White and Wrong – A kindly indictment

Anybody who knows me will tell you I’m totally Mr. Christmas.

Totally.

I’m jolly, for one thing, and, as a “winter”, I look sharp in red. I also drink deeply from the cup of human kindness when thirsty, love getting free stuff, and harbor no fear of reindeer such that are properly restrained.

True, nobody who knows me ever calls me Mr. Christmas to my face, possibly because they also know I’m uncomfortable with praise, being subject to so very much of it, but that doesn’t mean they don’t apply that tender title to me outside of my hearing. It just fits, because I love everything about Christmas.

Okay, so I’m not crazy about unloading precious monies better spent on myself obtaining gifts for people who’ve possessed everything they could ever wear, watch, read, hear, and play since I gave it to them at least a dozen Christmases past.

And sure, I could do without the herd of relations flying in from all Creation, looking for a weeks-worth of sit-down suppers, messing up my guest beds and persistently trying to “catch up” in the middle of my favorite television shows.

For that matter, it kind of sticks in my Craw of Peace and Brotherhood that the networks routinely dump all of my favorite television shows each December, replacing them with syrupy seasonal fare that invariably looks cheap and canned in reruns.

And I admit to feeling a twinge of Grinch everytime some Kringle-Come-Lately throws on a free-with-your-fill-up Santa Hat and carries on like they’re Mr. Christmas, when anybody who knows me will tell you they couldn’t muster a fraction of my legendary cheer on their best day.

And then there’s the weather, which usually stinks.

On the other hand, I love Christmas lights.

A lot.

Maybe too much.

Christmas lights are the reason for the season, as far as I’m concerned. Inexpensive to purchase and to operate, the smallest string transforms the blandest landscape into a glittering realm of beauty and wonder. The monotonous paths of our lives are made splendid, the everyday enchanting, the dreary delightful and the mundane marvelous.

I will flatter myself to say that I put on a pretty decent display, myself. I do it in part for myself, because it makes coming home after dark even more agreeable than usual, and partly because Peter, my brother and Cohort in Christmas, wouldn’t hesitate to flay my hide clean off if I didn’t, but mostly I think of dressing up the house in its holiday finest as my own little gift to the neighborhood. It pleases my generous heart to think of the grateful smile that must touch my neighbors’ pursed lips as, wending their weary way home after a long day of drudgery and disappointment, they spy my fanciful handiwork through its encircling veil of trees and spontaneously recommit themselves to Charity and Good Works, and – then and there – decide to bite the bullet and pay for the costly and life-saving medical treatment so desperately needed by whomever passes for Tiny Tim in their impoverished household.

It’s my gift to the world, really, because Tiny Tim could grow up to invent some boon to all Mankind, like bacon-flavored toothpaste, or self-applicating toilet paper. You’re welcome in advance.

I confess that, driving down my street of a December night, I feel a warmth and solicitude toward those of my neighbors thoughtful enough to cheer my passage, and take disapproving note of those so dim of spirit or black of heart that they can’t be bothered. But there’s a third group on my street, and on every street, and they’re the ones to whom I direct this impassioned epistle. I’m talking about you white-light people.

Wrong

One month a year you get to wreath your colorless hovels in sparkling splendor, and you choose white lights. For 31 too-short days you can illuminate your benighted lives in every shade of joy, and you put up white lights. After feasting upon the incandescent banquet that I have laid for you, you go home and plug in a string of white lights.

How is that right?

I mean, don’t you white-light people get enough undifferentiated visual stimulation every other day, hour and minute of the year? Every lamp in your house is white. The flourescent bulbs at your office are white. Car headlights are white. Streetlights are white. Flashlights are white. Your Coleman propane lantern burns white. Even the sun – the sun – is little more than a koo-koo-kajillion-watt, thermo-nuclear yard light bathing the Earth in an inexhaustible stream of radiant vanilla pabulum and keeping the solar system up at all hours.

Show some imagination, is all.

In my book, white lights aren’t properly Christmas lights at all. They’re just really tiny reading lights that you can’t possibly read by. They’re an affront to the concept of Christmas decoration. A broken promise. A cheat.

