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May 12, 2000

Because I couldn’t think of a subject for this week, I’ve been reading a book about how to boost creativity. Amazingly nothing diminishes creativity more than reading about how to be more creative. I’ve just gotten to Chapter 5, Make Mistakes. That’s the theory: creative people in all fields make more mistakes than their colleagues. But what sort of mistakes do you make? The book doesn’t give much help in this regard. It just lists off examples of various mistakes that paid off. For instance, Silly Putty was discovered by mistake. So was penicillin, the chocolate chip cookie, and polyester (there’s a bad example in every group).

The problem is this is a little like telling someone that the way to make large amounts of money is to take large amounts of money and invest it. You have to be pretty brilliant and creative to begin with to turn your mistakes into something as useful as Silly Putty, and even then it’s hit or miss. You might end up with something useless like, well, Silly Putty, and that would be a problem because it’s already been invented. Alexander Graham Bell, for example, isn’t famous because he spilled acid on himself. He’s famous because he invented the telephone and became the first person in an emergency to be put on hold. For Thomas Edison, persistence paid off. He kept working at the lightbulb until he got it right. With his machine for talking to dead people, he was smart enough to realize what it was: a mistake. People remember Leonardo da Vinci for the Mona Lisa, not because he designed a flying machine that doesn’t work. (Actually, I’m not all that sure why he’s remembered for the Mona Lisa.) He’s also been credited with the invention of the submarine, another idea which didn’t come to anything.

In fact, Da Vinci may be the only person in history who’s famous for nothing BUT mistakes. Or maybe that submarine would have worked, but no one wanted to build it because they were afraid they’d meet their counterparts in the ocean. This proves that five hundred years ago people were just as moronic as they are now. Back then they believed aquatic versions of every person lived under the sea. Nowadays people believe they can become successful by making lots of mistakes. That kind of thinking led to the Love Bug virus, whose presumed creator claims it was released by mistake. Obviously his experience failed to teach him one very important lesson: Don’t come out of hiding.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


Useful Phrases

  • Thank you. We’re all refreshed and challenged by your unique point of view.
  • The fact that no one understands you doesn’t mean you’re an artist.
  • I don’t know what your problem is, but I’ll bet it’s hard to pronounce.
  • Any connection between your reality and mine is purely coincidental.
  • I have plenty of talent and vision. I just don’t give a damn.
  • I like you. You remind me of when I was young and stupid.
  • What am I? Flypaper for freaks!?
  • I’m not being rude. You’re just insignificant.
  • I’m already visualizing the duct tape over your mouth.
  • Ahhh…I see the whacked out fairy has visited us again…
  • I will always cherish the initial misconceptions I had about you.
  • It’s a thankless job, but I’ve got a lot of Karma to burn off.
  • Yes, I am an agent of Satan, but my duties are largely ceremonial.
  • No, my powers can only be used for good.
  • How about never? Is never good for you?
  • I’m really easy to get along with once you people learn to worship me.
  • You sound reasonable…Time to up my medication.
  • I’ll try being nicer if you’ll try being smarter.
  • I’m out of my mind, but feel free to leave a message…
  • I don’t work here. I’m a consultant.
  • Who me? I just wander from room to room.
  • My toys! My toys! I can’t do this job without my toys!
  • It might look like I’m doing nothing, but at the cellular level I’m really quite busy.
  • At least I have a positive attitude about my destructive habits.
  • You are validating my inherent mistrust of strangers.
  • I see you’ve set aside this special time to humiliate yourself in public.
  • Someday, we’ll look back on this, laugh nervously and change the subject.


Occasionally, airline attendants make an effort to make the in-flight safety lecture and their other announcements a bit more entertaining. Here are some real examples that have been heard and/or reported:

"There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only 4 ways out of this airplane."

As the plane landed and was coming to a stop at Washington National, a lone voice came over the loudspeaker: "Whoa, big fellas. WHOA!"

After a particularly rough landing during thunderstorms in Memphis, a flight attendant on a Northwest flight announced: "Please take care when opening the overhead compartments because, after a landing like that, sure as hell everything has shifted."

"Weather at our destinations is 50 degrees with some broken clouds, but we’ll try to have them fixed before we arrive. Thank you and remember, nobody loves you, or your money, more than Southwest Airlines."

"Your seat cushions can be used for flotation, and in the event of an emergency water landing, please take them with our compliments."

Once on a Southwest flight, the pilot said, "We’ve reached our cruising altitude now, and I’m turning off the seat belt sign. I’m switching to autopilot, too, so I can come back there and visit with all of you for the rest of the flight."

"Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the bag over your own mouth and nose before assisting children or adults acting like children."

"As you exit the plane, make sure to gather all of your belongings. Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses."

"Last one off the plane must clean it."

Heard on Southwest Airlines just after a very hard landing in Salt Lake City. The flight attendant came on the intercom and said: "That was quite a bump and I know what ya’ll are thinking. I’m here to tell you it wasn’t the airline’s fault, and it wasn’t the pilot’s fault, it wasn’t the flight attendant’s fault. It was the asphalt!"

Another flight attendant’s comment on a less than perfect landing: "We ask you to please remain seated as Captain Kangaroo bounces us to the terminal."

After a real crusher of a landing in Phoenix, the flight attendant came on with, "Ladies and gentlemen, please remain in your seats until Captain Crash and the Crew have brought the aircraft to a screeching halt against the gate. And once the tire smoke has cleared and the warning bells are silenced, we’ll open the door and you can pick your way through the wreckage to the terminal."

Part of a flight attendant’s arrival announcement: "We’d like to thank you folks for flying with us today. And, the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you’ll think of us here a US Airways."

