Saturday, August 31, 2013

Save The Gerbils

By the time you've had a cat for seven years, you like to think you've got her sized up, and understand her motivations and her predilections, and are only left with the occasional isolated query, such as "does that belong to you?" and "where are you going with that?" and "is that what we do with Mommy's slippers?" But like any beings sharing a confined space, you have developed an understanding.

For instance, the first cat, (Saint) Larry, was nothing like the current occupant, Tater. Larry was the very best kitty she could be except for the pooping thing, and Tater is the very best kitty she can be, apparently, within the constraints of her own nature. But they were very differently motivated.

Larry liked to eat. And by the time we'd taught her to shake hands and roll over and a few other things she learned to do for tidbits, she had tidbitted up to a sort of tortoiseshell football shape perched on dainty little feet. Visitors took to calling her "fat cat" but I thought it was slanderous, until the day I noticed that when she rolled over on command, parts of her just kept rolling. She'd get fish flakes and kibbles and a tiny portion of wet food and completely lose control if we had chicken for dinner, which drove her to petty crime.

Tater, on the other hand, does not give one shiny shit about food. She wants her maintenance half cup of kibble every day to top up the tank, but nothing else interests her at all. All she wants to do is play. All. She used to fetch those little fuzzy plush mice, and that was terrific, because I could play from my chair, but then she quit bringing them back. Dave rigged up a green mouse on fishing line and that's her very favorite game. Every day she goes and sits by the closet that the green mouse is in and acts pitiful until he comes out. She interprets every human activity, from napping to quilting to working on taxes, as a sure sign we're ready to play too.

So when the woman who was looking in on her in our absence reported "I think she's bored," we were struck by dread. We imagined coming home to a house with all paper items spindled or serrated, and a lot of progress on her ongoing Gravity Project, wherein every household item is relocated to the lowest possible point. It's been a passion of Tater's for years, and she's grown accustomed to the noise.

So while Larry had no toys at all, Tater has a whole box of them. All of them, balls and mice and feathered doo-dads, are battered and flayed. When all the fuzzy mice start to look like mummified thumbs, Dave brings home a new set. He's calm about it. He's like the conductor of the cattle car heading to Auschwitz. It's not going to go well for the new mice.

The other day Dave came back with a new toy for Tater. It was a little stuffed gerbilly fellow, and he just had a good feeling about it. I had a bad feeling about it. She already has a stuffed kiwi bird, and she takes that out for a good disemboweling from time to time, after which I gather up and re-stuff the polystyrene guts and sew the bird back up, which always makes me feel like one of those evil dudes who re-creates virgins for a paying clientele. Tater ignored the gerbil.

But then one day Dave was taking a nap, or "watching golf," as he calls it, and I had stepped outside, and within seconds I started hearing this mournful low howl, rroowwWWRRrrooowwWWRRRrow, which sounded like a cat but certainly not our cat, who has a high squeaky voice. I was alarmed. I figured Tater had cornered something I didn't want to know about, or she had pulled the refrigerator over and pinned herself, or something, and I ran inside to find her cradling her gerbil. She instantly strolled away and emitted a normal squeak.

Now we hear the mournful low howl at least once a day, always accompanied by a surreptitious relocation of the gerbil, who remains unmarred. If you toss the gerbil, she does not run after it, but waits until we're not looking and removes it to a different room. Obviously she cares deeply about the little fellow.

I think it's ridiculous, having such strong protective feelings about a stuffed animal. Pootie thinks it's stupid too, but then again he thinks cats in general are stupid.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Under Pressure

May 29, 2013, Salem, Oregon--A man brought a pressure cooker that he claimed was a bomb into the Teacher Standards And Practices Commission office Wednesday and told employees he tried to blow up their sign because it was misspelled.

The visitor looked edgy. "I have a bomb," he said, easing a pressure cooker onto the receptionist's counter, "and as long as everyone does as I say--note the conjunction, please--no one gets hurt."

