Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Monty Python Got It Right

I love a slow news day. 

 Wake up.  Pour the coffee.  Turn on the TV to accompany your preparations for the day. 

And our top stories this morning: 
·         Princess Katherine’s wedding gown on display! 
·         Lindsay Lohan wears $1000 Manolo Blahnik shoes while claiming she cannot afford court-ordered psychological counseling. 
·         Do men do their share of household chores? 
·         And Donald Trump may announce, again, he’s running for president. 

Hooray!  We can exhale.  We can start the day free of new stress. 

Remember Simon & Garfunkel?  “I can gather all the news I need from the weather report.  Hey!  I’ve got nothin’ to do today but smile!” 

Yeah.  No news is most definitely good news.   

All right, you may say there is, in fact, news.  The “heated” debate over raising the debt ceiling, for example.  But this, for me, is not exactly news.  Or maybe it’s news in the same sense that professional wrestling is sport.  The players are in costume.  They’ve rehearsed their roles.  The outcome is decided.  We just watch to boo and hiss on cue.   

The oppressive heat wave dominating so much of the nation is news.  That weather report is nothing to smile about.  Unless like me, you used to live back there with thirty-one straight days of 100+ degrees and the concomitant double-digit humidity.  I try not to rub it in too much with my Okie relatives.  Poor form and all. 

The last flight of space shuttle Atlantis is sad news for the American dream.  But I heard this morning that NASA plans to put an astronaut on the surface of an asteroid by the year 2025.  Not exactly riveting in the moment, but something to look forward to in an abstract way.  

The players’ lockout is resolved for professional football.  Thank God. 

The SF Giants met President Obama to receive his personal congratulations for winning the World Series last fall.  That’s cool.  Tardy, but still cool. 

Best of all, nothing new to worry about today.  Nothing to add to the list of disquiets that we mull over a little bit each day.  Reviewing them.  Taking them through step-by-step, from the beginning.  How did it start?  How will it end? 

No new contingents of suffering in the world.  Only those already categorized and compartmentalized.  No new wars, or oil spills.  Only the wretched, distressing, but normal batch of car wrecks and shootings.  One animal attack, but everyone’s going to be OK. 

If anything’s startling, it’s what we take as routine, even expected, though not quite acceptable. 

So it’s make the bed.  Brush the teeth.  Get the husband off to work.  Read email.  Plan dinner.  Buy groceries.  Write.  Putter.  It’s all pretty darn good.  In the big picture. 

I’ll just thank God in Heaven for the incredible life I’m privileged to live, feeling especially free from the weight of a big news day.  Only the same old straws today.  Not a single new one. 

Coming up:  Four new ways to barbeque chicken!  I can deal with that.  I love barbequed chicken.  Matt, Natalie, Al, and Ann all wearing aprons.  Cute.  I miss Meredith, but network life goes on. 

Wait.  Uh oh.  Breaking news?  Oh no.  An explosion in Oslo.  Awful.  Absolutely awful.  Terrorists?  No.  One man!  One truly screwed up man.  Young people on a remote island.  Horrific. 

Damn.  I thought the world might maintain its status quo just this one day.  Maybe not an equilibrium of all good things, or even equally bad things, but a balance of sorts.  No new dreadfulness just this once. 


Our globe is populated by human beings after all.  Flawed.  Unenlightened.  Messed up.  Selfish.  Greedy. 

But wait.  What’s this?  The Good News Network!? 

Our Top Stories today:
·         Gates Gives $42 Million to Safe Sanitation Projects
·         Young Baseball Fan's Act of Generosity Caught on TV
·         North and South Korea Hold Constructive Talks
·         Logging Plummets in Mexico Reserve for the Monarch Butterfly
·         Terrified Kitten Rescued From Irish Freeway
·         Danish Mystery Donor Leaves $200,000 in Red Cross Bin
·         Healthy Snow Leopard Population Found in Afghanistan
·         From Down and Out to Happiness: It’s a Wonderful Life (If you let it be)
·         "Liter of Light" Brings Sun into Dim Shanties Using Only Plastic Bottles
·         Dalai Lama Offers A Roadmap to Inner Peace
·         Former Child Refugee Becomes Hero to Hundreds of Afghan Orphans
·         Teen Athlete Gives Entire $40K Scholarship Prize to Runners-up
·         U.S. Returns Recovered Artifacts Taken From Iraq  

And the best news of all:
·         Research: People Who Look on the Bright Side Age Best

Monday, July 18, 2011

Congressional Priorities like Lost Rainbow Toads?

