiment:

To resolve the question, Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight? (i.e., does spearmint become ex-spearmint after an eight-hour period)


Observation/Research

Gum: Wrigley’s Excel White Spearmint (a brave, courageous, and bold flavor)
Bedpost: 114 cm (45 in) high wooden headboard post with a top knob diameter of 7.5 cm (3 in)
Room temperature: 20 degrees C (68 F).
Wind speed: Negligible
Catalytic agents: Initial mastication with salivary juicification, followed by eight hours of stationary incubation in bedroom air with ambient microbials.


Hypothesis

A par-chewed piece of gum — precisely placed on bedroom furniture — undergoes a chemical reaction (and, as a result, loses its flavor) while the consumer saws logs in the Land of Nod.


Prediction

On awakening and then popping the cold, tacky, icky lump of gum into the mouth, the scientist will experience a bland and tasteless chew akin to that found in most store-bought frozen pizzas.


Experimentation — Procedure and Results

After having brushed his teeth (to remove any unwanted reagents), the scientist proceeded to gnaw on two pieces of the sugarless gum for one minute at a rate of two chews per second. With still plenty of flavor left in the wad, it was placed on the exact top center of the bedpost. The tester then kissed his wife goodnight and went sleepy bye.

After a restless night — due to all the questions and worries regarding the ramifications of this momentous study — the researcher rose and had a good chaw of the rubbery treat. He found to his amazement that there was a great deal of tasty enjoyment to be had. So, chewing happily, downstairs he went and had some fresh-brewed coffee. The clash of two wildly divergent flavors caused the subject of this experiment to be spat out in disgust.


Conclusion

Chewing gum keeps its flavor while left on a bedpost at least for an overnight stretch (ha ha. get it? stretch... you know... gum... forget it).

Also, gum and coffee should never be enjoyed together.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chewing Gum — Chewing Chewing Gum

I love chewing gum. What I mean to say is, I love chewing gum and I love chewing chewing gum. Bubble gum is OK but it tends to be a little too sweet and my temples get sore after gnawing away at it for a while.

Gum is available in a staggering variety of flavors, from your standard spearmint to piña colada. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a roast chicken variety.

One flavor I've never seen though is chocolate. It’s apparently available, but I’ve never had any and it's not sold in any stores here. I wonder why this isn’t a favorite gum choice. I’d sure give it the ol' chew chew cha boogie.

Cinnamon is a popular gum flavor. Dentyne and Big Red are a couple of examples. Big Red brand was first advertised as a strong, bold, powerful gum suitable for only the manliest and rugged of men, like cowboys. The first time I saw their commercial, I thought it was the Marlboro man trying a Nicorette-like therapy to quit smoking. I believe their slogan was “Kick some ass with Big Red.”

The makers of Big Red soon found that sweaty, manure-crusted cowpunchers don’t lend themselves well to the marketing of a tasty confection. So, they went in an entirely different direction and pitched it as a gum for sweethearts. Thus was born the "Kiss a little longer" campaign.

The only problem with this was the fact that the gum was still awfully strong, as illustrated by the "Big Red Wrapper" trick.

From a Wikipedia article:

“It is known that the cinnamon from the gum leaks into the wrappers. The wrappers can burn skin. The 'trick' is for one to lick the inside of the wrapper, and stick it onto his or her face. It will cause a painful burning sensation.”

If they had originally shown the cowboys in their commercials doing that, then maybe it would have been a hit — at least among thrill seekers, sadists, and the kind of guys who think it's fun to wax the hair from their chest and armpits.

While we're ruminating on gum, I've always wondered about the answer to that age-old question "Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?"  I never attempted this experiment as a kid because my mother would surely have forbidden it. But now that I'm a full-grown mature adult, I can do whatever the hell I like. So, in that spirit, I will go ahead with this important research and update you on the results when they become available. I wonder if I can get a government grant for this.

I miss some of the old brands of my youth like Beemans and Beech-Nut Fruit Stripe gum  (I actually don’t remember what Fruit Stripe tasted like, but I sure do remember the TV ad).