Mrs. Strabnitz reacted with what she secretly liked to think of as lightening-quick reflexes, snapping her facebook page off to reveal a spreadsheet. She swiveled toward the stranger and slid a clipboard across the counter. "If you could just sign in here. And where is your bomb, sir?"

"Here," he spit out, "it's right here." He tugged nervously at his cap and aimed an elbow at the pressure cooker.

Mrs. Strabnitz leaned in and peered over her glasses. "Looks like a pressure cooker," she said.

"A pressure cooker with wires sticking out of it!"

"No need to raise your voice to me, sir. I was going to say, it looks to me like a pressure cooker, with wires sticking out of it."

"Trouble?" The administrator poked his head in.

"Gentleman here says he has a bomb, and also he brought in this pressure cooker."

"What seems to be the problem, sir?"

"Your sign! It says 'Teacher Standards An Practices Commission.' What sort of standards are you people upholding if you can't even spell your sign correctly?"

"And he believes this pressure cooker is a bomb," Mrs. Strabnitz went on, with an exaggerated twirl of a spitcurl at her temple. "That's not a bomb. A bomb is a box with wires sticking out of it. Like the one that fellow brought in back in '90 when he said he was going to give us an object lesson. I told him he needed an appointment and he said he'd be back with his whom-boys."

Jason the intern strolled by with a tray of lattes and the conjugation of "to lay" and "to lie" tattooed up either arm. "'S'up with the bomb?" he said.

"That's a pressure cooker, dear. Your grandmother probably had one."

"No, that's totally a bomb."

"Ooo, scary," the administrator said, eyes wide, fingers fluttering over the pressure cooker. "Please. I used to be a substitute teacher in middle school, son. I'm not about to be put off by a spelling crank. No one could ever out-crank old man Strunkmeister. He was working his way through Wikipedia with a red pen and demanded a real office to continue his work, and Mrs. Strabnitz here--God love her--told him that his cubicle was his office, 'for all intensive purposes,' and he fell over dead. So what is it, now?"

"Apparently we're missing the 'D' on the 'and' in our sign out front."

The administrator squinted outside. "That's not a misspelling, really. I would call that more of a typo. Or an adhesive failure."

"Oh, actually," Jason put in, "I had to borrow a letter. For the lecture sign last night."

"Which lecture sign?"

"'RAM DASS, SMITH CENTER, 7PM.' I pretty much needed the 'D.' I was meaning to put it back."

"How does this thing work, anyway?" Mrs. Strabnitz jiggled a wire.

"Dude!" Jason took a step back.

"It's full of gunpowder. And nails, and bolts and things."

"Shrapnel," put in Dr. Forthwith of the History Department. "From Major General Henry Shrapnel, who invented the exploding cannonball in 1784. Whose own name is presumed to have been derived from the French 'Charbonnel.' Speaking of misspelling! How do you get your own name wrong?"

"Forthwith, you are as usual a font of information."

"Fount," the visitor spluttered.

"Either is considered correct," the administrator and Dr. Forthwith said in unison.

"The point is," the administrator continued, "a real bomb is round and black and has a fuse sticking out of the top. And has 'BOMB' printed on it. Remember that, Forthwith? Remember when that guy hauled one of those in here back in the sixties, all het up about teachers ending sentences with prepositions?"

"I never did know what he was going on about," Forthwith said. "But he comes from a long tradition of sticklers dating clear back to 1312, when Thomas the Tight-Assed stormed into the monastery with a catapult yelling 'it's a napron, not an apron!' No one knew what he was going on about either. Thing wasn't loaded, of course. He was peeved, but feeble. Anyway, I'll be happy to give our friend here a 'D,' if that's what he really wants."

"You know, the ones that come in with a weapon aren't the ones that scare me. It's the ones hiding in their basements with the 'comprise' bug up their butts."

Dr. Snort, walking by in the hallway with tweed and corduroy crackling, stopped short and arched one eyebrow into his toupee.

"There's not as many of them, at least," Dr. Forthwith said. "I'd say there are no more than twenty people in this country, tops, who know the difference between 'comprise' and 'compose.'"

