Friday, February 29, 2008

It's Always Something...

Yeah, I know that phrase is better identified with the late [God, why are so many of our talents "late"?] Gilda Radner's character of Rosanne Rosanadanna. But, it does cover my mindset at the mo. I mean, I was all ready to present a cute, charming essay on Leap Year Day, that once-every-four-years event that we all can look forward to [unlike the presidential elections here in the US; I like what Obama has to say, but I think he's struck a chord with myself, and many other voters, because he is NOT part of traditional politics, not affiliated with any of our nation's previous political disasters.
Anyway, I was all ready with that [even had a photo of Dick Fosbury, the American high-jumper who crossed the bar backwards (the "Fosbury Flop") ready to illustrate it]. But then disturbing news came in to Ranchero Bullwinkle, the little piece of Heaven where I write these entries:
Yes, Belgium's second-most important contribution to world culture [after Hercule Poirot, the Flemish master detective created, it should be pointed out, by English writer Agatha Christie] are coming out on DVD.
(Sometimes events happen that give you the feeling of driving your new tires over a rake. You feel deflated and torn. Hel-lllo, welcome to my world.)
For the record, "The Smurfs" isn't the worst cartoon series I've ever seen. But its success gave TV networks the excuse they needed to kill 90% of the entertaining Saturday morning cartoons they broadcast [Something about "less violence", "more positive role models", something to that effect. I think it was just an explanation for those of us in our 20's and 30's at the time, who were complaining about the state of affairs.]
Were they less violent? Of course they were! Were they frequently as dull as watching Painter Smurf's color-smeared smock dry? Oh yeah. And as to that "positive role models" claim, does our current world really strike you as a safer place than the one of a quarter-century ago?
(Let's be honest. This generation of youth is under-exercised, under-challenged mentally, and happy about both. If we really wanted to give them cartoon role models, I can't think of any better choices than the hyper-kinetic crew that populated the classic Warner Brothers cartoons of the 1940's and 1950's [Bugs, Daffy, Foghorn, Tweety and Sylvester; you probably know who I'm talking about]. Imaginative, solidly trained in the classics (ex: "What's Opera, Doc?"; I learned more about opera, and classical music in general, by watching the WB cartoons than I did in school. But that's another conversation, for another time...), and, best of all, ACTIVE. Nobody sat and quietly discussed things in a Bugs Bunny cartoon! [There's that "role model" thing again]
[Just then, two white-coated individuals grab Our Author by his arms and drag him, backwards, behind a curtain. In shadows seen through the thin fabric, we see them inject Mike with the contents of one of the largest needles you've ever seen in your lives, outside of, dare we say it, a WB cartoon...]
Wha? Who are you people? Smurfs? Yeah, Smurfs are OK. Now where's my money? Who's got my money. Wanna go home...
-Mike Riley
P.S.: And don't even get me started on the tragedy of Smurfette! No, she never got pregnant. But she never got anything else either! She was Smurfville's only Lesbian...
P.P.S: Now I'm scared! I ran the above through a "SpellCheck", and it offered me what it concidered the correct spelling of "Smurf"! What did Bill Gates watch on Saturday mornings? And what does he watch now?
P.P.S.S.: Happy Leap Day...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Not Really A Post, More An Act Of Gratitude

At major messages here; just a few heartfelt "thank you's":

-Many thanks to those of you who are praying for Meagan, the five-year-old girl who was the subject of my last posting. She's been a little more responsive to her doctors and therapists over the last day or two. The "Optomism" level has gone up slightly, but there's still a long way to go. On behalf of her family and their friends, thank you for your continuing prayers...

-On a personal note, I need to thank whoever it was that sent me 100 EntreCard credits. It was a nice surprise. Hope you're all enjoying the words on this blog...

That's all I've got for now. Hope happiness pays you a visit soon...

-Mike Riley

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

This Week, Our EntreCard Category Is A Lie...

