Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Shaggy-Dog Story

The two characters to the left are probably familiar to anyone over the age of, say, thirty. They are none other than [left to right] Gumby and Pokey. The duo starred in more than 200 short films, painstakingly made by manipulating clay images, one frame at a time, allowing the characters to speak, move, and generally seem as realistic as clay figures can be made to be. They were the creation of Art Clokey, who is also famous as the animator [though not the creator] of legendary Christian-oriented "claymation" characters Davey & Goliath [the denomination I belong to owns the rights to D & G, and allowed them to be used in, of all things, a Mountain Dew commercial, faithful to the images, if not the themes of the originals. At the time, it was announced that the license fee would allow for more Davey & Goliath shorts to be made; they may have been, but I've yet to see them].

Then again, this isn't about D & G, or, for that matter, Gumby and Pokey [a few cynics have expressed questionable theories on the exact nature of their relationship, which can be summarised pretty well by the illustration to the right: my response is GROW UP, PEOPLE! Besides, anyone who watched Gumby films should know that Pokey was a gelding. Those who wish to speculate on Pokey's rich fantasy life are free to do so. This is, after all, America, where clay figures are pretty much free to imagine anything they like].

No, our discussion is centered around Gumby's dog, the incitefully-named Nopey [so named because, despite his obvious intelligence, he could only say "Nope"; one episode pointed out that he could say it in several languages, including Japanese, but still, only "Nope"]. The picture does not do Nopey justice, since you can only see his hind quarters, but it comes from an interesting film. Entitled "Stuck On Books", it points out that, unlike other residents of Gumbopolis [even the evil Blockheads], Nopey was deathly afraid of entering books [Gumby's skill at this was so pronounced that he briefly served as a spokescharacter for the Library of Congress]. After a series of events, including Nopey getting stuck in a book [a situation that Gumby kept saying was impossible], he finally conquered his fears [although I don't remember him doing so in any other Gumby short]. Now, three photos into this posting, we've finally arrived at the point of my thesis; you sure the Hell can get stuck in a book, stuck to the point of never finishing it, stuck to the point that you feel like you never want to read anything again!
A few examples: Lord Of The Rings - I got through the first volume of the trilogy, but about halfway through the second book, I completely lost interest. I didn't give a rat's ass about the hobbits, the halflings, or the humans. I felt sorry for Gollum, but not enough to find out what happened to him [by the way, I was working with one of those "commemorative" volumes that came out with the movies (haven't seen those either). This thing had a complete timeline of the LOTR era, definitions of key terms, an appreciation of Tolkien (who I don't believe was the problem; he needed some major editing, but what writer doesn't), in short, all the signs of people with entirely too much time on their hands]. The volume is now leveling a table in my room.
Moby-Dick - See above for observation on over-written books. I actually came across a suggestion from wit Richard Armour that about half the book [the half in the middle] could safely be ignored. Armour noted, "Ahab isn't the only person who can be a skipper". Unless you truly want to know about 19th-century whaling, still sound advice.
Lord Of The Flies - Kids survive a plane crash, create a neo-primitive society, kill a few of each other, then are rescued by adults, who are disappointed they didn't act more "civilized". It's all you really need to know; the rest is pretty depressing.
Now, what books have you gotten stuck in?
-Mike Riley

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

If Anyone Asks, I'm On Staycation...

God knows, I need to get out more. Out on the Internet, if nothing else. I just discovered a new concept in leisure activity [according to Google Images, it's somehow related to the image above, but I'll be d____d if I can figure out how]. For those of you a step or two ahead of Your Neighborly Blogger, we're talking about "staycation" [now, if you already know what a staycation is, PLEASE leave me a comment on how that protozoial object has ANYTHING to do with this new-fangled concept. Unless you want to visit the world of "Fantastic Voyage", I DON'T GET IT!].
Ahem. Excuse me. I was having an "irritated old man" moment. Anyway, "staycation" is the new buzz word for simulating a more-expensive vacation [usually outside your home country] by visiting places within your country somehow related to your destination of choice. The Wall Street Journal gave the example of a woman who wanted to visit Japan, but couldn't afford to go. Having the good fortune to live in New York City [rumor has it you can find anything in New York City], she simply got in touch with Japanese-related restaurants, galleries, and museum exhibits within the Big Apple, visited the circuit of them, and felt, afterwards, that she had a sense of life in Japan. That's all well-and-good, of course, if you live anywhere near a multi-cultural melting pot like NYC, say, or, for those of us in Western New York, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. But, using an American example [my apologies to those elsewhere], what if you live in, say, Austin, Texas, and have a hankering for the Canadian lifestyle? Sure, there are always a few hockey players in the region [no doubt trying to latch on in the Southern Hockey League]. You might find some ex-Longhorns who spent a year or two in the Canadian Football League [12 players on the field per team at any moment, 110-yard playing field, three downs instead of four. Nobody really knows why they changed the rules, but it does make it a uniquely Canadian game]. But how will you explore the minutua that makes immersion in another culture worthwhile? There are no Canadian Tire shops. I'd bet the nearest Tim Horton's [just check the Archives; I have written about them at some length] is three or four states over. And as for Hockey Night In Canada? Fuggedaboutit.
(The real reason all this came up, of course, is that I'm in the midst of a staycation this week. The Woman I Love is in, of all places, Oklahoma, for a Native American Lutheran conference. Instead of spending the week being paranoid about over-sleeping and missing work, I decided to stay here in Niagara Falls and watch over the cats) When I was a child, and the money wasn't there for a family vacation, my father would declare that we were spending the week at Veranda Beach, where the slogan was "All the comforts of home". After a day or two we kids realized we weren't going anywhere. That's when Dad would take us on drives to obscure places around Buffalo [how he knew about some of them I never knew]. Not a bad way to kill a few hours, in retrospect, especially when gas was 39 cents a gallon!
So, in the spirit of staycationing, I'm spending this week experiencing the Daylight Culture [why do people move around so early in the day?] with side trips to the Unemployed Culture Zones [most found on TV] in my area [that Jerry Springer is really a funny, funny guy, isn't he?]. I'm having a wonderful time, and wish you were here.
-Mike Riley