"That's what makes them so dangerous. They're living in isolation and each one considers himself the last champion of a dying word. It gives rise to extremism. And now in the internet age there's a real danger they'll find each other and create a cell. You might say," the administrator chuckled, "they comprise a coterie of curmudgery."

"You might say that," Dr. Snort snarled from the hallway, "but you'd be wrong. Dead wrong, if there's any justice!"

"Woe is I! He's one of them! Get down, everybody!"

"Pish," Mrs. Strabnitz said. "All this shouting and going-on. Y'all are worse than those punks marching around town last summer marking up all the signs. The Apostrothieves? With their little paint pots."

"Their weapons of mass correction. Ah, yes. Street theater is a time-honored method of protest. I can't fault them for passion. Remember that man who sat outside demonstrating the difference between your hair being literally on fire and figuratively on fire?"

"I do kind of miss him. But the Ellipses Society? Oh my god. They just went on and on. And the Dangling Participles should have been arrested, in a decent society. I just wish they could bring back the good old typewriter. Or at least program the computer keyboard so you have to hold down 'control' and a period and an apostrophe to make an exclamation point. One at a time. You want to shout at somebody, you'll have to work at it. What we need in this country is the political will to outlaw those high-capacity exclamation point clips. Oh, sir, where're you going? Don't forget your bomb."

"I'm sorry I intruded," the visitor said, signing out. "Stupid thing doesn't work anyway. The instructions on the internet were misspelled."

"Aw, honey," Mrs. Strabnitz said, lifting the lid off the pressure cooker. "Don't feel bad. You've got your shrapnel looking nice and tender."

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Outbound Leg

My trip is almost over, and I'm on the outbound leg. I make my way to 37B, the last row in the airplane, hard up against the potties. This can be looked at as good news or bad news. Depends. I have just finished the Pre-Boarding Process. That is the segment when you sit in the terminal marveling at humanity, wondering whether the pepperoni stick was a good idea after all, and obsessively checking your boarding pass once a minute or so. I'm not sure what the gate agent means by "pre-boarding." The engine fires up and the tail end of the jet sways languorously from side to side. There is creaking. The back of the aircraft is either the safest or the least safe section to be seated in. The answer is somewhere inside my new tablet device, but it is on Airplane Mode, which is the mode in which questions about aircraft safety are not available.

Oh look! There is the SkyMall magazine. Lisa Rinna is on the cover. I don't know anything about Lisa Rinna except that she is famous for having voluntarily had her upper lip plumped to the size of a garden slug. Here, she is modeling the Flex Belt, "ab toning at its finest." It is wrapped around her waist and she is holding a control device attached by a cord to it. She looks like a possible suicide bomber. There are probably images of suicide belts inside my new tablet device, but it is on Airplane Mode.

A safety video is starting up. This airline is devoted to servicing the customer, although I would have thought that would cost $20 extra almost everywhere. In addition, they are willing to go the extra mile. That, actually, is not what I'm looking for in an airline.

Folks, we're all ready to go here up in the flight deck, and the weather looks good all the way to Portland. Unfortunately, everyone headed north, south, and east has been redirected to our petite runway here, and we're now sixteenth in line. We expect to be in the air in, oh, about twenty to ninety minutes. [garbled] The reason for the delay is, well, evidently, folks, a butterfly flapped its wings in Mumbai, and...

Lisa Rinna's personal story is on page 50, but there doesn't seem to be any point in zipping right to it. I thumb my way through. Oh look! Thundershirts, for dogs and cats. Gentle hugging pressure relieves anxiety during storms, fireworks, and vet visits, and replaces it with deep embarrassment. There are several pages of Life-Compatible Electronics including a DefenderPad to minimize the health risks of laptop radiation. I did not know about this health risk. I could look it up in my new tablet device, but it is on Airplane Mode.

There is a life vest located underneath my seat cushion. In the event of a water landing, I am to slip it over my head and inflate the left side by pulling down on the red tab. If needed, I can inflate the right side in the same manner.

