Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Year In Literature

Someone once said "you are what you read".

If literally true, I'm screwed. Worse yet, I don't care.

In 2005, I managed to fit some reading (and re-reading in one case) into my unbusy schedule. As an unaspiring humor writer with all the motivation of a constipated bowel nonmovement, you might think I'd occupy my reading time with things related to my craft (aka, see how the real humorists do it, etc).

For the most part, you'd be wrong, at least as far as books go.

The following is my complete, unabridged list of books read for 2005. I hope to cover at least 15 books in '06; I might have to give up my once-a-week philosophical discussions with my pet rock Seymour/Plato to achieve that, but I digress.

At any rate, and to totally bore those of you who drop by, my list for 2005:

Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose

Pegasus Bridge by Stephen Ambrose

The Supreme Commander by Stephen Ambrose

The Ghost That Died At Sunda Strait by Walter Winslow

The Forgotten War: America in Korea 1950-1953 by Clay Blair, Jr.

Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich by William L. Shirer (the re-read)

Colder Than Hell by Joseph R. Owen

Line Of Departure by Martin Russ

The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw

A National Party No More by Zell Miller

But, so's you don't think I totally eschew (gesundheit) humor material, my last book of 2005 -- and shortly to be a blog entry book review, with the bemused agreement of the author:

How To Survive A Robot Uprising by Daniel H. Wilson

This last book's got Seymour and Jane in an uproar, but more on that in the review entry.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


While out of town for a portion of a day, Seymour and Jane decided to do some rooting around. In my personal files.

Seymour's big on self-promotion: if you got it, flaunt it. I suspect he's thus 'cuz he generally ain't got it. He's a rock.

Albeit a deep-thinking one at times.

Upon my return, Seymour and Jane had the above laid across the computer scanner, with what passes for a note laying on top of it: why isn't this being displayed? you should be proud of this accomplishment.

Deep-thinking or not, Seymour has a lot to learn about when a certificate is proudly displayed. And when it might orta not be.

But what the's true.

Happy New Year from Skunkfeathers, an authentic entremanure.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Promise In Twilight

My pet rock Seymour has requested the floor for one of my last blog entries of 2005. Forgive any typos, as Jane is doing the typing. I'm just a bystander on this 'un:

Long before I gained the title of 'pet rock', I was geologically grounded on this place you call Earth with certain unalienable rights. But since I didn't know what that meant before becoming a pet rock, I never knew what I was missing. Oh sure, I was conscious of my surroundings; of the passage of day and night; of the change of the seasons, the weather, or when a dog was using me in lieu of a fire hydrant. But I had no knowledge of/appreciation or head-scratching consternation for the 'human experience'.

Then came April 2000 -- which I only became of aware of because that's what the calendar on the wall said -- and I got a first impression of that 'human experience': my eventual 'owner', so to speak, used me as a door stop while he moved in.

Talk about being taken for granite. Schmuck.

But he made up for it by not only not returning me to the bitter conditions outdoors at the time; he gave me a room with a view. A name. A far better living environment. And access to the 'human experience', through not only his own life, but through access to his TV, radio and computer. He brought me a friend -- an original ear of Iowa corn named Jane, and one of the three current loves of my life, along with a couple babe writers from Japan and Texas he knows online. He even allows me access to what he calls his 'icebox', and to use his credit card to order pizza when he incinerates the kitchen while boiling water.

Well okay, so I'm not supposed to be using the credit card. But the bottom line is he's pretty easy-going (aka, a sucker, easy mark, pushover, et al.) about things. Most things.

But when it comes to politics and world events, he isn't so laid back. He gets worked up. I never saw him so silent one morning in September, 2001, as we sat listening to something over his radio that stunned him. And then angered him, as he made some analogy to a morning 50 years before, in a place I'd never heard of. And spoke with fire and conviction that "now as then, it's a blatant act of war". He regretted his chronology and feels guilty that others serve on his behalf, but that's him.

In so far as a pet rock can, I've studied the human dynamic. Yours is a curious species. Capable of some of the greatest inventions in world history, like the TV and the microwave; and some not-so-great inventions, like the rock crusher. When natural disasters occur, you are magnificent and compassionate in response to the victims of the disaster.