One of my favorite chewing gums back then was Black Jack. This was a licorice-flavored gum that was great for placing strategically in your mouth to make it look as if you had teeth missing.

Of course there have always been the ubiquitous Wrigley brands with their squeaky-clean ads, full of wholesome words and images. Who could forget the Doublemint commercial with the two hot blonde twins walking toward a couple of identical guys while the song plays "A double pleasure’s waiting for you… " or the Juicy Fruit jingle with its immortal words "Take a sniff, pull it out, the taste is gonna move you when you pop it in your mouth…"

Today I tend to buy the sugarless gums that claim to whiten teeth. With all the coffee I drink, I want to do what I can to combat any enamel staining going on. But I don’t necessarily want to chase that great coffee flavor away with some intense icy-cool mint — spear, winter, pepper, or otherwise.

Come to think of it, for people in a hurry, a coffee-flavored gum with all the caffeine included would be a great way to start the day. I think I’m onto something here. I must remember to call Wrigley.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chew 'em up, Big Red!

MARCH MADNESS IS IN THE AIR!!!!

This past week I spent hours in front of the television watching the NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament.

The usual teams are there: Kentucky, Duke, Syracuse, and Michigan State. Kansas made a surprising early exit. But I’m rooting for the “Sleeping Beauty teams” like Northern Iowa, Xavier, St. Mary's, and Cornell.

Cornell is playing amazing basketball. This team is from the Ivy League, which rises just above the Bush League. On Sunday, the Cornell Big Red demolished the Wisconsin Weasels 157-34 (it was actually closer than that, but not by much). After the game, the Big Red boosters (the Cornell fans, not the chewing gum aficionados) were heard singing the school “fight” song:

Give my regards to Davy,
Remember me to Tee Fee Crane.
Tell all the pikers on the Hill
That I'll be back again.
Tell them just how I busted
Lapping up the high highball.
We'll all have drinks at Theodore Zinck's
When I get back next fall!


I’m not making that up. Sung to the tune of “Give my regards to Broadway”, it is the actual fight song for Cornell.

But c’mon; Davey and Tee Fee? Drinking highballs at Theodore Zinck’s? Hardly words that would inspire a fighting spirit. Perhaps if the last line were “Then we’ll have a barroom brawl”, then that might do it.

I’ve never been in a barroom brawl or a basketball tournament, but I have been known to play a little roundball from time to time. Years ago, my notoriety as a hoopster was enough to earn myself a pretty nifty nickname. In fact, whenever I shot the ball, you would hear onlookers chant it in unison, “air ball… air ball… air ball…

I also could do a 360 double-pump between-the-legs behind-the-back windmill tomahawk in-your-face slamma-jamma dunk on my own basketball net. I must admit that the “360 double-pump between-the-legs behind-the-back windmill tomahawk in-your-face” part of the maneuver was done standing on the ground, but at least I did it. Sort of.

So, if you’re wondering what I’ll be doing this weekend, I’ll be at home sitting in front of the television with a beer and enjoying the tournament.

On second thought, maybe I’ll have some drinks at Zinck’s and watch it on the big screen TV with Tee Fee.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lindsays, Tweets, and Samuel's Peeps

I consider myself a blogger, not a writer.

Blogging is like entry-level writing. Microblogging is like entry-level blogging.

Those who post boiled-down messages from the popular social networking site Twitter are said to be “tweeting”. Tweets are the most well known form of microblogging.

But for those who think microblogging and tweeting are recent phenomena, think again.

Of course there’s nothing new about making a long story short, but even centuries ago enterprising individuals sought to make the world a better place by saving time and expense on bothersome words. “Brevity is the soul of wit”, said Shakespeare (which is ironic because if ever oh ever a windbag there was, this wordy windbag was one).

