Archive for August, 2011

The Bigger They Are…

August 30, 2011

The Chinese government’s paranoia hit new heights this week when it banned songs by Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and the 1990’s boy band wonders, the Backstreet Boys. Clearly these performers’ songs represent a unique threat to harmony and stability. What are the Central Committee geezers so afraid of?

According to a recent article, top censors in Beijing believe that the citizenry should not be exposed to the lyrics in these songs. Evidently the words themselves and the imagery and symbolism suggested by them are so poisonous, and so inflammatory, that if 1.4 billion Chinese heard them, they might stampede into Beijing and burn the place down. Gosh. Why do the censors feel this way?

Hu Zhed Dat, of the Ministry of Paramount Paranoia, says that not only the title but also the lyrics of the Backstreet Boys hit single “I Want It That Way” include such incendiary phrases as “Ain’t nothin’ but a heartache” and “Ain’t nothin’ but a mistake,” which he feels are nothing less than naked exhortations for the people to revolt.

Katy Perry’s song, “Last Friday Night”, refers to a ménage à trois, which Mr Hu found to be not only vulgar and tasteless, but also very unlikely in China, as the One Child Policy has led to a shortage of girls.

Hu believes that Lady Gaga’s song, “The Edge of Glory“, which includes the line “I need a man who thinks it’s right when it’s so wrong” is right out of the pages of some perverse protest manual.

Beyoncé’s song, “Run the World (Girls)” is all about girls taking over, which is not to be tolerated in the male-dominated mainland. The singer revealed at the Video Music Award (VMA) ceremony last night that she is pregnant. It is not known if the baby is a girl, in which case a Chinese adoption agency may wish to buy it.

The director of China’s music censoring protectorate, Noh Toh Tapping, has issued a comprehensive list of other musical artists that are also banned from play in China: Tiny Tim, AC/DC, Mongolian throat singers, ABBA, The Chords, Blues Image, Devo, The Five Stairsteps, and Pat Boone. Punishments for airing these one-hit wonders and screechers of scrannel were not made public.

Fine arts censors also released a long list of other, non-musical artists who have been banned, either for content that is deemed too revolutionary, too contrary to harmonious Chinese values, or for simply being too non-Chinese. These proscribed artists are: mimes, especially those who do that irritating ‘stuck-in-an-invisible-box’ shtick, The Blue Man Group, all sculpture by Rodin, all paintings by Leonardo DaVinci, the paint can spill stylings of Jackson Pollock, all Lego structures, and all of the episodes of the Scottish sitcom “Still Game“.

Last on this vast taboo list would be any and all works of art known popularly as “domino toppling” configurations, since the Peoples Bullying Party fears anything that has to do with toppling. While the government censors did not explicitly ban Irish step-dancing, this fear of toppling has led them to stomp a tap-dancing shoe on the throat of social media.

Just a few days after the ban on selected songs was announced, one of China’s Twitter-like microblogging services, Sina Weibo, announced to all of its 200 million users that a handful of them were to be publicly spanked in Tiananmen Square by members of the Chinese Olympic ping pong team. Their crime? Spreading “fake and misleading rumors.” As defined by Beijing, if information is provided by official channels, it is “factual, truthful, legal and correct.” If it comes from regular people or foreign governments it is “false, illegal, incorrect and complete crap.” And if the dissemination is really critical and embarrassing to government officials, and too close to the truth regarding official government corruption and incompetence, then officially it must be defined as gibberish, but gibberish that must be stamped out.

When Weibo users heard that some of their own were to have their accounts “suspended” for a month they went ballistic, complaining — much like Americans or Europeans would — that their right to say what they want online is being thwarted. They believe that the Chinese government is behind this move, since only the government would want to prevent free speech, and only the government would have the clout to order such a large company to impose these draconian restrictions.

Indeed, last Monday a high-ranking member of the Politburo, the only arm of the Communist Party authorized to carry whips, paid a friendly visit to corporate headquarters of Sina.com. Liu Qi, the party’s Committee Secretary, is used to getting what he wants, and holds a degree in – I am not making this upsmelting. He told the company’s managers that they have been naughty and lax in allowing the unrestricted flow of criticism directed at officials of the Peoples Bullying Party.

Not only will the guilty bloggers be prohibited from collecting new followers, and forbidden to post destabilizing messages and disharmonious grievances for a month, during that time they will be beaten, hand-cuffed and gagged in a harmonious and stable wheelbarrow while being re-educated.

In recent years Chinese citizens have been enjoying unprecedented freedoms because of the Internet. (Or, if your last name is Bush, “Internets.”) Average people have been communicating like never before, and discussing news and politics just like folks from other parts of the globe. One of the trends upsetting the Peoples Bullying Party is that ordinary netizens are – gasp! –complaining openly for the first time about corruption and incompetence in government and industry, and directing anger and sarcastic criticism at specific officials. Government and industry leaders once considered untouchable are getting dumped on, and the Communist Party does not like it.

If this ominous trend continues, the “criminals” risk being severely punished. The penalty for using smart phones for the crime of spreading false and misleading rumors through social media is heinous indeed. The Chinese government will force repeat offenders to turn in their old phones, and will be issued fake iPhones made by Foxconn. Not only will these phones be pre-loaded with approved songs and videos, but will feature fingerprint-recording capabilities and GPS.

Built-in word filters will censor unsuitable messages before they are sent, and phone-hacking software provided by experts from News of the World will be listening. If the user attempts to over-ride the phone’s software, the phone is programmed to melt in the culprit’s hands, a feature developed by Liu Qi himself. And top officials at the Ministry of Paramount Paranoia announced that those microbloggers who persist in spreading false and misleading rumors will be forced to watch – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – horrible, tortuous footage of Lady Gaga strutting and babbling as “Jo Calderone.” 

How Do You Spell Yttrium?

August 25, 2011

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has a very nice house on the beach in Southern California. Let’s stop right there for a massive ooh and a heartfelt aah. We do not know if Gidget or Annette Funicello are regular visitors, but if I owned a beach house in Southern California they would be.