At the same time, members of your kind are responsible -- through differing religions and ideals, hate, greed, mistake and misapprehension -- of creating the greatest man-made disasters, like war. My benefactor oft-times refers to this as the biggest irony in human absurdity: with your intelligence, you are as gifted in killing each other and breaking things as you are in creating a more advanced, 'civilized' world.

Perhaps it's what he notes is your original primal program awaiting a badly-needed universal upgrade of your accumulated wisdom software; but he also says that it must be a universal upgrade, for as long as the lowest common denominator of primal urge exists, competition will remain inherent in the human species.

That seems to be the way the world works in the human realm. And doesn't. But as he quotes one history writer* with hands-on experience from the field of human conflict, "His (man's) task is moral or immoral according to the orders that send him forth. It is inevitable, since men must compete. Since the dawn of time, men have competed with each other -- with clubs, crossbows, or cannon, dollars, ballots and trading stamps. Much of mankind, of course, abhors competition, and these remain the acted upon, not the actors. Anyone who says there will be no competition in the future simply does not understand the nature of man".

At any rate, I watch and listen to much of what he does; yet I don't get worked up the way he does, for while I don't grasp the broader nature of the human world in the ways he sees, feels, thinks, interprets, and reacts to it, I have the luxury of not having to. Duty, honor, country, liberty, death and taxes are just words to me.

As for the future, his concerns aren't mine: I'll still be here when he's gone. Though, without access to his credit card and delivery Chinese food. That'll suck, but I digress.

But those words I just referenced mean things to you humans. Especially in this particular nation. I know, from listening, that most of you were every bit as upset and angry as he was that morning in September, 2001. Some of you remain so; some, apparently not.

Among the wide spectrum of reactions and follow-ups across the human dynamic in this country, a core of you did more than just voice your righteous indignation or dissenting opinion about the event: you went and did something affirmative about it.

And are still doing it.

And doing it in places I know of only through your news, and what I can glean from TV, radio and the computer. Places far away. Places where rocks like and unlike me, watch as the drama of the human experience is played out, to ends yet to be determined.

A curious subset of humans, too: while you know that a minority, albeit a loud one, of your countrymen and women do not support and believe in what you do, and knowing that death or life-altering injury may await you in this effort, you volunteer to go and serve, anyway. You serve on behalf of those who can't or won't go. You serve on behalf of differing opinions and political labels. You serve on behalf of a nation, a flag, an ideal. You serve on behalf of those who served before, and those who'll serve in your wake. You serve on behalf of your families and friends. You serve on behalf of people you'll never meet, never know. You serve on behalf of a foreign people who were once considered your enemy; now, you serve to help them find a better way to live their own lives, without the tyranny that preceded your coming.

But perhaps most importantly -- and to this pet rock, most illuminatingly -- you serve on behalf of your comrades in the field with you: someone who, before the military, you might not have even bothered to meet and greet had you passed them on the street. Now, you'd die rather than let them down in the heat of conflict.

I find that says so much about the bottom line of the human dynamic. Especially in a unique society like this one.

Much as I find irony in so much of the various and conflicting passions and absurdities that comprise the human condition, what I find in people like those of you who serve voluntarily as you're doing now in Iraq and Afghanistan, is something that causes me a feeling of respectful humility and awe of such people.

Even being the rock that I am, it chokes me up.

So much I have learned about the human species these past five years. My take is thus: as day passes into night, so comes the twilight and shadows of the day now done. It is necessary that this be so; for in the passage of twilight, comes the promise of a new day. In the twilight of the year soon done, a seed of promise prepares to spring forth in the minds and hearts of a great and varied multitude of the human experience. May it be for all who seek peace and the freedom to live as you do in this wonderful country, a promise of the best yet to come, both here and beyond these splendid shores.

I hope that this promise holds especially true for those who serve, on behalf of the rest. If I may paraphrase a celebrated statesman from some sixty five years ago, "never before in the history of human conflict has so much been owed by so many, to so few".

True or not at the time, I'll bet he knew it wouldn't be the last time such would be the case.

A very Happy New Year to all, and God bless those who serve in the American Military.

* T. R. Fehrenbach, from This Kind of War, page 455

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Your Chinese Astrological Forecast: 2006

Astrology. Horoscopes. Psychics.