And from the pilot during his welcome message: "We are pleased to have some of the best flight attendants in the industry. Unfortunately, none of them are on this flight."

Gardening Is Decadent And Depraved

May 5, 2000

The other night I was in a home improvement/gardening/construction warehouse looking at different kinds of herbicides, pesticides, and omnicides. I have to respect the companies who make these chemicals because, with all the pro-environment movements, all the efforts going to save endangered areas and species, not to mention the obvious environmental damage, the diminishing biodiversity, the tons of fish that wash up on beaches daily, it takes guts to thumb your nose at all of that. These companies are saying, "Screw Nature! We’re going to cement the planet and paint it green!" Of course a few wimp out and call themselves "environmentally friendly", but, come on, if they were really environmentally friendly, they wouldn’t be very effective, would they? No, I prefer the ones that promise to kill everything within a one-acre radius, including dirt, the ones that have labels that say, "Warning: Causes Liver Damage If Looked At Directly."

But as I was strolling along the aisle, I came to the section with rodent poison. On every box was the same picture of a timid mouse in a crouching position, his little paws hanging just below his little pink nose, his eyes bright and his ears perky. He was, as much as I hate to use the word, cute. I know they carry rabies and typhoid and the plague, but how could I kill something that looks so much like the hamster I had in fifth grade? How could anyone, with the exception of psychopaths, buy that stuff with the intention of using it? That’s when it hit me: some people have nice lawns and gardens because they have an appreciation for beauty. Others are just deeply repressed serial killers whose manicured lawns mask mass graves of thousands, maybe millions of innocent victims of various species. And who can tell which is which? Mr. Griffiths with his prize-winning begonias might look innocent, but what if one of these days he flips out and buzzes the neighborhood with a crop duster? I can’t offer any answers. I’m too distracted by that lovely scene out my window of wildflowers blooming, butterflies dancing through the grass, and squirrels playing. Yep, it’s definitely time to get out the lawnmower.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


You Might Be in Education If…

  • You believe the staff room should be equipped with a Valium salt lick.

  • You find humor in other people’s stupidity.

  • You want to slap the next person who says, "must be nice to work from 8 to 3:20 and have your summers free."

  • You believe chocolate is a food group.

  • You can tell it’s a full moon without ever looking outside.

  • You believe "shallow gene pool" should have it’s own box on the report card.

  • You believe that unspeakable evils will befall you if anyone says, "Boy, the kids sure are mellow today."

  • When out in public you feel the urge to snap your fingers at a child you do not know and correct their behavior.

  • You have no time for a life from August to June.

  • Marking all A’s on report cards would make your life SO much simpler.

  • When you mention "vegetables" you’re not talking about a food group.

  • You think people should be required to get a Government permit before being allowed to reproduce.

  • You wonder how some parents ever MANAGED to reproduce.

  • You laugh uncontrollably when people refer to the staff room as the "lounge."

  • You believe in aerial spraying of Prozac.

  • You encourage an obnoxious parent to check into charter schools or home schooling.

  • You believe no one should be permitted to reproduce without having taught in an elementary setting for at least five years.

  • You’ve ever had your profession slammed by someone who would never DREAM of doing your job.

  • You’ve ever had your profession slammed by someone with no experience or knowledge in the field but who is "appointed" to be your boss.

  • You can’t have children because there’s no name you could give a child that wouldn’t bring on high blood pressure the moment you heard it uttered.

  • You know you’re in for a MAJOR project when a parent says, "I have a great idea I’d like to discuss. I think it would be such fun."

  • You think caffeine should be available to staff in IV form.

  • You smile weakly and want to choke a person when he/she says, "Oh, you must have such FUN every day. This must be like playtime for you."

  • Your personal life comes to a screeching halt at report card time.

  • You’ve had to listen to approximately 15,000 jackasses who think they’re being funny and original when they say, "Well, those who can’t do, teach!"

  • Meeting a child’s parent instantly answer the question, "Why is this kid like this?"

FREETHNKR

April 28, 2000

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against vanity plates. The problem is there are only so many reasonable combinations that are possible. With more and more people getting vanity plates, pretty soon we’re going to start running out of good ones. The other day I saw one that said, "CRASHR". How did the guy get away with a plate like that? More to the point, why did he even bother? It would have been cheaper to go out and get a bumper sticker that said, "I accelerate for pedestrians." Or maybe he should have just gotten one that said, "Warning: Driver has no insurance." This is just a sign that peoples’ self-esteem has reached such a collective all-time low that we’ll take pride in even our worst attributes. If Hitler were alive today, he’d be driving a VW Beetle with the license plate "JUKILLR" (but not in Alabama, where that plate has already been taken).

Then there are those cute vanity plates, the ones that say things like "JNSPORSH", which are usually attached to a car that’s held together by duct tape, coathangers, and cardboard. And then there are the ones that are so bizarre I’m sure they’re bound to cause accidents because people are so busy trying to figure out what they mean. I think half the drivers with really weird vanity plates just like to look in their rearview mirror at stop lights and watch the people behind them squinting and making fish-faces. The other half probably really think "GQRLMX" is the name of their home planet, and their dilapidated sub-sub-compact is the scouting craft of an alien invasion fleet.

So far, though, the most interesting vanity plate I’ve seen is the one that says, "HACKER". Admittedly, among some computer wizards the word "hacker" means rebellious, cool, even dangerous. The reality is that ten years ago the word "hacker" meant "computer geek with too much equipment, too few friends, and not enough knowledge to get a real job". Of course times change, words take on new significance, and an innocuous term can develop profound implications. Such is the case with the word "hacker", which now means, "computer geek with too much time, not old enough to get a paying job, and wanted by the FBI". People who get such blatant license plates usually end up making them.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


If you’ve seen this before, I apologize. If you haven’t, and are fed up with ill treatment from banks and other impersonal businesses, read on ……….