Mitt feels that his 3,000 square foot abode is no longer big enough for his needs. A spokesman has mentioned that Romney has five grown sons and 16 grandchildren, and that when they get together for family barbecues and volleyball parties there is simply not enough room. So they are knocking down the old pile of rubbish and building a new 11,062 square foot mansion there in La Jolla, just north of San Diego.

If we calculate the approximate number of party-goers involved, we have Mitt and his wife Mittsy, the five sons and presumably their wives, plus 16 grandchildren, which gives us 28 people. (That does not include the Southern California standard number of servants per rich person, which is 2.25, giving an additional 63 people.) Divide the original 28 into 11,062 square feet, and we have roughly 400 square feet per rich person. By comparison, my wife and I used to live in a 457 square foot Boston condo, which works out to about 230 sq ft per person, which was OK when an elbow wasn’t in your ear or your nose. We didn’t have to worry about 16 grandchildren visiting us, which might have been a little cramped, whether we counted the cat or not.

Some critics have jumped up to say, “Good heavens!”, does he really need a house that big?!? Why does it have to be so much bigger than the average American home, that is, the average American home on a Southern California beach. How often are all these kids and grandkids going to be there anyway, and don’t they have their own palatial homes on beaches somewhere? Could there be another use for a structure almost as big as the Pentagon? Does Romney have an ulterior motive?

This intrepid reporter has been poring over building plans, architectural sketches and other publicly available documents in libraries, museums and briefcases buried under twenty feet of dirt. The results are astounding. If the results were not astounding, you wouldn’t be glued to your computer screen as you are now.

You may have read recently that there are scarce and valuable minerals used for all sorts of modern products, like cell phones, hybrid cars, and glow-in-the-dark breakfast cereals. A few of these special elements are cerium, scandium, and of course yttrium. (If you had never heard of yttrium, you should be ashamed of yourself.) These are called rare earth elements, and their prices have been skyrocketing lately, because, according to experts, the Chinese have been playing a sort of cat and mouse game, which in that part of the world would be called a ‘dragon and lotus blossom’ game.

The Chinese like to roam the earth, investing in whatever they want, enjoying unfettered access in this mostly free-market world. But when it comes to outsiders investing in China, the government insists on carefully controlling the flow of foreigners salivating to get in, like a bouncer at an exclusive nightclub keeping the undesirables on the wrong side of the velvet rope.

Let’s get back to our discussion of rare earth elements, and for this you had better break out your old high school chemistry book and look up lanthanoids. What’s that? You didn’t keep your high school chemistry book? What were you thinking? Didn’t you believe that it — and your trigonometry book and your geography book and all your other textbooks — would come in handy one day? Harrumph.

By the way, the label “rare earth elements” is a bit of a misnomer, because some of them are relatively plentiful, it’s just that they are bloody difficult to find and are very expensive to get at. Anyway, China boasts the world’s largest known supplies of these rare earth metals, and the Chinese government is playing its usual version of supply and demand hardball with other countries and other companies.

As China has become the world’s low-cost manufacturer, and makes more and more of the things we want, these rare earth materials are becoming more important, so supplies are crucial; China wants to keep an iron grip on the supply. (No, iron is not one of the rare earth materials.) It’s kind of like the competitive display the Chinese put on recently during a “goodwill” basketball game in China.

This exhibition game was between the Georgetown University college team, the Hoyas, and a professional Chinese team, the Bayi Rockets, made up of men who serve in the Chinese army. The game must not have been lopsided enough in favor of the Chinese, since the officials — Kung Pao, Krak Sznap and Zhap Bhonk — started calling three times as many fouls on the Hoyas as for the Rockets, for infractions like having wavy blonde hair. These same officials did not call the vicious fouls committed by the Chinese players, who evidently wanted to reshape the multitude of American ears and noses by using their elbows and knees. It soon turned into a full-blown brawl, with the Bayi players throwing punches, stomping on the Georgetown boys and using folding chairs to gladiatorial advantage.

I guess you could say that the Chinese didn’t want to lose.

And now, using what the World Trade Organization has determined to be unfair trading practices, the Chinese don’t want to risk losing the rare earth game either. Which takes us back to Romney’s very capacious house. Companies controlled by him have been quietly buying up the biggest drilling and earth moving equipment in the world. Geologists from Harvard, MIT, Oxford and Switzerland have made visits to San Diego for secret meetings with Romney people.

If you start in Southern California, and drill way down into the Earth, and then turn left a bit, and keep going, you will come up in China. You can look it up in your trigonometry book. That is what Romney is working on! He is calling it the Romney Undetected Drilling Enterprise (RUDE). They plan to use the huge new house as a cover for the enormous drilling and excavation equipment, and then to dig all the way to China — well, not ALL the way to China, since they want to stay under the surface. Then, while still underground, they can extricate the rare earth elements at will and transport them back through the big tunnel and right up into Californian markets. It’s a very cunning plan.

Another cunning aspect of this ambitious plan is to raise money while the project is in progress. My sources tell me that Libya’s Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is already tired of hiding in the warren of tunnels under his beleaguered palace. There are plenty of South American drug lords who would love a vacation. And Casey Anthony is tired of being hounded wherever she goes. The smart money inside the Romney camp says that the new mansion will provide a safe and comfortable haven for selected refugees with big wallets. Security for the entire operation will be handled by Romney’s old Boston friend, Whitey Bulger, who has extensive ties with law enforcement.

An insider so close to Romney that he knows that after the great man has had a wee-wee, he doesn’t even put the toilet seat back down, says that Romney has one final wish after scoring big in rare earth metals. After he corners the market, an odd thought considering that we live on a sphere, he plans to build, at the North Pole, an exact replica of the Fortress of Solitude, and live there like Superman for the rest of his days.

Project Abacus

August 20, 2011

Reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is visiting Russia, partly because he loves ballet and borscht. He is also a big fan of Boris Spassky, and uses what he has learned about chess to manipulate relations with China and South Korea, as well as the United States and other major and minor world players. He also is known to have a deep appreciation for Russian culture.