The Rainbow Toad of Borneo gives me hope.

Last seen in 1924, the spindly-legged creature was dismissed as extinct by the less-than-faithful among amphibian specialists in the scientific community.  Yet, it lives.  It survived in obscurity. 

The precise location of the adult male, adult female, and juvenile toads found in three separate trees in the Penrissen Mountains of Borneo is protected by the scientists of Washington-based Conservation International.  Poachers seeking brightly hued amphibians cannot be trusted.

Think of it – not seen in 87 years, but alive, well, and perhaps most remarkable, not forgotten!  If the Rainbow Toad can resurface, why, so could good manners in public places.  Even generosity.  We might find and revive courtesy on the roadways.  Dare I say it?  We could see cooperative policy making in Washington, D.C.

Maybe it’s not too far-fetched to harken back to the days when our elected representatives recognized the common goals of our country.  They worked on our country’s issues with a problem-solving approach, once, ‘way back when.  They understood the well-being of our country ranked above their party loyalty and their re-election didn’t they?

If scientists can find a 2-inch toad in Borneo after it spent 87 years alone in the rain forest, maybe politicians can find courage in Congress today.

If that little toad survived all this time, minding his own business, clinging to trees, being beautiful, contributing to the ecosystem, doing his part when we weren’t looking, maybe Democrats and Republicans can take a lesson.

Of course, there is another, less encouraging angle on the “long lost” phenomenon.  It’s reflected in the love letter rescued from the dead letter purgatory of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, post office, and now on its way to its intended recipient after 53 years.

Since the letter, signed, “Love forever,” was written to Clark C. Moore, he has married twice, fathered 21 children, retired from teaching, converted to Islam, and become a Muslim cleric.

The 74-year-old Moore, now known as Siddeeq, currently lives in Indianapolis and says he waits with mixed emotions for the letter to arrive in his mailbox.

"I'm curious,” he told reporters, “but I'm not sure I'd put it under the category of 'looking forward to it.’”

He and the letter’s author married later in the year it was written, 1958, and had four children before divorcing.  They no longer speak.

Siddeeq told reporters that the romantic piece of mail is "just a testament of the sincerity, interest and innocence of that time."

Well I wouldn’t entrust the fate of the Rainbow Toad of Borneo to him!  How cold!  How cynical!
OK, maybe we can never recover our innocence.  But sincerity and interest forever gone?  Say it ain’t so!

I hope our elected officials can reach into their hearts and minds and find the sincerity and interest that inspired them to seek office in the first place.

I hope they will muster the mettle to step up in the face of the jaded around them.  It’s pretty important. 

We don’t just need a new debt ceiling; we need thoughtful restructuring of our borrowing, spending, and raising of funds.  We need stable funding, I repeat, stable funding for our schools.
We need accountability and justice for the engineers of the bank failures.  We need jobs!
We need to stop spending $10 billion per DAY on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We could feed hungry people at home and around the world. 

No more blaming.  No more posturing.  No more lost interest in the work or false sincerity of effort.  The American economy is not a lost love letter.  The sentiments of the American people cannot be dismissed as a quaint reminder of times gone by.

Washington scientists placed the Rainbow Toad on the “Top 10 Most Wanted Lost Frogs” list (really).  They persisted in their search and found him.  Let’s hope his location doesn’t become his undoing.

Some of us are like the lost Rainbow Toad of Borneo, making it just fine on our own, thank you.  We often wish Washington would quit focusing on our stuff and leave us alone. 

