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Archive for October, 2011

The Earth-shattering news has been announced that females are now equal in the line of succession for the British crown.

Wow! I can finally sleep now knowing that that issue has been put to rest.

Sarcasm aside, this news simply gives me an easy hook to type up this recent ceditra entry from October 9. My random process for generating topics to write about (this process is fifth in a direct line of processes dating back to the early 1990s) brought me to question number 2,661 from the book Know It All, by Marsha Kranes, Fred Worth, and Steve Temerius.

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QUESTION
What 10 European countries still have crowned heads of state?
ANSWER
Belgium, Denmark, England, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden

In today’s age, what is the purpose of a monarchy?

In some of the countries listed above (e.g., England ang Spain) the monarch doesn’t even run the government. They are titular heads who solely serve as the head of state for ceremonial purposes. The Queen of England opens Parliament in a grand and solemn event full of pomp, but it’s not as if she could actually negate any law passed by that body.

From a cost-benefit analysis, the monarchy appears to be a drain on an economy. How much did the wedding of Catherine and William cost compared to how much it brought in? How much does it cost England to maintain all the relatives of Queen Elizabeth II? I’m guessing there is some level of tourist money that comes in because people want to gawk at Buckingham Palace and the Crown Jewels, but it can’t balance out how much it actually takes to run the monarchy.

I suppose there is the concept of tradition that keeps a monarchy alive. Folks may come from different backgrounds and experiences, but all Norwegians share the same monarch and all Danes share Queen Beatrix.

But is that enough?

Would removing the monarchy make a citizen of Luxembourg less Luxembourg-ish? Would a resident of Vaduz feel less connected to Liechtenstein? Is the reigning monarch the only thing keeping the French-speakers and the Flemish-speakers together in Belgium?

Granted, I am biased because I hail from a country that was born by throwing off a monarchy, but I do wonder that while it may be good to be the King, is it good for the country in question?
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Back to today and I would leave it up to those ten countries to answer that question for themselves.

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I can say without hesitation that there will be no other blog entry in this Universe or any other that will be just like this one.

I had one of those experiences of synchronicity (or The Gallant Gallstone Effect as I call it) again where I hear about one item in the news and then it’s everywhere. However, this topic came with a twist.

The first sighting occurred when I randomly decided to follow a team in this year’s UEFA Champions League soccer tournament. I’ve always enjoyed soccer since I was a lad and now that I live in France, it’s like a wonderful dream to live in a city, country, and continent that so loves the beautiful game. Now, I just didn’t want to root for the home team, so I wrote a quick computer program (thank you, Python) to randomly generate my team to root for.

I entered in the command to start the program and out spit the Italian team SSC Napoli. At the moment, this team sits in second place in Group A after having beaten Villareal (Spain) and tied both Manchester City (England) and Bayern (Germany). I already have it on my schedule for November 2 to watch my Italian team take on Bayern again.

Sighting number two happened when I decided to see what was happening in the World Series. As much as I like baseball, I have found that my interest has waned concerning the national pastime since I have been away America. I honestly didn’t even know the Fall Classic was between the Cardinals and the Rangers until I tuned into Game 5. It was pleasant to see the game tied as well as the series knotted up as some of the World Series matchups of years past have been yawners.

Up at the plate is Rangers catcher, Mike Napoli (there’s that name again) who drives in a pair of runs in the eighth inning to give Texas a 4-2 lead over St. Louis. That wasn’t the end of Napoli’s night as in the ninth inning he threw out a base runner trying to steal on a hit-and-run for a “strike-em-out-throw-em-out” double play.

The final sighting (and straw) came when I was using my random selection process to come up with ideas for my ceditra writing. One of the on-line news stories that I saw was this one about the first flight of a commercial airline that used a new fuel.

The fuel is pan oil.

“Pan oil” is an anagram of “Napoli”.

Cue the spooky music.

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For United Nations Day

Last week, the trivial news came out that the organizers of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London had managed to secure a truce from all the nations that are members of the United Nations. This means that everyone agrees not to engage in hostilities while the Games are underway.

Now, while I would love to show off my cynical side and rant how this agreement isn’t even worth the piece of paper it is written on, I instead wanted to know how many countries comprise the United Nations and who was not a member of the club based in New York.