The first known “microblogger” was Samuel Pepys. His name pronunciation is revealed in the following limerick:

It is said that one Samuel Pepys
Had the best diary by bounds and leaps
He penned of a plague
In a style far from vague
His account of it gave me the creeps


Unlike other chatterboxes of his time, like Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh, Pepys preferred to write about the day’s events in a diary. This was quite revolutionary for his time. I remember I had a diary when I was a child. I don’t believe it contained enough pages to handle a story as big as the Great Plague or the Great Fire of London. This is what made Pepys such an innovator. He told accounts of the day's events in concise snippets, which were then known as “peeps”.

By the way, MacFhirbhisigh (and you thought I made that up!) — after seeing how succinct Pepys’ writing was — is credited with coining the expression, “Jeepers, creepers! Where’d you get those peeps, sir?”

Whether we’re talking brevity or peeping or tweeting or microblogging or blurbing or…

Ah, never mind. I’ve said too much on this already.

Let’s turn our attention now to a recent news item about that multi-faceted star of publicity stunts; Lindsay Lohan.

Here are excerpts from an article in the Toronto Star (the bracketed question marks are mine):

The 23-year-old actress (???) has launched a $100 million (U.S.) lawsuit against discount brokerage eTrade, according to the New York Post.

“They're using her name as a parody of her life. Why didn't they use the name Susan? This is a subliminal message. Everybody's talking about it
(???) and saying it's Lindsay Lohan,” Stephanie Ovadia, Lohan’s lawyer, told the Post.

Ovadia suggested that Lohan has elevated
(???) ‘Lindsay’ to the same sort of one-off recognition status as ‘Madonna’ or ‘Cher’.

Lohan’s lawyer should realize that eTrade didn’t use the name Susan because it would surely invite legal trouble from a bunch of Susans. They should instead have used a fabricated name like Dubhaltach.

As yet, there have been no complaints reported from Lindsay Wagner, Lindsay Davenport, Lindsay Crouse, Lindsey Buckingham, Lindsey Vonn, Lindsey Hunter, Lindsey Jacobellis, Lindsay Ontario, or Mark Lindsay.

We should all take a lesson from this and be wary of the names and words we use. Be brief. Use peeps. Send tweets. Read Pepys. Never, ever utter the name Lindsay.

And woe betide anyone who, without express written consent, should use the names G. Thomas or G. or Snow Shoveling or Snow.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

First Annual SSIC Poetry Contest

We at Snow Shoveling in Canada are proud to announce the winners of the First Annual SSIC Poetry Contest.

Submissions were judged on originality, style, poetic structure, and order in which they were pulled from the hat.

And so, without further ado, here are the winners:

FIRST PRIZE:

MID-DAY CRICKET

Do you dare attract a mate, O mid-day cricket,
Calling all alone from your light-dappled thicket?
Chirp, chirp, chirping ‘neath a hazy, August sun;
You’ll find more competition when this long day is done.


SECOND PRIZE:

ODE TO THE BLACK JACK

Spank me when I’m born and toast me when I die,
Breakfast in the morn and a snort when evening’s nigh.
I’ll eat KD for lunch, and drink JD for dinner,
All’s fine on the outer, when Jack Daniel’s warms the inner.


THIRD PRIZE (this entrant could have claimed top prize, but they tried to sneak in four poems masquerading as one. As such, the entry was penalized, which may have cost this contestant incalculable fame and fortune):

GRAND LEGENDS OF THE OLD WEST

General George Armstrong Custer

Oh, that bastard cuss Custer
just couldn’t cut the mustard.
And thus the dastard bit dust.
His last stand was a mass bust.

---

Wyatt Earp

What is a man?

Consider Wyatt Earp; why he wasn’t worth a burp
when it comes to the measure of a man.

Real men are good and kind; they show love; are more refined
than those thugs such as Wyatt and his clan.

---

Wild Bill Hickok

You cannot say it’s fact that he enjoyed to kill,
but many men were slain by the guns of Wild Bill.

Yet, just desserts are served when brutes like Hickok fall
at the hands of punks like the vengeful Jack McCall.

---

Billy the Kid and Jesse James

When compiling a list like this
of such legends, I’d be remiss
if I did not mention the names
Billy the Kid and Jesse James.

