Saturday, April 27, 2013

Your Next Idol

The push to become a famous author isn't moving along as quickly as it might, so I have decided to start singing my way into people's hearts instead, yo. I can't actually sing all that well, but there may be ways around that. After all, there are millions of things in print that are worse than what I write, so maybe it works the same way with singing. As I see it, there are two entrees into the world of singing fame: American Idol and The Voice. American Idol would require me to get too close to that scary-ass Nicki Minaj, whoever she is. She has a speaking voice like the last rales of a roadkill platypus, but supposedly she sings. I don't know. American Idol isn't my best shot anyway because I'm at least thirty years too old to idolize. On The Voice, I can try to sneak in during the blind auditions, when the judges have their backs turned and won't be able to see me at all. That's my best side.

The most important rule in singing is that the shortest distance between two notes is to be avoided at all costs. The more notes you can jam in, the more points you get. I can't sing like that, but it's not mandatory, if you can instead demonstrate some kind of quirk. My quirk will be trying to cover every song using only three notes either side of middle C, since those are the only reliable notes I have.

I'm starting to construct my back story. This will be presented in a two-minute video before my performance, so it's important to get it right. I don't have a lot to work with. True, my parents are dead, but that just means I can't say I want to win so I can buy my poor mama a house. I don't have any diseases that I can get a doctor to agree I have. And there's no one in my life who is depending on me. I've seen a man explain that he has to win the contest or else keep working for a moving company, like that's the worst thing ever, and that's too pathetic for this blue-collar girl. Recently a teenage contestant on The Voice admitted, through a brave, straight, white smile, that she had once suffered teasing for her crooked teeth. I know how awful that can be. I used to get it for having hairy legs and knee socks the year I missed the nylons memo. But that's all she could come up with. She's going to have to sing her fanny off to overcome that sorry back story.

Of course, I'll have to practice. This week I'm going to work on the double fist-pump on the heart until it looks natural. Next week I'll lean forward with the mike in one hand and the other arm stretched out behind me. Squinting is next, accompanied by the repetitive three-finger flutter on the mike hand, like a stuck butterfly. I'll have to hire someone for makeup. And I'm going with cowboy boots and a tight skirt an inch below my ass. I'm going to have to check where that is now.

Then all that's left is the song. The most important thing is to choose one that's in my wheelhouse. So first off I'll look up "wheelhouse," and then try to locate mine, and see if there's a song in it. Then I plan to give it my all. The goal is to be a-mazing. If you can't be a-mazing you have no business trying, but fortunately it's not a high bar. A-mazing is just a notch above crazy good, and there are no other superlatives beyond it. And there are several ways of being a-mazing. You can bring it, or you can own it, or you can leave it all out on the stage.

Finally, no matter the outcome, I must not veer off the correct expression of gratitude to the judges. Currently it is "thank you so much." Not "very much," not "I appreciate it," not "thanks a lot." Thank you so much.

Thank you so much.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Toot Suite

I'm always scouring the newspaper for good riffable stories, articles that poke out from the rest, things that hit some of my favorite themes. Piety. Perspective. Poop. And one day a few months ago a headline jumped out at me. "Evacuation Precedes Gas Blast," it said, which certainly struck me as newsworthy, because in my experience the evacuation comes just after the gas blast. I was soon disappointed to learn that the article was about a terrible explosion in Massachusetts that flattened a strip club. I can't even visualize that. Seems like it would be hard to do.

All was not lost, however. A few pages later, there was a photo of a young lad with his ear glued to a fart simulator. Bingo! He was attending the Grossology exhibit at our science museum, celebrating everything that smells, toots, crusts over, or slides out of you. Well, we just had to go, as it were. This is not your father's science museum, with its cheesy dioramas, rock collections, and gigantic murals depicting every known dinosaur arrayed in front of a mandatory set of volcanoes. Here, children could climb a wall of zits. Or go all the way inside of a nose, something many of them have trained for their whole lives. The little boogers were everywhere.