Oh look! The Porch Potty! Finally, your dog has a yard of his own. Here is a box of fake grass, about
2x4 feet, with a toy fire hydrant right on it. No more late night walks down the stairs or elevator to relieve your dog! Perfect for condos. You can put The Porch Potty on your balcony and utilize the outdoor self-drainage hose. Odds are your downstairs neighbors aren't going to be using their balcony much anyway. Or you can use The Porch Potty right inside with the optional Catch Basin, which holds up to two gallons. The toy hydrant is scented to attract your dog. I ponder the variety of dog-attracting scents there are, and reject Pork Chop as being unlikely to induce urination. It sure sounds like a great idea for that apartment dweller on the go.

What do they mean by "if necessary, the right side can be inflated also?" Who is going to be watching the mighty ocean rear up toward the plane and think "shoot. I'll be fine with just the one side?"

I'm a little worried about the toy scented hydrant. My first dog was always a little confused by them. He would sniff the hydrant carefully, and then lift the outbound leg. He can't be the only one. Still, it's a bother to take your dog outside all the dang time. If you have a little enough one, you can take it out in your purse. It's cute. I've seen it. A lot of the time people extract their purse puppies and set them on the ground, where they tremble and vibrate in horror until they're put back again. That's where all the used Kleenex comes in handy.

If more inflation of the life vest is desired, you can also blow into the tube located just at your shoulder.

Oh look! There's an Elegant Piece of Furniture that looks just like an end table but conceals a cat litter box. The outer hole can be set up on the left or the right to keep it hidden from guests. Elegant Cat Box and Dog Porch Potty are available from the same company. Houseguest-B-Gone.

There's Lisa Rinna again. She says she is standing behind The Flex Belt, but she's still standing right in it, with her finger on the trigger.

Hell. I don't care. I'm pulling on the left tab AND the right tab, and I'm blowing in the tube, too. I've been practicing for the tube inflation all my adult life. I am ready.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rollin' Down The River

Good news. There's been a marked drop in obesity in America's children. That's what the numbers say--obesity is down by nearly one percent. That may not seem like much, but it's statistically significant, and it means that the previous trajectory, that seemed to be pointing toward a world where we'd have to put chock blocks around our kids to keep them from rolling away, might be replaced.

I've been informed that it is a horrible thing to say our kids are fat, as though it were a criticism rather than an observation, but I still think it's even more horrible that they are fat. It took decades for most of us to pork ourselves up into a state of immobility, even without the nice early start.When I was a kid we ate cookies and we ate candy and we ate entrees made of tiny marshmallows and Miracle Whip and we ran around the neighborhood energetically annoying people, and in any given school class of thirty, there would be one fat kid. And he or she did not fare well. Perhaps now that over half the class is approaching spherical the stigma has gone away, and that, and that alone, would be a good thing. But it's still not right. I don't blame the kids. I only half-heartedly blame their parents. I blame Monsanto, and Richard Nixon. It's a long story.

But anyway the curve seems to be curling back the other direction now. There's still no shortage of kids slumped at the bus stop with their knees caved in and their legs splayed out against buckling, trying to hold themselves up. The boys are swamped in massive shorts and jerseys and the girls are billowing out of little pink outfits that look like spangly tourniquets. But the generation as a whole is less fat. So far there is no single explanation. But I think it is possible that our computer-savvy children have discovered that they can Flush Away Fat. I know it is possible to Flush Away Fat because if you Google it you get, like, a billion hits. And also because Fat Flushing is what they're blaming the giant fatberg of London on.

This would be a fifteen-ton blergh of fat that was recently discovered to be clogging up the London sewers. People had started to complain that their toilets were no longer flushing with the proper enthusiasm. Heroic sewer worker Gordon Hailwood said that if the fatberg had not been discovered and dealt with, "raw sewage would have started spewing out of manholes across the whole of Kingston." Which sounds like a typical weekend morning to me.

The fatberg was attacked with targeted flushings of statin drugs and a crew of way-underpaid sewer workers with water hammers. The threat of a major embolism to the heart of London was narrowly averted and the fatberg bobbed harmlessly down the Thames to the sea. They could always mount a sail on it and Mayflower it back in our direction, but we're trying to cut down.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hell On Wheels

"GO! Hey, you cheated! No fair!"