“Icicle” lights? Who do you think you’re trying to kid? They don’t look any more like icicles than Cindy Lou Who looks like a Bumble.

“Star” lights? Last time I checked, stars come in a variety of designer colors like blue giants, red dwarfs, and green clovers. Truly, you mock the very Cosmos.

Right

Look.

I’m not trying to make trouble.

I’m not proposing that Congress enacts laws criminalizing the sale, possession and use of white “Christmas” lights, and if they did anyway I would be among the first to call for moderate sentencing guidelines for persons convicted on such charges.

It’s Christmas, after all.

I’m not asking for Peace on Earth, or a 92-inch plasma, although I wouldn’t turn my nose up at the plasma. I’m just asking for a shade more creativity. You’ve got the whole spectrum to choose from. Be the rainbow.

I’m begging you.

Color my world.

Landlord accused of cloning violations

A resident of Northwood Drive called authorities on July 16 to report that someone, quite possibly his landlord, had “cloned” or “spoofed” his cell phone number. The aggrieved tenant – who claimed to have run a modeling agency from that address and “has always dated younger women” – told the responding deputy that he suspected his landlord – a former “top guy” with either NASA or the CIA who owns a houseful of “high-tech spy equipment” – may be using the pirated phone number to call the complainant’s many girlfriends. The officer contacted the landlord, who didn’t seem overly surprised at their visit and flatly denied the allegations. The complainant, he said, “is a paranoid schizophrenic and goes up and down, but lately he’s been making a lot of wild accusations.” The deputy hung up the case after both parties agreed to put their difficulties on hold until the tenant’s lease runs out next month.

A Call to Action

cat7-citizenPeople who know me will tell you I’m a good citizen.

That’s very gratifying to me, because I have always endeavored to serve as a civilizing example to those of less taut moral fiber, and it’s nice to know my efforts aren’t going unnoticed. Fact is, while doing one’s civic duty can at times be tiresome, the burden of responsible behavior can be managed to a great extent by the imposition of a Code. “Brush my teeth,” would be a thoughtful personal mandate, for instance, or “Pay for things”, or “Don’t bother Steve.”

Being exceptional, of course, my own bar is set much, much higher. For one thing, my own Code strictly forbids me to commit crime unless there’s a chance that personal or financial advantage might be gained thereby.

Also, I will never engage in productive work if letting someone else do it for me might give them a sense of accomplishment, or perhaps a mild aerobic benefit.

By my scrupulous rule regarding personal property, upon finding somebody’s lost wallet I don’t waste precious time and energy attempting to locate the careless clod that is its rightful owner, but instead pump its contents directly into the economy through retail channels, helping to foster prosperity for all.

And, as a good citizen, whenever I perceive a threat to the public weal, I act swiftly to expose it. I do now, selflessly and without any thought of remuneration, sound the alarm on what I believe to be an insidious menace of such colossal proportions that, left unmitigated, it may very well spell catastrophe on a planetary scale.

If you keep rolling your eyes they could freeze that way. Would you like that?

I count myself among that number of uncritical thinkers who suppose the Ancients possessed important knowledge and advanced insights long since lost to Humankind. Take the Egyptians – although utterly lacking modern technologies, the ancient Egyptians were able to raise enormous stones to dizzying heights. Clearly, they were privy to amazing secrets that made it possible for Egyptians with swords to induce Egyptians without swords perform difficult and dangerous tasks.

Indeed, only arcane knowledge can explain ancient Egypt’s marvelous irrigation systems – great ditches, miraculously free of their original dirt and capable of directing moderate quantities of water in a single, downhill direction. And what long-buried scientific inspiration led that desert-dwelling people to discover that desiccated flesh liberally treated with naturally occurring salts would not immediately spoil?

cat6-conePerhaps most remarkable, it was the ancient Egyptians who first divined that, after several hours under the broiling sun, women with melting cones of beeswax, honey and spices affixed to their heads tended to smell more fetchingly than women not so equipped.

Magical!

 

 

And they invented beer.

So we see that the Pharoahs knew a thing or two about a thing or two. And it turns out that one of those things was biology. It has recently come to my attention that a particularly reflective sect of ancient Egyptian philosophers was the first to scold otherwise happy diners with the admonition “You are what you eat.”