Why is he in Russia? Why doesn’t he stay in his perfect, fertile, abundant-with-everything, wonderful country? (Ha ha!) North Korea analysts believe he is there to negotiate a deal to bring back 50,000 cases of Weetabix, to feed to his happy but starving citizens, and to do some wheeling and dealing. Another deal on the table is to make arrangements to transport natural gas and oil from Russia through North Korea to South Korea. One source suggests that a giant pipeline will be constructed through some 500 miles of North Korean territory. This could provide North Korea not only with income while the pipeline is being built, but also with ready supplies of energy it could tap into. In addition, it seems feasible to extract fees for allowing the oil and gas to cross North Korean soil, whether on some time or percentage basis.

If viewed from the perspective of a chess board, one South Korean editor looks at this as Kim’s latest maneuver to “…add to its increasing portfolio of potential hostage issues for times when inter-Korean relations chill.” Clever. And speaking of hostages, North Korea has been kidnapping South Koreans since the 1950’s, and prefers to return them, after hefty ransoms have been collected, by shooting them from huge cannons across the Korean Demilitarized Zone. (In North Korea this method of transporting people across the border is called the ‘Glorious Rainbow of Dear Leader’s Benevolence’.) Since North Korean military personnel are entertained by this, Kim feels that he doesn’t need to feed or pay them. Another South Korean newspaper speculates that the pipeline could be used to supply the Pyongyang palace with the vast quantities of hair spray and styling gel required to keep Kim’s coif in place.

During Operation Kim-Chi, when I went deep underground to sniff out what was really fermenting, I heard rumors of communications between Pyongyang and Beijing regarding trains. Since the recent high-speed train crash in China, the government railways ministry has ordered a recall of train cars, and the company that manufactured them, North Locomotive and Rolling Stock Ltd, a state-owned company, doesn’t seem to know what to do with them. A shrewd shopper, Kim wants them at a big discount (a “fire sale”?), as part of a novel method to transport oil and gas through poverty stricken North Korea.

According to Kim Jong Il’s favorite masseuse, who goes by the stage name of Yum Yum Hands, Kim wants to construct a grid system that looks like an abacus with ten parallel tracks fanning out from close to the Russian border town of Khasan, at North Korea’s northeastern-most tip, through North Korea, down to South Korea, coming to an intersection like the ropes on a hammock. Rather than install one big pipeline with valves and electronic controls, which would be the cheap and smart way to do it, Kim Jong Il wants to put hundreds of railway cars to use, going back and forth. Each car will be converted into a tank car, capable of carrying a large quantity of natural gas or oil. This will allow North Korea to keep more of the liquid energy inside North Korea for longer periods of time, and will allow it to play a sort of shell game, so that it might spirit away cars full of gas or oil for its own use, or to sell for cash. This is ironic, because the Shell Oil Co (along with Russia’s Gazprom) is involved in the project.

One last theory for Kim’s visit and his abacus train project comes from my contacts in Switzerland, who yodel oodles of intell to me. Kim Jong Un, one of Kim Jong Il’s sons and the heir-apparent to take over the North Korean regime, was largely raised and schooled in Switzerland. By all accounts, he is an immature, spoiled brat, which doesn’t surprise me. One Swiss miss in particular told me that as a child, he liked playing with his toy trains. As he got older, his train sets got bigger and bigger. Last month he threw a violent temper tantrum when his father refused to build him a grand-scale, nation-wide train system he could play with, and in his anger he shot and killed several members of his palace staff.

According to my contact, the Pyongjang palace chef that night served “borscht” as a shift meal for palace employees. Evidently it left a bad taste in their mouths.

Technical Fouls in China

August 19, 2011

Vice President Joseph Biden, former senator from the same state as George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers, and the newly appointed Ambassador to China, Gary Locke of Washington State, are in China. Biden is there on official US business, in private to shake a finger at his counterparts, and in public to have them shake their fingers at him; Locke is there to present credentials, while standing there in full pukka top hat and tails, ready to take up his ambassadorial duties.

Joe is also supposed to bring me back a plastic scale model of the new Chinese aircraft carrier for me to play with in the bathtub.

The Georgetown University basketball team, the Hoyas, are also in China, there on a ten-day goodwill mission to play basketball. All concerned, the US State Department, Georgetown U and all their players, coaches, boosters and vendors of Hoyas shot glasses, hope this will foster good sportsmanship and mutual understanding while enjoying the benefits of cultural exchange. One game went smoothly, and was attended by Locke and Biden. Biden even went straight from the airport to the game, rather than going to his hotel for a shower and a quick one, and he got to see the Hoyas beat the home team.

If a chicken were involved in what happened the next day I would shout, “Fowl play!” What took place was certainly not poultry in motion.

That second night, against the Chinese team, the Bayi Rockets, things got gnarly, with lots of flying elbows and simmering fury; finally both benches cleared, with shoving, punching, kicking, chair throwing, and even some Three Stooges eye-poking. In spite of the fact that the game was not yet finished, head coach John Thompson said, “We’re outa here.” The team made an admirably orderly escape from the court while being bombarded with full water bottles. They gathered up equipment and quickly filed into the waiting busses. No one mentioned having egg foo yung for dinner.

A G’town supporter posted his (or her) admittedly biased view as to what happened on a University message board. According to that testimony, the game became a joke as the Chinese referees called fouls on the Hoyas for having blonde hair and for not saying “Simon says.” In the meantime, instead of basketball, the players on the Chinese side were playing a blend of rugby and the ancient Scottish game of shinty, which makes kick-boxing look like patty-cake — and they were not having any fouls called on them. The Rockets blasted off in the scoring column because they had more foul shots than there are grains of rice in a large bowl.

The Bayi team plays in a professional Chinese basketball league, and the players serve in the Chinese army. You wonder if their basketball practices are more like boot camp with lots of hand-to-hand combat drills, and plenty of basketballs getting shot with live ammo.