We didn't talk about Hell at Resurrection Lutheran, so I had to hear about it from the neighbor girl, who was being raised Baptist and also had information about where babies came from. I didn't pay much attention to the Hell business. All that poking and flames and stuff was way too personal and required way too much imagining of physical distress and we Lutherans didn't like to think about anything that could happen to you without your clothes on.

I had to get my morality tales elsewhere, too, and they didn't do much for me. Oh, you know the ones: in Hell, a sumptuous banquet is served to the residents at a long table and everyone's fork is too long to reach their mouths, so they suffer and starve. In Heaven, same banquet, only everyone feeds each other across the table. Nothing about this holds up. Why couldn't they hold their forks closer to the tines, or use their fingers? That's what I would have done.

Or there's this one, designed to instill a proper appreciation for the risks of signing up with the wrong team in life: a boulder the size of a house is visited by a dove, who scrapes her beak against it once every thousand years; and when the boulder is worn down to nothing, a single day in Eternity has passed. Even when I was eight, this one didn't feel right. I mean, if there is a certain amount of time that can pass, no matter how long, and can be called a "day," it sort of devalues the whole eternity concept. I mean, if it has "days," they could conceivably run out at some point. Being numbered, and all.

I think I might have tried to wrap my head around the idea of eternity for a little while because it seemed important or required or deliciously frightening. But after a bit the only thing that became clear was that it was not possible to imagine eternity, and so I quit trying. It's a form of laziness, I suppose, but I've always had a pretty good grasp of when to work hard for a solution and when to bail. You can't even interest me in a conversation about eternity. Instead I try to keep good track of the present, an activity that looks pretty day-dreamy from a distance and which gets easier and easier as I lose my memory. This also means I don't worry too much. I do worry, but only for so long, and then the whole fret structure just breaks down. So naturally I don't believe in Hell, either.

Just Add Potted Meat Food Product
Until now. Now I read there's a dude what bought 45 acres of limestone caves in Kansas and he's setting it up as a combination resort and end-times sanctuary. For a price--a fine high one--you can buy a slot inside his cave for your RV where you can ride out your natural lifetime in case of asteroid strike or terrorist attack or nuclear bomb, and prepare to blast away anyone who tries to get in without paying for his parking space. Even before the asteroid hits, you can take a vacation in there and learn all about survival skills, which will certainly involve bad food and shooting. And come the big event, you can move in for good and spend the rest of your days in a plastic lawn chair in an RV park with no sunshine next to a bunch of survivalists and their sullen teenagers and someone with yellow hair will be wearing Crocs and stretch Capris and playing Stevie Nicks and the Eagles on a hand-cranked device and if that isn't Hell, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Marmoration Rumination

Sometimes I graze my way through my raspberry patch as efficiently nom nom nom as a caterpillar, and then I'll pop one in my mouth and nom nom nom it will be all bleah patooie.

You can't tell which ones are going to be all bleah patooie. What I assume is that I've gotten into a berry that a stink bug has just pooted on. Every now and then I see an actual stink bug. And then I think: are you a brown marmorated stink bug? And if you were, how would I tell? Would I look for...marmorations? And what would those look like? Shark music accompanies these thoughts.

"Marmorated" apparently means streaky-looking, or marbled. I see no reason the bug couldn't have been called the Marbled Stink Bug. We already have plenty of other perfectly good marbled items, such as the marbled murrelet and the marbled salamander, and the word serves us just fine. "Marmorated" sounds like the bug has just had some countertops or flooring installed. But we're stuck with it.

And we're stuck with the bugs too. Sometime around the turn of the century (a phrase that used to mean something different when I was coming up) the first marmorated stink bugs arrived in or around Pennsylvania, and nobody thought it was a good idea, but now they're all over the place. They've expanded their range to just about every eastern state--and Oregon.