It was the contention of those courageous scientist-priests that the flesh of all living creatures must
necessarily accrete from what stuff they consume. It was their further contention that all living creatures consume pretty much the same stuff, or at least stuff that’s already consumed pretty much the same stuff. Taken together, those two irrefutable principles tend to suggest that all creatures are composed of pretty much the same physical substance.

Except they’re obviously not.

Those canny contemplators were also perfectly aware that there exist good creatures and bad creatures, not to mention a whole lot of creatures exhibiting varying degrees of good and bad characteristics, which patent truth presented a knotty logical inconsistency. If we all eat the same stuff, why aren’t we all the same? Their answer to that philosophical question was both elegant and, I think, inescapable.

Everybody poops.

Because animals, good and bad, are material constructions of the food they eat, it was their belief that the general food supply must contain both good and bad components. If some creatures are better than others, it must be because they retain a greater portion of food’s positive elements and excrete most of its negative ones. Likewise, creatures that fall toward the bad end of the spectrum must necessarily absorb a larger part of what is evil in their diets, while expelling the greater part of what is good.

An illustration ~

cat5-bat

The ancient Egyptians hated bats. To their way of thinking, bats were sneaking and cowardly and carried disease and exalted the darkness and weren’t really birds and weren’t really rats and they squeaked. It would have been quite impossible for an ancient Egyptian to hate bats any more than they already did. By the reasoning outline above, bats clearly retained virtually everything vile in their food, and pooped out its every redeeming ingredient.

cat1On the other hand, ancient Egyptians loved cats. Cats were sacred to them. They weren’t gods, exactly, but they were high enough on the divinity chain to hobnob with all the best deities. Cats had dash, and polish, and a naturally superior attitude that just screamed “quality.” The only thing an ancient Egyptian loved more than a cat was two cats, And so forth. They spent small fortunes mummifying their cats so they wouldn’t have to face the Land of the Dead without them. And if cats were so very, very good, they plainly extracted every ounce of goodness from their sustenance, but incorporated no part of its badness.

If we are to accept the ancient Egyptians as authorities in all fields scientific – and we’ve already established that they invented beer – then we must also yield to this gastronomical analysis and its unavoidable conclusions. Call it the Unified Theory of Doody.

Even as bats suck all the badness out of their food, so does iron-clad logic dictate that their excrement must be entirely good. Bat guano, despite its undeserved reputation, can only be the most sublime substance in existence.

Conversely, the defecations of cats can only be the most vile and toxic emissions imaginable, having been efficiently stripped of every last particle of good.

But why, you may in your tragic ignorance wonder, is this explosive information relevant to inhabitants of the 21st Century?

Americans own something like 90 million cats. The average cat defecates twice daily, producing approximately three ounces of poop during each episode. That’s something like 18,000 tons of concentrated evil flowing into the nation’s pristine landfills every single day. Add to that the 10,000-ton holocaust waged daily by another 50 million feral felines, and the magnitude of the crisis becomes plain.

The horrific truth is that if something is not done to stem this toxic tide – and done quickly – we’ll soon confront a calamity of Biblical proportions. The ruin that awaits us beneath that relentless accumulation of devilish distillation will make the specter of death at the hand of Global Warming seem a mercy.

So what must be done to save Humankind from looming litter-box Armageddon?

Don’t ask me. I’m a thinker, not a doer.

cat2I’m also a good citizen.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Alas, there are no more heroes

Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to King Soopers in Conifer where a justice-minded young delicatessen employee stood accused of making his sandwiches too light on the bread. According to the store’s security official, the 18-year-old man consistently undercharged customers for their deli sandwiches. When asked why he’d charged only $3.29 per pound instead of the advertised price of $5.99 per pound, he told officers that “I think $5.99 per pound is too much to be charging.” He said he’d made that point with his supervisor about a month ago and that she’d given him verbal approval to charge the discounted rate, or “maybe I misunderstood her.” He figured he gave the unofficial sale price to about 95 percent of his customers, and only charged the official rate sporadically to allay suspicion. Determining the magnitude of the delicious crime, a deputy concluded mathematically that, during five months behind the counter, the ham-fisted employee sliced deli profits by $167.43. He was issued a summons for theft and had to turn in his apron.