ANY BANK PROBLEMS?

Letter received by a bank recently and printed in the New York Times. (Note: whether this was actually printed in the NY Times has not been confirmed, but then neither has most of what’s actually been printed in the NY Times. -CW)

Dear Bank Manager,

I am writing to thank you for bouncing the check with which I endeavored to pay my plumber last month. By my calculations some three nanoseconds must have elapsed between his presenting the check and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honor it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my entire salary, an arrangement which, I admit, has only been in place for eight years.

You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account for $50 by way of penalty for the inconvenience I caused to your bank. My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to re-think my errant financial ways. You have set me on the path of fiscal righteousness.

No more will our relationship be blighted by these unpleasant incidents for I am restructuring my affairs in 1999, taking as my model the procedures, attitudes and conduct of your very bank. I can think of no greater compliment, and I know you will be excited and proud to hear it.

To this end, please be advised about the following changes: First, I have noticed that, whereas I personally attend to your phone calls and letters, when I try to contact you I am confronted by the impersonal, ever-changing, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has become.

From now on, I like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person. My mortgage and loan repayments will, therefore and hereafter, no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank, by check, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee of your branch, whom you must nominate.

You will be aware that it is an offense under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope. Please find attached an Application Contact Status which I require your chosen employee to complete. I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative.

Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Justice of the Peace and that the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof.

In due course I will issue your employee a PIN number which he/she must quote in all dealings with me. I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits, but, again, I have modeled it on the number of button presses required to access my account balance on your phone bank service.

As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Let me level the playing field even further by introducing you to my new telephone system, which you will notice, is very much like yours.

My Authorized Contact at your bank, the only person with whom I will have any dealings, may call me at any time and will be answered by an automated voice. By pressing buttons on the phone, he/she will be guided through an extensive set of menus:

  1. To make an appointment to see me.
  2. To query a missing repayment.
  3. To make a general complaint or inquiry.
  4. To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there; extension of living room to be communicated at the time the call is received.
  5. To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am still sleeping; extension of bedroom to be communicated at the time the call is received.
  6. To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.
  7. To transfer the call to my mobile phone in case I am not at home.
  8. To leave a message on my computer. To leave a message, a password to access my computer is required. Password will be communicated at a later date to the contact.
  9. To return to the main menu and listen carefully to options 1-8.

The contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering machine. While this may on occasion involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration. This month I’ve chosen a refrain from "The Best of Woody Guthrie:" "Oh, the banks are made of marble With a guard at every door And the vaults are filled with silver That the miners sweated for." After 20 minutes of that, our mutual contact will probably know it by heart.

On a more serious note, we come to the matter of cost. As your bank has often pointed out, the ongoing drive for greater efficiency comes at a cost – a cost which you have always been quick to pass on to me. Let me repay your kindness by passing some costs back.

First, there is the matter of advertising material you send me. This I will read for a fee of $20 per 1/4 page. Inquiries from your nominated contact will be billed at $5 per minute of my time spent in response.

Any debits to my account as, for example, in the matter of the penalty for the dishonored check, will be passed back to you. My new phone service runs at 75 cents a minute (even Woody Guthrie doesn’t come free), so you would be well advised to keep your inquiries brief and to the point.

Regrettably, by again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover setting up of this new arrangement.

May I wish you a happy, if ever-so-slightly less prosperous, New Year.

Your humble client,

The Dating Scene

April 21, 2000

The other day I happened to look at a bottle of bottled water, on the off-chance that I might see something that would make me want to pay money for it, or even possibly drink it, and I noticed that it had an expiration date. Why does bottled water have an expiration date? After a certain time does it start to break down into hydrogen and oxygen? Do the minerals carried by the fresh mountain faucet that provides this water start to settle to the bottom and become toxic? Or is it simply that, because water falls, more or less, under the category of food and drugs, it has to be assigned an expiration date? Here are a few other things that you’d never expect to go bad that also get expiration dates:

Batteries. Why batteries need an expiration date is a mystery. They’re certainly not food (unless you happen to have a cadmium deficiency). Scientists have in fact conducted tests to find out what happens to batteries after their expiration date has passed, although their recording devices merely stop working. A couple of television networks are currently working on "When Good Batteries Go Bad" specials.

Beer. Beer has an expiration date but doesn’t need one because it never stays around long enough to expire. It’s not like wine which improves with age. The fresher beer is, the better it tastes. In fact, putting expiration dates on beer is simply encouraging people to drink.

Soda. Soda has the same food value as batteries. But unlike batteries, it never really goes bad. When future archaeologists are digging the remnants of our culture out of our own landfills, they’ll find vending machines and be able to enjoy the refreshing fizz and caffeine rush that is actually the only thing that gets 90% of the human race out of bed in the mornings.

Cigarettes. A lot of sweaty-faced CEOs have, while tugging their collars and stammering like defendants at the Nuremberg trials, stated that tobacco is not a drug. Despite this, cigarettes have an expiration date. Now this is a good idea. With the increasing number of non-smoking areas, the higher prices, the addition of strange and lethal chemicals to tobacco, and the generally bad press, smokers are getting pushed around a lot lately. I’m glad that something is being done to look out for them. That is, of course, unless those expiration dates actually refer to the smokers themselves.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


Gullibility Virus Spreading over the Internet!