But too many of us are not doing fine.  Too many may be unable to survive and thrive without a team of representatives who will go to the ends of the earth on their behalf.

Maybe Washington could establish a “Top 10 Most Wanted Lost Priorities” list and start working on that.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

You Are What You Watch

I have to wean myself off the murder and mayhem.  You know, “Cold Case Files,” “The Investigators,” and “Body of Evidence.”  My husband is starting to worry about himself.  He wonders if I’m studying all this stuff for a reason.

 I’m not planning to do anything weird.  But he seems concerned, so I’ll make the effort until he’s more comfortable.  Heh, heh, heh.

 It all started with “Law & Order,” the original.  I just fell in love with Homicide Detective Lenny Briscoe.  Who wouldn’t?  A little bit world weary, a little bit My Favorite Uncle, Lenny just makes the murder seem… normal.  A natural part of life.  His life anyway.

Lenny gets lied to in every episode.  Maybe it’s all those years I spent as a high school principal, but I can relate.  I got lied to, too.  Kids make up a lot of stuff to protect themselves and their friends. 

Lenny just shakes his head and points out the inconsistency to the prevaricator of the moment.  Sometimes they stare, dumbfounded, stunned that they’ve been figured out (I love that).  Other times, they leap to another lie, to shore up the first failed one.  Either way, they’ve been had. 

 I learned lots from Lenny.

Then there’s Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy.  Flawed, driven, beautiful to behold.  Just like Jack, I loved getting the bad guy and bringing him to justice.  That’s probably my flaw too.

Anyway, from there it wasn’t too far to “Law & Order: SVU,” “Law & Order: LA,” “Law & Order:  Downtown Newark.”  (It got a little silly and much less compelling with all the spin offs.) 
That’s when I branched out to “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”  OK.  But some of the wannabes display an unsavory focus on the gore.  Have you ever seen “Bones?”  They want to gross you out!  Eyeballs slipping from their sockets, larvae in telling stages of development.  But the characters are so loveable, you just have to watch.

I felt mature when I graduated to “Forensic Files.”  They don’t make it a funny story.  They don’t dwell on the sex lives of the detectives.  They talk about the evidence, ma’am.  Just the facts.  They follow the minutiae right down to the bad guy, and they NEVER give up.  I love that the best.

You can run, but we’re never going to forget the miss-folded flap on this envelop found next to the body.  Only YOU could have left it there because we found out you worked at the factory where the machine miss-folded all those flaps that day ten years ago!  Ha!  Ha! 

But I digress. 

My husband has been eyeing me suspiciously, maybe because a fair share of the stories on “City Confidential,” for example, profile a conniving woman who goes from man to man, sizing up his bank account, and wheedling her way into his heart, only to poison him and cremate him before swooping off to Miami. 
He hates Miami.  All the humidity and bugs. 

That, along with being forced down onto my back with a relentless muscle spasm that’s lasted for days on end, has me shopping around for more wholesome television fare.  It’s not that hard to find, though you must measure your dose of budding new talent shows and wend your way through “real” housewives from assorted locales.  Now that will drive you to murder. 
There’s plenty of ghost watching so long as you don’t tire of green-lit scenarios in run-down houses with the host telling you it just got cold where he’s standing.  I admit one of the celebrity ghost stories creeped me out.  But I didn’t recognize the celebrity, so where’s the thrill? 

Biography Channel seemed promising until I spent an hour with Jennifer Anniston.  Don’t get me wrong, she’s adorable, and a very good comic actress.  But an hour?  She was born in Sherman Oaks.  She dyed her hair purple and acted in high school plays.  Imagine.
So I’m on to the Science Channel with Morgan Freeman.  We’ve traveled through the wormhole to the birth of the universe and repulsive gravity.  Really.

I’ve watched “How It’s Made” until I want to blow it up.  Come on.  A pipe wrench?  A snowplow?  OK.  Fascinating.  Who knew. 

Here’s the cruelest twist of all:  my husband doesn’t want to hear about the skateboard factory, or the giant sewing machine that stitches the stars on 224 flags at a time.  See, that’s just wrong. 