Unlike ladybugs, stink bugs are actual bugs. This means they are members of the order Hemiptera and they have sucking mouth parts. Most of us call just about any insect, arachnid, or small crustacean a "bug," but you don't want to make that mistake around an entomologist. They're prickly about the distinction, and they probably have access to ways of making your life miserable.

Speaking of making your life miserable, that's a specialty of the brown marmorated stink bug. They damage crops, especially fruit, like a lot of other bugs. They're resistant to pesticides, because they jam their mouthparts into a fruit before sucking instead of licking the surface the way we'd like them to. But the worst thing about this particular stink bug is it wants to spend the winter inside your house. They will swarm in via any space they can fit through, and they're flat--if your home does not have openings big enough for a stink bug to fit through, you probably aren't getting enough air. Once inside, their plan is to hibernate, but it's usually too warm, so they start banging into shit and stuff. And whenever they get upset, banging into shit and stuff, they emit a noxious odor through holes in their abdomens. They do this as a defense mechanism.

We employ a very similar defense mechanism in this household that keeps people away from us, including people who may have infectious diseases. Works good.

The brown marmorated stink bug is an invasive species. A species is called "introduced" if it shows up and mingles quietly by the punchbowl, but "invasive" if it spills out into the neighborhood and keeps everyone up. And I didn't even need to look it up to know that the brown marmorated stink bug came from Asia. Every damn thing you don't want comes from Asia, no offense. Japanese beetles. Asian swamp eels. Chili thrips. I had a bad bout of child thrips once, and you wouldn't like it. ("Thrips" is both a singular and a plural. To everyone who already knew you can't have just one thrip, I offer a kudo.)

These populations might not take hold with a single introduction, but repeated invasions eventually do the trick, such as on ships that sail into a port regularly--a phenomenon known as "propagule pressure," a bad bout of which I had once, and you wouldn't like it.

One day dawn will arrive in the Western Hemisphere and everyone will have dropped dead of some respiratory crap that started out in some Asian chicken. The next day we will all have been buried in kudzu. And all we ever sent to Asia was the guppy, which isn't bothering anybody. Oh, and our manufacturing jobs.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

This Bites

My older sister got braces. I sure wasn't jealous. Nothing about it looked good. It all looked like something designed by the security force at Alcatraz, and the girls with braces walked around for two years with their hands at their mouths and their heads dipped, in case they found themselves suddenly amused. I think my sister had an unruly eyetooth. Somehow an orthodontist worked his way into my father's wallet, and it had to have been some tale of horror involving mismatched teeth eventually falling out in despair or something because I can't see him shelling out for a cosmetic procedure. Dad had teeth like the little brown kernels on the scrawny side of the cob. My baby teeth seemed to be doing what they were supposed to, and I got hauled in to see Dr. Bell once a year so he could excavate them without anesthetic. Then he'd open up his big metal drawer at floor level that held my reward for not screaming: a new toothbrush and one small plastic piece of crap of my choice.

So far, so good.
Then my adult teeth started coming in. Every which way. It was easily a more unsightly mess than anything my sister had started with, but my parents had rolled the dice on the amount of orthodontics they could afford, and they looked at my emerging choppers and said: oh well. I didn't mind. No one wanted to be a metal mouth. Plus there were all those teeny weeny rubber bands involved, and a retainer with headgear to wear--at night only, if you were lucky. I did get to have my impacted lower wisdom teeth removed, which caused my gums to bleed so heavily and for so many days that I taught myself to quit swallowing while I was asleep, and drool copiously to this day. You could wring out my pillowcase at any given time and get enough DNA to clone me a thousand times, but there isn't a lot of call for replicating a drooling adult.

You would think that if someone yanked out a couple of teeth at the margins that the rest of them would stretch out their little tooth arms and legs and make themselves comfortable, but they didn't. In fact, the rest of my teeth apparently reacted to the uprooting of their sisters by shrinking away from the scene of the horror, and crowded up something fierce in the middle. My bottom teeth don't show when I smile anyway and all my chewing surfaces seem to line up so I didn't much care about the situation. The top teeth aren't straight either, but they aren't quite so bad.