Were they heroes, like Robin Hood;
misunderstood, and mainly good?
Ruthless killers is what they were;
Filthy dog and a loathsome cur.


Have you ever read such "poetry"? Words like these are rarely seen or heard nowadays. Whenever I pore over such lyrical versification as this, I'm reminded of  Robert Frost (a favorite of snow shovelers everywhere), or that great poet of the environmental movement, John "Green Wit" Leafier. Other poets also come to mind such as  William Butler Keats and John Manservant Yeats

Oh, no one beats Yeats and Keats
For words so sublime and rich.
But of those greats, Keats and Yeats,
I'm never sure which is which.

The poem above received an honorable mention in our contest.

While we're on the subject of mentioning, I'd like to mention one of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson. A biography of her on Famous Poets and Poems  reads in part, "Dickinson assembled many of her poems in packets of 'fascicles' which she bound herself with needle and thread." It's a wonder those fascicles didn't make her poetry collection a sopping mess.

Two other poets I should call attention to are e.e. cummings and T.S. Eliot. Mr. cummings is probably best known as the poet who had a defective shift key on his typewriter. Mr. Eliot is famous for writing poems for which the musical Rats was based. The most famous song from this play was that ballad to a cuddly little sewer rodent, Ben.

You may be interested in knowing that I've done a little dabbling in poetry myself. But my poems are more likely to begin with words like, "There once was a gal from Grants Pass..."

Email me if you want to know how the rest of it goes. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hair, You Go Again

A wise and hairy Dane once said:

To beard, or not to beard: that is the question:
Whether 'tis easier on the face to suffer
The stings and cuts of tonsorial torture,
Or to take a break and accept that sea of stubble,

And by not opposing, grow a beard.

People spend a lot of time and attention on hair. Women will also spend countless dollars on styling their hair. Men, on the other hand, spend very little money (by comparison anyway) on hairstyling. The reason is that most of us men tend to gradually lose what precious little hair we have covering our craniums.

Facial hair is another matter. Men can do all sorts of things with facial hair that women can't. We can shave it off to look as smooth as women or we can demonstrate our superior macho masculinity by growing a beard. Once a significant amount of facial hair has been amassed, it can be trimmed into all manner of styles.

One popular style of beard is known as the Van Rijn, named after the hirsute Dutch painter Rembrandt Hairmengroom van Rijn. Alternatively, this style has been called the Van Dyke or the Van Heflin.

Another beard, the goatee, is much like the Van Rijn/Van Dyke/Van Heflin but without the mustache part. This is a great style for men who want to look like that famous old west desperado, Billy the Goat.

Billy the Goat

The full beard can be worn at various lengths; from the ultra-short (like most actors and male models these days — who look like they're on the fifth day of a five-day razorless vacation) to the super-long (for the classic Rasputin appearance or that dashing, through-the-snow look of Santa-Claus).

While in my twenties and thirties, I sported a beard most of the time. As I got older however, my facial hair grew grayer and grayer until it got to the point where it was completely white. Thus, vanity kept me clean shaven for many years. But about a year and a half ago, I decided to grow a beard once more. Since it was so white, I figured it would look better if I kept it short — very short.

Unfortunately, this also made my beard very picky. Whenever I gave my wife a smooch, she felt as if she were kissing a pin cushion. I was about as cuddly as a scotch pine.

Furthermore, when I started growing the beard I envisioned that I would look like this:



Instead, I ended up looking more like this:



So I shaved it off.

Now I look something like this:


Makes me look younger, don't you think?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Spider-Man, Batman, Gar-Gar and Sniff

When I was a kid, like most kids, I loved reading comic books; particularly those about superheroes.

The Marvel comics were my favorites. I mostly enjoyed Spider-Man, Thor, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Captain America. I didn’t care as much for the D.C. comics although I did like Batman and the Flash.

One of my least favorite superheroes had to be the Green Lantern. This rather pedestrian hero's distinction was the fact that he dressed in green and had a lantern and a ring. Whoop-dee-do!