The Wall Of Zits
In the giant nose, we learn that snot is produced in order to protect the lungs. Snot catches random particles and pollutants before they can be inhaled all the way. It's a slick system. Cilia move the snot along until it is flushed away. Eventually. By sliding it down our throats at the rate of about a liter a day. Funny thing: if someone gave you a bucket of warm dirty snot, you probably wouldn't drink it even if you knew you were the snot donor and had banked it yourself. But apparently we're doing that all the time. It's sort of like the phone and cable fees. They're being siphoned out of our wallets more or less continuously in small quantities that we don't even notice. If we just got hit up annually with a $400 fee labeled "chump charge," we might make more of a fuss. Same way
with snot.

Adults were enchanted also. "This is right up our alley," the newspaper quoted a visiting mother, although she was probably referring to the intestine exhibit. There was an entire gastro-intestinal tract set up for kids to slide through, and a lot of information, almost more than a person could digest. "You must be this tasty to enter," the sign said (oh, I wish it had), and enter they did. And exit. Cute little shits they were.

But the star attraction was the flatulence display. Here a group of avid youngsters was allowed to play with a series of stretchy rubber gaskets mounted on air tubes, and they were encouraged to regulate the air and stretchiness to produce the grand human fart repertoire: the splendid variety of fart noises we are capable of, depending on embouchure, tension, volume, and pressure. I felt encouraged for America. These were our future scientists! Or possibly postal employees. Either way, proud.

Thanks again to those who have pledged to sponsor me in my upcoming Birdathon! Y'all are too cool. Proceeds go to the good work of the Portland Audubon Society. And I wrote a poem for the occasion.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Virginia Is For Lovers, Depending

Stuff keeps happening. Exxon had another oopsie oil spill, thankfully in Arkansas, which many of us cannot locate on a map, and just as a precaution the corporation arranged with the FAA to institute a no-fly zone over the site, so as to protect the cleanup crew from bombs and help contain the spread of facts. Unfortunately that means we do not have a good image of the particular damage inflicted. Oil in the waterways and soil is still thought of in some circles as a bad thing. Ideally, that much carbon should be pumped instead into the atmosphere, which is believed, for commercial purposes, to be infinite. Still, in spite of reassurances, I feel bad about the spill; this, and the decapitation of ancient mountains, and the extinction of species, and, really, a whole bunch of things.

That's why I was thrilled that a prominent politician in my birth state of Virginia (which has been for lovers ever since the late sixties) has come out swinging hard at "crimes against nature." Ken Cuccinelli is the attorney general and a candidate for governor. He's a Republican, too, so I was even more delighted that he was championing the environment.

The environment he was championing turned out to be smaller and of a more personal nature. Kenny would like to reinstate the laws against oral and anal sex. For everybody, even Regular People. Ken isn't getting any, and he doesn't think you should, either. This is the kind of thing you can do, if you're attorney general, and your girlfriend asks you to do her a personal favor that you think is icky.

Ken indicates the size of the problem.
There are still a number of states that have laws on the books concerning the so-called "crimes against nature." In Louisiana, for instance, the crimes are defined as "the unnatural carnal copulation by a human being with another of the same sex or opposite sex or with an animal." Interestingly enough, the statutes also explain that anal sex between humans should not be deemed a crime against nature when done under any of the circumstances involving rape. I'm hoping they mean it's still considered rape, and not that it's sort of natural. And in Louisiana, in order to be considered a crime, emission is not necessary, just genital contact. However, I think as long as it's going to be illegal anyway, you might just as well finish.

Many of these laws were thrown out after the famous Supreme Court case in 2003, Lawrence v. Texas, in which it was decided that "nonremunerative sex between consenting adults in private" was protected by the Constitution, although you might want to throw in some latex just to be on the safe side. In other words, anal and oral sex are legal as long as you don't get anything out of it.