Whatever you believe, one thing here is a dead certainty: I'm none of the above.

If I were, I'd know what you're thinking.

As you've noticed of late, I've been in a period of resurrecting and updating assorted columns of mine from past years. As 2005 fades into a new year, I will do so once again, with the focus on that very subject: the New Year, and your Chinese Astrological Forecast for the upcoming year.

I first researched this subject and ran my 'definitive' *snort* column on the subject in 1999; having not been sued for individual failures of the forecasts then to fail to materialize, I've thrown the dice, updated and re-run the forecasts in 2002, and 2004-05.

For those of you who believe in this stuff, I do it to entertain, pseudoeducate and fauxprepare you for the upcoming newest of New Years. In this case, 2006.

For those who don't believe in this stuff, I hope they merely find it as amusing and patently absurd as they found it (and me) to be in previous years/weeks/columns.

Follow the below link to Part I (of IV); at the conclusion of each part you'll find a link to the next in the series.

Happy New Year (despite what you read herein)!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Hitchhiker's Guide To the Gullixy

Sometimes, in playing a fool who's trying to play you for a bigger one, you plant a seed.

A bad one.

The following exchange involves my latest received effort to give me the business from yet another Nigerian email scamster who imagines me to be as uninformably dense as any of his heretofore victims have been.

And apparently has no worth-a-sh** proofreader.

In my reply, you'll note I made a suggestion to this individual of dubious antecedence and limited ingenuity in scam propagation. A suggestion regarding another interesting series of emails going around, offering plots of land on the Moon. On Mars. Even on Uranus. More on that in a mo', but first, the exchange:

From the Desk of Dr. Musa Sani
Standard Trust Bank Plc,
South Regional,
No. 22 Bode Thomas Street,

Attn: I am Dr. Musa Sani of Standard Trust Bank of Nigeria PLC. I am the Account Officer to Mr. Paul Lewis, a foreigner, who used to work with Mobil Oil Explorations Company here in Nigeria. On the 27th of April 1999, Mr. Lewis, his wife and their only child were involved in a car accident along Eket express road, KM 36 in which my clinet and the whole family were died. Since then, I have made Conscientious inquiries to locate any of my client's relations and this has proved not successful. Since then the account has be domant in my Bank.

After these several unsuccessfilled attempts, what I need from you is to Use you as the next of kin to Mr. Paul the original account owner so that the both of us will cliam the fund and be less assure that there is no problem in this transaction because I have all the necessary documents to back this cliam up and the only thing I need from you, is your total support and honest to make this transaction a successful.

Mr. Paul died intestate leaving valuable properties as well as some Money in
Standard Trust Bank plc here. I have therefore, contacted you to cooperate with me to clam this money.

To be precise, my diseased client had $6.0m (Six Million, United States Dollars) in the bank account. I have necessary information and Documents to this deposit. All we need to do is to move this money from his account to a bank account to be nominated by you. Upon completion of this transaction which will last a few days, you Will be intitled to 40% ($2,400,000) while I will take the balance.

Reply me by sending your full names, address, phone and fax number for easy communication immediately you receive this mail.

In terms of the amounts of money purportedly involved, this is the puniest effort to give me the business I've received (only $6.0 million? And I only get $2.4 million?). It hardly warranted a reply.

But reply I did:

Dear Dr. Sani Flush:

Your email simply confirms a personal belief I've held for years: life in Nigeria SUCKS. Especially for foreigners, who seem to die there in calamitous windrows, from car crashes, plane crashes, train crashes, elephant stampedes, outhouse explosions and having illicit sex with mad-cow-diseased water buffalo.

It tends to make your effort to give me this business most unlikely to have the incentives necessary to lure me in, I must honestly say to you.

But I am not totally heartless in the compassion department: with this being the case, I must say to you in all concern that you might want to consider moving to another country. Another continent. Hell, you might want to consider moving off the planet.

No, I am not making that up. Moving off the planet is quite the internet business these days. I recently received an email that offered spacious, very affordable plots of land on the Moon, Mars, and even Uranus. The plots on Uranus were especially affordable and spacious (thousands of acres for a few hundred US Dollars, BYOO*), with cosmic views rarely seen by our Earth-bound eyes. And what an opportunity: vast lands without development regulations. No environmental activisits. No animal rights activists. No ELF or other ecoterrorists. Develop your land as you see fit.

