Today’s Topic: Dumbo
We saw the documentary Bullylast night. The film has an incredibly important message. My wife and I came out wondering, however, how they captured some of the scenes portrayed. Reenactments? Hidden cameras? It’s never really revealed in the movie. We also wondered how kids have gotten, apparently, so viciously mean and petty (at least, many were in the instances shown here).
Neither one of us remembered any instances of Bully‘s physical violence – the shoving, strangling, hitting, and so on – from our school days. (I went to grade school and high school in Wisconsin; she in Indiana and Illinois.) There was verbal cruelty, sure. But what happened took place most often on the playground, not to my recall inside the schools or on the bus.
When I was in grade school, I was on the fringe of the outsiders. Not very outgoing or talkative. But I did have a circle of friends and was never as isolated as some of the kids portrayed in Bully. At that age, my hair was short and my ears stuck out from my head quite noticeably (something President Obama and I have in common).
So given my ears, some kids in grade school called me Dumbo. That’s the worst thing I can recall happening. When you really think about it (which I didn’t at the time), it was more of a compliment than slur. Dumbo is the 1941 Walt Disney animated film about an elephant with enormous ears. Everyone in the circus teases him unmercifully about this and the circus director makes him a clown because he can’t perform with the other elephants. (In one great sometimes creepy/scary scene reminiscent of Fantasia– Disney made the 64-minute-long Dumbo to recoup losses from this film – Dumbo and his mouse friend Timothy get drunk accidentally and end up seeing the proverbial pink elephants.) In the end, of course, Dumbo learns his big ears allow him to fly and he becomes a huge media star, Timothy becomes his manager, and Dumbo gets his own private circus train (sort of like having a totally tricked-out RV today).
At one point, one of the kids in Bullyadmits to being called “Fish Face” by the other kids. I wish there were a Disney film of that name to help him out the way Dumbo did me after all this time. Better late, as they say, than never.

Today’s Topic: Would You Like Some Program with Your Commercials?
I got sucked into watching the first two episodes of the History Channel‘s miniseries Hatfields & McCoys last night. How desperate was that? It’s one of those things you do and then slap yourself in the forehead after and say, “I could have been reading the dictionary instead!” More educational and more interesting. I won’t go into the story, since most people have probably heard of the feud between these two families, one in West Virginia and one in Kentucky. From what I could glean from watching, the dispute focused primarily on which family member could do something really stupid (and usually fatal) before all the other family members. The competition seemed to be a draw at the end of the second episode.
The History Channel gives us other “educational” programs such as Ice Road Truckers, Pawn Stars, and Swamp People. In the latter, apparently, the audience gets to watch burly unshaven guys with bad teeth kill alligators. I’m having a hard time discerning where the history comes in there or the attraction. Although, when I think about it, the police just busted another cock fighting ring in Key West, so I guess I can understand. People, many of them apparently, like to kill things or watch them being killed. Which is basically what happens in Hatfields & McCoys also.
The most annoying thing about Hatfields & McCoys was not the program, though. It was the commercials. The History Channel sneakily entices you in with a long unbroken segment of program in the first episode. Then, as things and time drag on, the program segments get shorter and shorter and the commercial segments get longer and longer. I swear by the end of the second episode, the program segments were five minutes or less and the commercials ten minutes or longer.
This has turned into a rant of sorts and I’ve made a point previously to avoid rants. In this case, though, the object of the rant is really me. I’m not angry with the History Channel. It’s just doing what the audience wants and what makes it the most money. That’s the American way. I’m angry at myself for not making better use of my time. Tonight, I’m putting the dictionary on my nightstand just in case.