So let's get back to Virginia. In Virginia, it's a class 6 felony to engage in anal or oral sex, and can net you up to five years in prison. If you so engage with your child, grandchild, sibling, or parent, you're looking at even more time. And you can get a sentence of up to twenty years if your love interest is a child or grandchild between the ages of 13 and 18. You're way better off nailing your darlings before they're teenagers.

Mr. Cuccinelli believes the unnaturalness of oral sex is self-evident. He is not, he says, targeting the homosexual population. But he did state that homosexual acts--as opposed to homosexuality--are wrong. As a liberal, I make some of the same kinds of distinctions. I don't mind if you are an asshole, as long as you don't do assholey things.

Would you like to save some habitat? Help some wildlife? Advocate for environmental protection? As it happens, I'm participating in the Birdathon again this year, a benefit for the Audubon Society which does all those things, and you can sponsor me by following this link to my pledge page. I wrote a special poem for the occasion, and you can find it there.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

I looked online to find out how to tell chickadees apart. A few sites suggested that the males have a bit more contrast between their white and black patches than the females. Myself, I would have thought that black-and-white is pretty much the gold standard for contrast already, but then again I have a closet full of black clothes that don't match each other, so maybe there's something to it. The problem with this method of chickadetermining is that it works unless it doesn't. Nobody seems to be real confident about it, and it may have been made up by someone with intermittent astigmatism.

I am further informed that the male sings to the female for several weeks to get her in the mood, but he mainly does it at daybreak, which does not intersect with any of my periods of consciousness. Supposedly, the female is the one that makes up the mattress in the nesting box. I'm thinking the researchers are flying blind here, and the only really good way to tell who's the female is to see who drops an egg. Or, conceivably, who is on top during the two-second sex act the male has been singing his heart out for. On many animals, the male has a little tag hanging down with his identity on it, but not in chickadees. Both male and female have a cloaca, an all-purpose vent, and during the sex act the birds get close enough to swap schmutz from their cloacas, although even then I would think who gets to be on top might well be a matter of
personal preference and not really any business of ours, or the state's.

Ducks do have something like penises, quite impressive ones really, fashioned from an exuberant portion of their cloacas and powered by lymph instead of blood. Evolutionarily speaking, the reason they have developed such an item is to ensure that their contribution to the gene pool gets inside the female rather than washing out in the pond, because walking barefoot in a duck pond is revolting enough already.

I still maintain that we can't know anything for sure until the egg comes out, and at that point researchers, if they want to know who does what, should make them little hats. I have decided to go
with my gut as usual and figure it out from what I've observed. So far, there has been no furniture moving in the house, but quite a lot of inspection. One of the birds darts straight in and stays a while, and the other one prefers to hang by one claw from the doorhole and inspect the roof. I think the female is inside, deciding where the piano goes, and the male is outside, trying to see if the structure is strong
enough for a piano. Call me sexist, but that's how it works in our house. In our house, the male has a nice contrasty head and the female doesn't even have eyebrows. And the male does all the cooking and most of the laundry and the female does--well, we'll have to do a few more years of observation to figure out what the female does. Anyway, here in our house, the female got her heart set on a big-ass piano, and the male checked out the bearing walls and got a bunch of studs and whacked a wall apart so it would fit, wondering audibly why the female couldn't have taken up clarinet.

In general, the literature recommends keeping one's distance from the observed birds so as not to disturb their mating rituals or cause them undue stress. Admittedly, I am only a few feet away, but I am not concerned. There is nothing less disturbing than a nearby writer. Most of the time, she doesn't move at all.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Oh Yes I Chickadid

I'm as surprised as anybody. Apparently I am going to write about my chickadees again, just as I have every spring since I started this Murrmurrs enterprise, in spite of the fact that I have been observing chickadees closely for all that time and have nothing new to report. There's never anything new. I still can't tell them apart. I don't know if Ricky and Lucy are back again or if it's their grandchildren. I don't know who's egging and who's fertilizing. I don't know if they know.

We (Dave) took the chickadee house down for the winter and hauled out the old mattress and swabbed the decks and a couple weeks ago Dave began to get antsy about getting it back out there in time for nesting season. I didn't think they really started nesting until later in April, but we (Dave) put it back out there and fifteen minutes later a couple stopped by to have a look. And they looked ready to make an offer.