While coverage in the Chinese media was minimal, the blogging community was chirping frantically and spreading the news, and surprisingly there was a lot of netizen criticism directed at the Chinese team. For example, Zhou Ting, a 26-year old biology grad student who was at the game, wrote “I can tell you the Chinese players provoked the conflict,” and he refered to their rough style of play as “…a hooligan’s habit.”

What seemed to have ignited the melee late in the game was a particularly hard foul by Hu Ke (no relation to Jersey Shore’s own Snooki). The foul Hu was called for (First Base) was on Georgetown’s guard Jason Clark, who felt that the foul was so egregious that, once it had been called, Clark gave Hu an earful. (It was not known which dialect Clark was using, whether Mandarin, Cantonese, Mongolian, or Parseltongue.) At this point Hu decided to invite his fist to make a short, sharp visit to Clark’s face. At the same time, and this was not reported in the Western media, Hu paid Clark the classic Chinese insult: “Your mother looks like a silkworm,” which was followed by the unthinkable “and your grandfather smells of mulberries.”

What caused all this violence?

To answer this question, children, the story becomes complex, so to best follow along, please chart the grammar using the classic fishbone diagram.

You may have read the recent horrible news about young people in the American South who died due to a very rare strain of amoeba that infected them, and then destroyed their brains. This very rare and deadly species of amoeba is naegleria fowleri. A less fatal but far more annoying species is fowleri’s slightly schizoid sister, naegleria gruberi. It turns out that the Chinese are using this latter amoeba to conduct some reality-stretching mind control experiments.

Exposure to naegleria gruberi can cause behavioral changes such as: freakish violence, as demonstrated by the Bayi Rockets basketball team; the nutty, unfathomable need of the Chinese newly rich to buy and show off their absurdly glitzy luxury goods; and idiotic blithering like that of the recently fired railway spokesman, Wang Yongpin. This reporter has gathered compelling evidence that this punctured raft of occurrences is entirely because of the evil plot of the Chinese government to control its own citizenry. They are experimenting on a wide variety of social groups, to see how much exposure to the amoeba causes what sorts of behavioral disturbances, and to what degree.

According to eyewitnesses, one perfectly normal chap, Zhon Kamrhon Zhwayze, wearing only a fake Rolex and a pink, floppy hat, ran along the top of the Great Wall while screaming that he was Lady Gaga. Many on the scene volunteered that he had more talent than the popular performer.

Official accounts of the Bayi Rockets suggest that they are polite, easy going men who like to decorate cupcakes and listen to Barry Manilow. Exposure to naegleria gruberi made them crazy and violent. Wang Yongpin had been captain of his high school debating team, and had once crushed an opponent by cogently arguing that Fred Astaire was a much better dancer than Gene Kelly. But then came the crash of the much vaunted high-speed bullet train, on which much Chinese pride rested. In his capacity as ministry of railways spokesman, he sounded like he had been kicked in the head repeatedly by large mules for months at a time.

When reporters asked him what had caused the train wreck which killed dozens and injured hundreds, he replied that “God was angry with the Chinese.” Immediately afterwards he received congratulations from rabidly Christian presidential candidate Rick Perry of Texas. When asked why damaged train cars had been buried before a detailed investigation of them had begun, he noted that in Buddhism, the dead are buried quickly, so as to hasten rebirth, and that by burying the railroad cars right away, that was the quickest way to get them back into service.

Rich Chinese are spending obscene amounts of cash on luxury goods, keeping manufacturers such as Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci and Ferrari afloat, if now wallowing, in profit. Such is the need of the über-wealthy to flaunt their wealth that European psychiatrists agree that the only reasonable cause must be brain-eating amoebas. I mean, what kind of moron would drive a gold-plated sports car through a part of the city overflowing with starved, angry peasants? These people would swarm around you, lift up the car en masse, and eat you and every part of the car except the spark plugs, which as everybody knows are impossible to get out of a sports car.

It appears that my editor is going to penalize me for delay of game.

As you probably know, the Chinese police are ratcheting up to “REALLY HIGH SECURITY ALERT” in the region of Xinjiang, which lies in the western, mostly rural part of China. Things have gotten exceptionally violent there, with dozens of deaths recorded in confrontations between the native Uighur population and the recently introduced, crabgrass-like Chinese Han. Clearly, the brain-eating amoeba experiments there have resulted in dangerous chaos, and now the government has to call in the police to clean up the mess made by the clumsy sorcerer’s apprentice.

One of the things the Peoples Bullying Party will eventually learn is that when you try to twist all the knobs and push all the buttons necessary to control 1.4 billion people, inevitably you will burn your fingers.

Texting Old Tom

August 16, 2011

Today I decided to wrestle with my phone. Perhaps you have experienced similar deep emotions and bruising ego setbacks with this maddening appliance, as I have. It’s a pain in the butt, it constantly finds new ways to vex me, and no doubt it spends its time in the darkness giggling and smirking as it does everything in its power to run up my bill.

Running up excessive bills is why smart phones were invented, with little concession, the right word surely, to providing the customer with value commensurate with the cost.

A lady I met at a party recently tried to reverse my opinion by demonstrating how she could enjoy reading rare books on her phone. She had downloaded them to her iPain courtesy of the nice people at the Gutenberg Project. (This is an organization which has been busy digitizing old books, making them available in electronic format.) This made an impression, since my lovely wife and I have spent far more than is reasonable on books, yet we cannot seem to quell our thirst. The lady at the party explained that a huge variety of books was available — for free — and in seconds could be relayed from the library in the sky down into one’s phone. Then, one could at one’s leisure read the book and generate those lovely chemical pleasure reactions in the brain. Me want some of that.

So after spending far too much time today grappling with unwieldy and cumbersome HR software to apply for  jobs — I think we should be paid for our Herculean efforts, doing HR’s job for them — it seemed a fair deal to reward myself with a wee treat and get me some books. So I hunted and cursed and fell into the Internet mud, but finally after battling my way out, the Kindle book-reading software was installed on my phone, and I was soon reading a complimentary novel, “Treasure Island.” It worked! But now I wanted more.