Besides, his name made no sense. He was the man holding the lantern, not the lantern itself. They should have called him the "Green Guardian" or the "Man in Green with a Lantern and a Ring". If you saw someone with a crimson pail, you wouldn’t call him the "Red Bucket" (Although that would make for an interesting superhero. He might have some magic elixir or putrid slime in his bucket that he could dispense to evildoers).

From the mediocre we now go to the ridiculous: Superman. This guy really bugged me (although I wouldn’t say that to his face). It wasn’t enough that he was stronger than anyone. No. Superman could do anything. He could even turn back time! His powers made all the other superheroes obsolete. What a showoff! I wouldn't be surprised if he could dance better than Fred Astaire, or theorize better than Albert Einstein, or cook better than Julia Child.

I remember Superdude once had a foot race with my favorite superhero, The Flash. This hasty hero was my favorite because I used to be a pretty fleet little runner myself, in my youth. The reason I was fast was due to the fact that I was quite skinny; my legs had very little weight to bear and I encountered no wind resistance when I ran (it was kind of like having my own superpower).

Anyway, Superjerk and my man, the Flash, face off in this titanic race of speedy champions. I figure it’s a foregone conclusion that the Scarlet Speedster would win. After all, velocity was his forte, his only claim to fame, and his reason for living. If someone were as fast or faster than he, then he would have to hang his head in shame and no longer call himself a superhero.

So how does the race end? It’s a stinkin' tie!!! My favorite superhero has become redundant. I hate Superman.

I remember my father telling me and my brothers about a character called Plastic Man. He described him as this elasticized contortionist who could bend into various shapes and stretch to unbelievable lengths. Us boys, being the comic book connoisseurs that we were, explained to him that he was thinking of Mr. Fantastic from the Fantastic Four.

Dad, however, insisted there was such a character as Plastic Man. We kids chuckled about this on many occasions, thinking our father was either joking with us or losing his mind; until one day when he came home with a copy of Plastic Man.

Figuring we had to believe him now, he then proceeded to tell us about another lesser-known superhero by the name of Gar-Gar.

Gar-Gar had the uncanny ability to assume the form of any gas on the periodic table of elements. If necessary, he could fatally poison the bad guys or at least make them queasy by morphing himself into a foul odor.

He had a sidekick by the name of Sniff. Sniff had tremendous lung capacity and was immune to toxic gases and rancid smells. Thus, he was able to sniff up Gar-Gar whenever trouble arose.

Ol’ Dad had to be putting us on for sure this time. We weren’t going to fall for that one.

But all that's in the past. Now I'm a man. I've matured. I can see that the real heroes are the ones who make a difference in our lives: spouses, parents, family members, true friends, and reality TV stars.

Oh, and if someone should come across any issues of The Adventures of Gar-Gar and Sniff, let me know. I’d be interested in purchasing a copy.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ides Say It’s a Busy Month

Soothsayer
Caesar!

Caesar
What?

Soothsayer
Beware the Ides of March.

Caesar
What sayest thou, soothsayer?

Soothsayer
Beware the Fifteenth of March.

Caesar
Oh.

And so begins Act 1 Scene II of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

Shakespeare’s play is based on a true story. You may remember from your history books the conversation that allegedly took place between Brutus and one of the Senators who planned to murder Caesar:

“When is this assassination supposed to take place?” asked Brutus.
“The Ides of March,” replied the conspirator.
“The I's of March? What, like the Ist, IInd, and IIIrd of March?”
“No, you dimwit. The Ides of March.”
“Ides? I have no idea what that is. Get it? Ide-ea. But seriously, what is it?”
“The fifteenth.”
“Then why didn’t you just say “fifteenth”?”
“I wanted it to seem ominous.”
“I see. Yes, we certainly don’t want our identities revealed.”
Ominous, lamebrain, not anonymous.”
“Oh. OK, the Ides. But what time exactly?”
“At two, Brute.”

or something like that.