Monday, July 14, 2008

Respecting Our Elders

While doing research for another of my blogs, I discovered that there are literally millions of blogs with only a single entry. Someone started the process of creating a new blog, posted a single entry, then abandoned it [in the name of full disclosure, I've walked away from a blog or two under similar circumstances in my lifetime]. I don't know why it happens, of course, but I suspect that those orphaned blogs were given up because the writer wasn't fully committed to the idea of blogging. Then there are blogs that are abandoned due to circumstances beyond the author's control.
For instance, the blog of Olive Riley [no relation], in Australia. The Life Of Riley began in February of 2007, when Ms. Riley was 107. Yeah. 107. A story about her blog is here: She posted, on average, once a week, until she was admitted to a nursing home late last month. She was also submitting videos to YouTube, where she sang and told stories. When she died over the weekend, at 108, she was acknowledged as the oldest blogger in the history of the activity.
Many people think of blogging as a younger person's form of expression. We don't check ID when you enter this site, but I'd be willing to wager that, at 50, I'm older than many, if not most, of my readers. While it's hard for me to feel wise most of the time, I can only imagine the wisdom Olive brought to her posts. Maybe it's time for us all to look for experienced muses...

Our condolences to Olive Riley's family in Australia, and her devoted readers around the world.

-Mike Riley

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Will Wifey Clean Up?

As this generation's "long political nightmare" comes to an end, I've been thinking about conspiracy theories. It all started with a summary/review of a new book on the assassination of John F. Kennedy:[]. Whether or not you buy into the author's interpretation of the facts, one must admit his theory is well researched.

Of course, the violent demise of JFK was not the only mysterious White House death of the 20th Century. In 1923, for instance, President Warren G. Harding died under inexplicable circumstances, after a trip to Alaska. An unbiased look at Harding's death []
postulates four possible causes; natural causes, negligent homicide [based on an ill-advised enema administered by Harding's homeopathic physician; his traditional doctor was kept away from Harding at this critical time, reputedly due to jealousy on the homeopath's part], suicide [the President's administration was mired in scandal, and Harding himself had just been revealed as the father of a "love child", the result of an affair that began while he was still a US Senator from Ohio, and had reportedly included a tryst in a White House closet. In those innocent, pre-DNA testing days (What would Maury do for programming in that era?), the claims of the "mother" could not be proved, but many people believed her account], or, most intriguingly, murder. Murder theorists [and there are still a few out there] base their theory on an unexplained case of food poisoning the President suffered during an Alaskan trip shortly before his death. Harding was the only member of the touring party to suffer from botulism, despite the reported fact that there was no food he ate exclusively during the trip. While the food poisoning didn't kill Harding by itself, it kept an already-weakened President [Harding had suffered from influenza in January of 1923, at a time when the flu was frequently fatal] on the verge of collapse. Harding made one final speech, in Seattle, then was rushed by train to San Francisco, where he died a few days later.
One intriguing theory concerns a possible mastermind for the murder; President Harding's wife, Florence. Rather than let her husband die in ignominy, in the wake of perhaps the worst political scandals ever to take place in Washington, the theory goes that Florence Harding ordered the death of the President, before any of the scandals were tied to him [I'd guess, if this theory is true, the whole "love child" thing might have entered her mind as well. But I speculate].
Meanwhile, George W. Bush, perhaps the most physically-healthy man ever to sit in the Oval Office, is also dogged by scandal [although, to be fair, infidelity does not seem to be on his dance card]. His wife, Laura, supports her husband in an "old-school" style that, one suspects, even Florence Harding could appreciate. Then again, there is that bothersome "judgement of history" thing to be considered, and one of the questions on the table is this; if it came down to it, could Laura Bush be as tough as Florence Harding was reputed to be, if it meant saving George's reputation? Only time will tell...
-Mike Riley