Used with the permission of Evergreen Newspapers

With All Due Respect

So the other night I’m watching TV.

I watch TV in the evenings because it’s easier than learning to play the banjo and more relaxing than trying to teach myself Mandarin Chinese.

Mike Nelson was on. Mike Nelson is a weather-guy for Channel 7 News. He’s the highest-paid television news personality in the market. Mike Nelson teaches kids to do the “Tornado Dance” whenever a camera is within range. It’s an uncomplicated step. The kids spin in place, and howl like a gale, and spin and spin, and then fall down like a trailer park. The Tornado Dance is Mike Nelson’s signature contribution to education and the arts.

But Mike Nelson wasn’t demonstrating the Tornado Dance. He was being interviewed by a pretty young Channel 7 news correspondent. She was asking him questions about recent Colorado flooding. Mike Nelson said the floods were “extreme”, and that we could expect more “extreme” flooding in the future, and well as extreme drought, and extreme winds, and extreme calm, and extreme snowfalls, and other weather-type phenomena of frightening extreme-ness. All that extremity, said Nelson, was our punishment for stuffing the atmosphere full of carbon dioxide. It was Nelson’s opinion that catastrophic “climate change” is our doom and we are the architects of our own destruction.

“What,” the doe-eyed beauty asked in conclusion, “is your biggest concern about climate change?”

Mike Nelson was ready for the question. I mean, really ready. Almost like he knew it was coming.

“I think what bothers me most is the lack of respect for scientists,” he said, earnestly.

My Hot-Pocket slipped from my fingers and into my lap, leaving small streaks of tomato sauce on the front of my Snuggie. If I’d heard right, Mike Nelson was predicting meteorological Armageddon, but was principally “bothered” that “scientists” weren’t getting their due props. Who, I wondered, choking on outrage and bone-dry Hot-Pocket crust, wasn’t giving scientists the respect they deserved?

Scientists are aces in my book. From anti-lock brakes to colonoscopy to GPS, scientists have made life in the 21st century an impossible dream of comfort, safety and convenience that would have been unimaginable even 100 years ago. Scientists have made it possible for me to research anything and everything in excruciating detail without ever getting up from my ergonomic chair, and to waste a few hours playing Spider Solitaire when even that stupefying expediency becomes too burdensome. Via the Internet I can discourse at length with people from Denver to Djibouti without having to shave first. The World Wide Web is science as magic, and I’ve never met anybody who didn’t benefit substantially from its creation, or who wasn’t, at the very least, impressed by the quantum leap forward it represents.

No scientists are more deserving of admiration than agronomists. Agricultural sciences have made it possible for Mankind to feed itself. Yes, people still starve, but not because there’s nothing to feed them, but invariably because political scientists have diverted the bounty to other, political, uses. Drought- and pest-resistant strains, improved farming techniques and technologies, and better fertilizers and crop-management strategies have combined to produce annual yields sufficient to the dietary needs of 6.5 billion mouths. While agricultural scientists may often go unsung, I’ve never heard anybody speak ill of them.

Cataracts used to spell the end of sight. Now they’re just an unpleasant afternoon. Both of my parents would be dead right now if not for the stents given them in simple out-patient procedures. For that matter, one in three people of your acquaintance might be dead right now without a helping hand from medical scientists. Ticker gone bad? They can give you a new one. Blood pressure slowly killing you? There’s a pill for that. Cancer – just about any cancer – used to be a death sentence. These days, folks with colon cancer have a 70 percent chance of beating it, and, if detected early, nobody dies of breast cancer anymore. If anyone’s been beefing about medical scientists, they’re not doing it where I can hear them.

But perhaps Mike Nelson was talking specifically about weather scientists. True, weather-wonks take a lot of heat, but mostly because they’re sticking it out there every night at 5 and 10 and their mistakes are so easy to see. And that’s unfortunate, because they perform a helpful service, thanks in large part to the extensive network of weather satellites designed by aerospace scientists that allow them to see weather coming from much farther away than you or I can by poking our heads out the kitchen window. Do I condemn weather-folk for their frequent miscalculations? Absolutely not, and if people tend to grumble when they get caught in a thunderstorm without umbrella and galoshes, they’re typically grateful for a timely heads-up when the morning commute is apt to be on the slickery side. No, if there’s rampant disrespect for weather scientists, it’s news to me.