A lot of folks, when they smile, it looks like a bunch of soldiers standing with their shields in front of them, in perfect formation. When I smile, it looks like a bunch of seventh-graders running amok with the teacher out of the room. In stained shirts. I didn't give it a thought until the day I noticed that everyone else seemed to have great teeth. Even adults were getting braces--modern jobs, with a little inconsequential doo-dad adhered to each tooth and strung together with fairy hair and happy thoughts. And no one has yellow teeth anymore. So I don't know if my teeth got yellower or if they just look worse by comparison. Something makes me balk at shelling out money for whitening strips but I started swishing hydrogen peroxide around in there at a cost of 85 cents a year, and things improved a little. A few years ago I got one upper wisdom tooth yanked out. And what happened but all the other teeth began shoving each other out of the way to get away from the scene of horror. I'm almost sixty years old and my teeth are still on the move. One of the front ones is clambering over the other in the rush to escape.

Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad!
As Dad probably said: oh well. I'm beginning to look at my teeth in a whole new light. It's like they're at a party, and feeling comfortable enough to rearrange the furniture into new conversation groups. One of them has turned his back on the canine and is chatting up the incisor. The canine is slouching against the primary molar as though there might be bean dip in there. There might be bean dip in there. As their hostess, I guess I should be glad they can mingle on their own.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Merry Christmas From Texas! Merry, Merry Christmas!

"It's a good June, and the holidays are coming early this year!" [actual quote]

The mood was festive indeed, as Governor Perry signed the Merry Christmas bill while surrounded by an oddly arousing combination of Santa Clauses and cheerleaders. No longer would the good citizens of Texas be sent to the slammer for wishing each other a merry Christmas.

"The birds are wingy, and our pants are high. Let's do some legislatin'!"

The Speaker was ebullient. "Hear, hear! Let's bang the seldom gavel and bloom the agenda train! What is our agenda, anyway, this fine good June?"

"Three things--water, some kind of uterus thingy, and--I can't remember the other one. Oh. If I could make a motion, before we wrap up this legislative and moral victory: I would like to propose an amendment to this bill. We're not done here. We need to protect all our free good speech, including 'Jiminy Christmas,' 'Lawsa Mercy,' and 'Jesus H. Christ on a stick,' as in 'Jesus H. Christ on a stick, it's hot,' or "Jiminy Christmas, it's thirsty down here.' As long as I'm governor, the good citizens of Texas will be free to express themselves as biblically as they want."

The gavel is banged twice to indicate optimism. "Old business?" the Speaker said, stopping just short of the third bang, when a hand went up.

"The Speaker recognizes the godless liberal from Austin."

"I'm a Unitarian Universalist," Rep. Howard said, "for Cripes Sakes."

"What did I just say? Ma'am. Please. We heard your prayer the other day, about the freedom to not have religion, if we wanted. Hey Henry," the Speaker called out to his aide, "how we doing with the counter-prayer?"

"The counter-prayer was deployed within minutes, sir, with a couple for backup--we're still ahead. Also we've got John 4:14 running in a loop on the scroll bar below the evening news for further protection."

Rep. Howard shook her head. "It has always been legal to say 'Merry Christmas,'" she said.

"And now it is even legaler."

"So I was just wondering what the governor meant by 'the holidays are coming early this year.' I am aware that bird migration has been disrupted and their breeding season is in danger of not synching properly with their food sources, which are blooming early due to climate change. Does this have something to do with that? Because..."

"The fair representative from Austin will be excused for her antique language. We don't have climate change. We straightened that out last session. What you might be referring to is the Fairweather Enhanced Opportunity Paradigm. Aw, don't be such a grumpytits! Change is good for business. Which brings us to our first item: water. We're just about out. And you know what that means. Opportunity! Where there is scarcity there is wealth. And water is the new oil."

"We haven't had any measurable rainfall for three years, Governor, and the aquifers have been drawn
Rep. Donna Howard, Austin
down to unsustainable levels. We can't keep it up."