I generally think of March as a miserable month (I’m sure Caesar didn’t like it much either). Usually the weather is horrid, but this year it looks like the snow shoveling season may already be over with.

I’ve never seen a March begin like this one. It’s been as balmy as a summer night in Iqaluit. The forecast calls for sunshine and plus temperatures right up until next week. The walkways and driveway are as bare and dry as a parched nudist.

However, there are many other things besides shoveling to keep me occupied this month.

First off, the Academy Awards are on Sunday.

The front runners for Best Picture are Avatar and The Hurt Locker. If either of these win, it will be the worst choice for best film since, well, last year. But this would rank right up there with Braveheart and Forrest Gump as the worst best picture ever.

Personally, I’d like to see Up, Up in the Air win. This is a live action/animated film starring George Clooney and some cartoon codger. The music is by Jimmy Webb. The 5th Dimension (sometimes known as the 1/3rd Ides Dimension) perform the title song.

Another thing to look forward to this month is the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship (a.k.a. March Madness). The first game is on the day after the Ides. This tournament gives me the opportunity each year to do my best bump-on-a-log-with-a-beer imitation. I don’t think my wife cares for it.

Two days after the Ides we have St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland. He is known as the guy who — with the help of the Ides Piper — drove all the snakes and rats from Ireland. Everybody sing, “When Irish Ides are smiling…

Incidentally, the Ides Piper was also the nickname given to a member of that gang that attacked Caesar. He’s the one that used a lead pipe rather than a knife.

It’s a busy, busy month indeed. Throw into the mix the beginning of Daylides Savings Time, the first day of spring, March break, Palm Sunday, and Passover, and it’s a wonder anyone ever has time to do any shoveling in March.

And I'm sorry about the nudist link trick.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

“Sing”, “Sing” a “Song”

It seems as though rap and hip hop are here to stay. However, this style of “music” isn’t new. Oh, no. It’s been around for a long, long time.

Much credit for its popularity today must be given to “artists” such as Iced Tea, M&Ms, The Notoriously Big Guy, and Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy.

But you have to look no further than the 1960’s to find some fine examples of early rap.

One of the greatest “singers” of our time, Lorne Greene, released his hit “song” Ringo in 1964. Ringo tells the tale of a ruthless gunman who spread terror but was ultimately shot to smithereens after demonstrating a spark of good. This "song" would eventually become number one on the charts, replacing The Shangri-Las' ode to Frank Sinatra: Leader of the Pack.

Prior to that, in 1961, Jimmy Dean (the country sausage guy, not the rebel without a cause) recorded the hit Big Bad John. In this “song”, Mr. Dean “sings” about a sizable fellow who works in a mine. I won’t go into what happens to John, lest I just end up reproducing the lyrics here (which would essentially be the "song"). Let’s just say that I always felt sorry for that big misunderstood galoot.

One of the earliest instances of the rap style in popular music was demonstrated by Rosie the waitress from the Bounty paper towel commercials. Actually, it was the actress who played Rosie; Nancy Walker. She performed Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet in the 1944 film Broadway Rhythm. This is not a pure rap “song”. I could not find a link to Ms. Walker’s version, but if you get a chance to hear it you'll notice that partway through the number she goes from singing to “singing”.

Yet we must go back much further in time to find the man who would have to be considered the founding father of rap “music”.

That distinction belongs to Antoninus, one of the thugs from the Spartacus gang. Remember him?


When the Romans captured Spartacus and his men, they threatened to kill them all unless someone would betray their leader. Spartacus — in a heroic effort to spare his men — stood up to reveal himself, but Antoninus beat him to the punch. He jumped to his sandaled feet and yelled out, “I’m Spartacus.”
This set off a chain reaction. Another guy stood up and shouted, “I’m Spartacus.”
And another, “I’m Spartacus.”
Another, “I’m Spartacus.”
And so on.

The Romans were very frustrated by this, because now instead of one pesky Spartacus, they found that they had to deal with a whole slew of Spartaci.