What a concept.

Apparently, this is a booming Internet business -- cosmic real estate -- and perhaps you should consider getting in on the ground floor. After all, it apparently is most lucrative, and doesn't involve trying to find foreigners to play next-of-kin for the plethora of dead and dying foreigners who travel to/in Nigeria, only to have their 'terminal destination' prove to be prophetic in a chronological sense.

This is my genuine and fauxsincere advice to you, Dr. Sani Flush. As for your offer to give me the heretofore business, I am not interested; if I wish to travel to such a hazardous place, I need look no further than my annual trip to the US, and driving to Newark, NJ.

DR. U. R. Phulovit,

Research Analyst,

International Crustacean Obedience Training Institute, Vaduz, Liechtenstein

I don't anticipate a reply. Then again, I didn't on the 'pot at the end of the rainbow' series, either.

At the same time, I'll apologize in advance now. Just in case Dr. Sani Flush takes heed of my suggestion, and you start getting a flurry of email offers for buying a piece of Uranus.

* Bring Your Own Oxygen

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Now THAT'S Torture

Torture: severe physical or mental suffering.

So says my dictionary on the literal definition of what passes for torture. What that means to folks in a physical sense, amazingly enough, varies more than you might think, but is generally similar in the minds of most reasonable Americans. In a mental sense, the differences in meaning are potentially an unbridgeable gulf.

Though they're trying in Alaska with pork tax payer funds, but I digress.

It's quite a debating point these days: what torture the US Military -- allegedly sanctioned by the US Government -- is or isn't inflicting upon the collection of combatant/terrorist suspects it holds in Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. What's justified in a time of war, versus what our national image -- in the eyes of some -- demands is not allowed under even the most trying of circumstances.

Allegations of 'torture' are rife in the US and international media: some of the photos of what passes for 'torture' in their lexicon are well known from the Abu Graibass prison scandal. Just as well known at one time -- but viewed differently by the same media that hypes allegations of American torture -- was the video of the brutal, saw-like decapitation of terrorist hostage Daniel Pearl, among others taken by Islamofacists.

Funny how the media wasn't as indignant and outraged at the terrorists for that videotaped torture/execution; instead of demanding retribution against the terrorists, some really sorry excuses for media chose to blame the Pearl video on Bush and his "unjust" war on terrorism.

Guess it depends on what's important to you, and what your definition of "torture" is, as to where you stand.

Senator John McCain -- a former POW and victim of genuine torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese -- is seeking to legislate all kinds of restrictions on the military with regards to the use of torture. One of his fellow inmates from the infamous 'Hanoi Hilton', US Representative Sam Johnson from Texas, takes an opposing view to McCain. They've both been on the receiving end of torture that makes anything at Abu Graibass look like a 3rd rate high school prank, yet they differ considerably on what should be allowed. So of no great surprise, persons with less/no comparable experience are likewise divided on the issue of torture: what it is, and when/where it might be permissible in the interests of national security, if at all.

Of course, how we define torture -- which we, collectively, can't agree to -- differs even more widely with how some of our enemies define torture. Add to it the fact that some of those same enemies aren't as squeamish about employing various forms of 'torture', as our media demands that we be.

Which our enemies know full well, watching CNN as so many of them do.

My thoughts on torture as an interrogation technique in a time of war are my own, and I can't say with absolute certainty that I am morally or ethically right or wrong on my rationalizations supporting or opposing it. Perhaps if I were tasked with interrogating a terrorist who'd previously hacked the head off an American hostage, and this terrorist allegedly had information about a pending attack against a US civilian target, I might have the sense of national defense urgency override my sense of American fair play, and employ expedient tactics of a dubious kind, until I got what I needed.

Or not. Luckily, I face no such moral dilemma. But I would sure hate to tie the hands of an American military interrogator who might be faced with such a dilemma. Were I in the hands of an Islamofacist, there'd be little doubt as to what he'd gleefully do, and with little compunction.