As the linked-to story above mentions, there are 193 (there’s your number for the day) members of the United Nations. This even includes the newest member, South Sudan.

So what countries exist in the world that are not part of this august body?

Turns out, there are three.

First on the list of no-shows is the Holy See, also known as Vatican City. This entity does have the status of Permanent Observer at the United Nations.

Next up is Kosovo, the former republic of Yugoslavia.

Last on the list of non-members is Taiwan.

Hmmm…I wonder if they would have signed the truce also.

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Before moving with the family across the Atlantic for my wife’s career, she and I took a class sponsored by her employer on culture shock.

One of the red flags mentioned in this seminar to show that a person was not adjusting well to their new environment was an excessive use of on-line porn.

My follow-up question is this: If a large part of my Internet bandwidth was already being consumed by porn before the move, what should my red flag be to warn me that I’m not adjusting well?

Just asking.

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Today is October 20.

If you write that out in month-day format, it comes out as 10-20.

There is a generation of folk, like myself, who know “10-20″ as CB lingo for “What’s your location?”

There is a whole generation of people, like those who came after me, who have absolutely no idea that “CB” in the preceding paragraph stands for “Citizens Band” . I have no idea if “10-20″ means anything to the subset of humanity that was born after 1986.

Nowadays, instead of people taking about gumball machines, jewelry, and Kojak with a Kodak, cyberspace is awash with TLAs such LOL, BYB, MWA, and POS just to name a few.

BTW, TLA stands for “Three Letter Acronym”. I can be up on the times on occasion despite a recent post to the contrary.

BTW (again), to another group of people, namely neurologists, “10-20” means a system of placing electrodes on the scalp. There…you have officially learned something new today.

I find it fascinating and healthy that as the times move on, so does the popular slang and lingo. What was popular with one generation barely registers on the next’s radar. On October 26 of last year, I created a ceditra entry that touched on this topic of language and about the lingo of a game that kids ignore now. My random process for selecting topics to write about (which on occasion requires me to say slang like “23-Skidoo” and “bee’s knees”) pointed me to the book of questions, Know It All, by Marsha Kranes, Fred Worth, and Steve Temerius.

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QUESTION #0601
With what game did the expression “knuckle down” originate?
ANSWER
Marbles

Here’s another item of childhood that the authors of Know-It-All probably dealt with but no kid since 1986 has played on a consistent basis.

I know my dad played the game as he once told me of the different types of marbles he owned – cat’s eye, agates, and whole bunch of other cool names that I don’t recall. I’m sure marbles were all the rage back in the 1950s with kids down on the sand drawing circles and going down on their knuckles to get their best shot. But when is the last time you heard of a kid today playing marbles.

Yes, I know there is a World Marbles Championship held in Tinsley Green in England, but those are adults playing.

According to my dad, an interesting part of the game of marbles was that your opponent could take home some of your marbles. That’s an element of game play that you don’t see today. This is probably because children would cry if they lost any of their possessions and helicopter parents would force the winner to give back the spoils.

I’m trying to imagine what Pokemon would be like if the winner was able to keep some of the monsters he/she knocked out.
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Back to 2011 and I came across this news item reporting that in addition to changing how we speak and write, the Internet may also be changing our brains.

Some might say the online world is helping us lose our marbles.

One aspect of living world that does frustrate people, the requirement of the forward slash (also known as the virgule and you have now officially learned two new things today) be in every URL also frustrated its creator. Just a shade over two years ago this week, Tim Berners-Lee admitted that the forward slash in URLs was a mistake.

I bring up Sir Berners-Lee, not only because his admission was so close to being an anniversary, but because of an interesting synchronicity to my ceditra entry. Along with others, TimBL , is working on a project called the Semantic Web. A product that is a server-side application that formats Semantic Web content is called…

Marbles.

I wonder how hard the marketing team had to knuckle down to come up with that name.

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Honestly…if this doesn’t fit under the rubric of “randomness”, then I don’t understand the word.

While cruising through the channels that comprise our cable system of choice, I happened upon a program from History Channel International. As the program was dubbed in French, and my command of this language is still dubious at best, I was unable to understand all that was being said. The program I was watching was Brad Meltzer’s Decoded and this particular episode was dealing with a bit of Americana that I never knew existed, the Georgia Guidestones.

You can read all the details about this structure located in Elbert County, Georgia, from the Wikipedia article I linked to in the preceding paragraph.