 Then again, maybe I misunderstood Mike Nelson’s lament. Maybe when he said “lack of respect”, he meant “lack of obedience.” Maybe he meant that we, the great unlearned, should be more compliant to the commands of our scientific betters. If so, then Mike Nelson and I may have a problem.

 The thing is, being smart doesn’t make you wise, and sometimes it doesn’t even make you smart. Scientists, for all their education, for all their insights, for all their focus and knowledge and ability, are wrong precisely as often as, well, anybody else. For every ballyhooed triumph of science, like mapping the human genome, or the Higgs boson, there’s an equal and opposite failure, like Einstein’s static universe, or Windows Vista. Whatever Mike Nelson may think, a science degree doesn’t confer infallibility, and a Nobel Prize in science doesn’t come with a Bat-Phone to God.

And I have to believe that Mike Nelson isn’t suggesting that scientists are somehow more virtuous than we dullards. Any good scientist in the marvelous field of robotics will assure you that most scientists are not artificial beings, but rather are reg’lar folks like thee and me, and subject to the same weaknesses, lapses, and personal, philosophical, political and financial predilections as any other creature of flesh and bone.

Billions of dollars worth of crops are still destroyed each year. It’s not for nothing that about 10 cents of every dollar spent on health care goes to pay malpractice insurance premiums. My computer is still a sitting duck for every worm that comes winding down the Inter-pike. Do I really have to remind anyone about the ill-starred Mars Climate Orbiter? And yes, Mike Nelson and his well-groomed TV colleagues are quite capable of some pretty spectacular prognostic blunders. Right about now a lesser person would bring up the Ice Age scare of the 1970s. But I won’t.

It wouldn’t be classy.

Do the weather-heads deserve our scorn for missing the daily high by almost 35 degrees? Heavens no. If I know anything – and that’s certainly debatable – it’s that the study of weather is, like all natural sciences, hideously complex and only poorly understood. I recall a very interesting feature that appeared in the Denver Post awhile back. It involved the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the handful of hard-working scientists who spend 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, dreaming up complicated weather-predicting models on their computers. It’s their goal that, by plugging all known weather data into their ingeniously devised models, their computers will spit out an accurate picture of the weather to come. It’s a miserable, painstaking, and very cutting edge discipline, and I have only admiration for the people who undertake it.

Here’s the interesting part – every time one of those talented nerds comes up with a new climate prediction model, it has to be tested for accuracy. They test it by picking a recent day – yesterday, for example – then turning back the calendar a week, or a month, or whatever, and applying the model based on previously documented weather conditions. If the model is correct, it will accurately predict yesterday’s weather. In a fit of journalistic competency, the reporter asked how often they get it right. In a fit of surprising candor, the climate scientist told him.

“So far, we’ve never had a model that got it right,” he said. “There’s obviously some factor – or possibly several factors – that we’re not taking into consideration.”

Now there’s a scientist worthy of respect. More than most, the beaker and Bunsen set hate to admit that there’s anything they don’t know. Would that Mike Nelson – who clearly counts himself among that useful class – could muster such humility. Because if I interpret the subtext of Mike Nelson’s statement correctly, and I think that I do, it’s his position that anybody who doesn’t automatically and utterly accept the scholarly conclusions  about climate change reached by Mike Nelson for no better reason that because It Is He Who Hath Sayed It is guilty of disrespect at best, and at worst of willful ignorance.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a scientist, nor have I ever been credited with the invention of a vomit-inducing dance for pre-adolescents. On the other hand, I don’t believe I’m more stupid than my fellows, and if the foremost scientists working in the field of weather prediction can’t accurately foresee weather that’s already happened, then I can’t in good conscience get behind an economy-crushing carbon tax, or paying Third World countries for permission to turn up my thermostat, or henceforth riding my bicycle to the grocery store, purely on the say-so of an engaging on-air personality whose chief professional responsibilities are reading from a teleprompter and looking good in a suit.

No disrespect intended.