On a different front -- American society -- I have a better appreciation of what passes for torture, and the broad constitutional protections I enjoy against it, at least in a physical sense. Mentally, it's harder to say: "mental anguish", so often receiving punitive damages in civil courts, could be argued to be torture if you apply the aforementioned dictionary definition.

But at what point do you argue it to be torture, when it isn't 'forced' upon you?

For example, the annual argument about publically-displayed religious symbols on public/government property, and how it "offends" some. Is that technically considered torture? Perhaps it's so argued in some venues, though I think the argument would hold no water in a practical sense. If folks offended by a crucifix submerged in urine and called 'art' can't claim mental torture, I'd have to take the same view for some shallow yutz who claims a public Nativity scene "makes them want to hurl".

And in either case, who's forcing them to look at it? Isn't torture being forcibly subjected to something that causes physical/mental anguish?

I don't have to listen to the tortuous, intellectually vacuous pablum that is Air America, or what faux passes for 'news' on CNN; I am free to turn the channel. If I weren't, and were mandated to no choice but to listen to 24/7 Randi Rhoades....that would be, undeniably, a ghastly, unconscionable violation of my constitutional rights against some of the cruelest and unusual of punishment imaginable. No doubt a liberal would feel likewise, being subjected to a similar scenario with conservative firebrand Ann Coulter.

Or -- for torture that transcends political labels -- there's being forced to listen to 24/7 William Hung. How many people could sue American Idol for mental anguish, having brought that musical abomination to the fore?

If we were forced to listen, the number of plaintiffs would be in the hundreds of millions. But we are blessed in this country with a wealth of choices. We simply don't have to listen to that with which we find objectionable.

But back for a moment to torture and what constitutes it...what if the US Military is piping a William Hung CD into Islamofacist prison cells, 24/7?

Could we stoop so low? Could John McCain actually be onto something?

Especially if it's a Christmas CD?

William Hung fauxsinging Silent Night. Now, THAT'D be torture. Even I'd be moved to object.

But only if I had to listen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005


Glory days...they'll pass you by

Glory the wink of a young girl's eye

Glory days...

Up to 31 years after graduating from Douglas County High School in Castle Rock, Colorado, I know well what "The Boss" Bruce Springsteen sang of. My glory days of yesteryear -- such as they were -- are now the causes of *yawns* and bored eye-rolls when recounted to the up and comers of the day.

Especially my 10 year old niece.

But sometimes, current events bring back a wave of nostalgia that precedes a resurgence of pride in a life-long association.

In the fall of 1974, the Huskies of Douglas County were new to the pre-5A rated Centennial League. An undersized school in a league with powerhouses like Cherry Creek, Arapahoe and Boulder-Fairview, DC wasn't given much hope or chance by league pundits. I was a member of that little-regarded team, though not a key member. Fact is, I wasn't that good (I was better in track and field), but I digress.

Nonetheless, that little-regarded team went on to forge an unexpected 6-4 record, including the game that was plainly our 'glory day': a 20-14 upset victory over Boulder-Fairview.

Granted, it wasn't the equivalent to achieving the mountaintop; but it was memorable to those of us who partook in that game.

But pride in the school didn't end 31 years ago with my graduation. Once a Douglas County Huskie, always thus. Over the years, I'd follow the sports and other news of the school, with emphasis on -- go figure -- the football team. Good, bad or mediocre, I was a Huskie, and they were my team.

Now a 5A rated school in the Colorado High School football scheme, Douglas County had climbed to within reach of the lofty pinnacle that is the Colorado State 5A Boy's football championship. They'd done it on the strength of a 12-1 record, superb coaching, excellent team talent and effort, and exultant fan support.

Only one obstacle remained, and a formidable one at that: Mullen High School.

The state 5A defending champions from 2004. A team ably coached by a gifted and talented former player at all levels (high school, college, NFL), now a renowned sportscaster, radio personality and high school football coach. A coach who, in a brief few years, had taken three different high school programs to the top of the 5A football mountain, including his now defending champions.

Douglas County knew all this, and knew the last leg of the ascent would be as formidable a challenge as they had ever faced in the football history of the school.