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Great American Story

This goes back to the summer of 1974. Some of my readers weren't alive at that point [I am old, aren't I?], or were too young to follow the on-going impeachment proceedings against US President Richard M. Nixon. Everyone else in the world, it seemed, was intent on nothing else; the twists and turns of Nixon's efforts to remain inside the White House were as intriguing then as many people find "reality" shows today. One could follow the drama in Boston or Berkeley or Boca Raton, of course. But you could also be updated in London or Lisbon or Lebanon. You could even, as I was doing that summer, stay abreast of the crisis in Mexico City.
I was in the capitol of Mexico that summer as an exchange student, spending the time between my Junior and Senior years of high school in a country where I didn't speak the language [it's a long story. They always are, aren't they? (It might be worth pursuing this story at another time. We'll see. For now, let's keep this as trim as possible)]. There were maybe twenty of us from the same sponsoring organization, spread around various neighborhoods in the ancient metropolis. For the most part, we didn't see much of one another; our host families were doing their best to give us a bit of the nation's culture, or at least keep us out of the nation's jails [I'm not kidding about that last one. A couple of years later, a friend of mine was sent home early from Mexico after trying to steal a license plate from a parked car. In my eyes, a harmless prank; in Mexican eyes, enough to get you booted].
All of us, though, were following the Nixon crisis with some concerns. No President had ever resigned before. If Nixon quit, what happened to us? I don't think any of us were expecting problems, but more than a couple of us were expecting to be sent home. After all, didn't nations usually bring their nationals home in times of uncertainty?
August 8th came. Nixon was going to address the American people. I don't know, but I'd guess all of us exchange students were listening, as the President announced his plan to resign the next day. Now what? Did we head for the US Embassy? (I'd heard it was very nice. But where in Mexico City was it?) Would they just gather us at the airport, then return us?
The next day, Nixon resigned. The vice-president, Gerald Ford, became President [ironically, Ford had been appointed when Spiro Agnew, Nixon's elected VP, had to resign over corruption charges. You never know...]. Then something amazing happened...
...nothing. The transition from Nixon to Ford went very smoothly. The financial markets held their ground [I think they were just relieved the whole thing was over], there was no unrest in American streets [at least, none that wasn't already there], and none of us ever heard from the US Embassy [at least, not for that]. Under the most awkward circumstances imaginable, the Head of the US Government had changed. More amazingly still, it happened without violence, without unrest or insurrection. A simple statement of resignation and, as Ford put it, "...our long national nightmare [was] over".
There are predictions of political strife in the air. One blogger, who claims to channel Nostradamus, says President Bush will suspend the upcoming election when John McCain becomes seriously ill weeks before the vote. No less a Neo-Conservative icon than Patrick Buchanan recently wrote that he believes the President will invade, or bomb Iran if Barack Obama is elected President, on the theory that Obama would not. I would never predict what could or could not happen, but I do believe that "cooler" [saner?] heads would prevail if such matters were proposed. No matter how bad things have gotten in our history, cooler heads have always prevailed. It is the main source of hope I have for this Republic, as it celebrates its 232nd birthday.
Thank God for cooler heads!
-Mike Riley

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Great Canadian Story

Above is the current logo for the most popular show on Canadian TV, Hockey Night In Canada.The Saturday night series carries double-headers of hockey games, almost always involving one of the Canadian-based teams in the National Hockey League which, despite its name, actually has member teams in the US and Canada. As I write this, it's July 1st, Canada Day, which celebrates the anniversary of the establishment of the Canadian nation. Those two ideas, Hockey Night In Canada, and Canada's identity, came together in recent days over the most unlikely of focal points. Ronn Roxx, of Ronn's Minor League Hockey Mania, tells the story so well [in turn quoting from "Maclean's" magazine for his source material] that I'm just going to get the Hell out of the way [I'll be back after you read the entry at the following link]:

Pretty amazing, eh? By the way, none of this is meant as a jab at Canada. I don't know how people further South of here feel on the matter, but personally, I think that, like most humans, the borders that separate us are arbitrary and ultimately meaningless. Many Canadians near Niagara Falls and Buffalo live and die with the Bills and Sabres, just as I do. This region, on both sides of the border, depended on manufacturing. Some of those old-time factories still exist [most on the Canadian side; apparently, compulsory government-run health care really is an incentive for multi-national corporations to establish more plants in countries that have it. Congress, are you watching this?], and many of those who worked in them spend time in each other's countries, shopping, eating, sight-seeing [again, Canada has the edge here. Sometime, I'm going to throw a few thoughts out there about why it's so foolish for the American side of Niagara Falls to challenge Canada, as well as a few strategies that might even the odds a bit].

I guess what I'm trying to say to Canadians is, Happy Canada Day! Some of our politicians are idiots, but basically, I think the everyday citizens on both sides of the border are on the same page. And don't drink and drive, and we'll try to do the same on Friday...

-Mike Riley