Wednesday, October 26, 2011

History: Same Stuff, Different Epoch

Plain Dealer outdoors writer D'arcy Egan recently wrote a series of articles on efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. In one piece, he discussed the Asian carp's presence in the Illinois River. And what he said about the march of the Asian carp, it seemed to me, could have been said about the march of another species, and I took the liberty of rewriting a section of that piece.

Is Africa a preview of the world's future?

With apologies to D'Arcy Egan, the Plain Dealer's outdoors writer.

The Wooly Mammoth Press-Prevaricator, Oct. 22, 55,001 BC

SOMEWHERE IN AFRICA - There have been experts who say human beings won't survive outside of this small enclave in Africa. The rest of the world is too cold, they suggest, and will not provide the level of comfort the funny looking bipeds need in order to thrive and reproduce.

But nobody needs to tell the saber-tooth tigers and mastodons how amazingly adaptable and resilient humans are, and how they can easily overwhelm and change a way of life. The humans are thriving here, and many mammoth scientists firmly believe they would flourish in other parts of the globe, especially in places where there is plenty of game and a wealth of fish in the lakes and rivers to encourage them to eat heartily.

As you travel through Africa, it is startling to watch the humans become comfortable on the lands they have claimed for themselves. The humans are seemingly everywhere, from smart-mouthed youngsters to behemoths who can weigh 300 pounds and much more.

It is impossible not to imagine what would happen should these erstwhile apes continue to come down from the trees and migrate to other areas.

Humans have proven they can dominate an ecosystem, displacing the native animal species. In some sections of Africa, humans already make up 90 percent of the population. Day by day, the humans are expanding their range, with new populations most recently found in a place called Europe.

If they make it to other parts of the world, experts say the humans could overwhelm the native species and, given their ravenous habits, deplete the food supply.

In the worst case, various species could face the danger of flying spears and arrows, and predatory species could see their prey disappear.

A 15-mile tour of one river provided a clear picture. Humans were everywhere, ready to grab rocks and spears at the sound of approaching wildlife. They could be spotted all along the banks of the river. They jumped up and down, yelling for their young to bring them weapons. The erratic "thumps" we felt were caused by humans hitting us with rocks they tossed from the shore.

When the number of humans increased in Asia Minor a few years ago, native species were amazed. They couldn't believe humans used weapons to obtain food, and sometimes made a game of killing native species. Dangerously armed humans were stalking the same animals local species relied on for nourishment.

"Of course they're dangerous," said a one lion. "A tiger cub was recently hit by a flying spear. The spear punctured his chest. He needed to have it removed by his parents."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gee, I Didn't See That

"The man who doesn't read," someone once said, "is no better off than the man who can't." 'Tis true. 'Tis true. And 'tis equally true of the man who does not read carefully. That truth smacked me across the face not once but twice within forty-eight hours. And I was trying to get to the library both times. Strange, isn't it.

For some time now I've been telling myself I need a project. After several months of telling myself this, I got around to looking for one, and after a few more months of feigned thought and purposeful procrastination, I determined, one day last week, what the project should be. In the early 1990s, my byline appeared twice in Cobblestone, a history magazine for middle school kids. Why not see what I can do twenty years later, I thought. Being a thoroughly modern man, I went to the magazine's website and took a look at its theme list for the coming year. Saturday morning I found a couple topics I thought I could handle and checked the Ashtabula Library's hours on its website and found it was open from ten until two on Saturdays.

It was quarter of ten, so I powered up the wheelchair and headed to the library at a brisk two-and-a-half miles an hour. I haven't made many trips uptown in the wheelchair, so there was an element of discovery. What I discovered was, not all the sidewalks are ramped. Undeterred by this inconvenience, I managed to reach the library at quarter past ten. That's when I saw the sign on the door, and the sign said the library was open from eleven until four on Saturdays. I stared at it, uttered a few inappropriate utterances, checked to see what time the library opened on Monday and went back from whence I came.