The birdhouse in question is mounted on a pole eighteen inches from the window in my writing room. The writing room is a place where I sit down and things either come out or they don't, much like another room in this house. What the writing process looks like, to the casual spectator, is a nearly motionless woman sitting in front of a computer with her head cranked to the side to stare out the window. The charitable observer might assume that she is staring into the middle distance waiting for her muse to strike, but she is not. She is staring at chickadees and not writing at all.

This writer does not employ a muse. Perhaps the chickadees are your muse, I've heard, and that is an adorable possibility, but there are muses, and then there are muses. Mine would be the sort that says "lighten up, dude, you don't have to get that done today--what say we go out and get hammered," which is a fun, if not useful, muse. It's all fine with me. I'm not the kind of person who thinks watching birds is a waste of time. But for all intents and purposes, I do not have a muse, nor am I aware of any angels working on my behalf. If I do have angels, they are shootin' the angel breeze with each other and shrugging and saying you're on your own, kid. (As long as we're on the subject of spiritual squatters, I would like to take this opportunity to deny emphatically that I've got the devil in me, despite what you may have heard. Those noises are coming from a perfectly natural bacterial process.) I'm getting through life without any supernatural aid that I know of, but I do have a matched set of spring chickadees I can count on.

And I do mean matched. This is the year I am bound and determined to observe them so strenuously that I will be able to tell them apart. I've started researching on the internet, but I'm not sure I can count on everything I read. So far I've learned that chickadees eat seeds (check), insects (check), and skunk
fat (whuh?), which I think would annoy the skunk, and who does that more than once? But I will soldier on. We here at Murrmurrs are very concerned about the rights of women and gays, extinction,
poop, war, and the fate of the planet, and we assume you are too. But if you would rather hear about my chickadees, stay tuned.

Because it's nesting season, and there's a lot going on right now in a sky near you. There's singing and dancing and fluffing and puffing and casing and chasing and if you haven't noticed any of it, it's time to pull your head out. Up. I meant Up.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dengue Shui

Dengue Fever has popped up down in Key West. Dengue Fever is brought to us by mosquitoes. Unless you're a frog, mosquitoes never bring you anything you want. It's been one thing after another with them ever since our ancestors shambled out of Africa, slapping themselves siilly. People who get Dengue Fever might present with no symptoms at all, or they might die. Which makes Dengue Fever a lot like life.

Nobody knows how to kill the Dengue virus, so they're going after the suitcases they come in on. They're going to try to alter the mosquitoes. Only the females bite people, because they need a blood meal to reproduce, whereas the males are fine with beer and bean dip. So they plan to get a bunch of the male mosquitoes, and introduce a gene that will cause them to drop dead.

So far, swatting sounds easier. Even the prospect of combing through the mosquito population for the ones with tiny mosquito penises sounds hard, and that's even before the gene manipulation. But it's more complicated than that. They want the mosquitoes to drop dead after they mate with the wild female population (Key West being famous for wild females), and thus after they have passed their gene of doom into a new generation. After a few more rounds, no more mosquitoes.

The way they plan to keep the male mosquitoes alive long enough to pass on the self-destruct gene is to give them tetracycline. They're counting on the mosquitoes to be even worse at going the full course on the tetracycline than people are. The only drawback so far seems to be that the manipulated mosquitoes don't mate as readily as the wild population, which makes sense. Existential dread can suppress the libido.

Mosquitoes mostly don't live very long anyway, although some  have adapted to being frozen for long periods and then thawing out good as new. So there might be some promise in introducing a gene for freezer-burn. Other researchers were looking into the possibility of introducing a gene that prolongs the adolescence of the mosquito, causing its own parents to murder the insolent little bastards. In this way the bad karma is off-loaded to the bugs themselves. But this approach was abandoned when it was found that the aggravation of having teenage mosquitoes around caused the female mosquitoes to drink even more, resulting in a spike in Dengue transmission.