Today’s Topic: Drowning Fish
Yesterday, I was walking back from dropping off our car on Stock Island for some minor bodywork. A good portion of the route goes along North Roosevelt Boulevard, which parallels the Gulf of Mexico. The water is shallow and clear, for the most part. On the way home, I spotted coral, many varieties of fish alone or in small groups (wish I could name them), a nurse shark (shown below), a starfish, a jellyfish, barnacles, iguanas(not in the water), and dragonflies(not in the water either).
The most curious thing I noticed was a floating patch of weed. Sticking out from under the patch was a fish tail. Apparently, this guy had felt the need to get out of the sun and found a plant-matter parasol that did the trick. That made me think of the water temperature not being as cool as one might imagine and also reminded me of a documentary on the ocean (one of the many) that talked about thermoclines, which are “layers” in water that separate zones of different temperatures.
The show talked about how in some places (I’m probably not remembering this correctly), there are zones of cold and warm water right next to each other and when the warm water fish swim into the cold water, they drown. The idea of a fish drowning (defined as death in water by asphyxiation– a fish out of water suffocates rather than drowns) seems crazy and so not right. (Perhaps another line to be added to Alanis Morisette’s “Isn’t It Ironic?“) Cold water, however, does not hold as much oxygen as warm water, so the unused-to-cold-water warm water fish cannot survive if they cross the thermocline. (Imagine opening your front door and unexpectedly stepping onto the surface of the moon.) Curious and interesting and admittedly not a very cheery topic this morning.
Drowning fish. Drowning fish. Something more positive. Ah, there’s a pop-punkband from California with that name. Oh. Their website is a “known malicious site.” What else? Joy Luck Club author Amy Tan has written a novel called Saving the Drowning Fish. That sounds upbeat. Oh. It’s about eleven people who disappear on a trip in Burma, told by the now-dead tour leader. I think I’ll quit while I’m not ahead.

Today’s Topic: Worried about a Nuclear Blast? Paint Your House.
We watched the documentary These Amazing Shadows this weekend. It’s about the National Film Board‘s work on restoring and preserving classic American films. Each year the Board adds twenty-five “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films” to the National Film Registry, much in the same way the National Registry of Historic Places adds and strives to preserve “cultural resources worthy of preservation,” in its case “districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects.”
Of course, the National Film Registry (NFR) includes films like Gone with the Wind and The African Queen. The surprising discovery was it also includes odd pieces like the three-and-a-half minute “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” encouragement to imbibe and ingest sugar that we used to see in theaters and at drive-ins. (There’s a slightly more perverted version of LAGL with, naturally, Homer Simpson. I don’t think that one made it into the registry, at least not yet.)
The NFR also includes the now-hilarious Duck and Cover film from 1951 that features Bert the Turtle. The film instructs us on how to react should we be caught in a nuclear blast. I love the part where a family having a picnic sees a flash, hits the ground, and pulls the picnic table cloth over their heads. What the film tells us, not in so many words, is to bend over and grab ankles should we be proximate to atomic annihilation.
Duck and Cover is not the best example of civil defense in the NFR. That prize goes to a 1954 film called The House in the Middle. This film, produced I kid you not by the National Clean-Up-Paint-Up-Fix-Up Bureau (in reality, the National Paint, Varnish, and Lacquer Association), depicts in one “test” three “houses” just prior to a nuclear blast. “The house on the right: an eyesore.” In other words, not painted and with unsightly leaves and trash in the yard. “The house on the left: heavily weathered dry wood in rundown condition. This house is the product of years of neglect. It has not been painted regularly.” “The house in the middle in good condition, with a clean well-maintained yard, the exterior painted with ordinary good-quality house paint.” After the test, “the well-kept and painted house in the middle still stands. Which of these is your house?”
Um. I’m thinking I should take the Fifth on that as I watch a dust bunny roll by. The lesson of all this:
“A house that is neglected is a house that may be doomed in the atomic age.” Good to know.

Today’s Topic: Pigs Killed the Dodo
Pigs killed the dodos. I’m not really on a pig roll but this topic just came up at the same time as the swimming pigs. I’m reading Taylor Anderson’s The Destroyermen series. In it, a World War II destroyer in the midst of a battle with a Japanese heavy cruiser gets engulfed by a weird squall and ends up in a world that looks the same but is completely different (sort of like a Burger King in Boston versus one in Beijing). In this place or dimension or whatever, the main peoples are the cat-like Lemurians(the good guys, mostly) and the velociraptor-like Grik(the bad guys, always – remember those “friendly” little critters in Jurassic Park?).
Anyway, long story etc., the crew of the Walker, the American destroyer, includes an Australian naturalist. In the series’ second book, Crusade, in the course of discussing the weird flora and fauna they have encountered (skuggiks anyone?), he tells the story of what happened to the dodo bird.
The dodos lived on Mauritiusin the Indian Ocean. At some point in their history, they stopped bothering to fly because they had plenty of food and no natural enemies. None that is until Dutch sailors landed in 1568. According to The Destroyermen naturalist, the sailors had pigs, some of the pigs escaped, the pigs multiplied “rabbitly,” the pigs ate the dodos’ food, the pigs ate the dodos’ eggs (they only laid one at a time—not a good survival strategy either). Exit, dodo, stage right. Now if the dodos had been smart and kept their wings, they might have flown to another island sans porcine extinctionators and lived to eat fruit another day.
Walt Disney dodo
Tim Burton’s dodo
The etymologyof the word “dodo” seems unclear. One theory, however, is that it comes from the Dutch word “dodaars,” which means “fat arse.” This suggests another theory: extinction by low self-esteem.
Thankfully, the dodo is gone but not forgotten. LewisCarroll featured the bird in Alice’sAdventures in Wonderland, supposedly as a caricature of himself. It also appears on the Mauritius coat of arms.
And then of course we have that inimitable phrase that will live forever, “dead as a dodo,” which Wikipedia defines as “undoubtedly and unquestionably dead.” To which the dodo might say, as, I am convinced, a distant progenitor of a rather famous cartoon character, “DOH!”