It’s the very kind of thing that could put a bad idea into a woman’s mind.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

If Darth Vader Calls, Don't Answer!

SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, announced this week that budget cuts have forced its Allen Telescope Array into hibernation.

The array comprises 42 telescopes in the Hat Creek Area of Northern California that scan for radio signals from outer space. With this effort, SETI has been engaged in one of the most profound enterprises in human history: the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

SETI directs the telescopes to scan planet candidates orbiting in the habitable zone around their parent star, like Earth around the Sun, and ask, “Anybody home?”

Turns out the universe teems with radio signals. SETI has amassed an immense volume of signal data, so much in fact that they cannot be sure if their computer software detects every signal, and every kind of signal that might be broadcast from afar.

Their brilliant solution to this stultifying problem: Gamify! It’s a new word – means make it a game. SETI invited all the game-playing geekoids around the planet to invent ways to make the tedious analysis fun. They also hope to monetize the search process in an effort to make the project self-sustaining. Good thinking.

SETI’s complementary project, Earth Speaks, addresses the next logical question: If we discover intelligent life beyond Earth, should we reach out to them, and if so, what should we say?

The first impulse is to call out to another intelligent civilization, right? Like first-timers in France, we would stretch our necks and wave high overhead. Camera around neck, black sox, hairy legs, and sandals:

“Hey!” we’d say, with our big, goofy, American grin, certain we’ll be greeted in kind.

“Bonjour!” ET would reply. “Bienvenu! Please share my croissant.”

The Extra-terrestrially Intelligent would see our inherent worth right away and want to chat us up. We’d go on to become BFF’s, exchanging our Twitter accounts and holiday recipes.

They’d be surprised to see us, of course. It would take them a moment to focus, trust their eyes, look at their buddies and say, “I’ll be darned. Look. That funny looking guy’s trying to get our attention.”

But what if, as some surmise, such a civilization is eons ahead of us technologically, spiritually, morally? We might more likely need to pull our shoulders up around our ears and say, “Oops. Sorry! Didn’t mean to cause all that____________.” Fill in the blank: Pollution, noise, nuclear waste, animosity, political gridlock, self-serving greed.

Earth Speaks invites participants from around the globe to submit online text messages, pictures, and sounds that convey the sentiment they would want to communicate to an extraterrestrial civilization.

A text message? “Zup?” Somehow, I don’t think a text message will embody the yearning of the human spirit. LOL.

Pictures? OK. Let’s send pictures of babies from around the world. Baby animals too. Show our potential, our sweet nature, our desire to learn.

But what would you say?

Actually, if it’s ever found, the Golden Record onboard Voyager 2, hurtling through deep space, already speaks for us. Carl Sagan and his associates at Cornell University assembled 116 images, spoken greetings in fifty-five languages, and printed messages from President Jimmy Carter and U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim along with a variety of natural sounds - surf, wind, thunder, and animal sounds including the songs of birds and whales. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, featuring artists such as Mozart, Stravinsky, and Chuck Berry. Roll Over Beethoven. Tell ET the news.

But there is that other thought: That once the Frenchman, er, ET looks up from his knitting, he’ll focus on us with calculating precision, assesses our signals, and find us inferior. He just might reach out with the mentality of a praying mantis and snarf us up like an ear of corn.

So it’s not a question to be taken lightly….if we boldly seek and find someone, should we call out, or tiptoe back behind the moon?

Let’s say we set aside our terror at becoming an inter-galactic hors d’oeuvre, reach out and tap these guys on their alien shoulders

We’ll say, “Greetings.”

They’ll say, “Step into my parlor…”

My apologies. I don’t mean to let my paranoia overtake me.

I want SETI to survive. I don’t want to give up hope in that miraculous, transformative possibility.

Or, as Fox Mulder would say, “I want to believe.”

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Shout Out to Sweden!

Hello Sweden!  Thanks so much for reading Think Dream Play!

I appreciate you SO much!