At home, I rolled into the computer room and got on the library's website, determined to verify the webmaster's incompetence. There they were, the hours, in italics, just as I remembered them. But, beneath those hours, also in italics, was a note that those were the summer hours. Directly above the all the italics, in bold Times New Roman, the same print used for the other five days the library is open, the Saturday hours were listed as eleven until four. OK, I guess I should have given it a closer look the first time. But the library would reopen at ten on Monday, according to both the sign on the door and the information on the library's website.

When I got the library Monday morning, the parking lot was empty. Where are all the readers in this town? And the library employees, do they all walk to work? Perhaps they do, but they didn't on Monday. On the door, right above the sign with the hours was another sign: "We will be closed Monday, October 10, for Columbus Day," Too bad I didn't bother to read it on Saturday, October 8.

It Did Not Compute

The computer has been uncooperative for several days.

High Tech and High Strung

The computer is congested
With all the stuff it’s ingested -
The silly poems that I’ve devised
And the inane things I’ve surmised.
Yes indeedy it’s been force-fed
All my foolish nonsense instead
Of important things and the like.
Now it’s told me to take a hike.
All I asked it to do was print,
It said, “Listen, bub, take a hint,
I can’t answer when you call.
I’m not responding. That is all.”

Bad Computer

My computer needs dissected
For not behaving as it ought.
Since it hates to be corrected,
My computer needs dissected
And most thoroughly inspected
Before it’s taken out and shot.
My computer needs dissected
For not behaving as it ought.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Stumped on the Stump

It's in the dictionary: disambiguate.
It reminds me of Bush's misrememberate,
a word that always makes me hyperventilate
and sometimes even makes me discombobulate.
They're words for those who want to circumambulate
proven facts. Politicians overcompensate

with sesquipedalians to overcompensate
for ideas they'd rather not disambiguate.
They also tiptoe as they circumambulate,
or say, "Oh, I guess I must misremeberate.
That liberal press just makes me discombobulate
and more than once it's made me hyperventilate."

It is not abnormal to hyperventilate
when one's stumped and trying to overcompensate
while working so hard not to discombobulate,
worried that someone's going to disambiguate
his harangue. Then he'll claim to misrememberate,
or convolute the truth and circumambulate

it if he can. If he can't circumambulate
embarrassing stuff, he might hyperventilate,
which sometimes causes him to misrememberate
the lies he's spewed. So then he'll overcompensate
and slip in some truth that might disambiguate
the ambiguity and discombobulate

his campaign. And his hopes to discombobulate
the electorate and to circumambulate
the truth will be dashed. If folks disambiguate
his thoughts, all he can do is hyperventilate,
although, he doesn't want to overcompensate
and say he's been known to misrememberate.

The admission that he might misrememberate
could lead voters to think he'll discombobulate
under pressure. He'd rather overcompensate
by making up stuff that will circumambulate
the unpleasant, or make you hyperventilate
and just too distracted to disambiguate.

Politicians overcompensate, misrememberate.
If you disambiguate, they'll circumambulate,
Discombobulate and then hyperventilate.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Give Me that Old Time Religion

I am sitting here waiting for God to speak to me. He hasn't yet, and I'm not sure why. I mean, I'm here every day, listening for his voice in my head, or on the phone, maybe. I even cast a hopeful glance at my e-mail now and then in case that's how God reaches people nowadays. How much trouble would it be for him to call and say, "Just wanted to let you know, Tom, that you're soooo, soooo special, and I have endowed you with special powers of understanding, prophecy and insight"? He's awfully busy, I know, assuring each of the Republican presidential candidates that only he or she can save the country from perdition. But, come on, he's God, isn't he? Surely there's an angel available to take over pumping up Rick Perry's ego for a few minutes while the big guy gets in touch with me. Besides, Rick's well-coifed head might explode if the pumping doesn't stop soon.

I know I won't be an easy case for the angels and archangels, the cherubim and seraphim, and all the heavenly hosts. I've been a happy heathen for decades, and it's been a very long time since my shadow last darkened the door to the sanctuary. So much has changed, and I'll require a considerable amount of remedial work. 