I’m not going to get into who created this monument, who owns it, and all the interesting astronomical facts about it. My interest was raised during the program when I was able to read some of the inscriptions that are chiseled into the granite.

These ten inscriptions appeared to be rules, suggestions, guidelines, or even commandments to the people reading them about how to live life and be in a harmonious Universe.

Hmmm…a giant stone monument with guidelines. Where have I seen that before? Where, oh, where?

It reminded me of Dinotopia, the fictional world created by artists James Gurney. In the first book of the series, Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time, the protagonist, Arthur Denison, encounters a large stone tablet in a place called Waterfall City. Inscribed on this tablet are eleven lines, but only ten are readable. This tablet is known as the Code of Dinotopia.

So let’s have some fun here and compare and contrast each of the ten suggestions and see which you would rather follow.

NUMBER ONE
Guidestones: Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
Gurney: Survival of all or none.
These appear to contradict each other. The Guidestones suggests that half a billion people is the optimum number the planet should sustain. The last time the globe’s population was at this level was either around 1500 (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) or around 1650 (Population Reference Bureau). I’m not sure I would like to go back to those eras. There, of course, is also the messy question of how one dispatches and disposes of the 6.5 billion other people who don’t make the cut. I’m with Gurney with the “we’re all in this together” philosophy.
POINT: Gurney

NUMBER TWO
Guidestones: Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.
Gurney: One raindrop raises the sea.
Gurney’s Code suggests to me that any beneficial action, no matter how small, increases the common good. This guideline goes against an apathetic viewpoint of, “Why should I do XXX, it’s not like it matters.” The Guidestones’s suggestion of human reproduction being guided by, I assume, some outside authority sounds to much like eugenics, described as “the self-direction of human evolution” (as written on the logo of the Second International Eugenics Congress held in 1921).
POINT: Gurney

NUMBER THREE
Guidestones: Unite humanity with a living new language.
Gurney: Weapons are enemies, even to their owners.
As I am currently struggling to make myself understood and even to have some of my needs met as I learn a new language, I am drawn towards the goal of a universal language. Esperanto is around, but maybe someone can come up with something new. Gurney’s take that weapons are bad things may be nice in a fictional utopia where all live in peace, but, sadly, people don’t work like in the real world (Have they ever?) and I am cynical enough to believe they never can.
POINT: Guidestones

NUMBER FOUR
Guidestones: Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason.
Gurney: Give more, take less.
Gurney, to me, stresses altruism, charity, and selflessness with this statement. Yes, it would be nice, to live in a place where less is taken and more is given. That sentiment of temperance also flows from the Guidestones with its expression that passion, faith, and tradition should be exercised without extremes. I prefer a world without extremists.
POINT: Guidestones

NUMBER FIVE
Guidestones: Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
Gurney: Others first, self last.
Again, Gurney goes to the well of selflessness (or is that “anti-selfishness”?) when proposing that people think of the other before themselves. The Guidestones, I belive, expand on this thought by suggesting that instead of thinking of others before the self, why not simply have a judicial system in place that treats all fairly. I agree with both sentiments but I lean towards a philosophy where people are relied on to make the sound call rather than pin their hopes on an institution.
POINT: Gurney

NUMBER SIX
Guidestones: Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
Gurney: Observe, listen and learn.
As with the fifth rule, the Guidestones places its faith in organizations external to people when conflicts arise in the world (Quick aside here, but how many nations could there actually be with only 500,000,000 people on the planet?). Gurney also sticks to his guns (metaphorically speaking) when championing the individual to do their best. In this case, the person should engage in the almost passive activities of observation, listening, and study to make the world a better place. As with the fifth rule, I have to side with the individual rather than the organization.
POINT: Gurney

NUMBER SEVEN
Guidestones: Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
Gurney: Do one thing at a time.
The Code of Dinotopia here asks the reader to avoid multitasking so that the person can concentrate on the task at hand. It is better to do one thing well than to do multiple things in a half-baked manner. This is akin to the moral of the Aesop fable of the Lioness and the Vixen, “Quality, not quantity”. The Guidestones, with its reliance on organizations seems to have put itself in a bind. Now that there are courts and tribunals to handle disputes, the Guidestones found it necessary to add a suggestion to avoid useless officials and petty laws. That’s usually what groups of people and committees do.
POINT: Gurney