WASHINGTON, D.C.-The Institute for the Investigation of irregular Internet Phenomena announced today that many Internet users are becoming infected by a new virus that causes them to believe without question every groundless story, legend, and dire warning that shows up in their Inbox or on their browser. The Gullibility Virus, as it is called, apparently makes people believe and forward copies of silly hoaxes relating to E-Mail viruses, get-rich-quick schemes, and conspiracy theories. "These are not just readers of tabloids or people who buy lottery tickets based on fortune cookie numbers," a spokesman said. "Most are otherwise normal people, who would laugh at the same stories if told to them by a stranger on a street corner." However, once these same people become infected with the Gullibility Virus, they believe anything they read on the Internet. "My immunity to tall tales and bizarre claims is all gone," reported one weeping victim. "I believe every warning message and sick child story my friends forward to me, even though most of the messages are anonymous." Internet users are urged to examine themselves for symptoms of the virus, which include the following:

  • the willingness to believe improbable stories without thinking
  • the urge to forward multiple copies of such stories to others
  • a lack of desire to take three minutes to check to see if a story is true

T.C. is an example of someone recently infected. He told one reporter, "I read on the Net that the major ingredient in almost all shampoos makes your hair fall out, so I’ve stopped using shampoo." When told about the Gullibility Virus, T.C. said he would stop reading e-mail, so that he would not become infected. President Clinton has been advised by the National Health Council. He has had an emergency session with former presidents Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, and Lincoln. All agreed he should not quarantine the country. This is not being reported in the major news media to avoid panic. Anyone with symptoms is urged to seek help immediately. Experts recommend that at the first feelings of gullibility, Internet users rush to their favorite search engine and look up the item tempting them to thoughtless credence. Most hoaxes, legends, and tall tales have been widely discussed and exposed by the Internet community (see, for example, the web site www.snopes.com, which dispels a lot of so-called urban legends). Many companies have internal support groups to help employees minimize the impact of this terrible virus.

*******************************************************

Forward this message to all your friends right away! Don’t think about it! This is not a chain letter! This story is true! Don’t check it out! This story is so timely, there is no date on it! This story is so important, we’re using lots of exclamation points!!! For every message you forward to some unsuspecting person, the Home for the Hopelessly Gullible will donate ten cents to itself. (If you wonder how the Home will know you are forwarding these messages all over creation, you’re obviously thinking too much, and believe Bill Gates, Disney, and President Djibouti of Farentonia will send you $5000 for helping them test their new e-mail system.)


Is the Horse really Dead?

Indian tribal wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. However, in business we often try other strategies with dead horses. See if any of these look familiar:

  • Buy a stronger whip
  • Change riders
  • Appoint a committee to study the horse
  • Move the horse to a new location
  • Provide status reports daily on the dead horse
  • Rename the dead horse
  • Create a training session to increase our ability to ride
  • Add more managers/supervisors per dead horse
  • Hire a consultant to give their opinion on dead horses
  • Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position
  • Terminate all live horses to redefine productivity
  • Arrange to visit other sites to benchmark how THEY ride dead horses
  • Provide an incentive bonus for the jockey Schedule a meeting with the dead horse to discuss his productivity problems
  • Do a cost analysis study to see if contractors can ride it cheaper
  • Hire another consultant to refute the first consultant’s opinion that the horse is really dead
  • Bring in a motivational speaker to see if you can’t get the horse to rise from the dead
  • Form a team, positioned to shift the horse’s paradigm

Finally, if all else fails,

  • Prop the horse up, put ribbons in his mane & tail, and see if you can’t find a buyer!!

One Less Thing To Worry About

April 14, 2000

The other night I happened to turn on an interview between a prominent journalist whom I’d never heard of and an apiary. Actually the journalist probably wasn’t that prominent–if he was he wouldn’t have been interviewing an apiary. He’s probably wrecked his career because from now on he’ll be known as "that apiary-interviewing guy", except to his friends and family who will continue to call him "Loser". Anyway, the topic of discussion was the dangerous African killer bees that, in the 1950’s, came to South America to escape persecution in their homeland. Because they had no natural predators, the bees flourished and, being ambitious and always on the lookout for better jobs, have been moving progressively northward where, if you believe prominent journalists, they will eventually wipe out the human population of North America.

The killer bees live in hives, are extremely aggressive, and will attack with the slightest provocation. And ever since the 1970’s, they’ve been appearing in bad movies which convinced me and anyone else who didn’t already have enough to worry about that killer bees were, with global thermonuclear war, the greatest threat to human life on the planet. Then the Soviet Union collapsed and I’ve had nothing else to be afraid of but killer bees.

Unfortunately the apiary in his interview revealed that killer bees, being tropical, can’t survive harsh winters, and, due to interbreeding, will eventually pick up the characteristic docility of native bees. The prominent journalist, disappointed that all those people who made fun of him as a child will not die horribly from multiple bee stings, then turned to the camera and assured viewers that we can still worry about radon, cholesterol, nuclear waste, explosive landfills, political destabilization in the Baltic states, Africa, parts of the Middle East, parts of the Midwest, and southern Asia, giant asteroids on collision courses with the Earth, and the remote possibility that giant starfish may one day crawl out of the ocean and kill us all.

Personally I was a lot happier with the bees.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


If the World was a Village

Version #1 (shorter version)

If we could shrink the Earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people with all existing ratios remaining the same, it would look like this:

  • There would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from the Western Hemisphere (North and South) and 8 Africans.
  • 51 would be female; 49 would be male.
  • 70 would be non-white; 30 white.
  • 70 would be non-Christian; 30 Christian.
  • 50% of the entire world’s wealth would be in the hands of only 6 people and all 6 would be citizens of the United States.
  • 80 would live in substandard housing.
  • 70 would be unable to read.
  • 50 would suffer from malnutrition.
  • 1 would be near death, 1 would be near birth.
  • Only 1 would have a college education.
  • No one would own a computer.