Legend has it that this event spawned an entire generation of scofflaws. Whenever a centurion confronted a non-Roman for some infraction — say a speeding chariot — the inevitable happened:
“Name?”
“Spartacus.”
“All right wise guy. Thirty days in the dungeon.”

But back to Antoninus. If you’ve seen the movie Spartacus, you’ll recall the scene where Antoninus tells his beloved leader that he is a “singer” of “songs”. The men then encourage him to perform. “Sing us a song," they say.
“Yes, sing us a song, Antoninus.”
“Sing, sing a song, you singer.”

And so he “sings”:

When the blazing wind hangs low in the western sky
when the sun flies away to the mountain
when the “song” of the crow scares the locusts from the fields
and maidens sleep in the sea foam
at last at twilight time...


or something like that.

But even back then rap “artists” had their critics; as demonstrated at the end of the scene when Spartacus rolls his eyes and sarcastically remarks, “Nice “song”.”

Some might argue that Antoninus was ahead of his time. However, it must be noted that even Cro-Magnon man had the ability to create “songs” by banging two rocks together and uttering monosyllabic monotone gibberish.

Music isn’t what I’d call a progressive art form.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

SSIC Movie Review: The Hurt Locker

This is a movie about bombs. Lots of bombs. Desert bombs.

The End.

That's pretty much it. Oh sure, a few other things happened. You wanna hear about 'em? OK. I'll provide you with a little more, oh faithful reader.

I’m still not sure what the title The Hurt Locker refers to. It’s not about well-secured first aid kits, nor is it about gymnasium facilities for actors William, John, or even Mary Beth.

This celluloid endeavor was directed by Kathryn Bigelow; the deft hand behind such legendary screen classics as Point Break and Blue Steel. It stars Jeremy Renner as Staff Sergeant William James, an expert at diffusing bombs. Joining him on the Explosivity Disposaling Unit are Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), and Owen Eldrige (Brian Geraghty).

Renner has been nominated for an Academy Award for his performance. I’m not sure why this is. The supporting performances — most notably Mackie’s — were, in my opinion, superior. All Renner did was act “cool”. Oh, so “cool”. Desert "cool". But if looking “cool” is the only criterion used for award recognition, then David Caruso should be nominated for a Nobel Prize.

The film centers mostly on the antics of Sergeant James. James loves dismantling things that can blow you into a zillion pieces. He’d rather do that than live a peaceful life in a nice home with his beautiful wife. We’re shown some of his domestic life, but the movie doesn’t show the good stuff. No. Instead we see him cleaning out the eavestrough of his house.

Now I’ve cleaned out a few roof gutters in my time, but the one depicted here has to be the gunkiest gutter in the history of home maintenance. And he’s cleaning it out with his bare hand!!! C’mon, use a scoop, or a trowel, or a toy shovel, a stick, a shoe, anything. I’d rather diffuse bombs in Iraq than have to clean out that gutter in that fashion.

Another scene worth mentioning shows the guys — after getting a little snockered — engaging in an activity where good judgment and mental acuity would be a distinct disadvantage. The “game” involves taking turns hitting each other as hard as possible in the stomach. My wife, while watching this powerful and touching scene, turned to me and asked, “Why do men do those kind of things?”

You know, we men just have to chuckle when women ask us such questions. It was obvious to me, but I patiently explained it to her that this was a gesture of endearment. Women hug. Men try to smash the bejabers out of each other. It’s their way of saying, “You’re OK in my book.” And nothing says it better than a ruptured spleen.

A word of warning here to those prone to seasickness: the camerawork in this film is of that hand-held style that so many directors are wont to use these days. I suppose they feel it gives their movies that gritty, realistic, documentary look — which is ironic, since documentary filmmakers rarely use the technique anymore. Besides, if it’s supposed to look realistic, then why don’t I see the real world that way through my eyes? Although if I did, I’d be making an appointment — and pronto — with an ophthalmologist or a brain surgeon.

If you have a tough time watching this film due to that camera style, then avoid The Bourne Ultimatum at all costs. You would not survive. Its visuals are worse than any bone-jarring experience you could imagine.