NUMBER EIGHT
Guidestones: Balance personal rights with social duties
Gurney: Sing every day.
The Guidestones finally move away from the group and come back to the individual. This guideline suggests that people do have rights (although they are never enumerated), but with those rights come responsibilities. There is no free lunch. Gurney’s musical suggestion, while touching the artist in me, can’t hold up against the notion that with every right comes a responsibility.
POINT: Guidestones

NUMBER NINE
Guidestones: Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite.
Gurney: Exercise imagination.
As with the previous rule, Gurney speaks to the artist in me and I would love to exercise my imagination every day. As for the Guidestones’s penultimate suggestion…huh?!? This seems to New Age-y to me.
POINT: Gurney

NUMBER TEN
Guidestones: Be not a cancer on the earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.
Gurney: Eat to live, don’t live to eat.
These final suggestions appear to be in sync with each other. The Guidestones expressly state that humanity should leave room for nature. Gurney’s suggestion of not living to eat would suggest a desire to not use resources in a wasteful manner. Both imply a request to live in harmony with the natural world.
POINT: TIE

Adding up the scores, we see that James Gurney wins with 6.5 points to the Guidestones 3.5 (each side received half a point for the tie at NUMBER TEN).

Truth may be stranger than fiction, so I’d rather live in the world dreamed up by fiction.

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I’m not good at spotting trends (and that true fact about your friendly neighborhood blogger is a ceditra entry for another day), so I am pleased to see when I can actually point to myself being ahead of the curve.

Back in February of this year, I posted about a new commercial hitting the airwaves that high was on my annoyance meter. The advertisement in question was for Luvs diapers and it featured a trio of cartoon babies engaged in an American Idol-esque competition. However, the tots were not singing to the judges, they were filling their diapers full of poop to show how much…stuff…the Luvs product could hold.

The news has come out today that I am not alone in despising this commercial. The Consumerist website has announced that the “Poop – There It Is” commercial was ranked, by survey of its readers, as the worst commercial of 2011.

The ad agency must be so proud for this award and I am not being sarcastic. Advertising is all about brand and product recognition so kudos to the ad agency because here we are over nine months since the start of this disgusting campaign and the Net is all a-twitter about this ad again.

No such thing as bad publicity, eh, even when it smells like…you know.

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The playoffs for Major League Baseball are in full swing (Go Brewers! Go Tigers!). As baseball’s second season hits high gear, that must mean that some teams and their fans are wallowing in disappointment. Prime examples for the 2011 season are the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves for their near-epic collapses.

However, the prize for the most disheartened of baseball fans must go to those supporters of the Chicago Cubs as the team from the north side of the Windy City went 71-91 and finished twenty-five games out of first place in the Central Division of the National League. This means that the Cubs would not be in the World Series for the 66th year in a row and, in addition, it means that the Cubs would not win baseball’s championship for a 103rd straight season.

Part of this futility is laid at the feet of what is known as “The Curse of the Billy Goat“.

Say what you will about curses, but something was in the air eight years ago this week. On this October night, during Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series between the Cubs and the Florida Marlins, with Chicago up 3 games to 2, and with Chicago leading that game 3-0, something happened.

You can read the whole story here in what became known in baseball legend as the Steve Bartman Incident. One man does a seemingly innocent act to reach out and catch a foul ball and instantly does something that sears itself into the memory of every Cub fan who had their hopes crushed once again.

But what if one could erase memories?

That was a question I pondered when my process for creating random subjects to write about (also known in some circles as the Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Random-Chance process) lead me to this ceditra entry from September 2 and is once again a quote from the book Oxymoronica, by Dr. Mardy Grothe. From page 36 comes this quote from the French essayist, Montaigne

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Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it.

I heard a podcast of WNYC’s Radiolab dealing with memory where one segment had the proposition that each time we remember something, we are recalling it anew as if creating the memory each time it is remembered. That created the oxymoronic notion that they only really pure memory we have is that memory we can never recall. This is because each time we recall a memory, it’s like making a copy of a copy so with each reproduction, flaws can be introduced changing the memory.

So every time I recall the memories that haunt me, am I constantly changing in my head what really happened? Those memories are strong in my head because I am recalling them over and over and so those neural pathways become stronger and stronger. So it appears to be counter-intuitive that the more I want to forget something, I have to recall it, but by recalling it, I only make the memory stronger. However, by making the memory stronger, I also move farther and farther away from the true memory.