When one considers our world from such an incredibly compressed perspective, the need for both tolerance and understanding becomes glaringly apparent….

Version #2 (longer version)

If the world were a village of 1,000 people, it would include:

  • 584 Asians
  • 124 Africans
  • 95 East and West Europeans
  • 84 Latin Americans
  • 55 Soviets (including, for the moment, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, etc.)
  • 52 North Americans
  • 6 Australians and New Zealanders

The people of the village have considerable difficulty communicating:

  • 165 people speak Mandarin (Chinese)
  • 86 English
  • 83 Hindu/Urdu
  • 64 Spanish
  • 58 Russian
  • 37 Arabic

That list accounts for the mother tongues of only half the villagers. The other half speak (in descending order of frequency) Bengali, Portuguese, Indonesian, Japanese, German, French, and 200 other languages.

In this village of 1,000 there are:

  • 329 Christians (187 Catholics, 84 Protestants, 31 Orthodox)
  • 178 Moslems
  • 167 "non-religious"
  • 132 Hindus
  • 60 Buddhists
  • 45 atheists
  • 3 Jews
  • 86 all other religions

One-third (330) of the 1,000 people in the world village are children and only 60 are over the age of 65. Half the children are immunized against preventable infectious diseases such as measles and polio. Just under half of the married women in the village have access to and use modern contraceptives.

The first year, 28 babies are born, That year, 10 people die, 3 of them for lack of food, 1 from cancer; two of the deaths are of babies born within the year. One person of the 1,000 is infected with the HIV virus; that person most likely has not yet developed a full-blown case of AIDS.

With the 28 births and 10 deaths, the population of the village in the second year is 1,018.

In this 1,000-person community, 200 people receive 75% of the income; another 200 receive only 2% of the income.

Only 70 people of the 1,000 own an automobile (although some of the 70 own more than one automobile).

About one-third have access to clean, safe drinking water.

Of the 670 adults in the village, half are illiterate.

The village has six acres of land per person, 6000 acres in all, of which: 

  • 700 acres are cropland
  • 1,400 acres are pasture
  • 1,900 acres are woodland
  • 2,000 acres are desert, tundra, pavement (and other wasteland)

The woodland is declining rapidly; the wasteland is increasing. The other land categories are roughly stable.

The village allocates 83% of its fertilizer to 40% of its cropland — that owned by the richest and best-fed 270 people. Excess fertilizer running off this land causes pollution in lakes and wells. The remaining 60 % of the land, with its 17% of the fertilizer, produces 28% of the food grains and feeds for 73% of the people. The average grain yield on that land is one-third the harvest achieved by the richer villagers.

In the village of 1,000 people, there are:

  • 5 soldiers
  • 7 teachers
  • 1 doctor
  • 3 refugees driven from home by war or drought.

The village has a total budget each year, public and private, of over $3 million — $3,000 per person if it were distributed evenly. Of the total $3 million:

  • $181,000 goes to weapons and warfare
  • $159,000 for education
  • $132,000 for health care

The village has buried beneath it enough explosive power in nuclear weapons to blow itself to smithereens many times over. These weapons are under the control of just 100 of the people. The other 900 are watching them with deep anxiety, wondering whether they can learn to get along together; and, if they do, whether they might set off the weapons anyway through inattention to technical bungling. And if they ever decide to dismantle the weapons, where in the world village would they dispose of the radioactive materials of which the weapons are made?

Taken from "If the World Were a Village" by Donella H. Meadows. The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog.

For this information and more, see the World Village Website.

Natural Selection: The Show!

April 7, 2000

Right now the two most popular things on television are game shows and wrestling. (No, I’m not kidding. I’m not even exaggerating.) In my latest hare-brained scheme to escape my workaday librarian’s life, I’ve come up with a new show that actually combines both. The principle of the show will be based on natural selection. In fact, it’ll be called Natural Selection.

Here’s how it works: ten contestants will work with each other to complete a round of "general knowledge" questions. (This means they’ll be asked questions about movies, sports, television, and maybe once in a while something vaguely scientific, such as, "What gas do we breathe to stay alive?") At the end of the round the ten contestants will then compete for the pool of money by making threatening speeches at each other. The six contestants who can’t roll their eyes menacingly and say things like, "I’m gonna crush my opponent like an overripe grape!" and squeeze their hands together without laughing will be eliminated. This means that Natural Selection will follow modern game shows which, unlike the classic ones that pit individuals against great odds, instead force people to cooperate then immediately turn around and humiliate each other and themselves. (The fact that "reality based" shows are only slightly less popular than wrestling and game shows proves that most people basically want to see human beings demolish each other, either emotionally or physically. But then this has always been considered entertainment from the Roman amphitheatre to the Salem witch trials.)

The remaining four can then use the money they’ve won to buy outrageous costumes, two-by-fours, folding chairs, and tazer guns. (Hey, we’ve gotta step these things up a notch, right?) They’ll be divided up into tag teams and sent into the ring. Here’s the best part: the winners will be married in a formal ceremony and a camera crew will follow them on their honeymoon. The loser will be the first person to file for divorce, but, as compensation, will be granted a free restraining order.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


You Know You’re Born and Raised in Small-Town Idaho When. . .