It's been a slow week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my home, sorry, that's Garrison Keilor's shtick. My hometown is actually Buffalo, NY [very close to a lake, if that counts], and I currently live in the nearby city of Niagara Falls, NY. But it has been a slow week here, too. Life has left me a lot to think about, and a lot of time to think.
The big thing on the thought plate just now is the condition of a five-year-old girl. Her name is not important. She was like any five-year-old, calling herself "Princess", imagining what life as a grown-up might be like, yelling "Amen" the loudest at the end of the Children's Prayer during our church service. Things changed about a week-and-a-half ago. She'd been suffering from some kind of flu, or lung infection; you know, the kind of thing that goes around this time of year. Kids get them all the time, and after a few days in bed, they're O.K. In the case of the little Princess, however, something bad happened. Her mother found her unconscious on the floor of the family playroom. She had no idea how long she hadn't been breathing. The little girl was rushed to the hospital. At the moment, she's in Women and Children's Hospital, a very highly-rated hospital in Buffalo. She's awake, but in a hazy half-world where she's not sure of who people are, even her parents, her grandmother, or her brothers and sisters. The little girl is on a therapy floor. The doctors in charge of her case think she'll have to re-learn most of the things she had learned before now. They believe that she's suffered brain damage, possibly permanent.
The Woman I Love is, well, puzzled with God just now. How can a loving Creator allow this to happen? [Not that Your Host has any answers: my questions are running around the same themes]
I wish I could come up with some cute observations about Modern Life. After all, we're proud to be part of the EntreCard "Humor" section. Maybe later this week, or next. Right now, I'm just a little down about the whole thing. I hope you'll understand. If you believe in the power of prayer, could you please address a few her way? Those of us who love her will appreciate it...

-Mike Riley

P.S.: For some reason, k.d. lang's "Hallelujah" seemed to be an appropriate choice for "Video Of The Week" [see below]. Hope it makes sense to you as well - MR

Friday, February 22, 2008


From time to time, people try to get a sense of how really big the Internet in general, and blogging in particular, has become. One fascinating, if a little cynical, look at the phenomenon can be found at:
From this little report we find, among other things, that somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of all blogs are abandoned by their creators within one month of starting them. Millions of blogs have not been updated in 2 or more months, according to a study made earlier this decade; indeed, the same survey noted that almost 1.1 million blogs were started, then abandoned after a single day.
I've never been quite so cavalier as to start and end a blog in a single day. Within 2 - 3 months, though? A few. At various times I actually thought there was money for me to make on the Net. Either I had the wrong topics, the wrong design, too low a level of energy, or just pooched the whole thing [does anybody besides me remember Television Versus Reality? (not a look at "reality" TV - that actually might have found an audience!) It was a look at how unrealistic TV was. Well, duh, Mike. Did you know that some people believe professional wrestling matches are staged? But I digress...]
So, with my record as a blog-killer thus acknowledged, I'd like you to try:
This time, it's NOT about the money. Or the fame. Or the EntreCards. It's an honest attempt to improve the state of blogging in general. Two "pet peeves" I have are poorly designed blogs, and blogs that are badly written [and I should know!]. I'm hoping The Blog Lab will become a place that bloggers will come to for tips on better-looking templates, and better writing techniques. I am far from expert on either of these matters, though, so I am welcoming submissions from the Web. Please send them to:
[and please put the word "SUBMISSIONS" in your subject line! If you get as much spam as I do, you'll understand how easy it would be to delete an entry, thinking the sender wanted to sell me under-the-counter pharmaceuticals]
It's said that Confucius, when asked by an official for lessons in farming, replied, "I am not as good as an old farmer for that". Similarly, if you're looking for lessons in SEO, monitization, or other such topics, visit blogs by people who have actually made money with blogs. Goodness knows there are enough of them out there. I'm here hoping to improve the state of casual blogging [The money bloggers are certainly welcome to submit, but I would hope their efforts for here would be more general]. Previously published posts are welcome, as long as you own all rights to the work. No direct sales pitches will be welcome, but you are free to add a link to your web site or blog, if you're so inclined. So if the mood strikes you, come visit, submit to, and in general please support, The Blog Lab. Blogs will only improve to the degree that we, as bloggers, make an effort to improve.
-Mike Riley

Monday, February 18, 2008

Howl At The Stereo...