There are people worried about this whole venture. Genetic manipulation, it is feared, will have unforeseen consequences down the road, such as a collapse of all mosquito populations. And that might lead to a collapse of everything else on up the food chain, including us, and the likelihood that the final generation of humans will not be itchy is considered an insufficient benefit. Opponents point out that the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries Dengue virus, is uniquely adapted to breed in still water in vessels as small as a tire or a bottlecap. So, in theory, a campaign to eradicate breeding opportunities by cleaning up litter would be a feasible low-tech alternative to gene futzing. However, Key West is still in America, which means any official attempt to curtail littering will be widely interpreted as a threat to
our freedoms.

So we're back to square one. The truly American thing to do would be to somehow supply arms to the mosquitoes, all factions, and let them kill each other. That's always worked out well for us.  Or maybe we should just accept the idea that the Dengue virus and its mosquito hosts are going to peel off a certain portion of our population. Except that we don't like bugs to do that. We'd rather do it ourselves.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

You Can Call Me Al

The trouble with roaming around the internet while humming a little tune and not paying attention is that sometimes you end up in a sketchy neighborhood. It's like if you're trying to stay close to the cute guy at the party and then he goes out in the parking lot and shoots up with all his friends. So there I was, hopping from one blog to another, and all of a sudden there are all these scathing comments about Al Gore. One woman even wrote that it made her sick just to look at him. Poor Al. There was a time, first time he ran for president, that I thought he was really very handsome. He kind of bloated up and lost his eyebrows after that, but the older I get the more forgiving I am, especially about those two items.

But it was pretty clear that the animosity toward Al Gore in that neighborhood was pretty general, and pretty vehement, and it puzzled me at first. I mean, it's not like he made us go to war or took all our money or anything. I finally realized that people don't like Al Gore because they don't like to be scolded, and they imagine he's scolding them. I always thought he kept things pretty calm and civil, considering he is yelling fire in a crowded theater. And we're in a very, very crowded theater. And the theater is on fire. I kind of picture him walking up on the stage and waving his hand a little and saying "yoo-hoo." More plaintive than scolding, really. And all these people in the theater are peeling off their sweaters and fanning themselves and yelling down in front because all they want to do is see the show.

Most of your former presidents and vice-presidents pop off and write books and give speeches and make a ton of money, with some notable exceptions, but Al Gore, instead, is running around saying "yoo-hoo, we're on fire." Ordinarily you'd expect people to appreciate the warning, but all they get out of it is that Al Gore would like them to spend more for gasoline, and that makes him an asshole in their book.

Well, when we're considering whether the road we're on leads to extinction or endless prosperity--and we should be considering things like that--there are some good ways to weigh the evidence even without delving into the nitty-gritty scientific details. We can apply common sense, if we can remember where we left it. We can examine motives. Why would a man of means spend his retirement years trying to make gasoline more expensive? Is it just because he's mean? Does that really make sense?

And the scientists. Why would 99% of the world's climatologists be in agreement about the peril of man-caused climate change? Did they all get together in a secret climatologist bunker and say "I know! Let's make some shit up and see if we can get everyone to pee their pants?" Why would they do that? Meanwhile, there is a little posse of scientists who take a contrary view, but they have really big megaphones. Who's buying the megaphones? Is there something in it for them? Does their profit depend on the status quo?

It's not that scientists are always right. But the nature of scientific inquiry, as opposed to commerce, is that it is subject to rigorous peer review, and sometimes a strong consensus develops. Just because the media like to condense, misrepresent, and highlight odd science news such as "Effects of Rodent Porn on Despondent Voles" doesn't mean science as a whole is not a serious enterprise. At least, we should not reject their findings out of hand in favor of stuff that cycles through our email inbox, even if it comes with lots of capital letters and exclamation points.
Proper use of a car

We can also apply common sense to the very notion of climate change. We can hope that we aren't in trouble because we've been operating the same way all our lives, forgetting that that is a very tiny amount of time, or we can step back and take a broader view. There are seven billion of us and most of us have a ridiculous amount of power. We can go all the way around the world in a matter of hours. We can turn night into day. We can climb in a little pod and zip all over the landscape without even breathing hard. For thousands of years, people have been drying their clothes in the sun and wind, but now we bake our laundry dry and don't know what to do if we can't. We didn't get this power for free. We burned up tens of millions of years of stored carbon energy to get it, in just a few years, and our atmosphere is affected by it. Of course it is.