  • During a storm you check the cattle before you check the kids.
  • You are related to more than half the town.
  • You can tell the difference between a horse and a cow from a distance.
  • Your car breaks down outside of town and news of it gets back to town before you do.
  • Without thinking, you wave to all oncoming traffic.
  • You don’t buy all your vegetables at the grocery store.
  • You don’t put too much effort into hairstyles due to wind and weather.
  • There’s a tornado warning and the whole town is outside watching for it.
  • The local gas station sells live bait.
  • You go to the State Fair for your family vacation.
  • You get up at 5:30 am and go down to the coffee shop.
  • You’re on a first name basis with the county sheriff.
  • When little smokies are something you serve on special occasions.
  • You have the number of the Co-op on speed dial.
  • All your radio-preset buttons are country.
  • You try to find the cheapest room rates when going out of town.
  • Using the elevator involves a grain truck.
  • Your mayor is also your garbage hauler, barber, and insurance salesman.
  • You know you should listen to the weather forecast before picking out an outfit.
  • You call the wrong number and talk to the person for an hour anyway.
  • Your excuse for getting out of school is that the cows got out.
  • You know cow pies aren’t made of beef.
  • You wake up when it’s dark and go to bed when it’s still light.
  • You listen to "Paul Harvey" every day at noon.
  • You can tell it’s a farmer working late in his field and not a UFO.
  • Your nearest neighbor is in the next area code.
  • You know the difference between field corn and sweet corn when they are still on the stalk.
  • You know the code names for everyone on the CB.
  • You can eat an ear of corn with no utensils in under 20 seconds.
  • You wear your boots to church.
  • It takes 30 seconds to reach your destination and it’s clear across town.
  • You can tell the smell of a skunk and the smell of feedlot apart.
  • The meaning of true love is that you’ll ride in the tractor with him.
  • You go to Wal-Mart for your Saturday shopping.
  • Your main drag in town is two blocks long.
  • You defend the beauty of being able to see the next town which is 20 miles away.

Deal of the Century

March 31, 2000

I’m going crazy. I know, you’re sitting there thinking, He’s coming to this conclusion a little late, isn’t he? Besides, we’re all a little kooky, even though eccentrics insist on having their own private club. But I’ve seen a sign that I’m dangerously close to cracking up: I almost bought something I saw in an infomercial. All the signs were there: it was a TV show preceded by a message from the network that said, "This is a paid advertisement. We don’t endorse this product, and you probably shouldn’t either." The name of the show was "Wondrous Inventions of Science" and was hosted by a guy with bad teeth and badly permed hair. (Never, ever buy anything from anyone whose hair looks like overcooked rotini.) He also had a sidekick with an English accent who interrupted everything to rush in and tell the host what a great deal he had. The deal was then booed by the audience who, strangely enough, kept looking up, as though there were instructions being held up over their heads. (Obviously the instructions weren’t the only things over their heads.) The sidekick made the deal better, and the audience, looking slightly confused and not so certain, booed again. This went on about fourteen times. Finally the deal was so great the audience gave it a standing ovation.

I have no idea what the product itself was, but what I believe put the deal over the edge was when the English guy included a free thumbtack. Anyway, I might not be around the next couple of weeks because I’m checking myself into a hospital for observation. But wait ’til you hear about the deal I got on medication!

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


THE 15 CARDINAL RULES OF DRIVING IN NASHVILLE

  1. A right lane construction closure is just a game to see how many people can cut in line by passing you on the right as you sit in the left lane waiting for the same idiots to squeeze their way back in before hitting construction barrels. Bonus points are awarded for getting out of your car and moving the barrels.
  2. Turn signals provide clues as to your next move in the road battle, so never use them.
  3. Under no circumstances should you leave a safe distance between you and the car in front of you, no matter how fast you’re going. If you do, the space will be filled in by somebody else, putting you in an even more dangerous situation.
  4. The faster you drive through a red light, the less likely your chance of getting hit.
  5. The car with the most extensive body work automatically has the right of way.
  6. Braking is to be done as hard and late as possible, to insure that your antilock braking system kicks in. This will give you a nice, relaxing foot massage as the brake pedal pulsates.
  7. Construction signs are carefully positioned to tell you about road closures immediately after you pass the last opportunity to exit, but just before the traffic begins to back up.
  8. Never pass on the left when you can pass on the right. It’s a good way to scare people entering the highway. Passing on the shoulder is encouraged – that’s why they’re paved.
  9. Speed limits are arbitrary figures to make Tennessee look as if it conforms with other state policies. They are intended only as suggestions and are, in fact, unenforceable.
  10. Just because you’re in the left lane and have no room to speed up or move over doesn’t mean that a driver flashing his high beams behind you doesn’t think he can go faster in your spot.
  11. Always slow down and rubberneck when you see an accident or even a person changing a tire. If you’re lucky, you may see the unlucky breakdown victim get mugged.
  12. Learn to swerve abruptly. Nashville is the home of very high-speed slalom driving, thanks to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which puts potholes in key locations to test drivers’ reflexes and keep them on their toes. Parts of truck tires are left on new highways where potholes haven’t yet been established for the same purpose. The orange barrels are for special slalom events as they are reserved only for the most highly skilled in slalom driving when competitions are held at night.
  13. Seeking eye contact with another driver automatically revokes your right of way.
  14. Giving on obscene gesture may invite armed retaliation. Be sure that your rifle is on the gun rack in the rear window (and therefore visible), rather than lying on the seat, and in range to pick up easily.
  15. When in doubt, remember that all unmarked exits lead to Old Hickory Blvd. FOR THOSE OF YOU NON-NASHVILLIANS, "OLD HICKORY BLVD." WAS TO HAVE CIRCLED THE CITY AT ONE TIME, BUT IT’S CUSTOMARY FOR NASHVILLE ROAD ENGINEERS TO DRINK WHILE THEY WORK. REGARDLESS OF WHAT SIDE OF TOWN YOU LIVE YOU HAVE AN OLD HICKORY BLVD.