There were already books on my laptop, made possible by “Kindle for PC,” and if I knew where the books lived on my laptop and on my phone, theoretically I could copy them from one device to the other. Then I could have sweet revenge on my evil black phone, and read a book on my laptop when it suited me, or if desired on the Devil Droid.

To get started I went looking for a new Kindle book from Amazon, and did a search on “golf.” (If you are looking for a regular, non-Kindle book, there are over 22,000 golf titles available through Amazon.) This search turned up some 1200 titles, high on the list of which was one by the golf scholar Valerie Gray. Her impressive work was entitled, “Getting Naked for Tiger Woods: or, I Was A Wanton Golf Tramp.” Yours — the book, that is — for $2.99. (Here I would like to assure my wife that I did not purchase this historical work, and no, I will not be tricked into saying anything like if the movie will be better.) Seeing that my search parameters were ill-chosen, I narrowed the field by selecting “golf history.” This yielded more desirable fruit, rather than the low-hanging variety provided by Ms Gray.

If you have looked around my blog, you found a story (“Golf Literati Dinner”) relating one of the most amazing events of my life, a banquet in St Andrews, overlooking the Old Course, for golf historians and writers, golf collectors, and one of the most famous golfers in history. (I sat next to him.) One of the singular characters of that evening was David Malcolm, a former University of St Andrews biology professor and at the time a redoutable golf historian. I will never forget him, and I am sad to say that this larger-than-life fellow passed away recently. He and his colleague Peter Crabtree had labored for years on a majestic biography of one of golf’s most important figures, Old Tom Morris. This work was published in 2008 in extremely small quantities, a hefty and exquisite tome that I simply could not afford, my ancestors having squandered the family fortune on whisky.

The Kindle Store search under “golf history” gave up 76 titles, and much to my amazement there was David’s book, “Tom Morris of St Andrews: The Colossus of Golf 1821-1908.” A Kindle version was available (for under $9) and I could be reading it in just a few moments. Wow. Soon I was transported, reading the early chapters, learning about the origins of golf, the seminal “Rabbit Wars” and life in early 19th century Scotland, completely absorbed. Then I came across a passage that had me drifting back to my own childhood, when my dad, like countless other dads, took an old golf club, sawed off a chunk, and handed it to their young sons as their first golf clubs. It’s how we got started playing the ancient and wonderful game. The quote, from Old Tom, includes some impenetrable Scottish terms and phrases, so let me help you.

There are a few meanings for the Scottish phrase “chuckie stanne” but the important one here is for ‘throwing stones,’ or small stones that were the right size for tossing or chucking. The earliest golf “balls” were small rocks, followed in the next experimental phase by wooden balls, which were then replaced with such improvements as leather stuffed with feathers, and then balls made from solid rubber. “Bairn” is Scottish for baby. Webbed feet are recognizable by anyone raised in moist places like Seattle.

“I began to play when I was six or seven, maybe younger. A’ St Andrews bairns are born wi’ web feet an’ wi’ a gowf club in their hands. I wad be driving the chuckie stanne wi’ a bit stick about as sune’s I could walk.”

Reading that made me want to get out on the golf course as soon as possible, where my thoughts will be with Old Tom. And you can bet your golf spikes I will not have my phone with me.

Shameless Self-Promotion

August 15, 2011

What kind of courage does it take to raise your hand in a crowd? I don’t know, and I’ve never thought of myself as particularly courageous.

But today I’m going to be brave, in an audacious sort of way, and attempt to immodestly draw attention to myself. I am going to remind viewers out there that I am still unemployed, and looking for work.

This is a shameless bit of self-promotion, so please take notice.

If you have the capacity to make hiring decisions, or if you have any influence over people who do, please help me to find a job here in the Seattle area. If you have read my blog you know that I am loyal, and enthusiastic, and have a cold wet nose and everything.

For the right interviewer I will even wag my tail!

I can produce words for you, lots of words. Words can come in handy, if you need to have words to send out to people, or use with other companies or just within your own company. Whatever kinds of words you need — short ones, long ones, pretty ones, plain ones — I can deliver.

Not many people know that I can even do things with numbers… That’s right, I can use math to figure out all sorts of stuff, and can analyze the daylights out of a situation; I can even do statistics. Then, and here’s the shocking part, I can even include numbers with all those words I was telling you about earlier. Wow, just think of that, words and numbers. That’s pretty cool, and all someone has to do is to pay me, hopefully in American dollars, although British pounds or euros would work, too. Your company could be in Oregon, or Canada, or Switzerland, or Crail, or almost anyplace.

So, please help me out, and recommend me to someone who could put me to work. My contact information is here on this blog, as is my résumé. If you can assist me to find a job, I will even mention your name right here, so that you will be able to tell your grandchildren.

Thanks for thinking about me!

Secrets Revealed

August 15, 2011

Recently an article appeared decrying the inability of famous girls to keep their clothes on. (What about the ones who aren’t famous?) The author noted that in the few weeks that just passed by there have been an unusually high number of wardrobe malfunctions, which are, as we know, occasions for averting the eyes. I do.

According to a variety of sources, a wardrobe malfunction occurs when, in theory, an article of clothing or just enough of an article of clothing inadvertently does not perform its duty in covering up that which should stay covered. The result is unacceptable breast display, excessive nipularity, side or bottom boobage, or any of the other well-known infractions, such as the whale tail, that necessitates an official throwing a red flag. Presumably which will then be used to cover up the bared flesh.

She enumerates these occasions thus:

*June 7: Khloe, one of the modest Kardashian girls who are famous for being famous, “flashed nippleage” on a TV interview.
*Aug 5: Nicki Minaj, a pop singer, had a halter top that “went rogue” live on “Good Morning America”, leading to excessive breastfulness, in stereo. Good morning indeed.
*Aug 7: Kelly Rowland, another pop singer, gave cause for concern when her “gyrating dance moves proved too much for her black bra-top,” which slipped upwards, generating underboobage at a concert in notoriously devout New Jersey.