Today’s Topic: Swimming Pigs and Telling Porkies
Pigs can swim. Who knew? In fact, they can swim in the ocean. I just learned this from my brother-in-law, who witnessed this phenomenon firsthand on a sailing trip off one of the Bahamas 3,000 islands. He ran into the Big Boy natators at Big Major Cay, where the porcine porpoises paddle out to boats looking for handouts. You can even swim with them if you like. There’s a fun article with more great pictures in the online version of England’s Daily Mail titled “Beach Babe: The Happy Pigs that Love to Swim in the Caribbean (and We’re Not Telling Porkies).”
“We’re not telling porkies.” There’s one I haven’t heard before. Apparently that’s a bit of Cockney slang that means, obviously, fibbing. One siteexplains it ever so clearly this way: “‘Stop telling Porkies!’ Well, that’s Porkie Pies, meaning Lies, don’t you know?” Not telling porkie pies. And it gets better: “Not telling pork pies and a bag of tripe”! All right film buffs, what famous film character mouths that line along with “because if you’re feeling quiggly” and “she shat on a turtle!”? Give up? Austin Powers, of course. The full quiggly line is “if you’re feeling quiggly, why not have a j. Arthur,” which apparently has something to do with being aroused and masturbation. No need to go any further here.
And finally, The Urban Dictionary informs us that “Porkie pies is slang for telling lies, not to be mistaken for mince pie which means eye.” Huh? For $20 or so, you can have this pithy def put on a t-shirt, coffee mug, or mouse pad. I’ve ordered fifty of each.
This all has something to do with Cockney rhyming slang. Test your knowledge of it here. I failed miserably. Guess I won’t be trying out for the Alfred P. Doolittle role in My Fair Lady anytime soon.

Today’s Topic: Francisco Goya
I was watching the White Collar pilot episode last night (thank you, Netflix). We hadn’t seen the show before and found it, surprisingly for cable television—well, for any television for that matter, to be clever and entertaining. Besides introducing the main characters, the initial story revolved around someone trying to forge a Spanish Victory bond issued issued during World War II to support the uprising against Franco. The bond was an intricate work of printing. The most interesting thing about it was the image at the top: a Francisco Goya painting. I don’t have a clear memory of which one it is (age creeping, creeping) but it might have been this depiction of Spanish king Charles IV and his family. I remember the red pants in the story were a clue because the forger had signed his initials in them.
Someone apparently described this painting as looking like “the corner baker and his wife after they had won the lottery.” Two of his other famous works are TheThird of May 1808 and Las Meninas, both shown below.
Like Alfred Hitchcock, Goya liked to appear in his paintings, as he does in these two examples. Still, all pretty normal, right? Then you see something like these and go, like Keanu Reeves, WHOA!
The first image above is Saturn Devouring His Son. Um, okay. Oddly enough, this seemed a popular topic for painters, including Peter Paul Rubens:
Anyway, the second Goya shown above is called The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (love this title). Goya is the figure having the nightmares. It was part of a series called Los Caprichos (The Whims) lampooning Spanish society. (My other favorite titles include “Don’t Scream, Stupid” and “It Is Better to be Lazy.”)
So, wow. All this from watching White Collar. I can’t wait for the second episode.