I guess I'm a scold too. But what's my motive? Am I some kind of ascetic who thinks we shouldn't have it easy? Hell no. Believe me, I love this shit. I can walk fifteen feet from my front door and sit down in a comfy chair in a heated vehicle listening to music and be strolling on the beach in an hour and a half. I can do this because we are pulling gobs of antique energy right out of the ground, and
there's only so much of it, and you know what? I'm totally willing to run it all out and leave nothing for our grandchildren, leaving them no worse off than our great-grandparents, but not if it means we're frying the place. I've got more consideration for them than that, and also it will suck for the salamanders.

Just this week we read that Obama's latest anti-pollution plan is being opposed because it might add a few pennies per gallon to the price of gas. If we can't see anything past the price of gas, we're like children asking Daddy for a baby elephant. Go ahead and throw a tizzy if you want to, but if Daddy's smart he's going to take the long view, and he's seeing endless elephant shit and a stomped house down the road. Whining about the elephant is childish, and it might be time to put away childish things.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Gospel According To The History Channel

Hey, I happened on the showing of The Bible on the History Channel the other day. Just cruised through the channels and there it was, right before the Big Bang Theory. It's a miniseries, and I didn't get in on the beginning at all, but that's okay--I've read the book. Everything starts out dark, and then it gets light, and then it gets wet, and then there are giants and lions and stuff. By the time I tuned in, we were all the way up to Jesus. I like Jesus.

They seemed to be doing a pretty good adaptation, as far as I could judge. Jesus was markedly lighter than everyone else, so as not to look too Jewish, and also gorgeous, a hippie mama's dream. He had the hair parted down the middle and all the things we've come to expect. Because we all know just what he looked like. There are pictures. We've taken his appearance, if nothing else, on faith for years. In fact that was our main talking point in the late sixties when our parents were telling the boys to get a haircut. "But Jesus had long hair," we said, as if we knew it for certain. Of course, there were no paintings of him done en plein right then and there. When Isaiah prophesied about him, he said he wasn't going to look remarkable in any way. A few hundred years after he died, people thought about it and decided he was kind of handsome. Various bits of fabric had turned up for veneration, if not laundering, upon which an image of Jesus's face had gotten smeared. By the fourth century, he had a beard in the East, and didn't grow one in the West until 1200 A.D. But he's stayed pretty much on the same template since then.

Anyone who has read Murrmurrs for a while knows that I'm going to get all crabby about them taking the screenplay from something more modern than the King James (God's) version. It's a pity. I know they do this because they think the KJV is just not as accessible to modern humans. But I like my language to have music in it, and using the New Revised Improved Standard Always-Low-Prices Version rankles. We're only one more movie version away from the Heavenly Host singing Boo-yah, and next time when Jesus holds his puny basket of loaves and fishes up to the sky for God to have a look at, he's going to bring it down laden with tuna fish sandwiches, sliced on the diagonal.

Other than that, the miniseries was fine. They did darken up Satan a gratifying amount. He looked a lot like Barack Obama. And tax collectors were properly revealed to be the lowest form of life. It was the Gospel According To John. Boehner. Except for the helping the poor part.

I missed the final episode, which miraculously aired on Easter Sunday. I've got a good idea that things took a bad turn, but (spoiler alert) it all turns out all right. Then we were going to go headlong into St. Paul's Revelations, so hold onto your hats. That calls for a lot of special effects. I think it's cool. These days, we just don't give as much respect to our schizophrenics as we used to.