On Saturday, December 3, the Huskies met the defending state champions on the storied battleground of Jeffco/Hughes Stadium to determine the state 5A 'King of the Mountain'. Douglas County went in with full appreciation of and respect for their opponents; but they also took with them one other key element: an unbridled belief in themselves, and a mission to spread that belief.

Those in attendance on Saturday witnessed 60 minutes of hard-fought, good-as-it-gets championship high school football, and the resultant crowning of the undisputed King of the Moutain in Colorado's state 5A Boy's football:

Douglas County 35 Mullen 13

Glory days. They'll pass you by.

Too true, as many of us alumni know well. But for the Douglas County Huskies, and the Class(es) of 2006-2008, this is a glory day that remains forever theirs.

From one humble member of the Class of 1975, a very proud and enthusiastic WELL DONE, HUSKIES!

Thursday, December 1, 2005

A Subjective Short Laugh List

A local radio talk show -- with their telephone lines cut by a construction accident -- did what any good/bad/indifferent radio talk show would do, when faced with the need to fill hours of caller-interactive programming with no callers: it went improv, and sought out material online to talk about.

It found a list. A list of the top 100 TV sitcoms, rated by their "ground-breaking" formats.

Like most lists, this one is subjective, based on the opinions of the list assembler, and fraught with all kinds of debate: for example, WKRP in Cincinnati is rated much worse than The Brady Bunch; Ellen is rated better than Friends or Seinfeld, or Frasier.


Then there are the lists that are popular on blogs nowadays, such as 25 Things About Me and 13 Things I Don't Like About Things, or some such.

And there are lists like that of the Titanic, but that would be non sequitur.

At any rate, as I listened to the TV sitcom list -- remembering one show and groaning at the placement of another show ahead of it -- I was inspired to come up with my own subjective list. One I don't expect is complete, as I went strictly with those shows or skits I could recall readily to mind; one I don't expect will be agreed to by some, perhaps many. One that might draw more demands of precise clarification and justification of ("name names") from buffoons like Tom, crusader against waskily conservative humor and sanctimonious defender of silly things liberal.


At any rate, I selected ten of the funnier moments of TV history that I personally recall as among my favorites down the years. The list is not in any particular order of preference; it's pretty much as I recalled the selected moments:

1. Frasier: in the episode when Niles fakes being pushed in a coffee room 'brawl', and afterward complains of landing on a fork.

2. WKRP in Cincinnati: who couldn't remember and howl about the infamous "turkey drop from a helicopter", reported in emotional Hindenburg style by Les Nessman? That episode, about 24 years old me thinks, is a classic.

3. Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In: while there are many skits from that show that still crack me up, my personal favorite remains the dirty old man and the spinster on the park bench (Artie Johnson, Ruth Buzzi), where in he asks her "Do you believe in the hereafter?", to which she replies, "of COURSE I do!"; whereupon he says "heh...then you know what I'm here after.." and she beats the snarf out of him with her purse...

4. The Carol Burnett Show: again, two skits stand out above so many other hilarious ones for me. One is the famous Tim Conway/Harvey Korman dentist skit; the other is a 'Mama's Family' scene wherein Tim Conway is going off on some tangent about an elephant with a sinus problem or some such, and Vicky Lawrence breaks up the scene and the crew with a short sharp expletive at Conway.

5. The Tonight Show: Carson's 'Carnac' routine was a hoot anyway, but the one that stands out for me was the answer: "siff, boom, bah". The question: What's the sound a sheep makes when it explodes? Another favorite was the answer: "kumquat". The question: how do you call your quat?

6. Hee Haw: the country duet (their names elude me just now, though I think one was Archie Campbell) who sang, at least once a show, "Where Are You Tonight?", with new lyrics but the same ending refrain, which one or both could barely get through straight-faced.

7. Ellen: the lobster rescue episode with Mary Tyler Moore.

8. All In The Family: the episode when Sammy Davis Jr. comes to visit Archie & family.

9. Red Skelton: the skit on live TV, when the cow stole the scene -- and the olfactories -- from Red and Jack Albertson, with some improv "pie" production.

10. I Love Lucy: this was a toss-up, but for me it's between the wine vat fight scene and the candy factory scene. They still crack me up.

Agree or not, pitch me your own favorite TV's funniest moments; I'm sure you'll come up with a few I've forgotten.