I've worked in radio since the early 1980's, and have run into some unusual recordings in my professional life. but I don't have Clue One what to make of this item, courtesy Reuters via Yahoo! :
Are these people for real? A recording that can only be heard "by dogs"? How would you know if something was actually on the disc? [All right, there's probably a way to verify a recording. But are you getting Bowzer his own CD player?] After all, it is a charity recording, so who's going to worry too strenuously over whether there's actually anything there or not?
To be honest, the whole things reminds me of another "unheard" broadcast element that first popped up in the 1980's. Several radio stations, most of them in Canada if memory serves, claimed that they were broadcasting a special high-pitched sound [inaudible to humans, of course] that kept mosquitos away from the area around a properly tuned radio. Scientific research on the matter was "inconclusive", so life, and insect repelling techniques, moved on.
Another example of the "silence is golden" technique was presented by avant-guard composer John Cage in the early '60s. His "composition" 4"33 featured a pianist sitting and not playing the piano for the length of time in the title. Some mainstream composers said at the time they hoped for longer experimental works in the same vein!
As the story notes, the CD may soon be available in North America; till then, I'd hope a New Zealand reader of these musings [and there are a few of you, whether you want to admit it or not] could fill me in on how this all worked. Did your dog go spastic when the CD was on? Did he stop when it did? I'm going to lose sleep over this until I know. I just know I am! Or maybe it's the dogs howling along to that song I just can't hear...
-Mike Riley

Thursday, February 14, 2008

...And We All Know What THAT Means!

Well, no. Although, let it be said, the infamous raid by Al Capone's gang on his illicit-alcohol business rival "Bugs" Moran's warehouse was really a brilliant piece of work.

Two out-of-town triggermen were dressed as Chicago policemen; two others, as plain-clothes police officers. This day in 1929, the masquerade party drove up to Moran's alky warehouse, on North Clark Street, and announced a police raid. Moran's foot soldiers were not terribly upset; such raids were common practice in Prohibition-era Chicago. They'd be taken to the nearest police station, booked on charges of making and selling illegal alcohol, then bailed out almost immediately by Moran's lieutenants. Everyone, in fact, was relaxed until the "police" lined them up against a wall, pulled sub-machine guns from under their coats, and proceeded to slaughter seven members of the Moran operation. In an additional act of brilliance, the two uniformed "officers" then pretended to "arrest" the two plain-clothes men. Thus, any witnesses to the incident may or may not have heard gunfire, but saw two "criminals" under "police" control! Simply brutal, but brutally brilliant.

No, actually the event on the table is St. Valentine's Day, the day for lovers [although, if they can, lovers should try to make EVERY day like St. Valentine's Day]. While the day is celebrated in many parts of the world, very few people know the story of St. Valentine. Actually, February 14th celebrates two early Catholic bishops who shared that name. The reason that the day is revered by lovers comes down to the actions of one of those bishops. Reputedly, he heard a young girl crying one day as he was travelling around his city. She was in love, but because her two older sisters were still single, she could not marry the man she loved. Bishop [not yet Saint] Valentine decided he could best help by providing dowries for the two spinsters.

Let's pause here for a moment, and concider the dowry. It implied [and still does, in those parts of the world where the practice is still followed] that women, in and of themselves had no value; however, if the price was right, a lucky young man would think about taking her off a father's hand. Further, just where did Valentine get the money for two doweries? One hopes it didn't come from the church's stores; that should have been used for the poor, and to operate the church [By the way, the father wasn't poor, according to the story. Just incredibly cheap].

Anyway, Valentine was able, by throwing bags of gold through an open window, to provide the "bride-price" for the two older sisters [Personally, I think he was taking a huge risk; if the father was as cheap as the story makes him out to be, why wouldn't he just keep the money for himself?]. Then, wanting to make sure his time and money to date was not wasted, he tried to deliver a dowry for the youngest daughter. But the father, who had become accustomed to seeing bags of gold flying through his windows, caught Valentine in mid-toss. He became the bishop's most prominent partisan, telling and retelling the story until people must have been just plain sick of it.
Then again, his daughters were married off, so what else did he have to talk about?

(By the way, neither of these stories is meant to imply that I don't like the idea of Valentine's Day. But the inevitable cynics out there who feel that the whole thing was inflated by flower stores and card companies may be on to something)

Anyway, I hope that you, as I, have someone to love who loves you as if you were a part of them [If The Woman I Love happens to read this today, that would be you. I am frankly unworthy of such an overwhelming love, but I thank you, and God, for it each day].

-Mike Riley

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Confession, A Theory, And A Hope

This post begins with a confession: there were things I did as a younger man that I no longer do, and feel no desire to ever do again. In this case, I'm referring to writing well-researched essays [footnotes included]. I did a goodly amount of it in high school and college and, while I feel I got reasonably good at it, I don't feel the need to do any more. I still enjoy writing, of course; otherwise this space would be held down by someone else, one Potiphar Breen, possibly [or maybe not; in an alternate universe, the blog "AFTER MIDNIGHT" is devoted to endless reviews of the old Eric Clapton song of the same name].