(I will add that in early August a young Chinese pianist wore a very tight and very short little dress at a concert performance, and the music press is in a frenzy about how much of Yuja Wang was on display. It reminded me that on “Married with Children” the Kelly Bundy character was considered a slightly “trashy” young woman who favored short, tight and low-cut dresses. In one episode her dad Al refered to a dress she was wearing as ‘the belt.’ Clearly Ms Wang’s body parts were perused more assiduously than are the traffic lights in Los Angeles. Her piano performance was not what mattered; no indeed, all the talk was on how much higher her dress could possibly go. I am loathe to speculate.)

The article’s author goes back to Janet Jackson’s spot of bother (!) during the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show with what’s-his-name, when the term “wardrobe malfunction” was coined. This phenomenon goes back quite a lot further than that. Some clothing historians cite a 1977 episode of “The Price is Right” as the first recorded occurrence, when an excited contestant jumped up and down, releasing a pair of sweater-puppies from their shelter. One could of course discuss the early days of cabaret and the timeless art of striptease, in which, of course, wardrobe malfunctions are intentional. My sources reveal, if that is the right term, that it was Cleopatra who started the trend while seducing Antony. I have examined exhaustively the archives of the ancient predecessor of YouTube, YouTubusPapyrus, and noted that her silken robe (34 times) and her sheer golden tunic (57 times) slipped down or off to reveal her womanly charms. To great advantage, I might add.

In around 1969, my high school home room teacher was Mr McEachern, and one day he felt the need to step up onto his soap box. That day his topic concerned what he saw as a disturbing trend in the amount of skin put on display when girls wore the new miniskirts. (Next to me at the time was a girl — her name will come to me in a minute — who was wearing a very short skirt that had, ahem, traveled up a healthy distance.) Mr McEachern made a wise observance, a caveat to young women, that being sexy was achieved “not by what you show, but by what you hide and suggest.” It must have been a wise and arcane observation, because all these years later I still don’t know what it means.

But I’m sure it has something to do with the idea that being a good girl involves keeping your clothes on.

Now, speaking as a married man, I am not allowed to look at any of these wardrobe infractions listed, nor am I allowed to learn more about them, try to find them somewhere on the Internet, or even see them in a reflection, as Harry Potter did. In most occasions, one must observe journalistic proprieties and a high degree of professional ethics, and report only on what one has seen or experienced personally, so on this subject I will stay at least at arms’s length and talk only about what I’ve read.

At the end of the article, the author sounds a bit like a nun or a strict school-marm, and admonishes girls to bind their breasts tightly, to wear only wool garments in several layers, and to go out in public only in turtlenecks. She strongly suggests that young women wear — at all times — bras like they were back in the World War II era, when they were made from the same materials as fighter aircraft.

Stop.

Everyone knows that at some point in a young woman’s development (and hopefully not too soon) she will discover boys, and find that she wants to attract their attention. And since we all learn eventually that the world revolves around sex — it’s on the covers of magazines, on TV, billboards, in movies and music videos, on the Internet, and even on your smart phone — we want to know more about it. And if you want to be like one of the zillions of girls and young women seen in all these magazines, on TV and in movies and music videos, you soon get the picture that displaying some flesh is obligatory. You will experiment with showing a little cleavage as soon as you can, and the distance between your knee and bottom of your dress or skirt will increase. It is a truth well known that the more you show the more notoriety and publicity you’ll generate, and the more buzz there will be about you, the more successful and rich and happy you’ll be.

Until the entertainment industry decides that sex does not sell, that attractive young women do not have to reveal some skin to become known and become popular and successful, or we all become nudists, get used to the idea that occasionally there will be wardrobe malfunctions, and some of them will be on purpose. I of course will not be looking.

A Dragon in the Toilet

August 14, 2011

The Chinese want to dominate the toilet industry of the future, just as they hope to dominate electric cars and the batteries that will power them, high speed trains, computers, dental floss and everything else that can be sold. The Central Committee reasons that if they can build the kinds of toilets needed to satisfy the demands of its 1.4 billion people, they will be able to control the market for the rest of the world. They wish to hold, so to speak, a royal flush.

The Peoples Republic of China is a vast and motley nation of approximately 3.7 million square miles, of which less than 3% is covered by water, although nearly 5% is covered by soy sauce, mostly in small ponds. In contrast, the United States has an area of about 3.8 million square miles, of which about 7% is water, although that does not include the many large swimming pools found in Los Angeles. Much like the US, China’s landmass is geographically diverse: they have mountains and deserts and plains, but a big difference is that over there, there is hardly a portable toilet in sight.

Because much of the area outside urban regions is comprised of undeveloped terrain (duh), it is quite a challenge to populate those parts of China with toilets. A high proportion of the land belonging to the 22 provinces is similar to lands in many underdeveloped countries in Africa and other parts of Asia, in that they lack adequate supplies of water and the infrastructure required for a modern large-scale toilet system.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, always awash with cash, recently inaugurated a program to Reinvent the Toilet, and seeded the effort with $3 million. The program is taking the form of a contest, involving universities ranging from Cal Tech and Harvard to the Cleveland Institute of Bowling, where many believe that the school motto — “We’re Up Your Alley” — gives them a psychological advantage. Many regions throughout the world lack the complex and costly water infrastructure and well-paid plumbers necessary to enable the ubiquitous flushing toilets that we are so familiar with in the western world. And stop for a moment to consider that this water and plumbing infrastructure requires large quantities of water to make it work. Many lesser developed countries cannot boast of such quantities of clean water, since the dictators keep all the water for themselves for their 50,000 gallon bathtubs.