I once took a ride on a gigantically tall roller coaster. Its peak disappeared into the clouds. It was called the Red Ripper, or the Brown Streak, or the Green Puker — something like that. Anyway, all I know is that I was smiling after that ride. I wasn’t smiling after The Bourne Ultimatum.

In closing, I should say that even though I had some reservations about renting the DVD of The Hurt Locker, I was able to take something positive from it — a lesson.

The lesson learned is, pay attention to your reservations.

Monday, March 1, 2010

2010 Olympic Rap-Up

The 2010 Winter Olympics have come and gone, and what a great time it was.

Therefore, in honor of the games, I’ve decided to compose a rap song. I don’t know how to represent a beatbox rhythm in print, so we’ll have to go with oom pah pah.

oom pah pah, oom pah pah
 

To all the disapprovers
Who tried to diss Vancouver’s
Olympic Winter games
Go hang your heads in shame

oom pah pah, oom pah pah

‘Cause it’s a success story
A source of golden glory
For a bunch of Canadians
And even some Scandanavians

oom pah pah, oom pah pah

Second verse, same as the first…
*

* That last line belongs to those hip hop pioneers and enfants terrible of pop music, Herman’s Hermits.

There were quite a few interesting stories at these games — some happy, some sad. And there were a lot of great Olympians who shone as bright as diamonds in the snow.

For me, none shone brighter than Petra Majdič of Slovenia. This incredible cross-country skier found herself off-course in a training run of the Ladies’ Sprint Classic. She tumbled into a deep ditch and landed on some rocks. She suffered four or five broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Amazingly, she subsequently raced in the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals; earning a bronze medal for her efforts. She actually had to be given assistance to step up onto the podium to receive her award.

I remember I once missed an entire day of work after stubbing my toe in the dark on my way to the bathroom the previous night.

Another great Olympic moment was when the German long-track speed skaters squeaked out a win over the U.S. in the team pursuit semifinal. Anni Friesinger-Posterior languished behind her teammates on the final lap and fell before crossing the finish line. She did eventually cross it however; sliding on her belly while doing a strange breastroke-on-ice maneuver.

I’m not sure, but the U.S. team may have had reason to protest this. If anyone were to do a speed-skating motion while competing in the breastroke at the summer games, then they would undoubtedly be disqualified.

But perhaps my favorite Olympian was Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong.

Nkrumah-Acheampong (pronounced Kwah-Mee), a skier from Ghana known as the "Snow Leopard" was the 102nd and final skier to compete in the men’s slalom. He finished the race ( which is more than 48 other guys can claim) and found himself 53rd among the 54 men who completed the course. Who, you may ask, had a slower time?

Albania's Erjon Tola, known as the “Snow Tortoise” finished 46.15 seconds off the lead time. He actually climbed back up the course to pass through a gate that he had missed.

Come to think of it, this could be the beginning of a new and exciting sport in future Olympics. I propose a slalom where the gates are hidden. After you get to the bottom, you’re told which ones you’ve missed and then you have to scramble back up the mountain to correct your mistakes.

But Kwame’s run down the slopes was fun to watch. After seeing him successfully navigate his way through the first couple of gates, I figured I had time to go upstairs to make myself a sandwich — bologna, with mustard, and maybe some mayo. Toasted? No. Lettuce? Sure, why not. A cup of coffee would go nice with that. Here’s some leftover from breakfast. Just warm it up a couple of minutes in the microwave. Great. A little cream and sugar. Back downstairs to watch the rest of Kwame’s run.

OK. He just has a couple of more gates to get through. And he’s made it! Congratulations, Kwame.

I really shouldn’t make fun of these two skiers. Admittedly, had I’d been given the chance to go down that course — and assuming I went cautiously enough not to miss any gates — I might have made it down in time to catch the closing ceremonies.


All in all I’d say these games were an unqualified success. After this year’s Olympic experience, you may wonder if I will tune into the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

You bet your sweet skeleton I will.