Bleep!

March 24, 2000

When criticized for the use of vulgar language in his standup act, the comedian Buddy Hackett explained that, if you drop an anvil on your foot, you’re not going to say, "Spring is here!" You’re probably going to say something that, on most television stations, would get bleeped. (At least in the United States. Other countries are more interested in editing out exploding heads than expletives, but everybody’s heard this. In fact, you can turn on MTV and hear rock stars saying, "Man, in [bleep]in’ other countries you can say [bleep] on TV and they don’t give a [bleep]. Now [bleep]in’ violence they won’t show." This sort of statement is usually part of the rock star’s explanation that his new video, featuring numerous exploding heads, is "not really about violence.")

Now, I’m not in favor of censorship, but there is a disturbing trend in television these days: the excessive use of the bleep. I hear people being bleeped in sitcoms, cartoons, and even commercials. (I won’t mention talk shows. If your friend, lover, sibling, cousin, or even a complete stranger wants to be on a talk show with you, you’re going to say, "Spring is here!" before the security guards haul you off.) And we all know what they’re saying. These are words I’ve been using since I was ten. Before that I didn’t use them because, having seen what happened to people on TV when they said [bleep], I was afraid a giant cartoon hand would slap a "Censored" sticker on my face. By the time I was sixteen I’d learned it was much funnier, after dropping an anvil on my foot, to say, "Aw, shhhaving cream." By the time I was eighteen, I already knew what Kurt Vonnegut would later put in one of his books: swearing doesn’t make you sound important. It doesn’t even offend people. It just gives them a reason not to listen to you.

Swearing effectively requires a special context. I once heard a comedian say, "If you get in the highway fast lane, you’d better move your ass." The audience found this funny. It wasn’t. When a friend of mine at the zoo saw a donkey and said, "Hey, nice ass!"–that was funny. The fact that a nun with a group of children overheard him made it even funnier.

Then there was my friend Mike, the cautious one, who, when he got angry would let loose with the following stream of invective: "GOSH! I SWEAR, THIS REALLY TICKS ME OFF, YOU BIG DUMMIES! SHOOT!" This was proof to me that you don’t need to be vulgar to be funny. (In fact my other friends and I would taunt Mike until his face would turn red, and we’d all back off and say, "Uh oh, I think he’s about to swear!" There was nothing funnier than ticking off Mike.)

To sum up, my mother used to tell me, "If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all." Let’s amend that slightly: if you can’t offend someone, don’t bother trying. Anybody who won’t automatically shut you out as soon as you say [bleep] isn’t going to be offended, and anybody who will isn’t worth talking to.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


MONDAY – My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while I am forced to eat dry cereal. The only thing that keeps me going is the hope of escape, and the satisfaction from ruining the occasional piece of furniture. Tomorrow I may eat another houseplant.

TUESDAY – Today my attempt to kill my captors by weaving around their feet while they were walking almost succeeded, must try this at the top of the stairs. In an attempt to disgust and repulse these vile oppressors, I once again induced myself to throw up on their favorite chair…….must try this on their bed.

WEDNESDAY – Slept all day so that I could annoy my captors with sleep depriving, incessant pleas for food at ungodly hours of the night.

THURSDAY – Decapitated a mouse and brought them the headless body in an attempt to make them aware of what I am capable of, and to try to strike fear into their hearts. They only cooed and condescended about what a good little cat I was. Hmmm….not working according to plan…..

FRIDAY – I am finally aware of how sadistic they are. For no good reason I was chosen for the water torture. This time however, it included a burning foamy chemical called "shampoo". What sick minds could invent such a liquid?! My only consolation is the piece of thumb still stuck between my teeth.

SATURDAY – There was some sort of gathering of their accomplices. I was placed in solitary throughout the event. However, I overheard that my confinement was due to MY power of "allergies". Must learn what this is and how to use it to my advantage.

SUNDAY – I am convinced the other captives are flunkies and maybe snitches. The dog is routinely released and seems more than happy to return. He is obviously a half-wit. The Bird on the other hand has got to be an informant. He has mastered their frightful tongue (something akin to molespeak) and speaks with them regularly. I am certain he reports my every move. Due to his current placement in the metal room, his safety is assured. But I can wait, it is only a matter of time………

Been there, done that, left trash

March 18, 2000

In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary became the first person to ascend to the peak of Mount Everest. When asked why he climbed it, so it’s said, he replied, "Because it’s there." Since then, many climbers have followed in his path, and all have left proof of their courage, their austerity, and their slovenliness. Yes, just about everybody who’s climbed Mount Everest in the past fifty years or so has left behind garbage. Everything from oxygen cannisters to foil tents to carbo-bar wrappers now dots the once pristine slopes of the world’s highest peak. In fact, the problem has gotten so bad that since 1992 several expeditions have set out with the purpose of bringing down some of that garbage. To which I ask, Why? It’s there. Why not leave it there?