The Chinese government is watching the Reinvent the Toilet competition closely to get ideas for their own toilet manufacturing industry. Ka Ka Jhon, of the Peoples Ministry of White Rosebud Potties, has visited Stanford, MIT, and Piscataway to observe the best and the brightest as they re-imagine the toilet. The Gates Foundation hopes to help develop a low cost toilet that does not need to be connected to a sewer line, or even a water line or electricity. Fling Dhung, of the Ministry of Well-Intentioned Propaganda, has other ideas, and says that China will not take this situation sitting down.

Recent Chinese micro-blogging activity suggests that the new sewer system, to be the world’s largest, is to be designed and built by the same companies responsible for the high speed train network throughout China. Top level thinkers from Beijing University have constructed the world’s biggest flow chart, to assist analysis and to compare their vast railway line system to that of the pipes and valves of a water infrastructure. Insiders say that the country’s best medical minds are taking part, testifying that blood flowing through the vessels of a body is much like sewage flowing through a hydraulic waste system, only more red than brown.

Obsession with having the world’s biggest seems to be a uniquely Chinese phenomenon: they have the world’s biggest high speed rail system with about 5200 miles of track; the world’s biggest dam; they had the world’s biggest airport terminal building (recently eclipsed by Dubai); and the world’s biggest set of chopsticks, which is actually a very cool tourist stop along the Silk Road, although it can’t compare to the world’s biggest ball of string, which is right here in the good ‘ol USA. And now they want to build the world’s biggest toilet system. This weird fixation on size is an egotistical thing, machismo with a  Chinese flavor. At a business where I used to work, we used to refer to what we called the “small man syndrome.” Someone with this affliction thinks that he has to make up in one area for what he was short-changed in another. We theorized that the guy who pulled up to our door with the enormous pick-up truck — the driver was usually diminutive in stature — probably had a pretty small part of a man that makes use of a toilet. It is ironic that the largest society in the world sounds like it feels, in the locker room way, outnumbered.

This toilet system will depend upon the world’s biggest sewage and piping system, which of course will need huge amounts of water. The Chinese plan to capture the part of the Sulzberger Ice Shelf that recently broke away from the Antarctic, and tow it back to the mainland, where it will be melted by the world’s biggest hairdryer. The world’s biggest shovel will be used to dig up the vast tracts of land required to install the piping systems, and the world’s biggest apartment buildings will be constructed on top of the turf after the dirt has been replaced.

These enormous residential buildings will be needed to house the zillions of displaced Chinese citizens who will lose their homes and farms, since they didn’t have enough clout to find other options.

Rumors abound regarding large-scale testing of prototypes of this enormous toilet system, and the results have not been encouraging. Some of the new Serene Chrysanthemum toilets were found to be made of, instead of high grade porcelain, recycled cardboard tubes like those found in most rolls of toilet paper. That did not seem, to this reporter, a very good idea, and indeed it was found that shortly after installation the toilets lost their structural integrity, and became like soggy corn flakes.

As mentioned earlier, the project, which has “borrowed” as its logo the Nike swoosh, is being built and managed by the same group of firms responsible for the nation’s high speed railway that has been in the news lately. Early tests demonstrated the system’s ability to move large amounts of raw sewage at very high velocity through miles of pipe. But there have been less than desirable consequences, featuring toilets that are violently propelled up off the floor, and crash into walls and ceilings. Safety inspectors called to the disaster scenes describe the discovery of terrified citizens cowering in demolished bathrooms, covered in you know what.

Official state media has censored full and truthful accounts, permitting only brief stories hinting that the tests are going “swimmingly,” although some citizens experienced “minor inconveniences” because they flushed twice, when they should have flushed only once.

It sounds like they had better get their sh*t together.

Fun at Peoples Drug

August 11, 2011

On Facebook recently, some old friends have been reminiscing about the town where we grew up. “You know you grew up in Rockville if you remember… blah blah blah.”

One of the themes that arose concerned an ancient shopping area called Congressional Plaza, located on scenic Rockville Pike. Some of us worked at the drug store (Peoples Drug) back in high school, and we have been dredging up memories, like the store manager Mr Nettles, who put up with a lot from us.

At Peoples, I became a sort of utility man and worked the cash registers at departments all over the store. Because I had been there a while and knew the store well, I could handle everything from the main counter up front — which was called “cigar” because that’s where the cigars and cigarettes were — to photo to the drug counter, and even took over cosmetics when Mrs What’s-her-name-with-the-big-hair-and-big-glasses took a break. Couldn’t believe someone could earn a living just by thinking up the weird names for colors of lipsticks.

I spent a lot of time back at the drug counter, and got to know Doc the pharmacist pretty well. One time this pretty blonde was working there, and holding down the drug counter at the back of the store, when a worried-looking guy came up to me at the cigar counter. He told me that he wanted to buy some condoms, but just couldn’t bring himself to ask the blonde, because she looked so innocent. So I went back there, grabbed a box, and took his money at another register.

We had a guy named Ron who worked there, and he was a trouble-maker. This one time I was back with Doc in his raised pharmacy work area — better for security, since you could see the whole store from up there — helping him do something. Ron was manning the drug counter down in front of us. Doc and I had a good view from up there, when a young man came to the counter. He looked nervous, and in a very hushed voice used the key phrase used at the time by nervous young men, “gimme a packarubbers…” Ron had him say it a couple more times, just to see him squirm, as if he couldn’t hear the guy properly.

Then Ron played his masterful bluff: he asked the guy what size of condom he wanted. Now, condoms came in only one size — although one could purchase different size boxes of condoms, 3 or 6 or a dozen or 2 dozen — but Ron figured the kid wouldn’t know that. So while the poor kid was trying to decide what to say, Ron jumped in and said, “Small, huh? OK” and quickly pulled out a 2-dozen box of the most expensive kind we had and put it in a bag. The kid was naturally too embarrassed and flummoxed to say anything, so he wanted nothing more than to pay whatever and get the hell out of there. Ron put the final nail in the kid’s ego when he told the kid as he left, “If that size doesn’t fit right, the next time you buy them, be sure to tell the guy what size you’d like.” What a gas. I figure Ron became a lawyer.