"I'd like to assure Rep. Grumpytits that she is not now, nor will she ever be, personally aware of what I can and can't keep up. Ain't that right?" The governor shot a wink at the cheerleader contingent. "Let the record show Rep. Howard is going on about sustainability again. Good news, people! We have someone here who has offered to bottle us up some fine good Texas Aitch-Two-Oh."

"At a markup of 153%, governor! What kind of long-range..."

"Let the record show that Representative Grumpytits has made our point! Where else can we get that kind of bang for our buck? I'd like to introduce y'all to Mr. Slixter, CEO of the fine good corporation Mother Nature's Woo Woo Dew, over there between Dixie June and the nice Hispanic Santa Claus--raise your hand, there, Mr. Slixter--to whom we've just signed over our water rights in a closed session last night. Sorry you couldn't make it, Representative."

"Jesus Christ."

"You're welcome for that. And welcome to Texas," the governor grinned, pumping the hand of Mr. Slixter. He grinned back.

"Christmas sure came early this year."

"Like I just said! Boy howdy, Merry Christmas, and pass the Woo Woo Dew!"

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Mirror Test

I brought up the Left-Gaze Bias in the last post. Evidently, we humans look at each other most avidly on the left side as we're facing each other (the gazee's right side). That's where we have learned to read each other's emotions, because that's where they leak out, propelled by our emotional left brains. But this bias also has implications when it comes to looking in the mirror. When we look at ourselves in the mirror, we look at the left side the most. It's just force of habit. Ideally, you should be well enough attuned to your own emotions that you don't need to check out your right eyeball to find out what they are. But the problem is that the mirror has the sides flipped, so we're no longer looking at the tell-tale side, the side that everyone else looks at. That means we tend not to like photographs of ourselves, because they're all backwards and the eye we're used to looking at is on the wrong side. When I see a photo of myself, I instantly notice the gigantic mole on my right eyebrow, which looks unusually prominent because I'm usually looking at the other side in the mirror. This means when other people look at my face, they're looking at my mole. And they can read my emotions. My primary emotion is "shit. You're looking at my mole."

This is not a problem with all animals. Flatfish start out looking like regular fish with an eye on either side of their skinny vertical bodies and then one of their eyes begins to migrate over the top of their head and joins up with the other one, and they flop over ninety degrees and drift to the bottom of the sea and gaze up with both eyes now on the top side. When all is said and done, it doesn't look right. It's never even. If young flatfish ever do try to look at each other's right side, next time they meet they might find the entire side has shlorped over to the left side. This would be fatally disconcerting, in a social sense, and so it is assumed that flatfish are not well developed emotionally.

In some social situations, this mirror business causes problems. Many times when people take photos of themselves to use in, say, social networking sites, they snap a photo in the mirror. This is one of the
reasons people complain that the person they met on line does not look at all like his picture. When Heather goes to meet that cute boy Jason she met on line and is disappointed in him in person, it might be because Jason had taken a picture of himself in the mirror. Also he's forty-seven years old with soiled pants.

Mirrors have been used by scientists to gauge self-awareness among many species, including humans. In the typical mirror test, a bit of schmutz is dabbed on the animal in a spot it could see only by looking in the mirror. If he reaches out to the schmutz on himself, he is said to pass the mirror test. That is, he recognizes that the image in the mirror is him. The human child undergoes a predictable pattern of responses to a mirror. At up to a year, the child sees the reflection as another possible playmate. Self-admiring begins at one year, followed by avoidance behaviors, which go away and do not resurface until menopause.

Not too many other animals pass the mirror test, but among them are all the great apes. Lesser primates have been shown to be significantly less narcissistic. Pigs can use a mirror to find food, but because they really do not give a rat's ass how they look or how much schmutz they have on them, human scientists have assumed a lack of self-recognition. Cows are not expected to develop self-recognition until they evolve fingers. Results with rutting elk and mirrors are inconclusive, but seem likely to result in seven years of bad luck.

This field of mirror research is still new, and the science about Donald Trump is unsettled. He is said to do his own hair, which leads some researchers to conclude he has a mirror, and others to conclude he couldn't possibly.