You see, as a lad I donned a white shirt, coat and tie each week for the trek down South Park Road to Sunday school. And as I recall, at least one Sunday a year was given over to a discussion of the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. In that story, the Pharisee stood in the middle of the temple and, with great gusto, thanked God for making him wonderful and awe-inspiring. One of Pharisee's more notable gifts from God was a great set of lungs, which he used to let the less blessed know how proud he was to be him.  Meanwhile, the publican sneaked into a broom closet, mumbled a humble word or two and went on his way to stumble and bumble through life. This annual lesson ended with the admonition to go forth and emulate the publican.

Even to one such as I who has not been paying close attention, it is obvious the theologians have had a change of heart. It is the Pharisees who are favored by God. And if you don't believe me watch FOX News for a few minutes. Everywhere you turn the modern Pharisees are ecstatic because they're sure that voice they hear is the voice of God. And why does God speak to them? Dah. Because they're so wonderful. God doesn't talk to just anybody, you know. There are six billion people on the planet, and God can't very well talk to them all. As a result, he limits his conversation to those who are well off, well groomed, well spoken and who have marvelously self-satisfied smirks. 

And there's that thing about the meek inheriting the Earth. Like all the other ancient wisdom that makes the 21st-Century Pharisees uncomfortable, it is, they say, a faulty translation. Remember, God loves those who love themselves. Meek means weak, and God doesn't like the wishy-washy, full-of-doubt types. That's what all the blessed and wonderful people say, and they know because God told them they are blessed and wonderful. 

But, wait a minute. If all the exceedingly blessed, wonderful and outrageously proud are going to spend eternity at the right hand of God - and they are because God has told them they will - then inheriting the Earth won't be such a bad deal. All those swelled heads will make Heaven awfully crowded.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Weekend of Cuddles

The first weekend in October was much too much like the weekends yet to come between now and May. The clouds rolled in Friday and never left. They weren't the great thunderheads of summer that bring excitement along with inclemency. The sky this weekend was the dirty, dull dishwater gray of winter, unending blandness from horizon to horizon. And it rained - it rained a lot - but not as a display of Nature's wrath; this rain was the dripping of a million leaky faucets. If the thermometer topped fifty, it did just barely and not for long.

The weekend wasn't without a bright spot, however, and that bright spot was Cuddles the Cat. During the summer, Cuddles was in her Vanna White mode. She was out of sight most of the time, and when she did make an appearance, it was only to slink suggestively across the room, lest her two-legged acquaintances forget that she is ravishing, indeed.

Perhaps the unrelenting overcast made Cuddles' favorite spots too drab for her finicky feline tastes. Or maybe, because the sun was no longer doing its job, she moved around in an effort to generate some warmth. I think it was a combination of the two.

Cuddles was eager to play fetch again - and again and again. As with all things, Cuddles decides when we will play fetch, and she seldom had much interest in it over the summer. This weekend, we played four times, maybe even five or six times.

Our games begin when I am at the table reading or doing a crossword puzzle, and Cuddles finds a rubber band or other small object she can easily carry in her mouth. She jumps on to the table with greatest of ease, and lets the object fall from her mouth. If I fail to notice, she uses her front paws to push it closer. If that doesn't work, she takes advantage of my habit of keeping the book or newspaper flat on the table as I read and stretches across it. She faces me when she does this the first time. Should I fail to respond, she tries again. But now she adjusts her angle so that as her forelegs go out and her chin drops between them, her nether regions rise before my eyes.

Never let be said I can't take a hint. I pick up whatever it is she wants to chase, place it at the edge of table, and with flick of my finger send it across the room. Cuddles leaps from the table and makes a mad dash to retrieve it. Sometimes she brings it back right away, other times she'll bat it around on the floor, giving the impression that she was a soccer player in a previous life, before she allows me to rejoin the game. This goes on as long as Cuddles wants it to go on. When she is done, we're done, and not a moment before.