Scott Sandsberry moved in next door to me in ’69, and became my best friend. We both worked together there at the drug store for a while. When Mr Nettles wasn’t around, we liked to take advantage of the PA system. If a customer came to the counter with, say, a box of suppositories, the one at the register would fake like he couldn’t find a price, then get on the microphone and announce loudly, “Hey JD, could you find the price of the LARGE ECONOMY SIZE SUPPOSITORIES?” We would take turns doing crap like that, practicing even when there was no customer needing price help, and laughing our brains out.

Another time — the memories seem to be flooding out now — there was a really pretty girl who worked at the dry cleaners a few doors down from the drug store. She had beautiful eyes, long dark hair, and kind of a big nose. (So who’s perfect?) She came in now and then to buy a magazine or a candy bar. One day she dropped by with a class photo from the 2nd or 3rd grade. She pointed to herself, a very pretty little girl who looked then very much like she did when she was little, and then she pointed to a little boy with glasses; it was me. She said she thought she remembered me from school, and went looking through her class pictures to be sure. She said that she remembered me as a very polite little boy, one who used to hold the door open for her at school, or would hold her chair out for her when she sat down.

Didn’t have the brains to ask her out. Slow thinking was my specialty.

Little Red Bat

August 10, 2011

One of the many difficulties in learning a new language is the vocabulary — new words for things we already know. Another layer of difficulty is that often the new language uses different rules of grammar than those we are used to, even if we have never been able to master the old ones in the first place.

One more, nearly impenetrable barrier, is when the foreign language doesn’t even use good old fashioned American style alphabet letters. A case in point is Chinese writing, based on Hanzi characters. These characters, which look to us like a child’s scribbling, are densely packed with meaning. This pictographic writing, a combination of pictograms, ideograms, ideogrammatic compounds and phono-semantic compounds, is comprised of many thousands of characters. A single character can convey entire truckloads of meaning, like one of Scarlett Johansson’s eyebrows.

Chinese dissident, artist and political prisoner Ai Weiwei recently unleashed a torrent of cryptographically sensitive information in a single, pithy broadcast.

Mr Ai, who is too critical of the Chinese Communist Party for his own good, had been in jail for months and then was released and placed under house arrest. Ostensibly he was arrested for “tax evasion,” but everybody in the US, in Europe, in South America, Africa and Australia, and almost everyone else everywhere, knows that these were trumped up charges; his real offense is that he has been a loud and persistent critic of the Chinese government. While under house arrest, the two dozen Chinese police officers living with him make sure that he is always wearing his “Silent Silk Ribbon,” which is several yards of duct tape over his mouth.

Mr Ai, who has art on exhibit all over the more civilized world, made a surprise virtual appearance today, and made his first Twitter tweet in some time. His tweet, in Chinese characters, was translated into English. On the surface, the 10-character English translation of his tweet (“What’s up?”) was perfectly innocent, but the original ideogrammatic tweet has Western intelligence agencies scrambling to decipher it.

Many clever Chinese dissidents using social media employ alternative words and phrases to get around the ubiquitous government censorship of terms deemed to be offensive or embarassing.

The Peoples Bullying Party has been on ‘really high alert’ — because they’re really scared — after watching popular revolt in Egypt and other parts of Northern Africa. No shortage of resources has been spared in finding and apprehending anyone with the slightest link to anybody who has the slightest chance of stirring things up, from Shanghai to Xinjiang, from Beijing to Tibet. Even those who look cross-eyed at Chinese security personnel disappear.

Now, with riots in London dominating the news, top level members of the Central Committee are watching carefully, and looking for new ways to control the increasingly disgruntled populace. Distressingly high numbers of Chinese citizens are angry with the government’s perceived cover-up of the high-speed train wreck near Wenzhou, which killed dozens and injured hundreds. The decision makers in Beijing are worried that the London violence will be the Molotov Cocktail thrown into the fireworks factory.

They’re looking into the use of aluminum baseball bats. This is what Ai Weiwei was so cleverly hinting at, since the ideogrammatic symbol he used for his cryptic tweet can mean “what’s up?” — a request for information — but can also convey “who’s up?” — a clear reference to baseball and baseball bats.

Amazon.co.uk, the British branch of the huge American online retailer, has reported a 6000% increase in the sale of aluminum baseball bats, which are, so to speak, flying out the window. Some theorize that these bats are being sold to British shop-keepers who wish to protect themselves and their shops, or are perhaps being sold to the packs of sub-human young hooligans (“yobs” and “neds”) who have shocked the UK with mindless destruction and opportunistic looting. This intrepid reporter, dear reader, has burned through several barrels of midnight oil doing journalistic sleuthing, and has found the truth.

It’s really the Chinese who are buying up the bats. But why?

Deep cover informants reveal that a complex deal has been struck between Nintendo, Foxconn and the Peoples Propaganda and Benevolent Control Ministry, headed by the baijiu-loving bureaucrat, Fling Dhung. The Ministry intends to develop crowd-control hardware and software based on aluminum bats, and using Nintendo’s Wii technology. Huge buildings that formerly housed ping-pong parlors have been turned into Wii-enabled training facilities, where thousands of police officers practice swatting dissident citizens shown on enormous high-def screens.

Already far advanced in the field of face-recognition technology, so tightly woven into the fabric of national security, the Chinese intend further to unite the “smart-bats” with Apple-designed hardware provided by Foxconn, the mega-manufacturer of iPhones and iPads. Every time a police officer swings an enhanced bat at an actual protester, cameras inside the bat will photograph the targeted victim, and software will identify him or her. Then, taking advantage of the Apple gyroscope and accelerometer, the bat will estimate the severity of the blow. Combining that data with real-time blood-spatter analysis, the bat will decide whether to inform the nearest jail, hospital or coroner.

To honor Chairman Mao, the smart-bats will be painted red, and will be known as “Little Red Bats.” Looks like the Communist Party hopes to hit discord out of the park with this one.