This leads to an intriguing possibility. Could I change my haunting memories by remembering them differently. If I were to constantly call up those memories I want to forget and then alter their substance, could I truly delude myself into believing that my past is different from what it actually is? The only issue would arise if I encountered any of the other participants who inhabit those memories, but what are the odds of that? One is in northern California and the other is in Atlanta…and I’m in France.

Could one really drive away or erase bad memories by simply mis-remembering them?
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Back to October and this still remains an interesting proposition. However, in the case of Mr. Bartman, it would be up to millions of Cubs fans to misremember what happened and believe that instead of interfering with a ball that hurt the home team, he had instead stuck his hand out to mess with a ball that hurt the visitors (a la Jeffrey Maier).

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I’m switching it up today as I will post my ceditra entry first and then tie it in with the news of the day.

My process for randomly picking snippets (and I don’t use darts as they are so passe) from which I draw inspiration to opine about landed me on page 106 of Dr. Mardy Grothe‘s compilation of quotes entitled Oxymoronica, where I found this quote…

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July 6, 2011

The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution

The above quote was brought to you by the political theorist Hannah Arendt.

This snippet would seem to be a decent corollary to the ceditra entry of June 1 where I spoke about how a reformer’s work is never done. Here we see the oxymoronic condition of what happens to a revolutionary, who one can think as an extreme type of reformer, when his quest is successful.

While it seems counter-intuitive to think that a radical will become a conservative overnight, it actually makes perfect sense. A revolutionary, by definition, wants to overthrow the status quo and change everything. Whether it’s in the arena of government, politics, business, or culture, the radical wants to upset the proverbial apple cart (or even, as in the case of the French Revolution, use them as barricades) and NOT keep things the way they are. The conservative, on the other hand, wants to keep things exactly as they are. So when a revolutionary succeeds in overthrowing whatever it is they didn’t like, they will become conservative because they want to keep the new status quo exactly as it is.

The Founding Fathers of the United States didn’t keep rebelling against the new country once it defeated Great Britain in war. The Leninites didn’t keep overthrowing themselves once they were in power. A new CEO for a business doesn’t keep reorganizing the company once he assumes control (well, okay, this does happen quite a bit).

Once change is accomplished, those who made the most impact for that change will likely fight hammer and tongs to resist any further change.

How else to explain Fidel Castro and North Korea.
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Back to October and I was reminded of the above ceditra entry courtesy of the following news item about the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the popular uprising that took place in Arab countries at the start of the year.

In Libya, with Muammar Gaddafi out of power, people celebrate the end of repression and oppression by…continuing to oppress and repress. This story tells the tale of David Gerbi, a Libyan Jew, who returned to this home country to help rebuild and reopen a Jewish synagogue in Tripoli.

He was unsuccessful and forced to leave the country as the newly freed citizens of Libya took their hard-fought freedom and created signs like “There is no place for Jews in Libya” and “We don’t have a place for Zionism”.

As the band, The Who, once sang, “Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss”, but this time we continue to be fooled again (and again and again).

Simply ask the people of Tunisia, birthplace of the “Arab Spring” courtesy of the action of Mohammed Bouazizi, where protests against the new regime are met with tear gas.

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So you want to be an artist, huh?

Well, if you want to make it in this Muse-driven dog-out-perform-dog world of the creative arts, you’re going to have to see what your competition is up to.

First up is artist Agnes Bolt who, during a week in May 2011 lived in a Plexiglass bubble in the Washington, D.C. home of patron of the arts, Philippa Hughes.

According to an article in Harper’s Magazine, an exhibition based on Bolt’s time in the Hughes residence will be on display at Project 4, a gallery in the District of Columbia.

If living like a hamster on display seems too tame for you, you budding artist, then there is this story of New York-based performance artist Marni Kotak, who plans to (literally) give birth to her latest creation by giving birth to a baby in the Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn.

Just so you don’t think that the life of an artist is all about being on display, there is this word of warning: The life on artist can be hazardous. Case in point is the story of Iranian actress Marzieh Vafamehr who has been sentenced to a year in prison and ninety lashes for appearing in a film that was deemed critical of the Iranian government.

So…you still want to be an artist?

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