Don’t we have enough garbage down here without bringing more off of some stupid mountain? I say more expeditions need to be made to take more garbage up there, but Mount Everest, or just about any mountain for that matter, is a lousy place for garbage. Mountains, to paraphrase Graham Chapman, climb steeply upward for a long way, then suddenly slope downward. These are not good places for garbage. The chances that anything left up there will be blown off and land on somebody are just too great. If you’ve ever seen anyone get hit by a falling oxygen cannister, you know what I mean. Nature, fortunately, has provided us with several wonderful potential dumping grounds. Here are a few:

  • The Grand Canyon: If you haven’t seen it by now, go buy a postcard. The Grand Canyon has been empty space for millions of years now. It’s about time we turn it into the world’s biggest landfill.
  • The Marianas Trench: Only two people have been to the bottom of this deepest point in the ocean. Two scientists made the descent of 35,800 feet (that’s deeper than Mt. Everest is tall) in 1960 and saw an 18-inch sea cucumber. Some have pointed to the presence of a giant echinoderm as evidence of a strange, fragile ecosystem far at the bottom of the ocean. I say it’s proof that the ocean is already using this chasm as a dumping ground, and it’s about time we landlubbers follow suit.
  • Antarctica: Since there’s already a hole in the ozone layer down there, a few million cubic tons of solid waste wouldn’t hurt. Sorting out the recyclable stuff would give the penguins something to do while they’re avoiding ultraviolet radiation.
  • The Moon: It’s cold, it’s dark, and there’s nothing to do. It’s just like North Dakota. The best part about the Moon is it’s a great jumping-off point for outer space itself, which is so incredibly big it’ll take us years to fill it up with garbage. We can start with columns like this one.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


Here are some of the "All Time Dumbest Questions Asked by Banff Park Tourists," as heard at the information kiosks manned by Parks Canada staff.

How do the elk know they’re supposed to cross at the "Elk Crossing" signs?

At what elevation does an elk become a moose?

Tourist: "How do you pronounce ‘Elk’?" Park Information Staff: " ‘Elk’ " Tourist: "Oh"

Are the bears with collars tame?

Is there anywhere I can see the bears pose?

Is it okay to keep an open bag of bacon on the picnic table, or should I store it in my tent?

Where can I find Alpine Flamingos?

I saw an animal on the way to Banff today – could you tell me what it was?

Are there birds in Canada?

Did I miss the turnoff for Canada?

Where does Alberta end and Canada begin?

Do you have a map of the State of Jasper?

Is this the part of Canada that speaks French, or is that Saskatchewan?

If I go to B.C., do I have to go through Ontario?

Which is the way to the Columbia Ricefields?

How far is Banff from Canada?

What’s the best way to see Canada in a day?

Do they search you at the B.C. border?

When we enter B.C. do we have to convert our money to British pounds?

Where can I buy a racoon hat? ALL Canadians own one don’t they?

Are there phones in Banff?

So it’s eight kilometres away… is that in miles? We’re on the decibel system you know.

Where can I get my husband really, REALLY, lost??

Is that 2 kilometres by foot or by car?

Don’t you Canadians know anything?

What Other Use?

March 10, 2000

"Not to be used for the other use." – instructions on a Korean kitchen knife

It’s recently been brought to my attention that duct tape (or, as it’s more appropriately called by some people, "duck tape") is good for just about anything but sealing ducts (for a complete article please see the Home Energy Article on Duct Tape).

Duct tape is defined as "any fabric-based tape with rubber adhesive", which apparently doesn’t include that mysterious black tape that bends light around it and cannot be cut with anything but very sharp industrial-strength scissors. Try to cut it with anything else, and it will simply expand, then take on a mysterious life of its own. Uncle Rupert once attempted to cut some of this tape with a rusty pocket knife. (He was building a bookshelf, although why he needed a bookshelf in the first place remains a mystery.) Within less than twenty minutes he was so hopelessly entangled that it took three local policemen to free him. The policemen declared that "duck tape" was almost as dangerous as Uncle Rupert himself. The bad news is that 90% of the homes in most first world nations are merely composites of "duck tape", drywall, and that sticky white stuff you use for filling in holes in drywall. Homes in less developed nations have to use less reliable materials such as wood and concrete. The good news is that no one has ever actually seen "duck tape" being used on ducts of any type. It’s more often used to hold up supporting walls, fire extinguishers, and to keep small children quiet. And, as Uncle Rupert and his buddies on the police force will tell you, its name is well-earned: it’s as useful for catching ducks as bright spotlights are for catching deer.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


After Quasimodo’s death, the bishop of the cathedral of Notre Dame sent word through the streets of Paris that a new bellringer was needed. The bishop decided that he would conduct the interviews personally and went up into the belfry to begin the screening process. After observing several applicants demonstrate their skills, he decided to call it a day when a lone, armless man approached him and announced that he was there to apply for the bellringer’s job.

The bishop was incredulous."You have no arms!"

"No matter," said the man, "Observe!" He then began striking the bells with his face, producing a beautiful melody on the carillon. The bishop listened in astonishment, convinced that he had finally found a suitable replacement for Quasimodo. Suddenly, rushing forward to strike a bell, the armless man tripped, and plunged headlong out of the belfry window to his death in the street below.

The stunned bishop rushed to his side. When he reached the street, a crowd had gathered around the fallen figure, drawn by the beautiful music they had heard only moments before.

As they silently parted to let the bishop through, one of them asked, "Bishop, who was this man?”

"I don’t know his name," the bishop sadly replied, "but his face rings a bell."

(but wait, there’s more…)

The following day, despite the sadness that weighed heavily on his heart due to the unfortunate death of the armless campanologist (now there’s a trivia question), the bishop continued his interviews for the bellringer of Notre Dame. The first man to approach him said, "Your excellency, I am the brother of the poor, armless wretch that fell to his death from this very belfry yesterday. I pray that you honor his life by allowing me to replace him in this duty."

The bishop agreed to give the man an audition, and as the armless man’s brother stooped to pick up a mallet to strike the first bell, he groaned, clutched at his chest and died on the spot.

Two monks, hearing the bishop’s cries of grief at this second tragedy, rushed up the stairs to his side.

"What has happened?", the first breathlessly asked, "Who is this man?"

(Wait for it…)

"I don’t know his name," sighed the distraught bishop, "but he’s a dead ringer for his brother."

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