Today’s Topic: Chocolate Fettuccine with Raspberry Crème Sauce
Well, this is an odd topic, you might think. I wouldn’t argue with you. It’s not a totally schizo choice, however. We’re having guests over for drinks and dessert this evening and this is on the menu, I’ve discovered.
I’m used to the “normal” pasta: white, flour-based, basically tasteless. Little did I know that many varieties of flavored pasta exist, many with exotic recipes attached. One sitehas almost 30 kinds.
So I wondered, who came up with this idea (and why wasn’t it me)? There isn’t much information on this topic, in most cases just a brief notation that you simply puree things and mix them in with the pasta dough. The history of pasta itself is interesting, though.
Apparently, way back when the Etruscanslived on a diet of porridge and gruel. Not surprisingly, they got tired of saying, “What, porridge and gruel again?” So someone came up with a recipe for unleavened bread cakes. Yum. Bet that went over well. (We do not know if these were space cakes or not. If they were, that would explain their popularity over gruel and porridge.) Historians think these cakes may have been the precursor of pasta, although how they made that leap I’ll never know.
Some of these same historians believe Marco Polo brought noodles back from the Orient sometime in the 1300s. (A game of Marco Noodle anyone? Anyone?)
So what is pasta anyway? According to Madehow.com, “normal” noodles have these ingredients:
Pasta is made from a mixture of water and semolina flour. Semolina is a coarse-ground flour from the heart, or endosperm, of durum wheat, an amber-colored high protein hard wheat that is grown specifically for the manufacture of pasta. With a lower starch content and a higher protein content than all-purpose flours, semolina flour is easily digested. Farina, rougher granulations of other high-quality hard wheat, is also used to make some pastas. The semolina and farina flour are enriched with B-vitamins and iron before they are shipped to pasta plants.

Naturally, seeing the word “endosperm” there tripped my brain to The World According to Garp. Don’t ask me why. I’ve long since given up trying to figure out such things.

Today’s Topic: It’s About Time
This phrase just popped into my head this morning. So of course I wondered, what’s that about? I catch myself staring at the clock sometimes while waiting for the coffee to drag my brain out of first gear. Maybe that’s it. When I made it to second gear, I seemed to recall a Nova or PBS series of that title. Wrong.
It’s About Time, it turns out, was a one-season science fiction comedy done on CBS in 1966-1967. I have absolutely no recollection of this show, probably for very good reasons. The premise? Two astronauts travel back to prehistoric times and meet a prehistoric family. Hijinks occur. My favorite episode title is “Love Me, Love My Gnook.”
The show was popular at first but then the TV audience got bored because, according to Wikipedia (“this article needs additional citations for verification”),
  • of the repetition of our two heroes being in danger from dinosaurs, clubs, spears, volcanoes, and cave men;
  • of the show’s unattractive look (caves, dirt, etc.); and
  • of the cave dweller’s speech, a primitive English that was “difficult to listen to.”
The star of the show was comedienne Imogene Coca. Her character’s name was originally “Shag” until the CBS censors realized (“DOH!”) that in the UK that means having sex. So they changed her name to “Shad,” which is a kind of fish also known as the river herring. Much safer choice.
To dispel the boredom rapidly descending on his program, the producer (who also gave us Gilligan’s Island) had the astronauts repair their space capsule and return, along with their prehistoric friends, to the 1960s. More hijinks ensue (watch the show’s preview hereafter the Gary Moore introduction).
I’m not sure why this topic caught my attention. The thought “I can’t believe CBS bought this” keeps running through my head. I’m very glad we’ve moved on from the 1960s. And now it’s about time I move on, we all move on, to something else.

Today’s Topic: Balloons on the Moon
Well, Sunday turned out to a day of not so much rest and not so much writing. Anyway, in Saturday’s blog I promised a further exploration of outer space riffing a bit off the book Imagining Outer Space. In Chapter III, there’s an essay titled “Balloons on the Moon: Visions of Space Travel in Francophone Comic Strips.” That sounds intriguing but first I have to look up francophone. Ah, it simply means “French speaking.” So “Visions of Space Travel in French-speaking Comic Strips”? Oh. That was Wikipedia. The dictionary defines francophone as “having or belonging to a population using French as it’s first language.” That makes more sense but I won’t try to get it into the essay title.
What’s a little freaky is that, contrary to what you might think, the “balloons” in the title refer not to lunar montgolfieringbut to the text bubbles in the comic strips. The original title of the piece was “Between the Bubble and the Moon.” Not as fun as I expected it to be. (Paul Simon captured this kind of letdown perfectly in Kodachrome.) If you google “balloons on the moon,” however, you get things like
 
Somehow we’ve left outer space and ended up in “out there space.” The idea of ballooning to the moon has now officially lost its cachet. Well, Tintin made it to the moon twice, once in Destination Moon and once in Explorers on the Moon. All he needed was a souped-up V2 rocket ship. I’m sure there’s one on Ebay somewhere.