With the cooler weather, the furnace went on and the space heater I use to help keep my legs warm came out. I'm not so naïve as to believe Cuddles is fond of me, but she does like the space heater. Once on Saturday and twice Sunday, Cuddles got on the table and acted as though she wanted to play fetch, but she hadn't brought along anything to fetch. Eventually, she got me to understand that I was to move back a foot or so from the table so she could plop on my lap. Once there, she hung her head over my forearm, looking like Snoopy peering down from the roof of his doghouse, and enjoyed the warm air from the space heater blowing against her face.

By Wednesday, it's supposed to be sunny and seventy, and Cuddles will go back to being Vanna.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Time Marches On Without Me

A lot of the cursing you hear these days is from people bemoaning the demise of cursive writing. Indiana no longer requires schools to teach cursive, and several other states are reducing the amount of time schools must spend teaching it. In this age of computers and electronic tablets, pen-and-paper skills are assumed to be passé. The 21st Century teenager seldom if ever writes in cursive, and apparently more than a few cannot read the notes Grandma includes with their birthday cards. Of course, for the last fifty-five years, people have been cursing my attempts at cursive and claiming they can't read them. But a quick survey of the fonts available in my standard issue Microsoft Word reveals five cursive options. So what's the big deal?

The big deal is the decline of cursive writing is further evidence that I am antiquated. The world wasn't always this way. If a man from ancient Rome suddenly found himself in New York in 1800, life would have been much the same as the life he knew in the city of Romulus and Remus. He'd be surprised to discover that he didn't fall off the end of the earth on his way to New York, of course, and the printing press and gunpowder would be new to him. Otherwise, the skills he needed to get through the day in New York at the start of the 19th Century differed little from ones he had learned in Rome.

I am not, it should be noted, a Luddite. Progress and innovation are often good things. For instance, typing is one of 20th Century skills I never mastered, and I am, therefore, eternally grateful for the computer and its word processing capabilities. I don't type any better than I did in 1970, but my mistakes, assuming I can spot them, are so much easier to correct. The truth is, I am now of the opinion that the best thing to use on a Smith Corona is a Smith and Wesson.

But as a youngster, back when our phone number was COlonial 3-8944, back before it became TEnnyson 5-8944 and then the prosaic 835-8944, I mastered the rotary-dial telephone. And forty years later, in the final decade of the 20th century, I saw no reason why that skill wouldn't serve me well for the rest of my life. Some of this was the product of miserliness: the phone company provided a rotary-dial phone; we would have needed to purchase a touch-tone phone. This satisfied feeling ended the day a nephew visiting from Georgia went to make a phone call at our house and asked, "How do you work this thing?"

Map reading was once a useful skill. The intrepid traveler pulled out his road map to figure out where he was and how to get to where he wanted to be. That was the easy part. The real difficulty was folding the map properly when I was done so it would fit neatly into the glove compartment. Now there is the GPS, with its computer-generated voice that sounds like an impatient mother who isn't quite sure if her son is being uncooperative or if he's just not all that smart.

The ability to make change was also necessary skill. But what good is it now with the fancy-schamcy cash registers that tell the clerk how much change is due the customer and remind the clerk to tell the customer to have a nice day? Although, it is fun to see the deer-in-the-headlight look come over the clerk's face when you don't have the correct change and the computer isn't working.

Everywhere I look there is evidence of things changing more rapidly than I. Even in the newspaper, which is also well on its way to becoming a relic, there are reminders of my archaic life. Most of them can be found in the celebrity news column. There are days, sometimes several days in a row, when all the celebrity news is about celebrities I've never heard of. And most of the time when there is a familiar name, it is to mark a birthday beginning with a digit higher than seven, or to make note of some former star's decent into senility.

Grandma always said, "It's hell getting old." Well, I'm not getting older I'm just getting a little less young. It's the world around me that's getting younger, and I wish it would stop reminding me of it. And if you hear me cursing, that's why.

To Bed, Perchance to Sleep

According to an article on the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's website, a person with MS is up to three times more likely to exper...