There is a point to all this nonsense; sometimes it's easy to write the beginning of an entry, other times, the middle or end. This time, the beginning is going nowhere FAST. So, let's move on to the middle. All you really need to remember from that convoluted beginning is: I don't want to work hard on these little items [Do you?]

O.K. It's Senior Thesis/Major Paper season in Universities around the world. I'm going to throw out an essay topic, free of charge. It occured to me recently, while waiting for a bus. ANYONE IS FREE TO USE THIS, WITHOUT CHARGE OR FURTHER OBLIGATION [I would ask for a copy; if you do decide to use this, e-mail me and I'll send you my address]. Basically, the proliferation of what is known as "Web 2.0" had to come from some model. I suggest that the model was Hollywood. From its earliest days, Hollywood owned the product. It created it, promoted it, and sold it, hopefully [from its perspective, anyway] for a profit. Then, beginning in the 1950's, studios became little more than distributors. They marketed movies made by small companies, again, hopefully, at a profit. Nowadays, it's rare to find a movie conceived, produced, and marketed by one of the traditional "major" studios. Now, compare this to the Internet. The major ISP's were in the business of creating an all-inclusive environment for their users [think AOL]. Then, they began marketing products and services created by others [think Google]. I'm sure there's more on both the "Yeah, he's on to something", and the "Oh, Lord, he's NUTS!" side of this debate. But that's where research, and the process sometimes called "creative interpretation" and sometimes "bullshitting" come in. I'm honestly curious what my fellow denisens of the Blogosphere think of all this. Even if you're not writing for a grade, leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Finally, regular readers of these posts have noticed a sign in the right-hand margin, showing support for writers of TV and movies in their strike with production companies. As this goes to the electronic world, there is word of a tentative settlement. As soon as the strike is declared over, the sign will be removed. I, for one, am hoping we will be rid of it shortly. I want more new episodes of "House", and I want them NOW...

-Mike Riley

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Guru Departs

For members of the American Baby Boom [I was born in 1957], the passing of any icon of that era leaves us solidly in Contemplation Mode. It's an appropriate mindset when we concider the passing of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Maharishi, as he was usually referred to in the United States, was the creator of Transcendental Meditation (TM), based on a Hindu technique of mind self-control. He first taught the procedure in the 1950's, but his real breakthrough came in the mid-60's, when the Beatles became interested, and visited him at his then-home in India. The photo above is from a visit the Maharishi made to Wales in 1967.
Like many such trends of the time, TM was dismissed as "hippie talk". But the concept has since become accepted medical theory. The Beatles were only one of several rock groups and solo stars to embrace meditation. On this side of the Atlantic, several of the Beach Boys became supporters of the movement, going so far as to release a song called"TM" on one of their albums. The Beach Boys stayed in the movement longer than the Beatles; it's said they broke with the Maharishi after he was critical of their drug use while studying with him in India.
How successful has TM been? Well, according to its American website (,
some six million people have taken the course of study required for one to become a practitioner of the technique. [How many people currently practice TM, either in the US or other countries, is probably subject to some uncertainty]. And, let it be noted, the Maharishi was known as the "giggling guru", because of his habit of breaking into laughter while being interviewed. Someone that happy must have been onto something.
-Mike Riley
PS: All thanks to Hammad for his stylish re-design of my EntreCard. As of the last time I checked, he was still offering free EntreCard designs. For more details, check the previous post here. And tell him I sent 'ya. He'll either be pleased or annoyed...
PPS: While dropping "cards", I found out about a simple, fun way to help animal shelters. And it doesn't cost you a cent! Check this link for details:

Friday, February 1, 2008

Fast Facts [Especially For EntreCarders]

Sometimes I hear about free offers that would be of use to others in the Blogosphere [or to myself; I'm not entirely altruistic]. Frequently, though, I forget about the deal before I'm back at the keyboard [see, kids, all that stuff they say about drugs and memory loss is...wait a minute, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah]. So I'm writing this one before I forget.

As noted above, this is most helpful to EntreCard users [and if you're not, you should look into it at]. The proprietor of the Digital Lounge blog is very kindly offering to redesign your EntreCard. If you want to see some of his work, and get more details on the offer [it involves a little WRITING, but c'mon, you're getting a FREE (forget to mention that before) custom-designed EntreCard], visit the Man Called Hammy at:

I don't have anything else to report, so I'll stop inputing now...

-Mike Riley